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Chapter Eight


The Gryffindor Beaters

 

 

“Shiloh, wake up.”

A hand was shaking her vigorously and a voice that sounded quite like Shiloh's mum was ordering her repetitively to open her eyes. But dreamworld was calling and it seemed only moments ago that Shiloh had laid down her head and fallen asleep. Besides, she was quite comfortable, despite the fact that whatever it was she'd laid her head on was a bit firm, but she wasn't picky about such things. Shiloh tried to shy away from the touch and cling to sleep at the same time, but whoever it was was persistent and kept shaking her. And everything around her was beginning to get quite loud. There was some sort of excited buzz, as though someone had released a hundred beehives around her. She tried to shut it all out, even turned her head over for a more comfortable position. But it did no good. The world of the living came screeching back to her. Grudgingly, she was no wide awake.

“Shiloh, get up!” said the irritated voice by her side.

Shiloh opened her eyes and pushed herself upright. “I'm up!” she conceded in annoyance. “Happy?”

But it wasn't Shiloh's mum who had awoken her, nor was Shiloh in her room at home or even at her school. Instead, she was sitting at the Slytherin table, slowly figuring out that she had fallen asleep beside her plate that was full of food that was, by now, quite cold. Shiloh turned to look at Symone, who was studying Shiloh carefully with a half-thoughtful and half-concerned expression.

“You did it again,” Symone informed her softly, kindly, as though trying to break harsh news to her.

Shiloh shrugged it off, not wanting Symone's concern. To avoid having to look at Symone, Shiloh picked up her fork and stabbed absently at a defenseless egg. It was true that this was the second time that week she had fallen asleep at the breakfast, but it wasn't that big of a deal, only a sign that she wasn't getting that much sleep at night. Her mind was restless lately and refused to shut off, even for something as desperately needed as sleep. As a result, Shiloh was kept up later into the night and the times her sleep was deep enough to actually be restful were rare. The stress was torturing her mind, especially at night when she didn't have books and studying to take her mind off matters.

To put it straight, she hadn't been sleeping well, and it wasn't simply because she was still fretting over the one measly explosion in potion class. No, indeed. She lost sleep at night because it hadn't simply been one messed up potion. There'd been one for everyday this week. On Wednesday, the potion had bubbled over and had splashed on the floor, burning a hole right into the leg of Shiloh's stool and sending her falling to the hard floor. On Thursday, it had sprouted purple, curly fumes which would have been all right if the final result hadn't called for wispy, silver vapors. And on Friday it had filled the room with the putrid reek of 1000-year-old, rotten eggs, leaving half the class gagging from behind their sleeves.

This entire episode had left her with more to endure than hazardous working conditions. There was Professor Snape's angry, disapproving glares and his cruel sneers as he sniped her potion-abilities and took points from Slytherin for 'impossible carelessness'. So far she had lost fifteen points, something that Slytherin as a whole disliked her for. And when one is disliked by Slytherin there is more to it than avoiding angry glare and cutting remarks; there; there was avoiding dark corridors and empty classrooms too. And when she wasn't escaping from people who desired to hex the tar out of her, she was resisting the temptation to shatter Annadel's nose for her snide insults of Shiloh's wits...or her lack of them.

If Shiloh had ever felt a touch of doubt that these incidents were her fault, it was now gone. One mistake was a coincidence. Two was a mishap of shaken confidence. Three was suspicious. And a fourth was an act of war against her. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that her first conclusion was correct. It was why the incidents only occurred when she was momentarily distracted, like when Pansy had knocked Shiloh's jar of dandelions onto the floor and she'd had to go after it, or when Shiloh had been shuffling around in her book bag for a new pot of ink. Shiloh was being sabotaged.

But how could anyone manage that? And why? Who could hate her enough to do such a wretched thing?

Shiloh stabbed the piece of egg with her fork and continued poking the egg savagely to take out all her frustration and aggression. If she very found out who was responsible for the mess she'd --

“Shiloh--” Symone broke through Shiloh's thoughts as she gave Shiloh a quizzical look. “Are you simply not hungry, or did the egg do something to offend you?”

Shiloh blinked down at her plate where her fried egg now lay shredded in a many, pathetic pieces. Stifling a wary sigh, Shiloh set the fork aside and stared blankly at her mutilated food as her mind buzzed with so many unanswered questions.

Symone seemed oblivious to Shiloh's distress or, as Shiloh suspected, she knew perfectly well how Shiloh was feeling, was appropriately concerned, and was trying to take Shiloh's mind off things. Symone spooned the last bite of egg into her mouth and, after swallowing, spoke calmly, “Most of the school is already down at the Quidditch pitch.”

