Confessions of Christmas
“Where were you last night?”
It seemed that Symone had chosen the most inopportune moment to ask her question. As soon as the question had come out of Symone's parted lips, Shiloh was flung into a difficult decision of continuing to haul her suitcase onto her bed or to simply allow the bag to slip from her now numb fingers and fall down to crush her toes. She chose the earlier, and not just because she dreaded the thought of explaining to Madam Pompfrey what she had managed to do to her foot, but because the action would stall her enough time to come up with the proper response—or, rather, proper lie—to Symone's inquiry.
It had been early morning by the time Shiloh had returned to her bed, and she'd been incredibly thankful that she had managed to escape back to the Slytherin common room unnoticed by Professor Snape, Peeves, or any other unwelcome eyes. But she could have sworn that when she returned, Symone and the others had been fast asleep. How then could Symone have known that Shiloh hadn't been snuggled in her bed for the entire period of the night? And if Symone had indeed been aware of Shiloh's absence, why hadn't she confronted her about it last night and had, instead, waited until this morning? Not that Shiloh wasn't grateful. After all, at least Annadel, Pansy, and Millicent had already left to take their suitcases to the carriages that would take them back to the train. It had been quite a sight, watching them take their things as they grumbled about how this was house elf work.
But even if the sniveling trio had left the room, Shiloh had no desire to explain about either her plot against Annadel or the episode of last night. Especially the latter. Last night had been—Shiloh searched for the right word and a flash of memories danced around in mind's eye. Dumbledore's appearance, his advice, the figure in the mirror, her father. As the memories faded, the perfect word latched on to her mind, a word that said it all.
Last night had been too personal.
“What do you mean?” Shiloh finally asked, forcing herself to sound clueless. As soon as she chose the response, she knew that she had made a fatal and idiotic error. In her desperation to keep last night's escapades a secret, she'd spoken before she had complete control of her voice and the words came out of her mouth clipped, unnatural, and maybe even a bit nervous.
And Symone was not buying it.
“Oh, don't give me that rubbish!” Symone snapped and crossed her long arms stubbornly over her chest. Her nose was wrinkled slightly and her jaw was set in furious annoyance. Lying was not about to get Shiloh out of this, and she knew that perfectly well when Symone continued, “I woke up last night, and you weren't in your bed or anywhere in the room.”
Shiloh opened her mouth, a quick lie about to form on her tongue, but Symone knew her better than Shiloh cared to admit, and beat her to it.
“And don't you dare tell me you were visiting the common room, because I checked.”
Shiloh hesitated a moment, then settled a hawk-like gaze upon Symone as she carefully considered her next move, carefully calculating any misstep. Her face was blank, her eyes were lit with a subtle, cracking flame, but her mind was whirling. In other circumstances, Shiloh might have been bewildered that Symone had seemed to care enough to roll out of her cozy bed in the midnight of the night and brave the cold all the way to the common room, just to check for her missing roommate. Shiloh knew Symone wouldn't have done as much for any other roommate, unless it was to make sure they weren't preparing some wretched stunt to destroy the existence of Halfbloods. But Shiloh didn't allow herself to consider that Symone had done the act out of worry or consideration. The way she saw it, she couldn't afford to believe that Symone was prodding her for information in some half-cocked way of showing she cared. It was much easier facing an enemy than it was facing someone who considered herself Shiloh's friend.
Besides, Shiloh couldn't possibly be convinced that Symone was doing this out of some sort of odd kindness. Not when her appearance spoke differently. No when, with her jaw lifting defiantly, a lock that resembled a corkscrew falling onto her furrowed brow, and a sharp, no-nonsense look, Symone had never looked more Slytherin. Because with Symone looking like that, all Shiloh could feel was anger, a rage that swept through her already tight muscles and wiped away all pretense of politeness or the desire to pretend last night had never happened. After all, she had never known that Symone could be so disgustingly nosy!
Sneering slightly, coolly, her voice went low and became as cold and as frightening as crackling ice. “Do me a favor?”
Symone arched a single eyebrow.
“Mind your own bloody business!”
She turned her back to Symone, hoping she would let the matter drop and not press her any farther. As she reached for her music box—the one item that had not been packed—and tucked it carefully into a mound of clothes in her suitcase, she practically pleaded silently with Symone to leave her alone. All she wanted to do was leave her room, make her way to the carriages, and start the long journey home. She was thinking longingly of her creek that was perhaps now frozen with a layer of ice, her mother's warm hot chocolate and moist pastries, and even her father's Muggle music that he always blasted at Christmas time. Sitting by a warm fire and a glittery Christmas tree while Here Comes Santa Clause came from a very old Muggle radio would be better than standing here, wondering if Symone was moments away from aiming a hex—or, at the very least, a hot retort—right between her shoulder blades. Shiloh didn't want to fight Symone, but she could feel the bitter, metallic taste of anger and adrenaline burning in her mouth, and she knew that if Symone wanted to argue, she wouldn't be able to resist warring back.
Shiloh could feel Symone's weighing glare upon her rigid back, as though she was trying to consider her next move, or perhaps thinking up some insult that just wouldn't come. But Shiloh doubted it. Symone had a sharp tongue—a gift perhaps achieved by having three older siblings who delighted in teasing her –and she normally had no difficulty dishing out as good as she got. So what was stopping her? Whatever it was – Shiloh told herself – it wouldn't hold her for long. It was only a matter of time before battle erupted.
