Stargazer Page 69

The intruder proved to be Mrs. Bethany, which wasn’t that reassuring. Though it was late, she wore the same dress she’d had on in class today, as if she’d been at work a very long time. Her eyes blazed. “Come with me.”

“Where are we going?”

“To face your accuser and hopefully discredit her.”

What was that supposed to mean? My stomach sank with dread. “I—

well—just let me get dressed.”

“A robe will be sufficient. We must settle this question immediately.”

Obviously no further explanation would be coming. With shaky hands, I put on my bathrobe and knotted the belt. I managed to slip the brooch into my pocket without Mrs. Bethany noticing; I felt like I needed it near.

Once I put the obsidian pendant around my neck, Mrs. Bethany led me across the grounds toward the school. High atop the north tower, several windows burned brightly—including the one that I’d guessed was Charity’s. “Are my parents up there?”

“I wasn’t under the impression you would be interested in their company any longer,” Mrs. Bethany said, her long skirts trailing in the grass.

She never looked back, taking it for granted that where she led, I would follow. “You can manage perfectly well on your own, I’m sure.” I wasn’t sure she really wanted me to manage. Mrs. Bethany was clearly furious, but I couldn’t yet determine whether she was angry at me or someone else. Given that we were headed for Charity’s room, I suspected it was someone else.

We ascended the winding stone steps in silence, as I nervously fiddled with the belt of my robe. I knew that my “accuser” had to be Charity, but what could she possibly accuse me of?

Then I knew. Fear clamped me in its hold like a fist. I stopped in front of the door, unwilling to go inside. “Mrs. Bethany—if you and I could just talk—”

She reached past me to open the door, then pushed me within.

Charity sat in a high-backed chair in the very center of the room, wearing an Evernight uniform, the only intact clothes I’d ever seen her in. Primly she folded her hands in her lap. She looked so deceptively—

ordinary. I realized with a shock that somebody else was in the room, too: Balthazar, who sat on a small bench in the corner. Judging from his slumped posture and the sick expression on his face, I knew that Balthazar hadn’t joined her in accusing me. He, too, was one of the accused.

I sat beside him on the bench without being prompted. Balthazar gave me the most desolate look I had ever seen.

Mrs. Bethany demanded, “Miss More, please repeat what you told me earlier this evening.”

“I’m so glad you and I were able to catch up, Mrs. Bethany.” Charity smiled. “It reminded me that we had some good times—before we really knew each other.”

Unsurprisingly, Mrs. Bethany didn’t want to revel in the good times they’d had. “Repeat your accusation.”

“These two have been chasing me throughout the school year.” Charity smiled at us like she was greeting old friends. “But not alone. They had a friend with them. Someone named—Lucas, was it?—whom I’m fairly sure is a member of Black Cross.”

We thought we’d done such a great job sneaking around, keeping the secret; we’d never asked ourselves if Charity would show up and ruin it all.

“Then it’s true.” Mrs. Bethany drew herself up. Until this, I saw, she’d been hoping that Charity was telling lies and that she’d have an excuse to expel her from Evernight Academy. Once Charity had spoken Lucas’s name—or maybe once Mrs. Bethany had seen the guilt on our faces—that hope was gone.

Balthazar nodded. “It’s true.”

“Consorting with a member of Black Cross. A grave crime indeed.” Mrs. Bethany folded her arms as she stood before Balthazar and me.

“Last year, Miss Olivier, your connection with Mr. Ross was unknowing, and I forgave it. This year, I cannot be so lenient. And you, Mr.

More! Of all people, I would expect better from you.”

“I wanted to find my sister,” Balthazar said dully. His shoulders were hunched like those of someone in pain. “I’d think you’d understand that.

Or she would.”

“Black Cross hunters—they’re terrible.” Charity swung her feet back and forth beneath her chair, like a little kid having fun. “Violent. Vicious.”

“Both of you have lied and abused the hospitality of this school. You have broken every rule we have and committed some errors so foolish that we never even thought to make a rule against them. I cannot stand for this.”

“Fine. Expel me.” I rose to my feet. What was the worst she could do? Throw me out of Evernight? I didn’t need a school to teach me to be a vampire when I didn’t intend to be one any longer. “If you want me to sign something you can show my parents later, then I will. If you don’t even want to give me a chance to pack, that’s fine, too. I don’t care.”

“Vicious,” Charity repeated. “Though of course Black Cross hunters think they’re doing the right thing. Just like you, Mrs. Bethany.” Mrs. Bethany whirled around, even angrier than she had been before.

She disliked me, but she hated Charity. “How dare you compare me to those vermin?”

“Everyone hunts.” Charity stood up, taller than anyone in the room but her brother, and she didn’t look like a child any longer. “I hunt humans. Black Cross hunts vampires. You hunt ghosts. The ghosts hunt Bianca. And Bianca’s been hunting me. It’s a perfect chain, and you’re a part of it.”

How did Charity know about hunting ghosts? It took me months to figure it out—did somebody tell her? What does she know?

Charity stepped closer to Mrs. Bethany. She could look down at her.

“I think everyone should go on hunting. My brother and his girlfriend used Black Cross to hunt me, so I think I should do the same to them.” Mrs. Bethany snapped, “You think you’re using me?”

“No. I’m using Black Cross.”

Balthazar stood. Something of his strength and purpose had returned to him in that moment. “Charity, what are you talking about? Tell me.” His tone of voice resounded in the room, making me shiver; it affected Charity even more strongly, because she turned to him, childlike and obedient once more. Her voice broke as she said, “Why did you do it? Why?”

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