The meeting was in full swing by the time Crookshanks arrived that evening. Gambit was doing lookout duty, and let him pass without challenge.
“… can’t imagine what he was thinking!” Hephaestus growled, “Fawkes, he dug a huge hole in my pet’s flower garden, without asking me what I thought about it!”
“I thought it would send your pet in search of my pet, that’s all,” Swift explained. “How was I supposed to know Ivy was so attached to those flowers? Besides, the ground is very soft there. Just perfect for digging.”
Gambit stuck his head in the door. “Oh dear, yes. There’s nothing quite like it.” He trailed off as Fawkes gave him a glare. “Right, right. Back to my post and all that.”
The phoenix whistled once and the room quieted. “Things have been less than successful thus far, obviously.” He looked around. “I’d like to hear from each of you what problems you perceive, and your plans to counter those problems. Trevor and Cassandra?”
“Mobility,” Trevor supplied.
“What he means is, we toads aren’t as mobile as we’d like.” Cassandra amplified. “With our pets being in different Houses, it is difficult to arrange ‘accidental’ meetings.”
“Neville is planning to study in the library tomorrow, rather than the Common room, so Cassandra is going to try to get Hannah there as well.” Trevor concluded. “We think that studying together would be a good start.”
“Excellent. Swift and Hephaestus?”
Hephaestus gave his partner-in-crime a disgusted look before replying. “We – Swift and I – need to come up with a plan together rather than acting independently. I don’t know his pet that well – Filius spends most of his time up in Ravenclaw Tower when he’s not in class.” He fluffed out his long grey fur.
“And Ivy spends her time in the greenhouses,” Swift added. “The only time they’re in the same part of the castle is at meal times.”
“Work with that,” Norris volunteered from her overstuffed chair. “Filius is ever the gentleman, and this might appeal to Ivy. Get them to start sitting next to each other.”
The phoenix nodded. “That’s an excellent idea, Norris. How are you and Topper coming along?”
“Badly, in a word. Fawkes, our pets are the same age, but they have nothing – absolutely nothing - in common. Argus is rarely in the hospital wing of the castle, unless he’s patrolling. He says he can’t stand the smell of medicines and sickness.”
Topper nodded and clicked his beak in exasperation. “And Poppy thrives on it. She’s right. We’ve no idea where to begin.”
“I’ve got an idea for you!” Swift gave them an evil borzoi grin. “Trip Argus so he takes a header down the stairs and has to stay in the hospital wing for a few days. They’ll get to know each other that way.”
“I’d rather not resort to that unless we get desperate,” Norris replied, grinning in spite of herself. “And I’m not sure it would work even then. We were thinking of making a mess in the hospital wing, and arranging for Argus to have to clean it up.”
“A formidable challenge,” the phoenix nodded sagely. “But I trust we’ll work it out in the end. Thjalfe and Thunder?”
The two tomcats exchanged looks. “Our biggest obstacle,” Thunder finally said, “is that Lucius is not well liked.”
“You’re being overly kind,” his partner interjected. “Most of the other humans hate him. They tolerate him only because Albus trusts him. Xia thinks Lucius is a menace still. It will be difficult.”
“Play the sympathy card,” Shadow suggested from where she was curled up on top of an old bookshelf. “He lost his first mate. Xia might feel sorry for him.”
“That might work,” Thunder agreed.
“If you can get him on a broom, Xia will notice him,” Thjalfe said. “She loves nothing better than flying. She needs a mate who can challenge her in her element. If he can help her coach Quidditch, so much the better!”
“Lucius played Quidditch when he was in school,” Thunder mused. “He’s got a broom in the back of his closet.”
“There, that wasn’t so painful, was it?” Fawkes asked. “Who’s next – ah, Crookshanks… where is Duster?”
Crookshanks cat-smiled. “We arranged for Severus to give Hermione a detention this evening, and we deemed it best that one of us keep a watch on them during it.” He flattened his whiskers out. “We had some help from Macavity, Chang and Trevor.”
