Chapter 15 : Chapter Fifteen: The Black Lake Party
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The Black Lake Party
Shiloh stood amongst the crowd that lingered outside the common room, taking in all the stunned, amused, even angry faces as she tried to keep her emotions from her face. Delight and triumph danced a steady waltz in her heart, making it glow until it burned. They'd done it!
And oh, how wonderful it had turned out to be!
Shiloh waited for someone else to step forward to say the new password, as Jacob and she had decided they should. Enough suspicion would be placed on them, without raising any more, and they needed to act as inconspicuous as possible. However, it took nearly three minutes before one brave soul stepped forward.
The seventh year boy walked to the wall before whirling to face them. There was a girl at his side. Her cheeks were red and a puffy, and her mouth quivered convulsively as though she was fighting a losing war with a rebellious smile.
“You all stay out here and twiddle your thumbs for all I care, but I'm going inside,” the boy snapped. Together they turned and proclaimed the password, “I love Muggleborns.”
A grin popped onto the girl's face before she fought it down. Together, they slipped into the common room, hand in hand.
Shiloh's lips twitched, and when she glanced up at Jacob, he was wearing a smile of pride and amusement. More Slytherins followed the couple, by themselves or in groups, and at last, Persephone and Nicolette headed in. Nicolette had been barely able to keep the emotions—the nervousness, the excitement, all tell-tale signs of guilt—even with Persephone distracting her. To Shiloh's relief, Nicolette did fairly well.
Another group said the password and went inside, and then it was Symone and Shiloh's turn. Each footstep toward the door felt unusually light and it took all her will power to keep her feet firmly planted in casual steps. Symone, the beautiful actress that was, moved with a controlled prowess, but her eyes danced with joy. When they arrived at the stone wall, a wide, beaming smile spread across Symone's features. It was then that Shiloh could not resist the pull on her lips any longer. She smiled.
“I love Muggleborns,” Symone and Shiloh chimed in unison.
The stone slid away, just as it always did. They stepped in and caught each other's eyes. Symone suddenly giggled, and Shiloh shushed her quickly, narrowing her eyes in a wordless warning. They couldn't afford for her to act suspiciously. Symone swallowed, nodded, but delight made her eyes sparkle and she pointed at something behind Shiloh. She turned, expecting to see Persephone doing something amusing or stupid, Nicolette bouncing in joy, Jacob running towards her to give a hearty slap on the back.
She never expected to see what she did.
Someone was staring at her – someone tall and red-headed and wearing a large, glorious smile.
She stared at him in disbelief. She blinked and expected him to fade away like a dream, because he simply could not be hear. When her eyes fluttered back open, he was still grinning at her, his dimples flashing.
“That was brilliant,” he said at last, laughing. “Positively brilliant!”
He closed the distance between them, threw his arms about her so enthusiastically that he picked her up off the ground, and spun her around and around, his booming laughter feeling her chest with such joy that she thought it might burst. She grinned as she had never smiled before. It was strange, impossible, and he simply couldn't be here, hugging her, calling her brilliant.
“Shi,” he said her name. It sounded almost too loud, distant, and different, as though it came from outside of the room or even this world. But she was just imagining things. She held tight to what was happening, never wanting it to end.
“Earth to Shi.”
George seemed to fade away into a thick, blank darkness, taking the common room, Symone, and everything else that she had forgotten when she was in George's arms, with him. She clung to it desperately, but still it inked through the cracks in her fingers. She was awakening to a different word, realizing with painful disappointment that what had been so wonderful, had indeed only been a dream.
Then she berated herself. Of course it had just been a dream! Where else could George be in the Slytherin common room without his twin, knowing all of what she had done and being proud of her? In what world would she actually allow him to embrace her with such intensity when he had never so much as shaken her hand? Yet, as she recollected the dream, something deep in her heart was whispering, I wish it hadn't been a dream.
She quickly silenced it; the stupid idiotic piece of her heart that it was.
“Shi,” the voice that she had dismissed as a dream whispered softly in her ear. “Wakey, wakey.” A gentle finger brushed down the length of her nose so lightly it tickled.
She jerked her eyes open.
A figure hovered over her, his face inches away as he leaned over her. She stared up at him in a breathless horror, for he couldn't be there. She was still dreaming, she told herself, but she knew that she was lying.
“What are you doing here, Jacob?” she hissed so lowly she barely heard the words herself.
He didn't answer her question, but placed a hand over her mouth. “Shh.” He straightened and curled a single finger in a motion to follow.
She didn't budge. She wasn't going anywhere with him, not at this time of night.
Seeing her resistance, he leaned back down. The mattress squashed downward when he placed a hand at the edge of the bed and she tipped sideways towards his hand. He leaned down and whispered, “Or I can explain here and risk waking your roommates?”
Shiloh eyed the room, making out the three beds and the lumps beneath the green quilts. The fear of waking them was indeed great, for upon the sight of Jacob in her room; they would run to Professor Snape. The presence of a much older male in her room, leaning over her as she slept was not something she cared to explain. She felt heat try to make its way up her neck at the mere thought, but she quickly cooled, for she knew it wasn't like that.
She glanced at Symone's bed, finding it empty except for Rat who curled on the pillow contentedly. The creature was always pushing Symone's head off during the night so he could have the pillow to himself. He almost smiled in his sleep as though he was quite proud of his accomplishment, unaware that his mistress had left.
Shiloh's eyes went to the door to the room, which stood ajar. It let in an angular slit of light between the door and the frame that cast itself on the floor and stretched outward like a slender, beckoning pathway. And since Symone had obviously taken his order and followed him out, and since Shiloh wasn't sure he didn't mean his threat, Shiloh didn't think she had much choice. How else was she going to find out what he wanted?
“All right,” she agreed reluctantly.
He pulled away, the smile on his face grating on her nerves so greatly she had the grand desire to yank the blankets over her head and refuse to follow through his demands. But she fought against the childish urge, sat up, and swung her feet onto the floor. She slipped from the room quietly, knowing how to sidestep Pansy's hairbrush and Millicent's shoes. It was strange that last year leaving in the middle of the night had seemed so difficult, but after so many times practising moving about quietly in the night, it was now quite easy.
When they both stepped out into the torch-lit corridor, Shiloh closed the door slowly, carefully, behind her, keeping the doorknob turned until the door was completely shut then releasing it very slowly, so that the latch didn't click. She turned.
Symone was not the only one in the hall. Beside her, Persephone wore an excited grin, a Weird Sisters t-shirt at least three sizes too large, and pink and purple hair that had tangled into frizzy, wild knots. Nicolette was rubbing her eyes sleepily, but when she moved her hands away, her green orbs shone with eager alertness.
“So what is it that you called us out here for?” Persephone asked quietly, her tone carrying amusement that was tainted with sarcasm as she continued, “Or do you just enjoy waking girls from their sleep? Because we all know that that's not creepy at all.”
