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Once There Was A Darkness: Year One by thegirllikeme

Format: Novel
Chapters: 16
Word Count: 124,581
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme, Contains Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Action/Adventure, AU
Characters: Dumbledore, Snape, Pansy, Fred, George, OC
Pairings: Snape/Lily, Snape/OC

First Published: 04/13/2007
Last Chapter: 10/26/2007
Last Updated: 10/26/2007

Summary:


*banner by SaphiraLupin Twelve years ago, one man's life was changed forever by three words: “Severus, I'm pregnant.” Now, a girl begins life at Hogwarts in the same year as Harry Potter. She will face enemies and danger, while struggling to deal with her past's dark secrets. One girl's journey. One man's desperate search. One last chance for Severus to find the daughter he lost. Year 2 now up!


Chapter 1: Prologue: Mourning of the Sky
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                                                           YEAR ONE


                             
 


 

That night the sky themselves mourned. Great tears of heaven fell in fat drops onto the roof of the dark house---though shack would have been a better word for the small building where boards hung at awkward and unsightly angles, nailed for the sole purpose of covering holes in the original, rotting layer, shutters hung on hinges, and the ceiling let in droplets. Flashing of lightning illuminated the dark world for moments, highlighting the boiling and overstuffed navy blue clouds, only to be followed by a sob of thunder that would cause the whole earth to shudder. Harsh winds caused trees to bend as though they too could not bare the heavy weight of what had been and would be that night. The ground inked thick mud, soaked until it was soggy, like a comforting friend’s shoulder. It seemed nature foresaw the next hour and felt the grief. For not even magic or the ever powerful time could heal the wounds that would be afflicted on Severus Snape’s heart.

The heavens once again flashed with amber light and it splashed through the window in a stream of light that momentarily lit the inside of an arm sprawled out and being surveyed by black eyes, shining every detail of the image tattooed into the skin. The skull and snake were aglow with the brilliant light for a heartbeat too long for the likes of the Dark Mark’s owner, proving that it was there. Reminding that, despite the choices he had made that night, it would forever be branded into his flesh, a steady testimony to all he had done, all he had been. It was only justice, for a man like him did not deserve to forget. But by Merlin, he would make things right.

Severus rolled down his sleeve, covering the Mark by the dark fabric of his robes, saving his mind from the memories just a glance at it brought. But memories were one thing, easily pressed aside---not forgot, but not dwelt upon---but there was no escaping what might come.

His decision had been long in the making, what he had known was right for years. He had first joined the Death Eaters, hoping that by bringing pain and by delving into the fascinating Dark Arts, he could end the agony that had brought upon him his entire life---no, not his entire life. He had learned to survive what his parents had done to him, but that rejection, that loved-and-lost hurt, was nearly too much to bare. Not that he blamed anyone but himself. He was not so ignorant or arrogant to believe that any other them himself could cause him to do something he would not have otherwise. Influenced, perhaps. But in the end it had been his choice, his greatest folly.

But each time he did an act that years under the grand Dumbledore’s tutoring told him were wrong, his heart and conscience (yes, he did have both) told him he was horrible---evil. He’d ignored the torturous nagging and the self-loathing for years. But now that he had unknowingly, endangered her life, he could no longer claim faithfulness to the Dark Lord. He could no more stand the sight of him without feeling utmost disgust and enmity, knowing he what he plotted. And for the first time Severus had done the right thing.

He had warned Dumbledore and now was no more loyal to the Dark Lord, but to a man far more kinder and wiser and much, much more powerful: Dumbledore. Even knowing he had done the right thing didn’t ease Severus’s concerns. Betraying the Dark Lord was nothing to shrug at, let alone turning spy. Being an enemy trapped within the Dark Lord’s clutches was not a comfortable position to be in. It would be a life full of danger, but better a doomed spy than a damned Death Eater.

Severus felt suddenly tired and thought wistfully of his bed, but even he knew if the Dark Lord discovered what he had done, he might never awake. Today had been such a day, that even a risky slumber was too tempting to deny. He was leaning forward to blow out the candle when there was a loud, ear-shaking crack! that didn’t belong to thunder.

“Severus---” hissed a familiar room and Severus looked up sharply to see the one person he most didn’t want to met today---well, perhaps except the Dark Lord.

Ellessa Harden had always been beautiful and now was no different. Her usually straight blond hair that flowed down her back to her waist, was in windblown tangles, damp strands clinging to her perfect nose. Her crystal blue eyes gleamed luminously, the blue pools filled with a sharp urgency that was reflected in her soft, delicate, and beautiful features. She held her head high, her graceful, swan-like neck stretching upward. She was dressed in rain sprinkled robes, black and flowing, and one fine-boned hand was laid over her belly protectively. The other, as it so frequently was, was a fist in her pocket as she wrapped her long fingers around her wand, ever prepared to let out her fiery, independent spirit in a painful curse.

In the wizarding world, Apparating into someone’s house was extremely rude, but since when had Ellessa cared when she offended someone?

Severus drew himself to his feet, towering powerfully and erect, and let his mouth move into a sneer. “Ellessa,” was the only greeting he gave.

“Forgive the intrusion,” she said, though she felt nothing close to apologetic, “but I needed to speak with you immediately.”

Speaking? Is that what she wanted? It wasn’t often what she requested. When Severus looked at her, he saw yet another one of his mistakes that would haunt him for as long as the Dark Mark on his arm. He hated himself for what had come between them. He didn’t understand what had possessed him to start the relationship, only that he had once again been hurt by her and he’d wanted to force himself to feel for someone---anyone---else. But he couldn’t understand how he had been so desperate as to choose Ellessa Harden. She was beautiful, yes, but he didn’t love her---he didn’t even like her. Perhaps she had come at a good time, so he could end the relationship that he should have stopped before it started.

“Very well,” he said tolerantly. “What do you want?”

“First, I want to know why you’ve been avoiding me.” She crossed her arms over her chest and flipped her long head of hair, the way when she did when she was angry, or feeling especially conceited, or…actually he wasn’t sure why she did it, only that she did it far too much.

The truth was that he’d withdrawn himself because he could stand her, but the truth would get him a life-threatening jinx in the face. Smoothly, as he did so easily, he lied. “Things have been complicated, Ellessa. The Dark Lord comes before everything…even before you.”

Ellessa nose wrinkled in disbelief, but she didn’t press any farther. She had other much more important things on her mind. “Severus, I’m not sure how to say this.”

Ellessa---Madam I-Have-An-Opinion-About-Everything---struggled to find words? It was a terrible omen and Severus felt hidden emotion stab his stomach. No, this wasn’t going to be good.

“Then just say it,” he pressed impatiently. If she had bad news, he wanted it out and over with, before his nerves had the opportunity to wonder for long.

There were thousands of things that Ellessa could have stunned Severus. She could have told him she was a figment of his imagination or that she was in love with the Dark Lord. She could tell him she was really a house-elf or was a fuzzy, pink unicorn animagus. None would have shocked him quite as much as what she said, perfectly serious. It was so astonishing that it nearly frightened him and Severus Snape was never afraid.

Until now.

“Severus, I’m pregnant.”

Disbelief and horror hit him hard and fast making his knees sway unsteadily and he pressed his palm into the desk to keep himself from buckling in a dead faint. Perhaps he had heard incorrectly; perhaps Ellessa was making some kind of cruel joke. That had to be it, because his mistake when it came to Ellessa could not have such dire consequences.

For a moment he could only stare at her, as though expecting her to laugh and say, “Got you good, Sevvy,” in that annoying, taunting voice. But Ellessa only stood there, her face solemn and even a bit fearful. She was not joking.

When Severus spoke his voice was hesitant, as though trusting his voice as much as he trusted thin ice. “Are…are you sure?”

She nodded, no doubt whatsoever in her eyes, only paralyzing surety.

That’s when it hit him, winding him as much as a physical blow to the stomach. He was going to be a father. The woman before him---the same woman he despised and represented a thousand mistakes---bore his child in her womb. Being a father was something he had never considered and if he had it had never been consciously, only a passing fleeting thought. And once he had become a Death Eater, starting a family had gone against each desire and possibility. But yet, here he was. An expecting father.

His mind whirled and cool, calculative Severus who was ever aware of the steps he should take, was confused. “What are we going to do?”

Ellessa closed the distance between them, rounding the desk until she stood before. In her eyes he read that she did indeed have a plan, but he didn’t like the dreamy sparkle he saw there or the way she tenderly took his hands between hers and met his eyes with that same misty note. “We get married.”

Severus had had quite enough surprises for tonight and his nerves were drawn tauter than a stretched drum. He jerked his hands away from Ellessa’s and took a stumbling step backwards. “Married?” The thought of being tied to Ellessa ’til-death-did-they-part was beyond scary---it was a bloody nightmare.

Ellessa’s eyes crackled with sudden anger, but what had she expected? Him to fall down on one knee and beg for her hand? To be thrilled at the thought of spending forever with her? For him to take her into his arms and assure her they’d work through this unplanned pregnancy? Well, he wasn’t about to do any of that. And Ellessa always got angry when she didn’t get what she wanted.

“Yes, married,” she snapped haughtily. “After all, it’s the only logical explanation. Besides---” She flipped her hair again and it cascaded off her shoulders in blond streams. “You’d be lucky to have me.”

Lucky wasn’t the first word he would have chosen. When it came to Ellessa lucky wasn’t even in the vocabulary. Severus had an image of what it would be like. Just like his parents they would hate grow to hate each other, yell and scream and curse at the sight of one another, perhaps while another child curled in the corner, too petrified to so much as cry. No, Severus refused to do that to his child. If he was to raise a child, he would raise it the way he’d never been. He’d sworn that much to himself years ago.

“I don’t think so, Ellessa. A marriage between us would never work.”

Again her eyes flashed. “Why not? You love me don’t you.”

Love. That was a word he could only admit to ever feeling for one person, a person who was as different from Ellessa as the sun was from the moon. No, he didn’t love Ellessa; he never could.

But if he told her the truth, the wand in her pocket would be out before he could prepare a counter-curse and if he lied, he’d be at the altar before he could protest. So, slyly, he said, “Love is such a strong word, Ellessa.”

Ellessa gaze darkened, making her baby-blue eyes look like a churning ocean. “But what about our child?”

That promise was still fresh in his mind. He’d be a father that his own had not. It was his responsibility now, the mistakes of his consequences, and he would own up to it. “I will be the father I’m meant to be, Ellessa. I will do my part.”

Ellessa was now beyond angry; she was outraged, shaking with fury. “You will commit to the child, but not to me?”

Severus wanted to say something to cool her temper, but she was right. There was nothing he could do but nod and say, “Yes.”

“That’s not going to happen, Severus.” With her lips twisting into a sneer, her eyes blazing, and her windblown hair tossing wildly, she looked demonic, but Severus was unmoved. He’d faced worse rage than that of a peevish woman. “If you will not have me, you can’t have my child.”

It was Severus’s turn to feel anger. She would dare threaten him! His eyes narrowed into a glare and his lips twisted into a snarl, he growled. “It’s our child, Ellessa.”

For the first time, Ellessa’s hand moved from her wand pocket, but wasn’t clenching her wand. Harmlessly, she shoved him, the force sending him back a few steps, but he twisted his heel and caught his balance. “Look, Severus,” Ellessa hissed. “Your loyalty to the Dark Lord is in question, do you understand that? The Dark Lord might believe you are still chummy, but Mordecai has warned me---” Severus sneer deepened in distaste as she mentioned her odious older brother. --- “and I’m beginning to believe him. But if you marry me, a fellow Death Eater, no one will doubt you ever again. What say you, Severus?”

Her persuasion didn’t help her in the least, only made him more unwilling to tie himself to her. He didn’t wish to be bond to the Dark Lord anymore than he already was and he wouldn’t betray Dumbledore.

“No.”

What?” Ellessa cried.

“I said no.”

Ellessa seemed to accept the answer, because a steely determination replaced her anger and she drew herself up straight and regal. Her voice was controlled and firm. “Then, Severus, you will never see your child.”

Before Severus could protest, reach out, draw his wand, or do anything to stop her there was another crack! and, as lightning flashed outside the window and shone throughout the entire room in a blinding orange light only to disappear moments later, Ellessa was gone.

And Severus never saw her again. 












No one had seen or heard from Ellessa Harden or her good-for-nothing brother, Mordecai. None of the Death Eaters had any idea where she had disappeared to and the Dark Lord had pegged them as betrayers. None of them understood what would lead her away from faithful service from the Dark Lord---except for Severus Snape.

There wasn’t a day that passed that he didn’t unconsciously wonder where she was and if he would be able to find his child. He mused on how the pregnancy was going, whether the baby was healthy or strong, and he felt great guilt. The baby was his responsibility, and for someone who was immensely responsible, he felt worthless, unable to be the father he was supposed to be. But worse, Ellessa Harden was cruel and heartless, one who could never feel sympathy or love for a child. The baby would be nothing more than a pawn to play with and to punish. And when she abused the child, it would be all Severus’s fault.

As much as he tried to make himself forget, Severus could not. The nagging knowledge was always eating away at the back of his mind, tormenting him even in his sleep.

But nothing tormented more than the owl arriving on that balmy July day at that same shack he had first heard the news that he had first heard the news of Ellessa’s pregnancy. He was sitting at his desk, filling out a report for the Order of the Phoenix, when he heard the tapping on the cracked window. No sooner had he glanced than he knew whose owl it was; it was impossible not to recognize the snowy owl or the way the package was tied to its leg with a frilly pink string.

Unsure what to expect, but feeling excitement all the same, he hurried to the window and flung it open. The snowy owl fluttered in and landed gracefully on his desk, jiggling and stretching its wings in a show of it’s pretty feathers. Ignoring its flapping wings, Severus untied the envelope, seeing his name scrawled over it in reflective black ink. Loosed from its duty, the owl sprang upward. Severus tried to stop it; it was his only connection to Ellessa, but his grasping hand missed its tail feathers. With an indignant hoot, the bird took out the window and was soon a white speck in the sky.

With a harsh word, Severus resigned that he would be unable to reply to Ellessa. He turned to the letter in his hand and, sliding his finger beneath the flap, he tore it open with a few careful jerks. The thin slip of paper fell from it and he caught it before it danced to the dusty floor. Unfolding it, his eyes feasted greedily on the words.

Our child was born yesterday. 

Severus did the math quickly; the baby was two months premature.

Nothing has changed, Severus. You’ll never see her. Never.

Severus felt his knees weaken and he slumped into his chair. Her. He had a daughter, a daughter he would never know.

He did not doubt what Ellessa said to be true. Once she set her mind to something, she didn’t falter for so much as a moment. And with his position as a spy, he couldn’t risk going to find her, searching for his child if nothing more than the attempt to take her from the clutches of a diabolical woman.

He wondered about the little baby girl for a second, whether she had his eyes or Ellessa’s, or whether she had blond hair or black. He mused about whether she was healthy, hoping, for the baby’s sake, she was, but doubted, because of her being premature.

For a moment, a doubting voice crept into his mind. Perhaps she wasn’t premature at all. Perhaps she wasn’t even his.

Searching for more answer, he looked back at the letter, seeing something peeking from the envelope. It was small and almost square; a photograph. Leave it to Ellessa to send him a picture to torment him with the sight of a child he could never so much as hold. He pulled it from the envelope and turned it over in his hands. For someone who hardly felt such emotions as tenderness and fondness, the sight of the picture took his breath away and banished every doubt that it was not his baby.

Wrapped in downy, white blankets the small baby was the picture of angelic innocence. The girl had the soft features of her mother, making her beyond adorable, but on her tiny head was a fluffy layer of dark hair and below long eyelashes were obsidian eyes that sparkled like onyx. His eyes.

In an instant his thinking of the child changed. The baby in the picture was no longer a mistake, a consequence, or even a responsibility. She was something much more profound; a living, breathing child. Yet she was not just any newborn child; she had been brought into this world by him and was a part of him, something he had created, something wound into the recesses of his heart.

“My daughter,” he breathed, lowly, as he stroked a thumb over the picture. “You’re my daughter.”

A daughter he would never be able to hold or to watch grow through the years. A daughter he could not fulfill the promise that he would be everything his father wasn’t. A daughter would never know her father. A daughter he would be forced to forget, though his heart would always remember. A daughter who would always be sown into his heart---a part of him. A daughter that he would always---if he could feel such an emotion to anyone---love. A daughter he would never know.

Severus fell to his knees and let out a scream of anguish.

Outside the weather began to change and, through the heat, the churning, dark clouds let spill wet drops that pattered thickly on the window pane---the heavens mourning for the daughter that Severus Snape had lost.














chapter image by caren

Chapter 2: Chapter One: A Girl Named Shiloh
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Eleven years later…

 

The residents of Twopennies—a small, insignificant village in the countryside somewhere near London—had one unspoken, but well-known, rule: to stay away from Southside Lane. It was beautiful enough, with a wood and a stream located behind the line of homes. The houses were small and few, well-spread so that plenty of emerald land spread between them. The lawns were ever inviting for the running feet of children and were in ever tempting place to spread a picnic blanket out for a day in the sun. The people who lived there were respectable enough, minded their own business, and cared for their own families. But as nice and, dare say, average as the place seemed, if anything strange happened in Twopennies, it happened on Southside Lane.

Peeping-Tom Miss Williams could have sworn she saw a flash of orange light glow in one of the house for a second before disappearing. Mr. Robinson, while driving past, had seen the lawn of one particular house, overgrown. He’d considered reporting the place for sheer unsightliness, but when he glanced back at it in the rear-view mirror, the lawn was cut, crisp, and pristine in less time then it took to haul out a lawnmower. Mrs. Betty I’m-Better-Than-You Lou had seen people appear on doorsteps when she swore they hadn’t been their seconds before, but she feared to say anything, afraid people might think she was crazy, seeing ghosts, or—worse—in need of glasses to cover her pretty eyes. And today, ol’, gossiping Lady Hornburg had, between stroking and feeding her eleven cats, glimpsed out the window at the house across the lane, the one closest to the wood, and noticed that, coming from the small shed at the side of the home, were lime green vapors.

Green? It was supposed to be blue.

A young girl sat cross-legged in the shed, one hand stirring the bubbling cauldron before her lap and moving the long wooden spoon through the lime green liquid as her lips moved soundlessly in careful, calculative counts. As she continued to stir, she leaned to the side to peer at the open book sprawled beside her. A piece of shiny, black hair slipped from the black ribbon it had been tied with and fell onto her nose, temporarily blinding her. Her eyes still focusing on the book, she pushed the hair behind her ear with an absent shove. The hair was barely long enough to be tucked behind her ear, for she had, much to her mother’s dismay, cut her once long hair off so that it fell just beneath her chin, and she now refused to grow it back. Hair was enough hassle without it being long enough to form ropes out of. And, besides, after awhile her mum had adjusted to the change, even admitted that it accented the girl's soft, delicate features, making her look cute…not that the girl cared.

Her free hand touched the words on the page of the book. It was wrinkled from use and dog-eared to mark her place. Fresh, reflective ink was in the margins, marking the notes she had been making as she experimented with the untried potion. As the girl read the line that her finger was poised under, she drew her nail beneath it, and at the end, she tapped the period in satisfaction. Yes, it said seven strokes clockwise, eleven counterclockwise. She’d done it correctly, and according to the book, the potion should be turning blue. She glanced at it and frowned.

Still green.

The girl was not overly disturbed. The book was often wrong, for it was only as smart as the author. She chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, debating on what to do to get the right results, and as it often did, inspiration came. She stood for a moment and turned towards the shelves that lined the shed’s interior walls.

On the shelves were jars, vials, and containers of assorted sizes with strange and unusual ingredients. Dead cockroaches were mashed together in one jar and next to it was a jar with red, stringy material that the girl knew to be the heartstrings of a dragon. Dragon talons were somewhere near there, along with jars of peppermint, porcupine quills, rat intestines, and nearly every potion ingredient available—given that the ingredients weren’t too terribly expensive.

She selected a small jar of daisy root and returned to sit before the stewing cauldron. Twisting open the jar, she stirred in a few of the roots, going once clockwise, once counterclockwise. The cauldron sparked, shooting out a little crackling flame, before the liquid changed into a light, sky blue. The girl’s lips twitched in triumph. Now all she had to do was bottle it and search for a test subject. She had been forbidden by her parents to take any potions until she had tried it, and its antidote, on less valuable creatures, ever since she had tried a Forgetfulness Potion only to forget what she’d done with the antidote. So she often caught a frog down at the stream in the woods, only to release it once she had done the experiment. She hadn’t lost an amphibian friend yet.

She was putting the blue liquid into a large vial when there was a tentative knock at the shed door. It swung open letting in a painful stream of sunlight. The silhouette in the doorway was nothing more than slender outline of a person until the girl had blinked rapidly so that her eyes could adjust to the quick change of light. When she could see clearly, though red and green speckles dotted her vision, she made out the willowy woman.

The woman was average in height and quite bony, though not unsightly so. Her brown eyes were the same color as her hair, though the hair was streaked with strands of white. She wore Muggle clothes. Since they lived near Muggles, though the Southside Lane was populated only by wizardry families, they couldn’t exactly go around wearing robes.

“Shiloh,” the woman’s small mouth parted, talking in a low whisper as though she was afraid her voice might cause the potion the girl was still siphoning into the vial to explode. She looked about to say something else, but her eyes locked on the cauldron and she asked, “Is it done?”

“Yes, Mum.” Shiloh Sanders stood and slid the plump vial onto the storing shelf where all her other potions sat in alphabetical order. “All I have to do is catch a toad to test it on. Don’t worry, I’ve pre-made the antidote.”

“Not now, Shiloh,” her mum objected. “The guests will be here soon.”

Shiloh froze and glimpsed at her mother with uncertainty. “Guests?” Her mother gave her a stern look, her hand poised on her hips and her head cocked slightly, the way she did when Shiloh had gotten so absorbed in her potion-making that she'd forgotten something important. It dawned on her. Her mother had been planning a tea party for a few weeks now. Shiloh had even helped her prepare food in the kitchen yesterday, much to her displeasure---though she never complained; she loved her mum too much for that. “Oh. Now I remember.”

Her mum gave an exasperated shake of her head and a weary sigh. “Clean up your books and come inside to wash up.” Her nose wrinkled up in distaste. “You smell like rat intestines.”

“Yes, Mum.” Shiloh didn’t disagree, though she was sure that the next hour would be dreadful. Her mother had a strange taste in friends. Daniella Harpstrong and Lenora Harafrel were kind and ordinary enough. But that other woman, Scarlet Delamb, was as horrible as her wretched daughter, the one that Shiloh had gotten punished for exchanging the brat’s Beautifying Potion for a Shrinking Potion, turning her into a five-year-old for a few minutes before Shiloh’s father had sorted her out. Not that Annadel didn’t deserve it; she’d dipped Shiloh’s hair in ink the week before.

Scarlet herself always treated her mother the way a queen would with a commoner, always smiled politely, stiffly, but was careful not to touch the walls or furniture of the house in case they contaminated her with some awful disease. And her mother put up with it. If it had been up to Shiloh would have give Mrs. Scarlet Delamb a swift kick out the door. That would be fit repayment for the woman's haughty attitude.

And the last person her mum put up with because she was her sister. Flora Prate was the mother of five children---cousins that Shiloh had barely met---and was nearly as conceited as Mrs. Delamb. She’d never forgiven her sister for marrying a Muggle-born Hufflepuff right after she graduated from Hogwarts…or for adopting Shiloh for that matter. The way Flora treated Elaine was made all the more painful because she was her mother's sister---Shiloh's adopted aunt. After so many hurt expressions going through her mum's eyes, Shiloh had learned to detest the woman. In all fairness, it was clear, though she would never admit it openly, Mrs. Prate hated Shiloh like she hated a stain on her perfect white hat.

Once her mother had left, Shiloh resigned herself to what was to come and began picking up the books that were scattered on the floor of the shed. They’d purchased them in Diagon Alley a month ago and since then she had been pouring over them, especially her potions book. She’d been trying out potions in the book nearly every day since she got it. She had always had a love for potions; she’d been born with it and had been brewing things since she was old enough to read and distinguish which ingredients were which---and old enough for her mother to let her go around a hot cauldron. When other girls her age were playing with dolls, she was stewing up potion upon potion. It was why her father had turned the old shed into her potion shed, so she wouldn’t risk blowing up the kitchen rug…again.

Shiloh shoved her stack of books into her cloth book bag and reached for the last thing on the floor of the shed---her wand. It was smooth and a gleaming-back ebony with the heartstrings of a dragon molded into it. It fitted perfectly into her hand; after all, it had been destined for her. She’d wanted to test it, to master a few spells, but the Ministry prohibited it. She tucked it safely into the deep pockets of her jeans where she had kept it since she got it, liking the feel of it at her side, ever a reminder that she was a witch and that in a week from now she would be on her way to Hogwarts. Shiloh’s heart gave an excited thump at the very thought.

She swung her bag over her shoulder and, making sure the fire under the cauldron was extinguished, she jogged out of her shed, across the yard, her bare feet being tickled by the crisp grass, and into the house. She scrambled up the stairs to the bathroom where she scrubbed up her hands and arms, hoping that would wipe the smell from them. She sniffed her finger tentatively, wrinkled up her nose, and gave her hands another washing.

It was than that Shiloh looked up into the mirror, catching the reflection of her own sparkling, onyx eyes, her short, black hair, and her gentle features. She was a cute girl---the kind of child who was destined to be a beautiful woman. That, however, was not why she let her eyes linger, because Shiloh cared nothing about appearances, rather her eyes remained because an old thought crept into her mind.

She was a good girl, sensible beyond her age, and she knew better than to think about questions that could only go unanswered. But it was silent in the bathroom and in quiet moments thoughts had a powerful ability to take control, to roam freely through a mind that generally held them at bay. And for a girl only eleven years of age, Shiloh Sanders had a lot of thoughts.

Do I look like her? Or do I look like him?

Shiloh had never had to be told that she was adopted; it was something that she’d always known even when commonsense ruled it out. She’d only been two---nearly three---when her biological mother had been killed in a capture-attempt by Aurors gone horribly, wretchedly wrong. By a course of numerous and complicated events, Shiloh didn't quite comprehend, she'd been taken in by the Sanders and officially adopted. The Sanders were kind-hearted, aging and unable to have the children they so greatly desired, so it wasn't possible for her to have come to better people. They’d never planned to tell her they weren’t her parents, that her real mother had been a servant of You-Know-Who, and that her uncle, another, terrible Death Eater, had been given a one-way ticket to Azkaban. They'd never imagined Shiloh could possibly remember anything about her mother.

But she did. Not in the normal, memory sort of way, but there were some scars in both heart and mind that were so deep they could not be erased. Perhaps she couldn’t recall her birth mother, but she felt her, in quick flashes or nightmares. And what she saw, made her despise her mother...and all Death Eaters, for that matter. It even made her despise herself at times, shamed to be born of a Death Eater.

Shiloh was nine when the Sanders had realized their daughter knew she was adopted. She had innocently made the comment to Mrs. Sanders, that she was a very special mum, because though Shiloh wasn’t really her daughter by blood, she was by heart and that was much, much better. They’d been shocked at first, but decided to tell her all they knew about her mother, of her cruelty, of how bad of a person she was, and none of it, not in the least, surprised her.

Of her birth father, Shiloh knew nothing and was forever curious---though she had stopped speaking to her parents of it because they were unsure as she was and her questions only brought them pain. She thought perhaps he’d been a Death Eater too, because she could not imagine her mother engaging herself to anyone who wasn’t faithful to You-Know-Who. And if he was, she’d hate him too. She wasn’t completely sure why she didn’t now, because if he was out there somewhere, why wasn’t she with him? Why hadn’t he come to find her after her mother died? Why? Or did he not even care?

But of either of them, she’d rather look like her father, because she’d rather be the image of someone who might be a Death Eater, than to appear like someone she knew was.

The train of thought led her to wonder what other traits she had inherited from her birth parents. What about her natural talent and love for potions? Or what about her curiosity of jinxes and other Defense Against the Dark Arts related spells? Or the way she was so naturally reserved, never prone to showing her affection or emotions through particularly emotional displays---like hugs and smiles?

Shiloh shut off the water and dried her hands, trying to shake off the hold the thoughts had on her young mind. There was no use dwelling on questions that could never be answered. No use asking herself about a father she would never know. Besides, she was happy with her adoptive parents, blessed to have come to such kind people and she couldn't love them more if they had been given birth to her. They were enough and her innocent wonderings needed to end.

“Shiloh, hurry up!” Her mother’s voice echoed up through the hall and the bathroom’s door. “Our guests are here.”

Shiloh resisted the urge to groan and her upper lip curled into a sneer of displeasure. Despite the instant dread, she forced herself to throw the towel aside. She hitched up the collar of her left shoulder in a near unconscious tug, making sure the collar had stayed up to her neck. She left the bathroom, and, as she moved down the hall, her steps were tentative, hesitant, as though she was edging closer to a battle she would not come out of. In truth, she would rather face a fire-breathing, cranky dragon, than doting, cheek-pinching women.

The later was likely to prove more fatal.







“Shiloh Sanders, you get up those stairs this instant!”

Alan Sanders hesitated at the door, shocked by the angry voice that met his ears as he entered his home. His wife was rarely ever enraged, but when she was, her fury was fierce. The few times it had been directed at him, he had learned it was best to be silent and take his punishment. There was only one other who could be the target of Elaine Sanders' wrath. The same child who faced it now was too hard-headed to simply nod and be done with it. Mr. Sanders’ daughter had always been a fighter. Standing before her mum now, Shiloh had that familiar warrior look, her arms crossed over her chest, her lips twisted into a stubborn sneer, and her eyes into a powerful glare as she planted her feet, refusing her mum’s order.

“For the last time, she started it,” Shiloh hissed. It was clear to Alan that she too was angry, because her voice didn’t raise when she grew furious. It went lower, dark and malicious. “I only gave that brat Annadel what she had coming.”

“She deserved a fist in the nose?” Elaine growled back skeptically.

Alan crept forward slowly, knowing that the two ladies in his life had yet to notice his presence and he didn’t desire to startle them and get a lashing for it. He was utterly clueless on what exactly had happened, but he could guess the jest of it. Shiloh had never liked the girl, Annadel, and by the few times that Alan had met the youngest Delamb child, Alan couldn’t purposely blame her for it. Brat was a gentle word for what Shiloh described Annadel as and for all of what Shiloh was, she was no liar. Of course, he couldn’t agree with the way that Shiloh retaliated, with potions, punches, and cool returned insults---her words being the most efficient payback of all. Shiloh had never mastered the effect of turning the other cheek.

“Yes, that and much more,” Shiloh said, her black eyes crackling with anger fierce enough that it looked like she was ready for seven more rounds with Annadel’s nose.

Elaine planted her hands on her hips; she looked annoyed, enraged, and her face was turning red. Whatever Shiloh had done had likely embarrassed Elaine in front of all her friends. One of the quirks about his wife is that she became too attached to what her so-called ‘friends’ thought about her, but he was her husband and it was his job to be supportive. “Shiloh, I can’t believe you. Do you have any idea how embarrassed I am?”

Shiloh’s only reply was to roll her eyes in exasperation.

Elaine’s anger began to fade and turn into agony. The fight moved from her shoulders and they slumped in misery and hurt. Her eyes grew watery seconds before she buried them into her hands, shaking her head sadly as though in a loss for words. Shiloh glanced at her mother so near tears her own rage disappeared just as suddenly, turning into something that flashed only briefly in her eyes before her gaze turned unreadable: guilt. Alan took it as a cue to intervene.

Moving to his wife side, he touched her arm and asked gently, “What happened?”

Startled she looked up, her eyes already puffy, though she hadn’t yet let the tears pour. Shiloh noticed her dad‘s presence at the same moment and averted her eyes. Not so much from apprehension but from vexation at the thought that there was yet another person to tell her how stupid she‘d been.

Elaine squared herself up, the fight temporary back in her eyes. “Shiloh punched Annadel Delamb right in the nose. The poor dear was bleeding and sobbing for ten minutes. Scarlet was furious and all my other friends were shocked. My sister dared ask me what kind of mother I was. Can you imagine it, Alan?”

Alan could and he felt irritation at his sister-in-law. She had no right to assume that Elaine was a bad mother, when she was one who alienated her children if they didn’t turn out to be what she deemed perfect.

“And the worst part is, Shiloh had absolutely no excuse.”

Shiloh’s head whipped around at her mother’s accusation and she lowered her eyes back into a hot glare. “For the last time, she started it!”

Elaine looked back at Shiloh and opened her mouth, her hand half-raised as though about to issue a command to leave, but Alan interceded. “Hold on, Elaine. Let’s hear Shiloh’s side of it.”

Elaine parted her mouth as though to protest, but Alan gave her a glance that told her to wait. She crossed her arms over her chest, but remained silent, her lips pursed tightly together to keep from blurting out anything. Alan gave her a satisfied nod. He had always preferred to talk things out calmly. They reached the bottom of things quicker with soft words than with harsh statements.

Alan turned his attention to Shiloh and gestured to one of the seats. “Let’s sit, shall we?”

Shiloh sent him a doubtful gaze and remained planted where she was. With a sigh, Alan settled himself onto the couch facing her, his elbows planted on his knees, waiting patiently. Shiloh was cynical and distrusting, as much as it pained him to admit for it left Alan to wonder how much exactly she remembered of her past. The traits were clear in the way that when she sat, she settled only on the edge, her back tense and straight and her fingers digging into the arms of the chair as though she would bolt at any second.

“Now what happened, Shi?” Alan questioned gently, using his nickname for her in an attempt to keep her from assuming she was being interrogated. It had always been a little joke between them, because shy was the last word to describe her. Fiery, independent, and fearless, but never, ever timid.

Shiloh glanced from her mother to her father, knowing that whatever she said would hardly do any good. She dragged her toe along on the ground, staring at a spot on the floor before daring to look up at Alan. “She had it coming.”

“Why?” Alan pressed. Getting a piece of information that Shiloh didn’t want to tell was as hard as lifting more than your body weight---a job not set for weaklings or those who gave up easily. “What did she do?”

Shiloh locked her jaw and didn’t speak.

Knowing no matter of prodding would get her to reply, Alan took a guess. “You know, Shiloh, you shouldn’t react when people insult you.”

Shiloh gave a weary roll of her eyes, as though she couldn’t believe he’d be so silly. “You think I honestly care what people say about me?”

No, Alan didn’t. She was amazingly confident for a girl her age and she thought nothing of the opinions of others. It was simply unimportant to her; there were too many things far dearer. Then what had gotten Annadel under Shiloh’s tough skin, when hardly anything moved her? Inspiration struck; an idea of what just might make Shiloh burn enough to lose all self-control. “Did she insult one of us?” With a finger he gestured to Elaine and then to himself.

Elaine instantly shot down the idea. “Annadel’s a sweet girl. She would never do such a thing.”

Shiloh’s face remained expressionless but his body gave an involuntary jerk. There was no mistaking the venom in her mumbled voice. “Yeah, so sweet she rots your teeth.”

Alan gave Elaine a pointed glance, silently warning her to stay out of this. If she didn’t, Shiloh would never confess. They both knew that Shiloh felt more comfortable with her father than her mother, perhaps because they had more things in common. While Elaine spent time baking in the kitchen with Shiloh, something that though Elaine didn’t see it, Shiloh only did because she wanted to make her mother happy. But at least once a week, Alan would bring home a box of their favorite candy---Bertie Bott’s All-Flavored Beans---and they would discuss her potion-making and his job at the Ministry, conversations she had a great understanding and like for. If Shiloh would open up to anyone, it would be Alan.

“It’s alright, Shi.” Alan reached across and patted her knee encouragingly. “You can answer my question.”

Shiloh once again hesitated, but her silence was all the answer he needed. Whether she chose to answer or not, he was well-aware of what the truth was, but he hoped she would be honest with him. She mumbled a reply under her breath and Alan asked her to repeat. Finally she raised her head, meeting his eyes for the first time. He saw in her obsidian gaze the hate she felt for Annadel, now stronger than it ever was.

“She called you a filthy mudblood.”

Alan was unmoved by it. No doubt the girl was nasty, but he had been called a mudblood many times during his time at Hogwarts. It was the life of being Muggle-born. Elaine however let out a little gasp, covering her mouth with a delicate hand.

“So you punched her?” Alan asked, ignoring his wife.

“She deserved it,” Shiloh repeated in a growl.

This was the hard part of being a father; lecturing a child’s wrong action when it was done for the right reasons. “Honey.” She screwed up her nose at the pet name and he corrected himself. “Shi, we’ve told you many times that fighting isn’t the right answer.”

“Too many times,” Shiloh said with a huff, a spark of fight apparent in the way she folded her arms back over her chest. “I have your lecture memorized by now.” She lowered her voice so she sounded quite like her father. “‘Fighting won’t resolve anything. It will only led to more and more violence. Better to let it go and turn the other cheek’.”

“We’re right, you know.”

Shiloh’s eyes flashed in defiance and she jolted out her chin stubbornly. Slowly, firmly, she replied, “No, you’re not.”

Alan sat up straighter. Her punching Annadel was understandable, but now she was being deliberately rebellious. Before he could object to her, she continued boldly.

“You don’t understand. Sometimes you have to fight, because if you always turn the other cheek, people will never stop hitting you. Sometimes you have to stand up and make it clear that you aren’t going to take anymore rubbish from anyone, or rubbish is all you’re going to get. I know you think everyone‘s benevolent, but it‘s not true. You have to know that there are some things worth fighting for, some things worth protecting. If those you love aren’t, what is?”

Alan opened his mouth, but he couldn’t object to a single thing his daughter had said. She had once again showed wisdom beyond her age, that same fighting spirit that made her difficult but was one of the things that made him adore her. But he simply couldn’t allow his child to go around punching people, because soon she’d be learning magic. Jinxes were far more harmful than right hooks.

Hauling up all the strength he could muster, he said sternly, “In a week’s time you’ll be at Hogwarts, same with Annadel, and I don’t want to hear that you’ve been fighting or we'll bring you straight home. Understood?”

Shiloh’s gaze narrowed and she clipped an unbelievable, “Fine.” before she got to her feet and jogged up the stairs.

Alan watched her go, the back of her black head disappearing into the hall at the top of the stairs. With a tired sigh, Alan put his face in his hands, rubbing his aching temples. Days like this there wasn’t much difference between his job at the Department of Misuse for Muggle Artifacts where he was forced to wrestle with biting teapots and disappearing keys and his home where he fought with a gumptious daughter.

He felt the seat of the old couch sink lower as his wife lowered herself beside him. She rested a tender hand on his shoulder and he looked up. Hating the worried look on her genteel face, he gave a weak smile in an attempt to cheer her up. “We'll never have a boring moment with her, will we?”

Elaine let out a humorous guffaw of agreement at the truthful statement, but the giggle was as weak as his smile. She set her cheek on his shoulder and let out a sigh that sounded like a quiet ‘oh’. “Sometimes I wonder where she gets it from.”

No sooner had the words been whispered in a musing, wistful tone, then she stiffened, and Alan understood why. No matter how much a handful their daughter was, they knew she was a good kid. As troublesome as it might be now, they both knew that her independence and determination would take her far---not to mention help her survive the next years at Hogwarts---and for that, they were proud of her. But the personality traits were uncharacteristic to both Alan and Elaine, at least to such a strong degree. Questioning where she got her essence was a painful reminder that what they pretended to be true was, in fact, a lie. Shiloh wasn’t their daughter in the normal way, by nine months of pregnancy, and that she wasn’t theirs by blood. Though they loved Shiloh as much as any parent could love a child---adopted or not---it was always in the back of their minds that there was another part of Shiloh besides themselves, parts that would always be within her, parts that given the choice they wouldn’t have let her face.

“You know what Flora said?” Elaine questioned conversationally, snuggling closer. Alan couldn’t care less what Elaine's idiotic sister had said, but he remained silent. The most important part of loving was listening and, cuddling with his wife of so many years, love was precisely what he felt. “After everyone had left, I’d sent Shiloh out of the room, and she’d carelessly scolded my parenting, she apologized. Said I shouldn’t blame myself. It was only to be expected out of that kind of girl.”

Alan felt his jaw tighten. He could think of a few things to say about that kind of woman, but such things wouldn’t help the situation any.

Elaine let out a bitter little laugh, making it clear that it was the only thing keeping her from crying out at the cruelty of her older sister. “Said ‘it was only to be expected. Look at her mother.’” Elaine shook her head, her cheek patting softly on his chest. “But I’m her mum. I am.”

Alan tightened his embrace on her, holding her close in the small moment of weakness. Elaine let out a sound that was something like a dry sob that caused her whole body to shudder slightly. Elaine turned her face into Alan’s chest, nuzzling her nose into her husband’s warmth. For a few minutes there was only silence as he stroked her hair gently. She didn’t cry, but there was a thick sadness in the air. Not because they felt like they were losing their daughter but because of the misunderstanding of others and of what their precious little girl was apart of; the dark past she didn’t deserve.

After a moment, Elaine turned her head so she could speak. “Shiloh will never escape it, will she?”

Alan paused for a moment, thinking of the right answer, but Elaine had been truthful. Shiloh birth mother would always be Ellessa Harden. Her father would always be unknown. And her past could not be erased. And as unpleasant as it was, a harmful truth was always better than a haunting lie. “As much as I hate it, Elaine, you’re right. Ellessa Harden, as horrible as a person she was, was who brought Shiloh into this world and there is no running away from that. She is apart of who Shiloh is. We can’t change it, no matter how much we want to.” Elaine shivered and he pulled her closer, speaking into her cinnamon-smelling hair. “But you are right, love. Shiloh’s our daughter. She’s ours.

Ellessa Harden no longer had any claim at Shiloh; she was their daughter in every way that had mattered. They’d raised her, they’d taught her, and they loved her. That was what defined a parent; not giving birth. Shiloh was their daughter and no one else’s.

Neither of them noticed the shadow that had been perched on the top of the staircase---a young girl who had failed to go the rest of the way to her bedroom. And neither Mr. or Mrs. Sanders heard the patter of feet across the floor or the shut of a bedroom door. Both were oblivious to the daughter who had heard every agonizing word of their conversation.

 





 

The music box was Shiloh’s most treasured possession, the only thing she still had that she had been given by her mother---Ellessa that was. It was like a light in her dark past, the only thing good she could cling to of those first horrible days of her life. It was the fighter against nightmares, the soother of fears, and her greatest comfort. She cradled it in her hands now, the round lid propped open and the faint blue light glowing magically from it as the sweet, enchanting melody came forth.

The music box was round and richly ornate, mostly gold but with emerald green designs, green carved flowers with silver in the center, and a thin line of pearls. It was gorgeous, not to mention expensive, proof of Ellessa’s pureblood inheritance. But it was not the beauty of the outside that she loved, it was the intoxicating song and the way it was bewitched so that only she could hear it. The way that it kept the nightmares she used to be tortured with at bay.

And then there was the picture, tucked into the inside of the lid of the music box. It had been taken when Shiloh was a few days old and she could hardly believe she was so tiny---premature, her parents had told her. She was wrapped in white and tucked on her side was her music box. Shiloh liked the picture because it was proof of how much she had grown. She was still small---well perhaps not small---for she was no shorter than other girls, but slender, petite, and fine-bone, but she had grown---smarter, better, always growing.

But yet, at this moment, the music didn’t help soothe her emotions. Her heart was sad, but the only sign was a quiet sniff and the fact that the fire had left her dark eyes. She didn’t cry; she never did. But the words from the conversation she had eavesdropped on filled her mind again. Ellessa Harden is a part Shiloh.

How could a woman who Shiloh hated be a part of her? Couldn’t by hating her, Shiloh exclude her from every part of her being? But it was true, wasn’t it? The blood of a Harden, servant of You-Know-Who, flowed through her veins and she could no sooner change her genes than she could stop magic from existing. Yes, her mother was a part of her, but that made Shiloh feel filthy, dirty…worthless.

But that same stubbornness, that same ambition, that same fierce hatred came and shoved those emotions away. Her mother might be a part of her, but she was not partly her mother. She was Shiloh Sanders, not Shiloh Harden. She wasn’t Ellessa; she refused to so much as look like her, let alone act like her. It was in these moments, that she rebelled completely against her part of herself. It was in the moments that Shiloh began her greatest ambition, her most desired dream, one that she would rather die than fail to achieve.

To be absolutely nothing like Ellessa Harden.

That resolution made, she felt more at ease and she felt the music of her box beginning to have funny affects on her mind, wiping away the harsh day and drawing her into weariness. It smoothed away the memories of the day, replacing them with whimsical fantasies of going to Hogwarts and of all the things that she could and would learn there. As she set her music box on her bedside table and laid back onto the bed, curled onto her side and snuggled under a light sheet. She thought of Quidditch matches, of winning house points and the House Cup being rewarded to whatever house she was in. And, of course, what new and fascinating potions she would master.

But such happy reminisces were not the last thought that caressed her sleepy mind. For a girl only eleven-years of age, Shiloh Sanders had a lot of thoughts and not all of them were happy thoughts. Instead another particle of her parent’s conversation popped unbidden into her half-unconscious mind. Shiloh will never escape it.

And in that part, they were perfectly correct. Because no matter how much she tried to hide it, to keep it locked away as her dark secret, she would always be a Death Eater’s daughter. And that was the nightmare that not even the beautiful refrain of the music box could soothe away.






chapter image by caren

Chapter 3: Chapter Two: Onward to Hogwarts!
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“Remember, dear,” Alan coached gently, as he took one hand off the handle of the trolley to squeeze his daughter‘s shoulder reassuringly, even as Shiloh‘s face turned sour at another sugary name. If Alan noticed the look, than he was either apathetic or took it for a flash of nervousness for the coming task, for he patted her shoulder again and continued to give cheerful instructions. “Walk straight at the barrier and don’t stop. I’ll bring the trolley along after you.”

Shiloh looked at him, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. He was more nervous for her than she was for herself—and she was the one walking through a solid wall. But she’d been properly taught of what was to come and how she was to get onto Platform 9 ¾. She’d watched her mother go before her, paying close attention to the way Elaine had jogged towards the wall and disappeared into it without so much as halting for fear. Shiloh didn’t feel anything close to apprehension. She forced her lips to twitch in a partial smile to assure her father that she was not about to shatter her nose on the barrier. She’d traveled by Floo powder and Portkeys. She could handle this, no problem.

“Ready?” he asked, tightening his grip on her shoulder while he looked at her anxiously.

Shiloh nodded and he began counting slowly, calculatedly. Shiloh did roll her eyes this times—how many kids did this before her and would after her?--and she felt restlessness itch at her so hard that she couldn’t stand still. By the time her father had reached ‘2’ she sprinted forward toward the barrier. The world rushed by the corners of her eyes, an exuberant blur of colors and silhouettes, and the red and white of the bricks grew closer until they were all she could see. She gave a little leap at it and slammed towards it fearlessly. With a whooshing sensations and less time than it took to blink her eyes, she was on Platform 9 ¾.

The place was bustling, full of life and excitement—a foretelling of what could only be what Hogwarts would be like. Every inch filled with laughing kids and well-wishing parents, all teary-eyed at bidding their beloved children farewell, each of them wearing a shocking array of multi-colored robes and interesting Muggle-clothing that Shiloh had near-seen before. Old friends were finding one another and helping them carry trunks from the many trolleys whilst laughing and informing one another of what had happened since the last year. To the left, the sleek red and brown train gleamed brightly and issued bellows of wispy smoke from its long pipe, its engine chugging softly as it waited for the time to leave. Shiloh’s lips twisted upward into a slight, genuine smile as she felt her heart give a mixture of joy and elation. This was it, the Hogwarts Express, the vehicle that would take her to the next chapter of her life.

A brunette woman waved frantically at her and Shiloh moved to her mother’s side moments before her father appeared where she had just been standing, pushing along the trolley with Shiloh's large trunk. He stopped beside them, trying to keep a wide smile on his boyish face, even as he glanced awkwardly at Elaine. Shiloh understood the conversation that they carried only with their eyes and Elaine’s sad shake of her head.

Her parents had known this day would come; when they would have to bid their only child goodbye for longer than they had ever parted, knowing that they wouldn’t see her for months and then only for a brief holiday. They’d known it, but now that it had arrived, and it was but moments from the time they would hug each other farewell, they were not prepared for it. Shiloh knew that because they loved her dearly, they would send her to Hogwarts. She was a witch and it was her dream, but they would miss her. Her mother would no longer have someone to cook with or to pamper and her father would no longer have someone who shared his taste for Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Beans. But they would learn to adjust to the quiet of their house and to the fact that the potion shed was empty, its shelves were mostly bare. And they would rapidly adjust to the fact there would be no more rare explosions or time when they would have to rush to be sure she was well. They would be fine; Shiloh was sure.

“Well,” Shiloh broke the uncomfortable moment by taking Alan’s place at the head of the trolley. “We best be getting my trunk on the train.”

As she twisted the trolley about and pushed it toward a door in the train, she saw, out of the corner of her eye, Alan step to her mum’s side and fit his hand into hers. Dear old dad…giving strength to the woman he loved, even when he too was in need of strength.

Not pausing with the trolley, she glanced over her shoulder at her mother. Shiloh felt a bit of concern at the way it looked like her mother was fighting with tears every single moment. She tried to give her a smile, hoping that her mother would make it through the next minutes without crying out the Pacific Ocean. She didn’t want to have to feel guilty about fulfilling her dream and doing what every single wizard child eventually did. Her mum noticed the smile and gave one in reply, as though to say that she would be alright. Satisfied—at least, for the moment—Shiloh looked forward.

It happened quickly. A trolley being pushed towards the same door cut before hers and before she even clearly saw it, let alone had enough time to yank to a stop, the front of Shiloh’s trolley had slammed into it. The trolley bounced then tipped. Her hands held fast to the handle and Shiloh was pulled down with it. With a yelp of alarm, a crash, and various other sounds, Shiloh and the trunk hit the floor, the lid banged open, and her belongings scattered. Robes shot into the air and fell into crumpled piles of black cloth. Books were flung everywhere, landing open on the ground, covers spread and crisp, new pages becoming dirty and dog-eared. Shiloh’s music box rolled off on its side, momentum carrying it away from the fallen trunk.

“Shiloh!”

Ignoring her mother’s fearful gasp and shaking off the shock of what had just happened, Shiloh scrambled to her feet and hurried off to rescue her music box. It continued its roll toward the edge of the platform where it would fall beneath the train’s wheels, her most precious possession lost forever. Shiloh lunged for it as it reached the edge, but it just missed her fingers and she slammed painfully on the ground. She watched in horror, holding her breath as the music box teetered on the edge, praying that it would roll back toward her and not…

It fell off the edge.

“No!” Shiloh’s cry of anguish was a mere winded whisper.

A hand reached forth and snatched the box, stopping its fall and pulling it up from danger. From her place on the ground she craned her neck upward to seeing her music box’s rescuer. A boy---a third year by the look of it---stood there, stout and strong with ginger hair splashed gaily with sparkling sunlight.

“Sorry about that,” he apologized as he extended a hand to help her to her feet. His voice was cheerful and he wore a confident smile so wide the corner of his lips nearly seemed to disappear into his hairline. Clearly, he was an exuberant boy, merry even in the most opportune of moments. “Didn’t see you.”

So he’d been the one so careless as to hit her trolley. But he’d save her music box so she supposed they were even.

Ignoring his hand she pushed herself to her feet and smoothed out her clothes with a few, vigorous swipes with her hands. Turning her gaze up at him, she said, “Don’t worry about it. Trolleys are dangerous.”

“Very dangerous,” he agreed, still grinning. He looked at the music box and, as though remembering who's it was, held it out to her. “This yours?”

Shiloh nodded and snatched it away from him eagerly and possessively, cradling it close as though it was a long lost friend. It seemed unharmed by the ordeal, but just to be sure she opened it. The lovely melody came as clear and beautiful as it always was. She let out a relieved sigh that pushed past her lips and teeth unheard, but the breath tickled her lips. “Thank you.”

Before the boy could respond a bristling red-haired woman came up upon them. She turned to the boy, her face red-hot and her eyes were narrowed into a glare. “George, look at you. Causing havoc wherever you go. Look what you did to the poor girl.” Her words were hissed and spat at the same time, her hands clenched at her hips,trembling with anger. She was furious to the point she could have been described as demonic, and Shiloh didn’t blame the boy for recoiling.

“Easy, Mum,” George tried to reason soothingly, holding his hands before him as though he might have to shield an attack. “It was an accident. Honest.

“Accident?” his mother practically screeched, and Shiloh shifted uneasily knowing this was a conversation that she should not be a part of. “I never know what’s an accident with you, George. What with dungbombs…and fires…and…and--” She was so furious she was becoming flustered, tripping over her own tongue in an effort to describe her impish son. “and mail-order sinks, I…”

“Mail-order sinks? There’s an idea---” George’s mischievous grin was back, beaming fearlessly on his lips. He held up his hands as though outlining an ad or billboard. “‘Interested in a genuine Hogwarts sink? For a galleon, we’ll send it with the next owl’.”

She had no idea whether George was serious or not, but the idea that he might actually back up his statement made her chest tingle with amusement. The humor worked its way up her throat and her lips parted in a small, rare giggle that she quickly stifled by pressing her lips together. Even in the face of a mother who was as enraged as a banshee, he still had the gumption to be humorous. And he was funny. He’d made Shiloh laugh and that was a task not easily accomplished.

But she was the only one who found George comical.

“I’m serious, George,” his mother warned lowly. “That girl hit the ground twice and--”

Knowing George was getting in trouble because of her and that she was quite alright with the harmless event, Shiloh cut in. “I really am fine, ma’am. I’m positive it was just an accident.”

As though the mother had completely forgotten of the girl’s existence, let alone immediate presence, she jerked in surprise and turned around. Before she could speak they were surrounded by a group of people so quickly it was as though they had Apparated there. First there was Shiloh’s parents, Elaine fussing over Shiloh’s robes and her father asking if she was absolutely sure she was alright. Shiloh rolled her eyes and jerked away from her mother’s embarrassing concern. Honestly, she’d survived small explosions and fires from her potions; a couple of slams on the floor were nothing to her.

The next was a boy about her age, freckled face, lanky, and so red-haired that he could only be related to George, his face set into a curious expression, followed by a pretty young girl—their sister, Shiloh could only guess.

But the one that caught everyone’s attention was when a boy identical to George sauntered easily into the group and, without the least bit of self-consciousness held up a pair of white female underlings. “Did someone lose these?”

Though Shiloh was not easily embarrassed, having of pair of her underclothes flashed to a group of strangers tinged her cheeks with color. She ripped them out of the boy’s hands as the mother ridiculed her son with a sharp, “Fred!”

Face flushing with shame, the mother of the group turned to Alan. “I’m sorry about this.” She twisted her hands before, wringing them together for no more reason than to have something to do with them while dealing with the crazy situation.

Alan seemed equally abashed, his features a shade of crimson that would have looked beautiful on a cloak, but no so much on her father’s cheeks. He shifted his feet back along the floor, glancing from his daughter’s face as though unsure if she had broken her nose and then back to the floor where the embarrassment took complete control over even his worry for Shiloh. “Yes…well…” he struggled to find the words until he dared to look up at the woman. He fell silent, confusion marching across his eyes as he studied her for a moment, then pure, enlightening recognition flashed across his face. “Wait a minute. You’re Molly Weasley.”

Mrs. Weasley’s frowned deepened, no longer ashamed but rather perplexed. “Yes,” she agreed, but with great uncertainty, making it apparent that, although Shiloh’s father recognized her, she had no idea on earth who he was.

Seeing this, Alan extended his hand and introduced himself with a cheerful flourish, everything that had happened gone from his mind. “Alan Sanders. I work with your husband in the Department of Misuse for Muggle Artifacts.”

The air around them changed, going from awkward and bewildered to happy and introductory as Mrs. Weasley reached out her hand to shake Alan’s merrily. Shiloh rolled her eyes and resisted the urge to growl an annoyed sigh. She wondered if there was a place that this didn’t happen; when her father didn’t find someone he knew and went about talking and carrying on conversations while she was stuck there being introduced to a perfect stranger. It was always happening, and it bugged her to no end; honestly, was there one wizard in Europe that her father didn’t know from somewhere or something or other?

“Yes,” Molly said, smiling enthusiastically. “Arthur speaks about you all the time.”

And then, just as Shiloh had predicted, commenced the routine introductions. What was it with adults and the need to show off all their loved ones?

Molly began by resting a hand on the young girl’s head, a clear fondness as she grinned down at her daughter. “This is my youngest, Ginny.” She then glanced to either side of her at the twins who were still beaming their matching roguish grins, even when their mother’s face soured when she looked at them—not so much out of dislike—(for there was no doubt that she did love her boys or they could not irk her so)--but out of displeasure for their recent misbehavior. “And these two troublemakers are my twins Fred and George.”

“Troublemakers?” George repeated, mockingly appalled.

“We resent that,” said Fred.

“No matter how true it may be,” they finished in unison.

Once again, Shiloh felt delight tickle her insides and a small smile touched her lips.

Ignoring the twins, Shiloh’s father began his own introductions and Shiloh‘s smile instantly disappeared as she waited for all the unwelcome attention to be turned towards her and her mum. “This is my wife, Elaine,” Alan proclaimed happily as he gently set a hand on his wife’s shoulder. Elaine never seemed to mind being introduced, for she smiled sweetly, though a bit timidly.

“Oh I remember you,” said Mrs. Weasley to Shiloh’s mum. “You were sixth year when I started Hogwarts. Ravenclaw, right?”

Blushing bashfully, Elaine nodded.

“And this--” Alan touched Shiloh’s arm lightly, “is my daughter, Shiloh.”

“Pleasure,” Shiloh said polity, though she had no idea what else to say as Mrs. Weasley's eyes turned to the girl she believed her son had nearly murdered.

“Oh, you could say we’ve already met,” said George jestingly. “We ran into each other a few minutes ago.”

Literally, Shiloh mused, as her lips twitched again. She had to hand it to George; he was taken the gawkiness of the situation away and replacing it with blitheness.

“It’s her first year,” Alan said proudly as he laid a hand on Shiloh's head.

She sidestepped away from the touch, but no one seemed to notice how she was rapidly losing interest. Her gaze was turning to where her overturned trunk and scattered belongings, her urge to leave too strong to ignore.

“Really?” Mrs. Weasley said. “My boy Ronald’s—“ she gestured to the last freckled-faced boy— “is just starting too.”

Shiloh was no longer paying attention, for the conversation was switching from boring to intolerable. Besides, she was sick of seeing her belongings on the floor where people barely managed to keep from stepping on them. She headed toward the trunk and trolley and righted both. She began collecting her spilled belongings, piling up lost closed, straightening out the wrinkled pages, and checking more personal, dearer baubles like pictures and trinkets for harm—although there was none—before placing all of them into the trunk. Her music box was the last thing to go in and she tucked it safely in a wrapping of clothes and soft fabric where it would not be harmed by the jerking of the train. She finally closed and locked the trunk. Before she could grab a handle to drag it onto the train, George cut in front of her and wrapped a hand around her handle.

“What are you doing?” Shiloh demanded as Fred took the hand on the other side.

“It’s the least we can do.” George said genially as he and Fred lifted the trunk and started up the steps into the train with incredible ease.

Shiloh set her hands on her hips, her independent side ready to insist she could do it, but they were already on the train before she could so much as twist her mouth into an unfavorable sneer. Seeing them disappear, she saw that it was much too late to intervene. Besides if they were troublemakers—as they were accused and so proudly claimed to be–she doubted they would listen to her anyways. She could do nothing more than shrug and follow.

She climbed into the train and found that the aisles to be completely congested. Students were everywhere, many already dressing in the Hogwarts robes, laughing and giving out yelps of excitement in every sort of joyous chaos. As she tentatively pushed into the crowd, she was nearly shoved onto her rump as two Second Years who were chasing each other, ran past and knocked into her. She caught herself on a compartment wall, breathing a sigh of relief that she had not once again become a close friend to the solid ground and that her lungs wouldn’t have to fight for air.

Shiloh continued on, uncomfortable with the way so many were crammed into such a small place that she nearly locked ankles with everyone she passed. She'd never liked crowds or bumping shoulders with strangers. It would have almost been easier to scamper on hands and knees, crawling beneath sprawled legs, but Shiloh didn’t dare, knowing what a fool the whole school would think her to be. She did hope Fred and George had come this direction, because, if she had to fight her way back down her gained ground, she would be sorely peeved.

She was beginning to get the hang of navigating around the sea of unfamiliar faces and was nearly ridding herself of the image of getting lost in the many bodies when she stepped out of the compartment.

And then Shiloh felt nauseous.

“Well if it isn’t Shiloh Sanders. Pleasure seeing you here.”

“Same to you, Annadel,” lied Shiloh through a dark sneer. Annadel’s nose was surprisingly straight. Pity. Shiloh hadn’t broken it.

Annadel flipped her long blonde hair backwards off her shoulders and smiled sweetly as though she didn‘t remember the event of a weak ago, didn’t recall what it was like to see Shiloh‘s knuckles only to be blinded by pain a moment later. But there was a deep maliciousness in Annadel’s eyes that told Shiloh that Annadel recollected perfectly and longed for a chance to repay Shiloh in return for the bleeding nose. Shiloh’s stomach turned in disgust. That was the one bad thing about Hogwarts. Annadel would be there, given far too many opportunities to insult Shiloh‘s family.

A dark-haired girl with a pug-like face peeked her head out of the compartment. She was a first year, only a few months older than Shiloh, but her eyes were little dark spheres that reminded Shiloh of the horribly flavored pepper in the Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Beans.

“Oh, this is Pansy Parkinson,” Annadel gestured at Pansy, who scowled at Shiloh with an expression that left Shiloh wondering if maybe she had punched Pansy as well, or offended her in some past life, when she could have sworn that she‘d never met the girl before. Maybe Annadel had informed Pansy of the horrible girl who had slugged her for ‘absolutely no reason‘. Either that, or Pansy simply didn’t like the sight of her.

“Our families know one another,” Annadel explained to Shiloh, who in turn folded her arms over her chest and gave her a glance that was meant to say I-seriously-don’t-give-a-darn. But Annadel ignored Shiloh's glance and continued anyways.

“And Pansy, this is Shiloh Sanders. Our mothers are acquaintances.” She put emphasis on the word 'acquaintances', as though to be anything more with Elaine Sanders would be shameful.

“Pleasure,” Pansy said, still not smiling.

“Pleasure,” mimicked Shiloh, as unmeant as Pansy. If Annadel could call Pansy a friend, then Shiloh was as pleased to meet her as she was pleased to kiss a king cobra.

“I suppose you’d like to sit with us,” Annadel offered, even though Shiloh was sure it wasn’t genuine. Perhaps that or Shiloh had some plan that included cruel and unusual punishment—like listening to them talk about how they liked to do her hair all the way to Hogwarts. Aye, that would be misery.

“I’d rather be tied to the train wheels,” Shiloh replied coldly.

Annadel’s pasted smile lost its brilliance and slowly oozed off her lips. She slipped a hand into her pocket and, guessing what she was after, Shiloh did the same. Sure enough, the eternally predictable Annadel pulled out a wand from her robe pocket. The wand gleamed reddish brown and was slender and dainty, like a rosebud. “Like it, Sanders? It’s polished rosewood and unicorn hair.”

Unicorn hair? Shiloh snorted. Why am I not surprised?

Annadel grew even angrier at Shiloh unimpressed scuff, and, with a wicked grin on her face and a serpentine glint in her eyes, she raised her wand upward, pointing it at Shiloh‘s face. Pansy was watching the exchange with great interest and a few other kids paused to watch, as though eager to see someone turned into a frog.

“You know, I’ve been dying to try it out.” Annadel looked malevolent, but Shiloh didn’t feel a flicker of fear. Her hand was wrapped around her own wand and she was slowly calculating.

“Dying?” Shiloh snarled, tauntingly. “Promises, promises.”

Annadel’s eyes narrowed until they were little black slits and she pressed her wand ever nearer to Shiloh’s throat, but the confident sneer on Shiloh’s face never gave way to a fearful whimper, making Annadel all the more enraged. She always hated it when she didn’t get what she wanted.

Shiloh couldn’t explain how calm she was, but even facing her enemy in a tense situation in front of many people didn’t unsettle her. She could see clearly through Annadel’s bluff. Neither of them had been trained in magic or was allowed to use it until they reached school. However, in the chance that Annadel did have a spell, Shiloh had been pouring over her schoolbooks and, since Shiloh couldn’t imagine Annadel putting her perfect nose into a book, she was sure she was a bit better prepared. And in case their spells fell through, Shiloh threw a mean right punch---as Annadel knew very well.

After a moment of intense silence in which the small audience stood watching, waiting with baited breath to see how this would unfold, Shiloh finally chose her way of action.

“Well, Annadel,” Shiloh taunted. “What are you waiting for?”

Annadel’s cheeks flushed and she made a small sound. “Erm…”

Shiloh’s lips twisted in satisfaction. Annadel had expected her to turn tail and run and when she hadn’t, Annadel didn’t know what to do. With no spells, she was all talk and no walk. It showed Annadel for what she truly was: a fool.

Annadel tried to make the best of the things. She recovered her horrified expression back into cockiness and disdain and pocketed her wand. “I could, but I don’t want to waste it on the likes of you.”

Annadel was a believable actress, but the performance came too late. The audience had seen the coward she was and Shiloh had won—without so much as drawing a wand, only with cunning words. And victory was sweet.

Pansy and Annadel retreated into the compartment and Shiloh watched the door click behind them before she dared turn her back on her enemies and push past the bystanders. As she followed the aisle, steering and sliding past people, she saw Fred and George tearing towards her at a run. They wore excited expressions—though it wasn’t much different than usual—and they stopped when they saw her.

“You’ll never believe it,” said Fred, breathless excited.

“Believe what?” asked Shiloh, her mind instantly calculating what would get them so animated.

“Who we just met,” George replied.

Shiloh glanced from one to the other, unsure what was going on. Honestly, she’d had enough adventure for one day and she was weary of surprises. All she wanted was to ask them where her trunk was and to bid her parents goodbye before the train took left to Hogwarts. But they seemed all to eager to tell her, and it seemed impolite to not play along. And, after all, they had carried her trunk. “Who?”

In unison, they said, “Harry Potter.”

Shiloh’s face became blank and unreadable, though she felt as though someone had drenched her in cold water. Harry Potter? Everyone in the wizarding world knew about Harry Potter. He was as infamous as the sun and moon, as talked about as the weather, and as admired as a warm summer day. He was the Boy Who Lived, the one who had supposedly rid the world of You-Know-Who. Could it really be that Harry Potter?

But, of course it was him. There wasn’t any other Harry Potter. But if Fred and George had seen him on the train it could only mean that he had returned to the wizardry world. He’d come to Hogwarts, the same year that Shiloh had. It meant that she would be studying, learning, and living alongside the Harry Potter.

But it wasn’t wonder or excitement she felt---it was apathy and…discord. Harry might have rid this world of the Dark Lord and done the world a favor, but he’d done nothing to rid the world of Death Eaters. Besides, he’d been just a baby. Could he really have been responsible for something he likely couldn‘t remember or be praised for something he‘d done at an age where they had no choice about anything except whether to cry or to sleep? Famous or not, she wasn’t impressed by Harry Potter—not in the way the rest of the wizarding world fawned over him.

She neither liked nor disliked the idea of being at school with him, but she felt a great foreboding in her stomach, perhaps a foretelling that life at Hogwarts was going to be even more complicated than usual.

“Oh,” was the only sound she could force her numb lips to make.

“Yeah,” Fred went on, clearly obvious to the fact that she wasn’t as fervent as they were. “And he had the scar and everything.”

Shiloh was unsure what to say and what they wanted her to say. All she knew that she was feeling all too uneasy discussing Harry Potter, who was connected to You-Know-Who who was connected to Death Eaters. And that was a subject too close to home; to near the secret that Shiloh wasn’t just one who could admire the Boy Who Lived from afar and wasn’t just one who learned about Death Eaters as an interesting topic. She was connected, to Death Eaters, to You-Know-Who, maybe even to Harry Potter. She wanted to change the subject and fast.

“Where’s my trunk?”

