Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Second Chapter

49 Snail, 11 Rabbit, Hour of the Bear

What a year it has been.  I wonder that we made it through in one piece, wonder if the final dark is waiting in the corners about to fall as soon as the shock wears off and the pain sets in.

Time passes faster and faster each year.  I look at the Master and I still see a tiny mite in wee boots, still see his father and his father's father and his father's father's fathers in a line of homonculi, lifting their hands to be taken up on my shoulders.  A long cold line, the rulers of Schadelthron, and I pride myself on having served them well.

Once more, though, I find myself between Moloch and the manger.  I was not on patrol as Little Mistress took dinner with the Master, but I made sure to place one who would serve as my eyes and ears there.  I heard what was said, and equally importantly, what was not said between them. About the organization barely out of the egg, as it were, and about the role she played in deceiving those who would bring back the darkness. Spike, you  play a dangerous game with a man who could have written the rules in his own hand.

She spent the day with the doctor, mewed up in Wolfgang's laboratory from just past breakfast until I had to fetch her back for a quick bite before bedtime. Talking of double helices, of history, of blood and hair.  I understand the last well enough and have lived more than my fair share of history, but the shapes she described sounded like advanced Arithmancy to me.  Pure science, not something I could begin to grasp.  "Verra schtupeed monster, me."

She sleeps now, nestled in the down comforter and the snowy pile of pillows while I steal a moment here at her desk by the fire to write in this book that is never far from my heart.  No further than she is, truth be told.  I watch her sleep and I think I can see the future in the light of the flames.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Late for Dinner, Conclusion

The soup was served in individual tureens, thick beef broth redolent with onions, a perfect round of bread laden with cheese floating on the top to seal the heat in as it was brought out from the kitchens.  Even in the lazy balmy summer evening of the garden, the warmth was welcome, and Spike cupped her hands around the bowl for a moment.  Dinner at home, at last.  The food at Hogwarts was lovely, and there was plenty of it, but the kitchens couldn't compare to Matya's hand-picked staff.

Matya lobbed a graceful slowball in Spike's direction.  "So, Nischa, what have you been studying this past term?  How's school? What's your favorite class?"

She was ready for this.  Pushing all thoughts of the Order of the Phoenix Reborn out of her mind, she swallowed, smiled, and replied, "I'm taking Potions, of course."  Matya had been a dab hand at potions and its sister art of poisons.

"I've heard about the teacher -- is he as good as they say?"

"He's brilliant.  A little --"  She thought for a moment.  *How to sum up?*  The teaching team was fairly nice; but she wasn't sure if she wanted to continue with the Advanced Potions with the Great Bat of the Dungeons.

"Obsessed, more like.  He doesn't have room for anything but his craft."

"Mmmm.  The laboratory can be a jealous mistress."  She smiled sidelong at her husband, touching his hand briefly below the tablecloth.  "Speaking of obsessions -- how's Arithmancy?"

Spike stared into her soup bowl, searching for an answer in the dregs of onion.  "It's a little light," she finally sighed.  "There's not a lot offered beyond the basics and the OWL levels."

"That's not a bad thing," said Atyets firmly.  "Potions is a good, solid practical sort of magic.  Arithmancy . . ."  he let it trail off as he lowed his head, looking down his nose at her with ursine focus.

"I know you think it's a wild card," Spike said carefully.  He snorted.

"When a potion doesn't work, most of the time you just have no result.  A mess of goo.  Water in funny colors.  Arithmancy has been historically uneven, with results beyond expectations or utter disasters.  You should know this."

Spike blushed.  It was hard to be good at something; to have a talent that demanded exercise.  Like leashing one of the Hounds, you can only contain it with its willing cooperation -- and who knows how long that will last.  She set her spoon down, aligning it carefully with the bowl.

They covered History of Magic over the breaded fried sweetbreads, with Atyets's approval of the subject. "Good to see what mistakes others have made and learn from them.  Saves time."  Spike dared to mention that she was taking that subject up for her upcoming OWL, and added that she planned to consult with the good Doktor over the break.  Atyets quirked one curious eyebrow, his shaven head wrinkling with the motion.  "I could see with last term's OWL, why you would want his input, but for History?  He's been around for a good long time, but I'm not sure he'd make a good interview subject."

Spike smiled a little.  "Oh, it's not his memories I'm interested in, but his knowledge once more."

"And that's all you're going to tell us?"  Matya's eyes twinkled, scenting mischief.

"It's kind of an experiment," Spike said, slowly.

"And is Hogwarts aware of this little 'kind of' an experiment?"

"Oh, I'll fill them in when I do my OWL."  When it's completely done, assuming everything goes according to calculation.  And if the good Docktor can help out the way I think he can.  She kept her face carefully arranged in pleasant neutrality.

The blood orange and pineapple sorbet was brought, and lasted nearly as long as the discussion of Divination, with Atyets making a moue of disgust and sighing that he supposed she ought to be exposed to the practice, but she wasn't to start mooning over tea leaves.

The debate grew livelier over beef heart stroganoff and Muggle Studies.  Spike gently argued that Atyets himself often said that knowledge of one's enemy -- "Or at least, uneasy and unwitting allies," she amended carefully was hardly the foolish waste of time he was proclaiming it to be.  "The Muggles may one day be the thin line between . . . " she pretended to be concealing an indelicate noodle before the words "Death Eater" could escape.  They'll want to know more about why that groups is on my mind, and no amount of pretended fascination with History of Magic and the Wizarding Wars is going to get me out of that.

"Remember the Burning Times, dear."  It was entirely possible that Matya had some firsthand knowledge of that era, perhaps as a very young child.  "The Muggles encroach further and further as they spread.  There will come a time when we will need to live openly side by side with them."

"So do the rabbits," growled Atyets.  "That doesn't mean I will gladly throw the garden gates open and invite them to warren in the halls."

But her diplomacy was for naught; when the truffled creme brulee appeared in delicate ramikins, she closed with Defense Against the Dark Arts . . . which lead into a discussion of why such a study would be necessary.  "A good offense, and all that," commented Atyets as he broke the carmelized crust with quick neat blows of his spoon.

"So I would think that you'd be in agreement with Wroxton's choice to teach the Arts as a practical course," argued Spike, emboldened.  "To be able to use not only the counter-curses, but to have familiarity with the curses themselves, some experience in creating them, in finding the correct frame of mind to truly mean your intent . . ."  She trailed off under the weight of his stare.

"And that is why teaching as a practical at this age is a poor choice."

"It's not like I'm in danger--"

"Not physically; I'll grant you that." A quick smile flashed on his lips and vanished.  Was that truly a year off his life, of just a day? Spike wondered.  "But with the young and impressionable ones . . . there's a glamour to the darkness.  You've seen what happens when the dogs wander by the hatching pens when the ducklings are coming out of the shell."

"Sure; sometimes the ducklings follow the poor dog around, peeping for food."

"And those ducklings will never learn to swim or fly unless someone steps in and re-directs them.  These Death Eaters -- the masks, the brands --"  he shook his head, snapping the neck of that thought.  "Sheep are branded.  Cattle are branded; slaves are branded. Skulls and snakes.  Dark Marks indeed. They announce that you, the individual, are nothing to them; simply a means to an end.  That they will use you until they have used you up, all in the name of feeding your desire to feel as if you belong to something bigger and grander than yourself.  That is what concerns me; that you will fall into lockstep with these wizards and not be able to find your way out."  He crumpled his napkin, pushing dessert away half-eaten.

Dinner was over, and Spike had some disturbing new thoughts about the Order of the Phoenix Reborn.  A coin may have two sides, she thought, but they are bound together just the same.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Late for Dinner, Part Two

Spike raced down the stairs, robes clutched in both hands to avoid an embarrassing fall.  *I can't wait until I'm of age to Apparate,* she thought, dismally.  She glanced over the balustrade.  *I might be able to jump it,* she thought, *skip these last couple of flights and save a few seconds.*  She thought better of it, remembering a sprained ankle that had hobbled her for weeks as a younger child the third or fourth time she had tried to save those seconds.  *I'm late anyway, more or less doesn't really matter.*

With that thought, she reached the bottom of the stairs in time to meet Waterhouse's gently disapproving look.  "You were expected in the west garden--"

"Several minutes ago.  I know."  He always made her feel about three years old, with one hand in the cookie jar and chocolate smears on her pinafore.  She took a deep breath, trying for the poise that always seemed to come naturally to Matya.  She shook her robes out so they fell properly around her boot tops.  "I should like a moment to put my hair back in order; kindly let them know that I apologize for being tardy . . . and . . ." She withered under the increased weight of his stare.  "Right."  Meekly, she crossed to the wicket door set in the much larger egress and opened it.

They had shoveled the show that afternoon, and it had been a clear evening; only a dusting of powder lay on the flagstones.  *It's been a wet winter,* Spike noted with approval, tucking her hands into her robes for heat.  The piled drifts lining the walkway were taller than her head.  Through the moon gate across the inner garden, she could see the lights glittering on the snow in the western garden, the warm glow of candles, the sparkling of the charmed crystals hanging in the trees.  Atyets's back was to her, the gold embroidery across the yoke of his tunic gleaming.

