Though Hogwarts in February was certainly no isle of Crete, and there was–most likely–no large beast waiting at the end of the corridors to devour her, Rose couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit like Theseus as she worked on her latest assignment from Professor Qasim. Despite some lingering misgivings about the invasion of privacy, she tiny blonde had worked diligently to study a near-stranger’s life and connections.
Gilly Merrywater, a second year Ravenclaw, was a nice enough boy. He’d certainly felt no hesitation to talk with an older housemate about his family and friends while they’d studied near each other in the common room one night. The problem was, hearing Gil talk about the people in his life left a picture in Rose’s mind that didn’t entirely lineup with the threads she was seeing around him.
So she followed her thread, her ball of string, through the maze to the Hufflepuff common rooms. Maybe a fresh set of eyes, and a mind that knew another member of the Merrywater family, could help her with this problem.
Pausing before the stack of barrels that concealed the entrance, Rose pulled at a curl, letting it pass between her fingers to fall back in with the rest of her hair. She could just let herself in; Sam had taught her the rhythm to open the passage back when they were first years. But it seemed so impolite. Then again, she was about to talk to a friend about what she’d seen while invading the privacy of a younger student. Maybe today wasn’t about politeness.
“Hel-ga Huff-le-puff,” she chanted the syllables while she tapped the barrel. Then, as she stepped down into the newly revealed passageway, she tried to think up the least confusing way to explain to her friend why she needed help.
The Hufflepuff common room with its warm fire glinting off the copper fixtures was as inviting as ever. All the plants that hung, and stood, and or sat all around the gave it the faintest smell of a freshly tended garden. For Ambrosia Sheridan the rounded room was a bit like walking into a hug.
Orlando sat with Ford beneath one of the windows that today only gave a view of crisp white snow and a few stubborn blades of yellowing grass. They were engaged in a heated game of Basilisk’s Gambit.
Ford cursed as one of the cards in his hand popped. He quickly threw another onto the pile between them.
“Efternoon thare, Brosia,” the Scot smiled upon her approach. He tossed a card from his hand down.”Whit brings ye aboot? Prefectly Duties oor come tae lord yuir duel win ower oor guid Ford here?”
This had clearly been said for Fords benefit as his eyes searched his hand. “Shut it, Fooze.” He played his card and looked up at Rose with a bit of a smile. “He’s been trying to psych me out all game. He’s afraid of losing.”
“Well I’d hate to interrupt a game,” the little prefect answered with a grin. “Maybe I should just sit over here and ooo and ahhh as you display your game-playing brilliance.”
The pair of Hufflepuffs laughed and gave a collective “riiight”. They then fell into the rhythm of slapping down cards. “Ye ken Brosia Sheridan is tae nice a lass tae lord a win ower a body, Ford.”
“Yeah, I know.” He gave the Ravenclaw a smile.
“Ahm no, thou.” Foozle slapped down the last card in his hand. “BOOM.”
The remaining few cards that Ford held all popped excitedly. “Dammit.” Ford cursed and shook his fingers. “Nice one, Fooze. I’ll get you next time though.”
“Yuir a regular Bond villain, Ford.”
Orlando started to scoop the cards back up even as the cards began to reconstitute themselves from their ashes. “Whit’s up?” He asked the girl.
Rose pulled a chair up beside the boys and leaned against the armrest. “Actually, I was hoping you could give me a bit of help with an assignment,” she told him. She kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet up beside her body. “I’m doing some extra stuff for Professor Qasim to help with my… thing,” she finished hesitant, unsure exactly how much she wanted to share in front of Ford.
“Speaking of Professor Qasim,” Ford pushed back from the table, “I need to study for that exam coming up. You should too, mate.”
“We hae an exam?”
Ford shook his head. “I’ll give you my notes later. Good see you, Ambrosia.” He waved and trotted toward the boy’s dormitory.
“Ah think he fancies ye.” Foozle said, sliding the deck aside and propping his cheek up in his fist. “Extrae stuff, eh?” His eyes glanced down, as if to look at the strands that ran between the two of them.
