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Chapter Fourteen

In the Dark






Shadows danced, disrupting the red glow of the fireplace and the natural green hue that always surrounded the common room. Shiloh stared at the patterns, the blackness creating fingers on the floor. She let her mind roam with them as they flickered, taking in the familiar shapes, but she didn't really see them. Instead she was mapping out the familiar path to their destination, for what she hoped would be the last time.

“Ready?” Symone asked, as she approached from behind, something clasped in her hand and held so it was hidden by her school cloak.

Their plan was different this time. They hadn't dared going to bed, not when she was certain that three of her roommates would use the solitude of their shared bedroom to their advantage. Shiloh wasn't in the mood for another duel. So when the hours had grown late, she and Symone had remained in the common room until Annadel, Millicent, and Pansy had grudgingly gone to bed and long after it was certain that those three were sleeping, and they were the only ones remaining, pretending to be doing last-minute studying. Only when they were sure it was past midnight did Symone sneak into their room for the cloak. Based on her quick return, Shiloh judged that the mission had gone simply.

Yet, as helpful as she had already been, a thought had been playing through Shiloh's mind since she'd first figured out that they would be forced to go back to Professor Snape's office. She'd ignored it at first, but as soon as Symone had left and she'd been abandoned in the imposing, harsh silence, the thought had only increased in volume. She'd twirled it over and over in her mind, trying to find a reason to stomp it down, and finding none. At the very least, she had to express it; she had to give Symone the chance to back out.

Shiloh turned to look at her, shadows and light taking turns playing on her cheeks. “You don't have to do this, you know.”

Symone frowned and shook her head a bit, as though unable to understand.

“I can go by myself,” Shiloh continued softly, choosing her words carefully. The last thing she wanted to do was offend Symone. “I'm sure I could make it.” She eyed the Cloak in Symone's hand, considering that factor guardedly. As much as it was incredibly useful, the Cloak was Symone's. It wasn't fair for her to attempt to use it, unless Symone offered. As much as she hated it, the Cloak might not be able to come with her today. “And I can do it with or without the Cloak. You've done enough to help me; you don't have to do this.”

Suddenly, Symone seemed to understand what Shiloh was getting at because her mouth moved in a circle. She mumbled 'oh' and nodded her head in understanding...but not acceptance. “Sorry, Shiloh.” Symone gave her a haughty look, a look that spoke of firm Slytherin determination. “But that is not going to happen. I'm going with you. End of story.”

The way she said it grated on Shiloh's nerves, as well as taking her off guard. Symone had never addressed her like that. The point-blank, my-way-goes attitude was something that had always brought out a fighting spirit in Shiloh, and yet, perhaps Symone had reason to treat her like that, to clarify that she was going, wanted to go, no matter what.

Still, Shiloh opened her mouth, but Symone took a step closer, stopping her. This time, when she spoke, her voice was gentle, “We started this together; we're going to finish it together.”

Shiloh tried to force sound out of her mouth, but the words were halfway up her throat when she thought better of it. All that came out was a choked off sound. She quickly closed her mouth, her eyes studying Symone thoughtfully. She tried to think it through. She knew that Symone had already paid her so-called 'debt' in full, but the extra pair of eyes was always a consideration. As much as she thought it was wise for Symone to stay, she really didn't want her to stay. Besides, forcing her to would be like entering a battle Shiloh didn't have the time to fight.

“All right,” Shiloh agreed, even though she added a condition. “But if anything goes wrong, and you can get away, just do it.”

Once again, Symone gave her a questioning frown, wiping away her victorious expression. “You mean, if you get caught when I'm under the Cloak, you want me to leave you?” Though she was just guessing at the idea, it was clear by her furrowed brow that she didn't like the idea very much.

“Yes,” Shiloh said flatly, trying to leave no room for argument; but who was she kidding? Symone would argue anyways. “We have to protect the Cloak.”

