Thank you again for all the reviews! This wraps up this part of the story, "An Artifice of Copper and Tin." I'll be posting the next part, "Phoenix at Sunrise," soon.
Chapter Five—A Breath of Hope
Minerva grimaced as yet another Howler exploded in front of her. This one was ranting and screaming about how she had no right to keep a son from his parents. Minerva cast a spell that destroyed the parchment so completely that it wouldn't be able to scream anymore, and leaned against the back of her chair.
She didn't regret her decision to take Wychard Medwyn under her protection, but at times, it was rather loud.
Malkin sat up abruptly, snapping his tail behind him, so Minerva faced the door. She sighed when Amelia Bones stepped through, smoothing down her robes and holding the door so that her silver tiger could follow her. There would be a reason that Madam Bones had walked through the school, where people could see her in her official robes, rather than entering by Floo. Minerva doubted she would like the reason.
Amelia didn't waste time in either sitting down or coming to the point. "How many students have claimed sanctuary with you under the Heisenberg Laws?"
Minerva grimaced. "Ten." Most of them were those who feared their parents would get upset about the mark of artificiality on their familiars, as Wychard had been, and at least three were from the Medwyn family. But there were also three Muggleborns who feared their parents might hurt their familiars, if they could find them.
That had been an unpleasant surprise.
Amelia nodded. She didn't seem startled, more resigned. "Then you know that we will have to conduct an investigation into their circumstances and see whether they do have just cause to fear their parents."
"You can't remove them from my custody if they've chosen to be there, even if you conclude they don't."
Amelia lifted her hands. "I know, but we'll have to mount the investigations anyway." Her mouth worked as though she'd bitten into a sour fruit. "And…what Mr. Potter did has found some advocates in my department."
"What do you mean? Marking familiars as artificial?"
"Rather, rooting out all the ones who are. There's a contingent now demanding we remove Albus from the Dream Labyrinth and check his familiar."
Minerva shivered. On the one hand, that was what should be done, given what she had learned about the process Albus had probably used to make his familiar gold. On the other hand… "You realize that he's a danger to Harry if we remove him before his punishment is complete?"
"And to many others, it seems now. I don't know what his game was with being aware of artificial familiars and never calling anyone else's attention to it, but I don't like it." Amelia shrugged. "So far, I've been able to delay. No one else has ever been taken out of the Dream Labyrinth before the named punishment was completed. Either they recovered and came out on their own, or they died there. But my opponents are arguing that this is an unprecedent situation, and they may be able to inflame enough of the Wizengamot."
"To do what? Overturn laws regarding the Dream Labyrinth?"
"To demand that I release Albus or step down from my office. And I think it would be disastrous if I lost control of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement now, Minerva. Utterly disastrous."
Minerva's fingers tightened on the arms of her chair as she considered both Harry's situation and that of her new charges. Even Malkin leaping up on her shoulder and rubbing his head against her cheek didn't help much. "I understand."
"So I'm not going to be able to give you as much help as I wish I could, given the situation around the damn Dream Labyrinth." Amelia sounded disgusted. She leaned back with a long sigh. "I hope that I'll be able to count on your support."
"Good. I'm glad that you're Headmistress of Hogwarts, right now. Someone needs to be who has the best interests of children in mind." Amelia stood up and walked towards the door, her steps clomping as though she was marching to war.
Amelia looked back at her from the door. Phantom stood next to her, fangs bared as if ready to charge into battle on his witch's behalf.
"Remember that Hogwarts is a sanctuary for those in need."
Amelia blinked, then smiled faintly. "I'll remember that. Thank you, Minerva."
She closed the door behind her, and Minerva sighed as two more owls flew to her window with Howlers. The one advantage of the custody arrangements was that, as she had told Wychard, all Howlers would be delivered to her. These, she half-listened to, while her mind spun and focused on the future.
She would tell Severus about Albus potentially emerging from the Dream Labyrinth. If Albus managed to escape, Harry was his most likely target, and Severus, if he stood to protect Harry, might be the second.
Severus prowled back and forth slowly, his breath rounding in his lungs with the same steady pace. He glanced at the potion he had bubbling in a copper cauldron, nearly at the end of the first stage, and then looked away.
Shadowstriker glanced up at him from his corner near the fire, where he was basking in the warmth. When he was in this state of agitation, Severus found it impossible to carry his familiar.
The potion abruptly stopped bubbling, and a charm that Severus had had ready let out a quiet chime. Severus stepped up to the edge of the cauldron and began to stir, his eyes narrowed a little against the heat.
The potion thickened around the stirring rod, turning from clear to gold, nearly the color of Amortentia. Severus let his eyes follow the motion of the stirring, becoming near-mesmerized.