Rose watched Ford walk away. He was a nice enough boy. He just wasn’t Danny. So she let Orlando’s first comment go without a response. “Extra stuff.” She smiled to see his understanding. It was something she could always count on from him. “I was hoping you had a minute or five to talk about housemates and relationships and other things that are extra stuff-ish.”
“Ah hiv a minute. A hiv five.” He picked his bag up and slung it on to his shoulder. “Brosia, A hiv aw the minutes ye’d lik tae tak.” He gave the common room a cursory look. It wasn’t full, but more than a few of his housemates lingered about. “Mebbes ye’d lik tae retire tae some ither place an chat me up?”
She beamed at him. “Yes please. Let’s go find some comfy chairs so I can pick your brain a little.”
The padded bench tucked between suits of armor on the third level proved to be perfectly tailored to their needs. Rose crossed her legs on the seat and immediately began to catch Orlando up on her most recent lessons with their Defence Against the Dark Arts professor. She spread the web from last assignment out between them and touched the lines that represented the connection between the two of them.
“It’s really hard to explain what I see but this makes as much sense as anything else I could come up with.” The blonde couldn’t help but feel pride as she looked at it again. It really was an impressive piece of work… unlike her current assignment. “But this is me looking at… me. And my friends. It seems almost normal.”
Foozle picked up the paper and looked it over a little. “Wha widnae it be normal?” He ran his finger along one of the lines, the line between the two of them. Then he looked at the space between them again, as if he were examining the connection shown on the paper. “Juist acause Ah cannae see it disnae cheenge the fact tha it’s ayweys thare, richt?”
Bright green eyes regarded him with something very close to amazement before Rose threw her arms around him in an impulsive hug. He got it. “Right. And so what I’m trying to do is make things make more sense. Specifically, connections that aren’t necessarily tied to me. So I’ve been following this second year, so to speak. And he’s got a sister in Hufflepuff. And…” She sighed and blew a curl away from her face. “And it’s not making sense. So I was hoping maybe you could help.”
“Gif A kin Ah will.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Wha is it then?”
“Aye,” the Scot nodded, “his sister is Trudy. Ah ken her. She’s a fourth year. Smairt witch, she is. Ah reck she’s git “prefect” written a’ ower her.”
The blonde chewed on a lock of hair as she nodded. “Gilly’s smart too. And a really nice kid. He’s got a lot of friends and seems to just be… nice. He speaks very highly of Trudy too.”
She looked down at her parchment again, touching their friends who had siblings of their own. “But when I look at their connection it’s not… it’s not like the normal ones.” She blew out a long sigh. “I just hoped maybe you could help me understand why.”
Foozle chuckled to himself. “Brosia, ilka relationship’s different. Think aboot Tommy n’ me.” He set the web map of her friends between them and traced the line between Tom and himself, “We’re lik brithers, as good as. Whit aboot Tommy n’ ye?” He traced their line next. “Lik faimly, richt? Mebbes whit ye see is claise, but is it the verra same?”
“No.” She put her fingers over her eyes and gave another sigh. “It’s not like that. And it’s not like what I see with me and Halcyon or Danny and the twins either. It’s more…” Rose paused, groping for a word. “Incomplete.”
He gave her slight jab in the ribs with his elbow. “Stap gitting frustratit.”
The Hufflepuff paused a moment, trying to think of the best way to explain what he was thinking to her. “Mebbes it is incomplete in a wey.” He gave his temple a scratch. “Juist no the wey ye think.”
“Tell me, Brosia,” he picked up the map and held it over his face, “whit dae ye see in these lines? Ye dinnae hiv tae name names. Ahmno leuking. Just… whit are the emotions atween fowk?”
She sighed again. “If you don’t want me to be frustrated, you should stop asking hard questions,” she said with a hint of a pout.
Looking back at her lines, she tried to answer her friend. “I don’t know the emotions. I mean, it’s us. So… I guess they’re good ones. We’re all family in our own way. So, it’s all forms of love… I think.”
“Prolly.” He lowered the map. “Here’s an easier question. Gif A askit ye tae draw a rainbow wid ye anley use orange crayons?”