She crossed from darkness into light; from winter into the perpetual summer of the west garden.  Hummingbirds and cardinals mingled like living jewels in the air, some clinging close to the light and blossoms, others flying out into the evening in search of cooler air and berries standing out against the snow.  Spike made her graces to her parents as one of the footmen pulled her chair out for her.

"Good of you to join us," Atyets observed dryly, softly.  His voice was always soft and dry, it was his words that cut.  Spike blushed and looked at her empty plate, the silverware arranged on three sides.  "Tell me, is time management on the roster for next term?"

"Now, Pavel."  Matya, gently chiding, from Spike's left hand.  "She's here now."  She unfolded the snowy bear of her napkin, giving it a crisp shake before spreading it over her lap.  Startled birds fluttered, wheeled, then settled, watching beady-eyed for crumbs from the table.  Atyets grunted, acknowledging the point, then followed suit.

The pavane of dinner had begun.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Late for Dinner, Part One

Dimo stood quietly at Spike's elbow, waiting for her to surface from the sea of crumpled parchment and ink. He had thought that the pounding at the door would have caught her attention, but she was deep in the depths of inspiration.  She had sat down at her desk earlier that morning, in the dark with a single candle lighting her way. The sun had briefly shown its face and now it was nearly time to re-light the stub once more.

He coughed, once, and she looked up at last, frowning as the wheels slowly turned.  "There was someone at the door," she said, slowly.

"Yah.  One of you mother's footmen."

"What did he want?"

"Message from her ladyship.  Dinner in the west garden tonight."

"Dinner?  We haven't had lunch yet."  Wordlessly, Dimo indicated the cold covered tray that Spike had shoved to the side as soon as it touched the table.  She lifted the cover to discover congealed chicken and dumplings gone soggy in the thick broth.  Condensation dripped from the underside of the lid where the steam had gone back to water.  She made a face, setting it back down before it could drip on the list she had been pondering.  Hair, clothes, toothbrushes if possible . . . and from historic figures no less.  Going to be hard to convince the staff that I'm not looking to work some very dark and forbidden magic indeed.  

"You not gonna eat dat . . ."

Shuddering, Spike replied, "Oh, it's all yours."  Dimo grinned his thanks, then lit the candle on Spike's desk. Instead of setting it back down, though, he used the stub to light the lanterns around the room, then stood by the wardrobe.

"Come on, Dimo, I need that to see," Spike complained.  As she started to get up, her feet tingled, and she sat back down abruptly as the tingling became throbbing as the circulation started back up.  "How long -- no, don't answer that."  She rubbed her hand, which was cramped and stiff from holding the quill.  Have I really been at this all day?

"Can see the clock now? Can see you gonna be late?  Can see it's time to dress right about --"  The dinner gong rang. "--oh, fifteen minutes ago?"

"Why didn't you tell me?"  Spike tossed off her outer robes, flying to the wardrobe and rummaging for something clean and appropriate to wear to her first night home.

"Did," he replied, putting the candle down and helping her change into the heavy formal black on black brocade.  "Told you an hour ago; you said five more minutes.  Told you half an hour ago, you said ten more minutes.  Told you five minutes ago, you said just a minute more, you was almost there."

She remembered him saying something to her, and saying something in return.  It could have been a plea for just a little longer, maybe.  Then again, it could really have been anything.  She had been hot on the heels of an Idea, a plan for next term's OWL that would knock their socks off.  "Right, right," she sighed.  Maybe I should issue standing orders to physically interrupt me the second time I ask for just a minute more -- to pick me up and move me in the direction I should be headed.  She thought about the possible consequences of giving such an order.  Er, maybe not.  That's how the great deserts became so empty, after all, one person insisting that there be no more grass to stain his boots.  "Just help me get there before they call out the guard."

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Wood and Water

Spike pulled her boots on just as the gong rang.  Running late again, she thought irritably.  She took a fleeting glance in the mirror, shook her head at the state of her hair.  No time for it.  She tied it in a bun, jabbing her wand in to hold it in place as she trotted to the line of Snakes getting ready to troop up to the Great Hall for the end of term feast.

She wasn't in much of a hurry; she remembered the last term's feast.  Last.  Dead last.  Behind Hufflepuff, even.  She had hoped that Headmistress Wroxton would find some way to grant Slytherin enough bonus points for especial cunning, points for plotting and planning, --"For biting off just barely as much as she could chew, 200 points to Nikolevnischka "Spike" von Schaedelthron!" And then the banners would change to green and silver again, and Slytherin would have won.  But we didn't.

Atyets hadn't been particularly pleased, but neither had he been as angry as Spike had suspected.  It's as if what Totenberg said was true, that he intended I learn what it was to lose, and find some determination not to be defeated again.  To figure out what it would take to achieve victory, and then do it, not just to plan big or dream big -- but to do big.  She stopped in her tracks, and the firstie behind her nearly walked into her back. To do big. Well, and she had done big this term, hammering out her Care of Magical Creatures OWL, even though it had had a mind of its own.  The monster was in a special cage in the Owlery, with a fireproof coverlet to keep it calm and quiet. *I wonder if it's figured out how to use its tentacles to pull the cover off yet?  I wonder if it's managed to figure out how to pick the lock on the cage, yet?

She had created seven fauxcruxes, and had been prepared to hide them throughout the castle, if the Order of the Phoenix hadn't cancelled the mission at the last moment.  Learned a lot, doing that. She'd received a history of the Hounds as part of her education, not one taught at Hogwarts, but imparted by one of her bodyguards.  She'd learned more of her role as the Little Mistress.  It's been a good year.  She hurried to close the gap between her and the back in front of her.

They filed into the Great Hall with the purple and white hangings.  At least they're not blue and bronze.  If they couldn't be the colors of her House, at least they weren't the colors of another.  House Unity -- hanging together in the face of a common enemy.  Belvina Pascoe was already seated with the rest of Ravenclaw, her amethyst pendant winking in the candlelight.  Spike caught the Phoenix Operative's eye and nodded once.  Belvina reached up to adjust her cap in what might have been a tiny salute, the merest hint of a wave.

Slytheirn was the last to enter, based on their House standings from last term, made to enter under the eyes of all the other Houses, the literal last to the feast.  Spike took a deep breath, smelling the good scents of roast meat, sauces, bread, vegetables, the sugary hints of dessert to come and crusts browning.  Is it harder to be first, to sit here and wait for the rest to assemble, and then for the Headmistress's Address, or to be last, to have everyone eyeing you and waiting for you to finally take your seats so the thing can start?  She hoped to be able to compare the two extremes next term.

At long last, Wroxton took the podium, shuffling through bits of parchment. "Well, here we are again," she beamed.  "Another term gone by, and I know you are all just as anxious as I am to tuck into the lovely feat the House Elves have prepared.  But first, the standings.

"In fourth place, with a valiant 35,898 points – Gryffindor!"  Spike applauded politely with the rest of the students, secretly relieved that it wasn't her house this time.  Three more though, and only one of those really counts.

"In third place, with 40,883 points – Hufflepuff!  Good effort, Hufflepuff."  The Badgers clapped each other on the backs and exchanged hugs around the table.

"It was a close one this term.  With 42,034 points, I give you – Ravenclaw!!"  The 'Claws didn't look so happy as that, but nodded wisely.  Spike could almost see the wheels turning as the students began to mentally sort their projects and begin polishing plans for next year.  An extra class here, a slightly larger project there, a more achievable OWL or NEWT.  Something that would let them complete their Advanced Studies for the extra points, and yet take more than the one class required of all students.  Wait.  Does that mean-- She held her breath.

"And that, of course means, that in first place, the winners of the House Cup, with 45,957 points, I give you the most noble and ambitious House of Salazar Slytherin!"  Bursts of emerald and silver light flared above the tables as the tapestries turned to green and silver, the serpent emblem proudly emblazoned.

Now she'll take it away, thought Spike, She'll award enough points for something or other to one of the other Houses.  To Gryffindor, probably.  But no, the Headmistress was walking back to her seat, smiling and nodding to the Heads of House at the main table.  Professor Gorre was accepting congratulations from her peers. It was real; Slytherin had won the House Cup.

"I thought it would feel . . . different, somehow," Spike confessed that night as she climbed into bed and Totenberg pulled the covers over her.  "I thought winning would feel like the opposite of losing.  The after party was nice; don't get me wrong!"  she added in a hurry.  The Pit had been jumping most of the night, drinking butterbeer from the House Cup before placing it on the mantle and casting a mass Sticking Charm.  The charm would be undone by Professor Gorre in the morning, of course, but it was still nice to think they could hang on to it forever and ever.  "I just thought there'd be more there to it."

"Winning and losing is both temporary," Totenberg reminded her.  "Hurts to lose, but brings you back with more determination, yah?  Winning the same -- feels good, and brings you back . . ."

"With more determination.  Yeah."  She thought about it for a moment.  "Yeah.  I think . . ." she yawned.  "I think I'll need to go and talk to Herr Scherblocken when we get back home. He was a lot of help with my OWL this term, and if we're going to keep it, I'll need to be on my game."