“Oh,” George seemed to only then remember, and he paused a moment in an attempt to think of something other than Potter. “Three compartments back. It was the only one empty.”

“Thanks.” Shiloh pushed past them, nervous that if she stayed she would be subjected to every detail of their meeting with Potter. “See you.”

They weren’t listening. She was long forgotten in their minds, replaced by the Boy Who Lived. Before she could so much as glance behind her to wave, they’d already galloped off to tell someone else they’d met the Harry Potter and that he had the lightning bolt scar.

Shiloh put the thoughts of the Weasley twins far behind her and checked the compartment to make sure her trunk was there and, when she saw it safely stowed in the luggage compartment, she made her way back out to her parents.

This was the only part of going to Hogwarts that Shiloh had actually been dreading. Shiloh didn’t like goodbyes especially with her mother, the woman who’d cried when she did nothing more than accompany her father on a weekend business trip. Sure enough, Elaine’s face was turning red and her eyes were watery. Shiloh hated to see her mother cry and it would make her feel guilty, which was crazy since this was the moment they knew was coming. It also awakened her protectiveness of her mother, the need to make sure she was she was happy. Although it was unnatural for a child to feel that particular emotion, it had always been there.

It was why she helped her mother in the kitchen without complaint or why Shiloh made sure to spend time at tea parties and knitting with her—even though she despised it. She wanted to make her mother happy. After all, it seemed only fit that Shiloh try to be the daughter Elaine had always wanted, especially since Elaine had been the greatest mother Shiloh could ever ask for.

And not only was it hard for Shiloh because it would be near impossible for her mum, but because she would miss her parents. She would miss sharing a box of Bertie Bott’s and talking with her father about things in the Ministry. She would miss her mother’s gentle reprimands and kind touch. She’d miss the way her mother always checked on her in the middle of the night, smoothing away nightmares with soft caresses over Shiloh’s forehead or an extra twist to wind up the music box, or warming Shiloh by laying extra blankets over her. She’d miss the way in those moments, unconsciously she would feel her heart warm and ease, the feeling of being loved.

She’d miss their love.

But they’d all adjust. Shiloh would make friends at Hogwarts and, when she missed her family, she could rest assured that they did too. Her father would talk to Elaine about his day though Shiloh doubted their conversation would include All-Flavored Beans. Her mother would get used to the empty kitchen at breakfast times and the missing chair at dinner parties.

Still…

Shiloh didn’t object when Elaine took her in her arms, sniffing hard to hold back the tears. “You behave, now, and enjoy your term.,” she told her daughter bravely as she held her for a moment longer than necessary.

Alan hugged her as well, stooping low to wrap his thick arms around her small body. “Make us proud.”

“I will,” Shiloh said as she backed away. She forced a smile, hoping it would cheer up her tearful Mum and her emotional Dad. “Don’t worry. I’m only an owl away.”

They stood there an awkward moment of silence each perhaps not wanting to be the first to give a goodbye and fully resign themselves to the fact that they wouldn’t be together until Christmas. Shiloh was slowly inching backwards towards the train wanting to end her discomfort and simply flee back to her compartment. Her mother’s tears were starting to trickle down her face and her father was swallowing with great difficulty. They stayed that way, staring at each other until the train gave an impatient hoot. If they didn’t end this, Shiloh would miss her ride to Hogwarts.

“Well, goodbye,” Shiloh said hurriedly, just to get out the horrid word.

“Goodbye, we’ll miss you,” Elaine said, wiping her cheeks but failing to stop the flood of tears.

“Yes, Shiloh, goodbye.” Behind them the doors were starting to close. “You better hurry.”

Shiloh turned and ran to the train, barely making it past the closing door. She hurried all the way back to her compartment, the now almost empty aisle making it easier than it had been before. When she closed the door, the train gave a groan, a sudden jolt, and then began to move. Shiloh pushed open the window and stuck out her head.

From here she could see her mother, head in hands and shoulder shaking with her sobs. Shiloh felt that familiar twinge of guilt and protectiveness, but shoved it away and lifted her hand out the window to wave. Her father tapped her mother’s shoulder, and, when she looked up, pointed in Shiloh’s direction. Elaine smiled through her tears, looking joyous and heartbroken all at the same time. She returned the wave, her arm extended high over her head.

More for her mum’s sake than for her own, Shiloh continued to wave until the train had chugged out of the station and her mother had faded from view. She leaned back into the compartment and closed the window. Yes, her mother would be fine.

The train ride was long and quiet. Having a compartment to herself made it easier to do things like think and change into her robes in privacy, but the silence was powerful, almost deafening. She almost hoped that someone would knock on the door and enter—someone who had interesting tales to tell and the desire to befriend her.

But, Shiloh had never had a friend before. The only girl she knew that was her age was Annadel, who she hadn’t gotten along since they had first met at four years of age and Annadel had bitten her for no reason. And, thought Shiloh grimly, she still had fangs.

But Shiloh’s were sharper.

Shiloh knew there must have been others she had come in contact with, but she’d never started a friendship. To have friends was to open a piece of your heart and to do that meant to be completely honest and that, for someone with a secret as black as Shiloh’s, was frightening. But Shiloh had secretly hoped that she would meet someone at Hogwarts who she wouldn’t be afraid to call a friend. Who wouldn’t care that her birth mother had been a Death Eater.

But looking at the empty cabin and thinking about the cool way she had treated Fred and George, even after they had been nothing but kind, Shiloh couldn’t help but think the worst. She’d always been a loner. Maybe she always would be.






chapter image by caren

Chapter 4: Chapter Three: Destined to Be
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“Firs' years over here. Firs' years!”

The great voice boomed over the sound of a thousand murmuring voices and the dismissing hoot of the stopped train, but Shiloh ignored it as she stepped off of the train. She'd been told to leave her luggage in the train, which she was silently thankful for. Dragging a trunk that was larger than herself seemed somewhat of a daunting task, especially since everything outside of her compartment was dark. The only thing she could make out were the backs of the people stepping out around her, even though they were only silhouettes and shady outlines, as well as the distant glow of a lamp. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could make out the dim outline of a tall, hulking man who called out repetitively, “Firs' years!”

Nervously twitching first years pushed past Shiloh in an attempt to gather around the man. A round-faced, dark-haired boy trod rather hard on her foot, although it was only an accident. She winced and inhaled sharply as her face contorted with pain and a bit of anger. She twisted her mouth, about ready to snap out a biting, 'Watch it!' when she saw the boy blush in embarrassment, his cheeks turning such a brilliant shade of red that she could see it in the darkness. The fury went out of her like a deflated balloon as the boy mumbled a stuttered apology. He was just another anxious first year who was having a hard time finding his place. For that she felt sympathy.

Even Shiloh, though she wasn't sure she could describe the emotion as nervous, felt uncomfortable in the situation. She, unlike some of them, knew what lay ahead. She'd been told by her parents about the boat crossing to Hogwarts and the Sorting—the later of which was the only thing that made her feel anything close to apprehension. Alan Sanders had been a Hufflepuff and Elaine had been a Ravenclaw, but since she wasn't their child by blood, she had as much chance as being in Slytherin or Gryffindor than any of their Houses. And, since Ellessa was a Slytherin, wasn't it likely that she too might end up in Slytherin? Not that it would be horrible to be a Slytherin. Shiloh didn't believe the whole 'all Slytherins are evil scumbags' rep, no more than she believed that all Gryffindors were righteous. Someone in one of those groups was bound to break the mold. Still, the uncertainty of where she might end up was tormenting.

But even worse than that was the knowledge that the Sorting Hat would be momentarily privy to everything that was in her mind and body. While she was under that hat she would be completely open to its prodding. It would know everything she didn't want anyone to know. Would it be able see her memories, or the fact that Ellessa Harden was her birth mother? The possibility sent an unpleasant shiver through her gut that quickly turned to nausea. All right, so maybe she was just another nervous first year.

“It's alright,” she assured the boy who had stepped on her foot.

“Last call, firs' years!” the loud voice rumbled.

Instinctively, Shiloh clasped the boy's shoulder and pulled him along with her towards the man. She let go of his shoulder when they reached the crowd, giving him a farewell nod and stepping deeper into the crowd. Closer up she could see the face of the gigantic man illuminated by his lantern. The yellow light splashed across a grizzly, untrimmed beard and long, tangled brown hair. He was even bigger close up and she thought that she barely passed the height of his waist. The sight would have been frightful, the closest she'd seen to a giant, if it hadn't been the way the light splashed across his friendly dark eyes, making them sparkle kindly. If the eyes really were the windows to the soul, then Shiloh could guess that this man was, despite his large stature, an affectionate, pleasant, and perhaps even a bit lovable man inside—like a great, overstuffed teddy bear.

As soon as the rest of the first years had assembled, the gentle-giant led them down a steep, narrow path. They continued in a group, though Shiloh thought it was rather risky, given everyone of them was slipping and sliding on the slant. She herself found her feet drifting in the dirt, but, deft from all those years of going barefoot in slick mud, she knew how to twist her heel to maintain her balance even when one poor girl fell smack onto her bum. Shiloh bent down to help her, pulling her up by her arm.

“Thanks,” the girl said, giving a shy smile as she brushed herself off.

Shiloh nodded politely, before moving on her way. When they rounded a bend, she suddenly stopped, her breath leaving her in a quiet, slow, but blissful 'oh'. She now stood near a huge lake, the water reflecting the night sky and stars, making it look like a rippling onyx with diamond speaks, a large drop of moonlight shivering and dancing placidly. Beautiful, though it was, it wasn't the lake that took Shiloh's breath away; it was the castle on the other side. Loaming towards the sky and towers stretching upward like mighty wands, Hogwarts beamed down at them, the many windows sending rectangles of golden light across the lake in a dancing pattern. It was dark and mysterious, but somehow enlightening, like a flickering flame of hope. It was beyond beautiful; it was divine.

“Hogwarts,” she breathed as a shiver of excitement trickled down her spine. “I'm finally here.”

Their guide was calling out directions, gesturing with a large hand toward a fleet of boat in the water. Reluctantly dragging her eyes away from the splendid view, she turned her attention to joining a boat that still at room. As she climbed in and sat, the boat gave a toss, splashing little droplets onto her face. She'd never been on a boat before and the motion caused her heart to still for a moment, but in an instant the boat righted itself. She settled herself carefully on the bench, reminding herself that she was a fair swimmer and that she would eventually gain her sea legs.

The boats gave a lurching start, pushing away from the bank and smoothing caressing across the surface of the lake on their own accord. Shiloh quickly adjusted to the gentle rhythm on the boat, the slicing through the lake and the spraying of cool water that felt good on her nose. When she'd gotten accustomed to the motion, she turned her gaze back on the castle.

This would be her home for the next seven years, and what a wonderful home it would be! As she studied it, she felt the apprehension remove itself from her stomach. It didn't matter what House she was Sorted into. She was here, at Hogwarts! Whether she followed in Alan's, Elaine's, or Ellessa's footsteps, it wasn't important, because she would set her own course, her own path, and become the greatest witch she could be. She wouldn't let her House define her; rather, she'd define it.

The boats carried them toward a cliff and they were forced to duck their heads as they pushed into a great underground tunnel, ivy tickling the backs of their necks. Shiloh tentatively raised her head, blinking her eyes. Her vision had long since adjusted to the darkness, but the black was so thick that she could only make out a few jagged lines in the rock walls on either side of them and the faces of fellow students temporarily lit up by the light of the guide's lamp, eerily reflecting their mixed emotions: excitement, fear, and that sickeningly expression that suggested that they might just vomit.

Finally they reached a ledge and the boats stopped in what looked like an underground harbor. Shiloh sprang out of the side of boat, enjoying the feel of solid ground beneath her feet. The group followed their guide through another tunnel that led them through to the shadows of the castle. Being so close to the giant castle made Shiloh feel tiny, but it wasn't an unpleasant feeling, just a testimony that Hogwarts was even grander up close than it was from a distance.

There was an excited spring in her steps and her lips twitched happily as she was led up a flight of stone steps. They were once again stopped, this time before a huge, oak door. Shiloh stared up at it as their guide raised a mighty fist and knocked. The sound boomed once, twice, three times. Shiloh's lips turned into a smug smirk as she watched the door swing open.

A willowy, black-haired witch stepped forth, her face completely solemn as though it had not seen a smile for years. She looked quite stern, as though her lips might part in a reprimand right on the spot, but she remained silent, looking over the group with a weighing gaze.

“Professor McGonagall,” their guide addressed the woman. So this was Professor McGonagall, Head of Gryffindor House, Teacher of Transfiguration, and Deputy Headmistress, the one who had sent Shiloh her letter. She recognized the name immediately. “I brought the firs' years.”

“Thank you, Hagrid,” said the Professor in a businesslike, but not necessary unkind tone. “I handle it from here.”

With that they were handed from their former-guide—Hagrid, as Professor McGonagall had called him—into the reliable hands of Professor McGonagall. They were led into the entrance hall and Shiloh took in the sight, marveling. It was so great that she thought she could put two houses the size of her own into it, perhaps more, for the ceiling was so high over their heads that she couldn't even make it out. Torches blinked along the wall and a great staircase was before them, silently beckoning for them to follow it to the upper floors.

Professor McGonagall showed them into a chamber. From here Shiloh could hear the rumbling of students voices from a room nearby. As Shiloh was slightly distracted by the sounds around her, she did not pay any attention as Professor McGonagall gave a speech about the coming Sorting and how their Houses would be something like a family. She spoke—for the sake of those Muggle-born—of the four Houses and about House points. Shiloh tuned into that part. It was a good system, because when someone got into trouble they'd be punishing not just themselves, but their entire House as well. Shiloh imagined that there would be havoc for the person who lost too many points. Angry glares from fellow students would be a good incentive to keep noses out of trouble.

But the part of her speech that made Shiloh's stomach clinched when she announced that the ceremony would take part in front of the entire school. Shiloh could have handled facing the Hat on her own, but in front of hundreds of eyes was asking a bit much. What if the Sorting Hat blurted out everything that it found in her head to the ears of everyone? That just wouldn't be fair. Though her face stayed blank, Shiloh felt her heart start to race and take deep breaths. Surely that wouldn't happen. Surely nothing, not even a Hat, could be that cruel.

Professor McGonagall left them alone for a few moments and Shiloh found herself in a group of fidgeting first years. Though her face remained as calm as it always did, her eyes were set on the floor and her shoes as she felt her insides trembling. She wondered if any of them had as much reason to fear as she did. She didn't care what House she was Sorted into, just whether a thousand students was about to find out the darkest secret.

She was only slightly aware of people around her jabbering quietly about this and that, making guesses on what the Sorting would be. Some guessed it was some sort of test and some reckoned it would really painful. Shiloh rolled her eyes at them in exasperation, glad for something to do and feel than her agitation and trying to calm her racing heart. But something happened that caused her heart to jump into her throat: people screamed.

Shiloh whirled around, almost expecting to see something fearsome or someone lying crumbled on the ground, perhaps in a pool of their own blood. Instead there were only ghosts. Shiloh was slightly surprised; after all, it wasn't everyday one saw a ghost, but being raised in a wizardry family she was perfectly aware of the existence of ghosts and it seemed only befitting that they would house such a majestic place as Hogwarts. Each one was white and slightly transparent, the imprint of a life passed.

The ghosts stopped their conversations when they noticed the first years. They paused for a moment and studied the children—who, in return, studied them. After a moment, they spoke to the students and Shiloh listened and watched, the distraction causing her worry to disappear, but it quickly returned upon the reappearance of Professor McGonagall who began to usher them into a line.

As Shiloh moved with the rest of the students into the Great Hall there was no confident skip and no excited sparkle in her otherwise still eyes. In fact, she felt quite like she was going to her doom and she tugged anxiously at her left collar. Not even the sights and wonders of the Great Hall---the four long tables stuffed with students who eyes watched the first years intently, the flickering candles, and the ceiling that looked precisely like the night sky, even with wispy, dark clouds, their outlines lit with silver moonlight---could take away the deep feeling of dread.

Professor McGonagall stopped in front of a stool and then set a battered, old hat upon it. It was frumpy and brown, looking as though it could crumble into dust by the slightest touch. It was the ugliest hat Shiloh had ever seen, but she also knew it was the greatest. The entire hat gave a tiny shudder, as though waking from a sleep. A rip near the front moved, parting like lips, and the hat began to sing.

Shiloh listened to the deep voice, memorizing what it had to say about Houses: Gryffindor for the courageous and chivalrous; Hufflepuff for the patient, hardworking, and loyal; Ravenclaw for the smart and witty; Slytherin for the cunning, determined, and ambitious. Shiloh's mind reeled, wondering which one she would possibly be. She wasn't a coward, she knew that. She couldn't have faced explosions of potions as fearlessly as she did if she was. She knew she wasn't patient, but she wasn't afraid to get her hands working and she'd fight for the people she loved—Annadel's bleeding nose was proof of that. Shiloh wasn't dumb, but she wouldn't call herself wise; she was only eleven, for goodness's sake. And Slytherin...Shiloh stopped her thoughts; because no amount of speculation would ease the uncertainty she was feeling.

Professor McGonagall began to call the first years by alphabetical order and Shiloh forced herself to pay attention so she could distract herself from her own desire to bolt or—worse—vomit. She paid so much attention in fact that she didn't notice the familiar face behind her until someone pinched her elbow, not hard or painfully, just a squeeze to get her attention. Shiloh glanced behind her and felt a different kind of nausea. Annadel stood there, and gave a little confident flip of her hair and a wave that was more of a wiggle of her fingers. Leaning close so that her lips were an inch from Shiloh's ear, Annadel whispered, “I bet I'll be in Slytherin,” she hissed so quietly that no one but Shiloh would hear her above the Sorting Hat's voice. “My whole family was. But I'm sure you couldn't get into that House. It's only for purebloods.”

Shiloh felt anger burn the insides of her collar and she glared at Annadel. She wanted to inform her that Annadel was a liar. There weren't enough purebloods for everyone in Slytherin to be pure. But Shiloh pressed her lips closed; Annadel wasn't worth the breath it would take to contradict her.

“Besides, I think I know what House you'll be it,” Annadel continued to whisper, matter-of-factly.

The feel of Annadel's breath on her earlobe was beginning to annoy her and disinterest was taking control as Shiloh felt her attention being drawn back to the Sorting Hat. “Is that right, Delamb?” Shiloh whispered absently, not sure if Annadel could hear her. “Are you a seer now?”

Annadel ignored the last comment and giggled under her breath. “I'm positive you'll be a Hufflepuff.”

The way she said Hufflepuff made it sound like the scum of the earth and Shiloh knew it was another insult on Shiloh's father. She looked back at Annadel and said quietly, but venomously, “There's nothing wrong with being hardworking and loyal. Not that you would know anything about that.”

Annadel's eyes flashed, but she said nothing as Professor McGonagall called her name.

“Delamb, Annadel.”

Annadel's black eyes refilled with that smug expression and as she passed Shiloh, she brushed her shoulder and hissed discretely, “Don't worry,” she comforted mockingly, but with laughter in her tone. “You'll look fabulous in yellow.”

Shiloh pretended like she hadn't heard and watched as Annadel replaced the newly-made Slytherin, Millicent Bulstrode, on the stool, perching proudly and haughtily like a queen overseeing her unworthy court. McGonagall lowered the Hat, but it had barely brushed Annadel's scalp before it called out, “Slytherin!”

Annadel beamed and jumped down from the stool as the Slytherin table erupted into catcalls and thunderous applause. The rest of the hall gave praise politely, but there were a couple of loud, mischievous boos from the Gryffindor table. Shiloh glanced at them and saw the smirking identical faces of Fred and George. She felt at twinge of something, perhaps like regret, because if she was made a Slytherin she didn't see how it would be possible to ever be friends with them. But there was no great feeling of loss, because if they could be so prejudiced she wasn't sure she wanted to be their friends.

Shiloh tuned back into the Sorting. There was a Hufflepuff and three others—a boy named Seamus, a girl with bushy, brown hair, and the round-faced boy who had stepped on her foot on the train platform, Neville—who were placed in Gryffindor. A white-haired boy named Draco Malfoy was placed into Slytherin along with Pansy Parkinson. Names passed as they were all one by one placed into their Houses, the Hat saying nothing but the House names and Shiloh began to feel hope that it would indeed keep its mouth shut when it came to the things of Shiloh's own mind.

Finally there came a name from McGonagall's lips that they all recognized.

“Potter, Harry!”

The Hall went silent for a brief moment a though every person didn't believe that the name had been called, but when a skinny, dark-haired kid stepped away from the remaining group and moved uneasily toward the stool, excited murmurs picked up into it was a dull roar in Shiloh's ears. Harry Potter sat on the stool and Shiloh saw a flicker of nervousness go through his eyes before McGonagall set the hat on his head and his eyes disappeared beneath its large brim.

So that was him? Shiloh wondered to herself. The Harry Potter was a scrawny, little kid with a lightning bolt scar? He didn't look like that amazingly powerful wizard that everyone claimed him to be. He looked normal, not to mention malnourished. He certainly didn't look special. If Shiloh had met him anywhere else, she would have pegged him as the least likely person to be involved with the downfall of a Dark Lord. The last thing she would have guessed was that he was anything other than what they all were, anything other than common. And perhaps he was average. Perhaps he was just a boy who's lost his parents, been orphaned at the hands of You-Know-Who and survived by something completely outside of his control.

No. Shiloh certainly wasn't impressed by him. She felt another emotion, a slight sadness and familiarity. She pitied him because things outside of his hands—sad things, yes; cruel things, most definitely—had happened, because of You-Know-Who. Sort of like her.

It took the Sorting Hat a long moment to decide Potter's fate, but finally it boomed, “GRYFFINDOR!”

The Gryffindor table erupted in wild cheers as though they had been awarded the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup all at once. As walked towards them, there was grand applause and banging on the tables that thundered like a storms. Shiloh swore she heard the Weasley Twins yell triumphantly. “We got Potter!”

It made Shiloh feel partly exasperated and partly sick. Harry was just a first year at Hogwarts, something that was hard enough without people worshiping the ground he walked on.

Shiloh took her eyes off Potter and dragged them back to the Sorting. There was a Thomas and a Turpin and then...Shiloh's heart stopped.

“Sanders, Shiloh.”

Shiloh's heart thundered painfully in her chest, making her ribs ache and her stomach felt so tight she was nearly sure she was going to be sick. This was another moment she wasn't ready to face. She was about to be judged in front of a hall of people by something that could see into the deepest corridors of her heart and mind, into places that Shiloh herself didn't dare venture into, let alone let others see. She stood planted in her spot for a long moment, before a resolution allowed no more room for the agonizing emotions. If she was going to judgment then she would go without showing fear. She would be calm and confident, even if she felt like turning and running.

With fearlessness that she didn't quite feel, Shiloh squared her shoulder and raised her head. She could feel the many eyes upon her as she strode forward and she did not allow herself to consider what they all thought of the lithe eleven-year-old with short hair like black silk as she marched determinedly toward her destiny on the stool. She sat on the stool, her back straight and her face expressionless. Though she was perched quite like Annadel—something like a queen or princess—she, unlike Annadel, didn't appear for a moment to be conceited, only brave and confident. Shiloh caught a glimpse of near a thousand heads before the brim of the Hat being lowered over her head obstructed her view.

The Hat stirred to life on her head and spoke into her ear. “Mmm...interesting... very interesting.” Unable to see past the brim of the Hat, Shiloh could only listen to the husky voice of the Sorting Hat as she felt people gazing at her somewhere past the darkness. She wondered if they could hear what she was hearing, but the words were whispered against her ear, not booming throughout the hall.

The Hat's talking to me...just me... Shiloh realized and blessed relief poured through her. There would be no secrets spilled to all of Hogwarts. Her relief was so great that if Shiloh had been able to express her emotions the way others could she would have had a hard time deciding whether to laugh or cry.

But there was still one thing sorting through her mind. She could feel it, shifting through her thoughts and emotions, her entire personality open to the Hat. As it spoke, it seemed to be enjoying going through her head, liking the appealing to see the very essence of her being, because its deep voice hummed slightly. Still Shiloh didn't even flinch.

“There's a good mind on you, intelligent and plenty strong---perhaps it's to Ravenclaw with you.” Shiloh held her breath, wondering if that was the decision, but after a seconds pause it chuckled. “But, no, no. That's not right at all. I see a great fearlessness within you; courageous and bold. A great protectiveness...you would do your all for those you love, no matter the cost to yourself, and would never hesitate to defend those weaker than yourself. Yes, you'd make a grand Gryffindor.”

Shiloh blinked, feeling her eyelashes brushing against the fabric of the Hat. Was that it ? Was she going to be a Gryffindor? The Hat seemed sure and Gryffindor would be respectable, but somehow it didn't seem quite...right.

“But there is something, I think, that you would be even greater as.” The Hat was delving deeper, into uncharted territory and Shiloh stiffened, feeling dread at what it could be looking at. “You indeed are a curious mix. For I see a high ambition, the thirst to prove yourself, and a dearest desire---” He means not wanting to be like Ellessa. Shiloh suddenly had a grand desire to get him out of her head, but she remained still. “...Along with the determination to do anything to achieve it. You are independent for one your age, the want to chart your own path, no matter if people tell you it's wrong. I see distrust and...” He pushed and them hummed in amusement. “Hate.” Shiloh flushed cold. “And...” The Hat nearly purred. “A dark secret.”

Shiloh gritted her teeth and wrapped her fingers around the seat of the stool to keep herself from yanking off the Hat and throwing on the floor. No one could hear him except herself, Shiloh reminded herself. She forced herself to take a deep breath. It would be over in a moment.

There was a triumphant ring in the Hat's voice as he announced to the entire hall. “Now I know exactly what to do with you...”

The next word rang in her ears and reverberated throughout the hall, being greeted by applause, as the Hat Sorted her into the House where she was destined to be.

“SLYTHERIN!” 







chapter image by caren

Chapter 5: Chapter Four: Unfavorable Arrangements
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Chapter Four




 



Unfavorable Arrangements




Professor Severus Snape had done the math subconsciously over the summer, even when he didn't fully accept that he was doing it. What he had forced himself to forget was ever nagging at the back of his mind---bullying, fighting, rebelling against the barriers he had placed to keep his own torturous knowledge at bay. But tonight it had begun to break through, to crash through the already weakened surface, splashing the ever familiar sum across his tormented mind.




July of 1980---eleven years. His daughter had been born eleven years ago and was now at the age where she had would be sent to school to train in the arts of magic. At this very moment, she could be discussing her life with newfound friends or curling up in one of the dorm's beds, wanting nothing more than a restful night before a hard day of classes and studying began. His daughter could be at Hogwarts, ready to began his classes, the closest she ever been to him since she was in her mother's womb...and he had absolutely no way to be sure.




He had, like anyone who occasionally ready the Daily Prophet, heard about Ellessa Harden's death and he had felt no concern for the woman---Indeed it was a blessed day when there was no longer a woman like that alive in the world---or shown any reaction that he'd ever known her, least the ever-observant Dumbledore see something peculiar in his behavior, he had wondered about what had become of the child. There was no mention of Ellessa having a daughter in the paper, so he could only assume that the child hadn't been with her when she had died. Mordecai had been captured and now rotted in Azkaban, right where he deserved to be, so his daughter wasn't with him. Severus knew nothing more than that on Ellessa's extended family, so whether Severus's daughter had gone to one of them or to one of Ellessa's Death Eater friends---though none of them still trusted her, so he doubted it---or to an orphanage he had absolutely no idea.




It had tortured Severus that as long as Voldemort lived and Severus was a spy, he could not search for the child. Even after Voldemort's death, there had been chaos so thick that Severus hadn't been free then. He'd known that as long as Ellessa had his daughter in her grasp there was no way short of murder and a one-way ticket to Azkaban to get her from Ellessa. But the day that Ellessa died was the day that Severus wanted nothing more than to quit his job as Potions professor at Hogwarts and go searching for the daughter, but commonsense had won out. There was no way he could leave suddenly without great suspicion being directed towards him and at that time he hadn't known if confessing to others would put the child in more danger--as it would have if Ellessa was alive. But he had searched--all that summer. He'd done it as discretely as possible, searching orphanages as though he was just a man in want for a child. But, though he looked at over a hundred orphanages, he had found nothing that fit the description he had given---a dark-eyed child who'd soon turn three.




He'd returned to school, even more bitter and frustrated than he had been before. It seemed that the child had disappeared from the face of the earth and throughout the year he found himself struggling with the idea that his daughter might no longer be living. It was a heart-stilling thought---one he wasn't sure he could bear. Severus had had enough of death and tragedy to want to believe another dose existed for him. He'd wanted so fiercely to grind it beneath the heel of his mental boot, but it had always been there, steady at the back of his mind. He had to face that fact that even if she was alive, he might never find her. He had tried and he had failed. It was painful knowing about her, when he knew, for one reason or another, he would never be with her. He'd grown so frustrated, so angry, he had wanted to forget his daughter ever existed just to spare himself the agony. But, moments before he torn his picture of her to bits, he'd had a thought.




There could be one last hope for his daughter, because Severus knew the one man who---if anyone could---could find his daughter. A man who had connections throughout the wizarding world. The man who was his last chance of finding his daughter.




It had been difficult to go to Dumbledore, to tell of the thing he had kept secret for so long. First of his shameful relationship with Ellessa Harden, but Dumbledore, without asking, seemed to comprehend the reason Severus had done it.




Dumbledore knew Severus better than anyone. He had known him since his boyhood days at school and, in his observant way, understood all that had happened in his past. Dumbledore knew of his parents' doomed marriage, of his hate for the Marauders, and of the only woman he'd ever loved. Dumbledore had believed in and trusted Severus when no one else had and because of that Dumbledore was the closest thing to a decent father he'd ever known. At the very least, Dumbledore was a most trusted friend. Nothing proved their friendship better than the day Severus was completely and totally honest.




When Severus had come telling of his daughter, he'd nearly felt his throat close up. He'd never strung the words together since that day he had first received the picture and now they were near impossible to admit. He'd begun to pace the width of Dumbledore's office, his hand clasping his wrist at the small of his back. Dumbledore had been patient and understanding, giving Severus the time he needed.




Finally Severus had turned to Dumbledore and said it as simply as he could, “And Ellessa became pregnant.”




Dumbledore's eyes had risen, but not quite in surprise. After confessing having such an affair, it wasn't quite shocking that a child had come out of it.




Severus had collapsed back into his chair and sighed. “Albus, I have a daughter.”




Dumbledore had been silent for a long moment, his wise old eyes careful and calculative. He seemed to be weighing what the fact meant and how to respond to it. There had been silence for quite a long moment, the only sound being the rustle of wings as Fawkes shifted into a more comfortable position on his perch. Finally, Dumbledore's filled with determination and he'd reached across the desk to clasp Severus's elbow in an encouraging, fatherly way.




“I'll help you find her,” Dumbledore had promised. And, as every promise Dumbledore made, he kept it.




They'd searched all that next summer, though it had been kept quiet. No one they spoke to knew nothing more than that Dumbledore was looking for a young witch who may or may not have been adopted around the age of two or three. As Headmaster of Hogwarts, no one questioned him. After all, it seemed like something that Dumbledore would do.




The first place Dumbledore had looked was at the list that Professor McGonagall's magical quill spelled out, the list of magical children. This was something that Dumbledore always did on occasion, perusing the new students, so McGonagall didn't so much as raise in eyebrow. Dumbledore and Severus had looked it over nearly three times before accepting that there was no child with the last name of either Harden or Snape. It led them to believe that wherever she was, his daughter had been legally adopted and her last name changed. This conclusion had led them onto the next place to search.




Dumbledore had gotten access to the adoption records at the Ministry and Severus and he had spent two tedious weeks sorting through the documents only to discover absolutely nothing. They'd come to one reasonable conclusion; the paper had somehow gotten lost. Severus had begun to lose hope, but he was a Slytherin, determined and ambitious, and neither he nor Dumbledore were about to give up. At that point, it might have become a hopeless battle, but they would fight it nonetheless.




Dumbledore had asked anyone he thought would have any idea, but there was hardly anyone to ask and though he had not given the same answer: They honestly had no clue. They had one last and desperate option, one that Dumbledore had tried at the end of the summer. He went to Azkaban in search of Mordecai. Severus had wanted to be the one to go---oh, how he would have loved to get his hands on him. But Dumbledore had thought it unwise and explained with the comment of, “If it came to using Legilimency and we stumbled on a memory of maltreatment of your daughter, I am much more likely be able to restrain myself. I would hate for you to murder the man in front of all the dementors in Azkaban.”




So Severus had grudgingly stayed behind and Dumbledore had been the one to search Mordecai's mind, a task that wasn't easy. Dumbledore had found Mordecai, half-crazed and laughing like a madman from the torment of the dementors. His mind had been fragmented, falling to pieces, so that putting them together was as difficult as solving a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle. In the end, Dumbledore had found nothing helpful. Mordecai had absolutely no memory or knowledge of where Ellessa had taken the girl to.




It had been their final chance and it had come to nothing. As the new school year began, Severus had resigned himself to the fact that he would never meet his daughter; never so much as know her name. Dumbledore told him not to give up hope, but it wasn't possible. Dumbledore was a believer; Severus was realistic. He'd had only one option left too him; to forget. So, has he done with so many things, he had locked the memories and knowledge into a volt on the back of his mind where it could not possibly torment him.




But there were moments like this summer that Severus felt the facts fight their way back into his mind. Especially this July, when his daughter had come of the age to go to wizarding school. But the fact was, even if Severus had some idea where his daughter had gone, he had no inkling if she had been sent to Hogwarts. If Ellessa had had her way, she wouldn't have allowed her daughter anywhere near a place where she could catch a whiff of his scent, let alone let her into the same classroom where he was teaching. Though Ellessa had no authority over the child now, she could have left instructions that whoever was guarding the child never send her to Hogwarts. She could have been sent to Beaubatons or---even worse---to Durmstrong. The thought of his daughter at the hand of mad Karkaroff sent Severus stomach unpleasant anger.




Dumbledore had even suggested looking at the other school's this summer, but they both knew it would do no good. With no name to go by, it was hopeless. Even if she was in this very castle he might never find her. After all, how many dark-eyed first year girls could possibly be there?




But, despite the odds, in the Great Hall earlier that even, Severus hadn't been able to help but study each of the first years with interest. At the moment he had been doing it, he was unsure what exactly he had been looking for and it had taken a long moment for his calculative mind to comprehend. As each girl stepped forward to take their place upon the stool and half-disappeared beneath the Sorting Hat, he had been completely alert, unable to tear his eyes away and he'd begun to understand his interest and what exactly he had been expecting. He was searching for something that he knew he wouldn't quite find at his perch at the Head Table.




A girl with his eyes.




Now, an hour later, Almost against his own will Severus set his quill on the stack of plans for tomorrow's assignments and wrapped his hand around the handle of the top drawer of his desk. As he tried to open it, the drawer gave a squeak of resentment and protest, and for a moment, refused to give way. Setting his jaw, Severus gave another pull, but it only opened a crack. He jiggled it, jerking it roughly back and forth to loosen it, then gave a third tug. With a screech of enmity the drawer reluctantly gave way and slid open to reveal in its hold a neat stack of papers, an extra quill, a bottle of reflective black ink, and, tucked away at the side where it would be mistaken as nothing more than a scrap of paper, was a small and worn photograph. Gingerly, Severus picked up the photograph and turned it over in his palm. He held it toward the one candle that lit up his desk, casting a dim and eerie glow over his papers and making the fresh ink gleam pleasantly. The light splashed across the photograph, illuminating the baby's innocent face.




He had not looked at it for a while. Through the years he had forced himself to keep it hidden and forgotten, so his daughter wouldn't have any power to haunt him. The concerns and thoughts that came every time he studied the picture were far too intoxicating and slightly---nay more than slightly---painful. So he'd locked the picture away, along with that knowledge of his daughter's existence, the picture into the desk and his memories into the deep parts of his mind that he could easily pretend wasn't real.




But there were moments, when truth would escape; moments when he couldn't possibly believe his own lie for another second. Moments like that day Ellessa had died, or the time of July that marked a milestone in his daughter's life, and, especially moments like now, when he imagined that his daughter might just be in the same castle as he was. In these moments he'd drag out the old picture and could do nothing but stare at it, wondering if it held the answers to the many questions that ran through his mind, tormenting him.




The baby's dark eyes blinked sleepily from the picture and Severus felt an unfamiliar and equally uncomfortable warmth spread through his chest. It was something he hadn't felt for a long time; in fact, he'd hardly felt anything but disdain and irritation for along time. The emotion didn't seem to fit within him and, as pleasant as it should have been, he could not help but feel annoyed by his own weak heart. It was only a picture, for Merlin's sake! Locking his jaw, Severus pushed the emotion away.




“This is ridiculous!” Severus growled, angry at himself. He tossed the picture back into the drawer. He had better things to do than reminiscing and wishing for things that might never be. He knew better than to hope, for when the hope was crushed, and it was always crushed, it became clear that it was better to have never hoped at all.




Severus reached over to shove the drawer closed, but it resisted, this time sticking harder than it had before. He tried sidling it back it forth, but it didn't budge. He banged his fist against it, wanting the force to send the drawer back into place, but the effort only succeeded in bruising the side of his hand. The drawer was holding firmly open in an adamant fight with the professor and the drawer was winning.




Growing angrier and even more frustrated, Severus stopped his comical battle and whipped out the wand. With a nonverbal spell, the war with the drawer ended, leaving Severus victorious and the drawer closed.




Severus leaned back in his chair. Besides, Severus mused as he regained his train of thought, he had more to worry about than wondering about his daughter.




Harry Potter had come to Hogwarts.




The moment Severus had seen him he had believed he was looking at an eleven-year-old James Potter. The rumpled, black hair forever in an untidy mess, the round glasses perched aloft on his nose, and the skinny, gangly body were so like it James it was uncanny ... and disconcerting. Severus could only imagine that one so like James in appearance could only be alike in other aspects. Whether or not Harry had been raised by his father, there were some traits that were passed on. That precious, heroic, and infamous Boy Who Lived was likely as mischievous and arrogant as his father before him. Potter was a miniature of James, rearing for rule-breaking and looking to make Severus's life miserable. He was already began to succeed on the later, what with being a steady reminder of all that James had done to him---the spitting image of the man he hated.




But those eyes...those were Lily's eyes.




Yes, Severus could so easily have forgiven Potter for being the son of James, but to be Lily's son...now that he couldn't forgive, for those emerald green eyes were the greatest torment of all.




Severus wrestled the line of thought away before he was drowned by the flood of memories and emotions---some wonderful, some painful, and some a bitter mixture of both---that threatened to sweep over him. He buried such things back into its cage and let the callousness and numbness spread back over his heart.




Of course, Severus had more reason to hate Potter than the fact that he despised James, something that turned the bitter flavor of dislike into a mouthful of salty enmity that mere pumpkin juice could not wash away. There was that little matter of the debt. Though the unfair circumstances had placed it on him---though James had only save him as it act of cowardice, more to save his own neck, than any heroic act---though Severus was sure James would have loved to see him torn apart by a werewolf---the indebted passed on from father to son. Whether Severus liked it or not, he---if the opportunity ever came (and if Harry was indeed James' son in every aspect and personality, Severus was certain it would)---would have to protect Harry. And maybe then he could go on hating James in peace.




And then there was that little matter of the oath, but that was another thought that Severus wanted nothing to do with.




Severus's upper lip twitched in part unhappiness and part disgust. Surviving Harry Potter, trying to treat him like every other student when so many people bowed before him, all while he was a constant memory of the tortured past, was bound to be difficult, but he would survive. After all he had face, Potter would likely be easy.




Though, at the moment, Severus would prefer the agony of the Cruciatus Curse than seven years with James Potter's boy.




Severus picked up his quill and a scratch of ink to paper filled the quiet room, almost loud in the silence. He had best return to his work or he would find himself ill-prepared to face the morrow and that would be a tragic mistake. After all, with the Boy Who Lived following his father's footsteps in Gryffindor, Severus once again failing to receive the Defense Against the Dark Arts class and instead it going to that odious and suspicious Quirrell, and the possibility that a girl with his eyes was preparing for bed in one of the nearby dorms, this was bound to be an interesting year.




 




 




Cruel and unusual punishment had suddenly become new and fresh. It had a new smell, some sort of expensive perfume that would have been pleasant if it hadn't particularly drenched the room with its suffocating odor. It had a new taste, bitter and wretched and something like stale vomit. It had a new sound, the sound of three girls screeching laughs and annoying giggles. And it had a new definition: being assigned to seven years of sleeping in the same room as the despicable Annadel Delamb and her equally horrific friend, Pansy.




Shiloh let the green curtains slide back into place, blocking out the sight of Annadel, Pansy, and Millicent sitting on Annadel's bed and making high-pitched sounds that Shiloh could only call laughter, but knew better than to mistake it for any innocent reflection of merriment. Whatever they were laughing at Shiloh knew wouldn't be something quite as angelic as what decent girls discussed---like their own embarrassing moments or funny jokes that they had heard---and if it was anything that Annadel who was about as humorous as a cat tormenting a mouse before the kill could think funny, Shiloh would rather not comprehend any part of their conversation.




Shiloh leaned back on her bed, tucking her knees to her chest and her feet beneath the corner of her pillow to warm her freezing toes. All the curtains were closed, making the area fit for the solitude she craved. In the temporarily haven of green cloth it was easy to believe that she was the only person in the world. She thought that it was perhaps the only privacy she would have at Hogwarts, but the imitation of the peace she had felt when she was alone in her potions shed or beside her creek. But then Annadel shrieked with her nasally laughter---the one with more mocking than any real joy---, the sound penetrating past the curtains, and Shiloh felt her upper lip twitched with disgust.




Who was she kidding? How was she ever going to survive in close quarters with Annadel? It was like camping an enemy territory while not knowing if the Nazis were about to sneak up and murder her in her sleep. Only Annadel was no terrorist who would blow off your head. She preferred death by slow and painful torture. It wasn't that Shiloh was afraid of her; she'd proven herself capable of handling Annadel's barbs more times than once. She'd dealt with Annadel since she was four without any ill side effects. It was just that rooming with Annadel and those two other she-devils she called friends, was a bloody nightmare. And by Merlin, Shiloh wanted to wake up.




There was more laughter accompanied by an unfavorable snort and Shiloh couldn't help an uncharacteristic groan. She flopped forward, her knees still under her and buried her face in her pillow in case she gave into her desire to scream in agony. Lord, take me now. Only, if Shiloh could survive seven years with Annadel, she could survive anything.




As the laughter faded to whispers, Shiloh rolled onto her side, curled into a comfortable ball, and looked up at the patch of green curtains closest to the ceiling. The green was a steady reminder of the events of the day and as she blinked at it, taking her thoughts away from Annadel and ignoring the sound of the girls---for anything was better than dwelling on her unfortunate situation---everything went from feeling wistfully surreal too feeling like an amazing reality. She was finally at Hogwarts and...she paused looking closely at the green.




Slytherin. I'm Slytherin.




Just like Ellessa.




No, that wasn't right. Shiloh hadn't exactly imagined that she would end up in Slytherin, the same house that You-Know-Who had been in and more importantly the house that her mother had been, but now that she was it seemed right. The Hat had been right; she was ambitious and tenacious just like a Slytherin and though she had other traits not so fitting to a Slytherin, the wisdom of the Sorting Hat had come out with the right conclusion in the end. Shiloh didn't care that Ellessa had been here, because just like two paths could hold similarities it did not make the paths alike in every aspect and situation and they both ended up in two different situations. Though Ellessa could have been an ambitious, determined Slytherin like Shiloh, where Ellessa had used those traits to serve You-Know-Who, Shiloh would use them for good, and that was in the end what mattered the most: not their character traits, but their choices. Besides as the Sorting Hat had said 'you would do your all for those you love' --- that was the greatest difference between her and her mother. Shiloh knew what it was like to love, but Ellessa had been incapable of love. Shiloh's flashes and memories were enough to tell her that.




And on top of that, no matter if Slytherin had housed You-Know-Who, Ellessa, and, now, Annadel, it was Shiloh's house, the home for the cunning, and she was proud.




But would her parents be?




Shiloh breath an uncertain breath from her nose, tucked her cheek close to her pillow, and ran her fingertips down the downy fabric of the pillowcase. Her parents knew that she got into trouble, whether she intended too or not, and when they got the owl Shiloh had sent informing them that she was Sorted into Slytherin, they wouldn't be able to help but think of all the trouble Slytherins were when they were in school. They'd think that perhaps, if Shiloh could end up in Slytherin, it wasn't just a childhood faze she was going through and perhaps she was headed down the same road as her birth mother---just like Aunt Flora also thought. The idea was unpleasant and Shiloh felt her heart groan sadly. She was actually happy to be placed in Slytherin, but she knew her parents wouldn't be so thrilled. And after all they'd done for her she didn't want them to worry. She wanted to make them proud.




And she would, Shiloh told herself. After all, she was a very ambitious Slytherin.




Annadel's words once again cut in through into Shiloh's world of thought, the words raised enough so that Shiloh could hear---probably doing it purposely. Annadel had been shocked when Shiloh had been placed in Slytherin. The open jaw and stunned expression as Shiloh trotted down to the seats where she had been greeted for the first time by her house had been priceless. But Shiloh knew that Annadel wouldn't let Shiloh get away with being put into the 'House of purebloods' without making her life miserable at every possible moments. Shiloh just didn't expect it to began so soon.




“Oh, Shiloh Sanders,” Annadel was clearly answering one of the girls questions and her voice rose in a mock interest as though they were discussing something that she enjoyed and was immensely skilled in. Shiloh could almost see her patting her heart and looking quite conceited, as though rewarding herself for knowing something more than her companions. “She's a---” She stopped as though deciding what words to use and Shiloh knew it wasn't going to be 'a sweet, pleasant girl', especially when she let out a fake little giggle. “Well, actually I'm not sure what she is. Her parents are both wizards. Her mum's a pureblood, perfectly respectable woman if she hadn't married that filthy mudblood.”




As the words 'filthy mudblood' always did when applied to her father, Shiloh felt the statement make her blood boil and, as her hot anger, often did, the fury took over her mind, blocking out her commonsense and contorting her face into a glare and sneer. She was on her knees and yanking back the curtain before she could understand what she doing. The words sprang past her lips, uninvited but welcome all the same. “Shut up, Delamb!”




Annadel had the audacity to look surprised. As Pansy and Millicent twisted to peer over their shoulders at Shiloh, Annadel leaned back as though flinching. Her hand that was, predictably pressed to her chest, tightened around her nightgown in surprise, before anger touched her lips. “I beg your pardon,” she chirped in faked tolerance. “But I don't believe you were included in this conversation.”




Shiloh, her face unreadable, stepped from the bed, the cold floor sending waves of cool through her bare toes. When she spoke again, her voice was low, making it clear that her threat was incredibly meant. “I made your nose bleed once for calling my father a mudblood; don't make me do it again.”




Annadel's eyes flashed in rage; so did Pansy's and Mallicent's. Three against one---unfair odds, but Shiloh didn't flinch or feel a flicker of fear. Annadel gave them a discrete hand gesture that reminded Shiloh of cuing attack dogs to stay, before daintily unfolding her slender legs and sliding off the bed. Turning to face Shiloh, she gave a flick of her long hair, sending it flying off her shoulder and spraying behind her in what could have been intimidating but was only annoying to Shiloh. “Do you mean to threaten me, Sanders?”




“Oh, that's not a threat,” Shiloh corrected dangerously. “It's a promise.”




Annadel's eyes flickered again, but she said nothing. Pansy and Mallicent's eyes danced from on girl to the next, wide-eyed with anticipation, as though eagerly awaiting the moment that Annadel would turn Shiloh into a frog.




It was going to be a long seven years if events like this happened every night. They needed to draw out battle lines, to lay down the rules so that, maybe, they might manage to be near each other without the desire to tear out one another's throats. And there was no better time than to do it than right now.




“Let's get things straight,” Shiloh began determinedly. “Let's get things straight. I don't know what I ever did to you—-”




Annadel drew herself taller, putting her nose in the air in an elegant yet haughty and despicable way. “Nothing, Sanders,” she replied in calloused smoothness. “You didn't do anything. It's more of the fact that you...” She once against paused on the quest to find the perfect description of such a foul creature. In the end she found one she believed fit wonderfully. “are alive.”




Shiloh's emotions were unmoved. She cared nothing for insults, at least when they were directed at her, and she showed no evidence that she had heard, except for the small statement of, “Excuse me for living.” But it was no apology, only a cool-as-a-frostbitten-rose retort that showed she was completely apathetic to Annadel's problem with her. Shiloh continued back onto the original topic of conversation. “If we're both going to manage to survive the closeness of one room, than we better lay down some rules.”




“Rules?” Annadel barked a cruel, humorless guffaw, before wrapping her arms over her chest. “Since when did I take orders from the likes of me?”




Shiloh felt her jaw tighten, but the rage vanished to smug musings. If only Annadel knew what the likes of Shiloh really were. What respect would Annadel give her if she found out that Shiloh was the daughter of a noble pureblooded Death Eater? Shiloh had a suspicion that Annadel might think it was amazing. Someone who hated Muggleborns so much could only have favored one who's soul purpose was to rid the wizarding world of everyone not a pureblood. It might be a note of worth on one who was so very tainted. And that was precisely why Annadel would never find out, because Shiloh wanted nothing less than Annadel's admiration. The day she gained Annadel's appreciation was the day life would no longer be worth living, because she would have failed at her greatest dream. So let Annadel think she was the daughter of a mudblood; that was better than what Shiloh really was.




Shiloh took a few, calculative steps forward, the movement slow, but menacing and Shiloh thought she saw a bit of fear gallop through Annadel's eyes though she didn't flinch or move. Probably remembering the feel of Shiloh's knuckles. As Shiloh brought herself toe-to-toe with Annadel, the girl wrinkled up her nose as though Shiloh smelled of something awful, like rotten eggs or a pail of three day old garbage.




“Since my existence bothers you,” Shiloh continued lowly. “Let's do ourselves both a favor and pretend we don't know one another. You leave me alone and I'd sooner be in a Devil's Snare than spend a moment near you. We may share the same room, but I think it would be best if we act as though we don't share the same planet.”




Silently daring her to say no to the proposition, Shiloh locked gazes with Annadel, eyes narrow and unblinking in a piercing glare. For the next moments of silence so thick a sword tip could not have penetrated it, Shiloh and Annadel both refused to look away as though they were fighting battles just with their eyes and the one who broke contact or the powerful silence would lose a civil war. But Shiloh could have waited decades if it meant a victory of Annadel.




But Annadel's hot gaze was no where near as strong as Shiloh's and, when Annadel could no longer bear it, she looked away and surrendered, giving a begrudging and heated, “Fine!” The clipped word wasn't promising nor the way she, with a flick of her hair, turned her back as though unable to stand the sight of her. She returned to her bed and began a conversation as though nothing had happened. Pansy and Millicent, sending Shiloh triumphant smiles as though the victory was theirs and perhaps it was, because Shiloh had nothing to guarantee that Annadel would keep her world. In fact, Shiloh doubted it, since Annadel wasn't known as an honest person.




Shiloh watched the trio sceptically, not wanting to turn her back to the enemy in case there was still some fight left in Annadel or the two other girls wanted a go at her. After a long moment, when the girls didn't so much as glance in her direction, Shiloh forced her hand to stop twitching with the urge to slip her fist into her pocket, wrap her fingers around her wand, and hex Annadel. Perhaps then she would have been able to sleep peacefully without the threat of being murdered in her slumber. Only sheer willpower and the threat of being expelled kept her urge at bay.




Shiloh forced herself to return to her bed, every muscle tight in preparation for whatever the girls might pull, but they did nothing. Once she was in the safety of her own bed, she pulled the curtain closed again and felt every muscle of her body ease slightly. She felt suddenly exhausted as though a vampire had been sucking her life's blood and energy from her and in a way one had; a vampire named Annadel Delamb. Now all Shiloh wanted was go to sleep, temporarily forgetting that someone like Annadel existed, and wake up to her first day at Hogwarts.




In the privacy of the curtains, Shiloh changed into a large, but light shirt that, on her small frame, nearly fell to her knees and flannel pants. She had never been able to stand nightgowns, especially the frilly lacy onces that her mum tried to stick her in, always finding them uncomfortable and they somehow always ended up wrapped at her waist by morning, so she'd taken to stealing some of her father's old shirts and finding loose fitting pants. Shiloh took her wand from her robe pocket and tucked it beneath her pillow, in reach of hand in case she needed it in a hurry. Once this was done, she laid her head on her pillow, tucking the blankets over her shoulders. She had already placed her music box on the corner of her pillow, careful to keeping the rich treasure away from Annadel's prying eyes in case she began to ask annoying questions about how she had gotten it. She picked it up and with slow, practiced fingers she wound it up and propped it open. The pure melody poured forth having the splendid power to soothe away the rest of the world and cause her eyelids to be twice as heavy. Shiloh closed her eyes, feeling the pull of darkness and Shiloh was going willingly. After all, it had been a long day.




Shiloh sensed rather than felt the curtain being drawn back and cold air breezed onto the back of her neck, shoving the alluring promise of slumber away. Irritation made her creamy while cheek turn an uncharacteristic rosy pink, the only sign that she was rapidly getting lost in fury. She forced her eyes open, anger shaking off the hold darkness had had on her. If Annadel couldn't keep their agreement for more than a few minutes, then Shiloh was going to to lose all self-control and---whether she was expelled or not---was going to jinx her. At least than she could get some sleep.




Shiloh flipped onto her other side and pushed herself onto her elbow, her face so angry that it seethed with pure hatred. “I told you, Annadel,” she growled, reaching beneath her pillow to wrap a fist tightly around her wand, moments away from pulling it out. “Leave me...er...”




The last part escaped her as she felt hot embarrassment and shame replace her rage, burning her cheeks with more heat than any amount of fury ever could. She felt the very tips of her eyes burn with discomfort and she moved her lips soundlessly, a thousand apologies trying to escape all at once and getting tangled up in the throat causing a painful lump to appear there. She, who hardly ever felt shame, had never been so embarrassed---not even when Fred Weasley had dangled her panties in front of a crowd of strangers.




Finally, Shiloh managed out a genuine apology. “I am so sorry.”




Because, peeking a head between a small part in the curtains, was not Delamb, but a rather stunned and slightly harassed looking brown-skinned girl.




“I would say so,” said the girl, blowing a long piece of dark hair out of her face. Despite the fact that, by the exasperated sound of the puff, it was clear she had been offended and didn't think a simply apology would suffice, there was a slight twitch in her lips that led Shiloh to believe that she knew this was some sort of misunderstanding and found it a bit amusing. But then again, if Shiloh was as red as she felt, it didn't take much imagination to figure out what might possibly appear funny.




Shiloh swallowed hard and pulled on her self-control. Soon her face and voice returned to its usual calm self. “I thought you were someone else.”




“Well, obviously,” she mumbled sarcastically. “May I have a seat?” she asked gesturing to the end of Shiloh's bed.




Shiloh wasn't exactly in the mood for company especially with the girl who she snapped at wrongfully, but she found it rude to refuse. It was the least she could do. Shiloh sat up, folding her legs beneath her, and nodded, knowing that she wasn't dressed for introductions, but not really minding because there was absolutely no way that Shiloh could make a worse first impression then she already had.




The girl lowered herself onto the bed, folding her legs beneath her with feline grace. With the innocence of meeting someone for the first time, Shiloh studied the stranger and the first word she found to describe her was 'pretty'. Shiloh had never been much judge of looks, thinking that people placed too much on how others appeared. She knew that Annadel was supposedly pretty, but with a personality like hers, Shiloh only saw her ugly. Shiloh knew that people considered her cute, expecting her to grow into a beautiful woman, but she had never felt particularly lovely or good-looking for when she looked in the mirror all she saw was herself---nothing more. But however a poor judge of appearances Shiloh might have been, she knew that with long, dark hair that was thick and wild, smooth, chocolate-colored skin, and gorgeous honey-colored eyes, the girl was as pretty as an eleven-year-old girl could be. The girl had long legs and arms, though it didn't quite look gangly, a slender body, and high, regal cheekbones, looking quite a young princess.




“I guess introductions are an order.” The girl had a wide smile on her face, clearly all the offense forgotten. She had a confident air about her that didn't come from arrogance but rather a self-assurance that was very out of place in one so young. With an easy demeanor, she stuck out her hand. “I'm Symone Zell.”




Shiloh slipped her hand into the girl's long fingers and forced a small twitch of her lips in an effort to be friendly. “Shiloh Sanders. But...” Shiloh frowned her, blinking in controlled confusion, wondering what this girl was doing in her room, looking as though she belonged. “What are you doing here?”




“On your bed?” the girl asked in a slight teasing in her voice. “You invited me to sit.” Shiloh was about to open her mouth and tell her that wasn't what she meant but the girl gave the real answer before she could. “I'm your last roommate.”




Shiloh nodded in acknowledgment but inside she felt a bit of relief. She had wondered briefly on who was her fifth and final roommate, but had feared the worst---yet another person like Annadel. But Symone seemed kind enough. At least she wouldn't be completely alone in the sea of conceited girls.




Symone continued on her line of explanation. “I would have come up sooner, but I was down in the common room with my older brother. But I thought I'd come and introduce myself, but---” She wrinkled up her nose as though catching a whiff of something putrid. “Some people aren't really welcoming---at least not to half-bloods.”




To accent what she was talking about, there was another screeching cackle that Shiloh recognized as Annadel's. Shiloh understood perfectly what Symone meant. But, honestly, did Annadel know the pedigree of every single student at Hogwarts? If Symone's mother had indeed married a Muggle, Shiloh could only imagine the disgusted look on Annadel's face and the cruel remarks that would have come out upon the girls' introduction. Shiloh was glad she had been too unconscious to hear or she might have had to go on a killing-spree again.




Symone frowned and looked behind her shoulder in the direction the laughter had come from before turning back to Shiloh. Shiloh thought she caught something vague flash through Symone's eyes, something deep and unfathomable, but utterly fleeting. Perhaps it was sadness, but Shiloh couldn't be sure because it disappeared before she could place it, and Symone's usual smile was back on her face, though this time it didn't quite reach her eyes and the cheer in her voice seemed odd, almost forced. “If she was the girl you thought I was, I don't blame you for snapping.”




There was silence for a long moment and as Symone sat there, she tucked her head slightly, that emotion crawling back into her gaze. Whatever it was, it caused her sparkling eyes to darken. Shiloh understood that silences could do that; cause unpleasant thoughts to swim into the mind and whatever Symone was considering it was indeed unpleasant. Shiloh felt uncomfortable watching her and having no idea what Symone was thinking or feeling. But Symone perked up relatively quickly and changed the subject onto somewhat safer ground.




“Did you expect that you'd be a Slytherin?”




It occurred to Shiloh that Symone was trying to be friendly in an attempt to start a genuine friendship, but no matter how much Shiloh had thought she had wanted friends, the prospect now made her uncomfortable. For what she understood of friendship, it was one of the most simplest and most complicated relationship---short of romantic love, of course. It was where they could simply be themselves, but to a girl like Shiloh being completely open was complicated, because she couldn't imagine being friends with anyone unless she could be honest with them. But how could she, when honesty would only ruin someone's opinion of her? Truth was, after all, incredibly painful. Now that friendship might actually be possible, Shiloh had the urge to run or to tell Symone to leave. Because she was suddenly unprepared to string those words together---ones that had the power to break her---but she couldn't have a friendship unless they were said. But no one decent would want to be friends with Ellessa Harden's daughter.




Shiloh fought the feelings of panic away. Symone was only trying to carry on a conversation. Shiloh shook her head in reply to the question. “Not really...” She shook her head again. “No.”




“Me neither,” Symone admitted but didn't stop with that. Shiloh had to consider the fact that this girl might be a little talkative. But at least she wasn't like Shiloh's mum's friends who were talkative and spoke only of things that were beyond Shiloh's interest. “I mean my brother's a Slytherin, but he's a total prat.” There was a flicker of un-sisterly distaste in her eyes that made Shiloh think that maybe she wanted to stay as far away from Symone's brother as humanly possible while living in the same dorm. “My mum's a Gryffindor, along with my other sister and brother, so I thought I'd be there. The Sorting Hat considered it, but---” She stopped her eyes moving around uneasily, as though she thought she had said too much. She was clearly hiding something that the Sorting Hat had said and Shiloh understood so fully that she didn't think of pressing. Shiloh knew well that what the Sorting Hat said was very...well, personal.




“But here I am,” Symone finished, but the light in her eyes seemed to flicker a bit, before she drew on her strength as though forcing herself to be happy about something she wasn't sure she could accept. “It feel good to be where I'm supposed to be.”




Whether Symone was earnest or not, Shiloh couldn't agree more. The Sorting Hat had looked deep into her being and seen, with its awesome wisdom, where she should be placed. And she did belong here in ambitious, stubborn, and sly Slytherin. It was why Ravenclaw had seen awful and Gryffindor just plain not right. Its why being here filled in a piece of her she hadn't thought was missing. She was finally at Hogwarts, finally in her House, finally feeling like she might actually belong. After so many years of waiting with baited breath, Shiloh was somewhere she had always desired to go:




Right where she was supposed.




Shiloh and Symone bid each other goodnight and Symone left. Soon they were both in separate beds, snuggled under the covers as the giggling slowly faded and the last of the candles were blown out.



Chapter 6: Chapter Five:The Auror's Daughter
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Chapter Five



The Auror's Daughter


Symone and Shiloh sat together at breakfast. The gesture was more of an attempt to set themselves apart from their other roommates than a sign that any kind of friendship had been formed between the two girls. There was no conversations between Shiloh's mouthfuls of eggs and bacon and sips of pumpkin juice and Symone's playing with her food, pushing it anxiously around her plate. Symone didn't speak because she was nervous about her first day---meeting people her own age was one thing, but she wasn't so confident as to think that she might not make a fool of herself on the first day. She wasn't book-smart like her sister, brilliant like her oldest brother, or sly like her other brother. She could easily make herself look dumb.


Shiloh, however, felt no apprehension, only eagerness and didn't speak because she'd never been one for ideal chitchat. She concentrated on eating and thinking about what she would be doing today, her imagination painting up images of classroom and professors and marvelous spells. Besides, the rest of the hall was loud enough without the girls adding their own voices.


There was a steady, incomprehensible roar as students talked to one another and staccato metallic clicks as silverware met with plates. There were occasionally barks of laughter that burst through the noise, leaving all others to guess what was funny and who thought it was humorous.


As Shiloh downed a small bite of bacon with a gulp of pumpkin juice, a swarm of owls swooped in with a great whoosh of wings and near deafening hoots. Shiloh set down her fork and turned her eyes upward to watch them. It was a grand sight---so many owls floating about the ceiling. There was beauty in the way that each of the owls tilted their wings to navigate around the room, circle until they found who they were looking for and then gliding down gracefully until they could perched before their receivers. The owls delivered an assortment of different packages, gaily colored envelopes, and crisp newspapers rolled into tight cylinders. Each one was the pride of owls---elegant and professional. Everyone, except of course, the one that was still in the air fluttering in the air as though unable to find the one it was searching for with its 'great visioned' eyes.


Shiloh recognized the bird flying aimlessly around it. She would have recognized it anywhere, even if all she could make out was that it was the color of horse grain---a light freckled brown complete with little specks of cream---and that it clearly wasn't so bright. Finally, the bird spotted her and flew into a steep slope toward Shiloh in such a steep decline that it looked like a blur of feathers and a sharp beak about to dive bomb all of them. Symone---along with a few other Slytherins---shrieked in fright and flung their arms over their heads as though the owl might attack. Shiloh didn't flinch however; she was far too accustomed to the birds antics and far too busy fighting the urge to hide beneath the table at the embarrassment the bird was causing. At the last moment, the owl pulled out of the dive, but it hardly did any good. The owl slammed into a platter of eggs with a unfriendly 'splat!', sending scrambled puffs everywhere.


“Fodder, you stupid bird,” Shiloh hissed scornfully, brushing her face and robes clear of all yoke. She tried not too notice the glares of the other Slytherins who had been splattered with eggs and were now clearing themselves of food with sour and angry expressions on their faces. Symone however already saw the humor in the situation and giggled, picking a piece of egg out of Shiloh's hair, before shaking out her own robes.


Shiloh picked Fodder up by the wing, setting his legs on the table top and brushing his front off. Fodder shook out his wing, clearing them of food and upsetting a pitcher of pumpkin juice in one unfortunate Slytherin's lap.

“Sorry,” Shiloh said apologetically, forcing a sheepish smile.


In return, they glared at her hatefully.


Wonderful, Shiloh thought dryly as she untied the package from Fodder's legs. It was her first day and already at least five people hated her. Maybe she did have cause to be nervous. Her day might just have been ruined, thanks to the family owl. Thanks, Fodder, Shiloh grumbled silently, glaring at the bird menacingly until she could figure out the proper insult. You filthy piece of... But she could come up with nothing that she hadn't already called the bird a thousand times before---and found it did absolutely no good.


Even now, Fodder's only reaction was an innocent hoot.


“Nice bird,” taunted a third year savagely. “Bet he learned grace from his owner.”
Shiloh would have ignored this; it wasn't even that creative of an insult. But Symone wouldn't stand for it. She glared at the boy. Shiloh, looking at Symone out of the corner of her eyes, managed to see why exactly Symone had been put into Slytherin. There was something very serpentine in the confident curl of Symone's lips.


“Leave her alone,” Symone said coolly. “After all, she wasn't the one hiding beneath the table like some frightened toddler when the bird dived. She didn't even flinch.”


The boy's angry glare disappeared and hot pink colored his otherwise pale cheeks. A few of the students around him sniggered. He gave the friend beside him a mad shove and ordered, “Shut up!”


“Besides,” Symone continued, a satisfied smirk on her lips. “It's not her fault her owl's a comedian.” Symone reached across the table to tickle the bird's head lovingly. Fodder gave a happy hoot and leaned into her hand, a silent scream for attention. When Symone tried to take her hand away, Fodder nipped at her fingertips gently, until Symone continued stroking the bird's feathers. Symone let out a little laugh and cooed, “He's adorable.”


Under different circumstances Shiloh would have told Symone not to encourage the bird, but she was too busy blinking at Symone with concealed amazement. The girl she had barely known for a few hours, had defended her without question. Perhaps she was in it for something, but, as distrusting as Shiloh was, she doubted it. Especially when Symone gave Shiloh a half-smile and a knowing wink. No, Symone wasn't out for her own gain. She was just that good of a friend. Shiloh shifted uncomfortably.


“He is cute,” agreed a first year, the same one who had had a pitcher of juice dumped on her laugh. But she looked forgiving now as she reached across the stroke one of the owl's wings. The girl beside her did the same. If Fodder was a cat he would have been pouring contentedly.


She ignored them and turned her attention to the package. She unwrapped it from the brown packaging paper and recognized the box of candies immediately. Bertie Bott's Every-Flavored Beans. Symone saw it and sent Shiloh a questioning glance.


“From my parents,” Shiloh said as she pulled the attached note off of the side of the box.


“You mean, you actually like those?” She pointed to the Bertie Bott's, wrinkling her nose with such an extreme of disgust that Shiloh could only assume that she had once had a very bad experience with an earwax flavored bean.


Shiloh only shrugged again and opened her letter.



Congratulations on being Sorted into Slytherin! Good luck on you first day and enjoy the candy.


Love, 


Mum and Dad




Shiloh blinked at it for long moment. They gave congratulations and gave her candy to celebrate, but with the briskness of the note was it honestly possible that they were as pleased as they made themselves out to be. Shiloh knew enough, that when it came to her happiness, her parents would do anything---even lie about their true feelings. It was a selfless and loving action, but a foolish one. How could Shiloh possibly be completely happy when she even sensed they might not be as thrilled as they made themselves out to be. She would have rather them be honest so she could reassure them, instead of letting the fact that their daughter was a Slytherin shame them. If they were truthful, she could have explained the reasons the Hat put her in Slytherin. But they hadn't been and her hands were tied.


Shiloh sighed and crumbled the parchment into her robes pocket next to her wand. She would simply have to prove to them that she wasn't headed down a path to trouble. She'd make them proud; she promised herself that.


