"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."