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 . . .

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