The following month found Jacob and Demeter together. Shiloh didn’t ask what had happened in the Room of Promise; she didn’t really want to know. Whatever had happened, though, had brought them together. They could often be seen walking hand and hand in the hallways between classes or pairing up in Hogesmeade on the weekends. Shiloh even heard rumours from Persephone—who could not be convinced that Shiloh didn’t want to know—of kisses stolen behind tapestries. Whatever they were up to, Shiloh could tell that Jacob was happy. His eyes were brighter and his steps seemed easier, and even his gut-wracking coughing fits didn’t seem so bad anymore. Most times he had seemed happier than anyone Shiloh had ever met; maybe that was what love did. How would she know?
Despite the marvellous relationship, nothing did change. Jacob still ate dinner with them and studied with them and did everything he had done before. He stayed with them enough that Shiloh caught the breaks in the happiness. In moments he thought no one was looking, Jacob’s eyes would grow dark and his face pale and he would rub at his chest as though it ached. She pretended she didn’t notice, and she never asked, but she began to wonder if maybe she should.
The Elite had done nothing through the month of March, despite Shiloh’s many received warnings. She had told the rest of the Heretics about the valentine, though she had kept Snape’s warning to herself because it would raise too many questions.
“Oh, Shiloh has a secret admirer,” Nicolette had giggled.
Shiloh rolled her eyes. “I do not.”
“Who do you think it was?” Persephone had bounced forward, sniffing for drama like a bloodhound tracks a scent.
“I have no idea,” Shiloh had told them.
“He must really like you, Shi,” Jacob had said, with a glint in his eyes. She had tried to protest, but Jacob had insisted, “I mean it. If he had to use a dwarf to warn you, he must not have been able to do it in person because of a precarious situation. Plus, he has to be a Slytherin, because I don’t think anyone outside of our house knows who the Heretics are. He stuck his neck out for you.”
“And he said you were wonderful,” Symone had said with a smile.
Shiloh had rolled her eyes again, but then pointedly looked away, lest she had risked them seeing her blush.
Despite the warning of the boy who had sent the Valentine—whoever he was—the Elite had remained inactive. Jacob had told them to keep their guard up, and they had, but Flint left them alone. Still, Shiloh couldn’t help but feel that it was too quiet, that Flint’s thirst for revenge had to be quenched sometime, and that this was merely the calm before the storm.
Yet, the peace was nice. With Jacob so happy and the Elite quiet, Shiloh had time to focus on other things: like letters and professors and upcoming exams.
Fred and George had written her back. They wanted her aid on a new ‘product’. They were trying to invent a gum that would make a person’s tongue enlarge if it was chewed, but they were having problems making the tongue enlarge, not the gum itself. Shiloh had asked them if they had tried a Trigger Charm paired with a Growing Draft infused in the juices. After all, Trigger Charms could do great things.
They had seemed excited about the fact she was a girl. In the middle of the letter, she had seen the blots of ink that told they had fought over the quill. Then Fred’s handwriting had demanded, Are you sexy?
George had fought it back, as the smudges and switch in handwriting attested, and begged her forgiveness for my insolent brother. No wonder he hasn’t got a girl. Shiloh had blushed at first, then got sick to her stomach, because it meant George did intend have a girl. She had almost crumbled the paper up, but she remembered her promise just in time. When responding, she had left the question of her sexiness unanswered, despite Symone’s suggestion to tell them that she was ‘fit as a veela’.
They had also inquired further into her identity by asking her year. She had sent them back a riddle that if shoved would give them the answer “two”, but she had shown it to Jacob who had told her it was bloody impossible. Good. She had meant it to be.
They had not yet responded to the letter, but Shiloh was sure they would soon. She had enough in classes to keep her mind occupied until the letter was returned.
The exams were steadily approaching and Shiloh was already studying for them, despite the mocking of some of the Heretics that she was beginning to study in March when the exams weren’t until the beginning of June. One could never be too prepared, and with the amount of trouble Snape could get her in if he decided to punish her for being a Heretic, she would need the best possible grades on her exams to keep her parents’ disappointment tame.
Snape. Now there was a confusing matter. Since the run-in in February, he had not spoken directly to Shiloh, save when commenting on her steadily growing potion skills. He didn’t try to corner her, didn’t address that she was a Heretic, and was just a little more kind to her than he was to all the other students. While he was berating Symone for her mistakes, he would only nod approvingly at Shiloh and then pass on. It was strange, and Shiloh couldn’t fathom it. She would much rather have him insulting her cuttings then being like this. At least then, she would not feel she had reason to doubt what she thought was certain. Whatever the case, she refused to even begin to trust Severus Snape.
He was a Death Eater; he was despicable. She could not question that now.
