Severus looked at his dormmate as he ran past him, frowning at his cowardly back. "What's attacked him now? More gnats?" he muttered as he walked into the dining hall. As a senior Prefect, he made sure his housemates always saw him as dignified. That's why he didn't follow Lucius back to cower in his bed when he saw the open portal in the middle of the doorway. So he did the only correct thing, he headed calmly yet quickly for the nearest teacher. "Professor!" he called when he spotted one up the hall. "There's a portal in the doorway of the Great Hall!"
"Indeed?" he asked calmly, following him. "It's not the first time. It happens now and then around here." The Transfiguration teacher patted him on the back as he came closer to him. "Come, let us investigate it, Severus." They headed that way, watching the other students as they carefully backed away from it.
"It's shifting position," Severus noted quietly.
"Their world is moving, as is ours. It'd almost have to switch now and then," Dumbledore reminded him gently. Then some of the students screamed and a bright flash went off, making him look away before he went blind. By the time he could see again, his companion was gone, and the students were still screaming. "Enough!" he called. "Go to your tables. Prefects, give us an account of who is missing!" They did that in a semi-orderly fashion, babbling and whining while they walked. He looked at his headmaster, who shrugged. He apparently didn't have a clue, but Albus remembered that world. Too bad the old fart hadn't been there when he had been taken. Dumbledore walked up to his seat. "Severus, if he was indeed taken, will be fine," he promised quietly. "It'll be a few days before he'll be back. We can owl his mother to tell her he won't be on the Holiday train back and send him by floo when he gets back."
The Headmaster smiled at him. "Good idea, Albus. Handle that, would you?"
"Fine." He sat down, looking at the tables. He looked at the current head of Slytherin. "Where is Mr. Malfoy? I don't see his hair anywhere."
"He ran a few minutes before you got here," he said snidely. "He's probably still hiding."
"Fine. Thank you." He looked over at the Gryffindor table as one of the Prefects came up to give a list of who was missing. It was only five people and someone had already been sent to check the dorms for them. He inclined his head. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, Professor." She skipped back to her seat, letting the other Prefects report. That way she could get in on the good gossip going around. Had the Marauder's done this? They were good, but that good?
Dumbledore made a mental list, checking off each name as more and more students came in late. It came down to two students, Severus and one young Ravenclaw. Interesting. A future Potion's master if he was correct, and an expert in charms. Not the usual candidates that the elves pulled.
Severus looked at the man standing above him, pushing himself off the ground. "Who the bloody hell are you?" he hissed. "Why have you taken me?"
"Are you related to Dumbledore?" a female voice behind him asked. Severus glared back at her, as did the strange man. "He says the same thing all the time," she defended.
"Dumbledore? The defiler lives? I thought for sure my spell had killed him as he ran off," the stranger said bitterly. He looked at the young man in front of him. "Name?"
"Snape?" he asked, starting to chuckle. The young man in front of him pulled a wand so he snatched it to look at. "Hmm, so you are one of them. I thought so when I floated you in here, but I wasn't sure and I wasn't about to touch your person." He handed it back with an irritating smirk. "I am Alathander. I'm an elf. I'm also a Battle Mage of the First Level. You need a use name so no one knows your real one."
The woman looked stunned. "Elf? You're much bigger than our elves, and you have smaller ears too," she said thoughtfully.
Severus glared at her again, then sighed and flicked his wand. "Somulus." He looked at the elf again. "What is going on? I'm a student. I have lessons I have to go to tomorrow. I can't very well do that if I'm not at school."
"Good point." Alathander sat down, looking him over. "Well, I guess I could bring you to my family. There's got to be a portal mage somewhere in the Elfhame." He shrugged. "Your choice. I could bring you back to my Academy, but you'd be far behind the others since we don't use puny staffs like that."
"It's a wand."
"Fine, we don't use those either," he said smugly, holding out a hand and creating a light. "See?"
"If that's all you can do with *your* version of magic, I'm not impressed," Snape sneered at him.
"No, but I'm told it's impolite to kill people who aren't fighting back," Alathander said smugly. Snape's eyes narrowed. "If you want, I can prove myself," he offered, starting to sneer now. "What you *humans* know about battle magic is fairly pitiful."
"Really?" He swished his wand, deciding on a course of action. He had been taught this one recently with Lucius. "Crucio."
The elf blocked it and considered the spell he had trapped. "Well, now *that's* nasty," he said fondly, smirking at the young boy. "Very good! You might just live around here. Now put it away before I destroy it for you, boy." He glanced outside. "Unless you can teleport to places you've never been, we're going to be staying in here tonight. There's hunters in the woods who would love nothing more than to kill both of us. That's why I moved you."
"Why? Did you insult someone else?" Snape asked bitterly. If he couldn't openly defeat this one then at least he could learn from him. Then perhaps he would get free of this smiling freak.
"No. They don't like elves. They're hunting for the village. They'll be settling in for the night but this isn't my end of the woods so I don't know them like I should. It's changed since I left for the Academy." He grimaced and looked back at Snape. "Tomorrow morning, just after dawn, we'll be heading back to the village. If we're lucky we'll make it before they will. If not, we may have to fight. Are you up to that?"
"If I must," Snape agreed. "I'm certainly not going to woose out and hide in my bed."
"Then that makes you more of a fighter than half of my people," Alathander noted bitterly. "Elves are artistic and we've been lax in finding warriors to guard us. Most of the young men get some dueling lessons but nothing else."
"We have those as well," Snape admitted grudgingly. "Some of us are a bit better trained however." He looked back at his fellow student. "Shouldn't we sneak back tonight anyway?"
"There's every chance that they'd find us. I didn't play in this part of the woods when I was a lad, Snape. It's on the other side of our usual lands and haunts. I was on my way back from classes to help the elfhame." He took a calming breath. "That's when I ran into the hunting party and saw you fall from mid-air. So I moved you both and ran with you." He looked back at him. "I'll probably be made fun of for that."
"Why? You were getting non-combatants out of the way and protecting yourself. You probably can't take on a squadron of fighters by yourself."
"Actually, I can," Alathander calmly refuted. "I am a battle mage. That's what I do." He looked back at the young girl, then at Snape again. "All right. Before this goes any farther, I'm going to unbend enough to explain some things to you. Around here, any magic user uses a use name. It's to protect our true names. I was seen to be a battle mage when I was born and blessed so I got one at that point. You'll have to pick one and unfortunately it'll have to sound elven because no one trusts a non-elven mage most of the time, especially outside of combat circles. Got any clues of what you might like?"
"No," he snorted. "I'm not afraid of people knowing who I am."
"That shows stupidity or crass brass balls," Alathander noted dryly. "Around here, we can do things with your real name that make that little curse you threw look pleasant and charming. I've seen it done when someone found my training master's real name. Needless to say, there wasn't much I could do against the sixty demons who decided to finish him off or the spells thrown from afar. Pick something or I'll pick you for," he said insistently. "It's for your protection and mine."
"Fine. Pick something," Snape said with a wave of his hand. "I still say it's needless."
Alathander glared at him and put a hand against his forehead, freezing him and showing him pictures of what he had seen, making the younger boy shriek and back away. "You were saying?" he asked coldly.
Snape fell to his knees retching. "What did you do to me!" he demanded between heaves.
"That was what my master went through when they found out his real name," he sneered. "Still think it's unnecessary?"
"No," he moaned, forcing himself to stop and block the visions. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, glancing outside. "Did you remember to put up anti-listening charms?"
Snape sighed and used his wand to cushion them from anyone hearing them then looked at him. "We use them to keep from being eavesdropped on and from anyone finding us when we're hiding."
"That's fine," he said gruffly. "We can learn off each other then. Pick a name."
"I have no idea on such subjects," he said bitterly. "Pick something if you must and tell me."
Alathander stared into his eyes. "Invetrion. It's not totally elvish but it sounds it and it means Dark One. It suits you." He looked outside again. "If we could leave her here safely I would."
"We can always hide the cave's entrance," Invetrion offered. Alathander shook his head. "No?"
"No, any local mage would find it easily that way. They can feel the magic, even yours probably. That's how I found the defiler with my aunt after all." He grimaced. "Too bad I didn't kill him."
"What did he do?"
"He was debauching my unmarried aunt. Whether or not she wanted it was not of the point. He refused to step up and do the proper thing afterward. I did my best to try to kill him as he ran away from us, but apparently I failed in that as well." He slumped some. "There is too much to do tonight. You should rest."
"Can they feel a cloaking spell?" Invetrion asked quietly. Alathander shrugged. "You're not sure?"
"No one can be sure without knowing the mage doing the checking. If they're more powerful than you then they can always find anything you've done. It's not a matter of knowing you in that case, but searching for things that have weaker traces than you. Sometimes they can feel higher, unsubtle spells but not always. I know one of their people is a combat mage, they nearly killed me when I popped in earlier."
"Isn't that what you are?" Invetrion asked, one eyebrow going up.
Alathander looked hurt at that suggestion. "NO!" He snorted. "Combat mages are one- trick-dogs. Battle mages do more than just fight."
"Fine," Snape agreed, giving on that point. He obviously wasn't at home if mere distinctions or semantics were so important. "Then can you cloak this place without them finding out? Or can I?"
"No," he said dryly. "They may have been the ones who opened the portals to call you and her. Usually they only open when a warrior is called to aid a side in a battle. That's how we got the defiler." He spit on the ground. "He learned quite a lot from us elves then did that to my aunt. She's still being looked at oddly for having that child of his." He looked at Snape again. "Welcome to the war, Invetrion. Once we get to the family home, I'll have my father or uncle send you off tomorrow to the Academy. It's considered too scary to touch most of the time. Her as well." He looked back as she shifted, rolling his eyes. "Just what we needed, a *girl*!"
"She's excellent in charms and hexes," Snape noted calmly. "Whereas I am excellent in potions and defense."
"Fine, then she's a useful female when she's not having her monthly cycle. Then she'll be dangerous. I only hope to be far away at those times."
"They make our women stronger usually," Snape said dryly. "But you are right that they all go odd in the head. Emotional bints have no place in real magic." He glared outside, grabbing Alathander's arm. "What is that? Is that a willow-wisp or a lantern?" He pointed at the light.
Alathander looked at it, then moaned. "It's a mage light. We've been found probably. Okay. Can you run?" He nodded. "Can you get her up?"
Snape walked over and delicately kicked her on the leg. "Get up, we're about to be attacked," he said coldly. "There's an army looking for us to kill us for being with an elf."
She yawned as she stood up, pushing back her hair. "Fine." She found her wand and gripped it tightly. "How are we leaving? Disapparation or running?"
"We have no idea where we'd be going," Snape noted dryly.
"Disapparation?" Alathander asked.
"Like teleporting but moving very quickly," she instructed calmly. "If we knew where we were going we could do that."
Alathander raised a brow, then nodded once and created a small picture. "Go here, Invetrion. This is my uncle's house. His personal residence. Tell him I sent you to him with her. That you were from a portal and sucked in and that I hid you from the warriors. Use my name a lot so none of the other elves get you." Snape nodded and readied himself, then stared at the picture before moving off. The woman went right after him. Alathander sighed and decreated the picture, then looked outside, readying himself for the battle to come. He was tired but it wasn't going to matter this time. After all, they were only humans.
Snape landed and gagged for a moment, then caught himself and hurried off at a trot for where he could hear voices. "Get out of my way," he ordered when the elves tried to stop him. "Alathander sent me!" They brought him into the room, each one holding an arm. He noticed one of them was wearing a crown and raised an eyebrow. "Alathander sent me," he announced. "My fellow student and I fell through a portal in our Great Hall at Hogwarts. He found us and kept us from the warriors in the woods. He's still back there. He said it's on the wrong side of the woods from where your lands are but that they're hunting this village."
"Release him," the man in the crown ordered. "Who are you?"
"He said to tell you he named me Invetrion."
"Very well. You are from Hogwarts?" Snape nodded. "Do you know Dumbledore?"
"He teaches at our school," the young woman said as she walked in. "He teaches Transfiguration. Alathander was not happy to hear that he had survived either." She smoothed out her robes. "He created the picture of the house but we bounced off the shields. What can we do to help?"
"You're human and students," a woman sneered.
"Stupify," she cast, stunning her. Then she calmly looked at the man in the crown again. "Some of us aren't mere muggle wenches to sit around and sigh, sir. What can we do to help? Alathander was very kind to save us from those warriors when he saw us coming."
"Fine. Invetrion, go ring the bell in the courtyard. Guards, go with him so he has no troubles. Where was my nephew?"
"In a cave," she told him.
"He said it was on the other side of the woods from your usual land and haunts. That he hadn't played there as a child. It was surrounded by woods, but they didn't seem very dense."
"There's only two places it could be," one of the guards said. "We patrol one and would have seen the warriors."
"The other will be guarded against. Thank you, Invetrion. You will come right back here after you have rung the bell." Snape nodded and followed one of the guards out. "Very well. We are under possible attack. Captain, ready your people. I want a line to stop them first. Mages behind the warriors just in case." He nodded and hurried off to do that. Everyone stopped as the rich, deep gong rang through their bodies. All elves associated with the elfhame would feel and hear that, no matter what they were doing and no matter where they were. He looked at the young woman. "Do you have a name?"
"Only my original one."
"Then it is best if we not call you by it," he noted calmly. "Unfreeze my niece please." She flicked her wand at the woman while muttering something. "Thank you. Now, go with her and the other women. You can help guard them."
"We're not helpless!" his niece complained loudly.
"No, but in any war, women are a prize that is often misused," the student said grimly. "Come. We will set up defenses around the women together. I don't know a lot about your sort of magic but I'm sure I can add to it." The niece glared at her. "Or I can do it without you," she offered.
"Fine. This way, human." She stomped off, going to gather her mother and aunts. They sent for the children of the village, bringing them all to the temple to hide with them. The niece set out guardians and watchers from the higher trees around them. They would not be taken. The young girl took up a position just outside the protections of the temple, bravely standing in the way. "You are odd for a human."
She looked at her. "War is wrong. If my kind do this, then I would expect to fight them with everything I have. The same as I would at home if this happened there." She looked around again. "This is very well protected. We'll be fine here and I'll help. I'm not a weak woman."
"Women aren't, no matter what the men think," the nearest elven woman agreed. "They won't get this far."
"Alathander was sure they would, or he wouldn't have sent the two chosen warriors to us," another young woman said quietly as she came out. "My son is not that paranoid."
"Sn...Invetrion said that they were nearly found in the cave."
"Fine. Thank you, young lady. We shall work on a use name for you soon. It is necessary to protect you. Do you honor anything over another?"
