The Stars Are Burning

Chapter 1

Disclaimer: All rights go to J.K. Rowling. Anything you don't recognize is mine.

Quarantine really out here making me rewrite and upload all my old fics smh. I promise I haven't abandoned any of my other stories, but I've been wanting to bring back some old ones for a while, including this one. So, I hope you enjoy!

Reviews and feedback are always appreciated!

Chapter One

In the five years I'd been going to Hogwarts, I don't think I've ever made it to Platform 9 ¾ with more than five minutes to spare.

It's Dad's fault, really. Every night before September 1st he drags us to The Leaky Cauldron, so we don't have to worry about Apparating to King's Cross Station the morning of and risk being late. You'd think we'd be punctual, being so close, but you obviously haven't met my father.

Ikloviar Aster was a wizard; a pure-blood too, but you'd never know it, seeing as he dresses like a disheveled Muggle and constantly remarks on the wonders of Muggle technology—which is usually what makes my brother and me so late, as he tends to fawn over things like radios until we remind him that we have a train to catch.

Today, his fixation had been cabs. For a second, I really did think we were going to be on time, up until he'd asked the cab driver that picked us up on Charing Cross Road to stop so he could get out and examine how the brakes worked.

And now here we were, me and my brother, hurtling full-force at the barrier between platforms 9 and 10 with our trolleys at 10:58—just two minutes before the Hogwarts Express was slated to leave.

"Jacob Henry Aster, if you don't step on it—"

My twelve-year-old brother puffed along behind me as we flew through the train station. "My trunk's heavy, Taylor!" he complained.

"You know what's gonna make it even heavier?" I narrowly avoided a cluster of Muggles with my trolley and ignored their scandalized looks as we barreled through. "Dragging it all the way to Hogwarts because we missed the bloody train!"

He muttered something very unflattering under his breath, and I made a mental note to ask him where he learned that kind of language. Right as I thought it though, I tripped on my shoelace, stumbled, and shouted, "Fuck!"

Oh. That's where.

Finally, the barrier came into view. I glanced to my watch and swore again: 10:59. If Jacob didn't pick up his pace

We pelted through the barrier at full speed and came out onto Platform 9 ¾, nearly smashing into the crowd of first-time parents that clogged the platform to see their children off. The scarlet steam engine was still there, belching smoke into the air, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Jacob collapsed against his trolley, his round face red and sweaty. I clapped him on the shoulder.

"All right, go find your mates," I said. "And what are the rules?"

He gave me a dry look that was reminiscent of my own. Damn. I needed to start watching myself around him more. "Don't bother you and your mates, don't talk to the Slytherins, and don't eat more than three Chocolate Frogs, or else I'll be sick."

"'Atta boy." I ruffled his dark hair. He scowled and smacked my hand away. "Now, go on. Scram. We have thirty seconds to board that train or get left behind."

He glanced around nervously before tugging on my sleeve to stop me from taking off. I raised a brow at him, impatient. "What, Jacob?"

"Can I hug you before we go back?" he whispered.

I couldn't help my smile, even if the words hurt a little. But I'd made a promise to protect my brother when he'd started at Hogwarts the year before, and part of that promise was for me to keep my distance from him. Jacob was a Hufflepuff—but I was a Slytherin. And I was already on thin ice with the rest of my House for being a half-blood, among other things. I didn't want Jacob to get tangled up in my Housemates' grudge against me, so not acknowledging him in public was the best way to keep them from coming after him, the sweet soul he was. It was lonely and it sucked, but at least it kept him safe.

"Yeah, 'course," I said, a little too roughly, but he flung his arms around me all the same.

I squeezed him to me as hard as I could and kissed the top of his head. Great Salazar, he was already getting tall. I was taller than average for a girl my age, but he was at my chest now.


He seemed to realize it at the same time I did, for he jerked back from me and gave my boobs a look of revulsion, the little prat.

"Gotta go," he said, wheeling his trolley towards the train. "'Bye, Taylor!"

