Sunday, June 30, 2013

For Your Friendship, Part One

Spike took a long deep breath, let it out slowly, looking at Totenberg in a new light.  A not entirely flattering light.  Their calm firmness that she'd always counted on suddenly seemed dark and grim, foreboding and dangerous.  A cave can be a safe hiding place, or lead to endless darkness where no one can hear you screaming.  She had relied on them for shelter and protection all these years, never considering the other side of what protection meant.  "So what do I do now?"  Her  voice felt very small in her mouth.

A wry smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.  "Depends.  You gots loyal servant in Sascha.  He don't got a choice in that matter.  Can leave it at that; he be back by nightfall.  His turn outside the door, after all."  Even when they were home in Schadelthron, the trio always arranged themselves the same way.  One outside the door, one inside against the wall, and one at the foot of her bed.  It was just the way things had always been, and now Spike could see the genesis of the plan.  Always know what was on the other side of the closed door.

"Or," he continued, "you could go tell him you and I, we talk, and you understand better now.  Tell him you wish you could have fixed -- is true, yah?"  Spike nodded, slowly.  She would have fixed it if she could have.  A broken wing?  Sure, just a matter of coaxing bones back to the right place, binding muscle around them, clean up the bleeding.  A broken neck, with the light slowly fading?  The little she had learned and been able to piece together would have had a thing that flapped and screamed endlessly, but never flew or sang again. "Be his friend as well as his mistress.  Tell him why.  Or at least as much as you willing to tell of why."  He raised an eyebrow, looking at her long and hard.  "Cause there more than you saying, I thinks."

Spike flinched, trying to keep it off her face.  When she was little it seemed as if the Hounds could read her mind.  She'd learned since that it was more a matter of attention to details, such as the incriminating smears of chocolate on her apron, but even now it was spooky how they picked up on what was unsaid.  "There is more," she said slowly, "but I can't really tell you about it now."

"Would Hogwarts approve?  Or you doing some wild work on you own again?"

Hogwarts the staff would almost certainly not approve, Spike thought, with a chill down her spine, imagining trying to explain to Headmistress Wroxton about the false Horcruxes and the Order of the Phoenix Reborn.  Hogwarts the castle on the other hand . . . that certainly seemed to approve of the work being done.  Perhaps its years standing and observations of the students was more acute than the long-lived, but mortal witches and wizards administrating the education.  Or perhaps it was simply ignorant of the failings of flesh.  She chose the safer answer.

"It's not wild work, per se, and it's not on my own," she hedged.  "But at the same time, I'm not exactly free to talk about it just yet."

He steepled his fingers, resting his chin on his thumbs, fingers across his lips as if to urge silence.  "Maybe later, then.  Right now, though, I think you need to talk with Sascha.  Is what you Atyets would do."

Spike nodded, pushing her chair back.  "Thanks.  For the advice, the history lesson, and for your trust."  Halfway to the door, she stopped, turned back, and hugged him tightly where he sat, her head on a level with his.  "Most of all, for your friendship."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A History Lesson, Concluded

He decided.  Time she knows.  "Not quite.  You know how many gets lost in the process?  Either don't survive the Draught, or don't complete the Change?"  She shook her head.  "Nine in ten.  Of the ones who breathe at the end, nine of those have to be put down -- can't remaster the body, or don't have a mind left."  He took a deep shuddering breathe, remembering the agony as bone melted and flesh flowed, the vivid hallucinatory qualities that smell and sound took on during brief flickers that slowly flowed together.  The first timeless time where his limbs were too long, the lights too bright, everything crashing in on him and crushing him beneath the weight of the world.

His voice was gentle as he finished, "So.  Think.  One in one hundred is still useful at the end.  Terrible waste, yes?"

Spike sat for a moment, then looked up at him. "It's a death sentence."  Her voice and eyes were flat.

"With a slim chance of beating the hangman, yah."

Her brows knit together.  "But -- you still serve the family."

