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Welcome back! There's not a lot of Lupin in this chapter, I'm afraid, but there are plenty of scheming Slytherins!
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The next day was a disaster.
To the utter bafflement of the staff and the enthusiastic delight of the students, Hogwarts Castle had been infested with thousands of Zonko's Unpoppable Bubbles overnight. Toilets had clogged, faucets had been stoppered, and it was impossible to step foot anywhere in the school without pink bubbles floating in the air around you. In the wake of the mysterious bubble siege, lessons were suspended pending the removal of the bubbles, which the professors were woefully unequipped to deal with. Meanwhile, the student body had rejoiced and declared the unknown mischief-makers geniuses and heroes, though it was widely speculated that the Marauders had been the masterminds of the prank.
With lessons cancelled, the students were left to their own devices. Many took to the grounds, despite the chilly and gusty day, while some remained in their common rooms or took refuge in the packed library, such as me, Ferris, Az, and Davey were doing that morning.
"I don't think I've ever seen so many people here at once outside of exams," Davey commented, glancing around the full library. We'd gotten there late, wanting a neutral space to hang out that wasn't our House common rooms, and Ferris had complained that it was too windy and cold to be outdoors, and most of the tables had already been filled. We found one toward the back that was meant for a much larger study session, but we'd quickly claimed it as our own.
Az snorted. "That's because you don't come here unless we have exams."
"Well, those Gryffindors sure did me a favor today," said Ferris with a wide yawn. "I certainly wasn't up for class."
I scoffed from where I lounged in my chair. "You never are."
Ferris shrugged, a lazy smirk on his handsome face. "Why worry about grades when I have Daddy's money to keep me afloat instead?"
Davey raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Hasn't your dad threatened to disown you, like, three times?"
"Four," Ferris drawled. "The first three were for my associations with people who weren't pure-bloods, and this last was when he discovered I wasn't exactly interested in a wife—or women in general."
"Your dad's a right prick," Az said.
"Cheers." Ferris held up an imaginary goblet. "Here's to dancing on his grave whenever the bastard finally kicks it."
"Cheers," we all agreed. I'd met Ferris's father once, on Platform 9 ¾ after our first year, and that had been enough for a lifetime. He'd been very interested in me as a fellow Slytherin, but once he found out that my father was Isaac Aster, he'd called me a 'stain on my bloodline' and forbade Ferris from ever associating with me again. Ferris, of course, had flouted that rule ever since. The only thing keeping him from being outright exiled from his family was his mother, and for that, Floresta Blishwick was a saint in my book. Frederick Blishwick, on the other hand, could drop dead that instant, and I'd probably celebrate like Ferris said.
"I still can't believe those Gryffindors pulled this off," Davey said, gesturing to a bubble that bopped serenely along the ceiling overhead. "They're going to go down as legends soon if they keep this sort of thing up."
I stayed silent as Ferris and Az nodded in agreement. It wasn't that I was ashamed or modest about my role in the prank—I was just content with no one else knowing in case those boys got caught. After all, I was a Slytherin; self-preservation was in my blood.
"Oi, speaking of," Az said with a significant look at me. I raised a brow back at him as he grinned. "Here they come."
We turned toward the front of the library, where, indeed, the Marauders themselves had just entered to a round of applause from the other students. Not even Madam Pince, the mad librarian, could silence them as whistles and cheers abounded. I rolled my eyes as James Potter and Sirius Black soaked in the attention, smiling broadly and shaking hands as if they'd just defeated the Dark Lord singlehandedly. Remus and Peter Pettigrew trailed behind them, nodding and grinning, but the former two were the stars of the show. I swear some girl nearly fainted when Black shot a dazzling smile in her direction.
"That reminds me," Ferris said, wheeling back to face me with a mischievous look. "How was rounds with Lupin last night?"
Az and Davey looked at me expectantly as I shrugged. "Uneventful."
"What? You didn't even show him a good time in an empty broom cupboard?" Az teased me.
"Don't make me sick," I said. "I'm supposed to get him to fancy me, not snog him."
"But what faster way to set a man's heart aflutter?" Az asked innocently.
I shot him a glare. "I think you're referring to the heartbeat in his pants, not his chest."
"But snogging him means you like him," Davey said, looking lost. "Right?"
"Not necessarily," I said. "You can snog someone just for the hell of it." They all looked blank. I stared between them. "Come on. You can't all be that dense."
