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Chapter 23: Riddle Me This
It was the first week back after the holiday break and Harry was still pondering the riddle he had been given. He was walking along the shore of the Black Lake, where the giant squid could often be seen on sunny days. But today was overcast and Decius was below, keeping warm in the mud or whatever squids did when the temperature dropped. Harry himself was wrapped from neck to feet in his Christmas cloak from Katie, a scarf, gloves, and a hat. He felt like a walking advertisement for Wizard Warm Wear, but Severus had insisted he bundle up, so he didn’t risk getting bronchitis. From his days with the Dursleys, Harry had become susceptible to upper respiratory infections, and was usually prone to getting one every winter. But Severus was determined his son would not be following that pattern this year, and so he forced his son to dress warmly when he went walking and eat three meals a day and drink an Immunity Defense potion every other week.
Harry’s response to that had been to tell Severus, “God, Dad, you fuss worse than Mrs. Weasley!”
Severus’ response had been to give Harry a double dose of potion and order him to stay inside and help him mark papers. When his son protested, his father had said silkily, “Next time don’t get cheeky, Mr. Snape. Or else next time I shall come up to your dorm and wrap a scarf about you and put a hat on you like you were six, and I won’t care who sees me do it.”
Their eyes met and Harry looked away first. He had been wrong. Severus would indeed do it, he knew all too well what a potent motivator embarrassment was, and when it came to his son’s health he could be utterly ruthless.
So, anxious to avoid becoming a laughingstock, Harry had put on his winter wear. Ahead of him in the grass, Cafall frolicked, chasing whatever happened to cross his path. The misthound puppy was a natural hunter, having been bred to catch magical prey, and he loved nothing better than a good chase. Harry had charmed his collar though, so he couldn’t run off the grounds and into the Forbidden Forest.
Over the rest of the break, Harry and Draco had taught the puppy several basic commands, and also to return to them when they whistled. Cafall was a fairly obedient dog and eager to please and he almost always returned to the whistle. The one exception had been when he had gotten stuck in a hollow log while chasing a rabbit at the manor and required help to get out.
Harry grinned as Cafall’s furry tail disappeared in the long grass as he stalked something. He continued his walk about the lake, still musing on his riddle challenge, when he caught sight of a familiar pair lounging up against a tree.
Or at least Duncan was lounging, in his fae form he looked utterly gorgeous and equally unapproachable, due to the small blond witch sitting in his lap. The kelpie had been Luna’s escort to the Yule Ball, and it seemed that Harry and Katie’s attempt at matchmaking had borne fruit. The long-legged water horse was wearing his customary black velvet attire and Luna was dressed, for her, in a more conservative radish colored blouse and silvery gray skirt with her robes over it, since it was cold out.
Luna was laughing up at him, her blue eyes glowing with affection, and Duncan was giving her a smile that could put Eros, God of Love to shame. It was a sweet seductive smile, one that only a fae creature could pull off, and then the kelpie began to sing.
Harry stopped dead, all thoughts of riddles fled his mind after hearing the kelpie break into song.
Like many water fae, Duncan’s voice was superb, in fact no mortal singer could match it, and he had had centuries to perfect it, learning nuances and shades of timbre and pitch so subtle and compelling that any who heard him fell instantly under his spell.
That day he was singing about a girl and a winter’s night, when she went to meet her love to go sleighing down by the pond. It was a lovely piece, and Duncan was singing it with just the right amount of romantic nuance to make any girl’s heart throb. Personally, Harry figured that Duncan could sing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” and people would flock to listen to it. If Duncan ever sang upon the WWN, he would be an instant smash hit.
When Duncan had finished, Luna clapped and hugged him. “Oh, that was just lovely! I swear, Duncan, your voice just transports me to another plane of existence.”
The kelpie grinned and chuckled. Even his laugh sounded musical. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing, little moonbeam?”
“It’s a very good thing,” she assured him. Then she turned her head and saw Harry standing there. “Hi, Harry! What are you doing out here alone?”