Shiloh glanced around her and noticed that, indeed, the Great Hall didn't have as many students as usual. Still there was a dull roar about, and Shiloh couldn't seem to make sense of why they'd all gone to the Quidditch field. Frowning slightly, Shiloh looked back at Symone. “Quidditch field?”

Symone looked at her in disbelief. She likely couldn't have been more surprised if Shiloh had forgotten her own name. “The first Quidditch game of the season - Slytherin versus Gryffindor...remember?”

It dawned on Shiloh immediately. Everyone had been talking about the game for a few weeks now and there was a whole buzz of bets and excitement surrounding it. “Oh, that,” Shiloh said, with an understanding nod. But once again she frowned as she tried to bring something to mind. “That's today?”

Symone once again looked completely shocked as though Shiloh had reached out and slapped her across the face. She made a sound like she was choking. She ever raised a finger and pressed them dramatically to her throat. Shiloh had the grand desire to shack her on the back, but before she could have the chance, Symone began breathing normally again.

“Merlin, Shiloh,” Symone ranted in melodramatic annoyance, “sometimes you seem like you are from another planet. 'Is that today?' Honestly!” With a grand air of flabbergasted disgust, she threw up her hands, spun around on the bench, stood, and began marching away.

Shiloh knew that Symone meant no real insult in her remark. It was only the dramatic Symone reminding Shiloh, once again, that she was different. But that was nothing new or severe to Shiloh. After all, Shiloh was one of the few in the Wizarding world who didn't believe the sun wouldn't rise without the existence of Quidditch. To her it was just a game—fun, exciting, and a good way to spend a day. But, in the end, it was entirely overrated. However, since Shiloh had nothing better to do today than twiddle her thumbs in an otherwise empty school, she too clambered to her feet and hurried after Symone.

Silently, the girls made a rapid detour to their dorm to pull on cloaks and mittens and other warm clothes. The weather outside the castle had grown frigid and cool, to the point that Shiloh could no longer spend as much time as she wanted to outdoors. She had always hated winter, since it meant shorter and colder days that could only serve to trap her indoors with nothing but the dreams of spring to appease her. It was nothing more than nature's cage and Shiloh had always hated everything that trapped her within.

Luckily, as Shiloh found out as they made the journey from the castle to the Quidditch pitch, her winter cloak was still quite warm and hadn't worn out any since last summer. She wore her hood up to shield her from the wind that would have otherwise nipped painfully at her ears and cheeks. That, along with the knit mittens her mum had sent her a week ago, assured that she stayed protected from the cold. At her side, Symone looked quite warm and cute in a pale cloak with a matching knit hat that contrasted pleasantly with her dark hair and skin. They both were quite ready to brave the cool weather and watch some Quidditch.

They arrived at the Slytherin section of the stands to find them already packed with people. In unison, the two girls looked around for a place to sit, peering around people and standing on tiptoes in their efforts.

“Oh, I knew we should have come earlier,” Symone stated drearily, her voice almost a moan. “With our rotten luck, the only seat left would be the one next to Annadel.”

Shiloh glowered at the very idea. If that happens, I'm standing, she thought dryly.

Symone was still continuing to speak, and Shiloh only paid her half a mind, while she looked around for a seat and tried to tone out the roar of the crowd. She'd never liked crowds or loud noises, for that matter. She never was able to come into a crowd without being coiled like a tense snake or having the desire to bolt. She hated the irrational imagining that she would be attacked. So many people had no right being so close together.

“It would be atrocious to sit by her,” Symone was commenting, as they elbowed through the crowd. Shiloh barely heard her. Her voice seemed small, like music playing in the background. “That girl always disliked you, but, since Halloween, she loathes you.

Shiloh froze. “W-what did you say?”

Symone turned around to face her, frowning at Shiloh slightly. She could have sworn she'd been talking loud enough for Shiloh to hear, even over the crowd, but there was an unreadable expression on Shiloh's face, though it almost seemed like the still half-asleep look someone had when they had in the early morning. Oh, well, Symone didn't always comprehend Shiloh, so she simply did as she wished and repeated, “I said Annadel hates you.”

Shiloh's jaw dropped as her mind toyed with a sudden idea. Of course! Why hadn't she thought of it before now? It was so obvious. Who else hated her enough to do? Who else had sworn revenge? Who else could persuade Millicent and Pansy to distract her while she did the dirty work? Who else sat close enough to sneak things into her potion except for the person who sat in the row in front of her? It was so clear, so concise, so right! And, with a strike of inspiration, Shiloh had solved the case and, as a result, she felt positively giddy.

