Sunday, September 23, 2012

An OWL, Finally (Part Three)

She followed the moving staircases carefully to the third floor, down the halls, walking past crowds of students each anxiously peering at lists posted in front of huge iron banded doors.  Arithmancy, Divination, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Potions--a sudden clap sounded and the doors actually shuddered in their frames, opening to let a whiff of evil-smelling smoke drift into the hallway.  Some of the upper-classmen snickered and fanned their hands elaborately.  "Told Stibbins he'd never be able to recreate that one," a Ravenclaw announced smugly to a brace of his friends.

"He'd been going on and on about how he was some kind of natural Potions genius," another agreed, pushing her glasses up further on her nose.  "He'd have to sort Slytherin next term in order to get all the Potions help he really needs."

"Maybe even Hufflepuff -- kitchen chemistry.  You have to start where you really are, right?"  They all laughed, whistling past the gallows while their own examinations were pending. 

"So . . . you really do sort fresh each term?" Spike said, standing near the edge.  The others looked down at her, taking in the green trim on her robes.

"Yeah.  We each sit down with the Hat every term and get Sorted again.  Some students tour the Houses, spending a term in Ravenclaw, a term in Gryffindor. I think your Head of House spent some time in Hufflepuff, learning management skills."  He smirked.  "Coals to Newcastle there, I would think.  I don’t believe Slytherin's heirs distinguish between management and manipulation."

Spike smiled, just half a smile, looking carefully at the faces of the older students as they snickered.  One day, not so very long from now, one day we will meet and have a discussion about management, manipulation, and coals.  "Thank you for your insight," she said, coolly, dropping a precise curtsey, and continuing down the hall.

Care of Magic Creatures, Herbology, Ancient Runes, Charms . . . Sorting every term?  She shivered a little, pulled the collar of her robes a little higher around her neck.  How was this accomplished; did they all file into the hall ahead of the firsties and sit under the Hat once more?  Did they decide who went where by how well they did?  What if she failed her OWL at the last minute, would she be Sorted to Hufflepuff?  One last chance before being shown the door?  Had she taken enough classes, won enough points to get her a seat in Slytherin?  Should have taken Divination this term, she thought ruefully, squeezing through the crowd.  It would be nice to know for sure.

The crowds were getting thinner, clustered around the last few doors.  History of Magic, Muggle Studies, Transfiguration--here it is, Astronomy.  She found her name on the list and informed the assistant that she was here, waiting. 

The doors swung open, and a dazedly grinning Hufflepuff came out,  Spike tried to peek inside, but all she saw was a large, empty hall with wooden floors, just like any of the classrooms with the desks taken out.  There's not even a chair for the Examiner to sit on, she thought.  How am I supposed to--  The other student grabbed her, whirling giddily.

"I did it, I did it, I did it!"  she was chanting.  "Oh, I didn't think I could, but I made it!  I got my OWL!!"  In one hand she held a chart, and on her robes was an elaborate pin of diamonds in a galaxy, spinning slowly, winking between topaz and brilliant white.

"Well played," Spike said automatically, trying to gracefully disentangle herself from the Badger. 

"Hufflehugs!!  Hufflehugs for everyone!!"

"Have we, er, met?"

The other peered at her closely.  She had sandy blonde hair, a round moon face, and a gap in her front teeth when she grinned.  Her grin was infectious, Spike found herself smiling back.  Really smiling, not baring her teeth with another layer beyond it.  "Appolline Hopkins," she said, letting go enough to pull one arm loose and proffer her hand between them.  "Pleased to meet you--"

"Nikolevnischka von Schaedelthron.  But everyone calls me Spike," she added as the other's eyes widened at the string of syllables. 

"I see why they would!  Oh, it's a great day!  I passed my OWL, and I made a new friend!"  She squeezed Spike one last time before letting go.  "I can tell we're going to have lots of fun together!  But right now, I have to get back to the Den to let everyone else know the good news!"  And down the hall she went, robes askew, boots clattering.

Spike watched her, re-arranging her garments and hair, picking up her book bag.  Friends with a Hufflepuff.  Well, maybe.  They were always talking about House Unity, after all.  "Perhaps," she said, fiddling with the hairstick holding her bun in place.  "Perhaps this sorting thing . . ."

But the assistant was calling her in now, and it was her turn to step up and defend her work of the term.  Spike took a deep breath, and walked into the empty hall. 

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