Sunday, October 27, 2013

Minds of Their Own

Spike staggered in from the mews, singed and tattered, wearing a dragonhide glove on one hand. On that wrist rode a rather ordinary looking owl, blinking sleepily in the daylight. Spike dropped into an oversized green velvet armchair. The owl flapped its wings to stay balanced, hissing irritably. The dorsal side of its wings were feathered, but the underside was leathery and lightly furred.  A questing tentacle pushed out into the open air, flailed for purchase, then tucked itself back away under the wing joint.

Spike tossed her wrist, and the owl glared before it launched itself to circle the glass ceiling. The giant squid swam closer to take a look. Trailing behind the owl was a scaly tail with a spade tip, lashing as if the bird were swimming through the air.

Spike sighs, rubs her temples. “It’s finally done. My Care of Magical Creatures OWL is finally complete.”  She had spend every spare second of the last few weeks, forgoing sleep and meals as she worked feverishly to breathe life into her creation.  A nice change, after the horcruxes, she thought, watching the beast soar.  Still, things could have been better -- I could have done better.  Should have done better; Herr Scherblocken is likely to remind me of that when I go home between terms.  

“I can see that!” Marvella, the Slytherin OWL Enforcer, beamed as she hung her whip back on her belt. “And it’s not even the end of the month!” She squinted as the beast came to rest on the fanged skull atop the bookshelf, coiling its tail carefully around its legs. “But is it supposed to look like that?”

The owl yawned, displaying jagged fangs like a drawer full of ivory fishooks, then belched flames before closing its eyes and settling its feathers. Spike shrugged.

Sometimes they have minds of their own,” she replied.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Favor Asked, Conclusion

"Lot to ask for," said Totenberg, but he was pulling the ring off and offering it to her as he did.

"You asked for a lot, too."

The Hounds' Rings were an old tradition that had fallen out of favor.  Originally they had been made from the gold in a single coin, beaten and twisted into a plain ring to fit the newly transformed Hound's hand.  Worn on the left hand in place of a wedding band, effectively married into the service.  *Somewhere between a Muggle's "king's shilling" and a Muggle nun's wedding band,* Spike mused as she set the four rings on the table.  She had begged for a pretty ring like the ones her guard wore when she was small, and Totenberg had proudly presented her with one the WinterFeast where she had turned six.  She'd worn the band ever since, starting on her forefinger and moving along her hand to her pinkie as she grew, finally hanging it on a chain when even her smallest finger proved too large.  She'd thought to pass that down to a daughter one day, but it seemed like it would need to serve a different purpose.

Four rings on the table, carefully interlocked.  A few words, the gestures had been made, and all that was left--Totenberg grabbed her wrist and stopped her just as she was about to prick her finger.  "All of us," he growled.

And it was done.

For  some reason, Spike had been expecting lightning and thunder, something big and dramatic to signal the completion of the task, but there was nothing.  Not even a change in the lighting -- except for the purple flare in the corner.

"What's that?"  Sascha asked, edging a little closer to her.  Spike groped at her left shoulder, realizing something was missing and had been for some time.

"My brooch," she said.  "I wondered where that went off to, but with one thing and another, well, I just hadn't had time to look for it."  She dug through the pile of papers in the corner, tossing sheets of notes and crumpled wads out of the way.  *I wonder what all I've missed.*  She was going to have to make a point of casually bumping into Hecuba in the next day or two.

"So.  Done now?"

"Yeah.  All seven horcruxes -- faux horcruxes -- made and ready to place."  Spike yawned, suddenly aware of how very late it was.

"Good.  Good to be done with big project," Totenberg agreed, pointedly eyeing the covered cage in the corner.  "Good to get some sleep so you can work on OWL tomorrow, yes?  Going to have to burn the oil at midnight in order to get that done before the end of the term."

Spike sighed and nodded.  *Hecuba was going to have to wait.  Ah well, if it was anything really important, she would have found a way to let me know.*

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Favor Asked, Part Two

"So what would you have of me?"

"We know what you doing."  Her heart sank, and for a moment, the world went grey at the edges.  I swore an oath  . . . what's going to happen now?

"I don't see how."  Playing for time.  Praying for time.

"Not down to the details, but 'nuff."  Dmitri gestured at the covered cage in the corner.  "You OWL being neglected, you studies going by the wayside -- all the late nights alone down here."

"What you Atyets say, we let you fail this term?  Let you drop you OWL?"  Totenberg's voice was gentle, just as Atyets's would be when he lectured her about responsibility and disappointment in words that cut and stung.  "Think he be happy?"

She shook her head.

