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Chapter Fifteen

Nothing But the Truth






Her hand stopped moving in its familiar pattern, and she stared downward at her own eyes. They gazed up at her, deep and thoughtful. She studied her reflection nonchalantly. Her hair was pulled back, or at least it had been. Right now, it was doing nothing more than clinging halfheartedly to the ribbon while most of it was falling inharmoniously about her face. Her face was whiter than usual, probably from having to wake up far too early to scrub hallways for Filch. Professor Snape had left him in charge of today's detention—her last day of detention.

She wasn't truly thinking about her ratty appearance, or that Filch would be pleased that the floors were so shiny that she could see herself in it. Instead, she was thinking; just thinking. About the past and the present and what could soon be. Most importantly, she was thinking about what had just occurred, the thing that chilled her to the bone.

He tried to come back. He's not dead.

She felt a shiver rotate down her spine, and she leaned back onto her heels, yanking on her left collar to make sure that every inch of her shoulder was hidden. The rumors were going around the school, about Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and the Philosopher's Stone. But those things had only been mentioned briefly. What they really talked about was Harry Potter and You-Know-Who.

It had been so long since Shiloh had heard people speak about the man who often haunted her darkest of thoughts and her worst of fears. When Symone had told her about the rumors, Shiloh had done her best not to show any reaction but interest. Not horror, not fear, not anything that would show she was nothing more than what everyone else was: a skeptic. The Slytherins thought it was a joke. A first year facing the darkest wizard—who just happened to be dead—and coming out with nothing more than a few scrapes! It was a laughable notion to them, and Shiloh wanted to laugh at it too. She didn't want to believe it; she wanted to believe he was dead.

Then again, she'd never believed that such a powerful wizard could ever have been vanquished by an infant, so it wasn't a great stretch to believe that, as ghost, spirit, or something darker, You-Know-Who lived. If she believed that, it wasn't so impossible to believe that he had tried to come back using their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.

It scared her, more than she knew she could be, because it brought up possibilities that she could only imagine. What would happen to her when he came back? The answers to that were endless, and none of them seemed exactly promising.

However, in the end, he hadn't managed to come back, and for that, whether it had been Potter's doing or someone else's, she was grateful. Maybe this would be the end of it. Maybe he was gone for good this time. But believing that seemed as strange as believing a one-year-old could have defeated him in the first place. Besides, Shiloh was tired of hoping for things that could never be. She wasn't going to let her guard down about this one.

She forced herself not to think about it any longer. Dwelling on matters wasn't going to change anything, and it certainly wasn't any help to her. So, as she picked up her scrub brush and moved to the last section of unwashed hallway, she set her mind to other things. She let it pick the first harmless topic it came to. Like the House Cup.

Slytherin had been so close this year; they'd even thought they'd won for a while. They'd had a huge celebration in the common room, and she'd been so happy with the victory, It was her dream to win the House Cup. She could finally use it to prove to her parents that if the Slytherins could win this, then they must be doing something right.

But she should have known it was too good to be true. No sooner had the Slytherin began having a second celebration of gobbling down the end of year feast when Professor Dumbledore had desired to take it all away.

She had supposed the points were fair, even though it was slightly unnerving that the so-called 'heroic' trio had broken countless school rules, endangered their lives and the lives of the other students, and failed to have a single point taken from them. If she, or any Slytherin, had done the same thing, Professor Snape would have had them expelled.

Yet, the Gryffindors were rewarded for their recklessness, because overall it had admittedly been a good deed. Why then did Dumbledore have to wait so long to take the Cup from them? Didn't it occur to him that a notice would have been a lot easier to take than open humiliation in front of the entire school? Or did he just not consider that the Slytherins cared about their victory – and would be hurt greatly that they'd lost it?

Shiloh switched her thoughts quickly. She didn't know if the accusations were fair or not. It was just how she felt. The House Cup had meant so much to her. But it didn't matter now. What was done was done, end of story.

Shiloh let her thoughts go to other things, things farther back in the year. She'd been doing detentions much like this since she'd been caught. Each one had been slightly different. One detention she was scrubbing toilets, the next, she was writing lines. At least she had never been doing the same boring thing over and over again, and she really didn't mind the punishments. They gave her time to think, to plan out her school work, and to debate about the things she'd learned in class that week.

The only punishment that had truly stung was the punishment her parents had sent in the form of a Howler. Professor Snape had never mentioned that he'd be writing to her parents, but she had known to expect it. Still, no matter how much she had braced herself for the shouts of her father and mother, she had never really been ready for it. Howlers were a common thing for the Slytherins, and she was used to the sound of them going off in the common room, but never before had her parents' voice screamed through them. The words We're so disappointed in you were still ringing in her ears.

Failing them was the only thing she'd ever minded about this situation. She'd wanted to make them proud this year, to show them that Slytherin was all right, but she'd done quite the opposite. It made her feel queasy to think of, but it was true, it was life, and she would have to deal with it that summer as they continued her punishment.

At least she'd gotten grades that would at least make her book-smart Ravenclaw mum smile. Shiloh had managed to make up for all her other potions and had gotten back into the habit of brewing the potions to perfection. However, this time she wasn't doing it for Professor Snape. Maybe a time would come when she would be able to impress him, but that wouldn't be this year. So for the rest of the term, she'd brewed potions for herself, getting them perfect because she held the expectations for herself and because she was simply thankful to be able to make them without great disturbances.

Then, of course, there were the exams. Detentions on half of her Saturdays had taken away an opportunity to study, but she had still found plenty of time to pour through the books. A lack of a social life tended to help in the areas of study. Going into the exams she had had a mixture of confidence, excitement, and a touch of apprehension. She hadn't wanted to do poorly, because then her parents would surely go from disappoint to disgust. Today, they had gotten the scores back, and Shiloh had been able to check hers on the break she was given for breakfast.

She'd passed by a considerable mark. She'd scored top of the Slytherin first year class and managed to be along the top five of all the first years. However, those were the overall scores, and in her potions by themselves, she had scored the highest, just a few points above Granger.

It didn't make her feel as proud as she thought it would, but she was satisfied, because she knew her parents would be happy. At least, they would think that she'd managed to do one thing right this year.