"Well, for women's names, that's not something typical," Alathander's mother said dryly. "Do you know any elven names you already like?"
"Galadriel." They all looked confused. "Sorry, it's from a muggle writer and his version of elves. I've always liked his stories. They were great archers and she was quite powerful."
"Still sounds like a human name," the young woman escorting her around noted dryly.
"Well, technically he was a muggle."
"Is that a human?" Alathander's mother.
"A non-magical one. We divide ourselves that way." She shrugged. "It happens to the best of us."
"I see," the young woman said. "Well, most of us are named after trees and flowers, not things like that. I'm sure we'll figure something out soon enough. After these puny humans are gone." She looked at the young human. "No offense."
"No offense taken. These aren't my people. They're not my sort of human. My parents would probably want to touch your ears and ask you all sorts of questions."
"Why?" the young woman asked.
"Because to us, you're mythical creatures," she said quietly. "We only have these little house elf creatures. They're small, and tiny, and have really big, floppy ears, and they're nice and want to serve us. Nothing at all like you I'm supposing," she said with a small smirk.
Alathander's mother chuckled. "No, nothing at all like us, child. Though some of us did hear about them from that stupid student when he came. Dumbledore." She shuddered.
"He's our Transfiguration teacher," she admitted with a grin. "Of course, as far as we know, he's never touched anybody in his life so maybe your son did hurt him really a lot when he said he tried to kill him. After all, he was nearly pouting that the he didn't die."
"That's Alathander for you," another older woman agreed dryly. "Always unhappy when something doesn't die on his whim." The boy in question's mother glared at her so she smirked. "You've got to admit, it's an odd trait for an elf to be a combat mage."
"Alathander said he's a battle mage," the student said primly. "He seemed quite firm on the subject as well. Are they different?"
"Combat mages only fight. Battle mages do more than that," Alathander's mother offered. "Though, she is right, my son can get quite upset when a battle isn't going as he planned. He threw a fit during his second one because he started to get tired. His master yelled for weeks about that," she sighed, shaking her head. "He's young yet. Not even one hundred- fifty. He'll learn patience sometime. Especially if he wants to continue to teach."
"He told us he was at some sort of academy, but I think Sn...Invetrion and I both thought he was a student there."
"Oh, he's taking some classes now and then," his mother offered with a hand wave, "but he's mostly there to teach battle magic to the younger students while he finishes his studies. There's not many battle mages around and he is one of he best, even for being so young. Some day, though, my son will settle down and give me nicely talented grandchildren who won't worry me sick for weeks on end when I don't hear from them and don't see them. Either that or he'll get too injured and come to live at home again so someone can take care of him." The young human looked upset with that so she patted her on the back. "Don't worry, you'll understand when you're a mother, dear. It comes to all of us who have sons doing dangerous things. I know I'm not alone in that one."
"No," a few of the mothers complained. "Not alone."
The human student gave her a gentle hug. "It'll be all right. The guy I was with is mean, cold, and nasty, but he's very smart. He's a whiz at potions and defense. He'll help him. They seemed to like each other last night."
"Potions? He's an alchemist?"
The human girl snickered. "Those are as much a myth to our kind as you are," she promised. "No, he's a potion's master in the making. He can make all sorts of neat stuff, including healing potions and poisons. He's very good at it from what I've heard. I'm tops in charms but he's tops in those two subjects. I'm also tops in Care of Magical Creatures and second best in herbology."
"Congratulations," the mother said proudly. "Your parents must be happy."
"No, my mother would be happier if I was one of those giggling little brats who only went to school to train myself enough to do household tasks," she admitted lightly. "My mother thinks I should have already nailed a boy to the wall and have a ring on my hand, but I think I want a career instead. She's just so old fashioned!" She rolled her eyes. "Don't your women do things other than sit at home and be a mum?"
"We try," Alathander's mother said dryly. "It's not always successful however. Sometimes our men get very upset when we're better than they are." She patted the girl on the back. "I hear voices. To your positions." They all ran to their spots, most of them going inside, but Alathander's mother took up a position beside the human girl. If she was half as good as she said, it'd be the best place to be. Probably the safest as well.
The girl gasped and grabbed her arm, pointing at the boy in the lead of the guards. "Who's that?" she hissed. "He's gorgeous!"
Alathander's mother got free of the grip on her arm that was cutting off the blood supply. "He's one of our better warriors. Very highly strung but also very strong and smart. He's quite a young elf." She looked at the girl and sighed. "He's taken, my dear. His girlfriend is inside with the little children."
"Pity." She pulled herself back together, smiling at them. "Hello. Come to check on us?"
"Yes. Women aren't able to take care of themselves," the lead guard said snidely, glaring at her. "Especially human ones."
The human looked at the mother, who rolled her eyes. So she smiled sweetly at the guard and pulled out her wand, hitting him with a hex to make him bloat and scream in misery. "Really? I could have *sworn* that we learn that sort of thing as a first year in my school. Pity you males haven't learned that women are the meaner species."
Alathander's mother and a few of the guards burst out in giggles, turning away from the arrogant guard as he struggled to cancel the simple hex. "Dear, that was so mean," she praised, patting her on the back. "Welcome to the village. I'll help you find someone worthy if you wanted to date one of them. I think you've proven yourself worthy to date some of the lesser boys."
"Gee, thanks, but I'm not one of those girls that boys like to bring home to their mother's. I'm more of an...experimenter when it comes to boys," she admitted. The women and the boys around her looked quite stunned at that. "See, we're presently having a women's liberation movement, and it's all right now in our world. Women aren't confined to only trying the one they're going to marry. Why waste such a good thing and why not have the right to compare? After all, it's not like we break in virgins anymore. So, I'm not ready to settle down but I would *never* harm some mother's little boy while she would protest. I only go out with like-minded individuals and only with boys who don't think about getting clingy afterwards."
"So the virgin breaker speaks," Snape sneered as he strolled up behind the guards. "Pity you just outed yourself as a slut." He looked at the guard and sneered back at his fellow student. "Showing off?"
"No, he pissed me off." She shrugged and pointed her wand at him. "Finite Incantantum." The spell ended and he fell to the ground panting. "There, no permanent harm done but I doubt he'll sneer at another woman and call her weak." Snape looked her over then snorted. "What's wrong, Severus? Jealous that Lilly can't see you? You know she'll never be yours and you're not worthy of her."
"No, disgusted that I have to spend time in your company," he sneered. "Stupid bitch. Go sit and sew or some such. You're only in the way in a *real* battle."
"Excuse me? Who was it that took out Lucius the last few battles in the halls?" she sneered back.
"It's not that hard. The boy ran from someone's toad a few years back," he retorted. "You probably only had to mess up his hair to make him run for a mirror. This battle is with people who want to rape you and then kill you in many horrible ways. Get inside. That's what they're here for."
"We can protect ourselves," Alathander's mother noted quietly.
"While that's wonderful, you shouldn't have to," he reminded her. "That's why someone intelligent created overeager young men and guards." He stared her down. "Let them, be the last line of defense instead of the only one. Your son would be quite pissed otherwise."
"How did you know?" one of the guards asked.
"He looks quite a lot like her." Snape looked at his fellow student. "Go away. Now."
"Leave her be, young man," the oldest woman said as she came to the doorway. "She can change her ways and become a suitable young woman."
"That would require her wanting to be. She shows no signs of such desires. On the other hand, she also shows limited signs of intelligence. As proven by espousing her views on free love and sexual intercourse in mixed company of mothers and young women." He looked at the old woman again, bowing slightly. "I was ordered to tell you that the battle is in the Orchard Grove section?"
"That's far from here," the old woman noted. "We'll still stay, just in case. Are you heading back?"
"Then be at peace, young man. Save Mirius' son from himself as well. I hear you can do that with herbs and things." He nodded and walked off. "Boys, set up a defensive line at the end of the pathway. You know better than to come anywhere near the women's temple." They nodded and hurried off, one of them dragging his groaning friend. "You, young lady, are quite opinionated. I know just the man for you and he was in that group. I'll introduce you later if Mirius doesn't." She closed the door again, going back to helping with lunch. It'd keep the babies quiet and the other women doing something useful.
Snape found the battle line and looked at the other side. "Is this honorable waiting?" he asked the man who had led him that way. He nodded. "They've already showed aggression toward your people."
"Shh. They're praying and will charge in a moment." Snape nodded once and considered the line again. Like their own, there were a few people behind the human warriors. Two on horses. One standing. He fingered his wand as he considered how best to attack. Clearly at least one of them was the wizard behind the other army. As clearly, if you took out the wizard, you'd weaken their lines. Then again, he knew of some ways to make those in front gasp and at least pause their charges. He looked at the mages around him, listening to them. "If I could get you some of their hairs, would that help?" he asked. They looked stunned. "We learned long distance hair collection this year in magical creatures. It helps with some of them and is useful for gathering potions ingredients. We've been practicing on some of the other students now for moths. Taking pubic hairs is often the most painful and easiest if they're wearing helmets."
"Well, that could break their charge," one of the guard's commanders offered dryly. "Then you'd do what with them?"
"Use it as a spell component to change them," one of the wizards in the group offered.
"Or half-change them," Snape offered. "Half-changing them would keep them from being too dangerous by keeping them off balance."
"So?" Snape asked. Everyone stared at him. "Sorry, but I'm not known as the nicest of people. If you wanted nice, there's the girl I came with. She's all about freeing baser instincts."
"No, that's quite all right. Most women don't do well in combat," the commander offered. "As you wish, just don't take any of ours." He went back to his planning, warning his line that they could be changing at a moment's notice.
"Can you really do that?" one of the wizards asked. Snape nodded. "Well. If you can, it'd be quite helpful."
"Fine. I'll do that before focusing on the people in the back. Which is their wizard?"
"The one on the ground. Most mages can't cast from the back of a horse. It's a specially taught skill to battle mages. Not even most combat mages learn it. It can drain your horse if you're not smart enough to do it correctly."
"Hmm." Snape nodded, turning as the humans roared and started toward them. He cast the collection spell, watching as quite a few of the men grabbed themselves and winced in pain as half the hair on their pubic mounds suddenly was yanked out. He sneered at them and cast it another time to get more, then started throwing hexes at the wizard. He was blocking some of them but a few were getting through. It gave him an idea. He called out a few things that they had recently learned from Tom Riddle and his studies in the Chamber. They were going to be quite useful it seemed. The wizard's scream echoed the screams of some of the warriors as they changed into smaller creatures, ones who couldn't hold swords. The men behind the lines turned their horses and ran off screaming into the woods. Snape started to raise his wand but it was plucked from his hand. "Hey!"
"Don't hurt the horses. They're not part of this," the commander said, giving him a long look. "Which way did you come from the cave?"
"It's supposedly like teleporting but not quite as fast or as accurate."
"Oh. Fine. Cave?" Snape nodded. "Did you cast anything?"
"I did, but apparently so did he," he said, nodding at the limping person coming toward them. "What did you do? Run into a bear?" he asked as he walked over there to help the young man since no one else was going to it seemed. "Come along. I'll brew something for that if your people don't."
"Sure, Invetrion. Morning, Uncle. Pretty day, isn't it?" he asked facetiously as he was led off. He took Snape's wand when it was held out, handing it back. "Here, you probably need that. What did you do to them? They looked very pained as they charged."
"I ripped their pubic hair out so the other wizards could have the chance to do a transformation spell."
"Ah." Alathander shuddered. "That's mean."
"So? It worked."
"Good point. I'll have to learn that one." He passed out.
Snape carefully lowered him to the ground and pointed his wand at him. "Morbilus corpus." He floated the body off, taking him to where the women were. Surely one of them would know where his home was supposed to be. Hopefully his mother. "He passed out," he offered when one of the women screamed. "He was limping, he was talking, he simply passed out."
"Bring him here," his mother ordered, taking him inside and to the back room to start work on cleaning her poor baby up. It wasn't the first time.
Snape strode into the throne room, chin raised and looking calm. "You summoned me here?" he said mildly. The king nodded and waved him closer. Snape walked closer, noticing that everyone else had backed off and was leaving. "Interesting. Most people don't like to hold meetings in open secret."
The king laughed. "I like you," he noted. "You're interesting."
"I try," he said dryly, stepping closer. "I was happy to help the other day. Alathander apparently saved us from them taking us first. While we were weak."
"Agreeable," he noted. "My nephew is very odd about such things. He seems to gather friends from among the most odd sources. Humans aren't usually among those. Feel honored. Also, he said that you were quite good to him when he had you captive in that cave. I was impressed by what I heard."
"You're welcome, though it was not necessary. You are what you are and this is merely a statement of fact. I would like to reward you. Unfortunately I do not know of any who can open the portals to send you home." He watched the regal young man in front of him slump a bit. "I'm sorry. Apparently they were the ones who called you. That is not a talent most of us have. It is more a human talent to be creationists. There are three places that may help you get home, however," he offered. "One is a temple. It is full of women. Women who do not like men and often try to kill them by slowly roasting them. We can have you shown to their borders." Snape shook his head at that, looking disgusted. "I thought not, though your companion would be well suited among them."
"She'd hate being without her men," he said sarcastically.
"So I've heard," the king agreed with a small smirk. "I take it this liberation movement is not to your liking?"
"No, I'd never put up with such sluts."
"Ah. Then you are quite elven in that outlook. The next place is also a temple, but they may help. They have in the past. It is very far away. Many months of riding plus a sea journey. The only other place that may be able to help you is the Academy. I do not know if their current teachers know how to do such things, but the information is in their library and you could be taught how to do it if you asked. You are more than strong enough to be admitted. You would probably be going alone however because at this time they do not allow women students unless they show great skills in some area, like healing. So your companion would have to stay here for a bit."
"Which would not bother me but it may bother you," he noted.
"True, but I believe my mother has her well in hand and finding a boy that she might actually stay with," he said with a small smirk. "If so, we would send you notice." He nodded. "If you decided to go to the Academy, you could go when Alathander returns. He's actually overdue at the moment. I've already sent word back that we were attacked and he's got a few minor injuries. From his report, he took out the greater majority of the army the night before. They did have six mages and two apprentices. They left with only one apprentice. By the way, that was an interesting strategy. Would you consent to teach it to some of us? It could be useful in getting dragon scales as well."
"If you wish," Snape agreed. "My magic and your magic are vastly different and I am all for learning new things."
"Then it's settled. You'll stay while Alathander heals and when he runs away from his mother's nurturing and mothering, you may go with him."