Turning the unpleasant thoughts of miserable parents, Shiloh pulled the box of Bertie Bott's closer, opened it, and popped a multi-colored one into her mouth, hoping it would be pleasant tasting. She hid her disgust well.


Symone was watching Shiloh intently, shaking her head slightly. She seemed to be expecting Shiloh to gag or spit out the piece, but when Shiloh only chewed it thoughtfully her curiosity got the best of her. “Well?” she demanded when Shiloh had swallowed.


“Vomit,” Shiloh explained lucidly, and chose another. “And dirt.”


Symone made a mocked gagging sound, her nose wrinkled in disgust though she looked quite like a cute bunny.


Shiloh ignored her. Let Symone mock if she wanted. Shiloh didn't care or take any offense. Because somehow she knew Symone, no matter how genuine her dislike for the candy was, was only teasing Shiloh good naturally and didn't really think Shiloh was horrible for liking them. Strange, but there was nothing wrong with originality.


The plate of eggs and bacon forgotten, Shiloh feasted upon the Beans, popping one after another into her mouth. It was quite like an adventure, eating All-Flavored Beans. After all, Shiloh never knew what flavor would come next and that's what made it so exciting. The uncertainty that tortured Shiloh in other aspects, delighted her in these moments. She never knew what would come next, whether her taste buds would be thrilled with sweet, shriveled with salty, or horrified with putrid. Shiloh and her taste buds faced it, fearlessly, and even tried combinations of two, three, even four flavors at a time. She would get anything from cherry and earwax to vomit, pepper and green apple. The only one she struggled with was the sardine to which she downed two cupfuls of juice to drown the taste, fighting back gags. All the while Symone watched her closely, her lips pursed. She was either impressed or was fighting back from telling Shiloh she was absolutely bonkers.


Shiloh was so caught up in her Beans that she didn't notice the man passing out schedules until he was speaking from behind her.


“I don't believe Bertie Bott's All-flavored Beans is the preferred choice for breakfast, Miss Sanders,” came the cool, expressionless voice.


Startled, Shiloh almost chocked on a Bean as she swallowed a Bean without so much as biting into it. She gulped quickly to get the Bean on down her throat and took a careful sip of her pumpkin juice. Out of the corner of her eye, she could she Symone pressing her finger to her lips, her shoulders shaking a bit from unheard laughter. Shiloh resisted the urge to glare at Symone and quickly collected herself. When she was sure her surprised expression was gone and she was composed, she twisted at the hips to peer over her shoulder.


The man was tall and menacing. No, menacing wasn't quite right. Dressed in black, with greasy dark hair and penetrating eyes that were like finely cut onyxes, he had a powerful demeanor. His arms were crossed over his chest and a smirk was on his face, more mocking than amused. Shiloh looked at the man's pale face and, upon finding nothing close to a laugh-line, concluded that this man likely wasn't humored easily and smiled even less---if ever. But still, to Shiloh's eyes he didn't appear cruel or spiteful. Dark, perhaps, but in a controlled, confident way that made him...impressive.


Shiloh recognized him. Upon greeting the first years, the prefect had pointed him out as Professor Snape their head of house. She searched for some reply to his comment, something respectful, but found hardly anything. Shiloh wasn't rude, just gumptious, and she couldn't stop herself from giving the reply that she wanted to give.


So as respectfully as she could, she said, “There's nothing better, Professor.” For the sake of being polite---or was it some other reason; not politeness, but humor or to startle him unexpectedly like he had startled her---she held out box in an innocent offer. “Would you like some, sir?”


There was a gasp from all the kids in earshot. Jaws dropped, faces contorted, and a fourth year chided in disbelief, “Oh, no, she didn't.” Shiloh wondered if they knew something she didn't, for they were acting quite as stunned as if she had intently insulted the professor. Even Professor Snape himself seemed surprised and a bit disgusted as his upper lip twitched in distaste.


“Not particularly, Miss Sanders,” Snape said coolly.


Shiloh ignored the reaction of the students and the professor. She had done nothing wrong and she certainly had no reason to be embarrassed. Even if she had reason she was going to back-peddle herself out of the mess as smoothly as possible. She gave an apathetic shrug and she set the box on the table, before turning her attention back to the teacher. “Can I help you with something, professor?”





The nerve of the girl! Then again, she hadn't necessarily been disrespectful, for she had said everything innocently and in a sugary sort of way that made it clear she would have made good on her offer and shared if he had suddenly had a hankering for the wretched candy. But there was no mistaking the amused flicker in her eyes or the way she had so smoothly escaped from what could have been an embarrassing situation with calculative ease. It was clear that Miss Sanders knew how to twist a unfavorable circumstance for the better and had a grand control of her thought-out reactions. Severus's first impression of this girl--and his impressions were always correct--told him that this first year was brazen, sly, spirited, sanguine, and...well, in sort, she was a Slytherin first year.


But most first years had enough commonsense to nod, take their schedules, and, above all, remain silent. Sanders, however, was either too ignorant or bold to do such a thing. That observation led Severus to wonder how much trouble Sanders intended to get herself into while she was here. As Head of Slytherin House he had dealt with his share of mischief makers, but he liked to have them pegged, so that he could keep his eye on them and wasn't startled by some foul deed. This girl seemed like the sort---inadvertently or not---who would get herself into a load of mishaps. He'd defiantly have to keep his eye on her and hope that Sanders had the good sense to keep herself out of trouble.


Severus found her schedule in the stack and whisked it out for her. She took it, wrapping her delicate fingers around her end, but for a moment he didn't let go. In the second it had taken to hand out the paper, Severus had looked her in the eyes. It was something that he had not intended to do---like he had not intended to look in the eyes of all the other female first years, but had all the same. He did not plan to search their eyes, to define the color, but he had caught himself doing it time after time. It frustrated himself to no end---it was ridiculous. But this time when he caught himself in the action, he had no feelings of frustration because all he could was stare.


Surrounded by cute and delicate features, the girl's eyes were as deep, as dark, and as shimmering as a piece of smooth obsidian. Just like his eyes.


But then again, Severus reasoned with himself, how many girls had dark eyes? Only moments ago he had seen another first year with the same eyes. That girl had the same dark eyes. though the eyes weren't identical to Sanders'. That girl's eyes were cool and lifeless, while Sanders' were lit with gumptious fire. In truth, when he had first seen the girl he had imagined that was what Ellessa would have looked like at her age. With the blond hair---though the first year sported dark roots, a clear sign that the hair was not naturally that color---and a manipulative manner, she had been a shocking reminder of Ellessa. Especially with that annoyingly familiar way the girl had flipped her hair over one should in a way that said she believed herself to be the most beautiful thing to grace the earth. That girl, a first year named Annadel Delamb, could have more likely been Ellessa---and his, he grudgingly added---than Sanders. It was even more likely that neither of them were.


Sanders stared back at him, his lingering gaze enough to turn the amused sparkle in her eyes to seriousness as though she knew his linger grasp meant something more than he let on. “Sir?” she questioned tentatively, respectfully, but not necessarily fearful.


Berating himself, Severus released the paper and set his shoulders again, squaring himself up so he could say sternly, “I'll see you in Potions, Miss Sanders.”


At the mention of potions, her eyes lit up again and a confident smirk appeared on her face. She looked excited and determined, quite like one who had just been issued a challenge and she was willing to eagerly face it. “I look forward to it, professor.”






Potions class was shared with Gryffindor first years, including Harry Potter. Shiloh did not so much as glance his way as she sat at the desk, waiting for the professor to arrive. She tried to restrain her enthusiasm, fighting with the urge to allow her lower leg to bounced with anticipation. Instead she folded her fingers together twisting them in a why that might have been mistaken for fearfulness, but was nothing more than something to do with her hands to keep them from doing what she so desperately wanted to do. Form a fist and pump the air for joy. She had ticked down the classes until this moment and finally, finally, she would get to extend her knowledge in the art of potion making.


Her potion supplies were already before her, the cauldron waiting for fire and ingredients, and the much-beloved potion book setting beside it, tabs of yellow already sticking out of the weathered pages. Beside that was a fresh quill and reflective bottle of ink, ready in case she needed to take notes in the margins. Spare parchment was beside that in case, she needed to take notes that were not conclusive to the potion recipes. She was more than prepared and ticking down the seconds until the class began.


She however seemed to be the only one who felt such exuberance in the situation. Then again few others saw the beauty in their surroundings. The dank atmosphere that gave a serious and mysterious mood to the place, or the glory in the dancing vapors or the fumes that smelled of all things brewed. But to the eyes of potion-lovers it was glorious kingdom of adventure. But to others it only made them more nervous.


Symone sat at Shiloh's side, her face apprehensive and her nails between her teeth as she gnawed at her cuticles. She'd whispered to Shiloh a moment before that she'd only tried a potion once and the unfortunate outcome had been her family rebuilding half their kitchen. “My Mum was furious. I haven't touched a cauldron since.”


Shiloh could understand her apprehension, but explosions were a part of potions. Shiloh herself had been mastering potions for a few years now and she still had to deal with tragic mishaps. If she quit on the first explosions, she would never have developed a fierce love for potions---and what a shame that would be. It was horrible to let a little boom ruin your fun. Besides... Shiloh spoke, ever faithful to her own opinion. “Explosions are half the fun. At the very least, exciting in their own right.”


Symone gave her the same look that she had given her when she'd confessed to like Bertie Bott's All-Flavored Beans---a mixture of disbelief and amusement. “You're crazy,” Symone shaking her head wistfully. There was a bit of a humorous giggle in her voice, making it seem as though Symone had just given a compliment instead of an insult.


Before Shiloh could say anything, the door at the back of the room slammed open and Severus Snape came striding in, his long black cloak flowing behind him. When he reached the front, he turned to face the class and as every teacher did he began by taking the roll call. As he went through the list of the names, he paused on the name of Harry Potter. Shiloh thought for a moment that he was going to give some sort of compliment or praise towards the young hero, once again setting Potter above the rest of the class. But instead, with a wry comment, he did the opposite, setting Potter in the same level as they were. The subtle sarcasm in the word 'celebrity' told Shiloh that she wasn't the only one unimpressed by Harry Potter.


When roll call was over, he set the list aside and began to speak. “You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making.” His words were low and quiet, but Shiloh was clinging to his every word so she had no trouble hearing him. She leaned her palms against the desk, itching toward the front of her chair as he went on. With the professor's whispered voice combined with the deep atmosphere of the dungeon the words seemed nearly enchanted, like a melodious incantation worthy of memorization.


As he continued, speaking of the beauty and power of potion-making, she listened in amazement. She had never known it was possible to define the reason she loved potions. It had seemed so futile to express it, that she'd never tried. But in one well-worded paragraph, Professor Snape captured that reason, spinning it for all to see. And when he spoke of the things he planned to teach them, Shiloh felt a shiver of anticipation make its way down her spine. What she would give to have the power to stopper death!


“If you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.”


Startled the sudden switch from surreality to severity, Shiloh jerked her head up half an inch, though it was too discrete for anyone to notice. The words were not quite an insult, but a challenge...and a warning. This class would not be a walk in the park and in those few words it was made transparently clear that Professor Snape would not accept half-best. Either work hard or fail and forever be marked as a dunderhead. There didn't seem another option. Shiloh didn't mind. She had every intention of doing her best and proving to Professor Snape she was in no way a dunderhead. More than anything, she wanted to impress him, because if she gained the admiration of the Potions' Master, she would finally show the world that she was skilled in potions. No one would doubt her talents then---not even herself. But with the short time she had watched him, observant Shiloh had concluded that that task would not be simple.


“Potter!” spoke Snape suddenly, bring Shiloh out of her ambitious resolutions. She followed the Professor's gaze to Harry, wondering what this was about. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphadel in an infusion of wormwood?”


It took all of Shiloh's will power not to let her hand jump above her head. She ached to give the easy answer, but instead she looked at Harry expectantly. He was sure to know this anyway---but a confused expression was on his face. Obviously he had absolutely no idea. The girl beside him however was a hundred percent certain of the answer and didn't seem to have as much self-control as Shiloh, because her hand was in the high, stretching as high as it could go.


“I don't know, sir,” confessed Harry.


Shiloh clamped her jaw to keep it from falling open. How can he possibly not know that? Is he a wizard or not?


Two more questions went by each one Shiloh knew without even brainstorming, but yet Potter seemed utterly ignorant of anything close to the relatively basic knowledge. The girl beside him knew every answer. After the second question her hand began to tremble, stretching as high as humanly possibly why remaining in her seat. After the third she was bouncing out of her chair, making Shiloh wonder if she had memorized every word of every book. At the moment, she looked as though she might die in Potions--let alone every other class. Maybe the girl should have been a Slytherin, because that was a grand ambition.


After the third question, Potter punctuated his last answer of 'I-don't-know-sir' with a sassy-- “I think Hermione does, though, why don't you try her?”


There was laughter throughout the class and even Symone giggled, but Shiloh couldn't work up the humor to join it. In fact, she couldn't help but think Harry had made a huge mistake. Professors were allowed to ask questions, even if the students they asked didn't know the answers. But students on no occasion or excuse were ever allowed to give professors cheek, just as Potter had done to Snape. Shiloh knew without asking that Profesor Snape would not let Potter's disrespect slide.


“Sit down,” Snape snapped at the girl, Hermione.


Shiloh was secretly glad that some one had told her; she'd begun to fear that if Hermione's hand went any high it would ascend to the roof.


Turning to Potter, Snape gave the answers in a long list, Shiloh silently nodding along with every correct answer. After ordering the class to copy it, to which, despite her complete knowledge complied, he took one point from Gryffindor. Not that Potter didn't deserve the punishment.




By the end of the lesson, Shiloh had made the conclusion that Professor Snape was her favorite teacher. True, he was stern, tough, and maybe a bit brutish on the occasion, but Shiloh could see it for what it was, a way to prod students to do better. But instead of a kind encouragement that never work, he pushed in a subtler and far more effective way. His insults weren't intended to be cruel not even when he told the jittery Symone, who had shredded an herb horribly, that her ingredient looked like could carpet the Hogwarts gardens, but rather to push the students onward. He gave no compliments nor even something as an improving gaze, but Shiloh quickly learned that when he passed, his black eyes carefully surveying everything in a momentary glance, and would say nothing, that it meant one thing.


'Perfect'.


As he passed over it without saying a would, Shiloh hadn't been able to help the way one side of her mouth curled upward in a delighted half-smile. She knew already that she would much enjoy Potions under the tutelage of Professor Snape. But, nonetheless, as she also learned quickly in the Potions class as he snapped at an unfortunate student, she didn't want to get on his bad side. It would be an incredibly uncomfortable position to be in.


As the potion he had assigned was quite simple, one Shiloh had tried many times before, she had time to imagine what it would be like in Potions. Every day, every potion that was a bit more challenging, she would work it, forcing herself to do every step to perfection until the outcome was a softly simmering cauldron with the correct color and design of fume that Snape would pass over with the complimentary silence. And then, on day, as she improved she may even get an approving nod or praise “Well done. Five points to Slytherin.” or maybe, even better, a small smirk that witnessed of admiration.


Yes, that was how it would be. After all, she was a Slytherin and tenacity was a gift that the Sorting Hat had seen with in. All it took to achieve one's goals was to be perseverant and dutiful and somewhere done a long road, anything was possible. Besides, if it was ambition that had gotten her into Slytherin, than she was going to be ambitious.


And there was nothing quite as improbably ambitious as trying to impress Severus Snape.






As they climbed the dungeon stairs into the better lit corridors, leaving behind the sweet, but hazy smell of fumes and wincing at the brighter change in lights, Shiloh and Symone inhaled deep breaths of air through their nose. Though Shiloh still though there was no better scent than that which poured from a hot, steaming cauldron, fresh air had its perks espiesally to a lung full of vapors.


As they moved down the hall, Symone let a low groan, causing the placid Shiloh to look toward her in silent curiosity. Without being asked her thoughts, Symone let her opinions be known with a heartfelt complaint. “I can't believe he's our Head of House.”


The words struck Shiloh as odd, because, as foolish as it was, she didn't see how it was possible that someone was unable to see how amazing of a teach Professor Snape was, no matter how strange and unpopular his methods. She didn't understand that she had always seen things that others had known. No one, and certainly not herself, could guess that in her observation of Professor Snape, she---cynical, mistrusting Shiloh---had glimpsed and comprehended good in a man most pegged as---what was the term?---a greasy-haired git.

But at the moment, as she stopped in place and blinked at Symone, she noticed the clear dislike and felt a sinking sensation in her gut, not quite anger, but what could soon become it. Shiloh tried to calm herself even as she wondered while she was becoming so defensive. People were allowed their opinions, no matter if she didn't agree with them. It didn't make it right nor did it mean she couldn't attempt to sway them.


Carefully, appraisingly, Shiloh began with a question. “What do you mean?”


Symone looked at Shiloh's face, as though just as surprised to find someone thought differently than herself. It is, after all, startling to find that one can not always assume people think identically. After a moments pause, she began to realize the two paused forms were drawing attention by passing students. She wrapped her fingers gently around Shiloh's upper arm and tugged her along so that they were once again walking, side-by-side. Shiloh sidestepped away from Symone's touch, smoothly and absently enough that it was not rude, only an easy way of telling Symone she would come on her own.


The two girls made their way through the crowded hallway that was full of giggling kids and chatting seventh years who where glad to be down with a hard first day at school. They both were headed by some mutual, but unspoken decision toward the nearest door to the outside where they could catch some sun and air.


“I mean,” said Symone, her hands moving before her as though she could accent her words or make them clearly by the twirling her wrists. “He's so...well...” She hesitated for a moment, trying to find the proper phrase.


Shiloh took this moment of silence to her advantage and deftly put in, “The best professor in Hogwarts.”


Symone gave her 'you're-crazy' look, that disbelieving, bewildered, and exasperated one that Shiloh had already gotten twice today. However, now it held not a single note of humor or slice of admiration, only utter honesty. On this point, Symone truly thought she had gone mad. “You'll joking right?”


Shiloh shook her head. “Think about it,” she began to debate, “McGonagall is just as stern and tough as he is and she's fine but she's...” Shiloh paused, thinking back to the class to fine the flaw that didn't make her dislike McGonagall---because she didn't---but simply made the professor less noteworthy than Professor Snape.


“Head of Gryffindor House,” Symone nodded, understandingly.


“Precisely.” It wasn't that either of them were prejudice against Gryffindor. Though they were both well aware of the Slytherin and Gryffindor's traditional rivalry, they couldn't possibly agree or go along with it. How could they? With the Hat almost placing them both in Gryffindor, it would be like insulting themselves. Besides, Shiloh didn't agree with traditions just for the sake of being traditional.


Moving along the line of teachers, Shiloh thought next of their poor, stuttering teacher Professor Quirrell. She didn't dislike him, even felt sorry for the way that he was always twitching fearfully. But Shiloh, as much as she loved Defense Against the Dark Arts, couldn't claim anything other than pity for the Professor. The only think slightly odious about him was that one disagreeable smell. “And Quirrell smells like garlic.”


Symone wrinkled up her nose, remembering the horrible smell, but her lips twitched in humor. Shiloh could feel the air between them lightening from a debate about liking Professor Snape to a typical conversation about professors as a whole.


“And you can hardly understand what he says through his stuttering,” Symone added. “Be careful not to say 'vampire' too loud or he might hide in his own desk drawer.”


Shiloh couldn't help but smirk, though it didn't escape her that this conversation was becoming alarmingly...well...normal; like a conversation shared between two bosom buddies. Shiloh held little hope that there could ever be a close friendship between the two of them. Symone, who shirked at criticism and cowered at small explosions, could never be brave enough to accept Shiloh--being what she was.


But still, there was no harm enjoying their conversation or each other's company, even if there'd be nothing more: no whispered secrets or unrelenting trust or anything that made friendship worth-while.


Shiloh continued the innocent evaluation of their professors. “Sprout's nice enough and Flitwick...” Shiloh searched for a word to describe the excitable midget of the man, but found nothing, shrugging instead. Symone seemed to comprehend, because she smirked. They both had nothing against him, finding him comical, but he wasn't their favorite.


“But Professor Snape?” Symone objected, returning to their origin topic with a bit of disdain in her voice. “He's so mean.”


“I don't think he's mean.” It once again surprised Shiloh how quickly she came to his defense.


“He insulted me.”


Shiloh paused, not speaking for a moment in case she said something careless. As she thought she studied her surroundings. By now they were outside and she basked in the warmth of the sunlight. The sun always made everything seem more carefree than it truly was, shining light in the dark places. It lit up Hogwarts, making the castle, grounds, and lake seem even more magical than it did at night. Yes, she would love calling this place home, as long as the sun shone this brightly.


Shiloh glanced back at Symone, putting her mind to business. She knew that Symone was more sensitive to such criticism than Shiloh would have been and if Symone's self-esteem had been bruised, the last thing Shiloh wanted was to hurt her more. But she couldn't stop herself from defending Snape. She had to be as gentle as possible. As the expression went, one catches more flies with honey than vinegar---and broke less hearts too.


“He was being subtle,” Shiloh explained softly. “What he really mean was you should try harder.” Symone's eyes lowered as though she'd been insulted and Shiloh shrugged lightly, trying to ease the situation. “Just to be more focused.”


Symone's harsh look turned skeptical, as though she didn't want to believe or dare to hope that their Head of House could actually be half-way decent. She did have to admit however that she hadn't exactly been focused; if Shiloh had seen it, it was obvious the professor would have to. But still... “What about Harry Potter? He was wicked to him.”


Shiloh shook her head. She didn't think he'd been evil at all---not even hateful. Tough, yes. But certainly not horrible. He'd scolded Harry for not knowing the answers, but no one would blame the other professors for that. Just because he was the Slytherin Head didn't stop his right of being a teacher.


“He was telling Potter that whether he's famous or not, he's going to be treated exactly like every other student. No special treatment. No slacking. No exceptions for Harry Potter. Just plain, honest, hard work.”


A note of comprehension entered Symone's eyes like a candle being illuminated, but not fully so. Dark shadows still hadn't been knocked from the corners as her eyes. As they reached the banks of the lake and sat on the sandy ground, Symone had one more question.


“But what about that Neville boy?”


Shiloh nearly winced when she remembered the way the Gryffindor had burnt the pot into a melted pile of iron, sending the potion all across the floor. Students had been forced to escape burnt shoes and toes by scrambling and shrieking up onto their desks. The entire classroom had been in disarray: girls screaming, Slytherins mocking, and boys laughing. Shiloh had felt for the boy, recalling the time when she had melted a cauldron and half of the kitchen floor trying to make a similar potion. She'd given him a compassionate gaze as he hurried off to the hospital wing with hands itching and puffing with great boils. She had to admit that Snape had been quite furious and snappy and he should have handled it more calmly, but under the circumstances she couldn't blame him, not when her father had reacted in a very similar way—without the word stupid, of course.


“Everyone loses patience every now and then.” Looking back at the situation, she saw the humor in it. Not that she felt that Neville was some kind of joke, but that a classroom full of kids hollering in fright and scrambling up onto stools and desks while putrid burning liquid streamed across the floor was, after all, quite comical. “I mean, he melted a cauldron, Symone.”


Symone seemed to guess at Shiloh's train of thought and she grinned widely, her white teeth contrasting with her darker skin, making the smile brilliant and somewhat impish. “Did you hear the way Annadel screamed?”


Shiloh couldn't help the evil smile that pushed itself up her lips. She could still hear in crystal clarity the sweet satisfactory sound as Annadel's shrill voice rose in a long scared cry, her perfect shoes being eaten away by the potion. It had taken all of Shiloh's will power to sit still on her stool, lifting her knees so her feet didn't touch the ground, and keep from laughing at the funniest thing she had seen in a long time.


“Are you sure it was her?” Shiloh couldn't help but taunt. “It sounded like a banshee.”


Symone let out a melodious laugh and Shiloh continued to grin in merriment. Now that their discussion of Professor Snape had officially ended, hopefully with Symone now at the opinion that Professor Snape was the best professor had Hogwarts---or at the very least, left her not despising him so, the water of the lake was drawing Shiloh's attention. The sun gleamed off it, making rectangle particles of gold quiver across the surface of the lake. It was tempting her, silently pulling on her desires. It looked so very inviting that she couldn't resist.


Shiloh stood, placing her feet beneath her. She kicked off her shoes with expert pushes with her toes. Symone gave her a questioning look, but Shiloh said nothing, pretending not to notice as she rolled the socks off her feet and stuffed them into the toes of her shoes. Hitching up her robs she tucked them around her waist so that they were raised above her knees. She didn't bother sticking a tentative toe in the water to check the temperature, but splashed into ankle-deep water. The coolness of it sent her toes curling, but she didn't mind. She would quickly get used to the water. She closed her eyes, enjoying the ripple of the water against her legs, the tickle of sand between her toes, and the smooth pebbles beneath her calloused soles.


After a moment of silence, there was the swoosh of moving water and Shiloh opened her eyes to see Symone wading out to join her, feet bare and robes tucked upward. Shiloh was slightly surprised to see her, not supposing that Symone to would enjoy the feel of the water. But there was a smile on Symone's face that spoke of complete amusement and contentedness.


“Do you do this often?” Symone asked, her eyes sparkling merrily as she grinned at Shiloh.


Shiloh nodded. “There's a creek behind my house.”


Symone looked even more delighted, if that was possible for the vibrant girl. “We have a lake near ours. We have a tree-house built near there and a rope swing. In the summer time, all my siblings and I go swimming.”


It sounded fun; no, it sounded like paradise. Having someone else to splash besides herself. She knew that if her parents had been able, they would have had a house full of children. Instead, they had only her. Shiloh wondered for a moment what it was like to have siblings, but an image of her Aunt Flora flashed into her mind. If all siblings were like that, perhaps it was best to do without them.


A splash of water in her face startled her and she gasped as water dripped out of her eyes and from her hair onto her robes. Stunned, she looked at the culprit. Symone was giggling wildly, a mischievous glint her eyes. Her joy and playfulness was so genuine that Shiloh couldn't have been angry if she wanted to. Instead of anger, an impish desire for revenged trickled through her gut. A devilish smirk curled her lips, ceasing Symone's heartfelt laughs, a second before she shoved her hand through the water and splashed Symone in return.


Symone inhaled sharply from shock, not of Shiloh's retaliation but of the cold of the water. She sent Shiloh an unmeant glare, before bursting into laughter and stooping to use both hands. Shiloh did the same and a full-fledged splashing war came out of it. Water sprayed into the air, catching sun and sparkling like diamonds, before pounding down on their heads or into their faces. There were gasps and giggles and arms flinging up to protect faces. It was the picture of gaiety, one of the real moments that Shiloh could abandon everything and for a blissful while could be just like a normal child, with a perfect life and a best friend to splash.


Uncaring of their robes, they chased each other into deeper water, the height of it reaching their thighs. They threw water at one another, things like mermaids and giant octopuses forgotten utterly. They were soon soaked to the bone, but neither seemed to care about the way their robes clung to them and their hair was plastered unpleasantly to their faces.


Seeing that she could do no more punishment with water, Symone charged at Shiloh, who, unprepared for the action, had no time to sidestep. She threw up her hands as Symone pummeled against her, knocking her feet from the rocky ground. In a last attempt to keep balance, Shiloh reached up and siezed Symone's robes. Symone yelped and with a mighty splash, both girls tumbled beneath the surface. They were submerged for only a moment before they got their feet under them and rose above the water, gasping and sputtering through giggles. As they made their way to the shore and plopped down on the sand, laying and laughing, side-by-side, Shiloh couldn't remember when she had more fun.


With a half-groan, half-giggle, Symone sat up, seizing the front of her wet robes and pulling them away from her skin. “Oh, we're sopping.” The words would have seemed miserable if it hadn't been for the still-happy note in her voice.


Shiloh sat up as well. She folded up her knees and grabbed the hem of her robes, wringing them about. Water squeezed from the cloth and rained down to the earth. Oh, if her mum could see her now, Elaine would be mortified. Shiloh, however, didn't mind. It wouldn't take long to dry in the sun. Beside her, Symone was pulling her hair over her shoulder and turning it into a tight twist so that the water would escape. Shiloh glanced over at her. Symone sat, her knees pulled up like Shiloh's, and stretched her toes into the edge of the water, wiggling them in the wet sand.


Shiloh had never met someone like Symone; someone who despite not favoring some of Shiloh's attributes---like her taste for All-Flavored Beans---accepted the traits that most people shook their head at and termed as weird. Symone and she might be different in a lot of ways, but there were similarities there as well. Shiloh pushed her hair out of her face and gnawed her lip, feeling something that for as good as it should have been was so unfamiliar it made her uncomfortable. Hope. That perhaps, she could have a friend after all.


Shiloh didn't see the boy until he was standing right behind Symone, so close that Shiloh didn't have time to warn Symone who was utterly oblivious to his presence. In a stealthy instant, the boy had stooped and grasped Symone's ribs, calling a growl as he tickled her sides.


Symone let out a little screech that made Shiloh instantly grasp into her pocket for her wand. She was about to pull it out, ready for any battle, when Symone looked over her shoulder, glaring menacingly up at the boy, and let out a disgusted, “Bran, you pratt!”


A dark-skinned boy threw back his head and laughed, his ringlets of hair bouncing and his shoulder shaking with uproarious merriment. “I got you good, Symone.”


Symone got to her feet quickly, face as red as her dark skin could be and fists balled at her side. Hair clung to her face, making her look demented, as though she might murder the boy. It didn't take much to make the connection between Bran and Symone, all it took was studying the two of them so close together. It was the same dark hair, the same dark eyes, and the same dark skin. A brother and sister—clear as day.


“Bran, you – you...” She was so mad she could barely speak, flustered so much her words tumbled over one another.


Bran wasn't paying any mind to her exasperated attempts at insults, but turned his gaze on Shiloh who still sat upon the ground, her hand clinging to her wand. Shiloh had no way of knowing that brothers sneaking up on unexpected sisters was quite normal and that it would wind itself out without the use of a hex. The curiosity that entered his eyes was that of innocent speculation. Perhaps he was only a stupid prankster and not a dangerous stalker, but Shiloh didn't feel comfortable releasing her tight hold on her wand.


“Who's your friend?” he asked Symone, cutting into her continued stuttering.


“None of your business!” Symone snapped in reply, infuriated that he'd come up and scared her, only to ask questions moments later. Shiloh felt even more discomfort; this was yet another conversation she had no business witnessing, but she was stuck in the middle, no escape route in site. Besides she couldn't leave Symone alone in such a predicament.


Bran recoiled at his sister's fierceness, then relaxed and shrugged nonchalantly. “Just think it's about time you made friends, that's all.”


The comment struck Shiloh as odd. She would have thought, with Symone friendly nature and the way she made it a point to greet her formally the night before, that Symone was swarming with friends. Besides Symone was a wonderful person; pretty, kind, and tough when she had to be. She was sure to have plenty of friends to laugh with and hang out with, at least outside of Hogwarts. But Bran who clearly knew Symone better than Shiloh could made it seem as though she had none whatsoever. It didn't make sense. Symone was incredibly likable and trusting, not cool and withdrawn like Shiloh. Symone would have had plenty of opportunities, ones she'd clearly refused. The only question was 'why?'


Shiloh pushed to her feet as Symone, enraged by the truthful comment, growled savagely, “Shut up, Bran!” Obviously, she had wanted her friendless state to stay a secret.


Bran's eyes widened a bit, as though he couldn't believe her reaction. He gnawed his lip, hesitated, and Shiloh knew it would have been wise if he chose that moment to simply shut up. But brother concern had crept into his eyes. His intentions were good, but his actions were stupid.


“Come on, sis, ever since---”


“Don't go there!” Symone screamed at him, drawing the attention of a group of Hufflepuffs who sat on the banks nearby. Oblivious to such things as witnesses, Symone hand was clawing into her pocket. Shiloh knew she was moments away from hexing her brother. “I said shut up!”


Bran was clueless to how far he'd pushed his little sister, because he uttered a protest. “But---”


Symone's wand was out of the pocket, pointing at her brother's throat. Her lip opened, read to form some kind of incantation.


This had gone too far. Shiloh was entirely unsure about what this whole mess was about, but that was exactly what it was. A mess. There was no way Shiloh was going to let Symone jinx Bran or allow Bran to continuing poking invisible pins in Symone's heart. Without stopping to think, Shiloh was pushing her way between them, palms spread out to separate the siblings.


“That's enough!”


The words were loud and growled, as fierce as an angry professor and Symone and Bran both recoiled. The words were so powerful, they surprised Shiloh, but not enough that it showed. Her entire body was tense and she was ready to defend, fight, and do anything to keep the two from tearing each others throats out. She locked eyes with Symone and slowly shook head, hoping she got the silent message to back down.


Symone looked back at her, something strange in her eyes. Yes, something intensely relevant had happened here. Shiloh could feel it. There was a situation behind this so heartbreaking and so horrible, that at the briefest hint of it being brought into conversation turned the happy Symone into a growling beast. Shiloh had no doubt that whatever it was, it still haunted Symone, though Bran seemed at come to terms with it. And most definitely, whatever it was, Symone did not want Shiloh to know about it. In fact, the knowledge seemed to terrify Symone. Shiloh thought she could understand; secrets were meant not to be told. Symone had every right to keep it.


It seemed uncharacteristic that Shiloh was not more suspicious, but Symone had already proved herself in the last twenty-four hours. Whatever the secret was, it couldn't possibly harm Shiloh and because of that, she didn't care what Symone kept secret. After all, Shiloh had secrets of her own.


Shiloh shook her head, trying to give an answer to Symone's unasked question. Yes, she'd heard what her brother said. No, she didn't understand it. No, she didn't care.


Symone hesitated, the struggle of indecision clearly reflected in her brown eyes. Bran had cut her deep and she still desired to hurt him back. But slowly, and with one last glare to her brother, she pocketed the wand and crossed her arms as though she needed the physical restraint to keep from delving into the urge. She was still furious, but there was another emotion slowly nipping at the fading anger. It was the sad, heart-wrenching one that preceded the lump in the throat, the hot tears at the back of the eyes, and the pain desire to cry. Symone was mad, but above all, she was hurt. Whatever Bran had been about to say, though doubtless his intentions were honorable and brotherly, had brought an undefinable sting.


Looking at the agony chiseled into Symone's face, Shiloh felt that same protective anger she felt when her mother was put down by Flora or Mrs. Delamb. How could Bran have been so entirely stupid? Shiloh's jaw locked in anger and annoyance, the she forced herself to stay cool and collected as she looked at Bran.


Bran was just recovering from his sister's fierceness and Shiloh's unexpected intervention. His surprise and alarm turned to nervousness and he chuckled uneasily, running a hand through his hair. “Well, thanks for that,” Bran said, forcing a smile as he spoke directly to Bran. “We'd been in trouble if you hadn't save us. I guess you're not too bad, for a Slytherin.”


He was burying himself deeper. If he hadn't added that wry, prejudice for a Slytherin, he might have managed to get his head above water. But now he was going to drown.


“I guess you're not too bad either,” Shiloh said dryly, her tone dripping with sarcasm. “for a Gryffindor.” Bran frowned at her as though this comment was completely out of place. To elaborate, Shiloh continued, “I mean if the average Gryffindor is an annoying goofball who doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut—“ Shiloh gave an apathetic shrug. “I think we'll survive.”


She glanced momentarily at Symone whose sadness had vanished into a snort of amusement. Shiloh's plan to cheer her up and get back at Bran at the same time was working wonders.


“Ouch.” Bran fanned his hand as though he had just been burnt, but there was an amused smirk on his face. “She's feistier than you, Symone. You should both get along fine.” As though believing that introductions would be quite polite even given the row moments before, he stretched out his hand. “Bran Zell.”


“Pleasure,” Shiloh said without a drop of enthusiasm, shaking his hand only for propriety's sake, but dropping her hold quickly.


“Pleasure's all mine, kid,” the fifth year said with a grin.


Kid? Yeah, he needed to go. Now. Shiloh had no patience for older students who saw her as nothing but an ignorant child.


As though guessing he was no longer welcome, he gave an easy farewell – “Later, Symone, Shiloh.” -- before hurrying to catch up with a group of Gryffindor fifth years.


Shiloh turned her attention at Symone to find her bright smile back on her face. “Thanks,” she said cheerfully though she did indeed sound grateful. “I'm sure you know how brothers are?”


Shiloh shook her head. “I'm an only child.”


“Lucky,” Symone quipped as she settled back onto the ground.


Shiloh sat beside her, folding her legs beneath her. Her robes were still damp, but not bad as they were before. Her hair felt as stringy as it probably looked, the fine-as-silk strands looking horrible when in the stage of partly-dry. But there was no one to impress and Shiloh paid it only enough mind to get the sticky strands out of her face and tucked behind her ears.


“So what's it like having no siblings?” It seemed natural that she would ask this, given Symone was probably wishing that she was an only child right about now.


Shiloh had to think about. She had nothing really to compare her life to, never having siblings. For the second time that day she was forced to wonder what it would be like to be a sister, but this time she was able to come up with nothing, for a thought that hadn't occurred to her before, struck into her mind. If her mum and dad hadn't been unable to have their own, they'd never would have had such a great longing for a child. Then, would they ever adopted Shiloh? Likely not and Shiloh knew of no other people who would have taken in the likes of her. The alternative was horrifying.


Finally, she said the first thing that she could imagine up. “Quiet.” Before Symone could pry farther. Shiloh asked, “How many siblings do you have?” Shiloh would rather have the conversation focused on Symone. It was too uncomfortable when she was talking about her own life. It always led to ill thoughts. Besides, Shiloh knew that Symone had at least four, the ones she mentioned, but Shiloh didn't want anymore popping up unexpectedly.


“Three. But sometimes it seems like a lot more.” Symone grinned at her own joke, though knowing how completely honest it was. But Shiloh couldn't only blink at her and take her word for it. “I'm the youngest. Sherry--my sister--is the oldest. Then Bran, then Adrian.”


Shiloh was about to ask more questions, keep the subject focused on Symone and her brothers and sisters, but curious Symone would have nothing to do with it. With innocent wonder, she turned her attention to Shiloh and asked, “What do your parents do?”


Shiloh paused for a moment, bewildered about why Symone would care. Then again perhaps it was just a question that one asked to get to know someone else. Shiloh replied, “My mum stays home and my dad works at the Ministry of Magic.”


Symone's eyes widened in eagerness, as though she'd just discovered that her father was the coolest man on earth. “Really? What's he do?”


Shiloh shrugged, not really wanting to go into every detail of it, so she simply said, “He's in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts.”


A bit of confusion touched her eyes and Shiloh wasn't surprised. Not many people knew what the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts was or that it even existed. It only consisted of two people for goodness sakes. But Shiloh didn't want to explain about flying cars and biting doorknobs, so she quickly hit the ball back into safer territory: Symone's.


“What do your parents do?”


“Oh.” It took a moment for Symone switched from about to ask a question to answering one, but her smile only ebbed for a moment. “My mum works at the Ministry to.”


“Really?” It was Shiloh's turn for her eyes to widen, though not as wide as Symone's. If both their parents worked at the Ministry perhaps they knew each other. Wouldn't that be something to tell their parents? But before Shiloh could feel much of amusement, Symone next words made her swallow hard.


“She's an Auror now.”


Symone carefree words were filled with pride for her mother, as though it was something exciting that would soon have Shiloh asking many questions. Instead, the words hit Shiloh like a bucket of cold water, freezing her to her bone. At the same time it burst something within---the chance of hope of ever being friends with Symone. It was destroyed when a question floated into her mind as involuntarily and as easily as if someone had whispered it into her ear.


What would her mother think of her daughter being so near to the child of a Death Eater?


Shiloh's felt a shiver descend down her spine and, trying to remain but feeling that old urge caused by nervousness, she yanked up the collar on her left shoulder. She struggled to words, to pretend that she was alright, but every muscle in her body was screaming at her and sitting still was torture.


“That's nice,” Shiloh said but she felt no sincerity. To get the situation off of Aurors, she questioned, “What's your father do?”


“My father?” The repetition squeaked out of Symone's mouth sounded strained and slightly horrified. She looked quite like she had swallowed a rock---her smile was gone and her eyes were as wide as if she couldn't breath. That deep, dark emotion of hidden secrets appeared in her eyes. “Well...he's...” Symone gulped and clawed at her composure. “He's an accountant.”


Shiloh blinked, for the statement came off strange and awkward and Shiloh was not sure she should trust it at truth. But right now she didn't want to sit around debating whether something was truth or a lie. At that moment, there was only one thing Shiloh wanted to do. She felt it in every fiber of her being. The combined emotions of shame, hurt, and despair---all bottled inside but powerful still---fixed into one undeniable urge. To run.


Without a word, Shiloh collected her shoes and her book bag and pushed to her feet, wanting nothing more than to bolt away but Symone's question stopped her.


“Where are you going?”


Shiloh thought of something quickly, unsure whether it was true or not. Her face was placid as she gave the lie, making it logical and giving Symone the impression that nothing else was out of the norm. “I'm going to the library to get an early start on homework.” She didn't add an invitation. She had no intention of giving one, to Symone or to anyone. It wasn't that she wanted to hurt Symone, because she was a sweet, friendly girl who had done nothing to deserve it save for being an Auror's daughter. But Shiloh was confused and her mind was left reeling, dipping and spinning, as she unfortunately had to ask herself in what world an Auror's and a Death Eater's daughter could ever be friends. It was a cruel decision, one she was unprepared for, but one she would have to make. And that's why she desperately wanted to be alone, today and possibly every other day.


“Oh.” Symone brightened in response to the change of subject.


She was about to invite herself along. Shiloh didn't give her the chance. She gave a “See you later” to soften the blow and, with her shoes in one hand and her bag slung over one shoulder, she turned and padded barefoot away. She could feel Symone stunned gaze on her back, but she was bruised to deep to care.


For one blissful moment, she had imagined that they could friends, that she could forget that she was a Death Eater's daughter and just be a girl with a childhood friend. That hope had been so bright and beautiful, more magical then potions. But in an instant it had darkened and exploded in such a painful way that a lesson had been branded deep into Shiloh's being.


It was better not to hope.

Chapter 7: Chapter Six: The Real Ghoul of Halloween
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Chapter Six


The Real Ghoul of Halloween



Shiloh adjusted quickly to her life at Hogwarts, finding her busy schedule much to her liking. Memorizing the order of her classes, she fell into a welcome pattern. She learned how to time the stretch between the classes so that she was never late. She learned how to never put off homework or risk not having it done of time. She rapidly mastered the rules of Hogwarts, those written and not. She knew to avoid the older students who desired a first year in their way as much as a dog wanted fleas. She became skilled in navigating the complicated halls and staircases—including those that had an annoying habit of changes. She even adapted to Peeves' constant pranks around the school, developing the art of taking a different route then the hall he occupied, of dodging his fired spit wads, and of ignoring him whenever he followed behind unsuspecting first years and taunted 'Little bitty first year! I'm going to get your ear!'. This caused most first years to run off screaming, but when Shiloh didn't do it, Peeves learned to leave her alone; she was no fun at all!

In short, Shiloh was becoming a well-rounded student. She was doing well in all her classes, except perhaps History of Magic. She could swear that the droning ghost was speaking in some undecipherable language, his monotonous voice shutting off her mind and luring her into sleep. Fortunately she was able to grasp more from the assigned reading than she ever could in class and made up the difference by pouring into extra chapters.

In Transfiguration, she managed not to make severe mistakes, meaning she wasn't among those that caused small explosions or turned their objects into something disastrous. She did as well as could be expected from an average, brainy first year. She'd even been the first person in her class to change a match into a needle, for which McGonagall had rewarded her with five points for Slytherin. For a while after that, other first years accused her of being a know-it-all and a bookworm, but she brushed off such things as their own jealousy speaking. Perhaps if they worked a bit harder and paid attention to the teacher, despite the fact that she was a Gryffindor, they might have been able to be the first. It wasn't because she was exceptionally brilliant that Shiloh succeeded; it was the fact that she at least tried.

In Charms, she did just the same—doing no more and no less than could be expected of her. Flitwick, however, seemed to have taken some sort of liking to her, but then again, there weren't many people that the zealous Professor Flitwick could actually not feel some sort of affection for.

Herbology was mildly interesting, and Shiloh learned to make a list of all the plants and their known and possible uses, knowing full well it would come in handy with her potions. Once they were placed in a cauldron, each herb and plant had the potential of transforming into some fabulous and amazing concoction with even more amazing uses. These plants in the hands of a potion-maker, meant much more than simply strange looking grasses and flowers. They could be turned into a cure for the sick or a poison for the enemy or even something hilarious to the average prankster. But other than the fascinating relation to the potions, Shiloh found the work tedious and boring, with no real adventure. They were only first years. They wouldn't get to the really dangerous plants for several years.

Another area she excelled at was Defense Against the Dark Arts. Though Professor Quirrell was a garlic-smelling, vampire-paranoid joke who hardly managed to teach them anything other than that vampires were something you should stay far away from, for the sake of your own sanity, she delved into the subject with a passion, pouring over all her book and memorizing jinxes, curses, and hexes that were in the Common Book of Spells. She longed with some unconscious dream or some sort of driving fear, she be able to defend herself from dark magic. She knew better than most that just because You-Know-Who was no longer about, it didn't mean that the word was any less threatened by the Dark Arts. But that ignorance wasn't their fault and may they be happy being blissfully unaware. But that happy innocence could not be apart of Shiloh's world. That easy peace could never be apart of her life; not when Shiloh remembered the pain that the Dark Arts could cause.

But regardless of whatever reasons drove her, Shiloh quickly excelled in the class. Whether it was by her exuberance or some natural talent, she didn't know, but quickly she was among the best of the Slytherin first years.

But it was in Potions where she really shone. Egged on by the goal she made in the first Potion class, she focused intensely in the class and could often be seen, hair pulled back in a messy, minuscule pony-tail with a dark ribbon and teeth chewing her bottom lip in concentration as she got lost in the word of mastering perfection and Potions. She was nearly always oblivious to the other students or the pops of small explosions or how Neville had somehow managed to melt his sixth cauldron this year. She barely knew or thought of anything besides how fine she was supposed to cut the herbs and how many times she was supposed to stir it clockwise. Lost in the thing that she loved, everything else seemed amazing unimportant, as though problems and worries or a world outside of this didn't even exist.

But she was never unaware of Professor Snape's calculative gaze and every time she would feel herself tightening, wondering if it had been good enough, before excelling a sigh of triumph when he passed on to the next student, giving them that same piercing gaze and commenting upon their mistakes. And by the time the end of October was rolling around, Shiloh was nearly convinced that she'd proved to Professor Snape that she wasn't a dunderhead and she'd nearly wanted to burst with joy. But even in her silent celebration she had realized that one faulty step, one mistake and she would be back to being thought of as just another idiot girl. But no, she wouldn't let that happen.

Her classes, however, seemed to be the only thing going well. Her personal life was another matter. Unfortunately, never having friends or anything more than her Potions' shed for company, Shiloh had never before had a 'social life', and she found that aspect of Hogwarts uncomfortably strange and daunting. Unlike her classes and homework, she was unable to adjust quickly to the new circumstance. It was in the times when she was in her room, listening to the chortling of her obnoxious roommates that Shiloh felt the tiniest flicker of being homesick, wandering how her parents were. They wrote her often, but how could that be the same as actually seeing them and she struggled writing them, somehow unable to find the words to describe how she was. As a result her returned letters were short, choppy, and vague and gave her parents little more information than the fact that Shiloh was alive and well.

On the plus side, Annadel and her friends left her well enough alone as though they could not possibly be bothered by someone so unworthy as her. Shiloh thought it was only because Annadel was still having trouble accepting the fact that Shiloh was indeed apart of the noble house of Salazar Slytherin. Besides, their avoidance wasn't complete, for they still sent her hateful looks that she could have easily avoided if they hadn't been accompanied by the snide remarks about her and her parents, when they thought she wasn't listening—or perhaps when they knew she was.

And as for Symone, well...they still sat together at meals and classes and held conversations and spent time in the common room together when it became too cool to go wading in the lake. At all appearances they were friends and both Symone and Shiloh would have believed it too, if it hadn't been for the way Shiloh did the little things to distance herself from Symone, knowing that they could be casual companions, but never friends—no matter how much she wished it could be otherwise. When it came to conversations, Shiloh merely listened but barely did anything more. Whenever the conversations would threaten to turn into something nonchalant or if the topic made Shiloh uncomfortable she would awkwardly and quickly change the subject or make an escape with some quickly-thought up excuse, most the time having to do with homework and the library.

The library was where Shiloh spent much of her time, completely homework quickly and thriving on the books she found on the many bookshelves. She loved exploring the mammoth labyrinth of bookshelves that stretched up so high that they made her slender self feel minuscule. She had a favorite table, near the window so there was always amble sunlight and she could glance through it and she the grounds of Hogwarts and the serene lake. From there she would read many books of many different genres. So far she'd read ten books based on Potions, seven dealing with Defense Against the Dark Arts and three detailing creatures of all sorts.

And with classes, homework, and all her reading, she was surprised to see that two months had come and gone and, to the excitement of the students and the rambunctious ghosts, Halloween arrived in a conjured flash of black and orange.

Sitting at the Slytherin table in the great hall, Shiloh watched the bats that floated from the stormy ceiling to just above the tables, their great leathery wings stirring up winds and causing the candles into the spectacularly carved pumpkins to flutterer and dance eerie. There was the normal amount of chatter throughout the hall, unabated by what was supposed to be a haunted feel in the great hall, though Shiloh found that it felt more lively than spooky. Whether it was caused by the new decorations or not, Shiloh could feel excitement like static in the air. This Halloween celebration would be interesting; she could feel it.

The feast began as the food appeared then, magically and suddenly. Platters were filled with all sort of delectable looking foods. Baked potato, turkey, and countless other choices of meat and veggies. Along with all the nutritious food there were many platters of desert and candies of all sorts and the mixture of sweet and spicy scents teased Shiloh nose. She was serving herself up a slice of meat and a cherry pasty when there was a startling bang as the door flew open and collided with the opposite. Dropping her plate as she jumped, prepared for anything from a fight to an escape, but as she surveyed to look at the door, she saw not anything fiercer than the garlic-smelling Professor Quirrell, his turban oddly askew and his face terrified as he ran up to the Head Table.

The hall stilled as they watched him, wandering what all the fuss was about and why he had been at the Head Table at the start of the feast. Shiloh leaned backwards on her chair, to see past a hundred heads to where Professor Quirrell stood before Professor Dumbledore, slumping against the table for support as he gasped, eyes wide in fear. “Troll—in the dungeon—” Despite how it shook incredibly, his voice was heard throughout the hall as nearly a thousand students held their breath. “Thought you ought to know.”

Without another world he collapsed to the ground in a dead faint.

With an earsplitting explosions, the Great Hall erupted into a roar. Some people screamed, others talked worriedly, and there was a great deal of the question 'What do we do'. People scrambled about as though wanting to run for it, but no, one roamed more than a few feet. Shiloh only rose to her feet, back rigid, her mind taking a moment for her to register what the Quirrell had said. A troll? Here at Hogwarts? How was that possible? But no matter how improbable it seemed, there was indeed a monster loose in the castle. Shiloh reached her hand into a pocket and clutched her wand.

Bright people fireworks exploded in air several times while Shiloh looked about frantically for the source, inches away from drawing her wand from her pocket. Finally her eyes settled upon Dumbledore, finding him with his wand calmly raised and purple shooting from its tip in fiery spurts. After they had gotten over the shock of the small explosions, students removed their arms from covering their heads protectively and looked towards their Headmaster as he spoke, his voice booming.

“Prefects,” he rumbled to the disquieted room, his strong voice holding a new urgency uncharacteristic to the eccentric man. “Lead your Houses back to their dormitories immediately.”

The prefects snapped into action and before a moment had passed a bustling Slytherin prefect came forth, his face gruff, and began to bark orders. “Let's go, all of you!”

The Slytherins needed no further prodding. Everyone sitting leaped to their feet and joined those standing as they pushed and shoved their way behind the prefects, bullying for something as simple as a place in line. Shiloh tried to do it calmly, forging her way between shoulders until she was in the middle of her group, but a selfish and panicked first year yanked on her shoulder, knocking her off balance. Stumbling forward and tumbling over her own, ungrounded feet, Shiloh bumped into another student, landing on him awkwardly. Instantly enraged, the older student swore bitterly.

“Shove off!” He elbowed her, which sent her back on her own feet, but knocked the wind from her painfully. “You bloody first year.”

Shiloh's blood crackled as she reached a free hand to her bruised ribs and she momentarily forgot about trolls. The real threat seemed like surviving angry Slytherins. “You first, Mudblood!” The word came off her lips, the worst insult she knew that she could give to a Slytherin, though, of course, she had entirely no idea if he was Muggleborn or would have had a problem with it he was. Only she knew that the best way to insult the average Slytherin was to call him a 'Mudblood'--no matter how filthy of a word it was.

And her aim worked.

“Why you little--!” Shiloh thought perhaps she had made a mistake—though she admitted felt no real regret—for the Slytherin looked angry enough to draw out his wand and, courageous or not, Shiloh knew she would stand no chance in a duel against the older student. However, it never came down for that because a prefect choose that moment to throw out another order.

“Orderly, now. First years together!”

She gave the boy a glare for his rudeness and a smug smirk at his devastated look at being unable to have the opportunity to jinx her and then she smoothly slipped between two students, creating a barrier between them. Her smirk falling, she turned her mind to the business of finding the other first years. She located one quickly and she was easily recognized. Upon seeing her Shiloh felt in unexplainable rush of relief, though whether it was for herself or for the student she was entire unsure. But at least, Shiloh had found her.

Shiloh pushed the rest of the way through the students in her way and when she reached the first year's side, she tapped her on her shoulder. “Symone.”

Symone let out a little cry of fright and spun around, pretty eyes voluminously filled with fear. Shiloh was taken aback, because this didn't appear to be the same Symone that Shiloh had known for the past months. It certainly was the fighter who'd stood up to her brother beside the lake or the calculative girl who insulted the boy when Fodder had dive-bombed them. Now Symone's was the picture of terror, looking pale and scared. It brought a sudden flash of burning emotion through Shiloh, something like what she felt she when she saw her mother upset on Platform 9 ¾. It was a powerful wave of courage and fervor that gave her the sudden desire to fight the entire world if that's what it took to protect the girl. The unexpected protectiveness caught her by surprise, but she quickly pushed away her shock.

As soon as Symone saw her clearly, the fear faded into blessed relief, leaving Shiloh to wonder if the intense panic had been caused for Symone herself or for Shiloh or simply because she didn't want to be alone. “Oh, Shiloh,” Symone breathed and grasped Shiloh's arm tightly, showing that she might not be as calm as her face now seemed. Shiloh had the impression that Symone was a very good actress when she wanted to be and the fear was still deeply there.

The resolution not to be friends didn't matter at the moment. In such crazy circumstances, everything was a great equalizer. Shiloh clasped Symone's arm in return, steering her along as the group left the Great Hall and wound through the halls.

“It'll be alright,” Shiloh assured calmly.

“I know,” Symone said, forcing a convincing smile though to Shiloh it still seemed fake. “The professors will bring down the troll in no time.”

Shiloh nodded in agreement and they spoke no more until they had reached the Common Room. The last trek through the dungeon was nerve-wrecking and every single student seemed to be clasping their wand and looking around as though they expected a troll to evaporate from thin air. But, after what seemed like forever, they reached the Common Room safely. Shiloh was never so glad to see so much green.

Shiloh and Symone made their way gratefully toward the green plush sofa and lowered themselves onto. It felt as though they had walked a thousand miles and now they could finally rest and relax, knowing that no tour could get through the password-sealed door. Symone was still blinking around her as though searching wildly for someone and Shiloh discretely followed the direction of her roaming eyes. Finally Symone's gaze resisted on a handsome third year boy with dark skin and tight ringlets. Shiloh recognized him immediately, though Symone had only pointed him out once before. It was Shiloh's other brother, Adrian. After seeing that Adrian was too safe in the Common Room, Symone breathed another sighed and the rest of her unease fled her. Shiloh had to hand it to Symone—she cared immensely for her family.

Shiloh felt her muscle began to ease from their tight coils, but she had not fully begun to relax when she heard that familiar, snide voice that she so loathed, coming from behind them. Shiloh's back tightened and she felt suddenly nauseous and fiercely angry, already feeling her jaw tighten in pent-up height.

“Did you see the way that filthy Half-Blood whimpered?”

Symone, knowing instantly who they were speaking about, turned rigid at Annadel's cruel remark. In collective bitterness, both Symone and Shiloh twisted about to look over their shoulders and past the couch's back to see their three roommates laughing mockingly as Annadel made little whines like a scare dog.

Annadel made a sound remarkably like that of a pig snorting. “Half-Blood puts cowering puppies to shame.”

Shiloh felt blood pound in her ears as her temper flared behind her emotionless mask. She could feel heat and anger in every part of her body, her muscles curling up on themselves. Everything seemed to fade, even something as usual as commonsense and the knowledge of thousands of witness from her mind. The sound of the chattering students was deafened and Shiloh could focus on no more than the girls' laughing faces and perhaps Symone's shock and blank expression—the evidence of her hurt. Shiloh could understand why Annadel could be cruel to her, because somehow along the way, some war and battle had been called into action between them. But did Annadel only attack Symone because she believed Symone to be Shiloh's friend and therefore another way to reach Shiloh? If so why couldn't Annadel leave Symone out of it! She'd never done anything! And if it was just because of her breeding than that was almost as bad. No one could choose their parents!

Shiloh was on her feet, whirling to face them before she could even consider otherwise. At the very least, she managed to contain the urge of punishment, for if she had gone with her first instinct she would have vaulted the couch and slugged Annadel right in that still-perfect nose. Instead she only bellowed out a, “Shut up, Annadel!”

Her yell startled half the room into silence and they turned half-surprised, half-curious gazes in her direction. Those who had not heard her call, followed the example of the other half, guessing instantly one was up. It didn't take long to locate the first year, eyes fiery and fist clenching a drawn wand at her side. They weren't overly concerned at the occurrence, for a fight in the common room was not quite a rare thing to the Slytherins. In fact, it was a term of enjoyment. However, the Slytherins didn't usually start dueling in plain sight in the first year and the group settled back, watching the gumptious kid in amusement.

Quite aware of her audience, Shiloh decided to ignore them. She was too deep in now and there was no turning back. “Shut up,” Shiloh hissed again, quieter this time, but even more dangerously.

Annadel's eyes crackled furiously—as though she honestly hadn't predicted that this would be how it would turn out and that she was quite eager for another round with Shiloh. She crossed her arms over her chest daintily and flipped her hair, looking the picture of conceited disdain. “Don't tell me what to do, Sanders.”

Annadel's two friends were at her side, looking as though they would eagerly back her up. Millicent made a show of cracking her knuckles and given Shiloh cackling glances, smile with such a wide smile that her crooked teeth showed through. Shiloh didn't allow herself be intimidated or think too closely on the fact that it was a ratio of three to one and the odds most certainly weren't in her favor. In moments like this, she didn't care for odds.

“You listen to me, Annadel,” Shiloh ordered lowly, unabated by Annadel's command. “And listen good or I'll hex you--”

Someone was suddenly wildly grabbing her shoulder, stubbornly pulling her away. “No, Shiloh, don't.” There was a determined command in her face and Shiloh allowed her eyes to move slightly in Symone's direction, just enough to see her face. It was set in apathy of Annadel, but in with the complete need to reason with Shiloh. “She's not worth it.”

For a moment, Shiloh allowed herself to consider that Symone might be right. They were in a room full of students who would likely tattle if they could see something in it for them, not to mention prefects who, even now, could award her detention, ruining her squeaky clean school record. And Annadel was not worth that. But then Shiloh remembered the temporarily hurt expression on Symone's face and Shiloh shook all thoughts of giving up on the battle away. No, Annadel wasn't worth pond scum, but making her eat her words was. Making her feel the pain she'd inflicted on Symone was indeed worth it.

Shiloh looked back at Annadel, words coming quickly to her mind and out her mouth almost as swiftly. “You can say anything you want about me, but leave the fight between you and me.”

Their conversation and personal rivalry was being witnessed by many, but Shiloh felt no concern or chagrin. None of the prefects intervened...yet. Neither of the girls had exactly broken rules, so they could only watch carefully and bemusedly.

Annadel's eyes flickered at Symone momentarily, the discreet movement caught by Shiloh's observant eyes and telling her that Annadel knew the meaning behind the thinly-vieled words. But, turning her eyes back to Shiloh, Annadel decided to play dumb, a performance Shiloh imagined was quite simple for her. “What are you talking about?”

“I mean,” Shiloh continued, having absolutely no problem in spelling out the situation. She kept her words calm and annunciated carefully. Perhaps that would get the words past Annadel's thick skull. “If you hate me, fine! But my parents and Symone aren't your pawns. If your quarrels with me, than fight me, instead of being a coward and poking pins at others.”

Annadel glared at her, seemingly oblivious to their audience or loving every moment of the chance of showing off how 'easily' a pureblood 'princess' could show one so impure her place.

“Don't call me coward, you filthy Mudblood's daughter!”

There were a mixture of snickers and sympathetic 'ouches', but a majority of them were looking at Shiloh with a bit of weighing disdain. Pedigree, at least if you weren't what they deemed 'pureblood', was not something you readily discussed. Shiloh had been their only two months and she knew that much. But now, Annadel had skillfully let all of Slytherin in on it. But Shiloh didn't honestly care what they thought of the so-called Mudblood daughter. However, she very much cared that Annadel had once again used that dirty word to describe her father. First Symone; now her father. Oh, Annadel, was so going down.

“So now you have a problem with the truth?” Shiloh taunted coldly. “We'll add that to your list of malfunctions. Believe me, it's getting lengthy.”

The response was the same, a mixture of laughter at the silky words—even Symone gave a reluctant chuckle—and fake-compassionate 'owes' for Annadel. But along with them where looks of subtle approval. Impure or not, this first year was smooth. But it wasn't that sent a smirk of satisfaction across Shiloh's lips. Rather it was the way that Annadel's checks flush with red like metal too-long in the fire.

“I-I--” she stuttered, shifting nervously in the eyes of the crowd. She seemed totally aware that she was no long in control of the crowd and their admiration for her had quickly switched to the quick-tongued Sanders.

“What's a matter, Delamb,” Shiloh said, her voice coming out completely malicious and icy. “No witty comment or are you agreeing with me? Aye?”

Another flash of laughter from the pleased audience and Annadel pursed her lips together and stomped her foot, looking like she might through a tantrum.

Hiding her grin, Symone knew it was far time to go, before the going got bad. She tugged on Shiloh's shoulder and hissed in her ear. “You shut her up. Let's go, before the prefects get bored.”

Shiloh knew she was right. It was only a matter of moments before the Slytherin prefects got fed up with this turnabout and decided to appease themselves by passing out detention to Shiloh for making such a scene. Besides, Shiloh had shut Annadel up and embarrassed her in from of at least a hundred eyes. That victory was enough.

“Later, Delamb.” The cheerfulness in the farewell was mocked, full of smugness that clearly taunted 'chalk up another point for me'. Without another world, Shiloh turned and with Symone at her side, they made an attempt at a refined exit, while trying to move rapidly.

But before they could even reach the line of bystanders to push past to their staircase, there was a call from someone in the crowd. “Hey! Look out!”

Shiloh whirled around, wand raised in preparation for war, in time to see Annadel with her own wand in air, a half-formed incantation on her lips. Without so much as the time to think or consider her actions, Shiloh acted, calling upon the first spell that came to her mind. It just happened to be the one she'd learned a few hours earlier in Flitwick's Charm glass. With a skillful, swish-and-flick, she barked, “Wingardium Leviosa!

Annadel's incantation turned into a squeal and she dropped her wand in surprise, as her shoes bobbed off the ground. Weightlessly, she began to hover, and, her face contorted with impossible fright, her lips twisted into a piercing scream. “Help!” But it, no matter how panicked, was drowned out by the uproarious laughter of the crowd as they watched the pathetic girl drifted upward. Even Symone was giggling at Annadel's expression of terror, and Shiloh felt her lips twitching. The brat was getting what she deserved!

Looking furious, Pansy and Millicent whipped out their wands and pointed them at their 'friend's attacker. Shiloh knew she had no way of defending herself from their attacks, and she steeled herself for the pounding jinxes that were sure to come. Nonchalantly, she wondered momentarily what the hospital wing looked like. She hadn't gotten a chance to see it, but tonight would be a good opportunity—if she wasn't knocked unconscious. But before she could muse too long on the idea of tour, Symone had drawn her own wand and with a breezed swish-and-flick and mumbled words, Pansy and Millicent's wands were jerked from their hold and pulled up to hover just above their head.

“Naughty, naughty,” Symone scolded, a serpentine grin on her face.

Pansy and Millicent jumped at their wands by Symone teasingly pulled them just out of reach. Still the two girls tried, their vain attempts setting the crowd up into fresh laughter. Finally, with wicked scowls pointed at Symone and Shiloh, Pansy and Millicent gave up and turned their efforts to the floating Annadel. Jumping up they seized her ankles and attempted to pull her down to the ground. It was quite useless, because all Shiloh had to do was lift her wrist a bit higher. But still they tried, grabbing robes and any hold they could get, playing a senseless tug-of-war with Shiloh until the rope, Annadel, let out a scream.

“Stop! You're hurting me!”

They let her go and Annadel jerked up another foot, letting out another banshee-like shriek.

“What's a matter, Annadel?” Someone from the crowd called above the gall of laughs. “Afraid of heights?”

Her only reply was another squeal as she kicked her legs frantically. By this time she was nearly five feet from the ground, looking like a great floating teabag.

Annadel made several gulping motions, the panic still written on her face, but she had not yet lost all of her arrogance. A little part of her pride remained, fixed tightly and illogically in such a helpless situation. Her face wrinkling in a flash of rage, Annadel demanded, hotly, “Put me down from here, Shiloh Sanders!”

Annadel was in no place to be making orders, though Shiloh didn't see the point in continuing the act. How could she possibly humiliating Annadel more? The girl was five feet from the ground while a hundred people mocked her! Even for Annadel, that was breeching on cruel. Besides, Shiloh was out for justice not revenge. Yet she couldn't help but feel a bit of delight in continuing. Whether or not it was pushing this a bit far, Shiloh didn't know and she honestly didn't care.

She opened her mouth and pushed dryly. “You didn't say 'please'.”

Annadel breathed in deeply, looking as though it was such a terrible thing to say such a demeaning word to Shiloh. She appeared as though she was about ready to refuse, but she took that second to look down and see the tops of her friends heads. The arrogance fled and she became just anther sniveling whelp, like the ones she so despised. It didn't seem as though she had much choice; lower herself to beg a Halfblood or drift on up to the rafters and live there with the bats. She chose the lesser of the two evils.

“Please!”

Shiloh didn't know whether this episode would humble Annadel or teach her her lesson, though she doubted it. After all, this was the same girl who had been turned into a three-year-old without any nice side-effects. If that could not have put a dent in that Delamb ego of hers, than nothing had the ability to do it. There was nothing left but to release her. But nothing said she couldn't have a little bit of fun doing.

“Well...” Shiloh drawled smoothly. “Since you asked nicely.”

And with that Shiloh released her, 'accidentally' forgetting to lower her gently to the ground. Annadel tumbled and somersaulted toward the ground with an earsplitting screech and thudded into her friends, knocking all three of them onto the ground in an ungraceful pile. Shiloh thought she could hear the breath leave all three girls as they temporarily disappeared behind the back of the coach. There was thunderous laughter as Shiloh gave an “Oops” that was filled with mock innocence. Symone giggled so hard she had to grasp her side and lost control of her charm, the wands falling on top of the pile of females. Annadel scrambled upright, followed by her hot-gazed cohorts. They began straightening their robes , snatching up their wands, and making other vain attempts at elegance.

Her face red with both embarrassment and fury, Annadel pocketed her wand and shot a dark scowl in Shiloh's direction. “You'll pay for this, Sanders. It's not over.”

No, Shiloh didn't doubt that, but she smirked anyways. There was a war between them. How it had started, Shiloh didn't know, and who had been the first to declare it, Shiloh didn't comprehend, but it was there, always known by both of them. Days like tonight were when battles were held, but the war hadn't been won. But, right now, Shiloh didn't care, because sweet victory was hers.

