Shiloh Sanders glanced over her shoulder anxiously. The hall was empty, just as it had been when she'd entered it. She stopped for a moment, listening to make sure the silence was intact, and the only thing she heard was the slightly more rapid thud of her heart. She thought, at that moment, as she was about to start her sneaky mission, that she would have given anything to be able to use Symone's Cloak. Yet, that was impossible under the conditions. All that was left to her was her own wits.
Sure that she was alone and unseen, she crept down the stairs. Standing at its base, she looked around the other room, discovering that it, too, was bare of any person. Her eyes focused on the door; once she was through that, she would be safe. She carefully crept toward her goal, stretching forth her hand longingly. The knob was inches from her hand, centimeters from her palm, and then she was wrapping her fingers around it.
Shiloh sighed. She was home free.
“Where do you think you're going, young lady?”
Shiloh froze and pressed her eyes closed as the stern voice rang out behind her. This was worse than a mouse being trapped by a cat; this was child being caught by her mother. Shoving down the feelings of disappointment, she lowered her hand from the doorknob and turned around to face her mother. Elaine Sanders stood a few feet away, her arms crossed over her chest and a single eyebrow raised. She was neither angry nor disappointed, but she was very much waiting for an answer.
“I was going out to my potion shed,” Shiloh admitted, bracing herself for the scolding.
Elaine showed not a flicker of surprise, but instead gave her that slightly exasperated look when Shiloh had forgotten something incredibly important. “Shiloh, you can't keep forgetting when we are having guests.”
Oh, but Shiloh hadn't forgotten. She was very much aware that guests were coming. She simply didn't want to be around when they did. She never wanted to be on the sidelines while four or five women jumped into a weekly gab competition. She had been tolerant of them all summer, mainly because Annadel had been smart enough to decide that it was best not to join her mother in the hopes of tormenting Shiloh. Those weeks of detention must have taken her down a couple of notches. Besides, they could return to war whenever they got back to school. But, with or without Annadel, Shiloh was beginning to lose her patience. The last tea party she had been dragged to had started as boring and had taken a non-stop trip to painful.
Her want to escape the tea party was why Shiloh had tried to sneak out the door instead of not caring if anyone had seen her. She should have used the upstairs window.
However, explaining this to her mother would only serve one of two purposes: to hurt her mother's fragile feelings or to send Shiloh directly to the sixth circle of Hell otherwise known as 'grounded'.
“Sorry, Mum,” Shiloh said, trying to sound apologetic and succeeding wonderfully. “Who's coming?”
Shiloh could sense her mother's change of mood instantly, as though she had been reminded of something. A slight smile crossed her face and Shiloh knew instantly that her mother was excited about her friends coming, just as she always was. “Oh, you'll see.”
Shiloh didn't like the sound of that. It was what her mother had used to say when Annadel was coming along with Mrs. Delamb, back when her mother had actually been naïve enough to believe that Annadel and Shiloh were actually friends. Now, however, Elaine had seemed to take off her rose-colored glasses when it came to Annadel. She had never quite forgiven Annadel for calling her husband a 'Mudblood'. Of course, she still associated willingly with Mrs. Delamb, something that Shiloh could never possibly understand. Where did her mother think that nasty, little she-demon had picked up her devilish arts?
“Go ahead and sit down,” Elaine said, in a kind way that was more of a request than a command. “They should be here soon.”
Shiloh gave one last glance over her shoulder, peering longingly at the door and the escape that lay behind her. She let out her breath in a soft sigh, before making her way to the couch that her mother had indicated. She climbed into her usual corner of it, leaning against the arm and pulling her feet beneath her. She turned her eyes to look at the fireplace, knowing that at any minute there would be a flash of green light bringing with it the smiling face of Daniella Harpstrong.
