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Chapter 28 : Chapter Twenty-Eight: Shoot the Messenger
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Shoot the Messenger
The next evening after dinner, the Heretics gathered to plot, their master book of plans in hand. Shiloh jolted down their ideas, the group’s suggestions quickly going from "promising" to "funny but useless" to "so horrible it wasn't worth wasting the ink." That was the point of no return. The meeting resolved to Jacob, Shiloh, Nicolette and Symone staring blankly as Persephone continued to suggest her worsening plots, the most creative of which was “Let's spread a rumour that Flint is actually a girl." And they got worse from there. Finally, when she had at last had enough of Persephone’s insane ideas, Valiant attempted homicide and Symone had to drag Valiant off before Persephone turned too blue.
Jacob dismissed the meeting and they all headed back to the common room with the intention of doing homework before going to bed, hoping that a good night sleep might enlighten their uninspired brains.
"We'll think of something," Symone said with a confident nod.
"I still like the girl idea," Persephone murmured under her breath.
"What?" Valiant demanded darkly.
"Nothing!" Persephone hurried ahead, making herself skip so it didn't look as though she was running.
Persephone spoke the password, and all the rest followed her into the common room. Only one set of eyes looked up as they entered, but Theodore Nott only disinterestedly moved his gaze back to his chess board. Shiloh quickly gazed about, but found no sign of Flint. With that relief, the Heretics moved toward a semi-empty couch. Valiant tossed an abandoned text book onto the floor and they stuffed as many people onto the couch as they could. Persephone was forced to perch on the arm of the sofa, while Nicolette plopped down onto the green carpet.
Shiloh immediately turned the discussion to the second years’ assignment in Charms. They were supposed to write down five spells that could be used to alter appearances. This had become their way of doing schoolwork. Shiloh would hold their text to study through it for answer while Symone jolted down the answers. Persephone and Valiant would help if they could; though mostly Persephone ended up getting bored and wandering off, only returning, face flushed with excitement, when she heard a juicy piece of gossip. Valiant would remain, though she was scarcely helpful. If she suggested something, it was mostly wrong and finally she would growl in frustration and give up trying altogether. Still in the end, they would have their homework accomplished with their list. They would give out the copies and let all the others work on altering it so no one thought they were cheating. Meanwhile, Jacob would work on his own while offering ideas, only if Shiloh asked, which she rarely did. Nicolette worked on her own as well, frequently asking help of the second years’ who had the first year curriculum still fresh in their minds. Their methods differed with assignments such as essay. To avoid cheating, they only discussed the subject before writing and then proofread each other’s for errors. Shiloh liked these newly-discovered methods. It made schoolwork go faster, even if they did dub her the smart one and made her do most of the work.
Fifteen minutes into the homework assignment, Persephone had yet to leave, possibly because she found the subject of appearance alteration fascinating. She constantly leaned over Valiant to peer at the text book, nearly tumbling onto her a few times.
“Here’s a Lengthening Charm,” Shiloh said, tapping the page of her book.
“Brilliant!” Persephone said. “It could be used to lengthen the hair. Let me see!”
She stretched out her arms to snag the book from Shiloh’s hand, trampling on Valiant’s thigh in the progress. Shiloh glared menacingly at her for stealing the book, but Persephone only nonchalantly laid the book on her lap and began to search through it. Valiant calmly shoved her legs with her shoulder. Persephone shrieked and tumbled onto the floor. Valiant leaned over the arm of the couch, snatched the book from the ground, and passed it back to Shiloh.
“Thanks,” Shiloh murmured, before trying to find the page.
“Anytime,” Valiant assured, grinning as Persephone stood from the ground, her mouth flying faster than her brain as she melodramatically ranted about “best friends not pushing people on the ground, because it’s so not cool!”
Shiloh turned to Symone who was rolling her eyes.
“So Lengthening Charms?” Symone asked, dipping her raven-feather quill in the ink.
Shiloh didn’t have time to confirm.
The voice came from behind her. It was faintly familiar, but not so much that Shiloh recognized it. Beside her, Symone flung her head around, her mouth dropping in surprise to find her brother, Adrian, leaning against the back of the couch, a smile on his face. Shiloh tried to recall a time when she had seen Adrian speak to Symone while at Hogwarts. She couldn’t. Even the times they spent together at home, Adrian barely acknowledged Symone’s or any of his family’s existence. Yet, here he was, smiling down at her as though he was a loving brother.
