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Chapter Eleven

Where Loyalties Lie

Things were quiet the next week. Too quiet.

Classes went along as normal. Professor Snape was ever as strict, but as she managed to keep her potions near perfection, it didn't effect her. Professor Lockhart was obnoxious as ever, but Shiloh had learned to ignore him.

In the hallways, first years still clustered together fearfully, and you could tell a Muggleborn from a mile away by the pale, haunted look in their eyes. Marcus Flint had crossed her path a couple of times, going in opposite directions in the hallway, and each time he would toss hateful glares. It took every inch of her willpower not to toss them back.

Osgood and Persephone hadn't spoken to her since her refusal, not that it surprised her. In fact, she preferred it. Still, Symone had mentioned that Persephone had discovered that no one outside of Slytherin knew what had taken place. It was a relief. She was thankful that it seemed that what went on in Slytherin, stayed in Slytherin.

All and all, things had returned to normal. With the normalcy, Shiloh's mission was pressed back into her mind. The urgency to discover her father was not nearly as strong as before; she'd long given up hope that it would work, but she had to try nonetheless. So, Wednesday afternoon, she found herself sitting at her usual table, buried behind a pile of newspapers and finding nothing.

She never expected to find anything on her mother. There were other interesting articles, however. The papers came from during the last war—the rise of You-Know-Who. There were articles on Death Eaters and deaths suspected to be associated with them. It put chills down Shiloh's spine, yet she read them anyway, knowing that her mother and perhaps her father had probably read this too—and what? Dreamed of joining the fun. The familiar disgust was as strong as ever.

She lowered the newspaper onto the table. The person towering over her made her jump.

Osgood smiled smugly. “Scared you, didn't I?”

“No,” she claimed defiantly.


His smooth voice perked her anger. What was he doing here anyway? How had he just suddenly appeared? She must have been too distracted to hear the footsteps; she wished she had heard them, because then she could have planned a getaway.

He lowered himself into the chair across the table from her without invitation. Did everything he do have to be incredibly rude?

“I don't remember giving you my permission to sit here,” she berated, sounding more arrogant than she meant to, and not caring.

“I don't remember wanting your permission.” His quick, easy responses that fought her wit made her grit her teeth in irritation. It reminded her of her word fights with Professor Snape, but unlike those, when she couldn't help but be impressed by his ingenuity, these just frustrated her.

She glared at him, and he only sent a smile that might have been termed charming. To her, it was just mocking. He leaned against the chair, easily as though he had all the time in the word, but suddenly his eyes grew serious and bored into hers. Once again, she got the impression that he was trying to solve a puzzle.

Finally he said conversationally, “You know, as much as I try, I just can't figure you out.”

As though that was all he had come to say, he eyed the newspaper she'd been reading and picked it up, studying it curiously. She jerked it out of his grasp, and thankfully he let it go so the brittle pages didn't tear. Seeing her fierce gaze, he held up his hands as though in surrender.

“What do you want?” she asked, warily.

He folded his arms on the table, leaned onto them, the corners of his lips turned up, but his eyes intense. “To understand,” he replied simply.

“Forget it,” she hissed. She wasn't some puzzle or mystery to be solved.

He ignored her, just as Shiloh knew he would, and continued on as though he owned the world and her with it. “What I can't understand is, what stopped you?”

“Stopped me from what?” she asked disinterestedly, like she was dealing with a pesky fly. Which was exactly what she was doing.

“From saying yes. From joining us.” He seemed so sure of himself, so confident. Like he knew her. She wasn't so sure what annoyed her most: his arrogance or the fact that he had every right to be so cocky. Somehow, he'd managed to guess that she had indeed, decided to say yes.

“First of all,” Shiloh protested, “the 'us' you're referring to doesn't exist, not properly. You're not doing anything.”

“We haven't had to.” Osgood shrugged one shoulder.

“Secondly,” Shiloh continued, “it's none of your business. And thirdly, why do you even care?” That was the real question; the one burning within her. Why?

“Search me.”

Irritated, Shiloh took a deep breath so she could speak calmly. “Don't tell me you don't know. There has to be a reason, and I want to know why.”

He was silent for a moment and that faint, twisted smile disappeared off of his face. She liked that intense expression, like the one from last night, even less then that crooked grin. Or maybe she didn't hate it more. He did seem different like that, like he didn't think he owned the world, and in fact, was just trying to figure it out like everyone else.

She brushed the thought away. She really did read too much in facial expressions.

“It's been a long time since I've seen someone in Slytherin stand up to Flint,” he said finally. “Or stand up to anyone for that matter. And, on top of that, to make others listen, that's a gift indeed. I'm impressed.”

Impressed? Well, he shouldn't be. Besides... “No one listened to me.” She fiddled with the dog-eared corner of a newspaper, trying hard to straighten it out.

Osgood snorted doubtfully. “Honestly, kid. Give yourself credit. If a second year stands up to a sixth year without a flicker of fear, people are going to listen.”

“It didn't change anyone's mind, did it?” Shiloh swallowed back a huff of exasperation. “That's what I don't get about you. You want to fight, and besides keeping Muggleborns out of harms' way—even if you manage to do that—what good is it going to do? You're not going to change other prejudiced purebloods' minds. You're not.” She didn't know why she was fighting against him, when she condoned what he was doing. Maybe because she hated that he had dragged Symone into this mess, or because she hated that he could fight when she couldn't.

“But maybe, one day, we could.” He said it with such innocent hope in his eyes that Shiloh was a bit taken aback. “And even if we can't, we do it because it's the right thing.”

Shiloh looked down at the tabletop, trying to pretend that she didn't believe every word he was saying.

“And I think you know that, kid,” he went on. His voice was almost gentle, but she didn't want to believe he cared, that he was actually trying to help her change her mind to do what he earnestly believed was the right thing. It was so much easier to hate him. “I think you want to fight. So what's stopping you?”

