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.

No comments: