Monday, April 30, 2012

The Tracking Charm

The next morning, Spike squinted at her star chart. Funny, she remembered this as being a lot clearer and more orderly. Reviewed in the light of day, her notes were muddled, and the ink was blurred from where something had spilled on it. Something rather green, with a heavy scent of licorice. No matter, she would make a clean copy later and submit her proposal for an Astronomy OWL, but right now, she had to grab her bag and run, so as not to be late for Charms.

They settled in, where the professor explained about the uses of the Tracking Charm. Spike was interested to learn that the charm was used to keep tabs on the movements of the students at Hogwarts. She tapped her quill on her teeth thoughtfully. Not that she was planning anything nefarious, mind, but knowing a way to defeat that charm might come in handy sometime. She made a note in her personal log to follow up on that thought.

She explained the assignment in detail to her minions later that afternoon as she assembled the components she was going to need at her workbench. "So, see, we are to track a fellow first-year student and find a piece of homework they previously completed, then make the same item." Perhaps she was too enthusiastic, as Dmitri immediately volunteered to go and find a first-year, shake a project out of them, and then return to the dungeon with item in hand.

"If they won' give it up villingly, Hy sure we can find a way to makes dem cooperate." He grinned. "Pipple alvays happy to cooperate, hyu just asks de right vay."

"I don't think that's what the professors had in mind, Dmitri." She drew the lines with magnetized chalk, concentrated, then performed the wand movements carefully. Vapor rose from the drawing, coalesced into a tiny figure of a Gryffindor, who looked around curiously. Spike groaned as she saw the sash of a second-year student, whipped her wand through the figure to dispel the charm. Drat! A misfire!

Spike gritted her teeth, looked over the diagram of wand movements again. Made a couple of rehersal movements in the air, disjointed parts of the more complicated gestures. She hated this part of magic, the careful, tiny flickers of one's hands and body. So much easier on paper. So much less likely to have a spell misfire due to an itchy nose, a mispronunciation.

She carefully oriented towards the Ravenclaw Tower -- if you're going to crib, crib from the best -- and the spell went off in a shower of sparks. It was working! She could see a quarter sized image there on her workbench, a first-year student dressed in blue and bronze, wearing a pair of . . . Spike waved the image in closer, zooming in on the tiny hands. Gloves. Fingerless gloves. What an awesome idea for the chilly dungeons! Another flick revealed the student's name, and Spike was ready.

She submitted her homework a few days later, beaming with pride. "This is going to be a cakewalk," she confided to her minions afterwards. Totenberg shook his head, thinking of all the excellent plans that never survived first contact with the enemy.

Monday, April 23, 2012

An OWL Selected

She was required to take at least one class per month, but she could fill her schedule with as many as six. More points for Slytherin. There was Quidditch, and a special train to Saint Mungo's. She earmarked that page. It would be nice to see her Arithmancy professor again. She had really enjoyed the class until that afternoon. He had been an unpleasant git, no lie to that, but no one deserved what had happened to him.

And Ordinary Wizarding Level examinations. She was eligible to sit for one OWL each year. She read and re-read the descriptions, trying to decide among the twelve. Charms--no, Defense Against the Dark Arts! No, Potions! No, Divination! So hard to choose just one. Hmm . . . Divination. That gave her an idea.

She laid the heavy tome on the bed, open to the description of the OWLs, picked up her quill in both hands. No aiming, this needed to be completely up to the laws of chance. She closed her eyes, and let it fall. Wherever it struck nearest would be the OWL she sat for.

Totenberg grinned as he saw what she was doing. Motioning the others to silence, he waited until she released the feather, and blew. The quill dabbed at Charms, skimmed past Defense Against the Dark Arts, and pointed at Astronomy.

Spike opened her eyes. Astronomy. She sighed. Long cold hours at night up in the Tower, and classes during the day. Very well. When you leave your destiny in the hands of the fates, after all . . .

"Why are you all smirking like that?"

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Slight Misunderstanding, Part Three

And was whirled through darkness, spinning, spinning until her feet touched down on welcome solid flagstones. She opened her eyes. Trevor was standing in front of her, grinning as he offered a butterbeer. "Welcome to the Chat Room to Greatness!"