Yet, with the peace from Snape and the Elite and the contentedness with her and her friends, Shiloh felt more at ease than she had since that night in Snape’s office. All and all, March was a good month.
And April began with hell.
April 1st smelled like dungbombs. It seemed that nearly every classroom had at least one set off in it, and Shiloh had no doubt who was responsible for it. Before breakfast, it was rumoured that the Weasley twins would be serving detention into their fifth year, when they returned from summer holiday. Yet, they only gaily skipped through the halls, singing the Heretics’ song.
Shiloh watched them go, her lips twitching as she strolled beside the Heretics, minus Jacob, towards dinner.
“And may the Elite go straight to hell!” Persephone sang loudly and off-key her rendition of one of the lines. She giggled. “I love this song.” She flung her arms around Nicolette’s and Valiant’s shoulders, and started belting it from the beginning. Nicolette joined in, through her giggles, and Valiant’s eyes narrowed into slits of dark blue, looking dangerously close to murder.
“Have they written you back yet?” Symone asked quietly, slipping her arm through Shiloh’s.
Shiloh shook her head. “They’ve probably been too busy planting dungbombs.”
Symone chuckled under her breath. “Professor Snape looked mental.”
“He is mental,” Jacob said, appearing from a connecting hallway and falling into step beside Symone. Demeter was on his other side, their fingers laced in the little space between them.
“Jacob,” Demeter berated softly. “That’s our professor.”
Jacob grinned unabashedly. “Trust me, Demi. If you were the Head of Slytherin for as long as he has been, you’d go mental too.”
Shiloh sped up, not wanting to hear the conversation about Professor Snape any longer. It was safer not to think about him. She pulled Symone down the last flight of stairs to the main level and pushed through the doors of the Great Hall.
“What’s the hurry, Shi?” Symone demanded.
“I’m—“ She swallowed her excuse as she entered the Great Hall.
Something wasn’t right; she knew that almost instantly. It was too quiet. Even though the crowd of students filled the room, there was not the usual rumble of conversation, bark of laughter, or call of friend to friend. No one had taken their seat, and they stood, facing the wall above the Slytherin table. The teachers who were entering at the door by the Head Table had stopped and stood staring, their eyes filled with horror and astonishment.
Symone’s grip on Shiloh’s arm tightened, and her breath left her in a gasp. “Oh, Merlin. Oh, God.” Shiloh felt the rest of the Heretics gather around her. Demeter clamped a hand over her mouth, Jacob swore, and Nicolette let out a terrified whimper. Shiloh’s skin grew cold, and she didn’t want to look, but she turned her head anyway.
On the wall above the Slytherin table, words had been written in white paint: To the Heir of Slytherin, that his job might be easier. Beneath it were lists of more words, but not words: names. Shiloh could not make them all out, but words that had been written at the bottom in red paint, that dripped like blood to the floor, identified them as the Muggleborns of the school.
Hate from the Elite
Yet it was not the sinister words that made Shiloh bite her tongue, lest she cry out in fear. It was the name they had been written in the middle, so large she could read it from the distance. The name with the red words beside it, begging Her next.
Shiloh’s breath caught in her throat. It couldn’t be; Nicolette wasn’t a Muggleborn. Shiloh had met Nicolette’s great-grandfather, who had magic. Yet, he was several generations back, and the only one Nicolette’s family who had come to a gathering of wizards. But no…that still couldn’t be right. Nicolette was a Slytherin; she couldn’t be a Muggleborn.
Shiloh turned her head around. Nicolette’s hand was clamped over her lips as tears streamed down her cheeks; her shoulders shook with her gut-wrenching sobs. And Shiloh knew it was true.
“I’m sorry,” Nicolette said, almost pleadingly to all the Heretics who stared at her in astonishment. “I thought it was safer if no one knew! Please, I’m sorry!”
Shiloh couldn’t have been angry if she tried. Nicolette was her friend, and she had never considered that she would hide something like this from them, not trust them enough. But she couldn’t be mad, because she understood. If caught in the midst of a war between purebloods, in a house whose Heir wanted people like her dead, Shiloh would have kept silent too.
Yet, somehow the Elite had found out. They had found out that one of the Heretics was a Muggleborn and done what they knew would drive pain deep in the heart of the Heretics. They had made Nicolette a target.
Symone hurried forward and flung her arms around Nicolette. “Sh, it’s all right.”
Persephone seemed stun, but at last she broke her trance to hug Nicolette. Valiant stepped forward, one hand clutching her wand, and glancing around threateningly, as though the first person to step anywhere near Nicolette would be hexed. Shiloh glanced up at Jacob. His eyes crackled and his hand that didn’t hold Demeter curled into a fist. He searched through the crowd, looking for Flint. Shiloh feared what would happen when he found him. Demeter was whispering to him urgently, but it only calmed him temporarily. Shiloh knew, when Jacob found Flint, it would take a miracle to keep a murder from happening. And it would not be Nicolette’s.
