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.
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
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