Story: Follow what happens when a girl the Marauders used to bully decides she won't stand for it anymore. Trouble is, things are always different in practice. And standing up to Sirius Black is easier said than done.
'Never Been Kissed.'
My alarm clock racketed out the most intolerable noise known to man.
Loud, whiny... and weary with me.
'MEEP!' 'MEEP!' 'MEEP!'
I slapped my hand down on it. The old 'just five more minutes' thing had really started to become a joke.
I tried to prise one of my eyelids open and groaned. It felt like a box of children's sand had been emptied into my eyeballs.
Squinting them shut, I tugged the duvet up over my head.
In the darkness of my blankets it dawned on me just why I had set the alarm in the first place. An awful feeling gripped my stomach and squeezed.
Today I would have to go back to Hogwarts for the first time in a whole year.
The previous 305 days spent just happily existing at a normal Muggle secondary school with my normal Muggle friends was already becoming a distant memory as the magical school loomed dark and foreboding in my immediate future yet again. Today I would be thrust back to my old 'magical' life, which consisted almost ubiquitously of geekdom and torment.
I know you're probably wondering how on earth I ended up back at a Muggle school when I'm technically a witch. And, well, that's a very good question. It's also one I don't really have a good answer for.
If your parents have ever been through a divorce like mine, however, then hopefully you'll understand that the decisions they make along the way just don't really make sense sometimes. At least not to me.
And the fact that my Muggle mum decided to pull me away from anything that even slightly reeked of magic -my father included- was just one of those things.
Though I'd been really glad to get away from the school, for obvious reasons, my dad was a different matter entirely, and it was something my mum and I had fought about for a long time.
By the time she'd seen sense, both my dad and his family, along with a lot of the wizarding education authority, were all pretty pissed off with her. Hearing that I'd accidentally set my pencil on fire during a particularly stressful trignometry test had probably been the last straw.
Unfortunately for me though, getting to regularly see my dad again also meant there was no longer an excuse for me not to go back to Hogwarts.
And so, there I was.
The day of my reckoning.
Forcing myself to move, I threw off the duvet and swung my legs over the side of the bed, the soles of my feet cringing at the cold wooden floor beneath them.
It was too much to hope that my bullies had just up and left Hogwarts. They were the masters of their universe at school, why on earth could they possibly want to leave...?
Who were my vile tormentors, you ask?
Isn't it obvious?
Padding reluctantly to the mirror on my wall, I looked at my bleary eyed reflection. Even my hair seemed to be protesting against the change, not wasting a second of my three hours sleep to rearrange itself into something that resembled the large bird's nest I had found in the back garden last week.
After trying and failing to tug my comb through the long brown, wavy mess, I threw it to the floor in irritation and ended up finishing the job with my fingers before heading over to pull my old uniform from the wardrobe.
I grimaced at it; the red and gold tie, the ugly cumbersome cloak. Muggles definitely didn't know how good they had it.
Trying not to think about what putting that uniform back on meant for me, I dressed quickly.
After feeling too sick to eat breakfast and get ready on autopilot all morning, I eventually ended up arriving at the all-too familiar train platform with five minutes to spare.
Reassuring my mum that I was fine to wait on my own, I said my goodbyes and stood alone amongst the crowds with my belongings, peering around at the surroundings that were once so familiar to me feeling like there was a lump of lead in my stomach.
I thought back to the last time I had stood on the platform, back in July the previous year. An excruciatingly shy, timid fourth year waiting for my mum to pick me up to take me home for the holidays.
I remember praying she would hurry up and get there before the four boys who called themselves the Marauders could notice me and see it as their chance to continue their verbal assault, just as they'd done since the start of third year.
I had never told my parents about their bullying, or the fact that they seemed to get off on targeting my puppy fat, freckles and teeth that were too large for my baby face; earning me the cruel nickname 'The Beaver'.
I'd been too ashamed to admit it.
But things were different now. I was different.