And Shiloh didn’t like it.
Persephone had stopped her ranting, something much more interesting catching her attention. From the other side of the couch, Jacob jerked his chin up, as though he hadn’t been falling asleep while attempting to focus on his book. He blinked at Adrian, before dismissively going back to his book. Symone’s hand tightened around her quill, but she forced herself to smile back at him.
“Nice to see you keeping up with the studies,” he said, nodding to her book.
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Mum can’t handle two kids who are about to fail all their classes.”
Adrian’s jaw tightened at the clear insult and reproof, but he said nothing for a moment. He only moved his way around to the front of the sofa and settled down at the edge of the coffee table. Shiloh watched his every move. She didn’t like his strange appearance, or the darkness just beyond his eyes, and she most certainly didn’t like him.
“I’ll study later,” he promised though it was surely as empty as the brain between his ears. “But I have business to attend to.”
Symone’s face darkened. “What business?” she demanded.
“I have a message to deliver,” Adrian said, then after a pause, he added, “on the behalf of the Elite.”
The reaction was visible. The brightness tumbled from Persephone’s eyes. Nicolette scrambled to her feet and stepped back away from him, and Jacob looked up sharply. Shiloh only continued to stare, but Symone gasped, the wind hissing between her teeth as though someone had slugged her in the gut.
“You’re…You’re a member of the Elite?” Symone asked, her eyes pleading that he tell her no, he wasn’t.
But he said nothing.
Jacob sat a little straighter, setting his book aside and stuck his hand down into the pockets of his robes after his wand, as though preparing himself for whatever direction this conversation would go. Only then did he speak. “And why would the Elite want you to deliver a message to Symone?”
“Not to Symone,” he replied. “To all the Heretics.” He eyed each one of them in turn and a smile twisted his face. It was a wicked smile, one that spoke of the victory of evil. “And look. You’re all here.”
Shiloh sucked a breath between her teeth and heard her gasp echoed by those around her. They had always thought that the Elite—or rather the members they believed were in the Elite (Flint, Draco, and several other obvious choices)—suspected who the Heretics were. It was why they had spread rumours, attempting to throw them off the trail, but the Elite hadn’t been fooled, not even for a moment. She thrust her hand into her own pocket, seizing her wand.
Jacob’s eyes were storming and he settled them on Adrian in a glare that would make anyone but the bravest and most foolish cower in fear. But Adrian didn’t even flinch.
“So you’re Flint’s little messenger boy now, huh?” Jacob seethed.
Adrian ignored the barb. “We all have our parts to play in the Elite. I volunteered, seeing as I have a personal connection with one of you.” His gaze settled upon Symone, who stared back.
The emotions in the Heretics varied from angry to calm to afraid. But Symone’s emotion contrasted with all of them. Her face was contorted in hurt, and her voice came out weak and strained, “I can’t…I can’t believe you…you’d become an Elite.”
Adrian once again ignored her. “The message is this: Watch your backs. We know who you are, and we know you’ll be up to something. What happened yesterday in the hallway was only the beginning. We will strike when you least expect, and who you least expect. So be—“
A feral growl came from Jacob’s lips as he leapt to his feet. “I’d think really carefully before you finished that. Real careful. Because if you threaten us, threaten them, I swear to God, Merlin, whoever the hell will hold me to it, you won’t leave here breathing.”
Adrian rose to his feet, his jaw tight in his effort to look calm. But beads of sweat were on his forehead. Despite the fact that Adrian was already the same height as the older boy, Adrian appeared by far the smaller. Jacob towered over him, his weak and slender frame empowered by the fierceness of his rage. Shiloh knew she should stop him, knew Jacob was far from joking, but Shiloh didn’t move from her spot. She wanted nothing more than to see Jacob beat their enemy into the ground.
Symone stumbled to her feet, a cry on her trembling lips, “Stop it!” She clutched Jacob’s hand desperately, but he yanked it away. She flung herself between them, holding up shaking hands. “Just stop it!”
Shiloh hurried after her, prepared to pull her best friend from between them in case a fight were to erupt. But the two boys tore their angry gazes from each other and directed them done to her.
Symone tightened her jaw and blinked back the tears in her eyes, until she once again looked brave and sure. She lifted a defiant gaze to Adrian. “You should be ashamed of yourself. After all mother has taught us! After all we have learned!”