"Wait -- de Scherblocken??  Spike?"  But she was already drifting off to sleep.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Loyalty, Unity, Confusion

Later that night she laid them out on her bed.  Tilted her head this way and that.  Added the purple squares she had created for classes that term in among them.  Loyalty, unity, and confusion to the enemy, she thought.  Totenberg came and stood at her elbow, laid one hand on the Slytherin star, traced the linked rings of Hufflepuff.

"Could do worse," he said, "than to sleep under a piece of your soul, yah?"

Spike thought about it.  In all the stories, wizard placed bit of their souls in majestic and important things -- the eggs of firebirds, cloven pines on lonely mountaintops, even Voldemort had fallen for the idea of creating his Horcruxes in glamorous, historically important items so that the wizard finding them would be tempted on several levels not to destroy such a venerated object.  Almost worked with Dumbeldore, too, she thought.  Tempted to keep the Horcrux whole, just for the value of thing itself, then tempted to use it for his own ends when it began to whisper.  Would have been the death of him, either physically -- or turned him to the dark, with a withered hand.

"It wouldn't look like such a much," she mused aloud, "Just a little Second Year's security blanket, made by loving hands at home.  Kept for sentimentality's sake."  She glanced up sidewise at her bodyguard.  "I think you may have something there, Totenberg."

A few wand movements later, the thing was conjoined and bound into one.

Spike vowed to keep it close, as a remembrance of this term, and a lesson in power learned.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Crashing and Burning

The match was thrilling, as always, and very close, but Hufflepuff managed to squeak out a  win over Gryffindor, by seventy-nine points.  They're getting good, Spike thought.  For a moment she was concerned about Slytherin's chances with the Quidditch Cup that term, but shook it off.  You have more to think about than just Quidditch, she reminded herself, like that little "victory party" in the Room of Requirement.

By thinking hard about how she needed to find Philandra and explain why she hadn't been in touch -- but how she had managed to create all seven faux Horcruxes!-- she found her way to the Room and waited quietly for the rest of the Order to turn up.  They trickled in by ones and twos, quiet and subdued, even the Hufflepuff contingent.

Philadra was last.  "So, she said, sitting down wearily and pulling off her pads.  "I've already heard everyone else's reports, why don't you fill me in, Spike?"  She listened as Spike explained the series of small deaths and sentimental objects that had been transfigured into something that appeared to magical senses as Horcruxes.

"I finally completed the series," she said, almost as tired as Philandra appeared.  "So I'm ready to start scattering them as soon as you give the word.  Ah, presuming you didn't already give it -- doing the Horcruxes put me a little behind on the OWL, so I had to make up for lost time . . . and . . ." she trailed off, suddenly feeling the stares of the other students gathered around her.  "Am I too late?"

The look on Philandra's face was painfully familiar to Spike; she'd often seen it on the face of one of her professors.  Not sure whether to be delighted with the power of her magic, or dismayed at the expression it had chosen.  "Spike, hon, I think you're the only one who actually completed ANY of the horcruxes.  And you say you made all seven?"  Spike blushed and nodded, looking at the floor.

"I called everyone back a couple of weeks ago to call the experiment off.  Didn't you see the flashing -- no, of course not."

Hecuba chimed in, "It was just too much for us, so we were going to focus on more achievable tasks  from here out.  Not fight dark with darker, but with single candles.  I couldn't seem to find you in the common room, so I thought . . ."

"You thought I'd backed out?" Spike was incredulous and furious.

"You're a Second Year.  You're the youngest student here.  Be reasonable, what would you have thought?"

"All right," she replied, conceding the point.  But what am I going to do with the Fauxcruxes?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Phoenix Reborn, Part Seven

"It can wait till tomorrow,"  Totenberg growled, as is certainly looked like his little mistress was going to run up the stairs despite the late hour.  Fifteen minutes to lights out, and she'd be climbing the spinning staircases to get to Gryffindor Tower, pounding on the door and yelling for Duntisborne.  Never thinking that at best it would look like a duel being called--and what kefluffle that would cause!  Hope she learn some sense of subtlety and proportion -- and may the gods grant that it be soon.

"She'll be worried --"

"She know that if a student go missing, it be all over the grapevine.  She know that if you go over to the other side--"  at her aghast expression, he spelled it out.  "You on one side, have to be at least one other.  If you go over to the other side, then too late to do anything about it now.  So!  Can wait till breakfast."

Breakfast seemed to take an eternity to come, but the gong finally rang, and Spike got into line to go down to the Great Hall, with the pin firmly fastened to the band of her hat.  She figured that was the easiest explanation; that she'd attached it to her hat and then hadn't seen it go off, there up on top of her head.  Sure enough, she had sat down in the middle of a mob of green when Philandra came over, dressed in Quidditch robes.

"There you are," she caroled gaily, pausing to take a scone from the tower in the middle of the table.  "Hadn't seen you around for a bit -- going to the big match this Wednesday?"

Stalling for time, Spike sipped her pumpkin juice.  "Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff, isn't it?  Winner plays Slytherin?  Wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Good!  I'll look forward to seeing you in the stands, then, and at the victory party after, right?"  The look in Philandra's eyes made it clear that the "victory party" would have precious little to do with the outcome of the match -- or indeed, with Quidditch at all.

"You bet!"  Spike hoped her smile looked more convincing than it felt.  "I just have some  . . . Transfiguration homework to attend to before then."  She hoped the spin she put on "Transfiguration" would be enough of a signal.

"Mmmm.  Homework is important; but I'd really appreciate your being there.  Try not to be too late."

Sunday, November 03, 2013

A Phoenix Reborn, Part Six

"Passed you OWL, huh?  Atyets be proud of you."

Spike flashed a weary handsign from where she sprawled in the chair.  "Atyets, maybe, no so sure about the doctor."  She waved at her project, flying lazy circles, executing an occasional barrel roll to hiss and flail its wingpit tentacles at the giant squid, who was turning to examine it with one slit-pupilled eye the size of a dinner plate and then the other.  "At least it looks like an owl.  Mostly.  If you ignore the tail."

"Is a rough draft.  Practice for next term, yah?"

"Mmmm.  Yeah, I have some refinements in mind.  I'll want to run them past Wolfie --"


"Herr Doktor Wolfgang, the sherblocker, the bonecutter."

"Yah, but  . . . Wolfie?"  One creeping eyebrow of suspicion and mistrust.  "Awful familiar."

"He's not so bad."

Dimo's silence was eloquent. "So.  OWL all good, even by the skin of you teeth.  What about dot  . . . thing we agree never to mention out loud?"

Spike sat bolt upright in her chair.  She'd had to throw every waking moment not actually spent in class into her OWL to pull it off; she hadn't thought about the Order in . . . well, weeks, honestly.  She hadn't been wearing her pin, it was just one more thing to keep track of, and remembering to comb her hair and put on a semi-clean robe each morning was about all she had room in her head for.  She'd go to bed just ahead of final bedcheck, then sneak back out to the lab, work most of the night, then get up early to keep going before the gong rang for breakfast.  Where had she put the thing?

The last time I saw it, I was  . . .  She got up, began turning papers over on her desk, scanning notes and laying them in three piles, one to transcribe verbatim into her grimoire, one to glean from and refine later, one to burn soonest.  She had hit naked wood in several places before she turned it up, and groaned softly.


She held it up.  The stones were flashing and winking, lights chasing each other around the brooch.  "I wonder how long Philandra's been calling me?"

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Minds of Their Own

Spike staggered in from the mews, singed and tattered, wearing a dragonhide glove on one hand. On that wrist rode a rather ordinary looking owl, blinking sleepily in the daylight. Spike dropped into an oversized green velvet armchair. The owl flapped its wings to stay balanced, hissing irritably. The dorsal side of its wings were feathered, but the underside was leathery and lightly furred.  A questing tentacle pushed out into the open air, flailed for purchase, then tucked itself back away under the wing joint.

Spike tossed her wrist, and the owl glared before it launched itself to circle the glass ceiling. The giant squid swam closer to take a look. Trailing behind the owl was a scaly tail with a spade tip, lashing as if the bird were swimming through the air.

Spike sighs, rubs her temples. “It’s finally done. My Care of Magical Creatures OWL is finally complete.”  She had spend every spare second of the last few weeks, forgoing sleep and meals as she worked feverishly to breathe life into her creation.  A nice change, after the horcruxes, she thought, watching the beast soar.  Still, things could have been better -- I could have done better.  Should have done better; Herr Scherblocken is likely to remind me of that when I go home between terms.  

“I can see that!” Marvella, the Slytherin OWL Enforcer, beamed as she hung her whip back on her belt. “And it’s not even the end of the month!” She squinted as the beast came to rest on the fanged skull atop the bookshelf, coiling its tail carefully around its legs. “But is it supposed to look like that?”

The owl yawned, displaying jagged fangs like a drawer full of ivory fishooks, then belched flames before closing its eyes and settling its feathers. Spike shrugged.

Sometimes they have minds of their own,” she replied.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Favor Asked, Conclusion

"Lot to ask for," said Totenberg, but he was pulling the ring off and offering it to her as he did.