"'Bye, love you!" I said to his retreating back. "Behave! Get good marks!"

He waved me off before disappearing into the crowd. Figuring I should do the same, I pushed my trolley toward the steam engine just as the shrill warning bell whistled.

Shit. I didn't have enough time to find my friends' compartment, so I picked the closest one and yanked the door open, shoving my luggage inside and praying the carriage I'd chosen wasn't full of Gryffindors. I really didn't fancy a duel so early in the day.

I clambered aboard just as the engine began to chug and slammed the door behind me, wiping a stray bead of sweat off my forehead.

"If you wouldn't mind finding a seat, miss?" The conductor skirted around my trunk to make sure the door had closed properly before turning back to me. The polite smile he wore under his ridiculous moustache faltered a bit when he got a good look at me, but I couldn't blame him. I'd decided long ago that if I was going to play the part of the scary Slytherin, I might as well look it—hence the dark clothes and thick black eyeliner to give me that heavy-lidded effect that worked well for Bellatrix Black before she'd graduated a couple years prior.

The conductor looked away quickly and gestured to the compartment behind him. "There's room for one more in here. Allow me."

He stooped to grab my trunk and rucksack and hauled them to the compartment, sliding the door open before gesturing me forward. I entered warily to find five girls chatting and laughing, but once they saw me, they instantly fell silent.

The compartment filled with tension as I took in the five Gryffindor girls from my year: Lily Evans, Alice Fortescue, Mary MacDonald, Dorcas Meadowes, and Marlene McKinnon. The conductor—wisely sensing a storm brewing—all but flung my luggage under the nearest seat, which happened to be next to McKinnon.

"If you'll take a seat, miss," he said, his eyes darting between the six of us. "Once we're out of London you'll be able to change compartments."

And with that, he departed, the door banging shut behind him and ringing in the stifling silence.

I smiled—a cold, bland thing—and plopped into the seat next to McKinnon, aware that all eyes were on me. "Morning, ladies. Anyone got a copy of Witch Weekly on them? I love looking at the monthly horoscopes."

"Er, yeah, here," Alice Fortescue said, uncertain. She reached into her bag, but Dorcas Meadowes's sharp voice cut off her movement.

"What are you doing in here?" she demanded. Her golden eyes raked me over suspiciously, like I was about to whip out my wand and start cursing them all. "Shouldn't you be with the other snakes?"

"I was late, Meadowes," I drawled. I waved my hand to the compartment door. "You heard Conductor Pedo-stache; once we leave London, I'll be on my merry way. Maybe I'll even make it before the others finish their blood sacrifices to Salazar Slytherin."

MacDonald and Fortescue exchanged uneasy glances while Meadowes scowled, annoyed. McKinnon edged farther away from me, but the only one who didn't react was Lily Evans. She hadn't glanced my way once since I'd sat down, and I bit back a sneer; perfect Gryffindor Lily Evans, who was shoved so far up her own ass she couldn't see anyone but herself. Typical.

I turned back to Fortescue, who visibly shrank away. "So, how 'bout that Witch Weekly, Fortescue?"

She took out the glossy magazine and practically threw it at me, like I was a venomous snake that would bite her if she got too close. I smirked at her before busying myself in the pages, not having any interest in the other girls who shared my compartment.

Once the Gryffindors determined that I was safe enough reading my magazine and wasn't going to bother them, they started up their chatter again, and unconsciously I began listening in. It was all idle chat, nothing serious: what they did over the holiday, what N.E.W.T. courses they were taking, blah, blah, blah. The only thing really worth eavesdropping on was when they started talking about crushes. Now that was information I could use.

"Did you see Emmeline Vance on the platform?" Meadowes was saying. "She looked amazing in that dress."

"Wasn't she seeing that Stebbins bloke at the end of last year, though?" MacDonald said.

"Oh, they ended their fling over summer." Meadowes flapped her hand. "But I think I'm going to go for it; she went out with Sharon Kays in fourth year, remember?"

