It all started with a bet. Zoe had just broken up with Michael from Ravenclaw when James decided that he wanted to choose her next boyfriend.
“Michael wasn’t enough of a challenge,” he reasoned at lunch and they all glanced towards the Ravenclaw table where Zoe’s now ex-boyfriend stabbed a sausage with his fork. “He’d been drooling over you for months already.”
Sirius, Remus and even Peter, who was often oblivious to those kinds of subtleties, nodded in agreement.
“What you need is someone who’ll keep you occupied for a while. Someone who’s unlikely to fall for you, someone who represents a challenge.”
“I quite like the boys I choose, thank you very much. Why work hard when you can have it the easy way?” Zoe asked in between two mouthfuls of mashed potatoes. Sometimes, James had crazy ideas – maybe he had been turned down by Lily again. She made a mental note to ask him later about it.
“Because if you continue at this rate, there’ll be no boys left in Hogwarts and you’ll have to resort to snogging Sirius,” Remus said. “And that would just be plain weird.”
James and Peter laughed and Sirius gave a funny kind of snort. Zoe kicked him under the table. No need for the others to know that she had already shared a snog with him.
“Thank you for your concern,” she said dryly. “I appreciate. But I don’t think I’ll have to stop that low yet.”
Sirius scowled. “You’re just scared to embarrass yourself when we find a boy who doesn’t fall for your charms.”
“That’s the right one speaking. Who keeps going for blonde bimbos because they’re easier to snog?”
“Well, at least I don’t deny that I just choose them for snoggability.”
Zoe snorted. “Snoggability?”
“Guys, timeout,” James interrupted. “I’ve found someone for Zoe.” He was starring intensely at the Ravenclaw table and everybody followed his gaze.
“James, Zoe just broke up with Michael. He’s not over her yet, that’s not a real challenge,” Peter finally said.
“Not Michael. Look to the left.”
“The other left.”
They all fell silent.
“Alexander Mejew? The seventh-year Ravenclaw?” Zoe finally asked disbelievingly. “You want me to date Alexander?”
“Why not? He’s a nice guy,” James said, a large grin on his face.
Zoe raised her eyebrows. “Nice? How do you know? He doesn’t talk.”
“I thought it was all about snogging?” Remus asked.
“He always wears black.”
“No, he always wears school uniforms and those happen to be black,” James said.
“His favourite subject is Divination,” Zoe cried out.
“How do you know that?” Peter asked. “I thought he never talked.”
“Well, I…” Zoe broke off. How did she know that he liked divination? She had never talked to that boy, didn’t even know what his voice sounded like.
“Actually, it’s Ancient Runes,” Remus said. Everybody looked at him.
He shrugged defensively. “What? I’m taking that subject, too, and once heard someone telling that nobody had ever been as obsessed about it as Alexander.”
“He’s weird,” Zoe finally cried out. “Just plain weird.”
“She’s right, guys,” Sirius said. “Let it go, it’s too hard for her. She’s got a better chance at finding her Albanian half brother than getting Alexander.”
Zoe huffed and folded her arms in front of her body. She knew exactly what Sirius was trying to do and she hated how easily she fell for it.
“Fine, I’ll do it. But in return, I’m going to find a girl for you.” She pointed an accusing finger at Sirius. “And once you know who it is, my Albanian half brother will not seem elusive at all compared to her.”
“Alright.” Sirius held out his hand and Zoe took it. “It’s about whoever gets kissed by the chosen partner first. No initiating that kiss yourself, it has to be the other one who kisses you.”
Zoe nodded. Those rules were fair, hard but fair.
“Might the better one win.”
They stared at each other for what felt like ages before Zoe broke off and took away her hand to dig into the heap of mashed potatoes on her plate.
Silence fell over the group, everyone contemplating the bet – everyone except Peter.
“You know, you should try and track him down one day, that Albanian half brother,” he said pensively.
“I should, shouldn’t I?” Zoe mused. “It feels strange, knowing that there’s someone out there who’s related to me and who I don’t know at all. Maybe after I graduate.”
“For all we know, he could be here at Hogwarts,” Sirius said.
Zoe rolled her eyes.
“He could,” Sirius insisted. “Nobody ever said that he went to Durmstrang.”
“Nobody ever said that he existed for real,” James muttered into his sausages.
“It could be Adam from Hufflepuff,” Sirius continued, ignoring his best friend.”
“Yeah, sure. Because we all have heard of his tragic adoption story. Besides, he’s from Poland. And I might have had an… affair with him and that would just be disgusting.”
Zoe scrunched up her face at the thought. Snogging her half-brother, even not knowingly. How weird was that? No, she knew that Adam wasn’t adopted and that he wasn’t Albanian at all and was very glad about that.
“What about Alexander, then? He’s got a funny accent.”
