Sunday, January 27, 2013

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

Spike dug through her stash, hunting for just the right ingredients to bring with her to Potions.  The assignment was to bring something that was less than satisfactory and re-work it into a more pleasing configuration.  "Sometimes," Professor Halliwell had drawled from beneath the black-draped portrait of Severus Snape, "One simply must work with what fate has handed one.  It is not always possible to obtain the freshest possible wolfsbane harvested under the exact moment of the zenith of the full moon at the time of the plant's most auspicious potency.  Sometimes, one simply takes what the market offers, and then it is the skill of the witch or wizard that determines the ultimate success of the spell."

She knew she had something perfect in her pile, the only issue was finding it . . . ah-ha.  She pulled out three amalgamations, making a face as she did so. 

The balls of annoyance.  She had been delighted with the colors when she beheld them in the shop window, the yellow of the citrine, the auburn of the fox's fur, the brown of the oak gall.  She had attempted spellwork with them several times, and each time, the battle between the organic and mineral (not to mention the wrestling match between the plant and animal) had torn the spell apart.  "I need to create harmony between these divergent components," she sighed, as she began dismantling their current form and preparing them for Potions.  

 In the laboratory, Spike pondered the materials available. 

A very basic Potions kit, she noted, with an irritated acceptance.  You're not an ickle Firstie any more, she reminded herself.  You need to be up for more challenging work.  If you can't get the finest, best-quality ingredients to start with, then why would you expect to have a complete catalog at your fingertips?  What can you do with what's in your hand, Schadelthron?

She sighed, picked up the chunk of resin.  This will resonate with the citrine, and bring the oak gall some brightness.  Into the cauldron.  Next, the dove's blood, for warmth, and a drop of the lake water.  Water brings harmony to disparate elements, as the universal solvent, and the element of patience.  She tested her mixture on a scrap of parchment.

 Yes.  Yes, that should work. 

She added acid to the mix, then carefully lowered her disparate ingredients into the potion, holding her breath.  Nothing to do but to wait while it simmers. 

Once the wandwork was complete -- the stirrings carefully timed, sunwise so many times, doesil so many more, figure eights, infinities, with the carefully counted paused between -- Spike removed her ingredients from the vat and hung them to dry in the sunlight.

She had to admit, once she returned to collect her property, that they had come out well.  The amber and blood had warmed the oak gall, smoothed the citrine's edges, and the water had calmed the fox's fur.  The new ingredients shone brightly together, chiming softly when she stroked it with one fingertip.  She didn't know what she would create with the new ingredients, but they would be magnificent.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A "Better" Owl

After the welcoming feast and sorting whirl had died down, and the Pit was settling in for their first night back at Hogwarts, Spike was occupied and occupying one of the larger tables in the laboratory, burning the midnight oil with plans for the term.  Dmitri found her there after lights-out, scribbling away, with her head propped on one ink-stained hand.

"Five more minutes," she grumbled when she heard the door creak open.  He pried the quill out of her cramped hand, massaging the fingers to get her to let go. 

"Bedtime," he growled firmly, sweeping her papers into a stack and rolling them up.  "Gonna be breakfast in a couple hours, then classes.  You don' wanna be sleeping through classes, do you?  Like ickle firstie who don' know when 'nough's 'nough."

"But I'm not -- " A jawbreaking yawn swallowed whatever Spike was not.  "Besides, I have that OWL to propose.  Just another five minute would let me . . ."

"Nother five minutes have you sleeping here in de chair.  Tell me 'bout it on de way up; be de same as making more notes to youself."

"It's that multipart OWL," she said, allowing herself to be taken by the arm and helped out of the chair.  "See, regular owls are always getting in trouble, especially the smaller ones.  They fight with hawks when they have to fly in the day, they're prey for cats.  We need tougher owls, owls that can see in the light as well as the dark; stronger, bigger owls that can carry more without getting tired."

"Hmmm."  The light had been turned out, the door closed behind them, and now they were starting up the stairs.  Hopefully, explaining her project would keep her distracted enough to keep from noticing that she was being chivvied off to sleep until her head hit the pillow.  Monologuing, the key to keeping a master happy.

"So I want to . . ." she stopped on the stairs, suddenly bone-weary.  Dmitri picked her up, barely breaking stride.  "Want to build a better owl," she mumbled into his shoulder. 

"How you gonna do dat?"

"I'll build an owl out of at least three different beasts.  Like when Dr. Wolfgang built you Hounds.  That's what I was talking with him about, back home, how he put you together using the one template.  Start with a man, make him stronger, faster, give him enhanced hearing and smell.  Like that.  But with an owl."

For a moment, the steps dropped out from under his feet as he listened to Spike sleepily outlining her plans.  The stairs in the dungeon seemed to be playing tricks along the lines of the great staircases above, swinging slowly around, gaping holes opening suddenly, risers going flat and slick under his boots.  As the shadowed world finally solidified around him again, he found himself asking the unspeakable question.  The one that no good minion would ever dream of giving voice to.

"But mistress -- why would you do such a thing?"

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Journal Entry, Conclusion

Ha.  If only we could have known . . . Little Spike proved to be an apt pupil, one of those quiet infants who take in the entire world through large dark eyes.  I thought the challenges would arise when she learned to walk, remembering my sons who seemed determined to throw themselves under the hooves of the largest mammal they could find as soon as they took their first staggering steps.  Or to help feed the fire, or to play with knives.

Ah, no. The trouble began when she taught herself to read.  Keeping her physically safe from those who would do her harm was easy -- I recruited two other Hounds whom I could trust as I would my own hands and eyes to take shifts with me as her bodyguards -- but keeping her safe from herself was another matter entirely. 