"Not with you -- less with us."  It was as if he was musing aloud to himself.  "You the heir to the chair, he can't spare you.  Us?  We disposable.  Send us off to keep the peace in the north 's best can be done, replace us with magickers, mebbe.  Can you imagine?"

She could.  It would be like living in a circle of Hogwarts staff; people concerned with rules and regulations and making certain they were followed to the letter.  Like living with Umbridge in loco parentis.  A half-dozen Umbridges.  "So what do you want?"

"Be part of this.  This project you do. Give what help we can so you can get done with this t'ing and move on.  Said you had big plans for next term's OWL; using this one as a proving ground.  What you gonna prove if it falls apart, not because is bad idea, but because you got--"  he held up one hand, palm open and empty, gave half a shrug --"distracted?"  The Hounds' ring on his third finger gleamed in the light, and Spike stared at it, an idea for this, the last Horcrux, slowly taking shape.

"All right.  You each know a piece of what's going on, and if I know you, you've already put your heads together and figured out most of the rest."

"Horcruxes."  The word was flat in his mouth, devoid of the resonance a wizard always said it with, whether loathing or longing.

"Right.  We're -- and no, I can't tell you who, but that's not really important -- trying to make some other group -- and they don't matter either -- believe that Voldemort or someone with the same kind of raw power has risen again to carry on the work started all those years ago.  I wanted to re-create the original seven, and I'm done.  Almost.  I'm here at the last one, the one for Hufflepuff's Cup."  She took a deep breath, slumping with the release of her secret.

"So.  We help.  How?"

"Well, Hufflepuff.  They're about teamwork, about gritting through the hard task and seeing all the way through.  They're loyal, open, accepting, bonded.  'The yellow and black pack attack,' right?  You never see just one Hufflepuff, they're always with at least one other person, and they're really comfortable with all the students -- I even see a couple in the Pit now and again!" She thought about her first Horcrux, the recreation of Gaunt's Ring.  Going to have to do this.  She reached behind her head, and pulled off the necklace that had hung there ever since she outgrew the tiny ring dangling from the chain.  Puddled it in one hand.

"So I need something sentimental, something with meaning and history.  I can't just use magic to turn this one into the four I need; that won't carry over the same way that the Cup would.  It wouldn't have the vibrations of many diverse things coming together."  She looked at each of them in turn.  "I'm going to have to ask for your Hounds' Rings."

Sunday, October 06, 2013

A Favor Asked

Spike picked up her coffee mug looking for inspiration at the bottom.  It was empty, cold and dry, and she set it back down with a sigh.  I could call a House Elf . . . but then I'd have to explain what I was doing here at this hour.  They keep watch for the staff, you know they do.  Perhaps I've actually had too much coffee, if I'm thinking this way*  She pushed her stool back from the workbench, stretching muscles gone aching from the hours she'd spent hunched over the last horcrux.  Hufflepuff's cup.  Gold and black.  Teamwork, hard work lightened by good cheer and many hands.  I have to cram all that into  . . . something, something and seal that with a little death and blood.

"No, they don't ask much, do they?"  She started pacing the floor again as Nagini watched from atop the cage of mice.  "I wonder how the other operatives are doing with this assignment?  If only I could ask around, find out some pointers from more advanced students.  But just the act of asking would probably be enough to tip the staff off that something was afoot."

Someone tapped at the door, and she whirled to give the bench a quick once-over.  Seeing nothing obviously incriminating there, she called her visitor in.  Maybe a break was what she needed, she'd been at it every waking hour that could be stolen away from studies and OWL.

Totenberg stood in the door.  He had removed his hat, and held it in one hand.  Spike blinked.  They never take their hats off -- well, to scratch their heads, maybe.  She wasn't sure of the significance, but they'd go barefoot through the snow before they went bare-headed in good weather.  "Is good time?"  She could just see Dimo and Sascha lurking behind him.  All three of them together?

She shrugged.  "Sure."  Well, and why not?  Now was no worse than any other time.

He came in, and Sascha closed the door behind them.  No one left to guard the corridor.  It must be important.  "We you loyal minions, yah?"

"Since the day I was born."  She'd heard the stories, how when she came into the world, Totenberg's were the fourth hands to hold her -- the midwife, her mother, her father, and then the captain of her father's personal guard.

"As you minions, we come to ask a boon."

She'd heard people plead with her father with that kind of formal language before, and he'd never refused to grant that favor, assuming it was in his power to do so.  Sometimes it took some work behind the scenes, many whispered meetings, but it was always fulfilled.  She'd asked once why, and he'd told her that when you took responsibility for holding someone else's life in yours, you did what you had to do for them.  It hadn't made much sense to her, until she saw what he expected of his vassals and minions -- everything, with nothing held back for the return.  It balances.  The right hand, and the left.  Now her left hand was asking a favor of the right.