The girls let out collective "oohs" and nodded enthusiastically, urging her to take her chance. I had to refrain from rolling my eyes, still pretending to be interested in this year's 'Hottest Robes for Fall' article.

"What about you, Lily?" McKinnon said devilishly. "I know Potter's still available."

I glanced up, seeing Evans scowl.

"Don't even joke about that," she snapped. "You saw what he did to Sev—Snape—last term."

Ah, yes. The Mudblood debacle. Every fifth year had witnessed the incident involving Evans and my own Housemate, Severus Snape, after James Potter and Sirius Black—the two most insufferable, arrogant pricks roaming the school—had instigated an attack on him after our Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. The torment, only briefly broken up by the arrival of Evans, who had defended Snape, had resulted in him declaring that he didn't need the help of "filthy little Mudbloods like her."

The effect had been a rift between Evans and Snape (a friendship I had never understood to begin with) that seemed insurmountable. And so it was, apparently, if Evans was on a last-name basis with the boy who used to be her best friend.

McKinnon held up her hands in defense. "I know, I know. I shouldn't have brought it up. Sorry, Lils."

Evans nodded brusquely, going back to reading her Charms book, but not before her eyes flicked up and met mine.

I didn't bother dropping my gaze, seeing as she'd already caught me, and instead only raised a brow. I expected her to attack me for eavesdropping, but she only assessed me for a moment before lowering her eyes back to her book wordlessly.

A half-hour passed before we entered the countryside, away from the city, and I got to my feet in relief.

"Well, ladies, can't say I'm sorry to go," I said, tossing Fortescue's magazine back to her. "Enjoy the rest of the ride, if you don't bore each other to death first."

I ignored their offended looks and gathered my things, shoving the compartment door open with my shoulder. I vaguely heard Evans say something about a prefects' meeting before she slipped out into the corridor behind me, shutting the door carefully after her.

"Do you need any help with that?" she asked.

I looked over my shoulder to see her watching me, her emerald-green gaze unreadable. I looked down to the trunk and rucksack I had before eyeing her again.

"I think I can manage," I said, my voice even. "Besides, you wouldn't want to taint your reputation by assisting a lowly little snake like me, would you?"

Her features tightened, but she didn't say anything. I waited for her to go, but she seemed to be teetering on the edge about something, biting her lip.

"Out with it, Gryffindor," I said, rolling my eyes. "What do you want?"

"Do you talk to Sev—Snape—much?" she asked.

I blinked at her unexpected question. "No, not really." I shrugged. "To be honest, I try to avoid the greasy git as much as possible. He's got a terrible superiority complex, you know that?" Her lips twitched as if she were going to smile, and I appraised her curiously. "Why do you want to know?"

"Because I wanted you to tell him to leave me the hell alone," she said, and I was surprised to hear her so vindictive. She normally appeared so collected, gliding above the rest of us peasantsexcept for when James Potter was involved. "And if he ever tries to apologize to me again and beg for my forgiveness, I'll hex him six ways from Sunday."

"Careful there, Evans," I said. "You almost sound like a Slytherin."

She gave me an exasperated look, and I smirked at her.

"Just tell him to stay away from me," was all she said before she turned and started down the opposite direction of the train car, no doubt heading for the prefects' carriage.

After casting a curious look in the Gryffindor's direction, I began to pick my way through the cramped corridors, hauling my luggage. Other students now roamed the cars, searching for their friends' compartments, but they gave me a wide berth as they passed, averting their stares—whether it was because of my perfected mask of icy indifference or they knew I was a Slytherin, I didn't know, and I didn't necessarily care as I finally found the compartment I was looking for.

"Afternoon, pricks," I said as I opened the door with my foot and dragged my stuff in. "Anything I missed?"

"Nothing much," my best friend Davey Gudgeon said, kicking his feet off the seat across from him to make room for me. "Only a couple rounds of Snap, and Az daring Ferris to snort some of the ashes."