"You asked for a lot, too."

The Hounds' Rings were an old tradition that had fallen out of favor.  Originally they had been made from the gold in a single coin, beaten and twisted into a plain ring to fit the newly transformed Hound's hand.  Worn on the left hand in place of a wedding band, effectively married into the service.  *Somewhere between a Muggle's "king's shilling" and a Muggle nun's wedding band,* Spike mused as she set the four rings on the table.  She had begged for a pretty ring like the ones her guard wore when she was small, and Totenberg had proudly presented her with one the WinterFeast where she had turned six.  She'd worn the band ever since, starting on her forefinger and moving along her hand to her pinkie as she grew, finally hanging it on a chain when even her smallest finger proved too large.  She'd thought to pass that down to a daughter one day, but it seemed like it would need to serve a different purpose.

Four rings on the table, carefully interlocked.  A few words, the gestures had been made, and all that was left--Totenberg grabbed her wrist and stopped her just as she was about to prick her finger.  "All of us," he growled.

And it was done.

For  some reason, Spike had been expecting lightning and thunder, something big and dramatic to signal the completion of the task, but there was nothing.  Not even a change in the lighting -- except for the purple flare in the corner.

"What's that?"  Sascha asked, edging a little closer to her.  Spike groped at her left shoulder, realizing something was missing and had been for some time.

"My brooch," she said.  "I wondered where that went off to, but with one thing and another, well, I just hadn't had time to look for it."  She dug through the pile of papers in the corner, tossing sheets of notes and crumpled wads out of the way.  *I wonder what all I've missed.*  She was going to have to make a point of casually bumping into Hecuba in the next day or two.

"So.  Done now?"

"Yeah.  All seven horcruxes -- faux horcruxes -- made and ready to place."  Spike yawned, suddenly aware of how very late it was.

"Good.  Good to be done with big project," Totenberg agreed, pointedly eyeing the covered cage in the corner.  "Good to get some sleep so you can work on OWL tomorrow, yes?  Going to have to burn the oil at midnight in order to get that done before the end of the term."

Spike sighed and nodded.  *Hecuba was going to have to wait.  Ah well, if it was anything really important, she would have found a way to let me know.*

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Favor Asked, Part Two

"So what would you have of me?"

"We know what you doing."  Her heart sank, and for a moment, the world went grey at the edges.  I swore an oath  . . . what's going to happen now?

"I don't see how."  Playing for time.  Praying for time.

"Not down to the details, but 'nuff."  Dmitri gestured at the covered cage in the corner.  "You OWL being neglected, you studies going by the wayside -- all the late nights alone down here."

"What you Atyets say, we let you fail this term?  Let you drop you OWL?"  Totenberg's voice was gentle, just as Atyets's would be when he lectured her about responsibility and disappointment in words that cut and stung.  "Think he be happy?"

She shook her head.

"Not with you -- less with us."  It was as if he was musing aloud to himself.  "You the heir to the chair, he can't spare you.  Us?  We disposable.  Send us off to keep the peace in the north 's best can be done, replace us with magickers, mebbe.  Can you imagine?"

She could.  It would be like living in a circle of Hogwarts staff; people concerned with rules and regulations and making certain they were followed to the letter.  Like living with Umbridge in loco parentis.  A half-dozen Umbridges.  "So what do you want?"

"Be part of this.  This project you do. Give what help we can so you can get done with this t'ing and move on.  Said you had big plans for next term's OWL; using this one as a proving ground.  What you gonna prove if it falls apart, not because is bad idea, but because you got--"  he held up one hand, palm open and empty, gave half a shrug --"distracted?"  The Hounds' ring on his third finger gleamed in the light, and Spike stared at it, an idea for this, the last Horcrux, slowly taking shape.

"All right.  You each know a piece of what's going on, and if I know you, you've already put your heads together and figured out most of the rest."

"Horcruxes."  The word was flat in his mouth, devoid of the resonance a wizard always said it with, whether loathing or longing.

"Right.  We're -- and no, I can't tell you who, but that's not really important -- trying to make some other group -- and they don't matter either -- believe that Voldemort or someone with the same kind of raw power has risen again to carry on the work started all those years ago.  I wanted to re-create the original seven, and I'm done.  Almost.  I'm here at the last one, the one for Hufflepuff's Cup."  She took a deep breath, slumping with the release of her secret.

"So.  We help.  How?"

"Well, Hufflepuff.  They're about teamwork, about gritting through the hard task and seeing all the way through.  They're loyal, open, accepting, bonded.  'The yellow and black pack attack,' right?  You never see just one Hufflepuff, they're always with at least one other person, and they're really comfortable with all the students -- I even see a couple in the Pit now and again!" She thought about her first Horcrux, the recreation of Gaunt's Ring.  Going to have to do this.  She reached behind her head, and pulled off the necklace that had hung there ever since she outgrew the tiny ring dangling from the chain.  Puddled it in one hand.

"So I need something sentimental, something with meaning and history.  I can't just use magic to turn this one into the four I need; that won't carry over the same way that the Cup would.  It wouldn't have the vibrations of many diverse things coming together."  She looked at each of them in turn.  "I'm going to have to ask for your Hounds' Rings."

Sunday, October 06, 2013

A Favor Asked

Spike picked up her coffee mug looking for inspiration at the bottom.  It was empty, cold and dry, and she set it back down with a sigh.  I could call a House Elf . . . but then I'd have to explain what I was doing here at this hour.  They keep watch for the staff, you know they do.  Perhaps I've actually had too much coffee, if I'm thinking this way*  She pushed her stool back from the workbench, stretching muscles gone aching from the hours she'd spent hunched over the last horcrux.  Hufflepuff's cup.  Gold and black.  Teamwork, hard work lightened by good cheer and many hands.  I have to cram all that into  . . . something, something and seal that with a little death and blood.

"No, they don't ask much, do they?"  She started pacing the floor again as Nagini watched from atop the cage of mice.  "I wonder how the other operatives are doing with this assignment?  If only I could ask around, find out some pointers from more advanced students.  But just the act of asking would probably be enough to tip the staff off that something was afoot."

Someone tapped at the door, and she whirled to give the bench a quick once-over.  Seeing nothing obviously incriminating there, she called her visitor in.  Maybe a break was what she needed, she'd been at it every waking hour that could be stolen away from studies and OWL.

Totenberg stood in the door.  He had removed his hat, and held it in one hand.  Spike blinked.  They never take their hats off -- well, to scratch their heads, maybe.  She wasn't sure of the significance, but they'd go barefoot through the snow before they went bare-headed in good weather.  "Is good time?"  She could just see Dimo and Sascha lurking behind him.  All three of them together?

She shrugged.  "Sure."  Well, and why not?  Now was no worse than any other time.

He came in, and Sascha closed the door behind them.  No one left to guard the corridor.  It must be important.  "We you loyal minions, yah?"

"Since the day I was born."  She'd heard the stories, how when she came into the world, Totenberg's were the fourth hands to hold her -- the midwife, her mother, her father, and then the captain of her father's personal guard.

"As you minions, we come to ask a boon."

She'd heard people plead with her father with that kind of formal language before, and he'd never refused to grant that favor, assuming it was in his power to do so.  Sometimes it took some work behind the scenes, many whispered meetings, but it was always fulfilled.  She'd asked once why, and he'd told her that when you took responsibility for holding someone else's life in yours, you did what you had to do for them.  It hadn't made much sense to her, until she saw what he expected of his vassals and minions -- everything, with nothing held back for the return.  It balances.  The right hand, and the left.  Now her left hand was asking a favor of the right.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Dusty and Purple

Hogwarts had arranged for a field trip -- Finally, a chance for the underclassmen to get to explore the world! Spike had thought when they first announced the trip in her History of Magic class.  Now, however, in the field, she was having second thoughts.  It seemed that the upperclassmen, upon returning to the Pit, had carefully edited their adventures, leaving in only the best bits and taking out some of the grotty details, like the heat and the-- she sneezed -- the dust.  Pyramids. Handy for sharpening razor blades, but otherwise-- Spike sneezed again. Dirty, dingy dust-traps. Why don’t they have house-elves? Oh, right, there are some things even a house-elf won’t touch.

The walls of the glorified tomb pressed in close and closer. Even the decorations’ glowing colors in the light of her wand failed to inspire. Down here, the dark eats the light. I can look at the art, which is what we’re here to see, or I can look where I’m going-- “Ouch!” Her ankle twisted as she set her high-heeled boot down on a pebble.

She sat down quickly, rubbing the sore joint. Picking up the pebble, she took a closer look by the light of her wand tip.

Huh. It’s a pretty little thing--too bad it’s broken. She tucked it absently in a pocket in her robes. Standing up, she rejoined the group.

Later that night, she put it atop a white lace doily on her nightstand. Violet was a favorite color of hers, lush and soothing.

When she woke the next morning, the figurine was missing! And the doily had changed from silvery-white to several shades of violet.

