The next day was Saturday and, having stayed up late, Zoe had intended to sleep in. Had intended was the most fitting expression, because at half past seven, she was woken up by someone knocking into her bed.
“Oops, I’m sorry,” a voice whispered.
Zoe sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “Chloe? What are you doing up at that hour?”
In the darkness, it was impossible to see Chloe’s face. Zoe did, however, not miss the way her roommate sucked in the air and then stood absolutely still.
“I just needed to use the bathroom,” the Gryffindor girl finally whispered.
Right. The bathroom was just next to Chloe’s bed. There was no way she would have bumped into Zoe on the way. But it was in the middle of the night still, too early for the sun haven risen above the hills that surrounded Hogwarts, and so Zoe turned around in her bed, hid her head under her pillow and tried to go back to sleep.
She hadn’t made much progress on that Charms essay last night. Half of it was still left. Plus, the Transfiguration and Potions essays and if she wanted to have a chance of passing her OWLs with good enough grades to go into NEWTs that would allow her to get a good job later, she would have to start studying for the finals.
Zoe groaned and turned on her back. There was no way she could get back to sleep, not now that she had realised how much work was left to do for today.
A breeze of cold air hit her as she removed her covers. Hogwarts was ridiculously draughty, even in autumn and she already dreaded the winter. Zoe liked winter, she really did. The snow and the crispy cold made the air seem so much cleaner. She just wished that the castle was better isolated.
Fifteen minutes later, she found herself at her favourite hiding spot in the library. She could have gone to breakfast, the house elves usually put the food up at seven, even on weekends, but she didn’t feel like eating alone. Plus, she had raided the kitchen with Peter after they had finally called it a night yesterday.
Zoe sighed as she sat down with her Charms essay. If everything went well, she could finish it before time for breakfast was over.
At quarter to ten, Zoe put down her quill with a satisfied smile on her face. For the first time this year, she was actually happy with a Charms essay she had written. It wasn’t perfect, but she liked to think that it was decent – at least better than anything else she usually handed in. And she was still early enough to make it for breakfast.
She walked into the Great Hall, the corner of her mouth still twitching with her smile. Her gaze found her friends at the Gryffindor table, James shoving food into his mouth as if the world was about to end tomorrow, Remus rolling his eyes at him and Peter looking still half asleep. Sirius… Sirius actually wasn’t with the rest of them, Zoe realised as she searched the Great Hall for him. She found him, just in time to see him getting slapped by Olga.
Laughing loudly, Zoe plopped down next to Remus. This was going to be a good day.
“Hello Sirius, making good progress on our little bet?” she greeted the Gryffindor boy who had come to join them.
“Sod off,” Sirius mumbled and Zoe raised her eyebrows. Someone was in a bad mood.
Sirius barely spoke a word while he stuffed his face with food. Zoe sometimes wondered if there was some kind of contest going on between him and James about who could eat more. Merlin knew she was a good eater, but she could not rival the two boys.
“What are you up to today?” James asked.
“Not much. Still got a few essays to write.”
“You want to come and join us for Quidditch practise? Remus, Peter, you coming?”
It was some kind of tradition that James took them to Quidditch practise. Zoe wasn’t sure why, it wasn’t like she could assist with anything, but she had gotten used to sitting on the bench, chatting with Remus and Peter while watching James and Sirius soar through the air on their broomsticks.
“I don’t know,” Zoe said, thinking of the essays she still needed to write and the studying she would have liked to do.
“Come on,” Sirius said, the first words he had spoken to her this morning besides his less than friendly greeting. “We barely have any homework, we should be able to finish it in one or two hours in the evening.”
Merlin, how Zoe envied him. The worst about this was that Sirius was completely serious. He would be able to finish his essays in two hours and remember all of what he had written until the exam came up.
“Take your books out to the field,” Remus suggested softly and Zoe thought about that suggestion for a moment.
“Fine,” she finally agreed, causing a grin to break out on James’ face and even Sirius seemed to brighten up.
“Great,” James exclaimed. “Can’t have you guys missing our practise. See you down at the pitch in half an hour then?”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you suffer from your monthlies,” Zoe said as she plopped down next to Remus in the Quidditch stands. “Seriously, you’re pale like a sheet. You’re sick as often as I get my monthlies.”
She heard a gagging sound from Peter and rolled her eyes. Boys could be so sensitive sometimes when it came to topics that girls talked openly about. “Come on, Peter, don’t be a baby. But seriously, Remus, you should go and see a healer about it. That’s not normal. You’re sure you’re not a girl?”