He spread his arms.  "How we run?  How we hide?"  With a wry smirk, he continued, "Can hide brands, peel off tattoos, cut collars.  But this -- this pretty damn obvious."

"That's slavery!"

"Nah, has a choice.  Can drink the Hundsbrau and take your chances, or can climb the scaffold.  Isn't a bad life.  We all has cages, even you."

"Cages?"  But thinking a little further, she could see the point.  She was at school, free to do as she would -- within the confines of doing well at her lessons, learning the skills she would need.  Would need in order to get into a cage of bigger expectations, she realized, where she would be free to do as she pleased so long as she bore an heir and a spare, and did whatever other work she was called to do.  "Cages."

"When you Atyets decided that his infant daughter would have an honor guard, he also determined that we would be bonded to you as tightly as we was already bonded to him.  So he had the Doktor help out with some conditioning to protect Little Mistress."  He closed his eyes for a moment, turned his head away.  "Ensured we'd be safe to watch over you, never be turned from our duty." His claws scratched the wood of the table as the hairs at the nape of his neck prickled.

"Took longer for Sascha.  Bit harder for him than for me and Dimcha."  He shrugged, quickly, as is warding off a blow from behind.  "We had childer, way back in the beyond, before we were changed.  Already knew what it was to have piece of our hearts walking around outside our bodies.  Made a channel there, all that needed to happen was to clean the detritus of time out and let if flow again."

"So Sascha . . ."

"Took broader and deeper -- anything small and helpless and hurt."  He looked back at her, nodded gravely.  "He believe in you, Little Mistress.  Maybe have more faith in you than you do, at this point.  You grow into the magicker he think you are, you be powerful indeed.

"Which is why he ask you to fix, to make it all be all right again, when he find something small and hurt."

The penny dropped for Spike. "Oh, by all the absent gods."

"Take it you didn't fix, just now."

"Oh, Totenberg.  I couldn't fix; no one could have fixed. I had to . . . end.  You know.  Sometimes . . ."

He nodded.  He'd had to end more than once himself.

"But I thought -- I thought he was just gentle.  Like a child himself.  So I didn't want to confuse or hurt him be explaining that --"  she closed her teeth on the last words.  The Order of the Phoenix was supposed to be secret.  Her secret.  Something she couldn't -- didn't -- share with anyone.  "--That it was already dead and just didn't know it yet.  That it was dying by inches -- by miles! -- All I did was make the hard part stop."  For a bigger purpose.  She put one hand on the table between them, begging him to understand.

He looked at it for a long moment, finally laid his hand atop hers, completely engulfing it.  "I know you mean good.  Just watch that meaning and action remain in tandem, yah?  Too easy to stand in the ashes after, saying 'But I meant well, why can't you see that?' as the survivors come marching with pitchforks and torches."

"But -- "

"But Uncle Vasily meant well, didn't he?  Wanted the throne to pass to a successor who was powerful and could not only keep it, but expand.  Wanted to keep the family strong."

"I don't know, I never actually met him.  Just cousin Rezno, once."  She frowned.  "If Vasily thought a girl was too weak to hold Scahdelthron, how would he have expected someone in leg braces and a cane to --" She stopped in midthought, staring at Totenberg over one hand covering her face.

He read the message in her wide eyes and pale skin.  "Just so.  Just as Sascha meant well when he stopped the plotting.  Be careful what you do if you can't undo it once done."

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A History Lesson, Part One

Spike left the Horcrux on the bench and hurried up the stairs.  Maybe I can catch him and explain.  Behind her, the slug picked it up and carried it away to hide it somewhere in the castle.

Totenberg was in the main room, seated at the table in the sturdiest chair.  He'd broken one of the spindly Heppelwhites during her first term there. He'd permanently collected a chair from Hagrid's cabin, and used that when he needed a place that wasn't on the green velvet chaise lounge.

"Have you seen Sascha?"

