who owns nothing contained herein and makes no money by it.
Please gain permission before reposting elsewhere by e-mailing the Note: This story is a sequel to "Down the Ferret-Hole," which was written in response to Moonlit River's "Hermione in Wonderland Challenge" on WIKTT. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend doing so. But of course, I would. :D This sequel takes things a bit further into Snape's perspective and Carroll's "Alice" books, the second of which has a number of elements that do not appear in the Disney film and some downright weird stuff. Enjoy!
Come, hearken then, ere voice of dread,
With bitter tidings laden,Shall summon to unwelcome bed
A melancholy maiden!
We are but older children, dear
Who fret to find our bedtime near.
-Rev. Charles L. Dodgson
One thing was certain- it was Wormtail's fault entirely. Had Wormtail not shown up at Spinner's End that day, Severus would never have found the bottle.
A visitor entering Spinner's End- not that Spinner's End ever had guests- might remark to herself that perhaps the place had seen better days, at least until she met her host. Then the visitor would remark to herself that she ought to be going, then back away slowly.
It had been three months since Severus Snape's flight from Hogwarts, and each day could have been a year for the deep lines that marked his face. His hair, lank and greasy at best, had been unevenly shorn so that it stuck out at odd angles. He was unshaven, and his dark eyes, now bloodshot, seemed to have retreated into his skull. His threadbare robe was missing a number of buttons, and those that remained were fastened unevenly, giving him the appearance of a malevolent scarecrow. The only vestige of his former self that remained in full force was his foul temper.
When Wormtail shook him awake that morning, Severus awoke with a snarl and seized him by the throat, wand pressed firmly into the smaller man's jugular.
"What are you doing in my house, vermin?"
"I-" Wormtail's beady eyes rolled in panic. "I have a message from our master."
Severus tightened his grip. "Liar."
"No, Severus, wait!" he squeaked. "I'm telling the truth!"
"Then why did he not summon me himself? No, Wormtail, you have sought me out for your own ends, forgetting what I told you I would do to you if you ever set foot in my house again."
"You wouldn't!" Wormtail's face had drained of color. "The Dark Lord would kill you."
Severus laughed harshly. "And what a great pity that would be." He released Wormtail with a sneer. "Consider yourself lucky that I don't feel like dealing with your smelly corpse today. Now, leave my house and never come back."
Wormtail was still breathing hard. "It's about Bellatrix and Rodolphus."
"But Severus," Wormtail wheedled, "I know you hate them as much as I do, the way they put on airs. I thought you might-"
"GET OUT!" Severus seized the front of Wormtail's robe and dragged him to the top of the stairs. He put his face very close to Wormtail's. "Remember this, you piece of filth. Until the Dark Lord himself wishes to end my exile, any of his followers who dare approach me for their own purposes will meet the same fate as Albus Dumbledore. Have I made myself clear?"
"Good." Severus threw the smaller man headfirst down the stairs.
He lingered for a moment at the top of the stair to make sure that Wormtail was still alive- assuredly so from the pitiful weeping that emanated from below- and returned to his room. Squinting against the midday sunlight that poured through a rip in the window shade, he finished off the bottle of cheap whisky that sat on his nightstand and let the empty bottle fall to the floor. The alcohol burned on its way down his gullet, and he welcomed the numbness that followed. Soon the blinding white light would fade, and he could forget.
He laid back on the bed and let his eyes fall closed.
When he awoke, he was in nearly complete darkness, which would have been a relief had his body not chosen that moment to protest his earlier generosity with the whisky. He staggered to the commode and was noisily ill. When he could heave no more, he rinsed the sourness from his mouth with tap water, pointedly avoiding looking at himself in the mirror. He stared at his hands. They had already begun trembling.
He drained the dregs of all the liquor bottles scattered on the floor, but it wasn't enough. His head hurt too much to get to sleep and his stomach was painfully empty. As much as his stomach turned over at the thought, eating something would probably help. Besides, he needed another drink. He pulled his robes up and stumbled down the stairs.
In the sitting room, he lit the sconces with a wave of his wand and blinked in surprise. The room had been completely torn apart. His books had been thrown from their shelves and the pages torn from their spines. The upholstery had been slashed, the legs broken off the chairs, and all of his ink poured on the carpet. His lamp had been smashed, and his father's chess set had been dumped unceremoniously on the floor.
Severus sat on his ruined sofa and dispassionately surveyed the damage that the rat had wrought. He was lucky that the blithering idiot was so short; otherwise the valuable Muggle books on the upper shelf wouldn't have survived the rat's revenge. Selling them to antiquarian book dealers was his only source of income and he was not keen to sober up or starve. He stood and wandered into the kitchen.
Wormtail had visited the kitchen as well, as evidenced by the empty pantry shelves and the profusion of broken glass and ruined food on the floor. It was then that Severus felt the first stirrings of panic. He tore open the door to the cellar and ran down the stairs to check on his precious liquor stores. When he had illuminated the cramped cellar, he uttered a cry of outrage.
The shelves were empty, and the bottles had all been smashed. Ignoring the broken glass and slick layer of grime under his bare feet, he began frantically searching for an unbroken bottle, but it was to no avail. Wormtail had destroyed them all.