“Who did this?” a voice roared from the head of the Great Hall. Professor Dumbledore marched through the Great Hall, looking much less like an old man, and more like a youthful and power warrior marching into a battle. “Who?”
There was only silence to meet his demands. Then there was a cough—a cough to hide a snicker. Jacob’s head snapped towards the sound, dropped Demeter’s hand, and thrust himself towards it. Demeter reached out to catch him, but her hands met only air. Jacob shoved through the first few people, and then no one stood in his way, but stumbled away as he charged forward. Demeter hurried after him, and Shiloh was right on her heels, though the others remained, watching over Nicolette.
Shiloh spotted Flint’s dark head. His back was held high and proud, and a hand was pressed over his mouth to hide his smile. Jacob stormed towards him. Flint heard the pounding footsteps and whirled about, but he didn’t have time to reach for his wand.
“You sad son of a –“ Jacob’s next word was emphasised by the slam of his fist into Flint’s nose.
Flint collapsed to the ground, blood gushing from his crooked nose and staining his white chin. A startled gasp ran through the crowd, and the students stumbled away from the fallen Flint.
“Jacob, no!” Demeter shrieked, catching his wrist to restrain him.
Flint pushed himself upward and sneered, his white teeth flashing against the gore on his face. “You honestly thought we wouldn’t figure out. You thought you could protect that filthy little Mudblood!”
“I’ll kill you!” Jacob whipped free of Demeter and charged at Flint. “I’ll kill you before you touch her!”
Flint snatched his wand from his pocket. “Flipendo!”
The spell crashed into Jacob’s chest. His feet left the ground and he slammed into the table, slid over it, and fell to the ground on the other side. Dazed, Jacob pushed to knees and fumbled for his wand in his pocket, but coughs were wracking his body. Demeter rushed toward him, but Flint was already on his feet, his wand pointed at Jacob as he advanced. Shiloh tore forward, placing herself between Flint and Jacob, her wand drawn.
“Expelliarmus!” Shiloh cast.
Flint’s wand flipped from his fingertips, but not before the light of his spell flared towards her. She braced herself for the impact.
Darkness filled her vision and robes snapped quickly as someone stepped before her. “Protego!” the deep voice sneered.
Flint was flung over the Hufflepuff table and landed, sprawled on the other side. Shiloh blinked in surprise up at the man, glimpsed his dark hair before he turned and stared down at her.
He was Professor Snape and he had saved her.
“Enough!” Professor Dumbledore bellowed. The room plummeted into silence, save for Jacob’s cough and Flint’s groans as he shoved himself to his feet. Shiloh didn’t glance at the headmaster, but scrambled over the table and landed beside Jacob.
He hacked into his hands, gasping for breath he couldn’t seem to find. Demeter looked terrified, but managed bravely, “Just breathe, Jacob, just breathe.”
Madam Pomfrey was hurrying his way, but he waved her off.
“I’m fine,” he said at last, dragging in a deep breath and dropping his hands.
“Jacob!” Demeter gasped, yanking his hand towards her.
Red stained the thin white skin of his palm, but Jacob pulled away. “It’s fine. I bit my tongue.”
“Are you all right?” Madam Pomfrey asked urgently, as Demeter helped Jacob to his feet.
Jacob just nodded. Yet, one look at the furious Professor Dumbledore told him, he was not all right at all.
“I want both of you boys in my office, immediately,” the headmaster told them. “This is exactly what we should be fighting against. When we divide ourselves into categories—Muggleborn, pureblood, Elite, Heretic—we destroy every chance we have to stand united. This—“ He shoved his wand towards the wall that still screamed ‘Die, Mudbloods, die!’ “—is what will one day tear us apart if we let it.” He flicked his wand and the list and words disappeared, but the damage it had caused would not be so swift to vanish. “Enjoy your dinner.”
Dumbledore marched towards the door, and Jacob made to follow. Demeter’s grip tightened on him, but he patted her hand reassuringly. “It’ll be fine. Just look after Nic.” When Demeter hesitated to release her hold, he pressed, “Please, Demi.”
Demeter stepped away from him and nodded, while Jacob stepped forward, keeping a wary distance away from Flint who was also making his way out the door. Shiloh watched him go, then turned her attention toward where Nicolette had stood, just in time to see her blond hair flying behind her as she escaped the Great Hall. Symone, Persephone, and Valiant chased after her, and Shiloh pounded to catch up. Demeter followed her closely.