"Went out for walk.  More like 'stomp', actually."  He had been sharpening his boot knife with a strap and oil, honing the already keen edge.  He put it back in its sheath, pushed the paraphernalia aside.  "Something happen."  He leaned back in his chair, one arm over the back, opposite hand resting on his wrist, head cocked as he regarded her silently.

Spike took the seat next to him, toying with the leather, fiddling with the bottle of oil, string at her hands as if they were little scurrying animals acting on their own.  She turned the problem over and over in her head, toying with it the same way she toyed with the sharpening kit.

A long moment passed.  Totenberg took pity on his mistress.  "Funny thing," he said, eyes fixed on the middle distance, "that someone with such a tender heart should be set to guard the sole heir, yah?  The sole female heir, at that."

Spike nodded.  She couldn't look him in the eye; ashamed of what she had done.  And that was part of being like the Doctor, wasn't it?  Part and parcel; knowing what you were going to do would cause hurt in the name of helping.  The ends justifying the means.  She shivered.  No wonder he lived apart, with only his loyal creations for company.  Surrounded by mirrors; he never sees himself reflected in someone else's eyes.

"Caused some problems in the extended family, you being born a girl, being born later in life to you parents.  Not that you could help that, especially.  But the line of succession, the endless calculations and machinations, and you was so small.  Wasn't a strong baby. Was just a girl child, at that, a weak little girl child, too frail to hold power, never mind keep it, never mind grow it, yah?   Some talk of . . . ah, trying again, of erasing the past, you follow?"  Spike blanched, and he nodded.  "Just so.  You Uncle Vasily and coz Rezno, they louder than most.  Rezno had been first in line behind you Atyets, had had that lucky place for ten years.  Big boy, Rezno, strong like bull.  And Vasily smart.  Clever man.  Cunning man.  Full of plots and plans, that one was.

"You Atyets, though, he keep what is his close.  And you was certainly his.  His magicker daughter.  So he thought about it, when he heard the thunder in the distance, thought about it long and hard.  How to protect this wee chick?  And he thought of us, of his Hounds.

"You know how we made, right?'  Spike blinked at the sudden change in subject, but tried to follow.

"It's potion based," she said, slowly. "You drink the potion, and the transformation begins."

"Mmm. Try again, you know how we selected to be made, right?"

Spike brightened.  Everyone knows that.  "You're chosen from among the best and brightest of the warriors.  The strongest, cleverest, bravest.  When age or damage sets in, and you can no longer serve, you're given the option to retire, or to drink the Hound's Draft.  A second life, as it were, an opportunity to continue doing what you're best at.  A second life, full of vitality, power, and purpose."

Totenberg kept his face still.  He'd had a lot of practice at that, first from playing cards when he was enlisted, then after the Change while he worked to re-learn the unfamiliar muscles, where nothing was exactly as it should have been.  What a pretty fairy tale.  Do I have the right to dispel that?  To tell her the whole and honest truth?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Feathers and Betrayal

Spike twisted the bronze chain through her fingers, idly weaving cat's cradles with it.  A diadem, she thought.  Leave it to the Ravenclaws to have to use a fancy and particular name for a thing -- not a coronet, not a crown, not a tiara, no.  A diadem.  "What's the bloody difference, anyway?"  she muttered.

It had seemed like a good idea when she joined the gang in purple, the Order of the Phoenix Reborn.  A chance for mischief, an opportunity to foment some chaos.  To be the wrench in the wheel of the Knights of Walpurgis, safe behind the shield of youth and inexperience.  Making false Horcruxes to bring a schism into the unified Knights, to break them into factions that would trust that someone was strong enough to take the place of Voldemort and seek the banner to gather under, and to create another faction distrusting their own magical senses.  Meanwhile, this keeps their energies diverted and has the group acting at cross-purposes.  She sighed, looking at the clutter of unfinished practicals awaiting her attention.  Trouble is, it's diverting my energies, too.

