Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Divine Dream

Narcissa was holding forth about that day's Divination lessons in the Dungeon. Spike was attempting to find absorption in an Arithmancy text, but the material was so familiar that her attention tended to wander. She'd get three or four phrases in, then hear an interesting tidbit, and lose her train of thought in the briar patch. Divination. Waste of time. Suitable for little fluff-heads like Sissy, who's only here because hopefully someone will keep her out of too much trouble until she gets old enough to marry off. She re-read the same page for the third time, and sighed. I should just go upstairs to the library, assuming I can find an empty seat. Finals are a few weeks out; House Ravenclaw would probably save a bunch of time by just moving their beds there.

She yawned, ears popping like firecrackers. Or maybe I should just go to bed. Closing the book, she heard Narcissa giggle.

"Here's a good one," she said, pointing at a page in the Divination book. "It's a subset of scarpomancy--using shoes to predict the future. Instead, you use socks. You wrap one around your neck before you go to bed, and then you'll dream of future spouses!" They fell to mad giggling, and some speculation as to which of the Seventh Year boys each would dream about, if she wore a pair of socks that way.

"Are you going to try it?" The words were out before she could stop herself. Creeping Snail of Eternal Hope, I must be tired if I didn't see that one coming. Usually she thought things through several times before saying anything, turning the words and the possible reactions over and over in her head before putting them forth. This earned her a reputation among the others, evenly split between stuck up and brilliant, depending on the audience.

Narcissa simpered back. "I'm sure I wouldn't catch a wink of beauty sleep for all the dreams I'd have of my future beaux. You on the other hand, Spike, you should sleep the dreamless sleep of the angels."

Spike smiled coolly from the cheekbones down. "I wouldn't know about that, sweetheart." The last word was very nearly sveethott; her accent thickening. "I don't need to dream about a beau, or catch one on my own. Didn't your parents provide for you? Or has your reputation spread like a doxy's legs on Saturday night, so no one would think of taking you to wife?"

Spots of color like an inexpertly cast beautification spell appeared on Narcissa's face. "Tell you what, Spike. Since you're too good to take Divination like the rest of us, why don't you and me try it tonight? You're so smart, you won't have any trouble using nothing but your 'natural talents.' I'm sure you'll have a very interesting bit of parchment to write tomorrow -- not that you'd need any extra credit in divination, right?"

It was Spike's turn to color, now. She did well with Professor Wildsmythe in Astronomy, but she was hopeless with the same teacher in Divination. Wildsmythe would shake her head sadly watching her pull a daisy to pieces for anthromancy, or rooting helplessly in a frog's belly hunting for the liver. "Perhaps when we get to Astrology, dear. The stars are really your guide." A few extra points might turn an Acceptable to Exceeds Expectations (or more likely, prevent an Acceptable from falling into a Poor).

"Challenge accepted." The smile reached her eyes without warming her expression, and, making a gesture reminiscent of a duelling salute, Spike turned and went to bed.

But before retiring, in among the more mundane chores of brushing her teeth and hair, Spike pulled out a clean pair of socks from her steamer trunk, tied the cuffs together, and slung them around her neck like a peculiar scarf.

The socks were warm and comforting against the Dungeon's ever-present chill and damp. They quelled the persistent tickle. Maybe I should consider a sleeping cowl . . . in cashmere and silk, perhaps? Or would that be silly, like a slinky nightgown with feet? Pondering that, she drifted off to sleep . . .

And woke at a party, on the arm of a man she didn't know. None of her bodyguards were in sight--but somehow, it was all right. He was dressed like the sun, if the sun were a vision in white and cream with lashings of gold and silver. He had long dark hair bound behind him in a queue, and a coronet in cunningly woven metal sat on his high brow as if he were born to wear it. He turned to her smiling.

His eyes were dark in his pale skin, like a certain Potions Master's, but instead of being black and forbidding, they sparkled with a sense of play. An otter, not a bat. He smiled at her, and she looked in the same direction he was, to see Totenberg accepting a flute of sparkling wine from a footman carrying a silver tray. We're at a party -- and he's drinking? He's not on duty then . . . Totenberg caught her eye and saluted her with the wineglass, mouthed the word "Congratulations." On what?

