The Stars Are Burning

Chapter 6

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Chapter Six

I woke up Friday morning with an overwhelming urge for revenge and a plan to get just that.

I was usually awake before any of my roommates, so if any of them were to wake up, it wouldn't be out of the norm for them to see me make my way into the washroom to get ready. However, on this particular morning, they couldn't possibly know that I was about to break pattern with the packet of Zonko's Unpoppable Bubbles I'd gotten from the Marauders hidden under my robes.

I'd told Potter I would save the extra packet for a rainy day, and today was just that. As I prepared for the day by washing my face, brushing my teeth, and smearing on my eyeliner, I thought about Emma Vanity and her blackmailing me into playing her twisted game. I'd agreed to play to protect Jacob, but that didn't mean I was going to take it lying down. Vanity had another thing coming.

Once I was finished getting ready, I ran the faucet one more time and dug out the bubble packet. I tore off the top and poured the pink powder down the drain. The pipes in our bathroom were all connected, so when I heard the telltale groan of them getting backed up by bubbles, I knew my mission was a success. I turned off the faucet and put the empty packet back in my pocket to take the evidence with me. When Vanity and our other roommates woke up to get ready, they'd be greeted by an onslaught of unpoppable bubbles, and maybe a burst pipe or two. It wasn't revenge by any means, but it would certainly be a major inconvenience, and that was more my style.

As the first bubbles emerged from the drains, I left the washroom and headed for breakfast, already knowing that today was going to be a good day.

"You're a demon, Angel," Ferris said to me over our morning coffee after I'd explained to him what I had done to our bathroom. "Vanity's going to be pissed if she can't use her hairstyling products."

"Yeah, that's like, the whole point," I said while dumping copious amounts of sugar into my coffee. Its color stayed black, but when I took a sip, the sweetness hit my tongue like a Shocking Jinx. I smacked my lips in content. "It won't be enough to make her want revenge and potentially spill the beans about Jacob, but it'll definitely annoy the shit out of her, and that's what I want."

Ferris laughed over his own black coffee. "I always used to wonder why we were such big targets to the rest of Slytherin, but now I know why. We're assholes."

"For good reason," I said. I took another sip, thinking back on Evan Rosier's words from earlier in the week: "They curse you because they fear you—because you don't fear them."

Ferris set down his cup. "Jacob had flying lessons with Potter last night, right? How'd that go?"

I shrugged. "Dunno. I haven't seen either of them yet." Just as I said it, though, I spotted Jacob walking into the Great Hall with his friends, heading for the Hufflepuff table. "Just kidding." I raised my voice and shouted to my brother. There weren't many people in the Hall yet, but I received ugly looks when my voice echoed. "Oi! Jacob! Over here!"

My brother said something to his mates before heading over to where Ferris and I sat. There was a definite spring to his step that hadn't been there before, and he smiled when he saw me. "Yeah? Hi, Ferris."

"Hey, little Aster," Ferris greeted with a wave.

"So?" I asked Jacob. "How was Potter? Was he nice to you? Do I need to curse him?"

Jacob shook his head quickly. "No way! He was awesome!" His eyes shone like he'd just met the Queen instead of receiving flying lessons from the most obnoxious boy in the school. "He was super helpful—giving me a bunch of great pointers and stuff— He's brilliant. He even said if I kept practicing, I might have a shot at making the Hufflepuff team next year!"

Well, I'll be damned. Maybe Potter wasn't a complete git. A half-git, maybe. No, more than that, still. A three-quarters git.

Jacob's genuine enthusiasm made my heart swell. I smiled at him. "I'm glad to hear it. You can go back to your friends now. I just wanted to see how things went."

"Okay, bye, Taylor!" He shot me a last grin before departing, and I watched him rejoin his friends with a small smile on my face. Jacob was okay. He had friends, good grades, hobbies that he enjoyed. He would be all right.

The knowledge only gave me more incentive to keep Vanity the hell away from him.

"So," Ferris said, taking my attention away from Jacob and back to him. He studied me with eyes as blue as the morning sky depicted by the enchanted ceiling. "How are you feeling about Lupin? Good?"