If possible, Remus had paled even more at Zoe’s word. It made her wonder. Something was up with him and she had a feeling that the rest of the Marauders knew about it. They had let her in on a lot of secrets, but some, they kept from her and even though Zoe told herself that she should be fine with it, that boys needed their secrets, she wasn’t.
Remus didn’t say anything at her words and Zoe leaned back, watching James, Sirius and the rest of the team running rounds on the ground. One reason why she was glad not to be on the team – she had no intent of jogging ten times around the pitch just for warming up.
James shouted something and everybody stopped, gathered their brooms and soon they were up in the air, passing the Quaffle between each other.
They were good, all of them, but Zoe couldn’t help but notice that James’ aim was slightly off whereas Sirius never missed a player by an inch. That’s why he was chaser and James seeker, she guessed.
“When’s the next game, anyway?” she asked.
“In two weeks, against Ravenclaw,” Remus replied, his voice hoarse with what Zoe assumed must be the upcoming cold. Poor boy!
“By the way James is shouting, you’d think that it’s in two days,” Peter remarked. A girl called Angelica had just dropped the quaffle and James was screaming his head off. He was always tense when it came to Quidditch practise, one reason why Zoe liked to watch. It was pretty amusing.
The shouting eventually stopped and Zoe retrieved a book and a piece of parchment from her bag.
“You know, Peter, I think you were right,” she said.
He frowned at her. “About the match being in two days? But that would be a Monday.”
“No, about my half brother, of course. I’m going to find him.”
“How are you planning on doing that?” Remus asked, doubts in his voice.
Zoe understood. Her Albanian half brother had become so much of a joke between them whenever something was highly unlikely to exist, that it was hard to believe that he was real. “I’ll start by writing to my mother.”
Zoe dipped her quill into the ink and let it hover over the parchment. Her mother hated talking about anything related to Albania, Zoe would have to be careful with the words she used. She remembered sitting at the kitchen table as a girl, asking endless questions about her sibling and never getting a real answer. ’I got a baby, I couldn’t take care of it, I gave it away and that’s it,’ was usually all her mother said. Not much to go by.
Ink dropped on the parchment. Remus vanished it with a flick of his hand and Zoe nodded gratefully. “I’m never going to get a response from her,” she sighed. “My mum hates talking about anything related to Albania.”
“Tell her it’s for a class,” Remus suggested. “Defence Against Dark Arts. We need to write about the dark creatures hidden in the mountains or something like that. Or curses. That’s what she went to Albania for, isn’t it? To do research on the dark magic there?”
It wasn’t a bad idea, probably better than anything Zoe would have come up with on her own. She mulled over what to write for a couple more minutes, before she started. If it worked, she should find out more about her mum’s work in Albania. Where she had been, for example. That would be a great start in tracking down Zoe’s half brother.
Zoe had just signed when she heard a foreign voice speaking her name. She looked up from her letter and turned her head and her eyes widened in surprise. Standing next to her, looking slightly uncomfortable, was Alexander.
“You said you needed help with some runes,” he said, his voice so thick with his accent that Zoe found it hard to understand him. It was a deep voice, rumbling in his chest and sounding much more masculine than Zoe would have ever expected.
Alexander’s hands twisted nervously and she realised she had been staring at him for a while.
“Yes, yes I do,” she quickly said and motioned at the seat next to her. “Would you like to sit?”
Shouting from the pitch caught her attention.
“Oh Merlin, that must have hurt,” Remus exclaimed softly.
They all turned to look at what was going on. The players were quite a distance away, but even from here, Zoe could see the blood filtering through Angelica’s fingers. Sirius was being shouted at by James but he didn’t seem to care much. Instead, his eyes were fixed on Zoe.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Sirius hit her in the nose with the Quaffle, passed it along when she was not even half a metre behind him. It was as if he wasn’t even looking at what he was doing,” Peter explained.
Zoe grinned. So Sirius had noticed that she was making progress on the bet. Awesome! It meant that she would have to hurry because he would want to catch up, but for now, she had the advantage and she planned on rubbing it in properly later when they were all back in the castle.
“It’s a charm,” she said and turned back to Alexander. “The thing I need help with. A family heirloom, I found it in the attic and I can’t put it on. Whenever I try, the necklace jumps off again. There are some runes on the back, so I was hoping you could help me figure out what they mean.”
It was a bit of a lie. The necklace wasn’t a family heirloom, she had bought it last Hogsmeade weekend and it annoyed her to no end that she couldn’t put it on. However, it served its purpose as a reason to get closer to Alexander.
“I’m not good with curses,” Alexander mumbled, shifting on his chair. “I might not be able to help.”
