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Blood and Gold

Chapter Text

In which a Butler is concerned, a young heir mourns, a runaway wizard is hunted down and Captain Jack Harkness watches a video.

This was a different kind of silence, Butler thought, staring at the ceiling. He was accustomed to silence, just not this type. Fowl Manor had never been a place for noise, not even when young Artemis was just a child. He had been a quiet boy, always looking at the world with calm, observant eyes. Eyes that now were dark, held a shadow that had never been there before. It scared Butler. He turned on the bed for the thousandth time. Yes, he thought, the Artemis he knew could be hard and cold, logical to the point of cruelty, but rationality always guided him. Purpose always guided his actions. That was the reason Butler knew he could trust him. And that was why this new darkness was so wrong, and this horrific silence was killing him slowly. The enormous house felt old, eerier than it ever had been; broken, like a shattered clock. He could not take it any longer. So Butler left his room, the room that had always belonged to him since he started serving the Fowl family, and went searching for Artemis.

The worst part was that Butler didn´t know how to help, or even if he could do it. How do you make one's father death a not-so-bad experience? He wanted to laugh at himself. He wanted to crush something. Anything was better than this silence. Could he have prevented the tragedy? He felt like he should have. But it had all sounded so perfect, one more of the twisted and brilliant plans of Artemis Fowl. One clever trick more to be played. The boy was born for greatness. So when the time came, they all followed his scheme. Help the fairies in Paris, destroy the goblin rebellion, go to the Arctic, challenge the Russian Mafyia, beat them in their own game and take Artemis Fowl senior back home. It should have worked. They had been so close…

With victory at hand, Butler had heard hope and grief in his young charge's voice when he saw his father on the ship´s deck; had seen the fierce determination in his face when giving orders at the critical stage of the plot he had orchestrated. And he had seen the tears, real tears of relief, that flowed down his face when he thought, for a precious moment, that his father was safe. Real emotions, so rare to witness in his young features. Then everything came crumbling down. Blood and madness, and someone screaming in the frozen night. Red and white Butler shuddered at the thought. Fear. He couldn’t remember when was the last time he had been so terrified of something. Maybe that time when Madame Ko left him in the mountains to fend on his own when he was just a teenager. Even the memory of that night threw him off-balance. He didn’t like it. He was a weapon. Weapons should not hesitate.

Artemis was not in his bedroom, despite the early hour, but that was hardly a surprise. The door was open, and the grey light of dawn shone through the curtains that shivered on the ghostly breath of the morning. One window was slightly opened, and the bead, empty. Butler left the room. In all his days of service to the Fowls, he had never been troubled by their sometimes spooky manor. It wasn’t the cold; he had suffered worse. It wasn’t the darkness; the day was about to break. It wasn’t the old, old feeling that the manor exuded in moments like this; he knew every part of that house by heart. It was the combination of all, and the silence, that defeated silence, that was driving him crazy. How much longer was this going to last? Was it even possible, at this point?

In the days following their return from Russia, the young master had been unable to sleep and had haunted the manor like a ghost. His eyes were empty, and all his answers to any questions that Butler could ask sounded hollow and distant. The only real thing in his world seemed to be a yellowish paper envelope, that was clutched forcefully in one of his hands. He did not cry. Butler had been expecting him to let go of his cold composure, half dreading it, half hoping for it. What could he say to a boy who had seen his father killed in front of him? But the wall of ice around Artemis never shattered. It wasn’t right. A son should cry for his old man, even the criminal masterminds. The only external sign of mourning that Artemis had allowed himself was wearing black, every day since they returned. A gesture that no one in the house besides Butler, could understand in all its magnitude. For them, Artemis Fowl senior had been dead for a long time.

That winter had been especially hard, as if trying to match the mood of the boy, and in those days, of shadow and cold, the ice in Artemis’ eyes, in his voice, in his entire demeanour, only grew. By the middle of February, Artemis had gone back to a resemblance of order. He ate and slept regularly again, but never stayed in bed more than five hours. Around the same time, he started to tinker with the stolen fairy technology again. Until one day, he locked himself up in his study. That same week, the books started to arrive. Old, dusty volumes, bound in leather and of ancient appearance; dozens of them, crossed the gates of Fowl manor. Treasures like those could not be found in online stores. Artemis had to have been pulling his strings, convincing, coaxing and blackmailing the owners of the private collections of all Europe. The spark that had been absent for so long, returned to his eyes. The sharpness of his gaze was there again, but it was not the same. Had he been any other, Butler would have thought that he had lost his mind. Things being as they were, he knew there was more to it.

In front of the door of Artemis study, Butler stopped, a hand in the air, ready to knock. Lately, it had not made any difference whether he entered unannounced or knocked for half an hour, waiting outside for an answer that never came. Three seconds later, he entered. The place was in complete disarray, with books and sheets full of scribbled notes all over the desk and chairs. From a rainbow of coloured markers sticking out of most of the books, to the unstable towers of volumes that stood in the way, everything indicated a feverish research. Butler looked around for a moment. It was so unlike his master… And he wasn’t here either. Where was he? Butler needed to talk to him. Artemis hadn’t really talked to him since the Arctic. No words seemed to reach him. Mrs. Fowl and Juliet had both noticed it, and each of them had tried to get and explanation from Butler. He had told him nothing. That duty he would not fail. He had already failed enough. After thinking for a moment, Butler concluded that there were only two remaining places in the house in which Artemis could probably be. Almost dreading the first option, Butler reached the great staircase and went down. To his relief, the piano room was empty too. He couldn’t have bear it. The heart-wrenching music that Artemis would play since the Arctic. Not today. Last option then.

Outside was cold. Spring was just around the corner, but there was still a chill in the air. Butler did not care. His training had prepared him for much worse. Instead, he headed for the northern walls. When he reached the top, Artemis was there, staring at the lands of his family, his face inscrutable as ever.

-Artemis…

Butler frowned at the sound of his own voice. Hoarse, sad, concerned.

-I know, old friend- said the young master, turning towards him. -We need to talk.

Butler felt a wave of relief. The darkness was still there, in his charge’s eyes, but today it was diminished, tamed. Maybe there was hope.

-Your mother is worried -was the best he could manage. - She thinks you need to see a doctor. You have to talk to her again, help her believe you are not going mad.

-Aren’t I?

Butler supressed a shiver.

-No. Of course you are not.

-How can you tell? You have seen me. I can’t sleep, I barely eat. I haven´t gotten out of the manor in three weeks. And all I do is read… volumes of forgotten lore.

His voice had been almost playful at the end, but still sounded frayed. Butler frowned again. That phrase was part of a poem, that much he could tell, but right now he was not interested in riddles.

-You have a reason. Artemis Fowl doesn’t do anything without good reason. Much less spend his money on a whim. And I know it is somehow related to that letter your father gave you.

Artemis flinched at the mention, but held Butler’s gaze. There was the shadow, but it had been momentarily vanquished at least. The mind that it had tried to cloud was too brilliant. Butler wished he could put his thoughts to words. Tell Artemis that he has sorry, that it was not his fault what had happened in Russia. That maybe there was no one to blame, except perhaps himself, for not being good enough. After a moment of silent regard, Artemis expression softened.

-Your faith in me is greater than my own.

With a sigh, the young heir tuned north, to the green fields, as if he was pondering what to say next. Butler did not know how to react. All this hesitance was uncharacteristic of Artemis Fowl. The youth pulled a very worn, very handled paper out of his black coat’s pocket.

-This letter was in my father’s power, the day of his… rescue.

Artemis spat the last word as if it burned him. It probably did.

-He said things then and there, that I could not bring myself to believe. Things about our family… about me, that sounded too outlandish, even for myself.

Butler wondered what kind of secrets had Artemis Fowl senior revealed to his son in his last moments, that were capable of shocking him. After all, Artemis had deduced and accepted the existence of fairies, magic and aliens when he was still a child. Was it a conspiracy, a betrayal? The map of a hidden treasure, a shameful family secret? Had Artemis Fowl I had an illegitimate son? Butler asked. As if he was hesitant to answer, Artemis run his slender fingers over his hair. It had been a while since he had cut it, and the ink-black strands of the front were long enough to cover his eyes. His eyes were now fixed on the folded paper in his hand.

‘He doesn’t know if he should tell me.’ Butler realized, more hurt than he would have expected. ‘Does he think I can´t handle it?’

-He said I am a wizard.

Butler blinked.

-What?

Artemis walked to the boarder of the wall and rested his weight over the stone parapet. Was this his new idea of a joke? His incredulity must have shown, so Artemis elaborated.

-He said that all the family was magical once. Purebloods, they seem to have been called. And he gave me this letter, saying that it had arrived the day of my tenth birthday. I have read it over a thousand times, I know every sentence written on it. You may read it if you want.

He offered the letter to Butler. The letters were written in emerald green ink, but that was the most mundane thing about them.

HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY
Headmaster: ALBUS DUMBLEDORE
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)

Dear Mr. Fowl

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please note that despite your young age the Ministry has issued an especial permission to allow your attendance. You will find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on September 1. We await your owl by no later than July 31.
Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall,
Deputy Headmistress

What to make of that? Butler wasn´t sure. He wasn’t sure of anything anymore. Most people thought fairies were… well, fairy tales. Butler knew they were very real, and very dangerous. But, wizards? It was a little too much. Artemis was still talking.

-My father said he intended to tell me everything as soon as he returned from Russia. He regretted that the legacy of the family had been kept from me, and wanted me to learn. This was the only other option, apparently.

-You have been trying to find them- it dawned on Butler. -The wizards. That is what the books are for.

-Yes. The way my father referred to them, and the writing on the letter both imply the existence of a magical community around us. But where would they be? How would they hide? And why? There had to be traces of them, but not in our modern history. If they exist, modifying it must be one of their top priorities. So I had to get access to an unaltered record of the past, concerning the supernatural. Unfortunately, the best source, old volumes written by monks and scholars, are not available to the public, and the owners are not eager to lend the most valuable pieces of their collections.

-Yet you managed to get yourself quite a large number- pointed Butler. Artemis looked pleased with himself.

-I have contacts. The evidence is there, Butler, if you know where to look. Hints of this magical humans, that remain consistent over the centuries. Once you recognize the patterns, it becomes easy to tell which authors were lying and which were telling the truth. It seems some of them encountered or came across people with mystical powers, and the explanations they give for some gaps in historical events appears at least plausible, once you accept the hypothesis. This is basically, how I deduced the existence of the fairies in the first place. The critical step seems to be the suspension of disbelief, then all it takes is rationalizing the information and making the appropriate connections between the dots.

Butler nodded, thoughtfully. Despite the wind, he felt a warm sensation in his chest. This was more like the Artemis he knew. Explaining the unexplainable, dissecting the wildest reality into facts and reshaping it with logic.

-But how could they hide, Artemis? -he asked. -The cover of the fairies I can understand. They live far away from humans, and avoid us all the time. This supposed magicians live between us. How come nobody has noticed? Not even the internet?

Artemis looked at him with sharp eyes, as if he was expecting the question.

-That puzzled me too, at first. I don’t have a complete answer, not yet. There is a lot of curiosities in the internet, about magical sightings and paranormal things, most of it a ruse, but some is real. Wizards should be a trend if they live so near to us, yet the web is strangely silent. For now, my theory is that these wizards do not interact much with non-wizards, and avoid our technology, like cell-phones and digital cameras. Interestingly enough, there is a fair share of old photographs of them.

-Do they appear in your books?

-If I didn’t know you, Butler, I could mistake that for humour. No. They are all over the internet, as curiosities. I must say wizards seem to have had a preference for old fashioned costumes.

Butler shook his head. He was having a hard time believing this, reality had never been kind to him. Still, Artemis was the most convincing person he knew. If he thought that wizards were real, they probably were.

-Very well. Let’s say these magical individuals exist. That doesn’t make you one, Artemis. Have you ever used it? Casted a spell on something? And I knew your father for half his life. He was as normal as you and me, maybe a little more.

-You are right. The letter demonstrates that some of these… people thought that I had magic, not that I, in fact, possess it. But even if I do not, I have to solve this, find the truth. If I ever want to… Just think about it, Butler. People with magic. Imagine the possibilities.

The resolve in Artemis’ voice was evident. Butler knew better than to argue. And this time, he could feel, his young charge’s need run deeper than curiosity, even though curiosity could be a very strong incentive with Artemis Fowl. He was trying to make sense of the last words of his father. Maybe this could bring him closure. Maybe this could bring him back. And so, the path to follow was clear.

-What are we going to do?

Artemis’ mood brightened. He had been afraid of him refusing, Butler realized.

-While I was, ah… convincing some of the previous owners of the books, some of them mentioned that they had been forbidden to exhibit their properties in museums, share them with the public or lend them to private investigators. I would suspect a secret wizard government, but the descriptions of the agents sent indicate that they were British agents. We must assume that at least some of the British authorities know about this, and be careful. I would not want to disappoint any of the detectives at the Interpol by being caught for a national security matter. Furthermore, we need to find this magic people, without them or the government noticing anything until we have learned the true nature of the game. We are in disadvantage as long as we remain ignorant. Let’s see. How to find a member of a closed community that doesn’t want to be bothered and make him tell us all their secrets?

Butler knew the answer to that.

-We send the dogs after an outcast, secure him and scare him until he is singing every song he knows.

-I’m glad to see you haven’t forgotten anything.

A recrimination. Of course Butler had not forgotten. He was a Butler, and they were the best at what they did. The Fowl penchant for crime, constant thought the generations, had ensured that they learned how to deal with the lowlifes from Hong Kong to Dublin.

-This will be dangerous, Artemis. Are you conscious of the consequences that the return of the Fowl name to the underworld will have? Your father worked hard to get out.

-I am fully aware of the potential repercussions.

Butler stared at Artemis. His point got across.

-Yes, I know -said the youth, after a few tense seconds. -My father wanted to go straight. It wouldn’t have lasted, we are Fowls. And anything that he intended to do, anyone he intended me to become, it doesn’t matter anymore.

There it was again. The darkness. Artemis’ tone had become sharp as a knife. The cracks became noticeable.

-Very well – said Butler. -But before you give the order, remember that your father was a good man, Artemis. Maybe he had a good reason to live that life behind.
The gaze of Artemis hardened, but he did not move.

-Send word to our contacts at the Irish mob and the British firms. Fowl is looking for a gifted, probably spoken of as a wizard, and wants him delivered with maximum discretion. Two million pounds.

- I will see it is done, but Artemis, I have one condition.

Artemis looked almost impatient.

-What is it?

-You have to do something, besides reading those books. When your mother awakes, go to her. Talk to her again. She misses you. Remember that she mourned too, perhaps too much.

Artemis turned away. Maybe he shouldn’t have said that. When the Fowl Star sunk, and Artemis’ father was declared dead, Angeline had fallen into depression and had been driven mad with grief. Magic had been necessary to restore her. But in all those years, Artemis had refused to lose faith, firmly believing that his father was still alive. He had been right.

-How can I look her in the eye, Butler? -said Artemis, quietly.

‘It was not your fault.’ Butler wanted to scream. Maybe he would have, if he didn’t know the futility of the action. Hell, he was still trying to wrap his mind around what had happened in Russia. Some days it seemed like a nightmare. Who could have expected the events unravelling that way? The creatures that had appeared in the frozen land, red eyes, iron teeth, inhuman… No, some of them had been human, he forced himself to remember, he had taken down two of them, seen them bleed. Red on white. And if such magic was real, if Artemis was right again… then the sudden attack in the Arctic could mean something completely different of what they had been led to believe. Something other than a fortuitous attack from wild creatures. That was it, he realized. Nothing was going to stop Artemis from going after this magical hidden world, not if he suspected it could lead him to his father’s murderers. And Butler knew what he had to say.

-Look at her as someone who will find the truth about her husband’s death, and made them pay.

At this, Artemis glanced at him, with surprise. For a brief moment he looked like the boy he was supposed to be.

-I… I will. Maybe it is time to consider a new project. There is this idea I’ve been considering, about the possible applications of the fairy tech. If I combine…

Butler, listened, trying to follow the exposition of his charge while they made their way down the walls. He gave up after a couple of minutes, but it sounded great, and dangerous. Then again, this was Artemis Fowl. It was good to hear his mind work. Butler felt good. The silence had been defeated, for now. There was a new mission, and he was a man of action. While Artemis had breakfast with his mother, he drove to Dublin to deliver the request of the Fowl family: a breathing wizard, preferably not too battered. He hummed inside the car.

Artemis kept his word. He organized his study, had his meals with Mrs. Fowl and even spent some time with Juliet, learning to wrestle. This meaning that Artemis spent a lot of time being thrown to the ground, as the blonde girl demonstrated over a hundred ways to take down a guy. He still wore black, refusing to acknowledge any insinuation about changing, and still had trouble sleeping, but it was obvious that he was recovering from the traumatic end of the Arctic incident. Butler was pleased.

Artemis continued working with the fairy tech, alternating between that and his research on wizards. And one day, that mischievous glint, so characteristic of him, returned to his eyes. He had a new plot. That probably meant danger. Butler would have liked to ask, but he knew the young genius would only reveal his ingenuity when he deemed it timely. As expected, some days later, Artemis summoned him to his study. When he showed him what he had been working on, and explained how it worked, Butler couldn’t help but being impressed. His charge had outdone himself again. This was beyond any piece of technology he had ever patented. Butler felt a shadow of something akin to pride. Then he remembered himself his place.

-… once I solved that problem, everything fell into place -said Artemis, finishing his lecture. -Some of the fairies are very crafty indeed, but nothing I can’t handle. And now, this little cube is the most advanced digital device that you will find above ground. Once it reaches the market, it will tear to pieces Phonetix, Fission Chips and any other tech company you can think of. It is worth fortunes.

Butler grunted, preferring not to give any spoken answer. That sounded like a hell of trouble.

-I already made some calls- continued Artemis. -Some powerful people in the tech market are interested. However, I’ve singled out my man, the others are just smoke. We will be meeting by the end of March. This deal will contribute greatly to the family fortune.

Butler was confused. Was he missing something?

-Are you saying you are going to sell…

-The C-cube -provided Artemis.

-the C-cube? It doesn’t sound like you.

-Absolutely. I am not selling anything, but our American millionaire is assuming that I will. Let’s keep him in the dark for now.

Butler nodded once. It was not the first time Artemis had made profit from the stupidity of businessmen. Nevertheless, millionaires were dangerous, especially when they felt they had been played.

-What will you ask for?

-You know the family motto. Aurum potestas est.

Of course. Artemis was very fond of gold. A family trait, apparently.

-Do you have a meeting place?

-Not yet. I will inform you in advance. I would not like to keep you from doing your job.

Butler grunted again, grateful. Sometimes the cryptic side of Artemis, always hiding his plans, even for him, took its toll on his nerves. When he looked at the boy again, he noticed something. Artemis´ gaze was lost somewhere in the bookshelves. In his usually calm face, there was a hint of unrest. In all the years he had known him, literally his whole life, Butler had never seen that expression on Artemis, when he was plotting. In those moments he was in his element, always present and full of energy. But now, it just wasn’t enough. He would not be satisfied, Butler remembered, until he had solved the mystery of the magic humans.

-Well then -said the bodyguard. -Any chance you are going to tell me what you intend to do with this cube?

Artemis came back, and looked at Butler.

-Not for now. This requires more work. Don´t worry, in the next month it should become obvious.

It didn’t. If Artemis had considered the work ready to be seen by Butler, it meant that he had finished his invention. Thus, the majority of his attention focused on the books he had acquired once again. By that time, he had already gone through half of his collection. He kept reading, determined to unravel the secrets they held. Slowly, the volumes he studied became fewer and fewer. The towers of old books that were no longer of interest for him where left to Butler to carry to the basement. Sometimes he thought the C-cube venture had left the mind of his charge, but then Artemis would suddenly go into his lab, to make small changes to his prototype. Then he would return to the books.

Every day he asked Butler about his contacts in the underworld, and everyday Butler told him that they hadn’t found anything, subsequently trying to redirect his attention to other subjects. He only succeeded momentarily. Butler could tell Artemis was yet to find a gate into the world of the magicians. He feared that there was nothing to find, and that the youth was chasing a rainbow. Although, he forced himself to remember, Artemis had indeed found the proverbial pot of gold in his first discovery of a hidden civilization. They started traveling, to places as mundane as the old neighbourhoods of New York City, Berlin and Paris; and places as strange as the Valley of Kings in the Egyptian dessert, the Orkney Islands and the city of Charkhlik in China. During this expeditions, Artemis and Butler would explore locations that the Fowl heir had pointed in a map. Butler would make sure they were not interrupted, and Artemis would take notes. In the return flight he would often study them in silence. Butler was sure this trips served to confirm or discard Artemis’ theories on human magic. Nevertheless, he did not share his thoughts with him. Butler did not mind. He could hardly be of any help in this research, and he was busy maintaining his charge and himself alive. Let’s say some Arab chieftains held long grudges, and some New York art dealers didn’t like competition.

Mrs. Fowl regarded the sudden urge of Artemis to travel as a result from the death of his father, so she didn’t try to stop him. She even encouraged him. Somehow, in between the investigation and the expeditions, Artemis found time to steal a historical diamond from an Italian rich, whose family had stolen it some centuries before; revive some of the old alliances of the Fowl family in the American underworld, and sell the Mona Lisa to an upstart dictator in the Middle East. For a couple of weeks, it almost felt as if everything had returned to normality. Butler dared to hope. It was useless of course.

One bright June morning, the telephone in the old office of Artemis Fowl I rang. That was the old business line. It had been silent for years. Dreading what may follow, Butler answered. Attending that line at all hours was part of his responsibilities. A raspy voice greeted him from the other side.

-Hello, Butler. I see you are still kicking around. How come you now work for a kid?

-Cox. I didn’t know you were still in the islands. I heard the Garda made a deal to catch you- answered Butler, in a relaxed tone. He knew the man. Few men were as devious as him, and even less could inspire the same amount of respect he got from criminals and thieves. He did not play around either. He had called for a reason.

- I got a new arrangement now, working for Mr. Brown in London. Good man. He would like to speak with you some day.

-I already have a job.

- He could give you a better one. Come on, Butler. I know you; the Bear of Kiev does not belong in a palace.

- Does this conversation have a point? I never thought you were a talker.

-Oh, I do have a point. Glad to see you are still there, friend. Don’t get mad at me. Turns out me and the boys have a new Acquisition. We found the wizard for your kid. I suppose now he can have his birthday party. Should we agree in a delivery point?

Butler was dumbstruck for a couple of seconds.

-You have him?

-Right here. A bit of a lunatic. We found him in a dirt hole in Glasgow, drinking himself to death, you know? But he is a gifted, no doubt. He fought when he was drunk, that’s how we found him. Scared a couple of the boys who were in Glasgow to collect.

Could it be true? A real wizard. Butler had seen strange things when travelling the world in his youth. Many of them he could not explain. He had run into a handful of people with strange capabilities. Gifted, they had been called. But wizards? Butler had listened to Artemis’ theories for months, but a part of him was not fully convinced yet. On the other hand, Cox only called if he was thoroughly sure that he had the right man.

-Do you still work with your old team?

-Same old bunch of bastards, but some are gone. The blasted guards got them.

-Then come to the manor. You and Harding have been here before.

-Don’t want anyone messing with your business, eh? – Cox sounded suspicious. – Is it true that the kid Fowl wants in again?

Butler frowned. What could he say? That his charge was indeed going to get involved in the criminal underworld against his better judgement? That he didn’t think that a thirteen-year-old should have anything to do with that kind of life? He grunted.

-I thought so -said Cox. -The boss will not like it.

Butler had supposed as much. When Mr. Fowl had announced his intention of cutting ties with the criminal world, many had celebrated. The departure of a crime lord always meant opportunities to escalate, climb the ladder of position within the firms. The return of the Fowls was definitely going to be perceived as a threat for the new leaders. Butler concentrated in that problem. That was one he could understand and solve, not like the wizard. He concerted a date with Cox and hung the phone. Then, he headed for the study.

Artemis was at his desk, absorbed in a voluminous tome in Latin, when Butler entered. He rose his hand, with his thin index finger pointing at the ceiling, and continued reading for a moment. After writing some notes in one of his investigation notebooks, he rose from his leather chair and looked at Butler.

-What is it, Butler? Has the CIA found something they can actually accuse us of? -he joked. His hair was still somewhat long and it gave him a juvenile air, in contrast to his pitch-black Armani suit. When Butler told him the news, his eyes widened and a feral smile, the one that could unsettle even a parliament member, appeared in his lips.

-Alas -he said. -The real game has begun. We are lucky that mother is still in Belgium. Check all our security systems, we have to be ready for our guests.

When Cox and his companions arrived to Fowl Manor, they found it exactly as Artemis wanted, an imposing fortress ready for battle. Such effect was difficult to achieve with minimum personnel, but the omnipresent cameras and the high tech security did the trick. When they finally arrived to the hall where the young heir was waiting, more than one was already intimidated. Butler felt a little relief at that. Many of Cox’s new people were inexperienced, if things turned to worse, he had an advantage. Artemis was sitting on an old wooden chair, full of baroque carvings. His attire was impeccable and his whole demeanour reminded the one of a vampire. Time for business.

Cox’s gang stood close to each other on the other side of the hall. With the veterans in the centre, they advanced towards Artemis and Butler. Two of the more muscular men, were in charge of a tall, scrawny man with a bag covering his head. He didn’t speak, but he was twitching feebly, and the sounds that came from under the fabric told Butler that he was most likely gaged. When the bounty hunters were at an adequate distance, the bodyguard grunted and showed them the metal grip of the gun concealed in his suit. They stopped. Their prisoner was thrown in the floor in front of Artemis, and when he tried to crawl away he received a brutal kick in the stomach.

-Here it is, master Fowl- said Cox. – Your gifted. Called himself a wizard. He wasn´t easy to capture.

Artemis regarded him, unimpressed.

-Do you have any proof of your words? I am not paying two million pounds for some hobo you found on a Glasgow gutter.

-He killed two of Brown’s boys that were drinking in the same bar as him. The others were there and still don’t know how he did it. Scared the hell out of them, poor boys. They say he shouted a word. We tried to recover the corpses but the bastard had burnt them. If your order hadn’t been sent, we would have killed this son of a bitch, to teach him a lesson. No one does that to the people of the boss.

- So you tell me I should give you the money, because a group of petty collectors say he killed a couple of them in an unknown way, while they were very drunk? That does not seem like a good argument to me. And no one can really say what happened, because this man disposed of the bodies. The only thing I know is that he is a pyromaniac.
Cox frowned. Butler remembered that he had never really met Artemis. He was not going to be that easy to convince.

-When we went to get him, he set the bar on fire, on an instant. That should not be possible. Besides, we have several witnesses of him declaring himself a magician, when he was very drunk. And we found this, in his possession. It was not easy to take it from him.

Cox slid his hand under his coat. Butler took out his Sig Sauer on an instant and aimed. Two seconds later half a dozen guns were pointing at his chest. He knew he shouldn’t have trusted Cox. That new Mr. Brown must have send him to kill Artemis. Butler prepared to shoot and run, knowing that with the first sound of gunfire the security system would be triggered and start incapacitating the hostiles. But in that moment, Artemis raised his hand and time stopped.

-Let us not lose our heads before time. What did you take from this man?

With slow movements, Cox pulled his hand out of his pocket. In his hand was a thin, crooked wand, made of wood. Butler didn’t low his weapon, but he glanced at Artemis. For an instant, he saw a flicker of triumph in his charge’s eyes. What did that mean? He looked down at the man on the floor. The supposed magician was very still, listening.

-You can lower your gun, Butler. Mr. Cox found what we asked for.

As he did as he was told, Butler felt the relief that invaded the men in front of him. Good. When it came down to a fight, reputation could make you win half the battle, or that is what Madame Ko, his old sensei, used to say.

Artemis stood up and approached the Acquisition. He extended a hand, and after a short moment of doubt, Cox gave him the wand.

-Take off the hood.

After an instant of doubt, the nearest thug pulled the bag of fabric from the man’s head. He didn’t look like a magician, but then again, Butler was not sure how a magician should look. Robes and pointy hat? Probably not. The man was pale and gaunt, and there were dark circles under his bloodshot eyes. The cheap suit he was using was too big for him and his dark brown hair was a disaster difficult to believe. A black string of fabric, painfully tight, prevented him from talking. He was surely an outcast, desperate and dangerous. Butler wondered what he had done to be expelled of the magical society, besides setting things on fire, of course.

-Now take of the gag.

-Not sure if that’s a good idea, kid. He said those weird words when we got him too.

-I think you forgot who you are talking to, Cox -said Artemis, with a voice cold as ice. -My name is Artemis Fowl II, and your payment has been reduced to one and a half million pounds.

A wave of new unsettlement rushed through the room. Butler cursed inwardly. ‘Artemis, don’t pull any games on the subject of a hunter’s payment’. How many times had he told him that?

-He can´t do anything right now. Take. Off. The. Gag.

And once again, Artemis made a miracle. A dozen of muscular men, who had been told they would not get their money by a thirteen year old, remained silent, and did as he told them to. When the gag was removed, the man gasped and coughed. Artemis made a gesture, and Butler handed him a glass of water. But when he approached the magician, the man backed away suddenly. Butler tried to conceal his bewilderment. And then he saw the man’s expression. He saw madness, confusion, fear, and suspicion, all at once. That man was dangerous, but he was afraid of the young master. Why?

-Fowl? -he said, with a raspy voice. -Your name is Fowl?

He never lost sight of his wand. Looking back and forth between it and Artemis.

-That is right. Artemis Fowl II, and you are?

The man narrowed his eyes, but after a moment answered:

-I suppose it would be stupid to try to hide. I’m Selwyn. Roger Selwyn.

Artemis offered the glass of water again, and this time Selwyn took it. While he quenched his thirst, Artemis turned towards Cox.

-I suppose everything is in order. You can go now. Your payment awaits you at the door.

-Two million pounds as promised, right young master?

-One and a half. You disrespected me. And be grateful that I didn’t call the Garda. They are still looking for you, you know. And Butler has friends everywhere.
Cox clenched his fists. Butler wondered how fast could he take him down. He used to be tough.

-Shall I tell everyone that the Fowl’s heir does not hold his word? That he is not only a child but a liar as well?

- You can say whatever you want, but they -Artemis pointed at the other bounty hunters- saw what happened. You insulted me because I’m young. Two times by now. I say I’m being generous by giving you this much money.

Butler saw the others nodding and he found himself doing the same. Under the rules of the underworld, disrespect towards the crime lords did not go unpunished.

-So you are reclaiming the rights of your family -said Cox. – Blood will flow for this, Fowl.

-Is that a threat?

-A warning.

-I am aware of these new bosses you lot have now. You will find soon enough that they are no rivals for me. Say hello to your Mr. Brown. Tell him that his Torchwood file was a very interesting read. As was yours.

And then, Butler saw something he thought he would never see. Cox paled, without words. Butler frowned. He and Artemis had agreed that they would not tell anyone that he had managed to get inside the files of country’s most secretive security organization as of yet. It had happened when Artemis was sure that the government dealt with the magicians through them. They didn’t. But the information they had accessed was worth a fortune.

-How do you…? How could you know that?

-Ah, you see, Mr. Cox, I happen to be brilliant. Good afternoon.

After that, there was nothing more to say. Cox and his people left the hall. They would get their money once they were out of the manor. Butler saw them leave. Just before he strode out, Cox looked back, at Artemis, who was looking out the window, seemingly not paying attention. And he saw a dark promise in his face. Cox would try to harm Artemis, not only for the sake of his business. It was personal now. Butler got a bad feeling. When things got personal they could turn out very bloody.

Once they were all out, Artemis turned to Butler.

-Take Mr. Selwyn to the main hall. It is time we have a good talk.

Butler was surprised with how easy was to drag Selwyn through the house, considering the man had resisted Cox and his gang till the very end. However, this Selwyn appeared to be completely devoid of fight. He walked besides Butler in complete silence, while Artemis lead the way three steps forward. While they walked, he looked around the halls with a glint of hunger in his eyes. The interior of the manor was conservative, with the kind of elegant austerity that came with an old and wealthy bloodline. Butler noticed that the eyes of Selwyn were drawn to the antique portraits of the Fowls, and a frown appeared in his face. Did those pictures mean something for him? This man had said he recognized the name Fowl, but there was no way of telling if he spoke the truth. Butler did not drop his guard. If there was the slightest possibility that this man was a magician, he was not giving him any chance to harm Artemis. When they reached the green hall, the one that Artemis had deceptively named the main hall, Butler heard him whisper.

-That’s more like it…

-You may take a seat- said Artemis. Butler pushed Selwyn into one of the arm chairs with little care for his limbs.

-You know my name -continued the young heir as he toyed with the wand. – Therefore, you probably know about the family’s reputation. I’ll ask it just once, where do the magicians hide?

Artemis pointed the wand at him. Selwyn looked at him dumbfounded for a second. And he laughed. It was an almost hysterical sound.

-So you know nothing? They really tried to forget about everything? – He laughed again. Butler wondered what sound would come out of that mouth if he buried his fist in his abdomen.

-Where do the wizards and witches hide? You can put down that. I bet my life, you don’t even know how to use it.

Artemis narrowed his eyes, but after a moment he lowered his hand.

-Very well, Mr. Selwyn. You got me there. My father raised me apart from the magical world or however you call it. I do not know how to use a wand, but my family is old. And some magic does not require such mundane instruments.

The gaze that Artemis fixed on the man was positively devious. Butler supressed a shiver. He sometimes forgot the way Artemis could conjure up emotions in his usually serene expression. Selwyn stared, incredulous.

-You mean…? It’s impossible! You are far too young!

-Careful, Selwyn. I am not in the mood to hear a single comment more about my age.

Selwyn looked down, somewhat shaken.

-No one would do that- he said, softly. -Not even the Malfoys or Lestranges would teach that to a child.

-Are you saying that I’m a liar? Why couldn’t my parents teach me this magic?

Selwyn raised his head once again, and smiled. It was not a nice sight.

-Of course, you wouldn’t know, if you have lived all your life away from everything. You wouldn’t know how twisted it is to teach blood magic to a child. Your father did this? Who was your mother?

Blood magic. And whatever fame had gathered Artemis Fowl senior, it never reached Angeline. Butler felt the ghost of a smile tensing his lips. Artemis’ ruse was working.
-You are here to answer my questions, not the other way around. And I think I already made one.

Selwyn crossed his arms.

-I refuse. You cannot harm me. I’m a Selwyn. We have blood magic protections, and our line is purer than yours.

Butler looked carefully. His brow twitched. He was nervous. Selwyn was not sure of his statement. When Artemis looked in his direction, Butler signalled a single letter. False. Artemis nodded minutely, in agreement.

-Are you sure of that, Roger? – asked Artemis. -I think not. You know very little about my family. In fact, you said earlier that you don’t even know who my mother is. Anyway it does not matter at all. I can use other methods. Your gun, Butler.

Artemis extended a hand. ‘It is ok’ Butler told himself. ‘He is acting. Artemis is just a good actor’. He hoped he was good enough. The Sig Sauer looked too big on his young charge’s hand. Artemis pointed at Selwyn the second weapon of the evening.

-Answer the question.

Selwyn remained stubbornly silent. ‘He is not buying it’ Butler realized.

-Why do you want to know? You Fowls said, you were not coming back. Looking to the future, not the past, you said.

And in that moment, Butler knew that at least some part of this was true. The man was talking of the real Mr. Fowl. In the last years, he had repeated that phrase often enough for it to be engraved in the brains of everyone close to him. Artemis fired the gun. The bullet grazed Selwyn’s messy hair. When the man tried to jump away, Butler held him by the shoulders. Inwardly, the bodyguard was fighting to contain his panic. Had Artemis really fired that gun? The trajectory of the bullet had been very close to hit Selwyn. Was that a lucky shot from an amateur, or had he tried to kill the man? When he saw Artemis’ face his blood run cold. Darkness. Maddening and desperate. It was barely the shadow of an emotion, but in Artemis’ usually inexpressive features, it was as notorious as a scream.

-Answer me, Selwyn. I know more than you think. Before he died, my father told me everything I need to know if you lie. Tell me what happened.

His right hand, where he clutched the Sig Sauer, was trembling.

-Where are the purebloods?

Butler was about to interfere; the interrogatory was getting too personal. But then looked back at Selwyn. That last phrase surely meant something to him.

-So you were… loyal?

A sudden horror made his whole body shiver. He threw himself to the floor and kneeled.

-My sincerest apologies, my lord. As your family did, the other faithful are also hiding, though their reclusion is less… severe. When they know about you they will welcome you, oh yes. A young wizard, well versed in the Dark Arts. I can take you to them, gracious master, if you so desire.