In the time I'd spent at a Muggle school, it was like a veil had been lifted and I'd finally had the chance to see how good life could be when a group of boys weren't going out of their way to make it a misery.
I'd also finally managed to come out on the other side of my grisly battle with puberty. Not to mention make actual, genuine friendships with girls who weren't just hanging out with me because they liked the secondhand attention from the most popular boys in school. Even if they were all Muggles, and I wasn't allowed to tell anything about my past.
And, most importantly, my self-confidence had been allowed to grow...kind of.
So now you can understand why being told I had to go back to Hogwarts for my sixth year after thinking I'd escaped felt like a really bad joke.
Now I was back at the station though, some sick twisted part of me was actually hoping to see them. Potter, Black, Lupin and Pettigrew.
Maybe I wanted to see if they'd changed. Or maybe I wanted them to see how much I'd changed.
Either way, I'd already made a promise to myself to be ready when I did, and if they thought things were going to go back to how they were before they would be in for a really nasty shock.
As soon as I saw the large, gleaming Hogwarts Express chug into the station, I swallowed the surge of apprehension I felt in response and immediately started to make my way through the students towards to the train doors, not wanting to be left without a seat.
What with everyone having the same idea, there was a lot of 'accidental' pushing and shoving and passive aggressive "excuse me"'s being flung around.
The 'floor' underneath my sensible, school-grade black loafers felt suspiciously squishy, but it was impossible to see what, or worryingly who, I was treading on. I could barely lower my head without headbutting an unsuspecting student.
Trying to ignore the fact there was a distinct possiblity I had just walked over someone's face, I managed to clamour my way to the gold-trimmed train doors.
As I lifted my leg to climb on, a rogue elbow caught me straight in the ribs, and the resulting pain was so intense it caught me completely by surprise, so much so that my raised leg was just left there, hovering stupidly in mid-air.
Looking angrily across to find the culprit, still fully aware that I had promised myself to be strong in the face of potential tormenters, my mood softened. It was just a small boy wearing a Gryffindor cap. Obviously a first year.
Even as I looked on he was still pushing his chubby body into me in a desperate bid to beat me through the train door.
First year or not, that was not okay.
Raising my own elbow, I gave him a firm nudge away from me, raising an accusing eyebrow when he finally turned around.
The 'small boy' peeked up at me and I was more than a little surprised to find that he was actually closer to my own age than I had thought.
He was just extremely small for his age, sporting a short rotund frame that seemed to be perfectly made for balancing his centre of gravity and generally throwing his weight around.
As soon as his gaze met mine, he peered up at me through his small eyes for much longer than was entirely necessary, not moving even as the rest of the students started to grow impatient behind us.
With him now severely freaking me out, I took the opportunity to step resolutely onto the train, leaving him behind.
What was his problem?
As I stepped into the corridor of the train's inner carriage I tried to remember if it had always been this crowded, stumbling haphazardly along the people infested walkway, pushed along by everyone else's momentum.
Before most of us had even had time to find a seat, we all felt our bodies sway forward in unison as the train give a jolt. The movement made it official; I was on my way back to Hogwarts.
There was no going back now.
Continuing to follow the long line of students in front of me making our way down the train's length, my search for a seat was becoming more and more desperate as the others gradually dispersed into their own compartments.
Every single carriage seemed to be filled with students, laughing loudly and generally having fun.
I couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy every time I saw them.
I always seemed to be on the outside looking in during those situations, and it was hard to miss the irony of looking through a literal pane of glass at them now.
Finally coming to the very end of the train, I looked with waning hope at the last two compartments on either side of me, knowing I would now likely be forced to squeeze myself in with complete strangers and spend the entire journey in awkward silence.
But when I peered in to the one on my right I had to double take. It was completely empty. Deserted, in fact.
I looked briefly at the door to find the 'reserved' sign I had obviously missed, but there was no sign. It was just free.