Symone opened her mouth, looking ready to disagree, but her eyes flicked to the mantle where a clock sat. The snake shaped hands of the clock were slithering down to mark twenty past midnight. Time was slipping away, and she seemed to think better of wasting any more of it. She agreed, though not in a way that was convincing, “It doesn't matter anyways. We're not going to get caught. We've done this before, and it all went fine.”

Shiloh didn't find that encouraging. Just because they'd done something dangerous before, didn't mean that it made it any less dangerous – not in this case, at least. Expertise didn't count in matters of chance. She needed to make sure that Symone would do this one thing, especially since it was the one thing she'd failed to make sure of before. She couldn't avoid it any longer, because her protectiveness for Symone had somehow doubled. The last think she wanted was for Symone to get in trouble for her.

“Just promise me, Symone,” Shiloh said firmly. Symone raised an eyebrow, skeptically, and Shiloh pressed on, “We have to keep the Cloak a secret.”

There was a pause in which Symone was clearly debating over this information. Finally, she heaved a begrudging, “Oh, all right. I promise.” Perhaps she did see the wisdom in what Shiloh had stated, but that didn't mean she liked it. “If that'll ease your worrying.”

Shiloh wasn't exactly satisfied, not entirely convinced that Symone really meant it, but it was all she could do for now. Nothing more was said between them as Symone threw the Cloak over them, making sure that their feet and every inch of them was hidden beneath it.
Shiloh pulled out her wand, hissed “Lumos”, and started towards the door. Symone was at her side, their elbows brushing as they were careful not to step on each other's feet.

They left the common room behind them and started down the path towards Professor Snape's office. Their strides grew more comfortable as they built confidence that they weren't going to trod on the other's feet or the Cloak's edge. The path seemed easier to be navigated. It had grown familiar, even in the darkness. It seemed odd to Shiloh that something that was so forbidden—wandering in the corridors after curfew—was so familiar. She'd been up to mischief far too much lately, and she promised herself that she would steer clear of it once this had all come to an end. It wasn't good to be well-acquainted with trouble, and she swore she wasn't going to make a habit of it.

As long as she could get past tonight.

It seemed much too soon when they arrived at the door to Professor Snape's office. Once again, it was Shiloh who stretched out her hand and whispered, “Alohomora.” There was a soft click and she rested her hand on the doorknob, twisting it and allowing the door to open just enough so that she and Symone could slip into the oppressive darkness. They rested the door back into its frame without so much as a click, and then turned to where they knew their last destination was. They didn't allow themselves to study the shelves this time around, nor the other, slightly eerie things that seemed to make the night thicker and made fear clog their minds. They weren't going to fall into the trap of his illusory office.

Shiloh unlocked the door to his personal stores, and once both of them were inside, she slipped from Symone's side and hurried quietly to the ladder. She scaled up it, to where she knew the Veritaserum would be, then she stopped. Her hand slipped into her pocket to withdraw the Veritaserum. She gave it one last fond squeeze. It was impossible not to be attached to the object she had thought to be her lifeline for several months. However, she was still thankful to be rid of it. It had been as much trouble as it had been worth.

Reaching to Professor Snape's vial, the one she knew only contained water, she emptied the water into an empty vial. She stuffed that into her pocket and uncapped the Veritaserum. Carefully, she began to pour the Veritaserum back into the bottle, drop for drop, back to its original resting place. She watched each drop drip back into place, being careful with every ounce of the liquid.

“Um...Shiloh...”

Shiloh barely heard Symone's whispered voice, but when she did, her hand gave a small shudder, sending a drop at a perilous angle. Fortunately, it still slipped into the bottle, but Shiloh couldn't allow herself to be distracted again. She couldn't allow herself to think what Symone was trying to get her attention for, for risk of loosing the steadiness in her fingers. So, she continued, ignoring her companion's anxious whispers which were almost too low to be heard.

