Sunday, September 29, 2013

Dusty and Purple

Hogwarts had arranged for a field trip -- Finally, a chance for the underclassmen to get to explore the world! Spike had thought when they first announced the trip in her History of Magic class.  Now, however, in the field, she was having second thoughts.  It seemed that the upperclassmen, upon returning to the Pit, had carefully edited their adventures, leaving in only the best bits and taking out some of the grotty details, like the heat and the-- she sneezed -- the dust.  Pyramids. Handy for sharpening razor blades, but otherwise-- Spike sneezed again. Dirty, dingy dust-traps. Why don’t they have house-elves? Oh, right, there are some things even a house-elf won’t touch.

The walls of the glorified tomb pressed in close and closer. Even the decorations’ glowing colors in the light of her wand failed to inspire. Down here, the dark eats the light. I can look at the art, which is what we’re here to see, or I can look where I’m going-- “Ouch!” Her ankle twisted as she set her high-heeled boot down on a pebble.

She sat down quickly, rubbing the sore joint. Picking up the pebble, she took a closer look by the light of her wand tip.

Huh. It’s a pretty little thing--too bad it’s broken. She tucked it absently in a pocket in her robes. Standing up, she rejoined the group.

Later that night, she put it atop a white lace doily on her nightstand. Violet was a favorite color of hers, lush and soothing.

When she woke the next morning, the figurine was missing! And the doily had changed from silvery-white to several shades of violet.

“What the--”

Then the three-legged cat with a human face hobbled into the room, and it all became clear.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Antidotes and Complications

Spike stared at the instructions on the board in dismay. Create a complex antidote. Lovely. She sighed, flipped open her book, and stuck her wand into her hair to hold it all back up off her face. All right. Part of the problem is mixing the ingredients. I haven’t been blending finely enough, and stirring in the right order is tricky. If only I had ekletrickity, like in Advanced Muggle Studies. I could use a blenderizer, like we did for those frozen drinks at the beach party … She stopped dead in the act of reaching for the powdered boomslang skin. A blenderizer

Swiftly she combined all forty-six ingredients in the cauldron, setting the flame underneath to bring it to a slow simmer. Now, deiseil twice, widdershins once, then once, then twice, then three times, then once, once, twice, finishing once deiseil, then reversing direction but not number. Got it. She grabbed her wand from her hair, murmured ”Revuelvo,” and dropped it into the cauldron, where it sank to the bottom and began to spin. Clockwise, anticlockwise, then reversing around again.

Yay for Muggle Studies! thought Spike, as she began to tidy her bench.

All was going well until Drusilla asked Spike to pass the unicorn warts. “Is it supposed to be that color?” Dru hissed under her breath. Spike looked down, with sinking heart. The potion was willow green with streaks of color floating through it like ribbons. “How--?”

Spike touched her hair and found … her wand holding up her heavy bun. “Oh, bloody …” She had dropped her hairstick into the potion, and the Little Gods only knew what that had done to the complex antidote. Worse, here came Professor Halliwell, ready to check her work.

Thaddeus sniffed at the vapors.

“Nettle extract, sea buckthorn oil, nice, very nice. Ground pearl, unicorn hair, uhmmm hmmm. Willow … not willow bark, the actual wood. Interesting choice. And is that … yes, I think so. Glass and copper. The copper I understand, but the glass, Spike?”

“For … unification. And clarity.”

He raised one eyebrow. “And?”

Spike racked her brains. There was something else glass did that was important … got it. “For flow even in stasis.”

“Fifteen points to Slytherin. Well done.” The professor moved on, and Spike retrieved her hair stick from the cauldron. ”Evanesco,” she hissed, and the goo came away leaving the stick clean.

But when she took it out of her hair that night, the glass finial was nowhere to be seen. Instead, tiny copper branches supported tinkling green crystal leaves that chimed together softly.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Friend's Words

Spike sat in the lab, thinking.  Two more faux Horcruxes to create, and then the project is through; I can send Nagini to disperse them through the castle.  In front of her lay a scrap of parchment, written on both sides.  She was now to the point of turning it ninety degrees and writing over her old notes in her hurried half-uncil scrawl.  It wouldn't do to have this fall into the wrong hands; the fewer pieces of paper she needed to track, burn, and Vanish the ashes, the better.

At the top, she had started a bulleted list under the header "What Makes a Diary."  Memories, obviously, memories, plans, dreams.  The habit of doing it every day, that has a certain magic to it. The things we do for reasons of our own.  The evolution of plots and plans as we write them down.  She sighed, rubbed her temples.