Ferris ignored me, opting to watch the Marauders' procession through the tables as they searched for an empty one, while Az shrugged indifferently, and Davey seemed as if were working through an extremely advanced Arithmancy problem. I rolled my eyes. Just my luck to make friends with the most clueless boys in the country.
"Oi!" Ferris said suddenly. To my astonishment, he raised a hand to garner the Marauders' attention. The four Gryffindor boys stopped and stared at him in confusion, mirroring the expressions that must've been on mine, Az's, and Davey's faces. Ferris gestured to the four vacant seats at our half-filled table. "We've got some extra chairs if you need a place."
The Gryffindors traded another of their weird telepathic glances before nodding among themselves and walking over. I tried to convey to Ferris through my eyes that I was going to spit in his porridge for the rest of the year, but he only smiled lazily as the Marauders joined us at our table.
"Hi," Remus greeted, breaking the awkward silence as they took their seats. He held out his hand across the table to Az and Davey. "I think we've had classes together before, but I'm Remus Lupin. This is James, Sirius, and Peter."
"Davey Gudgeon," Davey said with a friendly smile, shaking Remus's hand vigorously. "Nice to meet you all."
"Az Patil," Az said, also taking Remus's hand and then waving to the other Gryffindors, who politely nodded back. "I think you already know Taylor."
He gestured to me, and Remus nodded with a grin. "Of course. Good to see you again, Taylor."
I saluted with a finger to my temple. "Likewise."
"I'm Ferris," Ferris butted in. "Ferris Blishwick."
A few seats down, Black leaned forward, his brow furrowed. "Blishwick?"
"The only important one," Ferris said with a dramatic flourish of his hand. "And before you ask, Black, yes, our fathers were good friends for a time when we were younger. Although I specifically recall only ever speaking with your brother Regulus whenever we got together; you were always absent."
"For good reason," said Black with a snort.
"Oh, I quite agree," Ferris said airily. "But you can stop looking as if I've just snapped your wand in half; I may be a Blishwick, but as my father loves to remind me, I certainly don't maintain the reputation of one."
The table was silent as we all gauged the stare-down between Ferris and Black. I knew Black was probably suspicious of Ferris; it was no secret that Black ran away from his home last summer to live with Potter's family, and it was by no means a stretch of the imagination to assume that it was because his beliefs didn't align with his own notoriously Dark family's, especially once the news spread that he had been disowned. Still, it was tense until Black relented with a slight nod and sat back again in his chair, apparently satisfied with Ferris's words.
"Well," Potter said once the awkward moment passed. "With all that out of the way—who's up for a game of Exploding Snap?"
Davey sat up in his seat excitedly. "That's my favorite!"
"A man of taste and culture," Potter said, sketching a dramatic bow at Davey as he removed a deck of playing cards from his pocket. "Perhaps you'd like to deal, good sir?"
As Davey accepted the deck from Potter, Ferris coughed conspicuously and said, "You know, I feel a rather strong inclination to keep the inter-House-unity momentum going. Why don't we all swap seats and get to know each other a bit more? Remus can take my seat next to Taylor, and Davey can switch with — ow! —James."
My kick at Ferris's shin did nothing to deter him as he swapped seats with a confused Remus, while Potter and Davey reluctantly traded their own, so Remus now sat on my right and Potter on my left, with Davey taking the opposite head of the table with Pettigrew and Black beside him, and Az and Ferris between each pair of Gryffindors on either side of the table. It was the world's most awkward and painful game of musical chairs, and a blatantly obvious trick to get Remus to sit next to me. After this, death was my only option for Ferris.
"Lady Snake," Potter said as he took Davey's vacated seat. He shot me a smug smirk. "Like our handiwork?"
"It's acceptable," I said as Davey began dealing cards after shuffling.
Potter looked affronted. "Acceptable?"
Remus chuckled. "Relax, James. You look like she insulted your mum."
Potter swept up his cards with a huff. "She as good as."
"Why would I do that?" I drawled. "I'm sure Potter's mother is a lovely woman." I gave him a sly look. "More than I can say for you, Lord Lion Cub."
He scowled. "I hope you lose."
Remus chuckled at our banter, and I took that as a good sign. It wouldn't do to be rude to his friends if I was trying to get him to like me, but there was something about Potter that grated my nerves. He was just so…Gryffindor.
Davey started the game, and soon our table was embroiled in a dizzying match as we attempted to keep our cards from exploding in our faces. It was highly amusing to watch my friends and the Gryffindors scream like little girls whenever their cards started smoking, and before I knew it, an hour had passed, and we moved on to our second game after Az received the losing hand and his cards went up in a small explosion that showered sparks over the table.