She jerked her head up angrily. Osgood made her want to swear in frustration, but she only swallowed the urge. She wouldn't stoop to his level, no matter how annoyed she was that he wouldn't just give up and go away. Instead, she said levelly, “I don't owe you an explanation.” She told herself to get up, grab her things, and storm out of the library, but she didn't. He'd follow her, and she didn't feel like running.

“No,” he agreed, sarcastically. “Of course not. After I stunned Flint to keep him from murdering you, after you starting this whole thing, you don't owe me a bloody thing.”

He was trying to make her feel guilty, and the trouble was, it did. As much as she detested the fact, she owed him, but not enough to sway her to telling him.

Besides... “You wouldn't understand.”

“How do you reckon that?” He raised an eyebrow. “You haven't told me yet.”

What was she supposed to say to that? Something told her he wasn't going to let her go until she explained. She thought of digging in her heels, then fighting on until she could escape. Yet, wouldn't it just be simpler to tell him vague nondescript details – give him the last piece of his incomplete puzzle. Then he'd leave her alone.

“If I tell you, will you go?”

“Cross my heart.” He drew an 'X' over his chest.

Shiloh hesitated. She didn't know if his word was good, but she saw little choice. She took a deep breath. “It's cause of my parents, all right?” she told him shortly.

He waved his hand, beckoning her to continue. She gritted her teeth, but did as he requested.

“I got in a lot of trouble last year, and... I almost got expelled.” Her words were nonchalant as though she was talking about someone else. She pretended to be. It was easier that way. “So I promised my parents I'd stay out of trouble. It's a promise I mean to keep.”

Osgood was silent for a long moment. She tried to read his expression and failed. Finally, he spoke, “That's it?”

She had told him he wouldn't understand. “Yes, that's it,” she hissed flatly. She could tell him that she had Professor Snape's hawk-like eyes upon her as well, but she didn't want to. “I've explained. You can leave now.”

Osgood shook his head.

Shiloh's hand balled into a fist. “You promised.”

“I lied.”

She sent him a scolding glare. She should have known better than to trust him.

“Look,” Osgood went on, “I get it, wanting to please your parents.” Shiloh wasn't sure he did. “But you can't spend your life making choices based on other people's expectations. You'll make yourself miserable.”

“How would you know?” she challenged, not liking the way he was preaching at her. He sounded like he was speaking out of a book of quotes. “Have you ever tried to live up to people's expectations?”

Osgood hesitated, his gaze darkening. “At times.”

“But not often?”

He shrugged, but continued, his voice quick and vexed, “I'm a spoiled brat, all right. I've always done what I wanted or what thought I wanted—no matter who it hurt.”

“And you're telling me that's what I should do?” she inquired in disbelief. “You're telling me I should me a spoiled brat?”

One hand went into his hair, pulling at the roots in frustration. “You're a stubborn, infuriating git. Has anyone ever told you that?”

Insulting her wasn't going to do him any good. She gritted her teeth and glared at him, not about to dignify his idiocy with a response.

He startled her by slapping his hand down on the tabletop. She prepared to defend herself from a different sort of violent action, but she didn't find anger in his eyes like she expected. Instead his eyes danced, but with a fire that wasn't so hot as it was passionate.

“Come on, kid,” he coaxed, clearly trying to use a different tactic, “where's your Slytherin pride?”

Slytherin pride? What Slytherin pride?

The thought almost startled her, but was she really so surprised? At the beginning, she'd convinced herself that Slytherin was just as decent as every other house, but had she always believed that so firmly? Did she believe that now? It was the same house that wouldn't allow Symone to play Quidditch because she was a girl, the same house her parents hated, and the same house where she had been beaten up in her own common room. Hadn't she been thinking the same thing that was now running over and over in her mind for the past few weeks?

She barely dared to voice it, but she managed to, keeping the uncertainty from her voice and making her tone hard instead. “Maybe I don't want to be Slytherin anymore.”

He looked taken aback and he slowly leaned back in his chair as though to get a better look of her. “Why not?”

She almost rolled her eyes at his stupidity. “You saw it, as well as I. I was attacked in my own common room and everyone just sat there and watched. Everyone just agreed with every word Flint said.”

“I didn't.”

She looked away. That was beside the point.

“Symone didn't. Persephone didn't. Nicolette didn't. You didn't.”

But maybe those were just mistakes. Maybe the Sorting Hat had gotten it wrong. Maybe Symone and she should have been in Gryffindor, after all, instead of in a house that took delight in bullying, prejudice and cruelty. She thought all of this, but she didn't explain it. He didn't deserve an explanation.

“And you think everyone agreed?”

Every single one? No, she didn't. She couldn't say that out of so many people there hadn't been one or two who disagreed. But still... “They sure didn't say anything.”

“Listen to me.” Shiloh resisted the urge to roll he eyes. That was the last thing she wanted to do, but he continued on anyways, so she had little choice but to hear it, “I've been in Slytherin for a lot longer than you have so you can take my word for this, and I'll give this a bit of knowledge instead of waiting for you to figure it out on your own. Not all Slytherins are gits.”

Shiloh eyed him in disinterest, wondering vaguely where he was going with this.

“Sure you've got the Pureblood brats who hate Muggleborns and make a nuisance out of themselves whatever way they turn. Like Flint.” There was disgust written on his face once again, but it disappeared as he moved on to the next group. “And you've got the majority, the ones who just mind their own business and keep their noses out of trouble. Then...” He smiled affectionately as he continued, “There's a rare few who want to stand up for what they believe in and are ambitious enough to do it.”

He leaned forward, bringing himself closer to Shiloh. “Like you, Shiloh.”

She didn't want to admit that it was possible that he could be right. There was too much remaining disgust and enmity left for certain patrons of Slytherin to continue to give Slytherin the benefit of the doubt that she had before. She stared down table and didn't comment.

Osgood sighed in frustration, but leaned back with a shrug of his shoulder like one did when they were giving up on a hopeless cause. “Well, if you don't like Slytherin, then that should make you want to fight them even more.”