Shiloh gave the section of floor one more scrub, until she began to see her own gaze in it. She tossed the brush back into one of the buckets of water, and it landed in it with a splash that sent tiny droplets onto her robes. Shiloh didn't care; she was soaked anyways. It took her a while for her to stand. After so long of being on her knees, they were locking in place, and her back had a dull throb pressing through it. She ignored the ache as she placed her bare feet under her. She'd abandoned her shoes in another hallway when she'd found out what she was going to do. She didn't want to be tracking her dirty shoes on her clean floor.

Now, all she had to do was depose of the dirty water, and she was done. The thought of dry robes, a comfy bed, and a good book was sorely tempting. Shiloh bent and wrapped her hands around the two buckets. Pain soared through her palm and up her arm, and she unbent her fists, bringing her hands up to study them. The skin was red from strain and from lye, her fingers were wrinkled from too much time in the water, and a blister was forming on the side of her thumb. She would have to rub one of her potions on it when she got back to her room, but she couldn't do anything about that now.

She wrapped her hands in the loose fabric of her robes, and then circled the makeshift glove around the handle, so that the metal wouldn't press into her tender hands. Shiloh then lifted upward, gritting her teeth against the exertion. She tried to walk forward, but the weight of the buckets made her feel unbalanced. One knee buckled, causing her to jiggle unsteadily just enough that one bucket tilted, splashing her with a large amount water onto her thigh. She gritted her teeth in frustration and let the buckets slip back to the ground. Was any of this going to be easy? She hissed out a growl of frustration.

“Do you need help?”

The voice was only slightly familiar, but somehow, Shiloh found it unmistakable. She refused to turn; she didn't even dare look. Because there was simply no way that he could have offered to help her.

Of course, there was no option but to look, so slowly, taking a deep breath, she swiveled at her hips to look behind her. There he stood, just like he had at the beginning of the year when he saved her music box. It was the same kind look, the same easy smile and dancing eyes. All of it was the same, but yet she continued to stare at him and the identical image of him standing at his side. She couldn't believe he was there, but the more she looked, the more she realized that she wasn't imagining things and she wasn't crazy.

George Weasley really was standing there.

She continued to watch as George and Fred exchanged a questioningly look, and only then did realize that, yes, they very much wanted her to respond to George's question. She'd been standing there, staring at them blankly for far too many seconds; she must look like a complete oaf. She opened her mouth quickly, trying to force out sound but none came. Say something, Shiloh! she ordered herself. Before they think you're even more of an idiot.

She tried again. “I...” Brilliant, Shiloh! That helps loads! she thought to herself, resisting the urge to growl in frustration. Honestly, it's just a boy!

She felt more collected now, and she was too irritated to allow herself to slip up again. She took a deep breath, prepared to answer that yes, they could help her, and thanks for offering, and then...

“It's all right. I can help her.”

Shiloh blinked in surprise, closed her mouth, and looked to see Symone approaching behind George. Fred and George turned to glance at Symone as well, as though wondering where she'd come from, but after a moment, they clearly decided that it didn't matter, because they shrugged in unison. If she wanted to help Shiloh then that was just fine with them; they didn't have to help her after all.

“All right, then.” Without another word, they both turned and jogged back the way they had come, their movement light and springy. Shiloh watched them going, not really knowing why she was letting her eyes linger upon them as they made their way to the end of the hall. Before they disappeared from sight, George—Shiloh was sure it was George—lifted a hand over her shoulder in a silent farewell.

When they were gone, Shiloh swallowed hard and reluctantly turned to face Symone. She couldn't explain why she felt as though she wished that Symone had kept her distance, but that made little sense. Fred and George hadn't needed to help her; she probably should have refused anyways before she made a fool out of herself. There was no reason to be angry with Symone, because it was just her helpful nature getting the best of her.

Shiloh hadn't spoken to Symone very much since the night she'd gotten punished. It was time for them to put aside the make-believe and go back to the way things that they had been before the Veritaserum episode. So, Shiloh had once again pulled away from her, and after a few weeks, Symone had begun to do the same. It was clear Symone didn't understand why this was happening, but she accepted it. So here they were, nothing more than helpful acquaintances.

Shiloh heaved her bucket upward with two hands, and beside her, Symone did the same. No sooner had they gone a few steps then they heard uproarious and mocking laughter. Confused, they turned to look, expecting to find someone who had tripped on the wet floor or something humorous like that. Instead all they found were the three people Shiloh could do without ever seeing again.

Pansy, Millicent, and Annadel were leaning against a wall to support their shuddering frames as they giggled powerfully. The three had been doing their best to get revenge on her since they'd been caught. At least they'd gone back to the dirty and predictable things, like calling Shiloh's father a Mudblood and using every opportunity they had to make Shiloh's life miserable. Just as they were trying to do now.

“What's so funny?” Symone demanded, her anger showing that she at least had some idea what – or who—they were laughing at.

Shiloh hid back a groan. She should have known Symone would have gone off. Shiloh wouldn't have given them the satisfaction and would have simply strolled away. However, it was too late now. She wasn't going to abandon Symone to these jackals.

“You,” Millicent said through her laughter that sounded like a horse's squeal.

“You look like servants,” Pansy explained, with a large, girlish giggle.

Now it was Annadel's turn, and Shiloh had to wonder how it was possible for someone to laugh and snarl at the same time; Annadel was managing it expertly. “Which is quite ironic, because it's just what Halfbloods like you should be. I'm glad you're good at scrubbing floor, Sanders. Your mother must have taught you that. After all, it's the only thing she's good for.”

Shiloh had a few retorts for that one, most of them including a hex right to the nose. The only thing that stopped her was Symone's hand which had circled around Shiloh's wrist, silently restraining her and drawing her to look at Symone.

A smile was etching across her lips, but Shiloh couldn't see anything amusing about this entire situation. Although...was that mischievousness Shiloh glimpsed in her eyes? Yes, most certainly. She knew that smile, the one Symone always had when she was up to something.

Still smiling, Symone's eyes went down to the bucket in her hand and then to Annadel. Just her eyes, nothing more, but as though Shiloh had read her mind, she knew what Symone wanted. Brilliant, Symone. Shiloh let her lips twitch, showing that she understood.

Symone grinned and looked back at Annadel. “You know what else is funny?”

The trio went silent, Millicent looking confused, Pansy still smiling, but Annadel looking suspicious. She had a right to, even if she didn't notice that Symone and Shiloh were slipping their free hands beneath their buckets.

“What's that?” Annadel snapped skeptically.

“This!”