Hot, bitter tears welled up in his eyes as he sat down hard on the stairs. There was nothing left. Nothing. His left foot was bleeding, and he didn't care. The tears began to roll down his cheeks, and he began dragging himself up the stairs. From his vantage point on the floor, he was able to find a relatively unspoiled packet of crackers that the rat had missed. They were stale, but he didn't care. All he could do was focus on getting them into his stomach.
He felt as if he were moving through treacle, and he reduced a third of the crackers to inedible crumbs before he could maneuver them into his mouth. His hands were shaking in earnest now, and his stomach was roiling. Water. Water should make it better. He cupped his hand under the kitchen faucet, but most of it dripped out of his shaking hands before he could bring them to his lips.
He abandoned the enterprise with a growl. It was so hot and stuffy that it made his head swim. He fumbled with his robes and managed to strip down to his smalls, but it didn't help. He needed to lie down. After limping painfully to the sofa in the sitting room, he stretched himself out, growling at the stuffing that snagged on his stubbled jaw.
He screwed his eyes shut, waiting for unconsciousness to take him.
But it didn't come. All of the things he was trying to forget, that night on the tower, the following night in the Riddle mansion, and every tedious, awful day since, were replaying themselves on the insides of his eyelids. When he could no longer stand it, he opened his eyes. His heart was racing and he was short of breath. All his being cried out for a drink, even though he knew it was all gone. Summoning all his energy, he raised his wand.
Instantly, something began rattling beneath a floorboard beside the sofa.
He rolled off the sofa and shoved aside the ruined pages and chess pieces that littered the floor. The corner of one floorboard beneath the sofa was slightly raised. He succeeded in pulling up the board with his fingernails, and a brown bottle flew into his hands. The yellowed label read "Poison: Laudanum."
Severus nearly fainted with relief. His weakling mother had been good for something after all.
He pulled the stopper from the bottle and let the alcohol scent wash over him. It was entwined with something earthy, something spicy. Hardly stopping to think, he took several large gulps. He leaned back against the arm of the sofa and gazed at the back of the door, waiting, willing the laudanum to take effect.
As he lay, his focus shifted to the foe-glass he had installed on the back of the front door- one of the few precautions he'd taken in the first days of his exile. The glass was a cloudy silver swirl from which the shapes of his enemies would emerge as black silhouettes. Still uncomfortably hot, he rose to open the front door and let some air in.
As he reached for the door handle, he found himself face to face with himself. He stumbled backwards in surprise. There was no mistaking it- his own face was clearly reflected in the normally opaque surface of the foe-glass. That couldn't be right. The glass must be broken.
He examined the glass more closely, intrigued by both the anomaly of seeing himself in the glass and the changes to his own face that were so clearly reflected. He raised a finger to the surface of the foe-glass and traced the harsh lines at the corner of his reflection's mouth. The surface of the glass felt cool and oddly pliable, almost like the surface of fluid.
Behind his reflection, the silvery mist of the foe-glass had dissolved, revealing a hazy reflection of the room in which he was standing. But as he drew his gaze from his reflection to the reflected room, he realized that things looked subtly different.
Again he nudged the surface of the foe-glass, and it rippled. Applying steady pressure, he pushed his hand through the surface of the foe-glass. His hand looked colorless and gray, but otherwise, exactly the same as he expected to see it. He withdrew his hand and flexed it experimentally. It felt perfectly normal.
Severus gazed into the foe-glass curiously. Why the glass showed him his own face wasn't terribly difficult to discern. Gulping down decades-old laudanum for its alcohol wasn't exactly conducive to good health, and the glass was tuned to show people who meant him harm. But what was behind, or rather within, the foe-glass was a curiosity, and Severus did not understand why had the glass revealed it. His gaze fell to the rickety table inside the foe-glass room, where a seemingly identical bottle of laudanum stood.
Severus threw back his head and laughed. Of course. It wasn't real. It was a hallucination. As if to prove his point, he thrust his index finger into the surface of the foe-glass and watched it ripple. The undulating silver was surprisingly beautiful.
Well, if this was to be his first experience as an opium eater, who was he to refuse the visions granted him? He threw his discarded robe around his shoulders, seized his bottle of laudanum to keep the memories at bay if needed, and stuck his hand through the surface of the foe-glass, followed by his arm, and then his shoulder.
He took a deep breath, screwed his eyes shut, and stuck his head through the surface of the glass. He then lost his balance and fell.
Severus fell forward gracelessly through the foe-glass and into the room that lay beyond it. Once he had pulled his legs through, he scrambled to his feet and clutched the bottle protectively to his chest.
His surroundings were as misty and gray as they had appeared from the other side of the foe-glass. The room was somehow darker and lighter than its other-world counterpart, and none of the angles in the room seemed perfectly square. However, the room was no tidier than the room on the other side of the foe-glass.
The glass through which he had come shimmered blankly on the door behind him. All was well, then. Unless being on the inside of the foe-glass meant that his enemies would appear cloudy and those that meant him no harm would be clearly defined. He shook his head. This was a hallucination, not quantum physics.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a flash of crimson amid the gray. Upon investigation, Severus was surprised to find that his Muggle father's chess pieces were walking around like their Wizard chess counterparts. He leaned closer and was surprised to hear them speaking to one another in earnest conversation.
The white king seemed to be having a temper tantrum, while a white castle and knight made futile attempts to calm him. Most of the red pieces were avoiding the white pieces altogether, though the red queen seemed to be deriving great enjoyment from zapping the white pawns with a tiny wand when their backs were turned.
