Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Prophetic Dream?

It was the smells that woke her that morning, waffles and coffee and bacon and strawberries.  Spike sniffed, eyes still half-welded shut with sleep, Nutella.  Nutella and whipped cream, too.  First day  breakfast.  Totenberg insisted that a good breakfast was essential to a good start, and Spike had gradually convinced him that a few extra minutes of sleep before the first day was a good idea as well.  They'd compromised on breakfast in bed on the first day of each month during term. 

She rolled over in bed . . . and kept rolling until she hit the edge.  That was odd; usually one of her guards was there keeping watch like a living teddy bear.  The near-fall woke her up enough to open her eyes all the way, and she squinted against the bright light, so unlike the usual green-shaded gloom of the Pit.  Did they have to drain the Lake again? she wondered.   The squid can't be happy about that.

Something else was wrong with her room, too, and she struggled muzzily to put a finger on it.  So much light . . .  But before she could quite place it, the door swung open, and Totenberg, Dmitri, and Sacha appeared, carrying a plate of waffles piled high with strawberries, whipped cream and the food of the gods, chocolate hazelnut butter, a platter of bacon, and an enormous mug of coffee.  Spike stretched out her hands, and the coffee mug was promptly deposited into them.  She took a long pull gratefully, feeling the cobwebs melt away.  She opened her eyes again after finishing half the cup . . . and nearly spit out the half a mouthful.  Yellow The room was yellow, a bright sunshiny cheerful yellow, trimmed with shiny black. 

She closed her eyes tightly.  Still half asleep.  Still half-dreaming.  Must be.  Going to finish dreaming I'm drinking the coffee, then I'll dream I'm awake, so I'll actually be awake then, and then I can see what's going on.  She drained it to the bitter dregs, then opened her eyes again.  Still yellow.  Still black. Not a trace of green or silver.  Muffins, not skulls.  Badgers, not snakes.  I'm in  . . . HUFFLEPUFF???

There has to be an explanation.  She handed the empty mug back to Totenberg, suppressing a double-take.  "What are you wearing?  You're out of uniform!"

It was true.  Instead of their usual livery of mix and mismatch ("Wearing uniforms is lazy -- you stop looking at faces.  Anyone can find a uniform that will more or less fit," Totenberg had explained one day, and Spike had agreed, seeing some wisdom in that.  At the same time, she always harbored a sneaking suspicion that the Hounds just liked uniforms, and refused to commit to one particular standard.) the trio was wearing -- "You look like house elves," Spike blurted out.  "Explain."

Totenberg bowed, then scrambled to keep the tea towel around his waist as one knot came undone.  Those tea towels are really . . . scanty, thought Spike.  "Is simple, meestress.  I em you minion--I mean, house elf.  Hotty."

"And I'm Naughty," added Sascha, who was wearing a long, pointed, and patently false nose to go with his ear hat.  They did look a little like house-elf ears, thought Spike, or would have if the hat wasn't precariously tipped on Sascha's head like a batwinged fascinator.

"I'm Loverboi," finished Dmitri sourly.  The three were clearly striving for the distinctive squeaky voices of the house elves, but only managing a light baritone growl.  Dmitri had at least managed to find a king-sized pillowcase, which rode him like a minidress. 

"How . . . what?  when?"

"Was the Het.  The Het done it.  Decide you needs to be--"

"To be round."  Sascha beamed.  "Tol' you de gym vas bad idea."

"To be vell-rounded," corrected Totenberg, adjusting the ear hat, and only managing to switch it from starboard to port.  "You needs to spend zum time in anodder House, he said."

Spike had her face in her hands as they explained, by the time they reached the end, she had made up her mind.  She lowered her hands, feeling an old familiar grin spreading on her lips.  A rattlesnake grin, with a dark light in her eyes.  Well-rounded, eh?  Spend some time in another House?  She'd show them what she was made of.  She threw back the coverlet, reaching for her robes trimmed in yellow.  "Well," she said, emerging from the sleeves and hood, "badgers have fangs, too."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

One Thousand Points

In the Dungeon that night all was quiet, though no one was sleeping.   The students packed their robes, books, and personal effects in silence, with only an occasional hushed aside to a hottie or fellow Slytherin.  On the mantle, where the House Cup had rested so proudly each term, was a vacant space.  Spike, her arms full of parchments gathered from the House Potions lab, stopped and stared at the spot.  The Cup had not Apparated from the Ravenclaw Aerie back to the Snake Pit.  It was gone.

Back in her room, she began sorting and folding the parchment neatly.  One stack to keep, one stack to erase--waste not, want not.  Totenberg came by and silently took the "keep" stack, stowing it tidily in her trunk.  Looking over her notes from the classes, her draft charts of her OWL, Spike's eyes itched, then a tear fell onto the parchment she was reviewing.  She Vanished it savagely, nearly blasting a hole in the scroll.

Totenberg took her wand wrist in one hand.  "Wanna talk 'bout it?"

Yes, and no.  It was still bitter and painful.  I tried so hard.  We all tried so hard. Even though second place is just first in a pack of losers, it wouldn't have been so bad.  She took a deep breath and began to explain.