With a mighty heave, Symone and Shiloh brought their buckets forward. A large spray of filthy water shot through the air. Annadel, Pansy, and Millicent's face froze in horror. And then...

Cla-splash!

The water fell right on their heads.

Three voices began to scream in horror as they flung out their arms, shaking droplets from their soaked sleeves. Their hair clung to their faces and their robes were pressed to their skin. Annadel looked shocked, her mouth gaping and trying to form sound; another scream, an insult, anything, but she failed. Pansy was making sounds that were more like sobs than yells. Millicent looked fiendish with anger and began to crack her knuckles.

In unison, Symone and Shiloh grinned and waved their fingers at them mockingly, before they turned and fled down the halls, their empty buckets swinging limply at their sides.

They held in their joy and laughter while Shiloh collected her shoes and reported to Filch. During the time, the two refused to look at one another. The one time that Shiloh made the mistake of looking Symone in the eye, Symone snorted a laugh, but quickly fell quiet when Filch gave her a stern eye. They didn't do it again, for fear that if they looked at each other, they would burst out laughing. It would be laughter that they wouldn't be able to explain to the man with no humor, and they didn't want to scrub more floors for suspicious behavior.

Eventually, he dismissed Shiloh and they jogged side by side all the way back to their dorm room. Once there, Symone could no longer help herself. She burst into laughter, leaning against the door to support her knees as the giggles shook her entire body.

“Did you see the look on their faces?”

Symone's laughter was pure and clean and as contagious as it always was, and Shiloh felt the delight bubble within her. Her lips parted in a few, rare giggles. She couldn't help it, because the look of the three soaked girls was replaying itself in her mind and that look that spoke of perfect shock and horror had been priceless! Mostly, though, Shiloh simply smiled. She listened to Symone's heartfelt laughter and enjoyed what she knew would be the last moment that they shared, enjoying life and bliss, for two months, if not forever.

Shiloh's smile disappeared. She watched as Symone's laughter ebbed away, and then, still grinning, Symone walked a few feet forward, towards her bed. On the way, she began to speak, “It feels strange to be going home.”

Her tone was light, but her message was solemn, exactly what Shiloh had been feeling as well.

Symone turned around, to smile at Shiloh. “You have to promise that you'll write me this summer.”

The blow landed like a fist in her stomach, spreading agonizing guilt through her gut and turning her insides cold. Didn't Symone understand what Shiloh had silently been trying to tell her since the beginning of the year? They couldn't be friends; couldn't Symone see that? Shiloh had thought she had seen it, but now she knew better. Looking into Symone's eyes that were filled with hope and certainty, Shiloh was convinced that Symon hadn't gotten the message. Now, Shiloh had no choice but to spell it out for her, but it would be so hard, because in the process she would do something that she hadn't wanted. She'd hurt Symone.

Forcing herself not to feel, not to think, not to do anything that would allow the pain to come, Shiloh opened her mouth. “No, Symone. I won't write you, because we're not friends.”

It wasn't hurt that flashed across Symone's face; it was anger, fierce, hot anger. It raged through her eyes, making them crackle, but Shiloh didn't feel fear. All she felt was guilt, even when Symone surged towards her so quickly she had no time to brace herself. Symone threw her hands into Shiloh's shoulder, shoving her against the door.

“What is wrong with you?” she yelled, only inches from Shiloh who was now pinned. “Every time I try to get close to you, you run like some frightened chicken!”

Shiloh didn't like being trapped and instincts made her duck away from Symone, squeezing around her so that Symone had to turn to face her. “I thought you understood,” Shiloh tried to reason calmly, tried to lessen the blow for Symone. “I thought you accepted it.”

Symone growled lowly, “If I hadn't considered you my friend, do you honestly think I would have helped you with the Veritaserum?”

The unexpected retort made Shiloh's knees feel like they had the substance of water. She caught the nearest bedpost to keep herself from hitting the floor. That couldn't have been the reason; it wasn't! “You said that was because you wanted to repay your debt.”

Symone threw up her hands, looking frustrated enough to start pulling chunks out of her own hair. “I only told you that because I knew it was the only way that you were going to let me help you. Honestly, Shiloh, I thought you were smart enough to figure that out.”

Yes, perhaps Shiloh should have been able to see it. All the signs had been there, proving that, debt aside, Symone cared about Shiloh. However, Shiloh had wanted to forget that, to think that the friendly feelings would fade, and they could go back to being just plain acquaintances. She hadn't seen the truth, because she hadn't wanted to see it. Besides, she had never imagined that Symone could know enough about her to manipulate her so well. But she should have known that as un-Slytherin as Symone could sometimes be, the fierce cunning was there.

“But...” Shiloh struggled. She had to remind herself that whatever reasons Symone had had, it didn't change anything. It was horrible, yes, but she couldn't help it. She wished things could be different, but they couldn't. Shiloh was still apart of something Symone hated. “Symone, listen to me. We can't be friends!”

“Why not? I don't understand!” Symone snapped back, her anger starting to turn into desperation, the pain beginning to push through the barriers. “Dang it, Shiloh! What have you got to hide?”

How could Symone ever possibly know that Shiloh was hiding something? Could it be so obvious? Shiloh felt fear and confusion, two emotions she hated more than anything. The feelings began to morph into anger. Who was Symone to ask her what she was hiding, when everyone had secrets? Who was she to demand an answer, when Symone clearly hid things of her own?

“Let's talk about hiding, shall we?” Shiloh hissed lowly, her tone as nasty as it would be if she was talking to Annadel.

Symone blinked, shock and horror beginning to etch lines on her face. Still, Shiloh couldn't help it, couldn't think reasonably, because she was too angry; she was too scared.

“How about how you, who loves her family so much and has never mentioned her so-called 'accountant' of a father? What reasons behind that, huh?”

Symone gasped, a hand flying to cover her lips in shock. She stumbled back a few steps, pain written clearly on her face. Seeing the pain, she couldn't bear it. A mirror of the pain shoved through her, and she couldn't watch Symone anymore. She couldn't stand and witness the aftermath of what she had caused. So, she turned around, taking a few shaky steps toward her bed. She closed her hand around the bedpost, forcing herself to breath, forcing the emotion to leave. She'd get through this. They both would.

“My dad's in a Muggle prison.”

Shiloh jerked her head around in surprise, staring at Symone. The anger was back in Symone's eyes, but this time Shiloh didn't think it was all meant for herself. Symone's pain was there too, but it had very little to do with the blows that Shiloh had inflicted, and very much to do with the scars that were already on her heart.