I looked to my other two best friends, Aziz Patil and Ferris Blishwick. Az gave me a mischievous grin and a wink while Ferris waved half-heartedly, a handkerchief held to his nose.

"It hasn't stopped burning for fifteen minutes," my fellow Slytherin moaned, his voice muffled through the cloth. "I think I'm gonna have to see Madam Pomfrey."

"That's what you get for being an idiot," I told the messy-haired pure-blood, before looking to the boy across from him, who blinked back innocently. "And you're an idiot too for encouraging him to do that in the first place. Aren't you supposed to be a Ravenclaw?"

Az rolled his eyes, though his mouth was still spread in a wide grin, his white teeth glowing against his dark skin.

"We all know that Davey's the dumbest Ravenclaw to ever grace the House of Rowena," he said, and laughed when Davey shot him an obscene hand gesture.

"Just because it's true doesn't mean you have to point it out," Davey said. "Like finding out unicorns shag by using their horns."

"Is that why they're so horny?" Az said with a straight face.

I smacked my head onto the seat behind me as Ferris moaned again. "I can't believe I agreed to spend the rest of my life being friends with you lot."

"Oi, you're the one who always says it." Az pointed to me. "'Friends who tip the boat together, stay together.'"

"And if I'm not mistaken, you were the one who tipped us over in the first place," Davey said, poking my shoulder.

They were, of course, referencing the incident in first year when we had to share a boat across the Black Lake together on our first night of Hogwarts, and I had accidentally capsized our vessel after spotting a spider and attempting to dive overboard, unfortunately taking the three of them with me. But with some luck, and maybe a little fate thrown in as well, we'd been best friends ever since.

"That spider was bigger than my bloody hand," I said defensively, and they all chuckled.

"Sure it was," Davey said, then yelped when I smacked his bicep in retaliation.

"Wait, Taylor." Az looked to me questioningly as I stole one of Davey's Pumpkin Pasties and unwrapped it. "Aren't you supposed to be at a prefects' meeting?"

I took a bite out of the pastry and laughed. "Since when the fuck am I a prefect?" Davey and Az gave me incredulous looks. Even Ferris removed his handkerchief to stare at me, his red and swollen nose forgotten. I swallowed the bite I'd taken. "What?"

The three boys exchanged a glance. Ferris raised his eyebrows. "You've been a prefect since Druella Harfang was expelled for practicing Dark Arts on the firsties last year," he said. "Remember? You told us this summer."

I stared at him for a long moment before it finally hit me.

Druella Harfang had been a particularly nasty Slytherin in our year with an obsession of torturing first years, or anyone who annoyed her. I'd been on the receiving end of several of her hexes before, and they were not fun. We all knew she'd been vying for the position of Hogwarts' meanest witch ever since Bellatrix Black had left the void open since graduating, but the difference between Druella and Bellatrix was that Bella had been smart enough to not get caught, while Druella… Well, there was a reason Professor Dumbledore had sent me an owl over the holiday asking if I would take over her role as prefect.

"Fuck!" I leapt to my feet and dove for my trunk, rifling through the contents to find my robes and the silver and green badge that had come in my announcement letter. Merlin, that stupid Hufflepuff Head Boy was going to kill me if I was late…

I found the badge stuffed into a pair of socks and quickly pinned it to my robes, pricking my thumb in the process. I swore violently as I jumped off the seat and dashed for the door, throwing my school robes on over my clothes.

"I'll be back later!" I shot over my shoulder, ignoring Az's call of "Do us proud, sweetie!" as I began tearing down the corridors, heading for the prefects' carriage.

I checked my watch, groaning in my head when I saw that I had three minutes to be there on time. What was it with me and punctuality today? This had to be punishment for me eating half of Jacob's cereal this morning while he was in the loo, so he'd think he'd eaten more than he'd had and we could get on to the station.

