The Black-McKinnon Guide to Scheming
"Were they really here by accident? Stella did have a flair for dramatics and Miles would do anything she asked if given the right offer." - The Potter-Evans Guide to Chatting Up
Stella Black was a lot of things: impulsive, bold, and— to be honest— a bit of a slag. She'd also been called a lot of things: devious, thoughtless and— more times than she could count— a loudmouthed bitch.
All of these were true, but Stella liked to think she was less transparent than that. Her friends told her she was a good person; told her that she was loyal and brave and too clever for her own good. Yes, she was brash and outspoken and wavered to the sluttier side of the spectrum, but she liked to think that her courage, opportune humour, and passion were the same things simply in a more positive light.
She also liked to think it was her courage, passion and loyalty— not her recklessness, slutty tendencies, or her need to meddle in her friends' lives— that had her pulling Miles McKinnon into an abandoned court yard, ignoring his slightly amusing mutter of "kinky", and informing him of her vaguely thought-out scheme.
She already knew from Rhea's friend, Alice, that McKinnon and Evans shared a flat and both attended the same Uni as her and the rest of the girls. Of course, she'd known this previously due to her and McKinnon's… shared passion, but it was nice for some confirmation. After that she'd spotted both Evans and McKinnon around campus almost everyday. It was almost too easy for her mind to come up with a plan to finally get Evans to admit his lingering feelings for Jamie. Because those feelings were there, Stella knew they were. He just needed a good shove in the right direction. Or maybe a good kick up the arse. Either way.
Stella had told Miles what she'd decided to do, what he could do to help, and what was in it for him if he agreed. He'd called her a devious little minx in the most endearing way and agreed to assist her in any way possible. Then they'd snogged for a good 15 minutes before he realized he was late for his lecture.
Walking later to meet the girls for coffee at the cute little bakery down the street, Stella had pushed aside all thoughts of how often he'd be around if Jamie and Evans got together and instead basked in the glory of using her mind to its full mischievous potential.
So when Friday evening came around and Rhea decided to stay in for the night, Stella had to repress the urge to kill her. And then when Rhea demanded that Jamie go to supervise their "vivacious" and "lively" and "troublesome" friend, Stella had to fight the urge to profess her undying love for her. At her quickly concealed glee, Rhea had given her a suffering sort of look that was tinged with suspicion, but hadn't pursued it. By now, the other girls all knew to back away slowly when Stella had a plan. And Stella Black always had a plan.
So Stella had put on her favourite heels and her shortest black skirt. She'd forced Jamie into a dress she didn't want to wear and called a cab. She'd sent McKinnon a text that included a kissy-face emoji and a brief death threat if this was all for naught, before sticking some money in her bra, forgoing a jacket, and dragging Jamie out after her. Not even the rain could dampen her mood.
Arriving at the Ugly Auntie had been rather anticlimactic. This wasn't a nightclub where Stella normally had to flash some cleavage and slip a 50 pound note into some bouncers' front pocket to get them in without waiting in line. The dingy yet cozy pub was half empty but still full of freshman out seeking a good time. Normally Stella would have lost herself in the dismal crowd, but not tonight. Tonight she had a mission. Tonight she was going to succeed where Jamie had failed for years. Tonight, Lamie was going to happen. Or was it perhaps Jiam. Terrible couple names aside, tonight was the night.
They met Alice and her new (but already permanent) boyfriend, Frank, just inside the door. Alice was smiling brightly and pulled both girls into tight hugs. Jamie laughed and asked the tiny hummingbird of a human about her week. Stella grinned but stayed silent. Ever since she'd met Alice, Stella had adored her, really she had, but there was something about her that made Stella feel much too… much. Too tall, too fake, too obvious. It annoyed her, but only vaguely. Stella preferred not to dwell on insecurities.
Alice chattered perkily as they found an open table for the four of them. It was unfortunately next to a pervy old man but Stella could solve that quickly. The bartender here liked her well enough. Or at least he liked her legs well enough.
She'd spotted Evans and McKinnon the second she walked through the doorway and thanked God for Alice's unintentional distraction. Jemima Potter had an Evans Radar like no one else.
Now, Stella pulled out her phone and sent a quick text to McKinnon. She hoped he wasn't stupid enough to open it in front of Evans, but just in case she simply wrote COVERT: Follow My Lead. If that didn't clue him in, nothing would.