“Of course not.” She knew what he was getting at. Or at least she thought she did. “I wouldn’t use orange to draw… you or Céilidh with Peter Porsblat, for example. But Gilly and Trudy aren’t like that either.”
The boy shook his head. “Nae, but ye are trying tae translate the twa o them wi anely a few wirds in yuir dictionary.”
“Ye sain tha Gilly speaks verra highly o Trudy.” She nodded. “Whit wad ye say gif A telt ye tha she’s rarely mentioned him?”
“Really?” Rose’s eye lit up as she considered this. “See? This is why I came to you. I can only translate with what I know, but you’re adding new words.”
She grinned at her friend then turned her mind back to the Merrywaters. “She doesn’t hate him. But she doesn’t talk about him… Do you think she’s embarrassed of him? He is a little brother, after all.”
“Mebbes, but Ah dinnaken gif it’s juist tha.”
The blonde Ravenclaw fell silent as she thought of all the possible shades of emotion between love and hate. She didn’t know this family, so at this point she was guessing in the dark. “I suppose I don’t need to figure this out,” she said without much conviction. “I mean, I know enough to map his relationships. That’s what the Professor asked for. It’s just…” The thought didn’t need to be completed. They both knew there was no way she was going to give up so easily.
“Please,” Orlando picked his bag up off the ground and rooted around in it, “a Hufflepuff disnae gie up – unafeart o toil and whitno. Neither daes a Brosia Sheridan.” He pulled out blank parchment scroll and a quill.
“Whit we need is a wee bit mair insicht.” He scribbled out a pair of notes and then folded them over.
“I’m listening.” She bounced to the edge of her seat, waiting for him to share the idea that had popped into his brilliant and resourceful mind.
“Beasties experts leart aboot the habits o porlocks by watching thaim in thair native habitat.”
He gave one of the papers a tap with his wand, “Memrandio” The paper folded itself up into a small plane and hovered above the table. He repeated the process, fumbling a little with the incantation this time, and the second paper folded itself up into a rather messier plane.
“Whit A propose is tha we arrange fer the guid Merrywaters tae gi taegither wi naebody aboot. Weel, ‘cept us acoorse. But thay winna ken tha.” He looked back up at Rose, “Then we juist see whit happens. Se whit thay dae whan thay’re on thair oan.”
“You’re brilliant! Brilliant!” Grabbing the sides of his head, Rose deposited a kiss on the top of his hair. “I love your brain. It’s our very own sibling safari.” Laughing with delight, she released him to resume bouncing on her seat. “I knew you’d be able to help… I just didn’t think we were gonna have so much fun.”
“Please,” Foozle laughed, “we kin mak juist aboot onything fun, Brosia.” He thought about it. “‘Cept fer mebbes a lesson o Binns.” He whispered a name to each of the airplanes and the whizzed away.
Wind blew coolly through the open air pillars of the owlery. Orlando leaned out between two of them and looked back at the walkway which lead from the stairs and back to the castle. He hadn’t been up this way too much since last year when he had had that rather close encounter with a harpy. It still carried the signs of that night with broken and charred bricks and stones.
Foozle absentmindedly rubbed the scar that cut his left brow in two. It wasn’t the only thing with a permanent reminder.
“Sae,” he said quietly, his head still stuck outside, “Ah reck ye hiv hid the guid fortune tae spend muckle time wi Perfesser Qasim nou.” He let his gaze drift over toward the whomping willow. “Whit dae ye think o oor Defence Agains th’ Daurk Arts Perfesser nou?”
Rose looked down at her shoes. The toes of her ladybug rain boots were already covered with… well… it was better not to think about that. “I think I’m too easy to win over,” she said with a sigh. “I really didn’t want to like him. Sometimes I still don’t. But he really knows what he’s talking about, and it’s been helping me a lot.” She sighed again, feeling like some sort of traitor. “And when he praises me…”
Foozle looked back over his shoulder. “Ye like teachers, Brosia,” he replied. “I dinna fault ye fur it.”
She nodded, taking comfort in his honesty. “He’s such a… I don’t know… divisive issue. I guess I’m still figuring him out. How he can be someone I want to look up to at one moment and such a jerk the next. You know?”
