The Stars Are Burning

Chapter 2

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Chapter Two

I made my way into the Slytherin common room the next morning a half-hour after seven. The morning was still too early for most of my Housemates, so I was one of the first ones to emerge into the underground space.

The common room had always been one of my favorite parts of being a Slytherin. It was probably the biggest common room out of all the Houses, though the only other one I had seen was Ravenclaw's—but considering they stayed in a tower, there was only so much room they could have. We were down in the dungeons, underneath the Black Lake. The wide windows gave view to the murky depths and the fish and, occasionally, the giant squid. Wilkes claims to have seen one of the merpeople once, back in our third year, but no one believed him, then or now. The braziers lining the walls were always dim, casting the stone room and its varying shades of green banners and drapes in ever-present shadows, and the decadent fireplace that towered over us stood a testament to Salazar Slytherin's taste in grandeur, if the engraved serpent on the mantle hadn't been enough to go by.

I found Ferris sitting in one of the green armchairs we usually claimed for ourselves by the farthest window and reading one of our new books for this year, but he looked up when he heard me approaching.

"How goes it, Angel?" he said as I plopped myself down with a sigh. I had just woken up and I was already tired again, and the fact that I still had a full day of lessons did nothing to motivate me further. Plus, I hated Ferris's nickname for me, but I was stuck with it, unfortunately.

"It goes," I replied. "Already studying the wonderful art of N.E.W.T. Potions?"

Ferris snorted, flicking the cover of our new Potions book closed.

"Are you kidding me? I learned most of this stuff by the time I was in second year." He shook his head. "Father would punish me with a Stinging Hex to my hands if I missed a step."

I frowned, keeping my words to myself. One of Ferris's only rules was that we were forbidden to talk about his family, especially his father. "I don't love him enough to want to be pitied over the fact that he doesn't love me either," he had told us once, and that had been the end of it.

"Remind me again why you won't tutor me in Potions, then?" I asked.

"Because as you very well know, Angel, I am far too lazy to ever do such a thing, and I don't have the time anyway."

"Right," I said sarcastically. "I forgot that you spend all your free blocks getting high."

"Or wasted," he said, wagging a finger. "I like to have variety, you know."

He grinned at his joke, but all I could do was frown, searching the deep lines and exhaustion etched into his handsome face.

"Fer," I said seriously. He sighed, turning to look out the window and seemingly preparing himself for what I had to say. "You know you can talk to us, yeah? Me, Az, Davey—we're all here for you. And if you're having trouble again—"

"You sound like my mother," Ferris said coldly. Anyone else would've flinched at his tone, but I'd been around him long enough to be unfazed by this point.

"I'm just saying that we're here for you if you need us to be," I said as calmly as I could. He glowered out the window still, his eyes staring unseeingly into the dark depths beyond. I sighed. "C'mon, Fer; let's go get breakfast so we'll have the strength to make it through another shitty first day back."

A ghost of a grin flitted across his face, and he picked up his bag and followed me out of the common room, ascending the stairs until we had come to the ground floor and the Great Hall.

We were the first ones to arrive at the Slytherin table, but I wasn't surprised. Most of our Housemates enjoyed their beauty sleep, but Ferris and I had taken to becoming early-risers our first year. It had been one of the only ways to avoid our sneering, bullying Housemates, and though they had all pretty much moved on from us and found better prey, it was habitual at this point.

We kept up idle chatter as we ate and the Hall filled with more and more students, but I paused in the retelling of my summer holiday when I realized that Ferris's eyes had focused on something else across the room—or, knowing him, someone else.

"Ferris, I swear if I turn around and see that the target your eyes have locked on is Sirius Black, I will kill you," I said, refusing to look to the other side of the Hall where the Gryffindor table was. I could hear those bloody Marauders, and their boisterousness this early in the morning was not improving my mood.

He didn't answer me, still staring with a dreamy expression and his chin propped on his hand like some lovesick fool. Rolling my eyes, I slapped his elbow off the table, causing him to fall face-first in his bowl of porridge with a shocked exclamation.

