Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Treasured Object

At least Care of Magical Creatures should be fun,  Spike thought as she entered the stables.  I'm hoping to pick up some pointers for the creature I'm working to design for my OWL this term-- and she stopped dead when she saw what was waiting in the corral out back. 

The griffin's fierce, proud eyes met hers and seemed to see into her very soul, weighing her and finding her wanting.  It clawed at the ground with its lion's talons, tail lashing.  "So glad you could join us, Spike," drawled Professor Harkiss sardonically.  "Since you must know everything about the griffs, since you seem to feel free to skip the first five minutes of my carefully planned introduction, perhaps you can show us how to handle one." 

Spike started to explain that she was only late because  . . . and then realized it was hopeless.  Professor Harkiss was known to blow hot and cold towards those of her own House, perhaps to avoid accusations of favorites, or because she wanted to keep the Slytherins guessing where her allegiance lay at a given moment.  Spike rather suspected the latter, leavened with a heavy dose of particular pets within the House itself.  Harkiss never seemed to single out Pimpernelle for special attention.

She struggled to recall what she had read of the beasts, recall what she knew about handling large animals.  Perhaps if I start like I would one of the riding bears . . .  no direct eye contact, don't get too close at first . . .  She watched it sidelong as she approached, and when it started to bridle, she stopped where she was, bowed her head.  It spread its wings, bringing its head up and back, so she dropped a curtsey to hide the weakness in her knees, and not coincidentally, make herself a smaller target.   She saw its approach, slow and measured, lion's paws coming closer, then the top of its head as it bowed before her.

They appreciate treasure, she remembered.  Do I have anything special with me?  She reached into her book bag and pulled out a square that she had spent hours laboring over, working to get ti to come out just right.  Treasure and a combination of colors and textures -- perhaps this will speak to it somehow.  She offered it on an open palm.

The griffin sniffed at it, tipping its head to look carefully at her, its eye the size of her thumb, its hooked predator's beak inches from her hand.  Spike nodded to it.  Take it, if you want it.  Its wings flared out and then wrapped around the tow of them for an instant.  Spike sneezed from the dust that was stirred up and shaken loose.  The animal nipped up the square in its beak, then backed away, tucking it under one wing. 

Spike stayed where she was for a long moment, then stood and returned to the ring of students.  Professor Wigworthy had joined the class, and when she saw Spike she broke off a hissed conference with Harkness.  One of the Squib animal handlers came to lead the griffin away, and another, a tawny creature with mild blue eyes, took its place.  Wigworthy put one hand on Spike's shoulder.  "Walk with me," the Ravenclaw said sharply, and Spike meekly followed.  Now what?  The flobberworm tanks?  I wasn't all that late . . .

When they were out of earshot, the professor spun Spike around to look at here carefully.  "Hands," she demanded, and Spike obediently showed her, palms up.  "You're all right then?"

"Yes . . ."

"I don't know what they were thinking, bringing out a broody griffin for a class of Second Years.  That's Master's level work, that is.  You're sure you're . . ."

Broody?  "Is she . . . with  . . ."  Do they lay eggs?  Do they have live young?  Some of both, heaven help us?

"Yes."  All concern for the student vanished in the joy of a teaching opportunity.  "One of the first to actually mate in captivity.  We have such high hopes for the possibility of being able to replenish the world's shrinking population, but we have to get a breeding program started after all . . .  Did she take something from you?  I thought I saw something when the two of you were communing."

Spike explained about the blanket square.  "So I thought -- did I do something wrong?"

Wigworthy thought it over. "I don't see how that could hurt," she said, tapping her front teeth with one fingernail.  "Tell you what -- and I probably shouldn't even offer to do this -- but if you're willing to cut your lunch hour short by just a bit -- we could stop by the griffin's aerie and see what she's made of your . . . offering."

The remainder of class seemed to drag by, and not just because the new griffin seemed placid by comparison.  Wigworthy waited next to the gate, and Spike maneuvered to be the last student out. Not too difficult; most of them were more interested in what had been laid out in the Great Hall than they were in sticking around after class. 