“A detention? Do you think that will work?” Erasmus asked. “Justin hates it when he gets a detention. It just doesn’t seem like the right setting for…”
“Romance?” Macavity snorted. “Try generating romance in Slytherin House and see what it gets you!” He shook his ratty yellow-brown fur. “Severus is a realist, just like my Millie. You won’t convince him to use candles and soft words.”
“I’m glad Justin’s mate-to-be is in Gryffindor then,” returned the Russian Blue. “There is nothing civilized about dungeons!”
“Familiars, please!” Fawkes trilled. “Crookshanks, you were saying?”
“The two problems we know of are the age difference and the fact that she’s his student. Both are self-correcting with time. Our plan is to lay the foundation this year by having them spend time together so they get used to the idea.”
“This is Hermione’s seventh year, isn’t it?” Shadow asked.
“What’s she planning to do after she leaves Hogwarts?”
“She was talking about moving to London…” Crookshanks trailed off as Shadow’s meaning sunk in. “Blast. That completely slipped my mind. I’ll talk to Duster about it, and we’ll figure something out.”
“Excellent work, Crookshanks,” Fawkes said. “Shadow and Erasmus, how are your plans coming along?”
The black and silver tabby tucked her feet under her and spread out her whiskers. “We have the same difficulty as do Trevor and Cassandra – our pets are in different Houses. We believe that we can arrange for them to meet in the library – accidentally, of course.”
“Our goal is to have Justin ask Lavender to the Halloween Ball,” added Erasmus. “We have three weeks until the ball, so he should ask her in the next two weeks.”
“He’d best not dither,” replied his partner. “Lavender is expecting to be deluged with invitations. If nothing else, I’ll hide any that come via owl to her room.”
“Excellent idea! Perhaps we should all attempt to have our pets go to the Ball together?” This suggestion was met with various expressions of disbelief. Fawkes tilted his head to one side. “No? It was just a thought. Ah, Chang and Macavity, I believe you are the last.”
Chang’s whiskers twitched slightly. “After aiding Crooks today, it will be interesting to see how our pets deal with each other.” He repeated the exchange between Theodore Nott and Millie Bulstrode during their Potions class with some glee. “I believe he does care for her, but has no idea how to show it.”
“Millie doesn’t care for traditional ideals of romance,” Macavity said. “She’s not terribly upset. It’s the first time any male has paid any sort of attention to her.”
“It sounds like your partnership is progressing marvelously.” The phoenix nodded approvingly. “We’ll meet here tomorrow night, as usual.”
Severus was sitting at his desk, muttering sulphurously at the four neat piles of essays waiting to be marked when Hermione Granger tapped on the door of the Potions classroom precisely at 7:00. Duster was stretched out on top of the cabinet in the Potions classroom where Severus kept his personal supplies. The cabinet was nearly seven feet high, made of ornately carved black oak. As long as he didn’t stand up, he would be hard to spot. He swiveled his ears forward and listened. She wasn’t alone; he heard a second set of footsteps.
She stalked in, eyes flashing although her voice was controlled. “Sir, I’m here for detention.” She shut the door with perhaps a trifle more force than necessary and crossed the room to stand in front of Severus’ desk.
A flitting shadow had entered behind her. Duster’s claws flexed in anger. That Potter human, hiding under his invisibility cloak. He’d shred him if he got in the way.
Severus raised an eyebrow. “You don’t believe this is fair, Miss Granger?”
Hermione opened her mouth, and then shut it again. A moment later, she spoke. “Sir, it’s your right to give me detention.”
“Ah, you begin to learn discretion. I have no doubt that your first thought was something on the order of ‘no, it’s not fair’.”
She paused. “As I said, sir, it’s your right.”
“Excellent. I see no point in wasting your time or my time having you perform tasks best left to menials. So you will not be scrubbing cauldrons or restocking the supplies cabinet, or anything else of that nature. Instead, you will be researching an entirely new potion.”