I flew into the compartment with one minute to spare, sliding the door open with unnecessary force and accidentally setting the window panes rattling, garnering the attention of all the assembled prefects. I gave a slight wave that looked more like a muscle spasm as I shut the door and took the seat next to my fellow Slytherin prefect, Evan Rosier.

"Subtle entrance," he said sarcastically. I flipped him off as I regained my breath, not having enough air for a comeback. "Glad you could make it though. Dumbledore sent me a letter saying you would be my new partner."

"Here I am," I said, finally managing to catch my breath. "In the flesh."

"Did you hear about Druella?" he asked.

"Who hasn't?" I retorted. "Those firsties were in St Mungo's for a week."

He nodded stoically, brushing his auburn hair off his forehead. I supposed Evan was attractive: he had the aristocratic good looks all pure-bloods seemed to possess despite the centuries of inbreeding, with thick hair that settled somewhere between brown and copper, nice eyes that looked almost like caramel, and a broad-shouldered, muscular physique from Quidditch, with a strong jaw to complete the image. Not to mention that he was insanely smart and funny, as I'd heard girls swoon about for years now. He would've been my type if he wasn't so interested in the bloody Dark Arts and all that pure-blood rubbish. He was cool toward me, though, so I guess that was something.

"I heard the Wizengamot had been considering Azkaban, but her mother and father bailed her out before that could be brought to the table," he told me. "She's supposedly on house arrest now."

"Why would they consider Azkaban? She's only sixteen!"

"She turns seventeen at the end of the month," he said knowingly. "She could be tried as an adult then." I wrinkled my nose. "The Ministry is cracking down on these sorts of incidents too; they're scared that there's a link between them and the new regime."

I noticed how he prudently left out any mention of the Dark Lord or his Death Eaters, but I didn't draw any attention to it, merely shrugging.

"What money can't buy," I sighed, sinking back in my seat, and he gave me a wry smile just as the Head Boy stood up from the front of the compartment.

"Welcome, and welcome back, everybody," Amos Diggory said, his gold Head Boy badge gleaming against his robes. "It's good to see everyone again, especially our new faces of the year."

The new fifth-year prefects squirmed slightly in their seats, but the Head Girl—another Hufflepuff named Mary Abbott—got to her feet and smiled warmly at them.

"I'm Mary, and this is Amos," she said, her smile never once wavering, and I had to marvel at how she could hold that expression for so long without her cheeks cramping. "We're the Head Boy and Girl for this year, so we'll be overseeing prefect duties, schedules for rounds, and other school activities. We'll also be available on the hours posted on the monthly schedules in case anyone has questions about anything."

I was starting to get unnerved by her smile. How could she keep it up for so long? I could hardly focus on Diggory when he spoke again.

"Mary's handing out schedules now. Once I'm done giving some pointers, and if no one has any questions, then you'll be free to go," he said.

I took the schedule Evan passed me and frowned at it, seeing that my rounds were every Thursday night. At least I would get to swap partners every week, though I grimaced when I saw that the last Thursday of every month, I would be patrolling with the sixth-year boy prefect from Gryffindor, Remus Lupin.

I glanced up from the schedule to see him sitting next to Lily Evans on the other side of the compartment, talking quietly to the redhaired witch as they compared patrols. I knew who he was, of course—everyone in the ruddy school did. He was only a fourth of the members that made up the insufferable group called the Marauders, including James Potter and Sirius Black—the most obnoxious and annoying Gryffindors to ever taint the halls of Hogwarts. I'd never spoken to him personally, but I rather liked to keep it that way considering the buffoonery his mates got up to all the time.

"Now, a little serious note before we send you off," Diggory said, drawing my focus back to him and his stony face. "As you all know, there is a lot of unrest and unease going on in the wizarding community."

I had to refrain from scoffing out loud. Attacks on Muggles and Muggle-borns were an everyday occurrence in the Daily Prophet at this point, and rumors were already swirling about recent Hogwarts graduates who were joining forces with You-Know-Who and the Death Eaters. The world was practically descending into chaos, and he chose to use pansy words like unrest and unease?