“First of all, he’s the subject of our bet, so the same goes for him as for Adam. And second, isn’t he from Russia?” Zoe asked, slapping Sirius on the arm. The object of her bet, her half brother. She didn’t even want to go there.
“That’s about the same, isn’t it?” James said. “Russia, Albania, all the same corner of the world.”
Remus rolled his eyes. “Have you ever looked at a map of Europe?”
“Then what about-“
“Guys, that’s enough,” Zoe interrupted Sirius. “While I appreciate your help, I seriously doubt that he’s here at Hogwarts. He lives in Albania, not Scotland. And now excuse me, I’ve got a girl to find for Sirius. I’ll catch up with you later.”
Despite what she liked everybody else to think, Zoe had always enjoyed spending time in the library. She wasn’t as clever as the rest of the Marauders, no matter how much she wished she had their brains. James, Sirius and Remus seemed to have inherited more intelligence than anybody else in the year, with the exception maybe of Lily Evans who was often on top in classes, too. Zoe, however, was more on the level of Peter, who often struggled to follow along, and had to make up for it by studying hard. That’s where the library came in handy.
Her favourite table was hidden in a corner behind a bookshelf, a place where nobody could see her and ruin her reputation by telling everybody how much time she spent here.
The library was also an excellent place for plotting and this afternoon, her half-finished Charms essay was hidden underneath a parchment covered by names.
“Grimelda Warthog, Ravenclaw, Emilia Emaldi, Hufflepuff,” Zoe muttered. “Now what about Rosalind Peters, Slytherin?”
She picked up her quill and added the name to the list when she heard footsteps.
“So, you and Sirius?” a grinning Remus asked her.
Damn. Remus was way too perceptive for his own good. Zoe should have known that he would pick up on Sirius’ strange snort and the expression on both their faces.
“What do you want?” She hated how defensive her voice sounded.
“Nothing. I was just picking up a book for Defence, so I thought I might come and have a chat with you. So what about you and Sirius?”
Of all the people, why did Remus have to be the one Marauder to know her secret hiding spot? Zoe sighed.
“End of last year, two weeks before the holidays. None of us had a partner, we had our needs, it happened once and never again. And if you tell anybody about it, I’m going to make you a head shorter. Or…” Zoe paused a moment, her gaze coming to rest on a particular name towards the bottom of the parchment. “Chloe Rogers, Gryffindor. Maybe I should make her the girl Sirius will have to go after.”
“Not that I care very much about her.” Remus shrugged, apparently completely at ease, but Zoe noticed that the knuckles of the hand holding his book had turned white. “But aren’t there girls that are a bit more of a challenge? Grimelda Warthog, for example?”
“Oh, she’s ugly, that’s true,” Zoe admitted. Warthog perfectly described the Ravenclaw girl, she could not have had a more fitting last name. “Very ugly. But a challenge? All Sirius has to do is get over her ugliness and she’ll gladly take him. Chloe, on the other hand, is Lily’s best friend. And she doesn’t even look at Sirius. She seems to hate him. Now that’s what I call a challenge.”
“There are so many other girls on the list…” Remus trailed off, his face a bit paler than before.
“I know, but Chloe would be perfect.”
Zoe looked up at Remus and managed to keep a straight face for a whole of two seconds before she burst out laughing. “Relax, Remus. You’re my friend. I’d never choose Chloe, she’s completely out of bounds. Besides, I’ve already chosen somebody. Olga, forgot her last name. Seventh year Ravenclaw.”
Remus, who looked visible relaxed after those words, rose his eyebrows to the top of his forehead. “Olga?”
“Olga?” Sirius’ reaction at dinner was a very similar one. “Olga? As in Alexander’s best friend? But we all know that she fancies him.”
“Well, that just makes her a bit more of a challenge, doesn’t it?”
Everybody knew that Olga and Alexander were inseparable. Maybe it was because they both came from Eastern Europe, maybe Olga saw something special in Alexander, who knew? In any case, she followed him everywhere and Zoe wasn’t even sure if he valued her company. He didn’t send her away but he didn’t much acknowledge her either.
Not that Zoe had ever seen Alexander acknowledge anybody, except maybe a professor.
“This is going to be the weirdest thing ever, me going after the girl who fancies the boy you’re going after,” Sirius groaned.
“Wicked, isn’t it?” Zoe said, trying to ignore those looks that Remus had been giving her since the beginning of dinner. Those knowing looks, the grin on his face. She just should have denied everything about Sirius earlier in the library.
With a slight shook of her head, she concentrated back on the topic at hand. Olga. From her position, Zoe watched her talking non-stop to Alexander. If Sirius gained a head start on Zoe, what she did not hope, then at least it would make talking to Alexander easier. Yes, Olga was the perfect person to choose.