But whatever Shiloh's expectations were, she didn't expect what happened. Because no yell tore through the silence, no outraged barb shattered their fragile bond, and no incantation rippled from Symone's lips. Instead, all that filled the air was a soft, yet firm, voice.
“It's got something to do with Annadel, doesn't it?”
As rigid as Shiloh was before, she became all the more tense now. She didn't dare move for a long second, because that would acknowledge that Symone had truly spoken those words and she truly did know something that no one every should have been able to find out. She told herself not to believe, told herself she was just hearing things, because she had been so careful. No one could find out. And, yet, Symone had spoken with such certainty it was undoubted that she not only thought, she knew. And if Symone had figured it out, had Annadel been able to as well?
Slowly, Shiloh turned around, almost afraid of what she would find on Symone's face. Shiloh kept her face free of emotion, because she was well aware that, as she was scrutinizing Symone's features, Symone was studying hers right back. For a tense moment, Shiloh only stared at Symone's unreadable features, taking in the way she barely blinked and, instead, only stood expectingly, patiently, and stubbornly, waiting for an answer that Shiloh was taking a very long time to give. She tried to think of some lie, and numerous came to her mind, most that would have been incredibly convincing, but somehow Shiloh knew that it would do not good on Symone. So, unable to lie and too stunned to push her mind her mind to think straight, she opened her mouth and said the first thing that came to her flabbergasted brain, “What?”
Symone didn't doubt that Shiloh had heard her, and that one word response was more than an answer to her question. She forged on. “And it has something to do with Veritiserum?”
Shiloh felt her defenses rise even higher—if that was possible—and her alarm bells began to clang wildly. Symone must have found some piece of evidence, one she could so easily have used as leverage against Shiloh, blackmail if ever Symone needed it. Something inside Shiloh scratched at the back of her mind, telling her that she knew Symone would never do that to her. Symone was benevolent and just—not one who would use something like this for her own personal gain—and she deserved the benefit of a doubt. But then again, why had Symone been snooping around, because that was the only way she could have come across such evidence? But, in the end, Shiloh had not time for debating loyalties. Because if Annadel had found out like Symone, not only was her last hope of proving Annadel's guilt shattered, but her days of living were counted. She had to find out how Symone had come across the information. And if that meant admittance, so be it.
“How do you know?” Shiloh spoke slowly, knowing the words were an open confession.
A sense of accomplishment seemed to strike through Symone's being because enthusiasm was rippling in her gaze. “I knew it!” she pronounced excitedly, looking as though she might dance.
Generally Symone was so full of life and joy that it nearly rubbed off on Shiloh, but today the exuberance only worsened her irritated mood. “Yes.” Shiloh's voice was tolerant and slightly strained, sounding like Professor Snape when he was trying to hold back a quickly boiling anger. “But how?”
Symone looked back at Shiloh, and seeing her serious face, Symone seemed to think better of the merriment. She let the smile slip from her face, surrendered her triumphant happiness, and returned to businesslike mannerisms with a surprisingly fluid movement. She recrossed her arms and began in her explanation. “It wasn't too easy.”
It seemed as though she at least guessed at Shiloh's trepidation and what was causing it and wanted to reassure her. Or she was telling the truth. The latter was much more comforting, but Shiloh didn't want to believe a lie just because it was more cozy.
Symone continued, “But ever since Professor Snape refused to believe you about Annadel, you've been acting different...for you, at least.”
Shiloh tried not to react. She had tried her best not to seem suspicious in her actions, but now it seemed like she'd failed. And she had simply never thought that any of them knew her well enough to understand that she was acting 'out of character', and now that she knew she was wrong, it was unnerving. She fought back a shudder and listened carefully as Symone continued to explain how she'd been acting out of her norm.
“There were the late night study routines, those nights were you would read past the early morning hours, and the extra hours in the library. I knew you were up to something, but I didn't know what.” There was a gleam of a memory, a reminder of that Slytherin ambition, and without being told, Shiloh knew that Symone had been determined to find out what she'd been up to. “And then I peeked into that book you had.” She gestured to Shiloh's nightstand where the large book of potions waited to be returned to the library.
Shiloh realized her mistake immediately. She should have returned the book as soon as she'd read about Veritaserum. But instead, she had been too distracted by the anticipation of the plan and the night to come and had left it lying there in plain sight. She had a grand desire to take out her wand and curse herself. How could she have been so stupid?! She'd just never thought that anybody would care what she was studying.
Symone went on, “I went to the page you had marked and on it was Veritaserum.” She gave a modest shrug, as though trying to show that the act had been nothing special—as though knowing Symone didn't have a big head because of it actually helped. “And I put two and two together.”
Shiloh pursed her lips, feeling annoyance deep in her stomach, and she didn't look at Symone for the longest time. She simply stared at a section of floor near her trainers, her eyes narrowed slightly. She was angry with no one but herself. She'd made a faulty error, and now she had to come up with some sort of a remedy for her mistake. She had to find out what Symone wanted. But first of all, she had to find out if Annadel had figured out her plot as well.
Grudgingly, but knowing what she had to do, she looked back at Symone, surprisingly, didn't have a haughty look on her face or even a smug smile of delight at finding out Shiloh's secret. Of course, she wouldn't gloat—Shiloh berated herself. Symone wasn't like that, and her expression was a testimony to that, for now her face was gentle. She watched Shiloh carefully with her soft eyes, as though ready to wait for an eternity for her to respond. Her patience reminded Shiloh of Professor Dumbledore, and it left her with the courage to part her tight lips and ask the question that she feared the answer to.