The last drop seemed to take eternity to fall through air into the vial. As soon as it did, Shiloh corked the vial and slid it into place, not an inch from where it had been centered before. She tossed the empty vial into her pocket. Now, she could find out what Symone needed. She started downward swiftly, into the familiar pattern of scaling down. One foot hit a wood rung; the next hit nothing but air.

There really should have been a rung there, but she must have misjudged the distance because instead of wood, Shiloh only found the sickening feel of gravity. Her hands were ripped away from the ladder as she stumbled backwards, into nothingness. She felt her stomach tug downward, tossed and quake in the sensation of falling. She thought she heard a muffled cry, barely audible. It was nothing more than a distant sound, as Shiloh braced herself. She could already feel the pain as her body made contact with the ground, feel the ache in her head as it snapped against the floor, and could already taste the agony as the wind soured from her lungs. She expected it; she anticipated it; she knew it was inescapable.

But the pain never came.

She felt the thing she'd landed on give slightly under the force of her body pounding into it, but it quickly firmed again. She recognized what had caught her quickly – a pair of strong arms, wrapped around her, protecting her from the floor that otherwise would have met her. She didn't look to see who it was, only kept her eyes closed, forcing herself to continue breathing. She made herself believe that she was no longer falling, and the belief came easy, because, at the moment, she felt quite safe in the pair of arms.

But that moment ended when she looked up into the face of her rescuer.

She recognized those eyes first, the dark, angry eyes that made her blood run cold. The eyes of Professor Snape.

Her dry lips parted, but no sound came out. The horror was paralyzing and even if she could find a way to speak, what response would ever have been sufficient? What words would calm the crackling rage in Professor Snape's eyes? What reply would keep her from the terror she was about to face?

Roughly Professor Snape half-lowered, half-dropped her to the ground. Before she could so much as inhale a breath, let alone attempt to speak again, his hand was wrapping tightly around hers and he was pulling her out of his storeroom and into his office. The grip against her was tight, painfully so, and her breath caught, hating the feel of someone touching her so menacingly, wanting him to let her go. More than that, she wished he'd speak. Yelling would have been better than this prolonged silence.

When they reached his desk, he flung her toward the chair, and she stumbled backwards into it, not questioning his hissed “Sit.”

He rounded to the other side of the desk, and Shiloh was glad to have the object between them. She didn't truly think he would actually harm her, but her head and the fear coursing through her were telling her two different things. Her head said he was a professor and she could trust him; her fear told her no one could be trusted not to hurt her, especially not someone so angry.

Professor Snape didn't sit; he seemed too restless to do that. Instead, he pressed his palms into his desk and leaned forward. Shadows were cast on his face, and she could see little more than his eyes. That was enough of a fearsome sight that she kept her gaze lowered. Worse, however, was his voice that seethed forth lowly, bubbling with heat.

“Why are you here?”

“I-I-” Shiloh forced herself to take a deep breath. The worst thing she could do was fall apart; it would be the end of her. Think, Shiloh. Think!

When she didn't answer quickly enough, Professor Snape demanded again, “I asked you what you were doing here.”

Shiloh was beginning to breathe again, and commonsense was flushing back into her mind. The first thing she registered was she was in big trouble, and little could save herself from expulsion. The next thing she understood was the fact that she didn't know where Symone was. Had she gotten out? Or was she still in this room?

Please, Symone. As discreetly as possible, Shiloh tried to look over her shoulder at the door, hoping that Symone had managed to slip through unnoticed. However, Shiloh soon knew that she hadn't; she was still in this room, because in the corner shadows moved. Shiloh knew what it meant, the distortion, the ripple of what shouldn't be able to move. It was the old Cloak, faltering just a bit. But Symone had to leave, before she decided to do anything stupid.

Shiloh raised her eyes to what she knew had to be Symone's eye level. If Shiloh knew her classmate, then she knew that Symone would be frozen, still staring in her direction. And if she judged correctly, then Symone could look right into her eyes. Go, Symone. Shiloh hoped she could read the silent message. Just get out. You can't get it trouble for me.