Her lips twitched in excitement and she felt so grateful that, if Shiloh had been anyone different than who she truly was, she would have thrown her arms about Symone. Instead she smirked and praised, “Symone, you're brilliant.”

Symone raised her eyebrows disbelieving. “You mind telling me what I did, Shiloh. Because, truthfully, anyone could have figured out that Annadel detests you.”

“Oh, no, not that!” Shiloh tugged on Symone's arm so that they were walking again. The last thing she wanted was to make a scene and risk having there conversation be rumored back into the ears of Annadel. As they walked through the bleachers, Shiloh leaned close and spoke lowly so that only Symone could hear her above the roar of the crowd. “Annadel. She's the one who's been sabotaging my potions.”

Symone looked at Shiloh skeptically. “Are you certain?”

Shiloh nodded. “Think about it. Who sits close enough to sneak ingredients into my potions? Who could convince Pansy and Millicent to distract me? Who would dislike me enough to do it?”

Realization dawned clearly on her face, and it was her turn to allow her jaw to fall open. “Of course,” Symone agreed in amazement, but then her face darkened unhappy at the entire predicament. “That little wretch.”

Shiloh only smirked.

Symone sent her a cynical look. “You look unusually thrilled for someone who just learned their roommate is seeking to destroy them.”

Shiloh only shrugged. It was true. Forgotten were Shiloh's troubles. Now that she knew the answer to her situation, she could start finding the solution. Now that she comprehended what was happening, Shiloh was back in control and it was only a matter of time before Annadel was punished. It took all of her power to remain seated, instead of hurrying through the stadium to find her Head of House and report what had happened.

For only a moment, Shiloh wondered if Professor Snape would believe her. She had absolutely no physical proof, but certainly her rational Professor Snape could see that someone with two months of perfect potions could not suddenly start doing so horribly. Surely he would believe her. She'd make him believe her.

They finally found seats fairly close to the front. They settled into a pair of seat that were between a pair of giggly fourth year students who whispered on about the Slytherin Beaters and how quite handsome they looked on broomsticks and a few rumpus second year boys who were so full of Slytherin team spirit they had green and silver streaks across their cheekbones and were playfully pushing on another an growling out bets about how many points the Slytherins would stomp Gryffindor by. One thought one hundred, the other thought an unrealistic 400.

The stadium erupted in cheers and the audience leaped to her feet as the two teams breezed onto the field, on group of seven dressed gaily in red and gold, while the other were adorned in red and gold. As Shiloh joined all the other kids on their feet so she could study them, she thought that together they looked like brilliant Christmas colors—only she knew that it was foolish to join the two teams together, especially seems they probably wishing someone on the opposite team would be murdered with a 'stray' Bludger. Besides, Christmas-like colors were the only thing that had in common. Gryffindor was comprised of both girls and boys, but the Slytherins were all boys. Big and brawny, the Slytherin team like a group one did not want to meet in a dark corridor, let alone in a hazardous game of Quidditch. If they were as talented as they were big, then they would have no trouble taking the Gryffindors.

As the teams took in the air in a blur of color, the already alive crowd began to cheer even louder. The boy to Shiloh's right gave a high-pitched whistle far too close to Shiloh's ear, sending a bolt of pain into her eardrum. Symone too was cheering along with the crowd, booing and whistling along with the Slytherin's wins and loses. Her wild hair bounced around her face as she jumped up and down in excitement. Her joy was exuberant and a wide smile spread widely over her face, making her dark eyes twinkle. Shiloh, however, was silent as she watched the game carefully and tried to tone out the loud noises. Her eyes were fixed on the sky as she tried to make out what was happening, but she could make out little more than streaks and blurs. Shiloh got more from the commentary than she did watching the game. The boy who was announcing the game was clearly biased on the side of Gryffindor, occasionally sliding in a witty compliment toward the red team and slipping out a sly put-down about the Slytherins. Shiloh was unmoved, however. Whether she agreed with it or not, the game was about competition and each side had a tendency to be prejudiced. She couldn't honestly expect the boy to be unattached.

As Shiloh watched the sky, she glimpsed the Gryffindor Seeker streaming forward to chase after some invisible object. A sunbeam splashed off it, causing a golden spark to temporarily gleam. Shiloh recognized it immediately as the Snitch. She watched him carefully, knowing full well that if Potter caught the Snitch, Slytherin would lose. But no matter how much she didn't want Gryffindor to win, she didn't desire what happened even more, for, as all of Slytherin held their breath, a Slytherin player cut before Potter, sending his broom skidding and spinning through the air. The Gryffindors roared in rage and Shiloh felt her muscles tighten as she watched Potter barely right himself.