“Was it so obvious?”
Symone gave a thoughtful cock of her head and another lock of hair cascaded onto her forehead to touch her delicate chin. She ignored it for a moment, and instead started to speak. “Not really. I mean it wouldn't be clear for Annadel and those other two gits. They aren't the sharpest point on a blunt sword, and they would never willingly open a book unless Professor Snape was hovering over them with a threatening gaze and a pointed wand.” She paused for a moment, just long enough to reach a hand to her brow and, with an absent brush, sweep her hair back behind her ear. The curl fluttered back moments later, making it pointless to attempt to hold it back. Symone gave up on her hair and went on with what she had been saying. “But I was watching you closely. And I figured it out.” Absorbed in what she was saying, she was probably unaware of why she chose to sit on the edge of her bed, but she did, perching there with a dignified air. “After all, I am an Auror's daughter, Shiloh.”
Shiloh forced herself to pretend Symone had never said that, simply told herself that she hadn't listened to that last phrase. Now wasn't the time to rehash that matter. Right now all she needed to do was find out what Symone wanted, and be done.
So, lowering herself onto the edge of her own bed, Shiloh met Symone's eyes and asked, “What do you want?”
“Want?” Symone repeatedly dumbfounded as though shocked that Shiloh could ever consider she was in this for selfish reasons. She looked as though Shiloh might have slapped her; it was not a pleasant expression, nor was it completely wonderful when Shiloh's stomach twinged with guilt. But Symone quickly collected herself and pressed on stubbornly. “I want to help you.”
The idea was absurd, both Symone offering it and the thought that Shiloh might actually accept. No one wanted something for nothing—or at least, no girl that Shiloh had met (even though Annadel was not much to judge by)--and Shiloh was in this on her own. It was her war with Delamb. Not anybody else's.
“No,” Shiloh answered flatly, firmly.
“No?” Symone once again repeated, this time less offended and more angry.
“I said no.” Shiloh repeated, trying to make Symone see this was a firm answer, because otherwise, Symone would dig her heels in.
Symone glared at her, once again crossing her arms stubbornly. “Why not?”
Shiloh had so many things she could say in reply to that. Because it's my battle. Because it's too dangerous for two of us to go and risk being seen. Because I don't want you to get into trouble for me. All of them would have been true. Any of them would have been enough of a reason. But she didn't have the patience to explain, so keeping her voice calm and inquisitive Shiloh asked, “Why would you want to help me?”
“Why?” Symone repeated, slowly, thoughtfully, as she rose to her feet and a memory danced behind her eyes. She was no longer angry or hurt by Shiloh's refusal, instead, she seemed almost broken. She hung her head, completely and totally ridden with guilt. “Because I got you into this mess, Shiloh,” she breathed quietly, remorsefully. “And by Merlin--” She lifted her chin slightly, so their gazed met for a moment so that Shiloh could see a flicker of fire, the seriousness and passion that was behind what Symone said next, “--I will get you out.”
Shiloh stared at her in shock in surprise as she went back to the night that all of this had started. The Halloween night when Annadel had insulted Symone, and she had taken action. Was it possible that Symone had been struggling under guilt all the time, thinking that if Shiloh hadn't stood up against Annadel than none of this—the sabotaged potions, the dangerous plan—would have happened? Because it wasn't true. It could have been anyone Annadel had decided to use against her. And besides, they'd been waging a war since they were four years old. It wasn't Symone's fault, but the fact that Symone thought it was and had been suffering because of that put an unpleasant feeling into Shiloh's stomach.
Standing and forcing her voice to be gentle, she started, “You didn't get me into this mess, Symone.”
Symone looked at Shiloh skeptically, making it clear that she didn't believe her for a second. The pained, guilty expression was still there, along with her will to make Shiloh see her side of it. “If you had never stood up for me, Annadel would never have sought for revenge.”
“That's not true,” Shiloh said quickly, wanting very badly to be able to convince Symone so that her unnecessary guilt would vanish. “Annadel and I have been enemies since long before either of us met you.”
“Yes, but I know you well enough to understand that you don't fight back unless she attacks someone besides yourself.”
Shiloh opened her mouth to argue, but she couldn't honestly deny that what she had said was true. So she slowly locked her jaw back into place and began to calculate what the proper response should be. What Symone had said was true. Shiloh knew very well she didn't care about insults—being called Halfblood was nothing new to her. Annadel had figured that out a long time ago. It was why she delighted in calling Shiloh's father 'Mudblood', because she knew that it was the only thing that could ever invoke Shiloh's fury—though why she wanted to do that Shiloh could never figure out. After all, after a bloody nose and being dangled above the Slytherins, a sensible person would have given up, though Annadel was far from intelligent.
But in the end, Symone had been nothing more than an innocent bystander who'd gotten injured in the war between the two. Shiloh wanted to convince her of this, but somehow Shiloh knew that mere words would not rid Symone of remorse. It was why she had offered, because then they would be even and her 'debt' would be repaid. For that reason alone, Shiloh began to considering saying yes to Symone's offer, but as soon as the idea flickered past her mind, she shoved it away. It was impossible. It was too dangerous.
“I'm sorry, Symone,” Shiloh said, shaking her head with what she wished was an air of finality, “but you can't come. I nearly got caught with it just being me. Two of us will make it impossible to get into Professor Snape's stores without being seen.”
