A Time for Vengeance
Her foot froze on its way to the next step, and her entire body tensed. Slowly, Shiloh raised her hovering foot and set it next to her other foot and looked behind her as her three roommates from Hell pushed past two first years. Millicent, who had been the one to call out, looked more like a bulldog than usual as her jaw tightened like she was about ready to gnaw into bone—hopefully, a bone with a bit of Halfblood flesh on it. Pansy was giggling happily, and Annadel looked furious and delighted at the same time—a combo of emotions that Shiloh did not find very promising.
Reluctantly, she turned to face them, her hand already slipping into her pocket for her wand. Trouble was in the air. She could sense it, more than ever when the trio circled around her, Millicent on a step higher than her, Annadel on the same step, and Pansy on the one lower. They created a menacing winding staircase of heads. Three to one. Impressive odds for them, but Shiloh wasn't about to be bullied. Not today. Not when she was counting down the hours until Annadel would be finished, once and for all.
The two Gryffindor girls hurried past them, but not before they glanced apprehensively at the scene. Shiloh met one of the girls' eye, and for a moment, she thought the Gryffindors might show some of their renowned bravery and even up the odds in the group. She should have known better than to believe for a second that Gryffindors would ever involve themselves in Slytherin business. They quickly looked away and jogged down the steps and into the Potion classroom. Just like that, Shiloh was left alone in the icy corridor with the hardhearted trio.
By the look in their eyes, she knew they were looking for a fight. Her hand wrapped tighter around her wand, ready to pull it out and cast a mean hex if the situation called for it.
“All right, Sanders?” Annadel asked, her voice cheery and conversational as though they were just stopping for a lovely chat.
If that was the angle that Annadel wanted to play with, than Shiloh would go along. She needed to see what Annadel wanted, because only then could she figure out how to get away from this circumstance.
“All right,” Shiloh replied, though her voice wasn't quite as cheery as Annadel's. It was heavy and a bit strained, making it clear that she knew this was something more than a conversation between friends. “You?”
“Oh, the girls and I were just pondering this question that we had,” she drawled primly, “and we thought you could help us.”
Shiloh glanced at all three of them suspiciously, before locking eyes with Annadel. “I can try.”
“Where were you last night?” The sudden, serious question came from Pansy's lips at the same moment as Millicent cracked her knuckles.
It was the second time in too few of days that Shiloh had been asked that question, and she liked this one far less than last time. This time, though, she knew it was futile to play dumb. It hadn't worked last time, and it wouldn't work this time. So, she skipped that action, going straight to fighter mode.
“I don't see how that's any of your business,” she snarled, her voice going dangerously low.
Annadel was unfazed, and she smiled quite daintily, still playing an act that was rapidly getting old. “You see, it is our business, because you and that filthy Halfblood are up to something and— ”
“Don't call her Halfblood!” The furious outburst had left Shiloh's mouth before she even felt the hot anger course through her skin. It didn't matter that 'Halfblood' was just a term used to describe someone of Symone's parentage; the way Annadel said it made it seem an insult and Shiloh wasn't about to tolerate it. Annadel's fight was with her. She would leave Symone out of it!
Then again, even though Shiloh didn't wish for Symone to be more apart of this than she already was, Shiloh couldn't stop herself from regretting walking to Potions alone. If she had only accepted Symone's offer to walk with her, then together, they would have been able to take down the three opponents. Alone, Shiloh would fight, but knew she wouldn't win.
Annadel ignored Shiloh's outburst. “And we're going to find out what.”
Shiloh didn't even feel a flicker of apprehension. She doubted Annadel even knew what Veritaserum was, let alone would be able to guess that she herself would soon get a taste of it. By the time the trio came close to discovering Shiloh's plan, it would already be too late.
“Don't count on it.” Shiloh sneered. “It'll take more than your empty brains to figure out that one.”
She'd hit a soft spot, because Millicent went from cracking her knuckles to fishing for her wand. Shiloh acted instinctively, yanking her wand from her pocket. By the time her wand's point was pressed into Annadel's hip, she not only had Millicent's wand directed at her, but three separate wands pointed straight at her head. Annadel only flinched slightly at the feel of wood against her, but she wasn't about to back down. For once, Annadel had the advantage, and she wasn't about to give it up.
