It was Visiting Day at Hogwarts, and the dungeons sparkled. The Not Quite First Years, whose names were on the list, but who had yet to go through the Sorting Ceremony, were being led on a tour of Hogwarts to visit each House in turn. "One of the many changes made after the Second Wizarding War," explained Heipzibah Gorre, the Head of Slytherin House. "Dumbledore himself remarked on it, but died too soon to really do more than vaguely and generally plant the seed. We grow, we change, we learn -- isn't that what this institution is for? Now we Sort every term, and we think we are the stronger for it. This term, you are Slytherin, but next term, you may be Hufflepuffs, or Gryffindors, even. Yesterday's rival is today's companion in arms."
Spike shook her head from behind the book she was ostensibly reading, lifting her feet out of the way of a house elf busily holystoning the floor. Hufflepuff? Sort Hufflepuff? Oh, loyalty and hard work were all well enough, she supposed, but those were traits for followers, for minions. She preferred to work smarter, not harder, and plot for the ways to maximize her point total. To go big and grand when it would be memorable, thank you, and not in terms of blisters raised and sweat broken.
The charm on the door chimed, indicating that someone had entered the long and winding stairway to the Snake Pit. Spike and the others quickly cleared away what they were doing, and formed receiving lines along the common room floor. The hotties were returned to their waiting room of requirement, or to their owners' rooms. Plenty of time for that later; you didn't want to give away all your secrets.
Gertie Randle and Tamsin Dukelow, staff mentors, led the gaping Not Quite First Years through the doors into the Dungeon. The students to be clustered together, holding hands and looking about in awe, touched with a bit of terror. They'd heard the stories about Slytherin House. Some had undoubtedly been treated to tales from parents who had Sorted otherwise, stories about the Snake Pit and the heartless people clustered and cloistered below the lake. A few others, though they stayed close to their year mates, were on the edge of the group, whispering about the soft light filtered through the Black Lake, speculating as to the Hotties' whereabouts, breaking off to explore briefly--fingering curtains, daring each other to sit on the green dragonhide couches with crushed velvet cushions.
Spike smiled. It might have been nice to have had the experience of being a NQFY; to have had a chance to get to see Hogwarts as an Unsorted Student. To have been welcome in all the Houses, to have been wooed as a new player. She shook her head. Or maybe not. She liked earning points for Slytherin, liked seeing the emeralds piling up in the hourglass by the Great Hall.
A handful of the prospectives broke off the group and headed for the door to the Potions lab. Future Gryffindors, too brave for their own good. Spike looked over at the mentors; who seemed more interested in keeping most of the herd together; ineffective sheepdogs who'd let a handful of adults go roaming. Drat. Spike closed her book and followed them. There'll be trouble --trouble past the Bear's claws-- if they drink something down there because "It's Slytherin House and they're good with Potions, everyone knows that." She thought quickly, ticking off points mentally.
I don't have anything brewing right now, they're all in the Resting Cabinet, which is locked and keyed to each witch or wizard, so no one else can get at my draughts. Which was one of the better charms the staff had created; she had to give them that. One cabinet for all the students meant more space in the laboratory. Having it keyed so you could only take out what you yourself had put in made tampering with another student's work -- or equally likely, just a simple error in identification -- next to impossible.
However, there were a few experiments out in the lab, and it would be a bad, bad thing for -- Spike heard a crash of breaking glass, rolled her eyes, and hurried down the stairs to see what they had gotten into this time.
The floor was a spreading puddle of purple, with a lacy froth of green dappling the top. The NQFYs had climbed to the top of the workbench, and were viewing the results with horror. Thick curved shards of green glass emerged from the puddle like archipelagos. Spike could smell the wine from the stairs, and any second now, the mentors would be hurrying in and demanding an explanation.
She folded her arms, raised one eyebrow high, and looked at the quivering children. "Well?" Think of Atyets, talking to the stableboy when he mis-saddled the riding bear. No reason to be loud. You have all the authority you can assume here.
One of the girls sniffed, looked down at the spreading mess. "Please, we didn't mean to-- it's just that Peter wanted to smell what was inside, because it was Slytherin and everybody knows--" Spike raised one hand, cutting off her words.
"So you went to draw the stopper, but the bottle was so big . . ."
The girl swallowed hard. "It was so big, I had to sit on Peter's shoulders to reach the top, and well, we kind of . . . that is, Peter sort of . . . and then . . ."
"And then the bottle fell over and shattered on the floor."
The girl's hair hung in curtains around her face as she nodded, rubbing her nose. "I'm sorry -- we're sorry."
Spike sighed. Born to be a Hufflepuff, that one. She knew how to handle this. Get her thinking about the rules, and trouble, and getting others into a mess with her. She'll be putty in your hands.
"You'll be far sorrier if the mentor team catches you with this mess." She could hear footsteps outside the Potions laboratory door. Presumably one of the team. Good thing she had charmed the lock when she came in. No one but she or the Head of House would be able to dissolve the charm and open the door.