In the statement, Shiloh had managed to tell Symone two things. The first: that she hadn't managed to get the potion after all. And the second: she had every intention of becoming a thief in order to procure the potion. Shiloh watched as her roommate took in the information, looking at her feet as her mind slowly whirled, first to absorb and then to plan as an idea gradually formed into her mind. A spark of wonder danced behind her eyes as she mused if it could actually work.
“What if...” Symone started hesitantly, choosing her words carefully and making sure that this idea really might work before she finished her sentence. “What if I had a way that we could get into Professor Snape's office without being seen...even if he was looking right at us.”
Shiloh blinked at her, completely confused at what she could be talking about. She knew there was such a thing as a Disillusionment Charm, but that was far above their skill, and even if they tried to learn it, it could take weeks, if not months. But that was the only thing that came to mind, but yet, even if the plan turned out to be impossible, there was no harm in hearing Symone's idea. After all, Shiloh was not about to allow herself to be chased up to the fourth floor corridor again.
“All right,” Shiloh agreed, calmly crossing her arms before her chest. “I'm listening.”
But instead of giving a lengthy, detailed explanation of what she was thinking, Symone, unexpectedly, turned towards her suitcase, setting her hands upon it to undo the latches. But suddenly, she stopped, her fingers poised upon the the latch, and her eyes flickered uncertainly to the door as though she expected it to burst open and reveal some unwelcome personage. A sense of urgent secrecy came with the action, and Shiloh too found herself gazing at the door and wondering if she should place a locking charm on it, just in case. Whatever Symone was about to reveal, it was obviously very important that it remained a secret. Apprehension filled Shiloh as she wondered what it could possibly be, and whether or not it was worth knowing, because she had enough trouble upon her hands, she honestly didn't need anymore. But her cursedly annoying curiosity didn't allow herself to tell Symone that this wasn't a good idea, because Shiloh needed to know. So she simply swallowed and clamped her jaw shut to keep herself silent, watching Symone's every moved with a mixture to foreboding and excitement.
But Symone didn't finish opening her cause. Instead, she took one more precaution. Whirling towards Shiloh, a single finger like that of a scolding mother held at her hip showing how passionately serious about what she said next. “Before I show you, you have to promise me that you will never tell anyone –not even my brothers and sister – about this. This doesn't leave this room.”
Shiloh almost smirked at the cool irony of what she had said. Here at Hogwarts, Symone was the only one she really ever talked to, unless it be begrudgingly to Annadel, but Shiloh would be submitted into St. Mungo's Ward For the Terminally Ill before she would ever be insane and stupid enough to utter about any of this when Annadel was within fifty feet of the place. And, as for Symone's family, she'd hardly met any of them, unless it was brief glimpses as Symone pointed them out, or the first, unfortunate encounter with Bran. And Shiloh's own parents—she hardly told them half of what was really going on in her life. It just wasn't something they really needed to know about, especially since it seemed that Shiloh was getting herself into something much deeper and darker then she ever had before.
In fact, it surprised her to find out that Symone had a secret so intense she couldn't even tell her own family—or, perhaps—Shiloh thought as she mused back on the suspicious day when Bran had mentioned Symone never having friends—it wasn't so shocking after all. But, stunning or not, she knew that Symone was suddenly appearing more and more...Slytherin. Then again, they both were. They were, after all, Slytherin, and though Shiloh wasn't ashamed of her house, until her parents weren't ashamed of it either, she knew she had best not begin telling them about any of her little adventures.
But the last thing Symone needed to hear was a sarcastic reply of “Who would I tell? Nobody speaks to me.” She needed an honest reply, so she parted her lips and solemnly swore, “I promise.”
Symone narrowed her gaze at her face, studying her carefully as though searching for any sign of deception. When she found none, she turned back to her luggage and boldly threw up the lid of it. She rifled through clothes, the occasional book, and a fuzzy, white blanket to reach the thing she was after, the thing which had been stowed—hidden, more likely—at the very bottom of her briefcase. Shiloh couldn't quite see what it was, and she titled her head to an angle, trying to see past Symone's back with no apparent luck.
Finally, Symone rotated back around, clutching a neatly folded piece of fabric to her chest as though it was the most precious thing to the world. From what Shiloh to glimpse of it past Symone's greedy hands, the fabric was silvery and flowed in an airy way that made it seemed like silk—no lighter, softer, more fluid than silk—but what kind of fabric could fit that description. And how could it possibly help them become unseen?
But, as she watched Symone carefully unfold the square of fabric, watched the cloth—no, cloak --drift smoothly down in a shimmering wave, a thought touched her mind, a spark of inspiration, and idea that, however ingenious, seemed preposterous. It was improbable! And yet, Shiloh couldn't shake the idea from her mind. After all, Symone had promised something that could make them invisible. And...
“Symone, is that...?”
She never had time to finish her question, because Symone was coaxing, “Watch” and moving to swing the expansive cloak over her head, her shoulders, her entire body in one fluid, skilled movement. Shiloh had to fight to keep from gasping, keep from allowing her bottom jaw to smack against the floorboards, and to keep from fainting backwards with sheer delight. Instead, she blinked at where Symone had been, seeing nothing but the bed that had previously set behind her.
“An Invisibility Cloak,” Shiloh breathed, the awe and wonder nearly showing through her voice. Invisibility Cloaks were supposed to be extremely rare, but, yet, Symone had one. Somehow, despite all the odds, Symone actually had one.