"One would think this would be an easy one," she mused to Nagini, who blinked at her words.  Spike wished she could teach the slug to blink in code -- left for no and right for yes, even.  I'm to the point of asking a slug for advice.  It must be bad.  "The thing is," she continued, "while I have all kinds of notes to myself on scraps and bits, and I have some that are from before I even went to Durmstrang the first time, none of them really qualify as a diary.  They're just . . . notes to myself.  If they contain plotting and planning, it's because I needed to unpack them out of my head and see if they were workable or not.  I just did them when it was too loud to think about anything else.  There's no . . . consistency, no energy from the daily attention and care that goes into a diary."

Spike got up to pace; she thought better on her feet sometimes.  Nagini watched her from the top of the workbench, safely away from her boots tapping on the flagstones.  "I've tried keeping journals before, tried to write words every day about what was going on; tried to create images and words to evoke my week, thought it would be a good thing to have something tracking where i was and what I thought, but they always seem to devolve into what I ate for lunch.  Or fall apart entirely.  Then I'd burn them to get the energy back, and now . . . now I wish I had one.  I'd gladly sacrifice it to complete the set.

"I could ask . . . could ask Totenberg for one of his old journals, but that's like asking for his heart.  He'd give it to me gladly, but  . . . but."  She stopped, pondering.  This must be one of the hard parts of being the Mistress.  She'd watched enviously as her father gave orders that were obeyed without question, waiting for the day when she would have loyalty that she could call on like that.  She'd never stopped to consider the Master's share of the cost, of knowing you were asking someone to do themselves harm to serve your ends. "Spend them carefully, Spike," he'd said to her more than once as the chamber cleared after a quick discussion with the generals, where he'd given the Hounds orders that were received with hardly more than a nod and salute.  Muttering outside the door broke her reverie, and she quickly tucked the parchment scrap into her robes, grabbed a mouse from the cage, and quickly and sloppily Transfigured it into a teacup with whiskers and a tail, to explain why she was here in the lab so late.

"Come in!"  No need to fake the frustration in her voice, let them blame it on the cupmouse.

Totenberg slouched in.  "Sorry to disturb," he said, laying a cup of cocoa on the workbench, next to a bit of paper.

Actual paper. She picked it up.  Yellowed and crumbling at the edges, she saw Totenberg's familiar copperplate and the word Rhaedestus near the top.  That was . . . probably about the time he made captain, one of his first battles.  "This is part of one of your old journals," she said slowly, as he nodded.  She held it to him, but he took a step back, hands at his sides.  "I can't --"

"You need it," he said.

She could feel the energy crackling in the paper, ready to be turned to new purpose.  "But--"

"You need it," he repeated, as the door closed behind him.

And he was right, I do need it.  She placed the cupmouse on top of the parchment, spilled a few drops of blood into its bowl, then shattered it on the table to create the Horcrux.  Nagini blinked approvingly.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

What's That Smell?

In the Potions lab underneath the lake, Spike snarled softly as she perused a clay tablet marked like-- “Fenris’s bedraggled chewtoy!!” She pounded one fist on the table, nearly crushing a wandering cootie. “I don’t know why I didn’t stick with Divination. Or Nutrition. But no, it had to be Ancient Runes, during the month when we studied early Muggle societies.” She lifted the lid off a container filled with what had been snails, and winced at the aroma in the air. I’d open a window, if I had one. She looked at the glass ceiling above. Maybe … no, probably not.

Trevor came in. “What are you doing, Spike? It smells … well, you know what it smells like in here. Are you going for extra credit in Potions?”

“I wish. No, it’s Ancient Ruins. This is supposed to be a way to make dye from shellfish. Very expensive stuff--and I see why! I wouldn’t put up with this stink cheaply either.”

“So you--”

“Found a cuneiform tablet for Tyrian purple, just like objects that King Ashurbanipal would have had, and now I’m trying to color this square in a gradient.”

“Hooo. That’s a lot of work.”

“Tell me.” Spike rolled her eyes. “Fortunately, I think we’re done.” She flicked her wand to disapparate the smelly goo, leaving a clean square behind.

They looked it over. “Looks nice.  And hey --at least no one is going to drink your dyestock--not like Kool Aid.”

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Magic Lantern Show

AS a Second Year, Spike was now expected to take place in the Headmistress's Challenge each term at Hogwarts.  At first it had seemed like a lark, a way to earn a few more points for Slytherin.  Now, lookeing out over the sea of eyes, Spike wasn't so sure.

Spike cleared her throat, shuffled through her scrolls of parchment at the lectern. Her carefully prepared speech might be resting on an owl’s outstretched wings, but right now, the cat had her tongue. And had most likely left it in the Potions lab under the lake.