“I don't know if he's accountant, or what he does, really.” Symone was looking down at the floor, and her hands were fists as she fought for each word. “But whatever he did, he was in charge of selling something, and he sold something that didn't belong to him. I don't know why he did it, but he did, and they took him to jail.”

Shiloh could do nothing but stare at her, feeling sympathy, pain, horror. All of it for Symone.

“My mum hasn't been the same since the Muggle police took him.” Her voice was going softer, full of more emotion, as she shivered from some inner cold. “Bran's doing all right, and Sherry says that that it's good riddance to bad rubbish. But Adrian – he used to be well-behaved and got in little trouble—as little as any Slytherin could. We used to be good friends, but he changed after that. Started hanging out with the wrong crowd, started drinking, started dating the worst kind of girls, and started hating me. And me, well...”

She could no longer stand, and she slid onto her bed, her elbows on her knees, but her hands reaching upward in exasperation. That was when Shiloh noticed the tears, the ones that hadn't quite left her eyes, the ones that were about to overflow.

Symone's next words came out quickly, half-sob, half-scream, “I haven't seen my dad in two years!”

She swiped angrily at the tears, trying not to cry, but in pain nonetheless. Shiloh was frozen in place, watching her, tormented for her. What kind of a man could ever do this to his child? How could he do something so stupid that would lead to him being taken from a child who had clearly loved him the way that he didn't deserve to be loved?

Who was Shiloh to talk? After all, what he had done to Symone had not been so different than what she had done. She'd been selfishly unwilling to take a chance to keep the tenderhearted girl from a word of pain. She'd selfishly hurt the girl who had cared for her—grown to know her—the way that almost no one else had.

Shiloh swallowed hard, wondering if she was really considering what she thought she was considering. The truth would only make her lose Symone, wouldn't it? Then again, looking at Symone now, Shiloh knew that she had already lost her. That was no longer a threat, but having Symone hate her forever was. But that wouldn't be the worst thing.

If Shiloh let the opportunity pass, she would never know if it could have worked. She would never know if maybe, somehow, Symone could accept her for everything Shiloh was—the good and the bad, but especially the bad. Shiloh didn't know if she could survive that, never knowing. But could she trust Symone?

Yes. Symone had trusted her, with something she had likely told no one else. Besides, Symone had already kept hidden so many things that Shiloh had revealed. At the very least, Symone would keep her secret, even if she hated Shiloh for it.

It wasn't going to be easy, forcing all the knowledge that she had kept silent for so long into a few words. But it was time to try, time to tell it all.

Nothing but the truth.

Using all the courage she could ever possess, she marched to Symone's side. Yes, she was scared. Everything she had come to know was now balanced on the edge of a knife, and she was betting everything for a slim hope. However, Shiloh was determined as well.

“Symone.”

She raised her eyes to Shiloh, her annoyed gaze reading Why haven't you left yet?.

Shiloh forced herself not to notice, because the first words were always the hardest. If she said them, there was no going back. And she was going to say them. “Did I ever tell you I was adopted?”

Symone only seemed slightly surprised, but mostly she was unimpressed and apathetic, even angry. “So what? That doesn't give you the right to be nasty to people.”

“I know,” Shiloh said sincerely, apologetically. She did know. Nothing, not her past, not her fears, gave her the right to treat Symone the way she had. “I know. But—” Her stomach felt like it was being crumpled into a ball. The desire to run was intense, and fighting it took everything within her. She wasn't going to run away this time. I'm going to do this. I'm going to stay. “I'm not the kind of adopted where I don't know who—or what—my birth parents were. I know who my mother was.”

Still, Symone seemed unimpressed. She seemed to expect some sort of joke, some sort of horrible excuse, because all she said was “Try me.”

Here they came. The six words she'd never before had the courage to say. “My mother was a Death Eater.”

Shiloh closed her eyes, not wanting to see Symone's reaction. If she wanted to hex her, fine. She'd take it willingly, but she couldn't bear to see the hate in her eyes, the rage and the disgust. Then she heard it, not an angry shout, a frightened cry, or a snapped incantation. Just of soft, “Oh God, Shi. Oh God.”

Shiloh opened her eyes to find Symone looking up at her, pain and anger replaced by only shock. No loathing. No enmity. Just confusion.

“How...” Symone started, a thousand questions rolling behind her eyes. She couldn't seem to find the right one, the right words to say, so she made a few stuttering noises. She needed more details, and Shiloh knew it. So, she told the story. Her story.

“I don't know much about my mother, only that she served You-Know-Who, along with the rest of her family.”

Shiloh's tone was cool, calm, as though she was stating everything about someone else's life, not her own. She forced herself to think of it that way, and it was easy, for the details were so familiar to her that she could state them as though reading from a book. She didn't let herself think that if Symone didn't hate her yet, as soon as she heard the story, as soon as it sunk in, she would.

“She lied. She knew the Dark Arts. She murdered, and she had me. I don't know who my father is, but he's probably a Death Eater just like her. My mother died when I was almost three. My uncle went to Azkaban, and through a serious of events, I was taken in by the Sanders.” She ebbed to a close, knowing Symone could easier figure out the rest of the story, the one that had led Shiloh here.

Symone didn't even look at her. She just stared blindly at the floor, trying to take all of it. She seemed to be doing a good job, being able to accept it, because she moved past what she knew to ask a new question. “Do you remember her?” Symone finally looked up to her, her eyes seeming to plead for something. Perhaps, she wished for Shiloh to say no, because then it would be as though she was untouched by a Death Eater. It would then become little more than a known fact, not an actual experience, not a part branded on to Shiloh. Most importantly, if Shiloh didn't remember, she couldn't be like her mother, could she?

However, Shiloh couldn't give her what she wanted, what Shiloh wished she could say. Because if she hadn't remembered, if she'd never known, everything would have been much simpler. The pain that was now going through her as memories, feelings, and flashbacks of the dark part of her childhood, flashed into her mind. “Yes,” Shiloh replied, her voice flat, but beneath it was a tremor as a cold shiver made its way through her body. Talking about this was so hard, because it made her remember. And remembering was painful. “In flashbacks and in nightmares. And...”

She struggled for words, as a hand closed around her throat. Saying these things brought up every emotion she wished she didn't have to feel: the loathing, the anger, the hurt. She gave up the fight to speak and fell silent.