Shiloh took a shaky step towards where Symone had been and stretched a hand forward expectantly. But she didn't feel the creamy fabric beneath her fingers. Instead, she felt nothing but air. She tried to grab again, this time moving forward another inch, but no one was there. She straightened up tall, turning in a slow circle around her, wondering where Symone could be. This truly wasn't a funny joke, because Shiloh suddenly felt tense all over, wondering if Symone was going to jump out of nowhere with some vain attempt to scare her. Her eyes roamed the room, as she slowly turned in a narrow circumference, not quite sure what she was looking for—once full circle, than another, until finally, she saw it. It was a mere gleam, a ripple that was there and then gone in the blink of an eye. It seemed like the very air or lit had rippled or moved, and a dim outline of a shape had been seen briefly than disappeared so that it could be dismissed as little more than the mind playing tricks. But Shiloh's mind wasn't teasing her.
She moved quickly. Lunging forward, she grasped for what seemed to be air, but when she locked her fingers she felt downy fabric in her palm. Gently, she pulled. Symone's head appeared, then her torso, and finally her legs, until the Cloak was danging from Shiloh's fist as she stared down at it in barely contained amazement. She turned it around in her hands, her touch careful. It was so fine, the fabric, and so splendid, the magic, that she couldn't help the way her heart pounded in delight. This was fantastic!
She was so caught up in the Cloak that she didn't notice that Symone was staring down upon her with the same look of awe—though Symone's expression was tainted with confusion and just a flicker of horror. “How did you see me?”
It took Shiloh a long moment to register that she was being spoken to, even longer to realize what had been said, and nearly a full minute before she managed to tear her eyes from the cloak to look at Symone and form a response. “It flickered,” she explained. “Just a mere distortion.”
“Oh,” Symone said, looking a bit disappointed that her Cloak actually had a flaw too it, and she defensively tried to justify the Cloak. “Well, it is a bit old.”
Shiloh's eyes were back on the Cloak as she slowly continued to move it about in her hands, studying every detail, every weave of fabric that seemed to glow with magic. She knew well that Cloaks—when they grew old—could begin to fade and wear, but the small, occasional fault didn't matter much. It was something that only the most acute vision would notice—a thing that could only be scene if you were searching for it, and in the darkness of night it wouldn't be noticed at all. After all, Shiloh knew well that the movement of darkness wasn't something completely unexpected—the night like to play tricks on people. The power that this Cloak could offer for achieving their plan was teasing Shiloh's mind with the possibilities.
“It doesn't matter.” Shiloh smirked just a bit, realizing that this really could work. “It's brilliant.” She paused a moment, her eyes still on the fabric. “But--” She began suspiciously, hesitantly, as she remembered a question that she should have asked several minutes ago. Slowly, she dragged her gaze back to Symone. “How you get it?”
Symone features lost a bit of their dark color, and Shiloh thought she could understand why. After all, not every eleven-year-old just happened to have one of the rarest magical items in existence. The ways she could have gotten in where endless—but not a lot of them where completely innocent.
“I didn't steal it...” Symone began, but Shiloh raising in eyebrow stopped her.
Stealing was one of the most logical explanations, the one that seemed the most likely. But stealing an Invisibility Cloak was worse than robbing Veritaserum—it was definitely far more illegal. Shiloh would never have believed that Symone would be capable of such a thing, but the proof could be here, in her palms. The evidence could be as clear as Symone's guilty expression. But Shiloh didn't have to prod, didn't have to remind her that she wasn't a fool, because Symone came clean of her own free will.
“Well, at least not in the way you're thinking...” Symone finished her trailed off sentence.
Shiloh didn't press, just blinked at her, silently and blankly waiting for an explanation.
Symone took a deep breath. “I think it was my grandfather's, my mum's dad's. He was an Auror too.” Shiloh ignored that fact, didn't allow her mind to hiss and recoil at the fact that Symone wasn't just related to one Auror. She came from a whole family full. “I found it in an trunk in our attic.” She spoke more calmly than she probably felt. “Mum doesn't use it; Disillusionment Charms are simpler. So, well, I took it.” She shrugged trying to make it seem like it was no big deal, but Shiloh glimpsed a bit of nervousness in her eyes.
But Shiloh couldn't understand what she had to feel bad about. That was hardly anything compared to the mischief that Shiloh had been getting herself into for her past life. Of course, Shiloh hadn't stolen anything...yet, but Symone could barely be considered a theif. Shiloh could possibly say taking the cloak hadn't been stealing at all. Symone's only crime had been neglecting to ask permission. But still, Symone was trying hard to show confidence, trying to play it cool—a sure sign that her insides were fidgeting.
“But, believe me, if my mum ever found out, she'd go mental.”
Shiloh didn't doubt what Symone said, even though she was barely listening. Her attention was back on the Cloak, giving it one last look over, one last glance of delighted admiration. At the same time, Symone gazed down upon her, her gaze inquisitive, asking a question that Shiloh recognized before she even opened her mouth and spoke.
“So...can I come?”
Shiloh slid the Cloak around in her fingers, thinking carefully as the smooth cloth ran like ribbon down to the bases of her fingers. She knew that this Cloak would make it practically easy to sneak into Professor Snape's stores, and it might be nice to have an extra pair of eyes on lookout—especially if those eyes couldn't be seen. But, still, Shiloh didn't quite like the idea of bringing someone else into this. It was still her battle, and there was still a slim chance that they could get caught—and if anybody was going to get expelled from this, the consequences would be on her hide. Shiloh didn't want Symone to take that risk for her, and yet, until she did, Symone would still have that guilt burning a hole instead of her, and that was just as unfavorable.
