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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.


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.


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.

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