They walked through a lush garden, brushed by soft breezes in the warm air. Olive trees threw patterns of lace on the velvety grass, and Spike realized she was wearing a gown in soft greys that shimmered with lilac and blues in the shadows. The train dragged behind her, whispering on the grass as the crowd made way for the couple to ascend to a wooden platform in the middle of the garden.

He led her to the foot of the stairs, then picked her up in his arms and carried her up to the floor. She laughed and swung her feet. The hem of her gown fell back, and she noticed she was wearing socks with fine and dainty slippers. Those are beautiful--I've never seen anything like them! The colors pooled and dipped like stained glass, wandering in all directions like light on an oil spill, graceful and organic.

The otter man set her gently on her feet on the polished oak boards. "Ready?" He had a lovely baritone that made her feel warm all over. Ready? For what? Then the harpist struck a chord, the flutes joined in, weaving a melody that spoke to the heart of long joyful days, cool easy nights, and all troubles overcome.

He offered his hand, Spike stepped into his arms, and they began to dance, to the scattered applause of the crowd. Sometimes, as she whirled, she caught glimpses of her bodyguards in the crowd, now laughing, now somber.

Spike woke up and lunged for her dream journal. Finally, something I didn't have to make up! She sketched the lines of the man's face, although in the dream the bones had been vague beneath the skin. But I got the eyes right. And the socks. I wonder what it means to dream of socks? "Probably that I should knit more," she sighed, taking the sock scarf off and going down to breakfast.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

An Expedition Made

"Why are all those Muggles standing and staring in the window like that?" wondered Spike. The group of Hogwarts students clustered tightly together in the middle of the great hallway, looking all around them at the clumps of Muggles hurrying here and there. "They can't be talking via floo. They're Muggles!"

The teaching team had announced a special treat for the class--a field trip! Everyone had excitedly began to chatter about the last trip to Hogsmeade, about their experiences in Diagon Alley, and the professors let it go for several minutes before waving the class to silence again.

"It's a special trip," beamed Professor Poole, his fine strands of grey hair waving as he nodded. He had bright blue eyes, an old man's near-tonsure, and a fascination with tweed that extended even to his peaked hat. "We'll be going to a Muggle village. Imagine! A world without any magic."

"You'll be undercover, of course, and you all know the restrictions regarding underage magic, as well as the rules of secrecy." Professor Ethelbard flicked her wand, and the student's robes transfigured into charcoal grey jackets with gold and silver Hogwarts crests and piping in the House colors. "There. The Muggles are accustomed to seeing students in school uniforms out and about, so you'll fit right in with their perceptions. That which is not seen is not, and all that."

"We'll be observing a modern Muggle market--a shopping mall. Muggles in their native habitat." Professor Grinderford smiled dreamily, as if contemplating frolicking forest creatures with large eyes and high foreheads.

They took turns side-along Apparating, standing in a clump at a bus station, where the teachers told them a gorup of miling students would look right at home to the Muggles. Apparently they did, because no one seemed to pay any heed to the kids in school uniforms, not even the tough-looking Muggle teens who swaggered past, ostentatiously smoking cigarettes. At last the class was gathered together, and they approached the squat concrete set of cubical buildings together.

I had expected it to be more festive, thought Spike. More full of nooks and crannies and a sense of wonder and enticement. This just looks like a bunch of grey giant's blocks set in a jumble when junior was called off for lunch. Perhaps it's more fun inside.

But inside, it was racks of things set out for perusal. Some of them had bright colors, and a few had interesting things in the windows, but when she stopped in front of one, Professor Grinderford took her arm. "Not now, Spike."

"But--" She pointed to the aptly named store, Fascinations, with its flowing script. "But perfume, and shoes! Boots!! Really cool boots!!" Green snakeskin, shiny as if they were wet, with heels as high as a handspan and poinard sharp.