So Shiloh glanced from Symone who stared back out her almost pleadingly, to the Cloak, and at long last to her own feet—thinking on the plan, calculating each possible misstep, weighing every single consequence. Each time she was led to the same conclusion, one that she hoped not only made logical sense, but was the right answer as well. So, after a long, reluctant pause, she looked back to Symone and gingerly placed the Cloak back into Symone's ready palm. Symone's eyes darkened as though she guessed what the answer was going to be, long before she parted her lips.
“All right,” Shiloh agreed. “You can come.”
A flicker of pleasant surprise danced into her eyes, and a wide smile spread upward onto her cheeks. Shiloh thought for a moment that she might began to squeal and hug in her exuberant joy again, but fortunately, Symone seemed to think better of it and squelched her smile.
“Good,” she said simply with a curt nod. She gracefully moved towards her suitcase and absently returned the Cloak into the suitcase, being sure to pull the books and articles of clothing over it in case someone were to glance into her suitcase, they wouldn't see the Cloak. “We can go after the potion after we get back from holidays.”
As soon as she said 'holidays', Shiloh felt a bit of horror smash into her stomach as something very important jumped back into her mind. She cursed her own absentmindedness, wondering about her own stupidity. How could she have forgotten something so vital? How could she had lingered here talking to Symone would they should have left the room a long time ago? A hiss of displeasure left her lips, startling Symone so much that she jerked back away from her suitcase so suddenly that the lid nearly slammed shut on her fingers. Wide-eyed and bristled, Symone turned toward Shiloh, one hand on the chest as though to hold in the heart that had just jumped so erratically, and gave her an ungrateful look.
“What was that for?” Symone demanded, clearly not thrilled about the surprising outburst.
Shiloh didn't give any consideration to unnecessary scares, because at this moment, Symone's adrenaline wasn't the only one that was racing sky high. Without saying a word of a moment, Shiloh turned around, grasped her luggage, and, heaving the heavy case with her, hurried toward the door. She was half way out of the room when she thought to explain. “We're late.”
Symone instantly recognized the truth in that, and she had to fight to keep from gasping for fear. In what seemed like a breezed second she had slammed the latches on her suitcase shut and was rushing after Shiloh, her luggage banging painfully against her hip and thigh. Symone ignored the pain as she and Shiloh both thundered past the stairs into the empty , desolate common room. Without hesitating, they moved to the passage way and exited the Slytherin dorm.
Side-by-side, they struggled with their heavy suitcases through the long, dank halls of the dungeon, neither one complaining or letting out a single groan of exertion as they're slender frames pulled along their suitcases that were quite nearly half their size. It had snowed upon the Hogwarts ground, and the severe cold penetrated through the stone walls and made it feel as though there was a layer of ice surrounding them. However, they were quite accustomed to the long treks through the corridor and had learned to bundle up before they left the dorm room. Both Shiloh and Symone were dressed in their heaviest cloaks, their thickest socks, and their warm, cozy scarves. They could still feel the cool air, numbing their sensitive ears, but they were used to it and could honestly say that they were relatively warm.
A burst of heat met them as soon as they swung the door to the Entrance Hall upon. It pounded against them, warming their numb ears with shocking speed. The main castle of Hogwarts was always kept at a nice warmth—perhaps by the help of a few charms—and was always the right temperature for the time of year. Right now it was toasty, blessedly so, as though Shiloh had been covered with a very cozy and thick blanket. However, that was never the case for the dungeon corridors and even the Potions classroom—even through the Slytherin dorm always had large fireplaces and other measures for warmth. For some reason, the Founders must have found it unnecessary to take consideration to those who had to traipse through them—perhaps because they thought it would build of the student's strength and character. If so, there plan had backfired because, the miserably cold march from the dorm might be to blame for nearly half to the Slytherin nastiness.
The Entrance Hall was usually where Shiloh shed the cloak and scarf, shoving them into her school bag for they were quite without use now. But, knowing she was to walk outside into even deeper cold and knowing there was absolutely no time to do so, she ignored that habit. She tolerated the extra heat as they jogged towards the door. Together, she and Symone used their free hands to pull open the door and shuffled outside, pursing their lips together to keep from gasping as their bodies protested against the rapid change of temperature.
Thankfully, the carriages were still waiting at the bottom of the stairs, one or two carriages still climbing into them. So, it looked like they wouldn't have to walk home, Shiloh thought with a bit of relief, as Symone sighed happily and made her way down the stone steps. She let out a shriek of fear as her feet started to slip out from under her, sliding on the layer of ice that covered the stone steps. She flared her arms wildly trying to catch her balance, trying to do anything that would stop her from the deadly tumble down the steps. The only thing that kept her from making contact with the ground and proceeding to bounce all the way to the snowy ground was a hand latching around her arm and pulling her back to her feet.
Once she was steady, Symone gave Shiloh a grateful look, to which the latter gave a single nod. In return, Symone latched her free hand on Shiloh's upper arm, maintaining a firm grip as they, together, made their way down the treacherous staircase. Whenever one would slip, the others hand would be right there, catching them before they fell. In this way, they made their way to the bottom of the steps and into the snow that crunched beneath their feet, releasing each other's arms immediately.