Shiloh focused on the end of Annadel's wand, memorizing the rose-hewn point. She knew it was only moments before one of those wands fired a curse at her, and she could do little to defend herself. However, it wouldn't stop her from trying. If one of the three was going to hex her, than at the very least, she could take Annadel down with her.
“Now, we'll give you one last chance,” Annadel said, smiling menacingly. She knew what would happened. She knew Shiloh would never tell; that was the fun of it. “Tell us where you were last night.”
Before Shiloh could so much identify what spell had hit her, she was free falling through air. A second later, she made painful contact with the steps, and then it was nothing more than a blur. All she could see was a mass of colors as the world spun. All she could feel was pang after pang of agony as her body tumbled down the stairs. And the only sound she heard was a yelp as, tugged off balance by Shiloh's hand wrapped around her robes, Annadel fell down after her.
Severus finished the last wave of his wand, completing the instructions on the board, and turned his eyes toward the girl who had just spoken. His gaze fell upon Parvati Patil. She seemed rather nervous, because she was shifting pointlessly in her chair and glancing backwards at the classroom's door as though she was hoping it would open and save her the trouble of continuing with her distasteful task.
The interruption was unpleasant, for the class had much to accomplish in the little time given, and he hoped this was of some sort of importance. “Yes, Miss Patil?”
She looked at him, trying to look as poised as possible when she was clearly uncomfortable. She folded her hands in her lap as though to have something to do with them. “There were some students out in the hall, and they haven't come in yet.”
Severus paused tolerantly, waiting for her to continue. Unless, of course, her only desire was to report tardy students. She made no move to continue, and Severus was beginning to believe that she was practicing at becoming a prefect when she should be pulling out her cauldron. “And your point is?” Severus pressed, his voice strained to hold in his impatience.
It wasn't Miss Patil who replied, but her blond companion, Miss Brown. “We think they might be dueling.” Her voice held a barely concealed excitement as she eyed the door, as though the scene going on in the hall behind would be more worthwhile than the mundane Potion class before her.
Severus might have ignored this. He knew from experience that young minds were well-equipped with unbalanced imaginations. He knew that one of them could easily have seen two whispering students and imagined that a duel was quite possible. He might have brushed it off, at least long enough to get the students started on today's potion and then go investigate the missing children, if right at that moment, an enraged female cry hadn't exploded from the corridors.
“You'll pay for that, Halfblood!”
Exclamations of excitement and confusion came from the startled students as they swiveled to gawk at the door. Severus could hear explosions of hexes, cries of alarm, and a muffled slam! as something or someone hit the door. It seemed Miss Brown had only been partially correct. There wasn't a duel occurring; there was a full-fledged war.
Another large blast of magic, and Severus was already halfway to the door, his pace brisk. On his way down the aisle, a dark-skinned girl caught his eye as she glanced at the empty seat beside her and then towards the door, looking utterly fearful. He knew the occupant of that empty chair well. The same girl who had had such a promising hand at the fine art of potion making, and then a small mistake, a bruised confidence, and a lie later, she had turned to be a mischief maker and a less-than-average potion maker.
He should have known that Sanders would be behind this ruckus.
Sanders' anxious friend was suddenly no longer fearful, but poised for action. Before Severus could stop her, shebounded out of her chair and made to head toward the door, her wand already half out of her pocket. A cool order of “Sit” from her professor, and she reluctantly returned to her stool, even as she stared apprehensively at the door. She clearly was a loyal one and desired to aid her friend, but the last thing Severus wanted was one more child to deal with.
When Severus reached the door, half the students looked as though they were ready to hurry towards the door the moment he stepped outside. They wanted to eavesdrop on the adventure that would surely unfold, and if he allowed them to do so, he would return to the classroom to find the majority of them pressing their ears to the door.
So, he commanded, “You have your instructions. Now, get to work.”
Though obviously unwillingly, they didn't hesitate to do as they were ordered. They didn't want to join the duelers in detention.
Wasting not a moment more, Severus exited his classroom. He expected to find Sanders nose-to-nose with some foe, as she wrecked havoc with the fiercest spells that a first year could conjure. However, the sight that met him was nothing near what he had imagined. In fact, it was precisely the opposite. Instead of Sanders striking up the mischief that he knew her capable of, she seemed to have been pulled into an unfair fight. The battle was not one against one. It was three against one—and she was the helpless victim. Well, maybe not quite helpless.