She took the frosty glass, and sipped. Green light streamed through the ceiling, and as she watched, a merman drifted by overhead. The ceiling was made of glass, and looked out to the skies above from under the lake. "I thought this was the Slytherin Common Room?"

He shrugged. "Yeah, but since we started with the portkeys to the House, we decided it would be fun to move the Common Room around; make it so it was no longer strictly tied to Hogwarts. So this term, we give it a different name, next term we move it a little over here, then the next term, we move it over there . . ."

"Right. Like taming an animal; you let it get used to what you're doing slowly so it doesn't spook. And all of a sudden . . ."

"The rabbit's in the pot, the horse is bridled. Exactly."

"I think I'm going to like it--"

"Spike! Spike, where are you?" A curly haired witch was storming through the common room, glaring in every direction. Spike looked harder at her. No, I don't know you . . . why is she yelling like that?

"Over here, Dru," replied a familiar sardonic drawl. A lean blonde man in leather trousers stood slowly up from a green velvet fainting couch, stretched and yawned, displaying a set of oversized canines. Spike's jaw dropped. Him? Here? Impossible!

"Spike? Spike, is that you?" she asked. He turned, glanced over his shoulder.

"Spike!!! Nischka, what are you doing here? I heard you were at Durmstrang?" The curly haired witch looked form vampire to first year in confusion, finally crossing her arms and glaring hard as Spike and the vampire came together in a double handclasp. "You've grown--how many years has it been?"

"Not so very many. I suspect it's easy to lose track . . ."

"Spike? Who the hell is this?" demanded the other witch.

"She's my . . . ah, help me out here, Spike. You're my--"

"Great great great great," she counted on her fingers, nodded, "great great grand-niece on Matya's aunt's and on your second cousin's uncle's side. Oh, and you’re also my third cousin, forcibly removed. Is there anything . . . no, I’m thinking of Spike, the one we try to avoid mentioning. Yes. Yes, that's it."

"Forcibly removed? I've never heard of that . . ."

"Oh, it means he's an undead. Or, uh, 'vitally different,' as we're supposed to call them now." She gestured helplessly. "When you have . . . that sort . . . in the family tree, you need to find some way to explain the relationship. And there's been enough generations and enough of the ruling families have, well, a bat in the belfry--"

Spike cleared his throat. "That's rather vulgar, e'en it?"

Spike blushed. "Sorry. But anyway, the genealogists came up with a term so they could keep them all straight."

The witch looked at both of them, hard. "So he's Spike. And you're Spike. And then there’s the Spike who should not be named. What's with the name?"

"Old family nickname. You should see what happens at a reunion. Someone calls for 'Spike' and heads everywhere swivel."

"Only until you get used to the accent," Spike argued. "It's all in how you say it, and who's talking."

"Mmm. Just keep in mind that this--" the witch took hold of the blonde's arm possessively, "--this Spike is my Spike. Mess with him and you're messing with me, little Firstie."

Ewww. "He is my uncle, after all." Spike dropped an insultingly graceful, fluid curtsey to Spike, who returned the gesture by smirking. "I'll drop Matya and Atyets a note later and let them know you're fine--we were worried when you didn't come to the picnic last summer." And with that, Spike and her minions left to find her dorm room so she could unpack her trunk, listening to the other witch snarling at the vampire. Spike shook her head. One mystery solved, though, that was some good work for the night.

Late that evening, with everything finally unpacked and the next morning’s necessities laid out, Spike pulled out the curriculum and began reading. So much to do!

Monday, April 09, 2012

A Slight Misunderstanding, Part Two

"Yes, Professor." She heard a whisper of leather on stone as her bodyguards shifted closer to their charge. Professor Gorre was scary.

In silence, they stood up and proceeded through the halls to a huge door embossed with snakes. Professor Gorre hissed something unintelligible at the door, placed her hand into one of the snake's gaping jaws. It closed slowly over her wrist; opened again with aching slowness. "You will need to learn the password; it changes periodically. First years, place your right hand in the snake's mouth as you pass so it can learn you."

"What if someone who doesn't belong tries to get in?" wondered Spike. Trevor grinned and snapped his teeth together with a loud clack.

"They can only try twice."