“How did you get in here anyways?” Shiloh questioned. Though she longed to know the answer to Persephone's inquiry too, it seemed this one was just as important. She already knew that Jacob would be willing to tell them, so a quick distraction wouldn't matter.
“You mean those pesky boy-blocking charms?” He grinned mischievously. “Oh, please. This is Slytherin. Someone took care of those a long time ago.”
Somehow that thought wasn't at all comforting. Perhaps she should inform Professor Snape, even though he'd likely find some way to blame it on her.
“And as for Persephone's question--” He gestured to the girl with a nod of his head and paused to give them a moment to wonder, to pent up their anxiety, for Shiloh to glare at him, knowing exactly what he was do. He chuckled at her in amusement, then finished, “We're going to celebrate.”
Persephone grinned as though she knew exactly where he was going with this. Symone's brow knotted in confusion, but a faint smile appeared on her face. Nicolette eyes were so wide she looked as though she'd never blink again, and Shiloh blinked at him in hidden disbelief.
“How?” Persephone demanded eagerly, sounding as though she was willing to agree to anything.
“You'll see,” replied Jacob. “You'll have to follow me, though.”
“And go where?” Symone barely managed to hide the thrill underneath her questioning words.
Shiloh already knew she wasn't going. The idea was crazy! Yes, she had broken curfew before, but that was different. Doing it because she had found it necessary at the time and doing it for their own enjoyment was two different things.
“I'm in,” Persephone agreed far too willingly.
Symone glanced at Shiloh as though she knew what was going through her mind, then shrugged and said, “Yeah, me too.”
“Me three,” chimed Nicolette eagerly.
When a fourth voice did not readily follow, all eyes turned to Shiloh who did not let their gazes sway her. She locked her jaw determinedly.
“I'm not going anywhere.”
Jacob didn't look surprised, nor did he look disappointed. It was as though she had never said anything at all.
But Persephone complained, “Come on. Don't spoil the fun.”
“Yeah, come with us, Shiloh,” Nicolette pleaded, batting her eyelids in a endearing way that would have made a lesser determination crumble at the mere sight of it. She even folded her hands together as though she might fall down on her knees and plead from there as well.
Symone, the only one with the power to sway her, just mouthed one word, “Please.”
It made her waver, but Shiloh did not give in. Nor should any of them go about flirting with trouble for a bit of fun. “This is crazy. If we're caught...”
Jacob scoffed. “This coming from the girl who broke at least twenty school rules today.”
“That was different,” she said firmly.
“How is that different?”
Certain things were worth the risks. But this senseless act of mischief didn't prove a point or have a higher purpose. It was senseless, illogical, and she would not go along with it. She did not reply, only showed her defiance through her stony silence.
“Come with us,” Jacob insisted.
“Come on,” he said it softly, some sort of charm beckoning in his eyes, in his easy smile. “Live a little.”
No matter how soft his voice or gentle his smile, her resolution did not waver. “No.”
“I dare you,” he pressed, half-playfully, half-seriously.
She folded her arms over her chest. She did not wish to stand here arguing with him all night, so she would tell him once more then go back to her room, whether or not he dropped it. She didn't want to think about what would happen after that, but the thoughts came of their own accord, fighting with her mental barriers so intensely she saw them without meaning too. Symone would leave with the others and she'd be left to wonder, lying in her bed, what they were doing, if they were having fun, and if Symone or Jacob were even stopping to wish she had agreed to come with them, to miss her. Sure that they wouldn't, she felt a pang in her stomach. For a second, she almost considered going, but it was a very quick second.
“No,” she said for the last time. “Nothing you can say or do could convince me.”
Jacob didn't have to say “Want to bet on that?” He didn't have to. The gleam of his brown eyes, the way he leaned forward to set his hands on his knees, and that cocky, impish smile said it for him.
He swept her off her feet and threw her over his shoulder before she even realized what was happening. She almost yelped, before pressing her lips shut against the desire when she remembered the rooms of girls that surrounded her on all sides.
Instead, she hissed, “Put me down.”
Jacob pretended he didn't hear. He turned to the other three girls. “Go grab your shoes and cloaks. Be quiet about it. Symone, you better grab Shiloh's too. She's a bit occupied at the moment.”
Shiloh heard two pairs of footsteps, a pair of snickers, one door creaking open. She was sure that Symone was still standing there, perhaps about ready to tell Jacob to put her down, to cause a scene until he agreed on threat of their discovery. After a long pause, instead of hearing her angry scold, she heard Symone's feet and the creak of their door. Shiloh felt betrayed, wondering what held back her best friend's tongue. Didn't she think that Shiloh had the right to choose for herself? Or did she simply want her to come with her so badly that she was willing to go along with Jacob's pain?
That thought softened the blow.
Shiloh lay over Jacob's shoulder, the point of it pressing into her stomach until it hurt. All she saw was the back of Jacob's robes, and when she tilted her neck back, she could see the floor. When she did that, she felt as though she might tumble towards the floor, so she tilted her head back, pressed her face into the cloth and grasped the loose fabric in her fists. She breathed in deeply, feeling an overpowering feeling of lack of control try to strangle her.
“I can walk,” she insisted.
“You'll run off.”
He was right; she probably would. Not that it would do any good.
When the girls rejoined them, Jacob turned and began down the steps. With every movement, she rocked and felt that she might tumble towards the ground at every second. There was nothing she could do about it either, nothing to save her from the painful fall. It wasn't truly the fall she feared, but the helplessness, the lack of control, was terrifying her. Though she knew that being carried over someone's shoulder was harmless, she couldn't help it. She thought of kicking at him, punching him until he let her go, but as furious as she was with him, she didn't want to hurt him. Not when this was just a game to him. A game she truly didn't want to play.
They left the common room and continued down the hall. Each step was a battle against the fear that attempted to overwhelm her. With each step, she clung to his clothes a little more tighter.
“Easy there,” Jacob said soothingly. “I won't drop you.”
Despite the fact that he was kidnapping her, she did believe him. She didn't believe he would let her get hurt and she tried to use that to comfort herself. It's just Jacob. He won't hurt me. He's just playing, that's all. But fear was a relentless thing, not something that could be reasoned with even by the strongest of minds.
Finally, when she couldn't fight it no longer, she tried again to convince him. “Please, put me down.”
She tried hard to keep the desperation from her voice, but he must have heard something for he carefully lifted her off his shoulder and with a smooth motion flipped her in his arms. She bit her tongue to keep from yelping as she thought for a moment she might fall, but she found herself cradled in his arms, one arm behind her shoulder, the other below her knees. It felt safer, more comfortable, and she knew all she had to do was jump down and she would be free again. But she didn't. There was no point in running back now, and she didn't feel quite like she had to be rid of him now that the fear had vanished.
Not that she didn't still feel like hexing him.
“Better?” he breathed into her ear.