She laid the chain down, twisting it into a series of loops.  It looks almost like a crown from this angle . . . if I could get it to hold steady . . .  Sascha broke into the room, something cradled in his hands.  "It flew into a window," he said. "Sorry to be disturbing, but, can fix?"  He held out the bluebird, beak open as it gasped for air.

Spike looked it over, from the splayed wings as it lay on its back, toes grasping an imaginary branch.  Its eyes still had a little light, but they weren't seeing anything. Its heart shook under the white feathers of its breast.  Its head lolled in his palm.

She shook her head.  I hate to do this in front of him . . . but I need it to complete the Horcrux.  "Give it here."

He handed it over, and she placed it gently on top of the looped chain.  "I'm sorry," she whispered, and it was over.  She pricked her finger and dabbed the blood, watching as the blue and bronze Horcrux formed.

"It had no chance, Sascha," she explained.  To him, and to the remaining feather that had fallen from the bird.  "It was gone in essence when it fell from the window; it was dead but didn't know it yet.  There wasn't any fixing, just ending.  You understand, don't you?"  Silence.

"Don't you?"  She turned, pleading, but saw only the empty room, the door left standing open.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

One More Ring

Spike stared at her notes.  Hopeless.  It’s all hopeless. They might as well be written in Gibberish for all the good they were doing.  The slug crept up onto the table, took a deep swig of her beer.  Its lips moved as it read over what she was working on.

Spike swatted at it absently.  “Get off there.”  A horcrux that would fool the casual Death Eater into believing it was the Ring Horcrux.  Just for long enough to send them on a wild goose chase after the thing, track it down in the belief that their dark master – or his equivalent – had arisen to carry on the purge of the Second Wizarding War.  “No, of course that’s not too much to ask of yourself,” she grumbled.  “Surely you could have that completed by teatime, and a cure for the nargles by bed.”

Rings  . . . what did she know about rings? The slug crept across the table, oozed down the leg, and out the door.  “I made you to help me,” she accused at its retreating back over her shoulder, and then returned to her parchment.  Behind her, unseen, it rolled its eyestalks, and continued on its errand. 

Off to eat the daisies, no doubt.  “They’re round.  They go on fingers.  They can turn you invisible, three for the elves, seven for the dwarves, nine for men.  Uhm.”  She drummed her fingers on the table.  “Gaunt had a ring that was treasured and important to him, which was why Riddle chose it to house a piece of his soul.  So it has to be something . . . special.  Something unusual.”  She poked at her supplies with a wand.

“I suppose I could go shopping at Borgin and Burkes . . . but I’d still need to get a pass to leave campus, as an underclassman.  This would be so much easier if I were a Third Year.”

Something clattered on the table, and Spike turned to see the slug goggling hopefully up at her.  It nudged a pale plastic ring a little closer to her, and she picked it up, smiling a little. 

“I haven’t thought about this in ages.  I found it in a box of treats back when I was little.  I used to pretend it was  . . . special.  Magical.”  She peered through the center hole, tossed it and caught it in one hand.  “I wonder if enough pretense could have invested it with just a little –“ Yes.  It tingled a little, there in her palm.  Well.

“Worth a shot.”  She cast a geminio and had four rings, all with the same little tickle of magic.  “That should be enough, if I bind them together.  Enough to feel substantial, right?”

With a little wand work, the rings were twisted and intertwined, and she and the slug examined them, lying on the table.

“Now all I need is a little death to give it the right flavor.”  She sighed, and the slug flinched.  “I don’t suppose you could –“ and the slug ran, squeezing into a small crack in the wall.  “Wait!  I didn’t mean you!”  She heard a squealing shriek from within the walls, and the gastropod reappeared, clutching a rat by the scruff of the neck.  In a moment, Spike had it by the tail, and the deed was done. 

She added a drop of her own blood to the joined rings; wiped her hands on a rag, shivering.  I don’t know that I could ever take the Dark Mark.  I can’t see ever being comfortable with taking the light out of a person, if doing a rat in is like this.