“He’s nae an eejit,” Lando nodded. “He likes tae mak an impression, tae git a rise oot o fowk.”
The teen leaned on the stone, keeping an eye on the door from the castle. “Ye ken…” He stopped himself, his brow furrowing a little, creasing in thought, “he’s bin poking aroond the students, did ye ken?” He turned toward her, putting the castle behind him. “He’s tappit some o thaim tae hulp him investigate cert incidents throo’oot th’ year.”
“I’m sure he made it sound very reasonable,” she murmured. “He’s kinda good at that. He made me feel kinda silly for even questioning if it was okay to watch people the way I do.”
Orlando nodded. “He’s verra chairming.”
He looked at her for a moment, his brow drawn together in quiet concern. “Brosia,” he said, not all that quietly, “Ahm gled he’s hulping ye oot wi yuir gift. Dinane git me wrang. It’s important, Ah ken. Ah juist…” He shook his head once, “Juist be carkful, alricht?”
Her eyes met his for a long moment then she gave a slow, solemn nod. “I’m trying. I really am. I go into his office and I do his assignments as Rose, the student. But I’m not in there alone. I’ve got all my friends in the back of my head and I’m going to listen to them this year. And whenever I doubt it…” She looked down at the air between them, a smile blossoming on her face. “I just have to look around.”
Foozle leaned over that bit of air and kissed her lightly on her hairline. “Damn, richt.”
Rose snuggled against him for a moment then giggled. “If you’re checking my hair for owl poop I’m gonna scream.” She opened her mouth to say more but the sound of footsteps on the outside stairs silenced her. One of their test subjects, so to speak, was finally arriving.
Gilly Merrywater entered the owlry with the sort of awkward enthusiasm only young teenage boys seemed to possess. Seemingly disappointed that he’d managed to arrive before his sister, he took the thick-rimmed glasses from his face, wiped them clean, then settled against a mostly clean pillar to read while he waited.
As the boy had entered the pair had hurried to the set of windows on the far side of the round room, throwing a quickly cast mattetto up to hide behind. Even with the illusion that hid them from view, the two of them crouched down into the straw, keeping low in case any owls came in from a delivery.
The young Merrywater boy read quietly by himself, and for what seemed like a good long while the only sound in the owlery was the soft hooting of its residence. Eventually footsteps shuffled up the steps, and the door creaked open, quieting the owl chatter for a moment. Trudy stepped in, hopping over the first mound of straw that was past the sweep of the door. She gave a casual glance around the room, giving a small smile to the owls.
A barn owl opened its wings and swooped down to her arm. “Hey there, Almond,” she lifted a finger and let the owl nip her affectionately.
“Hey, Gil.” she said to the boy, but didn’t turn her attention from the bird.
“Hi, Trudy!” Gilly’s broad face broke into a grin at his sister’s greeting.
“So?” The girl gently stroked the bird’s head. It was almost as if she were talking to her owl instead of the boy, save for the lack of affection that colored her tone. “I’ve got work to do, so I don’t have all day here.”
“Oh. Right.” The smile faded off his face, leaving him looking like a kicked puppy. But that didn’t stop him from pushing ahead, trying for a smile from his sister. “So, I have my letter to mom and dad, and if you have one ready we can just send them to our parents together.”
The girl’s jaw stiffened just a little. Her eyes rolled over to look at the younger boy without even moving her head a bit. “I already sent my dad a letter.” There was a subtle emphasis in how she said it that caused Orlando to look over to Rose with a raised brow of curiosity.
Gilly, apparently, wasn’t getting the hint. “I just thought that with mom’s birthday coming up and all…” His face brightened again. “Or maybe we could go to Hogsmeade together and get a gift for her this year.”
Trudy slowly turned her head to look at her brother. Apparently that vibrant excitement registered to her somehow, but only brought a little sigh from the Hufflepuff. “I don’t think so.” She gave her arm a little shake, and Almond hopped back to her perch. “She’s your mom. Get her whatever you want.”
“Well, okay.” The boy deflated slightly then tried one more time. “But I’ll be sure to put your name on the card again.”