Nicolette ran into the dungeon, and Shiloh followed, thinking she meant to go to the common room. Yet, she made a quick turn into a different room: Dungeon Sixteen, the Heretic’s hangout. Shiloh thought she understood; this was where Nicolette felt safe.
Nicolette turned to face them. Her sobs had ceased, but a tear traced its way down her red cheeks. She brushed it away with shaking fingertips. “I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I should have told you.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Valiant demanded. Symone sent her a warning glare, but Valiant ignored her. The annoyance on Valiant’s face testified that she didn’t like being deceived. “I mean, in the months we’ve known each other, you think that would have come up.”
Nicolette just chewed on the end of her hair and shrugged her shoulders.
Valiant narrowed her eyes. “Didn’t you trust us?”
Spitting out her hair, Nicolette nodded fiercely. “Of course I did. You’re my best friends. You’re the only ones I trusted. But you can’t…you can’t possibly imagine what it’s like…being a Muggleborn.”
Valiant looked like she wanted to argue, but she couldn’t. She swallowed and looked away, her cheeks tinted an angry red.
“My great-grandfather is a Muggleborn,” Nicolette explained. “He married a Muggle. None of their children had magic, and neither did my dad or my mum. No one did, until me.
“I grew up with my great-granddad telling me stories about a place called Hogwarts, where children learned magic. I thought it was a fairy-tale.” Her eyes glistened for a moment, as she glanced around the halls of the place. Shiloh had known Hogwarts was fact for all her life, and she could not imagine what it would be like to grow up never thinking there was such a thing as magic. Then suddenly, finding out the truth: that all the fairy tales were true.
“Great-granddad always told me I was special,” Nicolette continued, “and I wanted it to be true. I always did these magic tricks—stupid magic tricks like magicians do. I would always be able to make things disappear, but never reappear. I wanted to believe I could be a witch; I wanted my Hogwarts letter so badly. Then…on my eleventh birthday, it showed up in the post.” A smile appeared on Nicolette’s face as she recollected a moment of joy. “I was so happy, and I couldn’t wait to tell my friends.”
Her face contorted and she looked down at her hands. Symone itched close and laid her hand on her shoulder. “They called me a freak!” Nicolette cried. “They started making fun of me at school and …and…they hated me.”
Persephone was worrying her bottom lip with her fingers, Valiant stared down at the floor, and Demeter was gazing in sympathy. Shiloh was lost in what to do. She could not imagine the pain if it were the Heretics who began to treat her as an outcast.
“I felt for sure things would be better once I got to Hogwarts,” Nicolette confessed, “but I was wrong. I was so wrong. Some Heir of Slytherin wants me dead. Everyone was judging me for what I was. I didn’t want being a Muggleborn to change the way my friends thought about me.”
“It doesn’t,” Symone insisted. “It won’t. We understand—“
Nicolette pushed her away. The act of aggression sent waves of surprise through Shiloh, and Symone’s eyes widened. Nicolette’s face turned bright red and she growled, “No, you don’t understand; you can’t! I don’t belong in this world, and I don’t belong in mine! So tell me, where do I belong?”
The Heretics stared at her, aching to say something to comfort her, but not knowing if words existed that had the magic to heal the hurt in Nicolette’s heart. Nicolette’s face paled when she realised no one had the answer she craved. She pressed her face into her hands and began to cry once more.
Footsteps sounded on the stone floor, closing the distance that separated Nicolette from the others. Demeter knelt before her, gently wrapped her hands around Nicolette’s wrist, and pulled her hands away from her face. “Right here,” Demeter breathed softly. “You belong with the Heretics.”
Nicolette’s sobs softened and she let out a shaky breath.
“That’s what I always loved about all of you,” Demeter said, gazing at all of them one by one and then resting on Persephone, who bit down hard on her lip. “You aren’t just this group; you are best friends. And it never matters whether you are Muggleborn or Halfblood or pureblood; dark-skinned, pretty, or pink-haired; or even how many dumb mistakes you make. You accept each other and you always look out for each other.” Demeter paused, biting on her lip the same way Persephone was. Then she added, “Never change that.”
Shiloh swallowed, because that was exactly what they meant to her too. She never could have expressed it so perfectly, but there were the magic words that defined the Heretics. The Heretics weren’t a group fighting for the greater good; the Heretics were just them. A group of best friends with a variety of differences who fought for what they believed in…and mostly for each other. And Shiloh never wanted that to change.
“Never,” Shiloh agreed.
“Never,” repeated Symone, and then Persephone.
Valiant hesitated a moment, then said, “Never.” She folded her arms over her chest, hid her face behind her fringe. “Sorry, Nic.”
“It’s all right,” Nicolette said. “I’ll never change the Heretics either.”
“Never,” came another voice of agreement.
