The idea for this story has been in my head for quite a while now, but I didn't begin to write it until recently. I've never tried to write Next Gen before, and I'm quite nervous about it. Hopefully it will be a bit different from the usual Albus/OC stories, since the majority of it won't take place at Hogwarts. Anyway, I'm not sure how quick the updates will be as of yet, but it's going to be a very long story, and I promise I will finish it! Let me know if you want it to be continued.

DISCLAIMER: I am a broke Canadian teenager, not a middle-aged British billionaire.


Contrary to popular belief, being short is not all it's cracked up to be. It's not cute, or endearing, or any other adjective which is used to describe the vertically challenged. Frankly, it's quite a nuisance, having to always stand on your tiptoes to see the same sights everybody else can see without having to move a muscle. It's also rather grating when people can't seem to stop saying, "Oh, aren't you adorable!" and patting your head as if you were a baby—not to mention rather bruising to your ego when you're in sixth year and ninety percent of the first years are taller than you.

I'd accepted long ago that I would never reach my dream height of five feet—instead I was doomed to hover at four eleven for the rest of my life. It was as if Fate had cruelly decided to taunt me.

I'd once joked that I would sell my sanity to grow just one more inch, and my best friend, Alice Longbottom, had snapped at me, saying that if my biggest problem was being short then I'd better count myself lucky. She rarely became angry, so after her outburst I had dropped the matter. She did have a point, though: seeing as how her grandparents had literally been tortured out of their minds—one of whom she was named after—jokes of that nature were probably out of line.

Still…

It would be nice to grow two and a half more centimetres. But seeing as how I was sixteen and my height hadn't changed in the past seven years, it was safe to assume I was finished growing.

I didn't have very good balance, either. You would think that the smaller I was, the better my balance would be.

No such luck.

"Hey! Watch where you're going, would you?"

"S—sorry," I squeaked as I picked myself up off the floor, not making eye contact with the seventh-year Slytherin I had just run into. It figured I had tripped over my own luggage the second I had climbed onto the Hogwarts Express.

"Bloody first-years," I heard the Slytherin mutter as he walked away. I didn't feel the need to shout back that I was a sixth-year, thank you very much. It wasn't as if he would listen anyway.

Pulling myself ungracefully to my feet, I grabbed my luggage handle in one hand and my Siamese cat, Droobles, in the other, who was yowling loudly. "Oh, shut up," I muttered, stuffing the disgruntled cat back into his cage. "It was an accident."

Moving more cautiously, I slowly made my way to the compartment where I knew Alice would be waiting, since she undoubtedly hadn't tripped and sent half her belongings into every which direction on her way onto the train. Trying to ignore the throbbing pain in my right shin, I pushed open the door to where I had spotted Alice sitting with the three other girls in our dorm—Grace Wood, Paige Creevey, and Lauren Finch-Fletchley.

Unlike the other three Houses, which often had rivalry and enmity between their dorm mates, the five of us in Hufflepuff had become friends for life, as was typical of the House. We knew all of each other's secrets and would probably even die for each other. Let it never be said that Hufflepuffs aren't loyal.

"Oh, look who finally decided to walk in," Alice teased. "Forgot where the platform was, Charlotte?"

I glared at her, but seeing as how she was still standing up it only came out looking comical. Alice was the freakishly tall to my freakishly short. She'd always towered over the boys, and I barely came up to her shoulders. "I tripped," I mumbled.

Everyone shared knowing glances. "Of course you did," Grace smirked.

Mumbling incoherently, I stuffed my luggage into the rack and sat down beside Lauren. The girls quickly resumed their previous conversation and I tried to tune in.

"Have you seen James lately?" Paige was asking. "I saw him in London during the summer and I just about fainted."

"It should be illegal for someone to be that attractive," Lauren agreed.

"Are you talking about James Potter?" I asked.

"Who else?" Paige snorted.

I supposed I shouldn't have been too surprised. James Potter was a seventh-year Gryffindor, a year above us, and the captain of the Quidditch team. He was very handsome, I supposed, with auburn hair and mischievous hazel eyes, but he also had a reputation for being a notorious flirt and a womanizer. To be quite honest, I'd fancied him in second year, but there was no way he would even look twice at a mousy Hufflepuff like me, so that dream had eventually faded into oblivion. But apparently the other girls had more hope than I did.

"We were over at the Potters' house for dinner in July, and I think he was flirting with me," Alice said, leaning forward. The other girls grinned enthusiastically, as if being invited to the Potters' house was a common occurrence. But for them, I supposed it was.

I was the only Muggle-born in the group, so I was, as usual, left out. There was really no issue with being Muggle-born in Hogwarts now—even the Slytherins were less prejudiced than they had once been. But I had read stories about the First and Second Wizarding Wars that had occurred not too long ago…and I had whispered, "I'm a Mudblood" to myself several times. All in all, however, I'd never been insulted or made to feel inferior about it. When it came to social matters, though, I was usually out of the loop, since the other girls' families had all known each other for years.

My parents had been bemused when I'd received my Hogwarts letter (I had nearly had a heart attack when I'd woken up in the middle of the night to see a huge barn owl tapping at the window; that incident had therefore cemented my fear of owls which was sure to haunt me the rest of my life) and more than a little bit nervous. They weren't at all curious about the magical world, and preferred to live in their own protected bubble of mundanity. They hardly wrote letters to me, and when I came home for summer holidays everyone pretended I wasn't "abnormal", as I'd once overheard my father referring to me as. I had an older sister, Amelia, whom I'd used to be very close with, but after I'd started attending Hogwarts and she'd moved to some far-flung African country, our relationship had disintegrated and now we only saw each other a couple of times a year.

I sometimes felt like I was destined to drift on the cusp of the wizarding world forever—technically part of it, but not quite belonging. Similarly, I always fell quiet when people talked about their Sorting. From what I'd heard, the Hat seemed to talk to most people…in fact, everyone but me. When my name had been called, I'd stumbled up to the stool, nearly tripping over my too-long robes in the process, and had barely sat down when it screamed out "HUFFLEPUFF!" Just like that. Now I usually stayed silent when everyone tried comparing what the Hat had said to them.

"Hey! Char!" I blinked to see the other girls staring at me.

"What?" I asked stupidly.

Paige rolled her eyes. "Weren't you listening? Don't you agree that James is just the most delectable thing you've ever laid eyes on?"

"Sure," I agreed, since I had the feeling they would eat me alive if I disagreed.

This was going to be a long trip.