"We were all assembled in the Great Hall, and the banners had just changed from green to purple, for Hogwarts."  And then the Headmistress had begun to announce the final scores for the Houses, starting with the lowest total first.

"In fourth place, with thirty-five thousand, nine hundred and forty-two points, I give you . . . the noble House of Salazar Slytherin!"  Everyone had clapped, but Spike sat with her hands in her lap.  Fourth place?  Fourth place? She couldn't have heard that right.  There had to be a mistake somehow. 

"In third place, with thirty-seven thousand, two hundred and eighty-six points, the charming and gracious House of Helga Hufflepuff!"  A few of the Puffs stood up and hugged each other, waving to the rest of the Hall.  Behind Hufflepuff?  Slytheirn had lost to Hufflepuff?  That couldn't be.  Wroxton must be planning something special, something like what Dumbledore had done for Gryffindor during the years of the Second Wizarding War, where, by the powers vested in him as Headmaster, he had whipped a deus ex machina out of his hip pocket and pulled out a win for the House of the Boy Who Lived.  "That must be it; that has to be it."  She clenched her fists in her lap.  Please let that be it -- I don't even have to be one of the golden ones who receives bonus points for her hard work, just so long as we win.

Gryffindor was third, with thirty-eight thousand, six hundred and eighty-four points, which left  . . . "Ravenclaw has won the House Cup!" as the banners all turned indigo, then blue, with the screaming eagle picked out in bronze.  Blue hoods took flight on voiceless wingardium leviosa charms, hovering above the Ravenclaw table as they cheered, then turned and toasted their Head of House with iced goblets of pumpkin juice.  The House Cup was taken from the Head Table and ceremoniously handed over to the winning House, and the feast began.

Now.  Surely now, Wroxton would hold up her hands for silence, and distribute those vital points that would make a world of difference.  But the food merely appeared on the tables, the upperclassmen shrugged and tucked into their dinner as if nothing had changed.  As if the world hadn't come crashing down. 

Spike ate mechanically, picking out bits of whatever looked nourishing.  Favorites didn't enter into it, not now.  She was eating because being hungry and wretched was far worse than just being wretched.  Chicken, vegetables, salad -- a small helping of each; it all tasted like sand anyway.

Totenberg frowned as she wound down at last.  “So.  You lost.”

How simple he made that sound.  As if losing wasn’t something that happened to other, worthless people, as if losing was just what happened when you didn’t win.  She nodded, unable to speak past the lump in her throat, the weight on her chest.

"You didn't like it."  Wry understatement with a twist of a grin playing around the corners of his mouth, fangs glinting for a second.

"No.  And Atyets is going to be so mad."

He took her hand.  "What, that you learn what he sent you away for?"

She stared at him.  Has he been sipping mercury again?  It was hard keeping the Hounds out of anything that might be intoxicating, and their theory seemed to be that anything was worth a try -- or two, if it didn't kill you the first time.  The Potions storeroom had needed several additional locks over this last term.

"Look-- you lost.  Is a bad thing, not what you wanted but . . . anybody die?"

"No . . ."

"Anybody hurt real bad?  Castle blow up?"

"No . . . not exactly."

"Then you learn.  You learn that it hurt to lose.  Gonna do that again?"

"Not by choice!"

"Gonna make other choices, then, yes?  Gonna work harder, maybe smarter, maybe plan a leetle better for next term?  See about maximizing the work you do, make different priorities.  Change strategy."

"Yes . . . I can sit for an OWL again, and if I  . . ."  she trailed off, pondering how she would make next term work, how she could leverage her efforts for Slytherin.  Her fingers twitched in Totenberg's hand, and he quickly slid a piece of parchment and a quill into her hand as she began planning next term.

Next term, and a thousand points for Slytherin.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Feast Begins

Spike left the castle in a glowing daze, passing by students excitedly recounting their own adventures with the OWL examinations, some gleefully punching the air, eyes flashing; some quietly reciting, shoulder hunched, surrounded by friends who suggested things like "There's always next term, you'll do it next term."  She touched the badge pinned to her left shoulder over and over; each time for the first time.  I did it.  I took my first OWL -- and I passed it!  Slytherin's going to win the house cup during my first term here, and we will celebrate in the dungeons all night tonight.  In the morning, we'll board the train, trunks haphazardly packed, green sparkles in our hair, and every student will know that we've won.

She was through the Western gates, wandering through the grounds behind the castle.  The Forest loomed to her left, dense and impenetrable looking, but she knew it to be a deep glowing green place once you found your way inside. A dark place, to be sure, but it had its glades of light among the twists and gnarls of the old trees that jealously clutched at the sun and choked out any saplings that dared raise their heads.  It should be the bald knoll past the oak, she thought, with the wide path cut through the trees to where you can see the sun go down.  She picked one of the season's first bluebells sprouting, placed it in her hair.  The way grew steep, and she leaned into the hill,

When she reached the top, she looked around.  There was the solitary pine she remembered, a sole softwood in a forest of hard.  Some Herbology student, maybe.  Or professor Snape or whoever taught Potions before him, planning ahead for the rare occasion when they'd need a few needles, or some sap.  But this was indeed the place, and the first stars were twinkling low in the sky.