"No matter the beliefs of your parents or family, no matter how your friends or Housemates try to persuade you otherwise, Hogwarts will tolerate absolutely no prejudice or intimidation whatsoever."

His stormy grey eyes flickered briefly over the Slytherins. Evan and I traded a hard glance.

"Be vigilant and be virtuous," Mary added. "And if you have any suspicions or see anything out of the norm, don't hesitate to come to me or Amos about it."

"Now, if there're no questions, you can go," Diggory said.

Evan and I rose from our seats and left the compartment, beginning the trek back to our end of the train, where all the Slytherins tended to gather.

"Diggory's a duffer," he said as we ambled along. "All he and the rest of the professors do is preach about House unity and all that tosh, but then immediately turn around and blame us if anything happens."

"We're Slytherins," I pointed out. "It's our lot in life."

"And they wonder why so many of us are joining with him," he muttered under his breath. "They're hypocrites, the lot of them."

I stayed silent, letting him stew in his thoughts the rest of the way. As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. We Slytherins had always been outcasts in our own school, and the alienation only pushed most of us deeper into the shadows that waited on the edges of our House's legacy. It sucked, but there wasn't much any of us could do about it.

"Here's my stop," he said, coming to a halt outside of a compartment a few doors up from the one I'd left Az, Ferris, and Davey in. "You can sit with us, if you want; it's just me, Mulciber, Avery, and Snape."

"I'm good, thanks," I said, jerking my head down the corridor. "I've got some friends waiting for me already."

He gave me a curious look. "Ferris and those two Ravenclaws, right? Abdul and Danny?"

I grinned. "Close. Az and Davey."

"Oh, right." He nodded. "Tell Ferris I said hello."

"Will do."

I waved as he stepped into his compartment. I caught a brief flash of Snape sitting nearest the door, giving me a foul look. I'd come to accept that the bat-like git hated my guts for whatever reason, but I couldn't help feeling like he somehow knew about my conversation with Evans earlier before the door closed, hiding him from view.

"It never fails to amaze me," Ferris said as the dark castle of Hogwarts came into our view. "It's like the Founders wanted to make it look haunted."

"Yeah, that's probably what all the ghosts are for, you idiot," Az said, rolling his eyes as our carriage trundled its way closer to the school.

"Don't mock me," the Slytherin boy said, leaning back and sniffing. The swelling in his nose had gone down during the remainder of the train ride, but every time he blew into a handkerchief a sprinkling of ashes would still come out. "I'm not fully sober."

"When are you ever sober?" I asked, turning away from the window and raising a brow.

"Good point. Never."

Davey shook his head. "I think you've been perpetually stoned since the third year, Fer."

"That's what happens when Father dearest doesn't give two shits about you," he said, shrugging. We all knew Ferris's father was a bastard and had tried to disown him before, but we still looked away awkwardly, knowing he wouldn't want to talk about it.

"We're almost there," Davey said, pointing out the window.

"Thank Merlin," Az said. "I'm starving."

"You ate an entire box of Cauldron Cakes, and half my Licorice Wands," I said. "How are you possibly hungry?"

"It's called digestion, dear, look it up," he said, and I rolled my eyes. Bloody Ravenclaw.

Our carriage rolled to a stop outside the great sweeping staircase guarded by the perpetually ugly gargoyles I had hated since my first year, and we filed up the steps and through the great double doors with the rest of the students, emerging into the grand entrance hall, as welcoming and toasty as ever.

"We'll see you tomorrow at breakfast," Davey said, pecking my cheek and slapping Ferris on the shoulder before following Az and the rest of the Ravenclaws to their table in the Great Hall.

"C'mon, Fer," I said, leading the boy by the hand as we trailed to the far side of the Hall, where the Slytherin table was. "Back to the snake pit we go."

