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.