Valhalla of the North, A&C's final year, November
Artemis burst through the door to Cassandra's dorm room as fierce as the winter winds roaring outside the little window. Her blond hair made a perfect show of the gorgon blood that slithered through her family tree and clearly manifested itself in both her and her mother when they were infuriated. Cassandra had made the mistake of pointing out their resemblance to each other to her friend in the past, before she knew just how little Artemis thought of her mother Mistress Diana Winter, and had paid the price through the following years. The Winters might be related by blood but Cassandra was trying to the best of her abilities to create a new family for her friend; one that offered more than a pretty facade behind which was only indifference and misery. 'The Blood of the Covenant is stronger than the Water of the Womb' is what they had promised each other and so they were sisters of a different kind. In either case, knocking before you entered somebody else's room was apparently too much to ask for right now, even of a sister.
"I can't believe she only gave me an E!" the blond whirlwind stormed.
"Who did?" asked Cassandra from the bed where she sat reading a rather huge leatherbound book under a pile of woolly blankets. At this time of year with the unpleasantly cold winds running rampant around all corners of Valhalla the castle was on the chilly side despite the intriguing magical influence that the great ash tree Yggdrasil had on everything within the thick stone walls of the school.
"Professor Olsen. Apparently my essay on the essential properties of mercury in the fourth and final stage of alchemical transmutation wasn't entirely to her liking." The blonde radiated cold contempt for the professor's poor decision-making but Cassandra couldn't help but roll her eyes with a wry smile. She had to put her book down for this show.
"Well, didn't you basically bash her whole theory on the limits of reaching the stage of rubedo*?" Cassandra had to ask even though she felt she knew the answer already.
"Her theories are outdated and based on a series of experiments performed by a wholly mediocre wizard" the blonde snapped and Cassandra suspected that she hadn't tried very hard to hide that particular opinion of hers when writing the essay. This was hardly the first time Artemis had had a falling out with a professor over a contrary opinion in an essay but every occasion was treated with the same indignant bewilderment. You had to give it to Artemis Winter, she had guts to challenge everyone around her.
"So you don't think it's a little early in your career to question both the Professor and Potion Master Philippus who was gracious enough to travel all the way here from Athens to offer his expertise?" Cassandra cautioned but her words were only met with icy glares.
"If you and I are to discover ways of further integrating alchemy, blood runes and your beloved medical magic we better start early, do we not?" the blonde responded coldly. Their dream in a nut-shell. Their mutual goal despite Artemis always pretending that only anything concerning Potions could catch her interest. Cassandra snorted and adjusted the blanket she'd wrapped over her head and then around her.
"Are you cold?" the blonde asked suddenly with some concern blended in to her voice, the missteps of Professor Olsen already banished to the back of her highly occupied mind. She'd planned for them to revise some Advanced Transfiguration but if her friend was catching some sort of super cold she'd rather be somewhere else as not to catch it too. Even if Artemis had a wide range of elixirs stashed away in her own little dorm room she wasn't entirely certain they would work on Cassandra, her being half vampire and all. Regardless, there was always more reading to do on Advanced Alchemy. Or some seeing to that golden brew that was secretly simmering in a cauldron in her wardrobe...
"If the showers weren't so bloody far from my room I wouldn't have to spend an hour after every shower just to warm myself up" Cassandra grumbled and sent a wish into the ether for it to be summer again soon so she could return to her grandfather's house where she could freely peruse the library at any hour of the day without the need of three layers of clothes made entirely out of thick wool.
"But didn't you shower just this morning before breakfast?" the blonde asked which caused Cassandra to redden slightly and quickly make a grab for her book to put up before her face.
"Well, as grateful as I am of your interest in my personal hygiene I'd appreciate it if you didn't memorise my shower schedule" the demonstratively book-reading friend under the pile of blankets said guiltily. An awkward silence suddenly entered the tiny room and made itself comfortable between them. It brought with it a sneaking suspicion that simply had to be voiced.
