He’d saved lives that day, starting with his little mistress. They’d only lost one professor (but he was gone before I even entered the room. He was gone seconds after he traced the lines of the diagram Spike drew, gone even as he started to ask what this was. Turned into a living doorway for a gibbering squamous mass with rolling eyes and gaping maw. One professor, and the student next to him.)
Aloud, he said, "There are other schools. Maybe Beauxbatons--"
Spike sneered. "Charms, Transfiguration, and Hairdressing. I'll blend into that batch of mirror-dazzled half-Veela about as well as black pepper in a cream sauce."
"Not so bad." His accent had thickened since returning home, back to its half-drawling growl. Vowels drawn out and bent sideways, consonants like stones dropped down a well. No one else talked like that, no one but the Hounds. She'd wondered before if it was a result of their physiology, or if it was a matter of tribal identity. They had little else in common, those created monsters of her father's private army. "Power come from more than one source."
Spike sighed. He had a point. She hated it when he had a point. That point always seemed to be attached to the petard she was hoist upon. "And Hogwarts. Home to the Boys Who Were Over-Rated and the Girls Who Were Wallpaper."
He snorted derision at that. "Not so bad, I tell you." Hydellhyu, like the sound the wind made around the spires in the early spring. "Other schools, they founded by one witch or wizard, they focus on one thing. Monomaniacal, one could say. Hogwarts founded by four, who joined as a team. Reinforce each other's weaknesses, see different values. Diversity, yah?"
"I guess . . ." But did she really want to go to Hogwarts--assuming she was accepted, that was. There was always the Americas, much newer, much less well-known, making its name based on a heavily Muggle-influenced branch of magics. They use clockwork and steam there, she marveled, recalling what she had heard about the Iveagh League. Clockwork gears and boilers and fire and water harnessed to the will of the witch or wizard. There was diversity, calling on elementals to do your bidding.
But, on the other hand, so far away. It was a long flight from America by broom, and she wouldn't be able to Apparate for some time yet. Maybe she could take Muggle transportation--could one drive from America? Is a car waterproof? She would have to look that up. She started to go to the bookshelf to do some research, and then remembered for the hundredth time that day that she had no books. No philosophical engine, no connection at all to the world beyond her bedroom door.
"Would you ask Dmitri--" and then someone was clapping softly for entrance. Spike felt the pit of her stomach freeze over at the sound. The headsman. Had to be. She had been the heir, and had suddenly been demoted to the spare. No sense in keeping her around. Her hands were numb again, she felt the tingling in her lower back, adrenaline bee stings as she leaped to her feet, whirling and diving for cover under the bed. Totenberg was fast, but by the grace of the good Bear she was faster. His claws caught and ripped the leg of her pants just over her boot as he grabbed, but she was under the bed on her belly and scrabbling into a tight ball at the headboard by the time he caught back up to her.
"Headsman." She was panting, unable to catch her breath, shaking. "Atyets's sent the headsman for me and--" She couldn't finish. The block will be cold, this time of year, she thought, cold and frosted over like the boards of the stage. Or will Atyets have them use a sword instead, for a quicker, cleaner end? Will he convene the village as a public lesson, or keep it a private, family matter?
Totenberg arose from his crouch at the foot. "Don't be silly. Headsman wouldn't clap--he'd just order Dmitri and Sascha out of his way and come for you."
"I'd do what I had to do," he replied over his shoulder as he swung the door open. She could see Dmitri's boots in the corridor, and high up near the lintel, a slice of Sascha's red-gold hair. She couldn't hear what the one Hound said to the other, but Totenberg was nodding and coming back for her, all too soon, leaving the door ajar.
"Is time, little mistress. You papa, he say come now."