She knew that was true, but he was missing other points, ones she'd explained and he now explored. “And my parents...” she pressed thickly.

“You don't owe your parents anything.”

Maybe he, who had given his pureblood family an heir and a son, owed them nothing. But she, who had been taken in when no one else wanted her and who had been saved from a world of torment, owed her parents everything.

“I told you that you wouldn't understand.” She started to scoot off the bench. If he wasn't going to leave, she was.

He reached across the table to grasp her wrist. She jerked away out of habit, noticing too late that the touch was perfectly gentle. She let her eyes trail back to him, but prepared to leave nonetheless.

“All right, all right.” The words almost sounded a bit apologetic, but she didn't want to believe he was being at all sympathetic. He took a deep breath and held up his hands in a gesture to stay. “Just wait a second and listen to me, all right? Listen and I'll let you go, or I can leave if you want. I promise.” Her eyes narrowed. “And I mean it this time.”

She didn't know why she continued to wait, but she didn't move. He paused, as though making sure she wasn't going to dart for the door, and then he continued.

“You know what your parents want, Shiloh, but what do you want?” His voice was rising from soft and persuasive to intense and passionate, and she felt herself locked in place, staring into the deep brown eyes. “Because if all you want is to make your parents happy, then good luck to you. If all you want to do is sit back and do nothing, then lovely. Have a bloody good time. If you can come across Flint bullying a Muggleborn in a hallway and be able to walk past without doing something, then this conversation never happened.”

He stopped, and she realized that he was, once again, giving her the opportunity to leave. But she didn't. She knew he wasn't finished, and whatever he was going to say, she suddenly wanted to hear it.

“But I don't think you can do that, kid. I don't think you can do nothing.”

“Oh, because you know me so well,” she bit out. But he was right! He was so bloody right, and she hated him for it!

“Shiloh, you may not understand this now, but listen. Standing and fighting for things you believe in isn't easy. It's near bloody impossible. But sometimes you have to grit your teeth and take a stand. Say no. Say this isn't right. Make something change. Do something. 'Cause if you don't, who else will? And sometimes...” Osgood swallowed hard as some distant emotion lit up his eyes. A passion, a soul-hunger, and his next words trembled with wisdom, “Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe matter what the consequences.”

Shiloh didn't know what to say or think, but she knew he was right. And she knew that it didn't change anything. How could she break her parents' heart? Wasn't that consequence too great? Wasn't it?

She wasn't sure she was doing the right thing anymore; she wasn't sure at all. She was just sick with confusion – with guilt—with longing to do things she shouldn't do.

She felt framed in Osgood's eyes, and that was suddenly the very last place she wanted to be. “Go away, Osgood,” she ordered heavily, her eyes boring into the grain of the table.

“You okay, kid?”

He was concerned, honestly concerned, but Shiloh didn't want to believe it. That defensive dislike that had protected her was evaporating. Knowing that he was right, knowing that he was a decent person—obnoxious, but with good, sound morals-- and knowing that he cared somehow made everything just a bit harder.

“Go away,” she repeated.

He hesitated then disentangled himself from his seat and wandered down the aisle, disappearing behind a bookshelf. Shiloh swallowed hard against the thick emotions in her throat, none worse than guilt. She didn't seem to be able to do anything right, no matter what she chose. Not when her brain and her heart—yes, it was indeed her heart—were tugging her in two different directions.

Yet, as always, she was going to follow her head.

Concentrating on looking through the papers was impossible. Shiloh figured this out after five minutes of gazing at the same article as she fought to keep the echoes of Osgood's words out of her head. She failed, and finally, in annoyance, she rolled up the paper, dropped it on the pile of the rest of them, grabbed all of them, stormed to their cubbyhole and shoved them in. She grasped her book bag and hurried out of the library, but the words that Osgood had spoken to her there only chased after her.

Persephone stumbled out of the way of the crowd leaving the Potion classroom, jabbering quickly with Valiant and Symone who followed at her heels. Shiloh lingered behind, causing a roadblock that people pushed around to get past. She eyed Symone with her friends. The now-familiar pang of jealousy twisting her stomach made her want to hate the girls that Symone called friends, especially after all that had happened. Finally, she sighed and followed Symone, though she wasn't entirely sure that she was welcome to come. Persephone still hadn't said a word to since the events of that night.

Persephone glanced up when she stepped over, but to Shiloh's surprise, Persephone didn't glare. Maybe she was forgiven, after all. Or, viewing how quick and apathetic Persephone's glance was, maybe she was just forgotten. Even Valiant didn't scowl at her, but glared at her feet instead, chewing on her fingernails.

Still, she could deny that there was a wall separating her from them now. The bond Symone had with Persephone, and through her, Valiant, had grown even stronger by the group they now formed. Shiloh didn't have a place in this group. She felt like an outsider, striding into a place she didn't belong.

Other things were going well, even if she did feel her friendship with Symone was being threatened. Potions had gone remarkable as ever. She'd brewed a potion to perfection, and received a tiny nod of approval from Professor Snape. That achievement had almost made the fact that the words that Jacob had spoken to her yesterday had been tormenting her ever sense their conversation last afternoon. Whenever she was trying to focus in class, she'd find the echoes of the words nagging at the back of his mind. I don't think you can do that, kid. I don't think you can do nothing.

She would brush the memory away and ensure that she was concentrating on something else. Yet, as much as she tried to fill her mind with anything other than that, the words kept poking holes in the walls of her head to torment her.

Do something. 'Cause if you don't, who else will?

There's a rare few who want to stand up for what they believe in and are ambitious enough to do it. Like you, Shiloh.

And the worst, most taunting phrase:

Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe matter what the consequences.

She ignored them all. And when she couldn't, she argued. She replayed her reasons over and over again. Each time they sounded weaker, more unsure.

“Symone, you still planning on coming to the lake with us?” Persephone was saying, brightly, bring Shiloh out of her reveries. “This could be the last warm day for months.”