"You're welcome, Invetrion. He chose well. You are a Dark One, but it is not your full nature, more of the aura you present. Someday you will be a wonderful battle mage in your own right. Have a good night and leave the wine alone. Trust me, it is much stronger than anything but what a dwarf brews in their holes." Snape cracked a smile at that and bowed, striding out of the interview. "Ah, young men the world over are all repressing themselves these days. Perhaps they need that sort of liberation movement." He considered it, then shook his head. "No, that would make them no better than most of those ugly humans who whore around." He sighed and called back his courtiers to get back to business. Some of the crops had been injured by the changelings and had to be fixed.
Alathander looked up from his bed as someone knocked on his door and Invetrion walked in. "Have a good chat with my uncle?"
Snape nodded as he carried in the mug his mother had entrusted to his care. "Yes. I'm going back to the Academy with you." He handed it over. "Your mother said you had to drink all of that or else she was making you babysit your sisters." Alathander drank the vile concoction as quickly as he could. "Good."
"That is a fate worse than death. In small doses I love my little sisters, but in longer doses they'll drive me insane."
"More insane according to some," Snape said dryly. He sat down beside the bed. "You'll be happy to know that some of the other mages are now looking at me as oddly as they do you."
"You're the one who ripped out pubic hair by the handful," Alathander said dryly. "I'd be surprised if they weren't guarding themselves from you doing it to them."
"It was rather childish I suppose, but effective," Snape admitted dryly. "Nearly as effective as getting some students from across the room during classes with it."
"You'll fit in wonderfully at the Academy," Alathander noted sarcastically. "Just remember, a bed is a precious thing and you don't have to sleep with someone for one."
"I doubt it would come into question. I can and will simply poison someone. A mild one," he offered with a smirk when the other man looked at him. "I am quite capable of doing such. I find the rumors of that fact tend to make most leave me alone. Unless they are as stupid as that incompetent boob Lucius."
"Sounds like you enjoy his company. Tell me about him?"
"If I must. He is blond. He is an imbecile most of the time. He ran from someone's toad in his third year. You can stop him from any fight by simply messing up his hair." Alathander snorted at that. "He is as vain as any young man of high birth you could ever find and he revels in that fact. He's dating this suspiciously vapid young woman, Narcissa. She's always walking around like someone did an attraction spell for her nose and the ceiling. I'm almost reviled by the thought of him breeding with her because surely the child will be the most spoiled brat on the face of the known world. If not worse." He shifted some, crossing his arms over his chest. "Other than that, I do not 'hang about' with many of my fellow students. Lucius and I are forced together because he has some skills and one of the older students from a few years prior have been sending us special materials to learn. He's starting a movement that Lucius feels very strongly about and he saw my innate skills where many didn't."
"That sounds dangerous. Do you wish to serve this one?" Invetrion gave him a cold look. "It sounds as if he's training you for service, to use your skills. While others may be blind to them, is he one you want to serve?"
"No, but it is an option at this point. I could easily turn away from him."
"So you say now, but these sort of things are not always as easy as they seem. We've all seen some people sucked into special religious cadres that they couldn't get free of and it usually ended up killing them. Personally I think you have skills that go beyond most of your kind. Only those who could do our sort of magic are pulled to this world."
"He claims he can do wandless magic."
Alathander grimaced. "He was not called and we had one called not even two years ago."
"I would have heard about that," Snape noted. "I was in the same school."
"That year I believe the portal was opened from that side," he admitted, sitting up to look at his compatriot. He might even call him a friend if he stayed around. "Where and when they open is dependent on who is casting the spells to open them and what they're looking for. We've seen a number of people from your school."
"There's only a few schools," Snape offered. He glanced around. "What would I need to bring to go to this Academy?"
"Mostly yourself, some clothes, which I'm sure my mother can help you with. Your wand, some other basic necessities. You can go with me when I restock."
"I did not bring my money pouch with me."
Alathander waved a hand. "Don't worry about it, Invetrion. You can pay me back when you take on your first paying client. Usually there's at least six a year who come looking for mages in training to fight something. Usually it's nothing horrible or taxing. Besides, the school has a fund set up for those who are drawn through the portals to attend, just in case they're mages of some sort or another."
"Very well then. I thank you for your help."
"Not an issue, Invetrion. Now, you look like you could use a nap. Why don't you go rest? Before my sisters pounce you to teach them something?"
"If I must," he sighed. "If not, I'll be down in the library." He stood up. "Rest well. Your uncle said he sent word back that you had minor injuries and that's why you were running late."
"That's fine. I don't usually give excuses. I'm sure he wrote to them that you were coming as well. Now, go spend some time learning about our world or taking a nap. I'll see you at dinner."
"Fine." He walked out.
Alathander shook his head. "That boy has pride like an elf. He'd make a good one of us."
Snape looked up as someone walked up to where he was sitting. He'd been at the Academy for a little over a month and he was not impressed. It wasn't as big of a school as Hogwarts. They didn't have brooms here to take flying classes. There was an undercurrent of 'power is everything' running through all his lessons. It was like he was in a school run by Tom Riddle. Though, most of his fellow students would not survive these classes. He checked his timer and stirred the cauldron's contents carefully. "What?" he demanded in a hiss.
"What are you doing? Are you an alchemist?"
"No, that is a myth where I'm from. I'm brewing a potion."
"Why?" she demanded.
He looked up at her. "It's an antidote for the poison I put in the dinner earlier," he said snidely. She went pale and ran off to tell on him. "Stupid twit," he sneered. Soon his healing teacher came in, already sneering at him. "It's the homework. That lightheaded freak of adolescent fantasy doesn't know sarcasm when she hears it," he said snidely. He let her sniff it then delicately taste it. "I'm only in the second phase of brewing."
"So I can tell. It's perfect so far. You do potions very well." He tipped his head a bit in acknowledgment. "Do you study poisons at your school?"
"In our last year we do study some of them. We also study sleeping draughts strong enough to kill one in the wrong dosage and healing potions that can be overtaken and become deadly when they unheal what they were originally curing."
"Interesting. Have you been in the library much?" He nodded. "Excellent. I'm assuming you know that this base is used in many areas?"
"Including six poisons, two healing potions, and one incantation to summon demons," he agreed. She looked startled. "Not to mention something to do with dogs and fleas, which if the dog licks for ten days after it's applied it'll probably die as well."
"Very well. I will trust you not to poison the other students?"
"Then have them leave me alone," he noted simply. "I do not crave companionship or attention. I crave the answer to get home, nothing else. I am simply here to learn in the meantime."
"Very well, Invetrion. That is very wise of you. One should always be open to new learning experiences. I'll see you in class tomorrow. You need to stir that again, it's thickening now." She left, leaving him alone to spread the news of what he could do and what he knew. It was very interesting.
Snape fixed the thickening and added the last two ingredients. A little late but there was no harm in it, not for what he was doing with it. Maybe he should poison his roommates to get them to quit staring at him. "What?" he asked impatiently.
"Most of us do pick confidants," the girl sneered.
He glowered at her. "Why would I need one? Only a weak person needs a confidant to share their secrets. I keep my own counsel. It leaves me less open to weaknesses."
"Yes, but most of us aren't lonely, *old* bastards before our time either," she sneered.
He went back to stirring. "You may think that your royal pedigree keeps you from being harmed. You're wrong. It means nothing to me," he pointed out with a smugness only he could manage. "As far as I'm concerned, you're nothing but a harlot. A fairly talentless harlot at that. How you ever got into here I'd like to know since you can't even manage a single healing spell correctly." She shrieked and lunged for him so he backhanded her, then went back to fixing his potion. "Do pick your smelly, overused behind off my carpet and leave now. Thank you. No one asked for your opinion nor was it necessary for you to show how little you, a healer candidate, know about people." She shrieked again but stomped off. "Even Lucius could do better than that," he sneered after her. "And he's a miserable prick from a no-talent family," he muttered. It was all becoming so unreal to him. He wondered what month it was at home. Had his roommates gone through his things to take anything of worth before they were shipped home to his family? Or would time not run as fast there as it seemed to here and it'd still be during the holidays? Had many years passed and everyone had forgotten him? He'd have to ask the teacher working on the portals with him. He finished off the base and carefully poured it into the waiting jugs, then capped and waxed them sealed, setting them on the windowsill to cool further. He had made a triple batch just in case he found other uses he'd need it for. That demon summoning spell sounded fairly interesting, especially if he could do it during dinner to weed out the spoiled beast population around the school.
Alathander pulled Snape out of his class when he walked in, taking him down the hall to chat with him. "You cannot poison the stupid people you room with," he said dryly. "No matter how tempting and how easy it would be for you to do so, you can't. Otherwise the princess in your room will complain to her daddy and he'll invade the school. In case you hadn't noticed, no one around here is going to really stick up for you at the risk of their own life, Invetrion," he noted dryly. "So you can't poison the princess."
"What about the others?" he asked dryly, smirking at him when his teacher wobbled and seemed to be considering it. "I'd make sure the favored few had untouched plates and antidotes."
"No. Mostly because I'm probably one of those that wouldn't get any," he noted dryly. He patted Snape on the back. "Tell the Princess that you didn't poison her breakfast."
"I wasn't at breakfast."
"I know that and you know that but she's now paranoid."
"How did she get in here?" he demanded. "She's got no abilities."
"Her father pays a hundred gold a semester for her to sit here and pout at people," Alathander sighed. "It's a warping of the system but I'm not the headmaster of this establishment and I can't decide who gets in and who doesn't. So please, go tell her you didn't poison her and you won't poison her. You can make her fall in love with a troll or a beaver if you want, but you cannot poison the princess. Or any of the princes unless they're out of favor and their families want them dead," he amended with a sigh.
"So, I can poison Deitrich in the warrior's program?"
"Sure, go ahead," he agreed happily, clapping him on the back. "His father would be really happy if you did. Or if the princess in question went home with him strapped to the back of her horse."
"I can do that as well," Snape admitted, crossing his arms, his hands going up his wider sleeves. He always seemed to have cold hands these days.
"Offer that when you tell her you haven't poisoned her. Otherwise my mother's going to have to come up to defend you, and she'll have to bring the sisters." Snape shuddered. "Exactly. So go assure the healers you didn't poison her and offer to take Deitrich off the school's hands for her. She's been mooning over him anyway. Okay?"
"Fine," he grumbled but went up to the infirmary to assure them that he hadn't poisoned her, he was only threatening to if she didn't leave him alone while he was doing his homework. Then he said loudly enough for her to hear that he was actually working on a love spell and he didn't want someone as foolish as she was to get into it. The healers patted him sympathetically. "It's for one of my housemates back at Hogwarts. He'll never get a wife any other way," he said with a shrug. "He's not a great fighter, he's got nothing to advertise himself with except the family fortune and his eternally pitiful grades." He gave the healer a smug look. "Do you think anyone'd mind if tested it on the warriors?"
"Probably, but there's no princes in favor with their houses at the moment," the healer offered, then she glanced at the attentive princess. "Did you need to be part of this conversation?" she asked sarcastically.
"I want a few of them," she offered. "I'll even take them home with me."
"What would I care about your love life?" he sneered. "You're an irritating little wench."
"My father's coming," she said meanly. "I'm going to have him kill you."
"He may try but I doubt he'd succeed if he's anything like you," Snape sneered. "After all, I can point out that had I seriously wanted to poison you I could have many times over each night and you'd never have realized it until it was too late. Simply by inserting some into the snack you get each night." She turned pale. "That is why you leave me alone, Princess," he sneered. "If you want one of those oafs love spelled, you'd have to come up with a much better reason than your paternal donor would want it to be so." He swept off, going back to class. He nodded at the teacher to show that it was done. At the end of class he was held back. "I told her she'd have to come up with a better reason to have me love spell them than her father," he said bitterly. "It should drive her batty."
"It should," he agreed, "but I doubt it. That would take work on her part."
"Or greed on her father's part," Snape pointed out. "You forget, Prince Michal is now in residence with his retainers and entourage."
"Good point," he agreed happily. "And a worse blight I've never seen out of the warrior's program. I'm hoping for a fatal wound while training."
"I believe the princess would be a worse fate, it would be torture that would last longer," Snape told him. Alathander considered it, then burst out laughing. "With your permission, I'm skipping lunch to see which love potion I want to work on next."
"Of course." He watched the boy leave, shaking his head. He'd had a flash of brilliance when he'd saved that one. Now if only the other one would make up her mind and settle down to be a proper wife, his life would be much easier and he could probably even work on the potion to turn her into a proper elf.
The Princess stomped into Snape's bedroom, slamming the door. "What do you want to charm Deitrich?" He looked up at her, giving her a bored look. "I'd settle for him since it's said Prince Michal is warded against love spells."
"Fairly intelligent of him, someone else must have thought of it for him," he said dryly, going back to his reading. "What are you offering, Princess?"
"My father said if you could get Michal to be mine, he'd give you five hundred gold, but for Deitrich he'd pay two." He waved a hand. "No haggling?"
"Why would I care? You'd be out of my hair, he'd be out of my hair and I could actually study in peace. I'm already getting the better deal," he noted, holding out a small bottle. "The first portion. You've got to get him to ingest it somehow. Then there's another portion in a few weeks, when you're having your cycle. It only works then." He turned the page, reading on. "I would be more direct with him by the way, since he compulsively stares at your back. By the way, Michal only likes men." She snorted but left him alone. It was a fairly old recipe and not at all guaranteed to work, but it was good enough until he could find another one. Most of the love potions he had found were folk charms and the like. There was nothing scientific about them. Even the ones in the special, hidden, holy books. Fortunately he did know a bit about making potions and how they'd react on the human body. Perhaps he'd order her to get the ingredient he'd absolutely need. He continued to read, happy with himself. He really would be left alone.
At least until someone pounded on his door a few hours later before rudely entering. "Prince Michal wants a word with you, sorcerer."
"My proper title is wizard or mage and why would I care? I'm not one of his subjects to bow and kiss his ring," he said snidely. The warrior tried to grab him but quickly found a wand tip in his throat. "Why did he want me?"
The warrior candidate swallowed. "He wishes you to make him a few potions," he said with a squeak.
"How very manly of you. There are other healer candidates."
"Yes, but you brew better than all of them," he noted, backing away slowly. He had seen that small staff in action before. "Do all wizards from your land use those small staffs?"
"It's a wand, and yes, all the ones from my realm do." He stood up. "Very well, I will meet with him. If this is a trap, I will feel obligated to kill him, you know that correct?" He nodded quickly, heading out the door with Snape following at a more sedate and regal pace. There was no reason for him to hurry, if the prince wanted him that badly, he would wait. He walked in and glanced around. It was just him and the prince as far as he could see. "You had me so rudely summoned?"
"You know things," the prince said, pushing back his dark hair. "You watch people and you've learned things that I don't want to get out. Unfortunately my father sent me here to talk to a certain princess."
