With thanks to Herman Melville for the quotes. (And chocolate chip cookie making elves everywhere.) And of course, JK Rowling, to whom we owe everything. Please don't send the lawyers...

rabbit and jinx

"Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor's quill! Give me Vesuvius' crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For... my thoughts... they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep... "


It's No Picnic

Chapter 5

What everyone said was true: Fifth Year really was Different.

To Snape's complete bewilderment, another Friday night had presented him with A Very Full Social Schedule which had included, in whitewater rapid succession: bartending at another boisterous bash, dashing like Danceny back and forth between Lucius and Narcissa (the pair of whom had graciously Agreed to Argue), subsequently struggling throughout the wee hours to reduce a mountain of homework to a manageable molehill, and falling into a frightmare wherein a Hitchcockamamie flock of origami O.W.L.S. chased him into the Forbidden Forest and brought him to bay in a moonlit hollow where he discovered to his horror that he'd lost his wand and in his pockets had only a needle, some thread and a handful of sawdust–

It was Nothing Short Of Rescue when the brilliant trilling of the Blazing Budgerigar sank like a hundred bright, shiny, little hooks into the murky depths of Sev's swamped brain, and snagged him and dragged him back to consciousness.

He prised his nose out of his mystifying Muggle Studies manual, pried the pages loose from his hair, and scrambled out of his nest of leafpiled parchments and butterflied books, struggling towards the sound of The Blasted Bird which he found perched placidly upon the rim of a cup of cocoa piled high with multicolored miniature marshmallows.

This cup was held by The Headmaster.

Dumbledore was wearing a fluffy, flowered dressing-gown and fuzzy, fuchsia bunny slippers; he was seated comfortably cross-legged amidst a heavy accumulation of books, serenely sipping cocoa whenever the bird threw back its head to gulp another marshmallow. As Sev watched in dismay, the Headmaster chuckled and peered curiously at the battered copy of Advanced Potion-Making which he now upheld to the available avian illumination, in such a manner that one might almost suspect him to be candling the book.

Snape discovered that in a Real Crisis he didn't need one drop of coffee to become totally alert.

In dismay he met Dumbledore's twinkling blue eyes and thought wildly, So this is it, I'm going to be expelled.

He had only a moment to wonder how the Marauders had managed it, and then the Headmaster smiled at him and shook his head, atop which was slouched a knobbly, bobbled nightcap. "No, Severus, you are not going to be expelled," Dumbledore said in what Someone Somewhere Else might have considered a soothing tone. "I'm happy to remind you that you've left school."

"...Huh?" uttered Sev.

A moment later Snape realized with horror: He can read my mind.

"Well, yes," agreed the Headmaster, rather radiantly, "and I must say, it's a ripping good read... it puts me in mind of a magnificent melange of Machiavelli and Melville." He sighed as if satisfied, and sipped his cocoa, and said solicitously, "I just popped into your head for a moment to find out how you were faring."

The Icky Jellyfish Thing unfurled its tentacles to fill Sev's belly again.

Dumbledore waved his hand and within his gnarled grasp appeared Sev's old, cracked mug, brimming with hot chocolate and overfluffed with marshmallows. The Headmaster pressed this into Snape's hands with the kindly exhortation, "Drink this, it'll help."

Sev got a two-handed, white-knuckled grip on the mug and tried to be subtle about nervously inspecting the cracks, which were showing bright white but saying nothing against the black glaze. When he dared to look again at Dumbledore, the Headmaster was smiling sympathetically.

Dumbledore said softly, "I'm not really surprised to find you sick in bed. Anyone would be, after all that excitement of enacting... our extraordinary experiment... and then sprinting a mile through a raging battle, before being mauled by a hysterical hippogriff."

"...Huh?" gulped Sev, staring at the Headmaster and wondering if the dodgy old codger had finally Lost His Mind Completely.

"No, no," Dumbledore assured him amiably, "I'm just visiting yours, seeing how you're curled up into a snug little ball inside your own head– a reasonable reaction, to what I surmise was rather a risky use of Wrings-It-Out-Of-You Remedy taken to effect a rapid recovery from your injuries. I'm guessing you must have drunk nearly a pint-"

"A pint would do everything short of turn your skin inside-out!" Sev protested caustically. "Only a madman would drink that much of it!"