"Now, my dear," admonished the red king. "You must be patient. We've not yet begun to play."
The red queen tossed her head. "But the pawns' squealing is so entertaining!"
"Remember," said the king, "we must give the white king ample reason to leave the first square before he can castle."
"I know, I know," said the red queen crossly. "But it'd be so much easier to take him out now."
"And you remember how well that has worked in the past. We must wait for him to come to us. He's far too well protected, even now. Now, have you seen your knight anywhere? I haven't seen him for a long time."
"You were the one who sent him off," countered the queen. "You find him. At least it seems as if the other side is missing a piece as well."
"Only the queen's pawn," sneered the king. "Hardly enough to compensate for the loss of a knight."
"Very well," sighed the queen. "I'll see if I can locate him."
"See that you do," said the king. "The game must start very soon, and we will need all of our players."
Severus found the pieces' conversations to be largely uninteresting and was soon distracted by the torn page that a white bishop and castle were making their way across. There was a pen and ink rendering of a monster on it that seemed somehow familiar. He seized the sheet, upsetting the pieces, who swore loudly, and attempted to read the unfamiliar language written on it.
suatilleb eht dna teril sawT'
tserdibof eht enumehcra diD
sremikal eht erew devloserg llA
.tsergtuo eehpro eht dnA
He squinted at it, attempting to make any sense of it, before realizing that it was written backwards. He snorted. He hoped that not all writing would appear the reverse of how it normally appeared, reflection of the real world or not. He took the page across the room to the foe-glass door, and held it up. This is what he read.
'Twas liret and the bellitaurs
Did archemune the forbidrest
All gresolved were the lakimers,
And the orphee outgrest.
"Beware the Lodremort, my son!
The eyes that burn, the soulesplit
Beware Lecarrowstrange and shunNaginos Pettinet!"
He took his gryffish sword in hand
And sought the vileunn fragsole far
And found a space in grimmish place
And rubbed his cursiscar.
And as in idlewhile he rests,
The Lodremort with eyes of flame
Burforsted from the forbidrest
And avked as it came!One, two! Three, four! And more and more
The gryffish blade turned bloddirud;
At last it died and by his side
The orphee prodtor stood.
"We have now slain the Lodremort.
So take my hand, O Prodtor Brave,
We'll not be friends, but when this ends,
You'll be not revilnave."'Twas timumph, and the orpheements
Did partabrate in hoggydron,
All dellerpy the wordwize was,
And the prodtor livpollon.
Gibberish. Worse than gibberish. Nonsense. Severus crumpled the paper into a ball and threw it across the room, ignoring the cries of surprise from the chess pieces that were still milling about on the ground.
As there was nothing of interest in the sitting room, he headed toward the kitchen. Crossing the room, he took another pull from the bottle of laudanum, hoping it would brighten up the rest of the hallucination.
He heard something snap and cried out as something sharp pressed into the bottom of his foot. He sat down on the sofa to examine his foot. The skin was unbroken, but little indentations marked where he had stepped on something hard.
A tiny shriek pierced the quiet. He looked down to see the white king hopping frantically across the floor. The white queen was lying at his feet. She had been broken cleanly in half.
He kicked the fragments toward the king and pressed his hands into the ruined sofa cushions to steady himself. He decided that the reason for his sudden queasiness was because he was hungry. He was irritated to find that the larder of the foe-glass kitchen was as bare as the one in his world. Feeling thoroughly disgruntled, he kicked aside a biscuit box and wavered, his balance thrown off by the laudanum and oddly angled house. He steadied himself on the door that led to the garden.
Now there was a thought. Severus opened the door and stepped outside.
He expected to find it night outside and was surprised to find that it was daytime in the foe-glass world, but the garden and putrid river beyond were enveloped in a dense fog. Severus thought it had never looked better.
This garden looked vastly different from his garden at home. Whereas his was neglected and weed-choked, the plants in this garden contained the largest, most perfect flowers Severus had ever seen. The effect was augmented by the gray sky above them, their vivid colors ranging from deep purple to palest pink. The hollyhocks seemed to spiral endlessly into the sky, and the pansies spread colorfully at his feet. He wandered down the rows of flowers feeling both comforted by and completely isolated from the loveliness around him.
Suddenly, he stubbed his bare toe on the root of the squat apple tree that occupied the center of the garden and went sprawling. He scrambled over to where his bottle of laudanum had fallen and was relieved to find it unbroken.
He heard a scornful laugh and pointed his wand in the direction from which the voice had come. It seemed to be coming from a row of lilies.
"Who spoke?" he snarled.
"Nobodee spoke to you," said a dazzlingly white lily. "You must be 'earing things."
Severus blinked. The silvery voice made him suddenly aware that his robe was unfastened, and it had definitely seen better days. "I certainly am now."
A deep red lily next to the white one shook her petals, "Now you've done it. Now he'll want to have a conversation."
"I do not like zee look of him."
"He's certainly begun to wilt."
"Do you suppose 'e has fungus?"
Both flowers began to tremble.
"Now, now, girls," said a kind, motherly voice that sounded vaguely familiar. "He looks so tired. Why don't you have a rest against my trunk?"
Now the tree was speaking. Had Severus's head not already been spinning, it certainly would have then.
As he lowered himself to the ground, he heard faint rustling all around him. Apparently, the other plants in the garden were keen to have a look at the newcomer, in spite of the threat of fungus.