Then, of course, it was her turn. The snake’s metal head was cool and damp, but not as cold as she would have expected. As if it were alive, and kept itself warm somehow, as snakes do. She started to put her hand in its mouth, and Totenberg stopped her. “Me first,” he growled. The guardian’s lidless eyes widened as its mouth shut, and it spit the Hound’s hand back out, hissing and recoiling. It wound to the lintel to wrap itself along the highest point, glaring back down at the four of them.

“Told you to vash you hands,” muttered Sascha. Another snake was coaxed into performing its duty, and Spike was learned by the guardians.

The corridor beyond was dark, illuminated by a handful of sparsely placed staves that burned with a cool greenish tinted light. The stairs were both steep in pitch and deep. It was a stretch for Spike to reach each step, groping downwards with her toes in the eerie dimness. She felt as if she were going to fall forward at each step, tumbling to the bottom.

She made it to the final landing without incident, and stood in the dead end of the corridor. The final landing swelled out to accommodate the first years, but there was no door in sight. Someone's wand lit up at the head of the line, and everyone looked at Professor Gorre, standing under the light.

"Pay attention, now. We call our common room the Dungeon or the Snake Pit because we are actually under the lake, down in the deeps of Hogwarts. But the common room is actually located elsewhere and you portkey to it. Always, always, always have these with you when you leave the common room--" Narcissa was circulating among the first years, passing out green ribbons with a tiny silver charm. "Or you may not be able to get back in. Many students use these as bookmarks." When Narcissa held out the ribbon to Spike, Dmitri reached over her shoulder to accept the key for her. He looked it over carefully for concealed edges, sniffed for poison before handing it back to her.

"Touch your key here, to this chipped brick. The brick will move around, but it's always the one with the chip in the lower right corner, see?" The ranks had thinned appreciably as all the upperclassmen had already portkeyed through to the common room. When Spike and her minions came to the fore, she paused.

Gorre looked at them, and said, "We aren't allowed to issue keys to the hotties, I'm afraid. They were . . . rather a distraction last term when they broke loose and wandered about the school." Was that just the light, or was there a tiny smile in the corner of Gorre's mouth, as of a fond memory?

“But, Professor. They’ve been with me since, well, since forever. They’re very well behaved . . .” Spike crossed her fingers and mentally spit three times to divert the bad karma from telling the lie. “Well, most of the time. Reasonably well behaved.”

“Ve ken exhibit behavior,” added Totenberg, with an attempt at a winsome smile. Professor Gorre blinked at the torchlight glittering off the array of fangs, and frowned, the skin between her eyebrows creasing. It was clear she frowned a lot, and had a store of disapproving scowls.

“No keys,” she added firmly.

"Yes, ma'am," said Spike, wondering if one could duplicate a portkey. She had managed to wrangle the steward's keys at home, and had made several sets of every one she could find. She still had a ring tucked into a corner of her trunk so she'd always know where to obtain another. Sascha and Dmitri each took an arm, and Totenberg held on to the collar of her robes as she touched the portkey to the brick . . .

Monday, April 02, 2012

A Slight Misunderstanding, Part One

Dinner passed in a daze. Spike had never before been grateful for the etiquette tutors of her youth, but now understood where they had been coming from when they drilled manners into her young head. It was easy to use the correct fork for the salad, the shrimp, the oysters, and dessert without having to think about it. She noticed some of the other firsties staring at the vast array of flatware, then sneaking glances at the upperclassnakes to see what went with what.

Totenberg, Dmitri, and Sascha stood quietly behind her, keeping a watchful eye on the food and on the others. None of the other students seemed to notice. One had a large polar bear lying at his feet, and another had a phoenix perched on her shoulder, accepting bites from her fork. Seeing this, Spike relaxed a little. If the others could have animals (pets? familiars?) present at all times, then surely some two legged companions who would obey (er, most of the time, sort of completely) shouldn't be a problem.

One of the other students nudged her. "Hotties need to stay in the dungeons, you know. Can't be giving a free show to the rest of the school."

"They aren't 'hotties', whatever those are. They're my . . ." what had the Hat called them? "My minions. They go with me everywhere."