Millicent Bulstrode had wrapped one of her huge arms around Sanders' neck. Bulstrode's other arm was trying desperately to still Sanders' flaring legs and arms that pounded randomly, wildly striking every inch of her that they could. The fact that Bulstrode was nearly twice her size didn't seem to faze the girl's fighting spirit. Relentlessly, she struggled, even though it was clear that it only served to pull Bulstrode's arm tighter around her neck. Her eyes scolding with hate, Delamb was slowly approaching Shiloh, wand drawn. Pansy Parkinson, who had clearly been in on the fight as well, was leaning against the wall, groaning and clutching at the side of her face. From around the sides of her skinny fingers, Severus could glimpse the swelling of her eye.
Point one for Sanders.
The scene reminded him of something long ago, a memory that flicked at the back of his mind. There were many times from his childhood reflected in this moment. The strong-willed Slytherin fighting a battle that couldn't be won, and a much larger force bearing down on the Slytherin for nothing more than sheer pleasure. Only in that torturous memory, it was he—not Sanders—who fought alone. And instead of the trio of girls, the memory held the gleeful, gloating faces of James Potter and Sirius Black.
Now was no time to think about that—no time was a good time to think of such things. Right now was a time for action.
Severus brought the door closed behind him with such a loud slam it sent a shudder through the stone walls. The sound rippled through the air, doing what it was meant to: awakening the girls to his presence. Delamb dropped her wand in surprise and whirled towards him, her face freezing in an expression of horror. Parkinson cried out in alarm, flinging her hand away from her puffy eye, and Bulstrode just froze and stared dumbly at him. Only Sanders didn't stop. She clawed angrily, frantically, at the arm around her neck that had been pulled even tighter. Her milky cheeks were beginning to turn red.
“Let her go,” Severus ordered, leaving no room for doubt that if Bulstrode didn't, he would make her.
Bulstrode flung Sanders away from her as through protecting herself from something vile. Off-balanced, Sanders hit the ground, her face striking the hard stone for what was obviously not the first time. It did little to help the nose that was already bleeding profusely. Severus thought of going to her side, ensuring that she had not been knocked unconscious, but before he could move, she was pushing herself onto her hands and knees. She gasped for air.
Delamb seemed to realize the depth of trouble that she had dived into, because she frantically tried to back-paddle, to make up a story Severus wasn't about to believe. “Professor Snape, we—“
“Quiet,” he growled at her.
He had no tolerance for anything she had to say. The proof was before him. Sanders may be a troublemaker, but she'd proven that she wasn't stupid, at least, not stupid enough to believe that a three to one ratio promised a bit of fun. Besides that, the sight that she made, clutching for her fallen wand as she held her head at the correct angle so that the blood from her nose wouldn't go rolling down her throat, told a story; a story that made Severus feel a tempestuous anger in the depth of his stomach.
Suddenly, he was not quite sure he had drawn the right conclusion when it came to these two—Delamb and Sanders. He had assumed that whatever war had started between them was fought on mutual agreement, and there was no side that only fought back to defend themselves. This case proved that to be incorrect. Whatever had happened, Delamb had started it, and perhaps, she had started other things as well. Thoughts of the incident on Halloween and Sanders' seemingly well-spun lie taunted him, causing him to wonder if there might be more to them than the simple conclusion he had drawn. Perhaps, there was some part of it worth investigation, after all.
He put that train of thought on hold and directed the three culprits toward the classroom by pointing a single, dangerous looking finger towards the closed door. “Go.”
“But, sir...” Parkinson protested weakly, looking as though she, too, might attempt to lie to him. She rapidly thought better of it, closed her mouth for a moment, before changing what she had originally planned to say. She pointed a finger at her eye which was continuing to swell. Whatever had given her that black eye, it was either a cruel hex or one impressive punch. “What about my eye?”
Severus could have cared less. She deserved that and far worse. People like Parkinson and her two friends were the worst kind of cowards. The ones who hunted in packs and attacked those who dared to wander around alone, just to make themselves feel stronger and more powerful, when in fact, it showed just how weak they were. However, Severus was a teacher, and as such, it was his duty to see that his students' welfare was taken care of.
“You may go see Madam Pomfrey about it after class.” She could suffer with it until then. “Now, go.”
At his intense sneer, they paused no longer, rushed toward the room, and disappeared inside. He wasn't through with them, though. They would be writing countless lines in detention. However, right at the moment, he needed to see to Sanders.