"What is he, do you think?" one pansy asked the petunia in the next bed.
"A blackthorn bush?
"No, he moves too quickly," piped up a lavender bush. "Everyone knows blackthorns are sloe."
"I still theenk he is a fungus."
"What rot," exclaimed a narcissus. "He's a nettle if ever there was one."
"Maybe he just needs a drink to remove the sting?" suggested a rose.
"Girls!" said the apple tree a bit more sharply. "He needs to rest. He's going on a long journey and we must do all we can to help him."
Severus turned to look at the tree, half expecting to find a face at which to scowl, but encountered only the lined bark. "I am not doing anything of the sort."
"Of course you are," said the tree in an amused sort of voice. "You can't just go back the way you came."
Severus jumped to his feet. "I don't know what kind of game you and your frilly friends are playing, but I'm not interested." He stalked across the garden in the direction he had come, but the walls of flowers seemed to have shifted. He broke into a run, not caring about the shouts of protest from the flowerbeds he traversed, but he could no longer see his house or anything else that looked familiar. He was lost.
He stopped running, utterly winded, and was surprised to find that he was back by the apple tree.
"Poor dear," tutted the tree.
"Look," snarled Severus, jabbing his wand at the tree, "I don't know what you've done, but I will burn you and the rest of this garden to a crisp if you do not release me instantly."
"Dear boy," said the apple tree as if explaining things to a dim child, "I don't make the rules, I'm simply relating them to you. You're here, and now you're part of the game. You must play your way out. And don't threaten the girls like that. The pansies are particularly sensitive."
Severus capitulated with ill grace. "What blasted game do I have to play?"
"It's a game you know very well," said the apple tree, gesturing with a low branch. "Look."
For some minutes Severus stood without speaking, looking out in the direction the tree indicated. A most curious sight it was. The fog had lifted, revealing a vast valley. At first, Severus took it to be a farm from the perfectly square areas that were divided by brooks and hedges. Severus vaguely remembered the conversation between the red king and queen and groaned. The valley consisted of eight rows and eight columns.
"You must be joking."
The apple tree ignored him. "You need to choose a side."
"Neither will have me, so what does it matter?"
"Both red and white are missing pieces," insisted the tree, "and both sides need you in order to win."
Not that Severus would ever admit it, but he felt a twinge of guilt for having broken the white queen. A memory brushed the surface of his consciousness, but between his skill at occlumency and the opium, he squelched it effectively. He took another sip of laudanum for good measure.
"White it is," he said in a bored voice. "What pieces are they missing?"
"The queen, the queen's bishop, and the queen's pawn."
"I'll be the queen, then."
"I'm sorry, dear, I don't think the other pieces would accept you as queen. If you want to be queen, you need to earn it."
He sneered automatically at the mention of the queen's bishop, and paused. There was really no choice. Broken piece fixed firmly in mind, he nodded. "Then I'm the queen's pawn," he said with a finality he did not quite understand.
"Good boy," beamed the tree. "Have an apple for the road. Malus sieversii, you know. Not what you're used to, I'm sure, but quite delicious. Now hurry, you have to get to the second square soon. And watch out for her, she's tricky."
Severus took a bite of the apple. It was crisp and tart, but it made him feel a bit odd. Was it the laudanum, or was the apple tree suddenly taller? "Who's tricky?"
His question was answered when the red queen, now of a height with him, came crashing through the rose bushes, smiling at the cries from the flowers. Her eyes narrowed when she saw Severus.
"There you are," she said, looking suspiciously at the apple tree, who rustled her leaves innocently. "We've been looking for you everywhere. The game's about to begin!"
She knocked the partially eaten apple out of his hand, wrapped her hand around his forearm, and began to run. The queen went so fast that Severus was out of breath instantly.
When they were nearing the second brook, Severus managed to yank his arm free.
"What are you doing?" asked the queen, whose face had gone a darker shade of red. "You belong next to my bishop."
"This is my space," he managed to get out between gasps.
The queen goggled at him for a moment, then began laughing uncontrollably.
"I knew it!" she crowed. "I knew it all along! Thank you for declaring yourself at last, pawn." She spat out the word. "The king will hear of this, and then you will die. Enjoy the game. It will be your last."
She sped off, leaving Severus alone on a grassy hillock with nothing but his wand. As a pawn, it would soon be time for him to move, and he had to decide whether to move one or two squares. After a moment's reflection, he decided that the best way to help the white side would be to replace their queen without being taken himself. That would require aggressive action on his part.
With this in mind, he raised his wand to the ready, cautiously descended the hill and posted himself to jump over the first of the six brooks that stood between him and the eighth square.
There was a deafening GNAB, and Severus found himself flat on the muddy bank as a gigantic chartreuse submarine suddenly surfaced in the middle of the brook. A hatch flew open, and a conductor in a loudly patterned uniform stepped out.
"Welcome to the SubThgink," he announced, "emergency travel for folks of all stripes, which is good, considerin' you're looking a mite stripey." The conductor eyed Severus's mud-streaked face as he pulled himself to his feet with what little dignity he possessed.
He gratefully accepted a hand up from the conductor and a warm but fuzzy robe.
Severus followed the conductor down the hatch, which closed loudly behind them. "Now," said the conductor, "where are you headed?"