"Fucking hell, Taylor!" he groused when he emerged, dripping porridge all over his robes. "What was that for?"

He pulled out his wand, muttering a simple "Tergeo" and cleaning himself off while I shrugged, going back to my eggs.

"I figured I should wipe the besotted expression from your face before you lost your reputation to all the firsties," I replied casually, even as he still glared at me in that annoying way all pure-bloods did. Perhaps it was all the inbreeding that made their expressions look eerily similar when they were pissed. "I mean, c'mon, Fer—Sirius Black? Since when have you even acknowledged his existence?"

"Since he turned up on the platform looking like a god this year," he said, sniffing haughtily. "And don't wring your small, shriveled black heart over me, Angel; his own reputation precedes him. I'm sure he's shagged every bird in Hogwarts at this point."

"Not me," I said with a smirk.

"Not yet," he replied. "We still have two more years—you never know what could happen."

I snorted. "Yes, I'm sure I would willingly shag a blood traitor who is hated by all our blood purist House, thereby ensuring my own destruction from said House that merely tolerates me, a half-blood."

Ferris grunted. "Point taken."

I smirked again, taking a sip of coffee, while Ferris continued to look over my shoulder, before he asked, quite unexpectedly, "What about that Remus Lupin bloke?"

One of my eyebrows ticked up—a talent that thoroughly annoyed Ferris—and he scowled. "What about him?"

"D'you think he's fit?"

"What are you on about, you demented lunatic?"

Ferris gave me a deadpan look. "The bloke got hot, Taylor, that's what I'm on about. He used to be this skinny, gangly, sickly-looking thing, but now he's…taller, got a bit more muscle, and not to mention that that jawline is killer." He rubbed his own, as if wondering why he didn't have the same feature. "Granted, he still looks a bit peaky, but I think it's a permanent thing."

"Why would you even ask me if I think he's fit?" I said. "I've never even talked to him!"

"Well, I think you're about to get your first chance then," he said, and he grinned wickedly when I looked to him in confusion. "He's coming over here right now."

I whirled around, my eyes widening when I saw that he was right. The Gryffindor boy walked casually toward our table, his hands in his robe pockets and his shoes scuffing the floor. I looked back to Ferris incredulously.

"Is he out of his fucking mind?" I hissed. "He can't come over here like this! What if someone sees him?"

Ferris snorted. "Now who's worried about their reputation?"

I rolled my eyes. "It's not that. Doesn't he know all Slytherins hate his and his friends' guts?"

"Aww, is wittle snakey Taylor worried about the cute wittle lion Lupin?"

"I will end you," I promised, and he merely grinned before adopting an air of cold superiority, his stony eyes flicking over my shoulder.

"Welcome to the fringe, Gryffindor," Ferris greeted coolly, raising his goblet of pumpkin juice in a mock salute. "What brings you to our side of the Hall?"

"Ferris, is it?" Lupin returned cordially, and I stifled a snort. Their forced niceties were painful to witness. "I was just wondering if I could talk to Taylor for a moment?"

Ferris smiled blandly. "Take all the time you need."

He stood up and wrapped a few pieces of toast in a napkin. I stared at him in disbelief.

Are you leaving me with him? I mouthed, but Ferris only winked, waving his toast at us before departing the Hall. I sat, miffed, until Lupin cleared his throat from behind me, reminding me of his presence.

I turned, keeping my face as expressionless as possible, which wasn't hard. Apparently, I just had a sort of emotionless face, according to Az, which was probably why no one wanted to talk to me. That, and combined with me being a Slytherin, of course. People tended to hate us on sight usually.

"What do you want, Gryffindor?" I said. Despite my neutral tone, his casual expression slipped a little, revealing the hint of a scowl.

"I was just coming to welcome you as a fellow prefect," he said. "We have our first round of patrols together tomorrow night, so I wanted to remind you."

"Well, thanks," I said drily, "but you could've just sent a note."

Now he was scowling.

"Sorry," he said stiffly. "I'll try and remember next time."

I smiled at him blandly. "There won't be a next time."