"You've tried to magically colour your hair again, haven't you?" It wasn't really a question because Artemis knew that what would follow would be a resounding lack of her friend answering with a simple 'no'. Cassandra hid deeper within her pile of fabrics with the book still hiding her face. "You are holding it up-side-down, you know" Artemis added helpfully. The book was turned right way up but the friend remained silent.
Cassandra had been known to try and alter her hair colour before and always with the kind of varying results that they could both have a good laugh about after it was turned back to its original chestnut brown. It had started with a long turn of pitch black in her fourth year and then fiery red a year later but with time had come more frequent changes to shades like deep purple, forest green and for a short period of time even hot pink. The professors at Valhalla were usually encouraging about the students performing some magical experiments of their own but they had all been in agreement that electric blue was not Cassandra's colour.
"I expect it didn't go as planned" Artemis assumed as she started to edge closer to her friend while prying deeper still in to the suspicion she carried. The pile of fabrics grunted forth something that could be interpreted as a negative and then sullenly added:
"Maybe you should leave and start rewriting that essay..." but Artemis barged on.
"Not the colour you intended then?" she asked. Another low grunt came from the fabric pile.
"And now you can't change it back?" What started out as a low grunt slowly transformed itself into a wailing moan of agony as the blanket-creature slid deeper underneath the covers of the bed until the book was the only thing visible amongst the many fabrics. The blonde now stood leaning over the bed and the mound of fabrics which hid her friend.
"So... what colour is it this time?" Artemis was doing her best to not let her inevitable mirth shine through too much in her words. The failure was spectacular to hear. But it did chase that awkward silence away.
A pair of green eyes peered at Artemis from between layers of blankets.
"Promise you won't laugh?" asked Cassandra's muffled voice.
"Moi? I would never!" Artemis lied.
Shamefacedly, Cassandra gradually crept forth and let the blankets slip from her head.
"You're wearing a beanie under all of that?" Artemis sounded about as far from impressed as it was humanly possible to be.
"Extra precaution just in case someone would barge in uninvited before I could fix it" Cassandra explicitly hinted while glaring accusatory at the other girl. Artemis just rolled her eyes, shook her blond locks back and crossed her arms impatiently in front of her.
"Let us have a look then" the blonde said through pursed lips. Cassandra's hands moved guardedly to remove the beanie but stopped and dropped after only reaching about halfway there.
"Ari, it's terrible, I don't know what to do! I've tried everything. My hair is completely ruined!"
"Oh..." Artemis had an inexplicable sensation like having a bucket of icy water dumped on her head at the same time as her stomach clenched. The only times she'd ever had to familiarise herself with that sensation before was when something horrible and unexpected had happened to her. Or to Cassandra. She had to remind herself that it might not have been her hair that Cassandra had ruined with her colourful experiments but that she empathised deeply with her friend, and that was as it should be. They were sisters and they could trust each other wholly and completely. They also happened to be in agreement on the fact that failed experiments were to be kept secret and someone's hair is always to be treated with the utmost respect. If there was any time to try and be level-headed for the comfort of someone else, this would be it. Cassandra on the other hand was working herself up to frantic hysteria.
"I don't understand what I did differently this time, but it just won't turn back and I'm not even sure shaving it off would do any good..."
"Just show me" Artemis interrupted softly. "It can't possibly be as bad as that" she added to at least try and sound more reassuring, unaccustomed as she was to these kinds of situations, even after years of being friends with Cassandra and her loving family.
With glimmering tears in her green eyes Cassandra fell silent. Meekly, she reached up to her head with a shaky hand and slowly pulled the beanie off. Artemis could do nothing but gasp loudly as Cassandra's long, previously chestnut brown hair, fell down in equally long but now pale silver blond waves. The awkward silence made a triumphant comeback into the small dorm room.
"It's horrendous, isn't it?" sniffed Cassandra at last.
"It's beautiful!" Artemis breathed without a single trace of sarcasm.