“What the--”

Then the three-legged cat with a human face hobbled into the room, and it all became clear.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Antidotes and Complications

Spike stared at the instructions on the board in dismay. Create a complex antidote. Lovely. She sighed, flipped open her book, and stuck her wand into her hair to hold it all back up off her face. All right. Part of the problem is mixing the ingredients. I haven’t been blending finely enough, and stirring in the right order is tricky. If only I had ekletrickity, like in Advanced Muggle Studies. I could use a blenderizer, like we did for those frozen drinks at the beach party … She stopped dead in the act of reaching for the powdered boomslang skin. A blenderizer

Swiftly she combined all forty-six ingredients in the cauldron, setting the flame underneath to bring it to a slow simmer. Now, deiseil twice, widdershins once, then once, then twice, then three times, then once, once, twice, finishing once deiseil, then reversing direction but not number. Got it. She grabbed her wand from her hair, murmured ”Revuelvo,” and dropped it into the cauldron, where it sank to the bottom and began to spin. Clockwise, anticlockwise, then reversing around again.

Yay for Muggle Studies! thought Spike, as she began to tidy her bench.

All was going well until Drusilla asked Spike to pass the unicorn warts. “Is it supposed to be that color?” Dru hissed under her breath. Spike looked down, with sinking heart. The potion was willow green with streaks of color floating through it like ribbons. “How--?”

Spike touched her hair and found … her wand holding up her heavy bun. “Oh, bloody …” She had dropped her hairstick into the potion, and the Little Gods only knew what that had done to the complex antidote. Worse, here came Professor Halliwell, ready to check her work.

Thaddeus sniffed at the vapors.

“Nettle extract, sea buckthorn oil, nice, very nice. Ground pearl, unicorn hair, uhmmm hmmm. Willow … not willow bark, the actual wood. Interesting choice. And is that … yes, I think so. Glass and copper. The copper I understand, but the glass, Spike?”

“For … unification. And clarity.”

He raised one eyebrow. “And?”

Spike racked her brains. There was something else glass did that was important … got it. “For flow even in stasis.”

“Fifteen points to Slytherin. Well done.” The professor moved on, and Spike retrieved her hair stick from the cauldron. ”Evanesco,” she hissed, and the goo came away leaving the stick clean.

But when she took it out of her hair that night, the glass finial was nowhere to be seen. Instead, tiny copper branches supported tinkling green crystal leaves that chimed together softly.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Friend's Words

Spike sat in the lab, thinking.  Two more faux Horcruxes to create, and then the project is through; I can send Nagini to disperse them through the castle.  In front of her lay a scrap of parchment, written on both sides.  She was now to the point of turning it ninety degrees and writing over her old notes in her hurried half-uncil scrawl.  It wouldn't do to have this fall into the wrong hands; the fewer pieces of paper she needed to track, burn, and Vanish the ashes, the better.

At the top, she had started a bulleted list under the header "What Makes a Diary."  Memories, obviously, memories, plans, dreams.  The habit of doing it every day, that has a certain magic to it. The things we do for reasons of our own.  The evolution of plots and plans as we write them down.  She sighed, rubbed her temples.

"One would think this would be an easy one," she mused to Nagini, who blinked at her words.  Spike wished she could teach the slug to blink in code -- left for no and right for yes, even.  I'm to the point of asking a slug for advice.  It must be bad.  "The thing is," she continued, "while I have all kinds of notes to myself on scraps and bits, and I have some that are from before I even went to Durmstrang the first time, none of them really qualify as a diary.  They're just . . . notes to myself.  If they contain plotting and planning, it's because I needed to unpack them out of my head and see if they were workable or not.  I just did them when it was too loud to think about anything else.  There's no . . . consistency, no energy from the daily attention and care that goes into a diary."

Spike got up to pace; she thought better on her feet sometimes.  Nagini watched her from the top of the workbench, safely away from her boots tapping on the flagstones.  "I've tried keeping journals before, tried to write words every day about what was going on; tried to create images and words to evoke my week, thought it would be a good thing to have something tracking where i was and what I thought, but they always seem to devolve into what I ate for lunch.  Or fall apart entirely.  Then I'd burn them to get the energy back, and now . . . now I wish I had one.  I'd gladly sacrifice it to complete the set.

"I could ask . . . could ask Totenberg for one of his old journals, but that's like asking for his heart.  He'd give it to me gladly, but  . . . but."  She stopped, pondering.  This must be one of the hard parts of being the Mistress.  She'd watched enviously as her father gave orders that were obeyed without question, waiting for the day when she would have loyalty that she could call on like that.  She'd never stopped to consider the Master's share of the cost, of knowing you were asking someone to do themselves harm to serve your ends. "Spend them carefully, Spike," he'd said to her more than once as the chamber cleared after a quick discussion with the generals, where he'd given the Hounds orders that were received with hardly more than a nod and salute.  Muttering outside the door broke her reverie, and she quickly tucked the parchment scrap into her robes, grabbed a mouse from the cage, and quickly and sloppily Transfigured it into a teacup with whiskers and a tail, to explain why she was here in the lab so late.

"Come in!"  No need to fake the frustration in her voice, let them blame it on the cupmouse.

Totenberg slouched in.  "Sorry to disturb," he said, laying a cup of cocoa on the workbench, next to a bit of paper.

Actual paper. She picked it up.  Yellowed and crumbling at the edges, she saw Totenberg's familiar copperplate and the word Rhaedestus near the top.  That was . . . probably about the time he made captain, one of his first battles.  "This is part of one of your old journals," she said slowly, as he nodded.  She held it to him, but he took a step back, hands at his sides.  "I can't --"

"You need it," he said.

She could feel the energy crackling in the paper, ready to be turned to new purpose.  "But--"

"You need it," he repeated, as the door closed behind him.

And he was right, I do need it.  She placed the cupmouse on top of the parchment, spilled a few drops of blood into its bowl, then shattered it on the table to create the Horcrux.  Nagini blinked approvingly.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

What's That Smell?

In the Potions lab underneath the lake, Spike snarled softly as she perused a clay tablet marked like-- “Fenris’s bedraggled chewtoy!!” She pounded one fist on the table, nearly crushing a wandering cootie. “I don’t know why I didn’t stick with Divination. Or Nutrition. But no, it had to be Ancient Runes, during the month when we studied early Muggle societies.” She lifted the lid off a container filled with what had been snails, and winced at the aroma in the air. I’d open a window, if I had one. She looked at the glass ceiling above. Maybe … no, probably not.

Trevor came in. “What are you doing, Spike? It smells … well, you know what it smells like in here. Are you going for extra credit in Potions?”

“I wish. No, it’s Ancient Ruins. This is supposed to be a way to make dye from shellfish. Very expensive stuff--and I see why! I wouldn’t put up with this stink cheaply either.”

“So you--”

“Found a cuneiform tablet for Tyrian purple, just like objects that King Ashurbanipal would have had, and now I’m trying to color this square in a gradient.”

“Hooo. That’s a lot of work.”

“Tell me.” Spike rolled her eyes. “Fortunately, I think we’re done.” She flicked her wand to disapparate the smelly goo, leaving a clean square behind.

They looked it over. “Looks nice.  And hey --at least no one is going to drink your dyestock--not like Kool Aid.”

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Magic Lantern Show

AS a Second Year, Spike was now expected to take place in the Headmistress's Challenge each term at Hogwarts.  At first it had seemed like a lark, a way to earn a few more points for Slytherin.  Now, lookeing out over the sea of eyes, Spike wasn't so sure.

Spike cleared her throat, shuffled through her scrolls of parchment at the lectern. Her carefully prepared speech might be resting on an owl’s outstretched wings, but right now, the cat had her tongue. And had most likely left it in the Potions lab under the lake.

Then she dropped her notes. Flaming Muggle Studies!! Smiling weakly, she gathered them all back up onto the lectern, selected a likely looking beginning, and started to read.

“ ‘Jim knew every centimeter of his shadow, could have cut it out of tar paper and run it up a flagpole – his banner.

“ ‘Will, he was occasionally surprised to see his shadow following him somewhere, but that was that.’ "

Wroxton waved her to a stop. She removed her glasses, pinched the bridge of her nose lightly between thumb and forefinger, as if warding off a headache. “Miss Spike …”

“Actually, Headmistress, it’s Miss von Schadelthron.” She dropped a brisk curtsey. “Everyone gets that wrong. It’s my great-great second cousin, forcibly removed, the blond vampire in the dungeons. It causes a lot of confusion, having undead in the family tree.”

The Headmistress’s smile wavered, then tightened, hanging on to her mouth with grim determination. “Be that as it may, Spike, I was going to say that while I am the Headmistress, and may perforce be presumed to know everything, I am also a dreadful Legilimens. While I can see you have some lovely character studies of a Gryffindor and a Slytherin going here, I would like – nay, sincerely appreciate—some context. If you would be so kind?”

“Jim, your dark Slytherin boy, is Jim Nightshade. The Gryffindor counterpart is Will Halloway. They’re the thirteen—almost fourteen—year old Muggle protagonists of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and the inspiration for my presentation."  She let go of her death grip on the podium's wings.