Shiloh hadn’t heard the door creep open, but Jacob stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame. Demeter gazed up at him, meeting his eyes and smiling. “Never,” she promised as well.
The seven Heretics made a solemn vow, and Shiloh hoped they’d always keep it. She knew she would.
“Did you get in a lot of trouble?” Nicolette asked, anxiously.
“Don’t worry about that,” Jacob said. He crossed the room towards her. His movements were stiff, and Shiloh spied bruises staining his flesh. He had suffered more from the fall than he had let on.
Jacob wrapped his arms about Nicolette. “Are you all right?”
Nicolette began to nod, but then she shook her head. “Is the Heir going to come after me now?”
Shiloh sucked in her breath as an image came to her: Nicolette lying motionless in a bed in the Hospital Wing. Shiloh shook it away, before it terrified her even further. Jacob must have imagined the same thing, because a shudder moved through his back.
“Over my dead body,” Jacob responded, through gritted teeth. He held her against him protectively. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you, I promise.”
“We all promise,” Symone said, stepping forward.
Nicolette nodded bravely.
Jacob stepped back, forcing a confident smile that didn’t reach his worried eyes. He ruffled Nicolette’s hair, and she stepped away, her lips giving a reluctant smile. “Don’t tell me I missed the story about how a Muggleborn got Sorted into Slytherin?”
Nicolette shook her head.
“Then out with it,” Jacob insisted.
Nicolette only shrugged her shoulders and looked down at her feet bashfully. “I…asked the Sorting Hat to put me there.”
“You…what?” Jacob asked, a laugh of surprise breaking past his worried demeanour.
Nicolette forced herself to lift her chin, square her shoulders, and repeat the words more proudly, “I asked the Sorting Hat to put me in Slytherin.”
Symone shook her head in bewilderment, her curls whisking about her wrinkled nose. “Why?”
“Because my grandfather told me that I had no chance of being put in Slytherin.” Nicolette grinned, half-sheepishly. “And I wanted to prove him wrong.”
Jacob cupped a hand over his mouth to hide his smirk. Demeter elbowed him, but it did no good. Even Persephone was chuckling, and Valiant was rolling her eyes. Shiloh felt as though she had missed a hilarious joke.
So, apparently, did Nicolette for she asserted firmly, “I didn’t know why I didn’t have a chance. I didn’t know about all that Muggleborn prejudices until later that night in my dorm, when I heard my roommates talking. I just…don’t like people saying I can’t do something.”
Jacob could not restrain himself any longer. He let out a bark of laughter, and Nicolette paled, thinking he was laughing at her. He, however, embraced her again and ruffled her hair, before beaming down at her proudly, “Now, that is Slytherin ambition!”
Nicolette blinked up at him, as though trying to understand. Then she let out a giggle, that quickly grew into delighted laughter. Symone joined her, and Persephone laughed as well.
“I have no idea what’s so funny,” Persephone confessed, though she was still laughing so hard she had to sit down before she tumbled.
Valiant shook her head, but smiled, and Shiloh gave out a little laugh, because she did get it. The Sorting Hat hadn’t made a mistake the way Nicolette had thought. She was ambitious and cunning enough to hide a secret of this magnitude. She didn’t belong in some other house; she belonged right here in Slytherin.
All of them did, even Shiloh, she finally admittedly. They didn’t fit into the mould most people thought of when they thought of Slytherin. They weren’t pureblood or evil or royal gits…well, not most of the time, at least. But they were ambitious and cunning and ready to do whatever it took to fight for what they believed in and for each other. In their own way, they were Slytherin; they were the best part of Slytherin.
Jacob raised a cupped hand as though holding an invisible glass. “A toast to Nicolette Howell: The Muggleborn Slytherin.”
The rest of the Heretics cheered, “To Nic!”
Nicolette survived the next week, but by the end of it, it seemed that the rest of the Heretics might not. Shiloh had never thought the sweet girl could look so furious, but as she paced the floor of Dungeon Sixteen, she had nearly taken on the persona of Valiant: narrowed eyes, clenched fists, and an expression that screamed of the desire to kill.
“Remind me again why we’re not getting back at the Elite,” Nicolette demanded, whirling to face them.
Jacob sighed, leaned his head against the brick wall, and ran his hand through his hair in exasperation. “We’ve been over this, Nic. We agreed—“
“No, you agreed,” Nicolette said, stabbing a finger towards him accusingly. “I didn’t!”
Shiloh tried to pretend she was focusing on the cauldron before her. She was trying to teach Persephone a potion that they had a test over tomorrow, but Persephone was more riveted on the scene playing out beyond the cauldron than what ingredient should come next. Nicolette had been upset when the majority of the Heretics had decided not to retaliate against the Elite so quickly. They feared that getting vengeance would lead to an attack against Nicolette; they wanted to concentrate on protecting Nicolette. It seemed the Heretics had finally found a consequence too great to risk.