Whether Shiloh liked it or not, there seemed to be nothing that could keep her from an hour of listening to the latest gossip or Aunt Flora proudly announcing that yet another one of her children was about to have another child. Shiloh thought at that moment, that she would have given anything to have Symone by her side, because this would be the moment when Symone would come up with some sarcastic joke that would put everything into perspective and add humor to even this wretched situation.
At the thoughts of Symone, Shiloh felt a twinge deep in her gut, and she couldn't deny what it meant. It seemed strange that she would miss Symone after only two months of being apart. After all, their friendship had been one she'd thought she'd done without for the majority of last year. But Symone was her best friend, who, whether Shiloh had dared to admit it before or not, had barely been away from her than more than a day for almost a year. Of course, Shiloh would be counting down the days until they got to see each other again, because when she saw her, she knew that she would be headed back to Hogwarts, for another year of studying.
And the days that were left? Only seven.
Of course, she'd enjoyed her summer with her parents. It hadn't been as bad as she had dreaded when she'd first seen her parents disappointed and slightly angry faces as they had greeted her half-heartedly at Platform Nine and Three Quarters. She had expected it to be like this, and simply seeing their faces had made guilt turn her insides cold. She'd expected them to yell at her, right then and there in front of the crowd of students and parents, but they'd said little. The silence between them had been more torturous than any screamed, embarrassing lecture could have been.
They had helped her with her trunk and taken her home, where they hadn't even bothered to allow her to take her trunk up to her room, but only told her to sit, on the very same couch where she was now sitting. Her father had sat across from her, and her mother mother had sat at the other side of the couch. They'd looked at her and at each other for the longest time. The silence in those moments had seemed to stretch to almost to eternity, forcing her to dwell on the fact that she had really done it this time. She had really hurt them.
Finally her father had spoken, with a sort of severity in his voice that she had never heard before. “We want to know why you did this, and we want to know right now.”
She had thought quickly, asking herself if she truly dared or even desired to continue hiding everything from them, and she had found that she couldn't bear to lie to them one more time. She had kept this from them long enough. Now that everything was done, it had been time to tell them the truth.
She had begun to explain at the beginning, from the first time her potion had gone horribly bad in Potions class and how she had thought that it had been her mistake, but then as disaster kept happening day after day, she realized how improbable it was that it was her fault. She had then moved on to tell them of how she had come to the next conclusion. If she was not ruining her potions, someone else was, and that someone had been Annadel. Shiloh had seen by their exchanged glances that they believed she might have jumped to conclusions, but she had ignored it. They would know for sure soon enough.
Next, Shiloh had related the next step in her journey, when she had gone to Professor Snape with her suspicions. Of course, he hadn't believed her, so she had set out to take matters into her own hands; she had simply seen no other option. She stated about her means of finding out about Veritaserum and came up with her plan that she could use it to get Annadel to confess. The only way to get the Veritaserum was to steal it.
She'd told them that she'd known it had been wrong; they'd raised her to know that taking things that didn't belong to her was something horrible, but she'd seen no other choice. So she had stolen it. She hadn't mentioned Symone or her Invisibility Cloak or the part they had played. No, she didn't like hiding something else from her parents, but she would rather feel guilty than betray Symone's trust. Besides, Symone had only done it to help her. It would be a poor way to repay her to turn her in now.
She'd confessed of how, yes, she had tried to use it against Annadel, but always seemed to fail until it had become pointless when Professor Snape had caught them. Most importantly, she explained of how she had tried to take it back. That had been when she got caught, and her parents...well, her parents knew the rest.
Elaine and Alan had studied her for the longest time, taking in every detail of her lengthy story and when all of it had finally settled in, Alan had only one prudent question to ask, “Why didn't you tell us this while it was happening?”
Shiloh hadn't wanted to tell them, because she knew the truth would only make them, too, feel guilty, too, when they shouldn't feel that way at all. Yet, she had had no other option. It had been time to speak the truth. “I didn't want you to worry about me,” she had admitted with a shrug.