The snow was decorated with many footprints and the narrow lines of the carriages' wheels, but it was still thick and walking in it was difficult. However, they trudged on until they found a carriage that had room for them. They climbed into it, and no sooner had they shut the door behind them than the carriage started forward with a heavy jerk that gave them little choice but to sit or risk hitting the floor. They allowed their suitcases to rest between their feet, out of the way, but quickly within their reach for when they had to leave.
Across from them sat three sixth year students, laughing and joking about girls, sports, and other things that teenage boys talked about. They seemed oblivious to the fact that first years were within earshot. That, or they simply had never been taught that some of the things that they were discussing—or the colorful amount of language they were discussing it with—were not appropriate for such young ears.
Their chatter made it impossible for Shiloh and Symone to carry on a conversation, but that didn't matter much to Shiloh. She simply stared out the window of the carriage to the white, winter wonderland outside, the untouched snow glistening like diamonds with little, yellow specks flickering about on its surface, and allowed her mind to think over such trivial things as the proper ingredients and preparation in making the Shrinking Potion.
As the carriage jerked to a halt, Shiloh and Symone clambered off towards the train, their baggage in their hands, and made a point to get as far away from the raunchy boys and their vulgar rubbish. The settled into the first empty compartment they could find. Symone and Shiloh stowed their suitcases in the seat next to them, seeing no point in hailing them up into the luggage rack—a feat that was quite difficult for a small first year to accomplish. And this time, there were no Fred and George Weasley to lend her a hand.
Shiloh had taken a spot near the window, so that she could stare out into the world as it passed by, but that was not exactly the case, because Symone sat next to her and began talking conversationally about her family and the Christmas ahead. She listened, knowing it was what Symone wanted of her, nodding when she knew she should and answering the occasional question about her upcoming Christmases with vague, temperate responses. However, just before the train started, they were joined by a trio of Slytherin first years who Symone seemed quite pleased to see, because she eagerly brought them in on the conversation, making it easy for Shiloh to slip out. She fished into her suitcase for a book to become observed in and pulled out her potions book. However, the girls' talkative and excited conversation and loud and enthusiastic laughter made it hard to concentrate on the words there, and Shiloh glanced momentarily at the four girls.
Symone fit right in with them. It didn't surprise Shiloh that Symone had found a group of friends—after all, she had to hang out with someone in those impossibly long hours that Shiloh spend alone the library, but seeing them all together, all four of them looking so content in their apparent friendship twisted a strange, unexplainable knot into her stomach, tying the ends of the knot so tightly Shiloh thought her gut might split. But she ignored it, refused to believe it existed. She wasn't jealous of Symone's friends. She wasn't.
With only half of her attention set on the book, Shiloh flipped through the pages almost absently, rereading the notes she had scrawled in there, even adding some more when she found something missing, until the train had slowed to a metal-screeching halt.
Shiloh grabbed her suitcase, storing the book inside and wasting time until the three girls had made there way outside. She had expected Symone to go with them, but Symone remained, staying diligently at Shiloh's side as though some wordless show of where her deepest loyalties laid. But she didn't consider the possibility for too long, only brushed it from her head with the apathy as one shooed away a fly.
Together, the two girls made there way through the crowd, elbowing for their place in the aisle and being pushed around quite a bit by rowdy, excited old students who were more than thrilled to get away from the professors, books, and nasty homework that they were leaving in their tracks. Shiloh and Symone took the time that was needed to exit the train—half because they weren't impatient like some, and half because they weren't eager to be trampled—but finally they stepped out of the door and onto the platform.
Platform 9 ¾ looked precisely the same way it had before—with people, trolleys, and luggage scattered everywhere—but the atmosphere was different. Before it had a been a scene of a mixture of emotions—excitement and pride with the kids who were going to be going to school, and sadness and heartache for the parting with their families. But this time, it was all filled with joy as families ran to be reunited with each other, mothers grasping their children and tearfully giving them tight embracing and embarrassing kisses and fathers grinning proudly down at their children who had successfully completed a term without being expelled.
Shiloh found herself standing completely still and looking past heads, bodies, and trolleys. What she was searching for, didn't register in her mind for a long moment, but she dearly wanted to find it—she knew that deep within herself. But Symone distracted her from her search by speaking her name. Shiloh looked towards her, and Symone gave her a farewell sort of grin.
“See you after the holidays,” Symone said cheerfully, as though the holiday spirit was already coursing through her veins, but she forced her smile to fade for a moment and a serious expression to appear on her face. After giving a discreet glance around them to be completely sure they were out of earshot from anyone, she leaned closely to Shiloh. “And try not to worry about Annadel,” Symone whispered gently, concernedly. “This is Christmas. You shouldn't have to worry at Christmas. And besides--” Her smile was back, but this time it was not so much dismissive as it was mischievous and nearly wicked. “--Annadel will pay soon enough. We'll see to that.”
Shiloh wasn't sure how to respond, wasn't sure what was left to be said, so she only nodded, even though she doubted about the 'don't worry' part. The day Shiloh stopped watching her back and considering all the possibilities was the day that Annadel had been forcefeed Veritaserum, and Shiloh finally had the confession she needed to clear her name. But Symone was right. With the Invisibility Cloak on their side, it was only a matter of time before the whole mess was over.