It wasn't quite what Spike had expected --they looked into a ball on a plinth, rather than making the climb to the aerie, but Spike supposed that made sense, in order not to disturb the animals.  Wigworthy hummed a little aimless tune under her breath as she focused in, something that went around and around like a lullaby.  Spike found herself breathing to its soothing rhythm, drifting peacefully.

"Ah, here she is.  And look!"  The griffin was lying down, head on her front paws, wings folded, somewhere between cat and dragon as she slept wrapped around an egg bigger than Spike's head.  Laid carefully and neatly over the egg was the blanket square. 

"A treasured object to protect her greatest treasure."  Wigworthy held up a fist, and Spike fought to keep from ducking away.  She said I hadn't . . . oh.  Ravenclaw thing.  Tentatively, Spike made a fist and tapped knuckles with the professor. 

"I understand you're sitting Care of Magical Creatures this term."  Spike nodded, and Wigworthy continued, "Please consider our library open and available to you, and my office door open any time.  I think you may have a special aptitude for this, and I'd like to see it developed further."

Spike thought about her OWL, the flasks and vats down in the semi-abandoned Potions lab where she did most of her work.  The tubes, the incubators; the scalpels, forceps, retractors.  The ingredients she had had to concoct out of raw materials, the equipment she had had to obtain at the glassblowers in Knockturn Alley, that she had to order from Durmstrang.  "I'll . . . do that, Professor Wigworthy."  Well, this was what she had come for.  Might as well make the most of it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lumpy, Bumpy, Irregular

The asteroid belt.  Spike sighed, crossed out yet another opening line on the parchment.  It, like so many others, looked so good, and ultimately led nowhere.  After sitting for her Astronomy OWL last term, with all of the commensurate excitement of nearly failing it at midterms, only to pull off a nigh miracle at the last possible minute, astronomy the class was proving to be somewhat less . . . interesting.  Perhaps I should have sat for History of Magic first . . . then she reconsidered her plans for the next term, assuming her OWL passed muster this term.  No, there are no boring OWLs.  "Too bad the same cannot be said for classes," she grumbled. 

Sascha looked up from the game he was playing in the corner with a rubber ball and mouse skulls.  Spike had seen him at it before, a game of speed and dexterity.  Plus it helped to have enormous hands.  "What the problem is?" he asked, scooping up the full dozen in one grab and pocketing them.

"Oh, it's just hard to get inspired over a bunch of lumpy rocks floating around in space."  Spike picked up her quill, spun it in lazy circles, then dropped it again.  "They're  . . . lumpy, bumpy, and irregular.  They fly around like rocks, tumbling over and over.  They're BORING."

"Huh.  So make something lumpy, bumpy and irregular, yah?  Crumple up de page so --" he demonstrated with the parchment and its struck-through lines, disregarding Spike's squeal of outrage, "--mebbe tear it some around de edges --"

"Sascha!"  She grabbed for it, but he held it up out of reach.

"--and add a leetle color." He splashed it with wine, mustard, and balsamic vinaigrette from the dinner tray the elves hadn't whisked away yet.  "Now.  Lumpy, bumpy, irregular.  Do you essay on dis."  And he walked away, humming something under his breath. 

Spike looked at the stained, ragged, crumpled parchment in despair. I can't write on that.  I can't turn something in on that!  I can't . . . but this is also a school of magic.  What do I have a wand for, after all?  She squared her shoulders.  I can use this idea.

At class the next day, the professor was forced to concede that Spike's submission did indeed exhibit all the characteristics of the asteroid belt. "That is, lumpy, bumpy, and irregular.  Nicely played."  Spike smiled, thinking about how after class, she would show Sascha how it also flew, much like the stones of the asteroids.  Best work on your ducking speed, Sascha.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Charmed Memory

It was a glorious spring morning -- the heather was beginning to blossom, the bees were waking up, and the gardens beckoned.  Spike picked up a cherrywood single wand and her Charms homework, going outside to work al fresco.  A parchment on a much loved person, to keep them close to you no matter the distance between you.