She thought of lying, not wanting him to have the satisfaction of thinking he'd done her a favour, nor did she wish to be set back up on his shoulders again. After a moment of deliberation, she gave a small, reluctant nod.
She was able to see where they were going now, but the direction he was taking meant nothing to her. She glanced to the side to see Symone, who walked in stride with Jacob. Her best friend sent her an apologetic look, for which she replied with a shrug. There were no hard feelings, but Symone would explain to her later why she didn't intervene.
Finally, they rounded one last corner. A girl strode briskly back and forth done half the length of this corridor, before a winding, spiral staircase. Even if the light that came from her wand had not illuminated her face, the voice that carried in the darkness had given her away. The fact that there was no one there to talk to seemed to scream even more evidence.
“He tells you to wait...at midnight...outside your dorm,” Demeter grumbled absently, her back to them, oblivious to their presence. “And here's the crazy thing, you actually wait!”
Shiloh shot Jacob a questioning look. What did he think he was doing, walking up to a Head Girl as though he was begging vocally for a detention? She tried to wiggle from his arms, but he gasped her more tightly and didn't let her go. Nor could she struggle harshly without alerting Demeter to their presence.
The Head Girl stopped her pacing for a long moment and placed her forehead into her hands. In such a position, she looked confused and stressed. Without the mask of conceit and omnipotence, she looked almost...human. “You're losing it, Demeter. You truly are.”
The words didn't make Shiloh feel sympathy nor make her feel anything close to delight. But it did make Shiloh dislike her just a little less.
With a sigh, she lifted her head, pulled a pocket watch from her robes, and clipped it open. She closed it with an angry snap. “He's late!”
“No, I'm not,” Jacob replied.
She whirled about, drew herself upright, and donned her regal expression – just like she had that first day when they'd caught her talking to a painting. It was almost disappointing to see the more human side of Demeter leave; this other side of her was far too unlike-able.
“How long have you been standing there?” inquired Demeter, sizing all of them up in a brief glance and then looking down her nose at them.
“Long enough,” Persephone snorted and rolled her eyes, letting Demeter imagine exactly how much they'd seen.
Red glowed in Demeter's pale cheeks for a second before disappearing. Her eyes locked on Persephone's choice of nightchothes and her gaze danced with surprise and disgust. “Where did you get that shirt?”
“Somewhere,” Persephone replied, hiding a smile.
“Where?” Demeter pressed.
Demeter glared in frustration. “Will you just tell me? I know none of the family members got it for you, so where...”
“Somewhere.” Persephone's smile was beaming in glorious victory.
Jacob chuckled and shook his head, a contrasting combination of amusement and disbelief. “You two have to be the most dysfunctional sisters I have ever met?”
“Who asked you?” the Andreou sisters spoke in unison. Despite the difference in tone, one serious and the other jaunty, they spoke in single timing, like a single chord played from two different melodies. They stared at one another, unable to believe that they'd actually done one thing in common.
Demeter turned her gaze back to Jacob, but it was Shiloh her gaze lingered on, questions dancing behind her grey eyes. “Why are you carrying her?”
“I'm kidnapping her,” Jacob replied, unabashedly.
She blinked in disbelief, gazing as Shiloh inquiringly.
“It true,” she admitted, surprised at how no embarrassment touched her voice or her hidden emotions.
Her eyes widened and she glanced between Jacob and her as though expecting them to admit they were only joking. When they didn't, she commanded, “Put her down.”
Shiloh never expected him to do it, but he plopped her onto her feet so quickly she stumbled a couple of steps. She was caught by his steadying hand before she tripped even more. She blinked up at him, wondering what had caused his mercy. He was breathing a bit harder, as if, though he hadn't showed it before now, carrying her had been difficult. But his eyes were fixed on Demeter and Shiloh wondered if perhaps she was the reason.
That, however, was impossible.
“I really don't know what I'm going to do with you, Mr Osgood,” she reprimanded. “Not only have you yourself broken curfew, you have caused all these young girls—including my sister—to break it as well. Is breaking school rules something you encourage?”
Jacob shrugged, not looking at all scolded. “I think you've broken just as many as I have today.”
A shade of red popped onto Demeter's face, but it vanished quickly. “A mistake I won't make again. Now tell me what it is you want and return to your dorm before I give each and everyone of you detention.”
“We're going to celebrate,” he told her.
Shiloh's heart pounded a brisk staccato beat. Was he crazy?
“Oh, no!”Persephone stared in horror, at both Jacob and Demeter. “You have got to be kidding.” Her voice squeaked into a whine, “We're not taking her with us.”
“Of course we are,” Jacob retorted softly, never looking away from the Head Girl. “She is one of us...now.”
Demeter was not a Heretic! The thought screamed itself into Shiloh's mind before she could silence it.
Yes, they had convinced her to help them, but it was nothing more. She didn't get the right to be apart of the Heretics, since she didn't understand nor support their cause. And she was Head Girl! Inviting her along would be like inviting an Auror to have tea with criminals. Demeter couldn't be trusted. Besides, Shiloh didn't know why, but there was something about the way Jacob stared at Demeter, so intensely, without looking away that bothered her.
Shiloh was about to open her mouth to veto his discussion, when Demeter fulfilled her ambition for her.
“I have no interest in being apart of your rebel group, thank you very much. I could lose my badge for not turning you in. Why do you keep pushing me? Do you think I won't punish you?”
“Yes, I do think that,” Jacob said easily. “If you were going to, you would have already. If you didn't want to have some part in this, you wouldn't have agreed to wait here. After all, you had plenty of time and plenty of reason to back out.”
Bewilderment made her lips form a tiny 'O'. She quickly pressed them back together, wiping the expression from her face. “It has absolutely nothing to do with you.”
“Agreed.” He held up his hands to show that he had no quarrel whatsoever with that. He dropped his arms to his side and walked a few steps closer to her, never breaking the eye contact he insisted on keeping. “But you do want to go with us.”
“No, I don't,” she snapped.
He paused, standing only a few feet from her. The others could do nothing but watch, none of them wanting him to convince her, but unable to do anything to stop him that wouldn't cause Demeter to follow through with her threat of punishment. Shiloh and Symone exchanged glances and unspoken questions zoomed between them. What was he doing? Why was he doing it? The same questions, the same lack of answers.
Both girls looked back to Jacob.
“Don't you ever get tired of it, Demi?” he asked. His dark eyes held onto Demeter's grey ones, never looking away even when her eyes shifted away from his uncomfortably.
“Tired of what?” Her tone was getting strained, as though it was harder and harder for her stay collected, and a defensive, desperate note was creeping in. “And don't call me Demi. My name is De-me-ter.”
He ignored her protest and continued on without hesitation. “Get tired of never doing what you want to do.”