I clicked my nail against the side of my cup. "Yes. He's way too nice. Too trusting. I think I have a chance at getting him to fancy me."

Ferris nodded slowly. "And how does that make you feel?"

My finger paused its tapping, hovering in midair. "Good, obviously. I win the game, I keep Jacob safe from the truth a while longer."

"I don't think that's all," Ferris said. He tilted his head toward the Hufflepuff table. "You deny it at every turn, but you care about people, Taylor. Too much sometimes."

I narrowed my eyes. "I'm not a saint, Fer. You and I both know that."

"I'm not saying you're an angel, Angel," he said with a faint smirk, "but you look out for other people's feelings."

"Because I'm not a monster like the rest of our house," I said, my tone snarky.

"Exactly," Ferris said. "I'm just trying to look out for you."

"How?" I said. "What sage advice can I expect from the Ferris Fountain of Wisdom today?"

He gave me an unimpressed look. "Worry about your own feelings, too. Don't let this Lupin thing go too far."

"Uh, duh. I got that already, thanks."

Ferris frowned. "I'm just saying."

I didn't answer, partly because I didn't want to have this conversation anymore, and partly because Emma Vanity stormed into the Great Hall at that moment in a towering rage, her minions cowering behind her. She looked less put together than usual, her hair flat and dull and her face devoid of any makeup. The sight made me smile.

Her eyes swept the table and found mine.

"ASTER!" she screeched.

Yeah. This day was already off to a great start.

I walked through the courtyard Saturday morning, on my way to the Owlery, when James Potter appeared in one of the archways to my left, leaping onto the ledge with ease due to his long legs.

"Lady Snake," he greeted as his friends materialized behind him, attached at the hip as ever. "I heard an interesting rumor yesterday about a certain Slytherin bathroom being overrun by unpoppable pink bubbles? Care to elaborate?"

"I don't know what you mean," I replied coolly. "Perhaps it was left over from earlier in the week—they could've gotten lost in the pipes."

Potter grinned. "Ah, of course. I didn't even think of that option. I mean, it's not like we forked over something from our own stash…"

"Exactly," I agreed. I held up the letter to my father in my hands. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to post this."

I started walking before turning around again. "Oh, and Potter? Thanks for helping Jacob. He had a great time."

Potter looked surprised that I'd thanked him, and even I cringed a little, but he gave me a polite nod. "'Course. He's a good kid."

I nodded back, about to leave again, when Remus spoke up. "Do you want some company, Taylor?"

His friends and I both stared at him, baffled, but he ignored our looks, his gaze fixed solely on me.

"Uh, sure," I said after a moment. "C'mon."

He said farewell to his friends before falling into step beside me. He walked with his hands in his pockets again, his sandy hair and red-and-gold striped scarf rustling in the wintry wind. I once again had the distinct feeling that he was setting me up somehow. I mean, I was a Slytherin. A nicer one compared to most of my housemates, but still a Slytherin. The fact that he seemed all right spending time with me was…strange. But if it got me closer to winning Vanity's game…

"How was your week?" he asked as we made our way to the distant tower.

"Fine," I said with a shrug. "You?"

"Rather unexciting, honestly," he said. "Especially after the hype wore off after our bubble fiasco."

"It must be hard," I said wryly. I elaborated at his questioning look. "Having to come up with pranks all the time to top your last one."

He chuckled. "It does get challenging. But between the four of us, I reckon we could fill a volume with all our ideas."

"You mean you come up with pranks too?" I raised a skeptical eyebrow. "I thought Potter and Black were the masterminds."

"Oh, it's easy to see why," he said with a mischievous grin. "They're the ones who always take the fall. Do you remember the incident last year when all the staircases in the castle mysteriously turned into slides?"

"Yeah. It took Ferris and me thirty minutes to get to the Great Hall, trying to climb up from the dungeons—" I stopped, my eyes widening. "You mean that was your idea?"

He shrugged, but his grin grew bigger. "Guilty."