The conductor whistled. "Fourth square, eh? We don't get many o' your sort willing to take it on. Well, suit yourself. Keep the robe, by the way. There's not many who'd wear lavender so well. For six pips I'll throw in a pair o' wellies, too."
"I haven't any pips."
"That's all right, I haven't got any wellies, either. Just for that, I'll let you ride free. Now, 'ere's your berth," he said, gesturing to one of four large empty shelves along the side of the sub, "and the head's right around the corner where you'll find a nice hot shower wi' plenty o' soap. Good soap." The conductor winked. "Just give us a shout if you need anything."
Severus took the unsubtle hint and indulged in a shower before returning to his berth. A good Tergeo removed most of the mud from his clothes, though it had the unfortunate side effect of dissolving most of his already threadbare robe.
The shower bag that had been thoughtfully provided left him smelling like an English garden, and the lavender bathrobe completed the effect. After a quick shave, Severus skulked into the berth area, hoping to avoid conversing with anyone.
Unfortunately, the berth area was no longer vacant. He found a black dog, a deer, and a bumblebee the size of a raven sitting around the table in raucous conversation. The bumblebee was in the middle of a no-doubt amusing anecdote.
"And then the ice-cream man said, 'Honey? I beg your pardon, I hardly know you!'"
The dog and deer burst out laughing. Severus seized an abandoned newspaper from the table and skulked to his berth, hoping to escape the others' notice. He was disappointed to find that the newspaper was written backwards, just as the poem back at the house had been. Even more disturbing, when he attempted to read it he found that all of the articles were reprints of the same nonsense poem, only in different typefaces.
He tossed the paper aside, grabbed the bottle of laudanum, and took a deep pull. The deer glanced his direction.
"Don't you care for poetry?"
"I fail to see how that nonsense could be considered poetry."
"You must be blind," exclaimed the dog. "Everything you need to know is there!"
Severus shot the dog a look of pure venom. "Every other word is the invention of an addled mind."
"Now really," said the bumblebee, speaking for the first time, "isn't that a bit harsh? I'm sure the author had some intention in writing it, apart from making you angry."
"Then why is it utter nonsense?"
"You're new, aren't you?" said the deer suddenly.
"Yes," he answered tersely. The others looked at him with interest.
"Heading for the fourth square?" asked the dog.
"Bold," said the bee, looking over the rims of his compound spectacles. "You wouldn't be trying to reach the eighth square, would you?"
The deer whistled in appreciation. "My advice? Don't forget that the king can take you. I was paying so much attention to avoiding a bishop and protecting my pawn that he was able to sneak up on me."
Severus's curiosity was rapidly overcoming his anti-social tendencies. "You were taken?"
"All of us have been taken," said the dog proudly. "Bumblebee here has been taken twice."
"Were any of you part of the current game?"
"No," said the deer. "I haven't been in a game for ages. Bumblebee was in it most recently."
"I was taken out shortly before the game began," said the bee. "Quite a dramatic thing."
"That's absurd," said Severus. "How can you have been taken before any moves were made?"
"You'll have to ask the red side," said the bee mildly.
"You're too politic by half," said the dog. "It's rubbish, pure and simple. I wouldn't want to take part in this game. It's not the kind of game I fancy. Give me a good old red-and-white situation any day of the week. All of this cloak-and-dagger nonsense is simply not cricket."
"If that's the way the game is being played, then it's best to match strategies," commented the deer to the dog. "I know chasing things up trees is your favorite move, but sometimes a more subtle approach is called for."
"Subtle, schmubtle," scoffed the dog. His devastating comeback was cut short when the sub gave a sudden lurch.
"That'll be the edge of the fourth square," said the bee. "The sub will take you to the middle of the square, so we're close to your stop. I sincerely hope you're not planning to go out like that."
Severus glanced down at his bare feet and fuzzy lavender robe. "I haven't much choice in the matter," he said tightly.
"Why didn't you say so earlier?" said the deer. "We should be able to get you properly outfitted for the fourth square, at least."
"There's no need to look so offended," said the bee. "It's not charity. We want to see the white side win. Our old side, you know. Now, in the corner you will find a pair of hip waders. Necessary for where you'll be going. I'm afraid there's a bit of water in them, so you'll have to empty them out before you put them on."
"You should always tip your waders," added the deer.
The dog had been nosing through a pile of clothing on one of the berths and emerged with a long buttoned garment. Severus was pleased that it was his customary color and immediately replaced the fuzzy robe that the conductor had given him.
"I'm sure you'll find it quite durable," said the dog in a satisfied voice. "There's nothing quite like a black lab coat."
"I'm sure it will be satisfactory."
The conductor chose that moment to fetch Severus. The others wished him luck, and he quickly emptied and donned the bee's hip waders.
The conductor was waiting for him "We're nearly there. You'll want to brace yourself against the ladder when we surface."
The submarine slowed to a grinding pace, engines straining, but rose perceptibly upward. When they stopped, the conductor ascended the ladder and opened the hatch.
When Severus joined him topside, he found the submarine in the middle of a vast and featureless bog. The conductor gave him a measuring look.
"Well, you look a bit better now. Dunno if it'll help you much in the game, though. I thought the lavender suited you a bit better, but this is more practical like. Well," he said, gesturing toward the ladder. "Off you get."
Severus nodded at the conductor, then climbed down the side of the submarine. As soon as he released the last rung, the Sub Thgink disappeared beneath the surface of the swamp with a slurping pop. Severus was quite alone.
