Outside the castle, at the end of the bridge over the lake, Spike took a deep shivering breath. Where would Sascha go, to think things over? To be alone for a time. Where would I go? And in that thought, she had it. The hyacinth glade.
Some time ago, probably before the time of the Second Wizarding War, someone with a gift for wild Herbology had planted little grape hyacinths in a sheltering grove of oak trees. Just enough sun to let the little flowers live, enchanted to keep them warm and blooming year-round. Even in the deepest winter, the little glade was sweet smelling and warm, with no snow on the ground. You had to know where it was; the track led you all around the Forbidden Forest to the side furthest from Hogwarts. Sascha had picked up a boulder from the south field and carried it on one shoulder, "borrowed" some tools from a dusty broom closet, and carved himself a reasonable seat there where he could enjoy the flowers.
Spike herself found it restful and peaceful, the lovely purple and green, the filtered light gently coming through the trees, the candy scented air. A good place to bring parchment and quill to chew on a particularly knotty problem, drafting and redrafting a solution to something that did not have an easy answers. Like now, for instance.
She squared her shoulders. Nothing to it, but to do it. Easy to say, harder to live. When she found a hatchling spider on the path, barely the size of her hand, she nodded and bade it an absent good day. Thinking she would rather be confronting Aragog than going to have this conversation.
His back was to the path where it entered the clearing, his bright apricot blond ringlets bound with a bit of ribbon. Black today, to match the piping on his charcoal grey livery. Tomorrow, it might well be lime green, to go with the violet. Sunset orange, with the blue, or cream with the hot pink.
He'd heard her coming, she could see it in the way he was sitting, tensed and alert. Probably smelled me, too. The gentle breeze had been at her back for the past several minutes, prying gently at the cardigan she'd pulled over her robes. She took two steps to her left, to approach from the good side, and called, "Sascha?"
He turned his head, and she could see tear tracks down that cheek. "Little mistress. Beg pardon if I don't get up."
She came closer, walking slowly. "Sascha, I'm . . . I'm sorry." He turned away, staring off into the middle distance, and she crouched next to his stone chair. She looked up into his face, which seemed barely less cold and hard than the rock he perched on.
"What for?" His voice was hoarser than usual, gruff with emotion. "Just a bird, yah? A thing to be used and thrown away."
She put a hand on his knee, and a moment later, leaned her head against his leg. "I'm sorry because of what I didn't know; sorry because of the things I can't tell you. I hurt you in ways I don't really understand; I betrayed some of what you thought of me."
"Thought mebbe you would help. Doing work late at night all alone in the labs below the Pit with the other animals, thought mebbe . . . ah, don't matter what I thought, do it? Just big stupid lump of muscle, a brick. Useful tool, to be used and . . ."
Spike felt hot all over for a moment, the world skidding into redness. Did he really think-- and then she recalled the history lesson she'd just learned. Yes. A thing to be used. Like a brick being used to fortify a wall, to keep a door open, to open a window. Didn't Atyets often mutter "That's what the Hounds are for?" when a minister would advise of some peacekeeping that needed to be attended to in one corner or another of the dukedom?
But and but and but . . . These were her Hounds, these three whose faces were more familiar than her parents', certainly than her own. "Ah, by all the gods, Sascha, I wish there was something I could say, some way I could explain that the bird wasn't just useful. That its end had a higher purpose -- but isn't that what they all say?" She looked up at him, and now he had turned to look back down at her. The metal embedded in the scars not covered by the eyepatch gleamed dully in the light. "That the end justifies the means?"