His eyes narrowed at me. He opened his mouth, presumably to retort, but before he could, I leaned in close, grabbing his robes and pulling him down to eye-level with me where I was still seated.

"Look, Gryffindor, don't get your drawers in a wad," I said lowly. He tried to tug away, but I tightened my grip. "I'm trying to do you a favor here. My House hates yours, and if any of them saw you over here talking with me, it would spell out trouble for the both of us. Now, run along like a good little cub, and don't speak to me again until rounds, got it?"

I let go of his robes and he straightened, only giving me a strange look before walking toward the Gryffindor table. I sighed, going back to my now-cold breakfast, but looked up again when four bodies moved into Ferris's vacated seat.

"Morning, Taylor, dear," Vanity said, flipping her hair and giving me a smug smile. "Care to explain why that Gryffindor scum was over here polluting our air with his half-blood stench?"

Our other three dormmates giggled shrilly, but I scoffed at Vanity's horrible question. Honestly, did blood supremacists not realize how awful and terribly idiotic they sounded whenever they opened their mouths?

"He was reminding me that we had prefect rounds tomorrow night, Insanity," I drawled. "Remember how Dumbledore made me the new Slytherin prefect after Harfang went berserk last term?"

"Of course she remembers, loser," Lana Travers said, rolling her heavily made-up eyes. "She's not dumb, like you."

"Great insult, Travers," I said sarcastically. "Did it take you all summer to think of it?"

Travers gaped, but Vanity laughed.

"I missed you, Taylor," she said, shaking her head. "You always said the funniest things."

"Calm down, Vanity, I'm not looking for a relationship."

She threw back her head and laughed again, and after a few uncertain seconds her minions followed her cue, their piercing giggles making me wince. Hearing one of them was torture enough, but having all of them laugh at once was triggering some primal instinct in me to get up and run away, like I was a zebra trying to escape a pack of hyenas.

After they had calmed down, Vanity looked back to me, that poisonous smile from the night before gracing her features again. "So, Taylor, have you thought any more about my offer?"

"Yeah, and I'm not interested," I said, rolling my eyes. "Don't make me repeat it again, Vanity."

"Unfortunate," she said, letting out a painfully fake sigh and shaking her head sympathetically. "I had it all planned out in my head, too. So sad."

She sighed again, and I refrained from hurling my fork at her.

"Sorry to rain on your parade of psychotic delusions," I said, standing from the bench and grabbing my bookbag. "Bother me with this shit again, Vanity, and I'll hex you bald. Have a nice day."

I strolled to the doors leading into the entrance hall, but I wasn't surprised at all when a hand grabbed my shoulder and spun me around before I could leave.

"I don't think you understood me correctly, sweetie," Vanity said, still smiling that venomous smile of hers. "I chose you as my player in The Game. You can't just say no."

"I can, and I will—again," I said, smiling right back at her. "Now, fuck off, Vanity."

I turned, about to make my way out of the Hall, when her smug little voice stopped me dead in my tracks.

"A shame if people found out about your brother, don't you think, Aster?"

Suddenly cold with dread, I faced her slowly, my gut sinking when I saw the vicious gleam in her eyes.

"Leave Jacob out of this," I warned, my tone deadly, but she had rattled my cage—and she knew it. Her smile grew wider.

"Does he know that he's only your half-brother?" she asked with faux concern. "Poor thing. I know it's bad, having only a Mudblood mother like you, but him? A Mudblood mother and a filthy Muggle of a father, born out of an illicit affair. Quite the scandal. If I were him, I'd want to hear it from you directly instead of the rumor mill. Things get so twisted when they go through the grapevine, you know?"

I stood, stock-still, her sugary, simpering voice echoing around my skull.

"So, Taylor Aster, do you agree to be my player now? Because if not, I promise you I will tell everyone in this school who your brother really is and what your whore of a Mudblood mother did."

"You're lying," I said. I sneered at her, but even to me it felt forced. "You know nothing about my life, or my brother's, Emma Vanity."

