Paola was relieved to return to RMI after winter break. Dad had apparently read a book or something on How To Be A Good Single Dad (or maybe Aunt Tima and Aunt Sara had read him the riot act during the fall). So instead of being off on embassy business all the time, he had been attentive. Or tried to. Board games with Dad had been surprisingly fun. Dad was a good sport when his chess pieces insulted him, or when his attempt to stampede Paola's elephants during Parcheesi backfired and caused his tigers to leap for safety onto whatever elevated surface they could, including his head. Paola had laughed until she nearly cried at the sight of Dad with a tiny affronted tiger figurine clinging to his nose and growling and lashing its tail at her elephants.
Small talk with Dad had been less fun. He'd wanted to know all about her classes and had she made friends and what did she do for fun...the last of which was a very, very strange question to be asking your almost-twelve-year-old daughter that you'd known since she had been born and been buying books for since she was four. And there was something a little weird about how Dad listened to her, especially compared to Aunt Sara or Tima or any of their professors. Like he was having to put a lot of effort into it. Like it was something he was still practicing. And Paola couldn't help feeling like while she should appreciate the effort he was putting in, it didn't feel good to feel like she was so much work for her dad. Or that he had only decided or figured out that he should do better now.
Rather than making small talk with Dad, Paola wasn't sure if she would have preferred to be back in her dorm room listening to Rhia rant about stupid schools and stupid people and stupid adults and stupid Dmitry. (Dmitry didn't seem that stupid. Paola hadn't worked with him in class, but he seemed thoughtful and gave good answers, and Paola thought he'd be a good person to work with in most classes.) Rhia ranted a lot. Sometimes her rants made Paola think about things differently, and other times, they were just a repeat of whatever Rhia was taking personally that day. Paola had taken to cautiously opening a book and reading during those latter rants, occasionally making an "uh-huh" sound if she heard the rant slowing down a bit. Rhia didn't seem to have noticed yet, and Paola had gotten a fair amount of the Chrestomanci series and the Dalemark Quartet read that way.
Dad had also done a shockingly good job choosing Christmas gifts for her that year. Paola had conspired with Aunt Tima and Aunt Sara to get him coffee and an identification guide to the seashells he picked up whenever they'd gone to the beach. Dad, in turn, had gotten her the first three books in a new series about a starship captain who picks up a passenger who turns out to be the runaway princess to a star system on the verge of dissolving into anarchy; a lightweight but powerful telescope with a built-in self-stabilizing spell; a sampler of hot sauces from around the world; another book, this one about the development of the Scoville scale and its magical extensions; a very fluffy and soft green hat and matching mittens with warming charms for the Colorado winter; and a giant box of all her favorite Tunisian desserts for her to take back to RMI. The box had a charm on it to prevent the pastries from going stale, and Paola had already given Rhia, Maggie, and Wyn some pistachio-almond baklawa on her return.
Paola wasn't sure if she'd need her new telescope for Astronomy class, which had not stopped her from staying up as late as she could to test it on her first weekend back, despite the artificial sky being slightly cloudy. But she'd managed to pick up Saturn's rings despite the planet being rather close to the horizon and obscured by haze, and managed to spot two of Jupiter's moons. She'd excitedly told Professor Eva about it during their first class the following week and been praised for her observations. Professor Ramirez had even said she'd love to hear what else Paola managed to find with her new telescope. Paola hadn't been able to stop smiling for a day after that.
Tonight, though, Professor Ramirez had a guest, who turned out to be Professor Kaz the Divinations teacher. Paola was skeptical of Divinations. Prophecy in books never worked out well, in one of four different ways: it was correct, but tragically so in a way the characters had never anticipated; it turned out to be only minorly relevant to the conclusion of the story; the author plugged it in at the end to justify all the improbable coincidences they had filled their story with; or the author used it as an excuse to have characters act in ways contrary to their established personalities because ...well Paola wasn't sure why, since those were usually the books she ended up dropping on the floor in disgust. And then picking up again and making sure she hadn't damaged the pages or the binding because even a bad book was still a book. But she supposed the authors who wrote those sorts of stories either enjoyed them or thought that prophecy was Cool and that any inconsistencies could be explained away by The Prophecy.
And in real life, Paola was eleven-on-the-verge-of-twelve. Her dad wasn't great and was far away, her mom was even more gone, her body was starting to change in strange and uncomfortable but apparently totally normal ways, and she'd made three friends in five months of school. Paola didn't want to find out that any of these would continue far enough into the future that they'd show up in a reading.
The main problem with horoscopes, in Paola's view, was that her birthday was January 21, almost January 22, at least according to her dad, who'd once said she'd kept her mom up almost all night coming out of the womb and boy had that annoyed Emma until Paola had been all the way out and they could both hold her. He'd said that along with some other very interesting things in a drunken, maudlin fit one year when the anniversary of Mom's departure had hit him especially hard and Paola had come home from school to find him weeping over two and a half empty bottles of wine. Paola's bewilderment had turned to shame as she'd watched and listened and then eventually bolted for Aunt Sara, who'd spent some time comforting Paola before slapping Julius with a Quick-Sober spell so hard that the force of the magic had made Paola's ears ring. (It had made Dad throw up, too, and Paola wasn't sure how that part of it made her feel about what happened. She tried not to think about it, so that was another problem with horoscopes, that it made her think about that memory.)
But being born on January 21, almost January 22, meant that Paola was born almost exactly right at the point when Capricorn yielded to Aquarius. (Which was another thing, how did the constellations decide how to hand off influence, and how did they know about humanity's calendars and clocks to match up so precisely? And humanity's calendars didn't precisely match Earth's orbit and rotation and precession and that was why there were things like leap years and leap seconds. And the stars were so far away that if their influence was conveyed by light, it'd be billions of years before the light actually made it to Earth to do the influencing. It didn't make sense.) Paola had read the descriptions of Capricorns and Aquariuses (Aquariuii? Professor Kaz had just said the plural, but Paola was still time-lagged from being in Tunisia and she didn't remember it), and while she saw one or two traits in each description that she thought matched her (hard-working? open-minded? Sure), and a few that she thought she would like to have apply to her (confident, passionate), most of the rest did not.
Also, she was going to have to remember where Dad had been stationed when she'd been born to complete this star chart, and she didn't. It might have been Malaysia, or Singapore, or Jordan. Paola supposed she could ask to use the Floo network to call Dad to ask him, but he was probably still asleep. Or already at work for the day. Despite his attempts at being A Better Dad over break, Paola still believed that he wouldn't answer his fireplace or his lighter.
Paola was considering approaching the professors to explain her conundrum when someone spoke to her. To her quiet delight, it was Dmitry, who Paola had been considering trying to work with this semester, Rhia's rants aside. “What do you believe of horoscopes? It sounds not very much like facts to me,” he asked.
Paola considered for a moment giving her full opinion of horoscopes, but there were two problems with that. One was that she didn't know Dmitry, except by observation. Two was that Rhia ranted a lot, and Paola, however much she liked her roommate, wasn't sure she wanted to be like her. After a moment of considering how to edit and summarize her surprisingly complicated feelings on the matter, she answered quietly, "No, it doesn't sound like facts to me, either. My birthday is on the border of two signs and neither one fits, really. And trying to figure out how the stars can actually influence us from so far away just makes it sound less like facts." Perfect: a kind, tactful answer, with no messy feelings attached. And Dmitry had signaled with his own skepticism that he wasn't going to push Paola to really Believe, which meant her chances of keeping messy feelings out of class had just gone up.
OOC: mentions of Rhia approved by Austin