“Hi, Luna! Hello, Duncan!” he approached them. “Came out here to clear my head and focus on solving this riddle. But I’m not here alone. Cafall came with me. He’s off tracking something that way,” he waved his hand in the general direction of the trees beyond the lakeshore.
“Aww! He’s such a sweet puppy!” Luna gushed, she loved all sorts of animals, and the misthound was a lovable scamp. Unless he was caught chewing Severus’ dragonhide boots, that is.
Duncan laughed. “All puppies are sweet. Until they grow up into dogs and then they’re a nuisance.” The water horse had never gotten used to the human and High Court fae need to have pets and thought it odd to keep an animal obedient to one’s will.
“Someday I’d like a dog. Or maybe a kitten.” Luna said dreamily.
“But until then, you have me to ride, sweet one.” And with that, the kelpie shifted from his fae form into a glorious black stallion with seashells entwined in his mane and tail.
Harry watched as Luna mounted gracefully and Duncan raced all about the lakeshore, though he did not venture into the freezing water, since Luna would never be able to tolerate it. He smiled, happy to see two of his friends getting on so well. He had been skeptical at first, but now he saw that Luna really was a perfect match for the otherworldly kelpie. Luna had a look of utter adoration upon her face that made her glow as she rode. And Harry was almost certain that it came from loving the kelpie and not from being ensorcelled by Glamour.
Then he continued walking, his brow furrowed as he attempted to decipher the riddle. Normally he was good at such things, but this one . . .this one had him stumped. And it didn’t help that he only had another month and a half to figure it out. The second task was scheduled to begin on February 24th at half past nine.
He came to a spot where a flat rock jutted up between two oak trees and sat down, sighing. He had known that the riddle wouldn’t be easy, nothing in the tournament was, and especially not if a real Sphinx was involved. But he hadn’t expected it to be this difficult either. He put his chin in his gloved hand and re-read the riddle again.
Still the answer eluded him.
Cafall frolicked back to him and lay down atop his feet, panting happily and gnawing a meaty bone Harry suspected he’d gotten from Hagrid. He tickled the puppy’s silken ears and Cafall groaned in bliss, leaning into his hand.
“I sure wish I could figure this out, silly pup. I can almost . . .almost do it, but then . . .” He shook his head, stroking and rubbing the dog till he fell asleep. Then he straightened, scowling. “Blast and damn! Why is nothing ever easy for me?”
:What fun would that be, young Snape?: Smidgen thought into his head. The dreamweaver shimmerling popped into view, her iridescent black coat gleaming in the sunlight, which also made her wings, lavender and turquoise, sparkle as she hovered in front of him. :Well met, Harry! How was your vacation?:
“Smidgen! You’re back!” Harry exclaimed, happy to see the shimmerling again. “My break was wonderful. And you? Were you glad to be back at the Queen’s court?”
:I’m glad to hear that, Harry. You deserve to have a family who wants you.: Smidgen said tenderly. She landed on Harry’s shoulder, her violet eyes gleaming with pure affection, and began to groom herself leisurely, purring. :As for me, the court was the same as always. Full of intrigue and scheming. Titania kept me busy relaying messages about her new fete to her nobles and favorites. She even invited the Winter Queen so she wouldn’t feel left out and cause trouble.:
“You mean Maeve, the Queen of the Dark Sidhe?”
Smidgen nodded. :They may be enemies, but even enemies must be shown certain courtesies. Offending Maeve would have resulted in much unpleasantness and the Unseelie cause too much of that as it is. So . . .I delivered a message to her. I don’t know if she will come, probably not, but nevertheless she was invited.:
“Seems like a lot of bother over someone you don’t like.”
:Ah, Harry. You have much to learn of the way of the court. There is an old mortal saying, copied from my people, that you might do well to remember. “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” Meaning it’s safer to know exactly where your enemy is in front of you rather than worry about her plotting behind your back.:
“I guess so.” Harry shrugged. Right then he didn’t want to dwell on court politics. “Smidgen, do you know of a way I could figure out an answer to this blasted riddle?” He showed her the parchment.