“That’s okay, I hope to figure it out once I know what the runes mean. Would you mind taking a look at it?”
Alexander took a moment to think about it but when he finally nodded, Zoe wasn’t surprised. He had probably already decided that he was going to help the moment that he had left Olga and came out to talk to Zoe.
By the way, where was Olga at the moment? Zoe could not remember having ever seen Alexander without her.
“Do you have the charm with you?” he asked.
Zoe shook her head. “It’s up in my dorm. Probably too far to summon it, I’m afraid of breaking something. Shall we go and get it?”
He looked reluctant to come with her but in the end, he agreed and they made their way back to the castle together. Zoe ignored the looks James gave her as she left his beloved Quidditch practise earlier and she also ignored the daggers that Sirius was glaring at her.
Alexander winced under Sirius’ stare but didn’t say anything. He did, however, start walking more quickly until Zoe found it hard to keep up with him.
Inside the castle, it was Zoe who had to lead the way. Thanks to the Marauders’ map, she knew the location of all the common rooms in Hogwarts. It soon became clear that Alexander was not that lucky because he slowed down the moment the front door fell shut behind them and looked at her questioningly.
“Upstairs,” Zoe told him and lead him into the tower where the Gryffindors lived. She left him in the Common Room while she went to get the charm from her dorm and when she came back, he was still looking around in wonder. Standing there, in the middle of the room, his eyes wide open, he looked horribly out of place and Zoe suddenly wondered if it was a good idea to have brought him here.
“Let’s go and sit down by the fire place,” she suggested softly and took his elbow.
“I’ve never been in any common rooms other than my own,” Alexander said. He was still looking around with a gaze so intense as if he wanted to take in every single detail that Zoe had to clear her throat three times before he finally sat down next to her.
“That’s it.” She held up the charm for Alexander to see. It was a small, green rock, flat and shaped like a coin. Twirls decorated the front and Zoe turned it around so he could see the runes that had been carved in the back.
“I have no idea what they mean,” she said. “But whenever I put it on, look what happens.”
She put the necklace over her head. The moment the charm touched her skin, it jumped up like a human that had been burned and pulled the chain with it. Zoe caught it from the air and gave it to Alexander. “I have no idea what this could mean.”
He stared at the charm, not taking it. “What if the curse is dangerous? Maybe you should go and see a professor about it.”
“Oh come on. They’re going to take it away for ages. Just help me translate the runes and I’ll figure out what to do from there. Besides, if it wanted to kill me, it would have done so already.”
Alexander must have seen her point because after a couple of seconds, he took the necklace and placed it on the table in front of him. Zoe didn’t miss how careful he was not to touch the charm and had to suppress her laughter. What a chicken he was!
“The first one stands for past,” Alexander said. “Something that happened long ago. And that third one, that could be a flower. Or love, hard to tell. They’re not very different, I’m not sure which one is which. And that one at the end…”
The Ravenclaw frowned. “Do you mind if I copy the runes? Then I could look them up and tell you later.”
“You can take the charm, if you want to,” Zoe offered.
“No thanks.” Alexander shook his head quickly. “Copying will be fine.”
Merlin, he was much more of a chicken than Zoe would have thought. But at the same time, he fascinated her. Over the course of the next five minutes, he copied the symbols on a piece of parchment and she couldn’t help but stare at him. He was so absorbed in his work, that she was sure he wouldn’t even have noticed if the castle had collapsed around him.
When he was done, he rolled the parchment up carefully. There were ink stains on his fingers, Zoe noticed, one fresh from what he had just written and the others faded, as if ink on his skin was a usual occurrence.
“I’m going to let you know once I’m done,” he told her.
Zoe nodded, her mind racing as he stood up. This was her chance, she had him here in her common room – without Olga. “Thank you,” she said and quickly added, “Stay for a while. What do you think about a round of wizard chess?”
For a moment, she thought that he would say yes. His gaze travelled around the common room and he didn’t make a motion to leave. But then the portrait hole opened and the Marauders tumbled in.
“Look, look. A Ravenclaw in our common room,” Sirius said.
Alexander winced as if he had been hit. “I’ll find you later.” And with those words, he disappeared from the room.
“Thank you for being such an idiot, Sirius,” Zoe exclaimed. “You were ruining my chances. That’s not fair. It’s cheating.”
“There’s nothing in the rules about it,” Sirius defended himself.
Zoe groaned and stepped up to her friend. Her hands on her hips, she stood on tip toes until her face was so close to his that she could feel his breath on her lips. “You, me, your dorm. Now!”
Behind her, James groaned. “And here I was, hoping for a shower.”
Zoe ignored him.
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