“Maybe but--” Shiloh lifted a finger into the air and made a mocked movement like tallying up a score on a board. “This round goes to me.”

With a half-growl of rage, half-squeal of a stuck-up brat, Annadel stomped a foot and began pushing through the crowd to reach the staircase to the dorm. Her cronies were quickly at her side, just as brilliantly red as Annadel. In their place, they left only the mocking laughter and a gloating Shiloh.

She couldn't rid the proud smirk from her face, and Shiloh didn't so much as try. She turned to Symone, but found someone else in her place arms, folded across his chest and eyes narrowed in a calculative glare as he stared down on her. It wasn't the sight of the glowering boy that moved the confident smirk from her lips, but rather the thing that was pinned to his chest, glaring at her impressively and forebodingly. A badge with a sharp, bold 'P'.

The stern-faced prefect looked at her for a long moment as Shiloh refused to show any of her nervousness. She silently mused on what her punishment would be, after all, she'd broken several school rules. She easily tallied them. Attacking a student. Fighting and causing general mayhem. Not to mention, using a spell for ill purpose, each worthy of a detention. Together, she might never escape detention. But she squared her shoulders and locked her jaw, ready to face the consequences of her decisions. After all, Annadel's expression of embarrassment had been well worth it.

Finally, the prefect nodded as though making a choice and opened his mouth. Shiloh steeled herself.

“She drew first. That's Slytherin justice.”

Stunned, Shiloh could only blink at him as his lips parted in a mischievous grin. He clapped her on her back with such a hearty slap that she nearly winced from the sting of it. “Nice charm, kid.”

Shiloh's mind blazed with disbelief. She had just broken several school rules in front of the eyes of an undeniable amount of witnesses, including two prefects, but the prefect was willing to let her slide for no more reason than so-called “Slytherin justice”. It seemed that what Shiloh had only guessed at was true. The House of Slytherin had rules all of its own and she had better learn them quickly. And one those rules were most defiantly not questioning good fortune.

Shiloh nodded and allowed a smirk to touch her lips. “Thanks.”

It was not the only one who gave her compliments that night. All of Slytherin seemed to have enjoyed the show and they went about, giving out rare praises accompanied by mocks directed at the absent Annadel. Shiloh lost counts of the many times she heard, “Great Levitation Charm” and “Good reflexes, Sanders” and the ever-popular “You've got wit...for a first year.” And on occasion, they exchanged 'first year' for a half-disgusted, half-surprised Halfblood. Shiloh didn't let any of the thinly-veiled insults get to her, but accepted all of it with mere nods, marveling at her new found popularity. For a first year, the fact that such older students knew her name was amazing.

But what she most enjoyed—though Shiloh would never admit it, not even to herself—was when Symone pulled her aside, a grin set on her face. Seeing her so happy and that brilliant smile back on her face, made Shiloh want to smile as well, but her lips only twitched pleasantly. But Symone's smile deepened as she locked eyes with Shiloh, her expression turning more serious. Not bad, just more serious, and her smile turned slighter, but just as sincere and grateful. “Thank you, Shiloh.”

Shiloh suddenly felt uncomfortable and tense, because it was dawning on her the predicament she set herself up for. She'd been so caught up in the flash of anger and enmity that had filled her, that she hadn't thought that she'd felt those emotions and followed through with those actions because of Symone. She'd done it to defend Symone, just like she stood up for her parents or for herself. But she had protected Symone, with or without realizing it. And that filled Shiloh with nervousness because it was something more than sitting side-by-side in a classroom or breakfast. It was a sign of...friendship. Shiloh suddenly wished to back peddle and find someway to excuse her actions as something else entirely, but one look at Symone's grateful expression and she stopped. Symone's thankfulness made Shiloh's heart tighten, which made her feel even more sheepish. Shiloh knew then, that even if the night had gone purely and she'd gotten jinxed or ended in detention, she would have done her actions over again. Symone deserved being stuck up for; just like she'd once stuck up for Shiloh.

And perhaps, Shiloh's resolution for a nonchalant relationship didn't matter tonight. But just for tonight.

Shiloh shrugged lightly. “It was nothing.” Symone opened her mouth as to argue that it was indeed not 'nothing', but Shiloh added quickly. “Besides, I be hexed if it weren't for you. Nice Wingardium Leviosa.”

Symone grinned, though it had a bit of sheepish note in it. The sparkle was back in her eyes. “I learned from watching the best,” she said, giving Shiloh a pointed glance.

Shiloh didn't press the comment off this time, knowing Shiloh would argue with her until she accepted the compliment. So humbly she nodded, her lips twitched again.

The half-serious and half-uncomfortable conversation ended in a flash as Symone's smile changed into fierce joy as an idea struck her. “Bran and Sherry bought me nearly a mountain of candy in Hogsmeade,” she spoke brightly, and Shiloh recognized the name Sherry as Symone's older sister. “Want some.”

Since a troll and a stuttering professor had rudely interrupted their dinner, Shiloh felt her empty stomach weighing her down and she didn't hesitate before nodding.

Shrugging past a couple of first years and a crowd of people, Shiloh and Symone jogged up the steps to their room. The paused at the door for a moment and, in unison, searched the crack of the door, looking for any speck of light that would give evidence that their roommates/enemies were still awake and ready to cause trouble. They say nothing, but they still entered the room cautiously, peering around the door to expect the room. They found their roommates sleeping on their beds, snoring peacefully. They crept in quietly and Shiloh slipped momentarily into her bed, drawing back the curtains so she change into her nightclothes in private while Symone went to her trunk to do the same and collect the candy.

They piled the sweets between them on the bed and sat crossed-legged, carrying on a casual and comfortable conversation. Speaking in whispered tones, they talked about classes, spells, teachers, and their separate families. Though she carried her part of the conversation, Shiloh mainly listened, nibbling attentively at chocolate frogs and licorice wands. They continued their conversation until their eyes began to droop and their stomachs would hold no more.

They cleaned up the rest of the candy and stored it in Symone's trunk for later enjoyment. They moved to their separate beds, the two next to each other. Shiloh opened her music box, winding it up carefully and then they both snuggled under their own covers, each lying on their favorite side. Their positions left them facing towards each other, the moonlight from the window splashing off their faces and illuminating their tired eyes.

Symone stifled a yawn and tried to smile, but it came off weary and casual, with no sign that she was truly worried about anything. “Do you think the professors took down the troll?”

“Hm...” Shiloh mused, her mind already fuzzed by the desire to sleep. With her mind fading into half-unconsciousness, fantasies came easily to the mind. The professors wielding their wands up high and casting spell after spell at the troll in brilliant explosions of color and masterful wand work, but it was Professor Snape who brought the troll tumbling to the ground. But Shiloh decided not to attempt to explain her wild reveries to Symone and carefully chose the route of humor instead.

“Don't worry, Symone,” Shiloh said, her voice barely more than an exhausted whisper. She didn't even open her eyes as she lifted a slender hand to gesture at the bed where Annadel's soft snores came from. “The real ghoul of Halloween is in the bed next to mine.”

Symone giggled.

But neither of them imagined, as they curled up beneath warm covers and were lured into happy dreams, how much of a terror Annadel was about to become.

Chapter 8: Chapter Seven: Explosive
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Chapter Seven


Explosive

 
*Author's Notes: I know that the timing in this and the beginning of the next chapter, might seem a bit off, but J. K. Rowling was never specific about the timing between Halloween in the Quidditch match. Most assume that it was probably the next day, but since the timing isn't certain, I decided to play around with it a little bit.


The very next day, Annadel tried to follow through her threat for vengeance. It was after school, and Shiloh was sitting alone on the grounds of Hogwarts, enjoying the quiet that was only slightly disturbed by the distant murmuring of other students and the subtle sounds of nature. Her back was set against a tree nearest the lake and her knees were lifted so she could her thighs for support for her books and pads of parchment. The ground that she sat on was a quilt of leaves, all of which were vibrantly colored in reds, yellows, browns, and that rare, but ever-beautiful, burgundy. The bare branches above her cast skinny shadows over her face and her written words as she scratched away at her homework, her mind currently lost in the arts and uses of that amazing plant called gillyweed. It had been assigned by Professor Snape and, as always, she got a head start on it, because she knew she could never have finished three rolls worth if she stupidly waited for the last minute.

There was a sweet breeze in the air and it tousled her hair, causing strands to leave the small ponytail and fall forward to tickle her nose. She blew a strand from her face and rubbed at her itchy nose with the heel of her hand, not noticing the quill as its point scrapped against her cheek. When she pulled her hand away, a blatant splotch of dark ink marked her cheekbone, a sharp contrast on her fair skin. Shiloh leaned forward carefully, so she did not lean against the fresh ink on the paper and smudge the neat handwriting, and dipped the quill into the ink-pot that she held steadily between her bare feet. Her shoes and stockings sat abandoned beside her as her toes wiggled in the grass. They had been stuffed in the suffocating things all day and now, she enjoyed the freedom immensely.

She was returning the quill to her paper and continuing on writing, when a foreboding shadow fell over her paper. Instantly aware of the hulking presence, Shiloh jerked as though expecting an attack. Along with the rest of her body, her hand involuntarily jolted, causing the quill to press into the paper and leave in ugly blot. Beautiful, Shiloh mused dryly to herself with an exasperated roll of her eyes directed at herself. Now she would have to copy the paper all over again. But, at that moment, she had bigger problems. As she raised her head, she half-expected to see Annadel with her wand raised aggressively. She found herself, instead, looking up at the stony-faced Slytherin prefect with his long face set into a serious expression. Shiloh suddenly wished that it had been Annadel, because when a prefect had such a forlorn expression it could only mean whatever was about to occur was far worse than a painful jinx.

The prefect didn't wait for her to respectfully ask what he needed and instead opened his mouth, his voice gruff. “Come on. Professor Snape wants to see us.”

Professor Snape wants to see us. The statement sent warning bells blaring about in her mind. Quickly she calculatedly the possible reason Professor Snape could have for calling her and a prefect to him, though she came up with positively nothing. She'd done nothing to incriminate her today. She'd been on time to all her classes; even impeccable early for some and she hadn't broken any rules...at least that she was aware of. Then what could it be? But Shiloh did know one thing. Whatever it was, it couldn't be good.

Trying to hide her apprehension and succeeding well, Shiloh asked, “Why?”

“Don't know,” the prefect replied impatiently, and his expression turned even darker. Without waiting for a single moment, he twisted on his heel and stalked toward the castle. He called over his shoulder a disgusted, “Hurry up!”

Without a protest, Shiloh capped her ink and threw it and the quill into her clothe schoolbag. Folding her paper, she shoved that into the bag as well. With the rough treatment, she knew that the paper was likely unreadable by now and the ink too smudged to be fathomed. At the moment she didn't care that her hour of hard work had been wasted. She cared about little as she found her heart hammering and her mind racing with the knowledge that haste was of the essence, yet what was bound to come was not going to be good. She gathered up her books, quicker than she ever had before and stuffed them inharmoniously into her bag. She jumped to her feet, slung her bag over her neck, and raced across the lawn to catch up with the prefect, who, by now, was already at the castle door.

In her haste, her anxious mind had forgotten something very important, and she was unconsciously aware of it, for it showed itself in the nagging at the back of her mind. However, she brushed it off carelessly. It couldn't be as important as getting to Professor Snape's office as soon as possible. But, perhaps, if Shiloh had not been so concerned in catching the prefect or what was soon to come, her normally smooth and calculative mind might have received an image of her shoes, nonchalantly sitting...by the trees.

She threw past the door and turned the corner sharply, racing after the prefect. The older student had long legs and mountainous strides and it seemed impossible that she would be able to catch up. However, she continued her breakneck speed. She pounded down the dungeon steps, leaped the bottom three steps, and landed with knees bent to balance herself. It helped to gain ground and, by the time the prefect had reached Professor Snape's office door, Shiloh had caught up with him, though not without side effects. She was completely out of breath and her side ached from the mad sprint through the halls of Hogwarts. She attempted to still her breathing and the rapid thundering of her heart, her pulse quickened by both the long run and the apprehension.

The prefect rested his hand on the doorknob, but paused and glanced at Shiloh momentarily. His nose wrinkled in disdain and disgust, but Shiloh could only imagine why. It could have been that he was extremely peeved that he might be getting into trouble with the Head of House and, whatever reason it was, Shiloh had something to do with the odious situation. That and Shiloh imagined she looked a sight. What, with her hair clinging pathetically in the ponytail, though most of the hair now hung limply about her face and she was winded and panting slightly. Not to mention, the splotch of ink on her cheek and no shoes on her feet—two things she was oblivious to.

Shaking his head in exasperation, the prefect twisted the doorknob and pushed in, the door opening with a squeak of protest. The prefect entered flowingly, his head held high for this was undoubtedly not the only time he could be found in Professor Snape's office. Shiloh entered, trying not to be tentative, but, as she crept in, her deep eyes took in everything uneasily. Just like the Potions' classroom, Professor Snape's office was dark and almost spooky, with shelves of jars with ominous ingredients lining the walls.

But the shelves were not the most eerie thing in the room, nor was it the thing that filled them that gave Shiloh a disquieting sense of doom. Rather it was the occupant of one the chairs before the professor's desk, the one she only saw when the person swiveled her head around to peer from about the back of the chair. Shiloh recognized the wicked grin on the girl's face immediately.

Annadel. Shiloh forced herself to remain calm, but her mouth went dry for she was already considering the possibilities of why she could possibly be here and coming to the only conclusion available. This had to be about last night; there was no other logical answer. Shiloh should have known she would do this; Annadel was the type to come running to someone in power, instead of fighting her own battles. Shiloh should have known that Annadel was nothing more than a spineless snitch!

Severus Snape looked up from his desk, taking them in with cool glances, and gestured absently to the two empty chairs. “Have a seat.” His voice was flat, neither polite nor impolite, but there was no mistaking the order.

The prefect quickly complied. He settled his large frame into the chair and crossed him arms over his chest, more for something to do with his hands than any real sign of impatience. Shiloh followed suit, but sat only on the edge of the chair, her body as tense as a coiled snake's.

Annadel turned from sending Shiloh her evil, impish sneer and flicked her gaze back to Professor Snape. Her eagerness was clear by the way she excitedly shifted in her chair, grinned cockily, and flipped her hair conceitedly over her shoulder. Shiloh had no doubt that their was little that Annadel would love more than Shiloh in detention.

“All right, Professor,” Annadel chirped, most disrespectfully, “punish her.”

Professor's Snape's eyes narrowed and his lips twisted in displeasure. It was obvious that he was holding back the full extent of his anger, though it didn't appear easy. Even now, his eyes were even darker than usual, and though his voice was still, he appeared dangerous. “I would ask you, Miss Delamb, not to give orders to a professor.”

Annadel eyes rose as she realized she had made a faulty move in this game that she was playing. Shiloh watched her carefully from the corner of her eye as Annadel forced herself to recover and grasp awkwardly at her manipulative acting skills. Annadel plastered on a humble and dutiful look. Shiloh wondered if it looked as fake to Professor Snape as it did to her.

“My apologizes, sir.”

Whether he forgive her or not was left unknown, although Professor Snape did not strike Shiloh as a very forgiving person. Instead of answering Annadel, Professor Snape decided to do the one thing that irked Anndel the most—well, other than being dangled midair in front of a large audience. He ignored her, and then turned his dark, cynical eyes to the prefect.

“Miss Delamb has informed me that Miss Sanders used a Levitation Charm on her in the Slytherin Common Room last night. Is this true?” But instead of keeping his gaze firmly on the prefect, he was interrogating, he met Shiloh's eyes, his black orbs boring into each other as though to see her reaction to the accusation.

Shiloh had once found his eyes impressive, the window to a soul filled with power and strength. But now, perhaps, because she knew her own guilt, she found them piercing, as though they could penetrate into her very being. She knew she was being silly, and that she was only reacting to a shamed conscience. But how could that be, when she did not regret her actions. She was remorseful that they would bring her trouble, but she couldn't take them back and she didn't want to. But whatever it was, she felt uncomfortable under his scrutiny and she was unable to bare his gaze for more than a few seconds. She looked away smoothly, setting her eyes on the leg of his desk.

After a moment, Professor Snape looked expectantly at the prefect who still hadn't spoken. Shiloh knew what was to come. Not punishing her himself was immensely different than lying to a professor. He would tell the truth and confess her actions to Professor Snape, and Shiloh would spend a day on her hands and knees scrubbing the Great Hall floor with her toothbrush while Argus Filch looked on gleefully. The prefect didn't even hesitate.

“No, sir, it's not.” The prefect sent a glare to Annadel, whose mouth had sudden dropped in a dumbfounded expression. “I don't know why she would come up with such a preposterous story.”

Shiloh tried to hide her surprise—and succeeded far better than she thought possible. The prefect had lied...for her? But just as quickly as she felt stunned and grateful, her surprise had faded and she was suddenly suspicious. The only question lingered in her mind was, What does he want?He didn't exactly strike her as the kind of person who did something for nothing.

Professor Snape locked eyes with the prefect, as though to catch a lie and, unlike Shiloh, the prefect bravely didn't look away, but kept his face blank of anything that would suggest mistrust. Still, despite the convincing lie, Professor Snape's gaze darkened all the more, and he sneered menacingly at the Professor. “Are you absolutely sure?”

The prefect nodded calmly, and added silkily, “Professor, do you honestly believe that if it were true, that I wouldn't have issued a punishment myself?”

Professor Snape leaned back his chair, his gaze thoughtful. Shiloh tried to read his expression, but was unable. His expression, as always, was simply too deep and unfathomable.

Annadel was suddenly free from the shock that had temporarily paralyzed her. In a second, she was a show of fury and was clearly about to throw a tantrum. She hadn't gotten her way, and Shiloh knew how much she hated that. Hair whipping wildly, she leaped to her feet and pointed a finger of damnation at Shiloh's chest. “He's lying!” she screamed unhappily. “Sanders assaulted--”

“Sit down, girl!” Professor Snape snapped angrily. “Before I give you detention!” His crackling fury was so frightening that Annadel would have had to be brain-dead not to react to his wishes.

She swiftly plunked herself down in her chair, but still looked entirely displeased. Her cheeks were a bright shade of red and her arms were crossed over her chest. She, however, did still have the stubbornness of a Slytherin and she spoke. “Sir, with all due respect--” Even in her anger, she was smart enough to continue to be polite, but not intelligent enough to shut up. “He is lying. My friends saw it. Everyone--”

“Miss Delamb,” Professor Snape interrupted. His strained voice made it clear that he was trying to keep his patience and to not strangle the wretched girl. Shiloh pitied him, because she knew all too well that Annadel could make even a saint lose their temper. At the very least, Shiloh had the luxury of being able to jinx her senseless. Professors did not have such perks. “Do you honestly believe I would accept the word of a first year—or even three first years—against the word of a prefect.”

“But, sir-” she whined unhappily.

And suddenly she had pushed him too far. Professor Snape was on his feet in an instant, one palm pressing in desk and the other arm stretched toward the door. He was shaking with rage and looking so demonic that Annadel squeaked, like a mouse did an instant before a cat struck.

“Out!” he growled in such a fierce way that Annadel immediately scurried to her feet and rushed toward the door, without so much as the time for a complaint or even another fearful yelp. Shiloh thought—though perhaps it was only a figment of her imagination—that, as Annadel's back disappeared behind the slammed door, she herself saw Professor Snape send her a disturbing look that could only be described as pure, loathsome disgust.

When the door had been shut for a long moment, Professor Snape sat back in her chair, looking tense and, as though he still carried a touch of his anger. She watched him cautiously, wondering quietly if she had heard the end of this. But Professor Snape only lifted a dismissive hand and said, “You two may go.”

The prefect, as though relieved that the interrogation was over, rose to his feet and swept out of the office so quickly that his robes nearly caught in the door as it swung shut. Hold her back bag to her stomach, Shiloh moved to follow him, but halfway there she slowed, remembering.

She didn't know what possessed her to do it; after all, it was absolutely none of her business. But after getting away with breaking so many rules without a single point being deducted from Slytherin, she was feeling quite bold. She didn't normally let her curiosity get the best of her, but perhaps her question would seem nothing more than sweet concern. She turned back around and found that Professor Snape had already gone back to whatever he was writing. The scratches of quill on parchment filled the quiet room without so much as abating as though the professor was oblivious to her lingering presence, but Shiloh knew he was far from ignorant.

“Professor Snape?”

He neither looked up nor halted his ceaseless writing, but gave an apathetic reply. “Yes, Sanders.”

“I was just wondering--” She paused for half a heartbeat, questioning her sanity before continuing. “What happened to your leg?”

She'd seen it that day as he walked between the desks, surveying their work with his usual unimpressed eye. The movement of one leg was stiff and unnaturally jerky, as though he had a slight, but noticeable limp. At the time, she had mused if perhaps he'd injured it while taking down the troll. Only, she'd reminded herself a moment later, he hadn't been anywhere near the troll. None of the professors had. According to the news and rumors that buzzed enthusiastically around the school like a swarm of bot flies, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ronald Weasley—first year Gryffindors—had knocked the troll senseless. She thought it was incredibly stupid, what they had done. But if they'd done it to seek glory, they'd certainly gotten it.

So, if not the troll, what had happened to the professor's leg? Had he simply come down on a step wrong and sprained it? But, if that was true, Shiloh was sure Madam Pomfrey, the school nurse, could have mended it in a second. Why then was it still injured? It seemed there was much more to this than met the eye, and the mystery teased Shiloh's calculative mind.

The scratching of the quill paused, as the sharpened point of the quill lifted gracefully away from the paper. The professor's eyes rose just a bit, but he didn't look at her. There was a thick silence that stretched on for what seemed like horse, but was only a heartbeat of a pause, while Professor Snape seemed to be consider some deep thought that played somewhere behind his unreadable eyes. Then, collecting himself smoothly, Professor Snape dipped his quill into the ink and his insistent writing continued.

Not so much as looking at her, he said disinterestedly, “I can't see how that would be any of your business.”

Shiloh knew much better than to press, for Professor Snape was completely right. It was not her business. But that was not the only thing she knew. Perhaps, because she kept her own secrets, Shiloh had always been blessed with the uncanny ability to see when someone was hiding something—whether it was insignificant or important. She'd seen it when Symone talked about her family, but never seemed to speak of her accountant father or about her Slytherin brother, Adrian. She saw it written in the letters from her parents, in that though they were kind and asked questions about her classes, they never mentioned her house of Slytherin.

The language of secrets was a difficult language to interpret, but she was a master translator. She saw secrets in an unmeant statement said, or even what had been left unsaid. She read it in an ill-placed emotion or and indecipherable though flashing behind the eyes. She witnessed it in slight pauses and a long babble. These were all signs that someone had a secret, and wanted to keep it to themselves, while they had been caught too near to it's truth.

And, now, that silence, that pause, and that though dancing through his gaze was enough for her to know. Professor Snape was hiding something.

Was there anyone who wasn't?

Though she wondered what it could possibly be, she knew the wisdom in holding her tongue. So she only nodded and said, “Of course, sir.”

She turned to leave and wrapped her fingers around the doorknob, but Professor Snape's voice stopped her.

“Sanders.”

Curious, Shiloh faced him once again. “Yes, Professor Snape.”

He didn't speak, but made the strangest gesture. He rubbed at one cheekbone, but she knew it wasn't something ideal. He was trying to tell her something, and she frowned in confusion not comprehending what. Her mother had made such a gesture once, when they were in public and Shiloh hadn't realized that she had a glob of frog intestines on her face. Knowledge striking her, Shiloh raised a hand to her cheek to touch her cheekbone and felt something wet. She brought back her hand and stared at her fingertips. They were now covered in a black, liquid substance and she instantly knew what it was.

Ink.

Forcing herself not to panic or to think too closely on the fact that she had arrived in Professor Snape's office with a shameful blob of ink on her face, she raised her wrist and rubbed vigorously at her cheek with her sleeve. After a moment, she lowered her arm, looking at Professor Snape beseeching. He nodded ever so slightly to show she had gotten it all. His face remained blank, but Shiloh knew he must think she was a fool. She was surprised he didn't sneer at her or call her a dunderhead, because he must think her an idiot. No matter how much she suddenly wanted the floor it open up and swallow her, she remained passive and collected, not showing any sign of embarrassment.

“Also,” Professor Snape spoke, his voice showing no particular emotion. “I would appreciate that, when next you come to my office, you remember to wear your shoes.”

Shiloh blinked, unsure entirely what he meant. What did he mean, she was not wearing her shoes? She discretely peered down her length, only long enough to see her pale toes peeking out from the bottom of her robes. She had the sudden urge to groan in misery. As though things hadn't been bad enough with ink on her face, she'd come to his office barefoot. It took all her willpower to keep from bolting from the room or, at the very least, blushing a very brilliant shade of red. Carefully, she tucked her feet backwards so they were hidden by her robes.

“Yes, sir. Anything else, sir?”

“Just one more thing,” he replied, but before he went on he once again locked gazes with her, staring directly into her eyes. She felt the discomfort again, but this time she could feel it as a prick in her mind as though he could see into her very thoughts. But that wasn't possible! She was just paranoid and, this time, she was determined not to look away, not to run from his eyes like a coward. Instead, she stared back into his piercing, judgmental gaze—unflinchingly and fearlessly.

When he spoke, his voice was quiet, still, and calm, but there was a deep knowing in the words that sent a shudder down her spine. “I would ask you to remember, that using magic against a fellow student is against school rules.”

Slowly, she moved backwards until she could feel the doorknob pressing into her lower back. All at once, she felt a crash of surprise and wariness and even a touch of anger. All at the same time, she wanted to protest, to deny, to claim innocence, and to demand how he could possibly know that Annadel had been telling the truth. Because he did know. It was clear in his certain eyes. He didn't think; he knew.

She collected herself quickly, hoping she hadn't shown the emotions she'd felt, but she suddenly wanted very much to flee from Severus Snape's office. She didn't know how he'd been able to know such things, but she did know that someone who could gain hidden knowledge was someone she should beware of. Because someone who could learn such secrets, was very, very dangerous. It made her wander what else he was capable of learning.

Yes, she still believed Professor Snape was a wonderful wizard, a brilliant Potions Master, and an incredible teacher, but as much as she admired him, she knew she had too be careful, because he was no man to be taken lightly.

As silkily as she could, she heaved a “Yes, sir.” before making a hasty exit.

 

As the door clicked into the frame of the door, Severus gave a subtle shake of his head and looked back to his paper, but he didn't go back to his writing. His mind was else where and was tugging at him to consider the events of the meeting and of that queer girl Sanders. That girl was...something else. Now, this was a no compliment, for Severus did not like that peculiar girl—though he never truly liked any of his students. It was more of the fact that he could find nothing that would properly and sufficiently describe the student. As much as he tried to discover one particular word to fit her, he was forced to discard it as it came up short. For once, word's had failed him. After all, it was not every day a student showed up in his office with inked cheek and bare feet.

However, he had to admit that Sanders had handled the situation well. When he'd pointed out the flaws, she had hidden her embarrassment well, something that was impressive, considering he'd known that, in the same situation, another would have turned scarlet, before beginning to apologize profusely. But she hadn't; she'd simply said, 'Yes, sir'. For a child, the girl had great control over her emotions, and he wondered what would cause her to develop such a skill. Then again, he himself had been so cautious with his expressions, but he had had his reasons. And, perhaps, she, too, had her reasons.

But as talented as she was, he'd seen her fear. He'd scared her, he knew, and felt no same. His ability at Legilimens came in handy in times like these when the truth was in question. He'd seen the truth in Delamb's eyes, as easily as he had seen it in Sanders, and when he'd so knowingly reprimanded her, she'd been afraid. The fact that he had someone known had shaken her and that was curious, for though he had seen her actions clearly in her mind, he'd also seen that she didn't feel ashamed. It wasn't the threat of trouble that had unnerved her; it was simply that he had seen her secret and she didn't like it. It made him muse at what else she could be hiding.

However, despite his knowledge of his crime, he'd chosen not to punish her. It made no sense when the prefect—liar that he was—had, for some undoubtedly selfish reason, chosen to vouch for her. That and Severus could understand perfectly how Sanders could have felt the desire to attack the wretched girl. Dangling Annadel over a group of spectators was incredibly tempting.

Sanders was a mischief-maker and a nuisance, but, he had to admit, she was a brilliant potionist. She had skill that equaled to students more than two years in advance and not once since term began had she failed to produce a perfect potion. She was dedicated, focused, and, at the very least, she wasn't a dunderhead—when it came to potions, that was. But, unlike Sanders, Annadel Delamb had not a single redeeming quality. In the time she'd been in his office, he had been able to sum her up as an arrogant, self-righteous child who believed the world and everyone it is was her plaything. But that was not the thing that disgusted him the most.

What turned his stomach was who she reminded her of. The way she flipped her hair, the straight, blond shape—though it was obviously dyed--, the conceited, high-pitched voice, the pretty face and slender body—all of it, all of her, reminded Severus of a young Ellessa. Annadel was looking at a picture of Ellessa, younger, perkier, more alive, but she was still Ellessa in appearance and in mannerism. So much so, that all doubt was stricken from her mind, and that was why he had grown so angry, that was why he had looked at her with such loathing. Because only one question remained in his mind, echoing itself over and over in his mind.

How can that be my daughter?



 

“What happened to you? You're sopping!” Symone gasped as she looked up from a difficult piece of Potions homework and sent Shiloh a quizzical and slightly concerned look as Shiloh slumped into the Common Room, her wet shoes squishing and leaving watermarks on the floor as she walked in.

Shiloh flicked her gaze over to her as she came to stand next to the table that Symone was working out, but didn't reply at the moment. She was torn between the desire to say nothing and stay miserable or to tell every stinking-detail of the wretched-smelling day. Symone, however, made the choice for her, as she breezed up from the chair and, gingerly as not to get herself wet, slid her arm through Shiloh's and pulled her toward the stairs.

“Let's get you into some dry clothes,” she said briskly, still sounding rather cheerful as though her happiness might rub off on Shiloh. “And then you can tell me all about it.”

“You sound like my mother,” Shiloh spoke, not even close to kidding. She was just not in the mood for joyousness, thinking that the only thing dry on her being was her voice. Besides, Symone honestly sounded like an eleven-year-old version of Shiloh's mum.

Symone stopped as they reached the door to their room and inharmoniously yanked Shiloh to face her. Symone's lips were puckered in mocked anger and her eyes were narrowed savagely, as her finger wiggled up and done before Shiloh's nose. Using a shrill voice, she scolded, “Now don't you sass me, girl. If you think you're too big for me to put you over my knees, you've got another think coming.”

Shiloh almost felt delight at Symone's attempt to make her smile. Almost. She was far too tired to even attempt at amusement.

Shiloh's impassiveness didn't seem to affect Symone, however, for she simply shrugged apathetically and pulled the door to their room open.

In a few minutes, Shiloh had changed in the privacy of the curtains and was now her spare pair of robes, relieved to out of the dreadful wet cloth. Symone hung Shiloh's cloak and robes near the fireplace, set the shoes nearby, and conjured a fire in the hearth with surprising skill.

“You're missing a sock,” Symone informed her from outside of Shiloh's curtains.

Tell me something I don't know, Shiloh mused irritably, as she rubbed tenderly at her heel that had been blistered by the friction of the wet shoes on her skin. She should have come to the dorm barefoot, but the thought of Professor Snape, Filch, or one of the other teachers seeing her had been unbearable. Even unmovable and temperate Shiloh had to draw the line on apathy somewhere. And she'd had enough humiliation for one day!

Her hair was still wet, and her skin felt clammy. It didn't help that the air pouring through the walls of the drafty room chilled her to the bone. With a shiver, Shiloh crawled under her blanket, soaking in the warmth. As she laid her head on the pillow, she wanted nothing more than to go to sleep and forget that the terrible day had happened, but that was quite impossible because she had not yet even had supper yet. Despite how exhausted she was, if she went to sleep now, she would be awake at three in the morning. Besides, Symone was not about to let her dose peacefully until she had pressed every horrible detail from Shiloh's reluctant lips.

Even now Symone was tentatively peeking through the closed curtains, making sure that Shiloh was dressed before sitting on the edge of the bed. She held out one of the chocolate frogs that she had taken from her stash of candy. “Take it,” she pressed kindly. “It'll make you feel better.”

Suppressing a groan, Shiloh forced her drooping eyes open and sat up, leaning against the headboard. She accepted the frog and greedily bit at the head, wishing it was truly the flesh of Annadel Delamb. The sweet chocolate failed to remove the bitterness from her mouth, but it did succeed in helping to loosen Shiloh's tongue and make her a bit civil.

“Annadel isn't here, is she?” Shiloh asked suspiciously. If she saw that good-for-nothing snitch she was going to hex her. As far as Shiloh was concerned, Annadel was the root of this wretched day.

“Nope,” Symone reassured as she folded her legs beneath her and nibbled at her own chocolate frog. “I haven't seen her or the rest of her pack of mewing house-cats since Potions class.” She chewed her chocolate thoughtfully and then swallowed. “She did something, didn't she?”

Seeing no harm in confessing everything, Shiloh weaved the story of the day in detail, starting with Annadel plot and the prefect's lie. Symone listened without interrupting, not doing anything more than giving the occasional understanding and sympathetic nod. When Symone got to the last part of the scene in Professor Snape's office she spoke quickly, only just managing not to be melodramatic. “And not only did he point out the fact that I had ink on my face, but that I was barefoot too.”

Symone gave a compassionate groan. She was a good listener and a good supporter. She would be a good friend, but she was not Shiloh's friend—as Shiloh was forced to remind herself. No matter how much she seemed to be right now.

Shiloh told of how Professor Snape had somehow managed to 'know' that Shiloh was, in fact, guilty of all Annadel had accused her off. Symone immediately asked the questions that Shiloh had been musing about over the last hour.

“But how could he know?” Her nose was wrinkled in quite a cute manner, but it was a sign of her intense confusion. “And why didn't he punish you?”

Shiloh could only lift her shoulders in an unknowing shrug. She had been debating on the answer periodically throughout the time that had passed since the episode had occurred. It was maddening how she could come up with no definite answer. She couldn't begin to guess how he could know such things when he had been troll-hunting the night before and could not possibly have witnessed it himself. Did he have spies or had others told on her? It might seem likely, if everyone hadn't loved the show. And as for the second question, it could be one of many reasons. The first and most likely was that whatever means he had used to find out the truth was not accepted by the Headmaster or could not be used as solid evidence for the other professors approval. Secondly, it could have been the prefect's refusal to tell the truth, which would have made Professor Snape look insane to call his own prefect a liar. Thirdly, and the least likely, was that Professor Snape had enjoyed what Shiloh had done quite as much as the other Slytherins had.

There was just no way to know for sure, so Shiloh only shrugged again.

Symone paused for a moment, as though forging her own debate, but after a short time, she moved on in the conversation. “It still doesn't explain why you were soaking wet.”

Shiloh resisted the urge to grimace as she recalled back to the horrible episode. She had the sudden urge to hex her pillow and pretend that it was the head of those stupid, wretched boys. Symone wanted patiently as she pushed away her anger and frustration, enough to give a shrug that was full of feigned-lightheartedness.

“Oh, some fourth-years thought it would be hilarious to throw my shoes into the lake.”

Symone's mouth dropped, but the surprise lasted only moments, before there was a hot flash in her eyes and her face contorted in rage. She looked quite like she was ready to seek out the group of older students and show them the business-end of her wand. “Who where they?”

Shiloh shrugged lightly, showing she didn't know. She temporarily thought back to the scene. After she had escaped from Professor Snape's office, Shiloh had been padding down to the lake to retrieve her shoes. Her thoughts had been whirling, and they were all she had been focusing on as she made the journey back to her tree. She had quite a lot to think about, from making theories of how Professor Snape had the knowledge that he had and why he didn't punish her and debating of why the prefect had covered for her. But a sight had snapped her from her reveries as she drew within fifty yards of the banks of the rivers. It was that of a handsome boy, holding her shoes high overhead in a mixture of glee and confusion, as though he was torn between two choices. A group of his friends—many of them, for he was obviously very popular—were circled around him, egging and cheering for him to do as he was tempted—toss the 'owner-less' shoes into the lake.

As soon as Shiloh had realized what was happening, she took of running towards, calling out pleas of 'Wait!' and orders of 'Stop!', but all was in vain. For as she slid to a halt next to the group, the main boy had given into the egging of his friends. With a noteworthy arch, the shoes—stockings and all—flew gracefully through the air and, with a splendid cha-plash, plunked into the lake water.

Her horror had quickly turned to rage as she watched her only pair of shoes plop into the surface of the lake. Jaw tightening, she pushed and elbowed her way through the group until she reached the handsome boy who had tossed her shoes. With an angry shove into the boy's waist, she had growled a menacing, “You jerk!” The boy had jerked, as though with surprised, and blinked down at her with almost a guilty expression. She still remembered how his audacity had made her all the more outraged. She knew that she should have been forgiving, should have seen that he hadn't been intentionally cruel, but had simply given into the delight of his friends, but she'd been far too angry, and she'd been seconds from grasping her wand and jinxing him, but she'd been unable to. Out of the corner of her eye, she'd seen her shoes sinking into the deep water, and she'd had no choice but to go chasing after them.

Shiloh could remember the delight and laughter of the group as they'd watched her wade into the deep water and dive into the water, with her thick robes pulling about her, to retrieve her shoes from the rock bottom. As she came dripping onto the shore, they had wisely run off, calling at each other and goofing about the way teenage boys did.

Shiloh shook herself out of her unpleasant reverie and shrugged again at Symone's name. “Just a group of Hufflepuffs. I only caught one name.” She thought back to the handsome boy, the main culprit in the crime against her. “Some boy named Cedric Diggory.”

Symone thought deeply for a moment, her eyes fixing on a place on the bed and her lips pursing slightly. Finally, she shook her head, showing the name didn't sound the least bit familiar to her. “Don't worry about them,” she said in an attempt to make Shiloh feel better. She nudged Shiloh's leg encouragingly with her bare foot. “They're just a bunch of prats.”

No, Shiloh didn't let them make her miserable. Symone was right. They were just a bunch of silly boys pulling stupid pranks, and they weren't worth the time of day to make her feel even the least amount of grief. But this entire horrific day was what really made her feel particularly anti-social. Because, as much as she wished she could say it was, the day had ended there and that she had simply come dripping uneventfully back to the Common Room, she couldn't. She'd met with the last person that someone wished to see when raining drops of water bigger than Mrs. Norris.

Symone seemed to want to make sure that the story was complete, because she nudged Shiloh again. “And then you came back here?” She left the question hanging, as though she already knowing that there was more of this tale to tale.

Shiloh shook her head slowly. “I ran into the prefect.”

Symone nodded, her eyes set on Shiloh intently as she eagerly drew in every single detail.

Shiloh thought back to the moment when she had come up on the group of seven year Slytherins who were, at that moment, placing bets on how long into the Slytherin vs. Gryffindor game it would take for the new Gryffindor seeker—Harry Potter—to tumble off his broomstick. For what she could gather, the average vote was five minutes, but the prefect bet a confident two. Shiloh was going to breeze right past them, hoping that that they wouldn't see her, but the prefect raised his eyes and recognized her.

“Oy,” he had called, a smirk of amusement climbing onto his face. “What happened to you?”

And, then, every single seventh year in the group was looking at her and chortling deviously. She had refused to let them get to her and ignored their sly smiles. Instead, she thought, that if she had to face the prefect when she was standing in a puddle of water that had come from her own robes, then she might as well get the answers to the questions that had been torturing her. Squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin, she had looked about as proud and sophisticated as a drowned rat could.

“Can I talk to you?”

The memory faded and Shiloh explained the rest of what had happened to Symone, “I pulled him aside and thanked him for covering for me.” Of course, Shiloh didn't add that she had done so grudgingly, for she the suspicion she had felt was thick and unbendable. “And he laughed at me.” Shiloh felt her jaw tight in irritation, remembering.

“Why?” Symone said, looking half surprised and half angry as though she too couldn't comprehend why the prefect would be so mocking.

As though it couldn't mean less to her—and, in a way, it didn't, because she'd known it all along—Shiloh shrugged absently and explained, “He wondered how I could possibly be so stupid as to believe he would risk his neck for a first year. He explained that the only reason he had done it was because, if Professor Snape learned that it had indeed happened and that he hadn't dealt punishment himself, he would have been trouble.” It didn't really surprise Shiloh; after all, it seemed at times, that every Slytherin was much more interested in saving their own necks than anyone else's.

Symone shook her head, her eyes crackling in sympathetic anger again, reminding Shiloh that not every Slytherin was completely self-absorbed. “Why does it seem that people older than us are always jerks?”

Shiloh lifted her shoulders in a shrug once again, but she couldn't help but think she was right. Older teenagers always seemed to consider first years a waste of skin and treat them as though they were even lower than that. Why? Perhaps it was because they had forgotten that they had once been as young and vulnerable as the first years where. Maybe it was because they forgot what it was like to be treated so cruelly. Or maybe, it was because they remembered, and thought that it was their chance at revenge—to hurt people like they'd been hurt.

But in the end, Shiloh could only say, “I don't know, Symone.”

It felt good to talk to Symone, knowing that she understood this horrible day. It was a wonderful feeling to know that there was someone there to patiently listen and comprehend. But, of course, Shiloh knew it could not last, and she felt a better taste in her mouth, wishing for things to be different; wishing that things could be like this always; wishing she were free to have friends as wonderful as Symone. But they weren't and never could be.

But Symone had a way of ridding her of such thoughts, and she did so now when her eyes began to sparkle. It was a familiar sparkle that Shiloh recognized, that rebel-gleam that was filled with mischievousness, humor, and orneriness that witnessed that she had a brilliant idea or, at the very least, a funny joke. In this case, it was both.

“You know what we should do about it?” Symone asked on the edge of excitement.

Shiloh had a few ideas, each starting with one curse or another, but Symone was smart enough to know that revenge and fighting was a last result.

Without waiting for Shiloh to give a reply, she claimed spiritedly, “We'll be absolutely nothing like them.”

Shiloh blinked and, then, despite herself, felt her lips beginning to twitch. Shiloh was convinced once and for all, that Symone was indeed a Slytherin, but not the horrible ones that they knew. Rather, she was everything a Slytherin should be. Cool, cunning, and impeccably ambitious, but who used such talents for the good. Because, in this, Symone was completely and totally right. What was it that the Sorting Hat had said? That she had 'the want to chart her own path, no matter if people tell her it's wrong'. And that was how Symone was too. They both wanted to be the opposite of what people expected of a Slytherin. To stand out in the crowd and to make a difference. And, when it came to so-called-standards, to rebel against them! And that was very, very Slytherin.

Shiloh smirked deviously. This new goal was very, very exciting, just as it would be very hard. But, Shiloh loved challenges.

“Now, enough of this seriousness,” Symone proclaimed with her Symone-like excitement and confidence. She picked herself off the bed and was prancing toward the door. “It's supper time, and I'm starving.”

Shaking her head in refined amusement, Shiloh followed her, wondering how the horrific events of the day already seemed a million miles behind her. The only thought she gave it was an unconscious wish that tomorrow was not nearly as hectic as too day. In fact, she desired it to be completely and totally uneventful.

But, in life at Hogwarts, is life ever boring?

 

 

Even now, frizzled hair standing on end and face covered with smoke, she didn't know how it had happened. Thinking back on it, she searched for clues in what could possibly have gone wrong, but she found nothing that could have ended as disastrously as this. Shiloh had been perfecting her potion. It was one she had done many times before, though she'd never gotten it completely perfect. As always, she had memorized the ingredients and the steps, then set out for an alteration that would make the potion better than it had before. As she moved through each step, she thought and calculated carefully, making no move until she was completely sure. She couldn't add porcupine quills, she knew that. Professor Snape had warned them that such an ingredient would cause an explosive reactions, but there were many other options. She'd thought and thought and only acted when she was sure it would work. She'd considered all possible outcomes and come up with one: the one she wanted to succeed. The experiment was going perfecting, and, as he past, Professor Snape was giving her an approving silence. But as he went by, Millicent leaned forward from her desk behind Shiloh and tugged sharply on the ends of Shiloh's hair, stinging Shiloh's scalp. Shiloh had swiveled in her chair, glancing over her shoulder, glared at Millicent, and hissed an only-partially-unmeant death threat. That's when it happened.

Boom!

With a flash of red flame that Shiloh only saw out of the corner of her eye, her potion exploded in a great burst of smoke. Reflexively, she flung herself from the table and the thick billows of smoke the belched from her bubbling potion. As a result, the stool tipped, and she tumbled backwards, landing hard on her back. The wind left her lungs in a painful 'oomph', and she immediately gasped for air, but the only thing she received was a lungful of smoke, sending her into a harsh coughing fit. The room was covered in an impregnable wall of thick gray smoke, so dense she couldn't make out anything but the silhouette of her own hand before her face.

The fume tortured her lungs, making them burn and ache, and made her throat fill as scratchy as fine sandpaper. Shiloh rolled onto her hands and knees, trying to keep low to the ground as she continued to cough and sputter between desperate and failed attempts to gulp in precious oxygen. All around her, she could hear the startled cries and screams as, somewhere behind the curtain of gray, mayhem erupted through the classroom. Shiloh could hear the scurrying of feet of the frightened students as they tried to run for the door, and, somewhere in a place that seemed quite distant, Shiloh heard Symone calling out her name.

Shiloh scrambled to her feet, trying to get her legs steadied. She couldn't see a darn thing! The smoke was burning her eyes, causing a layer of water to flood through them, only helping to sting and blur her vision more. Shiloh took an unsteady step in the direction she hoped would lead her to the doorway and to fresh air. But her feet struck something solid—the upset stool—and her shoes instantly became entangled in the legs of the stool. She reeled forward, thrown off balance. She waved her arms frantically, and her heart gave an erratic 'thump' as she tried to right herself. But all was in vain. Stomach jerking into her throat, she tumbled forward and slammed painfully into something firm and hard. She and whatever she'd landed against teetered uncertainly, before they both fell towards the swiftly approaching ground.

For the second time, Shiloh made contact with the rough stone floor, this time landing sprawled on her back. There was a thud surround by a thousand repetitive sounds of shattering glass. As things broke around her, Shiloh threw her arms over her face to protect herself as shards of glass and pottery flew haphazardly through the space about her. Instinctively, she curled on her side, pulling herself into a defensive ball until she was in a fetal position. She was unsure how she knew such a posture or why she so readily moved into it. She only knew that, somehow, this was the only position to be in when pain was about to come. The only way to be safe when she was in so much danger.

But the sharp sting of glass slicing skin did not come. Instead, all went eerily silent until she could hear nothing more than her own ragged breathing, and the soft sound of crushing glass and pottery as someone slowly approached.

Shiloh opened her eyes and gingerly rolled onto her back. She could feel pieces of glass lying flat beneath her, and she didn't dare moved again. Instead, she peered up through the smoke and her blurry eyes to see a silhouette towering over her; a shadow that was malevolent and odious. Shiloh saw a flick of robes and the calm movement of a wand, and all the smoke disappeared. Still, eyes clouded with water, she found herself unable to make out the face peering down at her.

Raised up curled fist, she rubbed at her eyes and cleared them of the irritating tears and the rest of the sting the smoke had left on them. Her vision now clear, she took in the sight.

She would rather she'd been blind.

Professor Snape towered over her, a sneer on his pallid face. With calculative and collected movements, Professor Snape pocketed his wand and straightened his robs, before fixing a hard, piercing look at Shiloh. In his dangerous eyes flashed rage and disapproval. It was the look she had hoped he'd never give her. The one that told her he was beginning to think she was like very student—a dunderhead.

Professor Snape stooped, wrapped his long pinching fingers around her upper arm, and yanked her, not gently, to her feet. She didn't like his tight grip on her arm, especially when he had that fierce, dangerous look in his eyes. No one had put such a tight hand on her since...

Jerking backwards, she folded her own fingers around Professor Snape's wrist and thrust his hand away. If he was surprised by her sudden need to escape, he didn't let it show, unless it was to sneer unhappily at her all the more.

And he was not the only one giving her such a look of animosity. The entire class—some covered in a fine layer of soot—glared at her hatefully, as though they thought she was the stupidest creature on this earth. However, several Slytherins were laughing heartily at Shiloh's misery. None laughed harder than Annadel and her two horrible friends. They giggled shrilly until Professor Snape locked them with a warning glare. They stopped laughing, but their shoulders shook with the effort.

Professor Snape looked back at Shiloh, and she didn't dare make the mistake of looking into his eyes. As her gaze fixed on the table she'd knocked over, on the jar of ingredients she'd shattered, and on the escaped cockroaches that now scurried towards freedom, Shiloh felt impeccably small, alone, and nearly homesick. She suddenly wanted nothing more than to be back in her potions shed, safe and sound, or, if that was impossible, for the world to open beneath her and swallow her whole. At least, that would be better than being beneath Professor Snape's glaring eyes.

“Miss Sanders, I don't believe porcupine quills were on the list of ingredients. In fact, I do recall saying not to put them in.”

“Porcupine quills?” Shiloh's numb lips repeated weakly, but her breathed words weren't loud enough to be heard.

For the first time, she began to wander what exactly had happened. Her potion had exploded, but never, in all her tires, had she gotten that terrible of a reaction. Her experiment had been going fine. The explosion had happened too fast for anything but an added ingredient to cause such a wretched reaction. Shiloh had done everything right. She couldn't have made such a wretched mistake. And...and...

“I didn't add porcupine quills, professor.”

There were surprised gasps throughout the classroom, and Shiloh understood. She'd disagreed with—or rather, defied—a professor—Professor Snape, no less. She'd given cheek when everyone knew she should have bowed her head and been silent. Professor Snape glared down at her fiercely, but Shiloh wasn't intimidated, nor did she regret her actions. She'd only been honest.

But, clearly, no one believed her.

“That's one point from Slytherin for disrupting my class,” Professor Snape said with a powerful snarl. “And another for lying, Sanders.”

Her anger flared. How could it be that she was the only one who saw that something terrible had happened—and it wasn't her fault?! Shiloh wanted to scream at them, wanted them all to know the truth that something simply wasn't right and that she wasn't a liar. And she was going to, starting with protesting against Professor Snape's unfair accusation.

“But I didn't--”

Before the defiant words could fully leaver her lips, Symone had wisely side up to her and, now, discretely ground her heel into Shiloh's foot. Shiloh words falted as she hissed in a low growl of pain and jerked her foot backwards, away from Symone. She turned to glower at Symone who was currently as covered in soot from chin to hair. Symone, unaffected by Shiloh's hot gaze, slowly shook her head in a silent message to shut up.

Shiloh understood the message, but how could she simply stay quiet, when everything gone wrong! But when Shiloh looked back at the raging Professor Snape, she knew the battle of fixing this had already been lost. She could feel it – all her hard work, every perfect potion, crumbling through her fingers. She had failed, in the one class she truly wanted to succeed in.

“But you didn't, what?” Professor Snape pressed, challenging her to finish and daring her to allow him to give her detention.

Shiloh said nothing for a long moment, knowing that to admit she was wrong would be a lie and would be admitting defeat. She knew above anything, that she hadn't made a mistake. She couldn't have, could she? But a bit of doubt touched over her. Could she have forgotten that she'd added the dreadful ingredient or had she accidentally grabbed the wrong jar and hadn't even realized it? Gnawing on her lip, she tried to remember in clarity, but her mind was fogged, and she simply couldn't. She began to have so little confidence in herself, in when that occurred she lost all conviction and all will to fight.

Still not looking at him and still clinging onto hopeless pride, Shiloh gulped deeply. “Nothing, sir. I made a mistake. And it'll never happen again.”

Professor Snape sneered sceptically and said, “I'll trust that I can leave you to clean up your mess.”

Shiloh nodded. What else could she do?

“And, you,” Professor Snape spoke sharply to Symone, “Since you're her friend, you can help her.”

Shiloh wanted to confess that Symone wasn't her friend. It was the truth and it would get Symone out of paying for Shiloh's mistake. But words would do no good, and Professor Snape was already walking back to his desk and commanding the others back to work. Shiloh gave Symone an apologetic shrug, to which Symone once again shook her head and gave a reassuring smile. Then they both got to work.

For the rest of the class, and some time after, Shiloh and Symone worked silently to clean up the mess, using magic where they could and 'Muggle' means when they couldn't. The whole time they ignored the snickers of mockers who somehow thought this was humorous and of the Slytherins' glares for loosing those 'numerous' points. More than once Symone raised her head to glare at them and hiss a cruel 'shut up'. But Shiloh said nothing, as though she was completely detached from everything. Shiloh's face was unreadable, but Symone knew that she was being tortured. A few times she opened her mouth to press Shiloh into talking about it, but, in those moments, Shiloh would move a bit away, clearing not in the mood for conversation.

When their task was done, Shiloh gathered her things, hugging her cloth bag to her stomach, and, without giving Symone a goodbye or waiting for Professor Snape to dismiss them, she jogged out of the dungeon. Shiloh wanted for dearly to be away from the place because she now felt as stupid as her favorite professor now thought she was.


Chapter 9: Chapter Eight: The Gryffindor Beaters
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Chapter Eight


The Gryffindor Beaters

 

 

“Shiloh, wake up.”

A hand was shaking her vigorously and a voice that sounded quite like Shiloh's mum was ordering her repetitively to open her eyes. But dreamworld was calling and it seemed only moments ago that Shiloh had laid down her head and fallen asleep. Besides, she was quite comfortable, despite the fact that whatever it was she'd laid her head on was a bit firm, but she wasn't picky about such things. Shiloh tried to shy away from the touch and cling to sleep at the same time, but whoever it was was persistent and kept shaking her. And everything around her was beginning to get quite loud. There was some sort of excited buzz, as though someone had released a hundred beehives around her. She tried to shut it all out, even turned her head over for a more comfortable position. But it did no good. The world of the living came screeching back to her. Grudgingly, she was no wide awake.

“Shiloh, get up!” said the irritated voice by her side.

Shiloh opened her eyes and pushed herself upright. “I'm up!” she conceded in annoyance. “Happy?”

But it wasn't Shiloh's mum who had awoken her, nor was Shiloh in her room at home or even at her school. Instead, she was sitting at the Slytherin table, slowly figuring out that she had fallen asleep beside her plate that was full of food that was, by now, quite cold. Shiloh turned to look at Symone, who was studying Shiloh carefully with a half-thoughtful and half-concerned expression.

“You did it again,” Symone informed her softly, kindly, as though trying to break harsh news to her.

Shiloh shrugged it off, not wanting Symone's concern. To avoid having to look at Symone, Shiloh picked up her fork and stabbed absently at a defenseless egg. It was true that this was the second time that week she had fallen asleep at the breakfast, but it wasn't that big of a deal, only a sign that she wasn't getting that much sleep at night. Her mind was restless lately and refused to shut off, even for something as desperately needed as sleep. As a result, Shiloh was kept up later into the night and the times her sleep was deep enough to actually be restful were rare. The stress was torturing her mind, especially at night when she didn't have books and studying to take her mind off matters.

To put it straight, she hadn't been sleeping well, and it wasn't simply because she was still fretting over the one measly explosion in potion class. No, indeed. She lost sleep at night because it hadn't simply been one messed up potion. There'd been one for everyday this week. On Wednesday, the potion had bubbled over and had splashed on the floor, burning a hole right into the leg of Shiloh's stool and sending her falling to the hard floor. On Thursday, it had sprouted purple, curly fumes which would have been all right if the final result hadn't called for wispy, silver vapors. And on Friday it had filled the room with the putrid reek of 1000-year-old, rotten eggs, leaving half the class gagging from behind their sleeves.

This entire episode had left her with more to endure than hazardous working conditions. There was Professor Snape's angry, disapproving glares and his cruel sneers as he sniped her potion-abilities and took points from Slytherin for 'impossible carelessness'. So far she had lost fifteen points, something that Slytherin as a whole disliked her for. And when one is disliked by Slytherin there is more to it than avoiding angry glare and cutting remarks; there; there was avoiding dark corridors and empty classrooms too. And when she wasn't escaping from people who desired to hex the tar out of her, she was resisting the temptation to shatter Annadel's nose for her snide insults of Shiloh's wits...or her lack of them.

If Shiloh had ever felt a touch of doubt that these incidents were her fault, it was now gone. One mistake was a coincidence. Two was a mishap of shaken confidence. Three was suspicious. And a fourth was an act of war against her. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that her first conclusion was correct. It was why the incidents only occurred when she was momentarily distracted, like when Pansy had knocked Shiloh's jar of dandelions onto the floor and she'd had to go after it, or when Shiloh had been shuffling around in her book bag for a new pot of ink. Shiloh was being sabotaged.

But how could anyone manage that? And why? Who could hate her enough to do such a wretched thing?

Shiloh stabbed the piece of egg with her fork and continued poking the egg savagely to take out all her frustration and aggression. If she very found out who was responsible for the mess she'd --

“Shiloh--” Symone broke through Shiloh's thoughts as she gave Shiloh a quizzical look. “Are you simply not hungry, or did the egg do something to offend you?”

Shiloh blinked down at her plate where her fried egg now lay shredded in a many, pathetic pieces. Stifling a wary sigh, Shiloh set the fork aside and stared blankly at her mutilated food as her mind buzzed with so many unanswered questions.

Symone seemed oblivious to Shiloh's distress or, as Shiloh suspected, she knew perfectly well how Shiloh was feeling, was appropriately concerned, and was trying to take Shiloh's mind off things. Symone spooned the last bite of egg into her mouth and, after swallowing, spoke calmly, “Most of the school is already down at the Quidditch pitch.”

Shiloh glanced around her and noticed that, indeed, the Great Hall didn't have as many students as usual. Still there was a dull roar about, and Shiloh couldn't seem to make sense of why they'd all gone to the Quidditch field. Frowning slightly, Shiloh looked back at Symone. “Quidditch field?”

Symone looked at her in disbelief. She likely couldn't have been more surprised if Shiloh had forgotten her own name. “The first Quidditch game of the season - Slytherin versus Gryffindor...remember?”

It dawned on Shiloh immediately. Everyone had been talking about the game for a few weeks now and there was a whole buzz of bets and excitement surrounding it. “Oh, that,” Shiloh said, with an understanding nod. But once again she frowned as she tried to bring something to mind. “That's today?”

Symone once again looked completely shocked as though Shiloh had reached out and slapped her across the face. She made a sound like she was choking. She ever raised a finger and pressed them dramatically to her throat. Shiloh had the grand desire to shack her on the back, but before she could have the chance, Symone began breathing normally again.

“Merlin, Shiloh,” Symone ranted in melodramatic annoyance, “sometimes you seem like you are from another planet. 'Is that today?' Honestly!” With a grand air of flabbergasted disgust, she threw up her hands, spun around on the bench, stood, and began marching away.

Shiloh knew that Symone meant no real insult in her remark. It was only the dramatic Symone reminding Shiloh, once again, that she was different. But that was nothing new or severe to Shiloh. After all, Shiloh was one of the few in the Wizarding world who didn't believe the sun wouldn't rise without the existence of Quidditch. To her it was just a game—fun, exciting, and a good way to spend a day. But, in the end, it was entirely overrated. However, since Shiloh had nothing better to do today than twiddle her thumbs in an otherwise empty school, she too clambered to her feet and hurried after Symone.

Silently, the girls made a rapid detour to their dorm to pull on cloaks and mittens and other warm clothes. The weather outside the castle had grown frigid and cool, to the point that Shiloh could no longer spend as much time as she wanted to outdoors. She had always hated winter, since it meant shorter and colder days that could only serve to trap her indoors with nothing but the dreams of spring to appease her. It was nothing more than nature's cage and Shiloh had always hated everything that trapped her within.

Luckily, as Shiloh found out as they made the journey from the castle to the Quidditch pitch, her winter cloak was still quite warm and hadn't worn out any since last summer. She wore her hood up to shield her from the wind that would have otherwise nipped painfully at her ears and cheeks. That, along with the knit mittens her mum had sent her a week ago, assured that she stayed protected from the cold. At her side, Symone looked quite warm and cute in a pale cloak with a matching knit hat that contrasted pleasantly with her dark hair and skin. They both were quite ready to brave the cool weather and watch some Quidditch.

They arrived at the Slytherin section of the stands to find them already packed with people. In unison, the two girls looked around for a place to sit, peering around people and standing on tiptoes in their efforts.

“Oh, I knew we should have come earlier,” Symone stated drearily, her voice almost a moan. “With our rotten luck, the only seat left would be the one next to Annadel.”

Shiloh glowered at the very idea. If that happens, I'm standing, she thought dryly.

Symone was still continuing to speak, and Shiloh only paid her half a mind, while she looked around for a seat and tried to tone out the roar of the crowd. She'd never liked crowds or loud noises, for that matter. She never was able to come into a crowd without being coiled like a tense snake or having the desire to bolt. She hated the irrational imagining that she would be attacked. So many people had no right being so close together.

“It would be atrocious to sit by her,” Symone was commenting, as they elbowed through the crowd. Shiloh barely heard her. Her voice seemed small, like music playing in the background. “That girl always disliked you, but, since Halloween, she loathes you.

Shiloh froze. “W-what did you say?”

Symone turned around to face her, frowning at Shiloh slightly. She could have sworn she'd been talking loud enough for Shiloh to hear, even over the crowd, but there was an unreadable expression on Shiloh's face, though it almost seemed like the still half-asleep look someone had when they had in the early morning. Oh, well, Symone didn't always comprehend Shiloh, so she simply did as she wished and repeated, “I said Annadel hates you.”

Shiloh's jaw dropped as her mind toyed with a sudden idea. Of course! Why hadn't she thought of it before now? It was so obvious. Who else hated her enough to do? Who else had sworn revenge? Who else could persuade Millicent and Pansy to distract her while she did the dirty work? Who else sat close enough to sneak things into her potion except for the person who sat in the row in front of her? It was so clear, so concise, so right! And, with a strike of inspiration, Shiloh had solved the case and, as a result, she felt positively giddy.

Her lips twitched in excitement and she felt so grateful that, if Shiloh had been anyone different than who she truly was, she would have thrown her arms about Symone. Instead she smirked and praised, “Symone, you're brilliant.”

Symone raised her eyebrows disbelieving. “You mind telling me what I did, Shiloh. Because, truthfully, anyone could have figured out that Annadel detests you.”

“Oh, no, not that!” Shiloh tugged on Symone's arm so that they were walking again. The last thing she wanted was to make a scene and risk having there conversation be rumored back into the ears of Annadel. As they walked through the bleachers, Shiloh leaned close and spoke lowly so that only Symone could hear her above the roar of the crowd. “Annadel. She's the one who's been sabotaging my potions.”

Symone looked at Shiloh skeptically. “Are you certain?”

Shiloh nodded. “Think about it. Who sits close enough to sneak ingredients into my potions? Who could convince Pansy and Millicent to distract me? Who would dislike me enough to do it?”

Realization dawned clearly on her face, and it was her turn to allow her jaw to fall open. “Of course,” Symone agreed in amazement, but then her face darkened unhappy at the entire predicament. “That little wretch.”

Shiloh only smirked.

Symone sent her a cynical look. “You look unusually thrilled for someone who just learned their roommate is seeking to destroy them.”

Shiloh only shrugged. It was true. Forgotten were Shiloh's troubles. Now that she knew the answer to her situation, she could start finding the solution. Now that she comprehended what was happening, Shiloh was back in control and it was only a matter of time before Annadel was punished. It took all of her power to remain seated, instead of hurrying through the stadium to find her Head of House and report what had happened.

For only a moment, Shiloh wondered if Professor Snape would believe her. She had absolutely no physical proof, but certainly her rational Professor Snape could see that someone with two months of perfect potions could not suddenly start doing so horribly. Surely he would believe her. She'd make him believe her.

They finally found seats fairly close to the front. They settled into a pair of seat that were between a pair of giggly fourth year students who whispered on about the Slytherin Beaters and how quite handsome they looked on broomsticks and a few rumpus second year boys who were so full of Slytherin team spirit they had green and silver streaks across their cheekbones and were playfully pushing on another an growling out bets about how many points the Slytherins would stomp Gryffindor by. One thought one hundred, the other thought an unrealistic 400.

The stadium erupted in cheers and the audience leaped to her feet as the two teams breezed onto the field, on group of seven dressed gaily in red and gold, while the other were adorned in red and gold. As Shiloh joined all the other kids on their feet so she could study them, she thought that together they looked like brilliant Christmas colors—only she knew that it was foolish to join the two teams together, especially seems they probably wishing someone on the opposite team would be murdered with a 'stray' Bludger. Besides, Christmas-like colors were the only thing that had in common. Gryffindor was comprised of both girls and boys, but the Slytherins were all boys. Big and brawny, the Slytherin team like a group one did not want to meet in a dark corridor, let alone in a hazardous game of Quidditch. If they were as talented as they were big, then they would have no trouble taking the Gryffindors.

As the teams took in the air in a blur of color, the already alive crowd began to cheer even louder. The boy to Shiloh's right gave a high-pitched whistle far too close to Shiloh's ear, sending a bolt of pain into her eardrum. Symone too was cheering along with the crowd, booing and whistling along with the Slytherin's wins and loses. Her wild hair bounced around her face as she jumped up and down in excitement. Her joy was exuberant and a wide smile spread widely over her face, making her dark eyes twinkle. Shiloh, however, was silent as she watched the game carefully and tried to tone out the loud noises. Her eyes were fixed on the sky as she tried to make out what was happening, but she could make out little more than streaks and blurs. Shiloh got more from the commentary than she did watching the game. The boy who was announcing the game was clearly biased on the side of Gryffindor, occasionally sliding in a witty compliment toward the red team and slipping out a sly put-down about the Slytherins. Shiloh was unmoved, however. Whether she agreed with it or not, the game was about competition and each side had a tendency to be prejudiced. She couldn't honestly expect the boy to be unattached.

As Shiloh watched the sky, she glimpsed the Gryffindor Seeker streaming forward to chase after some invisible object. A sunbeam splashed off it, causing a golden spark to temporarily gleam. Shiloh recognized it immediately as the Snitch. She watched him carefully, knowing full well that if Potter caught the Snitch, Slytherin would lose. But no matter how much she didn't want Gryffindor to win, she didn't desire what happened even more, for, as all of Slytherin held their breath, a Slytherin player cut before Potter, sending his broom skidding and spinning through the air. The Gryffindors roared in rage and Shiloh felt her muscles tighten as she watched Potter barely right himself.

It wasn't disloyalty to the Slytherins that made her angry: it was simply the injustice of it all. If Slytherin had to stoop to such lows to ensure their win, then they didn't deserve to win. Shiloh wasn't the only one who knew this; Symone's applause had stopped dead and her face was twisting into a annoyed expression.

“That jerk!” Symone said, sending a hot glare across the field at the perpetrator. Shiloh knew that if glares could kill, the boy would be tumbling off his broom.

However, the majority of the Slytherins condoned what had just happened, seeing nothing wrong with taking advantage or breaking the rules as long as they, in the end, got their way. The second years beside them were so much in favor that, when one of them heard Symone's outburst, he became irritated, his already sour face becoming all the more so. He turned to face the girls, and demand roughly, “Whose side are you on anyways?”

Shiloh turned back to face him, stepping smoothing between him and Symone. There was no way he was going to let him take such aggression toward Symone simply because she, unlike him, had a sense of propriety. “The side that doesn't have to cheat to win,” she snarled lowly, dangerously.

Startled, the boy recoiled, jerking his head backwards, but after a moment the boy straightened himself as though to continue arguing, or to draw out his wand and hex her. Shiloh didn't flinch for a second. The boy opened his mouth, but before he could speak he noticed something about the girl that reminded him of someone. Maybe it was the way her black eyes narrowed ever-so-slightly, her lips curled upward in a slight, yet confident snarl, or the way that her words were cool and even, but still fierce. Whatever it was, the boy was shockingly reminded of Professor Snape. Perhaps that was why the boy wisely turned away. It was either that, or the fact that he recognized the girl as the one who hadn't hesitated to attack on Halloween night and the last thing he wanted was to be a dangling spectacle. But, no matter why, the boy was now ignoring her existence and watching as the Gryffindor scored their free-shot.

