The Stars Are Burning

Chapter 4

Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling no longer has rights to Harry Potter. Society has progressed past the need for J.K. Rowling.

I'm sorry this took so long, guys. I hope to get back to updating this and my other stories more frequently again, but summer classes and participating in the death throes of America are quite time-consuming. Thank you all for your patience and support!

Chapter Four

I left Ferris and the Slytherin common room at a quarter to nine to meet Lupin for rounds. I'd followed the advice of my friends and looked as natural as possible, but I'd dug around in my trunk until I found an old bottle of perfume my dad had gifted me for Christmas years ago and dabbed some on my wrists and neck like I used to watch my mother do.

After telling Ferris what floors to steer clear of that night, I made my way to the fourth floor. Though I didn't approve of Ferris's illicit late-night activities that typically involved firewhiskey and recreational potions, I wasn't going to get him into trouble for it, either.

When I reached the fourth floor, Lupin was already there. He looked up at my approach and offered a friendly smile.

"Long time, no see," he joked.

I smirked. "It's only been, what? Eight hours since Potions?"

"Give or take." He jerked his head down the corridor. "We should probably start. You know how this works?"

I fell into step with him as he began walking. I never realized before how tall he was; I only came up to his shoulder, and I didn't consider myself a short person. "We just patrol and look for people out of bed and such, right? And take points?"

"Warnings, too," he said with an easy grin in my direction. "I see the power's already going to your head."

What was it with this guy? Why was he being so nice to me? It was disconcerting. Did he have some sort of elaborate scheme to prank me going on? He and his friends were big pranksters. I wouldn't be shocked if he had an ulterior motive hidden up his sleeve. But then I realized that if anyone had an endgame between the two of us, then it would be me.

At the reminder of Vanity's sick little game, I forced myself to give him a half-smile and say, "Only a bit."

He chuckled. "Don't worry. I'll keep you in check. Patrols are often pretty uneventful anyway. Typically, it's just Peeves who gets up to stuff, chucking suits of armor down the stairs and such. He's easy enough to deal with, but most of the time, I just leave him to Filch."

I snorted. Filch, the caretaker, had made it his life's mission to wage war on Peeves the Poltergeist. It was a futile effort, considering Peeves was undead, but Filch had never let that deter him.

"We only have to patrol for an hour or so," Lupin continued, "but I usually start here and end at the North Tower."

I wrinkled my nose. "Where the Divination classroom is?"

"It's not like Professor Hellebore is actually in there," he said. "Besides, it's fun to poke around; he stashes some unique stuff in his tea cabinet."

I turned to him in surprise when he grimaced, as if he'd said too much. Then again, Lupin ran around with Potter and Black, and they were the biggest troublemakers Hogwarts had ever seen. I shouldn't be surprised at all that he got up to their antics as well.

"Er, you probably shouldn't mention that to anyone," he said, clearing his throat. "Have to maintain some respectability and all—"

"Your secret's safe with me," I said with a shrug. I eyed him appraisingly. "So long as you show me what kind of unique stuff we're talking about."

He looked relieved. "Deal."

We shuffled along the corridor in silence for a moment. Lupin slouched with his hands in his pockets, his shoes scuffing the floor, his eyes following the various moving portraits along the walls. I let my arms hang by my sides as I stared out the windows, watching the crescent moon and stars follow me from corridor to corridor. I started to wonder if I shouldn't say something until Lupin beat me to it.

"So, you're friends with Ferris Blishwick?" he asked.

I glanced to him sidelong, suddenly wary. "Yes."

He nodded thoughtfully. "Nice. I always thought he seemed like a cool bloke. For a—" He stopped abruptly, his eyes darting in my direction.

I raised an eyebrow. "For a Slytherin?" When he gave a sheepish nod, I smirked. "You can relax. I get it. I'm not going to rip your head off or anything."

"Sorry," he said. "It's not that—well, er, it's just—"

"My House has produced almost every Dark wizard?" I said wryly. "Or that they're all a bunch of blood-crazed maniacs?"