"What do we do?" The boy's gaze was level, and his voice was calm. Solving a problem. Spike smiled. Ravenclaw or Slytherin? Could go either way--watch this one.
"We? You clean up. I cover our tracks. Accio Final Solution -- er, the smaller one." The imperial gallon size container stopped rocking and the half-pint bottle flew to her hand. The NQFYs gasped. "Accio blank book." They kept cleaning supplies in the Potions lab because there were some spills even a House Elf wouldn't deal with. Or rather, they would--and they would be certain to inform the Head of House and the Headmistress who was brewing the Draught of Living Death, how far they had gotten, and any other information that came into their pointy little heads. Sometimes it was better to just suck it up and get your own hands dirty.
She ripped some pages from the half-empty book, Transfigured them into cleaning cloths, doused them liberally with Final Solution, then Charmed them. "Sitientero!" She tossed the cloths to the quartet huddled on the workbench. The boy -- Peter, presumably -- sniffed his, turned it over in his hands. The girl, on the other hand, climbed down and began sopping up the spilled wine.
"What does that do? I smell the dragon's blood in the cleaner; that must be why you call it the 'Final Solution.' I like that." He grinned. "But what does siti . . . sit . . ." He took a deep breath. "Sit i en ter o," he said slowly, sounding the unfamiliar word out slowly. "What does that charm do?" He climbed down to help the other three.
"Makes the cloth thirsty, so it drinks more." And they were. The four cloths were still dry to the touch when the puddle was gone, although they were streaked and filthy with the colors of what they had erased.
Just in time, too. The door thumped when it hit the wall, and three set of feet were running down the stairs Spike carefully stepped into the lab to clear the walkway, vanishing shards of glass as she went. She very carefully left one large curved piece on the floor, and with the tip of her wand, carefully engraved a large flamboyant capital N onto the belly.
"Is everyone all right?" "What happened?" The three adults gabbled, looking at the NQFYs, then to Spike, then at the last of the glass on the dry flagstones.
Spike shrugged. "I really don't know," she said, picking her words carefully. "I saw the NQFYs coming into the Potions laboratory, and I thought I'd show them around. Give them the cook's tour, as it were." Professor Gorre was nodding and smiling approvingly. "But before I quite made it downstairs, I heard something break." She gestured at the glass still in evidence. "They must have knocked over someone's Potions work." Now comes the tricky part.
Professor Dukelow peered over her half-moon pince nez at her, and Spike remembered that not only did she mentor the NQFYs but she taught Potions. I would get a Potions professor. And any moment now, she's going to turn to Professor Gorre and demand to know -- "Professor Gorre, could you please enlighten me as to just why a Slytherin student would be brewing wine in the Dungeon? I certainly do not recall issuing such for homework."
Professor Gorre cocked her head, looking at Spike with suddenly keen interest. "Why yes, I had been wondering that myself. Perhaps you could enlighten us, Miss von Schadelthron?"
Spike took a deep breath, very consciously holding her face quite still. "Well, I do believe I overheard Narcissa talking about her grave concern with Muggle Studies this term." Which was true as far as it went; she had heard Sissy twittering away about Muggle Studies in the common room. It was more a matter of tossing her hair and waving her hands as she giggled about the sheer idiocy and complete uselessness of such a study, but well. The subjects matched, at any rate.
"So she may have discussed doing some extra credit work in the Muggle science of preservation. It wouldn't surprise me to find that Sis--Narcissa had obtained some grape juice and was attempting to preserve it in true Muggle fashion. I'm guessing that it didn't work so well," she shrugged, "as it seems from the smell that the juice has quite spoiled." Professor Gorre had one hand on her chin by now, consideringly, while Professor Randall had picked up the large, engraved, piece of glass and was turning it over carefully. "I was helping the NQFYs clean up the mess when you all came in."
"I say, would this belong to anyone?" Professor Randall was showing the florid N. "Because I seem to recall this sort of signature from a student's homework . . ." She should, thought Spike, Narcissa slaps that 'N' on anything that doesn't move . . . and some things that do. You could tell Narcissa's belongings from across the room--books, robes, Hotties. Professor Gorre took the glass in one glvoed hand.
"Thank you for handling this Miss -- Spike." Spike didn't quite sigh with relief. Don't give it away now that you're almost there. "I'll be certain to have a word with the student responsible. Spike, close the laboratory up behind us, please."
"NQFYs, with us now." Professor Dukelow headed up the line. Peter arranged things so he was the last studentm and as he passed her, he whispered, "That sigil wasn't on the bottle before. I would have seen it."
Spike nodded. Peter winked. "Well played," he said, then Professor Randall shooed him into the line, folllowed by Professor Gorre. Spike took her place at the tail end. He'd make a good Slytherin, she thought. Perhaps I'll see him around next term.
At the head of the stairs, she turned around, looking at the silent lab. "Nox!"