She drifted to the far end of the room, Jamie too engaged in telling Alice about the latest disaster at field hockey practise to notice. With a teasing smile and a wink to the bartender she ordered a round of shots ("Whatever you suggest") and a drink ("Surprise me"). She always schemed better with a buzz.
A puff of breathed warmed the back of her neck. "I take it half of these are for me?" Stella ignored the tingles at the base of her spine and forced herself to focus. Tonight was about Jamie, her best mate, the one who always stood aside so Stella could have her fun. She owed her at least this.
"Nope." She knocked back one of the shots hoping it would calm her tingling nerves. Distract her from the feeling of him so, so close. "None for you. Stick with pints. We need you at peak performance."
To be honest, Stella regretted the words the second they came out of her mouth. Too suggestive, too obvious. But at the same time she didn't really regret them. Rather she topped them off with a suggestive smirk and ignored how McKinnon's shit-eating grin made her stomach twist.
Damn, he was one fine bloke.
Even worse, he knew it. And he knew she knew it, too.
"What do you need me to do?"
"Nothing for now," she patted his chest, ignoring the toned muscles beneath her fingers, and stood. "Just be your usual charming self. Go hit on some birds and keep darling Evans' attention off of us. Making him feel even more put out than usual should do the trick. When he's mopey enough I'll send Jamie over. Then I'll come find you." She whispered the last part in his ear. Then she grabbed the tray of shots and walked back to her table. She swayed her hips a little as she moved, the calculated swing perfected by years of practise. She internally dared McKinnon to find someone better than her to flirt with.
"That one was cute," commented Miles as he sank onto the bar stool next to his best, very mopey, mate. A girl with short black hair and a slightly skanky blue dress had just stalked away. Clearly Liam hadn't given her the attention she'd been pining for.
"Yeah, I guess," agreed Liam absently. Miles rolled his eyes.
Liam had been like this for months, ever since the start of term. Liam on a regular basis was already a bit dull to be around— usually following rules, always doing his work— but lately it had been worse. Liam said it was university life and being expected to act like an adult. Miles said it was Marauder-withdrawal and everything those wild girls had brought to the table. Liam flourished in high-conflict, highly antagonistic situations— part of the reason he planned to go into law. Jamie Potter and Stella Black had given that to him in spades for seven years. In particular, lately there was no Jamie to bring out the worst, but really the best, parts of Liam. To be poetic, without them there was no one to light the blazing flame that was Liam Evans' temper and righteous morals. And now he had turned into a mopey, even more dull than usual mess.
Life for Miles had gotten very, very boring as of late.
To be honest, it was driving him mad.
To be even more honest, he was mostly in this for Stella. Sure, improving his best mates life was bonus, but he was really in it for his own good. The little tart (his little tart) wasn't the only one who could concoct a scheme.
Miles let his attention slide around the room, skipping briefly over where Stella sat—watching with eyebrows raised in amusement as Jamie told some outrageous story— and instead landing on a group of girls. The prettiest one, obviously the ring leader, was listening in disinterest to something one of her friends had to say. He watched her, waiting for her gaze to settle on him. And it did. Her tawny brown eyes scanned him from across the room and her mouth curved into a smirk. Perfect. He slid from his chair and made some lame excuse to Liam. Ignoring the annoyed huff from his friend, he tugged a hand through his light brown hair and crossed the room. Miles had to set Stella's plan in motion. Only then could she inadvertently start his.
A blonde. He'd picked a blonde to flirt with. A bottle blonde at that.
Stella twirled a piece of long, dark hair around her finger and fought down the irrational urge she had to trip over there and dump a pitcher of ale down the tramp's front. Something dark preferably, like Guinness.
God, she was a terrible person. She was the one who'd told him to do it in the first place. Then again, he didn't have to be enjoying it quite so much.
But enough was enough. It was time to make her move. Plan Its About Fricking Time was a go.
"One specific red head. Nasty piece of work, he was. Never appreciated my masterpieces." Stella leaned down over her friend's shoulder, letting her hair swoop down like curtain between them and the peeping tom next to them. This was working out better than she thought it would. She hadn't even had to bring up the subject herself.
"That's because you'd played connect-the-dots with his freckles. In permanent marker. While he was still awake." Jamie reminded her friend with a grin. Her hazel eyes sparkled at the memory. "Evans had ever right to react to that one."