There was a tiny creak that was so quiet, if Shiloh hadn't been listening for it, she wouldn't have been able to hear it. However, it wasn't moving towards the door, it was moving closer. Symone wanted to come to Shiloh's aid, but she couldn't. She just couldn't!

No, Symone! Shiloh thought wildly, fearfully, desperately. You promised, Symone. You promised!

As though Symone was remembering that, too, there was absolute silence as though Symone was once again frozen. Shiloh looked about for any sign of her, but all she saw was the door beginning to open.

“What are you looking at?”

Shiloh snapped her head back to look at Professor Snape. She had to distract him. Just long enough that he wouldn't be able to hear the door opening and closing. And if that meant confessing some bogus story, then so be it. “Nothing, Professor Snape.” She paused, searching for something to say, her mind working quickly for some sort of lie.

“Then tell me what you're doing here,” he growled impatiently. It was the third time he'd asked, and by the way his hands were pressing firmly against his desk, there wouldn't be a next time.

There was a creak as door hinges protested, and Professor Snape's eyes traveled an inch as though perhaps he had heard it. Shiloh commonsense was gone now – she didn't have time to think things through! So, she simply blurted out the first thing that came to her mind. “I can't!”

It got the effect she wanted. His eyes returned to her, staring holes into her. Any sounds were wiped away by rage, but Shiloh had to fight back a groan. She was never going to get out of this place alive.

“What?” he snarled dangerously.

There was no going back now, especially since she needed to talk quickly, so the professor wouldn't hear the door shutting. “I can't tell you. I'm sorry, Professor, I just can't.”

Pathetic; absolutely pathetic. What an excuse?! I can't! It was one that Professor Snape would never accept, but at the very least, it got him to use a different tactic.

After a moment of studying her, which also could have been a delay to calm himself, Professor Snape ordered, “Empty your pockets.”

There was nothing Shiloh could do but follow his command, no matter that the content of her pockets would surely doom her. Refusal was her only choice, and that wasn't an option with Professor Snape. Doing her best to keep the fear and agony of what was to come at bay, Shiloh forced herself to stand. Her knees wanted to buckle—they felt like they were made of water—her stomach felt like it was turning inside out, and her mouth tasted metallic from the effort it took to keep breathing. However, she managed to keep her hand steady as she pulled out the two potion bottles, a quill she'd forgotten she'd had in there, in a piece of paper with a few jotted notes. She set them on the desk, then reached her hand back for one last item: her wand.

Before she relinquished it, she ran her thumb over it. She knew what fate would befall it if Professor Snape expelled her. This could be the last time she held it, but she couldn't force herself to think of that, because when she did, it felt like a fist had rammed two separate blows, one in her stomach, and one in her throat. She forced herself to breathe steadily and to put the thoughts far from her mind, or else she was going to throw up. Or cry, but she never cried and she refused to now! No matter if she was—admittedly--more scared and more uncertain then she had ever been before.

She breathed in a deep breath and dropped the wand on the pile of other items. If this was going to be her fate, she would accept it. She grasped a hold on her emotions, hiding them behind a facade of numbness and simply watched blankly as Professor Snape picked up the potion bottles. His face grew darker as he studied them, and Shiloh knew that he was beginning to put pieces together. He shook them, hearing only one that had liquid in it, and he pried it open. He brought the contents to his nose, smelled it. Lastly, he cast a spell on it, as though to be certain of his conclusion.

“It's water.” Professor Snape looked as Shiloh, as though awaiting a response or an explanation, but he required neither. Instead, she simply confirmed what he had said with a helpless nod.

“And why,” he began, a sneer beginning to grow on his face, “were you bringing a vial of water into my potion stores?”

Shiloh didn't attempt to speak, because there was something about the slowness of his words, about the smirk on his face, that told her he already knew. He didn't wait for her respond either. Instead he supplied the answer himself:

“Because you were stealing Veritaserum.”