After a quick survey of his surroundings, Severus fancied he could see a small speck on the horizon to the north. Observing no other distinguishing features, he began slogging through the knee-deep sludge. It was hot work, and Severus found himself unbuttoning the top buttons of his coat and occasionally stopping to catch his breath. The speck on the horizon grew steadily larger.
At long last, he approached the object, which turned out to be a signpost with a number of arrows nailed to it.
"TO FRED'S COTTAGE," read one arrow, which pointed off to the west. "TO GEORGE'S BUNGALOW," read another arrow, which pointed off to the east. The other arrows read, "TO OUGADOUGOU," "TO THE VIRGINS," and "TO MAKE MUCH OF TIME."
Severus glanced to the east and west and was surprised to see specks on the horizon that had certainly not been there before. However, his attention was elsewhere, for another memory was trying to manifest itself in his mind. He squelched it firmly and took another mouthful of laudanum. He was beginning to loathe the cloying syrup, but it was better than the alternative. He forced himself to swallow it.
Panting from the effort, he staggered and was surprised to find himself leaning against a tree that hadn't been there a moment ago. Gazing at his surroundings, he found that he was now in a dense forest with a small path leading off to the east. Not really caring where it took him, he followed.
He wandered on, muttering to himself, until, on turning a sharp corner, he suddenly came upon two stocky young men dressed identically in knickerbockers and boaters. They were blocking his way.
Severus glanced at them and, judging them to be harmless, stepped around them and continued on his way. He followed the path around another corner and came across the men again. This time, Severus favored them with a glare before continuing on his way.
The third time he came across them, he had had enough.
"Why are you following me?"
"Us follow you?" inquired the first man, whose embroidered collar proclaimed him as Fred. "You've got it all wrong."
"Contrariwise," chimed in the other, whose collar identified him as George. "You've also got the measure of things."
"I haven't any time for nonsense," barked Severus, pointing his wand at each of them in turn. "Leave me alone."
They gave him identical smirks. "Now that's hardly manners," admonished George.
"And it's hardly the way to play the game," added Fred.
"I'll take my chances." Severus shouldered past the twins and stalked off down the path.
He turned another sharp corner and found the twins waiting for him. He was about to curse whichever was closer, when he suddenly realized what was happening. The great oak behind the twins was the same oak that had been behind them when he first saw them. They weren't following him; he was somehow traveling in circles, in spite of the fact that the path wasn't circular.
The twins were gazing at him with expressions of polite disinterest, but their amusement was palpable.
"Well?" he asked crossly.
"'Well' what?" asked Fred, with feigned surprise.
"How the blazes do I get out of here?"
"That's an easy one," said George. "Just think, 'how do I stay in the same place?'"
"By walking," answered Fred.
"Hush," admonished his brother, "let him answer one."
"So," prompted Fred, "you get somewhere else by…?"
Severus mumbled something.
"Sorry, couldn't hear that," said Fred. "Try again."
"By staying in the same place," said Severus with violent enunciation.
The twins applauded enthusiastically.
"A fine deduction!"
"And while you're here," said George with a wink at his brother, "we could be convinced to provide entertainment."
Fred gazed at Severus with a measuring eye. "No, this is one you ought to hear. Now make yourself comfortable and prepare to be moved."
Once he had seated himself in the roots of the tree, the twins stood before him.
"We proudly present a lesson in song form: The Young Lady's Pleasures and How She Gained Them," announced Fred.
"Or, 'You Are Young, Little Lion,' " added George, with equal ceremony. The twins breathed simultaneously and began to recite:
"You are young, little lion," the serpent opined,
"And an insolent sniveling brat,"
Yet you came to my aid when my name was maligned,
"Tell me, what was your reason for that?"
"All my friends," said the lion, "will see what they see
For as long as they shutter their minds.
But now I have learned, and I'm sure you'll agree
That the future and dreams intertwine."
"You are dull, little lion," the basilisk lectured,
"With a mane predelicted to frizz,
Yet while others were stymied, you made your conjecture
Recumbent, while taking a zizz."
"It is true," said the lion, with a challenging mien,
"That my foresight's eccentric and odd.
But for all that it seemed it was merely a dream,
It quite logically pierced your facade."
"You're a fool, little lion," he said with a sneer,
"And your judgment is hardly sublime
You've thought villains were victims and frauds quite sincere;
Now you try to absolve me of crime."
"In my youth," quoth the lion, "I was easily fooled
By a shining exterior guise.By that bias my instincts are no longer ruled,"
She said, seeking the basilisk's eyes.
"You're a fool," he rejoined, "as I mentioned before.
"You've no concept of what you are saying.
You could die from my clandestine glance, nothing more;
I suggest you commence with your praying."
"You are trying my patience," the lion exclaimed,
"With your doubt and superior airs.
Please desist with the threats that I'll die or be maimed;
I demand that you take me upstairs."
Severus, who found himself nodding off, sat up suddenly. He was surprised to note that the tree he was resting on was no longer in the dense forest, but next to the intersection of a small brook and a low hedge.
"Ah hah," said George, tapping the side of his nose. "That's got you paying attention."
"Good thing, too," commented Fred. "This is where it starts getting exciting."
"I have no desire to hear any more of your sordid little rhymes," said Severus standing. "And I will be on my way."
