Moonlit River's Hermione in Wonderland Challenge:
Hermione is in Wonderland. She comes across all the traditional Wonderland people/creatures, but they all look like Hogwarts students and staff.
1. Severus Snape must be the Mad Hatter (check!)
2. Harry must be the Cheshire Cat (check!)
3. Fred and George must be Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee (check!)
1. Mad Hatter/Hermione romance (check!)
2. Dumbledore as the Queen of Hearts (Alas, no. I'm HBP compliant.)
3. Umbridge is a croquet ball (check, though you have to look closely!)
Disclaimer: All I claim to own is eight bone hairpins, and that's all I need in life for Lord's sake.
Alice! A childish story take,
And, with a gentle hand,
Lay it where Childhood's dreams are twined
In Memory's mystic band,
Like pilgrim's wither'd wreath of flowers
Pluck'd in a far-off land.
-Rev. Charles L. Dodgson
Hermione was beginning to get very tired of sitting on the floor of the Divination classroom with absolutely nothing to do. Ever since Professor Trelawney had been forcibly checked into the Barny the Fruit Bat Ward for Recovering Butterbeeraholics at St. Mungo's, all seventh year students were required to take Divination with Firenze, the centaur. Hermione had circulated a petition among the other houses in an attempt to convince the Headmistress that N.E.W.T.s revisions were much more important than organized napping, but the Headmistress was unimpressed. Worse, she had all but chased Hermione out of her office, but not before yelling that it might do Hermione a world of good to turn her brain off for a while.
Hagrid let slip over tea and calcified shortbread that McGonagall's disdain for Divination had evaporated once Professor Trelawney had left. Furthermore, she hoped to aid their allies in the fight against Voldemort with any glimpse of the future the centaur-trained students could provide. The loss of Professors Dumbledore and Snape had hit her hard, and the Order was splintering under the strain. The Headmistress's troubles were still cold comfort to Hermione, whose outrage at being forced to study Divination was augmented by the fact that there were no proper textbooks for class, only centaur star atlases. What could possibly be the use of a book with no words in it?
All thoughts of the past spring and summer swirled about her mind as she tried to still her body and mind.
"Feel your body connect with the ground," Firenze instructed them. "Allow yourself to take in the smells and sounds of the forest."
"Mock-forest, you mean," thought Hermione fiercely as she clandestinely vanished a particularly sharp root fragment that had been digging into her posterior. "It's not a real forest, and this isn't a real class!" However, her irritation wasn't enough to trump thirteen years of schooling, so she did as her professor bade.
She had always meant to ask Professor Flitwick how he had managed to make Firenze's classroom so like a real forest. The smell of loam and decayed leaves was exactly the same as she'd smelled that night she led Umbridge to the centaurs. The trees seemed to spiral up into infinity, even though she had Arithmancy in the classroom directly above Firenze's.
"Empty your minds," he instructed, and Hermione gritted her teeth. He sounded like Trelawney.
"But Professor," Ron protested. "What if one of us has a vision but we think it's a mundane thought and empty it from our minds? Won't that defeat the entire purpose?"
Hermione turned her snort into a cough. Other members of the class did the same, to varying degrees of success. Firenze met Ron's eye calmly.
"You are all as newborn foals, Mr. Weasley. Do not think of jumping over bushes just yet. Try to focus on standing first." He turned to the rest of the class. "You must learn to discipline your minds. Do not let them run rampant at all times. If you cannot encourage your conscious mind to rest, you are preventing the most complex and sensitive parts of your mind from participating in your interpretative processes. Now, please be silent. Remember to breathe, and clear your minds."
Hermione closed her eyes and listened to her classmates settle onto the ground. She hated to admit it, but what Firenze had said made some amount of sense to her, especially after what she had learned about Occlumency from Harry's brief study. And hadn't psychology revealed the importance of the subconscious mind? She forcibly expelled memories of reading Freud and Jung, allowed her breathing to slow, and let her body relax completely.
She felt her brain decelerate; tens of thoughts became few. Exhalation after exhalation brought her closer to stillness. Occasionally a sound or muscle twitch would bring her back to herself, or a sudden memory of something she needed to do after class would intrude, but she methodically dismissed them with increasing efficiency. Suddenly, Hermione realized that her mind was quiet. Of course, as soon as she realized it, her mind was no longer still, but having achieved stillness, it was very easy for her to fall back into it again. Unfortunately, it didn't last long.
A strange smell reached her nose as a soft whoosh of air blew across her face. She sneezed violently and sat up, looking around for the source of the smell. She spotted it- a small white animal was winding its way through her recumbent classmates. It must have jumped over her head, and now it was shuffling around in a bush near Harry.
Nobody else seemed to have noticed anything, and Firenze was in deep mediation at the front of the class. Not quite knowing what else to do, she aimed her wand at the bush. "Accio!"
With a surprised squeak, a small white ferret flew toward her, its tiny claws scrabbling for purchase in the soil. Hermione was so surprised that she dropped her concentration and broke the spell. The ferret recovered quickly and sped off toward the back of the classroom.
She ran after it.
She was shocked to find that the far walls of the room stretched on as infinitely as the ceiling. Before she knew it, she was out of sight of the rest of the class, and she wasn't quite sure which was the way back.
"Malfoy, you sodding little mustelid!" she yelled after the ferret, who seemed to be choosing the most brambly and overgrown way it could find. "You won't get away so easily!"
She could have sworn that the ferret turned and bared its teeth at her before wriggling into a small hole in the ground.
She stopped by the hole, panting. "I'll tell Professor Firenze you're in here," she yelled between gasps. "You can either come out and explain to me what you're up to, or you can explain to the Headmistress what you were doing skulking around Harry."
She received no response from the hole.
"Lumos." She lit her wand and looked into the hole as far as she could see. She was amazed to find that the hole went on for quite a distance and seemed to be significantly larger, once past the initial aperture. More importantly, the ferret was nowhere in sight.