“Now, Jim and Will encounter a very dark and quite powerful wizard. Assuming that Niven’s Law applies--”

“Unpack, Spike. This is your thesis to defend; define your terms.”

“Right. Well, Niven’s Law. Any sufficiently rigorously defined magic is indistinguishable from technology.”

“Nicely done. Continue.”

“So …” she found the actual beginning scroll at last. “Ray Bradbury was an esteemed writer of the First Fandom. Bradbury earned his membership by publishing a newsletter devoted to speculative fiction in the 1930’s. In 1962, he wrote Something Wicked This Way Comes.

“Here we have Jim and Will, dark and light together yet apart. Again, they are young male protagonists, much like the story of the Boy Who Lived. Again, they find themselves thrown up against a shrewder, stronger, more powerful enemy who knows more magic than they, with only a single older man to guide them and pass along the information they need in order to ultimately claim victory.

Something Wicked This Way Comes opens with the carnival arriving in Jim and Will’s town, just as the Potter histories open with Harry receiving his admission letter to Hogwarts. Both sets of heroes find that the world they had always assumed would play by the rules they were taught has now turned upside down. Jim and Will find a carnival like a larger Mirror of Erised; it finds the deepest longings in your heart and pulls them to the surface, then grants them to you, with a wrenching twist. Miss Foley, the boy’s older spinster English teacher longs to be young and beautiful once more. The carnival grants this desire, except she’s rendered blind in the process. The town barber, who has an eye for the ladies, goes into the hootchie-kootchie tent, and is transformed into the carnival’s own Bearded Lady.”

“You mentioned Niven’s Law?”

“I did. See, there are no incantations, no wand movements, no potions. Magic happens, but through things, like the mirror maze that alters Ms. Foley, the dancers who transfigure Mr. Crosetti. And the calliope!” Spike’s eyes glittered. “The calliope which can add years or take them away. See, it’s all artifact-based.”

“Like the Philosopher’s Stone?”

“Mmmm, yes, but the Stone was created through alchemy, a subset of potions practice. There’s no mention of such in Something Wicked This Way Comes, just the carnival running on its own power, and perhaps the caged lightning of elec-- elec-tri-ci-ty.” She sounded the curious Muggle word out carefully.

“Hmmm. And the socks, Spike. I see the dark and light, for Will and Jim, yes?”

“Yes, and all the colors for the carnival. If I may?” She flipped through the scrolls again and read, “ ‘ For the tents were lemon like the sun, brass like wheat fields a few weeks ago. Flags and banners bright as bluebirds snapped above lion-colored canvas. From boots painted cotton-candy colors, fine Saturday smells of bacon and eggs, hot dogs and pancakes swam the wind. Everywhere ran boys. Everywhere sleepy fathers followed.’ “

“One last thing. I thought your proposal said this was multi-media, Spike.”

“It is, Headmistress, but ah—“ she gestured to the younger students perched on the edge of their seats. Word had been trickling through the school about the Muggle Lantern Show Spike was arranging for the finale. “So upon second thought, I’ll be playing the lantern show in the Forbidden Forest tonight.”

“Hmmmm. And just what would you know about the Forest? You’re only a second-year, after all.”

Spike dropped her notes again.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

An Old Locket

She thought this would be one of the easier ones, the locket from the founder of the House she loved, but it was proving more complicated than even the Sword had been.  I need just the right thing, she thought, closing the lid of her jewelry box, where she had spent a long and fruitless hour rummaging.

Nothing presented itself, nothing said power and sentiment at the same time.  Nothing drew her eye.  The Nagini-slug had been no help either. Probably because it's an "I'll know it when I see it." problem  If I could describe exactly what I needed, it might be able to turn something up*  She sighed, putting her hands together and resting her chin on her thumbs.

"Problem?"  She looked up, startled.  Dimo was there in the room.  She hadn't heard the door open, nor shut, he was just suddenly there.  Times like this, she could understand the superstitious dread the people of Schadelthron had of the Hounds -- something that large shouldn't be able to be that silent.

"It's -- this school project I'm working on.  For extra credit."  That was kind of the truth, if you looked at it sidelong in a dim light.  If the staff knew we were doing this, they'd shut us down in a heartbeat, and institute policies about student gatherings that would make Umbridge's Headmistresship look positively liberal by comparison.  She'd already skirted the prohibition about talking to non-Order members about the false Horcruxes pretty deeply in talking to Totenberg and Sascha.  Which probably means Dimo already knows most of it.  I'd swear they had some kind of limited legilimency going on among them, but they aren't wizardly.

"Tell me 'bout it. Mebbe that help."  He leaned against the wall, not coincidentally between her and the door.

"It's  . . . part Transfiguration, part Confundis,  So it involved putting two charms on one item, a little more advanced than the work we normally do."

He raised one bushy eyebrow, nodded.

"I need to  . . . create a locket that looks like a different locket, some.  It can't be a positive exact duplicate, but it needs to have the same sort of  . . . resonance, on the level of magic."

"So how it need to feel?"

"Powerful.  Sentimental.  Maybe a little greedy -- no, a lot greedy.  Covetous,  avaricious, miserly.  An object of longing, maybe even desire that can't be slaked."  She was surprised that the description came so easy now.  She'd been trying to explain to the slug, but had gotten nothing but some bulgy-eyed blinking in response.

He looked at her long and hard, on hand on his chin.  Pondering, weighing some course of action. Dimo had always been the cool, stoic, distant one of the three.  Sascha was a sweet pussycat in his own way, full of fun and mischief.  Totenberg was ruled by passion and moody, sometimes high and often low, but Dimo -- she'd never been quite able to read where he was coming from.  She would have thought he didn't feel at all, had she not seen his reactions after visiting Herr Scherblocken just before term started.  He dug a hole and pulled it in after him for several days, didn't say a word.  Sascha had been nearly manic, Totenberg even more watchful and wary, but Dmitri had been silent and absent in a way, looking into the middle distance as if watching a Muggle movie on a screen in his head.

At last he nodded, unwound the stock from around his throat.  "What are you --"  He grasped something at the base of his throat, gave a swift savage yank.  "Dimo!"

He crossed the room in a heartbeat, pressed the tiny silver medallion into her hand.  "This do?"  The silver faces winked up at her, the Mother and her Child, faces entwined in a yin and yang.  The only human faces in the pantheon, unless one counted the hooded countenance of the Stranger, whose face was never seen in the shadowed folds.

"Yes, but --"  He had worn that around his neck since forever, she could dimply remember the pain of cutting new teeth waking her in the night, and then something cool and soothing in her mouth, hard and textured and comforting to rub on the sore places.  "I can't --"

"You can.  You need it more than I do, now."  With that, he turned, tapped on the door, and left.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Running the Numbers

It was a quiet end-of-term night in the Dungeon as the students frantically worked to finish the last of their homework so they could advance with the rest of their class. Heads down, they worked into the night, interrupted only occasionally by muffled pops and bangs from the Potions lab downstairs.

“Bubotuber balls! Wingarduim leviosa! Confuego!!” From the first-years’ table, papers rose in a tornado of flame as Charity Gormling burst into tears.

“You’re the designated firstie wrangler,” murmured Narcissa from her chair near the fire. Spike looked up from her Ancient Runes text, and sighed, getting up.

Augamente,” she said, and the flames were extinguished. “What’s up, Gormling?”

“I hate Arithmancy!!! Hate it, hate it, hate it!”

“Hate it--or it doesn’t come easy?” Spike handed Gormling a handkerchief with a black lace edging.

Gormling dried her eyes.

“Both,” she admitted sourly. Slytherin to the core, Gormling refused to admit defeat, or concede she might need help.

“Let’s see what I can do--Arithmancy was one of my best subjects.” Narcissa overheard, and looked up with a raised eyebrow.

“Also the reason Spike was kicked out of Durmstrang,” she whispered, sotto voce, to the upperclassnakes nearby. “The dark geometries teacher caught her passing notes--”

“Not exactly.” Spike smiled at Hecuba and Drusilla. “But that’s a story for later.” Turning back to Gormling, she said, “So. The practical assignment is to create a pair that are the same size, but not the same gauge, right? And no cheating with engorgio/reducio, you’re supposed to change space itself with numbers.”


“So okay. You know your usual sock is 60 stitches on a size 1 needle, and you get 7.5 stitches per inch, yeah?”


“So make me one now.” Gormling flicked her wand, and an orange and white striped sock appeared.

“Great! Now, what other yarn do you craft in?”

“Worsted. And I have some plain orange.”

“Ok. And what’s your usual gauge in worsted?”

“4.4 stitches per inch.”

“So--you know that a sock that fits at 7.5 stitches per inch takes 60 stitches, and you want to know how many stitches a sock at 4.4 stitches will take. We do a little algebra--”


“Mermish math. Has to do with unknowns. And--” Spike scribbled on a spare bit of parchment. “--We get 40 stitches for the plain orange sock. That should give you two socks that both fit your feet.”

Gormling tried them on, “Thank you! I could do the same thing to change a sweater, couldn’t I?”

Spike nodded. “You could, but swatch first. A larger gauge is likely to be stiffer and won’t drape as nicely or be as fluid.” She shrugged, getting up. “It has fewer stitches to bend and flex, after all.”