He turned on his heel and leaped across the junction of the brook and hedge.
The twins turned to look at one another, crestfallen.
"But he can't just leave," fretted George. "He needs to hear the next bit!"
"If the silly sod can't see past the end of his nose, there's not much we can do about it."
"Unless we make his nose bigger."
"Even I'm not that cruel!"
Severus listened as the twins' chatter faded from his hearing. Such rot the people here talked. It was insufferable. He stalked angrily northward, vehemently quashing the pushy memories that were now assailing his mental walls. It was becoming harder and harder to do so. Severus took a deep breath. If he wanted to get to the eighth square, he would need all of his focus.
Now, he currently occupied the fifth square-
He stopped short.
He hadn't simply jumped the brook; he'd gone diagonally, a move a pawn could only perform if it was taking another piece. What on earth had possessed him? What if the piece was protected?
The woods here were very strange; the trees were all very thin and curved about at ninety-degree angles. In fact, they weren't trees at all, but a jungle of metal pipes. He kept walking and realized he was in a giant bathroom, and the air was filled with fragrant steam that swirled about him. He advanced slowly, keeping to the shadows in the corners of the room. Not hearing or seeing anything of interest, he stepped out into the open to get a better look.
It was then that he heard a soft sound.
Cursing himself for the worst kind of fool, he ducked behind a stone column. When it was clear that the source of the sound was moving no closer, he cautiously peered out.
In the very center of the room was a large, perfectly circular pool that was rimmed by a myriad of different taps. By the edge of the pool stood a red pawn. To his surprise, the pawn was weeping copiously, his sobs interrupted only by great shuddering breaths.
Severus cleared his throat.
The pawn looked up at him with a resigned look. "You're here to take me, then?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Don't be sorry," said the pawn, furiously scrubbing the tears from his cheeks. "I'm just glad to be out of the game. It's been awful."
"What's so bad about it?"
"Everything!" answered the pawn passionately. "First he sent me out to get the white queen. Like that would have ever happened without me getting taken. I managed to thwart a move by the king's knight, but that wasn't good enough. So here I am, out here as bait. I hope he's angry that he only drew a pawn's response instead of a better piece. No offense."
"None taken." Severus regarded the other pawn curiously. "So what happens now?"
"You just kill me, I think," said the pawn. "I really don't know. Being taken's a new experience for me. Can you make it quick?"
An idea sprang into Severus's mind. "Yes, I can make it very quick."
Severus raised his wand. The pawn screwed up his face in anticipation, but no spell came. Instead, the water in the pool next to the pawn began bubbling loudly, which was followed by the loud GNAB of a rusty hatch being thrown open.
"Welcome to the SubThgink," came a voice, "emergency travel for folks of all stripes- oh, it's you again, is it? Whatchoo doin' 'ere? We left you one over!"
"Actually, I was hoping you could help my friend here."
The submarine conductor gazed at the pawn in wonder. "Blimey, the king's bishop's pawn?"
The pawn stood up, surprised to be recognized.
"You know me?"
The conductor guffawed. "Know you? We've been following you since before the game began!"
The pawn blushed. "May I come aboard?"
"Of course you can," said the conductor. "There's bugger all for you to do here now that you've been taken, and there's lots of other good folks aboard that's been taken in previous games. Prepare yourself for a grand journey. Next stop is the Sea of Holes."
"The Sea of Holes?" The pawn's eyes were shining. "I should love to see that."
The conductor took the pawn's hand and helped him aboard.
"Just a moment!" the red pawn called to Severus. "You might need this. I don't know exactly what it does, but it'll do no good if it leaves the game with me."
The pawn tossed Severus a small golden key, which he placed in his pocket.
The pawn smiled at Severus. "Thank you for being so kind to me."
"You're welcome," Severus said, "and good luck."
The pawn disappeared down the hatch with a soft smile. When the sub had vanished, Severus breathed a sigh of relief. He had successfully taken his first piece and done so without bloodshed. Now all he had to do was survive three more squares.
He was relieved to see a brook just to the north. Fearing the worst and hoping for the best, he jumped over it.
When he landed on the other side, he was relieved to find himself on a green plain, which rippled in the soft breeze. Cumulous clouds rolled across the bright blue sky, and the smell of grass and clean earth filled his nostrils as he breathed deeply.
His reverie was broken by the sound of hoof beats.
A knight dressed in crimson armor was galloping toward him. The color seemed to be caused by a large amount of dried blood. When he lifted his visor, matted gray hair trailed down to his breastplate. "Check," he snarled, gazing hungrily at Severus. To his disgust, a rivulet of spittle rolled down the knight's chin.
The knight raised his sword overhead and spurred his horse toward him, but Severus was ready. But before he had a chance to cast the curse the knight so richly deserved, a white knight appeared and parried the red knight's wild cut.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you, mate," said the white knight. "Or did you and your master miss the fact that I was here?"
The red knight snarled furiously. "I'll take you both!"
"Sorry," said the white knight, "you can't take him without getting taken yourself, which would be pretty thick, as you're already down one knight. Now go back to where you came from and wipe your chin, already. You'll put us off our lunch."
With a howl of fury, the red knight retreated to his square.
"Git," said the white knight.
"He seems more like a psychopath, as far as I can tell."
"I meant you," said the knight. "What were you thinking, taking the red pawn? You nearly put our king in check! Are you playing our game or your own?"