It wasn't disloyalty to the Slytherins that made her angry: it was simply the injustice of it all. If Slytherin had to stoop to such lows to ensure their win, then they didn't deserve to win. Shiloh wasn't the only one who knew this; Symone's applause had stopped dead and her face was twisting into a annoyed expression.

“That jerk!” Symone said, sending a hot glare across the field at the perpetrator. Shiloh knew that if glares could kill, the boy would be tumbling off his broom.

However, the majority of the Slytherins condoned what had just happened, seeing nothing wrong with taking advantage or breaking the rules as long as they, in the end, got their way. The second years beside them were so much in favor that, when one of them heard Symone's outburst, he became irritated, his already sour face becoming all the more so. He turned to face the girls, and demand roughly, “Whose side are you on anyways?”

Shiloh turned back to face him, stepping smoothing between him and Symone. There was no way he was going to let him take such aggression toward Symone simply because she, unlike him, had a sense of propriety. “The side that doesn't have to cheat to win,” she snarled lowly, dangerously.

Startled, the boy recoiled, jerking his head backwards, but after a moment the boy straightened himself as though to continue arguing, or to draw out his wand and hex her. Shiloh didn't flinch for a second. The boy opened his mouth, but before he could speak he noticed something about the girl that reminded him of someone. Maybe it was the way her black eyes narrowed ever-so-slightly, her lips curled upward in a slight, yet confident snarl, or the way that her words were cool and even, but still fierce. Whatever it was, the boy was shockingly reminded of Professor Snape. Perhaps that was why the boy wisely turned away. It was either that, or the fact that he recognized the girl as the one who hadn't hesitated to attack on Halloween night and the last thing he wanted was to be a dangling spectacle. But, no matter why, the boy was now ignoring her existence and watching as the Gryffindor scored their free-shot.

Smirking with satisfaction and defined triumph, Shiloh looked back to the game, only to see a Bludger headed straight towards her section of the stands, unstopped and wild. In seconds, it was level with Shiloh's eyes about to slam into the seats and the people in them. People around Shiloh screamed and dived downward, with their arms raised over their heads, but Shiloh couldn't move, couldn't bring her body into flight mode. She only knew that there was no time to get to her wand...not enough time. At the last second, she threw up her arms and braced for impact.

Whack!!!

The exploding crack echoed through her ears, but it wasn't the sound of the Bludger crashing into the seats around her, but the sound of it meeting a plank of wood. Shiloh dared to peek, looking through slits in her raised arms. She caught a blur of motion as a broom rider and the Bludger soared away, from where they had been so close that Shiloh could have sworn she'd seen a familiar-looking mischievous grin and a splash of red robes. It wasn't a Slytherin Beater who had rescued them, but a Gryffindor.

Shiloh slowly, tensely lowered her arms. All around her, people were picking themselves back up. Grumbling and swearing, they made a show of straightening their robes. Symone looked quite muffled, too thankful that she was alive to be angry at the Gryffindors, but the two second years looked mad enough to kill, as they cursed beneath their breath, using words no twelve-year-old should know. Shiloh ignored them as her mind toying with the odd event and a suspicion forming into the depths of her brain. The suspicion was ungrounded, with really no knowledgeable proof, yet, she felt almost certain that she had seen that go-lucky grin somewhere other than on a Quidditch pitch. But what were the odds?

There was only one way to know for sure. Shiloh turned toward the second year boy at her elbow, a boy who had binoculars dangling around his neck, and she grabbed a hold of the side of them.

“Can I borrow these?” she asked, but she didn't wait for a way. By the boy's disagreeable look, she knew he would have said no anyway, not to mention demand that she keep her filthy hands off of his possession. Shiloh wouldn't give him the opportunity. With a graceful sweep of her arm, she brought the leather strap from over his head, being careful not to let it catch on the boy's long nose.

The boy barked out an angry protest, something like the furious growl of a dog, and made a lunge for the binoculars. Shiloh smoothly sidestepped his attempt, moving the binoculars out of his groping reached. Shiloh placed the binoculars on her eyes, ignoring the boy's huffs and snapped insults so dirty that made Symone's ears burn. Shiloh zoomed into the sky carefully, watching the blurs or read and green until she saw in their mists a wild Bludger. She followed its frantic movements through the air, aiming itself at random bodies and broomsticks, the only thing on the field that was unprejudiced to what colors the players wore. Finally, a red-and-gold adored Beater flew into view and, with a skilled fling of a bat, knocked it toward a Slytherin Chaser who currently held the Quaffle.