It wasn't so amazing that he had figured that out. After all, Veritaserum was the only potion that resembled water, and she had been climbing the ladder in the same section that Veritaserum was in. He'd just put the tiny details together and come to the first logical guess. She should have known he'd be able to figure it out. However, he was wrong on one detail, a detail she had to set him right on, because it was the only thing that gave her hope of remaining in Hogwarts.

“But I wasn't stealing it,” she put in as softly and as respectfully as she could. “I was bringing it back.”

The mocking twist in his lip showed how well he believed that, as well as his next words, which were little more than a taunt. “And why should I believe that lie?”

“Because you came in when I was coming down the ladder, after I'd finished whatever it was that I was doing, and I didn't have the Veritaserum in my pocket. I had the water.”

Professor Snape blinked, as sign that he was either thinking or he was clearly taken aback. Shiloh hoped it was both. She hadn't had to think very hard to come up with the response. All she had to remember was what Professor Snape would have seen, and see the things that he—much like herself—always looked for: the evidence in the little things.

Shiloh had proved herself with that explanation because he moved to another direction of attack. “But you did steal it?”

She hesitated, wondering if it mattered to him that she'd brought it back, wondering if he cared that he hadn't caught her stealing, but rather correcting that mistake.

He clearly took her reluctance to speak as a yes. No response was as much of a giveaway as anything. He continued, “How long ago did you steal it? A few days?”

“No.” Shiloh shook her head as calmly as she could. “A month.”

It was not the answer he had been expecting because he blinked, not just once this time, but several times. Then he lifted her vials back into his hand, studying them intently. Perhaps he was asking himself how he had managed not to notice for an entire month, but with the two potions in his hand, he was quickly figuring it out. “You switched the Veritaserum with water, didn't you?”

“Yes, sir.” What else could she say?

“And you knew that I put charms on my vials so that they all had their own separate marks, so that no matter how a like in appearance replacements were, I could tell my potions were missing by working a simple spell.”

“No, sir.” Shiloh had never even supposed there was such a charm, though she swore now that she would research it. It was probably a high level charm, which might explain why she hadn't known about it, but she would like to learn it one day. It would be quite handy to know. But that train of thought was top painful to continue, because it only served to remind her that she might not be a witch for much longer.

Professor Snape seemed skeptical, because he pressed again, his voice strained to tell her this was her last opportunity to come clean if she was lying. “Are you sure? None of the older students told you?”

“No, Professor,” she repeated, firmly. “I didn't know at all.”

“Then how,” he demanded sharply, frustration on his own ignorance showing through, “did you know to change the bottles?”

“Our vials looked different,” Shiloh explained. “I knew you'd notice if I took yours and left mine instead.”

He paused, as though wondering whether to accept it. He did, because he set her vials down and dwelt on the subject no longer. She knew what was coming next, the thing she dreaded most in all the questions, the thing she had better think up a lie quickly for, because the real answer would get her expelled for sure. She knew what was coming, because Professor Snape had already established the 'what' and the 'how'. Now all that was left was the 'why'.

Sure enough, he went on. “Why did you do it? And no lying to me or you may find three drops of the very same potion in your morning pumpkin juice.”

He wasn't teasing her—his voice was nothing but serious--and he wasn't giving an empty threat. Time for such things had long since passed. Here, in the overpowering darkness of his office, she was stripped away of manipulations, lies, and all the games she could have played to get herself out of situations. There was nothing here, but cold, hard truth. She had never despised the truth as much as she did right at this moment.

“I was going to use it on Annadel.” Shiloh forced out the words, and it was so painful to say them that she winced, closing her eyes to keep from seeing his furious reaction.

But all she heard was a small release of air that was something close to a scuff. “Why doesn't that surprise me? It's always Annadel, isn't it?” His voice wasn't angry, at least, no angrier than it had been before. It was flat and sarcastic with some bitter sense of humor. Although, his tone was still as firm as steel, pressing her to continue. “Very well. What was the purpose?”