Artemis recovered his composure. He lowered the gun.

-If they are hiding, why are you here? How could I trust you?

-The aurors were suspicious, even when I was declared innocent by the Wizengamot! I could not get a job, and the families that had survived the war refused to help me. They said I would cause them trouble and they cast me away! As if they are not looking for trouble themselves! I know everything about their secret plots. But they never work, Dumbledore and the Ministry are always watching.

The change operated in the wizard was sickening. Even his voice had become servile, as he crawled towards Artemis, who held both the wand and the gun.

-What are they trying to do, the other purebloods?

-Bring back the Dark Lord, of course, but they cannot succeed. It is impossible, but they refuse to give up.

-Is he dead, then?

-Yes, master. He is gone and we are left alone. His loyal followers, hunted like rats by the dogs of the Ministry. What else could I do? I couldn’t stay in the wizarding world. I had to escape!

Butler felt an upcoming headache. What was all that supposed to mean? ‘No, that’s not your job. Concentrate. Artemis will put it all together. And Selwyn is too bloody close to him right now.’ He dragged the snivelling man away from his charge, finding no resistance, and shoved him in his previous seat.

-I’m not a traitor, my lord -he continued babbling. – But I had no choice. I will tell you everything, and I can show you. If you come with me…

-That won’t be necessary, Mr. Selwyn -said Artemis. -The only thing you need to do is point a few places in a map. Where is the nearest point where I could find both the wizarding world and the purebloods?

-That would be Diagon Alley, master. It’s in London.

Artemis made a gesture, and Butler approached the table with the maps. Artemis had been prepared for everything. There were maps of the whole United Kingdom, the middle East, France, the city of Jerusalem, a place called Alexandretta and an even older diagram of a city named Shangri-La. Or Butler thought it was a city. In the section of Europe’s most important cities, he found the one he needed. He put the detailed map of London on the table in front of Selwyn.

-Mark the entrance.

From then on, Selwyn cooperated. In fact, he was more than happy to do anything Artemis required. They sat at the table, and he rambled endlessly about the supposed joy that the ‘faithful’ would feel when the Fowl name returned. Butler did not believe a word. These purebloods sounded dangerous. When Selwyn was explaining how to get to a place called Borgin and Burkes, he was interrupted by Artemis.

-Do they know of me, the other faithful?

-Oh, they will recognize the name Fowl, master. Every respectable wizard and witch knows of your family. You will need to be careful, though. Some of the faithful are bitter, that some of us did not joined their wild goose chase for bringing back the Dark Lord. If you go to Borgin and Burkes, watch out for Lucius. He was always talking about making the Lord return.

Artemis nodded and let the magician continue, but Butler could tell, he was barely paying attention. When they were done, Artemis stood up.

-You were worth your price, Mr. Selwyn. Do you think our families could meet again someday?

-All the faithful in my family are gone, young master. Those who remain do not deserve the name Selwyn. But I will always be at your service. I see that your family has fared well in the outside world. I don’t have any hope of doing as much. But if you would let me serve you, I could help you will be ahead of your enemies every time.

-I have yet to present myself in the wizarding world, Selwyn -said Artemis. – It is too soon to make enemies.

-Of course, young master. But the time will come, when you will have them. You know the ways of our kin.

-When that happens, I promise I will consider you. Until then, farewell.

Selwyn seemed disappointed, but he was far too scared of Artemis to complain. So he straightened his suit as much as he could, which was, not nearly enough, and prepared himself to depart. Just before Butler escorted him outside, Artemis approached and offered his hand.

-Good bye, Mr. Selwyn. When the time comes, I will find you.

Selwyn extended his hand. The needle sparkled and was buried in the magician’s hand on an instant. Selwyn gasped in surprise. Artemis pulled out the spike, covered in blood.

-Of course I would prefer our meeting to remain a secret, for the time being. I trust there will be no unpleasant surprises there. Remember, Mr. Selwyn, that I will always find you.

The real meaning of his words was evident, as he waved the bloodied needle in front of the wizard. Butler groaned silently. Artemis was pushing his luck. But once again, his shot in the dark worked, and Selwyn paled even more than before, turning almost grey.

-Yes, master Fowl. – he said, defeated.

-Farewell, Selwyn. Butler will give you your wand back when you are out of the manor. Try not to do anything stupid.

-*-*-*-

Capitan Jack Harkness took the cell-phone he was not supposed to have out of his pocket, and played the video. He had had a rough day. He needed to hear it again. He needed to remember why was he doing this. The face of his friend became alive in the screen, as decided and energetic as always.

-This working? Jack, before I change, here is a list of instructions for when I’m human. One, do not let me commit suicide if for some reason I want to. The memories I´m going to leave with me could be a little too much at some point. Two, don’t let me hurt anyone. We can’t have that, but you know what humans are like. Three, don’t worry about the Tardis. I’ll put it in emergency power so they can’t detect it. Besides, being underground beneath the ruins we are just about to make should shield it pretty well from everything. Just let it hide away. Five. No, wait a minute, four. No getting involved in big historical events. Five, Rose. Don´t let me abandon Rose. I have calculated our chances of meeting each other in ninety percent. But still, you never know. Six, you, captain. Don’t let me leave you. John Dorian Smith is a character I made up, but I won’t know that. And since this regeneration is almost an exact copy of my original self, he will be… difficult, even as a human. And he might want to do something stupid or impossible, so… Anyway. Where was I? Oh, yes, seven. Do not let me develop an addiction.

Jack listened to everything. All twenty-seven instructions, even the creepy ones. He laughed at the one about pears, as he did every time. Same old Doctor.

-Twenty-six. Don´t let the wizards know that we are time travellers. Things could get bad. They have already discovered time travel by the twenty-first century, but they have rules for it. Nice rules, if a bit unnecessary. My people may have been involved in their creation. We don’t want them reconsidering how much they can mess around. And twenty-seven. Never, under any circumstance, allow me to open the watch before the day we talked about. Everything I am is kept safe in there. Now, I’ve put an energy lock on it so the human me won’t be able to open it. I have selected memories so he will care for it, but he may get curious. Never underestimate my curiosity, Jack. I can get very crafty. Do. Not. Let. Me. Open. It. Because once it’s open, the Blood Hounds will be able to find me. It all depends on you, Jack. If everything fails, take Rose and leave me. They will probably let you go if they have me. Oh, and thank you. Thank you for everything.

The video ended. Jack stared at the screen. He felt a little bit stronger. He could do that. He had just had a hard day.

It had been worse at the beginning. In the days after the Ministry had ‘rescued’ the boy, Jack had almost opened the bloody thing. John Dorian Smith had been found unconscious and with burns all over his body in the ruins of the castle of Avalon, clutching a silver watch. He had stayed in a comma for almost a week before waking up in St. Mungo. All had been orchestrated, of course, but when Jack met the eyes of that boy for the first time, he wished he could back down. This was just too cruel. In order to enter the wizarding world, the Doctor had designed characters for him and his companions. Jack was going to be the auror and their guardian, since his psychic signature was unknown to the creatures that were after them. For Rose and him, it was going to be more complicated. They had to hide their previous selves so well that not even an ancient race of space vampires could find them. So they changed, not only their minds but also their bodies.

Rose was safe, or as safe as she could be while in the hands of nuns, which wasn’t much, as Jack had gotten tired of saying while designing the plan. She was hiding as an orphan girl in St. Anselm Home for Infants. The sisters were aware of the wizarding world as they had found many gifted children in the long history of the institution they served. With time, the Mother Superior and all the others that knew the secret decided to protect the children they had taken into custody instead of leaving them to the mercy of the witch-hunters. When the time came, they sent them to Hogwarts, and were more than happy with the results.

Doing this had become a tradition between the sisters, one that only stopped once, during the time of Sister Barbara, as Mother Superior or, as everyone else now called her, Bloody Barbara. Her reign had been violent and short-lived, and once it was over the sisters of St. Anselm swore to never again let any woman of narrow convictions become the highest authority. And so, even though they were aware of Rose’s recently awakened magic, they didn’t cast her away. In their minds, they had cared for the blonde girl all her life. Why would they abandon her only because she could make cups float?

Sometimes Jack was a little afraid of the Doctor. He had altered the memories of the entire sisterhood just to give Rose a good cover. Jack visited her twice a month, under the excuse of being the contact with the Ministry of Magic. She was a healthy girl; younger than the boy the Doctor had become. Surely, her Hogwarts acceptance letter had already arrived. Next time he saw her, he would introduce himself as an auror, not only a benefactor of the orphanage. Jack was sure she was going to smile as only his Rose could, bright as the sun. The absence of her parents hadn’t taken her light away. But the Doctor… Jack sighed.

His friend had crafted a story for himself that closely resembled the real one, as far as Jack could tell. He had given his human and younger version many of the memories of his early life in his lost planet. Some of the destruction of it too. And so, the person that had woken up in that hospital bed had been a terribly scarred boy who had lost everyone he had loved, still in shock by the annihilation of his whole world. Only then had Jack started to comprehend the profound sadness that seemed to constantly linger around his friend. The Time Lord had been able to carry on, but the human boy… Let’s say Jack had understood the priority of the first instruction.

As one of the aurors sent by the Ministry to help the isolated community of wizards that inhabited the island of Avalon, Jack had been there when the kid was found in the ruins of the stone castle. He took care of the unconscious boy, and when he was sent to the hospital, he visited constantly. When John Dorian Smith woke up, he wouldn’t talk to anyone. Jack was one of the few capable of getting a response from him, and so he was eventually named his official guardian. Nobody was sure of what to do about the thin and silent boy. Avalon had been an isolated community since its foundation in the XV century. The only information the Ministry had about them came from travellers who had navigated those seas and set foot themselves on the Island of Sunset. So the plan worked perfectly.

Jack took Dorian Smith with him to his flat right over Diagon Alley, and waited for his recovery. For weeks, the boy didn’t speak. The Doctor had warned him about that. Without the TARDIS translating, he would need to learn English from zero. But there was more to his silence than that. Jack had seen what he was doing in soldiers, traumatized by the war. The absent look as he tried to cope with what had happened. But then, just before Jack’s resolve shattered, a miracle happened. Dorian, who treaded on life as if everything was made of glass, awoke for the second time. He laughed at one of Jack’s jokes, and life returned to his eyes. That had happened almost a year ago.

A sudden noise in the other side of the darkened room brought Jack back to the present, and he shoved the cell-phone in his pocket.

-Is that you Jack?

Dorian came through the door of his room.

-That’s right, pal. It’s a little bit late to be up.

-I’m thirteen!

-You are still shorter than me, so you go to sleep when I say so.

The boy approached. Jack took out his wand and illuminated the room. Magic. It still amazed him. Dorian was in front of him with a spark in his eyes and his brown hair dishevelled as always.

-Did you brought it?

Jack smiled his best, biggest smile. He took the book out of his other pocket and gave it to him. Dorian took it almost with reverence.

-Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose, yes! Two of the best scientists in history, clashing against each other. Brilliant! They’re brilliant!

His excitement was contagious. Same old Doctor.

-Whatever you say but be careful. I don’t want the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office on my back. Never leave it where a visit could see.

-Promise.

The boy was already reading the first pages. He had a special fascination for the stars that Jack understood better than he himself did. He had devoured every book on magical astronomy that Jack could find. When there was nothing else to read, he had seemed devastated.

-I have this feeling, Jack- he had said. -That there is much more to the stars than what this books say.

So Jack had been an idiot, and bought him a book on muggle astronomy. Some days he still regretted it. The non-magical study of the sky had enraptured Dorian, to the point when he forgot to eat or sleep.

-You are not staying up to read it. -ordered Jack. -Tomorrow is a busy day.

-Is it?

-Hey! Eyes on me, smart boy.

-Sorry, what?

-I went to Gringotts today. Withdraw some of your family’s money. You are going to buy everything you need for Hogwarts.

As a matter of fact, the money had been put in the bank by the Doctor himself almost four hundred years ago, to help them with the expenses. Under the name of Smith, he had made several deposits on different dates. To the goblins, the Smiths were an old lineage who resided in Avalon, wealthy and isolated.

-You are not coming?

-I have been called to the headquarters. Probably going on a mission.

Dorian nodded, distracted.

-However, I will come back so you better do what you should. Do not get distracted by every new thing you see.

-Have you been in this street? Not getting distracted is impossible!

-Then make an effort!

The boy looked at him for a moment. That was a good sign.

-I will.

- Go to sleep then. And stop worrying about Hogwarts. You will do fine.

Dorian left. Jack would check in a moment if he was really going to bed. He was brilliant, just like the Doctor; and when he was interested in something he put aside everything else. That was why Jack was not worried about the boarding school. Dorian had been invited to attend, as he now was in condition to do so, but he would have to take levelling courses. He had missed the first two years of school. After a little talking, Jack had convinced him to accept. It was part of the plan, or so he believed. After all, Rose was going to start her first year on September. They were supposed to be near each other. It would be fine. He could do that.

‘But for how long?’ he wondered. He hadn’t seen any of the signs the Doctor had told him to expect. ‘How many years are we going to be stuck here, in this hidden and extravagant world?’ Jack had no idea. The only thing he could do was trust the Doctor’s plan. Trust his friend. He could do that. Right?

Chapter Text

In which a secret chamber is discovered, four strangers visit the Manor, sapphires and bank policies are discussed, and Fowl makes some new acquaintances.

Artemis stood before the impossible door and wondered, for the thousandth time, if he was not completely mad. After the disaster in the Russia, he had asked himself that question many times. He sighed. If that were the case, everything would be much simpler. His nightmares would only be nightmares, and his father would probably… He studied the door closely. Thanks to his extensive study of everything mystical he was capable of identifying several of the marks that whirled around in the stone surface. That was the other thing. A door of stone. That could make itself invisible. Artemis had encountered invisible things before, the shields of the fairies and the invisible fabric that Foaly had bragged about. This was different. This door had been hidden in his house all the time, and he had never noticed. It was unthinkable.

Artemis always knew that this room contained many secrets, but hadn’t suspected one of magical nature. Back in his childhood days, he was only allowed inside for special occasions, in the rare cases when his father had time for him. This was the place from were Artemis Fowl senior had controlled his criminal empire. Only Mrs. Fowl and his most trusted partners could enter. Artemis remembered coveting every glance that he could get from the inside. He had seen maps detailing the bases of their people all over Europe, tables and graphics showing the growth of the different investments on the finances, from tech actions to horse racing. And in the middle of it all, the always updated amount of gold. His father liked to run the family business with all the advantages that modern management could provide. He cared for detail, cunning and precision.

Artemis would have done anything to gain a place in his inner circle. Still, the door of that room always closed before him, leaving him with growing frustration. Now, with a sudden surge of grief, Artemis realized that his father had never really allowed him in. He had kept the secret of the magical past of the Fowls locked away along with this hidden door and probably a number of other things. Could he really trust that man? Had he known him at all? Artemis stopped himself. He could not go back to that. It had been the cause for him failing to notice this. His mind had been sloppy and carless. It could not happen again.

Artemis had fallen asleep in that room many times in the months after the Artic incident. Lost in sorrow and self-pity, he had tried to drown himself in the past. Like a madman, he had read every single notebook in his father writing. It had taken the combined efforts of Juliet, Butler and Angeline to convince him to sleep again in his bedroom instead of the chair behind his father’s mahogany desk. Despite all the time spent in that room, he hadn’t noticed the marks in the walls.

His father’s sanctum was in one of the oldest parts of the manor. The walls of stone were centuries old, and engraved on them there were strange symbols, that closely resembled stylized Greek letters but did not coincide with said alphabet enough. Those markings could be found in different parts of the manor. As a child, Artemis had discovered them and tried to decipher their meaning, searching the entirety of the house. But the numerous renovations had destroyed many parts of the inscription, and he had been forced to give up. That was one of the few times he had been unable to solve a problem. He hadn’t liked it.

Of course, he remembered every symbol he had encountered, and comparing them to those in the walls of the room, the pieces of the puzzle came together easily. They were instructions, leading to the doors of stone. There was probably text in them, but he could not read it yet. Nevertheless, they could be read as a chain of ideograms which closely resembled symbols of the alchemy texts of the XVI century. Following the thusly translated list of commands, Artemis had found himself before an empty stone wall. Most people would have despaired at that point, but Artemis Fowl was not them. After his little chat with Selwyn he was convinced that what his father had told him before his death was true. And knowing his family, there had to be traces of such heritage in their ancestral home. So, he refused to give up. When he had finally found it, he was not sure how to proceed.

Artemis had sat in the floor, assuming the lotus position, and prepared to meditate. After one hour of silence, he stood up. Time for action. He had selected half a dozen probable solutions to his problem. He would try them in order of descendent likelihood. Taking a golden penknife from the desk of his father, he cut his right palm. Artemis sliced with surgical precision and, promptly, blood oozed from the wound. He extended his hand, and touched the wall. It had been just a hunch, set forward from Selwyn’s assumption that his family practiced blood magic. Apparently, he was right, because the gateway had appeared instants later, as if emerging from the solid stone with a rumbling sound.

In that moment, just minutes ago, part of Artemis had fretted the impossibility of what he was witnessing. The other part had been euphoric with triumph. Had he been a more childish boy, he would have shouted: Eureka! But he was himself so he only smiled, in silent celebration. Then, he proceeded to make a detailed drawing of the door and its inscriptions. Some of them he could understand. It was old Latin and magical seals from the late medieval period. When he was finished he tried to speculate about the mechanism that made possible the appearance and disappearance of the door. That soon proved itself impossible. Artemis knew the disposition of every room in the manor by heart. He had made precise blueprints for himself when he was ten, and then altered those available to everyone else so they could never find the secrets of the Fowl family. Thus, he knew that there was no way a missing room could be there, unless it was the size of a broom closet. The size of the door suggested otherwise. A slight frown had appeared on Artemis’ forehead. He knew fairy magic; it could do nothing of the sort. He glared at the stony surface in front of him. Everything was wrong. Messing with historical records and modern technology was one thing, but messing with physics… It was in that moment that Artemis felt the cold of the old room shake his bones. ‘It has happened. I have gone mad. There is no way this can be real.’ His mind started drifting.

Artemis shook himself back. He would not give up. He had made a promise to himself, and repeated it by his father’s empty grave. Standing before the doors of stone, he forced himself to think. He was missing something important. Working with incomplete data was a nightmare. Maybe magic allowed to enlarge space? That would explain the impossibility that the doors of stone presented, but would also raise a thousand of other questions. If you could enlarge certain volume of space, how would that affect the gravitational field on it? Were these spaces created by magic or they were only accessed by it? And what happened with the Pauli Exclusion Principle? Could this lead to a demonstration of a modified inflationary theory, one that could gain him a Noble prize perhaps? He still didn’t have any of those…

‘Concentrate, Artemis. This is not the time or the place to be sloppy.’ Next step, then. Should he try to open the stone door? That could be dangerous. His ancestors could have put traps to catch unwanted visitors. But then again, who found a magical secret door and left it closed? Artemis touched the carved letters with his fingertips, tracing the path of the Latin inscription.

‘Speak, child of the old blood and blue stars; and giving life to the water bearer, enter.’

A riddle, but not an overly complicated one. Child of the old blood surly meant one of Pureblood line. The Fowls had been that, so it was logical they would refer to themselves in that way. The part of the blue stars was less clear. His eyes were blue, Artemis thought, and so were his father’s. The next statement was surely trickier, and it would totally confuse anyone ignorant. But Artemis had spent the last months reading similar phrases the old texts he had acquired. The water bearer has Aquarius, and his symbol, a pair of lines in the shape of waves, appeared in the door. ‘Life is blood.’

Artemis placed his bleeding hand over the figure of the waves and pronounced the words in clear voice.

-Aurum potestas est.

An unexpected surge of something flowed through him, from his palm to his feet and Artemis gasped in surprise. It was cold but it still burned him inside. Was this magic? He tried to reign in his shuddering body, while his mind worked to catalogue the experience. Every carving in the door glowed as if filled with molten metal and Artemis could almost hear a melody of ecstasy and longing beneath his skin. He felt a bliss that he had not felt since… well, in a long time. Was all magic like that? The connection broke and Artemis found himself trembling in front of the surface of stone. If magic always felt that way it was probably addictive. But it was more likely that only blood magic had that effect. Slowly, the doors opened in front of him. It was dark inside. He would not hesitate. This was his legacy. The shadows beyond the entrance swallowed him.

Once inside, Artemis had the certainty that the chamber was far larger than expected. He didn’t collide with anything while walking inside, and he counted twenty steps before stopping. He could go back to bring a flashlight, but he did not want to explain everything to Butler, who surely was waiting for him nearby. No, the mages must have a way of illuminating rooms. Wasn´t the door writing almost completely in Latin? It wouldn’t hurt to try.

Artemis recited a long list of Latin words related to light, starting with ‘lux’, and the proceeded to try all the permutations he had found in the arcane words. He remembered all of them. The benefits of being a genius. He was considering starting with fire, when the room was suddenly filled with light. Momentarily blinded, Artemis looked down and blinked repeatedly. Which word had activated it? Oh, yes, ‘lumos’. That was strange. Wasn’t ‘lux’ a much more practical and linguistically correct option? When Artemis looked around, he found himself at a loss of words. For the second time in his whole life.

The roof of the chamber was high, very high, covered with figures of stars and arcane symbols. The room was circular, and it had twelve massive marble columns to support the ceiling, carved in the form of mythical figures. Artemis looked around. His brain kept throwing random bits of information at him. Despite the change in style, the chamber was decorated in good taste, with clear neoclassical influences. Clearly it could be traced to… No. Think about that later.

Several pedestals stood between the columns. Artemis’ eyes shined as he looked around. He decided he would keep this place a secret. Even from Butler. He ignored too many things about the contents of this room, but he was going to find out. Then he could plot accordingly, and involve the Butlers in whatever he decided to do. Knowing that he couldn't have much time left, he memorized the exact disposition of every object in the room. Even the text of the columns and certain parts of the wall, and the strings of code he did not understood. He left the chamber right on time. Ten seconds after the door had vanished, Butler opened the door.

-Artemis, your mother has returned. She would like to have tea with you.

Artemis nodded in acknowledgement, and tried to pretend that nothing was out of the ordinary. But Butler knew him to well, and narrowed his eyes.

-Is something wrong?

-No, why would you say that? I will be in the dining room in a minute.

-You usually tell me how you want your tea.

In that moment he noticed the penknife on the floor. Artemis scolded himself in silence.

-Is that blood? -his servant’s voice was filled with worry. -Exactly what were you doing, Artemis?

-Nothing as terrible as you seem to think. I was just considering the possibilities of the magic mentioned by our friend Selwyn.

-You were trying to do blood magic…- mused Butler. - So you cut yourself? That is not good Artemis. You cannot go around harming yourself for the sake of experimentation.

-Don’t worry Butler, I have concluded, after extensive thought, that I’m not mad. I will not stab myself to death to do magic tricks, I promise.

-Try to hide that. If Mrs. Angeline or anyone else, for that matter, finds out that you cut your own hand…

-I would be send immediately to a clinic. I know, Butler. I will find an excuse for a temporary bandage.

-Good. -Butler sounded relieved. -Did you… Did you succeed?

Artemis was amused. Butler was still uncomfortable with the whole idea of humans doing magic. It was strange that he didn’t seem to have any problem with the People using it.

-Casting a spell, you mean? Hardly. I still cannot do it on my own.

It wasn’t technically a lie. He had used the spells of the door. Butler nodded.

-Today I would like something strong. Lapsang would do. Tell mother I’m coming.

Before leaving the room, Butler looked around, with something akin to nostalgia in his usually severe face.

-She seems happy, Artemis. Perhaps you shouldn’t ask her about your father today. I know you need as much information about the past of Mr. Fowl, but just today…

-I will consider it.

-No Artemis. You do not understand. I found her after the last dinner you two shared. She was crying.

-I know.

-You shouldn’t make your mother cry.

Artemis knew, of course he knew. He had seen her too. He had watched as crystal pearls run down Angeline’s eyes as she remembered the husband she had lost. Still, he kept asking. She answered all his questions. He supposed she thought this was her son’s way of dealing with the death of his father. Artemis had kept her at the table until he could no longer maintain his composure. Some questions, he hadn’t found the heart to ask. Angeline had retired in a hurry, leaving Artemis in front of the empty plates and glasses. He had wanted to cry, but discovered he had no tears.

-I… shall not enquire about my father today.

-It’s better that way.

Butler left. Artemis looked down, at the golden penknife. He was going to have to ask again someday. Angeline could have crucial information about his father’s magical life, even if she knew nothing about it. Had she never suspected? Or maybe wizards could also erase the memories of others, just like the fairies. It was a disturbing thought. One that required further investigation. Still, he despised himself for this, for making his mother cry. Had she not known enough grief?

‘Enough. This is what father wanted. I will uncover the secrets of the magical world, and rebuild everything that we lost. I will discover who killed my father and get my rightful revenge. The name Fowl will rise again, and before I’m done my mother will have anything she wants. She will never cry again.’

He would do anything to achieve such ends. With that conviction engraved in his mind, Artemis left towards the dining room. He fixed his suit and stopped by Juliet’s room to have his hand bandaged, blaming a treacherous stair for the wound. When the blonde girl shot him a glare of incredulity he just shrugged. He didn’t have to explain her anything. Then, using his most pleased face, he slipped in a more carefree demeanour. He felt his spirits lift. He would not make his mother cry today. Invoking all his willpower he managed a slight smile, and greeted Angeline.

-*-*-*-

When a group of stern-faced people showed up at his door, Artemis was curious. It had been years since the last time someone had tried diplomacy with him. He wondered who had sent them. Whoever that person was, it was clear that he did not know anything about Artemis Fowl. Were they going to speak to his mother, as the CIA had tried at first? Or were they going to make an attempt at intimidating him directly? None, apparently. After speaking shortly with Mrs. Fowl in the blue hall, his mother sent for him.

-I do not recognize any of them -Butler told him, while they descended the stairs. –But the blonde woman looks important. The others are probably agents. I will be ready to fire.

Artemis nodded. It was in times like this that he was glad he had Butler at his service. He was always preparing for the worst situations and when they stroke, which was somewhat frequent, he was ready. They entered the blue hall. Angeline was seating in one of the sofas, with Juliet at her side. The blonde girl was wearing her more inexpressive face, which wasn’t very good but then again, it was Juliet. In front of her, two woman sat in a cerulean futon. One of them was middle-aged, with golden locks and green eyes. Her hair was stylised in an elegant bun and she wore half-moon glasses and elegant, dark green clothes. The other woman was older, her face was severe and she had the most ridiculous pointy hat in her head. Her robes were dark, and her eyes sparkled when she looked at Artemis. Behind the couple, two men stood in guard, at the classic stance of bodyguards. One was brunet and tall and wore a trench coat, the other had a more old-fashioned attire and the word agent written all over his face. Artemis tried not to roll his eyes at him. The women interested him more.

-Hello, Artemis -said Angeline, gently. She turned her gaze towards the visitors. -Now that my son is here, you could finally tell us the meaning of this.

There was ice in her voice. She was not happy. The two woman stood up. For a moment, Artemis saw surprise and concern in the face of the older woman, which were quickly replaced with her previous stern expression. Had her gaze lingered at his bandaged hand for an extra second? The woman in green only smiled, a charming, calculated smile. Artemis had seen many of them in his life, it was the smile the adults who didn’t knew him wore, when they tried to convince him to cooperate. This game, he knew how to play.

-It is a pleasure to meet you at last, Mr. Fowl -she said. – My name is Lea Hamilton and I am here in behalf of the Wizengamot Administration Services office.

She extended a hand. Artemis arched an eyebrow, but shook her hand. As he had told Selwyn, this wasn’t a time to make enemies. He had to learn the nature of the game.

-Miss Hamilton, please- intervened the woman of the hat. -We will have time for that later. First, we have to explain everything to Mrs. Fowl and his son.

Not used to work together then. Could he use that? He noticed that his mother was actively trying not to look at the black, pointy hat.

-Glad to make your acquaintance, Miss Hamilton. I hope we can have a fruitful relation.

The smile of the blonde wavered. Artemis’ vocabulary tended to cause that effect on others. It was a little unsettling to hear a boy express himself like a cynic grown man. Then she considered the meaning of his words, and her eyes glinted.

-What is happening, Arty? -asked Angeline. -Is there something I should know?

‘Oh mother, you have no idea.’

-If I may, Mrs. Fowl-said the older woman. -I am here to answer that question. My name is Minerva McGonagall and I am a teacher. We have been sent by the Ministry of Magic to talk with you and your family about your son. If he was younger or your husband still lived this would be easier. This is a most irregular situation, but we will do our best nonetheless.

Oh. This was it, then. That Ministry had already found him. Minerva McGonagall. He had encountered that name before. The deputy headmistress. Should he let the events unravel? Could he really keep his mother ignorant?

-The Ministry of… Is this some sort of joke? -Angeline’s voice was filled with doubt. -What does my husband has to do with any of this?

No, decided Artemis. She had the right to know. And he would have to explain everything at some point. This was, indeed, a better solution.

-He knew us very well, madam- explained McGonagall- And if he were here this will be simpler to reveal. I guess nothing I can say can prepare you for it, so I will just say it: Me and my companions are witches and wizards. Very few people in the world possess the gift of magic, and your son is one of those few. Your husband was too.

Now seated in one of the blue sofas with Butler in his right, Artemis felt a knot of tension in his shoulders. His mother’s eyes searched his, filled with uncertainty. He opened his mouth to explain. Then Juliet laughed. Her high-pitched laugh broke in a string of giggles and everyone else fell in uncomfortable silence. Butler grunted. Juliet stopped and regarded the point-hatted witch with contempt.

-Not funny, old lady. It is not nice from you to mock Mrs. Fowl. The young master won’t like it either.

-I’m not mocking anyone, young girl. And you are the one who has spoken rudely- retorted McGonagall. Juliet frowned.

-Artemis Fowl was a wizard, the last descendant from an old magical bloodline, who became quite prominent in our world. Then, fourteen years ago, he cut all ties to the magical community, and retired to the outside world. At first, everyone was sure he would come back the next month, but he never did. Finally, it was clear for us that he was gone for good, and when the news of his death arrived, we didn’t expect to hear the name Fowl again. But recently we learned that the last scion of this house had the gift, and we came to investigate. As soon as I saw your son I knew it, Mrs Fowl. He is a wizard, just like his father. And this is something to be glad about.

Artemis was memorizing every word. It coincided with the things already knew, but he was sure McGonagall wasn’t telling them everything. The letter his father had given him had been delivered when he was around ten. Why present themselves now, after almost four years? Had they noticed his efforts to find them? He had been very careful. Or was it something else entirely?

-Arty… is this true? -Even in the face of the impossible, Angeline held herself together. -Did you know anything about it?

-It is true -admitted Artemis. He couldn’t tell everything, but he could reveal some things.

-I found some clues between father’s papers during winter. It included a letter from a place named Hogwarts that was directed to me. I could not believe it at first, but the more I investigated the more sense it made, given the history of the family. Now I am convinced mother. Magicians exist, father was one of them.

-And he never told us-said Angeline. – Why did he always…?

There was infinite sadness in her eyes. She shook her head and looked back at McGonagall, as if she was measuring her.

-I want proof- she said, with a sharp voice. -My son is usually right about this kind of things, but I’ve never seen any hint of that magic that you speak about, and I have been the lady of this house for sixteen years. Why should I trust your words?

-Very well, Mrs. Fowl -complied the witch. In a moment, she produced a wand, similar in design to the one Selwyn had carried with him. She lifted the wooden stick in the air, and Artemis saw Juliet preparing to act at the slightest sign of danger. He also felt Butler flex his muscles next to him. McGonagall ignored them, flicked her wrist and intoned:

-Wingwardium leviosa.

An ancient Chinese vase that occupied a pedestal at the other side of the room rose in the air, thirty centimetres. He heard his mother and Juliet gasp. Remarkable. Artemis looked at the witch and then at the valuable antiquity, hoping she wouldn’t let it fall. He remembered all the trouble his father had gotten through to acquire that piece. Apparently McGonagall was somewhat competent, because the vase returned to its place without any accidents.

-Rubbish -muttered Juliet. Artemis understood her scepticism. His mother had had that piece restored days ago. This could be a very elaborate set up. Except it wasn’t. McGonagall pursed her lips but remained otherwise unfazed, and casted her second spell. The vase shuddered and undulated, the white porcelain flexing and stretching, with the blue figures flowing over the surface. And suddenly, there was no porcelain anymore, but a huge Siamese cat, with eyes as blue as the painting on the vase had been. Artemis tried to conceal his astonishment. Illusion or reality? The cat jumped to the floor. He heard the thump of its weight. Reality, then.

-Please do not let him go. -he said- Supposing you can change it back, that cat is a substantial investment.

The cat regarded him as if it had understood. From the corner of his eye, Artemis saw Butler preparing to chase it. Was this really happening? The sheer ridiculousness of the situation was not lost on him. Perhaps finding oneself in bizarre situations was an aftereffect of dealing with magic. The cat approached Angeline, and rubbed itself against her legs. Then it glared at Butler. Then the door. Before things could escalate, McGonagall transformed it back. Artemis felt a wave of relief. He certainly didn’t want to run after an ancient china cat all over the manor. His mother took the vase from the place where the cat had been and handed it to Juliet. The blonde girl inspected it for a moment before returning it to its pedestal. With the demonstration over, Angeline Fowl sighed.

-All right, I believe you. Your magic is real.

She sounded tired.

-Do not think that your husband didn’t love you, Angeline. -said McGonagall, with some sympathy softening her features. -Many wizards and witches decide to hide their powers from their muggle partners. It is not the wisest solution, but it’s understandable. He didn’t want to scare you. He didn’t want to lose you.

That wasn’t it, Artemis thought. His father had known Angeline was strong, even when she disapproved of some of his shady business, she was not easily intimidated. Why would he not tell her? Unless the danger was too great, or his resolve to leave it all behind, absolute.

-But how could you know my son has magic too? -asked his mother.

-He have our methods to identify wizards and witches. It is usually a family trait, so most of them are born in the magical community. Others are born to muggles- that is how we call the non-magical people- and to those, we send emissaries to explain the situation, along with the letters of invitation to Hogwarts.

-Hogwarts… Was that the letter that my son found?

-Most likely, madam. Now, let me tell you about Hogwarts…

One hour later, Angeline Fowl was convinced that letting her son attend Hogwarts was the most sensible thing in the world she could do. She had never been sure about St. Bartleby’s, and this sounded like a good option.

-Of course, Artemis would have to take some levelling courses later in the summer. The children usually start going to Hogwarts at age eleven, so he has two years of disadvantage. But there is no reason to worry, we will make a special program for him. He should be able to join the students of his age in the fourth year, if he doesn´t mind hard work.

Angeline just smiled.

-I’m not worried about that. My son is quite smart.

Artemis wanted to huff. Smart? He was a genius. He could catch up that very summer. He endured the explanation about dates and terms with growing impatience. Not Miss Hamilton nor the aurors had pronounced a word in all that time, and he was sure they had an ulterior motive to be there. Finally, his mother said:

-I see no inconvenience in my son attending this magical school, but the decision must be his. After all, Saint Bartleby’s is a family tradition. Arty, do you want to do this? I know these last years have been… difficult. Maybe a change would be good for you.

-I’m not sure yet, mother. There are several things I have to consider. The finances of the family are still under my care, and by now they are my primary concern.

-You are always trying to look after the family, Arty, and I appreciate that. But I care more for you than I care for the family fortune. Something is not right, and I know I can’t help you with it. Take one year for yourself, see if this life can give you what you are looking for.

Artemis’ resolve wavered under the warm eyes of his mother. Even now, that her world had been turned upside-down, she thought the only thing that mattered was his well-being. ‘And I have been making her cry’.

-I... will consider it. I promise. But there are some other things I would like to talk with our visitors. Some questions I would like to ask.

Angeline understood the message. Artemis felt something akin to guilt for making her leave. His father had done the same countless times, with almost the same words.

-Of course. I will leave you to it, then.

Mrs. Fowl left the room, with Juliet behind her. As they went out, the girl glared at the two agents, who were still standing behind the sofa. The one with brown hair smiled at her and winked. Artemis wondered if Juliet was going to attack him right there. The blonde seemed to consider it, but one glance at Butler convinced her otherwise.

-Very well, now that we are alone we can talk about the real reason why you are all here -said Artemis, once the door closed behind his mother and Juliet.

-This is not just about my attendance to your school, is it, professor? Your companions are not here for that.

-That is correct, Mr. Fowl. -said McGonagall, and her tense voice showed Artemis that she did not like this situation. – Your case is very different to the ones we are used to deal with.