"I-I wouldn't say that—"

"Really? Because I do." I gave him a little sardonic smile when he stared at me. "Trust me; I've been dealing with them for five years. I think I know what they're like."

We made our way to the fifth floor, heading to the northern part of the castle. We came across no one except for a grumpy portrait of monks who complained that our presence was interfering with their meditations. I refrained from pointing out that they were portraits and had no reason to meditate, but I'd learned the hard way in second year not to argue with any of the portraits, or else they'd follow you from frame to frame screaming obscenities at you for a week.

Lupin scratched his cheek awkwardly as we walked along. "They can't all be like that though, right? Slytherins? I mean, you're not."

"Based on what? Three conversations total?" I said.

"Two, actually," he said. He grinned faintly at my confused glance. "Both of them from today. You weren't quite as nice to me yesterday in the Great Hall."

Had that only been yesterday morning? Christ. Vanity's game was aging me already. I only shrugged. "I have a reputation to uphold."

He snorted. "And here I was beginning to think that you weren't like other Slytherins."

I sighed. "We're not all about tradition, you know. And not everyone is a pure-blood. I'm not." At his inquisitive look, I explained. "My dad's a pure-blood, but my mum was Muggle-born."

"But you still ended up in Slytherin."

"Like I said." I shrugged again. "That's just a generalization."

"You have a brother, though. He's in Hufflepuff."

I didn't bother asking him how he knew that. It wasn't like there were any other Asters in the school. "So?"

"I'm just trying to work that one out," he admitted. "Slytherin and Hufflepuff…I mean, those two are pretty different."

"Jacob's kind," I said, frowning. "Ever since he was a baby, he's been the sweetest boy you could meet. And he likes helping people. Me?" I snorted. "I'm not that nice, and I've been overly ambitious for as long as I can remember."

"Ah, well, I don't think we should base ourselves off our Houses so much," he said. "There are times where I think that the Hat made the wrong choice by putting me into Gryffindor."

I stayed quiet, not knowing how to answer that. What was this conversation anyway? We were supposed to be patrolling, not digging into our inner psyches and analyzing them.

"Shit, sorry," Lupin said as if he'd heard my thoughts. He grimaced. "Probably not the best topic of conversation for a first patrol together. Much too heavy."

I smirked. "Yeah, we should really just stick to the basics here. 'What's your favorite color' and all that."

"Oh, easy. Green," he said. "Not like a lime, though. Like the forest." He gave me a playful smile. "What about you? No, no, let me guess," he said, shaking his head when I opened my mouth. He pointed to my eyeliner. "Black?"

"Way to stereotype," I said, rolling my eyes.

"What is it then?"

I grinned broadly at him. "Pink."

"You're joking, right?" He stared at me, looking torn between laughter or seriousness. "It can't be pink."

"Pretty, soft, baby pink," I continued. "No neon or any of that crap. Just like those pink roses you see in the flower shops."

He kept staring. "You might just be the most frightening Slytherin I've ever met."

I gave him the most dangerous look I could conjure. "I'm flattered, Lupin."

"Remus," he corrected with a shrug. "Might as well use our real names if we're going to be doing rounds with each other."

"Fine," I said. "Then call me Taylor."

This is too easy, I thought when we shared a brief smile. I'd have Remus Lupin bagged before Christmas, at this rate.

A sudden scuffle down the corridor drew our attention. Harsh, whispering voices reached our ears, and Remus and I exchanged a look. He nodded, and we crept down the corridor together on silent feet. My hand drifted for the wand stashed up my left sleeve on the off-chance we ran into any of my aforementioned insane Housemates, but there was no need. When we came upon three familiar boys, Remus heaved a long-suffering sigh.

"What the hell are you guys doing here?" he demanded of James Potter, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew. "I told you lot where I would be patrolling tonight!"

Potter just grinned, his hair sticking up in every direction around his mischievous face. Behind him was a door that appeared to be locked, and I guessed the commotion we heard was he and his friends trying to get through it.

