A Hairy Situation
I'd gone straight up to bed that evening in the hope I could put off telling my friends what had happened until the next morning.
When I got to the bedroom, however, I soon realised this was going to be impossible. As soon as I opened the door I saw four different faces turn in my direction.
Sally, Dorcas, Marlene and Lily were all dotted around the Dormitory, sat on the beds.
"Where've you been all evening?" Lily asked at the same time as Marlene said, "Why weren't you at dinner?"
I looked across at Mary's empty bed, still made up from that morning with her latest book on the pillow, the bookmark placed halfway through waiting for her to come back. I felt a hard lump form in my throat.
Whatever I had thought of her, she didn't deserve to be fighting for her life in the hospital wing.
"Has something happened?" I heard Dorcas ask from somewhere in the background.
"Yeah," I answered, my voice coming out strained. I sat down on the end of my bed. "We found Professor Mison."
When I woke up the next morning I told my friends I'd meet up with them in lessons. My stomach had closed up the previous evening thanks to all the stress, and it showed no sign of reopening for breakfast.
By the time I had finished telling my friends everything that had happened in the hidden room in the castle, their faces had been just as drained of colour as Professor Mison's. None of them had known it even existed either, and they'd found it hard to believe any professor would be capable of what Military had done.
I had to remind them and myself that he wasn't really a professor though. He was more than likely what the newspapers had started to label as 'Death Eaters'. A part of the magical community so obsessed with wizard supremacy they were willing to do anything for it. Including breaking into a school and killing a teacher in cold blood, apparently.
I hadn't bothered to tell anyone about McGonagall's delayed punishment of expulsion. I was too busy hoping it would all just go away.
Perhaps Dumbledore would just never come back to the school, and if he never came back then he wouldn't get the chance to give her the go-ahead to kick me out.
I breathed a weary sigh and threw the blankets off me; the dormitory now empty except for me.
"Ah, brilliant," I murmured, looking at my mess of hair in the bathroom mirror.
Ragging my fingers through it and having them get caught on a maze of knots, I felt a sudden spark of something that willed me to do something reckless.
Walking back out into the bedroom, I went straight to my bedside table and pulled out my toiletry bag, tipping it all out onto my bed until the hair scissors fell out.
Ever since my first day back at the school I'd felt like I was fighting a losing battle with my unruly waves. Enough was enough. I needed to get some control back, in one area of my life at least.
Positioned in front of the mirror fifteen minutes later, I found myself standing in a brown sea of my own previously long hair, my feet covered in what looked like hairy slippers.
It was everywhere.
I looked down at the severed tendrils in shock. Even the way they were positioned, curled around and haphazard made them look like victims in a crime scene.
It started to dawn on me what I had done.
I turned my head around to the side to see my new hair from a different angle. The blunt ends didn't quite sweep my shoulders. It made my baby face looked older. More mature somehow.
Wincing at the jagged edges my frenzied cuts had created, I picked up my wand to do some damage control; straightening it off best I could.
There wasn't time to linger on what I'd done for too long. I had fifteen minutes left before my first lesson started.
As I approached the open Charms class door I could already hear Professor Flitwick telling everyone to settle down, and I managed to slide in just before he closed it.
"Good morning, Miss Morland," he greeted as if he hadn't noticed the drastic change in my appearance, "Are you well?"
"I'm okay thanks," I replied, tucking my hair behind my ear self-consciously.
He never normally made a point of asking me how I was, especially if I was that close to being late for his lesson, and I knew it was probably because he'd heard about my involvement in what had gone on the previous day.
"Very good," he replied, "Please take your seat."
As he walked to his desk and stepped up onto his platform, I wanted to ask if there had been any more news on Professor Mison or Military, but there was no way I was going to draw any more attention to myself.
Avoiding everyone's gaze except for Lily's, who was already sat down in the chair next to mine, I headed for my seat. Her eyes were wide when she saw me.
"Your hair," she mouthed.
I gave her a look that told her I was well aware of the rash decision I had made.
"No, it looks nice," she whispered in an attempt to reassure me.
As I sat down I couldn't help but glance over into the Marauders corner. Sirius did a double take when our eyes met. Though he didn't say anything, his expression was very similar to Lily's, almost as if he was trying to work out if it was really me.
I tried my best to put my study-head on during the lesson, and the class had all been note-taking in relative silence for around half an hour when my quill was interrupted by Flitwick stopping at our table.
"Professor McGonagall has asked that you meet her in the Headmaster's office," he said to me in an undertone, beckoning for me to follow him towards the door.