“Not this again?” She rolled her eyes in annoyance and wrapped her arms over her chest. Her poised manner was by now long gone. Even though her voice still held the controlled note, she looked angry, upset, but there was a sort of intensity in her eyes as she met Jacob's. “You cannot just assume that about me. I do want –“
“No, you don't.”
Demeter growled in anger, losing the last bit of her poise. “Merlin, you are so infuriating!” Then she parroted off in a musical, flowing language that was no doubt French. By her same furious tone and boring eyes, Shiloh wondered if she even realized she had switched languages
Even Persephone looked surprised by the sister's tone. Shiloh stared blankly, unsure what to do. And Jacob grin continued to split his face until it looked as though his face was about to split.
Then, he laughed.
The uproarious sound made Demeter cut off mid-syllable and she flung a hand over her mouth, her eyes wide with horror as she realized what she had done. She flung her hand away, took a deep breath, and returned to her poised position.
“Sorry,” she said, and she did look apologetic, or at least like she thought she was meant to look sorry. Shiloh, however, wasn't sure what she was apologizing for—for being angry? She didn't think Demeter should apologize for calling Jacob infuriating. He was infuriating.
“I think I should go.” Demeter nodded, seeming a bit uncertain, and then hurried towards the spiral staircase. Jacob raced a few steps forward and caught Demeter's wrist as it landed on the railing. She whirled towards him and whipped away, looking furious.
“That's exactly what I'm talking about,” Jacob said. “You have this stupid moral code that dictates who you're you try to be—even when you clearly have to fight just to be that person.”
Jacob was using that creepy ability of his, the one where he seemed to know too much. Shiloh knew it was just the little observations he made – like how Demeter always seemed like a different person when she was caught alone or how she forced that calm expression on so often. She wondered if any of the other girls saw it like they did or how she could see it. Perhaps it was because she forced her expressions too, far better—she hoped—then Demeter. But what were Jacob's reasons?
“That's...not true,” Demeter protested.
“Yeah, it is. And don't you ever just, even once, want to let yourself be the person you are when no one's watching?”
Demeter's grey eyes bored into Jacob's for a moment when the silence was so thick that a chisel could not have dented it. Her expression was unreadable as she glanced from Persephone to the rest of the girls and back to Jacob.
Finally, she gave her answer.
“Fine, I'll go.”
Shiloh did not quite know how to feel. On one hand, she knew that if Demeter went with them, she could not possibly punish them. Despite what Jacob said, Shiloh didn't trust the Head Girl to be merciful. Yet, she didn't think she was thrilled with the prospect of Demeter joining them. Seeing the disappointed and agitated looks on the girls' faces, she knew that they suspected Demeter's sour and uptight disposition would spoil the evening for all of them. Shiloh had never been looking forward to whatever Jacob had planned, since she wasn't coming willingly, but she would enjoy it even less with Demeter there.
Jacob was the only one who seemed happy. He beamed a smug smile, as Symone frowned and Persephone whined, “There goes our fun.” Nicolette glanced uncertainly from Jacob to the girls as though she was unsure which side she should take. In the end, she just crossed her arms over her belly and set her mouth with the tightness of a frown and a tiny curl of an almost-smile.
Demeter pointed a finger into his face. “But this doesn't go anywhere!” she commanded.
Jacob only stared at the point of her finger, grinning in amusement. “No, we're going to blab it to the entire school. Detention is so high on our wish list this Christmas.” He snickered.
“And you can wipe that smug smile off your face,” she ordered, fiercely, before giving a confident nod and adding, “You didn't convince me.” She ran a hand over her hair to smooth out the thin, frizzy pieces that reared up in defiance of the otherwise smooth hair, and it was such a random movement that Shiloh was sure it was a sign of nervousness.
“Yes, ma'am,” he replied, fixing his face into a sober impression, though his lips were puckered as though a smile was still there just waiting to escape his strained lips.
“So—“ She glanced at all of them searchingly, an inquisitive look hiding in her eyes. “Where are we going?”
Four small sets of shoulders lifted into shrugs, and Persephone's voice rang out, stage whispering and faking a secretive expression, “It's a secret.”
“You mean,” she began guardedly, glancing at Jacob with unease. “None of you know.”
“No,” Jacob said, his eyes dancing. “I know.”
Flatly and coolly, Demeter said, “Somehow, I don't find that very comforting.”
Jacob ignored her and turned to Shiloh. “What do you say, Shi? You want to walk freely or is it back aboard the Jacob Express?”
“I'll walk,” Shiloh said with hesitation. There was no turning back now, and she wished to retain the little free-will Jacob hadn't stolen from her already.
“Suit yourself.” He smiled and, without another word, started down the hallway. He didn't ask them to come, but knowing they would.
Shiloh followed just behind him, forcing herself to walk slowly and not jump every time her nerves shuddered which was about every moment. She glanced about her, expecting to see Filch standing around each corner, his lantern glaring from where it was held in his bony hand. In her worst imaginings, she saw Professor Snape stepping from behind a set of armour and hissing the words that rattled in her head.
“You're expelled, Sanders.”
Shiloh fought back a shudder and thought that she would never get used to sneaking about.
Persephone was skipping along happily and making silly faces at her sister's back. Nicolette would hiss, “You shouldn't do that,” but a moment latter would giggle quietly, covering her mouth with her hand. Whenever Demeter glanced behind her, Persephone would fake a serious expression only to snicker whenever her sister turned back around. Symone watched the antics with shakes of her head and an amused smile. Jacob eyed them from over his shoulder, a smirk crawling up one side of his face.
Shiloh turned her attention to where they were going. Retracing their steps, they had found themselves back down to the ground floor. For a moment, Shiloh wondered if he was leading them back to the dungeon, but he walked with determination to the doors leading outside. Shiloh grasped her shoes out of Symone's arms. The stone floor beneath her was icy enough; she could only imagine what the frozen grass would feel like under her bare feet. As much as she loved not having shoes, some things had to be sacrificed because of the cold.
She pulled them on, hopping awkwardly on one foot to do so. Symone stopped and allowed her to lean against her. Jacob opened the door and a blistery wind slammed in, stinging Shiloh's skin like a brick wall. She shivered, but Jacob grinned mischievously, as though the wind had just issued a silent challenge he was eager to meet.
“Are you crazy?” hissed Demeter. “We can't go outside.”
“What's the matter?” Jacob taunted. “Afraid of a little cold?”
Demeter looked away, her face boiling in rage. Her lips moved, but no sound came forth. Jacob's smile grew wider, and he walked outside, Persephone and Nicolette at her heels. Shiloh wrapped her cloak around her shoulders and she and her best friend caught up. Demeter approached the doorway, glancing out uneasily at the five. She looked behind her once, then took a deep breath and leapt off the threshold into the grass. She shut the door quickly as though afraid if she didn't do so, she would turn back.