The calm Adrian was gone and he matched the anger in Symone’s tone. “Mum was wrong, Symone. We are better than the Muggles.”
“You’re a Halfblood, Adrian!” she snapped, as though he might have forgotten. “Our father is a Muggle!”
“Yeah,” Adrian agreed, a demonic sneer creeping up his face, turning his amber eyes black like burning honey. “And he’s right where he belongs, isn’t he? A little rat in his cage!”
Shiloh felt the blow as surely as Symone’s heart was her own, leaving the beating thing crippled and bleeding. A scream of anguish and rage left Symone’s mouth. Her hand came forth, baring her wand and pointing it at the heart of her brother. “Stupefy!”
A burst of light smashed into Adrian’s chest. His back arched and his feet left the ground. He flew over the table and landed prone on the floor on the other side. It was the first time Symone had tried the spell, and it did not leave him unconscious. He stirred and groaned, before unsteadily pushing himself upright, looking dazed and confused.
The eyes of those in the common room lifted instantly to the sight, but all they could see was Symone screaming out her justified hatred.
“You…you…” She struggled to find the word and only found one. “You jerk! How dare you!”
Symone lunged forward, even as her brother stumbled to his feet. The spell still left him unbalanced, and he tumbled into an oversized chair, even as one hand searched desperately for his wand. Symone’s foot was stepping onto the table that separated them, when Shiloh reached her. She grasped her and pulled her back. Symone fought against her, but Shiloh held firm, allowing Symone to slam her elbows against her. It wasn’t for Adrian’s sake that she stopped Symone, but Shiloh knew that Symone would never forgive herself if she hurt him, no matter how much he deserved it.
“How could you?” Symone screamed out again. Then she broke, her shield of anger shattering to allow the pain through. She grew completely still, flung her hands to her face, and sobbed.
And Shiloh hated Adrian more than anything, more than Annadel, more than Flint, more than Ellessa Harden, her damned Death Eater of a mother. Because Adrian had caused Symone to feel pain the good-hearted girl should never have had to feel.
Nicolette reached out a hand to Symone, and Persephone stared dumbfounded. Valiant glared hatefully at Adrian, while Jacob drew his wand. Adrian threw up his hands, cowering.
“Stop this!” someone demanded as a flash of red dived before Adrian. Erin Murray held her own wand at her side with one hand and her other was thrust before her in an order to be still. “Drop your wand, Osgood!”
“No,” Jacob replied fearlessly. “He’s a no-good, son of a—“
“I know what he is,” Erin cut in. Her eyes fell to Symone and her eyes narrowed in rage, before returning to Jacob. “If you think murdering him might make the situation better, then go right ahead. But I don’t think it works like that, do you?”
Jacob’s gaze fell to Symone who peeked at him through the slants between her fingers. After a moment, he tucked his wand into his pocket.
Symone pushed away from Shiloh’s hands once again, but this time Shiloh let her go. Symone tore through the crowd, shoving through the Slytherins who had stood to survey the scene. Shiloh chased after her, Nicolette staying close behind. Shiloh reached the room just as her three roommates from hell stepped forth, making sounds that were oddly like irritated birds ruffling their feather.
Pansy glared menacingly at Shiloh. “Your friend just ran in here and demanded we get out of our room.”
Millicent cracked her knuckles to emphasize her anger.
“Why aren’t you going then?” Shiloh demanded.
Pansy’s mouth dropped open. But really, why did Shiloh’s hostility towards her still shock her? After Pansy had attempted to strangle her, Shiloh would have thought she’d get a clue.
But there she stood, Clueless Parkinson with her mouth open like a goldfish. Finally, she shut it. “Lucky for you, we were going down to the common room anyway.”
“Then shove off!” Valiant growled.
Shiloh hadn’t noticed that Valiant and Persephone had reached them, though she wasn’t surprised.
Pansy humphed but led the way down the stairs, her pug-nose stuck in the air. Annadel slammed into Shiloh’s shoulder before passing, but Shiloh let it go. There were more important things at the moment.
Shiloh threw open the door to her room and the four girls piled within. Symone lay face down on her bed, her arms clutching her pillow tight as her shoulders shook with sobs. Rat sat beside her, a distraught look in his wide eyes. He pawed at her hand and offered a soft yowl. Whether it was because the cat sensed his owner’s distress or simply because she refused to give him her undivided attention, Shiloh didn’t know. She stepped forward to stand at the end of Symone’s bed, and Rat looked up at her urgently. His eyes narrowed as though to demand, “Do something about this.”