“So what exactly happened at Durmstrang?” asked Drusilla.

Spike had told the tale over and over in her interviews at Hogwarts; the story flowed smoothly now. “The professor there thought I was passing notes, so he snatched one up to read to the class. Have you ever had an idea that set you on fire? Where you had to stop right now and get it all down?” The other Slytherins nodded, they knew that feeling. “So that’s what I was up to; I was drawing up an equation relating time and space. If I was right, you’d have something between Legilimency and the Floo Network; you could communicate mind-to-mind over great distances using the aether.”

“But what about--well, I’ve heard that there are things in the aether. Just hints and murmurings and stuff. Practically Quibbler things, but once in a while they get it right.”

Spike sighed. “That would explain what happened to the professor then. He …” She closed her eyes for a second, thinking about that day in the classroom. *The blood on the walls.* “I hear he’s doing much better,” she concluded. “I understand the Healers have been able to *scrougify* the feeding instructions they posted to save paperwork.”

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Not the Sword, Conclusion

She rubbed her temples in small circles.  "So first, a little history."  Tapping the textbook, she continued, "Riddle -- Voldemort -- was a powerful wizard who intentionally split his soul seeking immortality.  So long as any part of him survived, then he would survive.  So he tied the parts to various objects he associated with power -- Hufflepuff's Cup, Ravenclaw's Diadem, Slytherin's Locket.  But notice-- he never managed to corrupt Gryffindor's Sword."

Sascha nodded, playing good minion.  "Yahhhs," he drooled again, for effect.

"All right."  Getting up off the bench for the first time since dinner, Spike began to pace, the candles in their puddles of wax flickering in the breeze she created.  "So . . . if the plans I'm laying depend on making it appear that another dark and powerful wizard has arisen -- maybe Voldemort himself, maybe a worthy successor -- then would it not make sense to do the one thing Voldemort himself never managed?  Create a Horcrux from the Sword?"

Sascha tilted his head to one side and pondered.  Bit down on the first immediate question -- Why?  They'd been over that; it was something magicker that she couldn't talk openly about right now.  Part of being a minion was being willing to accept whatever the master doled out -- a thwack on the head, a piece of a convoluted plot, a quick handshake before being sent to lay down one's life.  Although, hopefully, that last wasn't in the offing for a while.  "That makes sense," he agreed, slowly.

"So!  Now here's the thing.  The Sword was returned to the goblins ages ago.  They probably wouldn't have destroyed it; it's far too pretty and well-crafted to be melted down and returned to metal.  But neither is is walking in the wizarding world, and it would have no place for the Muggles, either.  So how does our putative Dark Wizard lay his hands on it to make it a Horcrux?"

"Couldn' he force the goblins to part with it somehow?"

"Sure -- but that kind of eruption wouldn't pass unnoticed.  At a minimum, that would be a clear declaration of war.  Same with sneaking it out and replacing it with a fake -- the goblins would know immediately that the true Sword was gone.  But here's the thing -- the Sword goes where it will.  So what if he was able to convince the Sword to come to him?  To lie to it?"  Behind her, the slug oozed its way up to the top of the bench, dropping something small and light onto the top.

Sascha took a quick step back.  A rough campaign against an enemy who used gelatinous blobs as riding mounts for his cavalry had left him with a creeping horror of all things slimy.  Spike had smuggled back a Muggle delicacy, Jell-O salad, one time, and Sascha had left the room in a hurry.  "Vass --DAT?" he hissed.

Spike picked it up.  "A small plastic knife.  Thank you, Nagini."  She scratched the slug's eyestalks gently.  "So -- wouldn't that work?  To have the Sword volunteer itself, under false pretenses?  The goblins wouldn't be in any hurry to announce that this was possible; they'd never be able to keep the Sword after that."

Sascha pondered for a moment, keeping an eye on the horrible crawling thing on the bench.  "It holds together," he said after a moment, "If they don' look too close."

"That's what I'm hoping -- that their desire is going to blind them to what is, and make them see what I want them to see."  Like a Muggle magician -- all misdirection, smoke and mirrors.  She was never going to sneer at them again, not after this experience.  It was harder than it looked, getting people to pay attention to the right hand while the left took care of business in secret.  She tapped the hilt of the knife against her teeth as she thought.  It's going to take more than a drop of blood to make this feel right. There needs to be an element of loyalty and bravery tied in, a willingness to lay down everything for a friend . . .

"Sascha?  One more thing."

He raised one eyebrow, the twisted burn scars on the other side writhing above the eyepatch.

"Can I have a small lock of your hair?"  He snorted, pulling out his boot knife, and sawing off a thin strand from behind one ear.  "Thanks.  Ah, you don't have to stay for this next part, if you don't want to."  She reached into the cage of mice she'd taken to keeping in the lab to select a small, fat creature; set it on the table, and with a whisper, stunned it into immobility.

He grimaced, seeing it in her hands, knowing what was coming.  "If you need to . . . is there anything else I can do?"

"Tie the hair around the knife -- thanks."  Arranging the pieces quickly, she pricked her finger, and smeared the blood down the mouse's back.  A moment later, the Horcrux was made.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Not the Sword, Part One

Spike slouched at the workbench, supporting her tired head on one hand.  Now what?

It had seemed like a brilliant plan when Hecuba had explained it, creating false Horcruxes to lead the Knights of Walpurgis on wild goose chases, all on the off chance that one, just one, might have survived somehow as their former dark lord had cheated death once before.  It had appealed to her sense of mischief to walk in Voldemort's footsteps and create seven Horcruxes, all based on his.  The Four Houses of Hogwarts, an assistant as a spare pair of eyes.  But this . . . this one is so iconic and so well-known, thanks to the Boy Who Was All That.  How on earth am I going to fake the Sword of Gryffindor?

She stretched her aching neck, rolling her head on her shoulders.  Hands on her hips, she twisted her spine like cracking her knuckles.  The sword was returned to the goblins years ago, as part of the Pax Magus.  Everyone knows that.  She pondered a moment,  Although . . . the sword goes where it will.  Everyone knows that, too.

"Well, as long as we're working with what everyone knows," she muttered, pulling out her History of Magic text and flipping through for the chapters dedicated to the Second Wizarding War.  A moment of reading, and  . . .

Sascha burst through the door at the first howl, just barely pausing to fling it open rather than tearing it off the hinges; Dmitri right behind him to secure the doorway.  His little mistress was seated at her workbench, hands twined in her hair, a large book open in front of her next to a plastic knife.  He took a cautious sniff.  No blood, no sweet-bleachy smell of recently discharged magic, no one in the room but Spike, himself, and Dimcha.  "Sitrep?"

Spike pointed at the book.  "It won't work," she said, wiping at her cheeks impatiently.  "I can't make it do -- what I need it to do," she finished lamely.  "I can't explain further."

"Cause of what we talk about." She nodded glumly, and he sighed.  "Can talk to other magicker?  No, not teacher," he said, to forestall the explosion he saw coming, "but maybe . . . someone else involved in secret project you doing."

"It's kind of . . . experimental," she explained, "but safe."  Surreptitiously crossing her fingers in a fold of her robes, hoping he wouldn't notice the slight movement. 

"Experimental like sending you heart out of you body?  Safe like 'probably won't tear hole in the fabric of the universe as we know it?  Dat kind of experimental but safe?"

"I only tried that once, and I was much younger then.  It didn't work, anyway." It was an idea, but going to Hecuba and confessing that she had no idea what to do for Gryffindor, since Voldemort had never been able to convert the sword.  I’d rather drink pulverized flobberworms.  With that thought, she had it.  "Sascha, I still can't tell you what I'm doing, and why.  But I have a  . . . strategy I want to bounce off you, and as my loyal minion--"  she quirked air quotes around "loyal minion" "--that should be perfectly acceptable, right?  I am the evil genius, it is my job to monologue at you when I have no hero and a Byzantine method of slowly dissecting him with only one vulnerable point that could be easily accessed by a scantily clad heroine."

Sascha grinned.  He loved this game.  He flopped his tongue out of one corner of his mouth and drooled, "Yaasss, Mistress."  Better than tea parties with the dolls.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Letter Home

Spike leaned on one elbow, pondering the parchment.  She hadn't written home since the term started, and this was one term she really didn't want her parents calling in to find out what was going on.  She sighed.  They know me too well, she thought.  Any time it gets too quiet . . .

So, a note and a trinket would suffice to keep things quiet.  She hoped.

Dearest Mats and Atyets--

School proceeds apace; I am looking forward to returning home to Schadelthron for the break. Yes, even though you will undoubtedly set me among the roving felinity to help watch over the clowder. I have been a mentor this term at Hogwarts; herding cats holds no terrors for me. Jesper should only know how lucky he is.

I enclose this cushion top made in purple.

I hear you ask why purple, when the House livery here is green and silver. Purple is the color of school unity, to remind us that while we have been sorted into towers and dungeons, we are all still here in this together. Much like the herd of cats--each one going his own direction, but gently guided into cooperation.