Shiloh felt her stomach twist uneasily. She hope Symone would say no but knew she wouldn't.

“Yeah,” she said eagerly, but then her eyes trailed to Shiloh.

Persephone followed the gaze. “And Shiloh can come too, of course. Nicolette will be there. It'll be fun.”

The invite caught her off-guard. But worse, it actually sounded genuine. She didn't believe it was, though. Judging by the girl's glare, Valiant, at the very least, couldn't want her there. She was sure no one really wanted her apart of their foursome.

Besides, they were Symone's friends, not Shiloh's, and Shiloh had no reason to change that. She knew what more friends meant. Telling her story had almost killed her once, she couldn't do it again.

Ignoring Persephone's smile and Symone's hopeful look, Shiloh shook her head. “No, I have homework.”

Symone's face fell, and Shiloh didn't dare look at Valiant, she was so sure she would find glee there. Persephone, however, was unaffected.

“Right then.” Persephone grinned at her friends. “Shall we be off?”

Valiant actually smiled enthusiastically. “Yeah.”

Persephone took Valiant by the elbow and pulled her down the hallway, a skip in her step. They were already jabbering, but when Symone didn't follow, they turned towards her. Symone hadn't taken her blank eyes off Shiloh.

“Coming?” Valiant pressed, glancing uneasily at Symone.

“Yeah, in a minute.” She sent the girls a reassuring smile. “Go on. I'll catch up.” The response sent warning bells clanging in Shiloh's head. She had a good idea what Symone wanted to stay behind for, and she very much didn't want to face it.

“Suit yourself.” Pershpone shrugged, pulled on her friend's arm, and the two continued on their way. Only when they were gone did Shiloh realize that Symone and she were alone in the hall.

Boldly, she set her eyes on her best friend, waiting for whatever was to come, though deep down, she dreaded it.

Symone met her gaze, her eyes crackling in disgusted frustration. “Homework?” she snapped incredulously. “That's the lamest excuse since 'I have to wash my hair'.”

Shiloh only blinked, unsurprised, and trying hard not to be offended.

“What's going on?” Symone demanded.

“Nothing.” But Shiloh knew she wouldn't believe it. They were both very well that something was going on even if Shiloh couldn't admit it to herself, let alone Symone. Telling herself she was jealous wasn't easy. Telling her best friend she was, was downright impossible.

“Then why didn't you come? And don't use some lame excuse.”

“I don't think they wanted me to come,” Shiloh said, honestly.

Symone snorted. “Don't be daft, Shiloh. Seph invited you.”

“Because you wanted her to.”

“Seph doesn't do anything she doesn't want to do.”

Shiloh didn't know Persephone well enough to know whether that's true, but it wasn't the end of the argument. “Valiant didn't want me there.”

“And how would you know that?” Symone demanded, her eyes storming angrily.

Shiloh gritted her teeth in exasperation. Symone honestly couldn't be that blind. “She hates me, Symone.” Symone opened her mouth to argue, but Shiloh cut in, “Don't try to deny it.”

“I told you it takes her a while to warm up to people.”

Shiloh realized she was defending her friend, just like Symone would defend her, but it annoyed her that she wasn't on Shiloh's side. She was her best friend.

“Don't make excuses for her,” Shiloh snapped back. “You know she hates me, as well as I do.”

Symone looked like she wanted to argue some more, but after opening and closing her mouth several times, she threw her hands up in frustration. She simply couldn't deny it. “Could you just forget Valiant for a moment?”

“Gladly,” Shiloh mumbled lowly.

Symone glared at her angrily. “We both know that you wouldn't have let Valiant get in your way, if you really wanted to go.”

“I didn't want to go.”

“Why? Allergic to fun now?” Symone winced as soon as the words were said, but she was too angry to apologize. She remained quiet, staring heatedly at the floor for a long minute.

Shiloh did the same, chewing on her bottom lip. It was a long time since they'd rowed, since the end of last term. But here they were, in the middle of anther tension-filled argument, the very place Shiloh had sworn she'd never find herself again. She hated the heated words and the feel of anger. She hated the silence that had fallen between them even more.

“Why does it matter?” Shiloh snapped her gaze up to Symone's, even though she was sure she already knew the answer to her question.

“I don't know,” Symone denied softly.

Shiloh didn't believe her. “Yes, you do.” They both knew why it mattered.

Symone shrugged and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear, her anger now a slow crackle behind her eyes. “I just wanted...” she trailed her and shook her head. “Forget it, Shiloh.”

Shiloh knew that would be the best idea, but the words had already been said, and what would rather have it all in the open—instead of it cutting holes in their friendship. If Symone wasn't going to explain her feelings, then Shiloh would for her.

“You wanted the five of us to get along. You wanted me to be friends with them.” She'd known it all along. When Symone had introduced them in the common room, when she insisted on sitting with them at Halloween and other meals, slowly including Shiloh into their group as though hoping she'd become a permanent party. Symone's hopeless, pointless, stupid dreams.

Symone didn't even deny it. “What's wrong with that?”

Everything, because they wouldn't be Shiloh's friends, and if they couldn't be friends, she was afraid Symone would feel she had to choose between Shiloh and her other set of friends. And what if she chose them?

Yet, Shiloh couldn't tell her that. Her pride caged the word within her. “They're your friends. Not mine.”

“Why can't they be both?” pressed Symone passionately.

Shiloh stared at her. Didn't she understand the reasons? The ones that had kept them apart all year were still there. A barrier between any more friends, if she wanted them. And she didn't.

“I don't have an interest in any more friends.” Symone was enough for her, couldn't she see that?

Symone didn't seem surprised, only more annoyed. She shook her head, her loose ringlets flying. “What's your reason this time?”

Once again, Shiloh ground her teeth in irritation. She'd thought Symone understood, but she'd been wrong, and that hurt. She folded her arms over her chest as though that would protect her from the sting, but it was already there, buried into her heart. Suddenly, she wanted to be away from here. Far away.