-I will take that as a compliment.

-Hardly. Let me explain this. You said you found the letter we sent to your father years ago. We already knew that you were a wizard then. Your gift was so strong that we wanted you to attend Hogwarts before time. Headmaster Dumbledore did the impossible to obtain clearance from the Ministry, and succeeded despite the strong opposition he faced. I myself signed the acceptance letter, and we sent it, hoping for the best. Great gifts entail great dangers, Mr. Fowl, and Dumbledore wanted you to receive the best magical education since the day you were born. But your father refused him back then, saying the Fowl family had already left the wizarding world. He didn’t want any son of his growing up surrounded by us. He declared that many times in public before his departure, and the last time he did it he and Dumbledore had a serious argument. Knowing that there can be terrible consequences for a magical child who is kept in ignorance about his nature, the headmaster insisted that you should attend Hogwarts and came to talk with your father in person. But he didn’t listen, and said that when the time came he would teach you the same way generations of Fowls had been thought, without all the errors that plagued us. After that, he never spoke to any wizard or witch again. We believe that around that time he placed an enchantment around his house, and everyone who lived here. The Ministry couldn’t detect any trace of the magic that previously rested here, and you, his son, appeared just like a muggle boy in any magical test. We kept watching for a year, but finally, the Ministry concluded that the Fowls were no longer a magical concern, and decided to let you be. And then, two years ago, the enchantment suddenly disappeared. We discovered you were indeed a wizard, but for some reason your gift was kept dormant. The debate about whether we should give you another invitation or not rose again, but the circumstances had changed considerably.

Artemis made a quick mental calculation. Two years. That was roughly the time of his first involvement with the fairies. And there was only one big event involving the whole manor: the time-stop. That was the most probable cause for the enchantment of concealment to disappear. Also, his mother had mentioned that his father used to travel a lot in their first years of marriage, and when she got pregnant he had started to stay abroad for longer, speaking of important business that needed to be concluded. What Angeline had taken for nervousness had changed into a sombre fear during her last months but everything had been fixed, she had said, shortly after Artemis’ birth. His father’s travels had ended abruptly, and for an entire year, he had consecrated himself to his wife and son. If he severed his ties with the wizarding world around that time, Angeline’s story made much more sense. He had kept her in the dark about magic because he intended to start a new life with his new family. McGonagall continued her story.

-Word of your many… exploits, had already reached the wizarding world, and some people were concerned about opening our doors to a boy that had already demonstrated he could be threat. They also pointed at the shady background of your family…

-Professor McGonagall! -exclaimed Miss Hamilton. -There surely is no reason to insult the young master!

-If the truth is offensive, Lea, I will be the rudest person of all. I cannot pretend I am happy with Mr. Fowl’s recent adventures.

Artemis kept his impassive mask as McGonagall regarded him judgementally. Miss Hamilton wanted to get into his good graces. To what end?

-Anyway, -said Artemis -you decided you preferred me out. Why show up at my door now, then?

He had a theory, but he wanted to confirm it.

-You casted a spell. A powerful one. And with the veil gone, we were able to detect it. You have to know, Mr. Fowl, that minors are not allowed to perform magic. Is a very strict rule enforced by the law.

Theory confirmed, then. Interesting. They could tell when a minor did magic. What else could they detect? Could they tell the type of magic? The exact spell?

-So you casted a spell on me. Did you do it after my father’s enchantment was gone or do I have it since the day Dumbledore came to this house?

The look of surprise in McGonagall’s face was answer enough.

-So Dumbledore cast it himself. Tell me, does he run the Ministry?

-Of course not, Mr Fowl -intervened Miss Hamilton with an almost nervous tone. -The minister of magic is Cornelius Fudge, for whom I have the honour to work. And he would never have permitted headmaster Dumbledore enforce the Trace on you when you were only a baby! Bagnold held office in that time, she would have let Dumbledore do as he pleased. Mr. Fudge has the highest regard for you, Mr. Fowl. And he would like to meet you soon.

So that was her game. She was the kind, pretty carrot. Did that make the two agents the stick of the proverbial pair of animal tamers?

-Enough of this- said McGonagall. – What I want you to tell us is what kind of spell did you use.

-I am not really sure.

-We can detect ordinary magic with the Trace perfectly. The spell you used was different. What did it do?

Artemis did not answer. He ignored the possible consequences. Blood magic was somewhat forbidden; from what he could gather from the way Selwyn had spoken of it.

-You are not going to be charged for anything, boy -said the brown-haired agent in the trench coat, breaking his silence from the first time. -We just want to know if we have to call the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad. They can’t convict you for casting a spell if you did not know anything about magic.

He seemed to have a natural propensity to smile. Artemis disliked him already.

-And you are…?

-Cap… auror Jack Harkness

. Artemis regarded him, coldly.

-Alright. I may have inadvertently performed a blood enchantment to read a hidden text carved in the manor’s walls.

Artemis waited for the reactions of the others. The agents and McGonagall gasped, but Miss Hamilton only frowned.

-Do you know anything about blood magic, Mr Fowl? -asked the older witch.

-From your expressions I can tell I shouldn’t have done it. But as I said, it was an accident.

-Is that how you wounded yourself? By accident?

-I slip and fell. This old manor can be really dangerous if you don’t know where to tread.

-Is that a threat, Mr. Fowl?

Now McGonagall didn’t look at all like a respectable lady in an over-sized hat. Her eyes were like stone, and she appeared… dangerous. Had he overstepped?

-Just a truthful statement.

-A blood spell would explain things -said Miss Hamilton, rearranging her glasses. -The Trace hardly detects them.

-Let me be very clear about this, Fowl. Blood magic is a dangerous thing; some would say almost Dark. No wizard of good repute would make a habit of using it.

‘Good repute. As if! Haven’t you read the name at the entrance?’ Artemis nodded, sensibly.

-We have strict rules to keep the wizarding world safe and hidden. You cannot reveal the existence of the magical community to muggles by any mean, nor profit from it in any way.

Artemis wondered if the spark of inspiration had been noticed by the woman.

-They cannot know how we live, or the things that we can do. If they became aware of us, the clashing of our worlds could be catastrophic.

Artemis pondered this. Yes, it was very probable. People did not tend to like potential threats, and that was what wizards and witches were. It happened the same with fairies, that’s why they had chosen to hide underground. Their pacific nature made them choose hiding instead of fighting, even when they could wipe out humans with their technology nowadays. They even had DNA cannons, for God’s sake! Without mentioning magic…

‘Wait a second. This wizards and witches have magic, and they are humans. They would desire power, wealth, freedom. Why don’t rule the world?’

-So you have decided to live in the shadows, separated from history. Why would you do that? What possible event could make you… -Artemis’ eyes broadened as he realized. -There was a persecution -he whispered. -You were being hunted and forced to hide. They killed a lot of people on the charge of witchcraft during the Renaissance in Europe, didn’t they? How many of you died? How frequent is the gift? It has to be a recessive gene.

-Very clever, Fowl -said McGonagall. -Just as they said you would. The Statute of Secrecy was established because of the witch hunt. I don’t know what you mean with recessive gene, but if you want to learn more I advise you to attend Hogwarts. You must learn control. I could feel the magic on you as soon as you entered this room. With your father’s veil gone, your gift is awakening, it soon will be evident.

-You invite me freely into your world?

-It is your world too, even if you don’t know it yet.

McGonagall looked almost sad. She opened her purse, searching for something.

-I came here as a favour for a friend, and in his behalf, I give you this.

She took out a thick book, that could never fit in a purse so small, and put it in the table in front of them.

-One of the best records of the history of the wizarding world ever written. You will find many answers inside but also, if I have understood something about you, more questions. Come to us, you will learn, and you will be safe.

She stood up, and Miss Hamilton quickly followed. They were about to head for the door, when Artemis spoke.

-You have talked a lot about safety with my mother before, Professor. Something happened at your school, you insist too much on security.

-Hogwarts have the best defences against any threat, weather magical or…

-If you want me to trust you, you should tell me what happened. Or I could think you wish to keep me in the dark on purpose.

McGonagall seemed doubtful.

-Otherwise I am sure that the Minister would like to inform me of any possible inconvenience that could disturb our future friendship.

Miss Hamilton opened her mouth to talk, but one of the other agents spoke first.

-The Chamber of Secrets.

McGonagall and auror Harkness cried out at the same time.

-Willoughby!

-Barnett!

-He has the right to know, Minerva. He will find out, anyway. Everyone is talking about it. Have you talked to the parents of the children who were attacked? I have. The Finch-Fletchleys, muggles all of them. They suffered too much, waiting for his son to die or wake up. They didn’t even know such a thing could happen in a school! Mr. Fowl has the right to know, before he makes his decision.

A deep frown appeared in McGonagall’s face, and auror Barnett seemed almost sheepish at the end of his speech.

-Very well. Last year in Hogwarts, an unknown beast managed to enter the school. Four students were attacked, but they all survived and they are completely healthy today.

-Minerva, that’s hardly an explanation!

-If everyone is speaking about it, I’m sure he will find someone else to tell him all the details, Willoughby Barnett. If you want, you can stay here to do that, while I return to the Ministry and explain how an auror interfered with my duties.

Barnett paled and said nothing more. That woman surely was a teacher. She had the energy of one, even if she wasn’t young.

-As a result of these events, the security of the school has been reinforced by both the Ministry and the teachers. The beast has been dealt with, and the entrance it used is closed. Nothing of the sort will happen again, Mr. Fowl, I can guarantee you that.

-I will keep that in mind. Thank you for the book. Butler will escort you all outside.

McGonagall nodded once, almost regally.

-Good bye, then. I expect to see you soon again.

-Good bye, professor McGonagall, it has been a pleasure. Miss Hamilton, send my regards to the Minister. Tell him I hope to hear from him soon.

The blonde woman smiled.

-He will be glad to have found such a sensible young man.

As they walked out, Artemis couldn’t resist to say one las thing.

-Agents. I wouldn’t let Butler out of my sight.

Both of them looked at the bodyguard, taking in his size and bulking constitution. Barnett tried to supress his shudder of fear, while Harkness’ smiled like a madman. Artemis frowned slightly. That last reaction was not the expected one. Maybe there was more to Jack Harkness than what met the eye.

Once he was alone, he took the voluminous book from the table. He lifted the elegant leather cover and looked at the title. 'A History of Magic' he read 'by renowned historian Bathilda Bagshot'. The first few pages were enough to capture all of Artemis’ attention. The style of the author was concise but through. She presented an ambitious project of summarizing the history of magicians, find out the truth of the most obscure passages, and at the same time identify the forces behind the main events. The sometimes ironic prose made Artemis wonder if he had stumbled upon the wizard’s Gibbon. Before he realized it, he had finished the first part.

-Artemis, your mother wants to talk with you.

Butler was back.

-I expected as much. Did any of the magicians cause any trouble?

-No, but I have a hunch about that Harkness agent. I’m almost sure I saw an expedient about him between the Torchwood files. I am going to look it up right now.

-You do that, Butler. I will go to mother in a moment, don’t worry.

The bodyguard retired. Artemis flipped through the pages, almost distracted. Angeline wanted him to go to Hogwarts. This man, Dumbledore, appeared to reside in the magical school. His name kept popping up at every turn… After turning one more page, Artemis found a paper sheet, carefully folded in four. He opened it and found the inside filled with a flourishing calligraphy in blue ink.

Young master Fowl:

Allow me to greet you properly. We have never been formally introduced, but I have followed your life with personal interest and found myself delighted very often. I am happy that my little present has reached your hands. Surely, a mind like yours will find its contents fascinating, but not nearly enough to satisfy the thirst of knowledge that comes with youth. You can find more information in the marvellous Diagon Alley, which I am sure you already located. There you will also find the materials of the following list, which you will need for the summer courses.

UNIFORM

1. Three sets of plain work robes (black)

2. One plain pointed hat (black) for day wear

3. One pair of protective gloves (dragon hide or similar)

4. One winter cloak (black, silver fastenings)

COURSE BOOKS

The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1 and 2) by Miranda Goshawk

Magical Theory by Adalbert Waffling

A Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration by Emetic Switch

One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi by Phyllida Spore

Magical Drafts and Potions by Arsenius Jigger

Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander

The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection by Quentin Trimble

Voyages with Vampires by Gilderoy Lockhart

OTHER EQUIPMENT

Wand

Cauldron (pewter, standard size 2) set

Glass or crystal phials

Telescope set

Brass scales

You can also bring an owl, or a cat or a toad, although you do not strike me as a toad-person. I have done my best to copy the list of requirements for the first year students, but I have also included some books of the second year that may prove useful. See you in July, Mr. Fowl. Cordially yours,

ALBUS DUMBLEDORE

Artemis read the letter twice. Then he closed his eyes.

‘This is an already old game, and the players have begun to show themselves. Fudge and Dumbledore. The Ministry, the purebloods and the aurors. The Dark Lord, whoever he is. And the wizarding school is somehow in the midst of all.’

Going to Hogwarts in search of answers seemed both difficult and dangerous for anyone who was not a genius. In other words, it was his kind of job. Nevertheless, Dumbledore sounded very sure that he would do exactly that, and Artemis didn’t like that one bit. No, he had to learn as much as he could from the wizarding world, and attending the school may be his best way in. He already knew the non-magical side of the history of his family, he needed to discover the other side, the most well-hidden. And if he did, maybe he would be able to understand what happened in the Arctic, and what were the creatures that killed his father. Oh, well. He would attend Hogwarts. But first, a visit to Diagon Alley was in order.

-*-*-*-

Three days after the visit of McGonagall and company, Artemis travelled to London. Against his every wish, he found himself accompanied by not one but two extra people. His mother and Juliet had insisted so much on going with him, that he had been forced to comply. When Angeline Fowl decided something it was very difficult to refuse. Not that Artemis hadn’t tried.

-It is going to be the first time I go into the wizarding world. We still ignore the family’s position in it. I cannot predict how the wizards and witches are going to react to our presence.

-I don’t care about that. I will bring Juliet with me.

Artemis remembered that at that point in the discussion his head had started to hurt. He had fallen asleep on his desk the previous night.

-Juliet has not completed her training yet, mother. But my concern was not about getting physically attacked. Remember father was still in the old business when he left. I would like to spare you every possible dishonour.

Angeline had looked at him with a fierce glint in her eyes.

-Do you think I have never felt the burden of the name Fowl? I married your father knowing very well what awaited me. There’s nothing they can say that can shame me. I am your mother, Arty, and I am a Fowl. I’m going with you.

And there had been such heart-breaking grace in her features, that Artemis yielded to her words. So when he reached the signalled place in Charing Cross Road, with Butler right behind him, Angeline and Juliet were there. His mother wore a simple but elegant white dress, completed with a refined hat in the same colour. In contrast, Juliet was dressed in the same juvenile fashion that characterized her, with silver reflecting sunglasses and a baseball cap. She looked more excited than any of them.

Artemis led the way into the tiny pub in front of them. The entrance was just as described in the instructions given by Selwyn. A metal sign hanged over the door, showing the piece that gave the place its name: The Leaky Cauldron. The inside was as gloomy as the main façade suggested. A fire crackled in an old chimney, but it was not enough to disperse the shadows. Small groups of costumers occupied the mismatched chairs. An old witch seeped from an enormous beer glass and a lone wizard smoked slowly while resting an arm over a closed box that moved occasionally. As Artemis and the rest walked in, every conversation stopped. The costumers looked at them with a varied range of expressions. Surprise, curiosity and even hostility, in some cases. Artemis feigned nonchalance, and approached the counter. The probable owner of the business acted as if he hadn’t seen them yet.

-Good morning. I am looking for Diagon Alley. As you can tell, we are new around here.

The bartender looked at them and frowned. He was bald and lacked many teeth. A shabby owner for a shabby place.

-Yes… yes. I can tell. Muggles. But ain’t you too old for your first time here?

-As a matter of fact, I am a special case.

-And who may you be, young man?

-Artemis Fowl the second.

The frown in the bald man’s face deepened. Artemis had heard a few gasps after his statement. He had expected as much. The bartender started polishing the wooden surface in front of him, as if lost in deep thought.

-Coming back, aren’t you? -he said, at last. -Back door, walk till the brick wall. Then count, three up, two across. Knock three times.

He didn’t look at them again.

The courtyard was full of trash. Artemis scoffed. This was supposed to be the main entrance. Where was the finesse? Where was the culture? He was starting to have doubts about this whole affair. Artemis stood in front of the wall. He was supposed to count something, right.

‘Count what? There are only bricks here… Oh.’

Right above the trash can there was a minuscule mark in the form of an arrow. Nobody would notice it, unless they were looking for it. That should be the starting point. Artemis followed the bartender’s instructions and knocked three times on a brick that looked equal to all the others. What was he supposed to expect? The brick he had just touched quivered. A small hole appeared on its surface and grew exponentially in just one second. Suddenly, they were in front of an archway tall enough for Butler to come through without trouble. Remarkable. Wizards appeared to have a thing for unsuspected doors. The other side of this one was bursting with activity. Artemis couldn’t help feeling a little impressed.

A cobbled street extended in both directions, twisting as if a drunken architect had designed it, full of people and stores. Artemis entered the flow of the crowd and was immediately surrounded by an apotheosis of colours, scents and sounds that he had never experienced before. Sure, he had been to strange places, oriental bazars, clandestine art and technology expositions, traditional markets all over Europe, but he had never seen something like this. Cauldrons and owls, clothes and books and… brooms? Artemis felt dizzy. His brain was trying to process and explain everything he saw, and half of it didn’t make sense. He realized he had stopped in the middle of the street. In that moment, he felt a reassuring touch on his shoulder. It wasn’t his mother. It was Butler, scanning every passer-by from behind his sunglasses. Artemis sobered up. This was not the time to act like a child. He looked back, where his mother was standing alongside Juliet. Both were smiling and the younger girl was pointing at everything she considered fun, while talking nonstop. Considering they reactions, some people were already offended by her commentaries.

-That’s enough Juliet -said Artemis. -Stay with my mother while I go to the bank. It’s fine if you want to look around, but do not draw too much attention on yourselves.

-Copy that, boss. -said Juliet, trying to look as professional as she could. Artemis hoped she would remember.

Artemis and Butler walked away. Both McGonagall and Selwyn had spoken about the wizard’s bank. The former had included it in her long explanation to Angeline, about the proper way to buy the uniform and school’s materials; the latter had been much more useful.

‘The most secure place on earth, master, besides Azkaban. Some say the high security vaults are guarded by dragons. Most of it is built underground, hundreds of miles under the city. No one thief could ever escape.’

As a result, Artemis was eager to see that place with his own eyes. The fact that Britain’s only bank in the wizarding wold was run by goblins held some interesting implications. In the past six months, he had started to form a plan, a grand plot to restore the family name. Maybe he could give these goblins some competition, and perhaps a nightly visit one or two times? He had always had a thing for challenges. The white building of Gringotts was difficult to miss, and it held a strong resemblance with its non-magical equivalents. A strange little creature, dressed in scarlet and gold stood by the doors. He stared at them, cold and calculating.

-First time? -it asked, in a croaked voice.

-Indeed -answered Artemis. -But I am eager to start business.

He had put the right inflection on his voice, the one that convinced older people to overlook his youth. The creature bowed respectfully to the potential costumer, and asked them to follow. The speech and demeanour of the boy indicated a wealthy family. Gringotts was always glad when some rich muggle family sprouted a magical scion.

As they entered, Artemis noticed that the doors where made of bronze. The interior held the appearance of sober grandeur that characterized respectable banks, which somewhat compensated the earlier displays of dubious taste in the magical community. Artemis looked at their guide with discretion. In size, it was similar to the fairies, but it had a glint of greed in the eyes, that Artemis had only seen in Brezo Cudgeon. Its feet and fingers were very long, and the nails in the hands where pointy. They reached a second pair of doors, made of a silvery metal. ‘It can’t be real silver!’ complained Artemis’ brain ‘Who in his right senses would…’ Then he read the words engraved.

Enter, stranger, but take heed Of what awaits the sin of greed, For those who take, but do not earn, Must pay most dearly in their turn. So if you seek beneath our floors A treasure that was never yours, Thief, you have been warned, beware Of finding more than treasure there.

Artemis tried to contain a smile. He had been warned. The doors opened, and they entered a marble hall of considerable dimensions. Artemis looked around and calculated ninety-four high stools, each occupied by a goblin. As Artemis and Butler approached the long counter, the teenager tried to absorb as much as he could of the activities that took place in the bank. There was a lot of paperwork being filled and people depositing and withdrawing money. Some goblins were using scales to weigh coins and jewels. Old-fashioned scales, made of brass. Artemis observed with curiosity.

-Kadhgan -called their guide, to one of the free goblins once they were in front of him. -I bring a new client.

The goblin of the stool looked down at them. As soon as he took in Artemis’ appearance and met his cold gaze, his dark eyes flashed with interest. The other goblin retired in silence.

-Good morning- spoke Artemis. -I would like to buy a vault. Can you make a direct transfer from a non-magical bank?

-Of course we can. We have people that work as intermediaries. Nevertheless, you will have to pay for the vault.

-I understand. Do you accept British currency?

The goblin nodded, ostentatiously, as he selected a form and started writing.

-We do.

-In that case I would like to buy a vault immediately, and make a few transactions.

-Very well, young man. What is your name?

-Artemis Fowl the Second.

A brief expression of surprise crossed the Kadhgan’s features. The goblin at his right, who was weighing sapphires, lost hold of the scales and the brass plates fell in front of him with a loud noise. Many heads turned towards them. Artemis bent down to pick up one of the gems, that had fallen to the floor.

-Good cut- he said, measuring the blue stone as he slowly approached the goblin. -Classical, tear-drop shaped. But I think you will find that the primary blue hue does not exceed the eighty percent. Too much purple.

He put it back with the others. The goblin was looking at him, quietly. His hair and beard were silver and his face sported far more wrinkles than the other creatures Artemis had seen.

-A week in the furnaces may improve the colour, or you could lend it to me and have it back in three days. I guarantee the result would be quite superior.

-Impressive -said the old goblin with a broken voice. -I can see you are a Fowl. I remember another one with the same name. He tried to convince me to reveal the safety spells we use in the vaults. He didn’t like it when I refused.

Artemis didn’t let himself show any emotion as he met the goblin’s stare.

-He was my father. He is dead.

-My condolences, then. He was a great wizard and earned the respect of us goblins. His departure was an unfortunate event, as he was one of the few who understood the true value of gold and silver.

-If that is the case, master Fowl -said Kadhgan- You already have a vault. Your family owns one of the oldest high-security vaults in Gringotts. When your father left he took with him all the money, but many jewels and magical relics remained. We always suspected he would return, if only for ending his contract with us.

He called one of the goblins who were standing nearby who came running in the act.

-Bring me the key of vault seven hundred and fifty-five.

The goblin left with a vivacious pace.

-Very well, I will make a deposit then. Butler.

Butler, who had remained silent during the whole exchange handed him a briefcase.

-What is the currency exchange rate from pounds to wizarding currency?

-Four point ninety-three sterling pounds to one galleon, or zero point twenty-nine sickles.

Artemis opened the briefcase and Kadhgan’s glinted mischievously.

-Three-thousand pounds. I’m going to need one third of it in wizarding coin, put the rest in my vault. We can setup a digital transfer right now from my Swiss bank. Five hundred thousand pounds would be a good place to start.

-I’m afraid that is not possible, master Fowl -said Kadhgan. -Magic does not go well with technology. In Gringotts we do things in a different way than muggles. You will have to fill and sign a transference form.

Artemis nodded once. He really could have done that transfer, using his new invention, but he knew usual technology wouldn’t work in that place. It was a considerable inconvenience. However, he had hoped that the goblins had found a way to overcome it for the good of his business. Compared to the non-magical financial world, where fortunes were made and lost within the hour thanks to the interconnectedness and speed of the digital era, they were in clear disadvantage. Oh, Artemis had already seen a crack in the system, and he had a good idea of how to exploit it.

-Paperwork, how charming -he said, just to see what would happen. -I feel like I’m in a period drama.

The expression in Kadhgan’s face tensed a little. The little goblin from before returned with a little object clutched in his hand.

-Here is your key, master Fowl. And these are the forms. You can sign with this.

Artemis took the golden key and shoved it into the pocket of his single-breasted jacket. Kadhgan was handing him a quill. After reading and signing all the paperwork, Artemis closed the briefcase. Sacks of golden coins had been brought from the vaults, and Butler was busy accommodating them in a giant suitcase he had insisted on bringing. Artemis hadn’t thought it would be necessary. Who would have imagined the wizarding currency was all in metallic? Artemis proceeded to interrogate Kadhgan in length about the interest rate of savings, investments, deposit and withdraw procedures and stock markets. Once he was satisfied, he signalled to Butler that it was time to leave. He needed to think about everything he had heard that morning. One session of meditation may not be enough.

-One last question: does the Ministry have access to the records of the transactions of your costumers? Dates, amounts and others?

Kadhgan smiled rather maliciously.

-No. Bagnold tried to sanction an act about Financial Control, but we would not allow it, nor would many wizards and witches. As of today, the Auror Department need a special permit from the Department of Law Enforcement to do such thing, and they can only give it in the event that the owner of the vault is found guilty of very specific crimes.

Artemis was delighted.

-Very well, my friend. I shall go now.

-Have a good day, master Fowl. It is always an honour to serve one of your lineage.

Despite Artemis’ remarks about their old-fashioned protocols, the goblin seemed almost fond of him. There was something like a pointy smile on his face. Artemis shuddered internally. These creatures were strange and didn’t resemble one bit the ones he had helped to stop in Heaven. Those had been stupid, cruel monsters who could set you on fire just to see you jump around on flames. The ones who run Gringotts were very different, intelligent and crafty, but also dangerous, he could tell. He would do well not underestimating them.

-What was that thing about the sapphires, Artemis? -asked Butler, as they crossed the metallic doors again. -Since when are you a miraculous jeweller?

Artemis smiled, slightly. That speech had been just an excuse to talk to the goblin that had recognized his name. It had worked very well.

-Since I know a certain dwarf -he answered- who owes me a favour.

-*-*-*-

Angeline and Juliet where nowhere to be seen, but Butler found the soon enough. He pointed to a small crowd and Artemis was able to see his mother’s white hat for a moment. He groaned, softly. ‘What now, Juliet?’ As they approached, people moved out of their way. Butler usually had that effect, which was magnified now by his obvious exasperation. In the centre of the crowd, Juliet held someone against the ground in a headlock.

-Did you see what that girl did? -heard Artemis.

-Not really…

-It happened too fast!

Butler stood in front of his sister. Artemis was sure he was scowling under the sunglasses. He looked around and found his mother, standing in the front line, looking at the fighters with glee. Although, calling them fighters could imply that were still competing for victory, which they weren’t. The boy under Juliet struggled, helpless. Artemis could tell he was taller and broader than her. He must have underestimated her and done something stupid.

-And she is just a muggle girl!

-She would be pretty if she wasn’t so wild…

Three other boys of aristocratic appearance were also very close to Juliet and his victim. They looked incredulous and some even seemed amused at the scene. Probably friends of the boy writhing in the floor.

-Juliet! -said Butler, and the girl looked up immediately. -What do you think you are doing?

A guilty expression appeared on his sister’s face.

-He insulted me! Called me a filthy muggle!

The boy cursed, and Juliet tightened her grip. Artemis winced. He had become very familiar with that specific movement during his ‘training’ with the blonde.

-Who is filthy now, eh? Apologize!

-How can he apologize if you would not let him breathe?

-He had enough air a moment ago, when he refused.

Butler looked back at Artemis. He shook his head.

-Let her be. If he insulted her he should apologize.

-You can’t be serious! -said one of the well-dressed boys. -He is a Flint! Order your servant to back off!

-She may be at my service, but she has every right to defend herself. -Artemis approached the boy that had spoken. -And if I were Flint, I would apologize. Juliet can do this all day.

Defeated, the dark-haired boy murmured and apology. Juliet released him and stood up, dusting herself. Angeline gave her the silver sunglasses she must have taken off to wrestle. Artemis thought his mother looked a little too pleased. The rumpled boy was trying to straighten his clothes, with meagre success. Artemis went to him. The crowd started to dissolve.

-You will find that disrespecting any of my household is not the most intelligent thing to do.

The boy looked at him with hostility. His friends closed lines behind him.

-And who are you?

-My name is Artemis Fowl, the Second.

They recognized the name, as they exchanged looks of surprise.

-Fowl. Really? -croaked Flint, his voice hoarse. -Like the Fowls we all have heard about? A disgrace for all of us purebloods? Spitting in the laws of the Ministry and mixing with muggles.

-I am one of those Fowls -said Artemis icily. This was interesting. Did all the purebloods regard his family the same way? From the ramblings of Selwyn, it was unlikely. -And you could be more careful with your words. Or are you trying to insult my family?

A tense silence followed his words. Flint launched forward but his friends held him back. His face was just in front of Artemis, and his crooked teeth were a painful thing to behold.

-No, Flint! We do not attack each other, remember? -told him a large and muscular boy. Another one, blond and pale with Germanic features, approached Artemis.

-Please forgive him. He is bad accepting defeat. My name is Wilhelm Spielman, these two are Montague and Bole. My mother is a half-blood, so I do not think its wrong marrying the non-magical. Especially when they strengthen our bloodlines.

He made a respectful reverence towards Angeline, who beamed at him. An olive branch. Artemis decided to accept it. He and Spielman shook hands.

-A pleasure to meet you -continued the blond boy, with a slight Teutonic accent -I am visiting the country for the holidays and visiting my friends.

-I see. You live in Berlin?

-As a matter of fact yes -smiled Spielman, aristocratically. -How could you tell?

-It’s the golden brooch you carry. I know the jeweller.

-It could have been a gift.

-There’s the way you pronounce determined words and also your shoes. Has your visit been pleasant?

-It’s getting more interesting by the second. My father always says that the old families should always stand together. He is a wise diplomat, and I agree with him. Is the most sensible thing to do, don’t you think so?

Flint was looking at him with resent, but Montague and Bole had neutral expressions and let his friend talk.

-Of course. But, do the Flints share the same belief?

Spielman was really the son of a diplomat. He had manipulated things in such way that the first one to talk with hostility would be the one to blame. Anyway, Artemis was not letting Flint go so easily.

-I would never associate myself with you, Fowl. -growled Flint, too thick to read between the lines. -You and your family are a disgrace to the name of a wizard.

-Once again you disrespect my family. Have you learned nothing?

In an almost casual movement, he made the signal and Butler advanced in long strides. Only then, Flint realized the danger he was in. The man in front of him was taller and more muscled than anyone he had ever seen. He moved with the grace of a predator and his face showed no mercy. Flint paled. Montague and Bole had backed down and he was left alone in front of the giant.

-Would you like to repeat what you just told me? -asked Artemis.

Flint opened his mouth to talk. In that moment, Butler flexed his arms. The legs of the boy started to tremble. He shook his head, feebly.

-Smart. -sentenced Artemis. He turned towards Spielman, who was directing a fulminating gaze to Flint. -I have business to attend so we’ll leave you here. I hope that’s not an inconvenience.

-Not at all- said Spielman. -I am glad to have met you, Artemis Fowl. If you ever visit Germany again, come to my house. We will visit my family’s state and I will compensate you with the hospitality of the old lineages. Ask any wizard or witch. Everyone knows the name Spielman in Berlin.

Artemis considered his words. Wilhelm Spielman was certainly the most intelligent wizard he had encountered. A pity he lived in Germany.

-I will. It was a pleasure to meet you too. Good-bye, Spielman.

-Good-bye, Fowl.

With a final warning gaze, Butler left Flint, who was trembling slightly by now. Angeline, who had observed the whole exchange with interest, approached Artemis as they walked down the street.

-What a sensible young man. Even if he has terrible friends. Don’t be too hard on Juliet, Arty. That boy mocked both of us while we were looking at the showcases.

Artemis sighed, and nodded once. Juliet was walking behind them, in a perfect imitation of Butler’s posture. The next place they had to visit was quite close. Artemis looked briefly at the name as they entered: Madame Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions.

Chapter Text

In which Fowl finds himself shopping, a strange wand is bonded, summer is too hot in Tuscany and a resourceful girl is given an important mission.

The shop was spacious and well-lit, with wide windows that opened to the street outside. A woman was standing on a stool, wearing what appeared to be an emerald-green robe with a lot of lace. A mousy girl was pinning the attire while listening to the instructions of the woman and her friend, another witch dressed in an old-fashioned purple dress. No one else was there.

-Good morning -said Artemis, looking at the girl. -May I speak to a tailor?

-Good morning love -said the woman in the stool, sporting a plastic smile. -Dear Malks will be back in a minute. She went inside to check the inventory. This has been such a successful season for her! She must be very proud. Don’t you think, Dottie?

Her expression showed that whether Malks was proud or not, she would be proud for both of them. The girl working in the monstrous dress smiled nervously.

-I’m sure she is, Mrs. Darrow. Please wait a moment -she told Artemis. -Madame Malkin will return soon. You and your family can use the chairs.

There were half a dozen of leather chairs around the room. Artemis and his mother sat down. Angeline invited Juliet to take a seat too, but the blonde girl refused. The slight frown of concentration in her face told Artemis that she wanted to make amends for the last incident.

-You are the girl who just taught that Flint boy a lesson, aren’t you? -spoke the witch in the purple dress. -She is very pretty, isn’t she, Melissa?

Melissa looked at Juliet from the heights of her stool, from her shoes to her hair.

-Very pretty -she said, without conviction. -And very brave. I could never have confronted any of that lot. All those purebloods… just their eyes make me tremble!

Artemis went from annoyed disinterest to lucid attention. Could he make them talk a little more on the subject? In that moment, his mother spoke.

-That’s our Juliet. She has the spirit of a young lioness. We have very high expectations for her.

The two witches smiled at her at the same time. As if they had been waiting for her to talk to them.

-Is she your daughter? Why does she wear such funny glasses?

-Artemis is my only son. Juliet is here as my bodyguard. Her family, the Butlers, have served the family of my husband for hundreds of years. The man with us is her brother, he takes care of my Arty. And about the glasses… I suppose she would say they are just chic.

The witches regarded the two bodyguards with apprehension, and then stopped looking at them at all, as if they refused to acknowledge their existence. Instead, the one trying the emerald green attire turned her head towards Artemis.

-Arty? Is that your name?

A vein pulsed in Artemis’ forehead. He fought to supress a groan.

‘Mother…’

He had a strong disaffection for people who called him that. Well, everyone that was not Angeline.

-You talked with Flint and his gang. Weren’t you afraid? -said the witch in purple, before Artemis had a chance to answer her friend’s daft question.

-Hardly, madam. And not all of them were as inclined to aggression as their friend.

The smile of the witch wavered, as she took in Artemis’ phrasing.

-I bet they tried to bully you for being muggle-born. There’s nothing wrong with that, love. I know many respectable wizards and witches who are muggle-born, including Jeanette here. The truth is, that the old families are the ones with dubious reputation. Dottie! That hurt!

The witch in the purple dress, who Artemis assumed was Jeanette, nodded in agreement as the young girl apologized profusely.

-They just like to stomp on us, with all their talk about the superiority of their lineages. Don’t mind them, Arty. They’re no good.

Artemis tried to ignore the name the witch called him and concentrate on the discussion.

-So they… despise you?

-They believe just because they have magical ancestry, they are better that the rest of us. Always trying to control us while mistreating everyone… I have filled several complaints at the office and the Ministry but they wouldn’t do anything.

That solidified Artemis’ theories. The purebloods were, as their name indicated, those with magical parents and grandparents. They had influence and money, and proclaimed themselves innately superior. Artemis was familiar with such groups. The superiority façade was a necessary creation to maintain their status, but some of them actually believed all of it. As the heir to one of the greatest fortunes of Europe, Artemis had met a handful of individuals who did. He enjoyed entangling them in his plots, even if he would never say it out loud. They were easier to be played on than a pipe. The real measure of a man were his wit and ambition, not his lineage.

However, with magic in the equation he could not jump to conclusions. He had the strong suspicion that the magic genes were recessive, so the purebloods maybe had a point. Artemis wondered how many generations had to be magical for one to be considered a pureblood. Jeanette took his thoughtful face as an encouragement.

-They wouldn’t do anything, because those who don’t work for them, are afraid of them. Everyone knows most of them are Dark, even if they won’t say it aloud.

The sudden gasp from Dottie indicated Artemis that the other witch had crossed a line. So there was discrimination from both sides? The purebloods considered the muggle-born beneath them, and the commoners accused them of dark magic. Artemis looked at his mother. Angeline seemed to have understood the majority of what was going on.

-And what happens if one parent is magical and the other a muggle? -she asked with concern.