Stella could still feel his "reaction" dripping down her back from the soda he had dumped over her head. They'd both gotten a detention from that. Stella liked to think that Minnie's face had been at least a little amused while she had handed out punishments.
"Evans?" asked Alice, tucking a short strand of dark hair behind her ear, "Liam Evans? Because that's what Frank said Miles said his friend's name is."
Jamie's head shot up like a bullet, eyes clearly displaying her internal panicking. She froze for a second before shyly glancing around. Stella stifled the laughter forming in her throat as she studied her friend rather than the room. Alice eyed her odd reaction. Damn it. She'd forgotten the other girl was a psychology major.
"Are you saying that both McKinnon and Evans are here?" Stella questioned Alice. She forced a small smirk to curl over her lips and raised an eyebrow imploringly. "Jamie-dear, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"No, Stella-darling, I don't believe I am. What horrendous plan has your devious little mind come up with?"
If only you knew.
Stella's smirk changed into the smile Rhea had dubbed the "Man Slayer" when they were 15. "I think I fancy a chat with McKinnon, preferably in a broom closet. Why don't you go say hi to Evans over there? If you last 5 minutes, I'll forgive your debt."
Evans and gambling. There was no way Jamie could resist, of that Stella was sure.
"If I last 5 minutes without him yelling at me, we'll go double or nothing," bartered Jamie. Stella pretend to consider it before she smiled again. Oh, this was too good.
Alice was staring at the two in a mix of confusion and amusement. "You two are absolutely mad!" she giggled. Her eyes drifted to Stella questioningly but she ignored it. The little hummingbird clearly had better observational skills than Stella gave her credit for.
"Of course we are, it's part of our charm." Stella winked and stood up straight. She tugged down her beaded, black shirt and hiked up her silky skirt. Butterflies fluttered in her chest but she brushed aside the sensation as worry for her plan. Never once had she been fluttery over a bloke. Never. Not even this bloke.
"I'm off to lay my dragon," she said. Jamie rolled her eyes at the comment. Stella would have fussed at her if this wasn't the perfect moment. Even Jamie had to admit it was clever.
"Slay your dragon, Stella, not lay," corrected Alice innocently but Stella saw the knowing twinkle her eye. She played along, acting confused.
"But where's the fun in that?"
She knew she should have majored in drama rather than political sciences.
Miles hadn't even had time to learn the girl's name by the time Stella came swaggering over. She'd simply gave the other girl a sweet little smile and stepped between them in order to cut her off from Miles.
"It's a go," she said, leaning in so no one would overhear, "But I think Alice is catching on." He was about to respond when a pink painted nail tapped Stella on the shoulder. Her grey eyes flashed with annoyance before she turned around.
"Yes?" she asked, the same sweet smile as before in place. The blonde girl crossed her arms in what she thought was a threatening pose.
"We were talking before you so rudely interrupted," she stated, flipping her hair over her shoulder. Stella's eyebrows rose in amusement but her grey eyes were sharp.
"How nice. But, you see, this is my… friend. And if you hit on him, I'm going to be forced to hit you, and I can assure you that I am the champion of many a pub brawl. So I suggest you bugger off. Now." She sounded dead serious, and the girl must have recognized it. As she and her cronies scampered away Miles couldn't help himself. He whispered in her ear, "That was dead sexy."
Stella turned around with a sweep of her hair and fixed him with a crooked grin. "I know."
God, she was killing him and she didn't even realize it. Or, more likely, she knew exactly what she was doing and was doing it on purpose. That sounded more accurate to Miles. Stella's grin faded and she was back to business. "Jamie just swooped in. I give it two minutes before we disappear."
Miles searched over her shoulder for the pair and was greeted with a familiar sight of neat red hair and matted black curls. Liam appeared to be pouting, but from years of experience Miles could see the smirk in the edges of his friends brooding scowl and the amused quirk to his eyebrows. Jamie was ruffling at her hair, an Evans-induced nervous tic according to Stella. Jamie's face was frozen in a cocky grin but Miles had a feeling it was more for show than anything. Those two were utterly transparent. And utterly clueless.
A soft tug on his shirt tore Miles' attention from their friends to the girl in front of him. "Stop ogling them," she swatted his chest, "you'll blow our cover." He was about to retort about what else could be blown when Stella shifted suddenly, pressing Miles' back to the bar. She kept a firm hold of his shirt as she maneuvered him into position. He grumbled in annoyance but stopped abruptly when she smacked him again then smoothed out his button up. One hand lingered there while the other traveled down to her hip. Her eyes bore into him, like tinted glass. When Stella tilted her head, Miles knew that their friends were watching.