"Reducto!" Reddish earth blasted out of the hole, and once the dust had settled Hermione crawled inside, holding her wand in her teeth. After the first several feet, the tunnel began to widen, and when she was not twenty feet beyond the hole, she could nearly stand. She was much cheered by the fact that she could assume proper dueling stance, which she did immediately.
"Malfoy!" she yelled in a much stronger voice. "I'm coming after you, Malfoy!"
Hermione's mind doubted that it was a good idea to chase an animal into its den, but her feet kept her moving steadily down the tunnel. Her light never faltered, and the tunnel continued to grow wider, though it began to slope rather sharply downhill.
All was well for the next few metres, but then her shoes began to slip on the loose earth. Her arms flailed in the air, and as panic overtook her, her Lumos failed. She screamed as she slid into darkness.
After running out of air on her initial scream, Hermione began to doubt the wisdom of mindless wailing. She was still sliding downward at a shocking pace, but she didn't seem to have hit anything just yet. She closed her mouth and attempted to light her wand, morbidly hoping that she would at least see her end approaching.
She slid downwards, farther and farther, and Hermione began to wonder if she might slide all the way to New Zealand. She slid past layers of soil, rock, clay, and some layers that went by too fast for her to identify. To her great relief, she felt the grade of her slide lessen gradually, and she thought she saw a flicker of light ahead. Then, before she was able to process the thought, she was dumped into a metal pipe, which eventually dumped her on the cold stone floor of a massive cavern.
She was astonished to see a vast statue at one end of the room, and even more astonished to realize that she must have slid all the way into the Chamber of Secrets. "Unless," she thought to herself, "this is an even more secret Chamber belonging to one of the other four founders." Perhaps Helga Hufflepuff's chamber contained a giant badger that would destroy all the disloyal students in the school. She giggled a bit hysterically, then examined the statue that graced the far wall. It was in terrible shape; she couldn't even tell if the subject was a man or a woman. Great chunks of it had fallen off and littered the floor. She meant to explore the chamber further, but she caught a whiff of the odd smell and sneezed. There was a sudden flash of white in her peripheral vision.
That bloody ferret again!
She ran off to the dark corner where she had spotted it and found that the darkness concealed the entrance to a small square room with a large cabinet at one end. The cabinet door had a tiny opening in it, just the right size for a ferret to wriggle through, but much too small for Hermione. She grasped the handle and attempted to open it, but it was locked.
"Bollocks!" she cursed aloud. "You let that evil git Draco Malfoy through, but you won't let me?"
"I did no such thing, lassie!" protested the door in a rough growl.
Nearly as shocking as being taken by surprise by an inanimate object was the fact that she recognized the inanimate object. The ornamental face carved into the door, which she assumed had been as worn as the statue in the other room, was simply a reproduction of a very worn face- one that happened to be missing an eye and a large chunk of nose.
"Professor Moody?" she asked tentatively.
The door eyed her suspiciously. "Who in the name of Bagshot's bloomers are you?"
"It's Hermione Granger, sir. I'm in my final year at Hogwarts."
"Maybe you are, maybe you aren't. I can't tell."
What would convince him? She thought for a moment. "You're in the Order of the Phoenix, or at least you were while Professor Dumbledore was alive."
"Maybe I am, and maybe I ain't. You can't tell."
"The ferret that passed through is really Draco Malfoy. He must have become an Animagus in secret."
"Maybe he is, and maybe he ain't-" began the door.
"Oh for pity's sake," she snapped, stamping her foot for emphasis. "You might as well come out and say that you're not going to believe a single word I say."
"Maybe I will, and maybe I won't-"
The door stopped midsentence when Hermione pointed her wand between its eyes. "I'm not going to let you stop me catching that ferret. He won't get away with spying on Harry. Alohomora!"
To her surprise, the cabinet remained resolutely locked. She ran through every unlocking spell in her not-unimpressive repertoire, but none of them worked. Moody smirked at her.
"You see," said the door nastily, "you're going to have to convince me somehow if you want to get past me. And don't try any funny business. I've seen more than even an obvious swot like you could come up with."
Hermione was about to conjure up a good squirt of household lubricant for the door, when she had a sudden thought. Malfoy had probably squeezed through the tiny opening without having to play Twenty Questions with the door. Why couldn't she do the same?
She bent close to the cabinet to examine the hole and caught a good whiff of the ferret's musk. She sneezed violently.
"Hey now, what are you on about?" cried the door, blinking her sneeze out of its wooden eyes.
"I think- atchoo!- I'm allergic to ferrets! Atchoo!" Oh, of all the times not to carry a handkerchief!
Six sneezes later, the door was swearing at her incoherently, but she had decided that she didn't care. Even wracked with sneezes and streaming tears, Hermione still cast the best Shrinking Charms of any in her form. She turned her wand on herself and closed her eyes.
Hermione looked up at the door, which was swearing more eloquently now that it had figured out how she planned to get past him, then looked at the bottom of her shoe with dismay.
"I do wish I hadn't sneezed so much," she thought as she cast a quick Scourgify and ducked through the hole.
She was shocked when the cabinet around her vanished, and she found herself alone at the edge of a large swamp, which, she noted with a grimace, was of the same consistency as her sneeze. Disgusting! At least there was a breeze, which meant that after a few more sneezes she could no longer smell the ferret.
To her immense relief, there was a weathered signpost next to a raised path that wound off through the swamp.
"TO FRED'S COTTAGE," read one arrow, which pointed off to the left. "TO GEORGE'S BUNGALOW," read another arrow, which pointed off to the right. The other arrows read, "TO VLADIVOSTOK," "TO TEN SECONDS BEFORE MAY 29, 1997," and "TO BEATRICE, WITH LOVE."