-They are half-bloods, dear -explained Melissa. -The purebloods don’t hate them so they don’t care about the way they treat the rest. Some of the oldest families used to reject them, but they are mostly gone.

In that moment, a short witch with some overweight came through one of the doors in the back. Her hair was white, and wore a little pair of glasses over her pink nose. Every piece of here attire was of a different shade of lilac.

-O goodness, me -she said. -Have you been waiting for too long?

-We kept then entertained, Malks -said Melissa. -And Dottie here is almost done.

The practiced smile Madame Malkin directed at her costumer showed she didn’t like her too much.

-Thank you for that, Melissa. And Dottie?

-Yes, ma’am?

-You have done a splendid job.

The girl beamed and stuck another pin in the fabric, pinching Melissa again. While the witch reprimanded her once more, Madame Malkin looked at the two guardians, and then to Angeline and Artemis.

-What can I do for you?

Her gaze oscillated between the two of them.

-We need three sets of black robes, for Hogwarts; a winter cloak, protective gloves and… a hat.

Artemis still had doubts about that last part. It was probably a joke from Dumbledore. Madame Malkin nodded, enthusiastically.

-You are going to Hogwarts then? I have never seen you before and you are too old to be a first-year. Are you a transfer?

So the hat wasn’t a joke. Really?

-Something like that. I had to take care of some urgent business, so I couldn’t attend the school.

-So formal. -smiled the witch. -We will have you fitted up in no time. Your family is muggle, aren’t they?

She indicated him a stool, and once Artemis was standing on it, she handed him a long robe.

-How could you tell?

-The clothes, obviously -answered Madame Malkin, refusing to notice the sarcasm. -I know every tailor in the wizarding world. None of them made your mother’s dress, nor that suit of yours.

Artemis slipped the robe over his head.

-It’s an Armani suit.

-Is it, now?

Madame Malkin worked with efficiency. Artemis had to admit she was quite good at her job. Even when he started to make his specifications, the part that most of his tailors dreaded, she only listened and took notes. When the time to leave came, Artemis had no major complaints. They paid in golden galleons, and Artemis gave butler the bags with the clothes. Angeline said goodbye to Melissa and Jeanette, with whom she had been chatting, and added something Artemis could not hear. The artificial smiles of the two witches froze in their faces as Angeline walked away. Remarkable. They left the shop while the two witches looked at them with fear.

-You scared them- said Artemis, once they were out.

-They deserved it - answered his mother. -Speaking nasty things about the old families. As ours is one of them, I will have none of it. Besides, I didn’t like that comment on Juliet’s sunglasses or the way they looked at my dress.

Artemis felt something warm in his chest. Angeline could be fearsome when she wanted to.

‘And I have been making her cry.’

Again that useless thought.

-It’s not as if they have any authority on the matter. That green dress had too much lace. I must say, mother; I’m starting to worry about magical fashion.

His mother smiled. A real smile of happiness.

-Oh, Arty. You have the twisted sense of humour of your father.

Artemis felt a stab of pain. That had caught him unprepared. He clenched his fists as Butler threw him a concerned look. No. He could not go there. Not now. Angeline had realized her mistake, and quickly managed to make a clever observation about one of the shops. They continued walking as the moving crowd parted around them. The next thing in the list were books.

When they arrived to Flourish and Blotts, Artemis looked at the book-stacked shelves that reached the ceiling and his mood brightened. What to search for first? He left his mother and the Butlers buying the school books from an assistant who seemed delighted with them being muggles. The leather-bound volumes had the most bewildering tittles he had ever encountered, and he had been collecting arcane books for the last few months. As he wandered between the shelves, he found other costumers coming and going in silence. He had selected two books on recent history, one about enchanted artefacts and was looking on a section about some mathematics-related magic when he heard a voice.

-If you are looking for Numerology and Grammatica, it’s on the fifth shelf.

A brown-haired girl was seating in the floor, surrounded by a nest of books. She was reading a voluminous tome, and her eyes never left the page.

-It is the required text for the Arithmancy class in Hogwarts, but I think is a little basic.

Artemis regarded her with interest.

-Arithmancy? As in the ancient Greek practice to predict the outcome of battles?

-Well it does other things too. -she looked up, with interrogation in her chocolate eyes. -And it also has Chaldean origins.

-Can it really predict the future?

-I’m not sure yet. But from what I can gather, it does.

Artemis considered her scepticism and her clothes and drew a reasonable conclusion.

-You are from a muggle family, aren’t you?

Her expression turned defensive. She looked at his suit and posture, taking them in.

-Yes. My parents are both muggles. Why do you ask?

Oh. She had misunderstood him.

-I may be a little lost. Where is the science section? Or whatever they call it in the wizarding world. I have been looking for a long while.

He had also been searching for books on blood magic, but he was not going to tell her that. The girl relaxed.

-There is no good equivalent -she said. -There is Arithmancy for mathematics, potions for chemistry, magic astronomy, that is based in what we would call astrology, magizoology for biology…

Artemis could not believe what he was hearing.

-You substitute an exact science like mathematics with some shady discipline based on numerology?

-Well, I think wizards and witches don’t face as many problems as muggles with things like transport, communication or construction. So they probably don’t need them as much to solve technical difficulties.

That statement was outrageous.

-There is no society that wouldn’t improve greatly with the application of science.

The girl blinked, as if she was not used to get any response to such statements. After a few second, she lowered her eyes and smiled.

-Is that what you believe?

-It is a certainty.

Her smile widened. Had he said something fun?

-I think the same. But most of the magical community is unaware of the basics of the natural sciences. And they are convinced that it’s muggle business.

Oh, Artemis was going to teach them a lesson. After he had made some profit, of course. It now made sense that his father, a businessman who liked to always be two steps ahead in every industry, would be frustrated with the wizarding world. He shook his head and took another book from the shelf besides him. ‘A Study of Arabic Numbers and their Magical Properties’ he read. Artemis shook his head. He had always regarded numerology as a hoax.

-It’s impossible to predict the future -he whispered.

-At least give it a try. -said the girl. She stood up and searched in the shelves.

-Here. This one is good. It has an extensive explanation on the theory of Arithmancy.

Artemis took the book, covered in black leather and with golden ornaments.

-And it is not predicting the future like it was an oracle. It’s more like predicting tendencies.

-Really? -an idea flashed in Artemis’ mind. -Could it predict market tendencies?

The girl looked at him with surprise.

-I… suppose.

Artemis added the book to the pile he was already holding. The girl tilted her head. She was graceful. Probably. Under the right light.

-Where do you study? Durmstrang? Ilvermorny?

-I will be joining Hogwarts after the summer.

-Then we will see each other! I go to Hogwarts too!

Her enthusiasm took Artemis by surprise. Why would she be so happy? There was an awkward silence after that. He had no clue about what he should say next.

-My name is Hermione Granger -she blurted. Artemis shook her hand with relief.

-Pleased to meet you, Miss. Granger.

He didn’t have the time to introduce himself as she instantly started pondering the merits of the book she had just given him. After that, Artemis asked her about potions, and she started to dig into her book nest talking non-stop about the different recipes they contained. Despite her rambling, most of what she said made sense. She was not that bad, for a girl his age.

-Mione! - called a voice nearby. – Your mother is threatening with leaving if you don’t finish soon. And I think three hours is enough time to pick your summer readings.

-Five minutes more dad, please! -answered Hermione.

A man in a tweed suit appeared from the hallways. He was lean and brunet, with a timid but educated demeanour. The man looked at her daughter and then at Artemis. He rose an eyebrow. Was Hermione flustered?

-Alright, then -smiled the older man. - Five minutes more.

He left. Artemis was at a loss. He had the sensation that Hermione’s father was getting the wrong idea. But he couldn’t imagine what that idea could be. Hermione resumed her explanation and he returned to his analytical interpretation of it.

-Wait a minute. Did you just say Alchemy?

-Hum… yes?

- Is it similar to the one muggles know?

-Very much. They search for the philosopher’s stone, the universal solvent and the universal medicine. It is a very difficult discipline.

Artemis felt a shiver, like a snake crawling up his back. He had been intrigued by the prospect when he learned about it from the fairies. And have been very disappointed when he learned they had reached a dead end. He had not thought about it since the day he almost died during the goblin rebellion. He should have. Even if the fairies had failed, that didn’t mean he would. Why hadn’t he thought about it? A way to create gold. Nothing could be more desirable.

-Has any Alchemist succeeded in the creation of any such substances?

-I… don’t know.

Artemis narrowed his eyes. She knew more, it was obvious. Could he persuade her to tell him?

-Listen, I have to go -said Hermione, nervously. -I will see you again in Hogwarts.

‘No. Stay. I need to know.’

It was not that important. He could find out on his own. It was better if no one knew the nature of his pursuits yet. For all he had seen, wizards weren’t immortal or showering in gold; so if an Alchemist had succeeded, he had kept it a secret. But if he could lay his hands on a philosopher’s stone… The possibilities were endless. It was a real effort to kip his excitement hidden.

-Of course. I have entertained you long enough.

Hermione smiled, shyly. She looked at the pile of books in her hands.

-Oh, it wasn’t like that. It’s nice to have intelligent conversation.

She left before Artemis could answer. What a strange girl. Just a moment later, she returned, breathless. Had she run?

-I almost forgot. What is your name?

Artemis almost hesitated, wondering how familiar she was with the crime world. There was no way to tell.

-Artemis Fowl, at your service.

He smiled. It always made people nervous, and he wanted to see how Miss. Granger would react. She gawped, if only for a couple of seconds.

-Fowl? As in the Irish family?

There was fear in her eyes. That was better than the strange kindness that she had shown him thus far. At least Artemis was used to instil that feeling in others. So it was better, right?

-You have heard of us.

-Heard…!

Granger shook her head and turned away. She left as quickly as she had arrived. So much for an ally at Hogwarts.

As he went through the shelves, Artemis considered the whole incident for a little while and concluded it had gone as smoothly as it could possibly have. After all, he had gathered all the possible information before she became aware of who she was talking with. Granger had been aware of his family’s reputation in the outside world. She would have run away no matter what he said. At that point, Artemis redirected his attention to Alchemy. He called one of the assistants and asked for any book he had in the subject. The man warned him that it was a difficult subject, meant for older wizards, but finally complied and showed him what he wanted. There were very few books on Alchemy, and most of them were big expensive volumes. Buying them all at once would be suspicious. He chose one that seemed a good introductory read, and found out that he could purchase books via owl delivery. Although it didn’t sound very reliable, it could come in handy.

Artemis and the assistant returned to the cash register where his mother and Butler awaited. The former was talking with the manager, and picked her purse from the counter when she saw him.

-Found something interesting?

-Oh, just more secrets, to help me own the world one day.

Angeline and the manager laughed, but Butler only threw him a concerned look. His friend knew him too well.

After that they stopped at a pet’s store and, after hearing half an hour of the owner’s ramble on his different specimens, Artemis bought a black owl with golden eyes and named him Onyx. He had never had a pet, nor wanted one, but there was something about the sober appearance of that bird that made him think they could have a fruitful relationship. According to the owner of the Ember Wings Emporium, the owl was of a very high breed, famous for their sense of direction and their flight skill. Artemis had high expectations. He even forgave Juliet for speaking more of her nonsense while they were still on the store.

-He looks just like you! But fluffier. Maybe if you arranged your hair differently…

Artemis only directed her a murdering glare and she shut up.

The last place they had to visit was also the only one Artemis was a little worried about. What if he was too old? What if everyone was wrong and he wasn’t a wizard at all? The magical accidents that McGonagall had spoken of had never happened to him. In front of the narrow and gloomy shop, Artemis stopped, with his hand still in the knob.

-Is something wrong, Arty? -asked Angeline.

‘I am nervous’ he realized. But that was something he would never admit, so he straightened his sleeves and opened the door.

-Not at all.

The sound of a bell announced the arrival of the new clients. The shop was even smaller than it appeared to be form the outside. Thousands of boxes were piled up to the ceiling. The order in which they were distributed was somewhat diminished by the dust that covered every surface. Artemis felt a curious sensation, as if the place was filled with static electricity.

-Is there no one here? -said Juliet, looking around suspiciously.

-Good morning -Artemis heard the voice coming from his right, very close. Butler’s reaction was immediate. He took out his Sig Sauer and pointed it right to the head of the man that had been hiding in the shadows. How had he managed to slip past Butler’s senses? With an apologetic look in his eyes, the wizard walked away from Artemis and Butler, slowly.

-Sorry to have startled you -he said, looking only at the gun. -It is a bad habit of mine.

Once he was at an acceptable distance, Artemis gave Butler the signal and the servant lowered his weapon.

-This could have ended very badly -said Artemis. -I advise you to stop pulling that trick. You could come across someone who shoots first and asks questions later.

The pale eyes of the wizard gleamed as he nodded. His gaze was old, wise almost. Artemis had the sudden certainty that this man had lived more than anyone he had encountered.

-A sensible advice. It is good to see sagacity in someone so young. I wasn’t sure if you would come, Artemis Fowl. I thought maybe one of the Three had chosen you.

-You know me.

-I know by heart all the old lineages of the islands. And of course I knew your father. I still remember the first wand I sold him, when he was younger than you. Eleven inches long, pliant. Dragon heartstring core, made of hazel wood. Good for potent spells. It wasn’t the last one he bought me, of course. He had a dangerous life, your father. Always playing his own game.

-What do you mean, chosen by one of the Three?

-I told your father an heirloom wand should never be the first. Conditions the child’s magic. But he was never one to listen, so when you didn’t come at the proper time, I thought he had given you one of the Three. Hmmm…. I say given, but in truth it is the wand who chooses the wizard.

So these Three were wands that belonged to his family. Artemis wondered if they were part of the treasure that remained in the Fowl’s vault in Gringotts, as they certainly were not on the secret chamber at the manor. Were these wands special or important in any way? How many families had heirloom wands? He required more information.

-My father went missing, before he could teach me magic properly -he told Ollivander. -And I have never had a wand. Could you tell me what are these three wands you mentioned?

The old wizard looked at Artemis with wonder.

-So he never told you… -he mused. He set his silvery gaze on Butler, Juliet and Angeline. -He let you grow like a muggle. Hidden away. But how is that possible? You are a wizard; how could you not notice?

-When my father decided to leave, he put a veil on me. A veil that, until recently, concealed all magic.

Ollivander shook his head.

-That must have been an extraordinary and spell. No one had ever tried anything like that and succeeded. And he did it on his own son. There could have been dire consequences. Then again, he was never the kind of wizard to be discouraged by risks. Very well, if he couldn’t tell you, then I suppose I should.

The man’s gaze wondered around the room, but his mind was clearly elsewhere.

-The Three Wands of Tara are some of the most powerful relics ever crafted. Legend has it, that all of them were made at least in part by a Fowl. They had marvellous substances as cores, and would only bond exceptional wizards or witches. The White Star wand was made of aspen and had a core of acromantula web, with twelve enchanted diamonds engraved in the silver handle. It was also known as the Silver Thorne and people said it carried a blessing from the fairy queen Maeve that made its bearer immune to the flames and the bite of ice. Your father eventually bonded the White Star Wand. Often came to me for advice, but I could not help him very much. I had no part in the creation of the wand, and it was strange to me. It was beautiful, yes, but also terrifying. Made to defeat everything that stood in its path. I’ve always wondered…

Ollivander’s voice died. Artemis had a dreadful suspicion. Had his father had this wand when he travelled to Russia? Did he lose it in the shipwreck? He had certainly survived in the most terrible conditions for more than a year in the Arctic. Maybe the wand had saved his life. Maybe Britva’s men had taken it from him later. In a second, his mind took him back to the Arctic. He saw the white immensity of the landscape, the ship floating in dark waters. His heart was racing. He heard the shot and felt the gun in his freezing hand. And suddenly, his father was with him again. He had been so close… Dark silhouettes, moving in the dark. A blood-curdling scream tore through the air… No. Artemis pushed the memories away.

‘Concentrate. Here. Now. Think on the big picture. The puzzle. The game. The pieces, and the implications.’

He started to mentally develop the equations of Euler-Lagrange out of Hamilton’s principle. It helped. Ollivander continued his story.

-The second of the Three was made by Lord Tristan Fowl himself, who used it restlessly in service to the king before the witches and wizards were forced to hide. It was made of ebony and its core was true gold, whatever that means. Tristan’s wand was made for the war so it was a weapon, but many forget that Lord Fowl was a scholar himself. It is said that with the help of his black wand he could uncover the secrets of the universe. The third wand, the Scarlet Wand, was the most mysterious of the lot. Made of yew, the tales differ when telling what its core was. Ones say that it was some kind of ruby, others claim it was blood from some unknown creature. I asked several generations of Fowls before I gave up, but sometimes, at night, I still ask myself what it could be. Those are the Three Wands of Tara, one of them inherited, one stolen and one won in fair contest. Many a great witch or wizard has tried to take one of them, young master. When you find them, take care of them.

Artemis nodded, already plotting. Ollivander threw him a knowing look.

-It won’t go well -he said.

-What, exactly?

-Bonding one of the Three as your first wand. Your magic should develop in a natural way. Something impossible if you are using a wand who has lived more than you and had many owners.

Reluctantly, Artemis realized that what the old wizard was saying made sense.

-Very well, Mr. Ollivander. What would you suggest?

The eyes of the man glinted with emotion, even though he kept his calm appearance.

-Which is your wand arm?

-I’m ambidextrous, if that is what you mean.

-Let’s begin with your right arm then. Extend it please, master Fowl.

He produced a long tape measure and started taking measures like a tailor. While he was doing it he begun an explanation.

-As you have probably guessed by now, every wand has a core of a magical substance. For most Ollivander wands, we use one of three very powerful materials: unicorn hairs, phoenix tail feathers and dragon heartstrings. Every wand is different, and of course the spells work better if you use your own wand. Now your left arm, please.

Artemis did as he was told. The measurements continued, this time with the tape taking initiative. Ollivander started taking down boxes, and he piled them in the floor at his side. When the tape was done (Artemis hadn’t stopped looking at it, not liking its flippancy), Ollivander handed him the wand from the nearest box.

-Let’s start with this one, Mr. Fowl. Fir and unicorn hair. Eleven inches. Very flexible. Come on. Just wave it a little.

Feeling ridiculous, Artemis waved the wooden stick. A crystal vase with flowers shattered into pieces. Artemis couldn’t help wincing. Water started to drip to the floor. Ollivander didn’t look surprised. Was that a normal thing in his shop? The wizard took another wand from its box.

-Yes, I didn’t think so. Maybe this one. Hawthorn and dragon heartstring. Nine inches. Hard. Go on, try.

Artemis did. This time a window broke with a loud noise.

-No, no -Ollivander snatched the wand from his hand. -Try this one. Cherry and dragon heartstring. Ten and a half inches, nice and pliant.

It was worse. Suddenly, Artemis found himself amidst a ring of fire. The flames were quickly doused and disappeared leaving no trace behind. Was that a normal occurrence? Ollivander wasn’t disappointed at all. He kept giving Artemis new wands, without seeming to notice the effect this try-out was having in his store.

‘At least he is taking it well.’

In fact, he seemed more and more excited with every failure. Artemis wondered when would he realize that something was wrong. None of these wands was adequate for him.

-Do not worry, Mr. Fowl. We will find you the correct companion. Perhaps…

He returned to the wall littered with boxes and took one from the highest section. The wand he handed Artemis was the longest he had tried, straight as an arrow and with an elaborated handle.

-Elder wood and unicorn heartstring. Twelve inches. Unyielding.

As soon as Artemis touched it, he felt it. A frozen fire in his veins. The sensation wasn’t as strong as it had been with the invisible door in his father’s office. It felt more like an echo of it, a music to subtle to distinguish, a memory of a forgotten spring in which every tear from the sky was made of glass. Artemis waved the wand and a shower of blue and golden sparks sprung from the tip.

-Wonderful! -Ollivander was ecstatic. – Excellent pairing, I would say. Well done, Mr. Fowl. I was starting to fear I would never sell this one.

Artemis stopped examining his wand.

-Why wouldn’t you sell it?

-I made it myself almost five centuries ago, when I was still experimenting with different substances for the cores. It is not made with any of the three cores that I mentioned early, but I renounced the idea of using unicorn heartstring for two reasons: killing a unicorn to obtain it is a terrible thing to do, hence the material is quite rare; and even if you find it, making the wand is really hard. It takes almost twice the usual time, and the results are not always useful. Nevertheless, I managed to make a few. This one refused to choose any magician I presented it in five hundred years.

There was no wonder there, Artemis told himself. This wand was meant for him. It was something strange to assert, but he could feel it. His fingers tightened around the handle. The things he could do with this new asset… He wanted to start practicing right away. How to avoid that Trace Miss Hamilton had spoken about?

-A blood sacrifice was made -mused Artemis, aloud. -Are there any peculiarities I should be aware of?

Blood was, obviously, the price for blood magic. Would the nature of the core give him an advantage in such spells? His family appeared to have certain preference for it. If he was going to learn their secrets, he would have to master it. Unsuspicious of Artemis’ thoughts, Ollivander brightened at his question.

-Many have speculated that heartstring cores are more easily turned to the Dark Arts because they come from a dead creature, while phoenix feathers and unicorn hair obviously don’t. I personally believe that they have a superior capacity to adapt to their master’s wishes. After all, I’ve never seen a wand turn dark on its own accord. A unicorn heartstring core may be good for the Dark Arts, jinxes and curses; but it’s also good for some of the most honourable magical disciplines such as Potions, Healing and Divination. People say that unicorn heartstring is for the ruthless, stubborn and vengeful; I say they are for the most independent, cunning and witty wizards.

Artemis nodded. That seemed an accurate description.

-And we shouldn’t forget the wood! -by the sound of his voice Artemis could say he could go on for hours talking about wands- It is the combination what makes the character of the wand. Elder wood is the rarest, trickier to master than any, and stubborn with all who are not the best in their group. Those who think it unlucky are just ignorant or afraid. It holds strong magic and never doubts before an enemy. Hmmm, hmmm…. A powerful combination, for a remarkable wizard. Never thought I would sell this to a kid.

After that, he quieted, his eyes were lost beyond the shelves. It was quite strange, the way he changed from excited to distracted. Artemis thanked him and bought his wand with seven golden galleons. Just before they left, Ollivander spoke again.

-Be careful, master Fowl. Do not become arrogant and think you are going to be invincible. Your father did, when he bonded the Silver Thorne, and it brought him hardship. He regretted it deeply, when he attracted the attention of those who could harm his family.

Artemis narrowed his eyes. The old wizard was not even looking at him.

-I will keep it in mind. Good morning, Mr. Ollivander.

After they exited the store, Juliet breathed deeply and sighed.

-That place is stuck two centuries ago. So dusty and dark. How old is that man?

Artemis looked at the letters over the door. Of course.

-Probably older than Butler.

They took to the street again. Everything had turned up well and as he felt the weight of the box in his hand, Artemis thought he could finally be convinced of the reality of this new world. He had researched, travelled, payed and threatened to gain an entrance to it, but there had always been that persistent fear, that he had gone mad and all the events following Russia were a figment of his imagination. Now he was sure. Magic was real, wizards were real, and he himself, Artemis Fowl, was one of them. As they walked over the pebbled road, he thought about everything Ollivander had said. It was time to go home. Butler came from his errand and nodded one, affirmatively.

-I’ve found it; Artemis- he said- it’s in a nearby alley. Borgin and Burkes, just as Selwyn said.

Angeline and Juliet were looking at the shoes in a showcase a few stores behind. They would not hear them.

-Good job, Butler. Next time we will pay them a visit, you and me alone.

His bodyguard grunted, not very thrilled by the idea.

-Is it completely necessary, Artemis? I don’t like the kind of people I saw around that place. It could be dangerous.

-I’m counting on that. But I can’t think of any other place where I may find a book on blood magic.

-Going for these purebloods, then?

-Indeed. Among other things. And it could be a useful skill.

-I suppose I don’t have to tell you about the potential danger, if what we have deduced of these old lineages is correct.

-You know I hold your opinion in high regard, old friend, but some risks must be taken in order to win. I may have the beginning of a plan.

-Then I should start selecting my weapons. Angering wizards surely will be… educational. What will be our goal?

‘Vengeance’ Artemis wanted to say. ‘Truth, victory’.

-Gold, of course. Gold and glory.

Butler looked at him and raised an eyebrow. He knew him far too well. As they approached the exit, Artemis looked around with satisfaction. He was a conqueror in a new world. Now more than ever, he was decided to reclaim his magical legacy. That was what his father wanted. His last will. For once, the thought didn’t come with the usual lash of pain. Instead, he felt a familiar stir in his chest, the emotion of the beginning of a plot. And he vowed not to rest until he had rebuilt the family name and released hell upon the ones who had killed his father.

-Do you remember the Venice incident? -asked Artemis, although he knew the answer.

-Yes -Butler smiled. He had fond memories of the city. Artemis would have liked that specific adventure better if he hadn’t ended up in the canals so many times.

-Things could go down as they did there. I will need you to trust me again.

Butler regarded him, serious. And he said, with all solemnity:

-I do. Till the very end.

His words held the weight of truth. Maybe he trusted him too much, Artemis thought. After all, what happened in Russia had been his fault. Nevertheless, his old friend trusted him. The ghost of a smile curved Artemis’ lips.

-We really have to talk about your salary.

They returned to the Bentley. Butler opened the door for Angeline and gave Juliet the suitcase, heavy with golden coins. Once him and Artemis occupied the front seats, he started the engine.

-To unpathed waters -said Artemis, putting on his sunglasses.

-Undreamt shores. -answered Butler.

It was an old joke of theirs, from that time in Venice. There was a new player in the game.

-*-*-*-

Italy was too hot in the summer. That could not be helped. Not even with all the vanilla ice-cream in the world. Minerva threw his porcelain cup a disappointed look. She should call for the maid and ask for some more, but the heat had dissolved her last shred of resolve. An agonizing breeze tried to blow her hair, but it seemed to surrendered to the sun’s reign and died. Her head was slowly spinning. She tried to shake away the dizziness and begin to plan what was she going to say, when her mother returned. Minerva frowned. If she returned.

From the balcony, where she was sitting under the big parasol Nicolette had moved for her, she could observe the beautiful landscape of the Toscana, unfurling in every direction. It was a precious scene, but the high temperatures of June reminded her that this was a punishment. She would have preferred to spend the summer vacations with her father in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, but her mother had demanded that she stayed with the family. Minerva couldn’t refuse. Not if she wanted to ever become a member of the Rosier family. And Minerva wanted that. She wanted it more than anything in the world.

So she had complied, and followed the instructions of waiting in Italy, at the Villa Stellata. And here she was, more than one week later, while her mother and her half-brothers and half-sister delayed first in England and then in Milan. The message was clear. Minerva was not as important as her other children. She was not one of them. ‘Not yet’ Minerva reminded herself. ‘But very soon. Next term I will do better, I will be the best and she will see I’m worthy.’ She most definitely was better than any of her half-siblings, a true genius. If she was not an official member of the family, it was only because of the poisonous tongues of Olivier and Juliette.

As she thought of those two, Minerva tried to stir her usual contempt for them, but discovered she didn’t have the energy to do so. The heat was too… ineffable. That was the correct word for it. It muddled her usually sharp mind and reduced her thoughts to a pathetic circular reasoning. What would she say when her mother returned? As she tried to make a mental recount of the reasons to explain her failure on her second year at Hogwarts, her thoughts drifted to her father again. In a day like this, Gaspard will surely go to the beach, even if he hadn’t the complexion to do it. He would smile and buy ice-cream. Her porcelain cup was empty. She should ask for more really. Minerva groaned. Stupid circularity. She was on the starting point again. This was going nowhere.

She forced herself to stand up, while the chair she had been occupying creaked softly. Down on the ground, a group of workers walked by, sweaty but content. How was that even possible? Madame Rosier had ordered some repairs in her Villa, and the men were working every day to finish in the shortest time possible. How could they work when Minerva couldn’t even think properly? In Cagnes-Sur-Mer the sea breeze made the heat tolerable, or so she thought. Maybe she preferred it because she was no prisoner in her father’s house. Unlike the present situation. One of the workers saw her and greeted her in Italian. Minerva answered accordingly. Italian was one of the first languages she had taught herself. Her words caused delight between the workers and more of them saluted and bowed. She smiled and waved. When they had already passed by, she sighed. The job of those men would be far more efficient and easy if her mother would let them use some machinery. But Madame Rosier despised muggle artefacts very strongly. She would never allow them in one of her properties. Minerva hoped she could convince her of their utility someday. She herself had been convinced by Gaspard.

Even though Minerva deeply regretted that her father was a muggle, it had some advantages. It provided her with a different view when facing problems. And they had some decent literature too. She had a week spot for their poetry. Suddenly, a memory flashed behind her eyes. The perfect words for this moment.

-Great is the sun, and wide he goes

Through empty heaven with repose;

And in the blue and glowing days

More thick than rain he showers his rays.

There was something otherworldly about muggle poetry, that always echoed in her thoughts. She continued to recite the poem. Her memory provided her every last word. No one in her family could ever know she liked books written by non-magiques. They would banish her immediately. Still, she continued until the end.

-…To please the child, to paint the rose,

The gardener of the World, he goes.

As if on cue, Minerva heard the hurried steps of somebody approaching from the room behind. She turned and saw the sturdy maid, with her hair bun dishevelled and her eyes filled with worry.

-Mon dieu! What is it, Nicolette?

-They are here, signorina. The Madame is here with il giovane maestro and the other bambini!

Minerva felt a shiver down her spine. They must have apparated. Of course they wouldn’t want to travel through the countryside with this heat. Of course they would want to catch her unaware. At least, her mother and Olivier would. She tried to straighten her dress. It was light and made of cotton, with a flowery design. Good quality, but muggle made. Her father had given it to her as a present. This was a disaster. If she had known that they would arrive today she would have dressed as her mother liked. Even knowing she would most likely suffocate.

-Here, have this. -Nicolette offered her a silver necklace. She must have stopped at her room before running to the balcony to warn her. Minerva moved her blond curls and allowed the maid to fasten the piece of jewellery. It was simple but it would do.

-Thank you, Nicolette. Do one more thing for me. Go to my room and hide my Powerbook. It’s on the nightstand.

The brown haired maid smiled and nodded. She left with her cheeks still reddened from her previous race. Minerva composed herself and headed for the stairs. She had to greet her family as they arrived. It was expected of her. It was the proper thing to do. Never mind that she didn’t even know they were coming. And now she was going to see her mother dressed as a muggle. Could this whole affair get worse? Of course it could.

As she turned one corner she stumbled upon a familiar face.

-There you are -said Alain, with a disapproving glare. -I was looking for you. Mother wants to see you.

He was dressed in his usual gentlemanly style, with his honey-coloured hair combed over his shoulders, with not a single strand out of place. His coat was green and his polished wooden cane, where Minerva knew his wand was hidden, was almost shiny. The fact that he was only nineteen did not diminish his lordly demeanour one bit.

-Hello, brother. I was on my way to welcome you.

Alain did not answer, and assuming an impenetrable expression, he offered her his arm. Minerva knew she looked to small compared to his tall half-brother. And very out of place regarding clothing. They descended the magnificent stair in absolute silence. For once, Alain’s studied silence wasn’t unnerving. Her mind was working fanatically, trying to predict all the possible outcomes of the following encounter, and how to avert the most negative results. They reached the main hall too soon.

The scene reminded Minerva of a classical painting. The servants, busying around like restless bees; Juliette, with her dark hair and her languid air, sprawled over a duvet, slowly fanning herself; and Olivier, dressed as exquisitely as Alain, standing beside her mother. Naturally, she was the central piece of the composition, the axis around which all activity revolved. Wearing an astounding dark-red dress, Marie-Thérèse Rosier sat on a loveseat, with a glass of cold champagne on her hand. The rich colour of her clothing accentuated her pearly skin, and the design accentuated the curves of her body. The dress was sleeveless, so the perfect sculpture of her arm holding the beverage completed the figure of her cold beauty. She was as she had always been, perfect and distant, the queen of her own kingdom. Little Beau was clinging to her skirts, with his round face blushed, but she seemed indifferent to it. He was most probably asking for candy, but he wouldn’t dare make a scene. Not to his mother.

Alain led Minerva straight to Madame Rosier. She did not acknowledge their presence until they were just in front of her.

-Here she is, mother. I found her upstairs.

He then disentangled his arm from Minerva’s, surely considering his duty fulfilled, and left her before their mother. Minerva felt the full weight of her gaze. Her heavy-lidded hazel eyes, were intensified by her flawless makeup, and the colour of her dress accentuated the red of her lips. When she was still a child, Minerva would have kept her eyes in her shoes, not daring to meet that gaze. But she was no longer a little girl. She met her mother’s eyes until a spark of amusement lightened her features and she gave a small nod. -Greetings, Madame Rosier -Minerva said, trying to control her racing heart. -Your arrival makes me very happy. I trust your voyage was enjoyable.

-It was most productive, my child. I hope you have enjoyed your time here also. A pity you could not come with us.

Her words were only mockery, and all of them knew it. Olivier sneered from her right. Wait. Her right? And Alain was standing at her mother’s left. How had she not noticed? Something must have happened in their trip to England. Olivier had pleased their mother and she was showing him favour. Minerva cursed her failure, the cause why she had not go with them.

-England was very nice -intervened Juliette, apparently revived from her previous exhaustion. -Even though they have such funny food. The castles are pretty decent too, and Alain and Olivier went hunting a lot.

-My dearest brother proved to me, that there are still a lot of things he can teach me. -said Olivier, with unusual gentleness.

‘Placating words. They must have fought.’ Before the competition started, Olivier and Alain used to be inseparable. Alain was only two years older than Olivier, and they had the same father, Silvain Leblanc, a pureblood wizard whose family had members in both France and Austria. Minerva had met him only a couple of times, and they had never been presented, but she remembered the man. Alain had his honey blond hair; Olivier, his deep green eyes. Her mother said they had inherited his love for horse riding too. Minerva remembered they used to race each other all the time, and they also played in the same Quidditch team in Beauxbatons. But that was before. Olivier looked at Minerva with contempt. He never bothered to hide it.

-We also encountered Wilhelm Spielman, in the house of the Montagues. Being his usual reasonable self.

-Being quite boring, you mean. -said Juliette. -He never asked me to dance.

-You were rejecting everyone.

-I would have told him yes!

Olivier smiled at his half-sister. They had become close recently.

-Lucius Malfoy invited us to his house too -he added, throwing Minerva a malicious look. -He hosted a magnificent party in honour of his guests.

Minerva supressed a sneer. As far as Draco had told her, Lucius Malfoy was not very fond of such acts of generosity. He probably only said that to flatter them.

-His son Draco danced with me -chirped Juliette. -He is so pretty! But he would be better if he weren’t so sulky.

The idea of Malfoy dancing with her half-sister was almost comical. If experience was to be trusted, Juliette would never stop talking during a dance. Draco was always trying to avoid Parkinson for that same reason, if much tempered in his fellow Slytherin. He might have been polite to Juliette in order to please his father. After all, just like Minerva, he also had failed. He had lost before Gryffindor and Potter over and over again.

-That boy is in your house, isn’t him Minerva? -asked Olivier, with feigned innocence.

-He is.

-Then why, pray tell, did he not recognize you when we mentioned your name?

-Was that before or after Juliet danced with him?

The smile in Olivier’s lips wavered.

-I fail to see how is that relevant.

-Because if it was later it is perfectly understandable. He was much too dazzled with the eloquence and sharp dialectics of dear Juliette. I understand her talk can be… challenging. No wonder he could not answer your sharp inquiring.

Juliette did not react in any way, but Olivier’s eyes darkened. He doubted, unsure of how to respond. Minerva felt the rush of victory. Alain coughed slightly, probably to cover a laugh. From all her siblings, he was the cleverest. Calculating and strong-willed. Mother was very proud of him. He would be the hardest to defeat.

Before Olivier could continue boasting, Marie-Thérèse spoke.

-I had business to discuss with Mr. Malfoy. Among other things, he has agreed to support me in our quest to recover the ancient castle of the Rosier family in Wales. After all these years, we could finally return. Take back what was taken from us.

-Cave creverunt spinae -said Alain. Minerva repeated the Latin words along with her mother and half-siblings. Even little Beau, who had been growing restless, answered appropriately, if slurry. It was the family motto. Beware the thorns.

-Well, that was enough about our vacation -said mother. -Come Minerva. Sit, we have things to discuss. You may take a seat too, my sons.

In that moment, the servants entered again, bringing pastries and more Champaign. When they were all served and accommodated in the seats at their mother’s liking, they begun. Minerva had hoped to avoid this, but Madame Rosier had chosen to reprimand her in front of the others.