"She's presently got a love potion as well," Snape said with a shrug. "I'm hoping she uses it on Deitrich."
"Which you gave her," the prince reminded him bitterly. "I would not care to have her, but I cannot stand a woman's touch. It is an old curse on my line. Usually there's a potion involved in the cure. My father sent the scrolls with the cure on it. I wish you to brew it so I may mate and marry with the lovely Amryn."
"She's not a princess," Snape pointed out. "She also likes women." The prince's face fell. "You may have better luck making a deal with her. Her mother wouldn't like her having a shieldmate. Your father certainly won't. It would suit you both if you could make an alignment marriage and have her bear an heir. Especially since she's a better warrior than most of those around you."
He hung his head. "Our wedding night is viewed by the priest and the parents."
"Then there is a cure for that," Snape noted calmly. "I know of such things. It also has a fertility potion in it." The Prince looked stunned and smiled at him. "Are you sure that there's no wards against such items?"
"No, there's not," he breathed, stepping closer. "Please, wizard, help me?"
"If you wish. Give me two weeks to find my copy of it and write down the ingredient list." The prince nodded. "Use that time to talk to Amryn. I will only do this if she agrees." He turned and walked away mentally shaking his head. He was surrounded by idiots whose only thought was to have sex and procreate. It was like a bunch of half-Hufflepuff/half- Slytherin children filled this school. The only worse torture he could think of would be to have it all run by the overly formal elves like Alathander's father's household manager, who had managed to nitpick even him into a temper. He went up to look through what he had on him. Fortunately he had his personal potions notebook on him when he had been brought across. Not that it was a hard potion, it was fairly easy and cheap to make. He had just gotten back to his studies when someone tapped on the door. "I'm not accepting visitors. I'm trying to study," he called out.
The warrioress in question stuck her head in. "Lord Wizard? Please, just a moment of your time about this plan of Michal's?"
"If I must." She walked in and closed the door, leaning against it. "I told him I would only make it should you agree to it."
"Oh, I do. My mother will be more than satisfied with that match and he'll agree to let me have my friends and he'll have his. How strong is this potion? My family is fairly resistant."
"I'll make a batch prior and tie you both up so you can't consummate it before the night," he offered.
"Why would that matter?"
"To some royals it does," he said dryly.
"Oh!" She shook her head and smiled. "It's not necessary. My mother would almost expect this to happen because I was with child. Then his family could not complain overly much. How long would it take you to brew it?"
"Six days, uninterrupted by anything." He pulled over some paper and a quill, writing down the ingredient list. "I need that much for a single dose. Double all that but the mint for a double." She nodded, tucking it inside her jacket. "Did you need something else?"
"No. Thank you, Lord Wizard. Be at peace and happy studying." She left, leaving him there.
He flopped backwards with a groan. "How did I get involved in this mess?" he complained to his ceiling.
Alathander caught up with Snape the next week, noticing how pale and tired he looked. "What have you been doing?"
"Making sure the potion I was working on worked," he offered bitterly. "It did. There will be a wedding." Alathander stopped dead, staring at him with his mouth open. Snape shrugged. "They pleaded."
"Obviously!" He walked the boy to an open room and shut them inside. "Prince Michal?" he guessed. Snape nodded, rubbing a shaking hand over his face. "It went well from what I understand. One of the healers said she is having twins. Which aren't the most blessed in his country but they're both sons." Snape shrugged. "And the princess mooning over the other princes?"
"I gave her something, did it not work?"
"No, it has, and her father is coming up today. You might want to catch a nap. I'll excuse you for the day." Snape nodded. "You did good removing some barriers in a unique and non-lethal manner. As long as Amryn isn't killed for having twins and the princess' father doesn't kill her for needing him to bring a priest with him, all should be well."
"The potion I gave her was a folk charm, nothing more, and would not force conception or mating." Alathander snickered. "I'm going to bed after I grab a muffin or something. Since she promised to pay me, I'll give you back what I owe you once she does."
"That's fine, Invetrion." He clapped him on the back, watching as the boy headed for the kitchens and then his bed. "That was certainly unique," he chuckled. "He didn't have to poison them after all." He went back to his classroom, smirking at them. "Today, we will be creating wall spells. For those of you who have studied, go to it. Do not make them airtight either," he warned. "I do not wish to teach resurrection spells this week." They sighed and got to work, aiming the walls to bend at heads and backs, but they didn't try to kill the other students. The rest huddled in their seats and read the section so they could start on their own projects. He noticed his other star pupil was making a staircase out of hers and nodded at her for such good work. He flicked a finger and she let her familiar run up them to show they were stable. He smirked and nodded so she called her pet back and canceled it, getting up to go study since she had just passed.
"We have to use one to get up to one of our towers," she shared as she walked past him. "Good luck with the morons."
"Leave Invetrion alone. He needs his rest," he ordered quietly. She nodded and headed outside with her pet. It was a pretty day. "Now, when the rest of you can do the same thing, I'll let you go as well," he announced when the door shut. The students groaned and started using them in a practical manner instead of trying to hurt their fellow students with them.
Snape's roommate's father looked him over, then handed over a bag. "I do not blame you for helping her, she is quite persuasive when she wants to be. Did you have to make it so strong?"
"It was a simple folk charm. It had nothing to do with her breeding with him," he pointed out in a trademark hiss. "The fact that she is with child is upon her head, not mine, sir."
"Very well. Which one did you use?" Snape held out a copy of the potion he had given her. "Ah, the one her mother used to capture me." He waved his guards away. "Did he wish it?"
"He's out of favor with his father," he noted. "He may have. I simply gave her the potion to make her go away. It was either that or poison her so I'd get peace while I was studying."
Her father chuckled. "Yes, she is every bit like her mother. Hopefully this one will be a son," he said meanly, smirking at the boy. "In there is a bonus as well. Use it well, Wizard Invetrion. You may be invited to the wedding but we would not be upset if you decided not to."
"I thank you. Hopefully by that time I'll be back among my own people."
"You're one of the warriors who came across the portals?" Snape nodded once. "Interesting. Then I wish you luck with that project, Lord Wizard, and many happy evenings of studying. Good day and thank you." He walked out, going to gather his daughter, his new son-in-law, and their things to take back for the official wedding. The quick one could happen at a temple on the way. Fortunately the girl's mother was exactly like her and had already set everything up. The official one would be happening two weeks after they got back. He saw another father and entourage pulling up and stopped to smile at him. "Ah, your son is here, Henirich?"
"Ay, and he's chosen a fiery wench from the warrior program to be his," Henirich said happily. "Just like him and the spell was broken for another generation. Twins I hear, and male."
"Congratulations! My own daughter is getting married two weeks after we get back. I'm sure you've met Deitrich in the past?"
"Oh, I have. I'll tell your father I saw you if your letter doesn't get back to him first. Well, happy and safe travels, my friend. I'll invite you for the wedding." He clapped him on the back and walked inside to find his son. He found an elf and looked him over. "Where might Prince Michal be at this moment?"
"As I'm a combat teacher, I'd hope he was practicing. Either that or he's arguing with his woman about whether or not she should be practicing." He pointed at the practice grounds. "That way, Sire."
"Thank you. Which are you?"
"Lord Greenleaf's nephew, Alathander." The man paused and gave him an odd look so he smirked. "Yes, I'm *that* one. The one who broke the charm on your son is one of my students. I'll give him your thanks."
"Give him the trunk I've got in my carriage and we'll call it even," he offered, heading to get his son and take him away from the violent people. A battle mage of that caliber being here made him uneasy. People would come to test them and then he'd lose his heir and future heirs. Then he'd have to break the spell again and sleep with his wife for a second time. "Son!" he bellowed. His son opened a door and waved him that way. "Well," he said, smiling at the young woman. "You must be Amryn. I'm Henirich, his father. It is nice to see that my son has good taste in women." He shook her hand and kissed the back of it. "Are you ready to leave, son? Deitrich and his new family are leaving as well."
"Nearly, father. I've got my entourage packing for me." He put an arm around Amryn's shoulders. "It's even better news than we thought, father. One of the healers thinks she may be having triplets, which would be a wonderful omen for our people."
"It would be," he agreed happily, kissing her on the cheek. "We'll set up the nursery in the larger room then. We'll even make sure they've each got their own nanny so you can get back into shape and practice with our guards. How's that?"
She smiled. "I'd be delighted, sire. Thank you. Did you find my mother?"
"I did and she was most pleased. She's already traveling on her way to our palace and she'll stay until right after the birth if you want. She's already agreed but my wife reminded her that some women can't stand having their mothers there, that she couldn't when she was carrying your husband there." He leaned a bit closer. "So if she's a hag to you, you just let us know and we'll gladly send her away for you, my dear. Now, let's go. I brought the most comfortable carriage for you and a present for the wizard who fixed this for my poor boy." He walked out and found Alathander looked at the various trunks. "The small wooden one. It's water from our sacred well."
"I'll tell him," he said, finding it quickly. "Thank you, sire. You have a good and safe trip. My blessings on the children as well," he said with a smirk for Amryn. She wasn't so bad. She didn't push her weight around and she wasn't a bragger like some of the warrior candidates. "Be safe." He waved, then went to present the trunk to Severus. "Here, water from their well blessed to make farm animals fertile."
"Joy," Snape said, pointing at his dresser. He held up the bag. "How much do I owe you?"
"Not that much," he promised, taking out a few coins. "Now, we should get you some new clothes and perhaps even a staff."
"I have no need for such things," Snape reminded him. "I can save it for when I have to travel the next time."
"Fine, spoil my fun. There's an elven tailor at the nearest market. He brought some jackets that Mother said you'd look stunning in."
"Fine," he sighed, following his friend out and down the road. Anything so he wouldn't pout. A pouting elf was a pitiful sight that irritated him to no end. Almost as bad as pouting first years. Though he did admire the man's fashion sense, especially when it was guided by his mother. Their more formal robes suited his nature better.
Alathander looked at his joint class, then grimaced. "I know this is not how it's usually done, but the combat teachers have decided that you warriors need to learn more about mages. It's a trial program. The warriors are here to learn what it's like to work with a wizard and against, and the wizard is here to learn how to command an army, even if he has to compel you to do what he wants." He looked at his protégé. "As such, only Invetrion is qualified at this point and can come today. The other person who may come out to join us was not going to come out today. She did not feel like killing you." He heard some snickers. "Fine. Invetrion, if you would, please give them a warmup exercise." He smirked at him as Snape concentrated and called a creature from the woods, making most of the warriors scream and try to run away. "This is something that warriors handle," he noted dryly. He and Snape went to sit on a bench in the sun, watching as the few who scrambled to find weapons fought the creature. The rest were huddled in small groups in the shadows. "Pitiful," he decided, raising a hand to dispel the shadows with a bright ball of light, which drew the creatures. "You're warriors, act like it," he snapped. "I've seen first term students who did better than you lot."
One of the warcraft teachers came running. "Not again," he complained as he ran, jumping into the fray to save some of his students. "Alathander, can't you control your mages?" he complained.
"Yes, and I notice how many of yours are cowering in fear," he snapped back, glaring at him. "They needed something to warm up with." He and the other teacher shared a look so he raised a hand, banishing the creature back to the woods. "Now that we've warmed up, those of you who fought get to be on the mage's side. The rest get to attack."
"That's more than suitable," the warcraft teacher agreed, staring at his students. He pointed at one who was being held. "Problems?"
"I can't move, sir, he's got me gripped too tightly and I wanted to fight, but he grabbed me to protect him." He elbowed the other student and got away from him. "I'll gladly lead the charge, sir."
"Fine," he agreed. He liked this one. He looked at the mage. "Please be gentle on them, Master Mage."
"Invetrion, do what you did during that battle at the elfhame," Alathander said dryly, smirking at the teacher. Who had apparently heard because he howled in laughter.
"If you wish," he said solemnly. He moved up to join his ranks. "In front of me. You're there to be my shield and to attack as a distraction while I attack the other side's mages." They formed up and he looked at the warcraft teacher, who nodded. "Attack!" he bellowed. His warriors moved forward and Snape pulled his wand, casting that nice capturing charm. Most of the other side groaned and grabbed themselves, making him smirk at the remaining one. "Shaved?"
"Yes, always. It's the way of my family, Master Mage." He made it through the stunned rows and found himself screaming as something came at him, sending him back into the shadows.
Alathander rolled around on the bench howling in laughter, and the warcraft teacher shook his head. "Try it again, reform!" the warrior yelled. "Both sides! Then we'll switch!"
"Must I work with them?" Snape asked bitterly. "They're clearly supposed to die in their first battles. If they make it that far."
"Most of them are sons of higher bred people, Master Mage. They only have to defend if someone attacks and they'll be behind the lines. Almost none of these boys will be true warriors. Those who are, they're mostly on your side right now with one exception."
"I noticed. He was good. He was also the first back on his feet." He looked at his side, who were staring at him. "You'll be next," he reminded them. "I'll do explosions and the like?"
"Please. Try to drive them back. They need to know those levels." He looked up, frowning. "Alathander! Dragon!"
Snape looked up, admiring the simple lines of the flying beast. "It's got a harness on," he noted calmly. "No rider, but a harness." He looked at the warriors. "Clear the field." They ran for the walls, letting the big creature land. Snape was back beside his teacher, nodding politely at the thinking creature. He'd met one back at the elfhame and it had been very intriguing to talk to. "How are you this afternoon?" he asked politely enough.
"My rider is injured and requires healing," the male voice rumbled. "May I borrow one?"
"I do some healing," he admitted, walking forward and climbing up into the harness. "Take me, I can stabilize him enough to get him back."
"Her," he noted but he did take off. "I thank you, Master Mage. May I know your name?"
"Ah, the hair stealer," he said with a smug air. He sped off, taking him to where his rider was waiting. He landed. "She looks worse. She was awake when I left."
Snape slid down, going to check her. She was still living, barely. "I'll need something to bind the wound, she's bleeding." A shirt was tossed to him. "Thank you." He bound the injuries, wincing when he saw how deep the one on her side and stomach were. Then he cast a full-body bind on her and then a moblius corpus and got her back onto the dragon's back. They took her to the nearest temple of healing. The school wouldn't treat her without demanding a high payment and they all knew that. The local temple would treat her and only suggest a fee be paid. When they landed, he slid down first and got the body moving. "She's heavily injured. That dragon's hers. She's got a large gouge out of her side and stomach." The healers grabbed her and took her off, letting him uncurse her and help since he obviously knew something of what to do. By the time he was done it was well past dark and the dragon was asleep so he settled into the temple's guest quarters for the night, intending to hike back to the school tomorrow. Of course, his plans were interrupted by an attack.