Severus turned his attention to Sanders who was now on her feet, but had yet to recover her wand, which Severus located halfway up the staircase. Without the help of magic, she was doing her best to staunch the bleeding with the cloth on her sleeves. The dark fabric absorbed the blood, making the color look much darker and more ominous. She suddenly started coughing, made a sucking sound, and spat up a glob of blood.
Unable to watch her struggle by herself, he drew his wand and started towards her.
She glanced at him, her gaze half uncertain, half spiteful, as though he was the last person she wanted around her when she was looking so pitiful.
“Let me see,” he prompted, but she quickly pulled just out of arms length.
“I'm fine,” she insisted hotly and pressed her arm back over her nose.
Severus wasn't buying that annoyingly independent remark. He wordlessly seized her chin and lifted her face so he could get a good look at her nose. She moved her arm away from her mouth, perhaps to protest, and he used the opportunity to tap the bridge of her nose with the point of his wand and to cast a nonverbal charm that fixed the damage quite easily. Her nose stopped bleeding, but still a layer of the red liquid was caked from her nostrils to her chin. Before he released her, Severus checked for any other injury and found that her temple was turning a brilliant shade of red, a sign that a bruise was forming.
“Do you feel dizzy at all?”
“No,” she said flatly.
“Did you lose consciousness?”
He looked into her eyes to be sure. She wasn't lying. She didn't have a concussion, and she appeared otherwise unharmed. For such an intense duel, she was either bloody lucky or very resilient. He had one last question to ask before he released her, and he wouldn't release her until she had answered. The girl had an aggravating habit of refusing to look into his eyes. Whether she did it because of fear or because she had some knowledge of Legilimency and suspected him of it, he wasn't sure. But, today, he wanted to look into her eyes. He wanted to see the truth.
“How did this start?”
He should have held on tighter. He should have guessed that she would pull away, because as soon as he had asked the question, she yanked away from his touch. Her usually emotionless face was contorted with a layer of frustration, and her eyes danced with a flicker of anger.
“Why should I tell you?” she mumbled coldly as she drew the back of her hand across her lips to wipe away the taste of blood. “Even if I told you the truth, you wouldn't believe me.”
Severus knew he should have scolded her for her insolence, should have taken away points for her blatant disrespect of his authority, but he stopped himself. He paused to think things through. He could understand her frustration. If there was any truth to the things that Sanders had told him, she placed much blame upon him. Maybe she was thinking that if he had believed her, the problem with Delamb would be over, and she would not just have gone through the ordeal. Or maybe she was just exasperated and more shaken by the happenings than she let on.
Still, he was a professor, and her cheek was intolerable, no matter what the circumstance. “Watch your tongue, girl,” he charged authoritatively, “and tell me who started this.” This time it wasn't a question. There was no option; she would tell him.
In spite of everything, she hesitated, letting her eyes linger on him in a way that spoke of mistrust. He knew she was considering her choices, but she didn't have to think for long. She didn't have any choices. “They started it,” she finally said. Her voice was tight and it belayed her frustration.
He moved his hand in a small circle, quietly prodding for more details. He knew if he hadn't gestured, hadn't made the silent order, that those three words would have been all that he got out of her.
“I don't know why.“ At this, she once again employed her habit of stubbornly refusing to look him in the eyes. Instead she found her shoe very interesting, as she dragged her toe along the stone floor. Oh, yes, she knew what had aggravated the attack; she simply refused to share it with him. “They were just looking for a fight, I guess.”
Severus was sure that had been part of it. Groups of three Slytherins didn't confront a solitary figure unless they were sure that a duel was promising to come forth. Although Severus didn't know if it was the only reason, and he wanted to know more about this. However, he knew that questioning Sanders further would only lead to more half-truths, and with her refusing to meet his gaze, Legilmency wasn't among his options. Instead, he was left to play a guessing game, trying to read between the lines of Sanders' few sentences.
“Very well,” Severus said at last. There was no more information to be claimed. He would deal with the trio of Slytherins based on what he had witnessed. He foresaw a weekend of scrubbing floors for them. Sanders, of course, was free to go. “You may go to class.”
She gave him a nod, before turning her eyes to searching for her fallen possessions. She spotted her school bag and wand half-way up the steps—where all of this began, Severus could imagine. She went to retrieve the things. Her movement was stiff and slow, evidence of the bruises that were probably forming from beneath her robes. However, Sanders didn't even flinch, didn't let the pain show, no matter how obviously present it was. She bent, sweeping a few books that had tumbled from her bag back into it, before she swung the thing over her shoulders.