Smirking with satisfaction and defined triumph, Shiloh looked back to the game, only to see a Bludger headed straight towards her section of the stands, unstopped and wild. In seconds, it was level with Shiloh's eyes about to slam into the seats and the people in them. People around Shiloh screamed and dived downward, with their arms raised over their heads, but Shiloh couldn't move, couldn't bring her body into flight mode. She only knew that there was no time to get to her wand...not enough time. At the last second, she threw up her arms and braced for impact.

Whack!!!

The exploding crack echoed through her ears, but it wasn't the sound of the Bludger crashing into the seats around her, but the sound of it meeting a plank of wood. Shiloh dared to peek, looking through slits in her raised arms. She caught a blur of motion as a broom rider and the Bludger soared away, from where they had been so close that Shiloh could have sworn she'd seen a familiar-looking mischievous grin and a splash of red robes. It wasn't a Slytherin Beater who had rescued them, but a Gryffindor.

Shiloh slowly, tensely lowered her arms. All around her, people were picking themselves back up. Grumbling and swearing, they made a show of straightening their robes. Symone looked quite muffled, too thankful that she was alive to be angry at the Gryffindors, but the two second years looked mad enough to kill, as they cursed beneath their breath, using words no twelve-year-old should know. Shiloh ignored them as her mind toying with the odd event and a suspicion forming into the depths of her brain. The suspicion was ungrounded, with really no knowledgeable proof, yet, she felt almost certain that she had seen that go-lucky grin somewhere other than on a Quidditch pitch. But what were the odds?

There was only one way to know for sure. Shiloh turned toward the second year boy at her elbow, a boy who had binoculars dangling around his neck, and she grabbed a hold of the side of them.

“Can I borrow these?” she asked, but she didn't wait for a way. By the boy's disagreeable look, she knew he would have said no anyway, not to mention demand that she keep her filthy hands off of his possession. Shiloh wouldn't give him the opportunity. With a graceful sweep of her arm, she brought the leather strap from over his head, being careful not to let it catch on the boy's long nose.

The boy barked out an angry protest, something like the furious growl of a dog, and made a lunge for the binoculars. Shiloh smoothly sidestepped his attempt, moving the binoculars out of his groping reached. Shiloh placed the binoculars on her eyes, ignoring the boy's huffs and snapped insults so dirty that made Symone's ears burn. Shiloh zoomed into the sky carefully, watching the blurs or read and green until she saw in their mists a wild Bludger. She followed its frantic movements through the air, aiming itself at random bodies and broomsticks, the only thing on the field that was unprejudiced to what colors the players wore. Finally, a red-and-gold adored Beater flew into view and, with a skilled fling of a bat, knocked it toward a Slytherin Chaser who currently held the Quaffle.

Shiloh zoomed in closer so that she could focus on his face. Sure enough, looking dashing in the Gryffindor colors, the red and gold complimenting his ginger hair, was George Weasley, his flushed-with-excitement face bearing a large smile that told volumes of how much he loved playing Quidditch. It took only moment to locate George's identical twin, sporting a matching, cheerful smile as they both tasted of the victory of the revenge they'd pulled off so effortlessly on the 'bloody' Slytherins.

“I knew it,” Shiloh breathed in grim satisfaction. She lowered the binoculars, but didn't glance at the boy who was still glaring impressively at her. She could feel the heat in his gaze, but she didn't care. He'd get his binoculars back and, perhaps, this would teach him both the art of sharing and the virtue of patience.

Symone was giving Shiloh that tolerant, but confused look, the one she wore when she was waiting for someone to explain something they knew perfectly well Symone couldn't comprehend. When Shiloh didn't explain her discovery, Symone pressed, “Knew what?”

Shiloh glanced at Symone, wondering if she could possibly understand why Shiloh had suspected the Weasley twins. She'd only believed it could be them because she'd never met any other Gryffindors who had such mischievous desires and spunky spirits—then again, she hadn't met many Gryffindors, period. Besides, Shiloh didn't think the boys would take too kindly to her knowledge of Gryffindors, especially since she had stolen his possession. Giving Symone a just-wait signal, she turned toward the boy who was scowling at her and stomping his foot impatiently. She held out the binoculars, giving him an innocent smirk that was filled with absolutely no regret.

He snatched them away. “It's a miracle I didn't hex you.”

Shiloh didn't really trust that it was miracle. The only miracle was that this boy might have felt random kindness, but she doubted politeness had anything to do with this matter. “Let's leave supernatural events out of this,” she replied, her smirk turning into a knowing expression as her mind moved quickly to find the only possible reason a Second Year would fear someone in a lesser year and came to the proper conclusion. “You liked my Levitation Charm, didn't you?”

His friend snickered, and the first boy whirled to face him.

“Shut up!” he growled, but a guilty blush appeared on his face. Next, he did the only thing he could to escape his embarrassment of being a coward. He ignored the girl's existence. With a dignified sniff, he turned back to the game, and Shiloh only shook his head disbelievingly. She could barely comprehend that he could be such a coward.

Changing her line of thoughts, Shiloh turned to her next duty: answering Symone's question. She turned about, grasped Symone's arm, and tugged her down into a chair. After settling into a chair beside her and turning slightly so they were facing each other, Shiloh pointed out to the field and replied, “The Beaters are Fred and George Weasley.”

Symone clearly didn't seem to understand the significance of this statement, or why Shiloh would find anything about it noteworthy, because she pursed her lips together thoughtfully and mused, a bit tauntingly, “So that's who I have to thank for their unkindness.”

“It wasn't mean,” Shiloh disagreed, as her mind mused out the possibilities behind their actions. As Symone watched, she got a far away look her eyes and—what was that?—could Symone see a flicker of admiration. If Symone didn't know any better and if Shiloh didn't conceal her emotions so well, Symone would have said she look awed, dreamy even.

“Actually,” Shiloh spoke slowly, “It was quite brilliant.”

Symone gave her a patient, but bewildered, look and said, firmly, “Explain.”

“Well--” Shiloh paused for a moment so she could chose her words carefully. “I suppose, the Weasleys thought that a penalty shot wasn't enough punishment to the Slytherins for cheating, especially since the fans—or most of them—thought it was so amusing. But, if they did something to actually hurt the Slytherins, they and their teammates could be taken from the game. But there are no rules against scaring them.” Shiloh felt a smirk etch up one cheek as she imagined the crafty way George had swept in at the last second and, with an effortless snap of the ball, reeked themselves up a perfect revenge. Who besides the impish duo could have found the only plot that would fulfill their desires without any ill side-effects? She had to admit—grudging as it was—that they were quite cunning...for Gryffindors. And she found herself being something that was incredibly weird for her to be: impressed.

Symone, however, wasn't, because her gaze only darkened, and she sent a hateful expression towards the sky. Shiloh didn't mind; Symone was just peeved that someone had indeed managed to scare her.

After a moment, Symone turned back to Symone and began to speak, “And you know them...” She paused, waiting for Shiloh to fill in the blank, but Symone quickly remembered that Shiloh wasn't talkative unless she was prodded into it, so she ended her sentence in a question. “How?”

Shiloh gave an absent shrug, because she knew that she couldn't exactly say she knew them. Running into them on Platform 9 ¾ and having Fred flash her underwear to innocent bystanders didn't make them pals. “Our fathers work together,” she explained nonchalantly. “I only met them once.”

There was a moment of silence as though Symone was debating whether or not she should ask more, though it was clear she had lost interest in the topic, because her gaze was drifting towards the sky. The Slytherins were roaring and cheering loudly. Slytherin was obviously doing well. Symone was back on her feet, but Shiloh stayed put. She had lost interest, however, and she was absently replaying Fred and George's stunt through her mind.

“Oh, look!” Symone suddenly cried.

Shiloh jumped to her feet, searching tensely for whatever was amiss. She found it quickly. There, in the sky, was none other than the beloved Harry Potter...dangling from his broomstick.

“What happened?” Shiloh demanded.

“I don't know,” Symone gasped. She didn't take her eyes off of Harry, too horrified too look away. “The broom just started jerking, like he'd lost control of his broom or something. And he just fell off.”

Shiloh watched him, knowing in all her heart there was something wrong—something unnatural. Brooms just didn't start going out of control. It was impossible! Nothing but a powerful jinx—a Dark jinx—could do that. Shiloh suddenly felt chilled, because she knew that was exactly what was happening. Potter's broom had been jinxed, but who would want the Boy-Who-Lived dead? Shiloh felt a new emotion: unease, because she knew whoever was doing this was no friend to her, not if he hated You-Know-Who's conqueror. She closed her hand around her wand, but she still didn't take her gaze from Potter. She gritted her teeth, each second feeling like hours as she wondered if this would be the end for Potter. But, no, it couldn't be! She searched around her frantically, half looking for the attack, half looking for help. Why wasn't anybody doing anything?!

She was about to attempt to take matters into her own hands when the broom stopped its bucking. Potter swung onto this broom and was speeding toward the ground. He clapped a hand over his mouth, and Shiloh heard Shiloh mumble, “I think the stress was a bit too much.” Shiloh closed her eyes, half with sudden relief that whatever had happened was over and everyone was safe—for now at least—and half because she honestly didn't want to see someone vomit.

But an announcement making its way through the stadium and the happy roar of the Gryffindors made her open her eyes.

“HARRY POTTER HAS CAUGHT THE SNITCH!”

Shiloh blinked down to the field where Potter was waving it around. The Slytherins gave a mighty groan. The boys beside her buried their face in their hands, looking like they might sob. Symone looked quite downtrodden, but gave a forced shrug, telling herself it was only a game, after all. Shiloh only folded her arms over her chest and mumbled an unimpressed, but admittedly deserved, “Well done, Potter.” The best team had won in the end; it was always the way games ended.

But, as Shiloh and Symone walked away from the Quidditch field, most of the game was already forgotten. Shiloh didn't speak to Symone, for she was deep in calculation. She made a tally, checked it twice, and knew her conclusion was true. With a Dumbledore's strange warning at the feast, a troll in the dungeon, Professor Snape's unexplained leg injury, and Potter's bewitched broom, it could only meant one thing. Something was going on at Hogwarts. And Shiloh thought it was safe to say that, whatever it was, she didn't like it.

In fact, if she had known what was really going on, it is safe to say, that she would have been petrified.

 



Shiloh gnawed on her bottom lip and tentatively reached a curled fist upwards. She hesitated, her knuckles inches from the wooden door. She hadn't wanted to come to the office, because she had known what that would make her: a snitch. She could still remember how cowardly she had thought Annadel when she had run to Professor Snape to tell him of the events of Halloween night, and the last thing she wanted was to lower herself to Annadel's disgusting level. But no sooner had she left the Quidditch stadium when Symone had begun asking if Shiloh planned on going to see Professor Snape. She had told her that, of course, she had no intention to and the words 'I can handle it on my own', was on the tip of her tongue, when Symone had demanded, “Why not? This is a problem that should go to a teacher, so that they can take care of it.”

“I'm not a cowardly, little snitch,” had been Shiloh's low reply. In truth, she had known that convincing Professor Snape that she wasn't an idiot would be beyond difficult. If she gave up the least bit of hope of getting back into his good graces, she would acknowledge that it just might be impossible.

But Symone was relentless. Without getting angry, she had calmly folded her arms over her chest and stated with wisdom beyond her years, “There's a difference between bravery and stupidity, and you, Sanders, are flirting with the edge.”

After a great deal of thought and considering the options, Shiloh had given in - just so Symone would shut up about it and leave her alone afterwards.

And that was how she had found herself standing before Professor Snape's office door, her fingers inches from the wood surface.

With determination and bravery, she rapped her knuckles against the door. She held her breath, waiting tensely, but there was no call to enter or shuffle of approaching feet. All that met her ears was cool, dark silence.

Shiloh waited patiently, but she could feel those seconds ticking by, feeling lengthy and harsh. She glanced around herself uneasily. It was dark in the dungeon, and so chilly that she could feel drafts of wind through her thick cloak. She wrapped the cloak around herself, keeping her eyes on the corridors and the shadowy corners.

Darkness had the ability to do strange things to people, especially when they were as alone as Shiloh now found herself. Darkness had its own poison, its own way of worming itself beneath the skin and tormenting the mind with irrational illusions and imaginings. That, combined with the silence (the same deep quiet that always made Shiloh's thoughts go wild) made her mind reel extraordinarily quickly).

Her thoughts went back to the Quidditch game, her suspicions daring to come back in the dark atmosphere. Shiloh tired to force herself to stay calm and think about happier things like Fred and George's brilliant stunt. But the jinxed broom kept wandering into her mind, along with the knowledge of what it could mean. She tried to tell herself that she was safe, but she couldn't help but feel unprotected. Could there really be someone in this school who wanted Potter dead? But Shiloh knew better than most that just because You-Know-Who was gone, that there weren't those who were still loyal to him and his memory. And, since Harry Potter was only now returning from Merlin-knows-where and reappearing into the Wizarding world, anyone who was set on revenge would have had to wait until now to get it. The Quidditch match would have given them an easy opportunity, but first they had to sneak into the school. But Hogwarts was supposed to be safe, impenetrable by outside forces. Wasn't it?

But, she felt her heart beginning to speed up with doubt. Was it possible that there was a servant of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named wandering through the halls, hidden in the deep shadows, at this very moment? She recognized the possibility and slipped her hand into the pocket, wrapping her fingers around the wand. The action was more out of her own comfort than to protect herself from some dark wizard, but she failed to feel any calmer. She searched around her as her mind conjured up illusions. A servant of You-Know-Who creeping all the nearer; possibly a Death Eater.

Just like her mother

Shiloh spun around and pounded her fist against the door with new urgency. Please, Professor, open the door. Let me--

But the rest of her silent plead turned into a cry of alarm as a pale hand reached out to seize her wrist and the grasp begin to whip her around. Immediately prepared to fit back, she lunged backwards away from her attack, fighting so hard that she fell hard her rump. The hand released her, and she was prepared to draw her wand and leap back to a fighter's stance, when a cool, familiar voice stopped her.

“Jumpy, aren't you?” sneered Severus Snape as he towered over her.

Shiloh's breathing came in great puffs, but she forced her racing heart to slow considerably and herself to calm. Catching her breath, she denied herself the embarrassment of the situation, keeping away a threatening blush. She had just freaked out over nothing. But, then again, not all her fears had been completely unfounded, had they? Carefully, she picked herself off the ground and straightened her robes.

“Sorry,” she whispered, and, trying to justify her reaction, she mumbled, “You startled me, Professor.”

He didn't show a flicker of sympathy or remorse. Instead, his eyes lowered down on her and danced with impatience—or was it suspicion? Shiloh didn't have time to decide, because in a moment he was demanding, “What are you doing here?”

She took a deep breath and steeled herself. She could tell that Professor Snape wasn't in the mood for length explanation. But there was not turning back now. “I cane to speak with you, sir.”

“About what?” he asked roughly.

Without waiting for an answer or beckoning her to follow, he turned and opened the door to the office. He swept into the dark room. Shiloh followed tentatively, glancing about her uneasily. The office, with its mysterious atmosphere and scent of brewed things, had been something she'd found fascinating, but now she found it eerie. Her nerves were strung out and as taut as stretched rubber. She hated the way she felt as though every inch of darkness held an enemy ready to do her harm.

With some skillful wand work, Professor Snape set a blaze into the fireplace. The fire let out a dim glow of light, chasing away the shadows and the darkness, but also deepening the darkest shades of black. Professor Snape turned around and faced her, his tall frame blocking out the light and turning him into a silhouette with nothing more than a thin line of orange framing him. Shiloh studied him, noticing how he looked tall and menacing and overpowering, but she wasn't afraid. In fact, she felt quite the opposite. She couldn't help but think that any Dark Wizard wouldn't stand a chance against him. Now, in front of him, she felt all her fear slowly disappearing. She felt safe.

“You came to speak to me about something,” Professor Snape pressed impatiently.

Shiloh nodded and opened her mouth. What followed was ten minutes of a prepared speech explaining that the 'accidents' in Potions were not her fault, claiming that she had mastered most of the first years Potions before she'd come to school, and that the only remaining explanation was sabotage. Professor Snape listened, or, at least, Shiloh thought he did, but he never once showed any emotion to her words, as though he didn't hear her or was unable to grasp the seriousness of all of this. When Shiloh accused Annadel, Professor Snape's eyes moved just a bit, but she was unable to identify the emotion that caused it. And when she stopped speaking, Professor Snape was quiet for a long, thoughtful moment.

When he finally spoke, his voice was level and calm, but slow, making it clear he was restraining himself. Shiloh knew, just by his tone, that this wasn't going to end well.

“So you are accusing Miss Delamb of you Potions going awry?”

Shiloh nodded. She'd established that.

“And why would she do that?” Professor Snape asked sceptically.

“Because she hates me,” Shiloh replied without hesitation. She had not explained about Annadel's promise of revenge. Shiloh knew the Professor Snape already knew about the events of Halloween night, but Shiloh was not about to start confessing now. Not only would that get her in trouble, but the lying Prefect too. Not that she really cared only she'd preferred not to get beat up in her common room.

“And you hate her?” It was more of an accusation than a question.

“Yes,” was the truthful answer.

“And you have absolutely no evidence that she's the one sabotaging your potions?”

Regrettably, Shiloh could only shake her head. She'd already explained that Annadel was the only one close enough to sneak things into her cauldron. Explaining again would do no good.

“You know what I think?” His voice was till calm, but it held a dangerous, serpentine note behind it.

Shiloh shook her head. No, she didn't, but she felt it was safe to assume that it was 'you're a brilliant, young girl'.

“I think--” She didn't look at him, couldn't watch his distaste and disgust being directed at her-- “that you and Miss Delamb are both liars.”

It was the second time he'd made that unfair conclusion, but, before Shiloh could untangle her tongue to protest, Professor Snape continued.

“I think, that both of you hate each other so much that you would do anything to make each other's lives miserable,” he spoke, his voice colder than the frigid air, “including coming up with ridiculous stories.”

Each word fell like an undeserved blow across the cheeks. Unsure whether to feel angry or hurt, she felt a mixture of the both of them: defensive. “But that's not it at all,” she objected, feeling her hands curl up at her side. She knew any fight would be in vain and would only lead her to trouble, but she was a fighter and she couldn't help it.

Professor Snape's narrowed, and he glowered down upon her. He appeared intimidating, silhouetted in the firelight and towering over her menacingly. But, no matter if commonsense told her she should be a list a bit apprehensive, Shiloh didn't; she couldn't.

“And, I think,” Professor Snape added. His voice was slower than ever before, drawing out her torment with his snarled words, “that you are childishly incapable of taking responsibility for your own mistakes.”

It was the last straw, the last bite she would take from him. Professor or not, he had no right to be so cruel. He didn't know her, and, no matter how calculative he was, he couldn't see truth if it hit him square in the face. Turning from defensive to angry, she squared herself up. She wanted to saw a thousand things that came so easily to the tip of her tongue; she knew clever words that could insult him just like he'd insulted her, but she knew better. Raising her chin defiantly, she asked, “So you're not going to believe me?”

She already knew the answer, of course, but it was confirmed as his lip twisted into disgust. “You can leave now, Sanders.”

There was no arguing that point, and there was no reasoning him. Professor Snape had the stubbornness of a Slytherin, and battling against him would only end her into detention. Without a word of farewell, she twisted on her heel and stormed out of the office, making sure to slam the door behind her. Her commonsense was overridden by frustration and irritation, along with a sense of hopelessness. If Professor Snape didn't help her, who would?

Forgotten were her fears of the dark corridors for they were chased away by the problem at hand. Shiloh strode down the halls, worming her way through the many turns and corners to her common room. Her arms were folded tightly over her chest, and her normally bland expression was now sour with unpleasantness. Her footsteps were quick, made speedy by the constant aggression she felt.

She had to put a stop to Annadel's treachery, but what could she do? No one would believe her. Nothing could provide enough evidence unless Annadel was caught in the act or she gave an open confession. But who could make her do that?

And then, almost of its own will, a memory danced its way into her furious mind. She could see it, as clearly as she had at its happening. The Bludger soaring towards her, and then, at the last second, crack! and there was nothing left to be seen but George's wide smile. When it had come to that injustice, the Weasley twins hadn't hesitated to act. And they hadn't waited for those who were in 'authority'. Instead they'd done it their own way. Maybe she could learn a lesson from the Gryffindor Beaters. Maybe the person with the power to solve her problems was as close as she had originally thought.

With a smirk of determination, Shiloh made a decision and changed her destination to the library. For a moment, she felt completely satisfied and guaranteed that her problems would soon be ended, not because anyone was going to help her, not because Professor Snape might have a change of heart. Rather it was because she was a very ambitious Slytherin and she was putting the matter where it should have been all along.

In her own hands.

Chapter 10: Chapter Nine: Mirror, Mirror
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Chapter Nine

 

Mirror, Mirror

 

 

“Lumos,” Shiloh hissed quietly to her wand, and its end sparked to life, glowing pleasantly with a dim, but sufficient light. She let the wand hover over the pages of the book, illuminating the letters on the musty smelling parchment. It had taken her forever to find this book, the one that, if any could, held the solution to her problem. Even Madam Pince had had trouble locating the book in all the many volumes of Hogwarts library. The trouble was, the book was old, but was still the largest encyclopedia of potions to date. Now, after she had spent two straight weeks searching for it, after she had been referenced to it from another book, her determination wouldn't allow her to stop pouring over it, even if it was after midnight.

She readjusted to a new position, trying to get as comfortable as she could be as she lay on her stomach. The humongous book rested on her mattress before her and she had her blankets pulled over her head, half to conceal the light so as not to wake her slumbering roommates and half because, even with a fire blazing in the hearth it was still freezing in the Slytherin dorm. Shiloh settled a finger beneath a sentence, marking her spot, and began to read.

For the past two months, Shiloh had done nothing more than peruse the library in search for some method that would allow her to catch Annadel in the act or to force her to confess. She'd searched book of spells and books of potions, until she was dizzy with knowledge. Yet there was nothing short of threatening Annadel with poison that could give Shiloh the tool she needed.

In the meanwhile, Shiloh had kept her eyes on Annadel during Potions class to try to prevent her from being able to sneak ingredients her cauldron. Symone had done the same, but even with two of them, there were times they had to look away. Potions took concentration and focus, and looking away for too long meant catastrophe in the form of an exploding cauldron. Besides, as much as they tried not to fall for it, Pansy and Millicent were treacherous, conniving, little toerags, and they had increasingly dirty ways of distracting Shiloh and Symone. Like the time when Symone's and Shiloh's stools had both 'mysteriously' broken a leg at the same time, sending both of them tumbling to the hard stone floor and Professor Snape demanding what had happened while Shiloh's cauldron began to bubble.

The only thing Shiloh had left to be thankful for was that Annadel wasn't sabotaging her potions as badly as before. Shiloh knew it was not out of mercy, but rather out of knowing that if she were to keep having major catastrophes that someone was bound to get suspicious. It was a smart move; Shiloh had it admit that, as reluctant as she was to believe Annadel might actually have brains. There were no more explosions, only bubbling cauldrons and far-less-than-perfect potions. Even that wasn't every day, for there were some days that Annadel didn't dare attempt, either because of suspicion, or because Shiloh was keeping an extra close eye on the annoying little brat. But still, Shiloh's grades in potions were steadily declining, and if this kept up, Shiloh was looking down the barrier of a 'Fail'. She didn't want to imagine what would happen if Annadel tried to sabotage her end-of-term test, nor what would happen if her parents found out she was failing in her best subject. That was the worst threat. She wouldn't be able to bear the worry it would cause them.

And, so here it was, a bit less than two months after this whole mess started, and she had yet to find a solution. And time was running out. The day after tomorrow, she'd be on the train back home for her holiday break. If she wanted to act, it needed to be soon.

Shiloh flipped the page, scanning and studying it, and found nothing. She lost track of the hours that passed as she went through page after page from Amortentia to Hiccuping Solution; from Pepperup Potion to Skelo-Grow; from Strengthening Solution to Veritaserum; from--

Shiloh froze just as she was about to change the page and flipped back to the word. Veritaserum: the Truth Serum. It caught Shiloh's attention; if there was anything Shiloh needs to get from Annadel, it was honesty. She scrawled down to the definition.

“Veritaserum derives from the Latin word 'veritas' meaning truth and the word 'serum'. As a result Veritaserum is the most powerful Truth Serum in the Wizarding world. With just three drops, the greatest secret keeper would be forced to spill their innermost secrets.”

Shiloh liked the sound of that. It was precisely what she would need to get Annadel to give the confession that would incriminate her. Eagerly, she read on.

“Though there are certain ways to fight against Veritaserum and there are antidotes for this potion, it is considered so strong that it's used only under strict guidelines of the Ministry.”

Shiloh fought against a groan because she highly doubted that Ministry guidelines included use for a first year to get a confession from an eleven-year-old. If she planned to use Veritaserum, she not only would be breaking school rules, but Ministry ones as well. Her father would murder her if he even knew she was considering something like this, and, if she was caught, she would not only be lucky not to be expelled, but not to end up in Azkaban. She would have to be desperate to even consider this plan.

But Shiloh was desperate.

She licked her lips eagerly, wanting to find out how this potion was made.

“Veritaserum is a highly advanced potion that takes one month to create.”

A whole month?! Shiloh growled lowly in despair and let her forehead fall onto the book. To Shiloh six months had never seemed so long. By then Annadel would have won and Shiloh couldn't let that happen. But she couldn't take the time to brew up a cauldron of Veritaserum. This was her last hope, and she felt it slipping through the cracks in her fingers, disappearing like the fumes floating upward in Potions class so that it only left a taunting, lingering smell in Professor Snape's office.

Professor Snape's office? Shiloh lifted her forehead a few inches from the page, as her mind begin to reel in. It took so little to inspire her; even a stray thought could turn into a magnificent plot. It was no different here, for she was instantly imagining the rows of already brewed potions that lined the walls of Professor Snape's office. She scanned them in her mind, trying to remember whether one of them had been marked Veriterserum. There were so many vials of different shapes and sizes that she couldn't be sure.

Shiloh forced her thoughts to come to a screeching halt as soon as she realized in horror what she was doing. Had she gone mad or was she actually considering stealing from Professor Snape's private stores? She must have been, because there was no way Professor Snape would hand her a powerful potion for her own enjoyment. She couldn't steal from Professor Snape. To do so would require breaking uncountable school rules. Not to mention Shiloh's parents had brought her up with a sense of wrong and right – and stealing was wrong. She couldn't do something so immoral.

Then there was a snort from the bed next to her, and Shiloh stiffened, wondering if the person she least wanted to meet while she was plotting had awoken. She whispered “Nox” to her wand, and it fell dark. Lying flat, she carefully and discretely moved the blankets from off her head just enough so she could peek through. She stared at the next bed, holding her breath, as she watched Annadel mumble something about 'Filthy Halfblood'. Shiloh felt her hand tighten on her wand, imagining that it was only moments before Annadel would fly from her bed, complaining about the light or simply wanting Shiloh's life to be miserable. But, instead, Annadel rolled to her other side and continued snoring peacefully.

Sighing quietly in relief, Shiloh turned her eyes back to the book. The word Veritarserum stood out from the page, taunting, tormenting, and telling her it was the only way. She traced the lettering with her fingernail, wishing for the impossible. The risk was so great.

But a small voice deep in her head piped up within her, replaying her once spoken words. “Explosions are half the fun. At the very least, they're exciting in their own right.” Shiloh should have known those words would come back to haunt her. Such a careless statement, no matter how true she considered it, could only come back in the worst moments of time to be used by the mischievous parts of her mind. And, right at the moment, that rebellious side of her mind was relentless, so insistent that it was almost like a demon on her shoulder. Persistently, the part of her mind reminder her of one of the reason she loved Potions and Bertie Bott's Every-Flavored Beans. Despite other equally-liked reasons, Shiloh had to admit that she liked the risk and the adventure, never quite knowing what the next step would led to. Wasn't this the same thing?

Besides, what other choice was there? Annadel would tear her apart if she simply did nothing. There was no way of knowing that Annadel wouldn't move on to sabotage her other classes. Shiloh couldn't live with herself if she flunked out of Hogwarts. Also, it was only a matter of time before Professor Snape decided to write her parents and the only way her parents would believe that she was actually going to fail Potions was if they believed something was horribly wrong with them. She didn't want to worry them. It was why she hadn't mentioned any of it in her letters to her. As far as they knew, she had kept her nose out of trouble, her classes were going amazingly well, and she couldn't be happier. And, as far as Shiloh was concerned, they could keep believing that.

No, Shiloh had to stop her before that worst case scenario happened. And no one was going to believe Annadel was doing it just on Shiloh's word—Professor Snape had proven that. She had already exacted every other route, detour, and crossroad; this was her last and only option.

“All right. I'll do it,” Shiloh hissed to herself, though she quite manage to sound grudging. How could she when she had discovered her only hope of beating Annadel?

But one part of her mind still knew this was a horribly wrong decision. After all, she had just decided to steal Veritaserum from Professor Severus Snape. If she was caught she would be expelled...or worse. But she still didn't see any other choice and as her conscience put up protests, she determinedly squashed all her doubts. She was going to do this. She had to do this. She had to stop Annadel and she had to prove to Professor Snape that she wasn't a liar. And somehow she knew she would succeed at it.

She looked down at the book, smirking silently as she began to make her plan. Her mind would and danced creatively, and before her head had dropped down onto the book and she had nodded into a deep sleep, she had already formed the perfect plot. As she drifted into her dreams, they were filled with pleasant images of three drops of Veritaserum into Annadel's morning pumpkin juice.

 

~

 

For the first time in her life, Shiloh nearly fell asleep in a class. She wasn't exactly surprised, after all, she had woken up that morning with her cheek using her still-open book as a pillow and feeling as though she had only slept for an hour. And with all the planning and reading she had done the night before, it was quite possible. Besides Professor Binns' droning on had a unique talent of causing student's eyelids to start drooping shut. Shiloh had always resisted his skills, but today, with her lack of sleep, she had unintentionally felt her eyes pulling closed and her head nodding toward her desktop. Shiloh's forehead had been a mere inch from resting on her opened book, when Symone had discretely sneaked her elbow towards her side and ground it into her ribs. Shiloh pulled her head upward, looking at Symone with the unaware expression of someone waking up. Symone had sent her a bewildered look, and Shiloh had quickly admitted to herself that she had nearly fallen in her dream world.

Shiloh turned her gaze back to Professor Binns. He was rambling on about something that her weary mind could not possible decipher from gibberish, and Shiloh was forced to delve into a second round with her eyelids, fighting to keep them open. She had to stay focused; she knew that. But it felt like strings were attached, and the world was blurring around her. Sleep seemed so tempting, especially since she had such a big night ahead of her.

That thought made her unconsciously turn her eyes to the girl that sat a few rows ahead, settling her blurry gaze on the back of her blond head. She heard the witch cackled as she whispered in Pansy's ear. A moment later, she turned to Millicent and hissed something to her as well. Soon all three of the girls were grinning wickedly, and Shiloh could feel herself tightening, the desire to sleep disappearing as she became suddenly attentive. Probably planning on what do to my next potion class, Shiloh thought wryly with bitter hatred making her jaw tighten. They probably want to make it extra special; it is the holiday season, after all.

And just like that, Shiloh was energized and alert. She was determined that whatever they had plotted, no matter what devious tricks Pansy and Millicent used to pull it off, it was going to be the last time they ever fooled her. Because by this time tomorrow, Shiloh would have dropped Veritaserum into Annadel's juice and forced to confess in front of a group of witnesses. Soon, all this would be behind her, and this entire mess would be nothing more than a memory.



~

 

Shiloh was surprised to find that she wasn't even tempted to sleep, even when she lay in her comfortable bed, her head resting on her downy pillow. With as little slumber as she had gotten the night before, she had expected to have difficulty keeping her eyes open, but she felt energized with excitement as though her blood had been was flowing with electricity. She could feel adrenaline pumping with every mighty thump of her racing pulse. She told her thundering heart to silence, for it was so loud it was difficult to listen to the breathing of her roommates over its feverish beat. Curled into a tight ball, she waited until five pairs of soft, gentle snores—though Millicent's snores were far from soft-- filled the room, and then she knew it was her moment.

Moving slowly so that the mattress didn't make a single sound, she slid upward and lowered her feet onto the floor. The frozen stone ground sent stabs of icy chill into her little toes, so cold it was painful. She did not relish the cold that would meet her just outside of the curtains, the cold that not even her thick flannel pants and large, old sweater could keep out, but nothing as trivial as the cool air was going to keep her from her destination. Reaching the end of her bed, she grasped the fabric of the cloak she had draped through, pulling it to her. With skillful fingers that were unhindered by the thick darkness, she buckled the cloak at her throat and gathered it around her. Not bothering with shoes and having never once owned a pair of slippers, she stood.

By the eerie glow of the fire that burned in their hearth, she could make out only faint shapes in the blackness, the outline of a bed here and the rectangle of a trunk there. But she knew the room well enough that she knew where the door would be, and she set her eyes upon the dim silhouette of her goal. She stepped out carefully, watching her foot placement carefully. She didn't want to trip over something, or unintentionally bump into something that would make any sort of noise and ruin her cover, but it was too dark and she couldn't even see her feet, for they were obscured in shadow. And she didn't see Pansy's hairbrush cast apathetically on the floor for the house elves to deal with until it was to late and she had slipped.

Her arms flew as she reeled forward, trying to catch herself on anything—a wall...a bedpost...she would have settled for a burning hot pipe. Just anything to stop her impending contact with the floor, just anything other than waking up her roommates. But, heart now in her throat, her stomach and chest met the floor with what seemed to be an earsplitting, whap! Shiloh flung her hand upwards to cover her mouth and to keep the loud gasp of the wind leaving her lungs from leaving her mouth. She gritted her lips together, ignoring the desire to suck in great gulps of oxygen to satisfy her now aching lungs. She did not a sound, listening carefully and knowing the worst was bound to come. She expected it: the crunch of a mattress as someone bolted upward, a harsh voice demanding who dared disturb their sleep, or, worse, a concerned Symone running to her side to make sure she was all right and then beginning to immediately question what she could possibly be doing out of bed. She didn't want the inquiries that she wouldn't answer, and she didn't want Symone to know about something that Symone would never agree with it. And Shiloh did not need Symone's approval.

But, as much as Shiloh expected it, none of it came. No harsh voices or worried tones broke through the shadows. The only sound that met Shiloh's ears was a groan from Symone's sleep as she flipped to a more comfortable position. Still, Shiloh remained on her place on the floor until Symone was still again. Only then did she breathe again.

Pushing herself quietly to her feet, she managed to make the rest of the way outside of her room without event. She crept quietly to the stairs, breathing as quietly as possible, though even her shallow inhales seemed blaring. She made her way to the common room, meeting with no ill except when she believed she had one more step than she did and felt the sickening situation as her foot came down into nothingness and her stomach jerked inharmoniously up into her throat. Shiloh didn't cry out, nor did she fall. She simply stood there for a moment, catching her breath, and then squared her shoulder and walked determinedly towards the door.

As she stepped out into the corridor and the blank stone wall entrance closed behind, she found herself plunged into darkness. There was no blackness of night quite as thick as what was in Hogwarts' dungeons. Even as she took out the wand that she had never taken from her pants' pocket and cast Lumos charm, the oval of light did little to slice through the lingering darkness. It was impossibly cold, and she fought back a shiver from beneath her cloak. The chill made the darkness seem deeper, more impenetrable—if that was even possible. There was an atmosphere of horror and foreboding about the place, and she could have sworn she glimpsed one of the ghosts of Hogwarts gliding spookiness around a corner. Shiloh paused for a moment, studying the scene before her. Even the bravest mind would have conjured up ghastly images or what hid in the corners, what evil awaited for them around the bend. Even a fearless person would have thought it wise to turn back and run—not walk—back to her room...not because of the sight, but because there was truly danger of what was ahead if there was so much as one false move. But Shiloh did what she knew what was best in such situations. She didn't think. She only acted.

She moved down the corridors, her steps more confident than she felt, and navigated down the dizzying maze of halls, her wand held before her and her destination set clearly in her mind. It seemed like almost an eternity before she saw the door at the end of the hall, and when she did a mixture of a glee and expectancy surged through her heart. She was halfway there, but this half would be the most difficult.

As she stopped by the door to Professor Snape's office, she paused only long enough to extinguish her wand and point its end to the doorknob. “Alohomora,” she hissed so softly that she barely heard it. She was carefully opening the door, being sure not to let it creak, and had it open an inch when a voice behind her froze her heart.

“Little firstie is out of bed.”

Shiloh didn't have to turn around to know who it was, for who else had such a cooing voice and who else loved to torment students like that stupid, annoying, pesky poltergeist. “Peeves,” she whispered beneath her breath, stomping down her terror and turning to face him.

He hovered three feet off the ground, leaving his face high above hers, but as she craned her neck to look as his expression. It was twisted in delight, the sort of sick pleasure that always came when they took happiness in the moment before they tortured another. Shiloh knew without asking that he was not simply going to leave. Not when such a wonderful opportunity to present itself.

“Oh,” he cooed in joy, drawing out his words. “You're in big trouble now.”

“Peeves, be quiet and go away!” she ordered lowly, though she knew it would do no good.

And, in reply, the poltergeist did the only thing that would have affected her. He could have taunted her for hours, called her filthy names and thrown chewed pieces of gum at her for weeks, made her life miserable for the rest of her time as a student, if only he hadn't done this. But he was not so kind, and so, he did something unspeakable.

He woke up Professor Snape.

With a swipe of his hands, he pushed hard against the door, tearing it from Shiloh's hand and making it slam noisily against the side wall. There was a shuttering 'thud' followed by several crashes as the jars of the self the door had slammed into tumbled down and shattered on the floor. Shiloh was frozen in horror, staring blankly at the mess he had made, but then she heard the footsteps from the door across the office. Severus Snape was now awake.

She bit her lip to keep from gasping, and did the only thing she could do. She fled. Peeves was blocking the way back to the common room, so it left only one way to go. Up. Her legs pounded up the stairs to the Entrance Hall. Her heart thundered, but no matter how much it blared in her chest, it could not drown out the sound of Peeves informing Professor Snape that there was a student out of bed and then turning to chase after her. As she raced just out of the professor's sight, she could hear him swear and began stalking after her.

When she was in the Great Hall, she didn't stop. She hurried to the grand staircase, taking the stairs as fast as her slender legs would allow her. Peeves was whirling after her, making rude noises and taunts. She didn't dare glance behind her to see where Professor Snape was, for fear that he would be close enough to glimpse her face. Her only hope for escape was to make sure he didn't recognize her. Right now, she could be any one of the number of students but once he saw her more clearly, it wouldn't matter how much she ran. It would be over.

So, blindly, she tore up the staircases, taking twists and turns with no real thought. Her heart pounded somewhere near her uvula, and her stomach was currently lodged in her diaphragm. It wasn't long before her lungs were pumping so fast they felt like they might explode, or her legs held a dull, but painful ache. But she didn't slow down, didn't stop, no matter how much she hurt. She kept on, hurrying onto another staircase.

But this one decided not to stand still. With a mighty jerk, the staircase heaved to the side so suddenly that she was thrown off balanced and tossed into the railing. She grasped at the railing frantically, digging her short nails into the wood to keep from tumbling right over it. Only when the set of stairs had come to rest along a different wall, did she let go and allow her heart to start beating again. She used the moment to look around, and she could see Peeves flying towards her...and on the staircase just below was the dark figure of Professor Snape.

She rushed forward toward the landing and the door just on the top of the steps. She yanked on the handle, trying to twist, but it remained firmly closed. She didn't give any thought to why the door was locked; there was no time to think. Instead, she yanked out her wand, and, with a whispered incantation and careful aim, unlocked the door. She disappeared through the door, closing it behind her and locking it, hoping that Professor Snape would not have seen her go in and, finding it still locked, would pass on by. She stood perfectly still, staring at the door as she listened to footsteps going on outside. She heard the taunting cries of Peeves come and go, but she knew better than to call that a victory, because the test was yet to come.

Shiloh bit her lip and held her breath, not even wanting to make the smallest of sound. She focused on the echo of footsteps coming nearer and nearer, wondering and waiting to see if they would pause and to her utter horror, they did. She slowly backed away, prepared to run again. Every muscle in her body screamed at her to bolt, but she could only stare at the door watching as it jingled. It didn't give, didn't budge, staying locked in place, but Shiloh knew it would only be a moment before he took out his wand and unlocked it. She looked around her for escape—a door, a window, a crack would have done nicely – but all she found was an empty set of armor. Quickly, she sidled behind it and crouched in the niche she was in. She sat on the stone floor, feeling the cold through her robes, and her knees nearly came up to her nose. She huddled there, listening to the sound of the door being unlocked and opening. She could feel his eyes as he searched around the room with that same calculative gaze that had the ability to take in everything in a mere sweep of his eyes. She pursed her lips together and for an impossibly long moment she could only listen to the pounding of her heart against her eardrums, thinking it was only a second before she was discovered.

But after a long time, she heard the beautiful sound of the door clicking shut and locking into place. For a second, she stayed there, unable to believe her good fortune, but in a rush she felt such strong relief, that, if she had been that sort, she would have buried her face in her hands and sobbed in joy. But, instead, she quietly and slowly exhaled. It felt good to breathe again.

But her ease was short lived, only lasting as long as took to creep out from around the armor and begin to take in her surroundings. The place looked like an unused classroom. There were desks and chairs piled along the walls with a fine layer of dust and cobwebs clinging to them. An upturned wastebasket gave the place an abandoned and creepy feel. As she studied it, she felt her stomach twinge, telling her distinctly that she shouldn't be here and, if she was smart, she would turn around and leave. But something stopped her, for along the wall there was something that seemed sharply out of place, something she would not have expected to see, something she peered at from the corner of her eye. Her own reflection.

For against the far wall was a large magnificent mirror, framed gloriously in gold and standing proudly on two claw-like legs. On the top was an inscription, one that was in some language that she didn't possess the skill to recognize or to translate. She knew, as soon as she saw it, that this was no ordinary mirror. Not because of its beauty or the almost mystical way it reflected the darkness about it in a wistful blue, but because Shiloh knew that there was nothing ordinary in Hogwarts, especially if it was hidden in a locked classroom.

She felt drawn to it, and though her mind told her she should simply go back to her dorm and soak in the complete failure of her night, a deep curiosity wouldn't allow her. Instead, she crept nearer, her eyes focusing on her own reflection. She wondered what it did, what powerful was hidden in the glass and frame. She thought absently of story her dad had once read to her, when she was little, a Muggle fairytale called Snow White. She could only remember it vaguely—something about a wicked queen asking a magically mirror some rhymed question beginning with Mirror, Mirror, and, in return, the mirror giving an answer. Shiloh wondered if that was how this one worked, if someone whispered so sort of incantation or asked some sort of question, and whatever they wanted, their very heart's desire was given to him. She doubted it though, because the mirror could have done a number of things.

Wanting to explore more, she stopped straight in front of it and immediately whirled back around, instantly uneasily. But there was no one in the room, not a single person other than her. The only other living entity was a mouse that uttered a few, small squeaks as it scurried across the floor to the opposite wall. Standing tensely, Shiloh searched carefully around the room, every corner, behind every desk until she was completely sure she was alone. Perhaps her eyes had just betrayed her, but she didn't really believe that. So very slowly, she twisted back around.

There, standing beside her reflection, was a dark, towering figure. Whoever it was, it was clear it was a man, for he was too tall and masculine to be a woman, but she couldn't see his face for his back was angled towards her. She blinked, wondering what strange power this mirror held and contemplating even more intensely on who the man was. But as much as she tried, she could not recognize him. As much as she searched her memory, he could no be found there. She didn't know him, but something deep within her long for her to find the answer of his identity. She wanted to know who he was. She didn't know why, but she ached for it. Whoever this man was, he was important...at least to her.

Even if she didn't know why.

In the back of her mind, she told herself that she should forget it and go back to her mind, but she couldn't tear herself away from the mirror, or, rather, the man in the mirror. She sat down on the floor, crossing her legs as she stared up at the figure and did nothing but watch. She waited for him to do something, to give himself away, to turn toward her and reveal himself, but he did nothing.

She didn't know how long she was there. It could have been a few minutes, just as easily as it could have been a few hours, but sometime she began to feel it. It was an eerie feeling, when someone became aware that she was being watched. First the hairs on the back of her neck began to get stiff and stand on end, and then every muscle of her back became rigid. She slipped her hand into her pocket, wrapping it around her wand...just in case. And then gradually, she rounded her neck around and gazed over her shoulder.

There sitting on a desk looking as comfortable and eased that they could have been there for hours, was an airy figure. She could feel the person's eyes on her back. There was no use running or hiding; she was caught, but by whom she didn't know.

“Hello?” she called out hesitantly.

“Good day,” the familiar and instantly recognizable voice greeted in return. “Or perhaps I should say good night, though that has always been more of a farewell than a greeting, so that's not quite right either.”

Her mouth felt dry and for a moment she didn't dare to speak, hoping that this wasn't real, and instead a hallucination caused by too little sleep or Annadel catching on to her plan and coming to torment her with illusions. She would have accepted anything, just as long as he wasn't sitting there, watching her. But finally, she gathered up her courage, moistened her lips, and managed to pry her mouth open. “Professor Dumbledore?”

He gave no response, other than to stand and walk towards her. In turn, she pushed herself to her feet and twisted around to face him. In the moonlight that came from the window, she could his eyes sparkle merrily, the way they nearly always did, and yet there was something deep and wise in them as well, making her wonder what knowledge had caused him to come to the conclusion of such happiness, even in this particular moment. His long, white hair and beard looked silvery in the moonlight and his colorful robes made him look like he had just walked out of the books of a Muggle fairytale.

He paused at her side, but he didn't look at her. Instead, his eyes were fixed on the mirror. “Marvelous, isn't it?”

Shiloh mind reeled. Why wasn't he punishing her? Why wasn't he ordering her back to her dorm or demanding why she was out of bed? This was the first time she had actually spoken to the Headmaster, so she could not possibly know how he would behave. But surely he knew she'd broken rules; surely he knew that it was his responsibility to reconcile the situation.

But, though she was utterly unsure of how she should act, she did the only thing she could. She looked back to the mirror and replied flatly, “I suppose.”

He turned his head to blink down at her, his gaze inquisitive. “Only supposing?” he mused lightly. “You do not seem so sure.”

She wasn't sure how to respond. But it seemed that he wanted to carry on a conversation, and she didn't think it wise to deny it. Chit-chat was better than other alternatives. Besides, she had a burning question to ask. “Well, Professor, I'm not exactly certain of what it does.” And she glanced at the figure who was still standing there.

“What do you see?” was the only answer he gave.

Undecided, she didn't reply for a long second. She wondered if she should actually tell him, for perhaps he would think she was insane or odd, to see the reflection of a man who was neither there nor someone she knew. But, in the end, she thought it was worth the risk if she could get an answer to her question. “I see a man...only I can't make out his face and I don't know who he is.”

She tilted her head so she could look up at him. She waited for him to tell her what it meant, but for a time he only looked back down at her, her eyes silently prodding her to continue.

She searched the corners of her mind, wondering what else she could possibly mention. What she found, after she had contemplated carefully, seemed insignificant and quite personal, but there was something about the way that Professor Dumbledore stood there quite patiently and politely, waiting there for her to respond with something quite close to fondness in his eyes. He was willing to help her and be kind, and she wasn't entirely sure that he knew who she was.

“But-” She paused for only one more moment. “But I want to know who he is.” She turned her eyes back to the figure in the mirror, and felt that strange longing that was so deep it nearly made her feel empty. “With all my heart.”

The words whispered past her lips, surprising herself. She would never have said such words or made such a personal admittance to someone she knew for all her life. Never once had she talked about the 'desires of her heart' with her parents, for even with them she'd felt unsafe and insecure. Besides, she wasn't the sort who gave much consideration to her heart. With all her attempts to hide her emotions, her heart was something she'd buried deep within her and forgotten about. Her mind was perfectly strong and each action she took was decided by careful thoughtfulness, not by something as futile as the organ in the middle of her chest. But, almost absently, almost unknowingly, she had muttered the words and now she knew why she had been so unwilling to do it before. She felt impossibly vulnerable.

But he only said, “Exactly.”

She felt confusion, unsure what he was getting at, but something about her words had answered her own question. She thought over her words carefully, weighing each one. Her mind kept coming back to her last, added phrase. 'With all my heart'. She'd admitted that knowing him was a desire of her heart, a thing she wanted dearly. But suddenly it came to her. That had to be it.

“You mean, this mirror shows the desires of your heart.”

He smiled, and his eyes danced with something close to pride. “Very observant conclusion, Shiloh.”

She was more surprised by the fact that he knew her name and called her by her first name, instead of the 'Miss Sanders' she got from most professors, than she was flattered by his compliment. She wasn't sure how to respond, so she didn't reply to it. Instead, she focused on the many questions running through her brain, the most prominent of which found its way out of her mouth. “But, sir, I don't understand. How can the desire of my heart be someone I don't even know?”

His attention was undivided upon her and it was clear he didn't mind the questions. He gave the answers willingly. “I do not believe it is the person that you wish for. Rather, it is the desiring to know. Is there no one you can think whose identity you do not know, but are curious of?”

Shiloh froze, and her heart stilled as every muscle in her small body became impeccably tight. She stared up at him, her expression unreadable, but in her eyes flickered a mixture of realization and horror, like the one that often came when someone made a terrifying, but truthful discovering. For, no sooner had Dumbledore added the final word to the question than she knew the answer. But it was a dreadful answer, an impossible want, and even as she recognized it to be true, she could not allow herself to believe it. It was beyond reason, and it stole her breath away, making it so that her lungs could not expand. The answer was improbable, but it was brutally, uncontrollably, and regrettably true.

She focused on Dumbledore, wondering if he was completely oblivious to her sudden lapse in logic or her inability to reply to the one question that was buzzing through her mind. The inquiry of 'why' suffocated her and the answer was allusive. Nothing about this made sense. Because it didn't make sense. She shouldn't want to know someone who she knew had abandoned her. She shouldn't want to find someone that was more than likely a Death Eater. It made no logical sense. It had to be anyone, anything, other than him.

And, yet, she knew that undoubtedly it was.

She surveyed Dumbledore, and he surveyed her back through his reflective, half-moon glasses with his wise eyes sparkling behind. He was waiting patiently, not about to press her if she had found an answer to his question. She had a feeling that he wouldn't force her to speak if she was uncomfortable, but he was also standing there so diligently that she knew that if she were to talk of the things that were spinning wildly through her mind, he would more than happily help her to understand them. She stood a moment in indecision, even opened her mouth once, but closed it again. She didn't know how she could give him so little information that he wouldn't guess what she was speaking of, and not enough that Dumbledore could decipher the truth of her origin. He was so wise that she knew he could figure much from little and end with the correct answer. But still, she felt the need to speak to someone, because as brilliant as it was, her young mind couldn't figure this out on her own. And if not Dumbledore, than who?

“But, sir--” She just managed to keep the exasperation at her own confusion out of her voice-- “I don't understand. I shouldn't want to know who he is. It's not logical.”

It didn't take him long to start to have an answer. In fact, he immediately replied, “Oh, but the heart never is.”

He could have said that in a foreign language, and she would have understood it just as much, because she didn't comprehend it at all. She tilted her head inquisitively. “Sir?”

He paused for a moment, his aged face unreadable, but those intelligent eyes studying Shiloh intently. After a long second, he spoke, completely serious, “You don't know much about the dealings of the heart, do you?”

It was perfectly true. Shiloh was one who relied on her mind to get her through life. She thought before she acted and rarely ever acted on silly impulse. And her heart...Well, that was something that she didn't even want to touch, something she had kept hidden inside of her so that no one could touch, not even herself. Somewhere between her logic, her brain, and the walls she'd built around her heart, it had been buried, lost and hidden without even a single care to allow her to search it.

When she gave no answer, not even the courtesy of an honest shake of the head, Dumbledore reached out a hand and laid it softly on her shoulder, a touch so gentle it didn't cross her mind to pull away from it. A slightly serious smile twitched at the corner of his lips, wiping the shame of her own ignorance of the subject and assuring her he would try his best to end it. “Let's sit, and I shall share most important knowledge with you. Of course,” he continued, as he straightened and removed his hand from her shoulder, “it would be foolish for me to claim to know all in this matter, for the heart is a mystery to even the wisest of men and greatest of sages. And, believe me--” And, here, he gave a pleasant lighthearted chuckle that showed he held no regret or embarrassment admitting his own faults and imperfections-- “I am neither.”

They lowered themselves onto the stone floor, legs folded neatly beneath them as they tried to ignore the pangs of cold that was aiming to freeze their thighs and buttocks to the ground. As Shiloh angled toward the Headmaster, her gaze expectant, she felt a strange excitement ripple in some deep place in her gut. She felt as though she was about to be taught something that would, perhaps, be the dearest, most wonderful knowledge she could ever possess. The Slytherins—or at least all of the older ones—often told stories and ranted tales about how old and daft their Headmaster was. Most of the things they told her, she knew to be a load of rubbish, spoken only to turn the younger students against the highest authority—why they'd want to do that was the only thing she had figure out. But, looking at him now, she thought that his age gave him extended acquaintance with the ways of magic and the world as a whole, and she could not think him mad—different, perhaps, but she had been called crazy enough times to know that there was nothing wrong with individuality. Besides, she knew that education from books was wonderful, but to learn something from a truly wise and great wizard would be priceless.

She set her eyes upon him, attentively waiting to draw in every bit of his words.

Meeting her gaze, he began, his speech lighting up the darkness with crystal clarity, “What you must understand is that the heart is a strange and peculiar thing—spectacular and amazing, but deviating far from anything else known on earth. It is moved completely by a set of its own rules, ones that it alone knows and it alone follows, and the heart's guidelines are as altering from the mind's as the sun is separate from the moon. Therefore, what is illogical to the head can not be called senseless by the heart, for it is wild and untamed and to put restrictions upon its wants is to put the sea in chains. Not only is it impossible to try, but why would you ever want to? As the saying goes, the heart wants, what the heart wants.” For the first time, his mouth twisted into a thoughtful frown, and he asked considerately, “Do you understand?”

She pursed her lips, thinking on the words deeply, but after a moment she gave a slow nod. “I believe so, sir.”

Because a part of her mind—or perhaps it was her heart—had comprehended every syllable of his explanation. Despite all the things that the man was, she had forgotten one thing more. It was something she didn't want to admit, something she had fought unconsciously never to have to come to terms with, but just as she had had to recognize much, she had to accept this. And that took great bravery, having faith in a distasteful truth. Alongside all the horrible things the man in the mirror was, he held a much more important occupation: he was a part of her. He was in her genes, her blood, even her heart. He was the part of her that had always been a mystery. After all, how many times had Annadel accused her of being a 'Halfblood' and Shiloh had been left to wonder if it was true? Because not knowing him was like not knowing part of herself. And that was something she couldn't live with. Because until she knew, there would always be that missing piece.

But still, a single question remained in her mind, a seed of doubt that kept her from swearing herself to fulfilling her heart's request. But to ask it would leave her vulnerable, exposed to this man. But glancing at him, she thought, that maybe, just maybe it might be worth it, because she trusted that none of this would leave this room. A man that knew so much had to know how to keep secrets.

“But what if following your heart is a mistake?” she whispered, as though to speak louder would surely ruin everything. “What if taking the path our heart leads us on, only ends in pain?”

His gaze softened, and to her surprise she felt not the least bit insecure, because he was soon answering, his voice sweet, understanding, and so truthful it left no doubt that she should trust it, “You know, Shiloh, it just might. But that's a chance worth taking.”

There it was again. Taking a risk, just like in potions, Bertie Botts' Every-Flavored Beans, and stealing Veritaserum. But this time, Shiloh didn't feel bitter in realizing it, because Dumbledore was right. She knew that from experience. Some risks were worth taking, because she would never really know until she tried.

And that's what would torture her forever. Never knowing.

She felt a small smile creep up her lips, because she felt a deep assurance that she had learned something important tonight. Something she'd never forget. Something she could never thank Dumbledore enough for. But her tiny, but genuine smile didn't last for long. It was there only a split second before she remembered something that had fallen to the back of her mind and the thought wiped her smile away. She didn't want to ask the next burning question, because she supposed that she already knew the answer. But she had to, because now that their conversation had come to a close, there was no escaping it.

“Are you going to punish me now, Professor?”

Dumbledore eyes widened and he leaned slightly back as though utterly shocked. Whether it was an act or not, she couldn't tell. “Whatever for?”

She opened her mouth, but the words got stuck in her throat. She honestly couldn't believe him. He knew exactly what for; he was ignorant to his own rules, and she refused to allow him to act that way. She was not someone to be toyed with. If he was going to punish her, she wanted it crisp and clean, no beating around the bush. Letting her annoyance show a bit, she spoke, “You know exactly what for, Professor. I'm no simpleton and neither are you, so we let's cut the rubbish.”

Her words were defiant, she knew that as soon as she finished speaking, and she regretted them, because she truly didn't mean to be rude to the man she did have much respect for. But old habits died hard, and no matter who it was, she'd always been unable to stand when someone messed with her head.

But to her surprise, Dumbledore was neither angry nor upset, and instead, he let out a deep laugh. She froze, unsure what at all was funny, but he explained himself before she could ask. “You're indeed a spirited one. Severus must have his hands full with you.”

Oh, there were several things Shiloh could say to testify how ironically true that was, but she pressed her lips together and said nothing, until Dumbledore had finished his chuckling and was ready to be serious again.

“No, Shiloh,” he replied earnestly. “I'm not going to punish you.”

For a long second, she didn't believe him. She thought this was some game he was playing, something that he thought was a big joke, but he came out with no punchline, no 'haha-I-fooled-you-good'. Instead he continued to stare right back at her, no amusement in his features save for that unstoppable joy that always flitted in his gaze. But as she began to believe her own ears, a thousand questions fought for placement in her brain and it took a long moment for her to sort them out. She wanted to demand 'why not' or to ask if he understood all the rules she'd broken, not the least of which was being out of bed so late. But she quickly thought better of it. It was unwise to play with good fortune.

She didn't know whether to thank him or to smile or to throw her arms around his neck—but that was a strange urge for her and she quickly fought it away, killing it as soon as it dared come anywhere near her. Instead, she went with the first answer, to which he replied with one last smile. “Off to bed now.”

She didn't argue with him, but instead pushed to her feet. She didn't know whether Professor Snape or Peeves was still looking for her her, but she could only hope they had given up the search long ago and she could make it down to the dormitory without being seen. It was wishful thinking, but 'the heart wanted what the heart wanted'. She started towards the door, not looking back for the longest of moments, but something made her stop, a pulling on her heart and a longing in her gut that made her turn back for just one last look. She stared into the mirror, gazing at the back of the man she could now admit that she wanted to know with all her heart.

And she made a promise to herself, that she would fulfill that desire of her heart, because one day she wanted to be able to stand before him and ask the questions that she had always wanted an answer to. Why had he abandoned her? Why didn't he ever come looking for him? Was he truly a Death Eater? And had he ever—even for just one moment—loved her?

Yes, she would search for him. And one day, no matter how long it took, no matter what the consequences were, she would find her birth father.

Chapter 11: Chapter Ten: Confession of Christmas
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Chapter Ten

 

Confessions of Christmas

 

 

“Where were you last night?”

 

It seemed that Symone had chosen the most inopportune moment to ask her question. As soon as the question had come out of Symone's parted lips, Shiloh was flung into a difficult decision of continuing to haul her suitcase onto her bed or to simply allow the bag to slip from her now numb fingers and fall down to crush her toes. She chose the earlier, and not just because she dreaded the thought of explaining to Madam Pompfrey what she had managed to do to her foot, but because the action would stall her enough time to come up with the proper response—or, rather, proper lie—to Symone's inquiry.



It had been early morning by the time Shiloh had returned to her bed, and she'd been incredibly thankful that she had managed to escape back to the Slytherin common room unnoticed by Professor Snape, Peeves, or any other unwelcome eyes. But she could have sworn that when she returned, Symone and the others had been fast asleep. How then could Symone have known that Shiloh hadn't been snuggled in her bed for the entire period of the night? And if Symone had indeed been aware of Shiloh's absence, why hadn't she confronted her about it last night and had, instead, waited until this morning? Not that Shiloh wasn't grateful. After all, at least Annadel, Pansy, and Millicent had already left to take their suitcases to the carriages that would take them back to the train. It had been quite a sight, watching them take their things as they grumbled about how this was house elf work.

 

But even if the sniveling trio had left the room, Shiloh had no desire to explain about either her plot against Annadel or the episode of last night. Especially the latter. Last night had been—Shiloh searched for the right word and a flash of memories danced around in mind's eye. Dumbledore's appearance, his advice, the figure in the mirror, her father. As the memories faded, the perfect word latched on to her mind, a word that said it all.

 

Last night had been too personal.

 

“What do you mean?” Shiloh finally asked, forcing herself to sound clueless. As soon as she chose the response, she knew that she had made a fatal and idiotic error. In her desperation to keep last night's escapades a secret, she'd spoken before she had complete control of her voice and the words came out of her mouth clipped, unnatural, and maybe even a bit nervous.

 

And Symone was not buying it.

 

“Oh, don't give me that rubbish!” Symone snapped and crossed her long arms stubbornly over her chest. Her nose was wrinkled slightly and her jaw was set in furious annoyance. Lying was not about to get Shiloh out of this, and she knew that perfectly well when Symone continued, “I woke up last night, and you weren't in your bed or anywhere in the room.”

 

Shiloh opened her mouth, a quick lie about to form on her tongue, but Symone knew her better than Shiloh cared to admit, and beat her to it.

 

“And don't you dare tell me you were visiting the common room, because I checked.”

 

Shiloh hesitated a moment, then settled a hawk-like gaze upon Symone as she carefully considered her next move, carefully calculating any misstep. Her face was blank, her eyes were lit with a subtle, cracking flame, but her mind was whirling. In other circumstances, Shiloh might have been bewildered that Symone had seemed to care enough to roll out of her cozy bed in the midnight of the night and brave the cold all the way to the common room, just to check for her missing roommate. Shiloh knew Symone wouldn't have done as much for any other roommate, unless it was to make sure they weren't preparing some wretched stunt to destroy the existence of Halfbloods. But Shiloh didn't allow herself to consider that Symone had done the act out of worry or consideration. The way she saw it, she couldn't afford to believe that Symone was prodding her for information in some half-cocked way of showing she cared. It was much easier facing an enemy than it was facing someone who considered herself Shiloh's friend.

 

Besides, Shiloh couldn't possibly be convinced that Symone was doing this out of some sort of odd kindness. Not when her appearance spoke differently. No when, with her jaw lifting defiantly, a lock that resembled a corkscrew falling onto her furrowed brow, and a sharp, no-nonsense look, Symone had never looked more Slytherin. Because with Symone looking like that, all Shiloh could feel was anger, a rage that swept through her already tight muscles and wiped away all pretense of politeness or the desire to pretend last night had never happened. After all, she had never known that Symone could be so disgustingly nosy!

 

Sneering slightly, coolly, her voice went low and became as cold and as frightening as crackling ice. “Do me a favor?”

 

Symone arched a single eyebrow.

 

“Mind your own bloody business!”

 

She turned her back to Symone, hoping she would let the matter drop and not press her any farther. As she reached for her music box—the one item that had not been packed—and tucked it carefully into a mound of clothes in her suitcase, she practically pleaded silently with Symone to leave her alone. All she wanted to do was leave her room, make her way to the carriages, and start the long journey home. She was thinking longingly of her creek that was perhaps now frozen with a layer of ice, her mother's warm hot chocolate and moist pastries, and even her father's Muggle music that he always blasted at Christmas time. Sitting by a warm fire and a glittery Christmas tree while Here Comes Santa Clause came from a very old Muggle radio would be better than standing here, wondering if Symone was moments away from aiming a hex—or, at the very least, a hot retort—right between her shoulder blades. Shiloh didn't want to fight Symone, but she could feel the bitter, metallic taste of anger and adrenaline burning in her mouth, and she knew that if Symone wanted to argue, she wouldn't be able to resist warring back.

 

Shiloh could feel Symone's weighing glare upon her rigid back, as though she was trying to consider her next move, or perhaps thinking up some insult that just wouldn't come. But Shiloh doubted it. Symone had a sharp tongue—a gift perhaps achieved by having three older siblings who delighted in teasing her –and she normally had no difficulty dishing out as good as she got. So what was stopping her? Whatever it was – Shiloh told herself – it wouldn't hold her for long. It was only a matter of time before battle erupted.

 

But whatever Shiloh's expectations were, she didn't expect what happened. Because no yell tore through the silence, no outraged barb shattered their fragile bond, and no incantation rippled from Symone's lips. Instead, all that filled the air was a soft, yet firm, voice.

 

“It's got something to do with Annadel, doesn't it?”

 

As rigid as Shiloh was before, she became all the more tense now. She didn't dare move for a long second, because that would acknowledge that Symone had truly spoken those words and she truly did know something that no one every should have been able to find out. She told herself not to believe, told herself she was just hearing things, because she had been so careful. No one could find out. And, yet, Symone had spoken with such certainty it was undoubted that she not only thought, she knew. And if Symone had figured it out, had Annadel been able to as well?

 

Slowly, Shiloh turned around, almost afraid of what she would find on Symone's face. Shiloh kept her face free of emotion, because she was well aware that, as she was scrutinizing Symone's features, Symone was studying hers right back. For a tense moment, Shiloh only stared at Symone's unreadable features, taking in the way she barely blinked and, instead, only stood expectingly, patiently, and stubbornly, waiting for an answer that Shiloh was taking a very long time to give. She tried to think of some lie, and numerous came to her mind, most that would have been incredibly convincing, but somehow Shiloh knew that it would do not good on Symone. So, unable to lie and too stunned to push her mind her mind to think straight, she opened her mouth and said the first thing that came to her flabbergasted brain, “What?”

 

Symone didn't doubt that Shiloh had heard her, and that one word response was more than an answer to her question. She forged on. “And it has something to do with Veritiserum?”

 

Shiloh felt her defenses rise even higher—if that was possible—and her alarm bells began to clang wildly. Symone must have found some piece of evidence, one she could so easily have used as leverage against Shiloh, blackmail if ever Symone needed it. Something inside Shiloh scratched at the back of her mind, telling her that she knew Symone would never do that to her. Symone was benevolent and just—not one who would use something like this for her own personal gain—and she deserved the benefit of a doubt. But then again, why had Symone been snooping around, because that was the only way she could have come across such evidence? But, in the end, Shiloh had not time for debating loyalties. Because if Annadel had found out like Symone, not only was her last hope of proving Annadel's guilt shattered, but her days of living were counted. She had to find out how Symone had come across the information. And if that meant admittance, so be it.

 

“How do you know?” Shiloh spoke slowly, knowing the words were an open confession.

 

A sense of accomplishment seemed to strike through Symone's being because enthusiasm was rippling in her gaze. “I knew it!” she pronounced excitedly, looking as though she might dance.

 

Generally Symone was so full of life and joy that it nearly rubbed off on Shiloh, but today the exuberance only worsened her irritated mood. “Yes.” Shiloh's voice was tolerant and slightly strained, sounding like Professor Snape when he was trying to hold back a quickly boiling anger. “But how?”

 

Symone looked back at Shiloh, and seeing her serious face, Symone seemed to think better of the merriment. She let the smile slip from her face, surrendered her triumphant happiness, and returned to businesslike mannerisms with a surprisingly fluid movement. She recrossed her arms and began in her explanation. “It wasn't too easy.”

 

It seemed as though she at least guessed at Shiloh's trepidation and what was causing it and wanted to reassure her. Or she was telling the truth. The latter was much more comforting, but Shiloh didn't want to believe a lie just because it was more cozy.

 

Symone continued, “But ever since Professor Snape refused to believe you about Annadel, you've been acting different...for you, at least.”

 

Shiloh tried not to react. She had tried her best not to seem suspicious in her actions, but now it seemed like she'd failed. And she had simply never thought that any of them knew her well enough to understand that she was acting 'out of character', and now that she knew she was wrong, it was unnerving. She fought back a shudder and listened carefully as Symone continued to explain how she'd been acting out of her norm.