Symone stared at her for the longest time; then she opened her mouth to choke out, “Did she...” She couldn't finish the sentence, because a strangled sound came instead.

Shiloh was slightly thankful, because with those two words she knew what Symone was going to ask. It was the one question that she wasn't sure Symone had the right to ask, nor did Shiloh think she had the strength to answer. She didn't have the strength to think about it! Not when it already haunted her in every harsh touch, in every loud noise, and in the dark of the night.

Symone didn't give up so easily. She wanted to know. Perhaps, she needed to know, just so she could be able to understand it all clearly. Whatever reason, it was clear that it mattered to her, because she pressed onward. “Did she...hurt you?”

Something closed around her throat, restricting her breath, and a memory tried to press into her mind. She had only memory, but it was enough. Shiloh wrapped her arms around her belly, not sure if she could speak. But she'd promised herself to tell everything. Even this.

“Yes.” The memory assaulted her again, and this time it wasn't pain or fear that she felt. It was hate, so passionate, so fierce that it lit her blood on fire. Her skin felt hot, and the rage wiped her mind clear. It stripped her of reason, until there was nothing there but the anger and the truth.

"And I hate her! I hate her for hurting me. I hate her for every, bloody memory where I'm cold and hungry and scared. I hate her for being a Death Eater. And I hate her...I hate her...” She faltered, then pressed on. “I hate her for this!”

Without thinking, she whirled around so that her back was to Symone. Aggressively, hatefully, she seized the left side of her collar and yanked it downward, until her left shoulder was exposed. Symone's gasp screamed into her ears, and she could hear her hands slap over her mouth and the muffled sounds as Symone mumbled over and over, “Oh, dear God...”

Shiloh didn't blame her for her shock; she wouldn't have blamed Symone if she turned in fled, because, if given the chose, running away from it was exactly what Shiloh would have done. Symone remained, though, and soon fell quiet. When she spoke, her voice was no longer muffled, but it still shook. “That's...that's...”

“The Dark Mark.”

Her words were calm, frightening so, but she had lived with the Mark her whole life. It had always been there, laying sideways on her left shoulder. Why should speaking of it matter now? Even though, somewhere deep in her mind, Shiloh knew that if she was thinking straight, she'd be horrified of what she'd done. In fact, she'd never had done it. She'd spent years hiding it, just like her parents had told her to do. She'd been so careful, always making sure the curtains around her bed were closed tight whenever she changed clothes and the lavatory was empty whenever she had a quick shower. She'd obsessed over hiding it until she had developed the nervous twitch of pulling up her left collar, to make sure all the skin was hidden. Somehow, though, Shiloh didn't care. For once in her life, she had done something without over-thinking it, and it made her feel...relieved.

However, now was no time to feel relaxed. Right now, she had to face the consequences, ones that she had not weighed beforehand. She did not think that she had gone into telling Symone the truth with the intention to reveal her Mark, and now that she had, she knew, that if Symone hadn't hated her before, she was going to hate her now. After all, how could she not?

Symone stared at her, long after Shiloh had covered up her shoulder and turned to face her. Shiloh braced herself for the worst, for Symone to scream or to run or to hex her into oblivion. It was one thing thinking that a child was the daughter of a Death Eater, but this changed everything. They both knew what it made Shiloh.

Symone, though, didn't move, only stared at her in shock, her mouth curved open and fitting to make sounds. All that came out was gobbled, unintelligent sounds. After a long moment in which Shiloh stood, waiting patiently and forcing herself to be calm, to face this with her head held high, Symone finally spoke.

“Why?”

It was just one word, but Shiloh knew what she was asking. It was the one question that Shiloh didn't have an answer to. She could speculate all she wanted, but always in the end, she would come to the same conclusion.

“I don't know,” Shiloh said. “It could have been just a tattoo that my sick mother branded me with in her dreams of making me a Death Eater. Or it could...” She stopped herself, not during to speak or think any farther than that, because any other reason would include him.

It was the uncertainty of what the Mark meant that had always made Shiloh fear it and what made her refuse to think about it. Although, the knowledge was always there, the unanswered questions always lingered at the back of her brain. Yet, she hoped she would never know the truth, because at least, with not knowing, she was halfway free of it.

Symone continued to gawk at her, but instead of bewilderment, it was in thoughtfulness. She hardly seemed to be looking at Shiloh, but looking through her. She was quiet for a long moment, and Shiloh understood. It was a lot to take it, figuring out that the girl she had known for almost a year, was a Death Eater's daughter, had a Dark Mark, was a part of a world that Symone didn't want to be anywhere near.

Shiloh knew she was finally beginning to understand this, to accept it, because she opened her mouth, her expression still distant, and said softly, “And that's why we can't be friends?”

“Yes.” Shiloh wondered how it was possible for one word to be so difficult to say, but now that she had gotten it past her swollen tongue, she knew she had to continue. “My mother's a Death Eater; yours is an Auror. It just wouldn't work.”

Symone blinked at her, as though she had not quite heard. “My mother's an Auror,” she repeated softly, more to herself then anything. She was once again staring down at the floor, dragging her foot in the direction of the grain. Finally, she looked back up at Shiloh and asked, innocently, “What's that got to do with anything?”

How was that possible?! Shiloh had just finished explaining everything, yet Symone didn't understand it. It should have been obvious; being an Auror's daughter, Symone knew everything about Death Eater's and their world, yet the idea hadn't latched into her mind. Continuing this was so hard. Why did Symone insist on making it hard when they should be agreeing to spend the next six years avoiding one another?

“Didn't you hear me?” Shiloh asked, her voice a bit rougher than she intended. She couldn't help it; this was so hard that she was getting exasperated. “My mother's a Death Eater.”

“I heard you, Shiloh,” Symone said softly.

Clearly she hadn't or she would understand this, so Shiloh pressed on. “I highly doubt your mother would approve of you hanging out with the likes of me.”

“The likes of you,” Symone parroted again, her lips barely moving as she tried to latch the words in her mind. As soon as she had understood what Shiloh had said, it dawned on her face like one waking up far too suddenly. She opened her mouth and said, flatly, “Oh.”

Oh. That was it? Shiloh looked at her, as Symone turned from her state of shock to something completely different, something like the Symone that Shiloh knew her to be. The fire returned to her eyes, and her jaw latched taut. Shiloh knew that look well. Symone was accepting something; she was preparing for battle.