By the way her father's face had turned darker, she had been able to tell that he had been appalled by her explanation, yet he'd said nothing about it; she was told to go to her room, so he and her mother could decide what to do. Shiloh could still remember how the minutes had dragged by as she had unpacked her books just to have something to do with her hands and to keep her mind from imagining all the horrible things she might have to deal with that summer. She had already been imagining them for weeks; she hadn't wanted to fret about them now.
Finally, her parents had made their appearance and all three of them had sat on her bed. Shiloh had looked at them expectantly, waiting for them to start passing out punishment as though it was last Halloween's candy. Yet, it hadn't been quite what she had expected.
Her father had glanced at her, taken a deep breath and began, “Your mother and I have decided...” He had looked at his wife, who had nodded, showing she was behind him. Shiloh had closed her eyes. She could recall feeling like she was in a courtroom, about to face a life sentence. “That you have been punished enough already.”
Shiloh had opened her eyes, feeling confused and surprised. No punishment? It was the last thing she had expected, but of course, her father and mother had had a long talk with her about what she should have done in the situation. They had especially talked about how she had had no right to not tell them or to be worried about them. It was their jobs parents to take care of her, not the other way around.
Lastly, they had made her promise that if she ever got in a terrible predicament again, she would write to tell them immediately. Shiloh had done so, yet she hadn't been able to help but wonder if she was making a promise she knew she might not be able to keep. She had, of course, shrugged off the thoughts, because she was determined that nothing that bad was going to happen to her this year.
After that, the summer had been what summers and life had always been before Hogwarts. Days split between the potion shed, the creek, and reading her books. There had been trips to Diagon Alley, and of course, afternoons filled with her mother's tea parties or sitting side-by-side with her father sharing a box of Bertie Bott's Every-Flavored Beans.
A sharp 'crack' jerked Shiloh out of her reverie. She glanced calmly over her shoulder to see her father walking from the kitchen he had just Apparated into. A smile was on his face and he had a box of their favorite candy tucked beneath his arm. He must have gotten off of work early, Shiloh realized after a moment. She hadn't expected him back for another couple of hours. She couldn't have been happier to see him. His appearance meant one of two things: he could talk her mother out of making her go to the tea party—for only her father knew and understood how much she disliked the tea parties, for he had never quite gotten why his wife clung to the respect of her peers so frantically—or her mother would get him to join the party; then at the very least, she wouldn't be alone in her suffering. Besides, her father had always made such things easier.
“Good day, loved ones,” her father greet, beaming a large smile.
Shiloh watched as Alan approached her mother to give her a soft kiss on her forehead and tenderly push a loose strand of hair behind an ear. She had watched her parents enough to know that this small gesture meant something profound. It was her father's way of saying, 'I love you. I missed you.' And Elaine's sweet smile and affectionate eyes said exactly the same thing. Shiloh didn't find this romantic really – she didn't think she had a romantic bone in her body, but her parents making it clear every day that they loved each other was comforting. It made her feel that all was well.
Next, Alan made his way over to her and kissed the top of her head. “How was your day, Shi?”
“Good.” She gave a confirming nod as Alan sat down next to her. “How was work?”
“Wonderful,” he said quickly, but then he stopped himself as though he had remembered something, and he added, not changing his lighthearted tone, “Well, except for that for that vacuum cleaner that went berserk and sucked up a cat. But don't worry, Arthur and I managed to save the poor thing.”
At the mention of Arthur Weasley, the face of another redhead popped unbidden in her mind. She quickly dismissed the image of George Weasley. It wasn't strange that the image would fill her mind. After all, she'd never met Mr. Weasley nor knew what he looked like. It was only naturally that when she thought about him, she substituted his image for that of his son, the closest thing she'd ever come to seeing Mr. Weasley.