"Or someone who's crazy like a fox." Dumbledore smiled conspiratorially at Snape, who didn't smile back, and then at the burning budgie, who trilled merrily and winked at the Headmaster.

The Icky Jellyfish Thing got bigger inside Snape's belly. He began to wonder if he were going to throw up.

"It might do you some good," Dumbledore said soothingly. He leaned closer and his half-moon glasses glinted like mirror shards as he scrutinized Snape and advised sternly, "You'd also do well to abandon all this accumulated Adolescent Angst, while you're about it."

Sev stared at him in bewilderment. He had Absolutely No Clue how one might rid oneself of Adolescent Angst and only the vaguest, hopeful assumption that one broke free of it (rather like a butterfly emerging At Last from a stifling cocoon) upon turning Twenty.

"Well, for a start," said Dumbledore shrewdly, still staring all the way into Sev's eyes, "you'd best be very careful in your dealings with Malfoy and company... and strive not to succumb to their, er, more insidious influences." The Headmaster couldn't quite conceal a small smile as he went on, "For instance, I've noticed that, in your decidedly dazed state, you are developing an Invidious Inclination Towards Impassioned Italicization, which will not serve you well in future endeavors."

Sev, who had developed the dialect in sheer self-defense whilst spending the summer at Malfoy Manor, said nothing. He did, however, note with resentment that the old man apparently approved of All-encompassing Alliteration.

"You must be wary, Severus," Dumbledore warned, with a twinkle in his searchlight eyes, "lest you should slip altogether into a CACOPHONOUS CONDITION OF CAPITALIZATION, wherein it will seem as if you are shouting ALL THE TIME and whereby everyone will feel perfectly entitled to IGNORE you."

Sev again didn't answer, feeling it just Wouldn't Go Well.

Dumbledore smiled solicitously, and said in a voice as soft as wool, "Speaking of things not going so well... as you are disentangling yourself from all your teenaged torments, you really should find a better way to handle animals which are too large to dunk into a cauldron."

"That's what cleavers are for," bristled Sev.

"Yes, well, in case you haven't one handy just when a sheep or a three-headed dog or a highly offended hippogriff or a twelve-foot serpentine horcrux turns on you with murder in its eyes," the Headmaster advised, "you might want to have another approach in mind." He frowned, and added frankly, "I honestly can't recommend your reliance upon Legilimency, since all that does is make you absolutely sure the beast intends to kill you instantly."

"...right," faltered Sev. "Sure."

"Well," sighed Dumbledore wearily, "I've enjoyed our little chat, but I really must be going, I've a lot I've got to do... good luck, Severus," he said warmly, "and keep up the Great Work." He gently shooed the burning bird onto Snape's arm and vanished, leaving behind a storm's-end silence and a tidy stack of bookmarked tomes topped by a mugful of melted marshmallows, which the budgie promptly appropriated.

Sev glared resentfully at the feasting firebird, which ignored him until it was finished, and then threw back its flamewreathed head and warbled the last bit of the 1812 Overture before bursting apart in a chrysanthemum bloom of vermilion sparks.

Coughing out smoke and blinking away green spots, Sev recovered from his shock to discover an extraordinarily ugly chick peeping softly at him from the rumpled folds of his quilts. The tiny, hideous thing was glowing like a horseshoe nail in the heart of a forge.

As his brain caught up with current events, Sev cast aside his empty mug and whirled 'round and fumbled a teapot out of its hidden storage space; hastily he scooped the incandescent chick into the pot's ceramic confines.

After some thought (and some serious second thoughts) he put a handful of straw into the teapot so that the bird would be more comfortable. He just got his fingers out in time, before all of the tinder lit. In the resultant cozy glow, Sev could see the chick huddled cheeping contentedly amidst the conflagration.

He set the teapot onto a trivet and searched through several books on Avian Accommodations, cross-checking the facts twice before rather reluctantly adding some patchouli to the blaze, which made the bird coo delightedly. Encouraged, Snape looked through three more volumes before deciding to risk poking a few scrolled scraps ofcinnamon into the teapot; to his great relief the bird ate these with all the gusto of a diner presented with Complimentary Breadsticks.