Totenberg thanks you for the fruitcake you sent. I have attempted to talk the house elves into leaving him the bones from the kitchens to chew on, but after that unfortunate incident with Tinker last term, they are still somewhat wary.

To the greater honor and glory--
-- Nikolevnischka “Spike” von Schaedelthron

Sunday, July 21, 2013

One God, Two God

It was mid-terms at Hogwarts, and Muggle Studies had focused on Comparative Religions in the Muggle world. So many to choose from, like a box of chocolates from Honeydukes! So many varieties of Dark and Light, although, confusingly enough, each one claimed to be the sole source of Light.

For mid-terms, each student had selected a Muggle religion to study in depth, and created a shrine for their chosen deity. Naturally, this had interesting results, as faith and magic intertwined. The smell of incense lingered in the air, and the winged rainbows from Miranda Softshanks’s presentation of Limpidia still fluttered in the corners almost an hour later.

Belvina Pascoe was just concluding her presentation. Her shrine was polished green marble carved with an eyeless face. ” … demanding everything from his followers, and offering very little in return. Except power, and glory where it can be snatched.” She dropped a raven’s feather into the brazier atop the shrine, and the smoke formed into a fanged and gaping maw before it blew away. “Not surprisingly, Crom is no longer worshipped as such, except by the small, scattered, nomadic tribes of the Cimerrians.” She turned and took a small bow before resuming her seat next to her project.

Professor Poole applauded. “Nice work, Miss Pascoe. And next we have Spike.”

Spike stood up next to her shrine, which was covered with an obscuro. She pointed her wand and snarled, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! Ia! Ia!” The mist resolved into a writhing mass of black snakes to reveal:

“Dread Cthulhu is still worshipped in Muggle Innsmouth, although it is not entirely clear whether this is purely deity-related, or more ancestor worship. He is formally considered to belong to the group of gods referred to as ‘The Many-Angled Ones,’ beings of near pure mathematics.

“He is said to send dreams to his followers of the terrors to come when the stars come right once more, and he ascends to power over the Earth. Their minds are slowly consumed by contact with his particular psychic energies … yes, Professor Ethelbard?”

“Why don’t you tell us about the blanket square, Spike. And the beer.”

Spike looked at the square.

She scratched her head. “That’s funny … I had made a simple concentrically striped square because after a long hard day, even a squamous and rugose sanity-devouring horror from beyond time and space likes to chill out with a cold brew and a warm binkie. I don’t get what could have happened …”


“Yes, Professor?”

“Meet me in Professor Gorre’s office, please. Usual time.”

“During Quidditch practice? But … yes, Professor.”

Begonia Hoddington coughed as she stood up next to her shrine, a drifting tattered yellow veil. Silvery liquid dripped thickly from the hem, somehow disappearing before it hit the floor. “Leave the beer. Xuthal of the Dusk is propitiated by grain sacrifice.” She poured a small puddle, and the veil dropped hungrily to consume it.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

For Your Friendship, Concluded

He laughed, a bitter laugh that hinted at a snarl concealed.  A growl lightly coated with black humor.  “You gots de justifications in place.  Now all you needs is the speech that ends with ‘Fools!  I will crush you all!’ and you be ready, hey?”

Spike flinched.  She'd had enough family history to know that anything that started out that way presaged a very bad end indeed.  But she'd also sworn an oath, promised with her life's breath that she wouldn't tell about the newly hatched Order of the Phoenix Reborn.  And anyone who'd take one oath lightly, she thought, and in that, she had it.

"Sascha, I promise that if I were able to explain what I was doing, and why I was doing it, why I had to use the bird the way I did, that I would."  He raised an eyebrow, and she took his hand.  "But to do that, I would have to break another promise.  That would leave us in a bad way, because . . . because I think if you knew what I was doing, you'd feel compelled to stop me -- or at least to make me promise that I'd conscript my behavior to the safer paths -- and how could you trust my word after that?"  His ears laid back flat against his head for a second, then moved back to neutral.  "If you see another way, please help me find it."

"So . . . necessary, was it?"  She nodded, showed him the bandage on her finger where she'd drawn the drops of blood to finish giving it the right smell.  He looked at it closely, seeing the tiny red fleck that had come through the gauze.  The fire in his eye died, and his shoulders slumped. "Necessary like the monster you building for the OWL?"

She sighed, shook her head.  "The OWL . . . the OWL is because I can.  Yeah, hubris, I know, I know.  'Fools! I will crush you all!' and all that.  This . . . this really does have a higher purpose in mind, and there's a team counting on me.  Watching out for me.  I'm responsible to others who will help me stay on the straight and narrow.  I think . . . I think that if I could tell you all about it, you three would be proud of me."  Scared out of your minds for me, terrified of what Atyets would do if you slipped and I fell out of your hands like an egg on the flagstones,  but proud.

He leaned down, picked a flower, turning it over in his huge square hands, examining the tiny florets carefully.  Running one finger over the texture of the petaled bells.  "So.  Promise me one thing."

"If I can."

"When you can talk about this, do.  Tell all three of us.  We can watch you, guide you, but we gots to know where you going.  And right now, it looks like you going a very bad way indeed."

"Right off the cliff, where the villagers wait below with torches and pitchforks."  She stood up, brushing the leaves and mulch off her robes.  "I promise.  If and when I am free to tell you about  . . . what I'm doing and why, I will."

Later that night, as a token of her promise, she crafted a square out of purple. Purple for unity, purple for hyacinths, purple for a bruised heart, and hung it on the wall by the door to her rooms.  

Sunday, July 07, 2013

For Your Friendship, Part Two

Outside the castle, at the end of the bridge over the lake, Spike took a deep shivering breath.  Where would Sascha go, to think things over?  To be alone for a time.  Where would I go?  And in that thought, she had it.  The hyacinth glade.

Some time ago, probably before the time of the Second Wizarding War, someone with a gift for wild Herbology had planted little grape hyacinths in a sheltering grove of oak trees.  Just enough sun to let the little flowers live, enchanted to keep them warm and blooming year-round.  Even in the deepest winter, the little glade was sweet smelling and warm, with no snow on the ground.  You had to know where it was; the track led you all around the Forbidden Forest to the side furthest from Hogwarts.  Sascha had picked up a boulder from the south field and carried it on one shoulder, "borrowed" some tools from a dusty broom closet, and carved himself a reasonable seat there where he could enjoy the flowers.

Spike herself found it restful and peaceful, the lovely purple and green, the filtered light gently coming through the trees, the candy scented air.  A good place to bring parchment and quill to chew on a particularly knotty problem, drafting and redrafting a solution to something that did not have an easy answers.  Like now, for instance.

She squared her shoulders.  Nothing to it, but to do it.  Easy to say, harder to live.  When she found a hatchling spider on the path, barely the size of her hand, she nodded and bade it an absent good day.  Thinking she would rather be confronting Aragog than going to have this conversation.

His back was to the path where it entered the clearing, his bright apricot blond ringlets bound with a bit of ribbon.  Black today, to match the piping on his charcoal grey livery.  Tomorrow, it might well be lime green, to go with the violet.  Sunset orange, with the blue, or cream with the hot pink.

He'd heard her coming, she could see it in the way he was sitting, tensed and alert.  Probably smelled me, too.  The gentle breeze had been at her back for the past several minutes, prying gently at the cardigan she'd pulled over her robes.  She took two steps to her left, to approach from the good side, and called, "Sascha?"

He turned his head, and she could see tear tracks down that cheek.  "Little mistress.  Beg pardon if I don't get up."

She came closer, walking slowly.  "Sascha, I'm . . . I'm sorry."  He turned away, staring off into the middle distance, and she crouched next to his stone chair.  She looked up into his face, which seemed barely less cold and hard than the rock he perched on.

"What for?"  His voice was hoarser than usual, gruff with emotion.  "Just a bird, yah?  A thing to be used and thrown away."

She put a hand on his knee, and a moment later, leaned her head against his leg.  "I'm sorry because of what I didn't know; sorry because of the things I can't tell you. I hurt you in ways I don't really understand; I betrayed some of what you thought of me."

"Thought mebbe you would help.  Doing work late at night all alone in the labs below the Pit with the other animals, thought mebbe . . .  ah, don't matter what I thought, do it?  Just big stupid lump of muscle, a brick.  Useful tool, to be used and  . . ."

Spike felt hot all over for a moment, the world skidding into redness.  Did he really think-- and then she recalled the history lesson she'd just learned.  Yes.  A thing to be used.  Like a brick being used to fortify a wall, to keep a door open, to open a window.  Didn't Atyets often mutter "That's what the Hounds are for?" when a minister would advise of some peacekeeping that needed to be attended to in one corner or another of the dukedom?

But and but and but . . .  These were her Hounds, these three whose faces were more familiar than her parents', certainly than her own.  "Ah, by all the gods, Sascha, I wish there was something I could say, some way I could explain that the bird wasn't just useful.  That its end had a higher purpose -- but isn't that what they all say?"  She looked up at him, and now he had turned to look back down at her.  The metal embedded in the scars not covered by the eyepatch gleamed dully in the light.  "That the end justifies the means?"