Spike dressed for the winter weather behind her screen next to the fire. It was still dark, even though it was well past eight o'clock in the morning. She missed the summer, with the long lazy twilight hours that stretched around the clock. Back for winter break, she thought. Too bad it couldn't be summer holidays. She was looking forward to returning to Hogwarts in the south, with its earlier dawn and later sunset.
Two pairs of warm wool socks in her fur-lined boots (Always take care of you feet, she could hear Totenberg insisting as he dressed blisters on her heels one day. She had forgotten to break in a new pair of boots gently, instead choosing to go running over the hills in spring, drunk on the season like a young rabbit.) Fur-lined mittens over fingerless muffatees over half-fingered gloves. Surplice over the gown over the alepine next to her skin. A cloak over it all, and she was ready to go.
They walked quietly through the castle, the Hounds padding at her heels and sides in a watchful wedge. Even in her own halls, careful watch was kept over the heir to the Throne of Skulls (Although they hadn't actually used that throne in generations, Spike mused as the passed the audience chamber, turning to the left, and going down the stairs that would lead them out through the kitchens.
Once outside, the cold was a slap in the face, making Spike gasp for air, finding very little but the cold, dry, thinness, like breathing the stars themselves. She pulled the cloak tighter around herself. My blood's thinned, she thought, down in Scotland, down in the warmth and wet.
Totenberg took point to break the path, with Sascha behind him to trample it smoother. Spike in the middle where she could walk in their steps, and Dmitri behind her if she started to fall. They made their way over the grounds, through the gardens wreathed in ice, branches black and spare in the eerie half-light reflecting from the snow.
She knew where the stables were, of course, even though she didn't ride the bears, not yet. She was still too young and small to control them, Matya said, and Atyets agreed, although each year, he was slower and slower to come to Matya's point of view. One day, maybe even next year, she would be allowed up on one of the older, mellower steeds who had been allowed to age out of his teeth for just such training purposes. Claws blunted, saddled and bridled, tamed as much as anything with a wild heart could be.
They passed through the gate that separated the stables from the grounds, close but not too close. The stables were quiet under their icing of snow; she could almost hear ursine snoring as they slept for the winter.