But Shiloh didn’t know what to do. The last time Symone had been this upset, they had been fighting and Shiloh hadn’t tried to give her comfort. Now, Shiloh was at a loss of what to do to make things right again.
“Symone?” Shiloh called softly, tentatively, but Symone only clung to her pillow a little tighter.
Nicolette sat down on the edge of the bed and laid a hand on her back. Symone stilled at her touch. “I’m sorry,” Nicolette whispered softly.
Symone pushed herself upright and turned about to face them. Her eyes were bloodshot and her hair clung to wet cheeks. A few tears still leaked from her watery gaze, though not with the flood they had been. She looked to the foot of her bed, her eyes landing on Shiloh, and no sooner had her gaze landed on Shiloh then she knew what to do.
Going to the other side of the bed, Shiloh clambered up on her knees and allowed Symone to fling her arms about her. Shiloh clung to her, holding her as she cried into her shoulder.
“He shouldn’t have said those things,” Symone sobbed softly, her voice muffled in Shiloh’s robes.
“You’re right,” Shiloh agreed. Shiloh wanted to say more. That he was git who wasn’t worth her tears, that her father wasn’t worth her tears either, but she bit done hard on her tongue. Symone was calming and Shiloh didn’t want to upset her again.
After a long moment, Symone sat back and swiped at her damp cheeks. “Sorry,” she murmured, though Shiloh wasn’t sure for what. For crying? But Symone had every right to cry, even if she hated to appear weak.
There was silence for a moment and all the girls stared at Symone as though to be quite sure she was all right. Symone took a deep breath and let it out in a long, shaky exhale. Only then did they accept that they hadn’t fallen to pieces.
“Symone,” Persephone began softly, “what did Adrian mean by…” She stopped, probably thinking better of repeating the terrible words. “By what he said.”
Shiloh jerked her head towards her. She didn’t know? Shiloh glanced at Valiant, Persephone, and Nicolette, seeing only three faces filled with confusion. Symone hadn’t told any of them, which meant that Shiloh was the only one she had ever told. Somehow that made Shiloh feel important.
“Forget it, Seph!” Symone snapped. “My father isn’t going to be your newest piece of gossip that you spread around the school.”
Persephone’s mouth fell open, in surprise and hurt. “I wouldn’t do that!” she snapped back. “I know I’m the biggest gossip in the school, but I would never betray me friends. You know that.”
Symone took another calming breath. “I know,” she admitted apologetically. “I’m sorry. I just…”
“Forget about it,” Persephone said, waving her hand as though to dismiss Symone’s hurtful words as though they were never spoken. “And you don’t have to tell us…if you don’t want to.”
Symone looked up at her, her eyes clear and unafraid. Somehow, by knowing she didn’t have to, gave her the ease of telling. “No, it’s okay. I would have told you before now, but I…” She pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them to her. “I don’t like talking about it.”
Persephone sat down on the bed, and Valiant crawled over the tailboard, settling at the end of the bed. They all watched Symone, waiting but not pushing.
Symone reached out for Shiloh’s hand and Shiloh held it tightly, knowing it would give her comfort and strength. Symone took a deep breath. “Four years ago, my father was arrested. He’s in prison now, and I haven’t seen him since.”
Thick silence rained. No one knew what to say, for what words had the power to heal the words that were inflicted on Symone’s heart.
“I’m sorry,” Nicolette tried.
“It’s all right,” Symone said quietly.
But it really wasn’t all right at all. Nicolette opened her mouth as though to say so, but all that came out was a croak. She pressed her mouth closed and blinked awkwardly.
“Look,” Symone said flatly. “It is what it is.”
Her shoulders were square and her jaw set, until she looked brave, strong, and sure, not broken like she had looked a moment before. It was an act, of course; a mask that she wore to get past what nearly shattered her. But then, everyone wore masks. It was the only way to survive.
Symone gave a nod. “My dad is gone, and that’s that.”
Nicolette bit down on her lip, Persephone played with her hair, Shiloh squeezed Symone’s hand, and Valiant stared down at the hands that were folded in her lap.
“My mother’s gone, too,” someone said so softly that it took a moment for Shiloh to realize who had spoken.