He knew it probably said something about his character that his automatic reaction was to play with the hem of Stella's skirt. Briefly taken over by memories of dark corners and empty classrooms, Miles decided he didn't really care. Stella didn't seem to mind either.
Stella was going to hell. She knew it.
She was enjoying the feel of McKinnon's chest beneath her hand and the sensation of his fingers fiddling with her skirt entirely too much. It was all for authenticity, she told herself, all for the show. McKinnon was acting, same as her. Her pounding heart didn't seem to agree.
Of course, hearts were stupid little things. That was why Stella was in the habit of ignoring hers. She was also in the practice of ignoring her head to keep things even. She wasn't sure what that left her with. Jamie and Rhea and Penny?
"Liam looks revulsed with me. First time in months I've gotten something other than subtle disgust. I missed this." McKinnon had leaned in close and Stella had a feeling he was referring to more than Evans' attitude. She reached up until her lips brushed his ears and whispered, "Time to go."
She was met with little resistance as she pulled Miles through the pub. It may have been her imagination but she swore the crowd parted before them. She could feel Jamie and Evans' eyes following them across the room. Good. Let them know they were being abandoned.
The pub's back hallway wasn't as empty as Stella cared for it to be so she pulled Miles into the nearest broom closet. There were no buckets to trip on or brooms to knock over. That was odd.
"Cozy," whispered McKinnon. Stella couldn't see him but she knew exactly what smug grin he had on his face.
"Extremely," she purred. She snaked her arms around McKinnon's neck and used it as leverage to pull him towards her. Her heels and natural height made her the same height as Miles, something she'd always liked. It was difficult finding a guy who was taller than her, especially with the type of shoes she preferred. Luckily, Miles had filled that requirement thanks to a growth spurt when they were 16.
She could basically feel his lips on hers when he reached behind her head. A sharp click echoed in the small space.
Miles' fingers slid down the string as he pulled down. Light flooded around them and Stella leaned away with a scowl. "What the hell, McKinnon?" She blinked angrily at him. Miles stifled a chuckle. For someone so diabolical she really hadn't a clue what he was up to.
"Just thought we could talk," he shrugged. Stella's scowl deepened.
"When have we ever just talked?" she asked.
"I thought we could start." Incredulity was painted over her sharp features as a dark eyebrow arched. Miles felt that always-present urge to kiss her.
"I have a better idea of what we could do with our mouths," Stella whispered, her hands reaching for his belt. Miles caught them and gently pulled them away. Stella ripped her hands away and stepped back. She looked put out but Miles had a feeling she was hurt and trying to cover it up.
God, this was not going the way he planned. It had been a lot sweeter and romantic and effective in his head. Now she was studying him with those broken grey eyes and an expression that he had only seen once— at graduation when her parents, her real parents not the Potters, had deigned to show up. That was the only time he'd seen Stella Black as anything less than flawless. It was also the only time he'd ever seen her as perfect.
"What the fuck do you want, then?" The slight tremble of her lip would have been lost on anyone else. Miles felt his heart deflate at the ice in her voice. He was messing this up.
Rejection. That was the familiar feeling stinging through her veins. This, though, this felt ten times worse than her parents calling her a worthless whore. This was something she'd never expected. Her and McKinnon were not something that ended in a closet at a pub. They were something else. She wasn't sure what they were exactly but she knew it wasn't that.
Rejected. Shut Down.
This was wrong. So, so wrong.
If this was what Jamie felt every time Evans turned her down, Stella didn't understand how she was still standing. And why had she done this to herself almost every chance she got since they were 13? Stella knew Jamie had skin like iron but she hadn't thought her friend was a masochist.
McKinnon visibly floundered in front of her. Stella let him. She didn't feel like breaking her own heart.
What if this was all some huge mistake? If McKinnon was, was turning her down then what if Evans was destroying what was left of Jamie's fragile ego?
She had to leave this tiny space. She needed to go back into the main room. She needed to grab Jamie and drag her home so they could have a good cry and eat too much gelato. She needed to save her friend from this doomed plan she'd concocted. Why had she left Jamie alone? What type of best mate was she?
"Stella, please, just- what are you doing?" Miles stopped mid plea when she stepped far enough back to bump into a shelf.