So he got to take out his ire out on some stupid people.
It was his favorite pasttime these days.
Snape walked back into the school and to Alathander's classroom, tapping gently since he could hear him ranting in there. The door opened and he bowed. "The warrior will live. She'll never fight again but she'll live."
"Good. Where were you?"
"The healer's temple was attacked." He yawned, then shook his head. "Excuse me."
"Of course, Invetrion. Come, tell the others what a real battle was like."
"It was against a stupid warrior who faulted the healers for not saving his sister when she was dying after giving birth."
Altahander shrugged so he walked in, going to teach the children. "Invetrion was called away to deal with a healing issue, and then got caught in an attack. You may ask him questions about that."
Invetrion stood in front of the class. "The battle was started by a bitter individual who was upset that the healers couldn't help his sister, who was dying after giving birth. They attacked during the dead of night, but they were quite loud. They stood a few feet away from the gates and yelled first. That woke some of us up and we went out to shoo them away. At the end of it, we ended up killing a great many of them and then healing the rest."
"Why heal them?" one young woman asked dryly. "They were attacking."
"Healers are like that," he reminded her. "They don't care who you are, their job is to make you better. In this case, their fees were to rebuild what little they managed to destroy and to guard the temple until they were well enough to head off again." She nodded at that. "Unfortunately their leader was not one of those who survived. He headed for me directly." He shifted, crossing his arms and sticking his hands up his sleeves to warm them. "It was probably supposed to be impressive, him on his large horse, waving a sword of blackened metal, screaming obscene things about wizards and mages." He shrugged. "It was not enough."
"What did you cast?" a young man in the back asked.
"I killed him, child," he sneered. "His intent was to kill me and I got there first. That is where magic can reach farther than a sword. I made it fairly painless but I ended his life." The class shivered at the coldness in his voice. "This is war, children. You kill things and people. Why are you here if you do not understand that?"
"Invetrion, are you all right?" Alathander asked gently, for him.
He nodded. "Fine. He is not the first who has tried to kill me," he reminded him. "You do what you must to survive."
"Very well then. I thank you. Go rest. The healers will probably want to speak to you later." Snape nodded and left them there, going up to rest. The person in his bed was rudely shoved out a window and his sheets were changed but then he finally got a nap. Alathander looked at his students. "Now you know. Welcome to being a battle or a combat mage. He put it best, you do what you must to survive, including killing. Knowing that, do you feel that you will be capable in the field or are you going to waste the time we're taking to teach you?"
"For some of us, we've had to survive in the past," that same female reminded him.
He nodded at that. "That is true, I remember your interview." He looked at the rest. "Dismissed. Think on this subject tonight and think what you area you may want to shift to if this is not for you. Inventrion has been here now for nearly a year, this is his third real battle. Depending on where you go to work, you could be doing more than he has." A few of his students shuddered and they all walked out in heavy thought. A few were remembering and some were thinking about whether or not they could kill. Alathander went to talk to one of the other teachers, suggesting that they get together to create some very realistic illusions about someone attacking them. The students were too green. He usually only got those who had some training already.
Snape walked into dinner that night and one of the healer candidates rushed over to him. "Invetrion?" she asked hesitantly. "Did you see my sister? Redhead, about twenty, a junior healer where you were?"
He nodded and pulled her letter out of his pocket. "She bade me give you this when I saw you next." The young woman smiled and ran back to her seat. He sat down with the other battle mage candidates, nodding politely at them. "May I have the meat?" It was handed down to him but one of the other students started to cry. "Quit," he snapped.
"He's having flashbacks, Invetrion," one of the other students said quietly.
"Then have him take something to help him sleep," Snape retorted.
"Our healers don't have anything that works well enough," the boy admitted, calming himself again. "Does your version of healing have something?"
"I do, and I can give you a small dose. I would never give out a large enough dose to harm one," he said at the odd looks. "Others have tried to commit suicide with it." They nodded. "See me after dinner and I will give you enough of a dose for tonight." The boy nodded and settled in to try to eat. He took his food and put the platters down, looking around. "Where are the warriors?"
"Overnighting in the woods for survival training," one of the other mages said bitterly. "We get to go next weekend."
"We're mages, we can call up or bring what we need with us," Snape reminded him. "That's why we can make things lighter or more spacious." They looked stunned. "That is what most mages on field exercises do. You don't know enough about gathering herbs yet to do a real survival lesson." The boy nodded, looking down at his plate. "For that matter, I don't know enough to do all of mine," he admitted. Most of the students had sighed and looked forlorn and it was depressing him. "That is why we are here."
"I'll study my herblore harder," the boy decided. "Thank you, Invetrion. How long before you graduate?"
"I'm here until I've figured out how to get home," he reminded him. "Then I go back to my final year of schooling there." They groaned. "Therefore, you should study harder. There have been many mages who took ten or twenty years to get out of their training but they don't have very good job prospects from what I understand."
"Yeah, I guess," the boy agreed. "I've only been here for a few months though."
"Me as well," Invetrion agreed. "Then again, I was also partially trained. My people start our magical education at eleven. We don't get harmful knowledge for a few years, but we are taught the basics and expected to teach ourselves or find someone to learn a Mastery under."
"Are you doing one in Potions?" the only other senior student asked as she joined them.
"I am," he agreed. "I am very good at them and they were going to be my life's work when I got back. Fortunately the herbology teacher here is willing to continue my advanced education in the plants I'll need to bring back with me."
"At least you won't be wasted on a warband," she noted bitterly. "My father's a warlord and he's insistent that I'm coming to join him."
"Then don't go until after he's lost," he pointed out.
"I can't do that. If I don't go back within the year, he's going to have me hunted and forcefully brought back by some of his warriors." She shuddered. "I grew up with them, I don't want to kill them. I've done enough of that."
"Then focus in an area besides warcraft," Alathander said as he walked down from the teacher's table to join them. "You can double major. I can and will write your father for you. He will listen to me or else I'll turn him into something so horrible his warriors will laugh." She gave him a weak smile. "Do you understand?" She nodded, giving him a faint smile. "Then talk to the other teachers. You do well in a few areas."
"I was thinking about finding refuge in one of the temples since I do so well with Holy Magic. The teacher for that class was very impressed with my Solstice ritual."
"Then I admire you for your patience," Snape assured her. "I hate ritualistic magic. That's why I went for healing." She smiled at him. "Which way were you going?"
"I was going to study under one of Othagard's priests, they who do transformation magic," she admitted.
Alathander shuddered. "No, if you want that, go to Cirispin. There's a whole school there of transformers. Learn from them." She nodded. "They're dedicated to Ileviton, the Smith God of that region. There are many females already."
"Thank you, professor. I shall write them tonight." He nodded, smirking at her. "Thank you as well, Invetrion." She got up, taking her dinner with her up to her room.
"Professor, is there a magic that deals with animals?" the youngest student asked. He had a very bad case of hero worship for the two of them. "I like animals and I've always been able to soothe them."
"That would be a Woodsman sort of thing," Snape admitted, looking at Alathander. "I know you have a few in your home village."
"There are," he admitted. "Most of them are elves however." He shrugged. "I'll write my mother, have her talk to one of them to find out if there are any suitable human teachers or ones who take humans."
"Or you could go the healing route and do animals," Snape offered. "Warriors always need their horses fixed when they're injured and so do the normal farmers."
"That's under the same teachings," Alathander told him. "Your kind separate them?"
"In my world, there's special healers just for animals. They're called veterinarians."
"Interesting. What do they do? Just heal injuries?" Alathander asked.
"That, they perform surgery if necessary. They also fix animals so they don't overbreed and take over the world."
"You can do that?" the boy asked. Snape nodded. "Can you?"
"No," he said dryly. "I only deal with animal parts, not living ones."
"I guess that's what you're meant to do then, along with those healing things," he agreed. "Why are you a battle mage if you do healing things?"
"Because I have a talent for it," he admitted.
"He's been involved in that area since he was kidnaped by the portal," Alathander told him. "First with the people I saved him from, then with my elfhame and family, and now here."
"Plus, there's every indication that my own people may be going to war soon," Snape admitted. "There are some who want to change the way the world works and are willing to harm others to do so."
Alathander looked at him. "Would that be the person who taught you that neat little pain hex you use?" Snape nodded once. "Then I will come if you call me, Invetrion. You'll need help to make it stop faster."
"Perhaps. I'm hoping he's working in an underground movement instead of a direct war. He's not that skilled a strategist. Even I beat him at wizard's chess a few times."
"Your chess is different than ours?" the boy asked, looking happy with that. "How?"
"Our pieces move and kill each other," he noted, tucking into his dinner. He looked down at his plate, then glared at one of the creationist mage candidates, one who was plaguing him. "I will kill her yet." He used his wand to hit her over the head with the changed food, making her shriek and scream. "Next time, don't touch my plate," he warned in a cold hiss. He sneered at her antics. "You brought it on yourself this time." He grabbed a free plate and fixed himself some more food, noticing it did not change this time. He smirked at Alathander. "I feel better now."
"Good. After throwing that one boy out your window and doing that to her, you should," he agreed happily, smirking at him. "I enjoy the hell out of you, Invetrion. I really do. I'll miss you when you get to go home."
"I'll miss your mother," Invetrion noted. "There's a letter sitting on my bed from her. We've been invited home for the holidays if I'm still here. Plus, the slut will be marrying and doing that changing spell to make her an elf."
"Very interesting," he said smugly. "And suitable. Not from the best families but he's powerful enough to protect her and with that changing spell she'll be one of us." He clapped him on the back. "You eat, then bring me the letter." Snape nodded, so Alathander went back to his own plate, changing it back from what it had been changed to. Creationism was his second major after all. He smirked at the mage in question. "Nice try," he noted, eating his first bite. It was much better than the other teachers had.
She stomped out, heading to go sulk.
Snape looked up as one of the healers stomped his way, standing up. One was always respectful of this older woman, she would rip you apart and put you back together funny. She had in the past and he had seen her do it. "Yes, professor?"
"What did you give that boy?"
"A half-dose of dreamless sleep draught. Why? Did he have a bad reaction?"
"No," she snorted. "He won't wake up now. Apparently this is the first sleep he's gotten in a while and his body's taken over."
"As it was meant to," Snape agreed quietly.
"Do you have the recipe for that or will you teach me to make it?"
"I can and I do," he admitted. "Which would you prefer?"
"Both. We'll work on that during our class." He nodded, waiting until she had left to get his personal book of potions and one of the herbs she may not be able to find here. Perhaps she could find a suitable substitute. If not, maybe they could set up some trade arrangements. On the way down there, his book flew out of his hand so he had to retrieve it from the young mage who was reading in it. "Become a healer, boy, they have access to those." He snatched it back and went on, going to teach her this delicate potion. He was sure many warriors needed it, as did a lot of combat and battle mages.
Alathander looked up as the screaming started in the halls, groaning and looking at his students. "Invetrion, Karisa, with me," he ordered. "The rest of you guard the front hallway if this is an attack. If not, finish your tests." He got up, his top two students following him. Sure enough, they were under attack. The warriors were starting to fail so the mages took up a position in front of the door, doing their best to decimate the other's population. Snape animated the dead bodies, bringing them back temporarily as fighters, which helped a lot of the opposing army run off shrieking in fear. The rest were beaten by Alathander stomping them with a few pounding spells, basically like a big boulder falling on them from thin air. When they were done, they each captured a horse and went to check the rest of the school's grounds, each taking a different direction and each with a different purpose. Karisa was checking the animals, Alathander was going after the war party, and Snape was checking the woods because he knew there was something out there, something evil and vile. He could sense it, it was making his skin crawl. It was trying to draw him as well but he would not allow it to. He slid off his horse's back, watching as it ran off in fear, and faced the woods, his wand in hand. "Come out," he ordered quietly. "Face me openly, do not try to make me fear you. I have seen worse."
A cloaked body came out of the woods, lifting its hood to show it was female and pretty. "You are not one of us," she hissed.
"No, I am not. I am here however and you will have to go through me first." She moved closer and he sneered. "Do not think that a mere pretty face will sway me. I am immune to prettiness." He could smell the rot now and grimaced. "What did you do? Cast on yourself to give lifeforce or are you merely sucking it up now?"
She chuckled, a creepy, hollow sound. "I am not what you think I am. This is mere illusion."
"Obviously, but the smell isn't," he said coldly. "Leave these grounds. You will not feast on these students. Even if I fall, there are others who will prevent you from snacking on the younger set."
"You are very brave, young one," she said as she moved closer. "But you will not stand against me. Your magic is not ours." She raised a hand but he had a shield up long before she could cast anything at him. "Very interesting. Were you called?"
"Yes," he said, then he shot an attack at her, just a simple lightening bolt. He had no idea what killed this creature, he hadn't ever seen one before. She swatted aside his attack so he used something more powerful, something to cut into what remained of her body. She screamed at that one but he continued, ducking hers and attacking back. He noticed she was using the same few spells over and over and switched methods, using something opposed to what she was doing. He was dealing in more powerful magics now, not something he usually did but something he had been taught. She upped the ante by trying to physically attack him but he got free of her and knocked her down, picking up a branch that had been broken during the fight, using it to stake her. She screamed so he started a leaching spell, using it to leach her powers back into the ground. She got off one last cast while he was so close which knocked him into a tree. He barely saw Karisa as she rode up, losing consciousness as she screamed his name.
When he next awoke it was in a darkened room. There were candles around him but not enough to make it very bright. He looked at the man sitting beside him. "Did I die?"
"Nearly. My mother said the next time you try to take on a ghoul like that she's going to come paddle you and force you to marry one of the nice women who serve her." Alathander leaned forward. "Very nice work, Snape, but very dangerous. That's not the sort of creature you take on by yourself."
"I was the only one there."
"Next time you'll know better," he agreed in a lighter tone of voice. "I must say though, the magical creatures teacher was most impressed. He was nearly killed by one as well but a mage saved him by severing her head while she was trying to eat his insides. Next time remember to use pure silver and to send the lightening through it and into the ground. It would kill her, not just leave her staked there until the stick broke." He patted him on the hand. "I gave you an A for the battle though."
"Thank you," Snape said dryly. He glanced around. "No one else is here?"
"No one else is allowed near here, Invetrion. Those creatures often poison those they attack to make more of themselves. The healers are away until you prove that you're still human and that you didn't die."
"I feel chilly but I can feel that I have a pulse. Or else I would not have a headache," he noted, putting his head back into a more comfortable position. "Is it night?"