Nicolette had been the only one who had protested, but they had outnumbered her. She had, however, not let it go.
“Don’t you get it,” Nicolette snapped. “If we don’t get back at them, they win! Everything we fought for would have failed.”
Shiloh gritted her teeth, trying to ignore the truth in Nicolette’s words. She elbowed Persephone. “Stir it three times.”
Persephone blindly reached for the spoon, one eye still fixed on Nicolette, and began to stir.
“Nic,” Symone said reasonably, “we just don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Persephone was staring at Symone, still stirring. Shiloh caught her hand. “Persephone, how many was that?”
Persephone looked blankly down at the potion. It had turned a putrid green and all the froth had been stirred from the top. “Um…that was three wasn’t it?”
“More like eight,” Shiloh said. She attempted to hide her annoyance, and she glanced over at Demeter. The Head Girl sat beside Jacob, her nose pressed into a book. “Demeter, can you Vanish this please?” Shiloh wished she knew the spell herself, but she wouldn’t learn it for another few years.
Demeter nodded, set down the book, and scooted over, just as Nicolette whirled towards Symone and roared, “Fight for what you believe in, no matter what the consequence!”
Her voice echoed against the stone, and everyone turned towards her, even Valiant who had been having a nap on the floor with her head on a pillow before Nicolette had screamed their motto. Valiant sat up groggily, glaring like a troll whose slumber had been interrupted by a billy goat.
Nicolette’s green eyes searched all their gazes fiercely. “Remember? No consequence should stop us; not even me.”
Shiloh swallowed, hating that she had a point. Demeter gaze grew thoughtfully, even as she tapped her wand against the side of the cauldron and the stinking slime disappeared. Persephone sat on her heels, bobbing her head in agreement, while Symone looked down at her feet and Valiant buried her face back in the pillow.
“No,” Jacob said. He stood slowly, using the wall for support. “We’re not risking you.”
“We always were risking ourselves,” Persephone argued, pushing to her feet and moving to stand beside Nicolette. “We knew what we signed up for. You warned us from the very beginning. Nothing has changed.”
Jacob opened his mouth as though to disagree, as though he wanted to say that everything had change, but he shut his lips. Shiloh stared at him, trying to compare this Jacob with the one who had first presented the idea of the Heretics. He had been so cocky and confident then, as though he had nothing to lose. Now he just looked tired. He leaned against the wall, his shoulders slumped in defeat, as though he had realised that he had everything to lose.
He had once been willing to risk everything for what he believed in, and maybe that’s what he was doing. Maybe what he had chosen to believe it wasn’t some grand cause to end prejudices; maybe he had chosen to believe in the girls. It was clear he would do anything for them. He had served detention every night that week for Nicolette, and Shiloh knew he was risking Nicolette being angry with him. He was trading everything for what he believed in: them.
“You’re right,” he agreed, trying to placate Nicolette, but further confirming Shiloh’s suspicions. “Nothing has changed. We’re still fighting for Muggleborns, just in a different way.”
“That’s not fair,” Nicolette protested fiercely, flipping her blond hair over her shoulder in an angry cascade. “I’m not just a Muggleborn; I’m a Heretic.”
“Exactly,” Jacob concurred, rubbing at the stubble on his face. “And Heretics look out for each other. That’s what we’re doing.”
“But you are looking out for me,” Nicolette said, throwing up her hands in frustration. “One of you is always following me to my classes, to meals, to the library, outside—I can’t even go to the loo by myself! So keep mollycoddling me, but don’t take away fighting with the Elite. It’s the only chance I have to prove I belong in Slytherin.” She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth and nipped on it, realising her truth had slipped.
Fighting for the Heretics wasn’t about the Muggleborns for Nicolette; it was about herself. It was about proving that she was equal and worthy of the Most Noble House of Slytherin.
Jacob grunted, ran a hand through his hair, and shook his head. “Nic, I promised to protect you. I mean to do just that.”
“Please,” Nicolette said, her voice turning pleading. “Please, Jacob. I have to do this.”
“We will,” Jacob conceded, “but not yet. Give it some time.”
“No,” she insisted, her watery eyes batting rapidly. She clasped her hands together desperately, as though about to fall to her knees and beg. “Please.”
Jacob only placed his back against the wall and looked away. Knowing Jacob wasn’t the final say, Nicolette turned to the others. “Please. I know you want to fight as much as me.”
“Aren’t you scared?” Symone demanded. “Aren’t you afraid of what the Heir might do to you, now that the Elite have let the whole school know?”