 

“There were the late night study routines, those nights were you would read past the early morning hours, and the extra hours in the library. I knew you were up to something, but I didn't know what.” There was a gleam of a memory, a reminder of that Slytherin ambition, and without being told, Shiloh knew that Symone had been determined to find out what she'd been up to. “And then I peeked into that book you had.” She gestured to Shiloh's nightstand where the large book of potions waited to be returned to the library.

 

Shiloh realized her mistake immediately. She should have returned the book as soon as she'd read about Veritaserum. But instead, she had been too distracted by the anticipation of the plan and the night to come and had left it lying there in plain sight. She had a grand desire to take out her wand and curse herself. How could she have been so stupid?! She'd just never thought that anybody would care what she was studying.

 

Symone went on, “I went to the page you had marked and on it was Veritaserum.” She gave a modest shrug, as though trying to show that the act had been nothing special—as though knowing Symone didn't have a big head because of it actually helped. “And I put two and two together.”

 

Shiloh pursed her lips, feeling annoyance deep in her stomach, and she didn't look at Symone for the longest time. She simply stared at a section of floor near her trainers, her eyes narrowed slightly. She was angry with no one but herself. She'd made a faulty error, and now she had to come up with some sort of a remedy for her mistake. She had to find out what Symone wanted. But first of all, she had to find out if Annadel had figured out her plot as well.

 

Grudgingly, but knowing what she had to do, she looked back at Symone, surprisingly, didn't have a haughty look on her face or even a smug smile of delight at finding out Shiloh's secret. Of course, she wouldn't gloat—Shiloh berated herself. Symone wasn't like that, and her expression was a testimony to that, for now her face was gentle. She watched Shiloh carefully with her soft eyes, as though ready to wait for an eternity for her to respond. Her patience reminded Shiloh of Professor Dumbledore, and it left her with the courage to part her tight lips and ask the question that she feared the answer to.

 

“Was it so obvious?”

 

Symone gave a thoughtful cock of her head and another lock of hair cascaded onto her forehead to touch her delicate chin. She ignored it for a moment, and instead started to speak. “Not really. I mean it wouldn't be clear for Annadel and those other two gits. They aren't the sharpest point on a blunt sword, and they would never willingly open a book unless Professor Snape was hovering over them with a threatening gaze and a pointed wand.” She paused for a moment, just long enough to reach a hand to her brow and, with an absent brush, sweep her hair back behind her ear. The curl fluttered back moments later, making it pointless to attempt to hold it back. Symone gave up on her hair and went on with what she had been saying. “But I was watching you closely. And I figured it out.” Absorbed in what she was saying, she was probably unaware of why she chose to sit on the edge of her bed, but she did, perching there with a dignified air. “After all, I am an Auror's daughter, Shiloh.”

 

Shiloh forced herself to pretend Symone had never said that, simply told herself that she hadn't listened to that last phrase. Now wasn't the time to rehash that matter. Right now all she needed to do was find out what Symone wanted, and be done.

 

So, lowering herself onto the edge of her own bed, Shiloh met Symone's eyes and asked, “What do you want?”

 

“Want?” Symone repeatedly dumbfounded as though shocked that Shiloh could ever consider she was in this for selfish reasons. She looked as though Shiloh might have slapped her; it was not a pleasant expression, nor was it completely wonderful when Shiloh's stomach twinged with guilt. But Symone quickly collected herself and pressed on stubbornly. “I want to help you.”

 

The idea was absurd, both Symone offering it and the thought that Shiloh might actually accept. No one wanted something for nothing—or at least, no girl that Shiloh had met (even though Annadel was not much to judge by)--and Shiloh was in this on her own. It was her war with Delamb. Not anybody else's.

 

“No,” Shiloh answered flatly, firmly.

 

“No?” Symone once again repeated, this time less offended and more angry.

 

“I said no.” Shiloh repeated, trying to make Symone see this was a firm answer, because otherwise, Symone would dig her heels in.

 

Symone glared at her, once again crossing her arms stubbornly. “Why not?”

 

Shiloh had so many things she could say in reply to that. Because it's my battle. Because it's too dangerous for two of us to go and risk being seen. Because I don't want you to get into trouble for me. All of them would have been true. Any of them would have been enough of a reason. But she didn't have the patience to explain, so keeping her voice calm and inquisitive Shiloh asked, “Why would you want to help me?”

 

“Why?” Symone repeated, slowly, thoughtfully, as she rose to her feet and a memory danced behind her eyes. She was no longer angry or hurt by Shiloh's refusal, instead, she seemed almost broken. She hung her head, completely and totally ridden with guilt. “Because I got you into this mess, Shiloh,” she breathed quietly, remorsefully. “And by Merlin--” She lifted her chin slightly, so their gazed met for a moment so that Shiloh could see a flicker of fire, the seriousness and passion that was behind what Symone said next, “--I will get you out.”

 

Shiloh stared at her in shock in surprise as she went back to the night that all of this had started. The Halloween night when Annadel had insulted Symone, and she had taken action. Was it possible that Symone had been struggling under guilt all the time, thinking that if Shiloh hadn't stood up against Annadel than none of this—the sabotaged potions, the dangerous plan—would have happened? Because it wasn't true. It could have been anyone Annadel had decided to use against her. And besides, they'd been waging a war since they were four years old. It wasn't Symone's fault, but the fact that Symone thought it was and had been suffering because of that put an unpleasant feeling into Shiloh's stomach.

 

Standing and forcing her voice to be gentle, she started, “You didn't get me into this mess, Symone.”

 

Symone looked at Shiloh skeptically, making it clear that she didn't believe her for a second. The pained, guilty expression was still there, along with her will to make Shiloh see her side of it. “If you had never stood up for me, Annadel would never have sought for revenge.”

 

“That's not true,” Shiloh said quickly, wanting very badly to be able to convince Symone so that her unnecessary guilt would vanish. “Annadel and I have been enemies since long before either of us met you.”

 

“Yes, but I know you well enough to understand that you don't fight back unless she attacks someone besides yourself.”

 

Shiloh opened her mouth to argue, but she couldn't honestly deny that what she had said was true. So she slowly locked her jaw back into place and began to calculate what the proper response should be. What Symone had said was true. Shiloh knew very well she didn't care about insults—being called Halfblood was nothing new to her. Annadel had figured that out a long time ago. It was why she delighted in calling Shiloh's father 'Mudblood', because she knew that it was the only thing that could ever invoke Shiloh's fury—though why she wanted to do that Shiloh could never figure out. After all, after a bloody nose and being dangled above the Slytherins, a sensible person would have given up, though Annadel was far from intelligent.

 

But in the end, Symone had been nothing more than an innocent bystander who'd gotten injured in the war between the two. Shiloh wanted to convince her of this, but somehow Shiloh knew that mere words would not rid Symone of remorse. It was why she had offered, because then they would be even and her 'debt' would be repaid. For that reason alone, Shiloh began to considering saying yes to Symone's offer, but as soon as the idea flickered past her mind, she shoved it away. It was impossible. It was too dangerous.

 

“I'm sorry, Symone,” Shiloh said, shaking her head with what she wished was an air of finality, “but you can't come. I nearly got caught with it just being me. Two of us will make it impossible to get into Professor Snape's stores without being seen.”

 

In the statement, Shiloh had managed to tell Symone two things. The first: that she hadn't managed to get the potion after all. And the second: she had every intention of becoming a thief in order to procure the potion. Shiloh watched as her roommate took in the information, looking at her feet as her mind slowly whirled, first to absorb and then to plan as an idea gradually formed into her mind. A spark of wonder danced behind her eyes as she mused if it could actually work.

 

“What if...” Symone started hesitantly, choosing her words carefully and making sure that this idea really might work before she finished her sentence. “What if I had a way that we could get into Professor Snape's office without being seen...even if he was looking right at us.”

 

Shiloh blinked at her, completely confused at what she could be talking about. She knew there was such a thing as a Disillusionment Charm, but that was far above their skill, and even if they tried to learn it, it could take weeks, if not months. But that was the only thing that came to mind, but yet, even if the plan turned out to be impossible, there was no harm in hearing Symone's idea. After all, Shiloh was not about to allow herself to be chased up to the fourth floor corridor again.

 

“All right,” Shiloh agreed, calmly crossing her arms before her chest. “I'm listening.”

 

But instead of giving a lengthy, detailed explanation of what she was thinking, Symone, unexpectedly, turned towards her suitcase, setting her hands upon it to undo the latches. But suddenly, she stopped, her fingers poised upon the the latch, and her eyes flickered uncertainly to the door as though she expected it to burst open and reveal some unwelcome personage. A sense of urgent secrecy came with the action, and Shiloh too found herself gazing at the door and wondering if she should place a locking charm on it, just in case. Whatever Symone was about to reveal, it was obviously very important that it remained a secret. Apprehension filled Shiloh as she wondered what it could possibly be, and whether or not it was worth knowing, because she had enough trouble upon her hands, she honestly didn't need anymore. But her cursedly annoying curiosity didn't allow herself to tell Symone that this wasn't a good idea, because Shiloh needed to know. So she simply swallowed and clamped her jaw shut to keep herself silent, watching Symone's every moved with a mixture to foreboding and excitement.

 

But Symone didn't finish opening her cause. Instead, she took one more precaution. Whirling towards Shiloh, a single finger like that of a scolding mother held at her hip showing how passionately serious about what she said next. “Before I show you, you have to promise me that you will never tell anyone –not even my brothers and sister – about this. This doesn't leave this room.”

 

Shiloh almost smirked at the cool irony of what she had said. Here at Hogwarts, Symone was the only one she really ever talked to, unless it be begrudgingly to Annadel, but Shiloh would be submitted into St. Mungo's Ward For the Terminally Ill before she would ever be insane and stupid enough to utter about any of this when Annadel was within fifty feet of the place. And, as for Symone's family, she'd hardly met any of them, unless it was brief glimpses as Symone pointed them out, or the first, unfortunate encounter with Bran. And Shiloh's own parents—she hardly told them half of what was really going on in her life. It just wasn't something they really needed to know about, especially since it seemed that Shiloh was getting herself into something much deeper and darker then she ever had before.

 

In fact, it surprised her to find out that Symone had a secret so intense she couldn't even tell her own family—or, perhaps—Shiloh thought as she mused back on the suspicious day when Bran had mentioned Symone never having friends—it wasn't so shocking after all. But, stunning or not, she knew that Symone was suddenly appearing more and more...Slytherin. Then again, they both were. They were, after all, Slytherin, and though Shiloh wasn't ashamed of her house, until her parents weren't ashamed of it either, she knew she had best not begin telling them about any of her little adventures.

 

But the last thing Symone needed to hear was a sarcastic reply of “Who would I tell? Nobody speaks to me.” She needed an honest reply, so she parted her lips and solemnly swore, “I promise.”

 

Symone narrowed her gaze at her face, studying her carefully as though searching for any sign of deception. When she found none, she turned back to her luggage and boldly threw up the lid of it. She rifled through clothes, the occasional book, and a fuzzy, white blanket to reach the thing she was after, the thing which had been stowed—hidden, more likely—at the very bottom of her briefcase. Shiloh couldn't quite see what it was, and she titled her head to an angle, trying to see past Symone's back with no apparent luck.

 

Finally, Symone rotated back around, clutching a neatly folded piece of fabric to her chest as though it was the most precious thing to the world. From what Shiloh to glimpse of it past Symone's greedy hands, the fabric was silvery and flowed in an airy way that made it seemed like silk—no lighter, softer, more fluid than silk—but what kind of fabric could fit that description. And how could it possibly help them become unseen?

 

But, as she watched Symone carefully unfold the square of fabric, watched the cloth—no, cloak --drift smoothly down in a shimmering wave, a thought touched her mind, a spark of inspiration, and idea that, however ingenious, seemed preposterous. It was improbable! And yet, Shiloh couldn't shake the idea from her mind. After all, Symone had promised something that could make them invisible. And...

 

“Symone, is that...?”

 

She never had time to finish her question, because Symone was coaxing, “Watch” and moving to swing the expansive cloak over her head, her shoulders, her entire body in one fluid, skilled movement. Shiloh had to fight to keep from gasping, keep from allowing her bottom jaw to smack against the floorboards, and to keep from fainting backwards with sheer delight. Instead, she blinked at where Symone had been, seeing nothing but the bed that had previously set behind her.

 

“An Invisibility Cloak,” Shiloh breathed, the awe and wonder nearly showing through her voice. Invisibility Cloaks were supposed to be extremely rare, but, yet, Symone had one. Somehow, despite all the odds, Symone actually had one.

 

Shiloh took a shaky step towards where Symone had been and stretched a hand forward expectantly. But she didn't feel the creamy fabric beneath her fingers. Instead, she felt nothing but air. She tried to grab again, this time moving forward another inch, but no one was there. She straightened up tall, turning in a slow circle around her, wondering where Symone could be. This truly wasn't a funny joke, because Shiloh suddenly felt tense all over, wondering if Symone was going to jump out of nowhere with some vain attempt to scare her. Her eyes roamed the room, as she slowly turned in a narrow circumference, not quite sure what she was looking for—once full circle, than another, until finally, she saw it. It was a mere gleam, a ripple that was there and then gone in the blink of an eye. It seemed like the very air or lit had rippled or moved, and a dim outline of a shape had been seen briefly than disappeared so that it could be dismissed as little more than the mind playing tricks. But Shiloh's mind wasn't teasing her.

 

She moved quickly. Lunging forward, she grasped for what seemed to be air, but when she locked her fingers she felt downy fabric in her palm. Gently, she pulled. Symone's head appeared, then her torso, and finally her legs, until the Cloak was danging from Shiloh's fist as she stared down at it in barely contained amazement. She turned it around in her hands, her touch careful. It was so fine, the fabric, and so splendid, the magic, that she couldn't help the way her heart pounded in delight. This was fantastic!

 

She was so caught up in the Cloak that she didn't notice that Symone was staring down upon her with the same look of awe—though Symone's expression was tainted with confusion and just a flicker of horror. “How did you see me?”

 

It took Shiloh a long moment to register that she was being spoken to, even longer to realize what had been said, and nearly a full minute before she managed to tear her eyes from the cloak to look at Symone and form a response. “It flickered,” she explained. “Just a mere distortion.”

 

“Oh,” Symone said, looking a bit disappointed that her Cloak actually had a flaw too it, and she defensively tried to justify the Cloak. “Well, it is a bit old.”

 

Shiloh's eyes were back on the Cloak as she slowly continued to move it about in her hands, studying every detail, every weave of fabric that seemed to glow with magic. She knew well that Cloaks—when they grew old—could begin to fade and wear, but the small, occasional fault didn't matter much. It was something that only the most acute vision would notice—a thing that could only be scene if you were searching for it, and in the darkness of night it wouldn't be noticed at all. After all, Shiloh knew well that the movement of darkness wasn't something completely unexpected—the night like to play tricks on people. The power that this Cloak could offer for achieving their plan was teasing Shiloh's mind with the possibilities.

 

“It doesn't matter.” Shiloh smirked just a bit, realizing that this really could work. “It's brilliant.” She paused a moment, her eyes still on the fabric. “But--” She began suspiciously, hesitantly, as she remembered a question that she should have asked several minutes ago. Slowly, she dragged her gaze back to Symone. “How you get it?”

 

Symone features lost a bit of their dark color, and Shiloh thought she could understand why. After all, not every eleven-year-old just happened to have one of the rarest magical items in existence. The ways she could have gotten in where endless—but not a lot of them where completely innocent.

 

“I didn't steal it...” Symone began, but Shiloh raising in eyebrow stopped her.

 

Stealing was one of the most logical explanations, the one that seemed the most likely. But stealing an Invisibility Cloak was worse than robbing Veritaserum—it was definitely far more illegal. Shiloh would never have believed that Symone would be capable of such a thing, but the proof could be here, in her palms. The evidence could be as clear as Symone's guilty expression. But Shiloh didn't have to prod, didn't have to remind her that she wasn't a fool, because Symone came clean of her own free will.

 

“Well, at least not in the way you're thinking...” Symone finished her trailed off sentence.

 

Shiloh didn't press, just blinked at her, silently and blankly waiting for an explanation.

 

Symone took a deep breath. “I think it was my grandfather's, my mum's dad's. He was an Auror too.” Shiloh ignored that fact, didn't allow her mind to hiss and recoil at the fact that Symone wasn't just related to one Auror. She came from a whole family full. “I found it in an trunk in our attic.” She spoke more calmly than she probably felt. “Mum doesn't use it; Disillusionment Charms are simpler. So, well, I took it.” She shrugged trying to make it seem like it was no big deal, but Shiloh glimpsed a bit of nervousness in her eyes.

 

But Shiloh couldn't understand what she had to feel bad about. That was hardly anything compared to the mischief that Shiloh had been getting herself into for her past life. Of course, Shiloh hadn't stolen anything...yet, but Symone could barely be considered a theif. Shiloh could possibly say taking the cloak hadn't been stealing at all. Symone's only crime had been neglecting to ask permission. But still, Symone was trying hard to show confidence, trying to play it cool—a sure sign that her insides were fidgeting.

 

“But, believe me, if my mum ever found out, she'd go mental.”

 

Shiloh didn't doubt what Symone said, even though she was barely listening. Her attention was back on the Cloak, giving it one last look over, one last glance of delighted admiration. At the same time, Symone gazed down upon her, her gaze inquisitive, asking a question that Shiloh recognized before she even opened her mouth and spoke.

 

“So...can I come?”

 

Shiloh slid the Cloak around in her fingers, thinking carefully as the smooth cloth ran like ribbon down to the bases of her fingers. She knew that this Cloak would make it practically easy to sneak into Professor Snape's stores, and it might be nice to have an extra pair of eyes on lookout—especially if those eyes couldn't be seen. But, still, Shiloh didn't quite like the idea of bringing someone else into this. It was still her battle, and there was still a slim chance that they could get caught—and if anybody was going to get expelled from this, the consequences would be on her hide. Shiloh didn't want Symone to take that risk for her, and yet, until she did, Symone would still have that guilt burning a hole instead of her, and that was just as unfavorable.

 

So Shiloh glanced from Symone who stared back out her almost pleadingly, to the Cloak, and at long last to her own feet—thinking on the plan, calculating each possible misstep, weighing every single consequence. Each time she was led to the same conclusion, one that she hoped not only made logical sense, but was the right answer as well. So, after a long, reluctant pause, she looked back to Symone and gingerly placed the Cloak back into Symone's ready palm. Symone's eyes darkened as though she guessed what the answer was going to be, long before she parted her lips.

 

“All right,” Shiloh agreed. “You can come.”

 

A flicker of pleasant surprise danced into her eyes, and a wide smile spread upward onto her cheeks. Shiloh thought for a moment that she might began to squeal and hug in her exuberant joy again, but fortunately, Symone seemed to think better of it and squelched her smile.

 

“Good,” she said simply with a curt nod. She gracefully moved towards her suitcase and absently returned the Cloak into the suitcase, being sure to pull the books and articles of clothing over it in case someone were to glance into her suitcase, they wouldn't see the Cloak. “We can go after the potion after we get back from holidays.”

 

As soon as she said 'holidays', Shiloh felt a bit of horror smash into her stomach as something very important jumped back into her mind. She cursed her own absentmindedness, wondering about her own stupidity. How could she have forgotten something so vital? How could she had lingered here talking to Symone would they should have left the room a long time ago? A hiss of displeasure left her lips, startling Symone so much that she jerked back away from her suitcase so suddenly that the lid nearly slammed shut on her fingers. Wide-eyed and bristled, Symone turned toward Shiloh, one hand on the chest as though to hold in the heart that had just jumped so erratically, and gave her an ungrateful look.

 

“What was that for?” Symone demanded, clearly not thrilled about the surprising outburst.

 

Shiloh didn't give any consideration to unnecessary scares, because at this moment, Symone's adrenaline wasn't the only one that was racing sky high. Without saying a word of a moment, Shiloh turned around, grasped her luggage, and, heaving the heavy case with her, hurried toward the door. She was half way out of the room when she thought to explain. “We're late.”

 

Symone instantly recognized the truth in that, and she had to fight to keep from gasping for fear. In what seemed like a breezed second she had slammed the latches on her suitcase shut and was rushing after Shiloh, her luggage banging painfully against her hip and thigh. Symone ignored the pain as she and Shiloh both thundered past the stairs into the empty , desolate common room. Without hesitating, they moved to the passage way and exited the Slytherin dorm.

 

Side-by-side, they struggled with their heavy suitcases through the long, dank halls of the dungeon, neither one complaining or letting out a single groan of exertion as they're slender frames pulled along their suitcases that were quite nearly half their size. It had snowed upon the Hogwarts ground, and the severe cold penetrated through the stone walls and made it feel as though there was a layer of ice surrounding them. However, they were quite accustomed to the long treks through the corridor and had learned to bundle up before they left the dorm room. Both Shiloh and Symone were dressed in their heaviest cloaks, their thickest socks, and their warm, cozy scarves. They could still feel the cool air, numbing their sensitive ears, but they were used to it and could honestly say that they were relatively warm.

 

A burst of heat met them as soon as they swung the door to the Entrance Hall upon. It pounded against them, warming their numb ears with shocking speed. The main castle of Hogwarts was always kept at a nice warmth—perhaps by the help of a few charms—and was always the right temperature for the time of year. Right now it was toasty, blessedly so, as though Shiloh had been covered with a very cozy and thick blanket. However, that was never the case for the dungeon corridors and even the Potions classroom—even through the Slytherin dorm always had large fireplaces and other measures for warmth. For some reason, the Founders must have found it unnecessary to take consideration to those who had to traipse through them—perhaps because they thought it would build of the student's strength and character. If so, there plan had backfired because, the miserably cold march from the dorm might be to blame for nearly half to the Slytherin nastiness.

 

The Entrance Hall was usually where Shiloh shed the cloak and scarf, shoving them into her school bag for they were quite without use now. But, knowing she was to walk outside into even deeper cold and knowing there was absolutely no time to do so, she ignored that habit. She tolerated the extra heat as they jogged towards the door. Together, she and Symone used their free hands to pull open the door and shuffled outside, pursing their lips together to keep from gasping as their bodies protested against the rapid change of temperature.

 

Thankfully, the carriages were still waiting at the bottom of the stairs, one or two carriages still climbing into them. So, it looked like they wouldn't have to walk home, Shiloh thought with a bit of relief, as Symone sighed happily and made her way down the stone steps. She let out a shriek of fear as her feet started to slip out from under her, sliding on the layer of ice that covered the stone steps. She flared her arms wildly trying to catch her balance, trying to do anything that would stop her from the deadly tumble down the steps. The only thing that kept her from making contact with the ground and proceeding to bounce all the way to the snowy ground was a hand latching around her arm and pulling her back to her feet.

 

Once she was steady, Symone gave Shiloh a grateful look, to which the latter gave a single nod. In return, Symone latched her free hand on Shiloh's upper arm, maintaining a firm grip as they, together, made their way down the treacherous staircase. Whenever one would slip, the others hand would be right there, catching them before they fell. In this way, they made their way to the bottom of the steps and into the snow that crunched beneath their feet, releasing each other's arms immediately.

 

The snow was decorated with many footprints and the narrow lines of the carriages' wheels, but it was still thick and walking in it was difficult. However, they trudged on until they found a carriage that had room for them. They climbed into it, and no sooner had they shut the door behind them than the carriage started forward with a heavy jerk that gave them little choice but to sit or risk hitting the floor. They allowed their suitcases to rest between their feet, out of the way, but quickly within their reach for when they had to leave.

 

Across from them sat three sixth year students, laughing and joking about girls, sports, and other things that teenage boys talked about. They seemed oblivious to the fact that first years were within earshot. That, or they simply had never been taught that some of the things that they were discussing—or the colorful amount of language they were discussing it with—were not appropriate for such young ears.

 

Their chatter made it impossible for Shiloh and Symone to carry on a conversation, but that didn't matter much to Shiloh. She simply stared out the window of the carriage to the white, winter wonderland outside, the untouched snow glistening like diamonds with little, yellow specks flickering about on its surface, and allowed her mind to think over such trivial things as the proper ingredients and preparation in making the Shrinking Potion.

 

As the carriage jerked to a halt, Shiloh and Symone clambered off towards the train, their baggage in their hands, and made a point to get as far away from the raunchy boys and their vulgar rubbish. The settled into the first empty compartment they could find. Symone and Shiloh stowed their suitcases in the seat next to them, seeing no point in hailing them up into the luggage rack—a feat that was quite difficult for a small first year to accomplish. And this time, there were no Fred and George Weasley to lend her a hand.

 

Shiloh had taken a spot near the window, so that she could stare out into the world as it passed by, but that was not exactly the case, because Symone sat next to her and began talking conversationally about her family and the Christmas ahead. She listened, knowing it was what Symone wanted of her, nodding when she knew she should and answering the occasional question about her upcoming Christmases with vague, temperate responses. However, just before the train started, they were joined by a trio of Slytherin first years who Symone seemed quite pleased to see, because she eagerly brought them in on the conversation, making it easy for Shiloh to slip out. She fished into her suitcase for a book to become observed in and pulled out her potions book. However, the girls' talkative and excited conversation and loud and enthusiastic laughter made it hard to concentrate on the words there, and Shiloh glanced momentarily at the four girls.

 

Symone fit right in with them. It didn't surprise Shiloh that Symone had found a group of friends—after all, she had to hang out with someone in those impossibly long hours that Shiloh spend alone the library, but seeing them all together, all four of them looking so content in their apparent friendship twisted a strange, unexplainable knot into her stomach, tying the ends of the knot so tightly Shiloh thought her gut might split. But she ignored it, refused to believe it existed. She wasn't jealous of Symone's friends. She wasn't.

 

With only half of her attention set on the book, Shiloh flipped through the pages almost absently, rereading the notes she had scrawled in there, even adding some more when she found something missing, until the train had slowed to a metal-screeching halt.

 

Shiloh grabbed her suitcase, storing the book inside and wasting time until the three girls had made there way outside. She had expected Symone to go with them, but Symone remained, staying diligently at Shiloh's side as though some wordless show of where her deepest loyalties laid. But she didn't consider the possibility for too long, only brushed it from her head with the apathy as one shooed away a fly.

 

Together, the two girls made there way through the crowd, elbowing for their place in the aisle and being pushed around quite a bit by rowdy, excited old students who were more than thrilled to get away from the professors, books, and nasty homework that they were leaving in their tracks. Shiloh and Symone took the time that was needed to exit the train—half because they weren't impatient like some, and half because they weren't eager to be trampled—but finally they stepped out of the door and onto the platform.

 

Platform 9 ¾ looked precisely the same way it had before—with people, trolleys, and luggage scattered everywhere—but the atmosphere was different. Before it had a been a scene of a mixture of emotions—excitement and pride with the kids who were going to be going to school, and sadness and heartache for the parting with their families. But this time, it was all filled with joy as families ran to be reunited with each other, mothers grasping their children and tearfully giving them tight embracing and embarrassing kisses and fathers grinning proudly down at their children who had successfully completed a term without being expelled.

 

Shiloh found herself standing completely still and looking past heads, bodies, and trolleys. What she was searching for, didn't register in her mind for a long moment, but she dearly wanted to find it—she knew that deep within herself. But Symone distracted her from her search by speaking her name. Shiloh looked towards her, and Symone gave her a farewell sort of grin.

 

“See you after the holidays,” Symone said cheerfully, as though the holiday spirit was already coursing through her veins, but she forced her smile to fade for a moment and a serious expression to appear on her face. After giving a discreet glance around them to be completely sure they were out of earshot from anyone, she leaned closely to Shiloh. “And try not to worry about Annadel,” Symone whispered gently, concernedly. “This is Christmas. You shouldn't have to worry at Christmas. And besides--” Her smile was back, but this time it was not so much dismissive as it was mischievous and nearly wicked. “--Annadel will pay soon enough. We'll see to that.”

 

Shiloh wasn't sure how to respond, wasn't sure what was left to be said, so she only nodded, even though she doubted about the 'don't worry' part. The day Shiloh stopped watching her back and considering all the possibilities was the day that Annadel had been forcefeed Veritaserum, and Shiloh finally had the confession she needed to clear her name. But Symone was right. With the Invisibility Cloak on their side, it was only a matter of time before the whole mess was over.

 

Symone looked about, spotting her family fairly quickly. Shiloh noticed them too, not just because it was where Symone's eyes rested, but because the family resemblance was clear. Their dark skin stood out among the crowd.

 

The first thing Shiloh noticed was the absence of Symone's father, but it was not that strange because Symone's father was a Muggle and hadn't crossed the barrier. Shiloh's eyes moved to Bran, the sister—Sherry--, and then to the final boy who Shiloh knew was Adrian. She'd never met him, but she recognized him because Symone had pointed him out in the Slytherin common room before. But nothing more. In fact, Symone hardly even seemed to speak to her brother, even avoided him at all costs since that first night at Hogwarts. He looked to be a grumpy sort, the kind of hardened Slytherin that Symone and Shiloh had sworn never to become. His arms were wrapped around his chest, and he was as stiff as a board, even as his mother swept him into the hug.

 

Shiloh studied Symone's mother next. It was amazing how much Symone looked like her Auror mother—the same wild hair, the same pretty features, the same long arms and legs—though her mother had grown into them and looked quite attractive and elegant, like the models Shiloh had seen in the Daily Prophet on an advertisement for Florish and Blotts. And Mrs. Zell was young. She appeared to be in her early thirties. And more than that, Mrs. Zell looked like an Auror. It was a sort of air in the way she carried her body, a way that said she was strong and confident and ready to take on the world, and ready to enjoy it as well. Her posture, her atmosphere, her appearance reminded her so much of Symone that Shiloh couldn't help but think that there were alike in quite a few other things. Maybe even an Auror's dislike for Death Eaters and all things associated with them. But Shiloh didn't want to think like that—even if a part of her knew it was true.

 

“That's my mum,” Symone said absently, but a grin was curving upward as she looked at her family eagerly. She was happy to see her mum; Shiloh could tell.

 

I know, Shiloh thought to say, but didn't because she didn't want the bitterness to show in her voice. Instead, she said, “See you, then.”

 

“Right.” Symone started toward her family at a brisk run, calling “Merry Christmas” over her shoulder.

 

Shiloh took her eyes away from Symone's departing back and resumed her search, and this time, she discovered what she wanted to quickly. As soon as she saw them, she felt her stomach and heart twist uncomfortably as a dull ache broke through the barriers it had been trapped behind and began to throb anew. She had forgotten—or, rather, not allowed herself to admit—how much she had been missing them, but as soon as she saw them standing side-by-side, she remembered all too quickly. She had always told herself that Hogwarts was her real home, that that was where she belonged—and in a way it was where she needed to be, but it couldn't replace what she had waiting for her here at Christmas and summer holidays. The love and protection that she had awaiting for her. Because, as soon as her eyes rested upon them, the weight of all that she had been bottling within her—Annadel, potions, Professor Snape, her biologically father...the whole, stressful mess—faded away as though they had unknowingly taken it away from her.

 

Her dear, sweet Mum and Dad.

 

They waved at her, her dad grinning a wide, joyous smile and her mother dabbing the corner of her eyes to keep back thrilled tears. Their love spilled from their very expressions, and Shiloh had the most uncharacteristic desire to run to them and fall into their ready arms, knowing the warmth that would await her there. She'd never much understood or liked hugs before, so she couldn't understand why she wanted one so badly this time around. So, forcing herself to remain calm, she slowly walked towards them, greeting them from a distance with a contented twitch of her lips.

 

When she was a few feet away, her father spread open her arms, and knowing it was what he wanted—and deep down knowing it was what she wanted to—she hurried the last few steps into his arms. He pulled her tightly against him, how much he had missed her written in every second of the long embrace. Shiloh wrapped her arms around his waist—awkwardly, for she still held her suitcase—and she hoped he could sense it. She hoped he knew how much she had missed him too, even if she hadn't realized it before now.

 

Her mother was next, taking her from her dad's arms and pulling her into her own. A few tears plopped onto Shiloh's head, but she didn't really mind. Not when it just showed how much her mother truly loved her. She could feel that emotion spreading into every single one of her pores, warming her inside and sending all her worries and cares back to Hogwarts. They didn't belong here. As Symone had pointed out, it was Christmas after all. And Christmas was for family, not concerns.

 

“I missed you so much, Shiloh,” her mum said as she pulled away, keeping Shiloh at arms length and fussing over a lock of Shiloh's hair.

 

Shiloh took a step backwards, giving her a small smile that wasn't truly forced. It was the only response she knew how to give.

 

Her dad brought the situation back to order as he smiled down upon her, wrapping his hand around hers that held the suitcase in a gentle offer to take it. “Ready to go home?” he asked.

 

Shiloh knew the answer long before she took her hand away from the suitcase to relinquish it into her dad's capable care. Because a small part of her head—or perhaps it was her heart (after last night, she truly needed to practice learning the difference between the two)--a part that she wouldn't admit existed, and a part that was, perhaps, the wisest part of her, knew that no matter if they never left the station and just as long as her mum and dad were beside her, she was home.

 






Note from author: The three Slytherin girls I mentioned will appear in later in this series (at least, they will, if I don't change my mind). I figured it would be all right to add more OCs speaking that there's over 1000 kids at Hogwarts so there had to be more first years than JK let on.

 

Also, my apologizes on taking so incredibly long on this chapter. My characters were giving my problems, and I decided not to do a lot of the things I was planning to do. I think I nearly had to completely rewrite the thing at least once, maybe it was more. I don't care to remember. I'm really worried that this chapter didn't come out right, so if you could leave a review giving your honest opinions, I'd really appreciate it.

 

 

Chapter 12: Chapter Eleven: Steal Away
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Chapter Eleven

 

Steal Away

 

 

“So, when—how was your Christmas?”



The deliberate and sudden change in topic came not a moment too soon. Shiloh and Symone watched the Slytherin prefect walk past them, giving both girls a suspicious, disgusted look. But they weren't doing anything wrong, at least by appearances. They would seem like two girls on the way to the common room and discussing very common topics of interest. The prefect had no way of knowing that moments before they had been conversing on plans to give Veritaserum to a very annoying, 'pureblood princess'.

 

As the silence lingered, Shiloh allowed her gaze to follow the back of the prefect as she disappeared down the hall. Shiloh's thoughts turned to Symone's question, though she had no reason to believe Symone would actually require a reply.

 

Shiloh thought back to the vacation, the Sanders Christmas that had followed the same traditions as it always had. Only this time, the time they spent together had seemed more special, like something that was meant to be treasured. She had always enjoyed Christmas, in her own way. True, she'd never seen much point in trees with glitter and pearly ornaments or been able to understand why, of all the foods they could eat, it always had to be roasted ham. But she loved the time spent with family, the extra devotion and the way that everyone seemed to be happy, loving and full of life. This year had been extra special, because the time together was limited and much more dear.

 

From the time Shiloh had arrived home, the house had been filled with the sound of a mixture of Muggle and Wizard Christmas music and the smell baked goods that her mother had been baking. The tree had been set up in one corner of the living room. It had been dressed in glorious red ribbons, glittery strings of silver, and topped with a harmonious angel whose wings reflected the light of many candles that were lit throughout the room. The lighting, with its dimmed glow, had given the place an enchanting atmosphere, completing the Christmasy feel. Never before had the place looked so beautiful to Shiloh than it had at that moment. And it had remained just as beautiful throughout the entire vacation.

 

Her mum and dad had seemed to realize that their time together was, at every second, ticking away, because for the entire duration they had spent nearly every moment with her. Not that she minded, really, though she would have liked it if she had been able to slip out to her potion's shed more than once. The games of Gobstones and Exploding Snap that her father challenged her to had been fun, though relatively effortless, because she won every time. However, her father had been a good sport, and, laughing at his daughter's so-called 'multi-talents', he had treated them to Bertie Botts' Every Flavor Beans.

 

As for Shiloh's mum, Elaine had made sure that Shiloh helped in the kitchen, baking up a heaping of pumpkin pastries and helping to prepare the turkey while her mother chattered away. There had been a great deal of talk about the Prate family. According to the news, Elaine had another great-niece. Honestly, Shiloh could swear that the family bred faster than rabbits!

 

Shiloh hadn't once complained about the time spent in the kitchen; it was what her mother wanted of her her and she gave it willingly, no matter how boring the conversations were.

 

The only unfortunate thing about going home for Christmas had been the night of every year that Shiloh dreaded most, the night of the annual Prate family Christmas Eve party. There had been nothing worse than dressing up in pink dress robes—an outfit and a color that Shiloh had only reluctantly got into after an hour of her downright, defiant refusal and of her mother's desperate mixture of pleading and threatening—and having to parade around in a fancy house where she constantly felt like she was an ugly stain on one of the pure, white walls. In the Prate family, disliking her wasn't a past time; it was a tradition.

 

Oh, Shiloh never knew whether any of her cousins realized she was adopted, though some must have been old enough to have figure it out, and her Great-grandfather Prate had always slept so much that she doubted he knew of her existence. Flora Prate, however, always treated her like an ingrown toenail, an eyesore and a bloody nuisance, even though, that was no different than she always treated her. Shiloh wouldn't have minded; she'd tolerated her Aunt Flora many times before, but on those nights, Mrs. Harriet Prate, Flora and Elaine's mother, had always ganged up with Flora. In their closed minds, Shiloh wasn't a Prate, and they never let her forget how little she belonged here.

 

Shiloh had learned from the first remembered Christmas Eve dinner to do what she had to survive: become invisible. This year had been no different, so no sooner had she walked into the house, then she had run to her familiar armchair, curling onto the fancy, but uncomfortable, fabric. Although she was less than comfortable, she had not moved from that spot. She toyed with thoughts and took in the details of the gathering of which she was nothing more than a spectator.

 

The only time she had been disturbed had been when Flora's eldest daughter's toddler, who, just a year ago, had been trapped solely in her mother's arms, had come waddling up to her, making tiny, unheard noises. Before Shiloh had become fully aware of the little girl's presence, she had felt her fingers being seized by tiny fists, and before she could whip her arm back, pain had sheered through her fingers as the toddler had sank her infantile teeth down into her flesh. Hissing in a breath in a way that was half out of withheld anger, half out of hidden pain, Shiloh had jerked her hand away so quickly that the little girl had been thrown off balance and hit the ground in a pile of sobs. Shiloh had watched blankly as the woman who she recognized as the mother of the child ran up and scooped the little girl into her arms, making an unfair and furious accusation in Shiloh's direction.

 

When Shiloh had tolerantly explained what had happened, the mother had only retorted, “It's no excuse. She's just a child.”

 

Shiloh had intended to correct her and to inform the mother that the thing in her arm wasn't a child; rather, it was a flesh-eating piranha. However, the opportunity had been lost when Elaine had come to shoo her towards the long table that had been filled with food, no doubt prepared by house-elves.

 

Shiloh had spent the next hour crushed between Aunt Flora and her mum and had been forced to listen to the ridiculous conversation. She had resisted the urge to 'accidentally' spill the gravy dish onto Flora's lap when she had given so-called-constructive criticism on Elaine's dress robes. Shiloh had seen Elaine's face clearly, and the surge of her anger had been so strong that the only thing that kept her from doing something incredibly rash had been the knowledge that she was trying not to make a scene. She had made a wise move and glanced at her dad before she had done anything.

 

Her dad must have known how it would affect her, whether or not she hid the fury behind an unmoved expression, because he must have been feeling it, too. He had given her a wink that told her he didn't want to be here anymore than she did, and he had the situation perfectly under control. Then he had looked at her mother and had given the clearly injured woman a small, loving smile, one that after a moment, her mother had returned exuberantly.

 

It had been one of those moments that they shared often, when they would look at each other and seem to hold silent conversation. Shiloh had imagined that right at that moment, her dad had been conveying that he thought she looked stunning, and her mother had been giving him her gratitude. Shiloh had never been the romantic sort, who never gave much thought to love or romance, but she had always known that her parents loved each other. If she found any idea the least bit charming, it was a girl going against her families wishes, knowing full well that she would never be accepted again, and abandoning all the riches that could have been hers; all sacrificed for the sake of a Muggleborn Hufflepuff who could offer her nothing more than an average means of living and a lifetime of love.

 

Somehow, Shiloh had managed to get through the evening, and no sooner had they Floo-ed back to their house than she had felt relaxation sweep over her body. With a flick of his wand, her dad had turned on the radio and then, as he did every year, he had swept his wife into a dance, spinning her around the living room. Shiloh had been very accustomed to this already, so she had simply curled up in the corner of the couch and had watched as, laughing, her mum and dad twirled around to the beat of quick paced Christmas tune. But as soon as the song had ended, her father had been upon her, seizing her hands, pulling her off of the couch, and starting to spin her around in a circle. She had been unable to protest and had simply gone along with it; after all, there had been no point in a struggle. Her father had done this every year since before Shiloh could remember and she had always allowed him to pull her about in the dance, never quite loosening up enough to make it easy for him.

 

A slow song had been next, and Alan had returned to Elaine to take her in his arms for a very slow and loving dance. Shiloh's lips twitching at the sight, she had done as she had known she should and had given them their privacy, running up the stairs with the sound of her father's soft, but horribly off-key, voice serenading his beloved wife lingering behind her.

 

Christmas day itself had been something like out of the Muggle storybooks her dad had insisted upon reading to her when she was younger. It had followed the same routine that it always had, but had held its own, subtle specialty. Early in the morning Shiloh had been woken up by her mother and dad who, quite excitedly, had shooed her downstairs where the tree had stood in the corner with a few, carefully wrapped presents underneath. By the time they had unwrapped them, Shiloh had been pouring through a stack of books, her mother had been ogling over the earrings Alan had given her, while insisting that it was much too expensive, and Alan had been sporting a new, handsome set of dress robes.

 

Throughout the rest of the day, there had been a great deal of eating—until the point her dad proclaimed several times that he had been about ready to burst—more dancing, and time spent just as a family. At the end of the day, long after the sun had set below the horizon and a thick darkness had settled over the house, her dad had followed with tradition and pulled out the old, leather book. Being Muggleborn, it made sense that her father would believe in such things; after all, he often stated that his fondest childhood memories were sitting in a church pew, and by the look in Elaine's eyes, it had always been clear that though she hadn't been raised to believe it, she most certainly did now. As for Shiloh, she had never been sure if she believed in a God or heaven or not, but she had to admit that the idea of Someone loving the world enough to send His son in the form of a baby for the sole purpose of dying for the world was...wonderful. But in the end, this story was just part of a book, wasn't it?

 

Truth or not, Shiloh had always found the story somewhat soothing, and by the time her father had closed the Bible, she had been curled into a small ball with her head resting against the arm of her chair, fast asleep. Somehow, the next morning she had woken up comfortable in her own bed with her music box playing. Clearly, her father hadn't yet become too old to carry her to bed.

 

The rest of the holidays had passed in harmonious blur, and before Shiloh had known it, her mum and dad were bidding her a tearful goodbye at Platform 9 ¾. And, so, here she was, back in the frigid dungeon corridor, standing next to Symone with the Christmas holidays being nothing more than a fond memory.

 

It dawned on Shiloh that the prefect had passed a full minute ago, and she had still not spoken. She was unsure whether a reply had been required or not, but she decided to respond anyways. She opened her mouth and gave a level, but honest, answer. “It was...beautiful.”

 

Symone raised her eyes towards her, as though shocked that Shiloh even had that word in her vocabulary. Shiloh ignored the stunned expression, but she didn't ignore the fact that Symone was once again opening her mouth. She had already told Shiloh all about her Christmas, mostly to fill up the quiet between them on the train ride home. Now it seemed Symone was intent on asking her about her Christmas. However, Shiloh wasn't feeling the least bit chatty. Besides, she was at Hogwarts now, back to the seriousness that awaited her in these halls. Most importantly, she was back to Annadel and Veritaserum. Other things were trivial compared to that.

 

“Can we return to business please?” she asked, her eyes rotating around the hall to make perfectly sure they were alone.

 

Symone closed her mouth and shook her head as though trying to clear it of other thoughts besides that which was at hand. A determined expression returned to her face, a look of mischief danced in her eyes as she seemed to already guess the answer to the question that Shiloh knew was coming. After all, they had set a plan, considered every possibility, and now, there was nothing left unanswered except for one thing of grand importance.

 

“So,” she asked, an excited grin spreading across her lips, “when do we go after the Veritaserum?”

 

The answer came to mind without much thought. Shiloh had been forced to put their mission on hold, but now that they were here, she saw nor wanted any reason for further delay. She desired for vengeance, and she desired it quickly. So, with a dark seriousness in her voice, she spoke, “Tonight.”






 

The cloak felt like silky water as it covered their bodies. It flowed about them, so long that an inch dragged upon the ground and they had to be careful not to allow their feet to step on the edge, a daunting task considering they were currently navigating the passage into the Slytherin common room. Symone was pressed close to Shiloh's side, her hands held upwards so that the top of the cloak was propped away from their faces. Her breathing was shallow, a clear sign that, as excited as she was to be helping in this accentual quest, the possibilities of how this night could end badly for them were toying with her mind and coating it with a layer of fear. But, as for Shiloh, if she felt fear, it was pressed so far behind a thick feeling of determination and a strange pleasure of the adventure at hand that she didn't even recognize it, and every breath she took, every move she made, even the way her hand was wrapped around her lit wand, was poised and deliberate.

 

They went slowly, careful not to make a sound as they entered the common room. They both knew that sound without explanation was not a good thing. It held only three possible outcomes: either the person would think there never had been a sound, the person would discover them, or the person would believe they had gone mad. Only the first of those possibilities seemed even the least bit promising, but they weren't going to risk everything on those fragile odds. It was best to be cautious and take their time with careful movements, so that they could get to their destination without making a single sound.

 

Especially since the common room wasn't empty.

 

They both froze, holding their breaths as though the sound of the lungs expanding might give them away. Their eyes took in the two Slytherins who were curled on the sofa and were so entangled with one another that it was difficult to tell whose hands were whose as they ragged a fierce snogging war. It was quite a disgusting sight, and as soon as Shiloh's eyes fell upon them, she regretted looking, because her stomach twisted into a hot churn, bringing with it the subtle desire to retch. It quite looked like the two were exchanging saliva, and Shiloh quickly looked away from the intense sight of the necking pair. Beside her, Symone was turning a shade of red that even on her dark cheeks was so brilliant that Shiloh could see, but yet, her eyes were fixed upon the pair, a frown tracing her lips as though she was concentrating deeply on trying to figure out something.

 

Shiloh slipped her hand around Symone's elbow to draw her attention back to her. They had no time to gawk at stupid snoggers who were being so intense that Shiloh thought they might be able to slip past them even without the Cloak. They needed to move on. Symone looked back at her, and Shiloh gave a subtle jerk of her head toward the entrance of the Slytherin common room. Symone recognized instantly what Shiloh was trying to tell her, and she nodded. They started together as one, but not before Symone had sent one more suspicious glance toward the couple of the sofa.

 

They tread onward with great care. The only light in the common room came from the large fireplace that was still roaring with a spectacular flame, spreading orange and yellow glows at random angles. However, darkness still adhered the walls and clung to the corners, so thickly that it could have hidden anything dangerous. They avoided these places, keeping to the patterns of light throughout the room. Shiloh's eyes were focused upon the goal, the section of wall that serves as the door to common room, and she was beginning to feel the anticipation of reaching it. They were so close, and soon they would escape from the eyes of the snoggers and be free to move more quickly through the deserted halls of the dungeons. They would have reached it without noise, without difficulty, without giving themselves away...if Symone had not chosen to stop.

 

Symone came to a halt so quickly, that Shiloh, who was moving forward, had no time to end her step. Her foot came down on the edge of the cloak, making her stumble. Her balance was lost and she had to hold her breath to keep from crying out as the sickeningly sensation of falling took her. She knew that a fall would put them in danger, not just because of the sound that it would cause, but because of the threat of pulling the Cloak off of Symone and revealing both of them. So, she thought quickly and did the first thing her mind could think of. She threw her body to the right, twisting, hoping to find the table that her memory insisted was nearby.

 

Find it she did, or at least, her hip did. With a wham!, an explosion of pain that coursed through her side and thigh, and a screech as the force of her body sent the decorative table sliding along the floor. Shiloh quickly straightened herself, ignoring the ache in her hip, and hurried to Symone, ensuring the Cloak was tucked securely around them both. However, Symone didn't seem to so much as sense Shiloh's rushed action or even her fall, for her eyes, wide with surprise, were fixed on the couple who Shiloh knew were no longer necking.

 

Fearing what she might find, Shiloh took what seemed like forever to slowly revolve her head so she could take in the couple. The boy had jerked his head away from his now startled girlfriend and was surveying the room with suspicious, hard eyes, his stony face looking solidly unhappy as he surveyed everything, every last corner of the place. For a moment, Shiloh was sure he had seen them, because his gaze paused right on them, those dark eyes seeming to bore into Symone's eyes. The more they seemed to stare at one another, the more angier Symone seemed to become. Her face contorted with fury and her shoulders shook in a faint shudder of rage. Clearly, she recognized the boy, but who was he?

 

Then again, there was something stunningly familiar about the boy's eyes—the shape, the color—but his face was too shadowed to tell any distinct features. Besides, now was not the time to be standing here debating who this boy was. Not when Shiloh wasn't perfectly sure he hadn't seen them.

 

“What is it?” came the girlfriend's voice, soft and a bit breathless. Either she was suffering from fear that the boy's unusual behavior was causing or she was still catching her breath from the oxygen deprivation of the snogging session. Probably the latter.

 

The boy hesitated a long moment, giving the section of wall one last stare before giving his head one small shake. “I thought I heard something, but it was— ”

 

Shiloh held her breath for one long moment as she paused, as though not sure. She prayed the word would come, but didn't actually dare to hope that it would end the sentence, but it did.

 

“—nothing.”

 

The snogging fest started up again, just as vigorously as before, and Shiloh turned her attention back to Symone who was at the height of anger. It was clear that their mission was far from her mind and the transparent Cloak had been forgotten because she took a step forward as though to charge through the barrier, but Shiloh wrapped an arm tightly around her elbow. At the touch, Symone jerked as though in surprise but didn't make a sound. Instead, she looked at Shiloh and a dawning realization appeared back in her eyes. Shiloh tugged on her elbow and she followed without a single sound, her feet powder-light on the floor.

 

In what seemed too quick to be true, the entrance door to the Slytherin common room was closing, hopefully unnoticed by the snoggers within. Whether or not it was, Shiloh was just relieved to be out of the eyesight and earshot of the beings within the place and relatively safe in the empty, dungeon corridor. They'd come so close to being discovered, and for what? She couldn't imagine what on earth had possessed Symone to put them in so much risk only to have an unrequited staring contest with some unknown boy. It didn't make sense, and fury bubbled within taking all of Shiloh's will power to fight it back down and not do something rash. But still...they had been far too close.

 

“Symone--” Shiloh began, and even in a whisper, her tone seemed slightly strained in the effort to keep herself calm. The least Symone could give was an explanation.

 

“I know, I know,” Symone said quickly. “I'm sorry.” And she did seem apologetic, from her nervous, quiet voice to her genuine eyes. “It's just--” She glanced uncertainly to the door, the anger from before starting to return. “That was my brother.”

 

Shiloh blinked, unsurprised. She'd known he'd looked familiar.

 

“And he...Mum told him...” Symone was so angry that she became amazingly flustered and was leaving out great chunks in her sentences. “No girls.”

 

All Shiloh could gather was that he had done something, and as punishment, his mother had taken away his right to have a girlfriend. Clearly, it infuriated Symone to see exactly how disobedient her brother was, but Shiloh had no desire to press her on what severely horrible thing that her brother had done. It was none of her business, and they had no time to stand around having a lovely, quiet chat until someone stumbled upon them after sunrise. They needed to get moving. It was all she cared about.

 

“Come on,” Shiloh hissed, and waiting until she was certain Symone would move with her, she started down the hall.

 

As always, the dungeons were cold, but the night air made it worse than usual. Away from the fires of the dorms, the cold was so intense that, even through her cloaks and gloves, Shiloh could feel the numbing air beginning to make her body shudder involuntarily. Beside her, she could hear the chatter of Symone's teeth, but they both ignored the freezing atmosphere. Shiloh put all her mind into moving her feet over the frigid stone and forcing the hand that held her wand aloft to remain utterly still.

 

They navigated the familiar path, knowing that they probably could have found their way even without the light of the wand, but they preferred to have the dim glow. It allowed them to be sure they had taken the correct corner and helped them to avoid the hazardous loose rocks that had fallen from the decaying section of wall and the transparent, long-abandoned spiderwebs that clung stubbornly to the corners, threatening to ensnare a passerby and grant them a sticky face. Neither of them dared or desired to speak, and the only noise between them was Shiloh's breathing, Symone's chattering, and the combined sounds of their shuffled footsteps. The sounds were faint and would have gone unnoticed by others, but in the otherwise still atmosphere, they exploded much too loudly in their paranoid ears.

 

Shiloh and Symone didn't even flinch. They weren't about to allow their minds to play tricks on them, no matter how brilliant and believing illusions they spun in the darkness. They weren't turning back, especially when the door to Professor Snape's office was now looming before them a few, blessed feet away.

 

They paused before the office, knowing that as soon as they entered, not only would it be the most dangerous part of their journey; it would mean no turning back. But Shiloh didn't hesitate. She had reached the point of no return the moment she'd climbed from her bed. She ended the Lumos while Symone lit her own wand with a whispered incantation. Shiloh sneaked her wand hand through the edge of the cloak, trying not to think that to other's eyes, the shape was nothing more than a floating arm. She pointed the gleaming, ebony tip of her wand at the doorknob.

 

Alohomora.”

 

Pocketing her wand, Shiloh wrapped her arm around the knob, unsure whether the simple charm would have been enough. There was no guarantee that, after the last incident when she had intruded on the office, Professor Snape hadn't decided to add more protection. A simple lock she could handle, but more complicated charms would perhaps be difficult to disarm. The charms could even be ones that would cause something dreadful to happen to the person attempting to enter, but she knew there was only one way to find out for sure. So, without hesitating for a second longer, she steeled herself for the worst and boldly twisted the knob and gave the door a brave push.

 

Willingly, the door swung open. There was no ripple of pain through Shiloh's body as a curse was set off, and no blare of an alarm broke the silence. Breathing a sigh of relief, she slipped back into the cloak and, together, she and Symone entered the office, carefully pushing the door back into place so that the latch settled with a gentle click.

 

It was dark and completely and eerily still, the silence making the blackness that surrounded them thick and impenetrable. The light of the wand seemed fragile and worthless in the dark, for as it cast across the room, it only illuminated a small section of the selves. The ingredients in the jars stood out creepily. Each one, from pickled pig heads to cow eyeballs, looked like something right out of the ghost stories the older Slytherin students loved to tell the first years in an attempt to send them screaming from the room.

 

Symone shivered again, and Shiloh guessed that this time it had little to do with the icy cold. She reminded herself that this was the first time Symone had been in the office. She hadn't seen it in the dark beauty it had at day and even Shiloh had to admit that during the night, the dark and powerful atmosphere of the place seemed to enclose around them, trapping them in until they felt near vulnerable. Shiloh didn't think on the oppressive feeling, didn't allow it to crash through the well-constructed barriers of her mind. Most importantly, she didn't consider, for more than a fleeting moment, the fact that Professor Snape was slumbering just beyond the door that was behind the desk.

 

Shiloh guided Shiloh to the door that lead to Professor Snape's personal stores and, with another whispered charm, unlocked that door as well. They stuffed themselves into the place, taking in the sight of the jars that littered the shelves rising from floor to ceiling. A rolling ladder was attached to the shelves, creating easy access to higher shelves. Shiloh knew what she was supposed to do. So, leaving Symone's side, she crept out from beneath the Invisibility Cloak. Symone would stay and watch at the open doorway, while Shiloh got the potion down, though, Shiloh figured, by the time she was able to scamper back down the ladder and under the Cloak, it would be much too late. They didn't have a choice, though.

 

She withdrew her wand, lighting it as she moved towards the shelves. She knew well how potions were to be organized. Studying the shelves carefully, she managed to guess the general area where the Veritaserum should be. She carefully rolled the ladder to the area, being careful not to let the wood scrape on the floor. Grasping a higher rung, she pulled herself onto the ladder and quickly, deftly scaled upward. She stopped at the shelf closest to the top and cast her critical gaze at the line of potions. Strengthening Potion. Swelling Solution. And that meant...

 

She reached her hand toward the vial, but something made her hand stop. A small amount of her conscience still toyed with her mind, filling it with a hint of guilt. As soon as she took the potion, she would have stolen something; she'd be a thief. There'd be no sugarcoating it, no denial that she was what she was. It would be over, done. But in her mind, she once again saw a flash of George Weasley's mischievous smile as he soared away from the crowd of pranked Slytherins. With a confident smirk, she grasped the potion in her slender hand. Sometimes, lesser wrongdoings were necessary for the justice of greater things. She knew that with her whole heart. She thought that the Weasley Twins had taught her that.

 

To be certain of the contents, Shiloh removed the cap, sniffed the contents suspiciously, and smelled nothing. The potion held the bland, nonexistent scent of water, and the light reflected off the clear liquid, causing little sparkles to dance around on it. Yes, it was Veritaserum.

 

Now, there was one last thing to do. Fishing into her pocket, she withdrew two of her own vials: an empty one and a one filled with water. The difference between the vial with the water and the Professor's vial was readily apparent. She had originally planned to simply leave the vial with water to replace the Veritaserum, but since the outer appearance was so obvious, she couldn't do that. Fortunately, she'd considered that possibility and had a backup plan.

 

Uncapping the battle of the empty vial, she poured the Veritaserum into it, using the steady, careful hand of a potion maker so that not a precious drop was lost. She recapped her vial and then pocketed it. For the last step, she poured the water into Professor Snape's vial. She set it back into its place, removed her bottle from the shelf, and leaned back an inch to study the effect.

 

At a glance, it would seem to Professor Snape that nothing was amiss, that the potion was still there, and even the sight of the liquid was right. She could only hope that Professor Snape didn't try to interrogate anyone.

 

Shiloh scrambled back down the ladder and quickly moved to where Symone had been standing. Blindly, she groped about, her fingers coming in contact with the silky Cloak. She ducked beneath it and settled it back around her.

 

They didn't say anything for the longest time, not until they had made the long journey back to the common room and they were standing before the roaring flame that was still lit in the hearth, blessing their frozen bodies with a layer of warmth. They both extinguished their wands and found, to their relief, that Symone's brother, and his floozy girlfriend were long gone. Since the place was empty, Symone whipped the Cloak off of the both of them, crumpling it between her side and her arm. She looked at Shiloh, her eyes wide with urgent wonder as if the whole world might crumble around her if the answer to her question were different from what she so desperately desired.

 

“Did you get it?” Symone asked, half anxious, half excited, too much emotion for a voice that was whispered so low that Shiloh could barely hear it herself.

 

To answer the question, Shiloh wordlessly stuck her hand into her pocket, bringing out the potion wrapped in her fist, and then uncurled her fingers so that the vial sat proudly on her palm. For a long moment, Symone could only stare at it in disbelief, her eyes unmoving and her mouth drooping as though she didn't dare to breath, much less hope. Then her reaction came, as sudden and as random as an explosion. Her mouth parted wide, and out of it came pure, delighted laughter. The noise was so loud, that Shiloh thought at first that it was best to shush her, but thought better of it. The room was empty, and even if anyone stumbled upon them now, Shiloh doubted it would harm them much. It was one of the good things about being in Slytherin dorm. No one, not even the prefects, really cared when someone was up to no good, because, quite often, they too had been causing mischief or heading down a road that led directly to mischief. A cackling first year would mean nothing to them.

 

Besides, there was much to celebrate. They had done it. They had actually done it!

 

Shiloh stared at the vial, her lips beginning to dance with a hint of a smile. The key to Annadel's downfall was safely in her palm, and the rest of the plan could only go off smoothly. All she had to do was add three drops to her potion, while Symone distracted the evil witch and her two awful friends, and afterwards, by trickery or—if that failed—death threats, they would wrestle the girl into Professor Snape's office, tell the professor that Annadel had something to confess, and then prod her to tell who really was sabotaging the potion. It might seem a bit suspicious, but surely, Professor Snape could not ignore the open confession.

 

By this time tomorrow, all of this would just be a memory.

 

Soon Symone had quieted down, and recalling that they had a full day of school before them, the two girls made their way up into their room, entering quietly. Symone hid her Cloak away, slipping it into its usual hiding spot at the bottom of her trunk. Shiloh was a bit sad to see it go, but wondered if perhaps she were to ever need it, Symone might allow her to borrow it. Provided that Shiloh would ever be willing to ask for another large favor, that was.

 

They stripped themselves of their normal cloaks, hanging them where they had been before, and then quickly clamored back out of the cold and beneath their warm, green bedspreads. Shiloh tucked the Veritaserum beneath her pillow, along with her wand, and was about to give her music box a few, careful winds when Symone's voice, as soft and quiet as a gentle breeze, made her turn to look at the next bed.

 

“Thanks,” Symone was saying from the darkness. In the dim light cast by the fire in the room's fireplace, Shiloh could see a hint of a tired, but content, smile on her face. “For letting me help you, I mean.” She yawned and stretched, looking completely blissful after the adventure they had just had. “It means a lot, really.”

 

Shiloh was unsure whether she should say 'you're welcome' or return the gratitude. After all, it was more of a gift to be helped than it was to be allowed to help. She could only blink as she searched for the correct response, but before she could, Symone, who clearly had never expected a reply, bid her good night and rolled to her other side so that her back was to Shiloh.

 

Shiloh looked down at her music box, allowing her fingers to absent twirl the metal winder. Symone had been so kind to help her with this, and, yes, it was strange, but they had made a good team. But that meant nothing, Shiloh told herself, and forced her mind to think of other things.

 

She set the music box at the corner of her pillow and laid her head back down. She could feel the potion beneath her head, and she moved slightly for fear of crossing the precious item. It had almost been too easy, the simple journey to get it, and now that that part of the plan was done, she felt a part of her that had been tense too long, finally relax. As she fell asleep, one last question touched her mind just before she fell completely into dreams. It was a question that rid her of the comfort she was in, promised a restless sleep, and reminded her that their plan wasn't quite over, wasn't yet a success. It was a question she knew the answer to and wished she didn't.

 

Is anything ever that easy?






Chapter 13: Chapter Twelve: A Time For Vengeance
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Chapter Twelve

A Time for Vengeance







“Oi, Sanders!”

Her foot froze on its way to the next step, and her entire body tensed. Slowly, Shiloh raised her hovering foot and set it next to her other foot and looked behind her as her three roommates from Hell pushed past two first years. Millicent, who had been the one to call out, looked more like a bulldog than usual as her jaw tightened like she was about ready to gnaw into bone—hopefully, a bone with a bit of Halfblood flesh on it. Pansy was giggling happily, and Annadel looked furious and delighted at the same time—a combo of emotions that Shiloh did not find very promising.

Reluctantly, she turned to face them, her hand already slipping into her pocket for her wand. Trouble was in the air. She could sense it, more than ever when the trio circled around her, Millicent on a step higher than her, Annadel on the same step, and Pansy on the one lower. They created a menacing winding staircase of heads. Three to one. Impressive odds for them, but Shiloh wasn't about to be bullied. Not today. Not when she was counting down the hours until Annadel would be finished, once and for all.

The two Gryffindor girls hurried past them, but not before they glanced apprehensively at the scene. Shiloh met one of the girls' eye, and for a moment, she thought the Gryffindors might show some of their renowned bravery and even up the odds in the group. She should have known better than to believe for a second that Gryffindors would ever involve themselves in Slytherin business. They quickly looked away and jogged down the steps and into the Potion classroom. Just like that, Shiloh was left alone in the icy corridor with the hardhearted trio.

By the look in their eyes, she knew they were looking for a fight. Her hand wrapped tighter around her wand, ready to pull it out and cast a mean hex if the situation called for it.

“All right, Sanders?” Annadel asked, her voice cheery and conversational as though they were just stopping for a lovely chat.

If that was the angle that Annadel wanted to play with, than Shiloh would go along. She needed to see what Annadel wanted, because only then could she figure out how to get away from this circumstance.

“All right,” Shiloh replied, though her voice wasn't quite as cheery as Annadel's. It was heavy and a bit strained, making it clear that she knew this was something more than a conversation between friends. “You?”

“Oh, the girls and I were just pondering this question that we had,” she drawled primly, “and we thought you could help us.”

Shiloh glanced at all three of them suspiciously, before locking eyes with Annadel. “I can try.”

“Where were you last night?” The sudden, serious question came from Pansy's lips at the same moment as Millicent cracked her knuckles.

It was the second time in too few of days that Shiloh had been asked that question, and she liked this one far less than last time. This time, though, she knew it was futile to play dumb. It hadn't worked last time, and it wouldn't work this time. So, she skipped that action, going straight to fighter mode.

“I don't see how that's any of your business,” she snarled, her voice going dangerously low.

Annadel was unfazed, and she smiled quite daintily, still playing an act that was rapidly getting old. “You see, it is our business, because you and that filthy Halfblood are up to something and— ”

“Don't call her Halfblood!” The furious outburst had left Shiloh's mouth before she even felt the hot anger course through her skin. It didn't matter that 'Halfblood' was just a term used to describe someone of Symone's parentage; the way Annadel said it made it seem an insult and Shiloh wasn't about to tolerate it. Annadel's fight was with her. She would leave Symone out of it!

Then again, even though Shiloh didn't wish for Symone to be more apart of this than she already was, Shiloh couldn't stop herself from regretting walking to Potions alone. If she had only accepted Symone's offer to walk with her, then together, they would have been able to take down the three opponents. Alone, Shiloh would fight, but knew she wouldn't win.

Annadel ignored Shiloh's outburst. “And we're going to find out what.”

Shiloh didn't even feel a flicker of apprehension. She doubted Annadel even knew what Veritaserum was, let alone would be able to guess that she herself would soon get a taste of it. By the time the trio came close to discovering Shiloh's plan, it would already be too late.

“Don't count on it.” Shiloh sneered. “It'll take more than your empty brains to figure out that one.”

She'd hit a soft spot, because Millicent went from cracking her knuckles to fishing for her wand. Shiloh acted instinctively, yanking her wand from her pocket. By the time her wand's point was pressed into Annadel's hip, she not only had Millicent's wand directed at her, but three separate wands pointed straight at her head. Annadel only flinched slightly at the feel of wood against her, but she wasn't about to back down. For once, Annadel had the advantage, and she wasn't about to give it up.

Shiloh focused on the end of Annadel's wand, memorizing the rose-hewn point. She knew it was only moments before one of those wands fired a curse at her, and she could do little to defend herself. However, it wouldn't stop her from trying. If one of the three was going to hex her, than at the very least, she could take Annadel down with her.

“Now, we'll give you one last chance,” Annadel said, smiling menacingly. She knew what would happened. She knew Shiloh would never tell; that was the fun of it. “Tell us where you were last night.”

“No!”

Before Shiloh could so much identify what spell had hit her, she was free falling through air. A second later, she made painful contact with the steps, and then it was nothing more than a blur. All she could see was a mass of colors as the world spun. All she could feel was pang after pang of agony as her body tumbled down the stairs. And the only sound she heard was a yelp as, tugged off balance by Shiloh's hand wrapped around her robes, Annadel fell down after her.




“Professor Snape...”

Severus finished the last wave of his wand, completing the instructions on the board, and turned his eyes toward the girl who had just spoken. His gaze fell upon Parvati Patil. She seemed rather nervous, because she was shifting pointlessly in her chair and glancing backwards at the classroom's door as though she was hoping it would open and save her the trouble of continuing with her distasteful task.

The interruption was unpleasant, for the class had much to accomplish in the little time given, and he hoped this was of some sort of importance. “Yes, Miss Patil?”

She looked at him, trying to look as poised as possible when she was clearly uncomfortable. She folded her hands in her lap as though to have something to do with them. “There were some students out in the hall, and they haven't come in yet.”

Severus paused tolerantly, waiting for her to continue. Unless, of course, her only desire was to report tardy students. She made no move to continue, and Severus was beginning to believe that she was practicing at becoming a prefect when she should be pulling out her cauldron. “And your point is?” Severus pressed, his voice strained to hold in his impatience.