Severus wasn't sure why he continued to watch her, especially since he was constantly aware that his classroom was unattended, and by now, Longbottom had probably managed to fill the place with some horrid smell. However, there was something that detained him as he watched Sanders pick up her wand, running her thumb over it in a thoughtful caress—as though being reunited with a friend—and then pushed it into her pocket. Perhaps, he simply wanted to insure that she didn't wander into more trouble; after all, she and trouble had been closely attached this school year.
She didn't glance at him as she started to go past, her eyes fixed on the door. Blood was still marking on her face, and a red streak made its way across her cheek. She'd make quite a sight when she entered the classroom, and Severus could hear the whispering of all his students now. He'd had enough of interruptions for one day.
She paused and looked at him as he withdrew a cloth from his pocket, one that had come in handy many times before for such occasions. After all, as Slytherin's Head of House, he saw and treated just about as many bleeding noses as Madam Pomfrey. She stared at the handkerchief as though she had never seen one before and had little knowledge of what he wanted her to do with it. She glanced up at him for a second, and he gestured towards her mouth. Nodding in understanding, she took it.
“Thanks,” she breathed quietly as she wiped it over her nose, mouth, and cheek, removing the blood with a few, efficient dabs.
He said nothing in reply, only pocketed the cloth when she offered it back to him. She dared to look at him, just once, and he met her eyes, thinking Legilimens and searching quickly. He wanted answers, a way to know the truth, but she looked away before he could find what he was looking for. Wordlessly, she moved into the classroom. He hesitated a moment to follow her, fixing his eyes upon the door as he considered everything he had seen, everything he had thought, and everything that he should possibly do.
Before today, he had been convinced that the story of Delamb sabotaging potions was just a story to attack Delamb, but now that belief had been shaken by the new evidence. Previously he had shoved off the strange decline in Sanders' potion work as a shattered confidence, but that seemed more fiction than ever. She had, after all, made nearly all her potions perfectly until that fateful day of the explosion. Her skills had been remarkable – and then they had faded away quickly. Too quickly.
He wasn't sure what to believe. He wasn't sure if it was truth or lies, for either one held possibilities. He wasn't sure who the victim in this battle was: Sanders or Delamb. He wasn't sure of much, and the confusion was aggravating him to no end. Two things, however, stood in his mind with utter clarity: he was sick of playing a guessing game with a couple of first years, and, no matter what it took, he was going to find out the truth.
“Are you...are you all right?”
The worry in Symone's whispered voice was evident as she stretched a hand out as though to help Shiloh into her seat. Fighting back a wince, Shiloh ignored Symone's hand now poised on her elbow and lowered herself onto the chair. It seemed that every muscle in her body was protesting against her, refusing to move, and when she dared push them into motion, they repelled with a shot of pain. She had Millicent's curse and sharp knuckles to thank for it. That, and the dungeon's stairs.
It had all happened so quickly until the fight was nothing more than a blur. She couldn't even remember when her nose had started to bleed or which spells had caused the bruises. When it came to fighting back, there'd been no thinking to it, no thoughts of the way she should duck or the way she should swing her fist, just instincts. She found that her impulses had served her well. Pansy's black eye was proof of that, and Annadel was probably hiding an aching spine from when she was thrown against the door by a spell that had originally been intended for Shiloh.
Shiloh looked over at the three girls. Pansy was cradling her eye in one hand and looking utterly pale as Draco Malfoy and his two friends snickered cruelly at the sight. Annadel was fighting back a hot red color, perhaps caused by a mixture of anger and embarrassment. Shiloh didn't feel any shame as she watched the two, only a smug satisfaction that she had done well. However—she remembered, as she brushed her fingers against the tender spot on her forehead—three against one was never good odds.
Absently, she rubbed a hand over her throat, recalling what it had felt like to scarcely be able to breathe. No matter how hard she had fought, how fiercely she had struggled, she had been helpless, and she had known it—she had felt it. Helplessness was a feeling she couldn't recollect enduring...at least, not for a very, very long time. It had been awful in those few seconds, to have no control over anything that was happening. Her very authority over her own life had been stolen away, and she'd hated it. As much as she hated to admit it, the emotion had terrified her—because if she didn't have control, what did she have?