Shiloh zoomed in closer so that she could focus on his face. Sure enough, looking dashing in the Gryffindor colors, the red and gold complimenting his ginger hair, was George Weasley, his flushed-with-excitement face bearing a large smile that told volumes of how much he loved playing Quidditch. It took only moment to locate George's identical twin, sporting a matching, cheerful smile as they both tasted of the victory of the revenge they'd pulled off so effortlessly on the 'bloody' Slytherins.

“I knew it,” Shiloh breathed in grim satisfaction. She lowered the binoculars, but didn't glance at the boy who was still glaring impressively at her. She could feel the heat in his gaze, but she didn't care. He'd get his binoculars back and, perhaps, this would teach him both the art of sharing and the virtue of patience.

Symone was giving Shiloh that tolerant, but confused look, the one she wore when she was waiting for someone to explain something they knew perfectly well Symone couldn't comprehend. When Shiloh didn't explain her discovery, Symone pressed, “Knew what?”

Shiloh glanced at Symone, wondering if she could possibly understand why Shiloh had suspected the Weasley twins. She'd only believed it could be them because she'd never met any other Gryffindors who had such mischievous desires and spunky spirits—then again, she hadn't met many Gryffindors, period. Besides, Shiloh didn't think the boys would take too kindly to her knowledge of Gryffindors, especially since she had stolen his possession. Giving Symone a just-wait signal, she turned toward the boy who was scowling at her and stomping his foot impatiently. She held out the binoculars, giving him an innocent smirk that was filled with absolutely no regret.

He snatched them away. “It's a miracle I didn't hex you.”

Shiloh didn't really trust that it was miracle. The only miracle was that this boy might have felt random kindness, but she doubted politeness had anything to do with this matter. “Let's leave supernatural events out of this,” she replied, her smirk turning into a knowing expression as her mind moved quickly to find the only possible reason a Second Year would fear someone in a lesser year and came to the proper conclusion. “You liked my Levitation Charm, didn't you?”

His friend snickered, and the first boy whirled to face him.

“Shut up!” he growled, but a guilty blush appeared on his face. Next, he did the only thing he could to escape his embarrassment of being a coward. He ignored the girl's existence. With a dignified sniff, he turned back to the game, and Shiloh only shook his head disbelievingly. She could barely comprehend that he could be such a coward.

Changing her line of thoughts, Shiloh turned to her next duty: answering Symone's question. She turned about, grasped Symone's arm, and tugged her down into a chair. After settling into a chair beside her and turning slightly so they were facing each other, Shiloh pointed out to the field and replied, “The Beaters are Fred and George Weasley.”

Symone clearly didn't seem to understand the significance of this statement, or why Shiloh would find anything about it noteworthy, because she pursed her lips together thoughtfully and mused, a bit tauntingly, “So that's who I have to thank for their unkindness.”

“It wasn't mean,” Shiloh disagreed, as her mind mused out the possibilities behind their actions. As Symone watched, she got a far away look her eyes and—what was that?—could Symone see a flicker of admiration. If Symone didn't know any better and if Shiloh didn't conceal her emotions so well, Symone would have said she look awed, dreamy even.

“Actually,” Shiloh spoke slowly, “It was quite brilliant.”

Symone gave her a patient, but bewildered, look and said, firmly, “Explain.”

“Well--” Shiloh paused for a moment so she could chose her words carefully. “I suppose, the Weasleys thought that a penalty shot wasn't enough punishment to the Slytherins for cheating, especially since the fans—or most of them—thought it was so amusing. But, if they did something to actually hurt the Slytherins, they and their teammates could be taken from the game. But there are no rules against scaring them.” Shiloh felt a smirk etch up one cheek as she imagined the crafty way George had swept in at the last second and, with an effortless snap of the ball, reeked themselves up a perfect revenge. Who besides the impish duo could have found the only plot that would fulfill their desires without any ill side-effects? She had to admit—grudging as it was—that they were quite cunning...for Gryffindors. And she found herself being something that was incredibly weird for her to be: impressed.

Symone, however, wasn't, because her gaze only darkened, and she sent a hateful expression towards the sky. Shiloh didn't mind; Symone was just peeved that someone had indeed managed to scare her.

After a moment, Symone turned back to Symone and began to speak, “And you know them...” She paused, waiting for Shiloh to fill in the blank, but Symone quickly remembered that Shiloh wasn't talkative unless she was prodded into it, so she ended her sentence in a question. “How?”

Shiloh gave an absent shrug, because she knew that she couldn't exactly say she knew them. Running into them on Platform 9 ¾ and having Fred flash her underwear to innocent bystanders didn't make them pals. “Our fathers work together,” she explained nonchalantly. “I only met them once.”