-I have given you much freedom, Minerva, and considered your desires. I even entrusted you with one of the family’s heirloom wands, because you showed promise. And yet, you do not seem to appreciate these gifts.

-I do, mother.

-Then I demand an explanation. How is possible that a daughter of mine, one who aspires to bear the Rosier name one day, is bested by a mudblood? That Granger wench scored twenty points more than you in Defence Against the Dark Arts, as did half a dozen of other girls; and Theodore Nott scored two more in Potions. I understand the case of the boy. He is a pureblood scion, from one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight. But the others… Do you think that I can allow the family name be tainted in such way?

This was the moment that Minerva had been dreading. How to explain what had happened without making it sound like a pitiful excuse? Olivier and Juliette were looking at her with enjoyment. Alain’s face didn’t betray any emotion.

-The Professor… -her voice died. Her mother had risen an eyebrow. Minerva tried again.

-Professor Lockhart was new and he soon proved to be an idiot who was in love with himself. The entire curriculum of his subject was his own life. Granger and many other girls were infatuated with him. They remembered every little thing he did or said. It was sickening. I’m not a fawning girl, I could never…

-So you found his requirements insulting?

-I found them useless and annoying. Still, I had the hope that he would move on to others subjects. I was under the impression that a man could talk of himself only for a limited amount of time.

Madame Rosier laughed. It was a beautiful and cynical sound that made everybody froze. Their mother rarely laughed so freely.

-You are still a child, Minerva. Stupid men could talk about themselves for an eternity. Those are the ones we can manipulate the easiest. I know Lockhart and his supposed charm. If you had stroked his ego a little, your problem would have been solved.

Minerva lowered her head. Her mother was right, of course. But Lockhart had irritated her so much that she could not even smile in his presence.

-Nevertheless -she continued. -When I realized that the whole content of Defence Against the Dark Arts was going to be him, I prepared accordingly. If the final exams had gone as planned…

-You would have come out on top? -asked Olivier, with mockery. -I don’t know, Minerva. I think the mudblood would have still surpassed you. She was clearly more invested in this than you.

Minerva gritted her teeth. When the Headmaster had cancelled all exams after being reinstated, all her plans had fallen apart. She had studied harder than anyone, and Granger had been petrified so she could not even compete. Minerva had been certain she could turn the tables. But Albus Dumbledore had ruined everything.

-You overestimate your abilities. -said Juliette.

-You underestimate my resolve -snapped Minerva.

-Quiet now, my children -their mother’s tone was too soft for a serious reprimand. -As for you Minerva, this can go no further. If you want to be a Rosier, you will start acting like one. Being a Rosier means excellence. You chose to go to Hogwarts over Beauxbatons, and you will have to solve any problem that it entails.

Minerva knew that her Mother wasn’t asking from her to be the first in every class. She would be satisfied if she was among the favoured students and never scored lower than a muggle-born. She asked the same from the others as well.

-Perhaps her father’s blood is too strong- commented Juliette. -She even dresses as a muggle.

That crossed the unspoken line.

-Juliette! You will speak no more. Your fathers will not be discussed today.

But that was the whole point, Minerva thought. She was the only child of Marie-Thérèse Rosier with a muggle. All her half-siblings had wizards as progenitors, prominent wizards of respectable lineages. So they were all part of the Rosier family, even when her mother had never married.

-We can be proud of the family name- continued Marie-Thérèse -because we strive to be superior to everyone else. We value skill, and strength, and we follow only the ones who have proven to be worthy. That’s why I will not give away so easily the position of Heir. Just one shall become the Head of the family, and he or she will be the one who has demonstrated to be the best. Should Minerva prove to be better, she will be the Heir, do not doubt my words.

Minerva supressed a shiver. She would show her mother she was the worthiest. She would show everyone. But first, she had to become a Rosier. Suddenly she realized that Juliette and Oliver were looking daggers at her. The gesture didn’t favour her half-sister’s features, but it somehow seemed natural from his half-brother. With his tense posture, dark hair and big green eyes; he reminded Minerva of a predator. It wasn’t a tranquilizing thought. On his loveseat, Alain was clutching his cane too tightly.

-Now I shall discuss something with Minerva. Leave, all of you. The house elves must have carried our luggage inside the house already. Do with your time as you will, but remember we shall have dinner together. Olivier, you may stay.

Minerva hid her surprise. Whatever Olivier had done; it must have been important. The fact that her mother was allowing him to stay for a private conversation, and not Alain, who was the oldest, was a clear sign of favour. How much would this preference last? How deep was it? Alain offered his arm to Juliette in the same cold way he had done with Minerva. He had no love for his half-sister. Indeed, he had no love for any of his siblings except Olivier. Minerva wondered if the current competition for the title of Heir could change that. Juliette took Alain’s arm and called Beau, who went after them after giving their mother a questioning look.

Once the three of them were alone, Olivier sat next to Marie-Thérèse. It was a message, a reminder of his current position, so close to their mother. With only seventeen, Olivier was cunning and sly as a snake. Had he attended Hogwarts, he surely would have been sorted into Slytherin.

‘As I have. How ironic.’

-We have to move fast -said Marie-Thérèse. -Lucius Malfoy has failed, and it is time to make our move. I shall give you a mission, my daughter. This is your chance to serve the Rosier family and prove that you are worthy of our name. Your position as a Hogwarts student is perfect. I will send you to recover a stolen item. It was taken from the Ministry, barely a week ago, along with other two of its kind.

The glint of excitement appeared in her grey eyes, and something else. Greed. Olivier continued.

-Three time-turners were stolen from the Department of Mysteries. The Ministry has covered the whole business, not wanting the public to know of the breach in temporal security. The truth is, said breach is far worse than they think. Two of the stolen time-turners are the conventional type, but the third one has some… interesting characteristics. -After visiting the place myself, I am sure this was perpetrated by one of Dumbledore’s puppets. Your task is to steal one time-turner back. Find out where it has been hidden and recover it. Here I have an accurate drawing of the thing.

At that point her mother produced a piece of paper, from the folds of her carmine dress. Minerva took it and unfolded it carefully. The drawer had done a splendid job. The time-turner looked like a little music box, probably made of metal. It gave the impression of a puzzle, with a different figure in each of its sides.

-Are these parts mobile? -asked Minerva, sensing a pattern.

-Yes. They are supposed to be arranged in a specific way before the time-turner can be used.

Still, there was something strange. The design was exquisite, but the number of pieces in each side…

-It is broken- she realized. -And some pieces are missing.

Her mother nodded.

-For some reason, it was saved like that in the Ministry. The Unspeakables wouldn’t fix it, but my contacts did not know if they couldn’t do it or they simply refused.

-I assume this is the different time-turner that Olivier mentioned.

-Yes -confirmed his half-brother. -It was a prototype. Theoretically, it would enable the user to travel back as far as he or she wanted, without the hour restrictions of the conventional ones.

Minerva almost gaped. She looked suspiciously at Olivier, but for once he seemed to be taking a conversation with her seriously.

-Just imagine it, Minerva -said Marie-Thérèse in a dreamy voice. –The things we could be with such a powerful artefact. We could change the game for Dumbledore and the Ministry. We could reunite the faithful, and maybe even reach Him.

All of Minerva’s excitement disappeared. Of course her mother would try to use it for that. Never mind the countless business endeavours they could pursuit with the domain of time travel, the secrets they could uncover, the knowledge they could save from the cruel claws of decay. No, let’s find the one person that would very gladly snatch that power from our hands. But it was not her place to question her mother’s decisions. However, there was a small issue left.

-But if the time-turner is broken, we can’t use it.

-That’s the other half of your job- said Marie-Thérèse. -You are always saying you are smart. Fix it. Use the Nott boy if you have to. He seems talented. Get him to cooperate if it is too much for you.

Minerva gave the idea some thought. The phantom of a plan begun to materialize in her mind.

-This will not be easy. I may need some resources.

She definitely would need more than her current allowance. Discover where Dumbledore had hidden the time-turners, figure out a way to steal them so that nobody would notice for at least some months, and figure out how an experimental prototype worked and repair it would definitely take some effort. Even for her.

-I will deposit a thousand galleons in your Gringotts vault.

-I don’t have one.

-You most certainly will before the next school year starts.

Minerva cheered internally. That would be convenient. She had not been allowed to have a wizarding bank account before. From what her father had explained about muggle banks, they seemed pretty interesting. Maybe she could study Gringotts this vacation. Her mother was looking at her, studying her expression, Minerva realized.

-Complete this task for me, Minerva -she said- and you will have my forgiveness for your failure at Hogwarts and your humiliation in front of a mudblood.

Minerva flinched. She felt the shame and the frustration rise again in her chest.

-On the other hand- her mother continued- if you were to recover the three time-turners… I would be impressed.

The message was clear again. If she brought her the three items, she would gain the right to bear the family name. And she would have the favour of Madame Rosier. That part surely wasn’t among the things her mother had shared with Olivier, because he frowned and looked at her, somewhat startled.

-I will do my best- said Minerva. She promised herself she would.

-Then you may retire, do not forget dinner. Try to wear something more appropriate.

With a pang of guilt Minerva assured her she would follow her instructions and stood up. As she headed for the door, she heard her mother leaving the loveseat and Olivier quickly following.

-Before you go, come here Minette. Give me a hug.

It was rare that her mother requested a display of physical affection, and even though she knew that she was trying to manipulate her, Minerva did as she was told. In the depth of her heart, she craved those moments, when the perfume of her Marie-Thérèse surrounded her as her mother embraced her. When they parted, she left the room feeling empty, with the paper clutched in her hand. And she realized, bitterly, that her mother had won. Minerva would complete the task given to her at any cost.

The dinner was uncomfortable and full of silence. It was strange how the absence of something could feel so substantial. Minerva endured all seven courses with stoicism. At least she was properly dressed now, wearing a beautiful blue summer dress, completely impractical for a girl of this century. Nicolette had helped her to comb her blond hair, and arrange it in a complicated bun behind her head. Marie-Thérèse had complimented her when she arrived at the dining room. It had only made things worse. Juliette had scoffed and Olivier rolled her eyes, but the worst had been Alain’s inexpressive voice, agreeing with her mother when she asked him for his opinion. When the torture finally ended, Minerva was relieved to retire to her quarters. There was a lot of things to plan. She took off the infamous dress and changed into her light nightgown.

As she got into the bed, the events of the day filled her thoughts. Aside from the obvious, what had she learned? Something had happened during the vacations England. How serious had been the disagreement between Alain and Olivier? It was important to keep track of the alliances and enmities between the possible heirs. That could mean the difference between victory and defeat. Wait… wasn’t her body too hot?

In an instant, an unpleasant sensation crawled over her arms, neck and legs. The itching was unbearable. Minerva jumped from the bed. The sheets, she thought, as she tried to scratch everywhere at once. Her skin was irritated in the places it had touched the sheets. Someone had put a jinx in the fabric. Minerva continued to scratch her skin. Who would…? Who could…? Stop, she told herself. You are hurting yourself. Her hands stopped, and she tried to calm herself slowing her jagged breathing. Think. This is a problem. Solve it. With shaking hands and wobbly legs, she reached one of her suitcases and pulled out her wand. The walnut wood was as cool as always and its solidity comforted her in some way. She lifted it, but the spell died on her lips. She could not use magic there. The Ministry would know. She still had the Trace. Minerva felt a surge of anger. She knew who had done this. It was absolutely her way of doing things. She stormed out of her room and walked down the corridor.

-Juliette!

The world had turned into a scorching sensation. As she walked to her half-sister’s door, she saw that her arms sported bright red marks, made by her own nails.

-Juliette!

Her wand was still in her hand. Should she had left it in her bedroom? She was already at the door. Minerva threw it open. Juliette was seated in front of her dressing table, her glossy hair over one of her white shoulders. Her nightgown was a delicate piece in light blue, and her mouth twitched in a conniving smile. Minerva drew her wand on her. Distantly, she noted that Olivier was there, in his dark sleeping gown.

-This is your doing! You little chipie!

-Careful muggle-lover -said Juliette, unfazed. -You could trip easily in this floor.

Minerva approached her, pouring all her fury in her eyes. I would have been more impressive if she wasn’t shorter than her half-sister, who was already standing.

-Did I tell you about my Hogwarts year? Did I tell you we had a duel club? It was quite instructive.

She didn’t have to tell her who had directed said club. The tip of her wand was centimetres away from Juliette’s nose. In that moment, strong hands locked around both her wrists, and Olivier pulled her away from her half-sister. Minerva tried to shake him away, as Juliette laughed, but his grip was iron.

-You can’t fool me, muggle-lover -chanted Juliette. -I know you can’t use magic away from that school.

The itching was starting to fade, and Minerva regained some of her logic. She stomped on Olivier’s right foot and launched forward. She almost escaped his grasp. Cursing, Olivier managed to take her out of the room and practically threw her on the floor of the corridor. Minerva groaned softly. Her back and hips ached, but the coldness of the stone helped her irritated skin.

-That’s enough, muggle-lover. Go to your room.

Olivier’s voice shook her out of her reverie. She was in the floor, at his feet. That was wrong. She tried to stand. Olivier was back inside Juliette’s room. As he closed the door, he looked at Minerva with cold disdain in his green eyes.

-It’s time you know your place.

Then, she was alone in the corridor. With some effort, she managed to rise and started to walk to her quarters. A hollow sensation throbbed in her heart. And she discovered, she was holding back the tears. She frowned, angry with herself. What was there to cry about? She had done something stupid. Consequences were inevitable. Juliette’s jinx had made her overlook any logic and she had gone to attack her. Without any plan, and while Olivier was with her. Defeat had been inevitable from the start. ‘So stop crying. It is disgusting.’

Once in her room, she called for a house elf. The one named Thierry appeared and Minerva requested a change of sheets.

-Sorry mademoiselle Paradizo– said the elf in his screechy voice. -But master Olivier has ordered that we do not change your sheets tonight. Sorry mademoiselle. One is very sorry.

Minerva dismissed the elf, feeling a knot in her throat. Mademoiselle Paradizo. She was not a Rosier. She couldn’t nullify an order from Olivier. Trying to touch them as little as possible, Minerva took out the white sheets and threw them in the corner. She climbed on the bare mattress and took out her Powerbook. It still worked. Her father had given her that one, as a late Christmas present last year. For once, she had allowed herself to keep a piece of technology, instead of turning it over to her mother, as she had done with all the previous ones.

Minerva knew she wouldn’t sleep for some hours. Juliette’s stunt and the subsequent drama had agitated her too much. Following the appropriate sequence of steps, she entered the video library. That lifted her spirit a little. She had remembered everything. After a short search, she found the video she had been watching during her brief stay in Florence. She found the speaker fascinating. The image started moving and the clear voice of a boy around her age flowed from the device. That was better than a moving photograph. Minerva stared at the screen, as Artemis Fowl continued his speech on Middle-Eastern politics at Heidelberg University in Germany. She had already watched another one on Balkan politics given at Trinity College in Ireland. His diction was elegant and his logic flawless. His interpretations of the psychology of the masses were quite impressive. Had she been a muggle and lived with her father, Minerva was sure she would have pursued a career in psychology. And that would have been only the beginning. Well, she told herself, that wasn’t important any more.

When she was halfway through the video, Minerva understood. Olivier had been in Juliette’s bedroom. Talking. They had been closer these last days, as Olivier’s relation with Alain deteriorated. Alain didn’t like Juliette. Maybe it was the fact that no one knew who was her father, maybe it was her half-sister’s insufferable personality. But even with all her shortcomings, Juliette was not stupid. She must have known how little Alain appreciated her. So she wanted Olivier to be the Heir. Olivier, who seemed to have a soft spot for her. Even if it meant destroying his relationship with Alain. Would her influence be enough?

Up until now, it had been a tacit agreement that the children of Marie-Thérèse would try to make Alain the Heir, and push aside the other aspirants. United towards that goal, Alain, Olivier and Juliette had been a strong front. The other competitors on the Rosier family were cousin Rosalyne who had, in Minerva’s opinion, the most ridiculously redundant name in existence; and cousin Felix, the son of aunt Morgana. It was expected that when Beau grew up he would try to claim the title as well. After all, he was the son of Gustave Ambroise, a respected wizard, refined gentleman and the current paramour of Madame Rosier. Of all these contenders, the only one that Minerva considered a worthy opponent for Alain was cousin Felix.

He was older and had been praised repeatedly in and outside the family for his boldness and remarkable work. Felix and Alain used to be friends, but their relation had started to crack when the competition for the position of Heir had begun; and when Felix made clear that he intended to win, it had shattered completely. Minerva still remembered the loud discussion that took place the last time that Felix had visited. If Olivier turned against him, how would Alain react? Would he notice on time, or fall victim to a stab to the back? Furthermore, would he retain his emotional stability? He cared about Olivier. It had been more notorious since Felix’s desertion.

In that moment, the screen of her Powerbook blinked twice and became black. Minerva tried to turn it on, but it stayed that way. A sighed escaped from her lungs. Her mother must have activated the powerful charms of the Villa. In the absence of its masters, the property remained as a muggle state, divested of any magic. Muggle farmers worked the lands and took care of the vines. The Villa Stellata wasn’t unplottable, as was the Rosier Manoir and many other of the ancestral homes of the pureblood families. Putting the device aside, Minerva leaned on the soft mattress. Hopefully, it would work just fine when she returned to the muggle world. In that moment, a new thought flashed behind her eyes. If she was successful… When she succeeded in recovering the time-turners for her mother, she would become a member of the Rosier family. Mother abhorred muggles. She would never let one of her daughters, even less her Heir, be tainted by them. Would she never see the world outside the frontiers of the wizarding community? Minerva discovered she didn’t like the idea. She wanted to hear more about the international politics, and learn how her Powerbook worked. And with that thought, her mind started to drift and she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

In which there’s deception, one or two goodbyes are said, new acquaintances are made, Fowl finds intelligent conversation and a hat sings.

The most immediate problem was, of course, how to evade the Ministry’s prying eye. Artemis had to do a lot of research before he was able to come up with a solution. It took him half of a week to read all the pertinent theory, and another half to elaborate a counterspell for the Trace with a satisfactory probability of success. He would only have one chance to cast it. If he failed the Ministry would know what he was doing and their vigilance would increase. But that was not the worst case scenario. That one involved a gruesome magical accident with potential maiming and disfiguration as a result. So it was justified that he had some rational concerns over the experimental part.

When all preparations were made, Artemis stood in the middle of his new magical laboratory in the basement. He held his black wand in one hand and a vial of blood in the other. He had extracted the sample days ago, along with several others that now occupied their own glass containers in a small but effective refrigerator. The idea of spilling his blood every time he had to cast a spell did not amuse Artemis, but blood magic was the best solution he could think of, at least for the moment. Miss Hamilton had said that it was difficult to Trace it, and amongst the book collection he had acquired in the past months, there was a thick volume on blood incantations. At first, Artemis dismissed it quickly, considering it was just another morbid example of a sick imagination as it was plagued with hexes, curses and very explicit drawings. There had been a distinct look of relief in the face of the owner when Artemis asked to take that particular book. When the young genius realized that the things it contained were real he felt somewhat unsettled. No wonder that Selwyn had been frightened. The process of decoding the old volume had been quite interesting. After days of hard work, it was time to test his results.

Artemis opened the vial and tilted it. The crimson liquid run to the brim and caught the light of the candles. He wouldn’t risk adding another uncertainty with electricity around on the first test. There were enough unknown factors as it was. His hands felt rigid. Artemis realized that he was afraid. If he had made any significant mistake in his translation, or in his calculations…

‘Stop. Everything has been triple-checked by now. There is no use in questioning that again.’

He tightened his grasp around his wand. How would it be affected by the fact that his first spell was concealment blood magic? Ollivander had implied that the wands were somewhat sentient.

‘This is not a time for doubts’ Artemis told himself. ‘I can’t have the Ministry on my back, and I am not a nice person.’ The wand would have known it, sooner or later.

He lifted his arms, and started reciting the spell. It was long and elaborated, but fortunately the book had included a series of sketches of the movements the wizards should make while casting it. Being Renaissance magic, the text was in a strange dialect of Latin, which Artemis didn’t understand completely. It contained a lot of obscure allusions that surely made sense to the author and his friends, if they existed, but were meant to be unintelligible for everyone else. A sudden wind started blowing inside the room, and it only grew in intensity as the final lines of the spell approached. Artemis groaned internally. How theatrical.

‘Bloody Italian wizards’

Cold, invisible hands were pulling from his hair and lab coat. Good thing that he decided to wear goggles this time. The last words left his mouth and he emptied the vial on the stone floor. Nothing disrupted their trajectory. The wind had stopped as abruptly as it had started, and the air held the stillness of a summer sky before the storm. The instant the first drops of blood hit the floor, the magic reached out. Even though he had been expecting it, Artemis couldn’t help gasping. His whole body shivered. That was just the effect of blood magic, said the part of his brain that was still functioning. He looked around and saw a swirl of smoke and red lightning. It was overwhelming. There was a white fire coursing through his veins and a sudden choir he could almost hear caressed the edges of his thoughts. His heart raced. The ultimate truth seemed within grasp. Everything for a joyous moment of exaltation. Then nothing. Calm. Darkness. Void. The spell was finished.

Artemis collapsed on the nearest chair. Something within him ached for the absence of the previous sensations. Slowly, he regained control of himself. This one had been worse than the last time he used blood magic. Either the strength of the spell was proportional to the sensations it arose, or the effect became stronger with frequency. The last possibility was disturbing. There was a high possibility he would become an addict if that were the case. Artemis frowned. The cold, logical voice in him told him that it was a matter of cost and benefit. If it was the most convenient thing to do, he would do it. Artemis trusted that voice, but he didn’t like the prospect. If he could not find a way to control the effects the use of blood magic had on him, he would just save it as a last resource. Then, he noticed the darkness. All the candles had gone out, surely because of the wind. But in the last moments there had been light. A crimson, uncanny light.

After a few seconds, Artemis forced himself to stand up and reach for his notebook. It was still there. Finding his way out in the dark, Artemis left the improvised laboratory and reached the stairs that climbed up into the daylight. His step was steadier than before, but his eyes were not yet ready for the brightness outside. So he sat down in the middle of the stairs and with his usual precision, he wrote down his report of the experiment, in exhaustive detail. When he finished the description he added time marks, and then made personal notes. Exhaustion was climbing over his limbs. He couldn´t remember if he had slept at all last night. Probably not, then. By the time his pen finally stopped, he noticed that the cold of the cellars had started to crawl into his legs. Artemis sighed. There was nothing else he could do right now. He would know if the spell was a success or a failure in the following week. If in three days the Ministry did not contact him, he had managed to trick the Trace. He only had to wait and see.

The days passed and, with the purpose of concealing his anxiety, Artemis submerged himself in the study of the magical world. I was almost July and he wanted to learn as much as possible before going to Hogwarts. Nevertheless, his mother would not let him apply himself fully. She was adamant on the idea that going to the wizarding school should be ‘good’ for Artemis, not an excuse to study himself to death. So, with the help of Juliet, she started to control his meals and sleeping times. Artemis was forced to bribe the blonde girl with cell phones and guns to complete his readings on History of Magic and Potions. Then he started with Alchemy.

When he was just a child, Artemis’ father would tell him stories of the philosopher’s stone. It didn´t happen very often, as he was a very busy businessman, but some nights he would come to his son’s bedroom and sit at the corner of the bed. Even at that age, Artemis knew parents were expected to read fairy-tales to their children. Stories of kings and princesses, talking animals and true love. But Artemis Fowl senior was not interested in such things and that was fine with little Artemis because he wasn’t either. Instead, he would tell him of the brave men and women that had risked life and fortune in the search of the ultimate treasure. The one thing that could make gold and silver, that could cure any illness and unlock the secrets of the universe. He never repeated a story, but Artemis remembered all of them. King Midas, who could turn things into gold with just touching them; the wise Albertus Magnus, and his quest for God and knowledge; von Hohenheim, who had enlisted the help of gnomes and salamanders, and could speak the languages of the spirits of the air and the sea; Sir Tristan, who joined the crusade and searched for it in the holy land; and of course, Nicholas Flamel and his wife Perenelle. These were the tales that resonated in his mind, and inspired him when he was old enough to start his own plots. Now he wondered if there wasn’t a further motivation in his father’s actions. It seemed unlikely that he was unaware of the existence of the philosopher’s stone. Well, that was one question more that he would seek to answer.

Artemis read the book he had bought from Flourish and Blotts in one day. It had a ludicrous introduction aimed to encourage ordinary people to study the foundations of Alchemy, and a condescending tone in the exposition that Artemis found enraging. But despite all its shortcomings, it turned out to be useful. From it Artemis learned that wizarding alchemy was indeed very similar to the one known to muggles. The use of arcane symbology and mythical figures from the Christian and Abrahamic traditions persisted, as well as the practice of preserving procedures in images and not through written word. Artemis noticed that many of the images were meant to be interpreted in a spiral, from the margins towards the centre, just like gnomish writing. Maybe he could ask Foaly about that the next time they tried to hack each other.

The book established the foundations of modern Alchemy as the art of transforming substances into other substances through magical means. Very similar to chemistry, but with magic. And riddles. And mythology. Artemis was thoroughly captivated. He stayed up all night, comparing the new information with his previous alchemical enquiries. Butler was in London, reactivating their contacts in the underworld, and Angeline had gone to Dublin to attend a charity gala, so no one disturbed him. The dawn of the fourth day after the concealment spell found him at his desk.

When Juliet came looking for him with a tea cup in her hand and a look of reproach in her face, he felt a warm satisfaction somewhere inside. Despite her obvious worry at the dark circles under his eyes, the blonde girl said nothing. That was what he liked of the Butlers. That silent understanding. After the first sip to his cup of Earl Grey, Artemis asked her to open the windows. The chilly wind of the early morning was fresh over his skin. The contrast of it with the hot tea helped him shake every last bit of drowsiness. Juliet put the latest issue of the Times in his desk and then left the room. Artemis, standing by the window, looked at the lands of his family and almost smiled. His wager had paid off. The concealment spell had worked and the Ministry would not be able to control his magic. He was exultant. He would tell Butler as soon as he arrived.

It turned out that Butler was by no means happy with the fact that Artemis had casted a spell so risky while he was on his own. It was the first time in many years that Artemis had seen his bodyguard so angry. In the end, he made him promise that he would never again do that kind of blood magic without telling him. Two days later, a concise letter arrived via owl delivery. It was from the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge himself, who welcomed Artemis into the wizarding community. Apparently, he really wanted to get into his good graces. Artemis could not figure out why. Was it because of his family? He had already realized that Fudge tried to keep the pure-bloods happy with his office. Or was it something else? He didn’t know how had been the relation between the current minister of magic and his father. Perhaps they had been enemies, or perhaps they had been friends. One thing was sure: Fudge wanted him on his side. So Artemis wrote back a very formal letter, with the obvious propose of adulation, thanking the Minister for his thoughtfulness. He insinuated a lot and compromised very little; and insisted they should meet in person. That should be enough to satisfy the man.

Life continued, as Artemis tried his best to figure out the wizarding world before finding himself immersed in it. The date of the meeting with the American tech millionaire to discuss the C-cube was postponed again till the end of August, this time by Artemis’ request. Butler finally found the people he had been looking for, the old Fowl supporters, and he allowed his charge to meet them once, as they pretended to check the family yacht in the docks of Dublin. After a long conversation with the leaders, Artemis approved. They would be enough, for this first stage.

He ordered them to stay low and hide until he contacted them. The next move was already planned. When all the pieces had taken their places, Artemis would strike. He could tell those men didn’t trust him yet, but they trusted Butler, so they accepted the instructions. Artemis understood. In their eyes, he was just a boy. He still had to prove himself. They would learn soon. The night of the 31th of June, Artemis dined with Angeline. They used the long polished table for formal meetings and wore their best clothes. The next morning, McGonagall would arrive to take Artemis to Hogwarts for the summer courses. He would not return until the third week of August and by September he would be away again. So this was goodbye.

Angeline did her best to appear cheerful during the meal, but Artemis could see the tightness in her smile when she thought he wasn´t looking. Still, he didn’t mention it. What could he possibly say? They made polite but meaningless conversation, and at the end Angeline had a bottle of their finest champagne being served in two tall glasses. She insisted in making a toast, for the new life Artemis was about to begin. It was almost too much. She had been left behind too many times. He humoured her, but after tasting the shimmering gold of the beverage, he put his glass down and looked at his mother.

-You don’t have to pretend, Angeline. I am not even sure I want to leave. Tell me you want me to stay and I will. I know it gets lonely in the manor -he sighed. -It can be very lonely around here.

She fought to keep her smile, but her eyes were sad.

-So formal, Arty. At least call me mother, as I cannot convince you to go with mommy. And no. I would never keep you from going. You want to do it. I know. It’s just that I am being a little selfish. Can’t I be a little selfish from time to time?

Artemis felt the sudden dread that she was going to cry. He didn’t want her to cry.

-You can, of course you can -he said. -You should always be selfish, Angeline. Everyone else is.

She laughed, but there was no joy in the sound.

-Sometimes you say the most terrible things, Arty.

-Am I mistaken?

-No. And that is what makes me fear for you. At your age, you should be more careless. Do things because you feel like doing them, spend too much in clothes, eat too much sugar and play video games all night. That’s what normal teenagers do. I never expected you to be like them, you were always far too clever. But now there is something else. A shadow where I cannot reach.

-I am fine, Angeline. You worry too much.

At that, her eyes became glassy and her gaze drifted towards the windows through which the full moon had started to appear. What had he said?

-He used to say that. Would you stop calling me Angeline?

Artemis froze. This was going terribly wrong.

-Mother, I assure you…

-I know -she interrupted him. - You would not tell me. I wasn’t here for you when your father… When he went missing. So I really don’t know what you went through. Still, when I got better I thought that you would eventually talk to me. Now I am not so sure. I cannot help you if I don’t understand, Arty. And I don’t understand you. I don’t…

Her voice broke. She was crying, silently. Artemis gulped down half glass of champagne.

-He loved you very much- Angeline said, her eyes fixed on her son. -Despite all his secrets and his schemes. He loved you very, very much. Just as I do. And he would have wanted you to go, so I want you to go.

Then she looked down, and Artemis knew she was trying to stop her tears. Quietly, Artemis extended his arm, and took her hand. She clutched his fingers, and let go. As she cried, Artemis looked around. The moonlight had slowly crept over the dining table and now glinted on the edges of the glasses. He let Angeline cry because he didn’t know how to comfort her. Because he himself did not know any way to dull his own pain. When her tears finally subsided they finished the champagne and said their goodbyes. They had already agreed that Angeline would not go with him in the morning. It would remind her too much of the last parting with her husband. Just before she retired to her bedroom, while they walked down the hallway, she stopped and turned towards Artemis. She caressed his hair, as she used to do in his earliest memories, and hugged him, softly.

-You are still wearing black- she whispered above his head. -Do not mourn forever. We have to live, even though he is… gone. He would want us to live.

Artemis closed his eyes for a few seconds. He was not sure he had any right to do so. He muttered an agreement and Angeline let go of him. She smiled at him, sorrowful, and left towards the stairs.

‘Goodbye, mother. I’m sorry. I am so sorry.’

It was late, but Artemis didn’t think he could sleep. As he walked around the manor, he thought of Angeline’s words. He could not move on. It was his fault that his father was dead. He was the one who had put in motion the events that led to his death. He was the one to blame. No matter what Butler or Holly would say. His mind went back to that night in the cold of the Arctic. The arrival of those creatures and their unearthly screams. The way they had slaughtered the men in the ship and then moved towards Artemis and his team. His father lying in a pool of red. Was it his own blood? The blood of the creatures Butler had killed? There had been so much red that night… Artemis stopped himself. He knew he was repressing the memories, but he could not go back to that night yet. It was not healthy, from a psychological point of view, but he was not sure of the consequences that remembering would have in his mind. Somethings he remembered vividly, with the detail of a high quality film. The unfolding of the original plan, the false shot against the trembling figure of his father, the swift shape of Holly, flying above the water. The dark silhouettes against the starry sky, Butler, firing from behind a barricade of snow, and the last words of Artemis Fowl senior, as he lied over coloured snow, one leg missing. But he didn’t remember many others, even though he could feel them creeping in the edges of his mind. Artemis could not see the bigger picture, nor did he want to. He knew he would eventually have to remember, but not tonight.

Artemis strode from one room to the next, in the same way he had in the first weeks after Russia. The silence of the night surrounded him, and the luminous night outside made the shadows of the manor darker. He was one of those shadows, he realized. Maybe that was what Angeline had tried to say. In truth he felt like a ghost, almost immaterial. Ethereal. Empty. He found himself in the piano room. When he had been half mad with grief, he found some solace in playing the instrument. Since his recovery, he had stopped. Would it help now? He could not even remember what had he used to play. Only that it made Juliet cry, and that Butler hated it. Artemis sat down in front of the piano. This he remembered. His technique was impeccable and he was quite proud of it. Cautiously, he started with Chopin. The clear notes flowed like water, faster as he gained confidence. This room was far enough from the main bedroom. Angeline’s sleep would not be disturbed. His fingers run through the keys and the music rose like a tide. Artemis knew the form and tempo, the movements and the melody; but he had never been able to find the… passion. The sentiment that made performers great. Logic had always dominated every action and also his playing. But that had been before. Now… now he was somewhat different. Maybe it was just the rage, that he had tried so hard to conceal deep within himself. He had known personal tragedy before, but the despair and the anger were definitely new. Maybe it was all it took to become a great pianist. Who knew? Artemis played. If the sound held emotion or was just the product of a finely tuned machine, he could not tell.

-*-*-*-

McGonagall arrived just on time. This time she was alone and wore no hat. As Juliet escorted her towards the manor, Artemis felt Butler shift his weight beside him while they waited by the door. The tension in him had been evident in his tight jaw since Artemis first saw him that morning. He would try to convince him to accept his plan of reuniting in Hogwarts in secret and camp in the nearby wilderness. Right before he started talking, Artemis turned towards him.

-I don’t like this also, Butler, but we are going to have to work separately for a while. I will find a way for you to join me by the beginning of the schoolyear. For now, you are to supervise Christine and Bones. Hand them the basic tasks and report every week. Secrecy is of utmost importance.

Christine was his new captain of the hitmen, a cold mercenary with fiery hair and a remarkable aim. Bones has the newly appointed accountant. He was a Cambridge dropout with eidetic memory and a lifelong debt to the Fowls. Artemis had interviewed them both in Dublin.

-I know, Artemis. I can handle them. But I still have my doubts about this plan of yours. We still don’t know what does Dumbledore wants or which of the purebloods are hostile.

-You will have to trust in my ability to deal with them. I have calculated the lethal risk in less than twelve percent for this first venture. Besides, this is only a reconnaissance mission. I will not cause any trouble.

-That would be a first -stated Butler. -Artemis Fowl not looking for trouble.

Before Artemis could answer, McGonagall entered hearing range. She looked at the boy and his tall servant with her usual severity. Walking beside her, Juliet was pouting, looking like a scolded child. Artemis wondered what she had done this time. He welcomed the elder witch and offered her a beverage which she accepted with great aplomb.

-I gather this is all your luggage?

She gestured at the single suitcase in the floor, upon which rested the owl’s cage. Onyx hooed softly from the inside. If anyone opened the suitcase they would only find clothes, books and some personal items. The important things like his notebooks, cell phone, computer and the C-cube prototype, were hidden in a secret section that Artemis himself had designed. As soon as nobody weighed the suitcase, he would be fine.

-It is all I need.

McGonagall seemed almost pleased.

-Then I appreciate the favour.

She picked up cage and suitcase and held them in one hand. She didn’t appear to notice anything out of the ordinary. She offered her arm to Artemis.

-We have been given permission from the Ministry to Apparate directly to Hogwarts. Not inside, because the charms upon the castle would not allow it; but we will arrive at the very front door. The whole travel will not take more than a few seconds, but the experience can be quite shaking. If you insist we can always go to London and use an old portkey.

She appeared to be measuring Artemis with her steely eyes. He had read about Apparitions but definitely wasn’t expecting to use them any time soon. Nevertheless, he decided, the experience should be… enlightening.

-Take us there, professor. I have already said my goodbyes.

McGonagall frowned.

-Is your mother not here? Only your servants to bid you farewell?

-As I just said, everything is ready. We can go. Unless you would prefer the portkey.

The witch threw him a disapproving look, but Artemis was unfazed. He had encountered the anger of school teachers many times in his life. At this point he found them amusing.

-Come then, Mr Fowl.

