News of the attack spread like wildfire throughout Hogwarts. Students from other houses clamoured around Alexis both before and after class. Now more than ever the teenager wished she was invisible. She never liked being the centre of attention, always hiding behind someone else like her mother, or Suki. First she was the new kid, now she almost lost her life. Couldn’t she start over? Be normal like her life in Kyoto? Alexis missed those days.
At least the whispers and sneers stopped. Since the attack the other Gryffindor’s didn’t seem to bother her anymore. They even greeted her when she walked back in the common room or along their table in the Great Hall. It wasn’t instant connections or anything dramatic, just enough to make Alexis feel more welcomed and relaxed. Lilly and her other roommates included her in more group social activities and even helped her with her overwhelming loads of homework. With all the extra help and advice, Alexis was finally seeing an improvement in her grades.
After weeks of patience, the school’s first Hogsmeed visit arrived. Alexis was looking forward to escaping the school’s grounds and seeing more of the Scottish countryside. Zack kept telling her about all the stories in the village and continued to pester her about meeting up at the Three Broomsticks that afternoon. Alexis tried her best to keep the teenager boy at bay. She didn’t know how long Skye, Eloise and her would be with the laptop. There wasn’t even a guarantee they would find an internet connection, they were still out in the middle of nowhere.
That Saturday morning, Alexis joined Skye and Eloise outside of the main gates of the school. She held her bag close to her as she scrambled past the school’s caretaker and jogged towards her friends. Alexis wondered if they professors would consider the laptop some breach in the rules; an illegal muggle object in the wizarding world. The sky was clear, but had a bitter wind nipping at their exposed skin. Bundled in winter coats and scarfs, their breath formed clouds in the air as they walked towards the village with the other students.
“Any progress about the mystery snake?” Skye asked as they distance themselves from other students.
“They haven’t told me a thing.” Alexis answered with a shrug. She would preferred not starting the day with an uncomfortable topic. “They’ve increased security around the dormitory, but I don’t know if that will make a difference.”
“Dear God, I would have died from shock.” Eloise said with a shiver.
“I almost did. Not a huge fan of snakes myself.” Alexis said with a smile.
“By your description, the snake sounds like an unusual species. Part Python, part cobra. I checked the library and couldn’t find a match. A hybrid maybe?” Skye said.
“Or some spell, or summons.” Alexis said on a whim.
“Yeah, summoning a spirit or creature to do your bidding… like a familiar?” Alexis questioned though she saw blank stares from both Eloise and Skye. “You guys don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?”
“Is this part of your Eastern magic?” Skye asked.
“I guess so. Forming contracts of magic with spirit animals like foxes and snakes were common back in the day. Such contracts are rare now.”
“Wait, does that mean muggles could use magic if they make a contract with one of those creatures?” Eloise asked.
“Yeah, a number of long running magical families back in Japan owe their magic to some demon or spirit their ancestor captured. That was centuries ago, think about it – you’d have to be pretty desperate to capture the spirit. They can be nasty and vengeful. But once you bound the spirit its power was yours.”
“When you put it that way, it could be possible…” Skye said. “Interesting, wouldn’t that mean someone with knowledge of Eastern magic would have to be the culprit?”
“I don’t know. Doesn’t the west have something similar?” Alexis asked with a frown. What if Hogwarts wasn’t the safest place for her? What if those who had killed her parents had found her? “How safe is Hogwarts?” Alexis asked. They were now on the edge of the magical town as the rest of the crowd of students spread out to different corners and shops.
“Nobody but a student or a teacher can even pass the perimeter.” Skye reassured Alexis. “There is also no apparition within the grounds. Even if someone did get in, it’s impossible to move around without being noticed.”
“What about shape shifters?” Alexis asked. “Sorry, Animagus?”
Both Skye and Eloise said nothing but passed an unspoken word between the two with their eyes.
“That could be possible.” Skye agreed.
“But who would want to kill you Alexis? I mean sure you were the popular student, or at least the most talked about, but none in the school really would kill you.” Eloise said.
“I wouldn’t say that.” Alexis said under her breath. “Let’s get to some high ground and see if we can’t connect to the internet.” She added, wanting to change the subject.
“Wait, first we have to show you the main strip. Starting with Honeydukes.” Eloise said, tugging on Alexis’s arm. She had a giddy look on her face as she pulled Alexis towards the shop.
Their conversation shifted from the attack to giving Alexis the proper tour around the village. They bought candy and sweets at Honeydukes, then some much needed parchment and quill supplies at the other shops. Eloise made good sport as tour guide and even surprised Skye with her knowledge of the town. After seeing everything important on Eloise’s list, Skye led the trio up a hill towards a lonely abandoned shack on the outskirts of town.
“They say it’s haunted.” Eloise spoke with an air of mystery. “It moans as if it’s suffering the pain of years of neglect.”