Her eyes lit up. “What sort of potion, sir?”
“How much do you know about Animagi?”
“They’re relatively rare – perhaps one percent of the wizarding population is an Animagus. They are supposed to be registered with the ministry – a description of the type of animal and any identifying markings. I personally expect that there are many more unregistered Animagi than the Ministry knows about. As for the transformation itself, it has its basis in Transfiguration of course, but a strong knowledge of Charms is also considered necessary to effect the change. There is also a potion which can unlock the ability, but its effectiveness is doubted.” She stopped for a moment, and then went on. “I think that the potion is perhaps only effective on people with the potential to become Animagi.”
“What leads you to that conclusion, Miss Granger?”
“According to the article in Lapis Philosophorum, the potion was tested on only fifty volunteers. No criteria were applied to selecting the test subjects, and the methodology was disorganized also. When trying to verify the efficacy of a potion, you would need to test hundreds of subjects. Fifty is statistics of small numbers. Sir.”
“Lapis Philosophorum? Why on earth were you reading that tripe? The Daily Prophet is better written and more accurate.” He looked up at her. “Sit down, Miss Granger.”
She sat. “It’s the only periodical about Potions that the library carries. I thought it was badly written, but it was better than nothing.”
“You’re wrong there, Miss Granger. Misinformation can often be worse than nothing. Try this instead.” He opened a drawer in his desk and removed a thick book bound in reddish-brown leather. On the spine, in plain black ink were the words Double, Double v1-15.
She took the book and gave one disbelieving glance at the title. “Shakespeare?”
“That is where the name comes from. The original editor, Ewan MacDonnell, was an avid reader of The Bard along with being one of the most innovative Potions Masters the world has ever seen. His son Isaac, who took over two years ago, has maintained all the family traditions.”
She wasn’t listening. She’d opened the book and was flipping through it. Then she looked up. “This is a compilation, isn’t it.”
“Of sorts. That is the first fifteen years in one volume. I think you will find it more useful in your current task than Lapis.”
Hermione started. “I’m sorry, sir. I forgot.”
“Obviously. Now as you may have surmised, your task is related to the subject of Animagi. In their animal form, they can understand humans perfectly, but cannot speak to them. Nor can they speak to other animals or transformed Animagi. Research the possibility of creating a potion which will resolve these difficulties.”
Her eyes went blank for a second, then took on a far-away look. When they focused again, she seized a quill and blank roll of parchment and began scribbling furiously. Severus watched her for a moment, nodded to himself, and began marking essays.
A few minutes later, Severus’ head came up sharply. Miss Granger was still bent over her desk, covering parchment with various notations. But there had been another sound behind the scratching of their quills, a sound like cloth on stone. His teeth bared in a feral grin as he idly set down the essay he’d been marking and picked up his wand. If it was one of the few Death Eaters still at large, said Death Eater would be in for a nasty surprise. These last few months of relative peace had allowed him to rest and recuperate. “Omnia Visio,” he whispered.
His gaze swept the room under the influence of the All-seeing Eye spell. No Death Eaters. Just… his grin grew even more feral… just Mr. Potter, crouched under his invisibility cloak near the supplies cabinet looking a little trapped. As he watched, the boy shifted again and the cloak rubbed against the stone wall. Severus looked at Miss Granger again, wondering if she knew Potter was here. Probably not, he decided.
When Snape stood up and strode over to the supply cabinet as if to retrieve some ingredients, he saw the big black tomcat. “Duster, what are you doing in here?” He picked up the cat off the cabinet and leaned against the door, effectively blocking any chance Potter might have of escaping.
Duster turned on his purr and rubbed his head under Sev’s chin. It appeared that the evening was going well in spite of the presence of the other young male. His pet scratched him behind the ears, and Duster’s purr intensified, making Hermione look up and stare.