The shimmerling peered at it. :I believe I know the answer, but it would be bad form for me to tell you. You’re smart, you can figure it out.:
“Well, you don’t have to tell me exactly, but . . .could you give me a hint? Please?”
Smidgen considered. :Very well. I can sense you’re frustrated because you can “almost remember” the answer, but it continues to escape you. You know, Harry, there are things your mind knows that it sometimes cannot relay to you while you are awake.:
“What do you mean?”
:I mean that you have the means to solve the riddle, but you must sleep on it. Sometimes your subconscious mind can solve things twice as fast as your conscious one. Do you remember how we walked through your dreams to free you of your nightmares? You might have tried something similar using mortal . . .psychology I believe it’s called, but it would have taken months to achieve the results I did in a few days. The mind is a powerful thing, Harry, and in dreams you may discover things you never thought you knew.:
“So you’re saying I ought to sleep on it and hope for the best?”
Smidgen nodded serenely. :Yes, youngling. That is exactly what I’m suggesting. May the Bright One favor your endeavor. Now, I think it’s time for a nap. Might I suggest you take one also?:
“Now? It’s the middle of the day!”
:So? That’s often the best time.: Smidgen replied, then yawned and curled up in the hollow of Harry’s shoulder, snoozing a moment later, her wings folded along her back.
Harry smiled down at the little black cat, then decided to follow her advice. Smidgen was over five centuries old and she knew the ways of the mind better than any human psychologist ever could. He pointed his wand at the rock he was sitting on and transfigured it into a comfy recliner, so he wouldn’t disturb the winged cat or the puppy napping at his feet. Then he leaned back and closed his eyes. Between Smidgen purring and Cafall keeping his feet toasty, he soon fell asleep.
* * * * *
Smoke of a hazy lavender and gold surrounded him, and he walked forward until he came to the steps of an old Egyptian temple made of white marble and red brick, surrounded by sand dunes and date palms. He carefully climbed the steps, which were guarded by life-sized statues of lions, and entered the temple.
It was lit by dozens of flickering torches and the inlaid tiles of lapis lazuli echoed as he made his way across the antechamber. In the center of the next chamber was a large basalt statue of Thoth, the ibis-headed god was holding a stylus and wax tablet, the tools of his craft. Thoth was the Egyptian god of writing, secrets, magic, and knowledge.
Harry looked up at the statue, which was many times his height, and to his shock, the Thoth statue bent its head and peered at him.
“Greetings, young mage. I am Thoth, God of Knowledge and Magic and Writing. What knowledge do you seek?”
“I . . .um . . .seek an answer to a riddle.” Harry stammered.
“Ah.” Thoth seemed to smile kindly, if such could be said of a bird-headed god. “Write the riddle down upon a tablet and lay it upon my altar. Then make an offering to me. If you are sincere, I shall attempt to decipher your question.”
“An offering? Like what?”
But the statue was silent and Harry continued on past it and into the main room of the temple.
Lamps glowed with oil and illuminated a stone altar upon which had been placed offerings of fruit, bread, ink, paper, styluses, and gold and silver jewelry, as well as clay faience beads and pottery jugs of honey and beer. A large golden platter was in the center of the altar, it was filled with pieces of papyrus, folded.
Harry looked about for a piece of papyrus, and one appeared in his hand. So did a quill. He quickly wrote down the riddle, by now he had memorized it. Then he laid it down in the platter.
Now for the offering. Harry examined the other offerings and thought rapidly. It seemed Thoth valued knowledge. He dug in his pocket and found a small scroll with some potions recipes Severus had given him. He reverently laid it on the altar. “Here. This was given to me by my father, a teacher of knowledge and magic, like you, Great Thoth. May it please you.”
Then he stepped back.
Once again he was wreathed in lavender colored smoke that smelled of jasmine and honey.
When it cleared he was standing once more before Thoth’s altar. It was empty of all save a plain wooden box bound with leather.
The voice echoed in the chamber and Harry jumped.