“You know, Symone, I really don't want to have this conversation.”

“Fine,” Symone snipped, but her eyes crackled with anger as she whirled about, her hair flying wildly behind her. “Have fun with your homework.”

Shiloh watched her storm away. Every inch of her body was coiled up in strong, dark emotions. Frustration and anger. Regret and hurt. So strong and overpowering, she wanted to do anything for an outlet. However, she swallowed her urge to kick the wall and instead poured all the rage into her earth-eating stride.

It seemed she couldn't do anything right, could she?

She found herself in the library, the recollection of how she'd gotten there lost in her powerful emotions. The sight of the familiar books and quiet atmosphere was comforting. It was a sanctuary, where she could lose herself in knowledge or grand fictional tails. She'd run to this place many times before—to hide from the rest of the world. She took a deep breath, willed the feelings away, and settled in her usual table.

She dug in her bag for the Defense Against the Dark Art book she'd been reading and pulled it out. She focused on memorizing the jinxes and protective charms in the book, trying to keep her fight with Symone from her mind. It worked, until disappearing into daydreams about how best to use a particular spell, her eyes trailed out the window to the view of the great lake down below. She spotted four ant-like dots and she was almost sure it was Symone and her three friends.

She jerked her head away and hissed at the foolishness of letting her eyes wander, and of everything else she was doing and feeling.

She was jealous. There was no use denying it. She thought she'd done away with that emotion, but it was there, a quiet monster prepared to rear its ugly head. And now it was worse. Now she was a part of Osgood's little group. Now they'd fought. Now Symone might choose between them.

She was the only friend she had. She didn't want to lose her.

With that aching thought, she slammed her book closed and stuffed in her bag furiously. She couldn't think like that. She had to avoid such thoughts as best as possible, but the damage was done. Too restless to remain sitting, she strode out of the library. She wasn't sure where she was headed and picked corridors and staircases at random. Her only thought was to keep moving, every thought devoted to that, so other, unpleasant things didn't slip through.

The sound of a yelp froze her in her place, her eyes snapping to the corner from around where it had come from. She listened carefully, barely daring to breath. There was other sound. Course, mocking laughter, the sound of sobs, a young voice crying, “Give it back. Oh, please, give it back!”

Shiloh cautiously edged forward, peeking around the corner to see what was going on. The scene there lit her blood into a dull boil and her skin afire.

A group of Slytherins surrounded a tearful first year. She recognized the majority of the group, Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, and her three odious roommates. A few other students were there as well. They were tossing an object between them, forcing the child to run in between them, groping desperately and begging for the beloved object to be given back. All the while, they laughed and sneered bruising insults and occasionally reaching out to shove him into someone else, a cruel game of keep-away.

Shiloh told herself to run to get the teacher, only she knew that would do no good. By the time she even found a teacher and they made their way back here, it could be too late. The bullies would have scattered and the damage would be done. Yet, if she fought back... She knew the consequences of that.

Indecision knotted her stomach. She shouldn't get involved, and yet she would hate herself forever if she walked away. But she had to stick by her decision; she had to leave this in the professors' hands.

She made it one step away when the first year's cry froze her again. Confusion tossed her insides roughly, making her feel physically ill, especially when something whispered into every part of her being. Do something.

I can't, she argued. I can't do anything.

I don't think you can do that, kid. I don't think you can do nothing.

“What's the matter, Mudblood? Can even work a simple charm to stop us?” Malfoy's voice sneered out to her.

Her decision was made. She wasn't joining Osgood's little group, but she was putting a stop to this, right here, right now. Whirling about, she stormed toward Malfoy, her stride determined and her eyes blazing. One lone soldier facing an army of six, without a thought to the odds.

“What do you think you're doing, Malfoy?” Her voice was low and flat, but she made herself heard.

Malfoy whipped around and all the others turned to face her. Goyle captured the Muggleborn's arms, who kicked and squirmed, but his small frame was no match to Goyle's beefy hands. Pansy now held the Muggleborn's possession—a Muggle camera—in her hands, and she glared hotly. As Malfoy took her in, the fear that had previously etched his face, as though he expected Severus Snape standing behind him, faded into an arrogant sneer.

“Look who to join in on the fun.”

Fun? Malfoy disgusted her.

“I don't see any fun around here.”

Draco's smirk only widened, but his voice was mocking, “Don't be such a prude, Sanders. You proved your point the other night; you stood up for impurities like your father. But, trust me, you don't want to go down the road. You have no idea what trouble awaits you if you do.”

Shiloh's fist curled into a tight fist. First he insulted her father and then he threatened her. She forced herself to remain calm. She was going to get the Muggleborn out of this mess, report the gits to the professor, and leave, nothing more. How to do that was trick. It was six against one; she had to use some trickier. She had to think.

“Which road would that be, exactly?” she asked, stalling.

“The same one your little friends have gone on.” He wrinkled up his nose in disgust so intensely his entire face squished. “They're little vendetta to protect the Mudbloods. They're nothing more than pathetic heretics fighting against everything that Slytherin stands for. Do you really want to be a part of that?”

Shiloh only stared at him, refusing to answer. She glanced at the Muggleborn who was still caught in Goyle's grasp, watching both of them with wide eyes. For the first time, she noticed the swelling around his eye, slowly turning black. What had they done to him?

“Join us.”

Shiloh jerked her head back to him in horror, realizing her predicament in the seconds it took for Malfoy to speak the words. It had finally happened. Malfoy had finally offered the place among this group that Shiloh knew he had always been silently holding out to her. In that group, she would be a pawn, forced to do that which she despised the most. Forced to call Parkinson and Delamb friends. No, she refused!

And if she said no...

She would be counted as one of Osgood's army. She would be dropped into the war whether she wanted to or not.

Once again, her feet were on a divided road. Once again, she was torn between what she wanted and what her parents wanted. She would love to deny Malfoy what he so clearly wanted. And her parents? Wouldn't her father be proud if she was friends with the son of such an influential man?