"Yes, it's also nearly the end of term. You've been out now for three weeks. You also managed to miss the portals opening for a few moments. Did your friend Lucius have blond hair so pale it was nearly white?" Snape groaned and nodded. "Good, the portal made him wet himself and run away screaming," he said with a smirk for him. "He is not one who would be called into service here."
"The only sort of service he's fit for is to service maidens," Snape said bitterly. "He gets by on the family name and the family money." He looked at his friend again. "Who came across?"
"No one. A few of our students got sucked in when they went to investigate it," he said blandly, winking at him. "I'm sure the defiler will have much fun with them."
"Hopefully so," he agreed tiredly. "I'm going to go back to sleep I think."
"That's fine. I'll tell the healers you're fine and well enough to treat." He tucked the other man back in and then stood up. "Sleep well, Severus."
"I thought you said that was dangerous."
"It is, but no one can possibly hear," he said with a wink for him. "You rest. Otherwise my mother is going to come back and fuss more." He left, leaving him to sleep.
Severus untucked himself a bit then went back to sleep. He really was tired. He wondered briefly if this qualified him to pass out of his training. There was supposed to be a battle at the end that was witnessed and graded to pass on. Maybe this would count. He fell asleep and dreamed of his own mother chastising him for being so arrogant for not summoning help. But she nicely gave him a piece of pie to soothe the stinging words.
"I'm going to go on a trip. Want to come with me?" Alathander said from the doorway to Snape's room.
"Where are you going?"
"We're going to visit the homeland of the dragons."
"Why?" Snape asked patiently.
"To stop them from going to war. It's either you go with me, or you get to go. The Headmistress says that you've graduated and that we can't teach you anything else, so you might as well make yourself useful." He smirked at him. "So, what do you say? Would you rather go yourself or with me?"
"Let me pack," Snape agreed. He got up and pulled his wand, packing everything in his room into his two bags, then followed his teacher out to the stables.
"Have you ridden for any length of time?" Alathander asked, looking back at him. Snape shook his head. "None other than the day and a half here?" Snape shook his head again. "Then let me get a well-padded saddle," he said dryly, going to do that.
"We can't take a carriage?"
"There's no road," Alathander called back as he walked. "I'll make sure we'll stop often for you." He brought out on the horses, already saddled with a very well padded saddle. "Here. Do you need help?"
"No, I'm fine," Snape said quietly, hitching his two bags on the back of the saddle, then pulling himself up. Alathander had taught him how to mount and dismount a horse on their way up from his home village. At least he could stay in the saddle. At least until his rear went numb this time. He followed his teacher away from the school. "Why are we going to stop them?"
"Because this is one of the many things we battle mages are good for," he said happily. "Sometimes we go out to stop wars so the stupid warrior class doesn't have to work quite so hard. Besides, if we don't we'll get sucked into a inter-dragon clan war. It saves us from being killed by a big, flying creature who will be mean about it."
"I see." Snape shook his head. Sometimes he didn't understand his teacher. He was mean and snarly one minute and the next he was smiling and laughing with a rapier wit that made others wince. "Why are you so hard on the younger students?" he asked.
"Because the little darlings come in with a fantasy about how they stand there and cast pretty spells to make the warriors all cry, and of course they stand there and let them do everything while staring in awe at their great power. It's to break their delusions."
"Still, it would be easier just to hand them to the warriors for a week," Snape noted. "I'm sure the they would be more than happy to pounce them like the overeager puppies they seem to be."
Alathander snorted. "I started out trying to do that. It didn't work. They still thought the warrior should stand there and let them cast very pretty spells and create many pretty lights." He looked at Snape. "I had to start being a bit more realistic so that the little psychotic darlings would live, Invetrion."
"I understand that part, but still. You made three of them cry yesterday."
"Good! That means they won't do stupid stuff in the field, or they'll find somewhere else to be. It saves their lives and my time for students like you and Karisa."
"You might have more if you eased up some. Plenty of them say they'd go on and learn more if you'd ease up on them some."
Alathander snorted. "So they say but they don't do that, Invetrion. Remember this for someday you too shall teach people who think they want to learn and don't really want to learn. Then again, you may end up teaching moronic sycophants or dunderheads." Snape nodded, that described a great many of his fellow students. "At that point, you will find reserves of patience, but only for those who are not terminally stupid." He shrugged. "Sometimes you must be realistic or you die trying to teach the others when they mess up and their problems come after you to eat you in the middle of the night. Trust me, nasty things sometimes."
"Oh, I do," he admitted quietly. "I've had that happen in the past with the tutoring you had me do."
"That's why he had the black eye?"
"Yes. He had some sort of...pinching spell or something that he kept trying to say would kill me. So I hit him. It broke his concentration and allowed me a good amount of stress relief over my tests."
"Congratulations. Hopefully you'll never teach a roomful of students like him. Or like that blond one."
"Hopefully," he agreed, looking around the woods. "How long until we get there?"
"It's barely been an hour, Invetrion. It'll be six or seven days before we get to the correct place, and that's if we trot most of the way and we don't take many rest breaks." Snape shuddered. "So we'll go easy on you today, breaking you in as they say, then move you on. Just don't get the warrior whore's horse killed. She'll scream and rant at me later."
"This is hers?"
"Yes, but it's her punishment. Her sister started it, her horse is going to help finish it. If it would have helped, I'd have her on a donkey behind us." Snape chuckled at that. "You did remember to pack the money, correct?" Snape nodded. "Somewhere you can get to it easily?"
"Of course. It's always on me."
"Good! There's a good inn around where we can stop for the night. We'll rest there and then go on in the morning after you soak your sore hindend." He smirked and kicked his mare into a trot. "Come along, Invetrion. Day's wasting."
"Bloody elf," he hissed but he did speed up to match his master's pace.
Snape finally got to dismount after nine days of riding and glared at his teacher's absence. "Once I get home, I will never ride another beast again," he told the mare he had been given. His own borrowed horse had managed to trip and sprain her leg. She had managed to do this and to knock Alathander out of his saddle so she could land on him. So he was back at the second inn they had stopped at until he got back. By then, his horse should be fine and Alathander should be healed. So now, he got to stop some dragons on a rampage all by himself. "Bloody wonderful," he sneered as a dragon landed. "Battle Mage Alathander sent me, his student Invetrion, in his stead. My horse fell on him," he said grimly. "How may I help?"
The dragon looked him over then snorted. "Puny human."
He crossed his arms. "I could leave, let you be eaten, and your lines killed," he noted dryly. "One less dragon in the world does not bother me in the least."
"And a cold one at that. Hair Stealer, you have no idea what you've stepped into. Neither did he."
"Since we were summoned, that's not our fault. You called for a battle mage, you have me. You want to stop this war through diplomacy and I will act as a mediator. You attack me and I will have you for dinner." She reared back so he sneered up at her. "It is your choice."
"Fine, you may act as a mediator between myself and my daughter. She is claiming these lands as hers. We have always had them."
"Yet, she is young and wanting her own roost, this has been yours for a while, so therefore it is comfortable for her and she challenges you for domain. Is that what this war is over?"
"No, that's a higher level of the same matter. This needs to be solved first."
"Very well. Take me to where this can be judged. Leave Alathander's horse alone," he snapped at the beast gliding in.
"Who are you?" the other female sneered.
"Invetrion. Associate of Alathander, who was summoned. He's ill, you have me, let's get on with this. And do not touch his horse. He'll get mad and destroy you all."
"Why is he not here if he is so great and mighty?" the new female snapped.
"Because my horse fell on him. Otherwise he would have already destroyed you for speaking to him that way," he sneered back. "You are not worse than his mother." The dragons stepped back. "Now, let us act like civilized creatures and take this somewhere non-moving and non-saddle shaped to sit so we may figure out a solution."
"If you're so good, why don't you read my mind?" the younger one asked. "Besides, this horse would make a good feasting before a mating."
"I SAID ENOUGH!" Snape shouted, raising a hand and creating a bolt of lightening that fried a few nearby rocks and trees. "I have come to settle another petty squabble, not this one. I have graciously offered to since I am here. As far as I can tell, your mother was correct to push you out of her nest since you act like a spoiled goblin brat. Now desist before I use you as target practice. I took down a ghoul not a month ago, I can take down a dragon." He stared at the younger one, making her back off. "Anything else you want to ask?" She shook her head. "Then begone!" She flew off. He looked at the older one. "Where is the real conflict?"
"Unfortunately a bit more riding is needed, Mage Invetrion. I can gladly carry you and put his horse in my nest. It may worry her but I will not eat her. Mages do odd things to their beasts so they taste funny."
"Thank you for your generous offer. I accept. Anything is better than riding on her back." The dragon chuckled and picked up the horse, making it squeal as she flew it up to her nest. She pushed in some nearby vegetation then flew back down. "There, she is settled for now. I will fly you to the Queen's valley. That is where the problem lies."
"Thank you for you assistance. I hope your other children were more suitable and made you happier."
She nodded. "Truly, they usually do. She's in heat so she's cranky." She let him climb up onto her neck. "Up one more if you wouldn't mind. Otherwise I can't move my wings." He shifted up, making her grunt, but it was a good spot. "Thank you, Invetrion." She took off, taking him to the Queen's Valley, where the queens all had their nests. She dropped in the center, startling the guards. "Someone sent for a battle mage; Alathander sent his apprentice, Invetrion." She waited while he got down, accepting his bow. "If you do not come back in three weeks, I'll release her to forage safely."
"Thank you again for your assistance." She nodded and took off. Snape smoothed back down his hair and looked at the dragons staring at him. "Alathander is hurt, he sent me ahead. I am Invetrion."
"I do wish that you would quit that. I can use it to steal scales as well," he said firmly, staring that one down. It laughed and waved a wing. "Are they in conference?"
"Yes, but there is one queen who is older who is looking over the matter." He walked away, letting the mage follow him. "So you are the hair stealer?"
"Quite. It's a pranking and collection method where I'm from." He bowed to the guards letting them past. Then to the senior, very old dragon inside. "Alathander sent me ahead. He's injured. How may I serve to stop this battle?"
"Invetrion. Apprentice to Alathander, graduate of the Academy recently."
"Battle magics, healing, and light doses of creation magic now and then," he admitted.
"Interesting. Why is he injured?"
"My horse tripped and knocked into him. He's at an inn about seven days back with my horse."
"Very well. The problem is that the Kings are trying to claim this valley as theirs. They claim that we are mismanaging the lands and the clans, that it is theirs by right as males and that they should be ruling the roosts and making decisions on who breeds. We claim it is our land, our right to choose, and that they are interfering."
"How is your society usually run, my queen?"
"We are matrilineal."
"We're patrilineal," another dragon shouted.
"In truth, the older and more senior dragon rules each roost. If that is female, then she does. The males are upset that sometimes females do not tell them of offspring. That left for an uncomfortable situation when a father nearly bedded his daughter after a mating flight." He nodded that he understood that problem. "We are looking for a way around a gender war. Neither side will win."
"First, let me ask a few questions. Are mating flights done in the open?" She nodded. "Are they witnessed to see who is with who? Or notes taken about that?"
"Not formally. We had a scribe but she died many years ago. A few of your human lifetimes probably."
"Was this a problem before then?"
"No. It has slowly been building. Even then, restarting one would mean that the Queens would have to tell and not all of them remember."
"Are there other conclaves?" She nodded, smiling at that. "Should they not be flying with them instead?"
"They should and they do, but some feel more comfortable closer to home. Even though the thought of breeding with family exists. It is comfortable to be with one you've known for ages."
"Should those move their nests together? Or next to each other if they want separate nests. I notice that your grounds are very rocky, that I did not see many animals in them. Would that help if you redistributed hunting grounds?"
"Ours is one where the stronger conquer, mage."
"True, and while that is wonderful, if there is nothing to conquer, then who wins." She tipped her head at that. "Are you looking at moving some of the young?"
"We are, but we do not have arrangements with any other dragon clans to do that."
"Then this is what I would suggest. Moving the children to another clan. That way they can breed. In a generation, take back roughly the same number of children from other clans, fostering if possible to get a few different bloodlines. Redistributing the hunting grounds so that there is enough here for everyone, and getting a creation or nature mage to make some more arable lands for herds to graze on. Perhaps another scribe if you see fit, if not, then not. That should be your decision no matter what. By doing so, it would not show weakness, but by telling the other clans that you're doing so to foster out your young while you recreate some of better points of your lands, it makes you appear thoughtful and steady."
"Which would make others want to come see what we did, which would lead to more out- clan breeding, and those who breed in-clan would still have someone here," she said thoughtfully. "It is a good idea. How would we find a mage of that sort though?"
"The Academy has teachers and students who do nothing but sculpt gardens for practice and for kings. I'm sure they know some who could do this. For a fee usually," he admitted. "Unless it was a desperate mage, then you might get a scholar and scribe as well."
"Good point. If we could turn some of the rocks back into good ground then we could get a good herd going here. It would be to our benefit to do that." She looked at the others. "Do we concur?"
"It is an idea," one of them admitted. "I do not like the thought of my children being sent away."
"You can always go visit, by doing so that would spread the gossip of how things are going and gain you better status anyway, my lady," Snape noted. She nodded at that. "The real problem will probably be the males and convincing them that this is doable. In my experience on this plane, males are usually the more stubborn creatures." They laughed and nodded. "Should I speak with them about this idea?"
"Please, Master Mage. If we can agree to this course of action, then it would be helpful all around and stop the petty squabbling." She leaned closer. "What of the one when you came in?" she asked quietly.
"We got into it. I won," he said simply, smirking at her. "She flew off in a huff. She won't be eating Alathander's horse however and she won't be bothering her mother for a bit longer."
"Very well then," she agreed. "Thank you, Invetrion. Guards, call the King over. We have a workable idea to help everything." One of them went running and took off, flying for a nearby mountain. "Our kings seem to like the mountains."
"They probably find some invigorating minerals up there," he offered. She nodded. "Do they court you with what they find to line your nests or is it just brute power?"
"Usually just brute power," she said with a smirk. "You are not from here?"
"I'm from Hogwarts actually. I landed with Alathander's elven clan, under King Greenleaf, and then went to the Academy with him. I'm one of his star pupils."
"Hmm, interesting. Do you have one of those wands?" He pulled his out. "Very nice. Thank you for telling me this, Invetrion."
"You are quite welcome, my queen." He looked outside as wings came back and trumpeting began. "Him?" She nodded. "Should I speak with him outside?"
"If you'd like. I do not wish him in here."
He bowed and backed out, then turned and walked outside, waiting while the large black dragon landed. "My King, I am Invetrion, sent by Alathander since he is injured. I am his apprentice."
"You stink," he noted.
"I've bathed recently but I am not from here."
"You fought a ghoul?"