Grinderford sighed. "Not for a Muggle girl of your age, Spike. You'd be escorted out of the store. Besides, you don't have any Muggle money, do you?" Spike sighed, glumly conceding defeat. Maybe I could sketch them, ask for them as a Winterfest gift. They'd look so splendid under my dress robes.

"We're here to observe, not to shop." Grinderford pushed her hair out of her eyes, and smiled wanly. Poole had stopped to pry a quartet of Hufflepuffs away from the windows of a candy store. "So. What do you see?"

Spike looked around. Most of the people looked either dazed or grim, laden with bags. Meandering from pillar to post, or striding along with a purpose. "No one looks very happy, do they? It's as if they've been Imperiused to do this, and they take no joy in performing the task." She frowned as an idea took root. "Do you think . . . this would be a great way to separate Muggles from their galleons. It would keep you at one remove, too. Even better, they'd be doing this of what the Muggle authorities would say was their own free will, that no one was forcing them to come to the mall and spend money they didn't really have on things that would lose their luster shortly after being packed home!"

Grinderford took firm hold of Spike's sleeve. "We are here to observe," she hissed. "Not to save them from themselves."

Spike looked at her, bewildered. "Who said anything about saving them from themselves?" Thinking quickly, she added, "The mere act of observation changes the behavior we're here to observe, right? So actively doing anything about it would . . . muck it up even worse. No, I'll just watch." Grinderford considered this, nodded, and let her go.

Besides, maybe I can learn something about . . . hmmm, crowd control this way.

Several Muggles were gathered in front of a great glass wall, watching attentively. Behind the wall were many boxes, each filled with an identical scene. Like seeing through an insect's eye. The fascination wasn't apparently with the novelty of seeing the world many times over, because the Muggles cheered and groaned in response to something happening on the screen. Spike edged into the crowd to get a better look.

Oh, it's like Quidditch, then. She had heard of the game and seen pictures in the paper growing up, although her father had little use for sports, and there was no one of her age to play it with, unless she went down to the village. But even then, the other children only knew her as the lord's daughter, and were swept up by grinning, scraping parents, who curtsied or bowed, hat in hand. No one would play with her or her bodyguards.

No, she'd only seen Quidditch played a time or two during her short time at Durmstrang. Practice games, mostly, where the team would divide and play against itself. As a first-year, she wasn't allowed to join in, but it had looked like such fun. The Chaser stalking the Snitch, waiting until just the right time to swoop in and steal victory. The Beaters whacking the Bludger . . . it hadn't looked all that hard, until she finally tried it herself. This was apparently a Muggle version of the game, played on a flat green field, with only one ball that was Bludger and Snitch rolled together, and four Keepers -- no more than that, because one of the men ran in the field, getting himself directly under it! She put her hands over her face, watching through her fingers as the white ball came down, down, hard and fast directly at the man's face. Oh, this is going to hurt . . . and then he held up a big leather glove and caught the ball deftly. Threw it back to the man standing in the ring, and all the Muggles groaned.

The Bludger currently holding the bat dropped it to the ground, and the two teams swapped sides in a neatly choreographed set of maneuvers as tidy as if they had been on a big green ballroom floor. Spike was charmed. "What is this?" she whispered, unaware that she was speaking out loud.

"Baseball," said a man beside her. "And the Braves are winning."

Must have been a Gryffindor ... no, Muggles don't have Houses, do they? No matter, she knew what to say. "Victory is almost always to the brave," she replied. She saw Grinderford scanning the crowd, realized that most of the class had been herded together, and hurried to catch up.

Later, she turned in a parchment detailing the game of baseball, with the green field, the white ball, the blue sky and sun shining down on it all.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Charming Color

Charms class was meeting on the Quidditch pitch. Spike was beside herself. It was a lovely balmy spring day, just cool enough to keep things interesting, but plenty warm for basic school dress without gloves, jumpers or vests.

"We're studying the charms placed on the balls for Quidditch," she breathlessly informed her minons as she braided her hair to keep it under control on the broom. "They're going to divide us by Houses, and we'll actually get to play a pickup match!"

"Dot's nice," murmured Totenberg, absorbed in maintaining his kit.