All he had to do was alter the direction of the stirs, and the Clarity of Mind Draught he was preparing for the hospital wing, which was used to soothe students suffering from shock, would become a poison so potent and undetectable that few people realized it existed. Perhaps only Severus, among brewers in Britain. The ancient book he had found it in certainly hadn't been mentioned by anyone else that he was aware of.
He could use the poison on Albus, and then he would no longer be—a problem.
In the end, Severus closed his eyes and stirred in the right direction. The gold color of the potion faded, and it once again assumed the transparency that betokened a Clarity of Mind Draught in mid-creation. Severus tossed in a handful of mint leaves and backed away to leave it until the end of the second stage, automatically setting another alarm.
He sat down in his chair and stretched out his arm. Shadowstriker came coiling over to him at once, and flowed up his arm to his shoulder.
Severus stroked his silver scales, and stared into the fire, and thought. He had too much, now, to risk losing it because he wanted to kill Albus. He had his vows to Harry, and Slytherin House, and the chance to figure out what was going on with the Dark Lord and possibly end his threat, repaying him for Lily and defending Harry at the same time.
And given what he and Minerva knew about Albus's familiar…given the mark the phoenix might bear if and when they removed him from the Dream Labyrinth…
Severus found himself smiling, hard and unforgiving. Shadowstriker touched his head to the edge of Severus's mouth, because it was one of those smiles he liked to see on his wizard's face.
Seeing Albus humiliated and broken of power and the adoration that so many people had for him would be better than seeing him dead.
Severus leaned his head against the back of the chair, and began to plot.
"I worry that this might not be safe," Julian was saying behind him as he and Harry got out of the Ministry lift.
"Would you believe this kind of news if someone owled it to you, though?" Harry walked a little faster so that the lift doors wouldn't close on Golden's tail and hurt him. "Sometimes it's annoying that you're so big," he told his familiar in Parseltongue.
"I'm big because I need to be."
Harry would have argued the point, but Julian was frowning at him. "Why wouldn't Madam Bones believe it? I did."
"Not until I came and argued it to you, though. You didn't really believe it until then."
Julian flushed. "I was—well, yes, I see what you mean." He turned towards the door of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement with a sigh. They were only in the outer corridors, and they had curious people staring at them, Harry saw. "Madam Bones will understand when we come in without an appointment, I hope."
Harry grimaced and nodded. He hadn't wanted to owl Madam Bones both because he thought an owl wouldn't convince her and because he thought she might be important enough that someone else would read her post to decide what to pass on to her. Harry wanted to make sure that she was the only one who heard about the hope to do with artificial familiars.
He'd created a problem with his marking of them. He hoped this would sort of make up for it.
They hadn't got all the way to the office at the back of a twisty little corridor before an Auror stepped in front of them, a tall woman with a copper cheetah standing next to her. "Who are you?" Her eyes said she knew, though, with the way she stared at the scar on Harry's forehead and Golden. "Do you have an appointment?"
"We were rather hoping that Madam Bones would have a moment free to see us," said Julian, in his snootiest voice. Harry reckoned he would have to learn to imitate that voice, even though he didn't want to.
The Auror looked at them for a second. Then her eyes fastened on Harry's, and she let out a gasping, whistling breath. "Wait here," she whispered, and turned and hurried towards the door that was probably Madam Bones's.
People were whispering about him now, Harry saw. He tried not to hunch his shoulders, because Golden and Julian and Professor Snape and Hermione all thought you shouldn't show your discomfort in front of people. But it was hard.
Golden looked around for a long moment, his tongue darting out to scent things. Then he leaned towards Harry and said, "I don't see anyone with an artificial familiar here."
"They're probably at home until the Ministry can decide what to do with them," Harry muttered back, and ignored the gasps at his Parseltongue, too. Julian frowned a little, but things were already changing so fast that Harry didn't think he would make them worse by reminding people of Voldemort a little. "It's too bad. Maybe Madam Bones will summon someone with an artificial familiar so we can show her the bond. Can we show her the bond?"
"Yes, I'm confident I can make it visible to someone else."
They didn't have time to discuss anything else, because the Auror with the cheetah at her side came racing back. "Please go ahead," she said, gasping a little and staring at Harry with worshipful eyes that made him blush.
He tried to pretend he didn't see her, and just walked into Madam Bones's office with Golden beside him and Julian behind him.
It wasn't all that bad, mostly because he'd seen her before. Phantom stood and came over to touch his nose to Golden's. Madam Bones, however, looked at Harry with an exhausted expression. "Have you brought me more bad news?"
Harry wondered what bad news she'd heard. He stood straighter and said, "No, Madam Bones. I think it's very good news, actually."