Alan held out the box of Every-Flavored Beans. Shaking away her thoughts, she took it from him, but stopped herself before opening it. Her mother sent her a stern look as though she really shouldn't be eating these at the moment, and Shiloh looked up at her dad to explain, “Mum's having her get-together.” Her mother had never liked when she called the visiting time a 'tea party'. It sounded too childish for her liking.
Alan's eyes filled with recognition as though she had just jogged his memory. “Merlin, is that today?”
Shiloh nodded, starting to set the candy aside though she wanted more than anything to dive into them.
Seeing this, Alan could clearly guess what was going on behind her thoughts and said kindly, “Eating a few would be all right.” Glancing at his wife as though for approval, he added, “Right, dear?”
Elaine hesitated for a few moments, glancing at her husband and daughter then at the fireplace that still lay dormant. Then she nodded.
No sooner had she done so than Shiloh was opening the box and selecting a promising one. Shiloh put the pepper-flavored one into her mouth, chewing it carefully with her eyes set on the fireplace. It seemed that any moment there would be a flash of green light right before Daniella Harpstring came forth to remark at how grown up Shiloh was getting and how cute she was becoming. There were many disadvantages to having adults around who had known her since she was five. But at the very least, her father would be there to rescue her if he sensed she needed it. He always did.
Shiloh was chewing on an earthworm flavor bean when the first blinding green flash appeared in the fireplace, quickly followed by another one as two people stepped out. As soon as she took in who they were, she sucked in her breath quickly, forgetting that she had food in her mouth. The involuntary need to cough racked her body as the food slid down the wrong tube. She clutched her stomach as she covered her mouth, coughing until her eyes were watering. She could feel the worried glances surrounding her, but one voice—half-worried, half teasing—broke through the rest.
“Merlin, I killed her.” The girl ran forward to Shiloh's side, unmindful of the ash she was spreading on the carpet and her wild hair flying behind her.
Shiloh waved her off, trying to tell her she was fine. “Sy-” She coughed again, trying hard to form the name of the person who wasn't supposed to be here. “Sy-”
“-mone,” the girl finished for her, a wide smile spreading onto her lips and contrasting with her dark skin.
Shiloh nodded as the desire to cough finally went away and she blinked the water from her eyes. She was able to see clearly, and she studied her friend in bewilderment, having honestly no idea what she was doing there, sitting beside her. “What are you doing here?”
A chorus of laughter sounded throughout the room, starting with Symone's and her mother's giggle, going to Alan's booming laugh, and ending with an unfamiliar, breezy laugh. Shiloh followed the sound until she was looking at the second person who had just Floo-ed in. She recognized her instantly, more because of family resemblance than because Shiloh had seen her from the distance at Platform Nine and Three Quarters.
Mrs. Zell was tall, slender, and beautiful, the image of what Symone might one day look like. Her hair was just as wavy as Symone's and it was pulled back in a sophisticated-looking ponytail. She carried herself confidently at her full height, her arms crossed over her chest and her feet squared, though it was in a way that seemed friendly and natural and impossibly tough at the same time. Shiloh was struck with the instant knowledge: she looked like an Auror, even as she laughed good-naturedly.
Shiloh frowned at their merriment, still impossibly confused at what was going on. She looked at Shiloh and demanded, “Am I missing something?”
Symone swallowed her laughter quickly, though a large smile was still splitting her face and her eyes glinted in a mixture of delight and mischievousness. “Sorry, Shiloh, it's just...I didn't actually think that we could surprise you. You generally see through everything.”
Surprise? Yes, she was indeed surprised and confused, and so far, no one was explaining anything. She raised an eyebrow in exasperation, trying to prod Symone into continuing, this time with an actually explanation of what she was doing here.
But it wasn't Symone who began talking; it was her father. He reached past Symone to touch her shoulder to bring her eyes to him, and she looked past Symone's shoulder to find that he, too, was grinning wide. “You see, Shi, about two weeks ago Mrs. Zell wrote to us saying how her youngest daughter was practically begging for you to be allowed to visit her.”