I looked at him in shock for a second before getting up, shooting an uncertain glance at Lily as I extricated myself from our desk.
"Has she said what it's about, Professor?" I asked in a quiet voice when we reached the door.
This was it. They'd made their decision. I was going to be expelled.
"I'm afraid not, Miss Morland," he replied, looking genuinely sorry in a way that furthered my suspicion he knew more than he was letting on.
I tucked my hands between my legs on my lap, uncomfortably cold and clammy from nerves as I watched McGonagall take a slow, purposeful sip from a blue and white china teacup.
She placed it down on the Headmaster's desk in front of her and looked back at me, her expression inscrutable.
My eyes moved across the room to where Professor Dumbledore himself was stood with his back to us, feeding his beautiful red and gold phoenix. Apparently he'd arrived back in the early hours of that morning.
"There we are, Fawkes," he said gently, seemingly unaffected by his lack of sleep, "Isn't that better now?"
Still with the same placid look on his face, he turned around and glided over to us, his legs not visible under his long emerald robes.
"I must apologise again for interrupting your studies, Miss Morland," he said, lowering himself into his throne-like chair next to McGonagall. "I'm sure you must be wondering why I've asked you to come here."
"Yes, professor," I replied, not sure if he actually expected an answer.
"Let me start by saying Professor McGonagall has filled me in on the sorry state of events that occurred in my absence," his eyes looked sad behind his half moon glasses, "and I can only pass on my deepest regret that I have had to be away for so long. I assure you, I would not have been were it not for a matter I deemed to be of vital importance."
I could remember James telling us all that his dad had said Dumbledore was at Durmstrang to 'improve relations' between us all.
"Accepting any and all invitations of friendship from other Wizarding schools is particularly important given the current climate of division in the magical community," he confirmed, "I do hope you will therefore excuse my absence and the ordeals you and your friends have endured as a result of it."
"It wasn't your fault, Albus," I heard McGonagall say firmly in a low aside, but Dumbledore just lifted his hand.
"Now that I am back, however, there are certain issues that must be dealt with," he continued gravely. "One of which, being the outcome of your actions yesterday evening, as well as Mr Black's involvement of course; a matter I will be discussing with him shortly."
My eyes focused on Fawkes's gentle preening just behind him, and I studied her movements carefully, keeping my breathing steady.
"While we are of course indebted to you both for the results of your actions, locating Professor Mison and ensuring he was able to escape his imprisonment as you no doubt did, we cannot condone the way you chose to achieve it."
McGonagall shifted at his side, and I knew she was probably dying to rip into me again about it.
"As Professor McGonagall has no doubt already said, the two of you took a substantial risk in your decision to attempt the rescue unaided, and, as such, put yourselves in grave danger by doing so. As a consequence of this, I am afraid I have no choice but to-"
I finally prised my stare away from Fawkes and looked up into his pale blue eyes.
"-give you one week's worth of detention."
I stared at him, unable to tell if I'd heard correctly.
No expulsion? Not even a suspension?
"Now we've got that part out of the way," Dumbledore said, his face brightening slightly, "It would seem the responsibility also falls on us to recognise the significant amount of bravery it must have taken to not only stand up to a Professor in the way that you did, but knowingly risk your lives while doing so.
"Without your quick-thinking and courage, Professor Mison would surely not have survived his ordeal," he continued, "And in light of this we are beholden to pass on our whole-hearted gratitude at what the two of you managed to achieve, and award you both with 50 House Points each."
I frowned, taken off guard by the sudden turnaround in conversation.
"Respective of this, Professor McGonagall also has something she would like to say," he said, looking at my Head of House expectantly.
McGonagall looked a bit like she had swallowed a wasp, and I could tell whatever she was about to say was in part because of coercion. It made me wonder what it could possibly be that could in any way add to what Dumbledore had already said.
"I am sure you remember our earlier discussion regarding your performance in school," she started, pretending she couldn't see Dumbledore's pleasant smiling in her direction, "And," she paused, "I wanted to be the first to reassure you," another pause, "that you no longer have to concern yourself with the threat of moving back a year."
Something exploded inside of me.
"Your other professors have all reported a marked improvement in your grades since our earlier discussion," she explained. "In addition to this, the Headmaster and I both agree that if you are capable of mounting a rescue to save a professor from dark magic, then you are surely more than capable of your sixth year studies," she said pointedly.
I couldn't control the wide grin of genuine happiness that took over my face, and even McGonagall's mouth seemed to crack ever so slightly at the sight of it.