Shiloh turned her gaze to Valiant, who still stared down at her hands as though she herself didn’t realize she’d spoken. At last, she dragged her head upward to take in their startled looks. Only Persephone didn’t look surprise, probably because she’d already known. Valiant made a sound of disgust.
“Oh honestly, don’t look so startled,” Valiant said, with a roll of her eyes. “You had to have known she was missing.”
“I figured,” Symone admitted. “I’ve never seen her on the platform, and you never mention her.”
Valiant shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly, her own mask not even shifting out of place. “What’s there to mention? I hardly knew her.”
Nicolette asked the question in everyone’s mind. “How did she die?”
“Die?” Valiant repeated. She snorted and shook her head. “I didn’t say she died.”
Nicolette raised her eyebrows in surprise. “But you said—“
“I said she was gone,” Valiant repeated. “She left. Just ran off and left me behind.”
Shiloh stared at her. Valiant seemed unmoved by the confession, as though it meant nothing to her, but Shiloh knew better. She knew the deep pain of knowing you weren’t wanted by the people who had brought you into this world. But she couldn’t imagine what it would be like for Valiant when her mother was out there somewhere, able to come home if she wanted. And knowing she didn’t want to.
Valiant noted their sympathetic looks and groaned. “Please, forget I said anything.”
“No,” Symone said, shaking her head. “I’m glad you told us.”
Valiant shrugged and went back to inspecting her hands. A moment before her face disappeared behind her long dark hair, Shiloh though she saw it twist into an expression of pain. It might have been an illusion, but Shiloh doubted it.
“It makes you realize how lucky you are,” Nicolette said softly.
Persephone hesitated, then grudgingly murmured, “Yeah, lucky. Even the world’s most judgmental parents are better than no parents at all.”
If Shiloh were to play her part, she knew she should echo the chorus of luck. It was how everyone but Symone must have seen her. They’d met her adopted parents and grown to know the wonderful, dotting parents that they were, and Shiloh knew how lucky she was. So lucky. And her friends, besides Symone, would never realize how much she understood them. How much she could feel Valiant’s pain of having one parent who had abandoned her and another who inflicted pain upon her.
And Shiloh almost told them. Her dry lips came apart and she felt the words upon her tongue. She almost wanted them to know she understood them, but mostly, she knew she wanted to be understood by them.
But then there was a knock on the door.
Shiloh snapped her mouth shut and silently cursed herself for being so stupid. There was a reason she kept her secret. There was a difference between being the victim of someone else’s mistakes and bearing a Dark Mark on your shoulder. She yanked anxiously on her left collar and swore herself to silence once more.
There came another knock. Nicolette slid from the bed. She was halfway to the door when it opened and Jacob stuck his head through. His eyes moved over to where Symone sat, his concern written on his face.
“All right, Symone?” he asked as he stepped into the room.
Symone returned his question with her own. “How badly did you hurt him?”
Jacob ran a hand through his hair and let out a breath. “I didn’t,” he grudgingly admitted. “He scurried back to his dorm unharmed.”
Symone worked her jaw as though considering that, then at last, she murmured, “Good.”
How that could be good, Shiloh didn’t know. But Symone seemed to have the capacity to love someone, no matter how big of a git they are. Shiloh, however, couldn’t help but wish that Jacob had followed through with all his threats, and she doubted that she was the only one in the group who felt that way.
“So you’re all right?” Jacob asked again.
Symone nodded and forced a smile on her face. It lacked the warmth her smiles generally glowed with, but Shiloh knew she would be all right soon enough. By tomorrow, this would all be just a nightmare of a memory accompanied with another scabbed wound.
Jacob forced his own smile, one that was just as plastic as Symone’s had been. “Hey, Shiloh, you should really try to invent a potion that transforms gits into actual humans,” Jacob attempted to joke, trying to ease the thick tension in the air. “You would make a fortune.”
Shiloh rolled her eyes.
“Invention?” Symone repeated under her breath almost reverently. Shiloh turned her gaze to her, watching as she pushed a ringlet behind her hair and stared at her lap, her bedspread, at nothing in particular as her eyes sparked with some idea. Suddenly, she broke from the thoughtful gaze and cried, “Merlin, that’s it!”
Shiloh blinked in disbelief.
Persephone scoffed. “Come on, Symone. You can’t actually think that’s a good idea.”