Nicolette began to shake her head, then realising the lie, she said, “Yes, I’m scared. But it doesn’t matter. I’ve always been scared of that, just like every Muggleborn is scared. But I’m more scared of what’s going to happen if we stop fighting.”
“We’re not going to stop fighting,” Demeter said, standing and brushing off her robes. “But we have to make sure the time is right. Be patient.”
“But there isn’t time to be patient.” Nicolette’s voice cracked, her fear coming through. “Tomorrow, I could be lying in a bed next to Colin Creevey.”
Shiloh locked her jaw, fighting back a cringe at the image the idea brought.
“I’m with you,” Persephone agreed, spreading her hand on Nicolette’s back.
Nicolette searched the others. Jacob didn’t look at her, Demeter shook her head empathetically, and Symone said, “Sorry, Nic. I just think we should be cautious for now.”
Valiant was snoring on her pillow, so it was left on Shiloh.
“Please,” Nicolette said again.
Shiloh understood Nicolette – understood the need to fight back, the need for revenge and justice and to prove herself. She also understood Jacob, the need to protect her from harm. It was possible that pulling a prank would bring Nicolette harm, but it was also possible that doing nothing wouldn’t keep her safe either. Shiloh was torn between too right decisions made for the right reasons. She couldn’t choose, and so she didn’t.
“We’re the Heretics,” Shiloh said. “When we fight back—and we will fight back—we have to do it together, or not at all.”
Nicolette sighed. “All right, not yet. But can we at least plan? No harm can possibly come from planning!”
“Okay,” Jacob sighed.
“I’ll go get the book,” Symone said. She knew it was in Shiloh’s trunk.
“I’ll go with,” Nicolette said, bouncing out the door so that Symone had to run to catch up. Persephone followed.
Jacob heaved himself off the wall, but Demeter brushed her hand down his arm. “They’ll be fine.”
He sighed and slid down to the floor. Demeter settled onto the floor beside him. “Still sore?”
Jacob nodded and gave a crooked grin. “I’m an old man.”
Demeter giggled softly. “Don’t say that. You’re a month shy of you eighteenth birthday. You’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you. That’s a long time.”
“Not nearly long enough,” Jacob said, pressing a tender kiss to Demeter’s forehead. He ran his hand through her hair and smiled, almost sadly. “Trust me. It won’t be nearly long enough.”
Demeter hid her blush in his shoulder. Jacob chuckled, rested his head against the top of her head, looking perfectly content for the moment…and then Valiant let out a gag.
“Get a room, please,” Valiant said, glaring at them from her pillow.
“You’re having a nightmare, Val,” Jacob assured. “Go back to sleep.”
Valiant obliged them.
Shiloh rested against the wall, enjoying the quiet. For a moment, all was right.
But only for a moment.
“I’m hungry,” Persephone whined, as she leaned against the wall outside of Nicolette’s classroom.
The four second year Heretics were meeting Nicolette, before walking to dinner, something that by now had become a familiar habit, though not as familiar as Persephone’s whining.
“Patience, Seph,” Symone berated, as she watched the stream of first years leave the classroom.
“I just listened to Lockhart talk for an hour about curling his hair before his duel with some wizard.” Persephone rolled her eyes. She loved drama, but Lockhart’s self-serving form was beginning to task on even her. “I need to regain my strength.”
“Really?” Valiant asked. “He always makes me lose appetite.” Her muscles seized in fake spasms, and she used her fingers to mime vomit leaving her lips.
Symone giggled and Shiloh agreed. She watched a Slytherin boy in Nicolette’s year make his way out of the room and set off down the hall. No one else followed close behind, and Shiloh leaned around the corner to glance into the room. The desks were abandoned, chairs askew and papers scattered. The only one who remained in the room was Professor Flitwick, who was tidying up the classroom.
Professor Flitwick looked up. “Can I help you with something, Miss Sanders?”
“I’m looking for Nicolette Howell,” Shiloh explained.
Professor Flitwick frowned, looking displeased about something, which was an unusual and unsatisfying expression on the sweet professor’s face. “I excused her to go to the lavatory, and she never came back. If you find her, please send her to me.” He looked back to his papers.
Shiloh’s heart hammered. Nicolette wasn’t the sort to skip class. Shiloh whirled about, hurrying towards the nearest loo as fast as her slender legs would carry her. The three girls called after her, demanding what was wrong, but Shiloh didn’t slow. She turned the corner, raced to the door of the loo, and slid to a halt. She pressed her palms against the door, feeling the smooth wood. She was afraid of what she would find inside.
She pushed it open and peeked inside. “Nicolette,” she called, but her voice echoed against the porcelain. The loo was silent, except for the gurgle of the water through the pipes and the splash of a sink that had been left on.
“Nic!” Persephone called from behind. She scurried forward and bent to look under the stalls for legs. She straightened. “No one is in here, Shi.”