"However, that is not to say I want your positive attainment to stop there," she warned, trying to rein me back in, "If anything, I wish to see its continued improvement. You must stop hiding your light under a bushel, Morland," she implored, "because not everyone in this world will take the time to go hunting for it."
"I think what the Professor is trying to say," Dumbledore added helpfully, "is try to have more confidence in your own abilities."
"Perhaps you might even take a leaf out of Mr Black's book," McGonagall added wryly, "In that respect, at least."
Remembering her tea, she poured a fresh cup from the teapot next to it.
"Oh yes," she said casually as she added her signatory lemon, "and we thought you might also like to know that Professor Mison has regained consciousness."
I straightened in my chair, unable to believe they were only just telling me this now. "He has?"
McGonagall's mouth twitched in another reluctant smile.
"Judging from your reaction, it may also please you to hear he has asked to see you," she said.
They both stared at me for a second before she said, "Well, what are you waiting for?"
Not needing any more convincing, I got up immediately and went over to the door.
"Miss Morland?" Dumbledore said before I could open it. "If you could let Professor Mison know that Professor Saunderson has now been successfully apprehended by the Wizarding authorities, I would be extremely grateful. Though that information is, of course, absolutely confidential and should be kept within the teaching staff only," he added with a twinkle in his eye.
He'd been caught.
Even though I couldn't bring myself to say it to the Headmaster out loud, I was really, really glad he was back.
It somehow seemed like everything was finally looking up.
When I got to the hospital wing the door was closed, so I knocked a couple of times and then listened for Madam Pomfrey's answer.
Not hearing anything, I opened it gingerly and peered inside. The only people in there were two figures lying in beds on opposite sides of the room.
Mary was one of them, lying on her back fast asleep.
Professor Mison on the other hand was very much awake, and looking right at me.
When he caught my eye he tried his best to smile.
"Forgive my appearance," he said as I went to stand next to his bed, his voice sounding uncomfortably hoarse from lack of use, "Considering they won't allow me the use of a mirror, I'm certain it must be bad."
Now that his face was clean I could see exactly how worryingly skeletal and dark around the eyes he was; a harsh comparison to the way he used to look.
I could understand why they hadn't let him see himself.
"Professor McGonagall said you wanted to see me," I said, trying not to stare too much.
"And so I did," he replied. "I was unfortunately too delirious to understand much of what happened yesterday, but I have been told you played a notable part in my liberation."
"It wasn't just me," I started to say.
"Oh don't worry, I know. Sirius will get the credit he's due," he assured me. "But don't be so modest, Cheryl. Professor McGonagall told me all about your efforts to help me, even before yesterday. Apparently you refused to give up on me, even when others were reluctant to listen..."
I knew my face was bright red by now and I didn't have my usual curtain of hair to hide behind. I realised this was exactly the kind of thing McGonagall had been talking about when she said I needed to stop hiding my light under a pot plant. Or whatever it was she had said.
"Thanks," I said, trying to hold my head high despite my burning cheeks, "But honestly, I wouldn't have been able to find you at all without Sirius."
He gave me a knowing smile.
"Talk of the devil," he said, his gaze moving behind me.
My head shot around to the door in time to see Sirius walk in.
"I called him here too," Mison explained when he saw my expression.
"Cheryl was just telling me how indispensable you were in helping me yesterday," he addressed Sirius in his croaky voice. He adjusted himself, trying his best to sit up while holding a hand to his side. "Apparently she couldn't have done it without you."
The heat in my cheeks doubled up despite myself.
"Is that so?" Sirius replied easily, stopping at my side. He glanced at me briefly, and I could see his eyes taking in my new look.
Mison chuckled weakly.
"Ah, young love," he sighed. "What I wouldn't give to go back."
"We're not-" we both started to say, but Mison was already talking again, "I just remembered that marvellous Patronus you produced because of it," he said, talking to me, "I've seen a lot of that charm in my time, and, believe me, nothing strengthens it quite like true love."
There was a beat.
"What's this?" Sirius asked.
Mison looked at me. "You didn't tell him?"
I shook my head slightly to beg him to stop, but it seemed like he didn't quite get the picture.
"Cheryl performed one of the brightest Patronuses I've ever seen a student conjure," he said, "And according to a reliable informant-"
"-it was all thanks to her new boyfriend. You two must have quite a bond," he observed.