Davey doled out more cards, and I sat, content, until a dainty hand grabbed my shoulder.
"Taylor!" Emma Vanity crowed. Behind her, her three minions stood uncertainly, but their faces soured when they saw me. Emma's cutting blue eyes landed on Remus and lit up with an uncomfortable sparkle. "So good to see you participating in the game!"
Her emphasis made my teeth clench. My friends looked between her gloating smile and my murderous scowl warily, but the Gryffindors seemed baffled that someone like Emma would associate with someone like me. I couldn't entirely blame them; I wanted nothing more than to point out that I wanted nothing to do with the psychotic witch.
I tried to keep my voice neutral as I said, "Too bad the game isn't fun when you're coerced into playing it."
She threw back her head and laughed. "Oh, Taylor, darling, you're hilarious!" She turned and beamed at Remus, but she looked more like a predator baring its teeth. "Taylor's always been able to make me laugh, did you know? It's such a shame that she's so prickly all the time."
Remus looked utterly confused, but he shrugged. "She seems all right to me."
I could've kissed him right there just for the flare of anger in her eyes, but the look was gone just as quickly. She laughed again.
"How delightful." She turned back to me and carded her fingers through my hair. Her sharp nails raked along my scalp, and I slapped her hand away. "Well, I won't keep you from your game, Taylor. I hope for your sake that you win."
She gave me a vicious smile as she swept away, and I was left seething. I forced myself to breathe evenly. In. Out. In. Out. It'd do me no good to kill her and leave Jacob alone at Hogwarts after I was carted off to Azkaban, but Salazar, it would feel fantastic.
Remus kept his voice light as he picked up his cards, but his eyes seemed distant. "I didn't know you were such good friends with Emma Vanity."
"We're not friends," I said savagely. "I merely tolerate her existence just so I have a shot at a decent future—one that won't put me away for murder."
He chuckled. "Now that I understand."
Before I could answer, there was another tap on my shoulder. I spun around, ready to hex Vanity bald, but I relaxed when I saw that it was just my brother.
"Jacob!" I said happily. "What's up?"
He didn't answer. His gaze had gone to Potter sitting to my left, and his eyes widened comically at the sight of the Gryffindor. Oh. Right.
Potter grinned at Jacob's slack jaw. "Wotcher. Jacob, was it? I'm James."
"Uh-huh." Jacob kept staring.
I waved my hand in his face. "Hello? Your totally awesome older sister is right here!"
"Right." With difficulty, Jacob faced me. "Dad sent me an owl. He said you haven't written him yet since we got here."
"Oh, shit." All of Vanity's nonsense had wiped everything else from my brain. "Yeah, okay, I'll send him a letter tonight. Thanks, Jacob."
He nodded and nervously turned to Potter.
"Your flying is brilliant," he said shyly. "D'you think you could teach me sometime? I mean if you have the time, obviously, I know you're probably busy—"
"Sure, kid," Potter said. He shot me an amused glance. "How does Thursday after dinner sound?"
"Brilliant," Jacob said, breathless.
Potter grinned. "Cool. See you then."
Jacob wandered off, not even bothering to say bye to me.
Potter chuckled. "You weren't kidding about him being my biggest fan. How does a kid like that end up with you as a sister?"
I sighed. "I honestly couldn't tell you."
I often wondered the same.
After lunch, Ferris and I parted ways with Az and Davey to head to our respective common rooms. I stifled a sigh on the way to the dungeons. It wasn't the first time—nor the last—that I wished the two Ravenclaws were in our House. At least then Ferris and I wouldn't be so alone.
When we descended the staircase from the entrance hall, I punched Ferris's arm.
"Ouch!" he groused. "The bloody hell was that for?"
"For your little seating arrangement stunt this morning," I said.
He huffed. "In case you didn't notice, I did it for your sake, Angel. You want to win this stupid game of Vanity's or not?"
"I know your point is completely reasonable and valid," I said as the door to the common room came into view, "but I still hate it."
He snorted. "Yeah, okay." When we reached the door, he stopped me giving the password with a hand on my arm. "Who's patrolling tonight?"
"I dunno. I think some Hufflepuffs. Why?"
"No reason," he said airily.
My eyes narrowed. "Didn't you sneak out last night?"
"Did I?" Before I could answer, he said to the door, "Basilisk."