Sitting under a tree in the dappled shade, she thought back to an earlier time back home, sitting with her father's mother in the little gazebo she favored, under the vines in the back garden.  The area had been charmed with warmth, to keep it clear from snow even in the deepest winters.  It was always spring in Babushka's garden, she mused, the soft living heart of Schadelthron, tucked deep in the ribs of stone.

She had been a renowned witch of the single wand school of magic, turning her skills from enormous coverlets that stayed warm in the draftiest, drabbest seasons to cunning dolls and toys that tumbled and bounced in Spike's hands.  That was a wonderful day, when I was able to show her that I had learned a little of the single wand magic myself.  We sat together in the gazebo, casting together.  She was working a complex Transfiguration, changing and vanishing it piece by piece, and I  . . . I was doing Charms, wasn't I?  A simple charm, but with lightness to it.

Spike peered at the fiery heart that burned in the center of the parchment, with its Slytherin green surround.  Much like this one.  Her hands worked automatically, surrounding the center with a lattice that recalled the boards of the gazebo.

I inherited her parchments and notes when she went beyond the veil, along with many of her tools. She held up the wand, squinting at it.  In fact, this was one . . .  For a moment, she could feel the older woman's soft, wrinkled, tissue-paper hand in hers.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

A Pair of Socks

Dmitri opened the door to the lab, peered cautiously inside.  The usual warning sign on the door not to look in with the remaining eye wasn't posted, but Little Mistress was known to be somewhat absent minded when the muse was on her.  The lab smelled faintly of butterbeer, bone marrow, yarrow, and red clover.  *Safe enough.  Nothing flammable, nothing explosive.*  "Leedle Mees?  You has company."  He gently nudged his knee-high companion in through the gap.

Spike swiveled on the high stool to see a young house-elf creeping across the floor.  He wore a tattered faded Hogwarts t-shirt clearly cast off from a student's winnowings, and a stocking cap . . . no, an actual stocking on his head, the leg and foot wrapped around his neck like a liripipe.  She put three fingers to her mouth to hide her smile, coughed as a pretext. 

"That's a bad cough you have, Miss Spike.  I could get you . . ."  It's voice was high and piping, not broken yet.  *A young house-elf, then.  That explains the clothing.  Rebelling and shocking with its willingness to actually wear the real article; still within the pale by wearing them not quite right.*

"No, no, just a momentary tickle from the dust and damp."  She cleared her throat to prove it.  "No matter how you try, entropy will have its way," she added, as the elf's ears began to droop at the implied criticism.  "So!  You didn't come down to discuss housekeeping, you would have just apparated in, if that were the case.  What do you want?"

The elf stared at its bare, knobby feet, like calloused, chilblained potatoes, and mumbled something.

"Excuse me?"

He stared up at her earnestly.  "Socks, Missy.  Wibble wants socks."

"But -- Doesn't the SPEW Crew leave plenty lying about the castle . . ."  She pointed at Wibble's head.  He sighed. 

"Wibble wants  . . . Wibble . . ." he swallowed hard.  Spike wondered at how difficult it must be for a slave race to express desire for anything, any wish that would imply an ego that was capable of things like desire.  *I am not a thing that makes decisions,* she thought, and shivered.  "Wibble wants crocheted socks," he finished, a flash of defiance creeping into his eyes, then quickly extinguished.  "If that's all right," he finished, looking back at the floor.

Spike looked at the retort.  *It was going to have to simmer for an hour undisturbed, and having something to do with her hands would keep her from poking at it.  Plus, having a house elf owe her a favor  . . . yes, this could be useful on several fronts.*  "Dobby style, right?"  Wibble's eyes glittered tearfully for a second, and he nodded.

A scant hour later, the socks were complete, Wibble was sitting on the bench admiring his newly clad feet, and Spike was diligently stirring her potion, twelve deosil, fifteen widdershins, and thirteen figure of eight, reversing the center cross each time.

Wibble started to say farewell, then thought better of it.  He simply stood, turned on one heel -- *Warm!  Finally warm!* -- and vanished.