One of her uncles sent someone to eliminate her in her sleep, and I had a long discussion with the messenger at the top of the tower while Sascha rocked Spike back to quiet.  Another, cleverer man, sent a toy broom.  Spike quickly mastered the toy -- and then overrode the controls, as she preferred flying to walking.  She adored the brightly illustrated books that read themselves to you, and then whenever she was missing I could find her in the library; often spidered up in the shelves that housed the forbidden books, sounding out the complex Latin invocations.  When she learned to actually channel her will and bend the universe to her desire -- but that's all in the other entries, the fires, the holes in the walls, the rooms that had to be sealed off for months while the magisters performed the counter-invocations. 

It was a relief when she was accepted to Durmstrang.  At last, she would have a challenge to face in a safe place.  A place to stretch her wings and learn to fly so she could take her place in the skies.

Well.  We all know what happened next; that horrible moment in Arithmancy where it all went pear-shaped.  I like to think that if one of us had been there we could have prevented it somehow; confiscated Spike's note to herself with a promise of appropriate discipline to follow, maybe.  Nudged her elbow at just the right moment to spoil the line and render the diagram harmless. Horrible clumsy monsters, us.

That first night back, I spent thinking about all the times I had combed and braided Spike's hair when she was tiny, wondering if I would be able to do so one last time. A last service to perform for my mistress.  Fortunately, her father is a man of reason, rather than emotion.  He plays the part of the tyrant ruled by his heart well, sometimes almost too well, but he wasn't about to toss all his plans aside because of one small misunderstanding. 

So, we were off to Hogwarts.  I am proud of her for learning the qualities of perseverance, the laws of magic, especially that that which you pay attention to becomes.  Stubborn gritting it through and finishing, pulling off magic in the last hour, making it all come together and happen.  These qualities will stand her in good stead when she grows up and goes to fulfill the destiny planned for her.

At the same time, I worry.  As if I were that father of her blood.  If anyone could teach power and the ways to wield it, that would have been Durmstrang.  But perhaps Hogwarts can teach my little mistress a little cleverness, a little misdirection, a way of thinking outside the boundaries.  With where she's going, these might serve her better than brute force.

Water wears away mountains, one slow soft lick at a time.  Perhaps she may learn the ways of water.

It is late and getting later; the year has turned and the hour of the Octopus gives way to the hour of the Cat.  Time to close this for now.


Sunday, January 06, 2013

A Journal Entry, Part Two

At the beginning would be the logical choice.  I can hear my old commander's voice on the wind, there.  Any time someone made their report and started in the middle of things, he would wait for the initial burst of steam to run out, then dryly suggest that beginning at the beginning would be the logical point.  I hated those words, hated them until I heard them coming out of my mouth one day when my sleeve had the stripes. 

So.  The beginning, when the Lady ended her confinement at last, and the heir to Schadelthron was finally brought into the world.  I was honored to be standing guard outside her chambers while the Master was inside viewing the new life.  I remember when the door cracked open and he gestured me inside.  Placed the tiny bundle in my hands.  I was so shocked I nearly dropped it; he did me far too much honor. 

"I wanted your face to be one she knows as well as her mother's or mine." She yawned, face splitting wide, and then her eyes opened again, that perfect newborn's grey, that no color from nine months of looking at the red darkness.  Her skin was perfect, her head was round. The midwife had done an excellent job bringing her into the world gently.  The only sign of the animal source of birth was a smear of blood on one cheek, and Mistress came and wiped it off with a cloth. 

"Should you be up?"  The words were curt, but his voice was tender as he looked at his wife, forgetting me for a moment, standing there with all his hopes, his future in my hands.

"Nonsense," she said firmly.  "Everything went just as it should.  I'm fine.  Our little girl is fine.  There's no reason I should lie there as if I'd foaled like one of the bears -- and even you wouldn't question one getting to her feet and starting to lick her cub immediately afterwards."  She kissed him on the cheek, I remember. 

Then the penny dropped.  Her.  Little girl.  For a moment, I thought I understood my duty; that he was asking me to do the necessary work, to take this little mite out into the snows and lay her to rest on a hillside so they could grieve, then try again for a more fitting heir.  I thought for a moment of my sons, grown men, possibly grandfathers --possibly great- or great-great-grandfathers by then, and I held the little one closer for a second. It wasn't my place to refuse an order, nor my place to speak and volunteer.  So I waited, and each flutter of her heart made doing what I would have to do just that much harder.

He saw my thoughts in my eyes, I think, and nodded once.  "That.  That's why I need you."

"Yes sir."  For that moment I hated him, hated him for giving in to the wishes of his peers. No better than the masses, for all their power.  I wanted to hide her someplace safe, to take her away with me, away from service.  If I walked far enough, I might find a place where the deformed giant and his tiny charge could live in peace. I'd raise goats or cows, feed her on their milk.  I'd done that before, in another life, when I had a family of my own, between campaigns.  A soldier-farmer, then a soldier, finally back to a farmer, to live out my long days.

A useless fantasy, simply getting through the country my master controlled without being hunted down and destroyed would be futile with an infant.  A stolen infant, if one went so far as to be clear about it; even though her father's intent was to expose her on a hillside did not mean that she could then be claimed by the next person to come by.  That was no different, in the eyes of the law, than stealing the infant from its crib, or the loving arms of its mother.

I waited for him to dismiss me, to tell me to go and do my duty, hold his wife back as I left the rooms and the castle.  But instead, he stroked her head, and laid his hand on my arm. 

"I need you to help keep her safe," he said.  "You and I both know there will be those who take . . . exception  . . . to a girl child as the heir to the throne. She will need to lean on your strength until she develops her own."