The air smelled like winter, that frosty, moist scent that always seemed to feel freezing air this time of year. The grass was stiff beneath their feet, crackling with a layer of frost. The lake spread out before them, reflecting the clear night sky, the diamond stars, and the circle of the full moon that rippled like molten silver. They came to a stop at the beautiful sight.
All eyes seemed to turn to Jacob expectantly, and Nicolette demanded, “Now what?”
“Now, we do whatever we want,” said he, with his twisted grin.
“Woot,” Persephone cheered, pumping a gist into the air, pink hair flying. “Par-ty!” She drew out each syllable separately, and then began to chant a mixture between a song and a war-cry. “Party, party, party.” She grasped Nicolette's hand and did an impromptu dance with her.
Laughter flooded the night air, playing with the wind as though it was the earth itself laughing. Shiloh could recognize each laugh: Persephone booming, proud laugh, Nicolette's tinkling sound, Symone's amused giggle, and Jacob's deep chuckle. The sounds were familiar, contagious, and Shiloh felt her lips twitch against her will.
Jacob turned to Shiloh. “What about you, Shi?”
She sent him a questioning look, heart pattering in a strange mixture of anxiety and excitement at the miscellaneous glint in his eyes. “What about me?”
“Would you do me the honour of a dance?” As he spoke, he swept a bow at the waist, arm spreading across his waist, and a courteous smile on his face. He looked so much like a courtier that Shiloh's lips twitched impulsively.
She had only danced with her father, but that was with her family. Here, with these people, she'd only feel silly, dancing when she didn't know how, dancing without any music. She shook her head.
“There's no music.”
Shiloh fought the urge to roll her eyes. “You can't dance without music.”
“Yes, that is the general rule. But some rules were made to be broken.”
Seizing Shiloh's hand, he whirled about so quickly she was first to stumble, desperate to mimic the move, or she would fall and be dragged. He moved to the the right, to the left, pulling her in a waltz, without a three-beat music to follow. Then he did it again.
Step. Step. Whirl.
The laughter of the other girls still sounded and they began to clap. The laughter and the claps twisted together in an uneven melody that Jacob moved her too. Soon, with her heart begin to strum to the rhythm of the dance, Shiloh found herself not fighting him, but trying her best to follow him. Together, they spun across the damp, cold grass, a smile on her face, a twitch on her lips.
She bit back an exclamation of surprise as he dipped her towards the ground and whipped her up again. Exhilarated, her twitch turned to a full-blown grin.
“That's better,” he breathed.
Shiloh's smile faltered for a moment, wondering why it mattered to him, if she smiled, but then, not sure why, she continued to smile.
After a few moments more, they brought their dance to an end, but Shiloh's head continued in the motion. The world shifted to the left then back to the right, before it settled into the proper spot.
The girls hooted and cheered, as though Shiloh and Jacob where dancing entertainers who had performed a brilliant show. Jacob grasped her hand, swept a bow, and laid a kiss upon her knuckles. He met her eyes, his eyes twinkling. “Thank you, kind lady.” He winked at her.
Shiloh's smile grew wider, and delight bubbled in her gut. “You're welcome.”
Jacob gave one last bow, then turned to where Demeter stood. She gazed back at him, a frown etched deep in her face, and stared at him as though he was a puzzle she didn't know how to solve.
Jacob approached her, a quiet smile on his face. “Would you like to dance?”
“What?” she gasped, stumbling back a step in surprise. She appeared so shocked that it would have seemed Jacob had asked her to fly to the moon and back, instead of requesting a dance. She worked her mouth open and closed unaffectedly.
Then finally, “No, no, of course not.”
Jacob shrugged and turned away. Perhaps, he thought he'd pushed her enough for one night. But then, why had he even asked her? Shiloh glanced between the too, and suddenly she found herself wishing he had pressed Demeter, so she would have left them alone.
But Shiloh knew she wouldn't be that fortunate. And just like that, her smile was gone.
Jacob plopped down on the ground, laying flat and spread eggs on the ground. Symone and Shiloh sat side by side, curling their feet beneath them. Demeter conjured a blanket, before laying it on the ground and lowering herself upon it. Persephone lay down on her back, and Nicolette joined her.
“Look.” Nicolette pointed a finger upward at the clear sky. “There's the Plough—and if you follow the handle it points to the North Star.” She murmured a sound of awe and appreciation. “It's so clear tonight.”
“Polaris,” Demeter said, matter-of-factly. “It's the one star in heaven that never moves. Back in the old days, Muggle sailors used it to navigate by.”
“I know that,” Nicolette said, sounding mainly angry, but a flicker of hurt showed both in her eyes and voice.
“We all did,” Jacob assured the girl kindly.
Demeter fixed her eyes on the distant shore of the lake, but Shiloh thought he saw crimson taint her cheeks.
They chatted quietly about the prank. It really had gone splendidly, Shiloh recollected. A larger group than Shiloh had expected had come forward willing. As for the others, it had taken an hour for Flint to track down Professor Snape, and by then, a good deal had forced themselves to say it. Some, however, had remained outside, red-faced and furious, too proud to say the words.
“Did you see the look on Flint's face?” Persephone laughed. “My word, it was priceless!”
Symone, Jacob, and Nicolette laughed in agreement. Shiloh's lips twitched. It had been well-worth all the chances they had taken. Seeing the fits her three roommates from Hell had thrown had been that and much, much more.
“I must admit,” Jacob said, “that it was one of the most brilliant pranks in the history of Hogwarts.”
Symone snorted and rolled her eyes. “Aren't you ever so modest?”
“Hey,” Jacob replied. “The truth is the truth.”
“No matter how arrogant it sounds.”
Jacob uttered one quick laugh. “Yes, Symone. No matter how arrogant it sounds.”
Laughter trilled through the air, like a chorus of birds.
The quiet talk continued. Persephone parroting, “Oh and did you see...” or “Oh, did you know,” quite frequently. While Symone conversed with her and Nicolette listened with wide eye wonder, occasionally putting in comments of her own. Jacob sometimes filled in with a snarly opinion or a cool opinion. And Shiloh just listened, her black eyes absorbing every facial expression and every tone contentedly.
Demeter, well Shiloh wasn't sure what she was doing. She did nothing, said nothing, and it was easy to forget that she was there. Shiloh liked that, liked it being just the little group of Heretics.
Catching herself of what she had thought, Shiloh froze. She liked this. A shiver went down her spine as she realized how dangerous that was. Don't get attached. She jerked the collar of her left shoulder up anxiously. Don't.
“Wipe that frown off your face, Shi,” Jacob hissed up at her. She looked down, then looked away, determined to ignore him. It wasn't his business anyway.
She should have known he would find a way to bring attention back on him. He promptly rose to his feet and before Shiloh could leap up, he'd scooped her up, back into her previous position in his arms. She squirmed fiercely, but he held on tightly. They had already gone through this struggle, and she hadn't been successful. So, after a moment, she laid still, arms crossed over her chest, her chin tightened in displeasure.