Much reassured, Sev popped a loose bundle of broomstraws into the teapot and gently resettled it within the safety of the brick oven. Only then did he dare to huddle under his quilts, and hug his pillow, and wait for his heartbeat to slow down to its normal cadence... or for the Ghost of Christmas Future to drop by for a spot of tea...

Moments later he was being shaken like a Mai-Tai and his Earmuffles were being torn away by Lucius, who was shouting impatiently, "Wake up, Sev!" Malfoy was brandishing a battered copy of Advanced Potion-Making as he declared delightedly, "I've found the answer!"

The Icky Jellyfish Thing in Sev's belly took up clog dancing.

Malfoy swatted Snape's nose with the book and snapped, "Pay attention!"

Snape snatched at the text, lost ahold of it, and could only curl up miserably into his quilts as Lucius pinned him down with one knee and opened the frayed volume to read aloud with keen interest: "Teddybear Tea infuses its imbiber with an unsurpassable serenity, which reliable accounts variously describe as: 'a boundless optimism like that of the sunrise,' 'a wondering delight in all the World,' and 'an abiding certainty of being safe in the care of one who loves you Best, Most and Always."

Lucius grinned with a lot of white perfect pointy teeth at Snape.

Who supposed he could get quite a lot of studying done during the next fortnight or so, while he recovered in the Infirmary. When he was lucid, Madame Pomfrey usually let him have the bed in the corner, beside the bookcases.

Malfoy declared exultantly, "It's Perfect! We'll give some to Narcissa, and she'll become A Paragon of Placidity." Lucius sighed in real relief, "She'll stop whining, and sulking, and distracting me from more important matters!"

Sev had spent a lot of time covertly observing teenaged girls and he thought this was very unlikely even in the best of circumstances.

Which these weren't. "It won't work, Luke."

"Lucius," Malfoy corrected him sharply. "Why not?"

Sev said very carefully, "First of all, I haven't got any Teddybear Tea-"

"Then brew some!"

Snape had to admit bitterly, "I can't." He hastened to explain, "Only the bears themselves can concoct it properly."

"You must be joking!" snapped Malfoy. "You've got ingredients stashed away in here which could get you slung into Azkaban," he asserted approvingly. "If little bears with their heads full of fluff can brew it, YOU certainly can... even with your wits addled by whatever you've poured into yourself This Time." He dragged Sev onto his knees, so that they were almost nose to nose, and glared at him, declaring in the tones of a Potions Master who would hear no excuses: "I want a teapot full of Teddybear Tea, piping hot, on my desk, at four o'clock today."

Logic trumped Threats and Sev had to say again, with diamondcutting precision, "Only the bears themselves can brew that tea." Self-preservation prompted him to add quickly, "Before you get any bright ideas about finding a bear and forcing it to fix you a thimbleful of tea, let me tell you that the beasts only give the tea to lads under the age of eight who've skinned both knees," Snape recited relentlessly, "or to weeping lasses who've cut themselves on little bits of broken heart."

Lucius laughed triumphantly.

Snape wished he were old enough to Apparate.

"Well, that simplifies matters nicely," Lucius proclaimed.

Snape began to shake, like a leaf bestirred by a giraffe's breath.

Malfoy pronounced with the condescending commiseration of one reading out The Sentence to The Condemned, "I'll have a little tiff with Narcissa, and naturally she will be Heartbroken, and the bear will- does she have a teddybear?"

"How in Hell would I know!" yelped Sev, breaking into a cold sweat.

Fortunately, Lucius laughed. "Well, we can't use mine, that's for certain."

Lucius had never had a teddybear, which his roommates privately presumed had led during their First Year to his Precociously Perilous Paroxysm of Pre-Adolescent Pique which had shredded the bedcurtains, cracked the mantelpiece, splintered the antique chairs, and created such a lingering Malaise that three teddybears, one shabby velveteen rabbit, and sobbing little Hugh Fortinbras had fled into the dark and stormy night.

None of them had ever been seen again. The next morning, Malfoy had gotten a note of congratulations from Peeves and a detention from the Headmaster, the nature of which Lucius still wouldn't discuss to this day.