Symone nodded her agreement, enthusiastically. “I was,” she confirmed, and her face twisted at some memory, showing a touch of displeasure but mainly comfortable humor. “It was rather pathetic actually.”
Shiloh tried to take the two comments in at once. Visit? Had her father said visit? Was that why Symone was here? Because Shiloh was going to get to spend time with her, a lot of time? Shiloh's heart danced with a touch of hope, but she tried to keep it calm. She didn't want her hope to be shattered for nothing.
“So,” her father went on, “we, of course, agreed on the condition that it was a surprise.”
Her parents had plotted against her? It was near impossible to believe. She had thought that she had been able to read her parents like a book, and yet they had hidden this from her until she had not suspected a thing, not for one single moment. She had thought that they hadn't had a single deceptive, pranking bone in their entire body, but to find out different was eye-opening. Shiloh couldn't have been more proud to have them as her parents.
“That's not the best part,” Symone went on in excitement. “You get to stay with me and my family for an entire week, and we'll be taking you to the Platform Nine and Three Quarters!”
Shiloh should have been excited, and she wanted to be, but instead, Shiloh felt dread descend through her entire body, until it settled in her stomach as a puddle of guilt. She looked uneasily at her mother. It was hard enough for her mother to say goodbye without cutting into their last week together. Her parents couldn't possibly be comfortable with that. Shiloh wanted to go with Symone, more than anything, but she couldn't possibly allow her parents to make that sacrifice for her.
“Are you sure that's all right?” she whispered to her dad, trying hard to make sure that Mrs. Zell and her mother didn't hear. She didn't mind Symone hearing her doubts—she could explain them to Symone latter—but she didn't want Mrs. Zell or her mother to feel like she was refusing their precious gift. She wasn't...just making sure that everyone was all right with her accepting it.
Her father frowned at her as though trying to understand why she would ask this, and then realization dawned on his face. He nodded his head firmly. “We want you to go, Shi, and we want you to have fun with your friend.” The 'have fun' part was almost an order.
Reassured that her parents had indeed considered everything, she felt the happiness returning and her lips twitched with excitement. It was almost too good to be true. After weeks of counting down the days until she got to spend time with Symone, they were here, more than a week early. Symone grinned back at her, as though telling her that she was thinking exactly the same thing.
Mrs. Zell came forward to shake Elaine's hand, introductions passing between them, then Mrs. Zell did the same with Alan. Lastly, Mrs. Zell came up to Shiloh. Shiloh looked up apprehensively. This was the woman whose occupation had almost kept her from starting a friendship with Symone. This woman was an Auror, and because of that Shiloh had the sudden desire to yank up her collar, just to make sure it was hidden. She denied the urge and slipped her hand into the one that Mrs. Zell had offered.
“It's good to finally meet you, Shiloh,” Mrs. Zell said warmly, squeezing Shiloh's hand in a gentle shake. “Symone talks about you non-stop.”
“I can say the same about you,” Shiloh said honestly. Symone had indeed talked a great deal about her mother the year before.
Mrs. Zell's smile was just as kind as her daughter's but not quite as carefree and not quite as contagious, because it fell just short of reaching her eyes. Shiloh felt a twinge of sympathy that she refused to show. Mrs. Zell had no way of knowing that Shiloh knew about what had happened with her husband, and she couldn't allow her to know that Symone had told her. Yet, she did know, and Symone had told her that Mrs. Zell had loved her husband, and looking into Mrs. Zell's eyes, she didn't doubt it. Because deep in those eyes were the shadows of a broken heart.
Suddenly, Shiloh wasn't thinking of Mrs. Zell as an Auror, but instead she was thinking of her as just a woman, one who had been broken and bruised, just like anyone else in the room. And Shiloh smiled back at her.