“So that's what this is, isn't it?” Symone asked her, folding her arms over her chest and meeting Shiloh's for the first time in a while. “Because I'm an Auror's daughter, you just assumed I'd hate you.”

Y es. Shiloh nodded.

“Well, for once in your life, Shiloh Sanders, you're wrong,” Symone said, her voice shaking with a hint of frustration and passion, “Yes, I hate Death Eaters. The things my mum told me about them...” As though caught up in a memory, she gave a shudder, her eyes briefly distant. Then she refocused on Shiloh. “They were evil, Shiloh!”

Shiloh had known she would feel like that; it was the way Shiloh felt too. Their lives, their world, had been filled with dark magic, hate, and murder, and it was a world that, unwilling or not, Shiloh had been a part of—was still a part of. It was something she could escape. Her Mark was evidence of that. Shiloh lowered her eyes to the floor, waiting for Symone to deliver the final blow.

“But you are not your mother.”

Shiloh jerked her head up in surprise. Whatever she had thought this conversation held, it wasn't that. She spent an entire year sure that if Symone had found out, she would hate Shiloh, but it wasn't what she found. Because she didn't see a speck of loathing in Symone's eyes, not even a hint of disgust or dislike. Instead she saw something that she didn't know if she wanted to recognize. Perhaps, it was...understanding. No, it couldn't be. It just couldn't be.

Yet, Symone was continuing, more insistent than ever, but still gentle. “That Mark on your shoulder...that's not your fault. You didn't choose it, and you didn't choose your mother. How could I hate you for that?”

Shiloh felt a hand clench itself around her throat, and her legs trembled unexpectedly, so that she had to once again clutch the bedpost. She pressed her eyes closed as the words Symone had spoken repeated themselves in her mind. You didn't choose it, and you didn't choose your mother. She'd never heard someone say that; it was something she had always known to be true, but she didn't know that anyone could figure it out to. It was why she had felt so sure that she would always be hated for it, and that feeling didn't change. The world would still hate her for that, but one thing stood out in her mind.

Of all the people who would hate her for being a Death Eater's daughter, for all those who would despise her for the world she was apart of, somehow, someway, Symone didn't hate her.

Shiloh slid onto the bed, her weak legs unable to sustain her for any longer. Everything she had thought had been so certain, had been obliterated. Symone knew the truth—the whole truth—and she didn't hate it. For so long, she had lived her life and their relationship believing that, but now that it had turned out to be untrue she realized what a waste it had been. All the times she had shoved Symone away, every moment she had spent making sure they didn't cross the path into friendship, every second she been tortured thinking she wanted something impossible – all of it had been based on a lie.

All the things she ever done to Symone, and she was still standing there, knowing the truth and accepting it and looking at her softly. After all this time, Symone was still hopefully waiting for an answer, longing for the thing that Shiloh had thought could never be.

“Shiloh?” Symone was worried; Shiloh could see it in her eyes and in the way she hesitantly moved forward, lowered herself onto the bed beside Shiloh. Symone continued to watch her, waiting for an answer.

Shiloh's mouth felt dry, and she licked her parched lips, trying to think of how she was supposed to response. There were so many things she needed to say, and not many things that could say everything that she had on her mind. She sorted everything out, until she found the thing she desperately needed to say the most, because what Shiloh knew she needed before she could ever hope to fix the wrong she done was Symone's forgiveness. For the rejection she made Symone feel, for the pain she'd caused her, for everything she'd done and everything she hadn't done.

“Can...can you ever forgive me...for everything I did? I know I hurt you, and I'm sorry. I really am.” Shiloh glanced uneasily at Symone, hoping that it had come out right, that that had said everything she was feeling, that it would be enough to convince Symone that she did regret. Merlin, did she regret it!

As Shiloh watched her, Symone blinked once, opened her mouth, but instead of a 'Never' or 'You don't deserve my forgiveness', she did something that was perhaps the response that Shiloh had been waiting for.

She laughed.

It wasn't mocking or hurtful. Instead, it was the release of everything that had been within her, a parting of the pain and a return of the joy, because she understood what was hidden within the words. She understood that Shiloh was ready to be her friend now. She hadn't been before. She been too scared to reveal all of herself to someone for the fear of being rejected and hurt, but here they were. Symone knew everything and still she accepted Shiloh—the good and the bad, and Shiloh knew Symone, all the little things that scarred her heart. Shiloh was more than ready to go on this new adventure of being a friend.

“Of course I forgive you, you stupid prat!”Symone laughed again, and then she was no longer teasing. Instead, her eyes were serious, tender, and sisterly. “You're my best friend, Shiloh.”

As she wrapped her arms around Shiloh in a kind embrace, Shiloh tensed at the touch, the old habit of it getting to her. Then she forced herself to relax, because if she truly thought about it, the hug felt nice. More than nice – it felt good, to be embraced by someone who truly cared about you and simply wanted you to know, to feel that. Maybe that was what hugging meant, and maybe Shiloh was just beginning to understand that. So she allowed her body to lean into the hug and slowly wrapped her arms around Symone's waist.

You're my best friend, Shiloh.

Shiloh smiled to herself, realizing she had yet to respond, and for the first time in a long time, without thought or weighing of the options, she knew the answer, not with her mind, but with her heart.

“And you're mine, Symone.”




The Room of Records was as quiet and still as death and darkness, but not nearly as gloomy – for this was the place where history lived.

In the place were bookshelf upon bookshelf of scrolls, books and folders –the remnants of students who had dwelt and grown in the hall of Hogwarts. This room held every history, every name, from the time the Founders to this moment in time. It, just like the library, held great knowledge, the very essence of lives that had long since passed from this word. A thin coat of dust covered some of the items, but it did not put a damper of the value they possessed. Instead, it only added to the mystical atmosphere of the place, and gave a testimony of how old such things truly were.

However, it was not the centuries of wisdom waiting to be gained that drew the Potions' master there. He came not for infinite knowledge or to study those who had come before. Instead, he came for one thing: an answer. One that would not be found in a thousand records; just in one.

Severus guardedly eyed his destination, the section of shelves that were set aside for current students. He let the door settle behind him and took a step forward, but something made him falter, perhaps the same thing that had kept him from the room for the past months. Of course, it wasn't as though he didn't have excuses. After all, keeping an eye on Quirrell, Harry, and his other students was a hard job separately. Combined they were near impossible.

