Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Vituperative Vipers

Mallory Chambers and Drusilla Wormwood were sitting outside, comparing Herbology projects. Mallory proudly displayed her work.

“A chapstick cozy?” Drusilla wrinked her nose duboiusly. “I mean, it’s in the shape of a Dirigible Plum, and I love the little winglike leaves at the top, but how exactly does that defy gravity?”

“Watch!” Mallory waved her wand languidly, then tossed the container in the air, where it hovered, leaves beating in a blur of motion. “See? It’s like that Muggle trick of applying your lipstick without using your hands.” She made a moue, and the Plum darted in to swipe lip balm on her mouth. Drusilla laughed.

“That’s great!” But then she frowned. “I don’t know … isn’t Professor Undine Harkiss leading  that team this term?”

“Yeah. So?”

“So she’s supposed to be kind of … well, harsh. As a teacher, I mean.”

“Oh, as opposed to the marshmallow she is in the Snake Pit?” Mallory shivered, even in the warm sun. “The marshmallow with the stainless steel coating and venom-dripping spikes.”

“It’s just … a chapstick cosy. You know. It’s awful small. Disrespectful. Has she ever forgiven Spike for turning in that bookmark last term?”

“She must have. Isn’t that Professor Harkiss and Spike over there, by the greenhouse?”

“I think so. It looks like they’re talking about class. She’s helping Spike get into position on the scaffolding so she can craft upside down. Harkiss really does have a softer side!”

Mallory grew pale, and the Dirigible Plum cozy fell at her feet. “Oh no. That’s the scaffolding Hagrid was putting up over the …"

Drusilla’s eyes grew wide. “Over the pit of Vituperative Vipers the seventh-years are working with next week.”

The students looked at each other.

“So …” said Mallory, with a weak tremulous smile, ”Vivian, then?”

“I was thinking Blackberry Cabled Cardigan myself. Worked from the top down. I’ll need to re-chart the whole thing, of course.” They winced when Spike dropped her crochet hook, and dropped out of sight to fetch it. “But I think the end result will be worth it.”

The next morning, Spike limped into class, clutching a blanket square with an interestingly reptilian color scheme.

Professor Harkiss smiled and nodded as she accepted the square.  "Was it a challenge to create defying gravity?"  she asked, with a knowing twinkle in her eye.

Spike shrugged, and the sleeves of her robe fell back from her bandaged hands.  "Defying gravity was the  . . . least challenging aspect of this assignment, Professor."

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Truth and Courage

Spike stared glumly at her parchment for Defense Against the Dark Arts.  At the top, as instructed, she had written the phrase describing the assignment:  “Only the difference between truth and lies, courage and cowardice.”  She squirmed uncomfortably on her chair, just re-reading the words.  Courage, sure, but truth?  That was hard to own.

Below she had scratched out several beginnings that had proved fruitless:  "I like yarn."  "Green is my favorite color."  "I think I could be an Auror when I grow up."  All of them true enough, as far as that went, but not really true to the assignment.

"In order to truly, truly defend against the dark arts, one must comprehend one's own darkness." Epona Lutterworth, the Hufflepuff professor on the team had beamed genially at the class as she expounded.  Easy for her to say, though Spike sourly, her darkest secret probably has to do with the time she ran out of chocolate for muffins and substituted cocoa and oil in its place -- and didn't tell anyone!  Oh, the shame.  Oh, the horror.

"And one's light, as well," added the Slytherin professor, looking from under hooded eyes down a knife-bladed nose at the class.  "A dark wizard will not scruple to pull any aspect you strive to conceal and cast it against you.  That may be telling you that you are a worthless wretch who does not deserve to draw breath --"  his expression made it clear that most of the class fell firmly in this category "--or that you have nigh godlike capabilities.  That you can fly, for example."  Several students near the back tittered.  Spike didn't need Legilimency to see that they thought they would never fall for such an old trick, akin to the one about being so powerful that surely you could turn into anything -- including, say, a fly.  He fixed the sniggering set with his gaze, pinning them in their seats as he added,  "That you can cast spellwork far more advanced than is actually possible for you, leading you to do yourself in by channeling a flow greater than you can hold.  Leaving you a burned out husk, less than a Squib."  The temperature dropped several degrees as that thought sank in.