Well, that certainly explained how the swamp came to be, but Hermione was completely lost to explain why Fred and George had created such an extensive swamp and why they had chosen to build summer homes there. Then again, her entire adventure thus far had been a trifle on the absurd side, and if anything appealed to Fred and George, it was absurdity.
She looked more closely at the path, and noticed what appeared to be ferret tracks on the path that led to Fred's cottage, so she set off down the left path and disappeared into the mist.
Fred's cottage was handsome, with a thatched roof and brightly painted shutters. Under a tree she saw what appeared to be a statue of Fred and George, dressed up as schoolboys. The resemblance was uncanny, down to the last freckle.
She jumped when one of the figures bent down to examine her.
"If you think we're wax-works, you ought to pay, you know," commented Fred, whom she identified by the F stitched into his collar.
"Contrariwise," added George, "if you think we're alive, you ought to say 'how d'ye do,' shake hands, and have one of our Augmenting Allsorts, as you're looking a mite on the titchy side."
"Oh!" exclaimed Hermione, realizing she was still a few inches high. "I had to shrink myself to get through the hole in the Vanishing Cabinet. What on earth are you doing here?"
"What are any of us doing here?" asked Fred.
"Contrariwise," added George, "if you were here, you might be, if you might be here you would be, if we were here, we would be, but as you aren't here, you aren't. That's logic!"
Hermione thought on this for a moment. "That isn't logic. That's nonsense."
"What's nonsense?" asked Fred.
"Contrariwise-" began George.
"I don't have time for this. Did you see a white ferret come this way?"
"Do you like poetry?" asked Fred.
"Some, but why does it matter?" asked Hermione impatiently. "I don't have the time. Now, about the ferret-"
"Enough about the ferret!" cried George. "We have something very important to tell you!"
"I sincerely doubt that," said Hermione with a glare.
"Suit yourself," said Fred loftily.
"It's obvious you know everything you need to know about our swamp," added George.
Hermione ignored his sarcasm. "I fail to see how talking about poetry will help me find that ferret."
"It's a strange place," said Fred with a gravity that surprised her. "Knowledge of how it works can only help you."
"If that's so," said Hermione doubtfully, "then you'd better start talking."
The twins grinned identically, and Hermione began to suspect she'd been had.
They clasped their hands together simultaneously and began to recite:
The wind was breaking on the swamp,
Breaking with all its heart-
It wanted to bisect the bog
And move the halves apart,
And this is why our fetching fen
Is redolent of fart.
"That's quite enough of that." Hermione stood and began to walk off. Fred and George took a perfectly coordinated step to the right, blocking her way.
"That was just the introduction," said George.
"We haven't got to the important part yet!" protested Fred.
"Well, get on with it!" Hermione was becoming very cross.
"You won't learn a thing here if you don't keep your temper," admonished George, and they continued their poem.
The Phoenix and the Basilisk
Were walking through a blizzard, began Fred.
"Basilisks can't walk. They don't have legs," grumbled Hermione, who, in spite of instructions to listen, was feeling mulish.
"Hang it all, will you just listen for a minute?" bellowed George.
"Keep your temper," she mimicked nastily.
The twins ignored her and returned to their recitation.The Phoenix and the Basilisk
Were walking through a blizzard,
Or, if you like, the Phoenix flew,
The Basilisk, he slithered.
The frozen morass crunched below,
And all the reeds had withered.
"Recall last Spring," the Phoenix said,
"A miracle occurred.
From frozen waste an algal bloom;
From one Dugbog, a herd!"
The Basilisk, he winked one eye
And killed a passing bird.
"Dear Basilisk," the Phoenix said,
How different you and I,
I heal all mortals with my tears,
And when you bare your eye,
All living creatures viewing it
Are sure to up and die."
"Dear Phoenix," quoth the Basilisk,
"We compliment each other,
We're different faces of one coin,
Akin to Dad and Mother."
The Phoenix hugged the Basilisk.
They called each other brother.
"Dear Puffskeins, won't you walk with us?"
The Phoenix did entreat.
"We'll talk of many lovely things,
Now, won't you have a sweet?"
The Basilisk strove to behave,
And stared at his own feet.
Fred shot Hermione a look, as if daring her to make another comment about Basilisk anatomy, but she was beginning to be interested in the poem and gestured for them to continue.
"The time has come," the Phoenix said,
"To talk of what we please.
Of swords- and cups- and pentacles-
And wands- and diaries-
And why the tea is boiling hot-
And whether bats have fleas."
Alas, in time the Basilisk
Began to get annoyed.
The Puffskeins were distracting, and
He found their presence cloyed.
The Phoenix pooh-poohed at his 'plaint,
Since Puffskeins he enjoyed.
One day, a Puffskein went astray,
And parted from their trail.
The Basilisk said, "Why seek him,
When we will only fail?"
"What poppycock!" the Phoenix cried,
"We'll search o'er hill and dale!"
The Phoenix searched exhaustively,
Near, far, and night and day.
The Basilisk assisted him,
While grumbling all the way.
They searched until they saw a sight
That brought them both dismay.
"This is the serious part," said George, in an aside to Hermione.
"Get on with it!" said Hermione, who was vexed at having the story interrupted at such a dramatic juncture.
The errant Puffskein hung on high
Ensconced in an iron cage.
The Phoenix tried, with no success,
The lock to disengage.
The Phoenix fell upon the ground,
And cried in pain and rage.
"Dear brother," cried the Basilisk
In horror at the sight.
"What made you fall? You look quite ill!
What caused this horrid blight?"
"I've erred, it seems," the Phoenix said,
And looked a bit contrite.
"The lock was cursed," the Phoenix said,
"And I don't know the cure.
But if I fall, the Puffskein's life
Alone you can ensure."
"What must I do?" the Basilisk
Inquired in tones demure.
The Basilisk, with reticence,
Did as his friend advised.
His serpent's tooth was used,
A Phoenix claw was soon excised,
And with its hardened diamond tip
The cage lock soon was prised.