"It's just a little introduction to the way it's played--Firsties aren't allowed on the team, except under some very special circumstances. But if we play well, maybe we can try out next year! I'd love to be the Keeper," she mused, tying a green ribbon on one of the strands, "they're the ones who keep the red Quaffle from going through the goals to allow the other House to score a point."

"Uhmmm-hmmm." He took out the oil and polishing rag. The continual damp under the lake worried him--metal corroded, leather rotted, it was all a constant scramble against the forces of entropy and decay.

"Or the Seeker! That would be so cool, watching for the Snitch and planning when to catch it to end the match. There's strategy involved in that--a bad Seeker can get the Snitch and lose the match for his team if the score isn't right!" She tied the ends of the ribbon in a cheery bow. "I'll probably just be a Chaser, though." She looked over her shoulder. "You haven't heard a word I've said, have you?"


"I thought so." Head held high, Spike left for class.

Playing Quidditch was everything Spike had thought it would be. She didn't have the opportunity to play back home; there were no wizarding families nearby with children of an age to play. It could be lonely at the top. It wasn't as easy as it had seemed on the occasions where she had watched the game. Controlling the broom while you had nothing else to focus on was easy; handling the thing while watching for the Quaffle or the Bludger turned out to be something else entirely. Fortunately, no one had to be sent to the Infirmary for repair.

Later that evening, Spike worked on a project to demonstrate her understanding of the Quidditch equipment. Looking over her shoulder, Sascha frowned.

"S'posed to be two of the balls, isn' it?"

"It is."

"Hy see de red Quaffle, front und center, but where de other?"

"The Bludger's in there."

"But is no black for de pig iron . . ."

Spike held up her work. "It's represented by the purple and green."

"How so?"

She lifted the hem of her robes up over her thigh, where the welts were coloring nicely. "For the bruises it leaves behind," she said ruefully.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A Feather Transformed

The racket in the mews that morning was simply deafening. Most of the students had their hands over their ears as they waited for Care of Magical Creatures class to begin. Brilliantly feathered birds with three foot tails swooped and dove overhead, shrieking.

Professor Latisha Jorkins entered and made her way quickly to the front of the room, where she performed a swift and silent charm. With a final flick of her wand delineating the tail of the final rune, silence fell through the entire classroom. She let the eerie stillness rest for a moment before she smiled and said, "Good morning, students."

They mumbled their response, watching as the birds fluttered from perch to perch, beaks open, and nothing but silence.

“These birds surrounding you are the Fwoopers. Do not let the charming colors fool you--these birds are dangerous!

"Just as there are certain colors that cannot be perceived by the human eye, and sounds that cannot be heard, there are sounds that cannot be processed, even by the highly trained minds of wizards. The Fwoopers make such a sound.

"We have cast a Silencing Charm on these eggs, so the baby Fwoopers will be quiet for the first few weeks of their lives, until they fledge out. Your assignment is to incubate these eggs until they hatch, and then return the live Fwoopers for grading. You may, if you wish, create an object to commemorate your care of these birds." And with that, Professor Jorkins handed out the oval eggs.

Spike handled hers gingerly. They were vibrantly colored and warm in her hands. She cast a manere charm to keep them warm and whole as she tucked them into her bag. Thank the Great Bear I have time to drop by the Pit before next class. I'll wrap them in a shawl on my pillow, where they'll be safe.

The bright colors were especially so in the Dungeon's cool gloom, and the warming charm on the shawl made caring for the eggs easy. Spike would roll them around in the mornings when she woke up, at break times between classes, and at night before bed. "The chicks may come out dizzy, but they should develop normally," she told Totenberg, who grinned. He had always been fond of little helpless things, although mothers tended to snatch their children away from the Hound.

One morning, Spike woke to a tiny sound, like a house elf cracking its knuckles. The eggs! "They're hatching!" she cried, and all four gathered around to watch the fragile pink creatures with their enormous heads peck their way out of the shells. Soon they were staggering around on the coverlet, making tiny hops, wings held out for balance.

The house elves brought fruit peels to feed the birds. They seemed to grow at a visible rate. Soon the pink skin was covered with rainbow down, which began to shed as full flight feathers came in.

