By ones and twos, the Familiars made their way to the old storeroom that had hosted their meetings throughout the year. Fawkes had asked that they all attend. For some, this would be their last meeting; their pets had finished school and would not be coming back. Despite the success of some of the pairings, the mood was somber.
“Hannah is completely caught up in the excitement of going home,” Cassandra said in answer to the phoenix’s query. “Despite all our efforts, she does not believe that Erasmus’ pet is at all interested in her.”
“That isn’t Justin’s fault,” Erasmus interjected a bit angrily. “He is too much the gentleman to force his attentions on her.”
“Then he needs to be less of a gentleman,” the toad answered. “Hannah isn’t a Legilmens, you know.”
“I’ll get him to write to her over the summer and invite her for a visit.”
“That would be a good start,” Fawkes agreed. “Remember, you two must continue to work together. Thus far, only one of our pairs has actually begun to produce offspring.” Thunder and Thjalfe tried unsuccessfully not to smirk at his words.
“It’s a pity humans only give birth in ones and twos,” Macavity mused aloud. “Think how much easier this would be if they had litters of five or six the way we cats do.” He scratched an ear. “Millie and Neville have already planned to open a business together. Trevor and I will encourage them to begin producing offspring within the next year.”
Shadow sighed as the phoenix looked at her. “Lavender is planning to return to the school in the fall as an assistant to Professor Trelawney. We had hoped that she would make a match with Chang’s pet, but…”
“Ted is going on a year-long trip to Australia,” the Siamese finished. “And if he likes it there, he may not come back.”
“We should be able to find someone for Lavender,” Fawkes pointed out. “After all, there will be several new students here. As long as they are not her students, there would be no difficulties with school rules.” He sighed. “That does leave Chang at rather loose ends, though.”
“Just make sure your pet has a miserable time,” Topper suggested, clacking his beak thoughtfully. “Misplaced portkeys and faulty Floo connections would be a good start. If you’re careful, he might even come back early.”
“There is one other bit of news,” Hephaestus remarked into the pause that followed the macaw’s words. “That Potter human’s mate is planning to return here in the fall. While we have no direct access to him, we should try to encourage that relationship as well.”
“Is there anything else that needs our attention?” Fawkes asked.
“One item, not directly related to our plans,” Duster answered. “We need to get rid of Peeves if we are to make any progress over the summer with our pets. He is a disruptive influence.”
“What would you propose? An Exorcism or Banishment would be rather difficult to cover up.”
“Get your pet to do it, Fawkes,” Crookshanks suggested. “He’s got the power. We’ve been lucky so far that Peeves hasn’t figured out what we’re doing. But that one ghost does know, and she might tell him.”
“If you can get him into a closed space, you could put a Containment on him,” Swift pointed out. “That would be easy to cover up.”
“I have an idea,” Norris said with a wicked feline grin that stretched her whiskers out to their full length. “Introduce Peeves to the Sidhe.”
The summer passed uneventfully enough from the Familiars’ point of view. Their pets were busy revamping the castle and its supporting spells to manage the expected additional students in the fall. Topper and Swift were pleased that Filius’ mastery of Charms brought him to Poppy’s attention when it came to rearranging the newly designed Infirmary. The two were spending much time together discussing it; it was a positive start.
The day before the students were to arrive, the handsomely engraved invitation arrived by owl in the storeroom where Snape and Hermione were gathering supplies for the upcoming classes. “Another wedding?” Snape queried as his assistant cum apprentice skimmed the parchment with a mixture of consternation and amusement.
“The fifth one this year,” Hermione confirmed. “So far there’s been Albus and Minerva, Harry and Ginny, Argus and Ivy, and Lucius and Xia. I also heard a rumor that Filius and Poppy are engaged, but no one knows for sure.”
“Who’s the happy couple? Miss Brown and Mr. Nott?”
“Neville and Millie. But it’s quite oddly written.” She handed him the invitation. “Read it for yourself.”
Mr Neville Longbottom
and Miss Millicent Bulstrode
request the honor of your presence
at their life-bonding
to be held at the stone circle
on the Eve of Hallows
Come ready to dance and sing!