The Puffskein hurtled to the ground
And ran off with a shriek.
The Basilisk ignored him,
Phoenix said, "I grow so weak.
Your venom and the cursed lock make
My outlook rather bleak."
"Oh, Phoenix," wept the Basilisk,
"Dear friend, you must confide,
Why for that useless Puffskein
You would cast your life aside?"
He then caressed the scarlet head.
The Phoenix smiled, then died.
Hermione looked at the twins expectantly.
"Well? Go on!"
"That's the end," said Fred mournfully.
"That's it? That has to be the saddest poem I ever heard!"
"The saddest," George agreed, wiping away a tear.
"Gets me every time," added Fred, handing his brother a handkerchief.
They both blew their noses so loudly that Hermione had to put her hands over her ears.
"That's not quite what I meant," said Hermione. "I meant 'sad' to mean 'terrible.'"
"Terrible, yes," said Fred.
"But great," added George with pride.
"No, I mean 'terrible' in the sense that it's a stupid poem. Phoenixes are immortal. How could one be killed, even by a Basilisk?"
"It's a bleeding metaphor," said Fred, losing his patience at last. "Did you never hear of a metaphor?"
"Honestly, woman," said George. "If you're ever going to learn anything worth knowing, you'd better start thinking less literally."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"The ferret went that way," said Fred abruptly, pointing toward a path that Hermione swore had not been there a moment ago.
"Ta, ta!" sang George. "Brother dear, shall we have a battle?"
Fred pulled a large saucepan from his trousers and began tying it onto his head. "I thought you've never ask."
Hermione was about to tell off the twins for wasting her time but decided better of it when she realized that neither twin was paying attention to her. She tutted in exasperation then ran off down the path Fred had pointed out.
The path twisted and turned until at last it opened into a large clearing, in which stood a dreary-looking manor house. She would have passed it by and continued down the path, but a passing breeze brought a whiff of ferret musk, and she sneezed.
Ah ha! She was close!
She looked over her shoulder and made her way to the front doorstep. The gray stone looked even more depressing up close. She was about to ring the bell, when she realized that she couldn't reach it. Muttering impatiently, she turned her wand on herself and would have returned herself to her normal size if the door had not opened suddenly, revealing the ferret.
Surprise arrested her sneezes, but only for a moment. When her nose caught up with her, the ferret glared at her.
"There you are, you miserable house-elf," he said, grabbing Hermione by the arm. "I've been looking for you everywhere. Mother ordered me to mince some flowers for her, but I've been running all morning and am too tired."
Hermione tried to protest that she was not a house-elf, but she was unable to get any words out for all of the sneezing.
The ferret dragged her through the entrance hall, past a large dining room, through a sitting room, and into a brightly lit kitchen. Through a wide window she could see an impressive garden. He released her roughly in front of a giant chopping block and pushed a basket of flowers toward Hermione.
"Now, get chopping." The ferret began grooming himself. Hermione turned away in disgust.
"If I were my proper size," she thought, "I'd toss you out the window by your tail." She couldn't quite bring herself to do this, because she was intrigued in spite of herself. There was something very fishy going on. First of all, she'd never heard of a talking Animagus, yet here was a talking ferret that behaved just like Draco Malfoy.
Secondly, she immediately recognized the purple flowers as monkshood, or aconite. Apart from being highly poisonous, aconite was used in a number of dangerous and illicit potions, and she wanted to know how the ferrets planned to use it.
The knife that was lodged in the chopping block was nearly as long as Hermione's arm. She grabbed it and managed to wriggle it free. She removed several blossoms from the stems and focused her streaming eyes on them, but the knife was dull, and her first chop merely succeeded in bruising the petals.
The ferret laughed nastily. "You're downright useless, aren't you?"
"What on earth is going on here?" Hermione spun to face a larger, female ferret that had just entered the kitchen. She stifled a giggle. This was too much!
She was gratified to see that the younger ferret twitched. "Oh, er, hello, Mother. I was just, ah, showing this house-elf how to chop flowers."
"You were making someone else do your dirty work again, weren't you?" inquired the female icily.
"I- I-" stammered the ferret.
"I've warned you, boy. I told you that it's high time you started pulling your weight, what with your father being away and then poor, poor..." she trailed off, and Hermione swore she heard a sob.
"Mother, you're overreacting," wheedled the ferret. "There's a huge difference between chopping stupid flowers and-"
"DON'T YOU DARE TALK ABOUT IT!" shrieked the female. "You've never had to work a day in your life! You've had everything you've ever wanted since you were born! You'll never understand what sacrifices were made to save your skin!"
"And I'm to blame for that?" inquired the ferret nastily.
The female ferret snarled and attacked her son, who clambered backwards with a surprised squeak. It was only a moment before he recovered, and soon the ferrets were rolling around the kitchen, knocking pots and pans from the cupboards, while white fur flew.
Hermione could no longer endure the combined musk of the two ferrets. Her sneezes were continuous and extraordinarily powerful, but she had the presence of mind to grab the basket of flowers before creeping out the kitchen door into the garden.
She ran blindly away from the house, still sneezing violently, until she could no longer see the house or hear the two scuffling ferrets.
She paused to catch her breath by a tall tree, where she sneezed the last of the ferret smell out of her nose and fell to the ground panting. When she had caught her breath, she sighed shakily.
"Horrid creatures," she said aloud.
"Who?" asked a familiar voice from above.
"You mean, 'whom,'" corrected Hermione automatically. She started suddenly, realizing that Harry Potter's voice has just come from the tree.
She looked up and saw a large black cat regarding her curiously with emerald green eyes. It suddenly grinned at her, revealing very sharp teeth.
"H-Harry?" she asked timidly.
"Is that who you're looking for?" the cat asked.
"Well, I'm not exactly looking for anyone."
"Then it doesn't matter who I am, does it?'