She held the corner of her chart in front of her, used it to start to orient herself to the sky.  So many hours staring into the heavens, I think I know all the stars by the names they sing to one another by now.  She was watching them come out as the sun faded, when an hand fell on her shoulder.

"Been looking for you," growled Dmitri.  "Whole House gone in to dinner.  Sent me to go find you.  End of Term Feast starting, you gonna wanna be there."

Spike gasped.  The Feast!  When they announced Slytherin's victory, and the House Cup changed hands, and the party afterwards!  She had forgotten, flushed with victory over winning her first OWL.  She ran back down the hills with only a brief parting glance at the sky. 

She was just barely in time to slip into a place at the table before Headmistress Wroxton took the podium.  She peered over half-moon spectacles at the shifting students at Slytheirn, narrow mouth folded tightly, but the tiniest glimmer of a smile pleated into the severe corners.  Wroxton had sorted Slytherin herself, Spike suddenly remembered.  Surely she'll do what she can to ensure the right House wins.

"Before we begin dinner, I would like to thank all of you for a most excellent term.  The scores between the Houses were close, very close indeed.  All of you should give yourselves a most hearty round of applause."  She paused, and when the students continued to wait, she began slowly clapping herself.  Gradually, Hufflepuff joined in, and soon the rafters of the Hall rang.  A few whistled or cheered, and the smile finally slipped its reins and Wroxton beamed down at her charges, finally motioning for silence.

“As I said, well played, all of you.  And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for.”  The green hangings from last term’s Slytherin victory shimmered, then turned violet, the color of Hogwarts unity.  All the staff’s robes were trimmed in purple, with the heads of house having their crest on the right breast.  Spike shifted uneasily at the loss of the familiar emerald and silver banners, but they’ll be back soon enough, she consoled herself.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

An OWL, Finally (Conclusion)

The waiting was nearly physically painful as the four staff members put their heads together, whispering.  Spike studied the skies overhead, trying to determine just how many silver stars there were among the green.  Some of the greens were brighter -- was that green, or silver?  Some were dimmer -- was that green, or just imagination?  How many points off for each one?  How many to failure?  She wished she knew more about the process.  Maybe I shouldn't have left my first OWL to chance.  I should have studied the requirements more thoroughly, made an informed and thoughtful choice based on my strengths.  I should have planned better.  She resolved to think it through in the future, not heedlessly rushing into an OWL with too many variables. 

The professors resumed their places in the semicircle.  Spike looked at their faces, but everyone had fixed their features in masks of firm neutrality.  Professor Gorre bent, and handed Spike back her star chart.  "We are pleased to announce," she paused, flicked her wand.  A table, resting on four impressively clawed feet appeared near the door.  On it rested a velvet cushion, and something that sparkled in the dim light, growing brighter as the scene vanished and the empty classroom surrounded them once more.  "That you have passed your OWL, Spike.  Well played.  Your first OWL, and we know the trouble you ran in to at mid-term.  But you found a way around it, and your chart is acceptable.  Please pick up your badge on the way out."  Gorre extended her wandless hand, and after a moment, Spike shook hands with her Head of House. 

The Gryffindor professor gave her a firm nod of approval with his handshake, Professor Randall swept her into an enveloping hug.  Professor Wildsmythe put her other hand on Spike's shoulder, giving it a squeeze.  "Nicely researched," she said.  "And you really do know how to throw a party."

"Thank you, Professors," she said, voice shaking a little.  One hundred and fifty points for Slytherin!  All my doing!  She could see the end of term feast, the pride in Gorre's eyes as she accepted the House Cup, Spike applauding her teammates, knowing that she had a hand in their victory, the envious glances of the rest of the Houses as Slytherin carried the Cup into the Pit to drink mojitos and Midori margueritas, and other green-tinted, exotic Muggle beverages from the Cup until dawn lit the waters of the lake above. 

She pinned the new badge to her robes (diamonds and emeralds, she noted, spinning slowly widdershins) and walked out of the hall, the doors opening easily to the touch now that the Examination was over. Treading her way back through the crowds, she made her way back to the Dungeon.

Totenberg looked up from the game of arima'a he was playing against Dmitri.  "Zo?"

She jumped into his lap, careful not to disturb the pieces.  "I did it!  I did it I did it I did it!!  I got my OWL!!"  She sat back just far enough to display the new brooch on her left shoulder.  "I got my OWL, and we're going to win for sure, and I can hardly wait for the feast to be called!  And to tell Atyets and Matya all about it, and I can hardly wait to come back and do it all over again! Next term!"

Totenberg laid a finger across her lips.  "Think you need to take a nice long walk," he suggested in his thick accent.  Spike blushed as she heard the echo of her words.  That was a longer speech than she'd heard Atyets make in meetings of state, where there was certainly more at stake than a trophy and a party. 

"You're right."  She got up, wrapped the star chart around her shoulders for a little extra warmth, and went out for a long walk on the moors to see if she could find the exact hilltop she had just spent a lifetime on a few minutes before.