"Knowledge, including knowledge of self, is our most powerful weapon against those who would subvert us,"  concluded Professor Dukelow with a half smile.  "Knowledge of the truth and the courage to share it with the world through our words and deeds."  She flicked her wand, and words of fire traced themselves in the air above the professors' heads.  "We want a foot of parchment, and a practical that reveals something of your character.  Tell us who you really are, when it comes down to your heart; to where you truly live."

Spike sighed, scratching out "I don't like this assignment," "I love chocolate," and "Coffee is God."  Who and what was she, when it all came down to it?  What was the essence of Spike? 

Maybe it would be easier to start with the practical this time.  She pulled out her wand and some white thread, began working the same spell that her grandmother had taught her many years ago.  The white changed as it was pulled through her fingers, darkening slowly, and finally turning emerald green at the end.

Spike made a moue as she looked at it.  Pretty enough, but what does this reveal about me?

She looked around her worktable, hunting for inspiration.  Under a pile of paper, she found a Divination text that she had checked out on cledonomancy.  As good as any other source, she supposed.  Closing her eyes, she tossed her quill in the air, determined to walk in the direction it pointed, and find her idea at the end of the walk. 

When she opened her eyes, it was lying on the bookshelf, atop a text they had been reviewing in Muggle Studies.  The study of ordinary beasts, that life science thingy.  She pulled the text off the shelf, resigned to coming up with something like "turtles" or "spleen." 

The first word on the page was "enzyme."  She read further . . . and further still, finally finishing the chapter, then sitting with the book closed on one finger and pondering.  An enzyme.  I could be . . . no, I am an enzyme.

Returning to her paper, she quickly wrote:  "I am an enzyme.  I am powerful, dark, variable, and can change many things at my whim…even when they’re not supposed to be changed. Muhwahahahahahahaaaa!!! I can be dangerous or wonderful; it’s my choice."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Long Night

Spike sat at the workbench, reviewing her blueprints.  The weren't the clean and perfect things she had envisioned when she began this project, rather, they were full of ink, blotted and crossed out and scribbled on, notes about paths tried (and failed) trailing through the margins and marked with daggers and stars and swirls according to her personal proofreader's marks; guiding her to corners of the document, to the obverse side, to other sheets of parchment entirely, pinned to the walls like butterflies. 

She took another deep drink of her coffee, frowned when she discovered her cup was empty and cold.  One hand over her eyes, she sighed.  This was much harder than it looked.  She'd thought it would be a far more straightforward process to take the elements she was looking for to create her perfected owl and meld them together in a crucible, then pour them into a shell to hatch underneath one of the chickens kept as living incubators.  The doctor had suggested that that the creation of a new form was fraught with certain special difficulties, but Spike hadn't counted on this particular level of trouble.

Size was proving to be difficult.  Something about coding for the Chinese Fireball's ability to create flame without the evil temperament of the Hungarian Horntail also caused the resulting owl to be nearly the size of the dragon.  And that won't work.  It wouldn't fit through the halls.  Or rather, it would, but there wouldn't be room for anything else.  Including students. Or furniture.  She pictured the first time the owl made a delivery, or came to pick something up, and shuddered. 

The psyche was also going to be a challenge. Owl, bat, dragon.  Remembering the stories of Errol and Pidgewidgeon, adding echolocation to an owl's bag of tricks sounded like a good idea.  And keeping to animals with the ability to fly had seemed sensible as well.  She had considered the mammals of the sea, whales and dolphins navigating the boundless deeps guided by clicks and moans . . . and had thought better of it once she thought about it further.  While the air wouldn't be a terrifying drowning experience, gasping in the void, at the same time, wouldn't the lack of anything around you forever and ever be equally horrible?  Maybe they don't fear falling the same way we do, since they have no arboreal experience, but for them, falling means going back into the embrace of the sea.  What if you fell and fell, endlessly waiting for the water to close back over you, safe in the wet -- but there was never any?

No, it had to be a bat.  But the sole mammal brain was often overruled by the two flying reptiles, with their own odd way of seeing the world.  It needs to pass, more or less, for a normal owl.  I want it to be able to defend against predators and enemies, not to suddenly turn on its handler.  "Food source" is one thing, "food" is quite another.

She reached for her mug again, having forgotten its coffeeless state, and was pleased to find the perfect mix of hot brew and cream waiting for her.  She turned back to her blueprints again, made a small tweak to her plans, then waved her wand to reveal what would come this time.