But there was no one there.
Trembling a bit, he walked over to the altar and drew his wand, mindful of what his father and Phil had taught him about opening strange chests and trunks. He cast a few spells to detect dark curses and traps, like poison needles. The chest was clean.
Only then did he lower his wand and open the box.
A brilliant light shone from it and Harry squinted against the glare. Then he reached within and drew out a piece of paper.
He shut the box and read what was written upon the paper.
Then he let out a whoop of glee.
He had the answer to the riddle at last!
Suddenly, the foundations of the temple began to shake and he turned and fled, running down the steps and out into the desert. . .
* * * * * *
Harry woke still smelling the incense of the temple in his nostrils and he immediately sat up. Cafall yipped as the eager student disturbed him. “Sorry boy, go back to sleep. Gotta Summon something.” He drew his wand and chanted, “Accio Tournament Scroll!”
A few moments later the original scroll soared into his hand. He picked it up and the translated version and wrote the answer to the riddle on the bottom of the translated scroll. “Smidgen, I did it!”
The shimmerling yawned. :Congratulations! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to rest.: She promptly closed her eyes and went back to sleep.
Harry waved his wand and reversed the transfiguration charm on the rock before walking softly back to the castle to find his father and tell him he had solved his riddle. The champions were scored on how quickly they accomplished both the translation and the riddle solving as well as the final task with the Sphinx. They had been instructed by Crouch to report immediately to any judge when they completed each stage of the task. Harry had already done so with the translation.
Harry soon reached Snape’s quarters, he was discussing a potion with Phil, and unlocked the door with the password. “Hi, Dad. Hi, Uncle Phil. Guess what?”
The two Snape men looked up at him. “Hello, Harry. Make any headway with that riddle challenge yet?” asked the master vampire.
“Yes. I think I know the answer.” Harry said excitedly. “I came here so you could see if I was right, Dad.” Harry took the original scroll and whispered the answer to the riddle.
The parchment glowed a soft golden color for a brief moment.
Severus smiled proudly. “Well done, Harry. Let me take the scrolls now and write down the date and time in my judge’s record.” Severus summoned the small tablet that all the judges carried, it was inscribed on the front with a goblet in flames, made of midnight blue leather.
Phil clapped Harry on the shoulder and congratulated him as well, while Severus recorded the information in his log.
“Sparring with your brother in that secret room of yours on the seventh floor,” Phil answered.
“The Room of Requirement?”
“Yes, that’s the one. He was restless and Sarai offered to teach him some new kin-sa-dor moves.”
Sarai had managed to get an extension on her stay from Titania, so instead of leaving on Twelfth Night, she would leave soon after the second task.
“Oh. That’s good. Maybe I’ll go and join them,” Harry said. He had missed sparring with the Queen’s Blade, even though Sarai was a strict teacher.
“Yes, it will do you good to brush up on your technique,” Severus agreed. “Before you get sloppy.”
Harry nodded. “May I go then?”
“Yes. I’ll inform Mr. Crouch of your success. I think you’re the first champion to complete both parts of this task so quickly.”
Harry grinned, then he gently set the sleeping Smidgen down atop the sofa and raced out the door. He couldn’t wait to share the good news with Draco and Sarai.
* * * * * *
February 24th, 1994:
The morning of the second task dawned crisp and fair, and Harry was awake at dawn, too nervous to sleep. He wondered what it would be like to face the Sphinx and hoped that she wouldn’t be too intimidating. Phil had told him that sphinxes were generally peaceful creatures who enjoyed sunning themselves in oasises, and had a love for old books, scrolls, magical tomes, and puzzles of any kind. But they hated those who defiled books and used knowledge gained for harm or tried to destroy knowledge because they did not agree with it.
The Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt had been begun by a young Sphinx named Meron and it had been one of the great repositories of knowledge and magic for centuries. Some said that it still was, that Meron had used his own magic to take the Library out of time to preserve its works and that was why it had disappeared, leaving only rubble. Some also said that only those who loved knowledge for its own sake or had great need could discover the Key to the Library.
