Sunday, December 01, 2013

Wood and Water

Spike pulled her boots on just as the gong rang.  Running late again, she thought irritably.  She took a fleeting glance in the mirror, shook her head at the state of her hair.  No time for it.  She tied it in a bun, jabbing her wand in to hold it in place as she trotted to the line of Snakes getting ready to troop up to the Great Hall for the end of term feast.

She wasn't in much of a hurry; she remembered the last term's feast.  Last.  Dead last.  Behind Hufflepuff, even.  She had hoped that Headmistress Wroxton would find some way to grant Slytherin enough bonus points for especial cunning, points for plotting and planning, --"For biting off just barely as much as she could chew, 200 points to Nikolevnischka "Spike" von Schaedelthron!" And then the banners would change to green and silver again, and Slytherin would have won.  But we didn't.

Atyets hadn't been particularly pleased, but neither had he been as angry as Spike had suspected.  It's as if what Totenberg said was true, that he intended I learn what it was to lose, and find some determination not to be defeated again.  To figure out what it would take to achieve victory, and then do it, not just to plan big or dream big -- but to do big.  She stopped in her tracks, and the firstie behind her nearly walked into her back. To do big. Well, and she had done big this term, hammering out her Care of Magical Creatures OWL, even though it had had a mind of its own.  The monster was in a special cage in the Owlery, with a fireproof coverlet to keep it calm and quiet. *I wonder if it's figured out how to use its tentacles to pull the cover off yet?  I wonder if it's managed to figure out how to pick the lock on the cage, yet?

She had created seven fauxcruxes, and had been prepared to hide them throughout the castle, if the Order of the Phoenix hadn't cancelled the mission at the last moment.  Learned a lot, doing that. She'd received a history of the Hounds as part of her education, not one taught at Hogwarts, but imparted by one of her bodyguards.  She'd learned more of her role as the Little Mistress.  It's been a good year.  She hurried to close the gap between her and the back in front of her.

They filed into the Great Hall with the purple and white hangings.  At least they're not blue and bronze.  If they couldn't be the colors of her House, at least they weren't the colors of another.  House Unity -- hanging together in the face of a common enemy.  Belvina Pascoe was already seated with the rest of Ravenclaw, her amethyst pendant winking in the candlelight.  Spike caught the Phoenix Operative's eye and nodded once.  Belvina reached up to adjust her cap in what might have been a tiny salute, the merest hint of a wave.

Slytheirn was the last to enter, based on their House standings from last term, made to enter under the eyes of all the other Houses, the literal last to the feast.  Spike took a deep breath, smelling the good scents of roast meat, sauces, bread, vegetables, the sugary hints of dessert to come and crusts browning.  Is it harder to be first, to sit here and wait for the rest to assemble, and then for the Headmistress's Address, or to be last, to have everyone eyeing you and waiting for you to finally take your seats so the thing can start?  She hoped to be able to compare the two extremes next term.

At long last, Wroxton took the podium, shuffling through bits of parchment. "Well, here we are again," she beamed.  "Another term gone by, and I know you are all just as anxious as I am to tuck into the lovely feat the House Elves have prepared.  But first, the standings.

"In fourth place, with a valiant 35,898 points – Gryffindor!"  Spike applauded politely with the rest of the students, secretly relieved that it wasn't her house this time.  Three more though, and only one of those really counts.

"In third place, with 40,883 points – Hufflepuff!  Good effort, Hufflepuff."  The Badgers clapped each other on the backs and exchanged hugs around the table.

"It was a close one this term.  With 42,034 points, I give you – Ravenclaw!!"  The 'Claws didn't look so happy as that, but nodded wisely.  Spike could almost see the wheels turning as the students began to mentally sort their projects and begin polishing plans for next year.  An extra class here, a slightly larger project there, a more achievable OWL or NEWT.  Something that would let them complete their Advanced Studies for the extra points, and yet take more than the one class required of all students.  Wait.  Does that mean-- She held her breath.

"And that, of course means, that in first place, the winners of the House Cup, with 45,957 points, I give you the most noble and ambitious House of Salazar Slytherin!"  Bursts of emerald and silver light flared above the tables as the tapestries turned to green and silver, the serpent emblem proudly emblazoned.

Now she'll take it away, thought Spike, She'll award enough points for something or other to one of the other Houses.  To Gryffindor, probably.  But no, the Headmistress was walking back to her seat, smiling and nodding to the Heads of House at the main table.  Professor Gorre was accepting congratulations from her peers. It was real; Slytherin had won the House Cup.

"I thought it would feel . . . different, somehow," Spike confessed that night as she climbed into bed and Totenberg pulled the covers over her.  "I thought winning would feel like the opposite of losing.  The after party was nice; don't get me wrong!"  she added in a hurry.  The Pit had been jumping most of the night, drinking butterbeer from the House Cup before placing it on the mantle and casting a mass Sticking Charm.  The charm would be undone by Professor Gorre in the morning, of course, but it was still nice to think they could hang on to it forever and ever.  "I just thought there'd be more there to it."

"Winning and losing is both temporary," Totenberg reminded her.  "Hurts to lose, but brings you back with more determination, yah?  Winning the same -- feels good, and brings you back . . ."

"With more determination.  Yeah."  She thought about it for a moment.  "Yeah.  I think . . ." she yawned.  "I think I'll need to go and talk to Herr Scherblocken when we get back home. He was a lot of help with my OWL this term, and if we're going to keep it, I'll need to be on my game."

"Wait -- de Scherblocken??  Spike?"  But she was already drifting off to sleep.

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