I felt myself go hot and cold; I had somehow managed to conjure my first ever Patronus, a lynx, all while being grilled by Marlene about the mistake of a kiss Sirius and I had shared outside of the great hall. Long before Jesse.
Of course, the fact I had been talking about the kiss right before I conjured the Patronus had been a complete coincidence, but that hadn't stopped Marlene from blabbing to Mison about it when he'd come over to our table.
Sirius gave him a straight smile in reply.
"Can't accept the recognition for that one unfortunately," he said. "I'm not her boyfriend."
Mison looked between us. "You're not...?"
I shook my head, breathing a silent sigh of relief that Sirius obviously thought he was talking about Jesse.
Mison gave us an apologetic look.
"Well I've put my foot in it, haven't I? Let's put it down to the variety of potions I've had to guzzle and forget all about it. It happened so long ago now, anyway. Months, probably. Lots has changed since then." He breathed a sad laugh to himself, looking down at his unrecognisable body.
"Months?" Sirius repeated.
I could practically see the thought process happening in his head. Jesse and I had been together a few weeks at most.
I kept my focus on Mison, but his eyelids were already starting to droop. Talking to us was taking its toll on him. I hadn't even had chance to tell him about Military being caught.
"We should probably leave him to sleep," Sirius said.
Mison mumbled something unintelligible in reply before his breathing softened and he fell completely asleep.
Knowing I needed to clear the air with Sirius once and for all, I followed him out of the hospital wing.
"Thanks for helping me last night," I said when we stopped just outside.
"It's not like I could've just left you to deal with it on your own," Sirius replied, thankfully not mentioning Mison's last revelation.
As always, it felt like his keen grey eyes were scrutinising every detail of my face, and I held back the urge to fuss with my hair.
"That's exactly what you could've done," I said.
Why did you help me? The words were on the tip of my tongue. Why do you treat me like we're actually friends, and not just the make-believe truce I thought we were playing at?
Why did you hold my hand? Why did you put your arm around me? Why did you say all of those things in the Owlery?
And the worst question of them all I knew would sit alone right at the back of my subconscious, forever unanswered; Why do you make me feel something every time you touch me?
Do you feel it too?
With the questions stacking up, I thought again of Jesse. I shouldn't even be having those kind of thoughts, let alone thinking about saying them out loud.
"I'm sorry about what happened in the Owlery," I settled on eventually.
I hadn't even really meant to say it. As a matter of fact, I'd pretty much promised myself never to bring that day up with him ever again. Neither one of us needed to relive what had happened.
The fact that we were alone together now though took me right back. And the more I thought about it, the more I knew I had led him on that night, whether I wanted to admit it or not.
Part of moving on from him meant admitting that out loud, no matter how awkward it turned out to be. And before he had the chance to go back to ignoring me again.
"I didn't mean to make you think – well, to give you the wrong idea-" I started to say.
"Morland, stop," he said, cutting me off. "It didn't mean anything."
I looked up at him unblinking. Morland?
"I was upset that night, I didn't know what I was saying," he continued. "My family have a knack of getting under my skin. You just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Or the wrong place, I suppose."
"Pete could've turned up and I probably would've jumped his bones. So, yeah, you don't have to worry. It's not going to happen again. It's not like I'm desperately in love with you or anything."
I tried to join in with his laugh, but I felt a strange sense of disconnect from my surroundings as if I was watching our conversation from afar.
He stopped and studied me, "You didn't really think...?"
"I just wanted to make sure," I said, immediately trying to save face.
He breathed a small, hesitant laugh, his expression uncertain.
Had I actually thought Sirius Black wanted me as his girlfriend?
"Sorry if you got the wrong idea," he said.
I shook my head a little as if shooing away an invisible fly. How had this turned into him saying sorry to me, and me being the one who was humiliated?
I thought back to the way he had ignored me in the days after the Owlery. I'd thought it was because I'd turned him down, but now I knew he was just too embarrassed to face me after what he had done.
"You go on ahead anyway," he said, "I'll meet you back in Charms, there's something I've got to do first."
He had taken a few steps away from me when he stopped and turned back. "It suits you by the way," he said, "your hair."
When he went to walk away again, I suddenly wished I could glue it all back to my head.
Poor Cheryl! Or maybe not, seeing as how she has a boyfriend?
If there's something you want to see in future chapters let me know and I'll see what I can do (apart from Cheryl and Sirius finally seeing sense and getting together, because that's a given).
The cabin general hijinks
A game of seven minutes in heaven
Sirius and James might also meet Cheryl's mother...wonder what she'll think of them?!