"Well, it matters to me," snapped Hermione. She was growing weary of the circular logic that seemed to pervade this place.
"Because I keep meeting people who aren't who I thought they were at all, and it's very confusing."
"Most people aren't who we think they are. Out of curiosity, who did you think I was?"
"My best friend, Harry Potter."
"What makes you think that I'm not Harry?"
"Well, Harry's not a cat. At least, I think he's not a cat. He'd have told me if he was an Animagus. And Harry doesn't speak in riddles, at least, not usually."
The cat looked at her scornfully. "Those aren't very good reasons."
"I know they're not!" shouted Hermione, frustrated. "But why do I need to explain to you that you're not someone I know you aren't?"
"Because you don't know that I'm not who you believe I'm not."
Hermione's head was starting to hurt. "Now I know for certain that you're not Harry."
"Harry never would have followed that."
The cat shook its head. "I think you've got a lot of re-thinking to do," it remarked, nosing a pile of slivery fabric that Hermione hadn't noticed before.
"What makes you say that?"
"Because no matter what you think you know, it can always change, and it inevitably does." The cat slipped slowly into the folds of fabric, and Hermione was shocked to realize that the fabric was an Invisibility cloak.
The cat had completely disappeared under the cloak, but for the tip of its tail.
"What is it?"
"I don't know where to go from here. Can you tell me?"
The tail twitched in what Hermione hoped was amusement. "Where do you want to go?"
She nearly answered, "It doesn't really matter," but thought better of it. "I'd like to find out how much re-thinking I need to do."
The tail disappeared as the cat slid forward, exposing its smiling face. "Then you're on the right path. Don't stop until you reach the end."
With that, the cat disappeared altogether.
Hermione stood up, energy renewed. At last, a real answer! She grabbed the basket of purple flowers and set off down the path.
She passed a number of curious things that nearly lured her away from the path- a tree that bore books instead of fruit, a patch of green and white flowers that insulted her and called her names, a wild croquet game involving human-sized balls that were wrapped completely in pink ribbon, and a stream of foul-smelling smoke figures that took on strange shapes. However, she heeded the Harry-Cat's advice and continued straight down the path.
As she walked, she began to hum a familiar tune, which she began to sing in rhythm with her steps. The trouble was that the words were different than the ones she thought she remembered.
Round about the cauldron go
In it, great confusion throw.
Fallen gods and traitors too,
Boiled together in the brew.
Vessel hidden in the earth,
Never sacrifices worth.
Double, double, toil and trouble,
Triple crossed, the cauldron bubbles.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake.
Venom and a shriveled hand
Dangling from a rope of sand.
Whispered wishes never heard,
Flying from a scarlet bird.
Recipe for powerful trouble,
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Hermione paused in her walk, reflecting on the nonsense words she had been singing. She dismissed them with a shake of her head, halfheartedly blaming Fred and George's stupid poem for her confusion. She squared her shoulders and continued down the path, resolutely silent. She refused to give it another moment's thought.
By and by, she came to a clearing in the center of which stood a signpost with a dozen-odd arrows pointing in other directions. To her dismay, the path that she had been following circled around the signpost and came back upon itself, forming a perfect loop.
The Harry-Cat had said to follow the path to the end, but by following its directions she would double back on the path she'd already taken. She scowled at the path and was about to take her frustration out on the signpost, when George's admonishment to keep her temper rang in her ears.
She took a deep breath and stilled her wand hand, which twitched to damage something.
When she had recovered herself sufficiently, she looked around at the clearing to see if there was anything that would be useful to her. The signpost had arrows pointing in the cardinal directions, as well as signs to Fred and George's, and a broken arrow that had the words "Headmistress's Croq" on it. The arrow at the top of the post was also the smallest, and Hermione couldn't quite make out what was written on it.
She belatedly remembered that she still had not returned herself to her regular size. She flicked her wand at herself and cast an Augmenting Spell.
When she opened her eyes, she realized that her nose was at the same level as the top of the signpost. Had she overdone it? She didn't have any points of reference other than the ferret's flower basket, which now fit comfortably in her hand. Perhaps she was the correct size. She knew that in her world, she was five feet, five inches precisely and would be that size when she eventually found her way home.
But which way was home?
For the first time since following the ferret, Hermione wondered how long she had been gone and how long it would be before anybody found her.
"There's no sense in that," she admonished herself. "They'll find you when they find you, and not a moment sooner."
Somewhat cheered by her own resolve, she peered at the black arrow on the signpost and nearly fainted with relief. The arrow pointed off to the left and read "Spinner's End" in tiny silver letters. So that's what the Harry-Cat had meant! Not the end of the trail, the End!
She hesitantly stepped off the path into the woods in the direction that the arrow indicated, wand held at the ready, fervently hoping that Spinner's End had nothing to do with Acromantulae. If worst came to worst, she could always make herself bigger.
The woods were darker here, and the trees might have been called creepy by someone more fanciful than Hermione. Fortunately, a faint path seemed to have been worn through the woods, and Hermione followed it.
The air grew cooler, and a light mist began to swirl around her feet. The mist carried with it an unpleasant industrial smell, which, at the very least, did not make her sneeze. After a time, the woods began to thin, and she noticed that the path, which she had assumed was somewhat rocky, had smoothed into cobblestones.
Through the trees, she could make out a row of dilapidated houses, only one of which appeared inhabitable. Several of the windows were boarded up, and the brick was weathered and covered with moss. She paused when she realized that there were several figures seated around a long table under a tree in the back yard. The figures did not look as if they would welcome an intrusion. However, the decision was out of her hands when she heard one of the figures yell, "Accio!"
She found herself dragged out of the woods, through a garden whose denizens appeared to be all brambles and stinging nettles, and through a gate, which, thankfully, was ajar. The spell ended as abruptly as it had started, and she fell forward on to the ground.
"Aww, did the widdle girl fall down?" came a horrid baby voice that made Hermione's blood run cold.