"Exactly," Potter said, looking wholly unconcerned that he'd just been caught red-handed out of bed after curfew and wandering the castle. "We needed you here tonight to help us."

Sirius Black squinted at me through the faint torchlight of the corridor. "Shit, Moony, you didn't tell us your partner was a snake."

Potter's attention shifted to me, and he frowned. "Wait. Weren't you working with Snape in Potions today?"

"Yes," I said stiffly. "Thanks for ruining our potion, by the way."

He gave me an unfriendly smile. "Anytime, Slytherin."

"James," Remus broke in, exasperated, "what are you doing here?"

Potter pointed to the door. "Prefects' bathroom. We need in."

Remus frowned. "For what?"

"Tell your little snake to go away first," Black said with a distrustful glare in my direction.

"Taylor won't do anything," said Remus. He turned to me. "Right?"

"Depends on what it is," I said, crossing my arms. "If it's something stupid, then I'm definitely taking points."

Pettigrew looked offended. "It's a genius prank, is what it is."

"She's friends with Snape," Potter spat. "No way."

I actually had to laugh at that. "Are you kidding me? I hate Snape. Everyone does, except for his little gang."

Potter frowned. "You hate Snape?"

I rolled my eyes. "Have you met him?"

"See?" Remus said when his friends traded looks. "Taylor's cool."

"Fine," said Potter grudgingly after another look to his friends. He jabbed a finger at me. "But if you snitch on us…"

"The door's protected by a password," I said, ignoring him. I passed the three boys, walked up to the door, and said, "Evergreen."

The door unlocked with a click, and I pushed it open. I stepped aside and gestured them forward. "After you."

After a suspicious glance, Potter led the way into the bathroom. Black and Pettigrew followed, but Remus paused on the threshold and turned back to me.

"Thanks," he said, scratching the back of his neck. "I know you're probably not their biggest fan, especially James…"

"Oh, definitely not," I agreed. I scoffed. "My brother's obsessed with the bloke though. Thinks he's the coolest person to ever exist."

Remus grinned. "Probably shouldn't tell James that."

"God, no," I said, horrified. "Like he needs another reason to strut down the corridors."

From inside the bathroom, Potter's irate voice called out, "I do not strut!"

Remus offered me his hand. "Coming?"

I hesitated. The last thing I ever thought I'd be doing my sixth year was willingly hanging around a bunch of Gryffindors, but that was also before Emma Vanity had decided to meddle in my life. Remus waited, his hand outstretched, his face sincere.

I took his hand.

While Potter, Black, and Pettigrew filled in Remus on their alleged brilliant prank, I walked around the bathroom by myself, taking it in for the first time. I'd never been allowed access to it before I took Druella Harfang's spot as prefect, but Evan Rosier had described it to me earlier this week, commending its amenities before making an offhand remark about how the bathrooms at his estate were better.

The bathroom was huge, with high, vaulted ceilings draped with silk banners representing all the House colors and stained-glass windows depicting moving mermaids and the sun and moon cycles. A bathtub as large as a swimming pool sunk into the warm tiled floor, with dozens of jeweled faucets and scented soaps and oils lining the rim. On one wall stood a row of stalls, while opposite was a row of gleaming porcelain sinks and polished mirrors. I stopped at one of the sinks and gazed into the mirror, fixing my fringe while the four Gryffindors talked behind me.

"The pipes in this bathroom stem all over the castle, like a spiderweb," Potter was saying. He nearly bounced on the balls of his feet, sounding breathless with excitement. "We saw it on the map."

"The map of the castle's layout, yeah," Black said loudly when he caught me staring at them in the mirror.

"Exactly," Potter said without missing a beat, but I knew from Black's tone that the map they were actually referring to was something they didn't want me knowing about. "So, if we filled the tub with enough of Zonko's Unpoppable Bubbles, all the pipes would be backed up, meaning the bathrooms would be unusable."

"And lessons would be cancelled," Black finished smugly.

