Spike felt time slow and become viscous around her, the way it always did when something bad was about to happen. She had time to notice that each student was from a different House, and each of them was wearing something purple. Philandra had a lovely amethyst brooch right above the Gryffindor crest. Hecuba Entwhistle of Slytherin was wearing purple fingerless gloves. Belvino Pascoe from Ravenclaw had a lace scarf; Appoline Hopkins of Hufflepuff had a beret tipped rakishly to one side. The House Unity color, and someone from every house. Come to think of it, there had been a positive rash of purple accessories around campus lately; Spike had chalked it up to just another passing fad. Or perhaps a means of gathering bonus points in one class or another; History of Magic, perhaps.
She held up Philandra’s textbook, part shield, part explanation. “I seem to have--”
“Clodere!” hissed Belvina, and the door slammed shut behind Spike. She stalked over to Spike. Tall, gangling, and slim as hope, she resembled nothing more than a crane intent on a frog. “What are you really doing here? How did you find us? Who sent you?”
“Easy, Belvina.” Hecuba joined them, smirking. Her eyes twinkled with amusement. “She’s just a second year; she’s harmless.”
“Everyone was a second year once,” countered Belvina. “Even Tom Riddle was a second year, and he hardly turned out harmless.” She paused for a moment, thinking. “Wasn’t this the one who was given the boot from Durmstrang?”
“That wasn’t my fault--” Spike started, but a hard look from Hecuba shut her up.
“That hardly makes her a Death Eater, does it? She was accepted at Hogwarts; she’s one of us now.” She nodded at Spike. “What really happened? How did you find us here?”
Spike explained about the man and the house elf, about the collision in front of the bulletin board, holding up the textbook. “So really, I just wanted to get my Potions homework back and go on to class. I wasn’t going to . . . well, anything but that, really.”
“Just following orders? A lot of that was heard during the last war, wasn’t it?” Belvina didn’t seem willing to let it go. Once she got an idea in her head, it was hard to make her change her mind. The saying about confusing one with the facts could have been written just for her.
“She doesn’t have any orders,” said Philandra with a half smile, handing Spike back her Potions textbook. “She undertook this on her own initiative, in order to get what she wanted. She showed great determination and resourcefulness in the face of some adversity.” She winked at Spike, who blinked in confusion. Why is she being playful like this, all of a sudden? She had the feeling something a little deeper than she could see was going on. House unity colors, masked strangers on campus, students from different houses all meeting in secret. This isn’t intramural Quidditch, I don’t think.
“No, she doesn’t have any orders – yet.” added Hecuba. “But just as help will always be given to those who ask for it, orders can be . . . mmmm, provided. Provided you know where to look, eh, Spike?” She stared pointedly at Spike’s Potions textbook. “I’m pretty good in Potions, myself. Perhaps we could meet in the Slytherin lab later tonight if you have any . . . questions about today’s material, eh?”
“You really should be on your way,” added Appolina kindly. “If the professors give you any trouble, just let them know you saw me in the hall, and I stopped you for a moment. They’ll understand, I think.”
Spike knew an exit line when she heard one, and rushed off to class. When she handed in her scroll on sweet clover and moonstone, she found another piece of parchment wedged in the pages. She opened the folds carefully. All that was on the parchment was a large purple number one, edged with gold.
Frowning, she tucked it back in the book. She was definitely going to corner Hecuba in the laboratory after dinner and ask about the ‘new material’ in the Potions textbook.