Artemis looked at Butler and Juliet. The tall man observed him with intensity, as if trying to remind him of every word of advice he had ever given him on the subject of personal security. That was so very Butler of him, Artemis thought. Juliet’s actions were less predictable. On a sudden movement, she hugged him tight. Caught by surprise, he didn’t move. Was this…? Before he could lecture her once again on the subject of personal space, she muttered an apology and stood back. The embarrassment was evident in her face, and Artemis decided to postpone his reprimand. She was just being impulsive, he decided. And that was hardly out of character for her.

-Take care of Angeline, both of you. If something happens, you know where to find me. Farewell.

The two siblings nodded once, with the same look of determination in their faces. Artemis took McGonagall’s arm. There was a strange sound, like a crack.

The world dissolved into madness. Everything swirled around in an instant, as if the rules of space and time were being rewritten. Artemis saw himself twist and bend in a way that should mean immediate death. All the lines turned to curves in a way that made his head distrustful of his eyes. The whole experience, decided Artemis’ brain, was like being torn from the world and dragged through the most vitriolic of non-Euclidean spaces. But that was the only thing it was capable of formulating because the next instant he was being sucked into a vortex. An immense pressure threatened to crush his lungs and left him without air.

‘Is this how I die?’ Artemis thought. ‘When I was just getting started? How frustrating.’

He knew better than to say ‘unfair’. Next to him he could see the shifting contours of McGonagall. The mere thought of his demise filled him with bitterness.

‘Not now. Not yet. I still have things to do, treasure to steal, scores to settle.’

He forced himself to open his eyes. Observe. If these were to be his last moments he would not spend them blind. If he survived, maybe he would learn something. They passed through the vortex. It felt like being pushed through a very small opening. A sharp crack, echoing the first one, preceded their arrival. On the other side, the world regained its usual geometry. Apparently, he would live.

Artemis blinked several times as he took in the sight in front of him. A massive castle stood on a mountain range. The primitive design hinted to a medieval construction, but there were traces of gothic architecture. It had a lot of turrets and towers, and not one of them was equal to the others. The lack of symmetry somehow baffled Artemis. He realized McGonagall was watching him intently.

-Is there something wrong, professor?

His voice sounded a little raspy. Artemis tried to regain his breath. He felt disoriented and attempted to distract himself of his unsteady legs with a frantic analysis of the castle’s exterior.

-Actually, you are taking this with remarkable resilience, Mr Fowl. The majority of wizards and witches throw up on their first apparition. You are truly a born wizard.

She gave Artemis two minutes to fully recover, and they entered the castle. The premises were huge, fitting for a school. Although, if this was a school for the entirety of the British islands… Artemis asked McGonagall how many students attended Hogwarts. The answer left him surprised. There were less magical people than he had expected. He remembered that while reading magical history books he had noted the absence of any census’ data.

‘An omission so consistent is a message in itself. It seems inconceivable that a modern society can function without such records. The Ministry must possess them, and they seem to be the only group capable of censuring books. But why hide these numbers? To prevent fear? To control any insurgents? Anyone in this school who knows how to count can arrive to the logical conclusion.’

The magical world was dwindling. They had not adapted well to the times. If they had kept up with the rest of human kind they would be much more numerous than they were now. As Artemis and McGonagall ascended through a flight of stone steps, he asked her if the number of students increased year by year or remained a constant. After a short moment of hesitation while waiting by the wooden door, she informed him that the ranks of Hogwarts had stayed the same for decades. How was that possible? Had Grindelwald’s uprising and the Wizarding War taken such toll on the magical community of Britain that they were unaffected by the rise of natality humans had experimented since World War II? Whatever the causes were, the facts remained. Wizards and witches were rare, and if the magical gene was a recessive one, as he already suspected, their decline would continue, inevitably.

‘Was that what you saw, father? Did you think the wizarding world was already condemned and decided to leave it before it collapsed?’

They entered the castle. Artemis had to abandon his meditation as McGonagall started to talk.

-Before you start studying in Hogwarts you have to be sorted into a House. Usually, we would sort the students of the first year as soon as they arrive before the welcome feast. In your case we shall proceed differently. Depending on how much you learn during this levelling courses you will be placed in the second or third year at the start of the next term. Consequently, you will not be sorted along the first year students. Headmaster Dumbledore, two other teachers and myself will attend your Sorting Ceremony in a moment.

-A ceremony? - It sounded rather mystical. -Am I not supposed to take a test or have an interview first?

Maybe the house he would be in was already arranged. McGonagall did not pay him any heed.

-While you are in Hogwarts your house will be like a second family within the institution. You will take classes with the rest of your house, sleep in the same dormitories and spend your leisure time together.

She explained it with the confidence of one who had pronounced those words a hundred times. Probably, she was the one to welcome the first years.

-There are four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. Each one has a noble history and has provided the world with remarkable witches and wizards. While attending the school, any personal achievements will earn your house points; while any inappropriate behaviour will lose them. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the house cup, which is a great honour.

Artemis considered that new information. If he knew anything about teenagers -and he did, he was a psychologist thank you very much- the competition between houses would be fierce. As they walked the hallways of Hogwarts Artemis noted that the interior of the castle was as grand as the exterior. Apparently, wizards were capable of some decency when it came to provide a place for their children to study. The thought came as a relief until he started to notice that McGonagall was guiding him through peripheral passages which belonged to a much larger and chaotic layout. Even for a sense of orientation as keen as his own, this place was almost too much. It seemed to defy logic, and Artemis thought of the secret chamber at the manor. If Hogwarts had similar incantations on it, making a map of the place would certainly be, well, interesting.

McGonagall seemed to possess a vitality ludicrous for someone her age, and Artemis started to wish they would arrive to their destination soon, whatever it was. At last, after many corridors and an unreasonable amount of doors of all sizes, they walked into what resembled a waiting room. It was empty with the exception of a boy, around Artemis’ age, who was sinking into one of the leather armchairs. In the other side of the room, there was a closed door where, Artemis supposed, the committee mentioned by McGonagall would be waiting. But the witch had stopped, and was looking at the other boy.

-Shall we proceed, professor? - asked Artemis. He was feeling something similar to impatience and he didn’t give the other boy a second look. As a general rule, he always dismissed his supposed peers. It saved time.

-Wait here please, Mr Fowl. -instructed McGonagall. -Once everything is ready you will be summoned. Fortunately, Mr Smith is already here. Just as you, he is going to take the levelling courses and you may end in the same year.

And with those words she was gone, into the next room. Artemis wanted to scoff. He had seen better attempts to coerce him to ‘make friends’ from primary school teachers. He sat in the other armchair and waited. The room was dusty, as if it had been abandoned until recently and only given an offhand cleaning. Artemis frowned. He caught his breath and tried to prepare himself mentally for what was to come. Quickly, the realization came. One could not be prepared for that which one didn’t know. And the past days had taught Artemis that the usual procedure of selecting reasonable outcomes would be useless until he learned the parameters within which the wizarding world operated. If they existed. The seconds seemed to crawl with special laziness in the interior of the waiting room. Artemis glanced at the other boy.

He was slender, skinny even, with long limbs and a certain tension to his manner, despite sitting with his legs extended and crossed in a nonchalant way. He wore blue pants and a white dressing shirt, which contrasted sharply with a pair of red sneakers. Red sneakers. For God’s sake. His hands were occupied with a wand, making it spin slowly while he examined it as if his eyes could penetrate the wooden surface. The expression on his face was one of pure, unbridled fascination, and his brown eyes, seemed to almost spark behind his pair of glasses. His features were sharp and well defined, and he had a mass of brown hair which gave at the same time the impression of having been styled and being pointing in all directions at the same time. How fitting, Artemis thought, to find such contradiction in this incongruous place. But there was something else in that boy, that tugged in the edges of his consciousness. Not wanting to engage in the probably barren effort of trying to prepare himself for whatever the ceremony of sorting consisted in, Artemis stood up and approached him.

-Artemis Fowl. Pleased to meet your acquaintance.

The boy snapped out of his examination of the wand and looked up through his glasses.

-Yes, of course! -he said. Taking off his glasses, he rose from the armchair with haste. He was a little taller than Artemis. After a few seconds in which he seemed to scan Artemis, he was shaking his hand with enthusiasm. Too much enthusiasm.

-You are wearing a suit!

-Are we stating the obvious?

-Oh, no. Not really. I just like suits. That’s all. Very fancy. And I may want to ask, are you mourning someone? The suit is very… funereal.

He talked fast and almost nervously.

-I just like black.

-Yes, it is the favourite colour of some families, apparently.

He locked his eyes with Artemis’ as if trying to gauge his response. Artemis raced to order his thoughts. The other one was intelligent, in a way that he hadn’t encountered in some time. He had turned an impertinent question into an enquiry on Artemis’ alignment within the factions of the wizarding world. Crafty. But two could play that game.

-I do not think all the members of a family could prefer the same colour. But it could prove an interesting survey. However, I still don’t know with whom I have the pleasure to talk.

The boy seemed content with his deflection.

-Right. The name is Smith. John Dorian Smith.

-Are you from England, Mr Smith?

Given his accent, Artemis’ wouldn’t be surprised if he was from London itself.

-No. Wait, yes. Something in the middle. I’m from the islands, though.

-And you don’t know which part? - Artemis asked, incredulously.

-No. It’s only that… It’s complicated.

Secrets. Artemis was already sure that Mr Smith had a lot of secrets. His right hand was clutching his wand in a clear sign of anxiety. Whether the secrets he kept were worth the while was still to be decided.

‘My turn then.’

-I see. Maybe we could take a seat. I don’t know how much more we are going to wait. How long have you been here?

They sat, this time next to each other. Smith stretched himself over his spot and looked at Artemis with interest.

-Less than too much, more than too little. It is the same day, though.

-Then you had time to observe. What do you think about this room?

-Well… one may ask himself why they brought us to a place that has not been used in years.

So he had noticed.

-Indeed. And one could make the reasonable hypothesis that it has something to do with the next room. After all, you can see parts of an inscription on the lintel of the door…

-And notice -Smith continued, with growing enthusiasm- it belongs to a previous version of the room, since it has been remodelled from its original design. In fact, if you look carefully at the doorframe you can see that the inscriptions are still there, underneath the new wall. But only in that wall. The other ones don’t have any marks. Which means that room is special, surrounded by a spell carved in the walls, with only two logical purposes…

-Hiding or protection -concluded Artemis. Smith smiled widely.

-Or both. Brilliant!

Artemis felt a strange tension in his lips and realized he was on the way of smiling back. He sobered up. The apparition must have affected his psyche more than he thought. Nevertheless, it was pleasant to have an intelligent conversation once in a while.

-So the Sorting Ceremony for the two of us is to be held in an either very protected or very hidden room which has not been used for a long time, probably brought back to use for this specific event. And this begs the question: which one of us is the cause for this preparations? You or me, Mr Smith?

The smile in the face of the other boy just widened.

-Isn’t that a really good question, Fowl?

Brown met blue, and the two boys stared at each other for a moment. So it would not be that simple. Good. Artemis nodded in acknowledgement.

-It appears we have reached an impasse.

A moment later, the door opened and McGonagall came through.

-Mr Smith, Mr Fowl, you may enter now.

As they followed her into the next room, Artemis spoke one last time.

-If you really plan to do that survey, my mother hates black.

Smith looked at him, this time with a serious expression.

-Noted.

He could take that as he wished, Artemis thought. As far as he could tell, Smith didn’t support the pureblood supremacists. So it was better if he believed Artemis didn’t either. The room in which McGonagall introduced them had no windows, and the high ceiling was lost in the shadows. The only source of light were the candles. A hundred, maybe more, they illuminated the hall in a golden light as they floated above their heads near the central column. Four figures were standing in the middle of the room, clad in strange robes. But what was new with that? There were five chairs, arranged in a half-moon, and a little table in front of the one in the centre. As they advanced, Artemis saw that the inside of the room was clearly of gothic nature, with gargoyles guarding the columns and high arches. Then, he focused on the four people in front of him. Two of them were women, one in the guise of a matron, the other with short hair and bright eyes that somehow reminded him of a cat. The third was a sombre man with raven hair and dark robes, and the last one was an old man with silver hair and a long beard. He had a benevolent expression and Artemis almost expected him to put on a pointy hat and start calling himself Emrys. Was this the famous Dumbledore?

-It is a pleasure to meet you at last Artemis, Dorian -he nodded towards the boys. -These ladies are part of our wonderful staff here at Hogwarts: madam Pomfrey, who is here in representation of the house of Hufflepuff, and madam Hooch who represents the house of Ravenclaw. Professor Snape here is present in behalf of Slytherin, as he is the head of said house; as Professor McGonagall is for Gryffindor. Are we ready then? Let’s begin.

He uncovered the object in the table with an elaborated motion. It was a hat. An old, battered, pointy hat. Artemis had questions. Then, for his eternal horror, the hat moved, its fabric rippling, and it started to sing. How was that even possible? Even in the most general sense? Was this how his life was going to be? Hostile magic cats, people who thought that making a door of silver was a reasonable deterrent for thieves, old men playing Merlin and singing hats? His verses were mediocre at best! Artemis looked around. No one seemed to find this strange. As if it was part of their normal lives to attend a serenade sung by a hat. Then, one of the lines caught Artemis’ attention.

There’s nothing hidden in your head

The Sorting Hat can’t see,

So try me on and I will tell you

Where you ought to be.

Wait. So this hat could read minds? Artemis recoiled. Was this a risk he could take? There were many things in his head he wanted to keep for himself. But could he refuse, at this point? It would be extremely suspicious. What to do then? Could the hat really see it all? Even with a mind like his own? Maybe he could trick it. Yes, hide his secrets deep within his mind, and distract him with some other memory. It could work. Theoretically. The hat was still singing.

You may belong in Gryffindor,

Were dwell the brave at heart,

Their daring, nerve and chivalry

Set Gryffindor apart;

You might belong in Hufflepuff,

Where they are just and loyal,

Those patient Hufflepuffs are true

And unafraid of toil;

Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,

If you’ve a ready mind,

Where those of wit and learning,

Will always find their kind;

Or perhaps in Slytherin

You’ll make your real friends,

Those cunning folk use any means

To achieve their ends.

So put me on. Don’t be afraid!

And don’t get in a flap!

You are in safe hands, though I have none,

For I’m a Thinking Cap.

Then, for the eternal bafflement of Artemis, the four teachers and the Headmaster clapped respectfully. It was bewildering. Not wanting to appear rude, Artemis started to clap. When the applause ended, McGonagall spoke again.

-It is customary for the students to be sorted in alphabetical order. So please, Mr Fowl, take a seat.

Artemis occupied the central chair. As if it was a sign, Pomfrey, Hooch, Snape and McGonagall sat on the remaining chairs, and only Dumbledore and Smith were left standing. The boy was following the ceremony with interest, Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. He took the hat from the table and placed it over Artemis’ head.

-Oh, how remarkable -said an amused voice in his head. Artemis managed to supress his jolt. -Stop doing that, young man. I have no interest in the report of your family’s finances over the past five years. You can stop reciting it now. And I suspect that isn’t the full report anyway. What do we have here? Hah! You know your fair share of secrets, don’t you? Don’t worry, they are safe with me.

Could he really believe that? He had done a lot of things simple minded people would consider bad, and some things that he himself considered questionable.

-Just relax. Most of the boys and girls that come here are convinced that they are inadequate in some way. And even if you are not quite like them, Mr Fowl, you will not be turned away just as they were not turned away. The doors of Hogwarts are open to everyone.

How naïve of them.

-Do you think? I would prefer the world idealistic, but I see your point. After all, Voldemort himself was once a student, and look how that turned out. Hmmm, maybe Ravenclaw. I see an unusual intellect and thirst for knowledge.

So it really could read his mind. But could it see everything? Artemis concentrated.

‘So you sorted Him too. Couldn’t you see what he would become?’

-I saw some evil, certainly. But people can change, Mr Fowl. They don’t need to be what their circumstances or family wanted them to be. I saw darkness in him, as I see darkness in you, but I had the hope he could defeat it.

Artemis fought to maintain his thoughts under control. But some of them slipped.

-Ah, yes. Then there is that. You are brave as a Gryffindor, but you are also a strategist, driven and ambitious; all defining traits of a Slytherin. So much talent… This is a difficult decision. It will define many lives and perhaps history itself. I wonder, if you had to make a choice that would affect history, what would you do?

Artemis saw that the four teachers were looking at him. McGonagall and Snape kept their stoic expressions, but Hooch and Pomfrey were growing nervous.

‘What do you mean?’

-Do not mind them, young master Fowl. We are taking a little more than usual, that’s all. What I was asking is: if you were to make a decision that changed the future, would you go down the easy path, that would lead you to a secure result; or would you choose the most difficult, which may lead to the best of outcomes but at a great cost? No. Don’t answer. I can see it. You would gamble. Take the risk, and then try your best to defeat the odds. That settles it, then. Let me tell you one last thing. You have locked many doors inside your mind. There are monsters behind. You have to face them before they bring the doors down.

‘I’m not sure if I can’ answered Artemis, surprising himself with his sincerity.

-I know. That’s why you have to open them. I’m glad you came to Hogwarts, master Fowl. Your life needs a little bit of magic, but in a different way that your subterranean friends could provide.

Artemis’ heart skipped a beat. It knew about the Creatures. Even though he had tried his best to hide his liaisons with the People. Would the hat really keep his secrets?

-SLYTHERIN!

More clapping. And just before Dumbledore took the hat from his head, he heard it one more time.

-Good luck, Mr Fowl. And know that I am very sorry.

While he pondered those words, he stood apart. Smith occupied the chair, and Dumbledore managed to put the hat over his shuffled hair. Should he take the words of the hat seriously? It appeared to be capable of reading his thoughts with disturbing clarity and had offered advice in good faith. On the other hand, it was a hat. How was Artemis going to take seriously anything said by a piece of clothing possessed by magic? And it knew his secrets. The only thing Artemis could do was trust it wouldn’t reveal them. He groaned internally. This was an unexpected complication he was not sure he could solve. What would happen if he made the hat disappear? Burn it? Throw it on a convenient body of water? But if it was sentient, wouldn’t that be similar to murder?

Artemis started to press his fingers on his thumb. The mechanical movement soothed him. Based on their conversation, the hat had a specific set of beliefs regarding students. Id est, they could be ‘good’. It was unlikely that every student abided to the moral standards of the wizarding society by the time they started school. They were too young. Their characters were yet to be defined. So he would not be expulsed on the grounds of questionable morality. Still, he had committed crimes, real crimes. Why would the hat allow someone like him in the school? Unless it had been programed that way. Or charmed that way, in this case. According to the history books he had read, Hogwarts was founded around the end of the first millennium AD. If the hat had started its… service to the school in those days, which made sense based on its appearance, it would have a very different set of laws conditioning its behaviour. In the early middle ages, many things were not crimes yet because they didn’t even exist. He made a quick recount of English ‘law’ in that era. By that criterion, Artemis’ list of crimes was substantially reduced but not exactly erased. Nevertheless, it could certainly be excused with an unhealthy but not impossible dose of optimism.

-RAVENCLAW! -the hat exclaimed, shaking Artemis out of his meditation. He blinked and saw Smith standing in front of Dumbledore, shaking his hand with glee.

‘Ravenclaw? It suits him well, I suppose.’

Still, they would be in different houses. Maybe it was for the best. Artemis had the sensation that John Dorian Smith could become a hindrance, if he were to take an interest on his comings and goings. He wondered in which house was Miss Granger. He ought to keep an eye on her.

-A most remarkable ceremony- said Dumbledore, approaching Artemis. -It is not always that we have at hatstall, but two!

The old man smiled and offered his hand. When Artemis took it, he felt something cold in the back of his mind. A warning. The expression on Dumbledore’s face was placid, but there was something about him that didn’t quite fit. This was a powerful man, Artemis reminded himself, one who could pull many strings. So he composed his expression.

-I am glad we meet at last, headmaster -he said. -I’ve been wanting to thank you for the book, it was quite an interesting read. Also, I admit the ceremony was not what I expected; though I have no idea of what a hatstall means.

-I’m delighted to see you, Artemis. And let me explain to you that a hatstall occurs when the Sorting Hat takes more than five minutes to decide a student’s house. It means it was difficult to place him or her, because of mixed traits.

-Or a lack of them.

-It could be! -exclaimed Dumbledore. -And don’t even mention the book! It is my pleasure to provide quality literature to eager minds.

In that moment, the tall brooding professor joined them.

-Ah, Severus. Why don’t you take your new student to his bedroom? He could get acquainted with some of his fellow Slytherins. Mr Fowl, this is Severus Snape, the head of your house and out Potions teacher. Just don’t expect him to smile very much.

Artemis nodded in acknowledgement. Snape offered his hand in a tense movement, and he shook it. The expression in the professor’s face was impossible to read. Artemis maintained his calm façade and met the dark eyes fixed on him. Snape seemed impressed at that. After a few more words with the headmaster, they left for the Slytherin dorms. As they walked out, Artemis saw Dorian speaking with madam Hooch. They were both smiling.

-There are some rules you will have to respect if you wish to remain in the school long enough to become a useful magician, Mr Fowl. -said Snape, as they started their descent into the lower levels of the castle.

-Going into the nearby forest is strictly forbidden, as is doing magic between classes in the corridors. We are not street magicians, nor circus witches, and such behaviour will not be allowed in the house of Slytherin. Boys and girls sleep separately and although you may socialize together in the common room, you cannot go into each other’s sleeping quarters, and the same goes for the bathrooms. I believe I do not need to explain the reasons for this rules.

Snape’s voice had a deliberate intonation that made his speech ghastly. But Artemis was not to be intimidated by something so trivial. He followed the professor and soon noticed they were going underground. When they reached the stairs that would take them deep below, Artemis hesitated.

‘Never go to a basement if you are not sure you have the advantage’ Butler had said to him once. ‘It is ideal for setting lethal traps. Usually, there are few ways out, and your enemies will be waiting for you. Underground you are essentially trapped.’

-This way, Mr Fowl. -said Snape. -The Slytherin dorms are located in the dungeons. If you are afraid of underground places, you are most unlucky.

-Not in the slightest, professor – Artemis answered. -Please continue.

He certainly wasn’t. He had faced magma explosions, goblin rebellions, wild flights and almost certain death deep below the ground but he wasn’t scared, per se. Maybe a little concerned. They descended.

-This summer you will be sharing the dorms with two students whose grades were too low in the last school year and had been forced to attend the levelling courses. You will be taking classes along with them and other students of your age. There is one from Gryffindor, two from Hufflepuff and I assume now there is one from Ravenclaw, which is most unprecedented in summer courses. I expect nothing but the best from my students, and that extends to their grades. Make the Slytherin house proud, and we will make you proud.

Artemis nodded. It was the first sensible thing he had heard from an adult wizard. The hat had placed him well, apparently. When they reached the dungeons, Snape told him the password and then turned towards him.

-I knew your father once, before he rejected his magical heritage. We were not very close, but I think I could say we were… friends.

The man pronounced the word as if it was strange to him.

-Tell me, was he happy? In the end?

Artemis considered the question.

-I do not know, professor. Can anyone be happy?

Snape’s features softened.

-I think not. Thank you, Mr Fowl.

He turned, ready to leave.

-Wait -said Artemis. Snape stopped. He wanted to convince him to stay, to tell him everything about his father, but he couldn’t find the words.

-The room for the Ceremony -he asked instead. -Was the spell on it for hiding or for protection?

-Protection. No external magic can interfere with what happens inside.

-Was it because of the veil my father put on me? They think it is still active?

-They suspect it. The exact nature of the spell your father casted on you is still unknown, as are its implications. There were similar concerns regarding Mr Smith, although his circumstances are different from yours, so it was decided to hold the ceremony in a neutral place. There are many people interested in you, Mr Fowl. Your family name and your exploits have attracted the attention of various important factions. But you do know that, don’t you?

Artemis did.

-I see. Are you a player in this game, professor?

-Just a pawn, I’m afraid.

-Was my father a player?

Snape tilted his head, slightly, and looked at him with one dark eye.

-He was a wild card.

And with that he was gone.

-*-*-*-

Artemis found his new classmates in the dormitory. The place was divided in different dorms, each with three beds, a stove, and some furniture, made of dark carved wood. The two boys were lounging in what surely were their own quarters, surrounded with a myriad of books, notebooks and notes. Their faces showed utter boredom and despair, but as soon as they noticed him, they changed into something menacing. One was taller and one was decidedly fat, but both had strong arms like gorilla cubs.

-Who are you? -asked the biggest, frowning -You can’t be here. Only Slytherins in the Slytherin dorms.

He rose from the bed and stood up. Artemis had the disquieting realization that the boy was considerably taller than him.

‘Focus’ he told himself. ‘These kind of goons need a leader. If I scare them enough they may turn into acceptable tools, at least for the time being.’

Artemis knew his way in a boarding school. In Saint Bartleby’s there were boys taller and stronger than him, but they had learned to leave him alone. Nothing like instilling a little bit of healthy fear in their thick skulls.

-I have just been sorted. I am a Slyhterin, just like you.

The boy’s frown deepened. As if he doubted his words.

-You are too old.

-He is one of the new ones, Greg -his companion told him. -McGonagall told us yesterday, while we were having dessert.

-Strawberry mousse?

-No, the chocolate cakes.

-Oh. Now I remember.

The goon retuned his attention to Artemis.

-So you are a transfer. What happened? They didn’t want you on your other school?

The other boy sniggered and Greg approached. Artemis stood his ground and looked at him in the eye.

-Quite the contrary. They even begged me to stay, but I wanted to come to Hogwarts.

That wasn’t entirely true. Certainly, the board of directors of Saint Bartleby’s would mourn the loss of his family’s annual contribution, but he had the sensation they wouldn’t miss him very much. Some of the teachers might even throw a party.

-Really? What for? And why would we want you here?

The other boy stood up and approached his friend. Artemis noticed that their movements were now similar to a predator’s. He had seen this before. These two were bullies. Very good bullies.

-Any number of things. I have many skills. -said Artemis, maintaining his mask of nonchalance.

The two boys looked at each other, disconcerted.

-And what is your name?

-Who wants to know?

-I’m Gregory Goyle, and he is Vincent Crabbe. Our families are friends with the Malfoys.

Artemis felt a surge of victory. Know your opponent. He bowed, theatrically.

-Very well then, gentlemen. I’m Artemis Fowl the Second, at your service.

The goons froze. They looked at him with incredulity, and Crabbe gaped openly. A mix of horror and amazement painted their faces.

-You are a Fowl? Like in the stories grandmother used to tell?

Although he knew nothing about the old women in the Crabbe family, Artemis nodded.

-Most definitely.

-Awesome! -the boy said. Goyle agreed, grinning with enthusiasm. That was a better response than any he had expected.

-Can you read the stars, talk in the old language and call forth the blood of your enemies?

Artemis blinked. What kind of tales did the wizards tell about his family?

-Yes, yes and no. I have not reached that part, yet.

It was a truthful answer. Artemis knew the name of every star visible from the Islands and could fly a plane from Moscow to Dublin with nothing more than their help. Not that he wanted to do it again. He also could write and speak in the language of the fairies, and it was certainly old.

-And is it true -asked Goyle, nervously -that you lot don’t care what the Ministry says? That you can do as you please and they can’t do nothing because you leave no trace?

-Something like that. We have to pretend, though. Some of their dogs are still searching for the faithful.

Artemis looked at their reactions carefully. That last sentence was a bait. As they had declared their associations with the Malfoys, which Selwyn had mentioned, it was very probable that their families were purebloods too. And former supporters of Voldemort. When Crabbe and Goyle nodded, knowingly, Artemis knew he had been right.

-Then it’s good you are in Slytherin, Fowl -said Crabbe. -But you can’t sleep here. That’s Draco Malfoy’s bed right there, and we are guarding it.

How fortuitous. There was a Malfoy in his same house and probably his same year.

-Don’t worry about that. I will occupy another dorm. But I would be very glad if we became friends.

-Friends? -said Goyle, doubtful. -We are Draco’s friends.

-I know. And I don’t plan to take you away from him. I just want to talk to you. I’m new here. There are lots of things I don’t know. And when the school year starts you could present me to Draco Malfoy. We could become… allies.

-Sounds good -sighed Crabbe. -But we are not sure Draco will like you. What if he gets angry cause’ we are talking to you all the summer?

They wanted to agree, but they were scared of that Malfoy boy. Maybe a little reward would tilt the scales in his favour.

-You will have to take the risk. On the other hand, I could help you with your studies- Artemis made a gesture towards the opened books and the disordered pieces of paper that lay on the beds and the floor. -I daresay you need some help.

-But you are new here.

-Never mind that. I am quite brilliant.

-Like Tristan the Fearless?

-Sure.

He really needed to update his knowledge on wizarding folklore. The goons looked at each other in agreement.

-Alright -they said. And that was all it took.

Chapter Text

In which intelligence is gathered from unintelligent sources,some of the castle’s mysteries are uncovered, and Fowl ends following one Mr. Smith into a dark forest.

In the following weeks life stumbled, like a graceless madman, into some semblance of routine. Crabbe and Goyle turned out to be valuable sources of information, even if said information was somewhat repetitive and obviously biased. Artemis learned a lot of things about his fellow Slytherins. Theodore Nott and Blaise Zabini, with whom Artemis would be sharing quarters, were both purebloods; but while Zabini was loud and mischievous, Nott was usually calm and silent. It appeared the girls followed the leadership of one Pansy Parkinson, whose capacity for talking without breathing overwhelmed Crabbe. There were three in her gang: Bulstrode, who was rather large, pale Greengrass and enthusiastic Davis. Miss Parkinson and Miss Greengrass were also purebloods, while the other two were half-bloods. Artemis took care of memorizing these facts. He had to earn a rank between those kids, and he was late to the party.

But it was the fifth girl Crabbe and Goyle mentioned, who caught Artemis’ attention. Minerva Paradizo. The daughter of a renowned witch and a muggle doctor, who had preferred to attend Hogwarts instead of going to Beauxbatons in her native France. According to Goyle she had very little patience, a sharp tongue and the ability to outwit almost everyone. She was the only girl that Draco tolerated around on a regular basis. Crabbe was frankly terrified of her.

-She is scary -he told Artemis. -Like you, but meaner. By the way she looks at you, it seems she could kill you. Sure, she makes the best plans and can make Parkinson shut up, but she is scary. Never talks to us, though. Better that way, I think.

Artemis highly doubted this girl could be as dangerous as himself, but he believed he understood why Crabbe and Goyle felt intimidated by her. She was probably intelligent and had some character, but that was all he expected her to be. He felt more curious about her mother’s family. He had read about the Rosiers. Their position on the chessboard was quite clear. They had been proud followers first of Grindelwald and then Voldemort. That could be Artemis’ key to find the ‘faithful’ that Selwyn had mentioned. Then, he would make a plan. Maybe he could find time to subtly interrogate Miss Paradizo when the term finally started.

It was clear by now that both Crabbe and Goyle idolized Draco Malfoy to an absurd degree. If it depended on them, Artemis thought, they would make him master and lord of the universe. Although nothing of what they told him indicated that the heir of the Malfoy family held them in any regard. It seemed they were his unconditional goons, acquired by virtue of the ‘friendship’ between their fathers. Judging by the way they responded to some of Artemis’ questions it was evident that nobody had ever asked them for their personal view on any subject. Which was a real waste. Even with their constant stuttering, they had good observational skills when they put their minds to it, if little else. Malfoy could use them better. Anyway, Artemis would.

He managed to help Crabbe and Goyle with their studying enough for them to be more relaxed about the exams that would take place by the end of August. Apart from them and Smith, there was a handful of students in the castle. Neville Long-Bottom and one Colin Creevy from Gryffindor, and two Hufflepuffs whose names he never bothered to learn. Some were attending the courses because of personal ineptitude, and some because they had been unable to follow the school program due to the events involving the Chamber of Secrets. Artemis had already heard the whole story four times. It didn’t take a genius to see there was more to it than what the public knew.

The classes were many and diverse, and they usually lasted until mid-afternoon, so Artemis didn’t have any time to get bored. He had a lot to learn if he wanted to get into the third year straightaway. He wasn’t worried, though. His brain had very rarely disappointed him. As many of the teachers were on vacation, the ones that were present had divided the subjects between them. McGonagall taught Transfiguration and Charms, and did so with her usual sternness. Artemis had the impression she didn’t trust him very much.

Dumbledore himself took charge of Herbology, Care of Magical Creatures and Defence Against the Dark Arts, and proved to be an attentive if somehow distant educator. He often gave the impression of having more important things to do. But eventually, Artemis realized that such idea could be very misleading. Indeed, Dumbledore’s attitude was pure diversion. He was watching them, with all his attention. Specially him and Smith. So he kept his guard up, and continued with his own act. Every time the headmaster asked him to join him for a cup of tea (a personal preference that Artemis would have liked to keep unnoticed) he measured his words, and the conversation unfolded like a fencing exercise. The Headmaster would present some problem or moral dilemma from the history of wizards and ask questions about it. Artemis saw it for what it was, a way of prying in his moral principles and nonsense of the sort. He never gave the same answer, from a philosophical point of view. One day he could be the most absolute of nihilists, the next he would discuss virtue with the same words as Socrates. He even tried Hegel once, but by the end both of them were getting a headache. After that, Dumbledore called for him with less frequency.

The History of Magic class lacked all inspiration, but that was to be expected from lessons given by a literally dead man. On the other hand, Madam Hooch’s flying lessons were a little too intense for Artemis. At the beginning, even the concept of flying on a broom was preposterous for him. Why risk his life on a bloody stick if elegant pieces of engineering like airships and planes could take him to the sky with the added benefits of comfortable seats, a roof over his head and the occasional caviar? When he had managed to get over his apprehension and leave the ground, he was able to fly decently, as he possessed a keen perception of space, but found the sensations it elicited, disquieting. They reminded him too vividly of chute E37. On the contrary, Smith had talent for flying. It was almost like he belonged in the sky. And he seemed to enjoy the chaotic liberty it entailed. Madam Hooch was very happy with this newfound pupil. She even talked to him about joining Ravenclaw’s Quidditch team.

Needless to say, Smith was an enigma to Artemis Fowl. The two boys usually sat together during the Astronomy classes of professor Aurora Sinistra, a tall lady with dark skin and an amusing concept of her subject. She had discovered soon enough that if she paired Artemis Fowl and Dorian Smith she wouldn’t have to answer their tricky questions every five minutes. Consequently, she frequently encouraged them to work apart and together, as they were noticeably ahead of everyone else. Artemis had been delighted to discover that Smith had a proper knowledge of astronomy. Furthermore, the boy actually answered direct questions concerning said theme. Thus, Artemis learned that Smith had no parents or family, and that he lived with an auror, Jack Harkness, who cared for him in the name of the Ministry. (Wasn’t Harkness the name of one of the aurors that had accompanied McGonagall in her first visit to Fowl manor?) It turned out, Harkness was willing to break the law for his protégé, and managed to get him a number of books on astronomy. Having an educated partner was refreshing, even more so when the wizarding take on the skies almost made him scoff in frustration.

They focused mainly on calculations that a computer could have completed in seconds, and could only be used to complete basic tasks regarding the study of outer space. In that area, muggles had vastly surpassed wizards. Artemis had tried to explain this just once, the third time he attended professor Sinistra’s class. Very calmly, he informed her that the picture she had was obsolete and incomplete. Starting from the simplest starting point he could think of (Lorentz’ Transformations), he summarized special relativity and introduced the Minkowski space so he could get to the main point, which was a brief but brilliant explanation of the theory of the inflationary universe. When he finished, he had looked at the blackboard with satisfaction. The twitching on the professor’s eye had only contributed to the pleasure. Then, he regarded the rest of the class. Half of the students were staring at him as if he had uncovered the Abyss in front of them. The other half looked at him as if he was crazy. Artemis had sighed internally. Some people wouldn’t recognize a clever exposition even if their life depended on it.

Professor Sinistra had thanked him, awkwardly, and he was about to return to his seat, when a voice interrupted. Woken from his usual reverie, Smith was literally in the edge of his seat. He had just voiced a very good question, Artemis realized, and he answered with contentment. Then another question came, and then another. Ignoring everyone else, Artemis had answered accordingly. It was then that he realized that Smith was not a lost cause. Three things changed after that Astronomy class. One, professor Sinistra never again asked Artemis to tell her what he thought was wrong with her class. Two, he decided to keep his observations to the minimum. It was important to pick his battles, and the wizarding world was not ready to embrace the science of the outer world. Yet. He would eventually take care of that. And three, since that day, when the circumstances allowed it, he and Smith talked more often.