That was the problem. Fwoopers apparently were magic in a number of respects, including the ability to moult . . . and moult . . . and moult. The house elves gave up on trying to keep the feathers swept up, and settled for replacing the newspapers under the tree Spike grew for them to perch on. "Shouldn't these things be BALD by now?" grumbled Totenberg, kicking his way through the brilliant viridian, ruby, and aubergine feathers.

"They'll be gone soon," sighed Spike, crossing off another day on the calendar. She had written the glyph for freedom in bright red ink on the date they were to be returned to the Care of Magical Creatures staff. "At least they're still . . . what was that?"

"I didn't hear--wait. That?" They looked at each other. It wasn't a sound so much as a feeling, or a taste. A taste that sounded like garlic being scraped down a blackboard, slowly. A sound that tasted like sauteed chalk in licorice. Spike lunged for her wand.

"Silencio!" The noisefeeling grew more intense for a moment, then blessedly died away again.

It seemed to take an eternity for the days to wind down to the freedom glyph, and the best silencing charms Spike could produce lasted for shorted and shorter periods of time. Her minions stuffed their ears with cotton, and spent as much time as possible lurking anywhere but the dorm room. Finally, the day came when she could cage them and hand them back to the care of the Hogwarts staff.

She returned to a room still packed with Fwooper feathers. She picked one up and twirled it in her fingers. Hmmm. Socks. These would make some awesome socks.

A little wandwork later, and she had brilliant rainbow-colored warm wooly socks on her feet.

"Miss the birdies?" asked Totenberg, seeing her examining her feet pensively.

"Not really. They're pretty . . . but overall, I'd rather baby-sit a Hungarian Horntail."

Sunday, July 01, 2012

A Polarity Reversed

The Potions class had observed the Feast of Saint Valentine with an in-depth study of the Amortencia Solution, which naturally lead to an introduction to all sorts of attracting potions. The lead professor, Thaddeus Halliwell, explained that being able to craft an attractant had its uses.

A bee had crept into the classroom through the open window, and was circling the glowing orbs intently. Several of the students had watchful eyes on the insect, and more than one would cringe as it took wing and dove from light to light. Professor Halliwell waved it off a couple of times before he stopped.

"An object lesson," he said, taking a tiny bottle from a pocket in his robes. "Observe." He walked to the window and unstoppered it. The bee whirled in midair, heading directly for the professor. He put a cotton ball over the mouth of the vial, and the bee returned to buzzing around the light globes. He then tossed the bit of cotton out the window, and the bee followed it. He slammed the window shut. "Now. Turn to page 988 in your text, and create Wigworthy's Attractant."

Spike began preparing her ingredients, grinding the moonstone to a fine powder, adding the crushed vervain, and stirring it to a paste with distilled water. Socks. I will use this to create a pair of socks, and they will all worship at my feet!
It was working well. The potion coagulated nicely, forming strands when she lifted her wand over the potion. Lush concupiscent purple shot through with contentedly glowing gold flecks, swirls of giddy pink. Yes, just as it should be. She carefully adjusted the flame under the cauldron. Don't want this to overheat. Stir one last time. Almost there . . . And then everything went wrong.

The golds tarnished into bitter anxiety; the pink and purple dissolved into despair and jealousy. Spike struggled to correct the potion, adding chocolate and flower petals, but no use. Stirring faster only caused the potion to split and the colors to shatter.

Halliwell looked over her shoulder. "That," he pronounced, "was certainly not the effect we were after, Spike."

She slumped, despondent. "No. No, it was not, professor." It was hard for her to stand next to her cauldron of failed solution, and not just because of the Repelling Potion she had brewed.

"I'll see you in Detention, then, while you prepare three feet of parchment on exactly how this went wrong." Waving a hand in front of his nose, the professor left quickly.

Spike studied the contents. Socks. Socks that would keep someone away. Socks that would make someone not want to notice you, not want to . . . She brightened. Well. This solves some of the problems with Filch, now doesn't it. I should be able to mule anything I want into Hogwarts--as long as I'm careful which socks I'm wearing.