"Leaving," snapped Stella. "Getting Jamie and leaving." She struggled to maneuver her shoes in the tight space. The light that had seemed so invasive earlier barely reached the floor.
"What? Why are you-" he broke off, his question dissolving into laughter. It was quiet at first but got louder. He obviously found something hysterical and Stella fought the urge to stomp her foot and demand he tell her what the hell was making him cackle like a witch. She tried to escape his laughter, which was becoming just the slightest bit mocking to her ears, but found she couldn't. He was blocking her only exit.
She should have seen this. McKinnon was a good snog and a good shag and nothing else. Never anything else. He'd realized that Stella was nothing but a pretty face with loose morals and didn't want anything to do with her. He'd move on and find a girl just as pretty on the inside as the out. Someone who wasn't broken and bitter and foolish. Someone sweet like Penny or witty like Rhea or who attracted up all the light in a room like Jamie.
"What the bloody hell is wrong with you?" exclaimed Stella. Her throat was closing up and an unfamiliar burning was starting in her eyes. Oh fuck, she was going to cry. She never cried.
"I've made an ass out of myself is what's going on," said Miles, attempting to control his laughter. "I've made an absolute mess of this. Bollocks."
"You're not going to have any of those left, mate, if you don't get out of my way," warned Stella. She was trying her damnedest not to look into his face. She didn't need him to see her fall to pieces. Stella reached around him for the doorknob.
"Stella, wait," he begged, reaching for her hands. "Please, I just wan-"
"I don't give a fuck what you want!" she burst out. Her voice cracked and she felt like the biggest tit on the face of the planet.
"Will you stop yelling at me for one fucking moment and listen?" Miles yelled.
"So you can what? Rub it in my face that I'm not good enough for the great Miles McKinnon? Gloat that you proved that Stella Black, heartless bitch supreme, does, in fact, have feelings? What McKinnon?" she croaked and stamped her foot. Stella refused to let the tears fall.
"Well, you barmy bird, I was going to tell you I was irrevocably in love with you, but maybe you don't want to hear that anymore." Miles spoke softly, and Stella could have sworn he said he loved her.
"What are you going on about?" she sniffled. He couldn't possibly have said what she thought he said.
Miles cupped her face in his hands and thumbed off a tear that had escaped. Bloody tears, didn't they understand that she didn't bloody cry? And who even thought of crying as a reaction to sadness anyway? Leaking water from the eyes was supposed to deal irritation from dust not fricking feelings.
"I told you I love you, you twit," said Miles. He was smiling, brown eyes bright with a mirth she still didn't quite understand. "And you didn't even bother to listen. Low blow, Black. "
"But you were laughing at me," squawked Stella indignantly, batting away his hands.
Miles rolled his eyes. "I was laughing because I was fucking it up royally. I had a plan, Stella Black, and you ruined it."
"You had a plan?" she asked, focusing on what made sense. This love shit was exactly that- shit.
"Well, yeah," he grinned, "did you think the closet cleaned itself out? I've been scheming for days, Black, and you and your bloody smile nearly smashed it to bits."
"So you actually-"
"Love you? Yes, that would be a fair assumption."
Stella fumbled. He loved her. Well, that was a turn of events she hadn't seen coming. Not that it wasn't welcome. Just… fuck. So that's why she was bawling like a baby. That's why she'd felt absolutely crushed. She loved him. Fuck.
"Days?" she inquired, twirling a strand of hair around her finger.
"Since the moment you pulled me into that courtyard, love," he answered. "You made one scheme, I made another."
"Huh. Well," Stella pressed her hands against his chest, "your plans are shit."
" I wouldn't say that," murmured Miles. His hands brushed gently against Stella's back. "Got us here, didn't it?"
"Screaming at each other in a closet," snorted Stella, "How utterly romantic."
"How utterly us." The way he said it made Stella's skin tingle. He leaned into her and whispered, "I love you, Stella Black, you mad idiot."
Stella wrapped her arms around his neck. He was grinning like the fool he was. Stella wondered if he could read her mind and knew exactly what she was thinking.
Love. Huh. She'd never really considered that was what she and Miles had.
Love. It fit.
Stella sent up a silent prayer to whatever power had made her devious and him a complete dork and the both of them as clueless as their friends. And when she whispered, "I think I love you too. Now shut up and snog me, you numpty," her plan to set up their mates was the farthest thing from her mind.