He soon discovered that Dorian Smith was a genius in his own particular way. Intelligent, though easily distracted, he could jump between different ideas with lightning’s velocity and keep track of his path. Despite his preference for solitude he could prattle a lot, and yet never waste a word. It was extraordinary. But he would never talk of his past. So Artemis asked Crabbe and Goyle, and he got a long story. Smith came from a magical island, an unplottable place full of magic called Avalon, the Last of the Sunset. The inhabitants of the island possessed powerful magic and very rarely allowed an outsider to enter their land. Very few of them ever left Avalon, and were very secretive about their government and magical abilities. But it was rumoured that they were ruled by a few families of strong wizards, and as all Avalonians were wizards, they were considered purebloods of the highest kind. The legends spoke about their wisdom and their terrible powers, and the golden Citadel, where the Lords of Gallifrey dwelled, untouched by time. Until a terrible disaster had destroyed the city, and the Citadel had been consumed in fiendfyre.

The exact events that led to the Tragedy of Avalon were still unclear. It didn’t help that its sole survivor had been a mute teenager, found unconscious in the ruins of the castle. It had been quite the story, back then. Everyone talked about it. Only when Harry Potter himself had entered the wizarding world had the public interest started to diminish. As for the boy, the Ministry had taken charge of his case entrusting him to an Auror until he was able to attend Hogwarts. And recover he had, Artemis supposed, as he was currently in the levelling courses. With such exotic past, where did Smith stand in the wizarding community? Had he been a highborn or a commoner? And had he learned the magic of his people? Artemis wanted answers but all he seemed to find was more questions. Nevertheless, a traumatic event like that could explain many of Smith’s quirks. Artemis supposed he had monsters of his own inside his head.

By the end of the first week Artemis managed to evade Filch, the school’s caretaker, and get into the Astronomy tower with the C-cube. As it operated with the technology of the People, the device was not affected by the magic of the castle. Using it, Artemis contacted Butler and updated him on his progress at Hogwarts. In return, he received the report on the recruitment of soldiers and their movement. There had been some problems, but they were able to solve them. Juliet was taking care of Angeline. She was doing fine. Artemis decided not to waste time over matters he could not control. After giving the pertinent orders, he said goodbye to Butler and checked his bank accounts. Only then he allowed himself to relax. Everything was going well.

Given the considerable extent of the content he needed to assimilate, Artemis often found himself on the library, studying. He wasn’t there to be just another student. That was not how Artemis Fowl did things. He was there to be the best. So he would attend classes from down until mid-afternoon, then study, then help Crabbe and Goyle and extract some new information. In his free time, often at night, he would study Alchemy. After a lot of reading, he was starting to get an idea of what he needed to start experimenting on his own. And who could be a better source of information than the Potions teacher?

Snape had taken a liking to Artemis when he realized the boy could keep up with him. Of all the classes, Potions was certainly the one with most disparity. Even though Artemis and Dorian had just started learning it, they quickly surpassed all the others. As a result, Snape had trusted Artemis with the task of supervising Crabbe and Goyle’s progress. He didn’t ask anything of the sort from Smith. It became evident that when he bothered to focus, he could be brilliant; but when he got bored (which was often), he tended to experiment on his own. The resulting explosions and diverse colourful accidents had determined that everyone kept his distance from him during Potions, and had gained him Snape’s disapproval. Smith didn’t care. And sometimes Artemis wondered if it would be preferable to join him in his usual punishment of cleaning the classroom instead of making another attempt at explaining the lesson to the goons and Neville Long-Bottom, who apparently was less terrified of them than he was of Snape. However, as a reward, he could ask the professor as many questions as he wanted. And he did, as much as he could without revealing too much. Soon, he knew enough to set his own laboratory and obtain the substances and instruments he would need. The next step was to find an adequate place to carry on his investigation.

Since the day of his arrival, Artemis had started to map Hogwarts. To put it mildly, it was difficult. The castle seemed to resist all his rational efforts to schematize it. There were too many rooms and floors, and more secret passages than he had imagined. The Grand Staircase had seemed an unsolvable puzzle at first. Artemis had observed it for days trying to find a pattern without success. Then, one miserable day, as he was jumping from one stair to another, his right foot slipped. He managed to lurch forward and make an undignified landing. As he fell, the bottle with the ink crashed against the marble, spreading its contents. In that moment, Artemis saw it. The distribution of the drops was not as it should be. The pattern it presented was only local. From a global perspective there was no order at all. Except there was.

-It’s aperiodic! -he had exclaimed, for once abandoning his composure. -It’s like an aperiodic crystal. No long-range order!

Crabbe and Goyle, who were helping him to get up, had just stared at him. Artemis had not elaborated further. But from that day he begun to understand how magic operated in Hogwarts. It was not like a programmed building. The spells were interwoven with everything that happened inside the walls. In the same way the stairs moved following a specific set of paradigms, so did the drops of ink spilled at the Grand Staircase, where Rowena Ravenclaw’s spell was rooted. And if magic reacted to the things inside the castle, Artemis knew what he would be looking for.

He found the Room of Requirement two days later. He had learned about it from a dusty old tome buried in the library but the mere notion of it responding to the ‘need’ of someone had mystified him and he dismissed it shortly after. He understood it better now. With the school grounds almost empty, the most difficult part was to evade Filch. And with a little help from Butler and Onyx as the delivery owl, he finally set up his very own alchemical laboratory, with a touch of modern engineering. Artemis started the experiments immediately. Who needed sleep anyway? Then, one night, as he sneaked around the corridors, he run into Smith. They looked at each other, just for a second, but Filch’s lamp was nearby, and they parted without saying anything.

In the following day, Artemis pondered the incident. What was Smith doing, prowling through the hallways at midnight? Then, two nights later, he spotted his skinny frame disappear around a corner as he walked to his lab; and once again near the Great Hall. Artemis tried his best to figure out what was happening with the other boy, but there were too many things that demanded his attention, and the lack of sleep was drawing dark shadows beneath his eyes, so he dropped it. Until the night of the full moon, when he saw him leaving the castle towards the forest.

Artemis was conflicted. He had expected to spend the night in his lab, and he clearly remembered Snape’s warning about going into the woods. On the other hand, he was curious. Unfettered, honest, irresistible curiosity. One day it would be Artemis’ undoing, and he knew it. Despite all their conversations, Smith remained a mystery to him, and he wanted to solve it. So against his own good judgement, Artemis changed his route and walked out of the school grounds, following Smith. Under the starry sky, the air was fresh, anticipating the end of summer. Artemis hurried. He didn’t want to chase Smith in the nocturnal wilderness. At the edge of the forest, just before the line of shadows produced by the first trees, he found him. His lean figure was immobile, as in waiting. When Artemis approached he turned his head towards him and smiled.

-I was wondering when would you appear-he said, and his words glossed over the soft sound of the branches moving in the wind. -The castle can be fascinating, but there’s more outside the walls. A brand new world.

Artemis observed him carefully. His usual mood, that oscillated between nonchalance, abstraction and nervousness, had disappeared. His stance was confident, and there was yearning in his face. As if exploring the wilderness in front of them was the highest endeavour in the universe.

-I assumed you knew -said Artemis, with an indifferent voice- but perhaps madam Hooch didn’t tell you. These woods are forbidden, dangerous, and infested with dangerous creatures.

-Oh, yes they are.

-We are not supposed to enter. But given that this conversation is taking place at night, I will take a wild guess and say you are aware of that fact.

-Right again! That’s two out of two. Want to try a third time?

-As you are not trying to intimidate me into keeping your secret, nor running away from me, I think you wanted me to follow you. What do you want me for, Smith?

-And that’s three! Very well. Getting defensive, aren’t you? Come on, Fowl. Don’t tell me you are not curious about the forest. I know you are. I know that look.

Artemis felt slightly unsettled. He prided himself in not giving away anything. Could Smith really read him so well, or was he making a reasonable deduction?

-Perhaps. But you haven’t asked my question. You let me follow. Why?

-Just wanted to show you this, I guess. Are you interested in adventure, Artemis Fowl?

‘If I can make a profit.’

A distant howl resonated over the canopy. Somewhere, deep in the woods, the wolves were hunting.

-It seems adventure is interested in me. What about you?

Smith grinned.

-All my life.

He said it with the certainty of truth. Artemis narrowed his eyes.

-So you want me to join you? A trip into the forest?

-I really don’t know what will I find today. And you seem rather competent…

He trailed off, as if he was unsure of how to continue.

-What if I say no?

-Oh nothing, I guess. You could be on your marry way to the castle. And probably say goodnight to Mr Filch.

He made a gesture towards the castle with a slight smirk in his lips. Artemis followed his gaze and looked in horror as the crooked silhouette of the caretaker came out of Hogwarts with a lantern in hand, walking directly towards them. He wouldn’t be able to see them yet, but his current trajectory made Artemis’ return impossible.

-Can’t go back now. Might as well come with me.

And with that, Smith entered the forest. Artemis hesitated as Mr Filch approached. Had Dorian actually tricked him? He was clearly sleep deprived. He should have been capable of predicting this outcome, right? Hoping he would not come to regret it too much, he stepped into the shadow of the trees.

The forest was old and gloomy, both features made more evident by the light of the full moon. The foliage above was dense and the ground below was most irregular. Artemis managed to catch up with Smith, who obviously possessed more experience on navigating the woods, but soon found himself tripping on every moss-covered root hidden by the scarce illumination. The low-slung branches clipped to his robes and the rocks on their path were remarkably unstable. What was he even doing here? He remembered Filch’s fond recount of the punishments he used to impose on the students he had found out of bed at inappropriate hours. He continued forward. And as it was customary, when he thought things could not go down any further, they did. Spectacularly.

It started with a growl. A low, menacing growl coming from the left. The two boys stopped immediately. Then, pair of golden eyes appeared in the thicket, much higher than Artemis would have liked.

-What…? What is that?

Instantly, his mind provided him a gallery of many predators of this ecosystem. None of them matched up? A bear, perhaps? Or a gigantic wolf?

-Oh, well. I always wanted to see one from up close -commented Dorian. -But not like this.

-What is it? No, forget about that. What do we do?

-A kind of werewolf, I think. Descended from them at least. A wolf but not exactly. Bigger, faster, better.

The creature growled again. It was massive. Slowly, its body came into Artemis’ sight. The resemblance to the wolves was clear, but there was something else. The limbs were too thick, the hair too long and the jaw too short. Its fangs were visible. It was preparing to jump. Suddenly, a memory flashed in Artemis’ mind. He and Butler on a hunting trip in Virginia, while his father attended business in the city. He was only eight. Butler had said something then. Something about wolves.

-How about climbing a tree? -Artemis asked. The trees nearby were all very tall, but perhaps Dorian knew...

-Yes! Good idea! But no, no climbing trees around. Sorry.

They were now moving back slowly. The creature advanced. Wait. Was that…?

-It limps -he said. Dorian nodded, unhurriedly. Any sharp movement or sound could trigger the attack.

-Which means it may not run very well. In that case I know where we could hide. But we’ll have to run. Want to try your luck?

Was he enjoying this? Artemis looked at him with incredulity.

-You are crazy!

-Thank you!

There was no choice. At Dorian’s signal, they run. The creature chased them, making the ground shake every time it jumped. Artemis thought he could feel its breath on his nape. If its front limbs weren’t damaged, it would have caught up with them immediately. He concentrated on running. Smith guided their frenetic race through the forest. It was a miracle that Artemis didn’t fell and broke his neck with all the loose stones and treacherous roots. The adrenaline coursing through his veins sustained him. Finally, they reached a large rock, probably a dolmen, which stood in the centre of a clearing. Smith climbed rapidly, and Artemis followed. There were enough irregularities on the stony surface to make the escalade possible. Once on the top, Artemis looked down.

The creature was circling the rock, growling in frustration. It started to jump, trying to seize their robes with its pointy jaws, but their temporary refuge was tall enough to protect them of those attempts. As he observed the bright eyes of the semi-werewolf, Artemis shivered. Fragments of memories were starting to resurface in his conscience. Memories of that night. He didn’t want to think of that night. But the beast down below raged, and the sight of its snapping jaws was filling his mind with thoughts of red blood, dark blood, and creatures that looked human but weren’t. Deafening cries in the frozen wasteland. They were coming closer. Artemis pushed them away.

‘No. Not now. I don’t want to see. How much is one to the power infinity?’

The numbers saved him. Artemis clung to them as he slowly returned to the present. He turned towards Dorian, who was observing the creature with fascination. His face held no fear, and Artemis couldn’t decide if that was reassuring or not.

-What now? - he asked. - We are stuck here until that thing gets tired. Unless you know a spell against semi-werewolves, I’d say this trip has been a disaster.

He had some ideas of his own, but didn’t want to show his cards yet. Dorian ruffled his hair with his hand in his characteristic motion.

-I admit this wasn’t what I had planned. But have a little faith, Fowl. We still could…

Suddenly, a ragged wail resonated in the clearing. When Artemis looked down again, he saw that something had pierced the wolf’s flank. An arrow. And then, he saw the archer. It was a centaur, of that he had no doubt, but it was quite different from Foaly. In contrast to the technological genius, this one lacked the general tidiness and eccentricity that characterized Foaly, and looked more like the ancient Greek depictions of its… people. The human part was muscular and tanned, while the equine part resembled a Murgese, with a rich black shade. Due to his position on top of the rock, Artemis couldn’t see his face. He had his next arrow ready, pointing at the beast. The semi-werewolf attacked. The arrow was set free. After a brief fight the beast run away, with two additional arrows on its back. It was bleeding, but not too profusely, and Artemis wondered what weapon would Butler choose to take it down. Probably a long-range rifle or something like that. The centaur tilted his head to look at the two boys on top of the dolmen.

-Good night, Dorian. I see you keep running into trouble. Who is that with you? I thought we agreed you would not bring more humans.

-Hello, Nuada. And thanks for that. I had never seen that one around this part of the woods.

-It was a lone wolf, full of hunger and wrath. The pack wouldn’t hunt with it, so it wanders beyond their territory. A sad creature. I grieve that I had to shoot it. But what about your friend?

-We are not friends -said Artemis. -Merely associates. And if I am trespassing I apologize. I didn’t exactly come here on my own volition. Being chased by a starved beast surely undermines good manners. Does this rock belong to your family?

Nuada regarded him in silence, amused. Artemis and Dorian descended.

-An arrogant wizard -said the centaur. -How foreseeable.

Before Artemis could reply, Dorian spoke.

-His name is Artemis Fowl. He is one of my classmates and I vouch for him any day. Or night. He will not cause trouble.

Artemis arched an eyebrow at him.

‘You are not in a position to promise that.’

Dorian shrugged.

-I will take your word for tonight- answered the centaur. He gazed at the stairs longingly. -Saturn is bright and Mars rises. This is an important crossroad.

He fixed his bronze-like eyes in Artemis.

-Artemis Fowl. I heard that name. I know about your father. I know about you. You are written in the skies.

-Are you a fortune-teller?

-My people study the stars, interpreting the highest fate that moves the strings of this world. We know your name, but I didn’t think you would be just a foal. Tell me, are you the creator or the destructor?

Artemis held his gaze. He wasn’t yet convinced of the reality of looking into the future with the help of magic, and this centaur now told him that everything was written in the stars? It sounded like a lie to scam the hoi polloi.

-I don’t know what you mean.

-At least you are honest. This is strange. Aren’t you the trickster? Anyway, I didn’t expect you to understand. It is too early. The two headed eagle hasn’t arrived yet. But I tell you this, when the Dark Gift is offered, do not hesitate.

There was something unsettling in his words. Artemis dismissed it. He had just had a traumatic experience (another). It was natural to be unnerved.

-Anyway -interrupted Dorian. -You were saying you will let us pass?

-I will. But I have to ask what’s your propose in the forest this night. I heard you were helping with the search of Hendra’s foal.

-I was on my way to the enclaves right now. Bit of a rough night. May still make it, though.

So he did have a plan from the beginning. What was Artemis’ part in his scheme? He didn’t like to play by other’s rules.

-Be careful then, Dorian. You have gained wizards a good name between my clan. Many good things could come from this friendship. It would be a pity if you died. I still have to convince you of the wisdom of the skies.

-I’ll do my best. Till next time, Nuada.

The centaur gave Artemis one last scrutinizing look, and clopped away. The forest swallowed him rapidly and it was as if he had never been there. Artemis discretely grasped his wand in his left hand and confronted Dorian.

-Died? Did he say it would be a pity if you died? I’m starting to question that statement myself, Smith. Where exactly are we going?

-I will explain in the way.

-You will explain now. Why in the world should I accompany you?

-You don’t know where you are. The forest is dangerous. You can’t stay here.

-I have my magic. You don’t know what I can or cannot do.

-Certainly. But I know the things that crawl around and trust me, you won’t see them coming. Besides, I could show you a secret. Isn’t that what you wanted?

Artemis brought a hand to his temple. There was that possible headache again.

-Just clarify something for me. Are there going to be more life-threatening dangers in this trip?

Dorian’s smile returned, answering Artemis’ question. What a charming notion.

-Come on Fowl! Fortune favours the bold.

As Artemis reluctantly walked beside him, he noted something similar to frustration, glowing underneath his thoughts. The discovery filled him with concern. He didn’t feel things like anger or frustration. It was unbecoming of him. He could get impatient or irritated because of other people’s incompetence, but he never let his emotions overflow. It seemed Dorian had the ability of getting under his skin. That wouldn’t do. He schooled his thoughts back on their neatly ordered nets, where they belonged.

‘Fortune favours the bold’ he repeated mockingly in his head. That was a common misconception. Because when it didn’t, the bold were not around anymore to correct their previous statement. Artemis had no use for that kind of bravery. It resembled stupidity too much. So he kept his wand ready, and moved forward.

-Okay, facts -said Dorian, after they had walked a considerable distance. The moon was high in the sky, and the leaves trembled under the breeze.

-Some four days ago, a child from Nuada’s clan went missing in the boarders of centaur territory. They had already herd reports of pixies disappearing in that area, but thought it could be wolves or some giant spiders. There’s a colony of them up north and they are not nice to anything they can eat. Long story short, the centaurs got interested in the disappearances only after one of them got snatched. Then Magorian, who runs things around there, sent scouts and search parties but they found nothing. Except there are three places where they didn’t look, three enclaves where old magic is at work. Centaurs never go near them. They don’t trust wizards as a general rule. And that’s where we enter.

Artemis considered his words. Pixies. There were pixies in the surface. Did Haven or Atlantis know about this? Would they pay for the information? Also, flesh-eating spiders. That was probably a nest of acromantulas. He would prefer not to run into any of them for the time being. Not without Butler guarding his back. Now that he thought about it, Butler was going to make him hear another sermon when learned about this. Well, he surly would have reasons to.

-I’ve read ancient wizards placed curses on some important locations -voiced Artemis. -To prevent non-magicals and non-humans from entering. Sometimes even against other wizards. Do you fancy yourself a curse-breaker, Smith?

-Oh, I don’t expect we find that kind of trouble. Yesterday I checked the first enclave, and I’m still in one piece. No, there are wards around the enclaves but they are meant for the creatures of the forest. That’s why they told me. I have been coming and going, and I thought I could lend a hand. Just take a look.

Very well, if that was the mission, it didn’t sound too bad.

-What did you find in the other enclave?

-Nothing useful, I’m afraid. No living thing has stepped in that place in a long time. There were some ruins, but the entrance had crumbled down some decades ago. Apart from that, there were columns and some writing.

-Did you read it?

-Same old, same old. The power of the Old Sages, peeking through the fabric of reality, some babble about darkness and the dangers of the mystical. Pretty standard.

Artemis could tell he was hiding something. Perhaps one day he could find that other enclave by himself.

-If you say so. But given that you made me come with you tonight and not the night before, you expect the next one to be more dangerous, I assume?

-Right again!

When they arrived at the enclave, Artemis looked around in wonder. It was a Roman ruin. An ancient Roman ruin, hidden in those decrepit woods. The white marble of the building gleamed under the moonlight, evoking the phantasmagorical nostalgia of a lost era. Despite the scourge of time, the building maintained many of its egregious lines. Some columns around it were still standing, while other lay in pieces amongst the grass. And there were statues. Magnificent full-bodied statues representing women, probably some kind of goddesses. Stopping at the edge of the clearing, the two boys took in the sight.

-Its magnificent! -declared Dorian after a few seconds of staring. Artemis nodded in agreement once.

-As it should be. It was probably built by roman wizards during their occupation of Britannia two millennia ago. This thing is an archaeological treasure.

-And what is it, exactly? It looks like a temple, maybe a crypt. And what’s up with all those girls? Did the Romans worship any magic goddess?

-None that I know of. But we are not going to discover anything sitting here. I hope you are right about those wards.

Artemis left his side and entered the clearing, alert to the slightest sign of danger.

-That’s the spirit! -cheered Dorian.

Artemis could feel his heart pounding. He had read a lot about ancient wards from one book in his collection. He had learned a lot of creative ways of flaying people alive and burning them in colourful pyres. His wand was extended before him and a defensive spell waited in the tip of his tongue. But nothing happened. He lifted his other hand, ready to give Dorian the signal, but discovered the brunet was already beside him. Of course. It wouldn’t be like him to wait. Or show common sense for that matter.

They crossed the first line of columns. There was something solemn in the air, an ominous warning. Once they passed into the second ring of columns, something rippled. Artemis stopped. Had he imagined that? It had felt strange, not like a sound, nor like a sudden wind, but a mix of both. But it had ended so rapidly that he wasn’t sure if it had even happened.

‘Don’t lower your guard’ said Butler’s voice inside his head. ‘Keep all your senses sharp.’

There was an arch, carved with figures and inscriptions that time and weather had blurred until they became indistinguishable. As he walked under it, Artemis extended a hand to touch its surface. It was cold and smooth.

-My name is Ozymandias… -he whispered.

-What?

-Nothing.

It was sad, Artemis thought, to see such grandeur faded under the unforgiving hand of the centuries. Time, he decided, was a better thief than himself; but exercised its profession without any finesse. If he could find a way to snatch things away from its reach, he would seize it without a second thought. Stealing from time could make noble even a thief’s labour. But he was digressing. Who had built this crypt and to what purpose? While he considered the question, he stepped over the skull.

It was old and thin and it cracked under his sole. Artemis gasped in surprise. There were bones all around, glinting along the white stones. Just with a glance, he knew they were not human. Having studied anatomy, Artemis recognized the differences. The heads were too big, the ribs too thin, the legs too short and wherever long bones were broken he could see the marrow had been sucked out.

‘Here are the pixies then. But what are the others?’

There were other creatures’ remains: the skeleton of a gigantic wolf and the carcass of something that resembled a horse, half eaten. The bones and feathers of dozens of birds were piled in a small heap. But perhaps the most macabre view was that of three little bodies, in different states of decomposition, lying near the entrance of the crypt. Fairy bodies. These must be those pixie children Dorian had talked about. The first lacked the upper half and one leg had been gnawed to the bone. The other… Artemis didn’t look very long. It was very easy to imagine the horror the victim must have felt right before the end. The face, which was the only part that remained untouched, was frozen in a perpetual scream. The last one still had a recognizable shape.

‘It has started to devour the organs’ Artemis thought, clinging to his logic. ‘But there is no blood. Not nearly enough. Does it drink the blood first?’ And what was ‘it’ for that matter? A sharp inhale somewhere at his right made him turn. Some feet away, Dorian had fallen to his knees. His eyes were fixed on something on the ground, but Artemis couldn’t see what it was. The fragments of a column obstructed his view, but he saw Dorian’s shoulders shake. He walked around the debris.

‘Oh.’

It was the centaur girl. Only a child, with her limbs sprawled over the grass. Her hair was coppery, and her skin was pale like the stones around them.

Dorian stared at her broken body in silent agony. He must have known the girl, Artemis deduced. Had they walked around the woods in nights like this? Had she shown him the secrets of her forest? Had they become friends? How foolish of them. To underestimate the enemies around. But Artemis was no one’s prey. He was the hunter. So he stood immobile and listened. Something had moved, in the edge of the woods.

There! He had seen it again. Shortly after came the sounds. Low at first, clicks and snaps and soft hisses.

-Smith?

The boy was shaken from his contemplation of the corpse.

-What?

-You have your wand?

-Sure.

He was not crying. Good. Artemis wouldn’t know what to do with a crying teenager. The first of the dark shapes started to crawl into the clearing, as if afraid of a hidden trap. Why? The predator that lived here was clearly away right now. If these were scavengers, they wouldn´t hesitate. Or maybe they didn’t know if the monster was home or not. Perhaps it was hiding in plain sight.

-Do you know battle magic?

Dorian stood up. His eyes were dark, almost menacing.

-Do you?

Artemis understood. It was a dangerous question. Teenagers like them weren’t supposed to know that kind of magic. A second shape joined the first on its way into the clearing. Again, he had no choice.

-Yes. At least in theory. But I have never had the chance to use it.

Dorian nodded. He followed Artemis’ gaze.

-At home, they thought everyone how to fight. I remember some spells.

Maybe they could make it. Butler was so going to kill him. Wouldn’t that be ironic? Killed by his own butler.

-I count five.

-Lets set them a surprise party.

Dorian made a gesture towards two of the still-standing columns. If they followed the direct trajectory towards the corpses, those things would pass between them. A trap. Crafty indeed. Artemis occupied his place behind the left column. Dorian took the one in the right. With their wands ready, they waited for the rapidly approaching creatures. Artemis had already distinguished their forms while they hesitated in the boarder of the clearing. Spiders. Pitch-black, hairy, dog-sized spiders. Acromantulas.

‘They are here for the left-overs. But why come now and not earlier? The bodies had been here for days. The probabilities of us running into them should be very low. Maybe the monster has left recently?’

Something was off. What kind of animal left so much flesh on its lair and went hunting for more? Maybe it was a wizard-made beast, so its behaviour wouldn’t be completely natural. A drive to kill? A horrible idea ignited in his brain. Or perhaps a trap? Yes. A trap to other predators. Come near the lair, there’s fresh food. Come near the lair, I have your child. Artemis went cold. But why lure them all here? Because all the previous kills were here. The hunt would be more successful with more than one trap. Unless the monster was trapped itself. If the wards kept things out, could they keep something in? A hungering creature, unable to leave the clearing for centuries, killing everyone who the spells allowed to enter. Which means, the spiders weren’t allowed to enter either? There were no arachnid remains around. Then why could they enter now? What had changed? The acromantulas were almost there. Artemis searched for Dorian’s eyes.

-Now!

-Fulminor! -pronounced Artemis. From the tip of his wand a white lightning surged, and landed on the first of the spiders. It shrieked and fell back. A nauseating smell filled the air.

-Nimbus vox!

The acromantula in front of Dorian was harshly hit by something invisible. Screeching, it was thrown backwards. The shock wave hit Artemis’ ears. A sonic pulse? Was there a spell for that? He didn’t have time to marvel at it now. He hit the next one with Bombarda, which he had learned recently. The result was not pleasant. Clearly, it had been intended for enemies with a denser body structure. Liquid splattered his robes.

-Arania Exumai! -voiced Dorian, and then again he used his first spell.

After a few more rounds, the three surviving spiders retired towards the woods, one of them badly injured.

-You killed them, why?

Artemis blinked, trying to make sense of the other boy’s words.

-If there’s something you don’t like just kill it!

He was screaming. At Artemis.

-I understand you are upset about the centaur girl -he said, coldly. -So I will not take this into account. We were just attacked by flesh-eating spiders and you ask me why I killed two of them? Answer that one yourself, Smith.

The last part sounded like a snarl. Artemis breathed deeply.

-They were just feeding themselves.

-Yes, well, they can feed elsewhere. I do not intend to be eaten to preserve crazy old Mother Nature’s balance or whatever nonsense I fear you are about to spout.

-No! Of course not. But you could have driven them away. Just scare them off. I don’t know.

He ruffled his hair, in despair. Artemis blinked twice. I hadn’t occurred to him to spare the spiders. They were just rabid dogs created by mad wizards to guard their treasure.

-They were the enemy.

-And that’s all it takes for you to try to kill them?

-What else should I do? Maybe it was different in Gallifrey, but in the real world you either take down your opponents or they take you down.

After that, there was an uncomfortable silence. Artemis and Dorian glared at each other, until the brown-eyed boy lowered his gaze.

-It was not different -he said, softly.

-What?

-In Gallifrey. The Great Houses would teach the same to their youngest, even if they would deny it in public. One of the unspoken rules of the Citadel. The best battle is that one which only has to be fought once. Also, you will always have to face your enemy.

-I can’t say I disagree. True victory requires the absolute defeat of the adversary and, of course, the will to fight.

-But why make enemies so quickly? How can peace exist under such terms?

-You think that you can make peace with those who live from killing? -asked Artemis -They would destroy you with no second thoughts. Spare them and they will return as soon as they have recovered. Try to befriend them and they will bite off your arm.

That was what had happened to his father. He had tried to walk away from those he should have considered enemies. Now he was dead.

‘But they shouldn’t get all the credit’ Artemis thought ‘I had my part on it too.’

No one said anything else. Artemis approached the remains of the acromantulas and examined them. He looked at the stain of goo on the lower part of his robe. Somehow, he felt hollow.

‘I will never apologize for winning.’ He had come close last year, when Holly had reproached him his keeping of the ransom gold. He had doubted then, but not anymore. ‘Be they human, creature, or monster, my enemies will perish.’

He returned to where Dorian was sitting, his back against a column. He was watching over the direction the spiders had taken, but when Artemis approached, his eyes flicked towards him for a second.

-Alright -he said, in a neutral tone. -Epona is dead. What killed her?

Satisfied with the change of subject, Artemis explained his previous theory on the inhabitant of the crypt. That it was trapped inside the enclave, hunting everything that came close and luring as many preys as it could.

-That actually sounds reasonable, Fowl. But, if the monster is still here, where is it hiding?

That question also puzzled Artemis. Why hadn’t the creature attacked them yet? How could it set a trap so perfect and fail so thoroughly in the execution?

-Maybe we should consider getting away while we still can. I think I have been sufficiently educated for one night.

-Fair point. I’ll tell you what. Let’s look around for five minutes. I’m going to try to find Epona’s medallion.

-A medallion? Our luck could end anytime, Smith.

-Yeah, it’s just that… centaurs think it is important, you know? They give their children those medallions when they turn five, carved with their names. On the inside, the stars they were born to are engraved. They are meant to guide them, and to guard their spirit if something bad happens to them. So, I thought, I could return it.

Artemis was at a loss. Such a thing was impossible, but surely Dorian knew that, so he didn’t say it.

-Five minutes- he conceded. -I could examine the building.

They approached the crypt together and parted ways. While Artemis started his analysis on the aged structure, Dorian looked around Epona’s body, which laid very close to the entrance. Artemis noted that he tried not to look at her directly. Well, at least he wasn’t insisting on taking away her half-devoured corpse. That would be suicidal at this point. Keeping an eye on the other boy, Artemis directed his attention towards the carvings. They were mostly figures, with the occasional inscription. The sculptor was very skilled. At first glance they seemed to be only parades and celebrations, but after a moment Artemis realized with a shudder, that there were also rituals. Blood rituals, and others of more sinister nature. He recognized the first because he had found similar things in that book on blood magic he had studied back home. What about the others? Artemis’ fingers trailed over the shapes, softly.

‘These could be the Dark Arts, or their equivalent in the times of Rome.’

In the lower scenes, above the heads of the figures, some inscriptions had survived the years. They spoke of purification and punishment, a cleansing for the whole world. And what was that form rising from the sculpted forest? It looked like a monstrous shadow, swirling around the tree trunks, almost divine in its representation. Some people kneeled before it, others appeared to have been killed by it, and others stood before it, like heroes or conquerors. For them, the shadow was like wings on their backs. In the end, there was just one phrase: The Darkness that Hungers. Artemis went through all the information he possessed on Roman mythology, but found little connections with the work in front of him. Maybe Nox? Or the Greek Erebus? He moved on to the next wall. That one he recognized. It was the recount of a Greek story. A nymph turned into a monster. Nothing peculiar about it. What was the connection?

-Oi -he heard, from the other side on the crypt. -Did you think this would be open?

‘Don’t shout like that, for heaven’s sake. The thing that killed all these creatures is still around and still invisible.’

He waited until he reached Dorian to say it. The boy was standing in front of the entrance of the crypt.

-Yeah, sorry. But why would the wizards who built this leave it open? They bothered to set the wards. They got themselves a fearsome guardian. How come they forget to close the door?

-There’s something strange on the carvings too- said Artemis. -One of the walls doesn’t match with the others, or with anything else I know of, for that matter.

He looked at Smith and saw that he understood the implications. If they wanted more information, they would have to enter. The five minutes were almost over. Dorian opened the door.

-Shall we, Mr Fowl?

Artemis arched an eyebrow. If he thought he was going there first, he was crazier than he imagined.

-After you, Mr Smith.

With Dorian in front, they entered the crypt. It was dark and not very spacious. The air was stale and held a distinctive smell, like ozone and a rainy day. The two boys invoked lights to glow on the tip of their wands, and looked around. The walls were bare, and shadows lingered behind the columns. In the centre of the camera a strange stone adornment rose from the floor. A flat piece, made of cerulean marble, with little figures forming an apotheosis of patterns on its surface. It looked like a puzzle, and was probably the enchanted object the wizards had tried to conceal when building the crypt. Artemis tried to deduce its function. It didn’t look like a relic or a weapon. In fact, it looked more like a pedestal. Perhaps… Artemis’ thoughts stopped in their tracks. Against the farthest wall, stood a human-sized statue, of disturbing appearance.

It was difficult to tell its gender, but the beauty of its features was hypnotic. And it was only after a moment of nothing more than staring at it, that Artemis realized that its eyes were made of glass. Iridescent, multi-coloured glass. The effect of it was mesmerizing. The arms of the figure were extended, as to embrace the newcomers, but one palm was held open, and the other was closed over… Dorian realized it at the same time as Artemis.

-Hey!

There was a bronze medallion, hanging from a chain on the fingers of the statue. Dorian touched the pedestal upon which the statue stood, pondering that impossibility. Something rippled through the room. Wait. Hadn’t that already happened outside? Artemis felt something dreadful crawl under the surface of his thoughts. It had happened just as they entered the enclave. A change in the parameters. Maybe a change in the wards too? Deactivate the prohibitions on entering as soon as a wizard arrived. And now the acromantulas could get inside. But that had been the first one. What was the meaning of these second change? Why was the monster not attacking them?

Suddenly, a terrible sound, as if claws scratched over the stone, thundered within the walls. A sudden dread overcame Artemis. What had they done? Every shadow in the room started to grow. Dorian lifted his wand.

-Lumos Maxima!

But not even that spell could dissipate the swirling darkness that overflowed from the corners. Artemis took the medallion from the statue’s hand. For a brief second, his fingers touched the stone. It didn’t feel like marble. The screeching sound grew in intensity.

-I have it!

-Off we go, then!

They exited the crypt and kept running until they reached the edge of the clearing. And as they left, Artemis heard the strangest of things. Someone was laughing. A musical laughter that made his thoughts recoil. What was inside that crypt? Artemis thought of the legend carved in the wall, and a terrible suspicion begun to grow in his mind. What had they done?

After leaving the enclave, Dorian led the way back to the castle. He didn’t speak, and Artemis considered it was for the best. There were too many things to think about. The night wouldn’t last much longer and the moon observed them, hanging near the horizon now. At the edge of the forest, Artemis gave the medallion to Dorian. The brunet held it in one hand, and examined it with tormented eyes.

-It seems no matter what I do, I can’t save anyone -he said, bitterly.

-That was hardly your fault, Smith -Artemis answered, to his own surprise. -These woods are dangerous; they shouldn’t have let her go on her own. And that creature… Nobody could have done anything about it, I think.

-Why? What was it? And why it didn’t attack? It almost felt like it had some sort of mental powers. It was intelligent.

Artemis considered whether he should reveal his suspicion.

-I have reasons to believe, it was a lamia.

-A lamia?

-There was a legend represented in one of the walls of the crypt. Despite some differences, it was very similar to the classical Roman view of said creature. A beautiful nymph turned into a monster. She was a devourer of children, sometimes appearing as a human and sometimes as a snake. It is a very rare creature; even wizards think nowadays that it is nothing but a myth. According to the legends they predate humans, and despite them being almost extinct, they are still powerful. Not even Newt Scamander dared approach the lair of a lamia when he found one in Sicily. Its mental powers are too strong, and it is very difficult to kill, so he preferred to stay away.

Or so he had read. That story had never been addressed by Scamander himself. The explorer who wrote it could just be envious of the success of his colleague and gloat about having found a monster he didn’t dare to face. But this version was useful right now.

-Do you want me to feel better because I could not have saved her even if I was there?

-I am merely stating that you are not morally responsible for things outside your control.