Sphinxes were very strong magically as well as physically and could, when angered, cast some very powerful spells as well as tear an enemy to shreds. The old legend of the Sphinx that guarded the path to Thebes who ate any who answered her riddle wrong was partially true. Those who answered wrong and who did not attempt to harm her she allowed to leave unharmed. But those who attacked her, she killed. The young Oedipus not only answered her riddle correctly, he also showed her respect, and so she allowed him to pass.
To this day, sphinxes were respected by most of the wizarding world, though the Ministry did not consider them an intelligent enough species to be granted a seat upon the Wizengamut, and they were classed as Magical Beings.
Harry dressed swiftly and hurried down to the hall for breakfast. He ate sparingly, his stomach was always touchy on the day of a major test and he didn’t want to throw up. Phantom flew down and gave him a small package.
Opening it, Harry discovered a familiar fizzy pink potion and a note.
For your queasiness. You’ll do fine.
Harry rolled his eyes. Then he uncapped the vial and downed the Stomach Soother.
He made a mental note to thank his father after the task was done. Then the doors to the hall opened and the other students filed in.
All of the Gryffindors and some of the Slytherins wore Trust Snape badges and cheered when they saw Harry. The Hufflepuffs just ignored him and cheered Cedric when he walked through the doors. Krum sneered at Harry, surrounded by his Durmstrang crowd and Fleur gave him a polite smile, she liked him because he was quiet and unassuming, unlike the obnoxious Krum.
Then the staff filed in and when all were done with breakfast, Dumbledore led the way out to the Quidditch pitch, where a low stone wall had been erected across the pitch and filled with sand. Reclining gracefully upon the hot sand was a beautiful leonine sphinx.
Harry, who had seen them only in books, found that the reality of the great creature was far more impressive and overwhelming. She was nearly twenty-five feet long from head to tail, her leonine body rippled with muscle and was a tawny gold color. The tip of her tail was tufted and wrapped with a jeweled bracelet of pure gold with Thoth’s symbol etched upon it. Her paws were the size of Harry’s head, and stretched out before in the classic pose.
She turned her head and looked at the procession of champions, her eyes lighting with curiosity. She had the head of an attractive Egyptian woman, long dark hair spilled down her shoulders, she was crowned with a nemes headdress of striped blue and gold, and her eyes were outlined with kohl and crushed malachite, making them seem more luminous and larger. She had high cheekbones and a full mouth tinted ochre.
There was an aura of great age and majesty about her, the air fairly thrummed with magical energy.
Harry stopped dead upon meeting her eyes, which were a brilliant green color.
He only moved when Fleur nudged him in the back.
“She is very beautiful, no?” whispered the witch.
“Yeah. But it’s not only that,” Harry said. “She’s so . . .awesome!” He couldn’t find words to describe the magnificent creature.
Bagman was giving them back their scrolls and translations and telling them to step forward and stand before the sphinx, whose name was Nephthys.
“And mind you’re polite and mind your manners, boys and girls, sphinxes are touchy about respect and you don’t want to make her angry. Understand?”
All of them nodded, in awe of the legend lying just inside the wall.
They filed into the arena, first Cedric, then Harry, then Fleur and Krum was last, as they had been rated previously.
“Greetings, young wizards,” said the sphinx in a musical soprano. Her voice was soft and low, and she had a faint accent, for English was not her first language. “I am Nephthys, and I have been asked to challenge you to a riddle contest. Your task for the Tournament was in two parts—to translate and solve the riddle I had given you and to answer a question or two from me. First, let us see how well you did on the first challenge. Cedric Diggory, step forward.”
Cedric stepped forward, looking a bit nervous. His supporters chanted his name and waved Hufflepuff banners. He bowed before Nephthys. “Lady, here is the scroll I was asked to translate. It was in hieroglyphics.”
“Ah. My native language,” Nephthys purred. “Give me the scroll and read out your translation.”
Cedric handed her the scroll, she took it delicately in her forepaw, which had flexible toes, almost like a human hand. Then he began to read the translation.