"Now, my dear, is that any way to treat a guest?" The second voice was no less welcome than the first. "Stand up, girl, and explain yourself."
Hermione raised her face, praying for a quick Killing Curse, and gasped.
Where she expected to see Bellatrix Lestrange, she saw a large dark-furred rabbit, which brandished a wand ridiculously between its two front paws.
Professor Snape, or, rather, Snape, was seated at the table and wore a brightly colored frock coat. An oversized top hat was perched jauntily on his head. He waved his wand at her, and she felt herself jerked upright.
"I asked you to explain yourself," he said.
"I'm very sorry to have- er- interrupted your party," Hermione began, noticing that the table held not only a plethora of potion ingredients, but also several places set for tea.
"You were spying," snarled Snape. "Now tell me who you are and who sent you." His wand was pointed between her eyes.
Hermione was seized by blind panic. This was the man that had killed Dumbledore. He would have no compunction now in killing his least favorite student. "I only did what the cat said, sir, I had no idea what Spinner's End was!"
Snape frowned. "Cat? What cat!"
"The cat that I thought was Harry, sir!" She felt tears swell in her eyes, and her heart was in her throat. Snape drew back his wand as if preparing to cast a spell, when the rabbit held up a paw.
Snape glared at her. "What is it now? I was about to begin the interrogation in earnest."
"Look what she has!" The rabbit seized Hermione's hand, which still cradled the ferret's basket of aconite.
Snape took the basket from Hermione and studied her face. She tried not to blink.
"Do you know what this is?" he asked.
Hermione's study did not desert her, though her voice quavered. "Yes, sir. Monkshood, or wolf's bane, also known as aconite."
The sound of shattering china from the table brought a sudden halt to Snape's questions. A large brown rat with a silver paw had managed to shatter the porcelain teapot in which he had been contained.
"Circe's sausage!" swore the rabbit. "I thought I put an Unbreakable Charm on that teapot!"
"It's that blasted paw of his," said Snape, casting a quick Reparo on the teapot. "And I will hang you up by your ears if you put him into the teapot again. That's the third time I've had to repair it today."
"But he won't fit in the sugar bowl!" protested the rabbit.
During this conversation, the rat managed to locate a plate of biscuits and began gnawing.
"Disgusting!" The rabbit wrinkled its nose. "I couldn't touch a thing on the table now."
"I suspect that was the intent," commented Snape.
The rat continued scurrying around the table, sniffing food, ingredients, and cutlery until it grew tired and curled up around a cup of steaming tea and went to sleep.
"At least that's one thing we can count on," said Snape quietly. "He always goes to sleep. Now," he said, with a sharp look at Hermione, "you were about to tell me how you happened to be in possession of the ingredient that I most needed to complete the potion we've been instructed to make."
"Well, sir, I-"
"SHHHHHHHHHH!" The rabbit made a comical figure with her paw in front of her large front teeth. "Wake him up and I'll hit you with a hex so fast your head will spin!"
She looked at Snape and swallowed hard.
"Well, sir," began Hermione in a much quieter voice, "the aconite blossoms came from the ferrets. I'm very sorry that there wasn't time to chop it."
"Well!" cried the rabbit, "why didn't you say so in the first place! Sit down! Have some tea!"
Hermione glanced at the table, noting that the only teapot had not only housed a rat recently, but had also lost all of its contents when the rat had broken free.
"There isn't any tea."
"There isn't any tea," mimicked the rabbit, nastily. The squeaky voice she affected had the unfortunate effect of waking the rat, who violently upset the cup of tea when he twitched awake.
Some of the tea splashed onto Hermione's shirt. Her fear was suddenly replaced by indignation. She seized the rat by the tail and held it out to the rabbit. "This is the stupidest tea party I've ever been to. I'm leaving."
Snape narrowed his eyes. "I think not, Miss-?"
"Granger," she said, automatically. "Hermione Granger." But you know that already, she thought mutinously.
"Granger," Snape repeated in a thoughtful tone that Hermione had never heard from him before. "What a very prosaic name."
Hermione didn't say anything. She merely raised her chin. You don't frighten me, she thought, no matter how many people you've killed. You're just a miserable man in a ridiculous hat.
"Tell me, Miss Granger, what can you tell me about the contents of this table?"
The question surprised her, as did the lack of name-calling. She took a moment to examine the table. "There are the remains of a formal tea, along with potions ingredients."
Snape's eyes were shadowed by the brim of his top hat. "Continue."
The rabbit made an impatient noise. "Isn't there something more productive that we could be doing?"
Snape scowled at her. "You could try confining the rodent somewhere elsewhere, preferably not in the wine cellar. The little rotter gnawed the cork out of one of my finest bottles."
The rabbit took the sleeping rat from Hermione, then paused. "Aren't I a rodent, too?"
"For the last time, you are not a rodent!" snarled Snape. "You are a lagomorph. Now get out of my sight before I decided on hasenpfeffer for dinner tonight!"
The rabbit managed to turn her squeal into a snarl and shook the rat violently. It had fallen asleep in her hand and awoke with a loud squeak. They disappeared into the house, leaving Hermione standing uncomfortably before her erstwhile professor.
Snape gestured grandly at the table before him. "Recite."
"What do you see before you?"
Hermione studied the items on the table and pursed her lips together for a moment before answering. "The fennel root has been chopped diagonally, thus exposing more of the vascular system cross-section. This will add a stronger flavor of anise, as well as augment the compound's antibacterial properties."
Snape rose from his chair and came to stand behind her. "Continue."
"The shrivelfig has been shredded, but the seeds have not been removed," she said breathlessly, feeling unnerved by Snape's proximity. "The seeds are well-known for their ability to prolong the effect of a potion."
"And the flesh of the shrivelfig?"
"Well, shrinking, obviously. But fennel root neutralizes those properties, but makes the resulting potion-" she gulped as words from a textbook floated in her mind's eye- "highly toxic."