“What say you?” Draco asked, though the smile on his face made it clear he thought he already knew her answer. He even stretched out a hand, and she stared at the empty palm, marvelling at how one handshake could condemn her for life. It held promises of only malice, hate, and prejudice. She wanted to spit on it; she wanted to worm her way back into doing nothing.

Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe matter what the consequences, Osgood had said, but oh, but what a consequence it would be!

“Help us give these Mudbloods what they have coming.”

Her eyes went from his palm to his face and then to the Muggleborn's frightened eyes. Yet, she wasn't seeing him; she was seeing her father. This time she wasn't hearing Osgood's words, she was hearing her own, spoken so long ago.

Sometimes you have to fight, because if you always turn the other cheek, people will never stop hitting you. You have to know that there are some things worth fighting for, some things worth protecting. If those you love aren’t, what is?

Closing her eyes and swallowing hard, she knew what she had to do.

She slid her hand into Malfoy's.

He beamed.

Shiloh heard a satisfactory snap as her other fist slammed into his nose.

He tumbled to the ground, but even then, she wasn't finished with him. “My father's a Muggleborn, you sad, pathetic piece of rubbish!”

Malfoy clutched his bleeding nose and groaned in pain. “You broke my nose! You filthy Mudblood-lover, you broke my nose!”

Yes, she had, and blimey, it had felt good!

Pansy dropped the camera, rushed forward, fell to her knees beside him, and cried, “Draco, are you all right? Draco, dear, oh please...”

Annadel ran off to get Madam Pompfrey, and Crabbe, Goyle, and Millicent looked murderous. In the chaos, the Muggleborn threw a well-aimed kick into Goyle's knee, causing the boy to release him. Shiloh grasped the first year's wrist and yanked him behind her. She whisked out her wand, pointing it before her. The odds were greatly against her. There were three of them—four if you counted the distraught Pansy, and five if the coward, Draco, got off his bum. She knew she was in for a beating, but she wasn't going down without a fight.

She was running through a list of jinxes when a silky voice ripped through the air.

“Now, now, what's going on?”

Shiloh turned slowly, hold her wand protectively.

“Flint, Flint,” Pansy gushed tearfully, “you have to help. Draco is...”

“Shove off, Parkinson,” Draco growled, stopping his moaning and climbing to his feet.

Don't want to seem like a puss in front of your Quidditch Captain, eh, Draco? Shiloh taunted inwardly, though she kept her eyes on Flint who was taking in the situation with a cold stare. Finally, his gaze settled on her.

“Oh, Sanders, can't we just get along?” Even as he said this, Shiloh saw him take out his wand and twirl it around in his fingers.

Yet, she wasn't scared. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction of cowering. “I'll let you know when the Black Lake goes dry.”

Flint faked a mocking laugh. “You think you're funny, but I'm so not amused.”

“Too bad, because I think she's hilarious.”

Shiloh glimpsed over her shoulder to confirm that the new voice did indeed belong to Jacob Osgood. How he turned up in such a moment was beyond her, but she wasn't disappointed to see him.

He came to stand beside Shiloh, giving her a discreet wink, before turning to bore his hard eyes into Flint. Still, he was wearing a crooked half-smile and he seemed perfectly at ease. “Why don't we put wands away and settle things over a nice bit of tea?”

The loathing gaze that Flint sent Osgood resembled the same one that Annadel often sent Shiloh. She was sure that this nor the previous incident was the first time they had tangled. “We're far past tea, Osgood.”

“Then perhaps a strong Firewhiskey,” Osgood said coolly, while Shiloh refused to admit that his calmness was admirable, even if the boy was staring at the two of them in wide eyed amazement. “Either way, it doesn't matter, because we both know I'm not letting you touch Shiloh.”

The protectiveness in his voice startled Shiloh. She couldn't comprehend how he would care for her, when he barely even knew her. At the very least she was glad she wasn't alone in this mess. Her vehemence for Osgood was now completely vanished. If she couldn't fight this battle alone and if she couldn't have Symone by her side, she was glad that it was him standing with her.

Flint snarled. “Never could mind your own business, could you?”

“Nope.” Osgood smiled. “And why break that habit now?”

Shiloh let her mind whirl, summing up the situation. She glanced at the five to her left, then to Osgood and Flint, facing off like war generals, and then to the Muggleborn. She knew the odds and she knew that this was going to end badly, either in a duel with many people hurt, in detention, or in a combination of both. Neither looked promising, but there had to be a way out of it. Think, Shiloh. Think!

Inspiration struck, suddenly. She fixed her eyes on Flint. “I hope you know that Madam Pompfrey is coming,” Shiloh began silkily, interrupting Flint as he began another insult. All eyes turned to her in bewilderment. “I just thought I'd warn you, because I didn't think you'd want her to find anything...condemning.”

Osgood looked confused for a while, then a smirk crawled onto his lips. He understood. And so, did everyone else.

“Of course,” Flint fought back, “she'll find it so interesting when she hears you broke Malfoy's nose.”

Shiloh fought back a wince. She hadn't thought of that, but scrubbing floor was worth it. Hearing her parents disappointed lecture, she wasn't so sure, but she was ready to face that consequence. She had made her choice; she wouldn't go back now, even if she could.

“And she'll be so interested in finding out how this boy got his black eye,” Osgood replied smoothly.

Flint faked a surprised and horrified expression. “But you two did that. I tried to stop you, but...” He held up his hands helplessly. “And the little Mudblood will back up our story, won't you?” He sent the boy a threatening look.

“No,” he said determinedly, squaring his chin. “No, I won't.”

Osgood grinned in triumph and sent the boy a wink. “Brave little Gryffindor, isn't he?”

“You better run along, or it's detention for all of us.” Shiloh knew they would leave. The last thing their group could afford was being caught in beating up a first year, and Flint couldn't afford losing his Seeker.