“Eloise, please.” Skye said with a sigh as she sat beneath a nearby tree. Alexis did the same and unpacked her laptop.
“It’s not haunted.” Alexis said with confidence as she pulled out her laptop and solar batter charger Uncle Crow had packed for her. A smile crossed her face when the blue light to her laptop turned on.
“What do you mean ‘not haunted’? It should be, look at it.” Eloise said, a hurt tone in her voice. She sat down across from them so she could see the house.
“Places that are haunted, objects and even the spirits themselves give off an aura, they all differ, but it’s there if you can sense stuff like that. It’s just a neglected building.” Alexis clarified.
“That sounds rather professional.” Skye pondered.
“Well, I always wanted to be a Shrine Maiden. Part of the training was to detect and purify negative energy, spirits and stuff like hauntings.”
“So, you’re a Ghostbuster.” Skye said with a smile, Alexis laughed.
“Maybe.” Alexis’ face beamed. “YES! We have internet.”
“Wait – is that why Peeves never goes near you? Actually I haven’t seen any of the Ghosts cross your path.” Eloise asked.
Alexis passed the laptop to Skye. She wanted Skye and Eloise to have fun with it first, Alexis knew Suki would have filled her email up with fifty messages.
“I know if that poltergeist ever crosses my path and tried to do something against me I will purify him. The others… well… part of purifying is helping the spirit along to the next life. Most of these ghosts in the castle seem content with their lives as is. I’m not sure what kind of life it is, but none of them seem to be very aggressive or risking turning into a Yeuri.”
“Ah…” Eloise said, but Alexis felt she did not fully understand.
“I should tell you two something.” Alexis started, Skye paused in the middle of her typing and Eloise turned her head as her gold locks bounced off her shoulders. “I think someone’s out to get me.”
“You mean that attack?” Eloise asked, eyes wide. “But who?”
“I’d vote for King.” A deep voice interrupted their conversation. Around the tree trunk, sitting on the ground just out of sight was Zack Rowle. He had a sweets in one hand and a book in the other.
“Ah! What are you doing there!” Eloise shrieked and jumped to her feet, pouncing on Zack before he could even manage to pull out his wand. Armed with her wand, she pointed it down towards Zack’s head.
“Spy! Eavesdropper!” She continued to shout.
“Take it easy, it was you guys who snuck up on me, I’ve been here for ten minutes before you came along.” Zack said, a wild grin on his face. He didn’t twitch at Eloise’s wand, or alarmed by anything she said. Zack turned his head around the trunk to see what it was Alexis and Skye were playing at. “Ah, a laptop. Can I have a turn?”
“HA! You wish. For all we know it was you who planted that snake in Alexis’s bed.” Eloise fired back.
“Give me a break.” Zack said. The grin and amusement vanished, his eyes only held a dark anger at Eloise. “That was some A-level spell. Dark magic isn’t taught at Hogwarts. Either someone’s been messing around in the Forbidden section of the Library or Hagrid’s been creating unusual pets again.”
Eloise’s mouth hung open ajar, unable to come up with a swift reply.
“It’s alright Eloise, sit down. Zack didn’t do it, I trust him.” Alexis said with a smile. “I never took you for a muggle tech kind of person.”
“Trust a Slytherin… hump.” Eloise sniffed and returned to her spot, keeping her distance from Zack.
“Sorry about her. She’s friendly once you get to know her better.” Skye said passing the laptop to Eloise.
“I bet.” Zack smiled. “It’s a secret, don’t tell my mother. I’ve snuck a few things in. I have an iPod and I end up going to the town’s library to use email. Much easier sending secret messages over the internet than with owls. So what were you saying – that somebody wants to kill you?” Zack asked, switching the subject back on Alexis.
“You an iPod? How’d you managed a thing like that?” Skye asked, laugher on her voice.
“Don’t ask a question you won’t like the answer to.” Zack said with a wink.
Alexis pouted, she hadn’t expected Zack to surprise them like that. Of course she’d let him use her laptop, but now she doubted about telling everyone about the accident that summer.
“C’mon Rune, spill it.” Zack pushed. Alexis rolled her eyes and took a deep breath.
“Well, you see… this past summer, my parents died in a car accident, except it wasn’t really a car accident.” Alexis said, everyone seemed frozen in their spot, none daring to say anything at the moment. Alexis’s didn’t look at anyone, her fingers played with a string attached to her hood. “It was the killing curse. The investigator afterwards mentioned it, then I read something about the forbidden curses for our DADA class and made the connection. We were boxed in by other cars, black SUV’s, driving fast down the highway when they were shot.” Alexis took a breath, she was saying all of this at high speed. She didn’t want interruptions and just wanted to get it off her chest all at once.