"Of course I'm playing your game," snapped Severus, irrationally hurt by the accusation. "And what do you mean, 'check?' Please tell me that fool of king hasn't advanced already. What on earth is he thinking?"
The white knight raised his visor, revealing a fringe of red hair and a rather downtrodden expression. "That's the trouble," he said, dismounting and walking over to Severus. "He's not thinking. He's rushing in without any sort of strategy because he's after you."
"Because, you daft git, you're the reason we're playing without a queen. The king's been inconsolable."
"Wonderful. An irrational king. Just what we need to win."
"You don't know the half of it. Our game strategy involves landing on seven particular squares of the board. They're the sort of squares you recognize only when you're on them, and sometimes only if you search from top to bottom. We've managed to find four. The trouble is that since you joined our side, the king has been barreling after you without giving any thought to the game. If you didn't have a three space lead, he'd have taken you already."
"So the white king is out to get one of his own pieces. This is the most ridiculous game I've ever played."
"Well, if you've got any suggestions, I'd love to hear them."
Severus thought for a moment. "Tell me more about these three remaining squares. How do you know the number left to find?"
The knight smiled sadly. "It's a long story."
"If it's crucial to the game, I must know."
The knight sat on the turf and began to recite:
"I'll tell you everything I can:
Though this is hardly all;
I met an aged aged man,
A-hanging on the wall.
I asked him, "How do you remain,As you no longer live?"
His answer swirled around my brain.
Like thoughts in a Pensieve.
He siad, "I hunt for baubles bright
That grave events portend.
I hide them from the knaves that might
Exploit them for their ends.
To they who seek the wide world o'er
I give this wisdom fine
In hopes these trinkets nevermore
Malevolently shine."But I was focused on my plans For challenges and jousts.
This stalwart stance since I began
I always had espoused.
Bewildered by his muddled words,
I said, "Then tell me why
The lake is filled with flying birds
And fish swim in the sky?
A twinkle lit his eye; he said,
"My boy, an answer lies
Within a home of bricks once red
Now grayed from sooty skies.
In which a magpie had been caged
Until I set him free.
I did not know just how enraged
From this the bird would be."
I frowned at him, for this was not
An answer I desired.
He seemed instead to think I sought
New riddles to acquire.
"Have you no answers, hanged man?"
I asked him in a huff.
"I've taken all the tripe I can,
And Riddles, I've enough."He said to me, "I've answers here
To fill the oceans wide.
Your duty is to persevere
And questions to provide.
For instance, answer forty-two
Means little on its own
But with its question I or you
Could know the great unknown."
"But I digress," he then demurred,
"And answers you enjoin.
I daresay that you may have heard
Of swords and cups and coins.
You all shall find the final suit,
Encased in hands of rock
And accessed through a downward route
Reptilian rebus lock."
I shook my head for I could not
These riddles penetrate.
But now it seemed my every thought
Was new imbued with weight.
I thanked him much for telling me
What questions I should seek,
Suspecting as a side that we
Were up a certain creek.
And now pursuing far and wide
The magpie and its kith,
I think on our respective sides
To sever truth from myth.
I sigh, regretting my poor view
Of that old man that I once knew,
Whose eyes were of the brightest blue,
And greatest honors did accrue,
Who often liked a fuzzy shoe,
And garments of the brightest hue,
With whom no subject was taboo,
Whose comments I did misconstrue,
Who sipped the vilest, bitterest brew,
And one night off the tower flew,
Whose enemies we now pursue,
Who gave us every crucial clue,
A-hanging on a wall."
Severus digested the white knight's words for several long minutes. He would have dismissed it as nonsense if not for the knight's somber recitation and the fact that he could feel his memories stirring beneath the layer of laudanum. He squelched them forcibly. "Do you know what it all means?"
"Yes and no. We figured out the second riddle about the hand of rock, but we haven't yet worked out the magpie riddle."
"How much time would you and your allies need in order to reach the necessary squares?"
"That's a bit tough to estimate," said the knight, chin in hand. "At the rate we're losing pieces, we could need nine or ten moves."
"Are any other pawns in position to reach the eighth square?"
"None that have made it so far as you have," said the white knight, with a look of dawning comprehension. "I think I can look threatening enough to keep the red queen from taking you, if you can manage to avoid her castle and bishop. Once you become queen, you'll have the mobility to draw our king back to where we can protect him."
Severus remembered the red queen's threat. The red king would not be happy to have lost a piece to the white side. "I have a hunch that the red king will be after me as well."
"So much the better," said the knight. "If you can draw him into one of the squares we control, we might be able to force mate."
Severus looked at the knight with appreciation. "That could work."
The knight pulled down his visor to hide his flush of pleasure. "Well, you've still two squares to go. Don't count your Augureys before they hatch." He mounted his horse noisily. "Well, I'm back to my square."
"Do try not to get yourself taken."
"And you. If you can't make it to the eighth square, I may just let the kings fight over you. It's not as if they can take one another, you know."
Severus's snort was lost in the pounding of hooves as the knight galloped off, easily jumping the hedge to the west.
When the knight had gone, Severus set off across the plain, heart considerably lighter. When he reached the next brook, he looked carefully from side to side. Seeing nothing beyond, he took a deep breath and jumped across into the seventh square.
Author's Note: Well done! You made it! Review if you feel so inclined!