She breathed out again in a quiet sigh. She looked down to the floor, studying what she could see of the grains. “I was going to get her to confess to sabotaging my potions.” Each word had its own amount of difficulty, because each word dug her grave deeper and deeper.

“And you failed?”

Shiloh didn't even know why he'd taken his time to ask that, unless it was to stretch her already tight nerves even tauter. “I think the answer to that is obvious,” she said as politely as she could manage.

“Indeed.” There was some sort of dark humor in his voice, and hearing the sarcasm only made her jaw tighten in frustration. Did he enjoy mocking her? “One whole month and you couldn't even manage to get three drops of a potion into a girl's pumpkin juice.”

Well, that was a clear yes to that question. Honestly, if he was going to punish her then at the very least he could be decent about it and get it over with. He didn't have to torture her! Unless, of course, that was the only entertainment he got.

Shiloh told herself to be polite, but as she spoke, her voice was bitter and she couldn't hide her exasperation, “Well, it's not as easy as it sounds.”

His lips twisted up into a smirk. “Obviously.” Luckily he continued before she lost all of her self-control and thought up some witty, but incredibly unwise thing to say, “And are you aware that you not only broke countless school laws, but that the use of Veritaserum is strictly controlled by the Ministry? I highly doubt that their guidelines allow for use on an eleven-year-old.”

Did he think she was stupid? Yes, of course, he did. She never would have done it if there had been other options, couldn't he see that? No, he couldn't. And wouldn't he, at the very least, stop playing with her the way a cat toyed with a mouse before the killing? No, he wouldn't, but that wasn't fair. Besides, she had enough. Her last restraint was gone. Her last bit a will power had faded away. All there was was the frustration, the anger, and the helpless situation. So she did the one thing she had been determined not to do. She allowed herself to snap.

“I wouldn't have done it if you'd believed me when I came to you three months ago!” she retorted, fueled on over ninety days of pure torture. “I didn't want to do it, but I didn't have any other choice. My professor wasn't going to do anything, so I had to!”

As soon as the last words exited her mouth, she knew her mistake and she flung her hands over her lips, as though to keep in any other words that might threaten to come out. How badly she wished she could scoop back the words before they reached Professor Snape's ears, but it was too late. He'd heard. She could tell but the hell fire in his eyes.

“I'm sorry,” she quickly apologized.

“Oh, no you're not,” he hissed. “You meant what you said.”

He had her there. Yes, she had meant it, because it was true. Professor Snape not believing her had been the center of this, but she had concluded hours ago that that didn't matter, and she believed it, didn't she? Maybe she did, but everything seemed different now, like a part of her that hadn't truly forgiven him was now pressing upward. She quickly shoved it down, destroying it with logic. Of course, he hadn't believed her. Who would have? He'd simply acted upon what he had reason to believe. And she shouldn't have snapped at him, because it wasn't his fault she was standing here. It was no one's but her own.

“In a way, yes,” she said, struggling with the words. She didn't really know what to say, but she wanted to recover for the horrible mistake she had made. “But you're my professor...and I should respect you as that....which means I shouldn't have said those things.” There were great gaps between her words in which she had to fight to come up with the next phrase, something that would explain all she wanted to say. “And I don't blame you for not believing me...not really, at least.” She didn't really know why she said that, but she thought perhaps it was important. Besides it was too late to go back now. “I wouldn't have believed myself either.” Oh, yes, that made a lot of sense. “I mean...”

It was the first time she had ever recalled being so flustered, but every time she thought, she kept seeing a broken wand, and every time she blinked, she saw her parents' disappointed, angry, yet impossibly sad faces. Every time she tried to recapture the control she'd once held, she kept picturing herself living her life as a Muggle. Her father told her there was nothing bad about it, so maybe she'd enjoy it. But who was she kidding? She loved magic. What would her life be without it?

Unable to stand on her weak legs any longer, she lowered herself into her chair, staring at the back wall with a blank gaze. She tried not to think, because it was too painful to do that.