Feeling a great wave of relief wash over me, I gratefully pulled the door back. It was only when I entered the compartment that I realised my mistake.
The sole occupant of this carriage was none other than the creepy small boy I had encountered earlier.
He was sat in the nearest corner to the door, obscured by the carriage wall.
When he saw the door being pulled open, he nearly jumped up from his seat in response, his mouth turning up into a slightly manic grin, but when he saw it was just me, he sat back down again, the smile fading from his face.
The feeling is definitely mutual, I thought grimly.
As I flopped down into the seat furthest from him on the opposite side near the window, I watched him erratically scanning the corridor outside as if still looking out for someone.
There's no one left out there, I wanted to say, you're wasting your energy.
But instead I tucked my bag under my seat and stared silently out of the window, pretending I couldn't see his furtive glances over to me every so often.
I had no idea how he had even managed to beat me to this carriage. I had got on the train before him.
"Hi, I'm just doing the rounds. Everything alright in here?"
A petite, pretty red haired girl slid the door open taking us both by surprise. The sight of her immediately sent a shock-wave rippling through my body.
"Lily." My words sounded more like a statement than a greeting.
The girl's confused expression made me pause briefly, but I was near certain it was her... the colour of her hair and eyes could not be mistaken.
"Yes...have we met?" she asked doubtfully.
Had she honestly forgotten me after just a year? We were hardly best friends, but that was just hurtful.
"It's me, Cheryl," I explained. "Cheryl Morland…"
I watched her eyebrows raise a little in surprise. Even the boy in the corner seemed to twitch at the sound of my name.
Her bright green gaze seemed to stare at me intently, taking everything in until I felt a flush of self-consciousness. It seemed like forever before her scrutiny finally ended with my eyes.
"Oh my, it really is you," she breathed. "You're back!"
To my absolute horror, her mouth broke out into a wide smile and she held out her arms towards me.
With Lily still waiting expectantly for me to return her gesture, I got reluctantly to my feet. When we parted, she held me at arm's length and looked me up and down, smiling.
"Merlin, it really is you." She shook her head slightly, "You look so different. Where've you been for the last year?" she continued in disbelief. "We all wondered where you went when you just didn't turn up!"
"My parents divorced and my mother moved us to Ireland for a fresh start," I chanted as though it had been rehearsed.
I felt the boy shuffle in the background, clearly listening intently to every word we said.
Not wanting to get into the schematics of my parents love life, or lack there of, I moved back into the safety of my seat.
Lily stayed at the door, looking confused, "But Ireland's really not that far away, couldn't you have still come to Hogwa-?"
"No." I said simply, interrupting her. I let out a small breath of air, realising how snappy I'd sounded.
"I mean," I tried again, my voice placating now, "a fresh start to my mum means new home, new school, new everything. She's nothing if not thorough." I tried to keep my voice light-hearted.
It seemed lost on Lily, who already had her sympathetic head on. Her expression was kind but unwittedly made me feel like a socially inadequate child.
"Well I'm glad you're back anyway," she said, "I think you'll find things are pretty much the same..." Her voice trailed off and for some unknown reason her eyes flicked for the briefest second to the small boy in the cap.
I didn't get the chance to consider the implications of her glance until afterwards, however, because a booming laugh emanating in from the corridor outside made me physically jump.
It wasn't just the sheer decibel of it that sent a quick convulse through my entire body.
I recognised that laugh.
The small staring boy who had previously looked antsy now had a wide smile on his face as he scrambled to his feet and shouted, "In here, in here!"
I had to resist the urge to rugby-tackle him to the ground and clamp a hand over his tell-tale squeaks. It was too late anyway. He had given away our position.
In a second the door to our compartment was pulled roughly open and three tall boys towered over us from the doorway.
I felt my stomach crawl into my mouth as my body shook with the unwanted rush of adrenaline at the sight of them. A strange ringing noise echoed through my ears.
The boy at the front rumpled his hair with an inane smirk.