“Put me down,” she ordered, knowing he wouldn't agree.
“Who wants to see me throw Shi in the lake?” he called behind him. He wasn't seeking approval, for he was already stepping towards the water.
Persephone leaped to her feet and began chanting, “Do it! Do it!”
“No,” Shiloh cried, staring at the black waters in horror, imagining the icy sting they would bring. She kicked and jerked and rolled in her arms in so great a struggle he nearly dropped her before getting a better grip.
For the first time, Demeter's showed signs of life. She pushed to her feet, staring at Jacob in disbelief and disapproval. “You can't do that. The water's freezing.”
“She could get sick!”
Symone, too, stood and glared. “I have to agree with, Demeter. I really don't think that's a good idea.”
“I disagree.” Jacob took another step.
Demeter jumped forward a step. “Mr Osgood, I really must protest.”
“Then try to stop me,” he challenged, a silky note in his voice.
She startled, looked between Jacob, Shiloh, and the lake, and after a moment's silent deliberation, she stepped back and dropped her head—clearly in submission.
Jacob shrugged a single shoulder and mumbled, “Suit yourself.”
And Shiloh was on her own.
She flung an awkward kick, backward not forward. Her heel connected with his ribs and he yelped an oof. He only clung tighter, as though afraid he might drop her. “Merlin, Shi,” he strained through gritted teeth. “You're not afraid of a little water are you?” He darted a few more steps bringing himself to the water's edge. She heard a quiet splash his feet entered the shallows.
In the distance, Persephone was still cheering steadily, like the beat of a drum. Nicolette watched with a hidden grin and a spark of excitement, and Symone, not sure what she meant to do, but meaning to do something, rushed towards the water. Jacob brought his lips close to his air, his hot breath tickling Shiloh's ear.
“One,” he counted.
He swung her forward. She closed her eyes, already feeling the icy fingers of the water swallowing her beneath them, but he only brought her back against him.
There was the swinging motion again, and a thrill of mischievousness burned in her gut. She wrapped her fingers about his cloak and took a deep breath.
Air rushed about her as she coursed through air, and then she tumbled downward. She felt a yank, heard a yelp, and then there was a splash. Water filled her ears and stung her skin with its cold. She pushed her feet beneath her, emerging above the surface, gasping for air. The cool air against her damp skin only made her colder, and her teeth chattered. That, however, did not stop a smirk from crawling across her face as Jacob splashed up from beneath the dark waters, water dripping from his hair into his eyes.
Teeth chattering, Jacob swore. “Merlin, Shi. You can't let me get an inch can you?”
She shook her head, droplets spraying from the tips of her locks. She darted towards the shores, towards a giggling Persephone and a best friend who was glaring daggers at Jacob. Strong arms surrounded her like a vice, swinging her around and dropping her back in the waters. When she re-emerged, she glared furiously at Jacob, but he was already racing away.
“Who's next?” he called, once upon dry land.
Persephone slipped from his reach just in time. When he turned to Nicolette, she leapt to her feet with a shrill scream. Next, he grasped for Symone, but she dodged out of his reach and went galloping away. Shiloh climbed to the shore, watching as the three girls scattered about, being pursued by the dauntless Jacob.
Shivers racked Shiloh's body, and yet, something warm budded in her chest, causing her lips to twitch once more without permission. They really must stop doing that, she thought firmly.
Persephone dodged from Jacob's touch, sticking out her tongue mockingly and then whirling away when he reached for her again. She darted behind her sister, who had stood, watching everything blankly. Persephone giggled as Jacob tried to lunge around the Head Girl and Persephone sidestepped to the other side, out of his reach. He lunged again, and once more she side stepped. This merry-go-round continued, as Demeter, the centre post, was planted in surprise.
Finally, Jacob stood still, placed his hands on her shoulders and firmly moved her aside. He leapt at Persephone and her attempt to escape was too late. Jacob hauled her over his shoulder, as Persephone threatened, “I'll make you pay for this.”
“I'm sure you will,” Jacob said, with a sarcastic grin.
Then he rushed at Nicolette, who was standing too close, as though she wanted to be caught. Nicolette shrieked as he swung her over his other shoulder. Then, she giggled.
He transported his cargo to the base of the lake and tossed them in one at a time. They came out of the waters, laughing and immediately began splashing each other, screaming in delight.
Jacob turned around and met Shiloh's gaze. “Who said you could get out of the water?”
Shiloh dashed away, knowing that gleam in his eyes too well. The thunder of footsteps against frozen ground told her she was being pursued. Symone fell into step, running beside her best friend, glancing over her shoulders at Jacob, a thrilled grin on her face. “He's obnoxious, isn't he?”
Shiloh nodded. Indeed he was.
Jacob put on a burst of speed, lunged, and tackled Symone to the ground. Symone tried to crawl out of his hold, but he didn't release. Shiloh ran over, pounding her fists against Jacob's back, falling to her knees and wrestling with the hands that grasped Symone. He batted her hands away, then wrapped a long arm about her waist. He flung Symone up on one arm and Shiloh up on another.
When he got to the water, he chucked them in. They came out of the water, and before Shiloh could catch her breath, Persephone had splashed water into her face. She retaliated and in moments, found herself in a splash war. Somehow, the cold of the water was forgotten. Everything was lost in the shrieks, the laughter, the splashes, and the blistering joy deep in her heart.
Jacob's booming laughter brought the girl's to a halt, and they turned as one to look at him. Shiloh was not sure who thought of it first—she had cued Symone who had already begun to smirk impishly and Persephone had mouthed 'Get him', in only a matter of seconds. But soon they were all rushing towards the store before he had a moment to react.
He called out in surprise as Nicolette grasped one leg and Symone the other. Persephone leapt upon his back, wrapping her scrawny legs about his waist. Shiloh grasped his hands, pulling him towards the water. With two girls on his legs, he could do little but follow or risk falling off balance. They pulled him into the water, then moved his legs. After a moment of wrestling, they had succeeded in dunking his head beneath the waters.
Waters parted as he emerged, and the splashing match continued.. Jacob would grasp one girl at a time, flinging them upward into the air so that they were suspended in air before splashing beneath. Shiloh didn't keep track of how many times she had been pushed under water or how many she pushed people under water. It didn't matter. All that mattered was the fun and the laughter.
An unaccountable number of minutes passed before they all tired and crawled onto the shore. Persephone and Symone came out on their knees, while Nicolette was still clinging to Jacob's back where she had slumped after trying of attempting to dunk him. Shiloh's legs felt like lead as she struggled up the bank.
Nicolette slid from Jacob's back, falling onto the ground, and her carrier slumped to the ground, onto his back, panting and grinning and looking entirely exhausted—just as Shiloh felt. She collapsed next to him. Her head rested against her shoulder, but neither of them seemed to notice. It felt so natural that Shiloh could even get her mind to work properly on why she shouldn't take such a position.