There was a moment of silence as though Symone was debating whether or not she should ask more, though it was clear she had lost interest in the topic, because her gaze was drifting towards the sky. The Slytherins were roaring and cheering loudly. Slytherin was obviously doing well. Symone was back on her feet, but Shiloh stayed put. She had lost interest, however, and she was absently replaying Fred and George's stunt through her mind.

“Oh, look!” Symone suddenly cried.

Shiloh jumped to her feet, searching tensely for whatever was amiss. She found it quickly. There, in the sky, was none other than the beloved Harry Potter...dangling from his broomstick.

“What happened?” Shiloh demanded.

“I don't know,” Symone gasped. She didn't take her eyes off of Harry, too horrified too look away. “The broom just started jerking, like he'd lost control of his broom or something. And he just fell off.”

Shiloh watched him, knowing in all her heart there was something wrong—something unnatural. Brooms just didn't start going out of control. It was impossible! Nothing but a powerful jinx—a Dark jinx—could do that. Shiloh suddenly felt chilled, because she knew that was exactly what was happening. Potter's broom had been jinxed, but who would want the Boy-Who-Lived dead? Shiloh felt a new emotion: unease, because she knew whoever was doing this was no friend to her, not if he hated You-Know-Who's conqueror. She closed her hand around her wand, but she still didn't take her gaze from Potter. She gritted her teeth, each second feeling like hours as she wondered if this would be the end for Potter. But, no, it couldn't be! She searched around her frantically, half looking for the attack, half looking for help. Why wasn't anybody doing anything?!

She was about to attempt to take matters into her own hands when the broom stopped its bucking. Potter swung onto this broom and was speeding toward the ground. He clapped a hand over his mouth, and Shiloh heard Shiloh mumble, “I think the stress was a bit too much.” Shiloh closed her eyes, half with sudden relief that whatever had happened was over and everyone was safe—for now at least—and half because she honestly didn't want to see someone vomit.

But an announcement making its way through the stadium and the happy roar of the Gryffindors made her open her eyes.

“HARRY POTTER HAS CAUGHT THE SNITCH!”

Shiloh blinked down to the field where Potter was waving it around. The Slytherins gave a mighty groan. The boys beside her buried their face in their hands, looking like they might sob. Symone looked quite downtrodden, but gave a forced shrug, telling herself it was only a game, after all. Shiloh only folded her arms over her chest and mumbled an unimpressed, but admittedly deserved, “Well done, Potter.” The best team had won in the end; it was always the way games ended.

But, as Shiloh and Symone walked away from the Quidditch field, most of the game was already forgotten. Shiloh didn't speak to Symone, for she was deep in calculation. She made a tally, checked it twice, and knew her conclusion was true. With a Dumbledore's strange warning at the feast, a troll in the dungeon, Professor Snape's unexplained leg injury, and Potter's bewitched broom, it could only meant one thing. Something was going on at Hogwarts. And Shiloh thought it was safe to say that, whatever it was, she didn't like it.

In fact, if she had known what was really going on, it is safe to say, that she would have been petrified.

 



Shiloh gnawed on her bottom lip and tentatively reached a curled fist upwards. She hesitated, her knuckles inches from the wooden door. She hadn't wanted to come to the office, because she had known what that would make her: a snitch. She could still remember how cowardly she had thought Annadel when she had run to Professor Snape to tell him of the events of Halloween night, and the last thing she wanted was to lower herself to Annadel's disgusting level. But no sooner had she left the Quidditch stadium when Symone had begun asking if Shiloh planned on going to see Professor Snape. She had told her that, of course, she had no intention to and the words 'I can handle it on my own', was on the tip of her tongue, when Symone had demanded, “Why not? This is a problem that should go to a teacher, so that they can take care of it.”

“I'm not a cowardly, little snitch,” had been Shiloh's low reply. In truth, she had known that convincing Professor Snape that she wasn't an idiot would be beyond difficult. If she gave up the least bit of hope of getting back into his good graces, she would acknowledge that it just might be impossible.

But Symone was relentless. Without getting angry, she had calmly folded her arms over her chest and stated with wisdom beyond her years, “There's a difference between bravery and stupidity, and you, Sanders, are flirting with the edge.”

After a great deal of thought and considering the options, Shiloh had given in - just so Symone would shut up about it and leave her alone afterwards.

And that was how she had found herself standing before Professor Snape's office door, her fingers inches from the wood surface.

With determination and bravery, she rapped her knuckles against the door. She held her breath, waiting tensely, but there was no call to enter or shuffle of approaching feet. All that met her ears was cool, dark silence.