"What else do you see?" His breath brushed her ear, and she swallowed hard. None of the other ingredients looked familiar, and she took a deep breath before answering. Miraculously, the names rolled off her tongue seemingly of their own accord.
"Swamp adder flesh." Hermione's breath came slightly faster. "For sudden manifestation of the potion's true intention."
"Go on," Snape whispered.
"Acromantula venom, suspended in milk."
"Yes." The sibilant in her ear made her shudder. Her gaze fell upon a blue glass bottle filled with whitish powder. Though she had never before encountered it, she knew its name instinctively.
"Mummy dust, a dessicant of unparalleled power."
"More." The word seemed to catch in his throat.
"Death's Tongue mushrooms."
"Which are used for?"
"They are related to mushrooms that are occasionally taken for recreational purposes" Where had she read that? She could no longer recall. "The active hallucinogenic compound acts to inhibit the activity of neurons in the brain, causing disorientation, but also induces powerful muscle cramps and increased body temperature."
"Very good, Miss Granger." The incongruity of the statement coming from Snape made her start. He didn't seem to notice. "What else lies before you?"
Her eyes fell upon a glowing vial of green liquid, and she named it without hesitation. "Firefly luciferase, partially for the resultant glow and partially for purposes of attraction."
Hermione was finding herself more and more agitated and confused. Her heart was in her throat, and her mind felt thick, as if something syrupy was being poured into it.
There was more? Her eyes snapped shut. "Luciferase..." she trailed off as her mind relaxed into her body's acute physiological reaction to Snape's proximity. "Luciferase is also a mild hallucinogenic." That was it! "The hallucinogenic properties can be enchanced by the addition of-"
"Aconite blossoms!" She lost her balance momentarily when Snape finished her stentence and seized her shoulders.
She felt her body slacken, but his fingers held her firmly.
She pulled herself together. "Th- the last ingredient I see is aconite root, sir."
"And, pray, what does aconite root do?" His mouth hovered above the junction of her neck and shoulder, and she could feel his breath on her exposed neck.
"It's toxic," she said, unconsciously leaning back into him. "It contains poisonous alkaloids with narcotic properties."
His breath stilled. "And the combined purpose of the ingredients?"
This was the test. Her mind exploded with possibilities, feeding off of his soft breath and the heated presence of his body behind her. She imagined different orders of combinations and different cauldron heats, until the answer flew into her mind as inexplicably as the names of the arcane ingredients. She was suddenly filled with the shining joy that accompanies the solution of a really complex puzzle, and she smiled at him.
"It's a poison, sir, of the most horrific kind," she said, giddiness running counter to her words. "It encourages the drinker to consume a bit, then slowly drives the drinker mad with images of their worst memories. The victim then recovers his or her strength and presence of mind for a few minutes, just long for him or her to realize that death will follow soon, and it will be painful. The Acromantula venom activates, which produces the sensation of one's blood turning to fire in one's veins. Eventually, the victim will die from their hemoglobin's inability to carry oxygen to the rest of the body, slowly and painfully losing consciousness."
A memory was fluttering at the edges of her mind, something important, but it was quickly forgotten when Snape's hand slid up to the side of her neck, cradling her chin in her fingers. She hardly dared breathe. She could feel her jugular pulsing under his fingers.
"I could kill you," he said in a dreamy voice.
Hermione was focused on the warm strength of his fingers and little else. "You could," she agreed.
His other hand found her waist and snaked around her.
"I could do worse than kill you."
Guided by the same impulses that gave her the correct answer to Snape's test, she spun around to face him. She stared into his eyes, as if daring him to read her thoughts. He might have done- she wouldn't have known. Her conscious mind had abandoned her.
"No," she said. "You couldn't."
His mouth opened in surprise. She couldn't stop herself. She wrapped her fingers around the back of his neck and pulled his face to hers.
Their mouths met, and Hermione wasn't entirely sure that her head hadn't exploded. While Snape's smooth lips caressed hers, her mind was assailed with words, images, and sounds, all growing brighter and louder. She brushed her tongue against his upper lip, and she felt as though she were sliding down the ferret hole once more.
When he suddenly took her lower lip in his teeth, her eyes suddenly flew open as all of the broken pieces of her experience began to fall into place. At her gasp, Snape seized the sides of her face, and she felt his mind sliding through her retinas, exploring what lay behind them. This was nothing like Harry had described from his experiences with Occlumency. Tendrils of Snape's mind tickled the edges of hers, teasing up the sensation of his own kiss and her body's reaction to it.
Pleased with what he had seen, Hermione felt him withdraw from her mind only to have her mouth claimed by his lips, more insistent than they had been. Hermione felt something rising in her chest, when her entire body gave a great heated heave, which painfully jerked her upright.
Her eyes flew open, and she was stunned to find herself lying on the ground of the Divination classroom, gasping for breath and utterly disoriented.
Firenze stood a few feet away, watching her.
"You've returned," he said, somewhat unnecessarily.
Hermione sat up, still trying to catch her breath and gather her thoughts. All of her classmates had gone, and she and Firenze were alone.
"It was a dream," she said, feeling her arousal and excitement fall to pieces around her, leaving an irrational fury in its place.
"No, it wasn't, child," said her Professor.
"Of course it was!" she snapped. "It was all nonsense, there was no truth in any of it." Her hand brushed her lips unconsciously. "None of it at all," she added to herself. "I'm sorry I fell asleep in class, Professor, but I really ought to be going."
The centaur held up a hand to stop her and looked at her patiently. "The mind speaks to us in riddles when it enters the cosmos, but in the light of wakefulness, we can decipher its meaning, and learn. What did you see?"
She was silent for a minute as she ran through all of what she'd seen, and suddenly, it hit her. She looked Firenze full in the eyes, something she'd never done before. She saw warmth and encouragement there.