“Yeah,” Jacob agreed. “I was only kidding. It was admittedly lame too.”
“Not that!” Her eyes were bright as turned to Shiloh, seizing her shoulder with one hand while her other hand flew excitedly. “The potion you invented this summer, Shi! We could use it!”
“The Externus Aduro Potion?” Shiloh questioned, still confused on what exactly she was getting at.
“Whatever you decided to call it!” Though Shiloh was glad that Symone was no longer depressed, the sudden change was startling. Symone’s eyes were growing wider by the moment. “We could use it on the Elite!”
Shiloh understood clearly now, and she gave it a moment of thought. The potion had been left in the bottom of her trunk since the beginning of the school year. Though she had invented it knowing it could be used as a prank, she had never intended to actually use it. It hadn’t even crossed her mind to suggest it as an idea. There were too many flaws in the plan.
“It wouldn’t work,” Shiloh said with a shake of her head.
“Because there is no way to insure that just the members of the Elite get it. Not to mention, it scarcely proves a point.” At least their prank before had sent the message of what the Heretics stood for: the love of Muggleborns. But just making their mouths burn would seem like nothing more than petty revenge.
Symone seemed to realize this, for her hope burst as surely as if it were a balloon Shiloh had stabbed with a fork. Symone’s shoulders sagged and she sighed. “You’re right.”
The other Heretics were staring at them, their eyes filled with confusion and frustration that they couldn’t understand what was being discussed. Jacob cleared his throat to draw attention to himself, and when Shiloh glanced at him, he demanded, “You mind feeling us in, Shi? What’s an External Door?”
“Externus Adora,” Shiloh corrected. “It’s Latin for ‘Everlasting Burn’. It’s a potion I invented. It burns the mouth of whoever drinks it and makes any attempt to alleviate it, with something other than the proper antidote, worsen the effects.”
Shiloh shrugged and folded her hands in her lap, looking down at them. She didn’t want to see the looks she knew she would get. She could already feel their sceptical and amazed gazes, and she felt her stomach twist in discomfort enough without looking up.
“That’s brilliant, Shiloh,” Jacob praised, but she only shrugged again. “But you’re right. Use of it alone would seem pointless.” He ran his hand through his hair once more and plopped down on Shiloh’s bed. “But if we were to add a Trigger Charm…” he mused, almost to himself.
“What’s a Trigger Charm?” Nicolette asked.
“An advanced Charm that insures magical effects are only produced when the proper Trigger activates it. The Trigger can be a sound, a phrase, an event, or even a single word.”
An idea struck Shiloh, a wonderful, amazing idea. She was quite sure she wasn’t the only one who thought of it, because Symone’s smile was returning and Persephone bounced and even Valiant’s eyes were brighter.
“Any word?” Nicolette asked hopefully.
An impish smile twisted Jacob’s face. “Any word whatsoever.”
One glance around at the wicked smiles that were now on all their faces, Shiloh knew they were thinking the exact same thing. Her lips twitched in excitement. This would be good.
“There’s only one problem,” Jacob said, shaking his smile away and eying them solemnly. “I can’t do Trigger Charms to save my life. It’s a fifth year charm I never took the time to master, and we know there’s no margin for error.”
“But you have to!” Nicolette insisted.
“Yeah, what other choice to we have?” Persephone asked.
“Well…” Jacob hesitated. His eyes met Persephone’s almost apologetically. She recoiled and wrinkled her nose. Shiloh knew how she felt; her own heart was sinking into her stomach. She never liked it when Jacob looked apologetic.
“There is someone,” Jacob said, “but you won’t like it.”
Persephone blinked at Jacob for a moment, trying to grasp what he meant. Shiloh knew she understood when her eyes flew wide. “Oh, no. No, no, no.” She groaned, “You can’t be serious.”
Jacob only shrugged his shoulders, but he wasn’t uncertain. They all knew very well that their only option had once again fallen on one person.
Persephone moaned again and flopped back on the bed, her tongue hanging out of her mouth as though she had been shot dead.
Shiloh nearly joined her.
Not Demeter, Shiloh inwardly groaned. Why does it always have to be Demeter?
“But I haven’t even asked yet.”
“It doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, the answer is no.”
Shiloh crossed her arms over her chest as she watched Demeter refuse to even so much as hear Jacob out. They stood between two bookshelves in the library, a few feet away from where the rest of the girls sat at a table. They pretended to be studying, but their ears were fixed on the conversation at hand.