He made some strange hissing noise in response as I pushed him onto the bench next to me, but I ignored him, choosing instead to watch the winking stars that glittered in the enchanted ceiling above us, suddenly feeling homesick.

A sudden hush fell over the chattering students, and I looked to see the headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, rising to his feet from the head of the staff table.

"Welcome to another year at Hogwarts!" he announced. "Let us begin the Sorting Ceremony!"

Professor McGonagall, the strict Transfiguration professor, produced a battered stool and a worn, frayed hat with her wand, placing the stool and the Sorting Hat at the front of the Great Hall before summoning the first years waiting outside to come in.

Ferris leaned in close to me as the Sorting Hat began to sing its customary song, and I grinned at the petrified first years as they watched the hat speak.

"Which one do you think will faint this year?" he asked. "My money's on the skinny blond kid; he looks like he's about to piss himself."

"Nah, he'll keep it together," I said. "Check out the beaver with the huge teeth."

Ferris turned his loud snort into a cough as our Head of House, Professor Slughorn, looked over disapprovingly, and I fought off my grin as Professor McGonagall began reading off the list of names to be Sorted.

"How was the prefects' meeting?" Ferris whispered.

"Utterly useless," I replied. "The only thing I could focus on was how Abbott managed to smile for so long."

Ferris snickered. "Diggory probably saw to her beforehand, if you know what I mean..."

I smacked his arm in reprimand, but even I had to stifle a laugh at the thought.

"Mind you, I wouldn't be opposed to Diggory," Ferris mused, fiddling with the golden spoon before him and gazing in the direction of the Hufflepuff table. "He's quite fit, and he has those eyes—"

"Ew, no," I said, scrunching my face. "Diggory's a pompous ass. I would be a terrible best friend if I allowed you to go for that."

"True," he said, sighing. "What about Sirius Black? He's fit as a whistle."

"I haven't even eaten anything yet and I feel like I'm going to throw up," I deadpanned. "He's worse than Diggory; and besides, Reg would kill you if you went for his brother."

"Stop being right," he whined. "It takes all the fun out of my bad decision-making."

I snorted. "You'd be dead if it weren't for me."

He grumbled something under his breath that I didn't catch, for suddenly everyone was clapping as the Sorting Ceremony ended, and Dumbledore got to his feet once more.

"Dig in!"

Food appeared on our plates, and I began grabbing everything in my reach, my stomach howling. The Licorice Wands I had eaten seemed like a lifetime away as I scooped a bite of peas into my mouth, with Ferris wolfing down his food at an alarming rate beside me.

I was only halfway through my steak when several bodies planted themselves on the bench across from us, and I looked up to see all four of my dormmates facing me with equally predatory smiles.

"Vanity the Insanity," I greeted, referring to the lead snake, Emma Vanity. My dormmates usually tended to stay out of my way, and I did them the same courtesy, but Vanity and I had been grudging allies ever since I had tutored her in Potions our third year. "What brings you to our end of the table?"

"I just wanted to see how my favorite roomie was doing," she said, tossing her platinum hair over her shoulder and giving me a brilliant smirk that I knew all too well. I noticed she had cut her hair over the holiday, styling it in the same way Bella's youngest sister, Narcissa, had it before she graduated last year, but I refrained from pointing out that the look didn't suit her. Narcissa had easily been one of the most gorgeous girls in Hogwarts, but Vanity didn't quite make the same cut.

"Why is she your favorite roomie?" Lana Travers asked, pouting. "I thought I was your favorite roomie?"

"Shut it, Lans," Vanity snapped, and the brunette frowned, but obeyed. Vanity smiled at me again.

"What do you want, Emma?" I asked.

"It's the first day of school, sweetheart," she said, as if that explained everything.

"I'm aware, yeah," I said, drinking from my pumpkin juice. "But what does that have to do with me?"

She gave me an exasperated look, turning to Ferris. "Ferris, honey, you remember what the first day of school means, don't you?"