Professor Snape was staring down at her; she could feel his eyes upon her, weighing her carefully. She knew he was trying to figure out the proper punishment for her, and she knew that one option was clearly standing out in his mind. Then why didn't he just say it? What was his hesitance?

After a long minute, he finally lowered himself in his chair, and Shiloh was a bit thankful. He wasn't quite as intimidating when he was sitting. Also, it might mean that he was ready to give a verdict, but he continued to look at her thoughtfully for minutes that seemed to stretch into an eternity. Shiloh finally turned her empty gaze to him, but his face was as unreadable as her own. They looked at one another for what seemed like decades, but were perhaps only twenty seconds. Neither truly saw the other, each where lost in their own thoughts.

But soon, Shiloh couldn't take the waiting a moment longer. As much as she feared the answer, she had to know.

“Are—” Her voice broke, and she forced herself to take a deep breath. This time, she managed to get the words out, even if they were spoken in nothing more than a whisper, “Are you going to expel me?”

Professor Snape's eyes focused upon her for the first time, and she knew his decision had been made. She closed her eyes, unable to bear looking at him. Once the words were said, nothing could save her. There would be no changing anything, no bargaining, no hope. Just despair. She could already hear his reply now.

Yes, Miss Sanders.

Of course, Miss Sanders.

It's what you deserve, Miss Sanders.


“No, Miss Sanders.”

Shiloh's eyes jerked open. She didn't mind if she looked as shocked as she felt. She couldn't believe he'd actually said it all. It seemed like a dream, an imagination, and she expected him to say 'Fooled you, dunderhead' at any second. It never came. He only stared her with that same intensity, that same seriousness that she was beginning to love again.

“But,” he continued, his tone dark, “you must understand that if I ever find you in my personal stores again, you will be on the train back home faster than you can say Veritaserum.”

A reprimand had never sounded so good. She barely even heard it, but all that kept repeating itself through her mind was I'm not expelled. I'm still a witch! I'm here to stay! The joy from that was so profound that she wanted to laugh, yet at the same time, she felt her arms shudder as every inch of fear left her. All that was left was relief, and then after a moment, there wasn't even that. Just a happy numbness. Her emotions had taken about enough for one night. She'd felt them more than she had for more than a year, and she didn't blame her emotions from shutting down.

“Furthermore,” Professor Snape went on, “you will be serving detention every other Saturday until the end of the year.”

“Yes, sir,” Shiloh breathed, discovering that she couldn't have cared less if she had tried. It didn't mater. Not that she had gotten caught, or that she had more punishment than Annadel, because she was too glad to not be expelled to care.

“You may go now.”

“Yes, sir.” Her vocabulary seemed limited to those two words, and more exhausted than she could have believed, she climbed onto limp legs, returned her things to her pockets, and started towards the door. Only when her hand was on the handle did a question come to her mind, the only one that still held importance.

“Professor?” she asked, pulling together enough energy to say the word and to look back at the professor.

He looked quite annoyed that she hadn't left yet, and more than that, he looked tired. Perhaps he liked midnight adventures about as much as she did. His voice was strained, but tolerant. “Yes, Miss Sanders?”

“In the first six weeks of my detention, will I be serving it with Annadel?” That would have been the worst punishment, the only thing she would have had anything to protest against.

Professor Snape's head jerked back and he spoke incredulously, as though he was astounded that she even had to ask. “Of course not, Miss Sanders. After all, putting you and Annadel together would be disastrous. And there's no reason to punish me, now is there?”

It was almost funny, but Shiloh was too tired to even notice. She nodded, mumbled 'goodbye' so softly she wasn't sure he heard, and exited the office. The walk back to the dorm seemed to take forever, as it took all of her strength to keep her wary legs moving, but sooner than it seemed, she was back in the common room, safe and sound.