Shiloh waited patiently, but she could feel those seconds ticking by, feeling lengthy and harsh. She glanced around herself uneasily. It was dark in the dungeon, and so chilly that she could feel drafts of wind through her thick cloak. She wrapped the cloak around herself, keeping her eyes on the corridors and the shadowy corners.

Darkness had the ability to do strange things to people, especially when they were as alone as Shiloh now found herself. Darkness had its own poison, its own way of worming itself beneath the skin and tormenting the mind with irrational illusions and imaginings. That, combined with the silence (the same deep quiet that always made Shiloh's thoughts go wild) made her mind reel extraordinarily quickly).

Her thoughts went back to the Quidditch game, her suspicions daring to come back in the dark atmosphere. Shiloh tired to force herself to stay calm and think about happier things like Fred and George's brilliant stunt. But the jinxed broom kept wandering into her mind, along with the knowledge of what it could mean. She tried to tell herself that she was safe, but she couldn't help but feel unprotected. Could there really be someone in this school who wanted Potter dead? But Shiloh knew better than most that just because You-Know-Who was gone, that there weren't those who were still loyal to him and his memory. And, since Harry Potter was only now returning from Merlin-knows-where and reappearing into the Wizarding world, anyone who was set on revenge would have had to wait until now to get it. The Quidditch match would have given them an easy opportunity, but first they had to sneak into the school. But Hogwarts was supposed to be safe, impenetrable by outside forces. Wasn't it?

But, she felt her heart beginning to speed up with doubt. Was it possible that there was a servant of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named wandering through the halls, hidden in the deep shadows, at this very moment? She recognized the possibility and slipped her hand into the pocket, wrapping her fingers around the wand. The action was more out of her own comfort than to protect herself from some dark wizard, but she failed to feel any calmer. She searched around her as her mind conjured up illusions. A servant of You-Know-Who creeping all the nearer; possibly a Death Eater.

Just like her mother

Shiloh spun around and pounded her fist against the door with new urgency. Please, Professor, open the door. Let me--

But the rest of her silent plead turned into a cry of alarm as a pale hand reached out to seize her wrist and the grasp begin to whip her around. Immediately prepared to fit back, she lunged backwards away from her attack, fighting so hard that she fell hard her rump. The hand released her, and she was prepared to draw her wand and leap back to a fighter's stance, when a cool, familiar voice stopped her.

“Jumpy, aren't you?” sneered Severus Snape as he towered over her.

Shiloh's breathing came in great puffs, but she forced her racing heart to slow considerably and herself to calm. Catching her breath, she denied herself the embarrassment of the situation, keeping away a threatening blush. She had just freaked out over nothing. But, then again, not all her fears had been completely unfounded, had they? Carefully, she picked herself off the ground and straightened her robes.

“Sorry,” she whispered, and, trying to justify her reaction, she mumbled, “You startled me, Professor.”

He didn't show a flicker of sympathy or remorse. Instead, his eyes lowered down on her and danced with impatience—or was it suspicion? Shiloh didn't have time to decide, because in a moment he was demanding, “What are you doing here?”

She took a deep breath and steeled herself. She could tell that Professor Snape wasn't in the mood for length explanation. But there was not turning back now. “I cane to speak with you, sir.”

“About what?” he asked roughly.

Without waiting for an answer or beckoning her to follow, he turned and opened the door to the office. He swept into the dark room. Shiloh followed tentatively, glancing about her uneasily. The office, with its mysterious atmosphere and scent of brewed things, had been something she'd found fascinating, but now she found it eerie. Her nerves were strung out and as taut as stretched rubber. She hated the way she felt as though every inch of darkness held an enemy ready to do her harm.

With some skillful wand work, Professor Snape set a blaze into the fireplace. The fire let out a dim glow of light, chasing away the shadows and the darkness, but also deepening the darkest shades of black. Professor Snape turned around and faced her, his tall frame blocking out the light and turning him into a silhouette with nothing more than a thin line of orange framing him. Shiloh studied him, noticing how he looked tall and menacing and overpowering, but she wasn't afraid. In fact, she felt quite the opposite. She couldn't help but think that any Dark Wizard wouldn't stand a chance against him. Now, in front of him, she felt all her fear slowly disappearing. She felt safe.

“You came to speak to me about something,” Professor Snape pressed impatiently.

Shiloh nodded and opened her mouth. What followed was ten minutes of a prepared speech explaining that the 'accidents' in Potions were not her fault, claiming that she had mastered most of the first years Potions before she'd come to school, and that the only remaining explanation was sabotage. Professor Snape listened, or, at least, Shiloh thought he did, but he never once showed any emotion to her words, as though he didn't hear her or was unable to grasp the seriousness of all of this. When Shiloh accused Annadel, Professor Snape's eyes moved just a bit, but she was unable to identify the emotion that caused it. And when she stopped speaking, Professor Snape was quiet for a long, thoughtful moment.