Shiloh didn’t know whether to worry or be relieved. She nibbled on her bottom lip. “Maybe she just went on to dinner.”
“Sure,” Symone said, but lines of disconcertion wrinkled her brow.
The four stepped out of the loo together. Shiloh was breathing a little uneasily, but she tried to calm herself. They made their way to the Great Hall and moved towards the Slytherin table, searching for Nicolette.
A glance towards the Head Table made the sinking feeling in Shiloh’s stomach deepen. Most of the professors were missing, and those who weren’t were whispering together with grave looks on their face. Professor McGonagall was fixing her askew hat to hide the tears pooling her eyes, while she addressed Professor Snape, whose face was unreadable. As though feeling her eyes, Snape turned and met her gaze. Generally, she would look away, but there was something about his gaze that locked her eyes in place. Then he started towards her.
“I don’t see Nic anywhere,” Persephone said, her voice wavering. Valiant elbowed her in the side, and she turned to look as Snape stopped before them. A soft gasp caught in her throat and all the sparkle and colour in Persephone’s eyes went dark.
Snape eyed each of them and said darkly, “All of you should come with me.”
“Why?” Persephone blurted.
He did not answer, only started towards the door. Shiloh followed him, her heart hammering and her knees shaking. Symone pressed close and their hands brushed. They slid their fingers together as one and clutched hard. Behind them, Valiant’s dark expression was shadowed by her fringe, and Persephone was biting her lip.
“What’s going on?” Shiloh asked, when she found her voice.
Professor Snape remained silently, gracing them with nothing but the back of his head and the sweep of his robes as he ascended the steps. He set his feet toward the Hospital Wing. Shiloh stared at the doors in fear and felt her knees shake. She could not stand not knowing what fate had befallen her friend for a single second.
“What happened to Nicolette?” Shiloh demanded. Her voice had risen a notch higher than she meant, and it echoed back into her ears still laced with panic.
It was enough to make Snape stop. He twisted his head and met her gaze. He loosened his jaw and a slow sigh hissed between his teeth. “She will be fine,” he assured. Yet with the emphasis added to ‘will’, it was hardly comforting. Nicolette would be fine, but right now, she wasn’t fine at all.
Snape pushed open the doors and strode within. Symone squeezed Shiloh’s hand and glanced at her with wide, fearful eyes, while Shiloh’s feet froze to the floor. Persephone and Valiant stared within the room. No one wanted to be the first to enter the room, to face whatever lay within. But at last, they all surged forward as one, as though deciding without speaking that if they must face it, they would face it together.
Within the hospital wing, the curtains were drawn about the beds, masking any horrors from view. In the centre of the rows of beds, Jacob paced. His legs ate up the floor in angry strides, as though if he moved fast enough, he could will something to happen. His hands pulled against his hair, making them stand at end, and his face was torn with rage. Demeter followed behind him, her fingers playing across his shoulders in an effort to calm him.
“Please sit down,” she pleaded, as he began to wheeze, but he waved her off and paced again.
“I promised to protect her,” he said. Then he froze, placed his face in his hands and moaned. “I failed.”
Symone released Shiloh’s hand and crept anxiously toward the bed where the curtain lay. Valiant followed, dragging Persephone with her, but Shiloh remained. She didn’t need to see what lay behind that curtain. She already knew.
Images flashed before Shiloh’s mind. Nicolette marching toward the Sorting Hat and holding a long conversation before the Sorting Hat decided to place her, a Muggleborn, in Slytherin. Nicolette storming away from Flint, demanding how they could listen to such rubbish. Nicolette joining the Heretics and skipping down the halls and begging to be taught a spell she didn’t know. Nicolette moving and breathing.
A hand rested on Shiloh’s shoulder. It took her a moment to realise the hand belonged to Severus Snape, and another long moment to remember why she should move away from his touch. And then another image danced before her eyes.
Nicolette lying on a hospital bed, her light green eyes cold and unblinking, her hair framed around her cheeks that held the remnants of a scream. Petrified.
Only it wasn’t just a haunting spectre from the darkest of dreams or the most terrifying of thoughts. It was real. Nicolette was petrified.
The Heir of Slytherin had taken his fifth victim.
Author’s Notes: Congratulations to anyone who guessed it (DID anyone guess it?)! Nicolette is a Muggleborn! Wo-ow. Thoughts? Comments? Leave a review, and let me know! Also, I apologize in advance if the next chapter takes longer, as my attention is divided elsewhere.
And my, Molly is a splendid beta! Somewhere between helping me with world-building and writing three-billion stories (not really) she found time to look over this for me. Oh, and to top it off, she was the one who came up with the idea of the Elite’s prank. Isn’t she great?
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