It wasn't Miss Patil who replied, but her blond companion, Miss Brown. “We think they might be dueling.” Her voice held a barely concealed excitement as she eyed the door, as though the scene going on in the hall behind would be more worthwhile than the mundane Potion class before her.

Severus might have ignored this. He knew from experience that young minds were well-equipped with unbalanced imaginations. He knew that one of them could easily have seen two whispering students and imagined that a duel was quite possible. He might have brushed it off, at least long enough to get the students started on today's potion and then go investigate the missing children, if right at that moment, an enraged female cry hadn't exploded from the corridors.

“You'll pay for that, Halfblood!”

Exclamations of excitement and confusion came from the startled students as they swiveled to gawk at the door. Severus could hear explosions of hexes, cries of alarm, and a muffled slam! as something or someone hit the door. It seemed Miss Brown had only been partially correct. There wasn't a duel occurring; there was a full-fledged war.

Another large blast of magic, and Severus was already halfway to the door, his pace brisk. On his way down the aisle, a dark-skinned girl caught his eye as she glanced at the empty seat beside her and then towards the door, looking utterly fearful. He knew the occupant of that empty chair well. The same girl who had had such a promising hand at the fine art of potion making, and then a small mistake, a bruised confidence, and a lie later, she had turned to be a mischief maker and a less-than-average potion maker.

He should have known that Sanders would be behind this ruckus.

Sanders' anxious friend was suddenly no longer fearful, but poised for action. Before Severus could stop her, shebounded out of her chair and made to head toward the door, her wand already half out of her pocket. A cool order of “Sit” from her professor, and she reluctantly returned to her stool, even as she stared apprehensively at the door. She clearly was a loyal one and desired to aid her friend, but the last thing Severus wanted was one more child to deal with.

When Severus reached the door, half the students looked as though they were ready to hurry towards the door the moment he stepped outside. They wanted to eavesdrop on the adventure that would surely unfold, and if he allowed them to do so, he would return to the classroom to find the majority of them pressing their ears to the door.

So, he commanded, “You have your instructions. Now, get to work.”

Though obviously unwillingly, they didn't hesitate to do as they were ordered. They didn't want to join the duelers in detention.

Wasting not a moment more, Severus exited his classroom. He expected to find Sanders nose-to-nose with some foe, as she wrecked havoc with the fiercest spells that a first year could conjure. However, the sight that met him was nothing near what he had imagined. In fact, it was precisely the opposite. Instead of Sanders striking up the mischief that he knew her capable of, she seemed to have been pulled into an unfair fight. The battle was not one against one. It was three against one—and she was the helpless victim. Well, maybe not quite helpless.

Millicent Bulstrode had wrapped one of her huge arms around Sanders' neck. Bulstrode's other arm was trying desperately to still Sanders' flaring legs and arms that pounded randomly, wildly striking every inch of her that they could. The fact that Bulstrode was nearly twice her size didn't seem to faze the girl's fighting spirit. Relentlessly, she struggled, even though it was clear that it only served to pull Bulstrode's arm tighter around her neck. Her eyes scolding with hate, Delamb was slowly approaching Shiloh, wand drawn. Pansy Parkinson, who had clearly been in on the fight as well, was leaning against the wall, groaning and clutching at the side of her face. From around the sides of her skinny fingers, Severus could glimpse the swelling of her eye.

Point one for Sanders.

The scene reminded him of something long ago, a memory that flicked at the back of his mind. There were many times from his childhood reflected in this moment. The strong-willed Slytherin fighting a battle that couldn't be won, and a much larger force bearing down on the Slytherin for nothing more than sheer pleasure. Only in that torturous memory, it was he—not Sanders—who fought alone. And instead of the trio of girls, the memory held the gleeful, gloating faces of James Potter and Sirius Black.

Now was no time to think about that—no time was a good time to think of such things. Right now was a time for action.

Severus brought the door closed behind him with such a loud slam it sent a shudder through the stone walls. The sound rippled through the air, doing what it was meant to: awakening the girls to his presence. Delamb dropped her wand in surprise and whirled towards him, her face freezing in an expression of horror. Parkinson cried out in alarm, flinging her hand away from her puffy eye, and Bulstrode just froze and stared dumbly at him. Only Sanders didn't stop. She clawed angrily, frantically, at the arm around her neck that had been pulled even tighter. Her milky cheeks were beginning to turn red.

“Let her go,” Severus ordered, leaving no room for doubt that if Bulstrode didn't, he would make her.

Bulstrode flung Sanders away from her as through protecting herself from something vile. Off-balanced, Sanders hit the ground, her face striking the hard stone for what was obviously not the first time. It did little to help the nose that was already bleeding profusely. Severus thought of going to her side, ensuring that she had not been knocked unconscious, but before he could move, she was pushing herself onto her hands and knees. She gasped for air.

Delamb seemed to realize the depth of trouble that she had dived into, because she frantically tried to back-paddle, to make up a story Severus wasn't about to believe. “Professor Snape, we—“

“Quiet,” he growled at her.

He had no tolerance for anything she had to say. The proof was before him. Sanders may be a troublemaker, but she'd proven that she wasn't stupid, at least, not stupid enough to believe that a three to one ratio promised a bit of fun. Besides that, the sight that she made, clutching for her fallen wand as she held her head at the correct angle so that the blood from her nose wouldn't go rolling down her throat, told a story; a story that made Severus feel a tempestuous anger in the depth of his stomach.

Suddenly, he was not quite sure he had drawn the right conclusion when it came to these two—Delamb and Sanders. He had assumed that whatever war had started between them was fought on mutual agreement, and there was no side that only fought back to defend themselves. This case proved that to be incorrect. Whatever had happened, Delamb had started it, and perhaps, she had started other things as well. Thoughts of the incident on Halloween and Sanders' seemingly well-spun lie taunted him, causing him to wonder if there might be more to them than the simple conclusion he had drawn. Perhaps, there was some part of it worth investigation, after all.

He put that train of thought on hold and directed the three culprits toward the classroom by pointing a single, dangerous looking finger towards the closed door. “Go.”

“But, sir...” Parkinson protested weakly, looking as though she, too, might attempt to lie to him. She rapidly thought better of it, closed her mouth for a moment, before changing what she had originally planned to say. She pointed a finger at her eye which was continuing to swell. Whatever had given her that black eye, it was either a cruel hex or one impressive punch. “What about my eye?”

Severus could have cared less. She deserved that and far worse. People like Parkinson and her two friends were the worst kind of cowards. The ones who hunted in packs and attacked those who dared to wander around alone, just to make themselves feel stronger and more powerful, when in fact, it showed just how weak they were. However, Severus was a teacher, and as such, it was his duty to see that his students' welfare was taken care of.

“You may go see Madam Pomfrey about it after class.” She could suffer with it until then. “Now, go.”

At his intense sneer, they paused no longer, rushed toward the room, and disappeared inside. He wasn't through with them, though. They would be writing countless lines in detention. However, right at the moment, he needed to see to Sanders.

Severus turned his attention to Sanders who was now on her feet, but had yet to recover her wand, which Severus located halfway up the staircase. Without the help of magic, she was doing her best to staunch the bleeding with the cloth on her sleeves. The dark fabric absorbed the blood, making the color look much darker and more ominous. She suddenly started coughing, made a sucking sound, and spat up a glob of blood.

Unable to watch her struggle by herself, he drew his wand and started towards her.

She glanced at him, her gaze half uncertain, half spiteful, as though he was the last person she wanted around her when she was looking so pitiful.

“Let me see,” he prompted, but she quickly pulled just out of arms length.

“I'm fine,” she insisted hotly and pressed her arm back over her nose.

Severus wasn't buying that annoyingly independent remark. He wordlessly seized her chin and lifted her face so he could get a good look at her nose. She moved her arm away from her mouth, perhaps to protest, and he used the opportunity to tap the bridge of her nose with the point of his wand and to cast a nonverbal charm that fixed the damage quite easily. Her nose stopped bleeding, but still a layer of the red liquid was caked from her nostrils to her chin. Before he released her, Severus checked for any other injury and found that her temple was turning a brilliant shade of red, a sign that a bruise was forming.

“Do you feel dizzy at all?”

“No,” she said flatly.

“Did you lose consciousness?”

“No.”

He looked into her eyes to be sure. She wasn't lying. She didn't have a concussion, and she appeared otherwise unharmed. For such an intense duel, she was either bloody lucky or very resilient. He had one last question to ask before he released her, and he wouldn't release her until she had answered. The girl had an aggravating habit of refusing to look into his eyes. Whether she did it because of fear or because she had some knowledge of Legilimency and suspected him of it, he wasn't sure. But, today, he wanted to look into her eyes. He wanted to see the truth.

“How did this start?”

He should have held on tighter. He should have guessed that she would pull away, because as soon as he had asked the question, she yanked away from his touch. Her usually emotionless face was contorted with a layer of frustration, and her eyes danced with a flicker of anger.

“Why should I tell you?” she mumbled coldly as she drew the back of her hand across her lips to wipe away the taste of blood. “Even if I told you the truth, you wouldn't believe me.”

Severus knew he should have scolded her for her insolence, should have taken away points for her blatant disrespect of his authority, but he stopped himself. He paused to think things through. He could understand her frustration. If there was any truth to the things that Sanders had told him, she placed much blame upon him. Maybe she was thinking that if he had believed her, the problem with Delamb would be over, and she would not just have gone through the ordeal. Or maybe she was just exasperated and more shaken by the happenings than she let on.

Still, he was a professor, and her cheek was intolerable, no matter what the circumstance. “Watch your tongue, girl,” he charged authoritatively, “and tell me who started this.” This time it wasn't a question. There was no option; she would tell him.

In spite of everything, she hesitated, letting her eyes linger on him in a way that spoke of mistrust. He knew she was considering her choices, but she didn't have to think for long. She didn't have any choices. “They started it,” she finally said. Her voice was tight and it belayed her frustration.

He moved his hand in a small circle, quietly prodding for more details. He knew if he hadn't gestured, hadn't made the silent order, that those three words would have been all that he got out of her.

“I don't know why.“ At this, she once again employed her habit of stubbornly refusing to look him in the eyes. Instead she found her shoe very interesting, as she dragged her toe along the stone floor. Oh, yes, she knew what had aggravated the attack; she simply refused to share it with him. “They were just looking for a fight, I guess.”

Severus was sure that had been part of it. Groups of three Slytherins didn't confront a solitary figure unless they were sure that a duel was promising to come forth. Although Severus didn't know if it was the only reason, and he wanted to know more about this. However, he knew that questioning Sanders further would only lead to more half-truths, and with her refusing to meet his gaze, Legilmency wasn't among his options. Instead, he was left to play a guessing game, trying to read between the lines of Sanders' few sentences.

“Very well,” Severus said at last. There was no more information to be claimed. He would deal with the trio of Slytherins based on what he had witnessed. He foresaw a weekend of scrubbing floors for them. Sanders, of course, was free to go. “You may go to class.”

She gave him a nod, before turning her eyes to searching for her fallen possessions. She spotted her school bag and wand half-way up the steps—where all of this began, Severus could imagine. She went to retrieve the things. Her movement was stiff and slow, evidence of the bruises that were probably forming from beneath her robes. However, Sanders didn't even flinch, didn't let the pain show, no matter how obviously present it was. She bent, sweeping a few books that had tumbled from her bag back into it, before she swung the thing over her shoulders.

Severus wasn't sure why he continued to watch her, especially since he was constantly aware that his classroom was unattended, and by now, Longbottom had probably managed to fill the place with some horrid smell. However, there was something that detained him as he watched Sanders pick up her wand, running her thumb over it in a thoughtful caress—as though being reunited with a friend—and then pushed it into her pocket. Perhaps, he simply wanted to insure that she didn't wander into more trouble; after all, she and trouble had been closely attached this school year.

She didn't glance at him as she started to go past, her eyes fixed on the door. Blood was still marking on her face, and a red streak made its way across her cheek. She'd make quite a sight when she entered the classroom, and Severus could hear the whispering of all his students now. He'd had enough of interruptions for one day.

“Miss Sanders.”

She paused and looked at him as he withdrew a cloth from his pocket, one that had come in handy many times before for such occasions. After all, as Slytherin's Head of House, he saw and treated just about as many bleeding noses as Madam Pomfrey. She stared at the handkerchief as though she had never seen one before and had little knowledge of what he wanted her to do with it. She glanced up at him for a second, and he gestured towards her mouth. Nodding in understanding, she took it.

“Thanks,” she breathed quietly as she wiped it over her nose, mouth, and cheek, removing the blood with a few, efficient dabs.

He said nothing in reply, only pocketed the cloth when she offered it back to him. She dared to look at him, just once, and he met her eyes, thinking Legilimens and searching quickly. He wanted answers, a way to know the truth, but she looked away before he could find what he was looking for. Wordlessly, she moved into the classroom. He hesitated a moment to follow her, fixing his eyes upon the door as he considered everything he had seen, everything he had thought, and everything that he should possibly do.

Before today, he had been convinced that the story of Delamb sabotaging potions was just a story to attack Delamb, but now that belief had been shaken by the new evidence. Previously he had shoved off the strange decline in Sanders' potion work as a shattered confidence, but that seemed more fiction than ever. She had, after all, made nearly all her potions perfectly until that fateful day of the explosion. Her skills had been remarkable – and then they had faded away quickly. Too quickly.

He wasn't sure what to believe. He wasn't sure if it was truth or lies, for either one held possibilities. He wasn't sure who the victim in this battle was: Sanders or Delamb. He wasn't sure of much, and the confusion was aggravating him to no end. Two things, however, stood in his mind with utter clarity: he was sick of playing a guessing game with a couple of first years, and, no matter what it took, he was going to find out the truth.




“Are you...are you all right?”

The worry in Symone's whispered voice was evident as she stretched a hand out as though to help Shiloh into her seat. Fighting back a wince, Shiloh ignored Symone's hand now poised on her elbow and lowered herself onto the chair. It seemed that every muscle in her body was protesting against her, refusing to move, and when she dared push them into motion, they repelled with a shot of pain. She had Millicent's curse and sharp knuckles to thank for it. That, and the dungeon's stairs.

It had all happened so quickly until the fight was nothing more than a blur. She couldn't even remember when her nose had started to bleed or which spells had caused the bruises. When it came to fighting back, there'd been no thinking to it, no thoughts of the way she should duck or the way she should swing her fist, just instincts. She found that her impulses had served her well. Pansy's black eye was proof of that, and Annadel was probably hiding an aching spine from when she was thrown against the door by a spell that had originally been intended for Shiloh.

Shiloh looked over at the three girls. Pansy was cradling her eye in one hand and looking utterly pale as Draco Malfoy and his two friends snickered cruelly at the sight. Annadel was fighting back a hot red color, perhaps caused by a mixture of anger and embarrassment. Shiloh didn't feel any shame as she watched the two, only a smug satisfaction that she had done well. However—she remembered, as she brushed her fingers against the tender spot on her forehead—three against one was never good odds.

Absently, she rubbed a hand over her throat, recalling what it had felt like to scarcely be able to breathe. No matter how hard she had fought, how fiercely she had struggled, she had been helpless, and she had known it—she had felt it. Helplessness was a feeling she couldn't recollect enduring...at least, not for a very, very long time. It had been awful in those few seconds, to have no control over anything that was happening. Her very authority over her own life had been stolen away, and she'd hated it. As much as she hated to admit it, the emotion had terrified her—because if she didn't have control, what did she have?

“Shiloh...” Symone began again, hesitantly, concernedly.

“I'm fine,” Shiloh said quickly, dropping her hand away from her neck. She glanced at Symone, and something about her eyes made her breath normally. Something indefinable about her presence caused her to remember that she was here, in Potion's class, beside Symone, right where she should be. All was normal; she was in control—not back in the hallway fighting for her health.

“I'm fine,” she repeated, sounding much more certain.

Symone looked at her for a moment, searching her eyes as though unsure whether to believe. Then she nodded and let out a breath that she'd obviously been holding. The look of relief on her face was so pristine that Shiloh had no doubt Symone had been scared for her, but she didn't want to think too much about it. Nor did she want to consider that, if their places had been reversed, Shiloh would have been just as frightened for Symone—and as angry at the three as Symone now appeared.

“How did all this start anyways?” Symone asked.

Shiloh glanced at Professor Snape. He had reentered and was beginning to make his rounds around the classroom, commenting on less-than-satisfactory work. He was on the other side of the classroom, so, if she kept her voice low and started setting up her potion items, she should be able to tell Symone about the confrontation. She hadn't told Professor Snape the details, because such would have been disastrous. Symone was different. They were in this together, and she deserved to know.

While she tended to her potion, Shiloh explained what had happened, from the girls knowing about their absence last night to all the other events that led to the fight.

Once she had finished, Symone asked, concernedly, “So, what are we going to do, now that they know?”

“Nothing.” Shiloh emptied a jar of liquid into her cauldron and immediately began stirring it, trying to watch both her potion and Annadel. She hoped that Annadel didn't try anything today. “They know we're up to something, but they don't know what.”

Symone nodded again, showing that she understood. For a long moment, she simply stirred her cauldron as Shiloh put her effort and concentration into ther own potion. She noted briefly that Symone kept glancing at their roommates, her facial expression turning from hateful to thoughtful. However, Shiloh didn't have time to consider what was going on in Symone's mind; she had very little time to brew her potion. Besides, with an eye on Annadel and her other eye on her potions, she couldn't afford any other distraction to her already occupied mind.

After a few minutes, Symone suddenly let out a low giggle, drawing Shiloh's eyes to her. “What?” Shiloh asked, trying to find something funny in the serious atmosphere of the Potion's class.

Symone ducked her head close so that they could talk quietly. A smile was etched on her lips as she spoke, “It's just...for three on one, you sure got them good.”

Shiloh rotated her eyes to take in Pansy's black eye that she was trying to hide by covering it with her hand as she attempted—and failed—to make her potion with just one hand. Ringlets of black smoke where coming from the potion, and she was frantically stirring it as fire began to sparkle at the surface of the liquid.

Once again, that malignant joy spread back through Shiloh's veins, tugging her lips into a deep smirk. “I did, didn't I?”

Symone nodded a bit excitedly. “Annadel will be feeling that tomorrow.” She let out a snicker and gestured discretely at the girl who was now pressing a hand into the small of her back, tentatively massaging her aching muscles and wincing as her fingers found a bruise.

As soon as Annadel heard Symone's snicker, she looked behind at them and gave them a scowl that was so blessedly peeved it only made Shiloh's smirk go wider and Symone giggle even harder. It seemed that, because of Symone's ability to look on the bright side, the horror of the battle had been completely cleansed away and replaced with an odd sense of glee. The ability to laugh at unfavorable experiences had never been Shiloh's strength, but Symone was teaching her how it felt. After all, despite the odds, Shiloh had given them what they deserved, and she had to believe that Annadel and Pansy would hesitate before they took her on again, no matter what their number.

Symone was pressing her hand over her lips to stifle the sound, and Shiloh was doing her best to fight down the bubbling desire to join in with her snickers. Symone's laughter and joy was contagious, and Shiloh hadn't been so close to laughter since she had stood on the train platform listening to the Weasley twins' unique humor.

“Is something amusing?”

The austere tone of their professor's voice made them sober instantly. Symone dropped her hand from her lips, trying to look innocent and solemn, and Shiloh's smirk was gone in a dignified flash, the rare pleasantness had vanished instantly. Professor Snape stood next to their desk, looking as towering and as commanding as ever.

“No, Professor Snape,” Symone and Shiloh said in unison; Symone shook her head sedately to further prove the statement.

He gave them a suspicious look that clearly meant that he didn't believe them, and Shiloh didn't blame him; they weren't the least bit convincing, not when he had obviously heard Symone's giggles. However, he didn't say a word to them, but passed on, giving orders to the entire class to turn in a sample of their potions. Shiloh and Symone didn't glance at one another, as though in mutual agreement that it would run the risk of sending them back into giggles. They focused on siphoning their potions into the vials.

At least Annadel hadn't tried to pull anything today. It was slightly odd, considering Annadel had a few bruises to avenge, but Shiloh wasn't about to question her luck. Especially not when she knew that this would have been the last time her enemy would have gotten the chance to ruin her potion. At dinner, Shiloh would be setting into motion the next step of their plan; she was sure it would go off flawlessly. By this time tomorrow, all of this—the sabotaged potions, the fights, the watching of her back wherever she went—every single piece of it would be over.




Everything was going perfectly.

Shiloh knew that from the moment she spotted the two empty chairs set across the table where Annadel was poised before her bare plate in fevered conversation with her two friends. Generally, she and Symone would have sat as far as possible away from the three, and the trio knew that. They would have to be as discrete and act as naturally as possible. When she was ready and willing, Symone could make a wonderful actress, and Shiloh knew how to hide things well. She did it everyday of her life; why should now be any different?

With a brief glance at Symone to get a confirming nod that she was already prepared, Shiloh started forward with Symone right next to her. Their steps were deliberate and determined, carrying them from the door to the closest table. Shiloh kept her eyes focused on those two chairs, hoping someone wouldn't come to claim them at the last second, but her hand was poised in her pocket. Her fingers were wrapped around the precious bottle of Veritaserum, her thumb caressing it absently and her hand preparing to draw it out of the pocket when the moment was right.

Without so much of a hint of trouble, they found themselves standing next to empty chairs, but the three roommates were oblivious to their presence. The trio kept their heads together, hissing at each other in an inflamed conversation. Shiloh was about to grab the back of the chair and pull it out to sit, knowing the sound of the chair's legs screeching across the floor would alert them, but something in their conversation froze her solid. She turned her attention back to them, her hand tightening on the back of the chair.

“Don't you dare try to pin this on me, Pansy!” Annadel was snarling furiously. “Not only did you fail to distract Sanders, but Snape wouldn't take his eyes off me for a bloody second.”

Pansy's eyes widened until they looked to be the size of Snitches. “Do you think he suspects something?”

Annadel never got the chance to reply, because Millicent was rotating her head to look up at Symone and Shiloh where they stood. The action drew Pansy and Annadel's attention to her as well. They didn't allow panic to show on their faces, didn't allow any sign that they were afraid of what Symone and Shiloh had heard. Perhaps, they no longer cared if they knew; how could they when they believed Shiloh was helpless to stop them? Instead, they appeared angry, infuriated at their mere closeness.

“What are you doing here?” Annadel sneered as though asking them what excuse they had to be alive. Shiloh wasn't surprised at the extra loathing in her voice. After all, their pride was still bruised from the detention Professor Snape had given them...and their bruises from the fight.

Symone took the lead as she plopped down into her chair, folding her arms over her chest and sulking unhappily. “You think we want to sit near you?” she demanded exasperatedly. “There's no where else to sit.”

To confirm this, Annadel and Pansy looked around, but all they could see from their vantage point was bodies and bodies of Slytherins. They couldn't get at the right angle to be able to see if there were empty spaces between them. Shiloh lowered herself into the chair, the one straight across from Annadel, and waited for them to accept that what Symone had told them was true. With no proof against, they had no choice but to believe it.

However, they weren't happy about it, and they scowled at them, but quickly put their attention into eating. Symone continued on her act, piling up her plate with food while keeping the corner of her eye focused on Annadel. They would have to wait until the right moment to sneak the Veritaserum into her pumpkin juice. Until then, they had to play their part.

Shiloh, too, helped herself to her usual small helping of only a few of the items. She picked up her fork and began working on it. She found herself acting naturally; she was even eating the way she normally did—picking at the food with her fork while taking the occasional nibble. However, she kept one hand wrapped around the potion in her pocket. It was a constant reminder of the task at hand, the task she had to pull off flawlessly.

Still, her focus began to falter as Annadel and Pansy's conversation began to knead and poke at the barriers of her mind. Phrases from it replayed themselves in her mind like when her father's old, Muggle record player had gotten stuck.

Snape wouldn't take his eyes off of me.

Do you think he suspects something?


Shiloh tried to silence the memory, tried to keep the thoughts at bay, but she couldn't help but toy with the notion that, perhaps, Professor Snape did suspect something. But, no, that was impossible. She'd already come to him and he'd been convinced that she was nothing more than a liar. He had simply been keeping an eye on Annadel, because she'd already caused enough trouble for one day, and he wouldn't allow her to cause more. He couldn't suspect something after all this time, could he?

She was never able to answer her own silent question, because Symone was grinding her elbow into Shiloh's ribs, the sign that it was time. Trusting that Symone had cued her correctly, Shiloh quickly withdrew the potion and reached across the table. Annadel was leaning close to Pansy and Millicent, hissing some barb against Symone and being purposely too loud. Shiloh didn't flinch, only uncorked the vial and tilted it at just the right angle so that a large drop fell from the end into Annadel's pumpkin juice. Before the ripple from that drop had settled on the surface of the juice, another two drops had followed. Three drops; just enough.

Shiloh saw Annadel's head beginning to turn and she quickly withdrew her arm. By the time Annadel was giving her a loathing expression, Shiloh had pocketed the potion and was back to picking at her food. Annadel stared at her a moment longer. Perhaps, she had thought she'd caught Shiloh's movement from the corner of her eye and was now trying to figure out what she'd seen, if she'd seen anything at all. She must have concluded that it was nothing, because the suspicion faded, and with an apathetic shrug, she reached for her goblet.

Symone's back stiffened in a sure sign of attentiveness, and she raised her eyes from her plate just enough that she would watch Annadel's movement. Shiloh did the same, staring discretely as Annadel raised the goblet towards her mouth. Pansy said something that sounded distant in Shiloh's distracted mind, and Annadel laughed, her hand shaking slightly as she continued to pull the cup toward her mouth. This was it, Shiloh thought with a thrill of excitement. It would all soon be over, just as soon as Annadel took one single sip.

Shiloh couldn't have looked away, even if she'd wanted to. Every second seemed like hours; every inch of the cup's ascension seemed to take a decade. But finally—finally—it was touching her lips, being tilted upward. Almost there. Almost. And then...

It was spilling down Annadel's robes.

Stunned, Shiloh could only watch as Annadel let out a screech of surprise, displeasure, and fury. Orange liquid spread from her neckline down to her lap. Pansy quickly grabbed a napkin and handed it to her, but Annadel pushed her away, turning hate-filled eyes toward Millicent, the one whose elbow was responsible for causing her to spill the cup.

“Millicent, you bloody oaf! If these robes are ruined, I'll murder you!”

She heaved something that was half-growl, half-squeal and stomped her feet as she stormed away from the table, running off to find something to save her sodden robes. Pansy hurried after her, but Millicent didn't seem to care one way or another. She simply sat, continuing to fill her large mouth mouth with an unhealthy amount of food.

Shiloh could do nothing but stare in disbelief at the pumpkin juice that had made a puddle on next to Annadel's plate. It slowly moved to the edge of the table, letting an occasional droplet fall from the table to the floor below. She watched the movement, unable to believe that somewhere in the spoiled juice was the Veritaserum. It was so hard to consider that they had been so close, that their time for vengeance had come, and they had failed.

Symone touched her shoulder, as though asking if she was all right. Her face was blank and void of expression, because Shiloh couldn't feel anything. The disbelief was so complete, that all she could feel was numbness. Yet, Symone was worried. Shiloh had been so very, unnaturally still, not moving a muscle even so much as a centimeter.

“Shiloh...” she whispered.

Shiloh looked at her briefly, then stood. She wasn't hungry anymore, and neither was Symone, so together, they made their way out of the Great Hall. Outside, in the empty hallway, Symone turned to face Shiloh. There was a bit of sympathy in her eyes, but beneath that was determination. Symone wasn't ready to give up, and neither—Shiloh realized—was she.

It had just been so bloody ironic! How else could she explain the fact that the cup had actually been touching Annadel's lips, and yet, the mission had still failed? What else could be responsible for that other than cold, cruel, bloody irony.”

“It's all right, Shiloh,” Symone assured her. “We'll get them next time.”




A/N: A special thanks to my wonderful betas, Joanna and Sandy. Also to my readers who I made wait far too long for this chapter.

Chapter 14: Chapter Thirteen: Life's Little Ironies
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Chapter Thirteen

Life's Little Ironies






Symone kept on encouraging Shiloh, though the task soon went from helpful, to irritating. After all, “We'll get them next time” had been wonderful, steeling Shiloh with determination, but the bit uncertain, “Well, look on the bright side; the third time's the charm” had been the farthest thing from pleasing. Yet, still Symone had tried to keep Shiloh from the childish act of banging her head against the wall in frustration. Although, the many half-laughed, half-moaned “Blimey, who could have seen that coming?” only made the desire more tempting.

A month had somehow gone by and they still hadn't managed to get the Veritaserum down Annadel's throat!

They'd never managed to get closer than they had that day. It was difficult to so much as get near Annadel, and they couldn't sit by her every day; it would be too suspicious. The times when they did consider it relatively safe always seemed to be muddled up in some atrocious way. Once they had been about ready to lower themselves into seats beside Annadel when Draco, Crabbe and Goyle had breezed before them and settled into the three chairs. Looking haughty, Symone had opened her mouth to protest, and Draco had turned back to look at them.

“You don't mind, do you, Sanders, Zell?” In his tone, he had managed to tell them that he knew that, yes, they minded, and no, he didn't give a darn that they did.

Shiloh had never exactly been properly introduced to Draco Malfoy, but they knew each other. They were the same year, the same House, and that made it impossible not to know each other. There had been no introduction, no shaking of hands, but there'd been some sort of an acknowledgment, a passing about of each other's names. They were now something less than acquaintances. Her father's admiration of Lucius Malfoy—or rather Mr. Malfoy's generous donations to the Ministry—was not enough to judge the son by, so, when it came down to it, Shiloh could honestly say that she didn't like him. Nor did she hate him; she didn't even know him. Although, his association with Pansy, Annadel, and Millicent had to count for something.

Regardless of the fact that Draco was little more than a stranger, Symone had looked like she was prepared for a fight, but Shiloh had known better. Looking like they were eager to sit by their roommates would have been too conspicuous. Besides, the situation hadn't been worth the breath it would take to form an insult, especially not when it involved these people. So, Shiloh had nudged Symone's ribs, stopping her cold.

“Not at all, Malfoy,” Shiloh had said, with a bitter, unmeant smirk, and before Symone could decide to fight on, Shiloh seized her elbow and wrestled her toward an empty chair.

Other tries seemed to hold just as much fortune. They tried at every meal; they even tried when they'd found her having some warm milk in the common room. Every time, they failed miserably, in the simplest of ways. Annadel would leave, or someone would get in the way, or some tragedy would befall the drink. The only thing Shiloh had to be thankful for was that all these things would occur before she managed to waste some of the precious Veritaserum. So, it still lay in the pocket of her cloak, unmoved and practically untouched, except for Shiloh's occasional caresses, ensuring her that the potion was still there.

That was exactly what she was doing now, a month later. She sat at the lunch table, drawing her thumb along the length of the vial, feeling the familiar grooves and the ridges. She thought of little else as she picked listlessly at the food on her plate, pushing it about and poking it almost savagely with her fork. Symone didn't seem to have much appetite, either, something that was more unusual for her than for Shiloh, and her honey-colored eyes kept roaming from her plate to their three enemies.

Shiloh vigorously stabbed a baby carrot. She lifted it so she could survey the way it fit on the fork, but she had no intention of eating it. She just narrowed her eyes at it, not truly seeing it, but seeing the entire, frustrating situation for what it was: hopeless. It was infuriating, and she tossed the fork back on the plate, her face blank, her emotions empty. She felt nothing, thought nothing, unless it was one suggestion that flickered in her mind. A single desire that was becoming more and more tempting.

Maybe I should just give up.

“We can't give up, Shiloh.”

She tried not to give a visible start, barely managing to stop the spasm in her hand from knocking over her pumpkin juice. Had she said that thought aloud? Of course, she hadn't; she would never be that careless. But... Shiloh turned her eyes to Symone, looking for any reason that Symone would use that particular moment to say such a thing. Had she somehow sensed Shiloh's growing exasperation, or was she simply thinking the same thing, and showing her desire to give up? Shiloh wanted to believe the latter, because she couldn't accept that Symone could know her that well. No one knew her that well.

Besides, it didn't matter. Shiloh didn't really want to give up. The day she surrendered to Delamb would be the day her existence became worthless. Besides, she was a Slytherin, and they didn't accept losing well. However, she was seriously considering the fact that the Veritaserum might not be as wonderful of an idea anymore. If too much longer passed without success, she would have to debate on some other options.

Only, there were no other options.

Ignoring this train of thoughts, she picked up her fork and twirled it in her fingers.

“You should eat,” Symone pressed, leaning around Shiloh and surveying her still full plate. “You eat like a goldfish.”

That statement sounded annoyingly familiar to Shiloh; it didn't take long for her to figure out where she'd heard that before. “You sound like my mum.”

Symone wasn't offended; Shiloh wouldn't have said it if she'd thought for a moment that Symone would have taken it as an insult. Instead, Symone had her usual comeback. Shaking her finger in Shiloh's face, she ordered, “Now don't you sass me. If you don't eat, you'll make yourself ill, and if you think I'm going to feel sympathetic when you're too weak to move then...” Her speech would have been convincing—after all, her tone was perfectly bossy and she'd even managed that 'mother' look every girl knows—but a look of horror and bewilderment crossed her face and she stopped dead, looking away in shock. Finally she spoke, half groaning, “Blimey, now I sound like my mum!”

Shiloh couldn't help it. Her lips began to twitch, a smile threatening to show fully on her lips. The look on Symone's face was simply priceless—and utterly comical—but Shiloh refused to laugh, a resolution that became almost impossible when Symone burst into her own, heartfelt giggles. Shiloh wondered how Symone had the ability to make Shiloh place the worst of things to the back of her mind, if only for a few minutes. The simple normalcy of talking about their mums was so unique, making it seem like everything was uncomplicated and blissful. Almost like they were two friends just enjoying a break from classes.

But she can't be my...

I know.
Shiloh squelched the reminder. She knew perfectly well that she was messing with the boundaries that she had placed between the two of them, but she couldn't fix that at the moment. Not when there was no doubt that she still needed Symone's help to take down Annadel. She could deal with the 'no-friendship' policy later.

Shiloh was in a better mood, and clearly so was Symone because they managed to stomach a few bits before they had to collect their bags and rush to their classes.




Professor Severus Snape surveyed his class with hawk-like eyes, taking in their work and their attention as he passed by Longbottom. He closed his nose against the smell, commented on how the instructions said peppermint not pomegranate, and continued on as the boy began to stir vigorously. Too vigorously. Severus thought, not for the first time, that of any of them, this boy was going to flunk this class. It would be a miracle if he passed exams, with his substandard grades.

The thought of poor grades made Severus eyes move in the direction of Delamb and Sanders. As always, Delamb sat before Sanders, and the Parkinson and Bulstrode were seated right behind Sanders—a conspicuous arrangement for the enemies. It seemed plausible that they were up to something, that they had situated themselves like that with troublesome intentions. He'd yet to prove that they were ever once involved in anything other than their own potions. Not once had he caught Delamb or either of the other two with their hands poised above Sanders' cauldron. However, that was not quite surprising. With a whole class of first years, his eyes had to be many places at once; he couldn't afford to leave his gaze on Delamb for long, no matter what he suspected.

So, here, a month after he sworn to find the truth, he was nowhere closer to learning anything than he had been thirty-one days ago. For all he knew, Sanders could still have been lying. Then why was it that her potions only went horribly wrong when his eyes were fixed elsewhere in the classroom? Coincidence? Severus didn't think so. He'd learned long ago that, when there seemed to be something more going on, there generally was. Especially in Slytherin.

Whether or not he'd failed to catch Delamb in the act, whether he was uncertain what the honest truth was, he was still determined to find out, even if it took him another month.




Potions was nearly halfway through, and Annadel had yet to try anything, but Shiloh wasn't about to let that make her hopeful. Last time, the girls had waited until the moment when Shiloh was fishing for her vial to collect a sample of her potion in it, before utterly ruining it . Millicent had tripped her and sent her spinning into the table, upsetting her own cauldron. Shiloh had no doubt that Annadel would try something wretched today, and she kept one eye fixed on the blond head. She hoped that whatever it was, Annadel didn't make the potion explode. Twice in one month was a bit extreme, and Shiloh wasn't sure if her fortune would keep her from singeing her eyebrows this time around.

Shiloh looked away from Annadel long enough to stir in another ingredient, and she sensed Symone taking her turn watching their enemy. Shiloh was grateful, because it gave her the chance to count the strokes of her wooden spoon, both counterclockwise and clockwise. When she was sure she had the correct number, she looked up, staring at Annadel as she stood to reach for a container of peppermint.

It was in her hands and she was about ready to unscrew the lid, when she felt something collide with the back of her knee. Her leg buckled. She managed to catch herself on the edge of the table, her knees halfway to the ground, but the jar dropped from her hands. It landed upon the ground with a startling shatter, sending broken glass and peppermint flowers across the stone floor.

Shiloh pulled herself upright, regaining her balance, and then looked over her shoulder at the two behind her. Millicent and Pansy looked perfectly innocent, as though they hadn't just fired a hex at her. Their heads were dipped thoughtfully over their books as they pursed their lips together, a clear sign that they were trying not to laugh. Millicent failed. However, laugh wasn't the correct word to describe the sound she made, because Millicent didn't giggle. She snorted.

Pansy elbowed her, and she fell quiet, but not before they sent her a mocking smile. Shiloh would have given anything, anything at all, to slam her fist into their unnaturally white teeth, putting a dent in their sneering faces. It was happening again. She recognized all the steps. First, she was distracted; second, Annadel would make her move. There was nothing she could do to stop the game once it got started. Millicent and Pansy always made sure of that. Tt didn't mean that Shiloh had to make it easy for them. So, for the longest moment, she looked between them and Annadel, not giving them an opportunity to act.

“Is there something going on here?”

Professor Snape. Shiloh would have recognized that cool, emotionless voice even if she hadn't turned to look up at him. However, he wasn't looking at her. His eyes had gone past her, to the floor where the mess had been made. She knew what he was truly asking, and she knew where all this would lead: to a place where she didn't want to be.

She spoke anyways, giving the explanation he wanted, “I slipped, Professor.”

“Get it cleaned up,” he ordered, his brisk tone making it clear he had no patience for clumsy students who wasted valuable potions ingredients.

Shiloh knew that stooping on the ground to clean it up was exactly what the three girls wanted. As soon as she started collecting the broken glass, Annadel would act, but Shiloh also knew better than to argue with Professor Snape. She'd learned that lesson immensely well. Besides, Symone could always stop Annadel.

“Yes, sir.” Shiloh nodded and gingerly lowered herself next to the broken glass.

“And, you—“ Professor Snape gestured at Symone, his tone authoritative. “—help her.”

That destroyed Shiloh's last hope, and as Symone mumbled a 'Yes, sir' and lowered herself beside her, there was nothing left to do than to resign herself to her fate and another poor Potions grade.

Without a sigh or a show of disappointment, Shiloh watched Professor Snape walk on down the aisle. She was able to see little more than his legs, but she stared at them nonetheless. There was the man who was so wise, the one man who had the power to stop all of this, but he hadn't. She wasn't angry, nor did she think she admired him for any less—he was still a great wizard—but she was slightly sad. If only he'd believed me.

Yet, it didn't matter; she'd take care of it herself...eventually.

Shiloh withdrew her wand, poised it over the jar and mumbled 'Reparo', while Symone began collecting the sprigs of peppermint. They did it quickly and soon were pushing to their feet, looking towards Shiloh's potion, wondering what was going wrong with it. Instead, they saw Annadel's hand stretching towards it. Obviously, Annadel was a bit slow today, and Shiloh was determined to use that to her advantage. Forget Veritaserum! If Shiloh could catch her in the act than she wouldn't need to use it!

Without thinking, Shiloh lunged for Annadel's hand and froze when Annadel gasped as hand wrapped about her wrist. But it wasn't Shiloh's hand; it was much too large, with long, viselike fingers covered with pale skin. Stunned, Shiloh allowed her eyes to roam up the man's black-clothed arm, up to his chest, his neck, and finally to his face—that hard, unmoving face. His dark eyes were now fixed on Annadel with a look so harsh, so dark and knowing that it made Annadel tremble.

“P-Professor Sn-Snape—“ Her horror showed in her voice, as Annadel stammered on. She knew she'd been caught, and no matter how quickly she tried to make up a lie, the game was over. Somehow, someway, she had lost. “I...”

Professor Snape interrupted, his voice cold, unquestionable, “I think it is best that you keep your hands away from Miss Sanders' cauldron.”

Shiloh and Annadel both stared, both in their own sort of disbelief. For Annadel, it was the refusal to accept that she'd been caught, that after all this time, she'd actually been caught. But for Shiloh, it was confusion, a deep wondering on how it was possible that Professor Snape had been paying enough attention to catch her. Pansy's and Annadel's words from a month ago flickered back into her mind:

Snape wouldn't take his eyes off of me.

Do you think he suspects something?


It was impossible! He hadn't believed her. What could possibly have changed his mind?

“Professor...” Annadel tried again.

Professor Snape ignored her. “And until the time when you learn to put ingredients only in your own cauldron, I will just have to separate you two. Miss Delamb, move your things over besides Mr. Longbottom.”

“L-Longbottom...” The reality seemed to be sinking in, because she was no longer scared; she was back to being haughty, throwing out a protest, “But his cauldron smells horrible!”

It was true. Shiloh could catch whiffs of what smelled like fish guts coming from his general direction. She could only imagine what it would be like sitting next to it, but she couldn't say she was sorry that Annadel was about to find out.

For the first time, Professor Snape sneered, almost gleefully. “I know.”

Annadel didn't have much chance to protest; one never did when dealing with Professor Snape. She was soon collecting her items, muttering until Professor Snape ordered her to be silent. Finally, she was shuffling to sit next to Neville and plopping reluctantly into her chair.
Afterwards, Professor Snape returned to his pacing about the room. Pansy and Millicent stared after him with frozen looks of distress, before sending Shiloh hot scowls that she ignored.

Symone was gawking at Shiloh, her surprise matching Shiloh's own. For a moment, they could only stare at each other, as though asking what all of this meant. Neither of them knew; neither of them could believe it. The event simply refused to be absorbed by their muddled brains, so they only turned numbly back to their potions and finished following their directions, trying their best to either accept the strange event, or forget about it.

The latter was easier.

After what seemed like an eternity, Professor Snape finally dismissed the class. Shiloh didn't think that she'd ever seen Pansy, Millicent, and Annadel move so quickly as they did toward the door, they were already at the steps when Professor Snape's low voice—hardly more than a whisper, but slicing the air in a way that no one had trouble hearing—stopped them in their tracks.

“Miss Delamb, Miss Parkinson, and Miss Bulstrode will remain behind.” His eyes traveled through the crowd of students until they fell on Shiloh who froze behind her desk, lowering her bag slowly over her shoulder. “And Miss Sanders, of course.”

The three roommates returned to sit at one desk together, looking furious and a bit pale at the same time. Symone, however, had stopped as well. She gave Shiloh a worried look, as though wishing to stay with her, but that was impossible. She hadn't been asked to stay behind and she knew that Professor Snape wouldn't tolerate her presence. Even though, Shiloh had to admit that she would have appreciated her being there, that way she didn't have to be alone with the other three. She wouldn't be alone, though, she told herself. Professor Snape was there.

To ease Symone's desire to stay, Shiloh pressed her bag into Symone's gut, silently asking her to take it with her. “Go. I'll meet you at the library.”

Symone's eyes narrowed, making it clear that she was unhappy about the entire situation, but she didn't say anything. She collected her and Shiloh's bag and joined the line of students making their way outside. Shiloh went to the front of the classroom, settling herself in the chair next to Millicent. Her back was tense, as she felt three angry pairs of eyes on it. If it hadn't been for Professor Snape, she felt sure that she would have been hexed with three deadly curses.

Yet, even though the four of them where seated there, Professor Snape didn't speak to them. Instead, his eyes were on the students who were making their way out of his classroom. She followed his line of sight and found the last of the students. Among them was Symone, who forced a smile and mouthed something that seemed like 'Good luck'. Shiloh wasn't sure, but she thought she understood the basis of that encouraging look.

Only after all the students were gone and the door had closed did Professor Snape stand up and make his way around the desk to face the four of them. Before him, surveying all of them with a critical gaze, she felt small, like a smudge of dirt before a mop, but she refused to flinch or to slink down in the seat to half-hide herself beneath the table. The others simply looked at him, as unapologetic as innocent victims.

“You three,“ he spoke to Millicent, Pansy, and Annadel as though Shiloh wasn't even there, “have a lot of explaining to do.”

Millicent tried to play dumb; not the brightest move considering, but then again 'dumb' wasn't that much of a stretch for Millicent. “About what, Professor?”

Don't fake ignorance with me,” he commanded, his voice so low it practically hissed. Shiloh didn't think she'd seen him quite as annoyed as he was now, not even when he'd accused her of lying. His sneer was pasted firmly on his lips, filled with nothing but loathing, and his eyes crackled with a disgust that only intensified when he looked at Annadel.

All three of them blinked, perhaps uncertain on what the proper response should be. Silence certainly wasn't it.

“So, now you can't remember?” Professor Snape's smirked mockingly. “Perhaps this will jog your poor memory: You have been sabotaging Miss Sanders' potions.”

Pansy giggled nervously. “Oh, that.”

Brilliant, Pansy. The sarcastic thought fluttered through Shiloh's mind as she watched Pansy's two companions shove their elbows angrily into her ribs. Pansy winced painfully, and Shiloh couldn't even force herself to feel sympathy. Clearly, neither could Professor Snape. He didn't even blink, only continued in growing irritation.

“Yes, that.” His tone was become strained, and Shiloh knew his patience was wearing thin. She couldn't help but admire him, though. A lesser man would have been knocking their heads together ten minutes ago. “When did it all begin?”

His eyes glanced at Shiloh and she understood what he was doing: confirming her story. Besides, he needed a confession. He'd only caught them once, but he'd needed to know whether that was the only time. Perhaps he knew that now, but he wanted certainty.

There was a moment of hesitance, as the three exchanged a look as though calculating their next plan. But there was no plan, no road to take to get them out of this mess. They were trapped, and no matter how stupid they were, they couldn't deny that. Annadel saw it first, because she let out one, furious sigh. She hated not getting what she wanted. However, the look in her eyes spoke of hopeless, devastated defeat. Shiloh could only stare at that look, because it was the look that she had desired to seek for months, ever since she'd first figured out that Annadel was behind it. That look of helplessness, of defeat, of the same emotions that Annadel had pushed her through.

Maybe it was true. Maybe it was all coming to in end, not in the way Shiloh had expected, but maybe, just maybe, she wasn't dreaming this, and it all would be over as soon as Professor Snape passed out detention.

“The beginning of November.” Annadel sighed again.

The exact time everything had begun, three months ago, right when Shiloh had claimed. Professor Snape seemed to be thinking the same thing, because he glanced at Shiloh who gave a firm nod. A nod that said See. I told you.

Professor Snape put his hard gaze back on the three. “So for all that time, you have been endangering this entire class by making the already hazardous art of potion making even more precarious?”

They blinked in confusion for a moment, and Shiloh thought of pointing out that Professor Snape might not want to use such big words with them. However, she didn't dare interrupt. This was his moment with the three girls, and though he had an audience, she knew she didn't have a part or a say it. So she sat, watching as Millicent seemed to catch the gist of what Professor Snape had said. Her response only served to dig them in deeper.

“But we weren't trying to endanger the class; just Sanders.”

This time Pansy got revenge, elbowing Millicent for her misstep.

Professor Snape stared at her for a long moment, his face stony, but the closest thing to disbelief Shiloh had ever seen him come. Shiloh couldn't blame him; Millicent's stupidity astounded her too. “And that,” he growled menacingly, “is supposed to make a difference?”

Shiloh didn't read anything into the words. She knew that as a professor, he couldn't pick and choose what students he had the responsibility to care for. Her health had to be in as much consideration as any of the others. However, that didn't mean he liked her.

They didn't respond; it was the best choice they'd made in a long time.

Professor Snape continued on, “On behalf of your recklessness, ten points will be taken from Slytherin...for each of you.”

Thirty points. Oh, the other Slytherins were going to murder them. They must have known that, because looks of stricken horror crossed their faces. Shiloh smirked.

“Furthermore, each of you will be receiving six weeks' worth of detention.”

The duration seemed unfathomable to the three girls, who had probably never been punished in the entire period of their lives, other than that single detention after they'd attacked her. Millicent even looked like she was about to be sick. Annadel even squeaked out a protest. “Six weeks?”

“However,” Professor Snape added, his eyes flickering slightly but his voice slow and calm, “if you find that too unsatisfactory of a number...”

They fell right for his subtle track. Pansy crossed her arms and snapped, “You bet it is!”

Honestly, did they still believe that they were in control of what happened to them? That their say in things actually mattered? But they'd lost their right to be spoiled little princesses from the moment they'd been caught. Professor Snape proved that to them as he finished his first sentence.

“I can always give you two months,” he suggested with a slight sneer.

It was shocking how suddenly eager they were for six weeks of detention. As soon as their hearty agreements fell quiet, Professor Snape dismissed them. Shiloh remained sitting, her eyes focused on Professor Snape as he watched the three hurry outside. Shiloh understood that look of relief in his eyes—the relief that didn't show anywhere other than his eyes. Getting rid of those girls was like the removal of a blood-sucking tick.

When the door closed behind the three, he moved to sit behind the desk and Shiloh seemed suddenly out of place, wondering what he needed her to do. He hadn't so much as looked at her, given no dismissal or even made it clear the reason he'd had her linger behind. Unless seeing them punished and the situation resolved was all he'd needed her to do.

She only sat there, waiting for his response.

“You will be given the chance to make up your grades,” he said at last. He didn't even look at her as he picked up one of the potions and uncorked it. A foul odor poured forth and he slammed the top back on, scratching a large, failing mark on Neville's paper. “I'll schedule a few extra class sessions for you to retry the potions that Miss Delamb ruined.”

That was a cause for relief. At least her parents wouldn't be demanding what could possibly make her fail her best class. She didn't care to explain any of this, nor did she wish them thinking that something deeper had been behind it. They worried too much as it was.

A few moments passed, neither one speaking or moving. Perhaps Shiloh should have taken this as a clue that he wanted her to leave, but she didn't. Not until he said, “You may go now.”

That was it? Shiloh had trouble accepting that. Everything was done, with not even an apology or a simple, hesitant, “Well, maybe you're not a liar after all.” No, Shiloh hadn't even really expected that. Although, he could have at least given her an explanation of why, after all this time, he had decided to believe her story. She stood, so confused that it made her angry, as confusion often did. He should at least explain, but of course not. He didn't have the common courtesy to even do that.

As she made her way around the desk, she fought to keep from demanding what had changed, or even sneering “I told you I wasn't a liar”. But that would just end her up in detention alongside the other three, and she'd dealt with them enough, thank you very much! But maybe if she inquired politely, respectfully, she could get away with it.

With that in mind, she stopped and turned. “Professor Snape...”

He raised his head slightly, just enough so that he was looking at her, but he was still poised to turn back to his work. “Yes, Miss Sanders?”

She opened her mouth, but something stopped her. She wasn't sure what made her hesitate, but it was something about looking at him, hunched over his potions, continuing his work as a Professor, slaving hard for kids he probably didn't even like. Something about the sight spread a touch of wisdom in her mind. She didn't know what had changed the professor's mind, what he had observed or overheard that had made him give her story the benefit of a doubt, but did it really matter? In the end, he had believed her. And maybe...no, no maybe. That was enough.

So, mid-sentence, she changed her mind and said something she hadn't intended, “Thank you.”

He lifted his head more, his attention completely on her. His eyes stared into her and she remembered to tilt her head just enough so their eyes wouldn't meet. Just because she admired him didn't mean she trusted him to start figuring out other things about her. She still didn't understand how he did it, or if she was just fooling herself, but if he had so ability to see things, she wasn't taking the chance.

He stared at her for a long moment, as though trying to calculate something, and then, finally, he simply gave one, deep nod.

Shiloh knew what that nod meant, and she smirked quietly to herself. With his subtle 'you're welcome' in mind, she could allow it all to sink in. She felt relief, knowing that Annadel was not going to sabotage her potions again. And it wasn't because of herself; it was all because of Professor Snape.

She made a beeline towards the door before he had the chance to ask anything more of her. As soon as she was out in the hall, her feet seemed to take a mind of their own, leading her up the steps and through the familiar path to the library, her pace growing brisker and brisker until she broke into a full-out run. She knew, somewhere deep inside of her, that she couldn't wait to tell Symone!

She hurried into the library, forced herself to slow and to close the door quietly. The last thing she wanted was for Madam Pince to scold her all the way out of the library for slamming doors. Shiloh made her way quietly toward the table she always used, the table where she knew Symone would be. Sure enough, at the table next to the window, Symone sat, gazing thoughtfully out at the distant Quidditch pitch where the Gryffindor team was practicing. Shiloh knew Symone's thoughts weren't on her beloved game of Quidditch; they were on her, worrying about what was had happened.

As soon as Shiloh laid eyes on Symone, all the emotions hit her full force, the relief, the happiness, the pure, giddy bliss. It all left her heart bounding and a rare smile spread across her face. Symone must have caught a reflection of Shiloh in the window, because she frowned and looked at Shiloh, probably wanting answers. She didn't have to ask; she didn't even have time to form a questioning look, because as soon as she saw Shiloh she knew. Shiloh didn't smile for nothing.

Symone let out a squeal that pierced the quiet atmosphere, but Shiloh didn't mind. Symone bounded to her feet and closed the distance to her, so quickly Shiloh felt sure that she was going to throw her arms around her. Before Shiloh could decide how she felt about that, Symone made her choice and stopped a foot from her.

“Did he give them detention?” she asked excitedly, eager for details.

Shiloh more than readily complied. “A whole six weeks' worth.”

If she was disappointed or had been hoping for three months, her face didn't show it for long. Instead, she was grinning almost evilly. “That's like a year to them.”

Shiloh nodded, and Symone gave a little spin around like a dancer, barely able to contain her joy. “I can't believe it! It's actually all over!”

Once again Shiloh nodded, and Symone set off into a fit of laughter, letting all the emotions of the past month—the frustration, the anger, the hate—all pour out in this divine blissfulness. Shiloh just watched her roommate, allowing herself to smirk and bask in the victory. Symone was right; it was all over.

That's when it happened. With the joy going through her and Symone's contagious laughter earning Madam Pince's glares, Shiloh just couldn't help it. She giggled. It was a small laugh, one she quickly stifled behind her hand, but it felt wonderful.

Symone clutched her aching ribs, her laughter easing a bit. “And you know what the most ironic thing is?” Symone asked, grinning widely. “We didn't even need the Veritaserum.”

Veritaserum.

As soon as the word filled the atmosphere, Shiloh felt herself go cold, Every inch of joy faded away in a mere second. Her smirk disappeared, and Symone's laughter and presence seemed to fade into distant memory as Shiloh could almost see her mother giving her that berating look that she saved for when Shiloh had forgotten something of great importance. How could she have been so stupid? How could she have forgotten? How could she believe that it was all over?

Because it wasn't, not yet.

“Symone...” Shiloh began, her lips feeling numb. She hated herself for ending Symone's joy, shattering her hope, but she had no choice.

As soon as Symone heard the tone in Shiloh's voice, she stopped her laughter and gazed at her friend. She seemed to understand immediately that something wasn't right, because her brow furrowed. “What is it?”

“We have to take it back.”

Symone frowned in confusion. “Take what back?”

“The Veritaserum,” Shiloh hissed, searching around to make sure they were alone. Except for Madam Pince their area seemed clear. However, even the moody librarian seemed to be satisfied that their ruckus had ended and they were now going to use the whispered voices that were required in the revered place called the library, because she left.

“Why?” Symone asked, clearly not wanting to believe.

“Because it's only a matter of time before Professor Snape notices that it's missing,” Shiloh strained, trying to drill the seriousness into Symone's brain. “And when he does, he'll figure out that I took it.”

Symone shook her head at that. “But that's impossible. There are a thousand students in this school. He can't possibly know it's you.”

“He'll figure it out,” Shiloh insisted urgently, thinking about the incident on Halloween and how he'd mysteriously known the truth of that. “Trust me, Symone. We have to take it back.”

Symone blinked for a long moment, her face blank other than for a flicker of exasperation. But it wasn't that exasperation that made Shiloh realize that she had accepted what they had to do. It was the two words that she proclaimed next, the ones that sent Madam Pince hurrying after them with a hot reprimand on her tongue. It was an exclamation that expressed all the distress, all the frustration, all the irony of this entire situation.

“Oh, crap!”




Thanks so much to my betas, Sandy and Joanna!

Also, I figured I should leave a note, because I'm tired of getting asked in reviews. Severus and Shiloh are not going to find out about them being father and daughter until the second year. I'm sorry; I know you all want them to find out, but it is extremely important for me to wait for a little while. However, something will be revealed in the last chapter of Year One that I hope will make up for this.


Chapter 15: Chapter Fourteen: In The Dark
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Chapter Fourteen

In the Dark






Shadows danced, disrupting the red glow of the fireplace and the natural green hue that always surrounded the common room. Shiloh stared at the patterns, the blackness creating fingers on the floor. She let her mind roam with them as they flickered, taking in the familiar shapes, but she didn't really see them. Instead she was mapping out the familiar path to their destination, for what she hoped would be the last time.

“Ready?” Symone asked, as she approached from behind, something clasped in her hand and held so it was hidden by her school cloak.

Their plan was different this time. They hadn't dared going to bed, not when she was certain that three of her roommates would use the solitude of their shared bedroom to their advantage. Shiloh wasn't in the mood for another duel. So when the hours had grown late, she and Symone had remained in the common room until Annadel, Millicent, and Pansy had grudgingly gone to bed and long after it was certain that those three were sleeping, and they were the only ones remaining, pretending to be doing last-minute studying. Only when they were sure it was past midnight did Symone sneak into their room for the cloak. Based on her quick return, Shiloh judged that the mission had gone simply.

Yet, as helpful as she had already been, a thought had been playing through Shiloh's mind since she'd first figured out that they would be forced to go back to Professor Snape's office. She'd ignored it at first, but as soon as Symone had left and she'd been abandoned in the imposing, harsh silence, the thought had only increased in volume. She'd twirled it over and over in her mind, trying to find a reason to stomp it down, and finding none. At the very least, she had to express it; she had to give Symone the chance to back out.

Shiloh turned to look at her, shadows and light taking turns playing on her cheeks. “You don't have to do this, you know.”

Symone frowned and shook her head a bit, as though unable to understand.

“I can go by myself,” Shiloh continued softly, choosing her words carefully. The last thing she wanted to do was offend Symone. “I'm sure I could make it.” She eyed the Cloak in Symone's hand, considering that factor guardedly. As much as it was incredibly useful, the Cloak was Symone's. It wasn't fair for her to attempt to use it, unless Symone offered. As much as she hated it, the Cloak might not be able to come with her today. “And I can do it with or without the Cloak. You've done enough to help me; you don't have to do this.”

Suddenly, Symone seemed to understand what Shiloh was getting at because her mouth moved in a circle. She mumbled 'oh' and nodded her head in understanding...but not acceptance. “Sorry, Shiloh.” Symone gave her a haughty look, a look that spoke of firm Slytherin determination. “But that is not going to happen. I'm going with you. End of story.”

The way she said it grated on Shiloh's nerves, as well as taking her off guard. Symone had never addressed her like that. The point-blank, my-way-goes attitude was something that had always brought out a fighting spirit in Shiloh, and yet, perhaps Symone had reason to treat her like that, to clarify that she was going, wanted to go, no matter what.

Still, Shiloh opened her mouth, but Symone took a step closer, stopping her. This time, when she spoke, her voice was gentle, “We started this together; we're going to finish it together.”

Shiloh tried to force sound out of her mouth, but the words were halfway up her throat when she thought better of it. All that came out was a choked off sound. She quickly closed her mouth, her eyes studying Symone thoughtfully. She tried to think it through. She knew that Symone had already paid her so-called 'debt' in full, but the extra pair of eyes was always a consideration. As much as she thought it was wise for Symone to stay, she really didn't want her to stay. Besides, forcing her to would be like entering a battle Shiloh didn't have the time to fight.

“All right,” Shiloh agreed, even though she added a condition. “But if anything goes wrong, and you can get away, just do it.”

Once again, Symone gave her a questioning frown, wiping away her victorious expression. “You mean, if you get caught when I'm under the Cloak, you want me to leave you?” Though she was just guessing at the idea, it was clear by her furrowed brow that she didn't like the idea very much.

“Yes,” Shiloh said flatly, trying to leave no room for argument; but who was she kidding? Symone would argue anyways. “We have to protect the Cloak.”

Symone opened her mouth, looking ready to disagree, but her eyes flicked to the mantle where a clock sat. The snake shaped hands of the clock were slithering down to mark twenty past midnight. Time was slipping away, and she seemed to think better of wasting any more of it. She agreed, though not in a way that was convincing, “It doesn't matter anyways. We're not going to get caught. We've done this before, and it all went fine.”

Shiloh didn't find that encouraging. Just because they'd done something dangerous before, didn't mean that it made it any less dangerous – not in this case, at least. Expertise didn't count in matters of chance. She needed to make sure that Symone would do this one thing, especially since it was the one thing she'd failed to make sure of before. She couldn't avoid it any longer, because her protectiveness for Symone had somehow doubled. The last think she wanted was for Symone to get in trouble for her.

“Just promise me, Symone,” Shiloh said firmly. Symone raised an eyebrow, skeptically, and Shiloh pressed on, “We have to keep the Cloak a secret.”

There was a pause in which Symone was clearly debating over this information. Finally, she heaved a begrudging, “Oh, all right. I promise.” Perhaps she did see the wisdom in what Shiloh had stated, but that didn't mean she liked it. “If that'll ease your worrying.”

Shiloh wasn't exactly satisfied, not entirely convinced that Symone really meant it, but it was all she could do for now. Nothing more was said between them as Symone threw the Cloak over them, making sure that their feet and every inch of them was hidden beneath it.
Shiloh pulled out her wand, hissed “Lumos”, and started towards the door. Symone was at her side, their elbows brushing as they were careful not to step on each other's feet.

They left the common room behind them and started down the path towards Professor Snape's office. Their strides grew more comfortable as they built confidence that they weren't going to trod on the other's feet or the Cloak's edge. The path seemed easier to be navigated. It had grown familiar, even in the darkness. It seemed odd to Shiloh that something that was so forbidden—wandering in the corridors after curfew—was so familiar. She'd been up to mischief far too much lately, and she promised herself that she would steer clear of it once this had all come to an end. It wasn't good to be well-acquainted with trouble, and she swore she wasn't going to make a habit of it.

As long as she could get past tonight.

It seemed much too soon when they arrived at the door to Professor Snape's office. Once again, it was Shiloh who stretched out her hand and whispered, “Alohomora.” There was a soft click and she rested her hand on the doorknob, twisting it and allowing the door to open just enough so that she and Symone could slip into the oppressive darkness. They rested the door back into its frame without so much as a click, and then turned to where they knew their last destination was. They didn't allow themselves to study the shelves this time around, nor the other, slightly eerie things that seemed to make the night thicker and made fear clog their minds. They weren't going to fall into the trap of his illusory office.

Shiloh unlocked the door to his personal stores, and once both of them were inside, she slipped from Symone's side and hurried quietly to the ladder. She scaled up it, to where she knew the Veritaserum would be, then she stopped. Her hand slipped into her pocket to withdraw the Veritaserum. She gave it one last fond squeeze. It was impossible not to be attached to the object she had thought to be her lifeline for several months. However, she was still thankful to be rid of it. It had been as much trouble as it had been worth.

Reaching to Professor Snape's vial, the one she knew only contained water, she emptied the water into an empty vial. She stuffed that into her pocket and uncapped the Veritaserum. Carefully, she began to pour the Veritaserum back into the bottle, drop for drop, back to its original resting place. She watched each drop drip back into place, being careful with every ounce of the liquid.

“Um...Shiloh...”

Shiloh barely heard Symone's whispered voice, but when she did, her hand gave a small shudder, sending a drop at a perilous angle. Fortunately, it still slipped into the bottle, but Shiloh couldn't allow herself to be distracted again. She couldn't allow herself to think what Symone was trying to get her attention for, for risk of loosing the steadiness in her fingers. So, she continued, ignoring her companion's anxious whispers which were almost too low to be heard.

The last drop seemed to take eternity to fall through air into the vial. As soon as it did, Shiloh corked the vial and slid it into place, not an inch from where it had been centered before. She tossed the empty vial into her pocket. Now, she could find out what Symone needed. She started downward swiftly, into the familiar pattern of scaling down. One foot hit a wood rung; the next hit nothing but air.

There really should have been a rung there, but she must have misjudged the distance because instead of wood, Shiloh only found the sickening feel of gravity. Her hands were ripped away from the ladder as she stumbled backwards, into nothingness. She felt her stomach tug downward, tossed and quake in the sensation of falling. She thought she heard a muffled cry, barely audible. It was nothing more than a distant sound, as Shiloh braced herself. She could already feel the pain as her body made contact with the ground, feel the ache in her head as it snapped against the floor, and could already taste the agony as the wind soured from her lungs. She expected it; she anticipated it; she knew it was inescapable.

But the pain never came.

She felt the thing she'd landed on give slightly under the force of her body pounding into it, but it quickly firmed again. She recognized what had caught her quickly – a pair of strong arms, wrapped around her, protecting her from the floor that otherwise would have met her. She didn't look to see who it was, only kept her eyes closed, forcing herself to continue breathing. She made herself believe that she was no longer falling, and the belief came easy, because, at the moment, she felt quite safe in the pair of arms.

But that moment ended when she looked up into the face of her rescuer.

She recognized those eyes first, the dark, angry eyes that made her blood run cold. The eyes of Professor Snape.

Her dry lips parted, but no sound came out. The horror was paralyzing and even if she could find a way to speak, what response would ever have been sufficient? What words would calm the crackling rage in Professor Snape's eyes? What reply would keep her from the terror she was about to face?

Roughly Professor Snape half-lowered, half-dropped her to the ground. Before she could so much as inhale a breath, let alone attempt to speak again, his hand was wrapping tightly around hers and he was pulling her out of his storeroom and into his office. The grip against her was tight, painfully so, and her breath caught, hating the feel of someone touching her so menacingly, wanting him to let her go. More than that, she wished he'd speak. Yelling would have been better than this prolonged silence.

When they reached his desk, he flung her toward the chair, and she stumbled backwards into it, not questioning his hissed “Sit.”

He rounded to the other side of the desk, and Shiloh was glad to have the object between them. She didn't truly think he would actually harm her, but her head and the fear coursing through her were telling her two different things. Her head said he was a professor and she could trust him; her fear told her no one could be trusted not to hurt her, especially not someone so angry.

Professor Snape didn't sit; he seemed too restless to do that. Instead, he pressed his palms into his desk and leaned forward. Shadows were cast on his face, and she could see little more than his eyes. That was enough of a fearsome sight that she kept her gaze lowered. Worse, however, was his voice that seethed forth lowly, bubbling with heat.

“Why are you here?”

“I-I-” Shiloh forced herself to take a deep breath. The worst thing she could do was fall apart; it would be the end of her. Think, Shiloh. Think!

When she didn't answer quickly enough, Professor Snape demanded again, “I asked you what you were doing here.”

Shiloh was beginning to breathe again, and commonsense was flushing back into her mind. The first thing she registered was she was in big trouble, and little could save herself from expulsion. The next thing she understood was the fact that she didn't know where Symone was. Had she gotten out? Or was she still in this room?

Please, Symone. As discreetly as possible, Shiloh tried to look over her shoulder at the door, hoping that Symone had managed to slip through unnoticed. However, Shiloh soon knew that she hadn't; she was still in this room, because in the corner shadows moved. Shiloh knew what it meant, the distortion, the ripple of what shouldn't be able to move. It was the old Cloak, faltering just a bit. But Symone had to leave, before she decided to do anything stupid.

Shiloh raised her eyes to what she knew had to be Symone's eye level. If Shiloh knew her classmate, then she knew that Symone would be frozen, still staring in her direction. And if she judged correctly, then Symone could look right into her eyes. Go, Symone. Shiloh hoped she could read the silent message. Just get out. You can't get it trouble for me.