The door opened and permitted us entrance to the common room. Ferris made for his dormitory, but I grabbed his elbow and pushed him into a stuffed velvet armchair by the window that looked out into the lake. A silver fish hovering near the window darted away as I sat down beside him.
"I thought we agreed you'd only sneak out during my patrols?" I hissed.
He shrugged, leaning back in his seat with the arrogance only pure-bloods possessed. "Perhaps I'd like to indulge myself more than once a week."
I scowled. "Ferris, with the amount of contraband you have, if you get caught with any of it—"
"I'll promptly be thrown out, yes, yes." He waved me off. "How many more times do we have to have this conversation, Taylor?"
"Apparently, we need to have it more, since not a word I'm saying has penetrated your thick skull yet!"
"Ha. You said penetrate."
I resisted the urge to slap him. "Ferris, I'm worried about you. You've flouted rules before—Merlin, we all have—but sneaking out and getting drunk and high and whatever else you get up to is courting punishment. I can't see you get tossed out. You're my only friend here in the snake pit. Please. Be more careful."
Ferris sighed and took my hand. "I hate it when you're right." He raised my hand and kissed the back of it. "Fine. I'll stick to your schedule, but only because I love you and you're my best friend."
I sat back, not entirely satisfied, but sated. "I love you more."
"Impossible." He got up from his chair and stretched. "My love knows no bounds, and you can't possibly comprehend the breadth of it. Therefore, I love you more."
I rolled my eyes. "Your mother read you way too much poetry growing up."
"Hm. Perhaps that explains why I am the way I am today."
I snorted, and he ruffled my hair. "I'm off to nap. I'll see you at dinner."
I waved as he disappeared down the stone corridor that led to the sixth-year boys' dormitory. I had a record of ten seconds of peace before Evan Rosier took Ferris's vacated seat across from me.
"Evan," I said, inclining my head. "To what do I owe the extreme pleasure?"
I hated how handsome he looked when he smirked. If I didn't know how vile his thoughts really were, I would've been charmed.
"Taylor," he said pleasantly. "You look well."
"A week into term and no one's cursed me yet. We should get Slughorn to throw a celebration feast."
He chuckled. "Vanity was right. You are rather humorous."
My upper lip curled. "And what else has Vanity told you about me?"
He reclined in his seat, mocking Ferris's posture from earlier. Smarmy pure-bloods.
"An interesting tale about you being the latest victim in her sick little game," he said, raising dark eyebrows. "And something about Remus Lupin from Gryffindor."
I caught the clear derision in his tone and was surprised. I thought he would've been delighted by my misfortune, but he sounded disgusted by Vanity's game.
"So you think her scheme is as abhorrent as her haircut?" I asked. "That's shocking."
He frowned. "Why would it be? She's wasting her time on petty grudges and childish antics when there are much more important things going on in the world."
I shrugged, draping my arms over the sides of my chair.
"I'd rather be goaded by an empty-headed twit than cursed for being a half-blood, thanks," I said drily.
His lips quirked to the side. "You haven't been cursed over the years because you're a half-blood, you know."
I stared at him, wondering what he was playing at. Evan had never shown much interest in me before, even when his friends were partaking in tormenting me or Ferris. I assumed because it was beneath his dignity to bother with someone as openly half-blood and proud of it as I was, and his sudden attention was suspicious.
"What do you want, Evan?" I asked.
He continued like I hadn't said anything.
"They curse you because you're different," he said, tilting his head to reflect that the they he referred to were our Housemates.
"Right," I said. "Because I'm not a pure-blood. Thanks for clearing that up."
He shook his head. "Your blood status has nothing to do with it. It's a factor, certainly, but even half-bloods have their value in the order of the world." He laced his long, slightly tanned fingers across his stomach. "They curse you because they fear you—because you don't fear them."
"Okay. Good to know." What the hell was he on about? What even was this conversation? "What's your ulterior motive here? I know you didn't come over here just to chat about how great I am."
He smiled slightly. "You have value, Taylor. I'd hate to see you squander it in the pursuit of your pride."
"So you want me to take my beatings in silence, like a good little witch?" I scoffed. "Fat chance."
"I want you to think about your place in the world," he said, "and your role in it." He got to his feet abruptly. "When this war moves out into the open, I want you think carefully about which side you'll be on."
His words eerily echoed Severus Snape's from yesterday: "There's a war out there, Aster. And you'll only live if you're on the right side of it."
Evan left, and I sat for a long time, staring out the window into the murky depths of the lake, my stomach churning like the dark water beyond.
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