He clearly knew he'd lost, for his face soured in another hate-filled look. He took a step toward Shiloh. She didn't even flinch, but as he continued to advance, Osgood intervened, “Don't push your luck, Flint. People haven't forgiven you for Stunning a second year. Do you want to add another mar to your perfect reputation?”

Shiloh didn't understand what he was talking about, but Flint froze in spot, though he still scowled at Shiloh and snarled, “Mark my words, darling. You're going to get what's coming to you. Same to you, Osgood.”

Osgood gave him a bored look, even though Shiloh was sure they both believe him—at least that he would try. Yet, Shiloh found a smirk crawling up her lips. Right at this moment, looking into the crackling eyes, fighting for what she believed in, she felt quite bold.

“I look forward to it, love.”

Flint lunged, but Osgood caught his shoulder and hurled him backward. Now it was Osgood to seethe in anger. In one shuddering fist, he held his wand.

“Run along, Flint,” he commanded through clenched teeth. “Before I really get angry.”

Flint hesitated for a moment, then swore and turned on his heel. The others followed reluctantly, like good soldiers following their leading. Malfoy was still clutching his nose, and he snarled an insult at Shiloh as he passed, which she ignored, though the Gryffindor boy snapped, “I know what you are, but what am I?”

“Good come back,” Osgood mumbled sarcastically, absently, as though responding was a force of habit and he was more interested in glaring at Flint's back. “Very Gryffindor.”

Mistaking this for a compliment, the boy gleamed.

Osgood still glowered at Flint's back, looking as though he had to contain the urge to tear after him. She wondered that if such 'young' eyes weren't present, he would have done just that. Finally, when Flint was out of sight, he cursed under his breath, an insult that was inaudible to Shiloh. He then faced her.

“You okay, kid?”

She ignored the pet name and nodded. She watched the first year as he moved to the corner were Pansy had dropped the camera. He knelt beside it and gingerly took it into his hands.

“Oh, no,” he whimpered sorrowfully. “It's broken.”

A crack made it's way through the lens of the camera, marring the otherwise unharmed instrument.

The kid cradled it in his hands, stood, and looked at them, his eyes wide and chin shaking. “This was Colin's camera.”

Both of the Slytherins recognized that name. Shiloh's heart twinged and Osgood sent him a sympathetic gaze. Shiloh stepped forward, held out her hand, “Let me see.”

He hesitated, then laid it in her hands. She tapped her wand against it, mumbling “Reparo.” The crack sealed itself, and she handed it back to the boy. “Keep that safe until Creevey wakes up.”

“Thanks!” The kid beamed. “I'm Sammy Stevens, and you are.”

“Shiloh Sanders,” she replied.


“Nice to meet you,” Sammy said enthusiastically.

“You, too,” Osgood retorted, but without the exuberance. He nodded his head towards the kid. “You better have Madam Pompfrey check out that eye.”

He nodded and tentatively brushed his fingers against the swollen eye. He winced, then glared down the hallway the group had disappeared down. “They were creeps!” he barked angrily. “Are all Slytherins like that?”

Too late, he noticed the Slytherin badge and accents of green on their robes. When he did, his eyes went wide, and he mumbled a surprised, “Oh.”

“No, mate,” Osgood answered his question, smiling. “But there are gits in every house.”

Shiloh looked to the ground. Her feelings for Slytherin hadn't changed much. She was still unsure if she wanted to be in the house filled with people who would do such in awful thing. Osgood, who was cunning and ambitious, the criteria of Slytherin, wasn't so bad. He had saved her twice, with no other motive. Then there were others still. Shiloh wasn't certain whether they were just mistakenly sorted, or if perhaps she believed, that Osgood had been right. There were different sides of Slytherin, just like there were different sides of everything.

She supposed it didn't matter. If there wasn't a side still, then she was certainly making one. Even if struggled with whether or not she belonged in a different house.

“Except Gryffindor,” Sammy laughed.

Osgood's smile became strained, and Shiloh wanted to shook her head at his naivety, but remained still.

“Anyway, thank you both,” he gushed before turning to run down the hall.

The two watched him run down the corridor, then Osgood turned to her. “Right then, kid. Let's get you back to your common room before you wander into more trouble.”

She considered arguing, but didn't. She did, after all, wander into trouble quite often. She trailed by his side as they walked down the corridors leading to the common room, losing herself in her own thoughts. Would they really stay silent about her breaking Malfoy's nose? She thought that, yes, they would. They had as much reason to say silent as she did. They would see Madam Pompfrey, but conceal how the injury had occurred. She hoped, at least.

But perhaps the boy would run to a professor and then, when called in for questioning, the group would then tell. She hoped the boy to remain silent. She knew she would eventually have to face her parents' anger and disappointment, but she hoped to avoid it as long as possible.

And more immediate problems, what was she going to do about Symone? Their argument still hung above her head like an unforgiving, dark cloud. She would give anything to forget what had been said, to pretend it had never happened. She would apologize to Symone, but she wouldn't go back on her decisions. She couldn't. She hoped Symone would understand.

Shiloh glanced up at Osgood and found him sending her an amused glance. She thought about inquiring about it, but he looked away as they arrived at the Slytherin dorm. He whispered the password and they entered. Unsure why she didn't go her separate way, she settled into one of the couches next to him. He was slumped, arms wrapped about him, looking quite content and sending her another smirk.

This time, she did ask. “What are you smirking at?”

He laughed uproariously, slapping his knee heartily. “What? Blimey, Shiloh, you broke Draco Malfoy's nose.”

“Shh,” she shushed him, looking around to see if anyone had heard, but if anyone had, they weren't letting on. “That has to stay secret.”

“Secret?” He guffawed again. “Shiloh, do you have any idea how quickly gossip travels? News this delicious will be around the school in an hour.”

Shiloh went cold with dread.

“But don't worry,” Osgood added. “To the professors it will just be a rumour. And they can't give detentions based on rumours.”

She was only slightly relieved.