"It usually means we renew our truce not to speak to each other for the rest of the year so another petty duel can't happen between us," he said, not paying attention to her, and she huffed irritably.

"Well, yes," she said. "Our truce starts now, by the way, but I was talking about something else."

"Just get on with it, Emma," I said. "You're making my green beans shrivel up in fright and Fawley looks like she's about to make love to that cobbler."

Everyone turned to see Anastasia Fawley, another one of Emma's minions, eyeing a peach cobbler with a hungry gleam in her gaze while Naomi Shafiq seemed to be physically restraining her from eating it.

"Ana!" Vanity shrieked, slapping her hand on the table and breaking the pixie-like girl from her trance. "What did I tell you about sweets?"

"S-sorry," she stammered. "I-I—"

"Naomi, get her away from the desserts," Vanity ordered. "Force feed her carrots if you have to."

Shafiq nodded, tugging Fawley after her as they departed our section of the table. I gave Vanity a dry look. "Was that really necessary?"

"It's part of our new diet regime," she said, flipping her hair. "Narcissa told us about it before she left."

Knowing Narcissa, she probably just made that diet up to get her freaky fan club/stalkers away from her, and I bit my tongue to keep from laughing as Vanity continued.

"Where were we?" she said. "Ah, yes—the first day of school means it's time for The Game!"

"What game?" I asked, raising a brow at her off-put expression.

"The Game!" she nearly shouted. Merlin, I'd forgotten how loud she was. "I choose the player and the victim, and if you succeed in your task, you win a few Galleons and mega satisfaction."

Ferris groaned. "Oh, not this again, Vanity."

"Bugger off, Blishwick," she snapped. "Our truce is on."

Ferris rolled his eyes, going back to his stew while I looked back and forth between the two, bewildered. "Will someone please explain what this ruddy game is?"

"It's the one Olna Bulstrode played last year," Travers supplied. "Emma gave her the challenge."

"Oh, fuck no," I said, the memory returning to me in sickening clarity. "I'm not being a part of this."

"Why not?" Vanity said, looking angrier by the second.

"Because it's immature and disgusting," I snapped. "You forced her to seduce Logan Wilkes! And when he rejected her, she was a mess for weeks!"

"Only because she failed to complete her challenge." She sniffed haughtily. "She was supposed to break his heart. It's not my fault she got attached when she shouldn't have."

I glowered at her. "Forget it, Vanity. Take your bloody game and shove it up your ass."

She gave me a long, analyzing look, her pale eyes searching for a crack in my armor, but she wouldn't find any.

"Fine," she said eventually. "But if you change your mind, you know where to find me." She stood up, Travers following, and I raised my goblet to her in a mock toast. "You have until the end of the week, or else I'm choosing a new player."

And with that, she flounced off, Travers in tow, and I turned to Ferris in amazement. "What was what?"

"Something you don't want to fuck with," he said darkly, and I was surprised at how serious he sounded. "Vanity is the Insanity for a reason; all this game does is pit people against each other so they can get petty revenge. She thinks it's entertaining to watch people break each other's hearts while she sits on the sidelines, soaking in all the gossip and drama."

"How does she choose her victims?" I asked, not really wanting to know the answer, but I forged ahead anyway.

Ferris met my eyes, looking sympathetic. "By knowing something about them she can hold over their heads—blackmail."

I felt my heart dip in my chest, and I turned in my seat to look at Vanity sitting farther down the table. Her eyes were on me, and when she saw me staring, she winked and smiled, her expression clearly reading I have something on you. Your darkest secrets are mine.

I turned away slowly, trying not to appear as rattled as I felt, but it was hard. I had done some questionable things since starting school, but there's no way she could have anything that bad on me. Could she?

All I knew was that Emma Vanity had dirt on me, and when Slytherins had dirt, they could easily bury you six feet under with it.

I was a dead woman walking.

Let me know what you thought! This is the first time I've attempted writing a Slytherin OC but I quite like it already. If you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to leave them in a review or shoot me a PM!