"Over a month ago. I won." He smirked at him. "I do have some ideas, which may be odd but do lead to a long term solution. If you would listen?"
"Very well, mage. What was your name?"
"Hmm, hair stealer." Snape glared at him so he chuckled. "You're the one who did it."
"Yes, where I come from it's a prank and a collection technique. Usually used to grab dragon scales." The dragon king laughed at that. "Now then, what of this idea? There are too many children for the terrain. Foster them out, move the hunting grounds around some so that those who share children and wish to live nearby to continue mating can do so. They can have separate nests if they like or not if they like. Get a mage to come transform some of this back to grassland, to gain new herds. In a generation, you take back an equal number of children, either grandchildren or fosters of your own. You can still visit and brag, it will only raise your statue, and they can always come back once the lands are more prosperous."
"It is a daring plan," he admitted, looking around. "Turn this back into grassland? It was never really grassland."
"No, but as I was flown up here I did notice many places that looked like they used to be sunny valleys for herd beasts to graze in. Start with those, let them migrate."
"Hmm. You talk about big changes."
"Perhaps, but a temporary change now could lead to a better life later on. Plus you may be able to find a mage to stay permanently, thereby gaining a scribe again."
"That would be a very good idea. We would get stronger bloodlines. Those who wish to breed in-clan still can but with more caution. Those who don't want to can breed out-clan and bring out-clan children back. That is very wise. However if we put out this information then the other clans will think we're weakening."
"Why? Because you wish to improve the land and don't wish one of your young to take to the mage?" The king nodded at that strategy. "Besides, once they see what you are doing, some of the others who live in areas that have also been hunted out may try the same thing. That means you can set up arrangements to have children switched between a few clans."
"Where would we find such a mage?"
"I just graduated from an academy that houses teachers in a program to teach that sort of art. True they usually do formal gardens for kings, but there's only so many kings and some of them would probably love such a challenge." The king nodded at that. "Plus, think about what prestige this could bring. Your young, being mostly mannerly from what I've seen here, to brag on the riches your land holds once you get new herds in. The beauty of your queens, the strength of your kings."
"True," he agreed. "I would talk about it with some other elders. See if they would take in the children first. Usually that is only done during dire times, like a plague."
"Which is a good plan, but sometimes, as humans put it, you need a babysitter to get the tots out of the house so the adults can enjoy being adults." The King laughed and swatted him with a wing. "I will await your answer."
"Thank you, Invetrion. It is a noble idea. The reforming should not take that long?"
"Perhaps a few years at most. Which is nothing to most of your kind."
"Good point." He bowed to the queen, who bowed back, then he left.
Invetrion smiled at her. "He will be back soon."
"Very good, Invetrion. I thank you. Would you go back to that cave?"
"I have my bags with me, so as long as I can have a small corner I'm fine," he assured her. "I even have blankets with me."
"Very well. Do you have a tent?" He nodded. "Then give him one of the empty caves that are too small," she ordered.
"Yes, my queen," a guard said, jumping up and walking over, leading Snape to a smaller cave, one that he wouldn't have to bend down in, but that he would be safe in. "Watch for those things that howl, master mage. They are dangerous but are usually wary of fire."
"That is fine. I can create a campfire."
"Thank you, master mage. Maybe some pretty queen will like me." He smiled and left, going back to his post.
Snape pulled out his bag and enlarged them, then created a campfire and some water to drink or make tea. It was going to be a long few days.
Snape oversaw the last of the young dragons flying off, then bowed to the leaders of this conclave before heading to find Alathander's horse. He found her eating in a nearby field and sighed, summoning his bags. "Come here, you foul, mistempered creature." She glared at him, her ears going back. "If you don't come here, you can't go back to Alathander. I'll have to leave you here to be eaten." A dragon landed behind her, scaring her so she ran toward him. He caught her bridle and slowed her down, holding her still. "Stay!" he ordered firmly. He noticed she looked panicked so he carefully pulled her head down, looking in her eyes. "Stop it," he ordered. "We can leave the dragons so you won't be eaten if you'd cooperate." He held her bridle while he put his bags on the back of the saddle. He could attach them better later.
Then he carefully walked around and mounted, grabbing the reins tightly. "I thank you for hosting me. I'll give your missive to the teacher as soon as I can. The Headmistress would send someone who was more politically powerful instead of someone who'd want to do the job." The King of the dragons nodded at him, letting him turn his mare around and trot off. "If you'd hurry, we can be back by his side in a few less days this time. My rear has finally gotten feeling back from the last trip." She saw another dragon and shied, so he sighed and shook his head, casting the blinder spell that Alathander had taught him. It was like putting blinders on the horse, she could only see in front of her, which cut down the sight of dragons. He kicked her gently, making her go as fast as he dared on this rocky terrain. He was nearly out of their territory when he heard a shriek and looked up.
"Mine!" the female dragon shrieked.
He glared at her. "Back off, wench." He pulled his wand when she attacked him, knocking her out of the sky and onto her wings, damaging one of them. He glared at her as he moved the beast closer to her. "What did you think you were doing?" he sneered. "You do not attack a battle mage, young lady. It is foolish and ignorant on your part." She struggled to get up, which caught the horse's attention and made her dance to the side, which in turn made her trip and fall. Which made him fall and hurt himself. He woke up to find the dragon eating the horse and found his wand still in his hand. "Somne Permanente!" The dragon stiffened and fell asleep on top of the remains. He sneered at her. "Stupid bitch." A larger dragon flew up to check on them, then turned and sped back. He came back with the King, who was looking amused. "She attacked me, sire. Not the other way around. At least not until I caught her eating my master's horse. I only put her to sleep."
"So I can see. What happened to her wing?"
"She tried to gut me with a claw so I knocked her from the air. She landed on it." He twitched his robes into place, putting his hands up his sleeves. "I'm sorry if I unduly injured her but I did not wish to be dead."
"No, I agree," he offered. "Are your things on the saddle?" Snape nodded and picked up the saddle, which only had the girth strap broken, but the bags were still attached haphazardly to the back. "Then we'll give you a lift to that inn, Invetrion. She was probably in a mating frenzy. I'm sorry she attacked you." He looked at the guard. "Fly Invetrion to that inn where his master is waiting."
"Of course, sire," the male dragon agreed. He helped Snape up onto his back, wincing as the saddle was settled across the human's lap. "Must you take that?"
"Alathander has spells on it. I didn't want to leave it here," he said quietly.
"Fine," the dragon guard agreed, taking off. He caught the saddle and handed it back. "Hold onto it tighter, Master Mage." He flew toward the general direction the human had come. "Where is this inn?"
"About seven days of travel," Snape offered. "Slow travel. Maybe five at normal horse speeds. Along the main road."
"Very well. Thank you, Master Mage. It should only take me a few hours." He flew faster, hoping this one wouldn't curse him as well. He was always polite to mages, they were scary. He found the inn by the smell of the human who owned the saddle being inside. He landed and gently shivered to wake the sleeping mage. "We're here, Master Mage. Thank you for helping us."
"It's not a problem. I'll hand that letter over as soon as we get back." He slid off, taking the saddle with him. "Have prosperous hunts and many children." The dragon smiled as he took off, heading back to his conclave. Snape walked inside and looked at the innkeeper. "Alathander?"
"In the taproom," he said, pointing with a small smile. "Done already?"
"Very, but he's not going to be happy with me." He walked in and put the saddle in front of his mentor, weathering his dirty look. "We were on our way back, one in a mating frenzy took her after knocking me out. We have a letter to give to one of the creation teachers."
"Very well," he agreed, standing up. "How are you getting home, Invetrion?"
Snape sneered at him, then pulled out his bag to jingle in his face. "Why, I wonder," he said sarcastically. He walked off, going to talk to the innkeeper. He had offered to sell him a horse before. "I need a nag to get back to the school. A hire would be fine."
"We've got a fine elven steed out there," he offered. "But his master's upstairs." Snape raised an eyebrow. "Messenger from his mother."
"Hmm. Fine. Perhaps you have another?"
"I do, but she's not a nag and she's only for sale."
"He'll take her, he can always sell her to some over eager warrior," Alathander said from behind Snape. "Then we'll be leaving in the morning. Do we have someone who can fix saddles?"
"I do," he offered, holding out a hand. The saddle was handed over and Snape took his bags. "I'll have my wife stitch this up for you, sire."
"Thank you, Hovard." He walked Snape up the stairs, going into their shared room, smirking at the messenger. "My father was correct. My horse did die."
"It was a dragon in mating frenzy on the way back," Snape admitted. "I'll buy you another one."
"Why? The steed downstairs was from my father."
"So do I need to buy one?" Alathander nodded, smirking at him. "Why?"
"Because the warrior whore trotted past a few days back and gathered her faithful steed to go out and play war again."
"Ah. That's fine," Snape agreed, sitting down with a hiss. "I detest riding."
"As do we all," Alathander said dryly. "You'll get used to it."
"I may but by then I'll be ready to go home as well." He pulled out the letter and handed it over. "It has the agreement we worked out together. They need a creationist to turn their rocky ground back into grassland and to take some of the rocks out."
"Interesting. The problem was?"
"Too few herds, too many children, fighting over breeding rights. They also want to know if the mage can stay and be their scribe so they have someone to keep track of their birth and mating records again."
"Very interesting. They vowed protection?" Snape nodded silently. "Very well. I know the teacher to give this to. I'll do so once we get back. Good work, Invetrion. I'll make sure you're noted as being responsible." He smiled at the messenger. "Tell him what my mother said. I'll be graduating him once we take him home for the wedding. The top creationist teacher will be there also, Invetrion. Don't worry about that."
"Fine. I'm sure I can find a quiet corner while the festivities happen."
Both elves stared at him like he was some sort of evil creature.
Snape looked up as they rode into the elven village again, for the second time in as many months. They rode up to the front of Alathander's house and dismounted, then went to get his teacher off the back of his horse. He saw a servant and glared at him. "Get his mother. He was injured in a foolish duel." The servant gaped. "Now!" The servant rushed off. Snape got Alathander down and floated him into the house, finding only one of the younger sisters there. "He needs to be bandaged and put to bed."
"You both do!" she said sharply. She clapped her hands and more servants appeared, taking Alathander and dragging Snape up the stairs. "I'm telling mother on you, Invetrion."
"That's fine, it was her brother who issued the challenge," he sneered as he was led up the stairs. "It's mostly his blood."
"You hush!" one of the maids ordered. "You'll bathe and let us tend to any injuries or else I will tell his mother how fussy and child-like you were being." She put him into his usual room, going to draw a bath for him first. They'd have to clean off the blood and mud before they could see how injured he really was.
Downstairs, Alathander's sister was panicking while talking to her father over a viewing portal. "Invetrion had to carry him home, father! He was bloody, both of them! Invetrion had to float him inside and he was injured and nasty and bloody too! He said it was mother's brother who challenged them!"
"Calm down, Perchia," he said calmly. "We'll be home as soon as we can. It shouldn't take more than a day. We'll have the neighbors come in to guard you." She nodded, wringing her hands now. "Did you get them cleaned up?"
"I had the maids take them. Should I send for the local village's healer?" He nodded. "I will then. What else should I do?"
"Just wait, be patient. Alathander wouldn't have left him living this time, Perchia. Just calm down, call the healer, let us handle the rest."
She nodded, turning the call off so she could call the village's healer. "I need you up here now," she ordered, sounding more calm. "My brother took a challenge, Invetrion and he both came home covered in mud and blood. Invetrion said it was brother's."
"Who was the duel with?"
"My uncle," she said quietly. You didn't say that elf's name around other, polite society. He had been banished and Alathander had vowed to kill him. "I've had the maids put them into baths to clean them up so we can see the real injuries."
"Should I bring up a guard?"
"Father said he'd call the neighbors, but we definitely need you."
"That's fine. Give me a few moments and I'll be right up, Perchia. Calm yourself and check on them so you can give me a report at the door." The girl nodded so the healer disconnected and gathered her things, going to pick a few of her students to go with her and guard her. You didn't take a chance with something like that. She felt major magic starting around her and glanced around, finding a large portal in the middle of the square. "Not now," she complained. "Get the guardian wizard to banish that. It will open again." She hurried out with her students, taking them to the manor to treat those two poor men.
Alathander woke up, which surprised him, and looked up at his mother's face. "Did he die? I told Invetrion to kill him."
"He did not," she said gently. "He said he was stunned and nearly killed. My brother got away, but not without serious injury this time," she assured him when he scowled. "Invetrion could not have done better, son. He was just as severely injured as you are. He cast something on himself so he could not feel pain." He winced, knowing that it had to be bad. Snape didn't whine about papercuts and the like. It had to be major if he had complained enough to cast that on himself. His mother held a cup to his lips, letting him sip the broth. "I'll tell him you're awake if you'd like."
"He tried," she admitted with a smile. "Your father swatted him and sent him back to bed." She stroked a gentle hand across the top of his head. "Neither of you need to move from your beds for the next week or so. If you're interested, we got a letter from the young mage you and the other sent to work with the dragons." He nodded slowly. "He said it's a great challenge and while he's enjoying it, he hates to watch them eat. He also said that Invetrion's plan was stunning and quite useful. He's been asked by a few other conclaves to work on their lands once he's done. He's even called in a few new herds of beasts. One of them belonged to a human farmer but he was paid handsomely for it and forgave the dragons for taking his herd." Alathander smiled at that. "Otherwise he's already got two valleys done and he said that the most rocky ones are being done more slowly but the rocks are doing good elsewhere to help build new nests." She smiled at him again. "I've got a copy for you downstairs if you want to read it once you're allowed out of bed."
"Thank you, mother. How is Perchia? I vaguely remember her screaming at Invetrion when we came in."
"She did panic," she admitted. "She's never seen you that hurt, Alathander. She is still very young and doesn't really understand what you do." She stood up. "She has absolute faith that you will always protect her."
"I can't do that unless you release the spell that's keeping me in the bed, mother."
She smiled at him. "How else will you get better? You are a very stubborn son. Nearly as bad as your student, who was babbling a few nights ago in his sleep but still wanted to get up." She opened the door, letting the maid inside. "She'll let you up in a moment so you can clean up, then put you back into the bed once it's changed and remade." She swept out, going to check on the other mage in the house. He was scowling. "Alathander is finally awake, Invetrion. I'm sure you'll be seeing him shortly." He nodded once. "If you were better, I could let you up, but you refuse to let yourself heal so I had to take the same measures I do for my stubborn son. You rest, you'll be up soon."
"Thank you." She nodded, leaving him to stare up at the patterns the trees were casting in the sunlight on his ceiling. While he was staring and thinking, he was also working on unraveling the spell as Alathander had taught him. He hadn't understood why before, but now he did. Fortunately his mother wasn't like that at home.