Then she dropped her notes. Flaming Muggle Studies!! Smiling weakly, she gathered them all back up onto the lectern, selected a likely looking beginning, and started to read.

“ ‘Jim knew every centimeter of his shadow, could have cut it out of tar paper and run it up a flagpole – his banner.

“ ‘Will, he was occasionally surprised to see his shadow following him somewhere, but that was that.’ "

Wroxton waved her to a stop. She removed her glasses, pinched the bridge of her nose lightly between thumb and forefinger, as if warding off a headache. “Miss Spike …”

“Actually, Headmistress, it’s Miss von Schadelthron.” She dropped a brisk curtsey. “Everyone gets that wrong. It’s my great-great second cousin, forcibly removed, the blond vampire in the dungeons. It causes a lot of confusion, having undead in the family tree.”

The Headmistress’s smile wavered, then tightened, hanging on to her mouth with grim determination. “Be that as it may, Spike, I was going to say that while I am the Headmistress, and may perforce be presumed to know everything, I am also a dreadful Legilimens. While I can see you have some lovely character studies of a Gryffindor and a Slytherin going here, I would like – nay, sincerely appreciate—some context. If you would be so kind?”

“Jim, your dark Slytherin boy, is Jim Nightshade. The Gryffindor counterpart is Will Halloway. They’re the thirteen—almost fourteen—year old Muggle protagonists of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and the inspiration for my presentation."  She let go of her death grip on the podium's wings.

“Now, Jim and Will encounter a very dark and quite powerful wizard. Assuming that Niven’s Law applies--”

“Unpack, Spike. This is your thesis to defend; define your terms.”

“Right. Well, Niven’s Law. Any sufficiently rigorously defined magic is indistinguishable from technology.”

“Nicely done. Continue.”

“So …” she found the actual beginning scroll at last. “Ray Bradbury was an esteemed writer of the First Fandom. Bradbury earned his membership by publishing a newsletter devoted to speculative fiction in the 1930’s. In 1962, he wrote Something Wicked This Way Comes.

“Here we have Jim and Will, dark and light together yet apart. Again, they are young male protagonists, much like the story of the Boy Who Lived. Again, they find themselves thrown up against a shrewder, stronger, more powerful enemy who knows more magic than they, with only a single older man to guide them and pass along the information they need in order to ultimately claim victory.

Something Wicked This Way Comes opens with the carnival arriving in Jim and Will’s town, just as the Potter histories open with Harry receiving his admission letter to Hogwarts. Both sets of heroes find that the world they had always assumed would play by the rules they were taught has now turned upside down. Jim and Will find a carnival like a larger Mirror of Erised; it finds the deepest longings in your heart and pulls them to the surface, then grants them to you, with a wrenching twist. Miss Foley, the boy’s older spinster English teacher longs to be young and beautiful once more. The carnival grants this desire, except she’s rendered blind in the process. The town barber, who has an eye for the ladies, goes into the hootchie-kootchie tent, and is transformed into the carnival’s own Bearded Lady.”

“You mentioned Niven’s Law?”

“I did. See, there are no incantations, no wand movements, no potions. Magic happens, but through things, like the mirror maze that alters Ms. Foley, the dancers who transfigure Mr. Crosetti. And the calliope!” Spike’s eyes glittered. “The calliope which can add years or take them away. See, it’s all artifact-based.”

“Like the Philosopher’s Stone?”

“Mmmm, yes, but the Stone was created through alchemy, a subset of potions practice. There’s no mention of such in Something Wicked This Way Comes, just the carnival running on its own power, and perhaps the caged lightning of elec-- elec-tri-ci-ty.” She sounded the curious Muggle word out carefully.

“Hmmm. And the socks, Spike. I see the dark and light, for Will and Jim, yes?”

“Yes, and all the colors for the carnival. If I may?” She flipped through the scrolls again and read, “ ‘ For the tents were lemon like the sun, brass like wheat fields a few weeks ago. Flags and banners bright as bluebirds snapped above lion-colored canvas. From boots painted cotton-candy colors, fine Saturday smells of bacon and eggs, hot dogs and pancakes swam the wind. Everywhere ran boys. Everywhere sleepy fathers followed.’ “

“One last thing. I thought your proposal said this was multi-media, Spike.”

“It is, Headmistress, but ah—“ she gestured to the younger students perched on the edge of their seats. Word had been trickling through the school about the Muggle Lantern Show Spike was arranging for the finale. “So upon second thought, I’ll be playing the lantern show in the Forbidden Forest tonight.”

“Hmmmm. And just what would you know about the Forest? You’re only a second-year, after all.”

Spike dropped her notes again.