“ No legs have I to dance,
No lungs have I to breathe,
No life have I to live or die
And yet I do all three.
What am I?”
Nephthys gave a small smile of approval. “Good. That is essentially correct. What is the answer?”
Cedric moistened his lips, then said, “I think the answer is fire.”
The sphinx inclined her head to him and said loudly, “That is correct. You may stand off to my right. Next I call upon Harry Snape, who is tied for first place with Cedric Diggory. Step forward, Mr. Snape.”
Harry followed Cedric’s example and bowed to the sphinx. “Lady Nephthys, here is my scroll. It was written in ancient Greek and the translation reads as follows.”
He cleared his throat and read in a clear even tone.
“With no wings, I fly. With no eyes, I see. With no arms, I climb. More frightening than any beast, stronger than any foe. I am cunning, ruthless, and tall; in the end, I rule all. What am I?”
Nephthys gave a soft purr of approval. “Very good! And how do you answer this riddle?”
Harry gulped then took a deep breath. He was almost positive he had gotten the right answer. “The answer is imagination.”
His supporters cheered and flashed their badges and waved banners wildly.
Nephthys roared her approval. “Correct, Harry Snape! You also are a fair riddle worker. Go stand next to Cedric Diggory if you would.”
“Thank you, my lady.” Harry said and bowed again before going to stand next to Cedric, who flashed him a relieved grin.
“Fleur Delacour, come forth.” Nephthys called.
Fleur came forward and handed her a scroll. “I had to translate cuneiform, ze writing of ancient Babylon and Sumeria.” She began to read her riddle aloud.
“ I never was, am always to be, no one ever saw me, nor ever will. And yet I am the confidence of all who live and breathe on this terrestrial ball. What am I?”
“Very good, Miss Delacour. And what is the answer?”
Fleur hesitated then said, very softly, “I think there is two answers, Lady. One is ze future, ze other is tomorrow.”
Nephthys looked extremely pleased. “Excellent! You are correct. Once it’s here it is no longer tomorrow but today. It’s no longer the future but the present. Full marks!”
Then she called Krum, who bowed insolently to her. She glowered at him and he paled and gulped. “My translation vas in Aramaic. Here is vhat it said.
The person who makes it has no need for it. The person who purchases it does not use it. The person who does use it does not know he or she is. What is it?”
“Correct. Your answer, Mr. Krum?”
Krum coughed then looked the sphinx in the eye. “My answer is a coffin.”
She nodded. “Also correct.”
The scrolls vanished in a puff of smoke. Then she beckoned them forward. “Come closer, little champions. You have all passed the first of my little tests and shown me that you can use your heads and have the skills necessary to research a difficult subject and persevere in the face of a mental challenge, all important tasks for young wizards like yourselves. But now you must prove yourself able to think on your feet.
“I shall ask you all the same question. You will come up one by one and whisper the answer into my ear. There is only one correct answer, if you give a wrong answer you shall have fifteen minutes deducted from your next task, which will be to find that which you love best. Those who get it right shall have fifteen minutes added on to your original hour. You will note, each task I have given you is in two parts, that is deliberate as this is your second challenge. Are you prepared? Good.”
Nephthys’ green eyes gleamed. “What is a wizard’s greatest power besides the magic that is your birthright?”
Hi everyone, sorry I haven't updated this lately, but there was Thanksgiving and then I got started writing two other stories, The Apothecary Knows Best with RaeKelly and my newest Animagus fic, Moon Fire, I think I'm addicted to them, with Severus and Harry. They are both posted on ff . net. Check them out if you'd like!
Anyway, in case you were wondering, I got all the riddles and their answers from a very helpful website. And the sphinx Nephthys--her name means "woman of the temple precincts" in ancient Egyptian.
Like this second task, it will be in two chapters, the finale of it is coming up next chapter.
Meantime, see if you can guess what a wizard's greatest power is besides magic.
Thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed this and stuck with me! And congratulations to those who answered Harry's riddle correctly, you rock!