They fell back into silence again, Shiloh disappearing in her own thoughts, and Osgood watching her intently, smirk still on his face, as though he expected her to make an outburst, but of what sort she had no idea. She was about to once again demand what, or get up and walk away from his intense attention, when suddenly Persephone was standing before her as though she had Apparated there, Nicolette, Valiant, and Symone right behind her.

“Oh my Merlin, Shiloh!” she gasped, so excited her words tripped over one another. Shiloh jerked back in surprise when she reached forward to clutch her wrists. “Tell me you didn't?”

Shiloh removed the girl from her and tucked her hands safely out of her reach. She met Persephone's dancing grey eyes. “What are you talking about?” Though, Shiloh had a sneaky suspicion what.

“You did, didn't you?” Persephone hooted laughter so loudly Theodore Nott looked up from his homework and frowned in their direction. Shiloh looked away and tried to pretend that she wasn't the centre of so much unwanted attention.

“Did what?” Shiloh snapped lowly, hoping that quieting her voice might lead Persephone to do the same.

“You broke Draco Malfoy's nose.” She stooped over laughing as though it was the punchline of the funniest joke she'd heard in a month.

Shiloh stared. Osgood had been right. News did travel exceptionally fast.

“Did you really, Shiloh?” Nicolette asked, eyes wide and longing to know.

Shiloh looked from each face and read each emotion. Persephone's amusement. Nicolette's amazement. Valiant's unreadable dark eyes. Osgood's smirk. And Symone's worry. She let her eyes linger on her best friend, whose face looked stretched with apprehension. She must have been so afraid when they'd heard this news.

“Yes,” she grudgingly admitted.

Persephone squealed in laughter again, Nicolette demanded to know what had happened, even Valiant looked like she approved, but Symone sank down beside Shiloh and asked, “Are you all right?”

“I'm fine,” she assured.

“Was there a fight?” she pressed urgently.

Shiloh shook her head.

“Then what happened?” she cried desperately, clutching Shiloh's wrist hard.

Shiloh shrugged, trying to make it seem as though it was no big deal. “Malfoy in his friends were bullying a Muggleborn, and I...intervened.”

“And you punched him?” Nicolette asked.

Shiloh nodded, then shrugged again, not meeting their eyes. She honestly wished they would just go away. She had no interest in answering a thousand questions or getting some glory that she didn't deserve. She only had interest in talking to her best friend, about matters that had nothing to do with Malfoy.

Looking in her best friend's eyes, she saw that her mind was trailing to the same thing. Shiloh read regret and sorrow.

“I'm sorry,” she mouthed, and Shiloh didn't need her to explain.

“Me, too,” she whispered back.

Symone smile and squeezed her hand in hers, before letting go and leaning away. It was a small squeeze, but it was enough to let Shiloh know that things with them were okay. At least for now. She was not so foolish to believe that the problem didn't remain unresolved, buried deep. She only hoped it didn't resurface, that Symone let go of her silly wishes and accepted Shiloh's own desires. For now, though, she preferred to leave such things forgotten.

“At any rate,” Symone was saying, still smiling, “I'm sure he deserved it.”

Valiant snorted at the understatement. “Of course he did! I'm just sorry I didn't get the chance to do it myself.”

No one argued with her, and they fell into a moment of silence.

“You know what this means don't you?”

All eyes turned to Persephone expectantly.

“You'll have to join us now. After all, you just waged war on Malfoy and his little group of fangirls.”

Shiloh thought of reminding Persephone that two of the members of that group were boys, but she was sure that Persephone was very aware of that. In the end, it didn't matter, because what Persephone had said was right. She would have to join the group, the one standing against it, and she felt no regret. She was ready and willing to fight, and she supposed she would be forced to fight alongside all of them. Comrades in arms, but not friends.

Still, she only shrugged in a non-committed manner. “I suppose.”

Persephone grinned, Nicolette gave a little hop, and Symone just gave her a knowing look. She was going to fight, but it wasn't going to be easy. At least they could do it together.

“What's up with the Dark One?” Osgood asked suddenly.

In the excitement, no one had noticed Valiant whirling about until now when she was headed towards the girl dorm, half-storming, half-running away. Everyone stared after her with confusion.

Persephone was the first to look away. She shrugged. “I don't know. She's just like that sometimes.”

“Shouldn't you go see what's wrong?” Nicolette asked.

“Why?” Persephone twirled a piece of unnaturally red hair around her finger, disinterest written on her face. “She probably wouldn't tell me anyways.”

Nicolette and Symone sent her a pointed look, and Shiloh looked down at her hands, knowing that the scene was one she had no business being a part of. Osgood was doing the same, only he was closing his eyes and slumping down so far his head was level with Shiloh's shoulder, as though he was about to slip into a relaxing slumber.

“All right, all right.” Persephone threw her hands up in surrender. “I'll go ask her. But I'm telling you, she'd much prefer to be left alone.” She turned on her heel and hurried away, her blood-red hair flying behind her wildly.

“I'm going to go see if I can help,” Nicolette told them, then waved goodbye and ran to catch up with Persephone.

Shiloh eyed Symone warily, wondering if she was going to follow her friends, but she remained firmly in place. The three—Osgood, Shiloh, and Symone—remained on the chair in a comfortable silence, until Osgood turned his eyes on Shiloh.

“So, kid...” Her lip curled in distaste, and Osgood unexpectedly corrected himself, “Shi.” He said it carefully, as though saying a foreign word for the first time, not knowing whether it was a compliment or an insult.

Shiloh blinked at him. Only her father had ever called her that, but thinking about him calling her that, she didn't really mind. It was one pet name she thought she could live with.

When she didn't protest, he smiled and continued, “What made you change your mind?”

He didn't have to clarify what he was talking about. She supposed he wanted her to tell him he had been right, but he had been. He had been so, so right.

Shiloh shrugged and replied nonchalantly, “Well, Jacob, sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in, no matter what the consequences.”

A/N: Thanks to my betas and to by readers. I know I don't always respond to reviews, but be assured that I am reading and appreciating every single one.

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