“Shiloh...” Symone began again, hesitantly, concernedly.
“I'm fine,” Shiloh said quickly, dropping her hand away from her neck. She glanced at Symone, and something about her eyes made her breath normally. Something indefinable about her presence caused her to remember that she was here, in Potion's class, beside Symone, right where she should be. All was normal; she was in control—not back in the hallway fighting for her health.
“I'm fine,” she repeated, sounding much more certain.
Symone looked at her for a moment, searching her eyes as though unsure whether to believe. Then she nodded and let out a breath that she'd obviously been holding. The look of relief on her face was so pristine that Shiloh had no doubt Symone had been scared for her, but she didn't want to think too much about it. Nor did she want to consider that, if their places had been reversed, Shiloh would have been just as frightened for Symone—and as angry at the three as Symone now appeared.
“How did all this start anyways?” Symone asked.
Shiloh glanced at Professor Snape. He had reentered and was beginning to make his rounds around the classroom, commenting on less-than-satisfactory work. He was on the other side of the classroom, so, if she kept her voice low and started setting up her potion items, she should be able to tell Symone about the confrontation. She hadn't told Professor Snape the details, because such would have been disastrous. Symone was different. They were in this together, and she deserved to know.
While she tended to her potion, Shiloh explained what had happened, from the girls knowing about their absence last night to all the other events that led to the fight.
Once she had finished, Symone asked, concernedly, “So, what are we going to do, now that they know?”
“Nothing.” Shiloh emptied a jar of liquid into her cauldron and immediately began stirring it, trying to watch both her potion and Annadel. She hoped that Annadel didn't try anything today. “They know we're up to something, but they don't know what.”
Symone nodded again, showing that she understood. For a long moment, she simply stirred her cauldron as Shiloh put her effort and concentration into ther own potion. She noted briefly that Symone kept glancing at their roommates, her facial expression turning from hateful to thoughtful. However, Shiloh didn't have time to consider what was going on in Symone's mind; she had very little time to brew her potion. Besides, with an eye on Annadel and her other eye on her potions, she couldn't afford any other distraction to her already occupied mind.
After a few minutes, Symone suddenly let out a low giggle, drawing Shiloh's eyes to her. “What?” Shiloh asked, trying to find something funny in the serious atmosphere of the Potion's class.
Symone ducked her head close so that they could talk quietly. A smile was etched on her lips as she spoke, “It's just...for three on one, you sure got them good.”
Shiloh rotated her eyes to take in Pansy's black eye that she was trying to hide by covering it with her hand as she attempted—and failed—to make her potion with just one hand. Ringlets of black smoke where coming from the potion, and she was frantically stirring it as fire began to sparkle at the surface of the liquid.
Once again, that malignant joy spread back through Shiloh's veins, tugging her lips into a deep smirk. “I did, didn't I?”
Symone nodded a bit excitedly. “Annadel will be feeling that tomorrow.” She let out a snicker and gestured discretely at the girl who was now pressing a hand into the small of her back, tentatively massaging her aching muscles and wincing as her fingers found a bruise.
As soon as Annadel heard Symone's snicker, she looked behind at them and gave them a scowl that was so blessedly peeved it only made Shiloh's smirk go wider and Symone giggle even harder. It seemed that, because of Symone's ability to look on the bright side, the horror of the battle had been completely cleansed away and replaced with an odd sense of glee. The ability to laugh at unfavorable experiences had never been Shiloh's strength, but Symone was teaching her how it felt. After all, despite the odds, Shiloh had given them what they deserved, and she had to believe that Annadel and Pansy would hesitate before they took her on again, no matter what their number.
Symone was pressing her hand over her lips to stifle the sound, and Shiloh was doing her best to fight down the bubbling desire to join in with her snickers. Symone's laughter and joy was contagious, and Shiloh hadn't been so close to laughter since she had stood on the train platform listening to the Weasley twins' unique humor.
“Is something amusing?”
The austere tone of their professor's voice made them sober instantly. Symone dropped her hand from her lips, trying to look innocent and solemn, and Shiloh's smirk was gone in a dignified flash, the rare pleasantness had vanished instantly. Professor Snape stood next to their desk, looking as towering and as commanding as ever.
“No, Professor Snape,” Symone and Shiloh said in unison; Symone shook her head sedately to further prove the statement.