"What is it?"
"I might have a way to heal the artificial familiars so that people who have them can have real bonds with them."
Madam Bones opened her mouth and kept it open. Phantom paced back to her side and looked up at her in what seemed to be real concern. That at least made Madam Bones close her mouth. "How did you discover this?"
"I went to meet someone with an artificial familiar, and asked her to cast some magic. Then I saw a hint of a bond between her and her familiar when she did it. It wasn't very strong, but we might be able to make it stronger."
"A hint. Might," Madan Bones said, and then turned and looked at Julian. Harry was just as glad. He needed people to believe him, but it got tiring when they wanted him to be a perfect person and have answers all the time just because he had a golden familiar.
"I've studied Harry's method, and it seems sound to me," Julian said smoothly. He left out the part about it being reverse Forbidden Arts. Harry had to agree that that probably wouldn't sound too good.
"And you couldn't have found this before you started marking artificial familiars?"
Harry blinked. He hadn't thought of that. "Sorry, Madam Bones."
Madam Bones stared at him, then shook her head. "I'm the fool, for expecting an eleven-year-old to have a grasp of all the nuances," she muttered, which didn't really make sense, but Harry didn't think it had to. "All right, Mr. Potter. I'll arrange for you to meet with someone with an artificial familiar and show us this bond. But honestly, it would probably be better to be done in front of a full session of the Wizengamot, and they're busy debating the release of Albus Dumbledore right now."
Golden hissed and Julian roared at the same time, making Harry flinch a little. Golden noticed and looped his head around Harry's waist, but he was still staring at Madam Bones with disbelief. Harry stroked Golden's head and felt some of the same.
"Yes, it's—not something I wanted, but not something I could prevent without losing my position." Madam Bones sighed and ran a hand through her grey hair, then stopped as if she thought that made her look weak. Harry was trying to be more alert to what made people look weak, now that Julian had started teaching him about politics. "They insist that we have to check if his familiar is artificial."
"But you have testimony from his brother that it is."
"I know, but that's not enough to convince some people." Madam Bones glanced at Harry. "And I worry about what will happen both if we remove him from the Labyrinth before his punishment is complete, and what will happen if Mr. Potter's spell didn't reach far enough to mark Mr. Dumbledore's phoenix as artificial."
Harry just shook his head. He didn't know. He had thought about marking familiars as artificial, but not about what would happen to people in particular places. "I don't know, Madam Bones. Sorry."
Madam Bones closed her eyes and muttered a word that sounded like the ones that adults didn't want Dudley to say, then nodded and stood up. "All right. I'll arrange a presentation to the Wizengamot as soon as possible, Mr. Potter. In the meantime, perhaps you can make sure that you're not wandering around by yourself or taking any other chances? Just in case Dumbledore is released and gets away from us."
"I can't believe that you can't do more to restrain him," Julian said, in a voice that made it sound as if he was the Parselmouth here.
"He is still goldenborn—"
"No, he isn't!"
"Until we see the proof that his familiar is artificial, most people will still treat him that way," Madam Bones said, and Phantom punctuated her words with a growl. "I'm sorry, Mr. Potter. But that is the way it is. Prepare for an enemy who may still want your destruction, and prepare for the presentation to the Wizengamot."
She gestured towards the door, and Harry understood that the appointment was over. He nodded to Madam Bones and walked out with Julian, who was swearing softly under his breath. Harry listened in interest until Julian noticed him and stopped.
"Well." Julian swept his hand through his hair. "We'll need to think about what to do. And...I'm sorry, Harry, but we have to think of your safety before anything else. That might mean you need to stay under Hogwarts's wards for the time being."
Harry nodded. He didn't like to think of Dumbledore getting loose and coming after him, but he had to. "What about the demonstration in front of the Wizengamot?"
"He'd have to be mad to attack you there, assuming he's out and escapes by then," Julian said, and grimaced. "He is mad, is the problem, at least if the Dream Labyrinth hasn't finished working on him." Julian stared at the wall for a second, and then nodded. "I'll escort you back to Hogwarts, and I'll take you to the Wizengamot when they call for you. We'll establish a code that only the two of us will know."
"Okay," Harry whispered. The weight of everything was sinking in on him now. Dumbledore might get out, and then he might hurt Harry and Golden. Or maybe he would kidnap one of Harry's friends and hold them hostage? Harry had seen something like that on the telly once.
Golden writhed gently against his side, and Harry slid his arm around his snake's neck. He knew Golden was there for him. He knew Golden would always do his best to keep him safe.
It was just…so much harder than he'd thought it would be at first.
But I suppose that's life, Harry thought, and squared his shoulders, and followed Julian back towards the Floo.