Quirrell. The very brief thought stirred distaste into Severus' mouth. The weakling had allowed the Dark Lord to possess him. Severus—and Dumbledore as well—had been convinced that Quirrell had been working with the Dark Lord in some way, and now he had been vindicated. To tell the truth, he would have rather he had been wrong. Severus had always believed that the Dark Lord was still alive in one form or another, but he had unconsciously hoped – as foolish as he knew it was—that that dark Halloween night would have been the last they would ever hear from the monster of a man.

How he had hoped that Lily didn't die for nothing.

Severus shoved the unwelcome thought from his mind, going back to his former train of consideration. Yes, there was no doubt now that the Dark Lord had tried to come back, and that meant he would try again and again, until he was either completely dead or he succeeded. Severus wished for the first, but considered that latter far more likely. If he, the man that Severus loathed beyond all others, returned, Severus knew how his life would be like. He would be a spy, and a spy was a complicated life indeed, one that he had gladly put behind him and had no wish to face again. He would, he knew, if it came to that, because it was the only way to survive—it was the only way to continue to fight for her.

Such thoughts led him to Harry Potter, the boy who had carelessly run off to protect the Stone without so much as making his intentions known. It seemed that the boy had as big of a hero complex as his father, and this time that trait had nearly gotten the boy killed. No doubt trying to protect the child was not going to be an easy task; Severus had never expected it to be.

So, yes, Severus had been busy, and such things seemed to make it impossible for him to make a trip, but he was not so foolish to believe that these things were little more than excuses. After all, it would only take a few minutes to glance into the girl's folder, just to check. He knew, that if he admitted it to himself, the thing that had kept him so far away wasn't being overloaded; it was something within him that didn't want him to know. Because once he looked, he would only confirm what he didn't want to know was true. He would be sure that that girl was his daughter, and he hated the very thought.

And facts were harder to deal with than thoughts.

Yet, there was still the possibility that Annadel was not his daughter, and that small shred of uncertainty had been tormenting him. It was what caused his eyes to linger on the door to the Room of Records every time he walked past, and to eye Annadel as though perhaps her appearance might give some finality. Now, it was the end of the year, and even as he stood here, Annadel was preparing to take her final journey across the lake – the ceremonious ride to end the year. The time for speculation had long since passed. He couldn't avoid it any more, not just for priority's sake, but because his sanity could not take much more wondering.

So, he started forward, this time with determination and moved toward the shelves. On his way, he took out his wand and flicked it, so though sconces around the room flickered to life. The torches provided it enough light to read the names as he followed the alphabetized shelf until he came to the 'D's'. It was not very long before he found Delamb. He took the thick folder in his hand and, scarcely looking at it, he wound through the room until he reached the back of the room, where beneath a lone window was a single, small, slanted desk.

He seated himself into it and set the folder down into the patch of sunlight fell onto the desk. This was the moment when all would be confirmed. There was no going back now, not until the truth was known. He lifted determined fingers to the folder, hesitated just once and for just one second, before he flung it open to the first page.

His dark eyes searched across the place, tearing past the name, the parents, the blood status—every detail, until the one that he needed the one that would tell him the truth. The line that read Date of Birth.

Severus sucked in a breath of air, and the smell of musty pages and dust filled his nose. This was where a lesser man might have slammed the folder closed and fled the room before he had time to consider what chance he might be losing, but Severus wasn't a lesser man. He was brave, brave enough to face something that can be fearsome to the most courageous Gryffindor: the truth.

He let his eyes far below the line. He expected to see July, and he did, right there, but he stopped himself read it again, just in case his eyes had deceived him. Just to be sure. There it was, as transparent as ghosts.

January 21st.

Not July.

As Severus closed the folder, his fingers twitched just a bit, but it was fitting, for inside his calm exterior, he was not quite so relaxed. He had been wrong; the girl who was so much like Ellessa was not his daughter. His daughter was not what he had most feared her to be. It took so long for Severus to accept what he had not dared to hope that it was a full minute before he was breathing again, and when he did began to breathe again, it was with a long, slow exhale. It was a sigh of relief.

A folder appeared in his vision, clasped by a familiar, aged hand. Severus followed the arm upward until he was looking into the face of Dumbledore. Severus could have sworn he had not heard the door open, but Dumbledore had a way of turning up in places unexpectedly, so it did not startle him. Instead, he gave Dumbledore an inquisitive look, gestured to the folder, and asked, “What's this?”

Dumbledore's smiled a bit, but his eyes remained serious, so that he looked like he was telling the truth and the greatest drop of wisdom at the same time. “I thought you would want it; you know, to explore every option.”

Severus eyes went to the folder. He was greatly curious of who Dumbledore thought might be a prospect; who had Severus missed? It didn't matter if it was someone that he hadn't been wise enough to consider himself, because even if he'd missed something, he thought he was ready to explore any option if it was anyone but Delamb.

Or her.

Severus looked up at Dumbledore, hiding his disbelief well. “Surely you must be joking.”

Dumbledore seemed untouched by his quick brush off and only pressed on steadily, in a way that was nothing less than kind. “She certainly fits the physically description.”

Severus stopped himself before he said something foolish. If Dumbledore was only judging upon her looks, then perhaps it would seem logical, but just because a girl had dark eyes and black hair didn't make her his daughter. Dumbledore didn't know this girl like he did. She was disrespectful and had a tongue she didn't know when to check – even if her words did have an annoyingly accurate point. He'd known untrained dogs who had gotten in less trouble than she did. In the end, though, the reason she couldn't be his daughter was not because of what she was, it was what she wasn't. Despite her faults, she was nothing like Ellessa.

No, Severus didn't think Sanders could possibly be his daughter, and he was about to tell Dumbledore so when something outside of the window caught the corner of his eyes. The window provided an excellent view to the front of the school, where children were gathering into carriages and the first years were beginning to gather where Hagrid stood waiting for them. Two first years in particular caught his attention, and he turned his head for a better view.

It took a moment for him to recognize Symone Zell; the other he knew immediately. Odd how Shiloh Sanders seemed to appear in one way or another as though summoned whenever he began thinking about her. There she was now, alongside her inseparable companion.

Severus didn't know why he continued to watch them as they made their way toward the group of first years. He didn't really think of what he was looking for, but he continued to watch them all the same.