“A life-bonding? I wouldn’t have expected that,” he said, raising one eyebrow.
“Is that something special,” Hermione asked, once again reminded of the vast gulf between the Muggle world and Wizardkind. “I thought it was just a fancy way of saying ‘wedding’.”
“It’s an ancient rite, one that hails from the days of Merlin, from the most ancient roots of what we call magic. It’s much more than a wedding. It’s a… joining of souls. It’s very rarely done these days, as it’s not something that can be undone. Most couples want the option of breaking up, even if they never intend to exercise it.” He put the parchment on top of the cabinet and selected two vials from its top shelf.
“I wouldn’t want that option,” Hermione muttered under her breath as she scooped beetle-legs into a glass jar.
“You might change your mind at some point,” he reminded her. “Besides, I hate the idea of being compelled – no matter how pleasant.”
“I know.” They’d been appalled at the extent to which the Familiars had controlled and manipulated them. But Duster had been right; they understood the chaos that would erupt if it were to become common knowledge. A bargain was struck: the cats would no longer manipulate them, and they would keep the secret. They would all work together to scuttle the current project and devise another one that would account for all the time spent. Their project had become the standardization of the brewing of Cantor’s Concealment, and their latest round of tests was cooling in their private lab.
And that was all well and good. But despite assurances to the contrary, Snape was convinced that his feelings for Hermione had been engineered by the two cats. Thus he refused to do anything about them. And thus she found herself completely frustrated.
Snape hadn’t missed the frustration in her flat tones. He wasn’t blind to her disgruntlement. But until he was sure that his feelings were his, and hadn’t been imposed on him by their Familiars, he refused to take their relationship beyond its current stage. “She’s still young,” he told himself. “She’ll understand soon enough.”
As the two humans left for the classroom to begin their day, the two cats roused themselves from under the cabinets and stretched. “This is getting us nowhere,” Crookshanks groused.
Duster swatted at a dust mouse that had attached itself to his ear. “They’re attracted to each other. Severus is just being stubborn. It’s only been a few weeks since they found us out.”
“A few months,” the half-kneazle corrected, the tip of his tail lashing. “Fawkes isn’t happy about it.”
“At least our pets are still together, which is more than can be said for some.”
“There is that.” The phoenix had not been pleased when he’d learned that Hannah Abbott was engaged to a Muggle, despite everything Cassandra could do to persuade her otherwise. This had left Erasmus’ pet at loose ends as well, though the Russian Blue was doing his best to find another appropriate partner.
“What we need is for someone else to tell him that he is not under any sort of compulsion. Someone he respects. But since most wizards have Familiars, he will immediately assume that anyone who tries to convince him has been manipulated and is no longer trustworthy.”
“That lets out everyone at Hogwarts,” Crookshanks said thoughtfully, looking at the invitation. “What about this upcoming ceremony? Will anyone be there who could possibly convince Severus that his feelings are his own?”
“Trevor or Macavity would probably have an idea of the guest list.” Duster sat up and began cleaning his claws. “We’ve been limiting ourselves to humans in and around Hogwarts. We simply need to expand Severus’ horizons.”
“Have you seen Duster?” Snape asked. “I haven’t seen him since breakfast.” They were in their lab taking advantage of their last free day to do some more work on their project.
“He’s probably somewhere with Crooks,” Hermione answered a bit absently, her attention fixed on the jarvey shinbones she was carefully grinding into powder. “I haven’t seen either of them this afternoon. They’ll probably show up for dinner tonight and give us smug expressions when we ask where they’ve been.” She considered the contents of her bowl and began grinding again.
“No doubt they’re planning something nefarious,” the Potions Master grumbled, reaching for a clean knife. “Where did you put that box of shrivelfigs?”
“It’s in the Student Storeroom. Lefthand shelves, on the bottom with the other items that came in this week and haven’t been unpacked yet. I was planning to do that this evening. And we still haven’t received the ambergris we ordered a month ago from Piggle Potion Supplies. I sent them an owl expressing our joint displeasure.”