Demeter back was turned on Jacob, scarcely giving him her attention. She thumbed through a book, frowned, closed it, and placed it back on the self. She reached for another, but Jacob caught her hand.
"Come on, Demi," he said. "At least hear me out."
She stared at him for a moment, biting on her lower lip. Then with a jerk, she returned to her prim nature, purposefully pulled her hand back, and shook her head. "For what purpose? I already know that you're going to ask me to do something for the Heretics, undoubtedly something that breaks the very school rules I am charged to uphold. I already jeopardized my badge once. I won't do it again."
"Fine," Jacob said. "But if you really want nothing to do with the Heretics, answer me one question."
She raised her eyebrows, though her face still seemed bored and uninterested. "Hm."
He reached towards her so suddenly, she gasped and stepped backward. Her back rammed into the bookshelf, her eyes wide. He clasped the front of her robes and pulled them away from her shirt, to reveal what was underneath. Shiloh couldn't see what it was but by his next words, she was able to guess.
"Why do you wear the Heretic badge," Jacob asked, "if you think we're nothing more than troublemakers?"
Her face turned bright, shining so red that the colour nearly blinded Shiloh from this distance. The Heretics did mean something to her. Shiloh remembered how she had spoken about them at Christmas. She couldn't have said that if she didn't admire them in some way. But of course, she would never admit that, would she?
She pushed Jacob's hand away and stepped around him. "It was a Christmas gift. It would be rude not to wear it occasionally."
"But you've worn it every day since you've had it."
Demeter coughed in surprise. "How would you..." She was turning red once again.
"Persephone told me."
Demeter opened her mouth as though to deny it, but she only a groaned in confirmation. She would never verbally admit it, and to avoid the subject farther, she drastically changed the subject, "And speaking of Christmas, I have a question for you."
Jacob crossed his arms over his chest casually, leaned against the bookshelf and cocked his head curiously. "I'm listening."
She squared her shoulders and demanded, "Why didn't you?"
Jacob raised his eyebrows. "Why didn't I what?"
A touch of pink brushed across her cheeks, but she forced the words out. "Why didn't you kiss me?"
Shiloh felt her stomach twist at the words, though they brought quite a different reaction from Persephone. "Wow, this is better than the dramas in Witch Weekly."
Nicolette shushed her, but she giggled, clearly enjoying it as well. Shiloh however suddenly wished that Demeter realized that they were eavesdropping and decided to discuss such private things...in private.
Valiant seemed to share Shiloh's sentiments. She made a gagging sound until she was silenced when Symone kicked her from under the table.
Jacob stiffened and glanced over his shoulder at them, clearly aghast at knowing they were listening. He quickly turned back when Demeter started to follow his eyes. "What do you mean?"
"Under the mistletoe? You could have kissed me, but you didn't."
"Because I respect you," Jacob replied. "I didn't want you to feel obligated to follow through with some stupid tradition."
His answer took her back. "You respect me?" she whispered softly, her eyes glossing over with a dreamy look as though he had professed undying love. "It wasn't because you didn't want to?"
"No," Jacob said adamantly, shaking his head a bit too forcefully. He paused, cocked his head to consider her words, and a slow smile crawled on his face. "Why? Did you want me to kiss you?"
Nicolette giggled again, and Symone caught her breath. Persephone shushed them both, and Shiloh felt as though she'd swallowed her tongue, but she pressed her mouth closed and remained silent.
"Of course not!" Demeter whirled away from him, seized a book from the shelf and began to thumb through it almost frantically. She was too frantic, too uneasy, and too readable. She was lying.
"Jacob, if you don't mind, I am very busy." She closed that book and blindly pulled another book off the shelf. "I have two essays to write and I'm sure you do too."
She didn't look up from the book and he said her name again and again until at last she dragged her gaze upward.
She sighed wearily. "Yes, Jacob."
"Why do wear the badge?"
She sighed again, closed the book, and hugged it to her chest. "I admire what the Heretics stand for. And granted, I think there might be a better way to fight, but all the same, I do admire all of it."
"Then why not fight with us?"
She bit her lip. "Because if I'm caught, I could lose my badge and I don't think I can risk that." She hung her head as though ashamed. "I'm not brave like you or like Persephone. I wish I was, but I'm not."