Zell had a skip in her step as she moved down the stairs at the front of the school, and Sanders followed after, not quite as enthusiastically, but meeting Zell's pace quite easily. As Zell reached the bottom, she turned to face Sanders, walking backwards. She said something—some joke, Severus imagined—and immediately burst into laughter. Sanders joined her with a giggle, then stopped and frowned as though unsure whether she was supposed to laugh after all. Then she giggled again, this time more sure...and more natural, though it lasted a few moments – a far shorter time then Zell's uproarious laughter.

Severus looked away and turned his thoughtful gaze on Sanders' folder. Every option... He still did not believe that Sanders could even possibly be his daughter, but she was one of the 'options' – not a very promising one, but one all the same. Besides, Dumbledore would never leave him alone unless he looked, and there was no harm in opening a folder.

“Fine,” Severus agreed, as he took the folder from Dumbledore's hand.

Dumbledore's eyebrows rose as though he was surprised that Severus had conceded so easily, but he knew better than to press his luck. Severus had no interest in answering him, even if he had commented upon answering. His attention was solely on the folder, as though he and it were the only things in the room. He settled it on top of Annadel's folder and flipped it open.

His eyes grazed down the page, past the parents, past her name, until his gaze fell upon her birth date. There it was again, the moment before something may or may not be revealed. He did not feel fear or excitement—he didn't expect that he would need it. Instead, he felt a resolve, so he once again took a deep breath and moved his gaze down an inch.

He froze and read it again, doing nothing but staring and reading, staring and reading, just to be sure.

“What is it?” Dumbledore asked, trying to look around the shoulder to be able to see the date, but failing. His voice and actions held anticipation, but it was hidden by his attempt to remain calm.

“August.”

There was no surprise in Severus' voice, just monotonous acknowledgment. It was nothing more than the confirmation of what he had already known. Dumbledore however seemed incredibly disappointed, because he sighed and ducked his head for a moment, his demeanor clearly saying But I was so sure. The sight made Severus wonder if he should press on why Dumbledore had thought that this particular girl could be his daughter, but he never got around to it. Dumbledore was already picking up his head and speaking.

“Close,” he said encouragingly.

Severus shook his head, trying to hold back the bitterness that he could taste at the back of his throat. “Not close enough to be her.”

Her. More than eleven years later and he still didn't have so much as a name for his daughter. Not a name, not a record, nothing but a picture and a birth date. So much time had past, and he was still left to wonder that, whether the girl lived to be twelve or a hundred, he would ever get to know her.

He rose from his chair, leaning a shoulder lightly against the wall and staring out the window at nothing in particular. It had been a long time before he had felt this hopelessness – certainly not this year. He'd had reasoned that if any year was the year that he found his daughter, it would be this year, the year she might come to Hogwarts. Yet, it had come, and now it was gone.

Now all that had left to decide is whether the chances of ever finding her had ended with the school year.

Of course, there were the other schools she could have gone to, and the Heads had simply not given their students close enough inspections. There were also other first year girls that he had not considered yet. There was opportunity left, if he chose to press on, but he was not entirely sure that he wanted to. The constant theory and failure was beginning to take its toll, just like it had so long ago. The doubts—is she even still alive?—were as loud, if not louder than they had been before. There was so little chance he'd ever find her, so now he was forced to wonder if there was even enough reason to fight to find her.

Dumbledore, who had remained silent, perhaps in his own, similar thoughts, now spoke. “Well, there's always next year.”

The sentence was a lighthearted statement, spoken with a shrug, but Severus was not so foolish and not such a stranger to Dumbledore's ways then to think that it was all the sentence was. It was meant as an encouragement, the same extent as 'we'll not giving up yet'. Severus didn't look at Dumbledore, though, because the choice to continue the search was Dumbledore's, it was his.

Dumbledore left him with his thoughts and exited the room with only a half-heard “Have a nice summer” that Severus only nodded slightly too. Severus gaze remained on the window, staring out at the fury of the laughing students as they ran about, but at last, his eyes journeyed to the first years. Was it still possible that his daughter was among them? He simply didn't know and didn't feel as though it was worth speculating over.

Familiar faces in the crowd caught his eyes; Harry Potter with his best friends, laughing about something or other, Delamb surrounded by a group of Slytherins as they whispered conspiratorially, and Sanders, the only one who desired not to talk anyone. Instead, she was staring back at the castle, her expression thoughtful and slightly sad. Perhaps she was sad to see the year end, disappointed that it had all gone by so quickly. That must have been it, for when the first years started to follow Hagrid, Sanders remained, still gazing back at the castle. Only when her friend Zell touched her elbow did Sanders look away, just briefly as she listened to something that Zell was saying. Then she looked back and smiled.

The smile spread up her face, her mouth never parting to show her cheeks and one lip stretching farther than the other. Lopsided that it was, the grin reached her eyes, letting the hope in them sparkle. Whatever it had been that was worrying was long gone, and she let her eyes linger happily upon Hogwarts before she turned and jogged after her friend.

However, Severus' conscious thoughts were as far away from Sanders as they could be. Instead, they lingered on the choice that he had made, the answer to the question that had come to him as it had come to him many times before. As he moved away from the window and took determined steps to the door, he was utterly sure of what he was now supposed to do. As hard and as irrational as it would be, he was going to continue looking for his daughter. He was a Slytherin, and they didn't surrender so easily. He wouldn't give up; he couldn't give up.

It wasn't really that which convinced him. Instead, it was a brief thought that had crossed many minds today. It was the thought that had been stated so encouragingly, so truthfully by Albus Dumbledore. It was the thought that had danced across Shiloh's mind as she had dismayed that a wonderful year at school had ended so quickly. And it was the thought that kept Severus going as he prepared to leave Hogwarts for his rundown home on Spinners' End having once again failed to find his daughter.

There was always next year.

The End of Year One





There it is. Year One is now complete. A whole year has gone by. I hope what I promised to reveal made up for Severus not finding out, and I know, you all probably have a lot more questions, but remember, you can always ask them in the reviews. I just can't answer them. I'm not spoiling this story before it's time.

Also, thanks to my beta, Sandy, who did this so quickly. Also to whoever it was who managed to come up with this title. I can remember who came up with it for me, but whoever did it, I'm extremely grateful. And to my wonderful fans who have stuck with me for this entire part of the story. You guys have been so great!

And don't worry, there are still six more years to go!

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