“Blast. That leaves me at something of a standstill.” He rose. “I will go put away supplies then. Do you need me to bring you back anything from the storeroom when I return?”
“Alligator tears. In the blue jar…”
“… fifth shelf, in the back. Yes, I know.” Snape went down the corridor to the storeroom. He threw open the door and stopped dead in his tracks. The room looked like a hurricane had hit it. Several hurricanes. Not a single jar or bottle remained upright. Indeed, two of the shelves were tumbled over, their contents pinned beneath them. The floor and lower part of the walls were covered with an unholy mish-mash of common-to-rare potion ingredients and shattered remnants of their containers. "Hermione!"
It was only a moment later that she was beside him, staring at the mess. "What happened?"
"I haven't a clue. I haven't even a clue where to begin on cleaning up."
"At least it's just the student stores. If it was our private stores…" she let the sentence trail off, thinking of the potential for explosive interactions.
He shuddered at the thought. "Heaven forbid!"
She studied the wreckage and drew her wand. A few careful Charms righted the shelves and put them back in their proper places. She heard him muttering spells as well, and millions of tiny shards of glass drifted up off the floor and out into the hallway where they began reassembling themselves into jars, bowls, vials, and other containers. "I can't use Reparo," he said, in answer to her questioning look. "I don't want those fragments flying around in here. Too much chance of one of us getting hit."
She cast more Charms to clean the shelves thoroughly, even the ones that hadn't been overturned. "So we've salvaged the jars. What about the contents?"
"I think everything's a loss," he replied, taking a long look at the splattered mess on the floor. "Too much chance of contamination."
Hermione hmm’d in thought. “Between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, we should be able to replace most of the common stock – enough to get through the next two or three weeks. And by then, we should be able to replace the rest of it. Assuming Piggle Potions Supplies can keep to their delivery schedule.” The last sentence was said somewhat waspishly.
Snape began returning the reassembled glassware to the newly cleaned shelves. “Albus isn’t going to be happy about the additional expense. Scourgify the floor, would you?”
She cast the spell, pleased to see that the bulk of the mess obediently vanished. Two more repetitions, and the floor was … nearly pristine. She stared at the shiny stone surface. “Severus, do you see anything odd here?”
He paused in his work and looked where she was pointing. There was a large blurry black and orange stain in the center of the room. “It’s obviously the result of the mishap.”
She reached for the stain and jerked her hand back as it moved. Intrigued, Snape knelt down to examine it more closely. The stain shifted and separated into two distinct parts, one orange and one black. The black stain oozed across the floor until it was under his knee. The orange stain slid over to Hermione and coiled itself into a figure eight around her feet.
“What in the world?” She took a quick step to the left. The stain followed. Snape rose and strode across the room, unsurprised to see the black stain oozing along after him. A few moments of quick experimenting showed that the stains would follow them anywhere in the storeroom, but wouldn’t – or couldn’t - cross the threshold.
“As curious as this is,” Snape said finally, “we’ve not the time to investigate it. We need to let Albus and Minerva know about the accident and make arrangements for restocking – and that will have to be done today with the students arriving tomorrow.”
“I’ll make a list of what we need to get through the week, while you speak with them.” Hermione summoned a quill and parchment. “I’ll go to Hogsmeade if you’ll go to Diagon Alley.”
By dinnertime, the student stores were more or less replenished. As Hermione had thought, they could at least get through the next ten days without having to resort to assigning essays.
“Not that essays are a bad thing,” she finished, “but practice is what they need.”
Snape leaned over the table and steepled his fingers. “Practice is well and good for the lower grades, but the NEWT students need to be challenged. They need to learn to think.”
Hermione bit her lip in thought. “What about having a class where the students discuss the subject matter? For example, assign them to read up on the uses of beeswax and then talk about it the next class session. We’ll learn right away who will do research and who is just memorizing the text.”
“That’s a thought. And were we to throw out bits of misinformation during the discussion, we’d see if our students are the dunderheads they usually are.” He gave her a Slytherin smile. “That could prove quite entertaining.