“Look at you,” came Demeter's fretting voice. “You're sopping.” She hovered over Persephone and drew her wand. Persephone attempted to shove it away but her sister pushed it back nearer and gave it a wave. With a non-verbal spell, Persephone became completely dry.
She proceeded to do the same on every girl, down the line until she reached Shiloh. Shiloh attempted to wave her off, not wanting to feel indebted to Demeter.
“I insist,” she said.
But Demeter had already waved her wand. Shiloh felt a great warmth come over her. The hair and robes that had been plastered to her clammy skin loosened their hold.
Demeter glanced uncertainly down at Jacob. He, being a seventh year student, was perfectly capable of performing the spell, but he only lay there. His chest, next to Shiloh's ear, rose and fell rhythmically and a soft snore filled the air, all while droplets rolled down his cheeks and his body gave small shivers from the cold. But he did not awake from his slumber to fix his discomfort.
Sighing reluctantly, Demeter waved her wand again. Jacob instantly became dry, and Demeter moved off to her blanket, mumbling something about, “No commonsense.” But she glanced back at Jacob, her gaze deep and thoughtful. A gaze that lingered for a moment too long.
“That was fun,” murmured Persephone, sitting up and hugging her knees to her chest. A wide smile nearly split her.
“Yes, yes, it was,” Nicolette said. She sent the water an almost longing look, her hands combing absently through her tangled hair.
Symone grinned. “We'll have to do that again sometime.”
And Shiloh almost hoped they would, but then she reminded herself how crazy it was to sneak out after curfew, just to have a midnight swim in winter.
Nicolette glanced at Demeter, seeming a bit uncertain, but after a moment, she asked, “Demeter, what was that spell you used?”
Demeter stiffened, the only sign of surprise, and turned her attention from the rippling lake to the first year. “It was only a simple Drying spell.”
Nicolette sucked her bottom lip into her mouth, gnawing on it thoughtfully. The, she asked, “Will you teach me?”
Demeter stared, her poised expression flickering into an expression of wonder before going back into her general mask of emotion. “I suppose,” she said at last.
Persephone's mouth had dropped open, and she gazed at Nicolette quite like her friend had somehow betrayed her. Nicolette took the expression in, almost looked guilty, before she shrugged and, with an excited smile, moved to Demeter's side.
There was silent for a long moment, except for Jacob's quiet snores and Demeter and Nicolette's quiet murmurings. After every passing moment, the wonder of the joy in the lake was beginning to fade and Shiloh was beginning to become uncomfortably aware of how close she was to Jacob, how her head rested on her arm—how she shouldn't be so near. She sat up and scooted away, to Symone's side.
When the study session was complete, Nicolette surveyed Jacob's face. It was relaxed in his sleep, with no smirk or serious expression or even a sincere grin. Something about the change made him seem even more handsome.
“Should we wake him up?”
Symone shook her head. “Let him sleep a few more minutes.” She returned her gaze to the stars that swarmed up above like glittering fireflies.
Nicolette kept her gaze on Jacob, her expression, for once, unreadable. She glanced from him to Demeter and back again for a good moment, and Shiloh could tell there was something turning around in her head. A sickening feeling appeared in Shiloh's gut. She wasn't sure why, but she didn't like that look on Nicolette's face. She liked it even less when, for the first time, Nicolette's smile twisted into an impish smirk.
She schooled it quickly and she asked seriously, “He's rather handsome, don't you think?”
She glanced up at the girls. Symone and Persephone turned to look, eyebrows raised. Shiloh frowned. Where had that question come from?
“Well?” Nicolette asked, making it clear she did want the insane question answered.
“Yeah, so?” Symone shrugged, as if to show that even though she'd admit the fact, it meant nothing to her.
“If you fancy him,” Persephone hissed teasingly, “you could just say so.”
Nicolette's pink cheeks turned a dark shade of red. “I do not!” she denied fiercely.
“Shhh,” Symone hushed them, pressing a finger to her nose sternly.
“Do not,” Nicolette repeated firmly, quietly this time.
Persephone just stuck out her tongue.
Symone shook her head and giggled in amusement.
Nicolette turned her eyes to Demeter, who had been staring at the waters, as though pretending she was completely alone. “What about you, Demeter?” she asked. “Do you think he's handsome?”
Demeter jumped, as though she had literally been attacked and there was an almost note of panic in her eyes as she looked at Nicolette, though she made in effort to at least appear calm. “Why are you asking me?”
Nicolette shrugged her shoulder nonchalantly. “I just wanted your opinion,” she said innocently, her voice almost pleading. Just looking at her watery eyes and her innocent face, made it seem impossible that one could deny her anything. “You know, since you're so smart.”
Demeter stared at her for a long moment as though trying to size up some secret motive. Because, of course, there was one, Shiloh knew. Nicolette, for whatever demented reason, was playing Demeter. And quite better than Shiloh had ever imagined the seemingly innocent girl could, though the flattering had been a bit overdone. Shiloh was both surprised and accepting. After all, there had to be some reason Nicolette was Slytherin.
But the question that bothered Shiloh the most was: why was Nicolette playing her?
Demeter slowly turned her gaze from Nicolette to Jacob. She gave him one of her unreadable, thoughtful gazes that made Shiloh's stomach turn for a reason she couldn't define. Then, grudgingly, she said, “Yes, I suppose he is.”
“Thank you,” piped a deep voice that sent Demeter's face into a burning shade of crimson and made Nicolette startle so badly she nearly fell over backwards.
His eyes were closed, but a grin was etched on his face. Shiloh shook her head, unsurprised that Jacob would and could pull off pretending to sleep so well. She wondered if he had ever actually been asleep. If he had been, when had he woken up?
Demeter turned pointedly away, looking as though she wanted to hide under the blanket. Nicolette crawled away. The look on her face was hard to read. Shiloh was not sure if she was embarrassed or proud.
Jacob sat up, eyeing Demeter who had returned to staring at the distant shore, even though her ears were still bright red—even in the darkness. With a satisfied smirk on his face, he looked away.
“Do you know what this party needs?”Persephone asked at random.
“Hm?” Jacob questioned, as all eyes turned to the girl.
She smiled, shifting beneath their gaze in a way that reminded Shiloh of a bird fluffing its beautiful feathers in pleasure. “We need a toast...like at all my parents' stupid parties.”
Demeter's gaze narrowed. “Those are not stupid party. Those are important fundraisers for the Ministry of Magic.”
Persephone rolled her eyes. “They're stupid because people walk around looking constipated, and saying stupid things like, 'My Merlin, these cocktails are wonderful' while dumping the contents into our gardenias.” She waved around a hand that she held as though it contained a dainty glass.
Demeter opened her mouth as though to correct her, but was drowned by Nicolette's giggle.