There was a tiny creak that was so quiet, if Shiloh hadn't been listening for it, she wouldn't have been able to hear it. However, it wasn't moving towards the door, it was moving closer. Symone wanted to come to Shiloh's aid, but she couldn't. She just couldn't!

No, Symone! Shiloh thought wildly, fearfully, desperately. You promised, Symone. You promised!

As though Symone was remembering that, too, there was absolute silence as though Symone was once again frozen. Shiloh looked about for any sign of her, but all she saw was the door beginning to open.

“What are you looking at?”

Shiloh snapped her head back to look at Professor Snape. She had to distract him. Just long enough that he wouldn't be able to hear the door opening and closing. And if that meant confessing some bogus story, then so be it. “Nothing, Professor Snape.” She paused, searching for something to say, her mind working quickly for some sort of lie.

“Then tell me what you're doing here,” he growled impatiently. It was the third time he'd asked, and by the way his hands were pressing firmly against his desk, there wouldn't be a next time.

There was a creak as door hinges protested, and Professor Snape's eyes traveled an inch as though perhaps he had heard it. Shiloh commonsense was gone now – she didn't have time to think things through! So, she simply blurted out the first thing that came to her mind. “I can't!”

It got the effect she wanted. His eyes returned to her, staring holes into her. Any sounds were wiped away by rage, but Shiloh had to fight back a groan. She was never going to get out of this place alive.

“What?” he snarled dangerously.

There was no going back now, especially since she needed to talk quickly, so the professor wouldn't hear the door shutting. “I can't tell you. I'm sorry, Professor, I just can't.”

Pathetic; absolutely pathetic. What an excuse?! I can't! It was one that Professor Snape would never accept, but at the very least, it got him to use a different tactic.

After a moment of studying her, which also could have been a delay to calm himself, Professor Snape ordered, “Empty your pockets.”

There was nothing Shiloh could do but follow his command, no matter that the content of her pockets would surely doom her. Refusal was her only choice, and that wasn't an option with Professor Snape. Doing her best to keep the fear and agony of what was to come at bay, Shiloh forced herself to stand. Her knees wanted to buckle—they felt like they were made of water—her stomach felt like it was turning inside out, and her mouth tasted metallic from the effort it took to keep breathing. However, she managed to keep her hand steady as she pulled out the two potion bottles, a quill she'd forgotten she'd had in there, in a piece of paper with a few jotted notes. She set them on the desk, then reached her hand back for one last item: her wand.

Before she relinquished it, she ran her thumb over it. She knew what fate would befall it if Professor Snape expelled her. This could be the last time she held it, but she couldn't force herself to think of that, because when she did, it felt like a fist had rammed two separate blows, one in her stomach, and one in her throat. She forced herself to breathe steadily and to put the thoughts far from her mind, or else she was going to throw up. Or cry, but she never cried and she refused to now! No matter if she was—admittedly--more scared and more uncertain then she had ever been before.

She breathed in a deep breath and dropped the wand on the pile of other items. If this was going to be her fate, she would accept it. She grasped a hold on her emotions, hiding them behind a facade of numbness and simply watched blankly as Professor Snape picked up the potion bottles. His face grew darker as he studied them, and Shiloh knew that he was beginning to put pieces together. He shook them, hearing only one that had liquid in it, and he pried it open. He brought the contents to his nose, smelled it. Lastly, he cast a spell on it, as though to be certain of his conclusion.

“It's water.” Professor Snape looked as Shiloh, as though awaiting a response or an explanation, but he required neither. Instead, she simply confirmed what he had said with a helpless nod.

“And why,” he began, a sneer beginning to grow on his face, “were you bringing a vial of water into my potion stores?”

Shiloh didn't attempt to speak, because there was something about the slowness of his words, about the smirk on his face, that told her he already knew. He didn't wait for her respond either. Instead he supplied the answer himself:

“Because you were stealing Veritaserum.”

It wasn't so amazing that he had figured that out. After all, Veritaserum was the only potion that resembled water, and she had been climbing the ladder in the same section that Veritaserum was in. He'd just put the tiny details together and come to the first logical guess. She should have known he'd be able to figure it out. However, he was wrong on one detail, a detail she had to set him right on, because it was the only thing that gave her hope of remaining in Hogwarts.

“But I wasn't stealing it,” she put in as softly and as respectfully as she could. “I was bringing it back.”

The mocking twist in his lip showed how well he believed that, as well as his next words, which were little more than a taunt. “And why should I believe that lie?”

“Because you came in when I was coming down the ladder, after I'd finished whatever it was that I was doing, and I didn't have the Veritaserum in my pocket. I had the water.”

Professor Snape blinked, as sign that he was either thinking or he was clearly taken aback. Shiloh hoped it was both. She hadn't had to think very hard to come up with the response. All she had to remember was what Professor Snape would have seen, and see the things that he—much like herself—always looked for: the evidence in the little things.

Shiloh had proved herself with that explanation because he moved to another direction of attack. “But you did steal it?”

She hesitated, wondering if it mattered to him that she'd brought it back, wondering if he cared that he hadn't caught her stealing, but rather correcting that mistake.

He clearly took her reluctance to speak as a yes. No response was as much of a giveaway as anything. He continued, “How long ago did you steal it? A few days?”

“No.” Shiloh shook her head as calmly as she could. “A month.”

It was not the answer he had been expecting because he blinked, not just once this time, but several times. Then he lifted her vials back into his hand, studying them intently. Perhaps he was asking himself how he had managed not to notice for an entire month, but with the two potions in his hand, he was quickly figuring it out. “You switched the Veritaserum with water, didn't you?”

“Yes, sir.” What else could she say?

“And you knew that I put charms on my vials so that they all had their own separate marks, so that no matter how a like in appearance replacements were, I could tell my potions were missing by working a simple spell.”

“No, sir.” Shiloh had never even supposed there was such a charm, though she swore now that she would research it. It was probably a high level charm, which might explain why she hadn't known about it, but she would like to learn it one day. It would be quite handy to know. But that train of thought was top painful to continue, because it only served to remind her that she might not be a witch for much longer.

Professor Snape seemed skeptical, because he pressed again, his voice strained to tell her this was her last opportunity to come clean if she was lying. “Are you sure? None of the older students told you?”

“No, Professor,” she repeated, firmly. “I didn't know at all.”

“Then how,” he demanded sharply, frustration on his own ignorance showing through, “did you know to change the bottles?”

“Our vials looked different,” Shiloh explained. “I knew you'd notice if I took yours and left mine instead.”

He paused, as though wondering whether to accept it. He did, because he set her vials down and dwelt on the subject no longer. She knew what was coming next, the thing she dreaded most in all the questions, the thing she had better think up a lie quickly for, because the real answer would get her expelled for sure. She knew what was coming, because Professor Snape had already established the 'what' and the 'how'. Now all that was left was the 'why'.

Sure enough, he went on. “Why did you do it? And no lying to me or you may find three drops of the very same potion in your morning pumpkin juice.”

He wasn't teasing her—his voice was nothing but serious--and he wasn't giving an empty threat. Time for such things had long since passed. Here, in the overpowering darkness of his office, she was stripped away of manipulations, lies, and all the games she could have played to get herself out of situations. There was nothing here, but cold, hard truth. She had never despised the truth as much as she did right at this moment.

“I was going to use it on Annadel.” Shiloh forced out the words, and it was so painful to say them that she winced, closing her eyes to keep from seeing his furious reaction.

But all she heard was a small release of air that was something close to a scuff. “Why doesn't that surprise me? It's always Annadel, isn't it?” His voice wasn't angry, at least, no angrier than it had been before. It was flat and sarcastic with some bitter sense of humor. Although, his tone was still as firm as steel, pressing her to continue. “Very well. What was the purpose?”

She breathed out again in a quiet sigh. She looked down to the floor, studying what she could see of the grains. “I was going to get her to confess to sabotaging my potions.” Each word had its own amount of difficulty, because each word dug her grave deeper and deeper.

“And you failed?”

Shiloh didn't even know why he'd taken his time to ask that, unless it was to stretch her already tight nerves even tauter. “I think the answer to that is obvious,” she said as politely as she could manage.

“Indeed.” There was some sort of dark humor in his voice, and hearing the sarcasm only made her jaw tighten in frustration. Did he enjoy mocking her? “One whole month and you couldn't even manage to get three drops of a potion into a girl's pumpkin juice.”

Well, that was a clear yes to that question. Honestly, if he was going to punish her then at the very least he could be decent about it and get it over with. He didn't have to torture her! Unless, of course, that was the only entertainment he got.

Shiloh told herself to be polite, but as she spoke, her voice was bitter and she couldn't hide her exasperation, “Well, it's not as easy as it sounds.”

His lips twisted up into a smirk. “Obviously.” Luckily he continued before she lost all of her self-control and thought up some witty, but incredibly unwise thing to say, “And are you aware that you not only broke countless school laws, but that the use of Veritaserum is strictly controlled by the Ministry? I highly doubt that their guidelines allow for use on an eleven-year-old.”

Did he think she was stupid? Yes, of course, he did. She never would have done it if there had been other options, couldn't he see that? No, he couldn't. And wouldn't he, at the very least, stop playing with her the way a cat toyed with a mouse before the killing? No, he wouldn't, but that wasn't fair. Besides, she had enough. Her last restraint was gone. Her last bit a will power had faded away. All there was was the frustration, the anger, and the helpless situation. So she did the one thing she had been determined not to do. She allowed herself to snap.

“I wouldn't have done it if you'd believed me when I came to you three months ago!” she retorted, fueled on over ninety days of pure torture. “I didn't want to do it, but I didn't have any other choice. My professor wasn't going to do anything, so I had to!”

As soon as the last words exited her mouth, she knew her mistake and she flung her hands over her lips, as though to keep in any other words that might threaten to come out. How badly she wished she could scoop back the words before they reached Professor Snape's ears, but it was too late. He'd heard. She could tell but the hell fire in his eyes.

“I'm sorry,” she quickly apologized.

“Oh, no you're not,” he hissed. “You meant what you said.”

He had her there. Yes, she had meant it, because it was true. Professor Snape not believing her had been the center of this, but she had concluded hours ago that that didn't matter, and she believed it, didn't she? Maybe she did, but everything seemed different now, like a part of her that hadn't truly forgiven him was now pressing upward. She quickly shoved it down, destroying it with logic. Of course, he hadn't believed her. Who would have? He'd simply acted upon what he had reason to believe. And she shouldn't have snapped at him, because it wasn't his fault she was standing here. It was no one's but her own.

“In a way, yes,” she said, struggling with the words. She didn't really know what to say, but she wanted to recover for the horrible mistake she had made. “But you're my professor...and I should respect you as that....which means I shouldn't have said those things.” There were great gaps between her words in which she had to fight to come up with the next phrase, something that would explain all she wanted to say. “And I don't blame you for not believing me...not really, at least.” She didn't really know why she said that, but she thought perhaps it was important. Besides it was too late to go back now. “I wouldn't have believed myself either.” Oh, yes, that made a lot of sense. “I mean...”

It was the first time she had ever recalled being so flustered, but every time she thought, she kept seeing a broken wand, and every time she blinked, she saw her parents' disappointed, angry, yet impossibly sad faces. Every time she tried to recapture the control she'd once held, she kept picturing herself living her life as a Muggle. Her father told her there was nothing bad about it, so maybe she'd enjoy it. But who was she kidding? She loved magic. What would her life be without it?

Unable to stand on her weak legs any longer, she lowered herself into her chair, staring at the back wall with a blank gaze. She tried not to think, because it was too painful to do that.

Professor Snape was staring down at her; she could feel his eyes upon her, weighing her carefully. She knew he was trying to figure out the proper punishment for her, and she knew that one option was clearly standing out in his mind. Then why didn't he just say it? What was his hesitance?

After a long minute, he finally lowered himself in his chair, and Shiloh was a bit thankful. He wasn't quite as intimidating when he was sitting. Also, it might mean that he was ready to give a verdict, but he continued to look at her thoughtfully for minutes that seemed to stretch into an eternity. Shiloh finally turned her empty gaze to him, but his face was as unreadable as her own. They looked at one another for what seemed like decades, but were perhaps only twenty seconds. Neither truly saw the other, each where lost in their own thoughts.

But soon, Shiloh couldn't take the waiting a moment longer. As much as she feared the answer, she had to know.

“Are—” Her voice broke, and she forced herself to take a deep breath. This time, she managed to get the words out, even if they were spoken in nothing more than a whisper, “Are you going to expel me?”

Professor Snape's eyes focused upon her for the first time, and she knew his decision had been made. She closed her eyes, unable to bear looking at him. Once the words were said, nothing could save her. There would be no changing anything, no bargaining, no hope. Just despair. She could already hear his reply now.

Yes, Miss Sanders.

Of course, Miss Sanders.

It's what you deserve, Miss Sanders.


“No, Miss Sanders.”

Shiloh's eyes jerked open. She didn't mind if she looked as shocked as she felt. She couldn't believe he'd actually said it all. It seemed like a dream, an imagination, and she expected him to say 'Fooled you, dunderhead' at any second. It never came. He only stared her with that same intensity, that same seriousness that she was beginning to love again.

“But,” he continued, his tone dark, “you must understand that if I ever find you in my personal stores again, you will be on the train back home faster than you can say Veritaserum.”

A reprimand had never sounded so good. She barely even heard it, but all that kept repeating itself through her mind was I'm not expelled. I'm still a witch! I'm here to stay! The joy from that was so profound that she wanted to laugh, yet at the same time, she felt her arms shudder as every inch of fear left her. All that was left was relief, and then after a moment, there wasn't even that. Just a happy numbness. Her emotions had taken about enough for one night. She'd felt them more than she had for more than a year, and she didn't blame her emotions from shutting down.

“Furthermore,” Professor Snape went on, “you will be serving detention every other Saturday until the end of the year.”

“Yes, sir,” Shiloh breathed, discovering that she couldn't have cared less if she had tried. It didn't mater. Not that she had gotten caught, or that she had more punishment than Annadel, because she was too glad to not be expelled to care.

“You may go now.”

“Yes, sir.” Her vocabulary seemed limited to those two words, and more exhausted than she could have believed, she climbed onto limp legs, returned her things to her pockets, and started towards the door. Only when her hand was on the handle did a question come to her mind, the only one that still held importance.

“Professor?” she asked, pulling together enough energy to say the word and to look back at the professor.

He looked quite annoyed that she hadn't left yet, and more than that, he looked tired. Perhaps he liked midnight adventures about as much as she did. His voice was strained, but tolerant. “Yes, Miss Sanders?”

“In the first six weeks of my detention, will I be serving it with Annadel?” That would have been the worst punishment, the only thing she would have had anything to protest against.

Professor Snape's head jerked back and he spoke incredulously, as though he was astounded that she even had to ask. “Of course not, Miss Sanders. After all, putting you and Annadel together would be disastrous. And there's no reason to punish me, now is there?”

It was almost funny, but Shiloh was too tired to even notice. She nodded, mumbled 'goodbye' so softly she wasn't sure he heard, and exited the office. The walk back to the dorm seemed to take forever, as it took all of her strength to keep her wary legs moving, but sooner than it seemed, she was back in the common room, safe and sound.

Symone was perched on one of the sofas, her eyes staring into the fire. The light of the flames lit up her expression of terror, and something glistened at the base of her eyes. Perhaps they were tears, unshed, unnoticed, but there all the same. Shiloh couldn't decide if they were there, because they disappeared as soon as Symone turned to look at her. No relief coursed through her expression. Instead, it seemed that Symone was staring straight past Shiloh, as though she believed her an illusion. But no, that wasn't it. It was simply because Symone believed that Shiloh wouldn't be there for much longer. She made that clear in her statement.

“I can help you pack, if you need me to.”

She had thought that Shiloh was going to be expelled, believed it so much that she almost knew it. And it frightened her, every bit as much as it had frightened Shiloh. It was clear in the agony written all over her face—in the guilt, in the sadness. Shiloh had no time to identify all the heartbreaking emotions, nor did she want to consider what had put them there—she didn't want to complicate things. All she needed to do was to put Symone's fears to rest.

“Why would I do that? I'm not going anywhere, Symone.”

Symone blinked at her as though she hadn't heard, and then suddenly, it registered into her brain. Shock coursed over her feet, and she tried to stand, failed and sank back on the couch. “But...but I thought Professor Snape had caught you...”

“He did,” Shiloh replied as she made her way to sit next to her, not wanting to stand on her exhausted legs a moment longer. “And I have detention until end of term.”

The sadness was back in Symone's eyes, and before she could proclaim how horrible that was, Shiloh continued, “But it doesn't matter, Symone.”

Symone was silent for a long moment, chewing on her bottom lip. She stared down at her feet, calculating a thousand things at once, trying to sort out the one she wanted to say. “I tried to warn you about Snape, but....”

The guilt was evident in her eyes, and Shiloh wanted more than anything to ease it. “I know, Symone.”

“And I wanted to stay with you. I wanted to be with you, and...”

“I know.”

And she did know. She hated it, that Symone had grown to care about her so much, when they could never be friends. And yet, she didn't hate it, because that kind of loyalty was precious, the kind she didn't deserve. For tonight, though, that didn't matter. All that mattered was what Symone had done. Shiloh's gratitude was indescribable, and it went deeper than she knew a feeling ever could. And it could only be released in two words.

“Thank you.”

Symone gave her a look, one that conveyed understanding, but perhaps not acceptance. Because she wasn't satisfied, she was happy. It was clear in her eyes and in her actions as she suddenly stood, paced a few steps, then turned back to look as Shiloh. “But it didn't matter, Shiloh. Going after the Veritaserum didn't change anything.”

Shiloh thought she could understand her emotions. She felt worthless that all she had tried to help Shiloh with had been in vain. She felt disappointment in her own failure and agony that the three months of torture given Shiloh had been for nothing. Shiloh had felt those emotions too, but she was supposed to. Symone wasn't. Because nothing Symone had done have been a waste. She had repaid her 'debt' ten times over, and knowing that someone cared so much about her, had done Shiloh a lot of good. Even if it would soon be just a memory. Even if all of it would fade away after a time.

“I know. But you're wrong; it meant something.” Symone frowned, skeptically, and Shiloh thought of the only thing that would convince her. “It was quite an adventure, wasn't it?”

Unwillingly, the corners of her lips danced upward, and she gave a tiny half-laugh, half-scoff. “Yeah, it was.”

She came to sit beside Shiloh, once again serious. She wasn't quite ready to let to go again, not enough to truly smile or laugh. Not if she was going to risk being disappointed. It hurt too much to have such happiness crushed. So, hesitantly, fearfully, she asked, “Is it really over, Shiloh? Is all of it over?”

Shiloh thought it over, the highs and lows. The times they been disappointed and the times they'd rejoiced. The time they were ready to give up and the determination that had kept them going. Because all of that, depending on her answer, would come to an end, the good and the bad. It was worth it, losing the good if she lost the bad, too. Wasn't it?

But it didn't matter, because no matter what, she knew the answer.

“Yes, Symone, it is. It's all over.”

Chapter 16: Chapter Fifteen: Nothing But the Truth
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Chapter Fifteen

Nothing But the Truth






Her hand stopped moving in its familiar pattern, and she stared downward at her own eyes. They gazed up at her, deep and thoughtful. She studied her reflection nonchalantly. Her hair was pulled back, or at least it had been. Right now, it was doing nothing more than clinging halfheartedly to the ribbon while most of it was falling inharmoniously about her face. Her face was whiter than usual, probably from having to wake up far too early to scrub hallways for Filch. Professor Snape had left him in charge of today's detention—her last day of detention.

She wasn't truly thinking about her ratty appearance, or that Filch would be pleased that the floors were so shiny that she could see herself in it. Instead, she was thinking; just thinking. About the past and the present and what could soon be. Most importantly, she was thinking about what had just occurred, the thing that chilled her to the bone.

He tried to come back. He's not dead.

She felt a shiver rotate down her spine, and she leaned back onto her heels, yanking on her left collar to make sure that every inch of her shoulder was hidden. The rumors were going around the school, about Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and the Philosopher's Stone. But those things had only been mentioned briefly. What they really talked about was Harry Potter and You-Know-Who.

It had been so long since Shiloh had heard people speak about the man who often haunted her darkest of thoughts and her worst of fears. When Symone had told her about the rumors, Shiloh had done her best not to show any reaction but interest. Not horror, not fear, not anything that would show she was nothing more than what everyone else was: a skeptic. The Slytherins thought it was a joke. A first year facing the darkest wizard—who just happened to be dead—and coming out with nothing more than a few scrapes! It was a laughable notion to them, and Shiloh wanted to laugh at it too. She didn't want to believe it; she wanted to believe he was dead.

Then again, she'd never believed that such a powerful wizard could ever have been vanquished by an infant, so it wasn't a great stretch to believe that, as ghost, spirit, or something darker, You-Know-Who lived. If she believed that, it wasn't so impossible to believe that he had tried to come back using their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.

It scared her, more than she knew she could be, because it brought up possibilities that she could only imagine. What would happen to her when he came back? The answers to that were endless, and none of them seemed exactly promising.

However, in the end, he hadn't managed to come back, and for that, whether it had been Potter's doing or someone else's, she was grateful. Maybe this would be the end of it. Maybe he was gone for good this time. But believing that seemed as strange as believing a one-year-old could have defeated him in the first place. Besides, Shiloh was tired of hoping for things that could never be. She wasn't going to let her guard down about this one.

She forced herself not to think about it any longer. Dwelling on matters wasn't going to change anything, and it certainly wasn't any help to her. So, as she picked up her scrub brush and moved to the last section of unwashed hallway, she set her mind to other things. She let it pick the first harmless topic it came to. Like the House Cup.

Slytherin had been so close this year; they'd even thought they'd won for a while. They'd had a huge celebration in the common room, and she'd been so happy with the victory, It was her dream to win the House Cup. She could finally use it to prove to her parents that if the Slytherins could win this, then they must be doing something right.

But she should have known it was too good to be true. No sooner had the Slytherin began having a second celebration of gobbling down the end of year feast when Professor Dumbledore had desired to take it all away.

She had supposed the points were fair, even though it was slightly unnerving that the so-called 'heroic' trio had broken countless school rules, endangered their lives and the lives of the other students, and failed to have a single point taken from them. If she, or any Slytherin, had done the same thing, Professor Snape would have had them expelled.

Yet, the Gryffindors were rewarded for their recklessness, because overall it had admittedly been a good deed. Why then did Dumbledore have to wait so long to take the Cup from them? Didn't it occur to him that a notice would have been a lot easier to take than open humiliation in front of the entire school? Or did he just not consider that the Slytherins cared about their victory – and would be hurt greatly that they'd lost it?

Shiloh switched her thoughts quickly. She didn't know if the accusations were fair or not. It was just how she felt. The House Cup had meant so much to her. But it didn't matter now. What was done was done, end of story.

Shiloh let her thoughts go to other things, things farther back in the year. She'd been doing detentions much like this since she'd been caught. Each one had been slightly different. One detention she was scrubbing toilets, the next, she was writing lines. At least she had never been doing the same boring thing over and over again, and she really didn't mind the punishments. They gave her time to think, to plan out her school work, and to debate about the things she'd learned in class that week.

The only punishment that had truly stung was the punishment her parents had sent in the form of a Howler. Professor Snape had never mentioned that he'd be writing to her parents, but she had known to expect it. Still, no matter how much she had braced herself for the shouts of her father and mother, she had never really been ready for it. Howlers were a common thing for the Slytherins, and she was used to the sound of them going off in the common room, but never before had her parents' voice screamed through them. The words We're so disappointed in you were still ringing in her ears.

Failing them was the only thing she'd ever minded about this situation. She'd wanted to make them proud this year, to show them that Slytherin was all right, but she'd done quite the opposite. It made her feel queasy to think of, but it was true, it was life, and she would have to deal with it that summer as they continued her punishment.

At least she'd gotten grades that would at least make her book-smart Ravenclaw mum smile. Shiloh had managed to make up for all her other potions and had gotten back into the habit of brewing the potions to perfection. However, this time she wasn't doing it for Professor Snape. Maybe a time would come when she would be able to impress him, but that wouldn't be this year. So for the rest of the term, she'd brewed potions for herself, getting them perfect because she held the expectations for herself and because she was simply thankful to be able to make them without great disturbances.

Then, of course, there were the exams. Detentions on half of her Saturdays had taken away an opportunity to study, but she had still found plenty of time to pour through the books. A lack of a social life tended to help in the areas of study. Going into the exams she had had a mixture of confidence, excitement, and a touch of apprehension. She hadn't wanted to do poorly, because then her parents would surely go from disappoint to disgust. Today, they had gotten the scores back, and Shiloh had been able to check hers on the break she was given for breakfast.

She'd passed by a considerable mark. She'd scored top of the Slytherin first year class and managed to be along the top five of all the first years. However, those were the overall scores, and in her potions by themselves, she had scored the highest, just a few points above Granger.

It didn't make her feel as proud as she thought it would, but she was satisfied, because she knew her parents would be happy. At least, they would think that she'd managed to do one thing right this year.

Shiloh gave the section of floor one more scrub, until she began to see her own gaze in it. She tossed the brush back into one of the buckets of water, and it landed in it with a splash that sent tiny droplets onto her robes. Shiloh didn't care; she was soaked anyways. It took her a while for her to stand. After so long of being on her knees, they were locking in place, and her back had a dull throb pressing through it. She ignored the ache as she placed her bare feet under her. She'd abandoned her shoes in another hallway when she'd found out what she was going to do. She didn't want to be tracking her dirty shoes on her clean floor.

Now, all she had to do was depose of the dirty water, and she was done. The thought of dry robes, a comfy bed, and a good book was sorely tempting. Shiloh bent and wrapped her hands around the two buckets. Pain soared through her palm and up her arm, and she unbent her fists, bringing her hands up to study them. The skin was red from strain and from lye, her fingers were wrinkled from too much time in the water, and a blister was forming on the side of her thumb. She would have to rub one of her potions on it when she got back to her room, but she couldn't do anything about that now.

She wrapped her hands in the loose fabric of her robes, and then circled the makeshift glove around the handle, so that the metal wouldn't press into her tender hands. Shiloh then lifted upward, gritting her teeth against the exertion. She tried to walk forward, but the weight of the buckets made her feel unbalanced. One knee buckled, causing her to jiggle unsteadily just enough that one bucket tilted, splashing her with a large amount water onto her thigh. She gritted her teeth in frustration and let the buckets slip back to the ground. Was any of this going to be easy? She hissed out a growl of frustration.

“Do you need help?”

The voice was only slightly familiar, but somehow, Shiloh found it unmistakable. She refused to turn; she didn't even dare look. Because there was simply no way that he could have offered to help her.

Of course, there was no option but to look, so slowly, taking a deep breath, she swiveled at her hips to look behind her. There he stood, just like he had at the beginning of the year when he saved her music box. It was the same kind look, the same easy smile and dancing eyes. All of it was the same, but yet she continued to stare at him and the identical image of him standing at his side. She couldn't believe he was there, but the more she looked, the more she realized that she wasn't imagining things and she wasn't crazy.

George Weasley really was standing there.

She continued to watch as George and Fred exchanged a questioningly look, and only then did realize that, yes, they very much wanted her to respond to George's question. She'd been standing there, staring at them blankly for far too many seconds; she must look like a complete oaf. She opened her mouth quickly, trying to force out sound but none came. Say something, Shiloh! she ordered herself. Before they think you're even more of an idiot.

She tried again. “I...” Brilliant, Shiloh! That helps loads! she thought to herself, resisting the urge to growl in frustration. Honestly, it's just a boy!

She felt more collected now, and she was too irritated to allow herself to slip up again. She took a deep breath, prepared to answer that yes, they could help her, and thanks for offering, and then...

“It's all right. I can help her.”

Shiloh blinked in surprise, closed her mouth, and looked to see Symone approaching behind George. Fred and George turned to glance at Symone as well, as though wondering where she'd come from, but after a moment, they clearly decided that it didn't matter, because they shrugged in unison. If she wanted to help Shiloh then that was just fine with them; they didn't have to help her after all.

“All right, then.” Without another word, they both turned and jogged back the way they had come, their movement light and springy. Shiloh watched them going, not really knowing why she was letting her eyes linger upon them as they made their way to the end of the hall. Before they disappeared from sight, George—Shiloh was sure it was George—lifted a hand over her shoulder in a silent farewell.

When they were gone, Shiloh swallowed hard and reluctantly turned to face Symone. She couldn't explain why she felt as though she wished that Symone had kept her distance, but that made little sense. Fred and George hadn't needed to help her; she probably should have refused anyways before she made a fool out of herself. There was no reason to be angry with Symone, because it was just her helpful nature getting the best of her.

Shiloh hadn't spoken to Symone very much since the night she'd gotten punished. It was time for them to put aside the make-believe and go back to the way things that they had been before the Veritaserum episode. So, Shiloh had once again pulled away from her, and after a few weeks, Symone had begun to do the same. It was clear Symone didn't understand why this was happening, but she accepted it. So here they were, nothing more than helpful acquaintances.

Shiloh heaved her bucket upward with two hands, and beside her, Symone did the same. No sooner had they gone a few steps then they heard uproarious and mocking laughter. Confused, they turned to look, expecting to find someone who had tripped on the wet floor or something humorous like that. Instead all they found were the three people Shiloh could do without ever seeing again.

Pansy, Millicent, and Annadel were leaning against a wall to support their shuddering frames as they giggled powerfully. The three had been doing their best to get revenge on her since they'd been caught. At least they'd gone back to the dirty and predictable things, like calling Shiloh's father a Mudblood and using every opportunity they had to make Shiloh's life miserable. Just as they were trying to do now.

“What's so funny?” Symone demanded, her anger showing that she at least had some idea what – or who—they were laughing at.

Shiloh hid back a groan. She should have known Symone would have gone off. Shiloh wouldn't have given them the satisfaction and would have simply strolled away. However, it was too late now. She wasn't going to abandon Symone to these jackals.

“You,” Millicent said through her laughter that sounded like a horse's squeal.

“You look like servants,” Pansy explained, with a large, girlish giggle.

Now it was Annadel's turn, and Shiloh had to wonder how it was possible for someone to laugh and snarl at the same time; Annadel was managing it expertly. “Which is quite ironic, because it's just what Halfbloods like you should be. I'm glad you're good at scrubbing floor, Sanders. Your mother must have taught you that. After all, it's the only thing she's good for.”

Shiloh had a few retorts for that one, most of them including a hex right to the nose. The only thing that stopped her was Symone's hand which had circled around Shiloh's wrist, silently restraining her and drawing her to look at Symone.

A smile was etching across her lips, but Shiloh couldn't see anything amusing about this entire situation. Although...was that mischievousness Shiloh glimpsed in her eyes? Yes, most certainly. She knew that smile, the one Symone always had when she was up to something.

Still smiling, Symone's eyes went down to the bucket in her hand and then to Annadel. Just her eyes, nothing more, but as though Shiloh had read her mind, she knew what Symone wanted. Brilliant, Symone. Shiloh let her lips twitch, showing that she understood.

Symone grinned and looked back at Annadel. “You know what else is funny?”

The trio went silent, Millicent looking confused, Pansy still smiling, but Annadel looking suspicious. She had a right to, even if she didn't notice that Symone and Shiloh were slipping their free hands beneath their buckets.

“What's that?” Annadel snapped skeptically.

“This!”

With a mighty heave, Symone and Shiloh brought their buckets forward. A large spray of filthy water shot through the air. Annadel, Pansy, and Millicent's face froze in horror. And then...

Cla-splash!

The water fell right on their heads.

Three voices began to scream in horror as they flung out their arms, shaking droplets from their soaked sleeves. Their hair clung to their faces and their robes were pressed to their skin. Annadel looked shocked, her mouth gaping and trying to form sound; another scream, an insult, anything, but she failed. Pansy was making sounds that were more like sobs than yells. Millicent looked fiendish with anger and began to crack her knuckles.

In unison, Symone and Shiloh grinned and waved their fingers at them mockingly, before they turned and fled down the halls, their empty buckets swinging limply at their sides.

They held in their joy and laughter while Shiloh collected her shoes and reported to Filch. During the time, the two refused to look at one another. The one time that Shiloh made the mistake of looking Symone in the eye, Symone snorted a laugh, but quickly fell quiet when Filch gave her a stern eye. They didn't do it again, for fear that if they looked at each other, they would burst out laughing. It would be laughter that they wouldn't be able to explain to the man with no humor, and they didn't want to scrub more floors for suspicious behavior.

Eventually, he dismissed Shiloh and they jogged side by side all the way back to their dorm room. Once there, Symone could no longer help herself. She burst into laughter, leaning against the door to support her knees as the giggles shook her entire body.

“Did you see the look on their faces?”

Symone's laughter was pure and clean and as contagious as it always was, and Shiloh felt the delight bubble within her. Her lips parted in a few, rare giggles. She couldn't help it, because the look of the three soaked girls was replaying itself in her mind and that look that spoke of perfect shock and horror had been priceless! Mostly, though, Shiloh simply smiled. She listened to Symone's heartfelt laughter and enjoyed what she knew would be the last moment that they shared, enjoying life and bliss, for two months, if not forever.

Shiloh's smile disappeared. She watched as Symone's laughter ebbed away, and then, still grinning, Symone walked a few feet forward, towards her bed. On the way, she began to speak, “It feels strange to be going home.”

Her tone was light, but her message was solemn, exactly what Shiloh had been feeling as well.

Symone turned around, to smile at Shiloh. “You have to promise that you'll write me this summer.”

The blow landed like a fist in her stomach, spreading agonizing guilt through her gut and turning her insides cold. Didn't Symone understand what Shiloh had silently been trying to tell her since the beginning of the year? They couldn't be friends; couldn't Symone see that? Shiloh had thought she had seen it, but now she knew better. Looking into Symone's eyes that were filled with hope and certainty, Shiloh was convinced that Symon hadn't gotten the message. Now, Shiloh had no choice but to spell it out for her, but it would be so hard, because in the process she would do something that she hadn't wanted. She'd hurt Symone.

Forcing herself not to feel, not to think, not to do anything that would allow the pain to come, Shiloh opened her mouth. “No, Symone. I won't write you, because we're not friends.”

It wasn't hurt that flashed across Symone's face; it was anger, fierce, hot anger. It raged through her eyes, making them crackle, but Shiloh didn't feel fear. All she felt was guilt, even when Symone surged towards her so quickly she had no time to brace herself. Symone threw her hands into Shiloh's shoulder, shoving her against the door.

“What is wrong with you?” she yelled, only inches from Shiloh who was now pinned. “Every time I try to get close to you, you run like some frightened chicken!”

Shiloh didn't like being trapped and instincts made her duck away from Symone, squeezing around her so that Symone had to turn to face her. “I thought you understood,” Shiloh tried to reason calmly, tried to lessen the blow for Symone. “I thought you accepted it.”

Symone growled lowly, “If I hadn't considered you my friend, do you honestly think I would have helped you with the Veritaserum?”

The unexpected retort made Shiloh's knees feel like they had the substance of water. She caught the nearest bedpost to keep herself from hitting the floor. That couldn't have been the reason; it wasn't! “You said that was because you wanted to repay your debt.”

Symone threw up her hands, looking frustrated enough to start pulling chunks out of her own hair. “I only told you that because I knew it was the only way that you were going to let me help you. Honestly, Shiloh, I thought you were smart enough to figure that out.”

Yes, perhaps Shiloh should have been able to see it. All the signs had been there, proving that, debt aside, Symone cared about Shiloh. However, Shiloh had wanted to forget that, to think that the friendly feelings would fade, and they could go back to being just plain acquaintances. She hadn't seen the truth, because she hadn't wanted to see it. Besides, she had never imagined that Symone could know enough about her to manipulate her so well. But she should have known that as un-Slytherin as Symone could sometimes be, the fierce cunning was there.

“But...” Shiloh struggled. She had to remind herself that whatever reasons Symone had had, it didn't change anything. It was horrible, yes, but she couldn't help it. She wished things could be different, but they couldn't. Shiloh was still apart of something Symone hated. “Symone, listen to me. We can't be friends!”

“Why not? I don't understand!” Symone snapped back, her anger starting to turn into desperation, the pain beginning to push through the barriers. “Dang it, Shiloh! What have you got to hide?”

How could Symone ever possibly know that Shiloh was hiding something? Could it be so obvious? Shiloh felt fear and confusion, two emotions she hated more than anything. The feelings began to morph into anger. Who was Symone to ask her what she was hiding, when everyone had secrets? Who was she to demand an answer, when Symone clearly hid things of her own?

“Let's talk about hiding, shall we?” Shiloh hissed lowly, her tone as nasty as it would be if she was talking to Annadel.

Symone blinked, shock and horror beginning to etch lines on her face. Still, Shiloh couldn't help it, couldn't think reasonably, because she was too angry; she was too scared.

“How about how you, who loves her family so much and has never mentioned her so-called 'accountant' of a father? What reasons behind that, huh?”

Symone gasped, a hand flying to cover her lips in shock. She stumbled back a few steps, pain written clearly on her face. Seeing the pain, she couldn't bear it. A mirror of the pain shoved through her, and she couldn't watch Symone anymore. She couldn't stand and witness the aftermath of what she had caused. So, she turned around, taking a few shaky steps toward her bed. She closed her hand around the bedpost, forcing herself to breath, forcing the emotion to leave. She'd get through this. They both would.

“My dad's in a Muggle prison.”

Shiloh jerked her head around in surprise, staring at Symone. The anger was back in Symone's eyes, but this time Shiloh didn't think it was all meant for herself. Symone's pain was there too, but it had very little to do with the blows that Shiloh had inflicted, and very much to do with the scars that were already on her heart.

“I don't know if he's accountant, or what he does, really.” Symone was looking down at the floor, and her hands were fists as she fought for each word. “But whatever he did, he was in charge of selling something, and he sold something that didn't belong to him. I don't know why he did it, but he did, and they took him to jail.”

Shiloh could do nothing but stare at her, feeling sympathy, pain, horror. All of it for Symone.

“My mum hasn't been the same since the Muggle police took him.” Her voice was going softer, full of more emotion, as she shivered from some inner cold. “Bran's doing all right, and Sherry says that that it's good riddance to bad rubbish. But Adrian – he used to be well-behaved and got in little trouble—as little as any Slytherin could. We used to be good friends, but he changed after that. Started hanging out with the wrong crowd, started drinking, started dating the worst kind of girls, and started hating me. And me, well...”

She could no longer stand, and she slid onto her bed, her elbows on her knees, but her hands reaching upward in exasperation. That was when Shiloh noticed the tears, the ones that hadn't quite left her eyes, the ones that were about to overflow.

Symone's next words came out quickly, half-sob, half-scream, “I haven't seen my dad in two years!”

She swiped angrily at the tears, trying not to cry, but in pain nonetheless. Shiloh was frozen in place, watching her, tormented for her. What kind of a man could ever do this to his child? How could he do something so stupid that would lead to him being taken from a child who had clearly loved him the way that he didn't deserve to be loved?

Who was Shiloh to talk? After all, what he had done to Symone had not been so different than what she had done. She'd been selfishly unwilling to take a chance to keep the tenderhearted girl from a word of pain. She'd selfishly hurt the girl who had cared for her—grown to know her—the way that almost no one else had.

Shiloh swallowed hard, wondering if she was really considering what she thought she was considering. The truth would only make her lose Symone, wouldn't it? Then again, looking at Symone now, Shiloh knew that she had already lost her. That was no longer a threat, but having Symone hate her forever was. But that wouldn't be the worst thing.

If Shiloh let the opportunity pass, she would never know if it could have worked. She would never know if maybe, somehow, Symone could accept her for everything Shiloh was—the good and the bad, but especially the bad. Shiloh didn't know if she could survive that, never knowing. But could she trust Symone?

Yes. Symone had trusted her, with something she had likely told no one else. Besides, Symone had already kept hidden so many things that Shiloh had revealed. At the very least, Symone would keep her secret, even if she hated Shiloh for it.

It wasn't going to be easy, forcing all the knowledge that she had kept silent for so long into a few words. But it was time to try, time to tell it all.

Nothing but the truth.

Using all the courage she could ever possess, she marched to Symone's side. Yes, she was scared. Everything she had come to know was now balanced on the edge of a knife, and she was betting everything for a slim hope. However, Shiloh was determined as well.

“Symone.”

She raised her eyes to Shiloh, her annoyed gaze reading Why haven't you left yet?.

Shiloh forced herself not to notice, because the first words were always the hardest. If she said them, there was no going back. And she was going to say them. “Did I ever tell you I was adopted?”

Symone only seemed slightly surprised, but mostly she was unimpressed and apathetic, even angry. “So what? That doesn't give you the right to be nasty to people.”

“I know,” Shiloh said sincerely, apologetically. She did know. Nothing, not her past, not her fears, gave her the right to treat Symone the way she had. “I know. But—” Her stomach felt like it was being crumpled into a ball. The desire to run was intense, and fighting it took everything within her. She wasn't going to run away this time. I'm going to do this. I'm going to stay. “I'm not the kind of adopted where I don't know who—or what—my birth parents were. I know who my mother was.”

Still, Symone seemed unimpressed. She seemed to expect some sort of joke, some sort of horrible excuse, because all she said was “Try me.”

Here they came. The six words she'd never before had the courage to say. “My mother was a Death Eater.”

Shiloh closed her eyes, not wanting to see Symone's reaction. If she wanted to hex her, fine. She'd take it willingly, but she couldn't bear to see the hate in her eyes, the rage and the disgust. Then she heard it, not an angry shout, a frightened cry, or a snapped incantation. Just of soft, “Oh God, Shi. Oh God.”

Shiloh opened her eyes to find Symone looking up at her, pain and anger replaced by only shock. No loathing. No enmity. Just confusion.

“How...” Symone started, a thousand questions rolling behind her eyes. She couldn't seem to find the right one, the right words to say, so she made a few stuttering noises. She needed more details, and Shiloh knew it. So, she told the story. Her story.

“I don't know much about my mother, only that she served You-Know-Who, along with the rest of her family.”

Shiloh's tone was cool, calm, as though she was stating everything about someone else's life, not her own. She forced herself to think of it that way, and it was easy, for the details were so familiar to her that she could state them as though reading from a book. She didn't let herself think that if Symone didn't hate her yet, as soon as she heard the story, as soon as it sunk in, she would.

“She lied. She knew the Dark Arts. She murdered, and she had me. I don't know who my father is, but he's probably a Death Eater just like her. My mother died when I was almost three. My uncle went to Azkaban, and through a serious of events, I was taken in by the Sanders.” She ebbed to a close, knowing Symone could easier figure out the rest of the story, the one that had led Shiloh here.

Symone didn't even look at her. She just stared blindly at the floor, trying to take all of it. She seemed to be doing a good job, being able to accept it, because she moved past what she knew to ask a new question. “Do you remember her?” Symone finally looked up to her, her eyes seeming to plead for something. Perhaps, she wished for Shiloh to say no, because then it would be as though she was untouched by a Death Eater. It would then become little more than a known fact, not an actual experience, not a part branded on to Shiloh. Most importantly, if Shiloh didn't remember, she couldn't be like her mother, could she?

However, Shiloh couldn't give her what she wanted, what Shiloh wished she could say. Because if she hadn't remembered, if she'd never known, everything would have been much simpler. The pain that was now going through her as memories, feelings, and flashbacks of the dark part of her childhood, flashed into her mind. “Yes,” Shiloh replied, her voice flat, but beneath it was a tremor as a cold shiver made its way through her body. Talking about this was so hard, because it made her remember. And remembering was painful. “In flashbacks and in nightmares. And...”

She struggled for words, as a hand closed around her throat. Saying these things brought up every emotion she wished she didn't have to feel: the loathing, the anger, the hurt. She gave up the fight to speak and fell silent.

Symone stared at her for the longest time; then she opened her mouth to choke out, “Did she...” She couldn't finish the sentence, because a strangled sound came instead.

Shiloh was slightly thankful, because with those two words she knew what Symone was going to ask. It was the one question that she wasn't sure Symone had the right to ask, nor did Shiloh think she had the strength to answer. She didn't have the strength to think about it! Not when it already haunted her in every harsh touch, in every loud noise, and in the dark of the night.

Symone didn't give up so easily. She wanted to know. Perhaps, she needed to know, just so she could be able to understand it all clearly. Whatever reason, it was clear that it mattered to her, because she pressed onward. “Did she...hurt you?”

Something closed around her throat, restricting her breath, and a memory tried to press into her mind. She had only memory, but it was enough. Shiloh wrapped her arms around her belly, not sure if she could speak. But she'd promised herself to tell everything. Even this.

“Yes.” The memory assaulted her again, and this time it wasn't pain or fear that she felt. It was hate, so passionate, so fierce that it lit her blood on fire. Her skin felt hot, and the rage wiped her mind clear. It stripped her of reason, until there was nothing there but the anger and the truth.

"And I hate her! I hate her for hurting me. I hate her for every, bloody memory where I'm cold and hungry and scared. I hate her for being a Death Eater. And I hate her...I hate her...” She faltered, then pressed on. “I hate her for this!”

Without thinking, she whirled around so that her back was to Symone. Aggressively, hatefully, she seized the left side of her collar and yanked it downward, until her left shoulder was exposed. Symone's gasp screamed into her ears, and she could hear her hands slap over her mouth and the muffled sounds as Symone mumbled over and over, “Oh, dear God...”

Shiloh didn't blame her for her shock; she wouldn't have blamed Symone if she turned in fled, because, if given the chose, running away from it was exactly what Shiloh would have done. Symone remained, though, and soon fell quiet. When she spoke, her voice was no longer muffled, but it still shook. “That's...that's...”

“The Dark Mark.”

Her words were calm, frightening so, but she had lived with the Mark her whole life. It had always been there, laying sideways on her left shoulder. Why should speaking of it matter now? Even though, somewhere deep in her mind, Shiloh knew that if she was thinking straight, she'd be horrified of what she'd done. In fact, she'd never had done it. She'd spent years hiding it, just like her parents had told her to do. She'd been so careful, always making sure the curtains around her bed were closed tight whenever she changed clothes and the lavatory was empty whenever she had a quick shower. She'd obsessed over hiding it until she had developed the nervous twitch of pulling up her left collar, to make sure all the skin was hidden. Somehow, though, Shiloh didn't care. For once in her life, she had done something without over-thinking it, and it made her feel...relieved.

However, now was no time to feel relaxed. Right now, she had to face the consequences, ones that she had not weighed beforehand. She did not think that she had gone into telling Symone the truth with the intention to reveal her Mark, and now that she had, she knew, that if Symone hadn't hated her before, she was going to hate her now. After all, how could she not?

Symone stared at her, long after Shiloh had covered up her shoulder and turned to face her. Shiloh braced herself for the worst, for Symone to scream or to run or to hex her into oblivion. It was one thing thinking that a child was the daughter of a Death Eater, but this changed everything. They both knew what it made Shiloh.

Symone, though, didn't move, only stared at her in shock, her mouth curved open and fitting to make sounds. All that came out was gobbled, unintelligent sounds. After a long moment in which Shiloh stood, waiting patiently and forcing herself to be calm, to face this with her head held high, Symone finally spoke.

“Why?”

It was just one word, but Shiloh knew what she was asking. It was the one question that Shiloh didn't have an answer to. She could speculate all she wanted, but always in the end, she would come to the same conclusion.

“I don't know,” Shiloh said. “It could have been just a tattoo that my sick mother branded me with in her dreams of making me a Death Eater. Or it could...” She stopped herself, not during to speak or think any farther than that, because any other reason would include him.

It was the uncertainty of what the Mark meant that had always made Shiloh fear it and what made her refuse to think about it. Although, the knowledge was always there, the unanswered questions always lingered at the back of her brain. Yet, she hoped she would never know the truth, because at least, with not knowing, she was halfway free of it.

Symone continued to gawk at her, but instead of bewilderment, it was in thoughtfulness. She hardly seemed to be looking at Shiloh, but looking through her. She was quiet for a long moment, and Shiloh understood. It was a lot to take it, figuring out that the girl she had known for almost a year, was a Death Eater's daughter, had a Dark Mark, was a part of a world that Symone didn't want to be anywhere near.

Shiloh knew she was finally beginning to understand this, to accept it, because she opened her mouth, her expression still distant, and said softly, “And that's why we can't be friends?”

“Yes.” Shiloh wondered how it was possible for one word to be so difficult to say, but now that she had gotten it past her swollen tongue, she knew she had to continue. “My mother's a Death Eater; yours is an Auror. It just wouldn't work.”

Symone blinked at her, as though she had not quite heard. “My mother's an Auror,” she repeated softly, more to herself then anything. She was once again staring down at the floor, dragging her foot in the direction of the grain. Finally, she looked back up at Shiloh and asked, innocently, “What's that got to do with anything?”

How was that possible?! Shiloh had just finished explaining everything, yet Symone didn't understand it. It should have been obvious; being an Auror's daughter, Symone knew everything about Death Eater's and their world, yet the idea hadn't latched into her mind. Continuing this was so hard. Why did Symone insist on making it hard when they should be agreeing to spend the next six years avoiding one another?

“Didn't you hear me?” Shiloh asked, her voice a bit rougher than she intended. She couldn't help it; this was so hard that she was getting exasperated. “My mother's a Death Eater.”

“I heard you, Shiloh,” Symone said softly.

Clearly she hadn't or she would understand this, so Shiloh pressed on. “I highly doubt your mother would approve of you hanging out with the likes of me.”

“The likes of you,” Symone parroted again, her lips barely moving as she tried to latch the words in her mind. As soon as she had understood what Shiloh had said, it dawned on her face like one waking up far too suddenly. She opened her mouth and said, flatly, “Oh.”

Oh. That was it? Shiloh looked at her, as Symone turned from her state of shock to something completely different, something like the Symone that Shiloh knew her to be. The fire returned to her eyes, and her jaw latched taut. Shiloh knew that look well. Symone was accepting something; she was preparing for battle.

“So that's what this is, isn't it?” Symone asked her, folding her arms over her chest and meeting Shiloh's for the first time in a while. “Because I'm an Auror's daughter, you just assumed I'd hate you.”

Y es. Shiloh nodded.

“Well, for once in your life, Shiloh Sanders, you're wrong,” Symone said, her voice shaking with a hint of frustration and passion, “Yes, I hate Death Eaters. The things my mum told me about them...” As though caught up in a memory, she gave a shudder, her eyes briefly distant. Then she refocused on Shiloh. “They were evil, Shiloh!”

Shiloh had known she would feel like that; it was the way Shiloh felt too. Their lives, their world, had been filled with dark magic, hate, and murder, and it was a world that, unwilling or not, Shiloh had been a part of—was still a part of. It was something she could escape. Her Mark was evidence of that. Shiloh lowered her eyes to the floor, waiting for Symone to deliver the final blow.

“But you are not your mother.”

Shiloh jerked her head up in surprise. Whatever she had thought this conversation held, it wasn't that. She spent an entire year sure that if Symone had found out, she would hate Shiloh, but it wasn't what she found. Because she didn't see a speck of loathing in Symone's eyes, not even a hint of disgust or dislike. Instead she saw something that she didn't know if she wanted to recognize. Perhaps, it was...understanding. No, it couldn't be. It just couldn't be.

Yet, Symone was continuing, more insistent than ever, but still gentle. “That Mark on your shoulder...that's not your fault. You didn't choose it, and you didn't choose your mother. How could I hate you for that?”

Shiloh felt a hand clench itself around her throat, and her legs trembled unexpectedly, so that she had to once again clutch the bedpost. She pressed her eyes closed as the words Symone had spoken repeated themselves in her mind. You didn't choose it, and you didn't choose your mother. She'd never heard someone say that; it was something she had always known to be true, but she didn't know that anyone could figure it out to. It was why she had felt so sure that she would always be hated for it, and that feeling didn't change. The world would still hate her for that, but one thing stood out in her mind.

Of all the people who would hate her for being a Death Eater's daughter, for all those who would despise her for the world she was apart of, somehow, someway, Symone didn't hate her.

Shiloh slid onto the bed, her weak legs unable to sustain her for any longer. Everything she had thought had been so certain, had been obliterated. Symone knew the truth—the whole truth—and she didn't hate it. For so long, she had lived her life and their relationship believing that, but now that it had turned out to be untrue she realized what a waste it had been. All the times she had shoved Symone away, every moment she had spent making sure they didn't cross the path into friendship, every second she been tortured thinking she wanted something impossible – all of it had been based on a lie.

All the things she ever done to Symone, and she was still standing there, knowing the truth and accepting it and looking at her softly. After all this time, Symone was still hopefully waiting for an answer, longing for the thing that Shiloh had thought could never be.

“Shiloh?” Symone was worried; Shiloh could see it in her eyes and in the way she hesitantly moved forward, lowered herself onto the bed beside Shiloh. Symone continued to watch her, waiting for an answer.

Shiloh's mouth felt dry, and she licked her parched lips, trying to think of how she was supposed to response. There were so many things she needed to say, and not many things that could say everything that she had on her mind. She sorted everything out, until she found the thing she desperately needed to say the most, because what Shiloh knew she needed before she could ever hope to fix the wrong she done was Symone's forgiveness. For the rejection she made Symone feel, for the pain she'd caused her, for everything she'd done and everything she hadn't done.

“Can...can you ever forgive me...for everything I did? I know I hurt you, and I'm sorry. I really am.” Shiloh glanced uneasily at Symone, hoping that it had come out right, that that had said everything she was feeling, that it would be enough to convince Symone that she did regret. Merlin, did she regret it!

As Shiloh watched her, Symone blinked once, opened her mouth, but instead of a 'Never' or 'You don't deserve my forgiveness', she did something that was perhaps the response that Shiloh had been waiting for.

She laughed.

It wasn't mocking or hurtful. Instead, it was the release of everything that had been within her, a parting of the pain and a return of the joy, because she understood what was hidden within the words. She understood that Shiloh was ready to be her friend now. She hadn't been before. She been too scared to reveal all of herself to someone for the fear of being rejected and hurt, but here they were. Symone knew everything and still she accepted Shiloh—the good and the bad, and Shiloh knew Symone, all the little things that scarred her heart. Shiloh was more than ready to go on this new adventure of being a friend.

“Of course I forgive you, you stupid prat!”Symone laughed again, and then she was no longer teasing. Instead, her eyes were serious, tender, and sisterly. “You're my best friend, Shiloh.”

As she wrapped her arms around Shiloh in a kind embrace, Shiloh tensed at the touch, the old habit of it getting to her. Then she forced herself to relax, because if she truly thought about it, the hug felt nice. More than nice – it felt good, to be embraced by someone who truly cared about you and simply wanted you to know, to feel that. Maybe that was what hugging meant, and maybe Shiloh was just beginning to understand that. So she allowed her body to lean into the hug and slowly wrapped her arms around Symone's waist.

You're my best friend, Shiloh.

Shiloh smiled to herself, realizing she had yet to respond, and for the first time in a long time, without thought or weighing of the options, she knew the answer, not with her mind, but with her heart.

“And you're mine, Symone.”




The Room of Records was as quiet and still as death and darkness, but not nearly as gloomy – for this was the place where history lived.

In the place were bookshelf upon bookshelf of scrolls, books and folders –the remnants of students who had dwelt and grown in the hall of Hogwarts. This room held every history, every name, from the time the Founders to this moment in time. It, just like the library, held great knowledge, the very essence of lives that had long since passed from this word. A thin coat of dust covered some of the items, but it did not put a damper of the value they possessed. Instead, it only added to the mystical atmosphere of the place, and gave a testimony of how old such things truly were.

However, it was not the centuries of wisdom waiting to be gained that drew the Potions' master there. He came not for infinite knowledge or to study those who had come before. Instead, he came for one thing: an answer. One that would not be found in a thousand records; just in one.

Severus guardedly eyed his destination, the section of shelves that were set aside for current students. He let the door settle behind him and took a step forward, but something made him falter, perhaps the same thing that had kept him from the room for the past months. Of course, it wasn't as though he didn't have excuses. After all, keeping an eye on Quirrell, Harry, and his other students was a hard job separately. Combined they were near impossible.

Quirrell. The very brief thought stirred distaste into Severus' mouth. The weakling had allowed the Dark Lord to possess him. Severus—and Dumbledore as well—had been convinced that Quirrell had been working with the Dark Lord in some way, and now he had been vindicated. To tell the truth, he would have rather he had been wrong. Severus had always believed that the Dark Lord was still alive in one form or another, but he had unconsciously hoped – as foolish as he knew it was—that that dark Halloween night would have been the last they would ever hear from the monster of a man.

How he had hoped that Lily didn't die for nothing.

Severus shoved the unwelcome thought from his mind, going back to his former train of consideration. Yes, there was no doubt now that the Dark Lord had tried to come back, and that meant he would try again and again, until he was either completely dead or he succeeded. Severus wished for the first, but considered that latter far more likely. If he, the man that Severus loathed beyond all others, returned, Severus knew how his life would be like. He would be a spy, and a spy was a complicated life indeed, one that he had gladly put behind him and had no wish to face again. He would, he knew, if it came to that, because it was the only way to survive—it was the only way to continue to fight for her.

Such thoughts led him to Harry Potter, the boy who had carelessly run off to protect the Stone without so much as making his intentions known. It seemed that the boy had as big of a hero complex as his father, and this time that trait had nearly gotten the boy killed. No doubt trying to protect the child was not going to be an easy task; Severus had never expected it to be.

So, yes, Severus had been busy, and such things seemed to make it impossible for him to make a trip, but he was not so foolish to believe that these things were little more than excuses. After all, it would only take a few minutes to glance into the girl's folder, just to check. He knew, that if he admitted it to himself, the thing that had kept him so far away wasn't being overloaded; it was something within him that didn't want him to know. Because once he looked, he would only confirm what he didn't want to know was true. He would be sure that that girl was his daughter, and he hated the very thought.

And facts were harder to deal with than thoughts.

Yet, there was still the possibility that Annadel was not his daughter, and that small shred of uncertainty had been tormenting him. It was what caused his eyes to linger on the door to the Room of Records every time he walked past, and to eye Annadel as though perhaps her appearance might give some finality. Now, it was the end of the year, and even as he stood here, Annadel was preparing to take her final journey across the lake – the ceremonious ride to end the year. The time for speculation had long since passed. He couldn't avoid it any more, not just for priority's sake, but because his sanity could not take much more wondering.

So, he started forward, this time with determination and moved toward the shelves. On his way, he took out his wand and flicked it, so though sconces around the room flickered to life. The torches provided it enough light to read the names as he followed the alphabetized shelf until he came to the 'D's'. It was not very long before he found Delamb. He took the thick folder in his hand and, scarcely looking at it, he wound through the room until he reached the back of the room, where beneath a lone window was a single, small, slanted desk.

He seated himself into it and set the folder down into the patch of sunlight fell onto the desk. This was the moment when all would be confirmed. There was no going back now, not until the truth was known. He lifted determined fingers to the folder, hesitated just once and for just one second, before he flung it open to the first page.

His dark eyes searched across the place, tearing past the name, the parents, the blood status—every detail, until the one that he needed the one that would tell him the truth. The line that read Date of Birth.

Severus sucked in a breath of air, and the smell of musty pages and dust filled his nose. This was where a lesser man might have slammed the folder closed and fled the room before he had time to consider what chance he might be losing, but Severus wasn't a lesser man. He was brave, brave enough to face something that can be fearsome to the most courageous Gryffindor: the truth.

He let his eyes far below the line. He expected to see July, and he did, right there, but he stopped himself read it again, just in case his eyes had deceived him. Just to be sure. There it was, as transparent as ghosts.

January 21st.

Not July.

As Severus closed the folder, his fingers twitched just a bit, but it was fitting, for inside his calm exterior, he was not quite so relaxed. He had been wrong; the girl who was so much like Ellessa was not his daughter. His daughter was not what he had most feared her to be. It took so long for Severus to accept what he had not dared to hope that it was a full minute before he was breathing again, and when he did began to breathe again, it was with a long, slow exhale. It was a sigh of relief.

A folder appeared in his vision, clasped by a familiar, aged hand. Severus followed the arm upward until he was looking into the face of Dumbledore. Severus could have sworn he had not heard the door open, but Dumbledore had a way of turning up in places unexpectedly, so it did not startle him. Instead, he gave Dumbledore an inquisitive look, gestured to the folder, and asked, “What's this?”

Dumbledore's smiled a bit, but his eyes remained serious, so that he looked like he was telling the truth and the greatest drop of wisdom at the same time. “I thought you would want it; you know, to explore every option.”

Severus eyes went to the folder. He was greatly curious of who Dumbledore thought might be a prospect; who had Severus missed? It didn't matter if it was someone that he hadn't been wise enough to consider himself, because even if he'd missed something, he thought he was ready to explore any option if it was anyone but Delamb.

Or her.

Severus looked up at Dumbledore, hiding his disbelief well. “Surely you must be joking.”

Dumbledore seemed untouched by his quick brush off and only pressed on steadily, in a way that was nothing less than kind. “She certainly fits the physically description.”

Severus stopped himself before he said something foolish. If Dumbledore was only judging upon her looks, then perhaps it would seem logical, but just because a girl had dark eyes and black hair didn't make her his daughter. Dumbledore didn't know this girl like he did. She was disrespectful and had a tongue she didn't know when to check – even if her words did have an annoyingly accurate point. He'd known untrained dogs who had gotten in less trouble than she did. In the end, though, the reason she couldn't be his daughter was not because of what she was, it was what she wasn't. Despite her faults, she was nothing like Ellessa.

No, Severus didn't think Sanders could possibly be his daughter, and he was about to tell Dumbledore so when something outside of the window caught the corner of his eyes. The window provided an excellent view to the front of the school, where children were gathering into carriages and the first years were beginning to gather where Hagrid stood waiting for them. Two first years in particular caught his attention, and he turned his head for a better view.

It took a moment for him to recognize Symone Zell; the other he knew immediately. Odd how Shiloh Sanders seemed to appear in one way or another as though summoned whenever he began thinking about her. There she was now, alongside her inseparable companion.

Severus didn't know why he continued to watch them as they made their way toward the group of first years. He didn't really think of what he was looking for, but he continued to watch them all the same.

Zell had a skip in her step as she moved down the stairs at the front of the school, and Sanders followed after, not quite as enthusiastically, but meeting Zell's pace quite easily. As Zell reached the bottom, she turned to face Sanders, walking backwards. She said something—some joke, Severus imagined—and immediately burst into laughter. Sanders joined her with a giggle, then stopped and frowned as though unsure whether she was supposed to laugh after all. Then she giggled again, this time more sure...and more natural, though it lasted a few moments – a far shorter time then Zell's uproarious laughter.

Severus looked away and turned his thoughtful gaze on Sanders' folder. Every option... He still did not believe that Sanders could even possibly be his daughter, but she was one of the 'options' – not a very promising one, but one all the same. Besides, Dumbledore would never leave him alone unless he looked, and there was no harm in opening a folder.

“Fine,” Severus agreed, as he took the folder from Dumbledore's hand.

Dumbledore's eyebrows rose as though he was surprised that Severus had conceded so easily, but he knew better than to press his luck. Severus had no interest in answering him, even if he had commented upon answering. His attention was solely on the folder, as though he and it were the only things in the room. He settled it on top of Annadel's folder and flipped it open.

His eyes grazed down the page, past the parents, past her name, until his gaze fell upon her birth date. There it was again, the moment before something may or may not be revealed. He did not feel fear or excitement—he didn't expect that he would need it. Instead, he felt a resolve, so he once again took a deep breath and moved his gaze down an inch.

He froze and read it again, doing nothing but staring and reading, staring and reading, just to be sure.

“What is it?” Dumbledore asked, trying to look around the shoulder to be able to see the date, but failing. His voice and actions held anticipation, but it was hidden by his attempt to remain calm.

“August.”

There was no surprise in Severus' voice, just monotonous acknowledgment. It was nothing more than the confirmation of what he had already known. Dumbledore however seemed incredibly disappointed, because he sighed and ducked his head for a moment, his demeanor clearly saying But I was so sure. The sight made Severus wonder if he should press on why Dumbledore had thought that this particular girl could be his daughter, but he never got around to it. Dumbledore was already picking up his head and speaking.

“Close,” he said encouragingly.

Severus shook his head, trying to hold back the bitterness that he could taste at the back of his throat. “Not close enough to be her.”

Her. More than eleven years later and he still didn't have so much as a name for his daughter. Not a name, not a record, nothing but a picture and a birth date. So much time had past, and he was still left to wonder that, whether the girl lived to be twelve or a hundred, he would ever get to know her.

He rose from his chair, leaning a shoulder lightly against the wall and staring out the window at nothing in particular. It had been a long time before he had felt this hopelessness – certainly not this year. He'd had reasoned that if any year was the year that he found his daughter, it would be this year, the year she might come to Hogwarts. Yet, it had come, and now it was gone.

Now all that had left to decide is whether the chances of ever finding her had ended with the school year.

Of course, there were the other schools she could have gone to, and the Heads had simply not given their students close enough inspections. There were also other first year girls that he had not considered yet. There was opportunity left, if he chose to press on, but he was not entirely sure that he wanted to. The constant theory and failure was beginning to take its toll, just like it had so long ago. The doubts—is she even still alive?—were as loud, if not louder than they had been before. There was so little chance he'd ever find her, so now he was forced to wonder if there was even enough reason to fight to find her.

Dumbledore, who had remained silent, perhaps in his own, similar thoughts, now spoke. “Well, there's always next year.”

The sentence was a lighthearted statement, spoken with a shrug, but Severus was not so foolish and not such a stranger to Dumbledore's ways then to think that it was all the sentence was. It was meant as an encouragement, the same extent as 'we'll not giving up yet'. Severus didn't look at Dumbledore, though, because the choice to continue the search was Dumbledore's, it was his.

Dumbledore left him with his thoughts and exited the room with only a half-heard “Have a nice summer” that Severus only nodded slightly too. Severus gaze remained on the window, staring out at the fury of the laughing students as they ran about, but at last, his eyes journeyed to the first years. Was it still possible that his daughter was among them? He simply didn't know and didn't feel as though it was worth speculating over.

Familiar faces in the crowd caught his eyes; Harry Potter with his best friends, laughing about something or other, Delamb surrounded by a group of Slytherins as they whispered conspiratorially, and Sanders, the only one who desired not to talk anyone. Instead, she was staring back at the castle, her expression thoughtful and slightly sad. Perhaps she was sad to see the year end, disappointed that it had all gone by so quickly. That must have been it, for when the first years started to follow Hagrid, Sanders remained, still gazing back at the castle. Only when her friend Zell touched her elbow did Sanders look away, just briefly as she listened to something that Zell was saying. Then she looked back and smiled.

The smile spread up her face, her mouth never parting to show her cheeks and one lip stretching farther than the other. Lopsided that it was, the grin reached her eyes, letting the hope in them sparkle. Whatever it had been that was worrying was long gone, and she let her eyes linger happily upon Hogwarts before she turned and jogged after her friend.

However, Severus' conscious thoughts were as far away from Sanders as they could be. Instead, they lingered on the choice that he had made, the answer to the question that had come to him as it had come to him many times before. As he moved away from the window and took determined steps to the door, he was utterly sure of what he was now supposed to do. As hard and as irrational as it would be, he was going to continue looking for his daughter. He was a Slytherin, and they didn't surrender so easily. He wouldn't give up; he couldn't give up.

It wasn't really that which convinced him. Instead, it was a brief thought that had crossed many minds today. It was the thought that had been stated so encouragingly, so truthfully by Albus Dumbledore. It was the thought that had danced across Shiloh's mind as she had dismayed that a wonderful year at school had ended so quickly. And it was the thought that kept Severus going as he prepared to leave Hogwarts for his rundown home on Spinners' End having once again failed to find his daughter.

There was always next year.

The End of Year One





There it is. Year One is now complete. A whole year has gone by. I hope what I promised to reveal made up for Severus not finding out, and I know, you all probably have a lot more questions, but remember, you can always ask them in the reviews. I just can't answer them. I'm not spoiling this story before it's time.

Also, thanks to my beta, Sandy, who did this so quickly. Also to whoever it was who managed to come up with this title. I can remember who came up with it for me, but whoever did it, I'm extremely grateful. And to my wonderful fans who have stuck with me for this entire part of the story. You guys have been so great!

And don't worry, there are still six more years to go!


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