I whacked his arm. "You dick! I had to skip dinner because I couldn't even make it out of our common room!"

He laughed. "Sorry. But to be fair, I didn't really know you back then. I just thought it'd be hilarious."

I huffed. "Dick."

He chuckled to himself as we reached the base of the tower where the Owlery was. The stairs were covered with straw, and I could already smell the owl droppings.

"You don't have to come up," I said, wrinkling my nose. "I know the smell is a lot."

"I don't mind," he said. He gestured to the winding staircase. "After you."

I started up the stairs, glad that I had chosen to wear trousers that day as he walked behind me. I wondered if my bum looked all right in them. Did he even like bums? Who even was this bloke? I didn't know anything about him, except for what he'd told me during our rounds. He was a half-blood like me, his favorite color was green, and… That was it, really.

"What's your favorite subject?" I asked suddenly.

He considered for a moment. "Charms or Defense. What about you?"

"I think Astronomy," I said after deliberating. "I like the idea of studying other worlds, even if we're looking at them from the past."

"I never thought of it that way," he admitted. "I just always hated having to fill out those charts. Especially the moon ones," he added, his voice dipping.

We were almost to the top of the tower. "Favorite food?"

"French onion soup," he answered easily. I could hear the grin in his voice. "Though chocolate is a close second."

"I love chocolate. Especially the dark kind." My mouth watered at the thought. "Delicious."

We reached the Owlery. The shuffles of hundreds of feathers and talons greeted us as dozens of owls took us in with lazy, sleepy eyes. The scent of owl droppings was strong up here, and I took care to avoid the biggest piles on the floor as I picked my way to one of the school owls.

A tawny barn owl lifted its head from under its wing and gave me a soft but attentive hoot. I tied my letter to its leg and carried it over to one of the open arches of the tower.

"Fly safe," I told it before releasing it into the air. The small owl was buffeted some by the wind, but it gained its balance and soared away, heading east before turning south and disappearing across the grounds.

I turned to Remus and brushed off my hands. "Why are you here?"

He blinked at my question. "What?"

"Why did you walk with me here?"

"Because I offered to?" He shook his head. "What's going on here?"

"You don't know me," I said. "You have no reason to be nice to me. So why?"

He looked torn between laughing or scowling. "You know that people can be nice for no reason, yeah?" He shifted his weight from foot to foot. "Or maybe it's because…I dunno…I want to get to know you?"

"Why?" I repeated. "I'm a Slytherin; you're a Gryffindor. And you and your friends have made it pretty clear that you don't like us."

He let out a disbelieving laugh. "You're interrogating me over being polite? Not everyone has a hidden agenda, you know."

I stared at him while the wind whistled through the tower around us. An owl let out a sleepy hoot. "What if I want to get to know you too?"

"All…right?" He gave me a weird look. "That's what we're already doing, isn't it?"

I swallowed, feeling like there was something suddenly caught in my throat. Despite Vanity's threat to spill my brother's secret to the world, despite the consequences, I couldn't help remembering Ferris's words from yesterday, that I cared too much about other people's feelings. Remus was kind. He'd been nice to me from the get-go. And it was awful.

"Getting to know me…" I swallowed again and cleared my throat. "It's a bad idea."

He looked at me—really looked at me. From my messy, shaggy hair that was too-pale and overgrown, so my fringe fell into my eyes, overlined with smudgy black eyeliner; to my skinny frame burdened by baggy clothes; and then to the tips of my scuffed and ratty black leather boots that I'd worn for years. He just looked at me.

"Probably," he said quietly. I bristled slightly at his words, but he gave me a rueful smile. "But getting to know me is an equally bad idea."

I crossed my arms. "Well, here's our chance, then. We can back out now if we want to. No judgment. Just walk out that door and be done with it."

He didn't move. Neither did I.

He blew out his cheeks. "I guess that answers that question."

I nodded. "I guess so."

He jerked his head to the door. "Lunch?"

"Yeah."

We walked out of the tower together, and that was when I realized it.

I was diving headfirst into some deep shit.