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."