“Don’t. Don’t do that, Gil.” Trudy Merrywater made a sound that was somewhere between annoyance and frustration. “God, You’re just like dad, signing her name on my letters. Your mom doesn’t care if my name is on a card or not. Would you just stop pretending like she does? I’m not her daughter. She’s not my mom.” The girl’s nostrils flared a little. “She’s yours.”
She maneuvered around him toward the owlery door and pulled it open. “You’re a smart Ravenclaw, Gil, and a good kid,” she said, looking back over her shoulder, “You should be able to figure this out by now.” And then she left.
The boy’s lower lip trembled. He stood alone in the owlry for a good five minutes, as if hoping she’d change her mind and come back up the stairs. Finally he heaved a sigh and began to head toward the door. “She does care,” he told Almond, and any other owl who happened to be listening. “I just know it.”
“Hrm…” Orlando frowned, not feeling particularly enthusiastic about the scene that they had just set up. He stood, dissolving the illusion that hid them from view with a silent finite incantatem and a wave of his wand. “Tha mich no hae bin ma best idea…”
He crossed the room to the far opening and watched Gilly Merrywater walking the stone path back to the castle.
Rose followed him, leaning her head against his shoulder as they watched in silence for a minute. “This is…” She fumbled for a word. “It’s just… I mean, what’s the point of spying on someone’s pain? What good can that do anybody? Why does Professor Qasim even think this is useful?”
Orlando put an arm around her shoulder, considering what she said. He found it admittedly difficult to answer, particularly in light of what they had just witnessed. “Ye kin see a body’s hert, Brosia, e’en gif thay cannae see thair ane.” The Hufflepuff shook his head a little. “Ah’d wad thare’s a heap o fowk tha’d gie thair ee teeth tae hae tha sicht, and mebbe’s no aw o thaim guid.” He squeezed her shoulder. “But a body wi yuir hert coud help a lot o fowk.”
He paused a moment, feeling the thoughts that tickled at his tongue. The Scot grumbled to himself. “Alricht, Ah’ll say it,” he said, “Ween gif we ken hou tribble’d Eric wis. Mebbes we coud hae helpit him afore ilka thing became… unfixable.”
Hidden in the protective circle of her friend’s arm, Rose nodded. It was something she’d been thinking about while trying not to think about it too much. “At least we would have known something was wrong.” She let out a long sigh, pushing those thoughts to the side.
“I’m still not sure this totally helped me though. Can we…” She looked around at the now somewhat depressing tower. “Can we go someplace warmer to figure this out?”
He nodded. “Ah ken juist the place.”
Orlando looked around the cave as Rose settled into the comfy leather couch. “Kin A git ye onything? Pumpkin juice? Butterbeer? Firewhisky oor Scotch?” He crossed over to the tarp covered barrels, pulling the cover back and poked about the bottles it had hidden.
The blonde shook her head. “Not unless you have a barrel of hot chocolate.”
“A, uh…” He scratched the back of head, giving another cursory look, “A dinnae, nae.”
He gave a snap of his finger and called out for the matronly house elf Gerti. No sooner had she arrived did he send her back to the kitchens for some hot cocoa and coffee.
Foozle dropped into the armchair and leaned against it’s armrest. “Sae,” he said, resting his cheek on his fist and looking over in her direction, “whit did ye see?”
She curled up on the couch, chewing on a lock of hair until the chocolate arrived to save her. “Nothing easy,” she sighed. “It was all so… subtle. Like I could stare at it all day and still not see all the little differences.”
He nodded. “The lad is filled wi houp. Ah think he kens juist as muckle as his sister thinks he disnae oor is slingin a deifie tae. Bit Trudy…” He sighed a little and shook his head. “Ah think we leart a wee bit wha she disnae talk muckle aboot him. An it’s not the poor lad’s faut.”
“It’s just so… complicated.” She pulled out a sheet of parchment and began drawing lines, using her wand to change the colors slightly. “And I know every relationship is… But this…” Rose paused, eyes shining as she looked up at Orlando. “It’s not a two-way street.”
“Nae, it’s no…” He offered her a smile. “Sae hou daes it leuk… different? The connection, Ah mean.”