"Really?" she said, her brows arching imperiously. "Then your mother, Everly Aster, did not take a Muggle lover by the name of Adrien Powell while still married to your father? And did that affair not lead to the birth of your bastard half-brother, Jacob Henry Aster, who your father took in when your Mudblood mother decided she didn't want another child? How did that make you feel, Taylor? Knowing your mother not only abandoned you, but him as well?"

"Shut up, Vanity," I snarled, snatching my wand from my sleeve and pointing it at her face. Fury burned through me, making my skin hot, and I realized, to my horror, that my wand was shaking in my grip. "Keep it up and I will not hesitate to leave you scattered in pieces all over this castle."

She only smiled evilly, the wicked bitch, and my grip on my wand tightened.

"It wasn't hard to find out about your family," she said. "My father has many contacts at the Ministry, and I've been planning on this all summer. You are my player, Taylor, whether you like it or not."

I remembered what Ferris had told me the night before, about how Vanity chose her victims for her stupid game, and I grit my teeth as I recalled his words: "By knowing something about them that she can hold over their heads—blackmail."

I was going to kill Emma Vanity. The secret of my brother was something that constantly weighed on my shoulders, and it was something I hadn't told anybody—not even Ferris, Az, or Davey, and they were my best friends. My father had forbidden me to tell Jacob since the day he wound up on our doorstep with nothing but a measly note from my mother explaining who he was and that we should never try to find her or contact her again, and I had kept my mouth shut for twelve years. She'd told us to believe her to be dead, and so we had. I loved Jacob more than anything, and I didn't care that he was only my half-brother—he was still my brother. And fuck Vanity if she wanted to hurt him.

But I couldn't risk her blabbing her mouth to the entire school about my family secrets and having those rumors get back to Jacob somehow. He would be devastated, and not only that, but he'd demand to know why Dad and I had never told him, and I didn't want him to go through that sense of betrayal.

I knew I was going to regret this until the day I died, but slowly, I lowered my wand, ignoring Vanity's victorious smirk.

"Fine," I said hollowly. "You get what you want, Insanity. I'll be your bloody player."

She clapped her hands together and giggled as if I had just given her the best gift in the world—and to her twisted mind, I probably had.

"I knew you would come around!" she squealed. "Oh, this is going to be so much fun!"

"Yeah, I'm sure," I said, rolling my eyes. "So, who's my victim? I want to get this ruddy game over with as soon as possible to prevent any prolonged torture on my part."

She smiled widely, and my heart sank at the expression, knowing she had chosen someone horrible just for my sake.

Please don't be Snape, please don't be Snape, please don't be Snape…

"Well, there's been a slight change in victims," she said, twirling her hair around her finger thoughtfully. "You see, I initially thought it would be wonderful for you to try and break Sirius Black's heart. After all, he's the heartbreaker around here, the little blood traitor, and I wanted to see the tables turn a bit. But then, I had a more brilliant idea just this morning."

Oh, Merlin, no. I knew where she was going with this, and she looked to me with a malevolent glint in her blue eyes.

"Your new victim is Remus Lupin. You have until next summer to seduce him and then ruin him—and that's me being generous. I know Gryffindors are self-righteous pricks, so I figure you'll have your work cut out for you." She raked over my appearance with critical eyes, and I scowled. "Well, more so than usual. I'd recommend losing the scary eyeliner and doing something with that hair of yours."

She gestured to the pale blonde, shaggy hair that fell to my shoulders, and I resisted the urge to knock her teeth out right then.

"Noted," I said, curling my lip at her. "Are we done now, Vanity? I have Double Defense to get to in five minutes, and I'd rather not get points taken off for being late."

"Sure," she said, waving her hand at me in a shooing manner. "Have fun, Taylor."

Ignoring her suggestive smile, I stowed away my wand and spun on my heel, only to pause when I heard her say, "Oh, and Taylor?"

I didn't turn around, but I could hear the jeer in her voice when she said, "Don't forget to say hi to Lupin. I'll be watching."

Only flipping her off in response, I trudged toward the Defense classroom, her laughter following me for the rest of the day.

What the fuck did I just get myself into?

Sorry for the shorter chapter, but I felt like this was a good place to stop. Let me know your thoughts!