Sunday, September 30, 2012

An OWL, Finally (Part Four)

The doors slammed shut behind Spike, and she looked around the empty hall.  It looked just like any anonymous classroom -- wood floors, stone walls -- but utterly, utterly bare.  No desks, not even a lectern for the professor.  Nothing on the walls, it could have been History of Magic, or Charms, or Muggle Studies -- anything at all.  And there was no OWL board of Examiners waiting, either.  A big empty box.

"Hello?  Is there anyone there?"  Her voice echoed slightly from the naked walls. I must be in the wrong room, somehow.  She turned back to the doors, pulled on the handle, but they were locked tight.  "Hey!!"  She pounded on the door.  "Hey!  I'm stuck in here!"  If the assistant was on the other side, she couldn't or didn't hear, because no one opened the door.

"I'm supposed to be defending my OWL!  How can I defend it if there's no board?  Let me out, or send them in, or . . ."  She stamped her foot, vexed,  Tendrils of hair began snaking their way out of her bun, and she shoved them back in place, even more irritated.  The wood in front of her began turning reddish, and she stopped in her tracks.  Touched it.  Oh, not fire, not this time.  Her temper, she really had to get a hold on it.  Ahtyets had been telling her that for ages, and she knew it, but still.  So not fire, then . . .  She turned around.

At the front of the hall, the light was changing, shifting to sunset, through pink and red and orange and the other mixtures of colors that had no real equivalents in language.  It wasn't like the ceiling of the Great Hall, which showed the actual sky above, she could still see the walls quite clearly.  But as she watched, and the lights above flickered into violet, they became insubstantial, misty, and then dissolving as darkness began eating the room.  Overhead, the ceiling vanished into might, and in the dying twilight, she saw four professors appear as if they were walking up one of the hills behind Hogwarts to meet her there. 

She recognized Professors Wildsmythe, Gorre, and Randall.  Professor Wildsmythe winked at her from behind her colleagues’ backs.  Spike’s hand went cold and damp.  Right, the party.  Oh, boy, I hope that doesn’t lead her to expect more from me than I can provide. 

Professor Gorre gave her a dry sort of nod, and a lump grew in Spike’s throat. The Head of my House?  Oh, no.  She’ll have to be really tough in order to preserve the whole “fair” approach and avoid showing favoritism.

Professor Randall smiled sunnily, but she’s a Hufflepuff, she’d smile sunnily to someone climbing the gallows, and wish them a nice day, completely without irony.  Oh, it’s bad when your best hope is the Gryffindor professor, whom you’ve never met before.

The four took their places in a semi circle in front of her, and Professor Gorre handed Spike her star chart, neatly folded.  “Show us what you can do,” she said, waving her wand, and the skies above swirled into glowing ribbons of stars above, completely disordered.

Spike laid her chart out on the ground between them, looking carefully at the beads showing her direction, giving her grounding and landmarks in the sky.  “Okay.  This one here belongs there,” she said, tapping the bead with her wand, slowly picking order out of the chaos the stars had been cast into. 

One at a time, the stars took their places as ordained by her chart, one tiny glowing light at a time.  It could have been hours, it could have been weeks until finally he thought she had them all back in their proper places.  “That’s it,” she said, looking up at the sky and the portion she had charted. “They’re all where they ought to be.”

“Are you sure, then?” asked Professor Wildsmythe, in her cool and slightly distant way.  “Everything is where it belongs?  All the celestial bodies back in their proper places?”

Spike thought it over.  Were they?  The stars matched her chart, but how accurate was that chart?  Had she gotten it right?  Had she maybe rushed too fast in her efforts to get it done my the end of the term, had she missed something vital?  “I think so . . . yes.  Yes, I’m sure.”

Revelatio celestii!” The Gryffindor professor cast the spell, and most of the stars stayed where they were, turning slowly emerald green. A few, but only a few, changed places, winking silver.  Randall frowned up at the sky, tapping her wand on her chin, counting under her breath.

She’s counting the silver ones, Spike realized.  The ones I got wrong.  Were there too many?  She held her breath.

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