When the handshake had ended, Elaine drew Shiloh's attention to her. “Why don't you go get your things from the potion shed? I already packed your clothes when you were down at the creek this morning, but I'm sure there are many things in the potion shed that you would like to collect.”
Shiloh nodded. The majority of the stuff she needed to take to Hogwarts was out in her potion shed. She climbed to her feet and hurried to the door, not asking Symone to follow but knowing she would anyway. With brief promises to be right back to their parents, Shiloh and Symone ran out the door, Shiloh leaving her shoes beside the door.
They sprinted towards the side of Shiloh's house to Shiloh's old potion shed. The ground they ran across was soft from recent rain, but Shiloh didn't mind the damp dirt. It was soggy and cool on her feet, though she knew that her mother would berate her if she wasn't extra careful to remove all the dirt on them before she entered the house. However, that was the farthest thing from her mind as she pulled open the door to her potion shed.
The two girls stepped within and Shiloh closed the door behind them. They blinked until their eyes adjusted to the dark. The potion shed wasn't much, but it was more her place of home and comfort than her bedroom. It was the place where she had always felt completely safe and at ease – just her and her potions.
Beside her, Shiloh could tell that Symone was taking in everything – the shelves that lined the wall that were filled with jars of all the potion ingredients that Shiloh could get her hands on. On one shelf were her schoolbooks, though a couple were still on the floor by her cauldron, and a few other potions . On the back of the wall was a larger shelf that was meant to be a desk, but Shiloh preferred working on the ground and now it had become the shelf for more books and a few other potions – her more prized ones.
After Symone was done staring, she let out a low whistle. “It reminds me of Snape's office.”
Shiloh glanced at her uncertainly, because she had never seen a resemblance between her comfortable potions' shed and the powerful, almost harsh, but fearfully awesome, atmosphere that had been in Professor Snape's office. Yet, perhaps that was just Symone's opinion, and she knew from experience that everyone said things just a bit differently, and there was nothing wrong with that.
Shiloh began collecting the books off the ground and placing them into her empty, clean cauldron. Symone helped her, pausing when she picked up one of the books. A smirk etched itself onto Symone's lips, as she read the book title and glanced knowingly at Shiloh. “I see you've been enjoying my gift.”
Shiloh glanced fondly at the book that Symone had sent her for her birthday just a few weeks ago. How To Make Your Own Potions by Panor the Potionist had been a book she'd seen in bookstores that summer, but hadn't any money to pay for, and she refused to ask her parents for anything that she wanted but didn't need. It had been a wonderful surprise to find that Symone had bought it for her. And since then, she had indeed been enjoying it.
“Yes,” Shiloh agreed and pointed at the two potions sitting on the desk. “I made those.”
Symone's interest was genuine as she pulled the first one off of the table. She carefully balanced the large vial in her hands as she took off the cork and sniffed the contents tentatively. Shiloh had never seen Symone so interested in a potion, but this was just any potion; it was Shiloh's potion, so of course she cared.
“What does it do?” Symone asked as she placed the cork back on the vial.
“It causes whoever drinks it to have a burning mouth, as though they'd just eaten something incredibly spicy.”
“Brilliant,” Symone said with a grin.
“That's not all,” Shiloh continued on proudly, remembering the two weeks she had spent developing every detail of the potion. “I added a combination of boomslang skin and asphodel that make the effect longer lasting, hellabore to ensure that nothing but the antidote can remove the burn, and the stomach of horned toads so that any effort to remove it by anything but the antidote will only cause it to burn more.”
“Wicked,” Symone said, becoming more and more impressed by the moment. “And you've tested it?”
“Tried it myself.” Shiloh could still remember the sharp burn not only in her mouth, but in her throat, stomach, and lips that had only grown worse when she had tested it with water, but had worn off when she had tried the antidote that she had made beforehand.
“Oh, we have to take this to school with us,” Symone insisted, adding it and its antidote to the cauldron as things to be taken in. Her eyes danced menacingly, as a plot formed in her mind. “You know, in case Annadel starts acting like a...” She stopped herself, as though the word she wanted to use wasn't one that she wanted to say.