Symone looked about, spotting her family fairly quickly. Shiloh noticed them too, not just because it was where Symone's eyes rested, but because the family resemblance was clear. Their dark skin stood out among the crowd.
The first thing Shiloh noticed was the absence of Symone's father, but it was not that strange because Symone's father was a Muggle and hadn't crossed the barrier. Shiloh's eyes moved to Bran, the sister—Sherry--, and then to the final boy who Shiloh knew was Adrian. She'd never met him, but she recognized him because Symone had pointed him out in the Slytherin common room before. But nothing more. In fact, Symone hardly even seemed to speak to her brother, even avoided him at all costs since that first night at Hogwarts. He looked to be a grumpy sort, the kind of hardened Slytherin that Symone and Shiloh had sworn never to become. His arms were wrapped around his chest, and he was as stiff as a board, even as his mother swept him into the hug.
Shiloh studied Symone's mother next. It was amazing how much Symone looked like her Auror mother—the same wild hair, the same pretty features, the same long arms and legs—though her mother had grown into them and looked quite attractive and elegant, like the models Shiloh had seen in the Daily Prophet on an advertisement for Florish and Blotts. And Mrs. Zell was young. She appeared to be in her early thirties. And more than that, Mrs. Zell looked like an Auror. It was a sort of air in the way she carried her body, a way that said she was strong and confident and ready to take on the world, and ready to enjoy it as well. Her posture, her atmosphere, her appearance reminded her so much of Symone that Shiloh couldn't help but think that there were alike in quite a few other things. Maybe even an Auror's dislike for Death Eaters and all things associated with them. But Shiloh didn't want to think like that—even if a part of her knew it was true.
“That's my mum,” Symone said absently, but a grin was curving upward as she looked at her family eagerly. She was happy to see her mum; Shiloh could tell.
I know, Shiloh thought to say, but didn't because she didn't want the bitterness to show in her voice. Instead, she said, “See you, then.”
“Right.” Symone started toward her family at a brisk run, calling “Merry Christmas” over her shoulder.
Shiloh took her eyes away from Symone's departing back and resumed her search, and this time, she discovered what she wanted to quickly. As soon as she saw them, she felt her stomach and heart twist uncomfortably as a dull ache broke through the barriers it had been trapped behind and began to throb anew. She had forgotten—or, rather, not allowed herself to admit—how much she had been missing them, but as soon as she saw them standing side-by-side, she remembered all too quickly. She had always told herself that Hogwarts was her real home, that that was where she belonged—and in a way it was where she needed to be, but it couldn't replace what she had waiting for her here at Christmas and summer holidays. The love and protection that she had awaiting for her. Because, as soon as her eyes rested upon them, the weight of all that she had been bottling within her—Annadel, potions, Professor Snape, her biologically father...the whole, stressful mess—faded away as though they had unknowingly taken it away from her.
Her dear, sweet Mum and Dad.
They waved at her, her dad grinning a wide, joyous smile and her mother dabbing the corner of her eyes to keep back thrilled tears. Their love spilled from their very expressions, and Shiloh had the most uncharacteristic desire to run to them and fall into their ready arms, knowing the warmth that would await her there. She'd never much understood or liked hugs before, so she couldn't understand why she wanted one so badly this time around. So, forcing herself to remain calm, she slowly walked towards them, greeting them from a distance with a contented twitch of her lips.
When she was a few feet away, her father spread open her arms, and knowing it was what he wanted—and deep down knowing it was what she wanted to—she hurried the last few steps into his arms. He pulled her tightly against him, how much he had missed her written in every second of the long embrace. Shiloh wrapped her arms around his waist—awkwardly, for she still held her suitcase—and she hoped he could sense it. She hoped he knew how much she had missed him too, even if she hadn't realized it before now.
Her mother was next, taking her from her dad's arms and pulling her into her own. A few tears plopped onto Shiloh's head, but she didn't really mind. Not when it just showed how much her mother truly loved her. She could feel that emotion spreading into every single one of her pores, warming her inside and sending all her worries and cares back to Hogwarts. They didn't belong here. As Symone had pointed out, it was Christmas after all. And Christmas was for family, not concerns.
“I missed you so much, Shiloh,” her mum said as she pulled away, keeping Shiloh at arms length and fussing over a lock of Shiloh's hair.
Shiloh took a step backwards, giving her a small smile that wasn't truly forced. It was the only response she knew how to give.
Her dad brought the situation back to order as he smiled down upon her, wrapping his hand around hers that held the suitcase in a gentle offer to take it. “Ready to go home?” he asked.
Shiloh knew the answer long before she took her hand away from the suitcase to relinquish it into her dad's capable care. Because a small part of her head—or perhaps it was her heart (after last night, she truly needed to practice learning the difference between the two)--a part that she wouldn't admit existed, and a part that was, perhaps, the wisest part of her, knew that no matter if they never left the station and just as long as her mum and dad were beside her, she was home.
Note from author: The three Slytherin girls I mentioned will appear in later in this series (at least, they will, if I don't change my mind). I figured it would be all right to add more OCs speaking that there's over 1000 kids at Hogwarts so there had to be more first years than JK let on.
Also, my apologizes on taking so incredibly long on this chapter. My characters were giving my problems, and I decided not to do a lot of the things I was planning to do. I think I nearly had to completely rewrite the thing at least once, maybe it was more. I don't care to remember. I'm really worried that this chapter didn't come out right, so if you could leave a review giving your honest opinions, I'd really appreciate it.
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