When he finally spoke, his voice was level and calm, but slow, making it clear he was restraining himself. Shiloh knew, just by his tone, that this wasn't going to end well.

“So you are accusing Miss Delamb of you Potions going awry?”

Shiloh nodded. She'd established that.

“And why would she do that?” Professor Snape asked sceptically.

“Because she hates me,” Shiloh replied without hesitation. She had not explained about Annadel's promise of revenge. Shiloh knew the Professor Snape already knew about the events of Halloween night, but Shiloh was not about to start confessing now. Not only would that get her in trouble, but the lying Prefect too. Not that she really cared only she'd preferred not to get beat up in her common room.

“And you hate her?” It was more of an accusation than a question.

“Yes,” was the truthful answer.

“And you have absolutely no evidence that she's the one sabotaging your potions?”

Regrettably, Shiloh could only shake her head. She'd already explained that Annadel was the only one close enough to sneak things into her cauldron. Explaining again would do no good.

“You know what I think?” His voice was till calm, but it held a dangerous, serpentine note behind it.

Shiloh shook her head. No, she didn't, but she felt it was safe to assume that it was 'you're a brilliant, young girl'.

“I think--” She didn't look at him, couldn't watch his distaste and disgust being directed at her-- “that you and Miss Delamb are both liars.”

It was the second time he'd made that unfair conclusion, but, before Shiloh could untangle her tongue to protest, Professor Snape continued.

“I think, that both of you hate each other so much that you would do anything to make each other's lives miserable,” he spoke, his voice colder than the frigid air, “including coming up with ridiculous stories.”

Each word fell like an undeserved blow across the cheeks. Unsure whether to feel angry or hurt, she felt a mixture of the both of them: defensive. “But that's not it at all,” she objected, feeling her hands curl up at her side. She knew any fight would be in vain and would only lead her to trouble, but she was a fighter and she couldn't help it.

Professor Snape's narrowed, and he glowered down upon her. He appeared intimidating, silhouetted in the firelight and towering over her menacingly. But, no matter if commonsense told her she should be a list a bit apprehensive, Shiloh didn't; she couldn't.

“And, I think,” Professor Snape added. His voice was slower than ever before, drawing out her torment with his snarled words, “that you are childishly incapable of taking responsibility for your own mistakes.”

It was the last straw, the last bite she would take from him. Professor or not, he had no right to be so cruel. He didn't know her, and, no matter how calculative he was, he couldn't see truth if it hit him square in the face. Turning from defensive to angry, she squared herself up. She wanted to saw a thousand things that came so easily to the tip of her tongue; she knew clever words that could insult him just like he'd insulted her, but she knew better. Raising her chin defiantly, she asked, “So you're not going to believe me?”

She already knew the answer, of course, but it was confirmed as his lip twisted into disgust. “You can leave now, Sanders.”

There was no arguing that point, and there was no reasoning him. Professor Snape had the stubbornness of a Slytherin, and battling against him would only end her into detention. Without a word of farewell, she twisted on her heel and stormed out of the office, making sure to slam the door behind her. Her commonsense was overridden by frustration and irritation, along with a sense of hopelessness. If Professor Snape didn't help her, who would?

Forgotten were her fears of the dark corridors for they were chased away by the problem at hand. Shiloh strode down the halls, worming her way through the many turns and corners to her common room. Her arms were folded tightly over her chest, and her normally bland expression was now sour with unpleasantness. Her footsteps were quick, made speedy by the constant aggression she felt.

She had to put a stop to Annadel's treachery, but what could she do? No one would believe her. Nothing could provide enough evidence unless Annadel was caught in the act or she gave an open confession. But who could make her do that?

And then, almost of its own will, a memory danced its way into her furious mind. She could see it, as clearly as she had at its happening. The Bludger soaring towards her, and then, at the last second, crack! and there was nothing left to be seen but George's wide smile. When it had come to that injustice, the Weasley twins hadn't hesitated to act. And they hadn't waited for those who were in 'authority'. Instead they'd done it their own way. Maybe she could learn a lesson from the Gryffindor Beaters. Maybe the person with the power to solve her problems was as close as she had originally thought.

With a smirk of determination, Shiloh made a decision and changed her destination to the library. For a moment, she felt completely satisfied and guaranteed that her problems would soon be ended, not because anyone was going to help her, not because Professor Snape might have a change of heart. Rather it was because she was a very ambitious Slytherin and she was putting the matter where it should have been all along.

In her own hands.

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