“Annadel,” Shiloh completed for her. That truly said it all. Annadel always had been a menace. It worked as almost a synonym for the first word that Symone had been planning.
“Right,” Symone agreed, before she stood to collect the books on the shelf.
Shiloh packed her potion things into her potion bag, leaving only the things that she didn't think she would have she would have any other use for. With the bag swung over Shiloh's shoulder and her other hand holding the cauldron, and with Symone laden with books up to her chin, they made their way back to the house. They passed their parents without so much as a hello and made their way up the stairs to Shiloh's bedroom.
Symone dropped the stack of books temporarily on the bed, before going to open Shiloh's trunk. They carefully packed everything in, carrying on a lighthearted conversation about their thoughts of their announcement about the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher being Gilderoy Lockhart. Much to her mother's disappointment, Shiloh and she hadn't been able to go to go to his book signing, but they had read the news report in the Daily Prophet. There he had been, his wide, award-winning smile beaming from the front page, and beside him in the moving, blinking picture had been none other than Harry Potter, but that mattered little compared to the article announcing that Lockhart was to take the open professor position at Hogwarts.
Elaine had been thrilled at the announcement – someone so knowledgeable would be teaching her daughter. Shiloh, however, hadn't been quite so impressed, especially as she began to read the books. By the end of the book, she'd thought that if he called himself a 'great wizard' once more, she might just heave the book at the wall.
She shared her suspicions with Symone. “You should read the way he talks about himself in his books. It's as though he's in love with himself.” Shiloh wrinkled her nose at the very thought of it.
“Maybe,” Symone, who had admitted that she hadn't read the books yet, said as she studied the cover of one of the books thoughtfully. Gilderoy Lockhart flourished his cloak behind him in the picture and winked, beaming his dazzling grin. “But you have to admit,“ Symone said, nonchalantly as she tucked the book in with the rest of them. “He is rather handsome.”
Symone had said stated it more as a fact then anything she had showed interest in, but still Shiloh couldn't help but be skeptical of what she had said. Shiloh had never been much of a judge when it came to looks; Shiloh cared more about what was in a man's head than what was on it. “Let's just hope that he has more than looks.”
“Look on the bright side,” Symone put in optimistically. “He can't be worse than Quirrell.”
That was true, Shiloh thought. Little was worse that someone possessed by You-Know-Who.
Their chatter ebbed into silence as they finished the packing. Shiloh stood to collect her music box and tucked it carefully amongst her clothes. Lastly, she grasped her wand and pushed it into her pocket. Symone closed and locked the trunk, and Shiloh grabbed one side of it and Symone grabbed the other. Together they made their way down the stairs to set the trunk down by the fireplace.
“Ready to go?” Mrs. Zell asked both of them.
Symone gave a confirming nod, but Shiloh didn't follow suit. Instead, she glanced past Mrs. Zell at her parents. Her mum and dad were standing together, her father's arms wrapped naturally and lovingly around his mother's waist so that she was pulled in and fit against his side perfectly. They were staring back at their daughter, their eyes expectant as they waited patiently for the chance to say their goodbyes.
Shiloh didn't look at Mrs. Zell when she answered the question, but instead started toward her parents. “Almost.”
Mrs. Zell nodded in understanding and rested a hand on her daughter's shoulder. “Why don't we go ahead while Shiloh says her goodbyes.”
Symone nodded in agreement and, with the help of her mother, dragged the trunk over to the fireplace. She grasped a handful of Floo powder from the decorative flowerpot on the mantle and threw it into the fireplace, green flame immediately bursting to the height of the hearth. She stepped into it, her hand clinging to one of the handles of the trunk that was now jolting out of the fireplace. Commandingly, she called, “Number Five, Buckle Street,” and she and the trunk disappeared in a spinning array of the green flame.