Potter met my gaze in challenge. "That good enough for you, snake?"

Remus frowned. "Stop calling her that."

"It's fine." I turned and braced my hands on the sink, leaning back as I glanced between the four boys. "I won't snitch on one condition."

Black smirked at me, a glint that was all too Slytherin entering his eyes. Try as he might, his upbringing wouldn't go away that easily. "Name your price."

I held out my hand. "You give me one of those bubble packets for me to hold on to until a time of my choosing."

"Done," Black said, fishing a packet out of his trouser pocket before Potter threw out an arm to stop him.

"What do you want one for?" he demanded.

I shrugged. "For a rainy day." I wiggled my fingers. "Packet?"

Potter kept his arm out. "I'm adding my own condition."

"Fine, fine. What is it?"

He appraised me for a second before saying, "You're not allowed to use it on us. If you do, we'll be forced to retaliate. And you really don't want a war with us."

"I'm petrified," I said, ignoring Remus's snort. "But all right. Packet."

Black tossed me a packet and I pocketed it with a smile. "All right. What now?"

Pettigrew gave me an odd look. "What?"

I studied the tub. "We'll need to fill it with water first in order to get the bubbles to form. And then from there I'm assuming we just pull the plug and let the pipes do our dirty work for us?"

"Whoa, hold on," Potter said. "We?"

I stared at him blankly. "Uh, yeah? Was I just supposed to stand here and cheer you on?"

The four boys shared another glance. I could already tell their weird telepathic communication was going to become annoying. I waited, impatient.

"Whatever," Potter said finally. "Okay. You and Remus can work the faucets on that side while Sirius and I do this side. Peter will be in charge of dumping the packets in."

We all nodded and got to work. Soon the bathroom was filled with the sound of gushing water as we Charmed all the faucets to turn on. Despite the tub's size, it filled quickly, and Pettigrew poured the packets' bright pink contents into the water. Once the powder hit the water, soapy pink bubbles began to form, multiplying rapidly and coating the water in a layer of bubbles. Some of them detached and floated toward the ceiling. I reached out and caught one, its shape holding like I was touching a ball instead of a bubble.

Remus stood next to me, watching with a faint grin. He gestured to the bubble I held. "Was this the kind of pink you meant?"

I nodded, amused at the distorted reflection of myself in the bubble's surface. "Exactly like my favorite shade."

He grabbed another bubble near his head and held it up to my face. "It's a nice color," he said. "It matches your cheeks."

That was the wrong thing to say. My face immediately flushed at his words, turning my cheeks from what was pink to a burning red. I didn't even know what I was blushing for, which was the most alarming thought of all. Embarrassment? Pleasure? I had no idea, but it was disgusting. I had to put a stop to it at once.

Thankfully, Pettigrew said something just then that took Remus's attention away from me. I let go of my bubble at the same time I exhaled in relief and watched it bump across the silver silk of the Slytherin banner.

"Tub's filled," Potter announced from the other side. "Let's turn the faucets off and pull the plug."

We used our wands to stop the water, and then Potter cast a spell to dislodge the plug and let our handiwork drain to wreak havoc on the castle. He grinned in delight as the bubbles were sucked away.

"Good work, lads," he said. He glanced at me. "And lady snake."

I gave a little bow as I put away my wand.

"You should get back to the Tower before someone notices you're out," Remus told his friends. "Taylor and I need to finish our rounds, too."

Potter nodded. "A fond farewell then, Moony." He gave me some sort of salute. "Lady snake."

I rolled my eyes as the other Gryffindors bid us goodnight and left the bathroom. What buffoons.

Remus still held his bubble. He offered it to me. "Token of a job well done?"

I took it with a half-smile. "You know, maybe our patrols won't be so bad after all."

"Don't hold your breath," said Remus as he held open the door for me. He smiled, and it was tinted with just the faintest hint of mischief. "We still have a whole year ahead of us. Anything could happen."

I didn't tell him that that was what I was counting on.

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