He gave them a suspicious look that clearly meant that he didn't believe them, and Shiloh didn't blame him; they weren't the least bit convincing, not when he had obviously heard Symone's giggles. However, he didn't say a word to them, but passed on, giving orders to the entire class to turn in a sample of their potions. Shiloh and Symone didn't glance at one another, as though in mutual agreement that it would run the risk of sending them back into giggles. They focused on siphoning their potions into the vials.
At least Annadel hadn't tried to pull anything today. It was slightly odd, considering Annadel had a few bruises to avenge, but Shiloh wasn't about to question her luck. Especially not when she knew that this would have been the last time her enemy would have gotten the chance to ruin her potion. At dinner, Shiloh would be setting into motion the next step of their plan; she was sure it would go off flawlessly. By this time tomorrow, all of this—the sabotaged potions, the fights, the watching of her back wherever she went—every single piece of it would be over.
Everything was going perfectly.
Shiloh knew that from the moment she spotted the two empty chairs set across the table where Annadel was poised before her bare plate in fevered conversation with her two friends. Generally, she and Symone would have sat as far as possible away from the three, and the trio knew that. They would have to be as discrete and act as naturally as possible. When she was ready and willing, Symone could make a wonderful actress, and Shiloh knew how to hide things well. She did it everyday of her life; why should now be any different?
With a brief glance at Symone to get a confirming nod that she was already prepared, Shiloh started forward with Symone right next to her. Their steps were deliberate and determined, carrying them from the door to the closest table. Shiloh kept her eyes focused on those two chairs, hoping someone wouldn't come to claim them at the last second, but her hand was poised in her pocket. Her fingers were wrapped around the precious bottle of Veritaserum, her thumb caressing it absently and her hand preparing to draw it out of the pocket when the moment was right.
Without so much of a hint of trouble, they found themselves standing next to empty chairs, but the three roommates were oblivious to their presence. The trio kept their heads together, hissing at each other in an inflamed conversation. Shiloh was about to grab the back of the chair and pull it out to sit, knowing the sound of the chair's legs screeching across the floor would alert them, but something in their conversation froze her solid. She turned her attention back to them, her hand tightening on the back of the chair.
“Don't you dare try to pin this on me, Pansy!” Annadel was snarling furiously. “Not only did you fail to distract Sanders, but Snape wouldn't take his eyes off me for a bloody second.”
Pansy's eyes widened until they looked to be the size of Snitches. “Do you think he suspects something?”
Annadel never got the chance to reply, because Millicent was rotating her head to look up at Symone and Shiloh where they stood. The action drew Pansy and Annadel's attention to her as well. They didn't allow panic to show on their faces, didn't allow any sign that they were afraid of what Symone and Shiloh had heard. Perhaps, they no longer cared if they knew; how could they when they believed Shiloh was helpless to stop them? Instead, they appeared angry, infuriated at their mere closeness.
“What are you doing here?” Annadel sneered as though asking them what excuse they had to be alive. Shiloh wasn't surprised at the extra loathing in her voice. After all, their pride was still bruised from the detention Professor Snape had given them...and their bruises from the fight.
Symone took the lead as she plopped down into her chair, folding her arms over her chest and sulking unhappily. “You think we want to sit near you?” she demanded exasperatedly. “There's no where else to sit.”
To confirm this, Annadel and Pansy looked around, but all they could see from their vantage point was bodies and bodies of Slytherins. They couldn't get at the right angle to be able to see if there were empty spaces between them. Shiloh lowered herself into the chair, the one straight across from Annadel, and waited for them to accept that what Symone had told them was true. With no proof against, they had no choice but to believe it.
However, they weren't happy about it, and they scowled at them, but quickly put their attention into eating. Symone continued on her act, piling up her plate with food while keeping the corner of her eye focused on Annadel. They would have to wait until the right moment to sneak the Veritaserum into her pumpkin juice. Until then, they had to play their part.
Shiloh, too, helped herself to her usual small helping of only a few of the items. She picked up her fork and began working on it. She found herself acting naturally; she was even eating the way she normally did—picking at the food with her fork while taking the occasional nibble. However, she kept one hand wrapped around the potion in her pocket. It was a constant reminder of the task at hand, the task she had to pull off flawlessly.
Still, her focus began to falter as Annadel and Pansy's conversation began to knead and poke at the barriers of her mind. Phrases from it replayed themselves in her mind like when her father's old, Muggle record player had gotten stuck.