Totenberg watched from the shadows, carafe in his hand, as a wispy image arose from the papers, coalescing into a smoky mass.  Looks like an owl, he thought, approvingly, until the bat's wings unfolded from under the avian pair, and the scaly tail flicked out, lashing angrily.  Horns and pointed ears popped out of the smooth, round feathered head, the beak elongated into a snout, and fire spouted from the nostrils.  Spike waved her hands through the image, and it vanished, broken up by the motion.

Gonna be a long night.  He weighed the remains of the pot in his hand, finished off the dregs.  Best brew some more.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

A Phoenix Reborn, Part Five

At dinner that night, Spike carefully maneuvered to get a spot in line near Hecuba, but she needn’t have bothered.  Hecuba saved a spot next to her on the bench, beaming at Spike as if they were bosom companions joining up after a long separation.  Spike took the offered seat, toying with her Yorkshire pudding and wondering where to start.

“It was a very interesting and  . . . challenging class in Potions this afternoon,” she started. 

“Really?”  Hecuba seemed a little too interested and chipper, but it was probably nothing noticeable.

“Yes.  We covered a lot of new material; some things that were very obscure.  Things I’d never heard of before.  I’m not really sure where to start; some of the directions are . . .” she shrugged, looking at Hecuba sidelong from under lowered eyelashes.  “Confusing.  Indirect, even.”

“I just sat my Potions OWL last term. Very successfully, I might add.  Perhaps we could meet in the Dungeon lab later, and you could bring your textbook.  We could sit and do some, ah, practical work, yes?”

“Oh, would you?”  Spike chirped.  “I would really appreciate that.”

“Oh, anything for Slytherin.”  Hecuba waved one purple-gloved hand, and nothing more was said about Potions at dinner.

Down in the laboratory, it was a different matter entirely.  Hecuba started with the presence of the strangers on campus, all searching through the school.  “You’ve seen them, right?  Philandra told us some more after you left this afternoon.  The Knights of Walpurgis, they’re calling themselves.  Dedicated to the purifying of the remaining wizarding houses, weeding out the Muggle-born, plotting to come out of the shadow world we inhabit and taking control from the Muggles.”

“Starting where the Death Eaters left off, then.”

“Then following through to the logical conclusion.”  Hecuba nodded, slowly.  “Can you imagine a world with them in charge, though?”

Spike could.  It was a cold and frightening vision, with no room for deviation from a tightly drawn norm. 

“So . . . we’re fighting them.  We’re little folk, we students, but ask the Romans what the little folk can do, eh?”

“So what are you doing to be ‘the rot at the root, the thorn in the foot, the worm in the wood, the taint in the blood’?”

Hecuba looked at Spike, long and hard.  Considering her next words carefully.  “Horcruxes.”  Flatly.  Casually, almost as if it were nothing more than a matter of sneaking off to Hogsmeade.

“Murder?” Spike asked, horrified.  Draconian in the extreme, no matter who was doing the dying.  At least the creation of the Hounds served a larger purpose.

“Not exactly . . .  if nothing else, people would certainly notice.  We’re making false Horcruxes, to distract and divide their forces.”

“Won’t they be able to tell the fake ones, though?”

“Not with a casual examination.  If they feel right, then they’ll take them – better safe than sorry – and since the only way to find out for sure if they’re fake or real is to try and destroy them . . .”  Hecuba grinned, a hard reptilian light in her eyes.

“They’re hardly likely to agree on that.”  Spike nodded.  “Schism in the offing.  Got it.  But how do we make them, ah, taste like the real thing?”

“With a little death.  A drop or two of human blood –use your own if you’re squicky about hurting someone.  Just a quick poke with a needle in your finger, nothing we don’t do nearly every day, right?  And then a rat, or a lizard.  Wham boom, horcrux.  Or at least close enough for the casual observer.  You in?”

What an unprecedented opportunity for mischief.  Spike grinned back at Hecuba, a rattlesnake grin, full of fangs.  “Oh, my, yes.  I am so in.”

Hecuba took off one of her fingerless gloves.  Duplicis geminio!” and then handed Spike one original and one copy, keeping the other pair for herself.  “Welcome to the Order of the Phoenix Reborn.”