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?"