"She thinks I'm brave," Persephone whispered. She glanced at the others for confirmation that she hadn't lost her sanity. Valiant nodded and she turned back, looking awed.
Shiloh watched, knowing Jacob would give one his wise speeches, like had given Shiloh a thousand times. But he only shrugged his shoulders. "I can understand that."
Shiloh scoffed. Understand? Jacob was the last person who might be able to understand attachment to a job of upholding the rules. Yet he was gazing at her sympathetically.
"But you're going to have to decide which badge means more to you," he told her. "Maybe when you figure that out, you'll find the bravery you need."
Demeter stared up at him, but said nothing.
Jacob dropped his seriousness and granted her a smile. "Until then, have fun writing your essay." He tapped the cover of the book she held. "I'm sure Professor Binns will love an essay on ancient and current rituals of goblin sexuality."
Aghast, Demeter stared at the title of her book and turned green. She quickly shelved it and pulled back her hand as though she had been touching something vile. By the time she turned back around, Jacob was already walking away.
He joined them at the table and lowered himself down stiffly. When Demeter glanced their way, the girls quickly snatched up quills making themselves look busy. Jacob glanced her way and their eyes met for a moment, before she turned and hurried away.
"Well, that went well," Persephone said sarcastically.
"Translation," Valiant provided dryly. "We're buggered."
"We'll be fine," Jacob insisted, rubbing at his tried eyes. "She'll change her mind. Besides, Persephone can always cry again."
To prove his point, Persephone fell backwards onto the ground, false dramatic wails coming from her mouth and her legs flying in a tantrum. A roar of laughter came from their table, until Madam Pince came to threaten their lives until they fell silent. She dragged Persephone up from the floor and shooed her towards the door.
"No sense of humor," Persephone grumbled as she exited the library. "Is it any wonder she’s single?"
As the Heretics collected their things to follow, Shiloh asked the question no one else had the courage to ask. "And if Demeter doesn't change her mind?" Because deep down, she didn't want Demeter to.
“She’ll change her mind,” he said.
“How can you be sure?” Nicolette asked.
“Because I know her.”
Shiloh fought not to show him just how skeptical she was of that, but she couldn’t hide the fierceness in her words. “But what if you’re wrong?”
Jacob paused, sighed, and then pushed himself to his feet, looking suddenly as old as the wizened headmaster. “Then we’ll think of something else.”
Three days later, the girls agreed that they could no longer wait on Demeter. Jacob didn’t admit he’d been wrong about Demeter, but he did grudgingly say they needed to at least consider other options. They met in Dungeon Sixteen after dinner and Jacob conjured pillows. They sat in their circle, Shiloh holding their book in her lap and looked blankly at each other, hoping for ideas.
A few moments after the meeting began, the door once again opened long enough to let in a frazzled blue blur, before the door slammed closed again. Demeter leaned against the door as though she was holding it closed against an army of pursuers, and she panted as though she had run the entire way.
Before anyone could ask her what she was doing there, she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and spoke so quickly her words nearly blended together as one. “Let’s get one thing straight. I will not under any circumstances maim, torture, or otherwise be cruel to any living thing. I will not spread rumours, go anywhere near a professor, or do anything that would be inappropriate for children’s eyes. And I most certainly will not be mentioned as a conspirator if anything goes awry.”
The Heretics blinked at her in confusion, and Jacob was the only one brave enough to offer a guess at what her insane rant meant.
“Does this mean,” he asked hesitantly, “that you’re going to help us?”
“Didn’t I say that?” she questioned.
The Heretics shook their heads.
She sighed and then nodded. “Yes.”
Nicolette gave a cry of delight, and Jacob did his best to hide a grin. Persephone, Valiant, and Symone looked pleased, more so that the prank would go forward. Shiloh didn’t know how she felt. She was excited that they could do the prank, but she wasn’t thrilled that it meant Demeter was once again forced to play a part. But like it or not, Demeter was here.
“Thanks, Demeter,” Jacob said softly.
Demeter smiled ardently.
And Shiloh definitely did not like it.
“So,” Demeter said, tucking a strand of hair anxiously behind her ear. “What do you need me to do?”
Sorry for the wait. I'm also sorry, because this chapter didn't go as far as I hinted it would in review responses or I originally planned. I suppose you'll just have to wonder how the prank will go for a while longer. Sorry.
Thanks to Jordy for beta-ing.
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