“Okay, okay.” She leaned forward, spreading her paper out between them. “Most of the ones I look at are kinda like this…” She did her best to draw a shimmering golden line with her wand. “That’s what I see with my friends. Gold goes both ways.”
She drew another line. “Now when I watch Gilly and Trudy it’s more… like his looks normal, the regular color. But hers doesn’t exactly come back to him. He’s like one step removed from a stranger… because that’s how she wants it to be.”
He rubbed his chin, looking at the paper. “Tha wid mak sense.”
There was a crack and the house elf returned, tray in hand with two steaming mugs. Foozle helped Gerti, thanking her and handing over the hot chocolate to the blonde Ravenclaw.
“Efter aw,” he said, dropping a dollop worth of liquid from the fob of his watch into his coffee, “Ilka kinship is a twa wey wynd road. It gaes baith weys, richt? But tha disnae mean that th’ conditions o th’ road ur gauntae be the same ilk wey.”
The Hufflepuff dropped his wand into his hand and drew it back across the line she had drawn to represent the siblings. The glowing light shifted to an rusty ocher color. “Trudy’s unner construction wi her brither. Ah bet fur some faimily resentment.” His brow furrowed a little. “His ma…”
The blonde took a sip from her mug and nodded. “Right. So if a relationship is generally healthy both roads are passable. They may have their pothole or whatever, but those can be filled in.” She paused and gave her friend a quick wink. “When there’s something that really disrupts the road in one direction or another… that’s when I start seeing these weird little differences that are hard to explain.”
She took another drink then sighed. “I’m never going to be able to make this make sense… at least not enough to complete an assignment about it.”
“Yuir no bean graded here, Brosia. Onything ye learn is helpfu. Tha’s whit matters maist.” He gave her a smile. “It maks mair sense than it did, disna? Nou ye ken wha it disnae leuk lik ye thoucht it shoud.”
He took a sip from his mug, pondering the glowing lines he couldn’t see. “Acoorse a pair tha’s as complicatit as the Merrywaters turnit oot tae be is gauntae be a touch nut tae crack. I jalouse it’s lik jumpin frae the simplicity o wingardium leviosa tae the transfiguration o a quil intae an orchid. Oor takin cark o a cactus than jumping richt intae grawin a snowfaw bush. Thair’s a lat o nuance here.”
“So you’re saying I don’t need to figure it out on the first try?” Rose gave him a playfully horrified look. “You don’t know me at all, do you?”
“Ahm a Hufflepuff. Toil is whit we dae.”
With a laugh, she focused her attention on the paper again. “I know it sounds like the stupidest discovery ever, especially since there’s no way to not have experience with relationships, but the complexity here is kinda amazing me. Maybe I just took it for granted or something.”
“It’s no stupid, Ah dinnae think.” Orlando chuckled. “The world’s a pretty tricky place, isna?”
She chuckled with him, blowing the steam that rose from her hot chocolate. “And just think… we’re not even done with school yet.”
“Dinnae mynd me.” Orlando leaned back and set his feet up on the table. “This year haes pit new meaning tae the wird “eventfu”. Noyd kens whaur it’s aw leading.” His brow furrowed a little, and his smile faded. He looked down into his coffee. “These tuirns o events niver seem tae end all weel an guid at Hogwarts…”
“Yeah…” It was a thought that could kill the mood… if they let it. “But this year can be different. Maybe everything we’re doing, everything we’re all doing will help or something.”
“Yer richt, Brosia.” Orlando smiled and nodded. “Gif thare’s onyone Ah’d bet oan it’s us.”
She beamed at him. “I really can’t thank you enough for helping me today. I just wish…” She sighed and waved a hand in the general direction of the owlry. “I wish we could do more. It seems so sad to see something like those two and not be able to help.”
Orlando stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Mebbes… Mebbe’s we shoud git meddlesome?”
“I’m not opposed to meddling. Especially when it’s for a good cause,” she told him with a grin.
He waggled his eyebrows at her. “Ah’v heard tha aboot ye.”
“And I’ve heard that you’re the perfect partner for such a thing.”
“Oh,” Orlando MacFoozle’s lip turned up in the subtlest curl, “ye heard richt.”