“Have you never seen a cat before, Miss Granger?”
“Yes, sir, but I’ve never seen you with a cat before. He’s beautiful.”
“He’s very stubborn, like some Gryffindors. Very good at being places he’s not supposed to be – again, like some Gryffindors.” He transferred Duster to his left shoulder, the cat riding there with practiced ease. “For example...” Severus shot out one long arm and snagged the invisibility cloak off Harry’s shoulders.
“Harry! What are you doing here?”
“I, um, I was keeping an eye on you.”
“Mr. Potter, you are out past curfew, and you certainly don’t belong in my classroom at this hour.” He rolled up the cloak and tucked it under one arm. “I suggest you return to your dorm immediately.”
Harry glared at the professor. “Give me my cloak again, and I’ll leave.”
“I think not, Mr. Potter. You may have it back at the end of the year, none the worse for wear.”
“It’s not yours!”
“I’m confiscating it. Students don’t need invisibility cloaks.” He shifted again, looking down from his full height. “Ten points from Gryffindor, Mr. Potter. If I have to tell you again to leave, I’ll make it fifty.”
“Bugger off, Snape. Who cares about House points anyway?”
“Cursing at a teacher. What would your parents say?” Harry glared. Hermione gasped. Snape went on, thoroughly provoked now, “You’re a selfish arrogant prat who can’t see past the end of his nose, just like James. You are a disgrace to this school, Mr. Potter. You may consider yourself expelled from my classes. Now get out!” The last sentence was almost roared.
Harry left, slamming the door behind him, but not before he heard Snape’s final jab. “And fifty points from Gryffindor.”
Duster decided he’d better intervene. If the girl said anything to Sev while he was in this temper, he’d take her head off. He turned on his purr again, and sank his claws into Sev’s shoulder deeply enough to draw blood.
Severus yelped as Duster clawed him. “Stop that, ingrate!” He extracted the cat's claws from his skin carefully. This took a few moments, and by the time he looked up to meet Miss Granger’s eyes, he had regained his self-control.
“Professor…” she began, “I’m sorry Harry followed me here tonight. He’s got this idea that I need to be protected. He’s lost so many people that he cares about, that he clings to the ones who are left.”
The Potions Master started to reply sharply, but thought better of it as Duster’s claws pricked him again. Evidently the tom had decided to be sensitive to raised voices tonight. Instead, he sighed wearily. “I believe we are foredoomed to disagree on the subject of Mr. Potter. Now, how is your research coming?”
She squeaked and looked at the time. “Sir, this is far too complex a task to complete in one evening. It will require some weeks of research, and more of experimentation before it could be deemed anything like useable.”
“So should I give you detention for the rest of the year?”
Hermione looked up at him horrified, only to see the smile that flitted over his face for a moment. “No, sir, I would not enjoy that at all. But…”
“I need to do a research project this year, and couldn’t decide between Charms, Transfiguration, or Potions. Researching and creating this potion would involve all three. Could I do this as my research project?”
Severus thought about it. He’d meant to have her do only the tedious initial research, which he would then apply. But if the silly girl wanted to do the whole thing… “Very well, Miss Granger. But these are my terms. First, your friends are not invited to attend.” She nodded. “Second, you will conduct no experimentation that I do not approve and supervise. You will have your experiments properly thought out in advance, and you will notify me of any unusual ingredients that you might require.” He raised one eyebrow. “Boomslang skin, for example.”
She turned red. How had he known she was the one to raid his stores? And was that the hint of amusement in his voice? But he was continuing.
“Thirdly, we will meet every two weeks to discuss your progress. This is, of course, in addition to any time you need in the lab. You will also potentially have to arrange time with Professors McGonagall and Flitwick, if you wish the benefit of their expertise.”
She nodded again, glad that he hadn’t remarked on her blush.
“Lastly,” now a definite smile was hovering in his voice, “you get the pleasure of informing Professor McGonagall that she is going to be our test subject.”