He had also acquired a taste for real Power and now Malfoy's gray eyes held a corvine gleam as he decided, "I'll have Crabbe and Goyle get a teddybear from one of the First Years."

Snape stared at him, as if studying a snake's markings to determine how quickly it might kill him. At last he had to venture faintly, "You don't really believe a teddybear would willingly be taken from its owner, do you?"

Lucius shrugged unconcernedly. "The lumps will Convince it– "

"They can't possibly!" gritted Snape, through teeth clenched as if clinging to Reason's hem. Glaring at Malfoy he growled, "Do you understand that, although these are small animals, they are nonetheless bears, possessed of an alarming array of claws and teeth?"

Malfoy scoffed at this.

Snape surged on, "Any attempt to abduct a teddybear would be answered by a frenzy of furry fury!" With a shudder, he reflexively hauled out his First Aid kit and commenced compulsively checking its contents. (Everything was there, except a bezoar.) Sev gulped and said, "You really don't want to tangle with a teddybear... I'm telling you, they take one look at you and they just know, instinctively, where all your soft spots are... "

"You've done this before," Lucius said shrewdly, studying Snape.

Sev shuddered. "Won't do it again," he vowed.

A silence unfurled, like smoke blanketing a battlefield.

Lucius said at last, in perilously Reasonable tones: "Taking into account your helpfully offered insights into the situation, I have abandoned the idea of simply appropriating a teddybear, in favor of a more prudent course of action."

He smiled beatifically at Sev, who froze like a deer caught by headlights.

Lucius informed him, "I know you keep Polyjuice Potion handy in hopes it might somehow help you to actually Get A Date. You will drink some today and impersonate one of the First Year girls, whose teddybear you will sobbingly convince to concoct a nice cup of tea to solace you in your Abject Misery." His smile grew vulpine as he decreed, "You will ensure that Narcissa drinks the tea, and by nightfall All Will Be Well."

He released Snape with the simple command, "Get on with it!"

Sev, feeling Absolutely Doomed, stalled for time. "All right, yes, but Just To Be Safe I really should recheck a couple of facts, first, concerning the bears," he muttered, ootching past Malfoy to select volumes from the walls and bookstacks, the tallest of which he contrived to collapse.

As expected, Lucius dextrously evaded the mess and promptly distanced himself from the debacle, leaving through the crawlway with the stern warning, "Don't be long, Sev."

"Shan't," Snape averred, briskly turning pages. His knowledge of teddybears was somewhat patchy, due to his unanticipated and unforgettable ursine Learning Experience as well as never having had a teddybear himself. (He had come to school with a secondhand, scorchmarked velveteen rabbit, which had been an excellent listener and Very Understanding as its hapless owner had gradually become shabbier and more beat-up than the bunny.)

(Sev blamed Lucius entirely for the rabbit's flight into the Unknown. If Malfoy had not pitched such an epic fit on that dark and stormy night, Mr. Blisters might have stayed and Snape might not have cried himself to sleep all those nights thereafter until he'd discovered Coffee as a Third Year and promptly given up sleeping more than Absolutely Necessary as he'd embarked upon his ongoing quest to properly brew Up-All-Night Potion.)

It was at moments like these, when Sev felt that The Hand of Fate was not upholding a Victory sign to him, that he found he still missed Mr. Blisters.

But his charred confidante was gone and there was Nothing Else For It Now but to Act Like An Adult and carry on seeking Poe-worthy Justice sustained by hopes of wreaking vengeance upon all who had done him WRONG-

The remainder of the bookstack beside him collapsed, filling his lap with butterflied volumes, the topmost of which fell open to display a passage underscored in red:

"...moody, stricken Ahab stood before them,

with a crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless

regal overbearing dignity of some mighty woe."

Beside this, in the margin, someone had scribbled in what Snape recognized all too well from his Disciplinary Reports as the Headmaster's handwriting: Keep up the Great Work and don't dwell in the past... and for Goodness' sake use extreme caution when confronting animals!"

The Icky Jellyfish Thing in Sev's belly turned white.

Crabbe said from right behind him, "Lucius says Time's Up, Genius." He seized Snape and dragged him out of bed, ignoring the teapot's shrill whistle of alarm.