“You're absolutely right,” Jacob agreed, climbing to his feet. “We do need a toast.”
“But what do you suppose we toast with?” Symone asked.
Persephone bounced to her feet and gazed around her searchingly, as though hoping to find six butterbeers in the grass. Finally, she shrugged her shoulders and turned her palm upwards. “Well, we'll just have to improvise.”
And she lifted her hand, cupped inwardly, grasping an invisible cup. The other hand pinched her thumb and finger together, and she batted it lightly against her invisible glass, like clinking a fork against china.
Shiloh watched the silly scene in disbelief, wondering if they were really going to do this. Watching Symone, Jacob, and Nicolette snicker and lift their own pretend glasses made her realize that indeed they were. Hesitantly, she lifted her own. She expected to feel silly, but once her hand was raised into the air, she could almost feel the slick glass beneath her fingers.
“I would like to propose a toast,” Persephone said, trying to sound sophisticated. “Here's to the Heretics!”
They pretended to clap their glasses together and to drink where they imagined the rims to be. Nicolette giggled, Symone laughed loudly, and Persephone laughed as she bounded up in down in place. Shiloh felt her lips twitch, listening to the now-familiar melody of their laughs.
Jacob cleared his throat, demanding their attention and gaining it without speaking a single word. He lifted his glass, and with a solemn expression, one that seemed out of place in the merry atmosphere, he said, “Here's to tonight. May it never end.”
Something with Shiloh agreed with him, though she did not know why. She did not realize that once again her lips were curling upward beyond her control. Nor did she recall that during the wrestle for Jacob to dunk them in the lake, when he had thrown her and Symone over his shoulder, Shiloh had not even thought of being afraid. She did not realize that once again the knowledge that she did not want this group to be her friends had slipped easily (too easily) from her mind. Nor did she logically know what her heart knew: that she had had more fun tonight than she had had in perhaps her entire life.
But deep down in her heart, though she did not realize all the things that explained why, she knew what made her eagerly thrust her hand forward to clink their invisible glasses together.
She never wanted tonight to end.
Deep in the depths of the dungeon, another sort of party was taking place.
In Professor Snape's office, a single man sat at the desk with three things before him: a folder to give him hope, a glass of firewhisky in case there turned out to be none, and a flickering candle to help him discern the difference.
This was the last folder, the very last one. After Severus had shifted through all the Hogwarts folders, coming up empty, Dumbledore had asked the headmasters of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang to send him folders of the students of the 1991 class. It had taken quite some doing, but their consent, however reluctant it may have been, was proof that the world had many strings and Dumbledore was an excellent puppeteer. Though Dumbledore had requested all records, to avoid suspicion, he had presented Severus with those of the females. And Severus had spent the last month shifting through the hundreds of record.
There had been so many times he had thought that maybe, just maybe, he could have found her. Either the colour of the hair and eyes would be correct, and then he would discover that the birth date was wrong. Or the birth date would be one in July, but the picture would reveal a chubby brown haired, blue-eyed girl. They had been close calls that had tormented him.
Now he had the last one. The last possible piece of hope he could ever have, and for a full week, he had not had the courage to look into it, though he would not admit that it had been a matter of courage. He explained it a matter of having little time. The professors were hard-pressed to capture the 'Heir of Slytherin' and find the Chamber of Secrets. He had many shifts patrolling the halls during the day and night. It was a search he knew was in vain, but the professors had to do something even if it only proved to make the already difficult task of being a professor even more difficult.
Just today some prankster had managed to change the Slytherin common room's password into I Love Muggleborns. When Marcus Flint, followed close by a breathless Malfoy, had found him on his shift of patrolling, he had been sceptical of the story, but found soon that he was telling the truth. It would have taken quite some talent to change the password, unless you were either a Head Boy or Girl. That possibility Severus would like to think unlikely, but trusted no one enough to put it out of the options.
He thought, however, that it was more likely to be some Gryffindors trying to teach the Slytherins a lessons about prejudice against Muggleborns. He could not deny it was a lesson they needed to learn. Perhaps if he had learned that long ago, he would not have lost all he had.
Of course, if he ever found the pranksters, he would punish them severely for their lack of regard for countless rules.
In the end, however, he supposed all his doings were merely excuses. As he patrolled the halls, the image of what lay in the folder cast itself into the shadows, haunting him. And when he was able to lay down afterwards, sleep would never come to him, and he would stare at the dark ceiling, swearing that he could hear the folder calling his name.
Finally, he had given in.
He had to see.
So here he sat, in the early hours of the morning, staring at the record. Finally, he stretched a hand towards it, fighting the urge to snatch it back. Holding his breath, he clasped the edge of it, and as he opened it, he prayed one desperate prayer. Please let it be her.
Please let it be my daughter.
He studied the picture. The eyes that stared back at him, blinking thick eyelashes lazily were as black as coal. His eyes danced anxiously to her hair. The bright shade of pink was not one typically found on hair. He was all too aware of the childish ideas of dying hair. His student, Andreou, showed up with a new hair colour every other week. He often made a point not to look at her during his class, so horrid and bright were the shades she chose.
He did not like the idea of his daughter doing such an act, but his desperate hope made him long for this girl to be his daughter. Because if not, who?
His eyes searched down the paper to the familiar area of the birth date. What it said put another crack in the professor's already shattered heart.
One word could not have brought more pain. Angrily he slammed the folder closed and seized the glass of firewhisky. On his way to his lips, he cursed Ellessa a thousand times for what she had done. But he cursed himself twice as much.
The glass was at his lips when he stopped. He longed so badly for the sear of the liquid so that his chest would not be the only thing burning in agony, but other thoughts tampered with it and he toyed with it for a long moment.
Swearing, he rose to his feet, drew his wand from his robes, and with a furious flick of his wand, lit a fire in the fireplace. Striding over, he tossed the liquid from the cup into the flame. The fire let out an enraged hissed and licked upward, like a rearing snake.
Severus watched it, his hand clenching the glass so hard that if he had not placed Unbreakable Charms upon it, it might have shattered beneath his grasp. He would not, could not drink, because he knew the comfort he longed for could not be found within it. He knew the desire for that comfort is what had led to the mistake that had brought all this upon him. He knew that even the burn of the drink could not take away the agony of the fact that he would never find his daughter.
He returned to his desk and tossed the glass careless on top of the folder. Then he tugged at the top drawer. Stubbornly, it refused to budge. He had no patience for its resistance today and threw a spell at it that made it fly outward, scattering his papers and shattering an inkpot. But he did not care. He decided only one thing, and he brought it to him with a quick summoning spell.
That night was another sleepless night, but he did not spend it staring at a ceiling, but rather at a picture of a little girl he had never had the chance to hold. A little girl, that now, he never would.
As always, thanks a million to my too glorious betas, Molly and Sandy.
And a huge thanks to the HPFF mods for making me a trusted author. Thank you so much!
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