He frowned. "Are you allowed minions here? I mean, you can have a cat, or an owl, or a toad, that's okay. And they opened it up to allow other familiars." He waved a fork at the other students and their menageries around them. "Hotties are okay, but they're confined to the dungeons." He looked carefully at Sascha, taking in the pressed tunic with its high collar, the ribbons on the left breast standing in for medals, the leather straps of his kit. Sascha looked back for a moment, assessing and dismissing the other as a threat, then scanning the hall again. "Although the hotties aren't generally so . . . overdressed."

The boy extended a hand to Spike. Totenberg bridled for an instant, hands coming out from behind his back. Almost as quickly, he sank back into parade rest. "Trevor. Trevor Pike. And you are?"

Spike sighed. Here was the moment she'd been anticipating. "Nikolevnischka von Schaedelthron." She paused as Trevor goggled over the confusion of syllables. Right. "But you can call me Spike. Everybody does."

Trevor smirked, then quickly wiped it away. "That's going to make things . . . interesting," he said, but refused to clarify any further, even when the meal had concluded and the dishes vanished.

One of the older girls, with a Head Girl badge pinned to her robes stood up and clapped her hands for their attention. "All right, you lot, most of you know the drill and the way by now, but shut it for a second so the ickle firsties can hear." The muttering died down a bit, and the Head Girl stuck both little fingers in her mouth, creating a blasting whistle through them. The Hounds flinched, and Spike could feel it in her teeth. The table fell quiet.

"Thank you ever so," Head Girl drawled. "Makes things so much easier when I don't have to shout. Well, welcome to Hogwarts and the most noble house of Salazar Slytherin. We're not much for the long-winded flowery speeches like Ravenclaw." She nodded over one shoulder to the blue table, where an earnest looking bespectacled witch was holding forth, and had apparently been doing so since dinner, as there were still plates with food on the table, and students surreptitiously sneaking morsels from them.

"We don't do a lot of 'woo-woo, we're a team' like--" A roar from the red and gold table rose, filling the hall. "Hang on, they come in --" Rooooooaaaaarrrr. "Threes." And one more time, fists pumping, one or two students leaping to their feet. "Right. And we're not so touchy-feely as the Hufflepuffs, who any minute now will . . ." The chairs at the yellow-draped table scraped in unison as all the students stood up and exchanged hugs, then left the Great Hall in clumps of four and five. Head Girl sneered, and shook her head. "It's a wonder they do anything separately."

"No," she continued, "We are Slytherin. And most of you know what that means." Nods around the table. "For the ickle firsties, I'll spell it out. That means we win. We do it better, faster, and more cleverly than all the rest put together. We are ambitious, focused, and driven. When we succeed, we crush the competition."

"What about when . . ." The words slipped out before she could stop them. Head Girl arched one eyebrow coolly, staring her down.

"What about what, Ickle Firstie?"

"If you crush the competition when you succeed, then does it follow that when you fail, you fail spectacularly?" Head Girl's cheeks colored briefly, and her eyes narrowed.

"What's your name?" she spat, clipping off the words.

Spike lifted her chin, meeting the older girl's stare with equal venom. I was only asking a question. "Von Schadelthron. Nikolevnischka von Schaedelthron."

"Well, Nicky --"

"Spike." She hated 'Nicky' with a passion. 'Nicky' was for a girly girl in silly short skirts with layers of ruffled petticoats, who spoke in whispers and giggles, whose hair formed perfect ringlets and whose hands were always clean. "And you are?"

An older witch laid a hand lightly on Head Girl's shoulder. She was slender and fragile looking, white blonde with nearly colorless eyes, and robes that came close to puddling on the floor. Her hat looked nearly as tall as she was, climbing to a thin spire like a blade of black grass. "What's this, Narcissa?" The other girl quickly pasted on a smile, widening her eyes as she looked up at the other.

"Just getting the Ickle -- I mean, the firsties sorted out a bit, Professor Gorre. Rules of the moving stairways, that sort of thing."

Gorre arched one eyebrow. "Really." That one word encompassed a world of emotion, mostly doubt laced with sarcasm. Then she cocked her head and considered Spike for a long moment. "You're the Durmstrang transfer."

"Yes, Professor." I guess we'll be Nicky and Sissy to each other, now, Spike thought, with a mental sigh.

"I do not know what they may have taught you there, Miss von Schadelthrone, but here, failure is simply not an option. Slytherin does."