The potion- the ferrets- the rhymes- could it all be true? As her mind ticked off her dream experiences, her thoughts poured forth. "I think Draco Malfoy was charged by Voldemort with killing Professor Dumbledore." Her eyes widened in surprise. "That must be how-" she cut herself off- "Somehow, Malfoy's mother convinced Professor Snape to promise to do it himself to protect Malfoy."
Firenze nodded for her to continue.
"The night he died, Professor Dumbledore drank a deadly poison in order to help Harry retrieve the locket Horcrux. Professor Dumbledore asked Professor Snape to kill him that night as a mercy to him and to Draco Malfoy, who would have had the Headmaster's blood on his hands." She swallowed hard. "P-Professor Snape is innocent, sir, at least of the Headmaster's death."
She expected to see incredulity or disbelief in the centaur's face, but she saw only a soft smile.
"Well done, little one. Well done."
The thoughts continued to pour from Hermione as she raked her hands through her hair. "But Professor, if that's really what happened, then we've got to do something to help Professor Snape! The Aurors will be after him, and there's no telling what Voldemort will do to him." She felt tears welling in her eyes. "Harry told me what Professor Snape was yelling at him that night. I should have known that he was still trying to help Harry. But I didn't. I thought he had- well, we all did-"
The centaur suddenly drew her into an embrace. "Hush, child. No one has the ability to interpret events as they happen, and few have the wisdom to understand the meaning of true dreams. You have done very well."
Hermione's heart swelled at this unexpected kindness, and she began to sob.
"What are we going to do?" She rubbed her wet cheek on Firenze's chest. "There's no way we can convince anyone of the truth."
Firenze smoothed her hair back from her face. "Dry your tears, dear child. Leave everything to me. The Headmistress will be glad of this news. She will hardly dare to believe it, but believe it she shall. Now, I believe this is yours. You deserve it." He handed her a piece of parchment.
Hermione sniffed and read the note. "You can't be serious."
"I understood that you wished fervently to be excused from my classes."
She thought of the heat of Snape's, or rather, Professor Snape's mouth and suddenly realized what else her dream was trying to tell her. "Maybe I don't mind so much anymore," she said in as casual a voice as she could manage.
Firenze looked puzzled, but his brow cleared. "Even after three hundred years, there are things I shall never understand about humans. Come with me, child. I'll see you to your dormitory. It is late."
"Thank you, Professor."
They ascended the stairs to Gryffindor Tower, where the Fat Lady tsked at her disapprovingly. "Promoted to Head Girl and she still comes in at all hours!"
Hermione and Firenze ignored her.
"I will instruct the kitchen staff to bring you some refreshment in your room," said Firenze. "Be sure that you eat something before retiring. May I have your permission to inform the Headmistress of the contents of your vision?"
Any delay could prove deadly for Professor Snape. "Please. Does she have to know where the vision came from?"
"I don't think it will be necessary. May I expect to see you in class on Monday?"
"Yes sir. Anything I can do to help." Anything I can do to help Professor Snape.
The centaur nodded thoughtfully. "Goodnight, Miss Granger."
Alone in her bed, Hermione lay her quill down on the nightstand, next to the tray of finger sandwiches she had eaten. She idly traced her finger down the sheet of parchment on which she'd recorded her dream. It was all there: Moody, Fred and George's ridiculous poem, the ferrets, Harry, and finally, Snape.
She had written much larger than usual and left so much space at the margins as to make her cringe. It could pass for one of Ron's third-year Divination essays. But the purpose had been to give her enough room to make notes for further insight. There were still enough things in the dream so as to puzzle her, not least of which was what her encounter with Snape meant. Well, it was late. The questions would still be there in the morning.
She reflexively looked over her shoulder, and, finding herself alone, she cast an encryption spell of her own design on the parchment. She followed it quickly with a Disillusionment Charm, then placed it gently in the top drawer of her nightstand.
Exercising the techniques she had learned from Firenze, she slowed her breathing and allowed his face to swim in her mind's eye as she lost consciousness and surrendered to Morpheus's embrace. A small smile curved her lips.
Somewhere deep in the bowels of the Department of Mysteries, a small globe of glass appeared on a dusty shelf. Beneath the ball, a label appeared, spidery writing still glowing slightly.
H.J.G. to F.
Severus Snape and Hermione Granger
And so a secret kiss brings madness with the bliss
And I will think of this when I'm dead in my grave.
Set me adrift and I'm lost over there.
But I must be insane to go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice, I fell through the ice
-Tom Waits, "Alice"
I heartily acknowledge the superb Annotated Alice, Definitive Edition (Martin Gardner, ed.), as my primary source for historical background. If you've ever thought wished for four pages of footnotes on "Jabberwocky" and don't already own this book, run, don't walk, to your favorite independent bookseller and buy it.
I borrowed the line "dangling from a rope of sand" from Tom Waits's song "Singapore," and the final quote comes from the title track of his gloriously twisted album "Alice," from which my interpretation of this challenge sprung full-formed. There are few places where you can find nonsense, sexiness, beauty, and sorrow so intimately connected as in this album.
"The Phoenix and the Basilisk," is, of course, a bastardized version of "The Walrus and the Carpenter." The "Double, Double" text, as I'm sure most of you know, is from Shakespeare's "MacBeth" (4.1), and was also used to very catchy effect in the "Prisoner of Azkaban" film. However, the decision to corrupt the texts into semi-topical nonsense comes directly from Lewis Carroll. "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass," which are full of nonsenified Victorian morality poems, like "The Sluggard" (turned into "'Tis the voice of the Lobster") and "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them" (aka, "You Are Old, Father William").
Thanks to Moonlit River for such a fun challenge, especially for a confirmed crossover junkie like me!
Last but certainly not least, I must thank my beta reader who wishes to remain anonymous. In the divine words of Brian Wilson, God only knows where I'd be without you.