Alathander walked into Snape's room later that night, looking at him. "Didn't manage to release yourself yet?"
"No, I have, I just haven't had the strength to move since that first time," he admitted. "I tried, Alathander. He did leave with a gushing head wound and a new one forming in his chest if he couldn't cancel the curse I used."
"Hopefully he didn't manage that. If he did, we'll have to hunt him down. It's a manner of honor, Severus."
"I understand. If I can ride, I'll be behind you."
"Thank you." He sat down on the foot of his bed with a sigh of relief. "I'm still sore."
"As am I," he admitted, pushing back the blankets so he could sit up. He winced as he moved, hissing a bit, but did manage to sit up again. "I find being this weak embarrassing."
"It's not really, just a statement that you either need more training or that your body has some very firm limits, which you breached. In your case, I'd say limits since you're about as taught as I can make you. Did you ever learn those portals?"
"I did, but I couldn't create one of my own," he admitted bitterly. "Neither the teacher or I."
"Well, from what one of the maids said when she brought me some more broth, one opened in the village to let our mages return but then closed fairly quickly. So even if you were up and walking around, you'd still have stayed most likely ." He shrugged and winced. "We'll figure out how to get you home soon enough."
"Thank you. I'd hate to miss everything back in my world."
"Oh, it was only a few hours over there by what the mage candidates said," he offered. "Time runs quicker over here than it does there."
"Good, then I won't have to worry overly much about missing my last semester of school or my NEWTs." He shifted again and winced. "Saddle sores."
Alathander chuckled. "We'll fix that for you in a few days," he promised. "Hopefully by then both of our horses will feel like moving on. You've been invited back to the Academy to help some of the healers by the way. They said they want you to teach them more potions." He let out a little sigh as he moved again. "I should go back to my rest."
"We both should," Snape agreed dryly. "How long before you think we'll get to run away and chase him?"
"Maybe two weeks," he said patiently. "Once I'm not sore anymore. You should be better first, you seem less injured." He stood up with a wince and shuffled back to his own bed, sighing in pleasure as he laid down again.
"I told you to stay in bed," his mother called, pushing open the door. "Next time, listen, son."
"Yes, mother," he said patiently.
"Thank you." She walked in and handed over the bowl of broth, then went to hand one to her son's student, who had fallen asleep sitting up. She helped settle him back in the proper position, leaving the bowl laying on the table next to him before walking off. Now she remembered why she had only wanted daughters.
Alathander moved the curtains aside, checking the courtyard, then he looked at his barely healed student. "Are you ready?"
"Mostly," he agreed. "I need to replenish some of the herbs I used."
"Fine, we can do that on the way out of town." He released the curtain and snuck out with his apprentice, taking him to the stables. Severus had his wand and his money bag on him, his last outfit had been destroyed. Alathander had everything of his that he truly needed. The rest his mother would send with a long sigh and a note about being so stupid and leaving so suddenly. He got onto his mare's back and headed out after Severus, whose horse had already been saddled for some reason. They headed into the trees, trotting out of sight of the house until they reached the village, then snuck around to the herbalist there. He got them resupplied fairly quickly, and Alathander was starting to suspect that his father had said they were leaving shortly. Either that or his mother had noticed their restlessness and had a quiet word with everyone to help them leave and not overly bother them. They got back onto the trail. "Where did you last see the traitor?" he asked calmly.
"An hour's ride from the house," Snape offered. "About thirty feet from where you fell."
"Very well then." He stopped his horse and cast a tracking spell, looking behind him. "Really?" he asked dryly, heading back that way. He saw the hesitant looks in his direction by a few guards and stopped one, lifting him magically to stare at him. "Where is the traitor?"
"In the palace, he's begged for solace and an easier death."
"I doubt it," Alathander said, putting him back down. He rode that way, dismounting in the courtyard, as was proper, with Snape right behind him. The guards stared at them. "I'm going to see my uncle, you can warn him or not," he said firmly. "Yes, that's Invetrion, he's still here." One of the guards went running and he followed, a bit more slowly. Well, it seemed his uncle was in the gardens today. He stormed outside, glaring at the courtiers lounging around his uncle. "You gave him solace and sanctuary after what he did to my family?" he demanded.
"He asked for and was given a fair trial," the King said firmly, but quietly. "He was found guilty and was imprisoned. Your own mother agreed, Alathander."
"I doubt it," he said bitterly. "Considering I had her full support to hunt and kill him for what he did to my aunt." The king shivered. "Where is he?"
"He's in jail."
"Then I demand the right to perform his execution."
"He'll be in there until he dies."
"With a mage powerful enough to nearly kill myself and Alathander, is that not a danger?" Snape asked quietly.
The king looked at him, sizing him up. "It could be, Invetrion. It very well could be. But I doubt he'll be doing any magic."
"He was pulling magic from the forest as we fought him, Uncle," Alathander noted. "He doesn't need the trappings, the same as I don't."
"Yet, you nearly died."
"Yes, and I would have gladly done so if it meant stopping him." He stared his uncle down. "I challenge you to a healing," he said finally. "You're not yourself."
"I am so myself, nephew."
"You do not call me that, Uncle. You never have." He looked at the nearest guard. "Is there a healer?"
"There is." He ran to get her, ignoring all the gasps. If Alathander, who was a rightly feared battle mage and strong enough to beat an army on his own said that this wasn't their King in his right mind, he wanted proof one way or the other. He brought back the most experienced healer in the village, letting her go once she was in front of the king.
"I challenge that he's not the King," Alathander said calmly. "He does not call me as he usually does. He does not act as he usually does, and since when has my uncle held Court out in the gardens?" The courtiers all looked at each other. It had been a nice change, but odd. Their King was not known for his love of nature.
"Very well, I shall look," she agreed, stepping closer. The king flinched back. "Kindly hold your uncle, boy." Alathander walked over and held him still, allowing her to put her hands on his head. She flinched back. "Not him," she gasped. "It's not him. It's the other!" She got free of the grabbing hands of the guard, backing away to a distant watching point.
"So we'll see," Invetrion noted, raising a hand and chanting a dispel spell. The illusion fled like mist before the sun and exposed the traitor sitting there. "You're not the king," he noted, pulled his wand. "Crucio!" The fake king yelled and writhed. He looked at Alathander and bowed slightly, getting out of his way. He looked at the guard. "Take me to where he was supposedly resting."
"Come," he agreed, leading him off quickly. They found the door open and unlocked and no one in there. They did find him up the hall in the bathing chambers. "Hold!" he ordered. The guards in there looked at him. "The king was the prisoner. It was an illusion. Alathander said he could pull from the very forest itself and did when they were fighting." He got out of Invetrion's way, letting him cast on him. The illusion faded and exposed a common prisoner. They went to that one's cell. They had to dispel the illusion on nearly every criminal in there before finding him in the cell of one who was due to be put to death by the end of the week. "My king!" the guard said, bowing to him.
"Thank you." He walked out after them, going to stop this himself if he had to. He found Alathander striking the traitor time and again with powerful bolts of energy and raised his own hand but Invetrion held up a hand and again pulled his wand.
"Stupify," he cast calmly, making the man flinch, and his shield fall. This time, the bolt got through and the man was fried to a crisp. His burned and charred body fell to the ground and twitched a few times while his hair smoldered and finished burning, and his clothes turned to dust once they had finished. He looked at his master. "He cast multiple illusions, we had to dispel nearly ten of them to find the real king."
"Uncle," Alathander said, flipping his hair back over his shoulder. "Are you well?"
"Well enough," he promised. "Thank you. Someone clean this mess up. He does not deserve to rest in the hallowed grounds of the palace." He looked at the healer, then at Alathander. "Very clever."
"Thank you." He nodded the healer on and she came over to test him, nodding that it was the king before bowing to him. "I thank you, healer."
"You're welcome, Alathander. If the crown needs my services, yell for me," she said quietly. "I am discreet." She walked off with a guard, allowing him to take her home for the rest of the day so she could rest and stop shaking.
The king stepped over the body. "From now on, we will be doing a discern spell on each inmate monthly and if they are due to die, before then as well." He glared at the body. "Why is it still here?"
"We're getting cloth to carry it, sire," one guard said gently. "From the sheets in the closet." The king nodded at that. "Your wife was trying to decide which set."
"Those ghastly ones that faded to pink," he told him. The guard made note of that and went to get them, directly from the king's bed. He looked at Alathander and then at Invetrion. "You're still here?"
"I am," he agreed. "I can't make the portal myself and neither can the teacher."
"I see. Alathander?"
"A few have opened but always while he's unconscious."
"Ah." He nodded. "It does happen at times," he said dryly. "You're staying for how long?"
"We're going back to the school immediately," Alathander informed him.
"Ah, so for another month. Very well, beloved nephew. Retire to your mother's house, you still look tired."
"Actually, we must get back," Inventrion said carefully. "We've been requested and I'm to help some of the healers."
The king looked at him. "Healers are healers because they know what to do with a body. You will be staying here, mage, so that the inquest may go on and so we do not have to summon Alathander back for said inquest. Now, you were both injured the last I knew. Return to his mother's estate and rest some more. You can leave in a few days."
"Uncle, he really must...." Alathander started. The king waved a hand and four guards moved closer. "Fine, we'll go back to Mother's," he said calmly. He looked at Invetrion, who only raised an eyebrow. "For now."
"Very well," the king agreed. "Have a nice ride back and thank you, boys." He smiled as they left. "It's wonderful when the young do as you ask."
A few of the courtiers had the guts to laugh but most just nodded.
Alathander waited while the guard was telling his parents how they were to be kept there by official orders, and snuck out before they were done. Invetrion cast an 'ignore me' charm and did the same. He was wearing all black, he'd be noticed more readily. They made it out to the stables long before anyone noticed they were gone, and were well into the woods heading away from the estate at a brisk canter before the guards noticed their horses had been turned out to graze. "Three more hours," Alathander called back.
"That's fine. If we could create a portal, we could head back more directly."
"Neither of us can create those," Alathander called back, taking a different route than normal. He kept his thoughts about how they were getting out of Elven lands to himself. If he mentioned it, someone might hear if they were scrying and move to stop them. He felt magic gathering around them and called for a halt, letting his apprentice pull up beside him. "Feel that?"
"I do," he agreed, starting to weave the spell to create the portal. He decided that he could do it this time, which was important in magic, and that he would do it this time, just not switching worlds. The portal opened but it was small. "Hurry," he muttered, chanting to keep it open. They dismounted and walked their horses through, Snape letting it close behind them. Snape relaxed against his horse's side, then looked at his teacher. "Where are we?"
"At an inn," he said dryly, looking around at the buildings. "A very ancient inn on the other side of elven lands. Good job, Invetrion." He walked around to pat him down, taking the small money bag. "It'll be fine." He walked up to the stables, finding the innkeeper there, looking very nervous. "Sorry to intrude, my student is learning how to gate."
"I saw," he said. "You scared our guard and our groom to near-death, master Mage. Which one are you?"
"Alathander, and that one is Invetrion. Do you have rooms available?"
"Aye, a double room left empty. Plenty of light and an opening window, plus room for the horses. Be about two gold for tonight with food and drink."
"Thank you." He dug out two gold coins and handed them over. "That would be fine. The groom?"
"Inside gettin' drunk," he said honestly.
"Then we'll take care of our own horses for now." He walked his mare that way, letting Invetrion's follow. She knew what a stable was. She liked stables. She spent most of her time in one so she liked them quite a lot. They headed inside, going up to the room the barmaid showed them to. Once up there, Invetrion looked out the window, pointing. "Three days that way and we're at the school."
"Good. It'll be good to be back," he said sarcastically. "Think they'll find us?"
"Hopefully not until tomorrow and by then we'll be gone." He laid down on his bed. "You might as well rest, we'll be riding for three days."
"Can't I just create one to the Academy?"
"Didn't you try that last time?"
"No, I tried to create it to that Haven's Rest inn we stopped at on the way to the dragons."
"Eh, wrong side of the lands, but this does look about the same," he offered. "You need more imaging work, I'll work on that with you once we're back." Severus laid down and got comfortable. "Well, we survived another trip to my mother's. I'm proud, you didn't run away screaming when she fussed."
"I was too tired to move. I did move away when your older sister tried to bathe me."
"That's always a wise decision, my friend. She is fierce when she wants something." He shook his head. "I'm sorry you were witness to her greedy nature."
"I'm more sorry we didn't get him the first time."
"True," Alathander agreed, yawning a bit. "That would have been nice." He closed his eyes. "I'm going to rest."
"Fine. I'll make sure we eat."
"Thank you, dear student."
Snape snorted. "You're an arrogant buggerer."
"No, I really don't prefer men. But thank you for asking."
Snape laughed in spite of his intentions, shaking his head. It had been a long trip. He was looking forward to his room.
Severus Snape shook Alathander's hand as the portal opened behind him. He had felt it start to open and had gathered his things together already. "I'll miss you. Your world is certainly more lively than mine."
"Yes, well, you can't have great Elves there. We're very particular about where we live." He pulled him closer to embrace. "Watch out for that Riddle person, Severus. He sounds quite dangerous and not mentally stable."
"I agree," he said quietly. "If I can avoid him, I will." He nodded at the teachers around him. "Thank you for hosting and teaching me." He turned and walked through the portal, wincing as it snapped shut behind him. He looked at Dumbledore. "Defiler."
"Severus," he said calmly. "I take it you spent some time with the elves?"
"Alathander took me in as his apprentice. We landed there."
"Where might your fellow student be?" the Headmaster demanded from behind his Transfiguration teacher.
"She might be on the banks of a river, but mostly she's now an elf and married into the family of one. She's expecting her second child this year from what we were told." He nodded politely. "I'd like to unpack and shower if I may. The showers at the Academy were rather weak streamed."
"Of course," Dumbledore agreed with a small smile. "I'm sure you can tell us everything over dinner. Should we call your mother now?"
"Hell no," he snorted. "I'll see her in a few days." He walked off, heading down to his dormitory. He found a few notes waiting on his bed and sat down to read them while the Slytherin house elf put his new things away, taking his wand back absently while he read the one from his mother. So they had explained it as a sudden bout of the flu. Nothing too odd there. He changed back from his working clothes to his formal clothes and went up to attend dinner, answering as few questions as possible. Dumbledore already knew about the world, that was apparent since he had been there, and the Headmaster wanted to make sure they weren't going to be invaded. He told them what they wanted to hear and left it there, leaving the rest as personal memories.
After all, he had to be able to put *some* of that battle experience to practical use here.