“Anyways, the car spun out after that and went up over the guardrail and onto the underway. I shouldn’t have survived, but I did. There was a moment, just after the crash when I regained consciousness. One of the SUVs pulled up and three men came out. They were saying they had to check that they all had to be dead. I… my memory’s off, but they seemed satisfied and left. The next time I woke, the emergency responders were arriving at the scene and pulling me out of the car…”
“So you think one of them is responsible?” Zack asked in a cold voice.
“Don’t you? I mean I didn’t see their faces but I may recognize their voices… I’m the only survivor and witness to the entire thing. At least that’s what my extended family thought. They worried that I would be targeted on my way to school back in Kyoto. When it turned out my Uncle Crow… Avery was my legal guardian, it seemed best if I came here. To be safe.”
“You said the snake could be a summon, I guess they could have located you here at Hogwarts.” Skye said with a shrug. She didn’t seem convinced.
“Tell the Headmaster!” Eloise said, her voice high. “He can help.”
“Like what he’s done so far?” Zack said with a sarcastic laugh. “Hogwarts is safe, something like this had to come from inside.”
“And your vote is on Amelia King?” Skye said with a grin.
“Okay, maybe that’s stretching things, but she’s been the worse against Alexis.” Zack pointed out. Eloise passed the laptop over to Zack, who took it with some surprise. There was no resentment or anger in Eloise’s face any more.
“What about Alice Nott?” Skye pointed out. Zack opened his mouth, then closed it when nothing came out.
“We barely talk to each other, besides shoving me from time to time in the hallways and her eyes shooting daggers at me in Ancient Rune class. I don’t think she’d want me dead.” Alexis said with a force laugh, but nobody else was laughing, not even Zack.
“The Notts can be dangerous, they have strong ties to the Death Eaters from the dark days. To be honest something like summoning a snake or a smilier spell wouldn’t be far out of her range, she’s that good.” Zack said on a dark note.
“I guess we agree that the spell originated inside Hogwarts.” Alexis said with a sigh.
“So, next question, how do we find them?” Zack asked.
“We?” Eloise chirped up. “I… I really think the Professors and Headmaster should deal with this, not some teenagers.”
“Some teenagers? It was teenagers who defeated the Dark Lord if you’ve forgotten.” Skye said. “We’ll have to keep things quiet, can’t tip anyone off. What about the spell that reveals the last spell preformed on any wand…”
“That won’t work. It’s already been three days since the attack, with all the lessons going on, whoever did it it’s long gone from the wands’ memory.” Zack replied.
“Maybe the paintings have seen something suspicious?” Alexis asked.
“The Professors would have already talked to them.” Zack said again, passing the computer to Alexis as he spread out along the cold ground and closed his eyes.
“Then we stay quiet like Skye said and keep our ears open. Whoever is behind this must communicate with someone from outside of Hogwarts. We can try to overhear something important?” Alexis suggested.
“Sure, there’s just what? Two-thousand plus students enrolled in Hogwarts, and four of us?” Zack said again, a grin coming to his face.
“Alright smart-ass, instead of shooting down all of our idea’s why don’t you come up with one.” Alexis said with an annoying ring in her voice.
“I will, when I come up with something.” Zack replied, opening one eye. “The main issue now is keeping you safe. They may try again. The Tower is safe now that everyone’s paranoid about finding a cross bread snake in their beds. They may come after you in the hallways, corridors, staircases… between classes after supper. Any time when you may have your guard down or alone.”
“Damn-it, he makes sense.” Eloise said letting out a sigh.
“So, try to stick with groups.” Zack added, as if it was common sense. “That means, no more solo jogging in the mornings.”
“Ah! How did you know I run in the mornings?” Alexis asked, her voice almost the same high pitch shriek as Eloise.
“Told ya, spying.” Eloise said with a crafty smile twhen she narrowed her sights on Zack. “Or should I say stalking?”
“Hey, I’m not stalking anyone!” Zack said, rising to a siting position. He tried his best to defend himself against Eloise’s wild imagination as they continued to bicker about the details.
Alexis felt her own checks grow warm. How long had he been watching her? Her mind struggled with the possible answer until it was diverted when she logged into her email account. Suki had sent a message every day since Alexis’s started school. There was one email address she didn’t recognize at first. ‘Crowerune’. It had to be her uncle. Alexis clicked on the message, but was disappointed at the result. Only six words. ‘Make friends and don’t be alone.’
Alexis frowned as she saw the date of the email as being the evening of the opening ceremony and her sorting. It made her wonder, did Crowe have his own doubts about the security at Hogwarts too?
Alexis hit the reply button and paused. Would he fly off the handle if she told her about the attack? That is if Professor Longbottom hadn’t already sent an owl. As if there was some mental communication between the two, a new message arrived in her mailbox that exact moment from her uncle again.
‘If anything else happens, contact me immediately.’
Not the most reassuring message.
Alexis sighed. She had downloaded all of Suki’s messages so she could read them later. Powering down her laptop, she stared up through the leafless branches of the tree. That fear and hopeless feeling had returned.