Symone was perched on one of the sofas, her eyes staring into the fire. The light of the flames lit up her expression of terror, and something glistened at the base of her eyes. Perhaps they were tears, unshed, unnoticed, but there all the same. Shiloh couldn't decide if they were there, because they disappeared as soon as Symone turned to look at her. No relief coursed through her expression. Instead, it seemed that Symone was staring straight past Shiloh, as though she believed her an illusion. But no, that wasn't it. It was simply because Symone believed that Shiloh wouldn't be there for much longer. She made that clear in her statement.

“I can help you pack, if you need me to.”

She had thought that Shiloh was going to be expelled, believed it so much that she almost knew it. And it frightened her, every bit as much as it had frightened Shiloh. It was clear in the agony written all over her face—in the guilt, in the sadness. Shiloh had no time to identify all the heartbreaking emotions, nor did she want to consider what had put them there—she didn't want to complicate things. All she needed to do was to put Symone's fears to rest.

“Why would I do that? I'm not going anywhere, Symone.”

Symone blinked at her as though she hadn't heard, and then suddenly, it registered into her brain. Shock coursed over her feet, and she tried to stand, failed and sank back on the couch. “But...but I thought Professor Snape had caught you...”

“He did,” Shiloh replied as she made her way to sit next to her, not wanting to stand on her exhausted legs a moment longer. “And I have detention until end of term.”

The sadness was back in Symone's eyes, and before she could proclaim how horrible that was, Shiloh continued, “But it doesn't matter, Symone.”

Symone was silent for a long moment, chewing on her bottom lip. She stared down at her feet, calculating a thousand things at once, trying to sort out the one she wanted to say. “I tried to warn you about Snape, but....”

The guilt was evident in her eyes, and Shiloh wanted more than anything to ease it. “I know, Symone.”

“And I wanted to stay with you. I wanted to be with you, and...”

“I know.”

And she did know. She hated it, that Symone had grown to care about her so much, when they could never be friends. And yet, she didn't hate it, because that kind of loyalty was precious, the kind she didn't deserve. For tonight, though, that didn't matter. All that mattered was what Symone had done. Shiloh's gratitude was indescribable, and it went deeper than she knew a feeling ever could. And it could only be released in two words.

“Thank you.”

Symone gave her a look, one that conveyed understanding, but perhaps not acceptance. Because she wasn't satisfied, she was happy. It was clear in her eyes and in her actions as she suddenly stood, paced a few steps, then turned back to look as Shiloh. “But it didn't matter, Shiloh. Going after the Veritaserum didn't change anything.”

Shiloh thought she could understand her emotions. She felt worthless that all she had tried to help Shiloh with had been in vain. She felt disappointment in her own failure and agony that the three months of torture given Shiloh had been for nothing. Shiloh had felt those emotions too, but she was supposed to. Symone wasn't. Because nothing Symone had done have been a waste. She had repaid her 'debt' ten times over, and knowing that someone cared so much about her, had done Shiloh a lot of good. Even if it would soon be just a memory. Even if all of it would fade away after a time.

“I know. But you're wrong; it meant something.” Symone frowned, skeptically, and Shiloh thought of the only thing that would convince her. “It was quite an adventure, wasn't it?”

Unwillingly, the corners of her lips danced upward, and she gave a tiny half-laugh, half-scoff. “Yeah, it was.”

She came to sit beside Shiloh, once again serious. She wasn't quite ready to let to go again, not enough to truly smile or laugh. Not if she was going to risk being disappointed. It hurt too much to have such happiness crushed. So, hesitantly, fearfully, she asked, “Is it really over, Shiloh? Is all of it over?”

Shiloh thought it over, the highs and lows. The times they been disappointed and the times they'd rejoiced. The time they were ready to give up and the determination that had kept them going. Because all of that, depending on her answer, would come to an end, the good and the bad. It was worth it, losing the good if she lost the bad, too. Wasn't it?

But it didn't matter, because no matter what, she knew the answer.

“Yes, Symone, it is. It's all over.”

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