The soup was served in individual tureens, thick beef broth redolent with onions, a perfect round of bread laden with cheese floating on the top to seal the heat in as it was brought out from the kitchens. Even in the lazy balmy summer evening of the garden, the warmth was welcome, and Spike cupped her hands around the bowl for a moment. Dinner at home, at last. The food at Hogwarts was lovely, and there was plenty of it, but the kitchens couldn't compare to Matya's hand-picked staff.
Matya lobbed a graceful slowball in Spike's direction. "So, Nischa, what have you been studying this past term? How's school? What's your favorite class?"
She was ready for this. Pushing all thoughts of the Order of the Phoenix Reborn out of her mind, she swallowed, smiled, and replied, "I'm taking Potions, of course." Matya had been a dab hand at potions and its sister art of poisons.
"I've heard about the teacher -- is he as good as they say?"
"He's brilliant. A little --" She thought for a moment. *How to sum up?* The teaching team was fairly nice; but she wasn't sure if she wanted to continue with the Advanced Potions with the Great Bat of the Dungeons.
"Obsessed, more like. He doesn't have room for anything but his craft."
"Mmmm. The laboratory can be a jealous mistress." She smiled sidelong at her husband, touching his hand briefly below the tablecloth. "Speaking of obsessions -- how's Arithmancy?"
Spike stared into her soup bowl, searching for an answer in the dregs of onion. "It's a little light," she finally sighed. "There's not a lot offered beyond the basics and the OWL levels."
"That's not a bad thing," said Atyets firmly. "Potions is a good, solid practical sort of magic. Arithmancy . . ." he let it trail off as he lowed his head, looking down his nose at her with ursine focus.
"I know you think it's a wild card," Spike said carefully. He snorted.
"When a potion doesn't work, most of the time you just have no result. A mess of goo. Water in funny colors. Arithmancy has been historically uneven, with results beyond expectations or utter disasters. You should know this."
Spike blushed. It was hard to be good at something; to have a talent that demanded exercise. Like leashing one of the Hounds, you can only contain it with its willing cooperation -- and who knows how long that will last. She set her spoon down, aligning it carefully with the bowl.
They covered History of Magic over the breaded fried sweetbreads, with Atyets's approval of the subject. "Good to see what mistakes others have made and learn from them. Saves time." Spike dared to mention that she was taking that subject up for her upcoming OWL, and added that she planned to consult with the good Doktor over the break. Atyets quirked one curious eyebrow, his shaven head wrinkling with the motion. "I could see with last term's OWL, why you would want his input, but for History? He's been around for a good long time, but I'm not sure he'd make a good interview subject."
Spike smiled a little. "Oh, it's not his memories I'm interested in, but his knowledge once more."
"And that's all you're going to tell us?" Matya's eyes twinkled, scenting mischief.
"It's kind of an experiment," Spike said, slowly.
"And is Hogwarts aware of this little 'kind of' an experiment?"
"Oh, I'll fill them in when I do my OWL." When it's completely done, assuming everything goes according to calculation. And if the good Docktor can help out the way I think he can. She kept her face carefully arranged in pleasant neutrality.
The blood orange and pineapple sorbet was brought, and lasted nearly as long as the discussion of Divination, with Atyets making a moue of disgust and sighing that he supposed she ought to be exposed to the practice, but she wasn't to start mooning over tea leaves.
The debate grew livelier over beef heart stroganoff and Muggle Studies. Spike gently argued that Atyets himself often said that knowledge of one's enemy -- "Or at least, uneasy and unwitting allies," she amended carefully was hardly the foolish waste of time he was proclaiming it to be. "The Muggles may one day be the thin line between . . . " she pretended to be concealing an indelicate noodle before the words "Death Eater" could escape. They'll want to know more about why that groups is on my mind, and no amount of pretended fascination with History of Magic and the Wizarding Wars is going to get me out of that.
"Remember the Burning Times, dear." It was entirely possible that Matya had some firsthand knowledge of that era, perhaps as a very young child. "The Muggles encroach further and further as they spread. There will come a time when we will need to live openly side by side with them."
"So do the rabbits," growled Atyets. "That doesn't mean I will gladly throw the garden gates open and invite them to warren in the halls."
But her diplomacy was for naught; when the truffled creme brulee appeared in delicate ramikins, she closed with Defense Against the Dark Arts . . . which lead into a discussion of why such a study would be necessary. "A good offense, and all that," commented Atyets as he broke the carmelized crust with quick neat blows of his spoon.
"So I would think that you'd be in agreement with Wroxton's choice to teach the Arts as a practical course," argued Spike, emboldened. "To be able to use not only the counter-curses, but to have familiarity with the curses themselves, some experience in creating them, in finding the correct frame of mind to truly mean your intent . . ." She trailed off under the weight of his stare.
"And that is why teaching as a practical at this age is a poor choice."
"It's not like I'm in danger--"
"Not physically; I'll grant you that." A quick smile flashed on his lips and vanished. Was that truly a year off his life, of just a day? Spike wondered. "But with the young and impressionable ones . . . there's a glamour to the darkness. You've seen what happens when the dogs wander by the hatching pens when the ducklings are coming out of the shell."
"Sure; sometimes the ducklings follow the poor dog around, peeping for food."
"And those ducklings will never learn to swim or fly unless someone steps in and re-directs them. These Death Eaters -- the masks, the brands --" he shook his head, snapping the neck of that thought. "Sheep are branded. Cattle are branded; slaves are branded. Skulls and snakes. Dark Marks indeed. They announce that you, the individual, are nothing to them; simply a means to an end. That they will use you until they have used you up, all in the name of feeding your desire to feel as if you belong to something bigger and grander than yourself. That is what concerns me; that you will fall into lockstep with these wizards and not be able to find your way out." He crumpled his napkin, pushing dessert away half-eaten.
Dinner was over, and Spike had some disturbing new thoughts about the Order of the Phoenix Reborn. A coin may have two sides, she thought, but they are bound together just the same.