Snape wouldn't take his eyes off of me.
Do you think he suspects something?
Shiloh tried to silence the memory, tried to keep the thoughts at bay, but she couldn't help but toy with the notion that, perhaps, Professor Snape did suspect something. But, no, that was impossible. She'd already come to him and he'd been convinced that she was nothing more than a liar. He had simply been keeping an eye on Annadel, because she'd already caused enough trouble for one day, and he wouldn't allow her to cause more. He couldn't suspect something after all this time, could he?
She was never able to answer her own silent question, because Symone was grinding her elbow into Shiloh's ribs, the sign that it was time. Trusting that Symone had cued her correctly, Shiloh quickly withdrew the potion and reached across the table. Annadel was leaning close to Pansy and Millicent, hissing some barb against Symone and being purposely too loud. Shiloh didn't flinch, only uncorked the vial and tilted it at just the right angle so that a large drop fell from the end into Annadel's pumpkin juice. Before the ripple from that drop had settled on the surface of the juice, another two drops had followed. Three drops; just enough.
Shiloh saw Annadel's head beginning to turn and she quickly withdrew her arm. By the time Annadel was giving her a loathing expression, Shiloh had pocketed the potion and was back to picking at her food. Annadel stared at her a moment longer. Perhaps, she had thought she'd caught Shiloh's movement from the corner of her eye and was now trying to figure out what she'd seen, if she'd seen anything at all. She must have concluded that it was nothing, because the suspicion faded, and with an apathetic shrug, she reached for her goblet.
Symone's back stiffened in a sure sign of attentiveness, and she raised her eyes from her plate just enough that she would watch Annadel's movement. Shiloh did the same, staring discretely as Annadel raised the goblet towards her mouth. Pansy said something that sounded distant in Shiloh's distracted mind, and Annadel laughed, her hand shaking slightly as she continued to pull the cup toward her mouth. This was it, Shiloh thought with a thrill of excitement. It would all soon be over, just as soon as Annadel took one single sip.
Shiloh couldn't have looked away, even if she'd wanted to. Every second seemed like hours; every inch of the cup's ascension seemed to take a decade. But finally—finally—it was touching her lips, being tilted upward. Almost there. Almost. And then...
It was spilling down Annadel's robes.
Stunned, Shiloh could only watch as Annadel let out a screech of surprise, displeasure, and fury. Orange liquid spread from her neckline down to her lap. Pansy quickly grabbed a napkin and handed it to her, but Annadel pushed her away, turning hate-filled eyes toward Millicent, the one whose elbow was responsible for causing her to spill the cup.
“Millicent, you bloody oaf! If these robes are ruined, I'll murder you!”
She heaved something that was half-growl, half-squeal and stomped her feet as she stormed away from the table, running off to find something to save her sodden robes. Pansy hurried after her, but Millicent didn't seem to care one way or another. She simply sat, continuing to fill her large mouth mouth with an unhealthy amount of food.
Shiloh could do nothing but stare in disbelief at the pumpkin juice that had made a puddle on next to Annadel's plate. It slowly moved to the edge of the table, letting an occasional droplet fall from the table to the floor below. She watched the movement, unable to believe that somewhere in the spoiled juice was the Veritaserum. It was so hard to consider that they had been so close, that their time for vengeance had come, and they had failed.
Symone touched her shoulder, as though asking if she was all right. Her face was blank and void of expression, because Shiloh couldn't feel anything. The disbelief was so complete, that all she could feel was numbness. Yet, Symone was worried. Shiloh had been so very, unnaturally still, not moving a muscle even so much as a centimeter.
“Shiloh...” she whispered.
Shiloh looked at her briefly, then stood. She wasn't hungry anymore, and neither was Symone, so together, they made their way out of the Great Hall. Outside, in the empty hallway, Symone turned to face Shiloh. There was a bit of sympathy in her eyes, but beneath that was determination. Symone wasn't ready to give up, and neither—Shiloh realized—was she.
It had just been so bloody ironic! How else could she explain the fact that the cup had actually been touching Annadel's lips, and yet, the mission had still failed? What else could be responsible for that other than cold, cruel, bloody irony.”
“It's all right, Shiloh,” Symone assured her. “We'll get them next time.”
A/N: A special thanks to my wonderful betas, Joanna and Sandy. Also to my readers who I made wait far too long for this chapter.
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