After repeating the address to Shiloh, Mrs. Zell followed quickly after Symone. Once the green glow had disappeared from the room, Shiloh turned to her parents. She had always hated goodbyes. They were awkward and looked at with a dreaded eye, and in the end, she couldn't really see how they were any help. Whether they said goodbye or not, they would still part and they would still not like the separation. Yet, the goodbyes were expected, so there was nothing left to do than to bravely face them, remembering to be strong for her mother's sake.
Elaine began blinking furiously as though it had suddenly become very real that she wouldn't be seeing her child until Christmas time. She twisted her bony fingers together just to have something to do with her hands and shifted her wait from foot to foot anxiously. Finally, she figured out what she was supposed to say. “Are you sure you have everything?”
“Well, then...” Elaine seemed to be searching for something more to say, some drop of wisdom that would help Shiloh through the next months. Obviously she came to nothing, because she didn't say anything else, didn't bother to complete her sentence, only reached her arms forward to pull Shiloh into a tight hug. She held on for along moment, whispering against Shiloh's ear, “Remember to write, all right, darling?”
Shiloh refused to allow herself to wince at the pet name 'darling' and instead focused on the affection that came with it. “I will,” Shiloh vowed as her mother finally released her hold on her, so that her father could take her place in giving Shiloh a warm embrace.
“Behave and enjoy your term,” he told her, kissing her on the forehead.
“I will,” she repeated, no less sincerely than the first time she had said the two words.
“And Shiloh...” Alan's voice had changed, from kind and loving to suddenly serious. He was about to say something important. Shiloh could tell it by his tone of voice and by the way, he let go of her and took a step back just so he could meet her eyes. She could tell by the way that his eyes shown with caution...and worry. “You know that Mrs. Zell is an Auror, don't you?”
Shiloh nodded, even as dread went through her stomach. Where was her father going with this? Even her mother looked uncomfortable.
“As such,” Alan continued firmly, but choosing his words with care as though to shelter some blow from his daughter, “she would be extremely...upset if she ever say your...”
He stopped and glanced at his wife. Elaine's eyes were wide, and she was looking at her feet, wearing the sort of look that she had when they discussed this openly with her. The look as though she wanted to pretend this wasn't happen, as though that would make the reality less real for everyone.
Alan glanced back at Shiloh and finished, whispering as though there was someone else in the room, “Your you-know-what.”
Shiloh felt the dread leave her, knowing instantly what this was about. Replacing the foreboding was a touch of annoyance. They didn't need to be having this conversation, rehashing what she already knew. But since they were, she could only stand there and carry on her side of it. Still, she wanted to make it perfectly clear that her father didn't need to mince words with her.
“My Dark Mark,” she corrected insistently.
Alan swallowed and shifted nervously, the way he did when they talked about her Mark. “Yes, that. You will make sure to hide it, won't you?”
“Yes,” Shiloh said without hesitation. She had hid it all year last year, and she knew she had to hide it from Symone's mother. However an estimable woman she might be, didn't change the fact that she would go mental if she knew that Shiloh had a Dark Mark. The last thing she was going to do was let her see it. “I'll be extremely careful. Promise.”
Having her word, Alan relaxed, knowing that if anything, Shiloh kept her promises. Knowing their conversation was done, Shiloh took a few steps backwards toward the fireplace. The last set of goodbyes were here now, the atmosphere returning to its bittersweet feel. Her mother was now blinking fiercely, fighting back a layer of tears that clouded the lower half of her eyes.
“See you at Christmas,” Alan said.
There was another chorus of goodbyes, and then Shiloh simply waved and made her way determinedly to the fireplace. If she didn't do what was best for them, they would all still be standing there, saying endless partings until term was already over. So, she grasped her handful of Floo powder, tossed it into the fireplace, stepped in, and spoke Symone's address clearly.
In a whirl of green flame, Shiloh was gone.
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