-So you admit you want me to feel better.

Artemis blanked for a moment. He had admitted it, right?

-Depression could make you boring.

-Hah! I knew there was an explorer inside you! -his smile had returned, but Artemis could see the sadness in his demeanour. It would take some time. He knew a couple of things about it, and not only because of his psychology degree. They agreed to enter the castle separately, and just before they parted, Dorian spoke once more.

-You are right, though. I could never have saved her. I can feel it. The event was unavoidable, no matter what anyone did. It was sealed. Fixed.

It didn't make any sense.

-How could you possibly know this?

-I just do. And I know, that's not going to be enough for you.

He slid the chain of the medallion over his neck, and Artemis saw there was something else already there. Anticipating the impending question, Dorian took the light golden chain and showed him a watch.

-This is all I have from home. My family’s watch. They found me with it. I suppose, it is all I could save from the fire.

Interesting.

-I see. That’s why you wanted to return the medallion?

-They should have at least something to remember her by.

Artemis nodded. He had learned a lot about Dorian Smith tonight.

-I’ll see you later, then.

-Absolutely! And thank you for everything, Fowl. I think you are a little bit crazy too.

Artemis saw him walk away. Considering his recent decisions, maybe he was right.

-*-*-*-

In the following week Artemis had a disquieting realization. The monster of the crypt, possibly a lamia, had not attacked them because it wanted them to get to the centre of the enclave. If those ‘ripples’ signalled the lifting of a ward, then a second barrier had been lifted when they entered the building. The first ripple had marked the opening of the enclave to anything that wanted to enter, hence the attack of the acromantulas. Artemis had the strong suspicion that the second ripple was the release of the containment spell that kept the monster inside the clearing. It probably was free now. The mere idea made him nervous.

So when he subtly interrogated Smith about the situation of the inhabitants of the woods, it surprised him that no carnage had occurred. The centaurs had thanked Dorian for the medallion of the girl, the pixies had started to avoid the surroundings of the enclave and everything had returned to normalcy. Were he someone else, Artemis would have decided that his fears were unfounded and dismiss the entire incident. But he was himself and he knew what he had witnessed. He would not lower his guard. The creature had to be outside. It was merely hiding for the moment. That was the only alternative that made sense. He would have to be prepared for when it returned.

It didn’t help that a lamia was a semi-mythical creature, even for wizards. There were a lot of legends and second-hand stories, but very little useful information. Nevertheless, most living things were not immune to high-calibre bullets or the occasional axe. Consequently, the presence of Butler in the castle was more urgent than before.

It was a pleasant surprise for Artemis, when the opportunity presented itself during the first week of August. A criminal by the name of Sirius Black had escaped from the prison of Azkaban and the wizarding media went crazy with the story. Apparently, he was a dangerous murderer and previous follower of Voldemort who, according to Neville Long-Bottom, would try to kill Harry Potter. Which meant he could show up at Hogwarts during next term. It was perfect.

So Artemis forged a very urgent letter from Angeline Fowl to the Headmaster, informing him of her concern for her only son, insisting that if he could not guarantee his safety, she would have him returning home. Then, Artemis had presented himself to Dumbledore’s office, apologizing for his mother’s outburst. She only wanted him safe, he said, and there was an easy way to appease her. After some consideration, Dumbledore had accepted Artemis proposition. That very afternoon, Artemis contacted Butler from the Astronomy tower to inform him of the upcoming changes in his job. He would be allowed in the school grounds for the entire duration of the next term or until Sirius Black was captured. As Artemis’ bodyguard, he could occupy any convenient room near the Slytherin dorms, and would be treated as a guest in the castle. When he received the news, Artemis was able to see the relief in Butler’s face. One problem less.

Finally, the exams started and Artemis’ world blurred in a succession of long nights and hours of quills scratching against paper. It was a new experience. Exams had never been a challenge before. Probably it was the effect of pressing two years of school in less than two months of levelling courses consisting mainly of disciplines whose existence he had ignored for most of his life. He had to apply himself fully. However, the results were worthwhile. He passed all his exams with excellent scores, in some cases setting new records. The teachers were impressed. Even Snape, who congratulated Artemis in front of the class before giving a speech on the different kinds of mistakes that the others made, or were. Crabbe and Goyle passed their exams too. They thanked Artemis repeatedly and gave him an enormous bag of chocolate frogs for being ‘nice to them’. Also, they agreed to present him to Draco Malfoy next term.

Before the courses were over, Artemis and Dorian were summoned to the Headmaster’s office. There, Dumbledore invited them some tea and praised their achievements. Both of them would be on third year next term, with the rest of the students of their age. It was unprecedented in the history of the school, the elder wizard said, and he would be following their progress with interest. That Artemis could believe.

-Even though you both come from outside, you have demonstrated to possess the abilities and intelligence to be on par with the rest of the students. And I am happy to see you are adapting to the life in Hogwarts. As I trust you have realized by now, it is the perfect place to explore.

Dumbledore’s eyes were twinkling. Artemis seeped the hot brew from his cup, careful not to show any emotion. How much did the Headmaster know about the Forbidden Forest?

-Sure it is- said Dorian, staring inside his empty cup. Dumbledore looked at him with curiosity, but the other boy didn’t seem to notice the effect of his words. Artemis rolled his eyes and clinked his teaspoon against the saucer twice. The sound made Dorian return to the present, and he looked at the headmaster.

-It is! You have the most interesting… rooftops…

Artemis groaned internally. Trust Smith to say something like that. He made an attempt to redirect the conversation.

-The castle is quite the location, Headmaster. But we did not have the time to explore it too much.

-But you must have seen a marvel or two.

-Certainly, I have -conceded Artemis.

Dumbledore looked at him, directly, as if trying to read his mind. Artemis had a brief flash of paranoia. Could he really do it?

-Maybe there is something you would like to tell me about.

His expression was benevolent, as if inviting them to trust him. What would happen if he knew about the crypt and the monster? He certainly had more experience. What if Artemis told him about the prophecy that Nuada had mentioned or the secret chamber in Fowl manor? He appeared to be wise and gentle. And that, Artemis decided, was the trap. He dedicated him a cold smile.

-Maybe less sugar in the tea.

Dumbledore laughed, but seemed a little disappointed.

-I will take note of that -was his answer. He left the table promising to bring lemon biscuits and Smith exhaled, theatrically.

-Oh boy, that was scary.

-The part where you almost gave everything away, or when he played the card of the wise mentor?

-Ha! No, your smile. I think it will give him nightmares.

Artemis was about to make a witty comeback when Dumbledore returned.

-Try these. I had them brought from France recently. I’m afraid I have a weakness for lemon sweets. I asked Sir Nicholas to order me more, but his memory is not what it was.

Artemis and Dorian took a biscuit from the box as the elder wizard continued.

-And speaking of bygones I believe you will be able to see more of Hogwarts’ inhabitants by the beginning of the term, when our ghosts will return from their vacations.

Artemis looked at the headmaster, evaluating his body language. Was this a joke?

-Since when ghosts have vacations? -asked Dorian, incredulously. -Since when vacations have ghosts?

-Well, our ghosts have vacations -stated Dumbledore. -In fact, they were very keen on that particular detail. Right now they are spending the summer in an abandoned castle in the south of France. A little paradise for ghosts, I am told.

As amused as Artemis could be by the idea of ghosts searching for paradise on earth, he focused in the real issue.

-Do you mean there are more ghosts besides Mr Binns?

He had thought that the History professor was more similar to a holographic recording than to a real person. More like an encyclopaedia of allegedly useful information divided in convenient lessons. His inexistent interactions with other people only reinforced such notion. But if there were more of them…

-We have a proper host living in the castle -said the Headmaster. -Full of notable deceased. I think you will find it most interesting.

Dorian crossed his arms in front of his chest. By the look on his face, he was as amused by the concept as Artemis was.

-The dead do not return.

-No, they don’t -answered Dumbledore. –But some people can leave an imprint of themselves in the world, walking as a pale shadow, bounded to the places they were bound to in life. Only wizards can do it, but very few would choose it. It’s a solitary existence. A simulacrum of life.

Artemis considered the new information. Even if they were not properly alive, it was enough that they were conscious. What did they know about the nature of life and death? What secrets could be extracted from them? He concealed his excitement.

-Nevertheless, they are good company- said the Headmaster -once you get used to their eccentricities.

-That could be said about almost everyone -pointed Artemis.

With that, the topic of the conversation changed. Fifteen minutes later, the two boys left the Headmaster’s office with his best wishes. As they walked down to the Great Hall, Artemis wondered if he should tell Dorian of his hypothesis regarding the creature of the crypt. He had dreamed of the strange statue with iridescent eyes last night and it had not been pleasant. Maybe he should warn him of that possible enemy. In the end, he decided against it. He didn’t know what Smith would do if he knew. His actions remained unpredictable, so he would proceed with caution.

Accompanied this time by madam Hooch, Artemis and Dorian used the portkey that McGonagall had mentioned and arrived to London. They parted with a handshake and went their separate ways. As Artemis was headed for the meeting point set by Butler, he thought about the other boy and the strange adventure he had dragged him into. He wondered if Dorian would become an obstacle or an ally. He was too intelligent to be used without risks, and he had no reason to trust Artemis. But if he could persuade him gradually to collaborate… Yes, that could work. He would have to see how events unfolded in Hogwarts. For now, he had business to attend.

Artemis arrived to the meeting point at the exact hour. Butler was already there with the Bentley. When the young genius entered the car, the bodyguard smiled at him.

-Good morning, sir -he said. -I trust your travel was most productive.

Artemis hummed in agreement. Butler handed him his phone and started the engine.

-Take us to the airport, Butler. I need to go back to the manor as soon as possible.

-I see you are not in the mood to relax.

Artemis went through his emails and bank statistics. Finally, he found what he was looking for.

-Not really, old friend. I have only one week before the beginning of the school year and absolutely no time to loose. It’s now or never.

-I see. What have you planned?

-It’s time for the C-cube venture. Mr Spiro has just confirmed our appointment. I have to prepare everything for him.

Butler sighed. He knew his young charge did not mean dinner when he said everything.

-You know Artemis, for once I am going to tempt fate and say it. I have a bad feeling about this.

-Ah, but that’s just part of your job, I believe. Come on, Butler. Let’s go on one last summer adventure.

Chapter Text

In which a business meeting goes wrong, blood magic is performed, captain Harkness sees something impossible, a forced visit to the Ministry takes place and lunch is postponed indefinitely.

Artemis Fowl was almost content. His plans to rebuild the criminal empire of his family were progressing adequately and so was his study of Alchemy. He himself was looking forward to a pleasant late lunch at En Fin, a London seafood restaurant, and his business contact should arrive any moment. All according to plan.

Anyway, he knew that his bodyguard was not quite so relaxed. But then again he was never truly at ease. One did not become one of the world's deadliest men by dropping one's guard. The giant Eurasian flitted between tables in the Knightsbridge bistro, positioning the usual security items and clearing exit routes. Artemis considered for a moment if he should inform him he was fairly certain both the Aurors and Mr. Brown’s people were following his every move.

-Are you wearing the earplugs? – asked Butler.

Artemis sighed deeply. There was no point on worrying his bodyguard beforehand. Despite the risks, he should be able to avert any violent outcomes.

-Yes, Butler. Though I hardly think we are in danger here. It's a perfectly legal business meeting in broad daylight, for heaven's sake.

The earplugs were actually sonic filter sponges, cannibalized from fairy Lower Elements Police helmets. Butler had obtained the helmets, along with a treasure trove of fairy technology, over a year previously when one of Artemis's schemes pitted him against a fairy SWAT team. The sponges were grown in LEP labs, and had tiny porous membranes that sealed automatically when decibel levels surpassed safety standards.

-Maybe so, Artemis, but the thing about assassins is that they like to catch you unawares.

-Perhaps, - replied Artemis, perusing the menu's entree section. -But who could possibly have a motive to kill us?

He had meant it as a joke, but his bodyguard shot one of the half-dozen diners a fierce glare, just in case she was planning something. Strange choice for a target, Artemis thought. The woman must have been at least eighty.

-They might not be after us. Remember, Jon Spiro is a powerful man. He put a lot of companies out of business. We could be caught in a crossfire.

Artemis nodded. As usual, Butler was right, which explained why they were both still alive. Jon Spiro, the American he was meeting, was just the kind of man to attract assassins' bullets. A successful IT billionaire, with a shady past and alleged mob connections. Rumour had it that his company, Fission Chips, had made it to the top on the back of stolen research. Of course, nothing was ever proved – not that Chicago's district attorney hadn't tried. Several times. Actually, that was one of the reasons Artemis had chosen Spiro’s company over the rest.

A waitress wandered over, giving them a dazzling smile.

-Hello there, young man. Would you like to see the children's menu?

A vein pulsed in Artemis's temple.

-No, mademoiselle, I would not like to see the children's menu. I have no doubt the children's menu itself tastes better than the meals on it. I would like to order a la carte. Or don't you serve fish to minors?

The waitress's smile shrank by a couple of molars. Artemis's vocabulary had that effect on most people.

-Yes, sir- stammered the waitress. -Whatever you like.

-What I would like is a medley of shark and swordfish, pan-seared, on a bed of vegetables and new potatoes.

-And to drink?

-Spring water. Irish, if you have it. And no ice, please, as your ice is no doubt made from tap water, which rather defeats the purpose of spring water.

The waitress scurried to the kitchen, as if relieved to escape from the costumer at table six. Artemis was pleased with her reaction. That would teach her to patronize him. They would probably have strictly professional interactions for the rest of the day. He smiled to himself.

-You're going to be a big hit at the school dances -Butler commented.

-Pardon?

-That poor girl was almost in tears. It wouldn't hurt you to be nice occasionally.

Artemis was surprised. Butler rarely offered opinions on personal matters. The image of himself in a poorly decorated soirée trying to get along with a handful of excited teenagers made him shudder.

-I don't see myself at school dances, Butler.

-Dancing isn't the point. It's all about communication.

-Communication? -scoffed Artemis, with indignation. -I doubt there is a teenager alive with a vocabulary equal to mine.

Butler was about to say something else when the restaurant door opened. A small tanned man entered, flanked by a veritable giant. Jon Spiro and his security. Butler bent low to whisper in his charge's ear.

-Be careful, Artemis. I know the big one by reputation.

Artemis nodded, minutely, and focused his attention in the businessman. Spiro wound through the tables, arms outstretched. He was a middle-aged American, thin as a javelin, and barely taller than Artemis himself. In the eighties, shipping had been his thing; in the nineties he made a killing in stocks and shares. Now, it was communications.

He wore his trademark white linen suit, and there was enough jewellery hanging from his wrists and fingers to gold leaf the Taj Mahal. Such bad taste. Artemis rose to greet his associate.

-Mister Spiro, welcome.

-Hey, little Artemis Fowl. How the hell are you?

Artemis shook the man's hand. His jewellery jangled like a rattlesnake's tail.

-I am well. Glad you could come.

Spiro took a chair.

-Artemis Fowl calls with a proposition: I would've walked across broken glass to be here.

Artemis took a couple seconds to analyse the other man’s bodyguard. Apart from his bulk, he was the polar opposite of Butler. The newcomer had bleached blond hair, a cut-off T-shirt and silver pirate rings in both ears. This man, decided Artemis, didn’t understand the value of discretion.

-Arno Blunt -said Butler. -I've heard about you.

Blunt took up his position at Jon Spiro's shoulder.

-Butler. One of the Butlers, -he said, in a New Zealand drawl. -I hear you guys are the best. That's what I hear. Let's hope we don't have to find out.

Spiro laughed. It sounded like a box of crickets.

-Arno, please. We are among friends here. This is not a day for threats.

Artemis recognized a lie when he heard it. Arno’s presence was a threat in itself, however subtle. Nevertheless, he remained optimistic. There was no reason to believe this companion was out of the ordinary for Mr Spiro. Some business men preferred to do business with the grace of a dancing baboon.

-So, my friend. To business- said Spiro, fixing Artemis with his close-set dark eyes. -I've been salivating all the way across the Atlantic. What have you got for me?

Artemis frowned. He'd hoped business could wait until after lunch.

-Wouldn't you like to see a menu?

-No. I don't eat much anymore. Pills and liquids mostly. Gut problems.

Suspicious, but not completely improbable.

-Very well -said Artemis, laying an aluminium briefcase on the table. -To business then.

He flipped the case's lid, revealing a red cube the size of a minidisc player, nestling in blue foam. As it always happened, he felt a surge of pride at the sight of his greatest invention yet. Spiro cleaned his spectacles with the tail end of his tie.

-What am I seeing here, kid?

Artemis placed the shining box on the table.

-The future, Mister Spiro. Ahead of schedule.

Jon Spiro leaned in, taking a good look.

-Looks like a paperweight to me.

Arno Blunt sniggered. Artemis did not deign to look at him. He understood such scepticism. Miracles like this one were hard to accept at first.

-A demonstration then- he conceded, picking up the metal box. As he pressed a button, the gadget purred into life. Sections slid back to reveal speakers and a screen.

-Cute, -muttered Spiro. -I flew three thousand miles for a micro-TV?

If only he knew.

‘Patience’ Artemis told himself. ‘I have yet to perform my miracle.’

He just nodded.

-A micro-TV. But also a verbally controlled computer, a mobile phone, a diagnostic aid. This little box can read any information on absolutely any platform, electrical or organic. It can play videos, laserdiscs, DVDs; go online, retrieve e-mail, hack any computer. It can even scan your chest to see how fast your heart's beating. Its battery is good for two years and, of course, it's completely wireless.

Artemis paused, to let it sink in. Spiro's eyes seemed huge behind his spectacles.

-You mean, this box . . .?

-Will render all other technology obsolete. Your computer plants will be worthless.

The American took several deep breaths.

-But how . . . how?

Artemis knew he had to give him something. He flipped the box over. An infrared sensor pulsed gently on the back.

-This is the secret. An omni-sensor. It can read anything you ask it to. And if the source is programmed in, it can piggyback any satellite you choose.

A bait. Such a thing surely would interest a man like Spiro. The businessman wagged a finger.

-But that's illegal, isn't it?

-No, no, -said Artemis, smiling. -There are no laws against something like this. And there won't be for at least two years after it comes out. Look how long it took to shut down Napster.

The American rested his face in his hands. It was too much.

-I don't understand. This is years, no, decades ahead of anything we have now. You're nothing but a thirteen-year-old kid. How did you do it?

Artemis thought for a second. What was he going to say? Sixteen months ago Butler took on a Lower Elements Police Retrieval squad and confiscated their fairy technology? Then he, Artemis, had taken the components and built this wonderful box? Hardly.

-Let's just say I'm a very smart boy, Mister Spiro.

Spiro's eyes narrowed.

-Maybe not as smart as you'd like us to think. I want a demonstration.

-Fair enough- Artemis nodded. -Do you have a mobile phone?

Moments later, all the data of Spiro’s phone had been downloaded by the C-cube, the encryption blatantly useless. The businessman was aghast.

-I don't believe it. That system cost twenty million dollars.

-Worthless, -said Artemis, showing him the screen. -Would you like to call home? Or maybe move some funds around? You really shouldn't keep your bank account numbers on a sim card.

The American thought for several moments.

-It's a trick, -he pronounced finally. -You must've known about my phone. Somehow, don't ask me how, you got access to it earlier.

-That is logical, -admitted Artemis. -It's what I would suspect. Name your test.

Spiro cast his eyes around the restaurant, fingers drumming the tabletop. Finally, he asked for one of the tapes at the video shelf to be played. Amused by the simplicity of his request, Artemis humoured him. Once again, the operation was completed in under a second. An old episode of an English soap crackled into life.

-DVD quality, -commented Artemis. -Regardless of the input, the C-Cube will compensate.

-The what?

-C-Cube, -repeated Artemis. -The name I have given my little box. A tad obvious, I admit. But appropriate. The cube that sees everything.

Spiro snatched the video cassette Arno had chosen and ordered him to check it. The bodyguard activated the bar's TV, sliding the video into its slot. Coronation Street flickered across the screen. The same show. Nowhere near the same quality.

-Convinced? -asked Artemis. The American was still trying to appear blasé.

-Almost. One last test. I have a feeling that the government is monitoring me. Could you check it out?

Artemis thought for a moment. That was a dangerous thing to do. He had his own story with the Interpol and one or two secret services. If they were watching him right now, he could be alerting them about the crime wave he was about to unleash. Nevertheless, he needed Spiro. He addressed the red box again.

-Cube, do you read any surveillance beams concentrated on this building?

The machine whirred for a moment.

-The strongest ion beam is eighty kilometres due west, emanating from US satellite code number ST1132P. Registered to the Central Intelligence Agency. Estimated time of arrival, eight minutes. There are also three Torchwood probes connected to…

Artemis hit the mute button before the Cube could continue. Obviously the computer's fairy components could pick up Torchwood’s technology too. He would have to remedy that. To reveal them to the general public would be most inconvenient. Besides, they could hold a grudge against him and he was not in a position to defeat them should they go for him. Not yet at least.

-What's the matter, kid? The box was still talking. Who are these Torchwood fellows?

Artemis shrugged.

-No pay, no play, as you Americans say. One example is enough. The CIA no less.

-The CIA -breathed Spiro. -They suspect me of selling military secrets. They've pulled one of their birds out of orbit, just to track me.

-Or perhaps me- noted Artemis, a little worried. Had they found out about his manoeuvres in Boston? He had told Christine to proceed with utmost care.

-Perhaps you- agreed Spiro. -You're looking more dangerous by the second.

Arno Blunt chuckled derisively. How disrespectful, Artemis thought. His father would have had them ruined within the month. In the old days, of course. Spiro cracked his knuckles, a habit Artemis detested.

-We've got eight minutes, so let's get down to the nitty gritty, kid. How much for the box?

Artemis was growing more irritated by the second. How dare this little man disrespect him so? He absentmindedly reached into his pocket, grasping his wand. He could end this, any time.

-Firstly, it's a Cube -corrected Artemis. -And secondly, it's not for sale.

Jon Spiro took a deep, shuddering breath.

-Not for sale? You brought me across the Atlantic to show me something you're not going to sell me? What's going on here?

Artemis steepled his fingers. Time for the play.

-Mister Spiro. Jon. I am not a complete idiot. I realize the value of my Cube. There is not enough money in the world to pay for this particular item. Whatever you could give me, it would be worth a thousand per cent more in a week.

-So what's the deal, Fowl? -asked Spiro, through gritted teeth. -What are you offering?

-I'm offering you twelve months. For the right price, I'm prepared to keep my Cube off the market for a year.

Jon Spiro toyed with his ID bracelet. Artemis could see he was trying to find a way out.

-You'll suppress the technology for a year?

-Correct. That should give you ample time to sell your stocks before they crash, and to use the profits to buy into Fowl Industries.

-There is no Fowl Industries.

Artemis smirked as he saw Spiro put the pieces together.

-There will be.

In that moment Butler squeezed his shoulder. A warning. Artemis knew what he was trying to say. It was not a good idea to bait a man like Jon Spiro. Well, Artemis expected to trick much bigger fish in the upcoming months. Dumbledore, the Minister, Mr Brown and some others were next in the metaphorical line. So he ignored his servant. At the other side of the table, Spiro was twisting his bracelet like a string of worry beads, calculating.

-Your price? -he asked eventually. Had he really given up so fast?

-Gold. One metric ton -replied the heir to the Fowl estate.

-That's a lot of gold.

Artemis shrugged again. That point was a matter of perspective. In his opinion there was no thing as having too much gold.

‘And isn’t that what father would think?’

-I like gold. It holds its value. And anyway, it's a pittance compared to what this deal will save you.

Spiro was still indecisive. At his shoulder, Arno Blunt continued staring at Butler. It was somewhat unnerving. Artemis wondered if he could push the business man a little further.

-Let's say I don't like your terms -said Jon Spiro. -Let's say I decide to take your little gadget with me right now.

From the corner of his eye, Artemis saw Arno Blunt's chest puffing out another centimetre.

-Even if you could take the Cube -said Artemis, smiling -it would be of little use to you. The technology is beyond anything your engineers have ever seen.

Spiro gave a thin, mirthless smile.

-Oh, I'm sure they could figure it out. Even if it took a couple of years, it won't matter to you. Not where you're going.

-If I go anywhere, then the C Cube's secrets go with me. Its every function is coded to my voice patterns. It's quite a clever code.

-I bet we could break that code. I got one helluva team assembled in Fission Chips.

This was not going well. Spiro was demonstrating to be an even less trustworthy character than Artemis had expected, which was quite an impressive feat. Perhaps he was losing his time trying to deal with him.

-Pardon me if I am unimpressed by your “one helluva team” -said Artemis. -Thus far you have been trailing several years behind Phonetix.

Spiro jumped to his feet, a flash of anger in his flushed features.

‘Oh’ Artemis thought. ‘So I have struck a sensible chord. Of course he wouldn’t like to hear about the only company whose stock is higher than his own.’

-OK, kid, you've had your fun. Now it's my turn. I have to go now, before the satellite beam gets here. But I'm leaving Mister Blunt behind. -He patted his bodyguard on the shoulder. -You know what you have to do.

Blunt nodded. For the first time since the meeting began, Artemis forgot about his lunch and concentrated completely on the situation at hand. This was a considerable deviation from the plan.

-Mister Spiro. You cannot be serious. We are in a public place, surrounded by civilians. Your man cannot hope to compete with Butler. If you persist with these ludicrous threats, I may be tempted to withdraw my offer, and will release the C Cube immediately.

Spiro placed his palms on the table with a sly expression on his irritating face. This had been a mistake. Artemis closed his fingers around his wand as he run every possible scenario in his head.

-Listen, kid -whispered the American. -I like you. In a couple of years, you could have been just like me. But did you ever put a gun to somebody's head and pull the trigger?

Artemis didn't reply, but fixed his coldest look on the man. That, he had done. He had pulled the trigger. Twice really. First in the Arctic, to save his father; and then in the manor, when Selwyn’s words had become unbearable for his troubled mind. Had he really tried to kill the wizard? Artemis had no answer.

-Oh -grunted Spiro, amused. -So you have. Turns out the little Irish boy has guts. Guess old daddy Fowl had time to teach you a thing or two. Did he also put the gun in your hand? What a pity that he was as good as you at making business.

‘Shut up. Shut. Up.’

Artemis tried to supress the emotions Spiro was pulling out of him. Succumbing to them would be most illogical and highly unadvisable. But still something tensed inside his chest and the air around seemed to thin. Butler stepped in to fill the silence. Unveiled threats were more his area.

-Mister Spiro. Don't try to bluff us. Blunt may be big, but I can snap him like a twig. Then there's nobody between me and you. And, take my word for it, you don't want that.

Spiro's smile spread across his nicotine-stained teeth like a smear of treacle.

-Oh, I wouldn't say there's nobody between us.

‘So this was it’ Artemis realized. ‘The reason for his confidence. He has backup, and also the higher ground.’

In another life, Spiro could have outmanoeuvred him with this. In some other world where Artemis still played within the rules of the game, where he was more arrogant and naïve, were he cared enough not to endanger innocent lives. But this was not such world.

-Hey, Fowl? -said the American still without knowing that he had been defeated from the very start -I wonder how come your lunch is taking so long.

It all happened in a heartbeat. Spiro clicked his fingers and every single customer in En Fin drew a weapon from inside his or her coat. The eighty-year-old lady Butler had scowled at suddenly looked a lot more threatening with a revolver in her bony fist. Two armed waiters emerged from the kitchen wielding folding-stock machine guns. Well, this simplified things. Spiro tipped over the salt cellar.

-Check and mate. My game, kid.

Artemis held his gaze, and smiled. What an idiot. A simple, boring idiot. And he actually thought he had outsmarted him. A shadow of uncertainty clouded Spiro’s expression. -Are you in shock or something, brat? Why on hell would you smile?

-Do you believe in wizards, Mr Spiro? -Artemis asked.

Spiro snorted.

-What is it with Europeans and wizards? Is that some sort of fetish? Have I broken your oh-so-brilliant mind, Fowl? It seems all it takes for the child-genius to fall apart is one business gone wrong.

He seemed ecstatic at the opportunity to mock him and Artemis let him do it as he checked all the ways in and out of the restaurant. He kept quiet, and he calculated.

-However, I'm going now -continued Spiro, pocketing the C Cube -before that satellite beam shows up and those other ones. Torchwood. I've never heard of that particular agency. And as soon as I get this gizmo working they're going to wish they never heard of me. It's been fun doing business with you.

As he headed to the door, Artemis stood up. A dozen of guns pointed at him in an instant, the closest one belonging to the old lady in front of him.

-Mr Spiro- he called. -Can I ask you one final question?

Spiro looked at him, almost intrigued.

-Perhaps. If it amuses me.

-Do you not have the guts to see the trigger be pulled?

Spiro´s face twitched. He stomped back with his features contorted with fury.

-How dare you, you little twerp, to call me a coward to my face? I’ll do you in myself!

Artemis saw the slap coming, but he didn’t move. He knew Butler could not protect him. Any menacing reaction near the boss could mean death for them both at the hands of the metal men surrounding them. Spiro’s bony knuckles struck the left side of his face. The world went white for a moment.

-And now you hit a teenager. How brave.

His cheekbone hurt, but he ignored it. He had to make Spiro stay.

-Quiet, Artemis! -said Butler. It took a moment for Artemis's brain to process the fact that Butler had ordered him to be silent. Most impertinently in fact. Spiro was red with rage. -Actually, I changed my mind -he said. -Blunt, kill the giant. I’m going to finish this kid myself but first I want him to see his servant die.

Blunt rotated his skull, cracking the tendons in his neck.

-So here we go, Butler. We will actually kill you. As soon as Mister Spiro got the call we started sending people in. I can't believe you fell for it, man. You must be getting old.

Artemis could see the self-loathing in Butler’s eyes. He knew his bodyguard felt guilty since the adventure in Russia. There was no need to add to that list.

-OK, Blunt -said Butler, stretching out his empty palms before him. -You and me. One on one.

-Very noble- said Blunt. -That's your Asian code of honour, I suppose. Me, I don't have a code. If you think I'm going to risk you somehow getting out of here, you're crazy. This is an uncomplicated deal. I shoot you. You die. No face-off, no duel.

Blunt reached lazily into his waistband. One move from Butler and a dozen bullets would find their mark. Spiro was enjoying himself.

-I want you to see this, Fowl -he said. -So pay attention.

He sat in one of the nearby chairs. This was the moment.

-Richard of York gave battle in vain- he pronounced, high and clear. Blunt was screwing a silencer on to the muzzle of his ceramic pistol.

-More nonsense? -laughed Spiro, sprawled in his chair. -First wizards and now this. You are totally cracking up! Wait till I tell my accountant.

But the old woman looked thoughtful.

-Richard of York . . . I know that.

Artemis hoped so. It was virtually the entire verbal detonation code for the fairy sonic grenade magnetized to the underside of the table. One of Butler's little security devices. All they needed was one more word and the grenade would explode, sending a solid wall of sound charging through the building, blowing out every window and eardrum. There would be no smoke or flames, but anyone within a ten-metre radius not wearing earplugs had about five seconds before severe pain set in. One more word.

The old lady scratched her head with the revolver's barrel.

-Richard of York? I remember now, the nuns taught us that in school. Richard of York gave battle in vain. It's one of those memory tricks. The colours of the rainbow.

Rainbow. The final word. Butler moved with a speed only he could achieve in such risky situations. Artemis remembered, just in time, to slacken his jaw. If his teeth were clenched, the sonic waves would shatter them like sugar glass.

The grenade detonated in a blast of compressed sound, instantaneously hurling eleven people to the furthest extremities of the room, until they came into contact with various walls. The lucky ones hit partitions and went straight through. The unlucky ones collided with cavity block walls.

Things broke. Not the blocks.

Artemis was safe in Butler's bear-hug. The bodyguard had anchored himself against a solid door frame, folding the flying boy into his arms. And they had several other advantages over Spiro and his assassins: their teeth were intact, they did not suffer from any compound fractures and the sonic filter sponges had sealed, saving their eardrums from perforation.

Still shaken, Artemis scanned the room. The assassins were all down, clutching their ears. They had suffered severe concussions, fractures and probably several internal bleedings. The threat had been neutralized. Butler drew his Sig Sauer pistol from a shoulder holster.

-Stay here -he commanded. -I'm going to check the kitchen.

Artemis settled back into his chair, drawing several shaky breaths. All around was a chaos of dust and moans. Spiro lay several meters away, face to the ground, immobile. Artemis took out his wand, feeling safer with its weight in his hand. He had been practicing combat magic since that night in the forest with Dorian. He expected to test his proficiency against an opponent soon enough, but today it had been Butler who had saved him. Like so many other times.

A large figure came into view, blocking out the sunlight. It was Butler, returned from his reconnoitre. Artemis breathed deeply, feelingly uncharacteristically emotional.

-Butler -he began. -We really must talk regarding your salary…

But it wasn't Butler. It was Arno Blunt. He had something in each hand. On his left palm, two tiny cones of yellow foam.

-Ear plugs- he spat through broken teeth. -I always wear 'em before a fire fight. And guess what, little bastard? So does Mr Spiro.

In his right hand, Blunt held a silenced pistol. With a lot of cursing and wheezing, Spiro managed to stand up, his suit completely ruined by the effects of the grenade. He had taken the gun of one of his fallen men, and although his hand shook he was too close to miss.

-So you had a little surprise of your own -he spat, with a thread of blood trailing down his chin -Very well, Fowl. Time to go.

He took aim briefly, the fired. Artemis drew his wand and shouted.

-*-*-*-

Captain Jack Harkness looked across the street for the thousandth time, to the restaurant where the Irish boy and his bodyguard had entered almost an hour ago. He sighed. This was punishment for his “inappropriate behaviour”, as his superior had called it. Being given the baffling task to follow a kid up and down London. At first, Jack had expected something more interesting, given the mischievous reputation that the Fowl family seemed to have in the wizarding world. But nothing noteworthy had happened. The young master had arrived at the airport and then he and his enormous servant had drove to a fancy hotel where they stayed until they decided to take a walk through the commercial district. None of that was unusual, Jack thought. But then again, he didn’t really know what constituted a “normal” routine for a millionaire teenager. And he couldn’t really ask what was special about his family. If every wizard was supposed to know, then he could not ask.

A couple of girls dressed in bright colours caught his eye. Jack regarded them with interest. Maybe he could… No, he could not entertain himself like that. Not for now at least. The Doc… Dorian was home for the week, and he could not bring anyone to spend the night with. After all, he was just a boy and it would be so awkward. The younger version of his friend was so similar to his older self and so different at the same time. Recently, he had taken an interest to wands and wand-making, and he had managed to set a few experiments of his own. Jack wondered if this new fascination was related to his constant fiddling with his old sonic screwdriver. Also, he hoped he still had an apartment when he returned later. He hadn’t really checked for explosives between the lab supplies before he left. Oh, bollocks.

Jack regarded the lonely little teacup in front of him and wondered if he should order something else. He felt miserable. He was hungry but could not have a proper meal. That Fowl boy could be on the move anytime now, and he was supposed to follow him. He sighed again and fixed his sunglasses. When he had jumped to the TARDIS in Cardiff, he had expected to stop the spy play at least for a while. But here he was, sneaking around someone else’s business again. Why was this even necessary? Scrimgeour himself had ordered Fowl being followed during the entirety of his visit to London. Jack was supposed to report his every move.

The head of the Auror Office apparently did not trust any member of the Fowl family, not even a teenager. Jack had been to their manor, and he was willing to admit that there was something disquieting about the pale young master and his icy blue eyes; but it was not as if he was an explicit threat. Was he?

In that moment a group of elder tourists stopped in front of Jack to ask him for directions. Jack put on his best smiled and did his best to answer. When he managed to get rid of them he checked on the bistro across the street. Something was wrong. There seemed to be some kind of commotion, as many of the clients could now be seen standing inside the building. Jack stood up and left the money for the tea over the table. No time to loose. He had just taken two hurried steps in direction to En Fin, when the windows exploded.

It was chaos.

People were screaming and the civilians rushed to get as far from the blasted restaurant as possible. The majority would think it a bomb attack or terrorism. Jack knew better. It was a sonic weapon. They did not exist yet. Jack started to run towards En Fin. Would the young master still be alive? And what was his connection to a futuristic bomb?

It was not easy to advance in opposite direction to the human mass that flowed through the street. It took him several seconds to get to the other side of the street, and when he did he noticed that other three figures had done similarly. Ragged clothes and muscular bodies. One of them had a visible tattoo in the neck. If Jack had to guess he would say they were thugs. They had their guns out. Were they here to save Fowl or to kill him?

The ragtag trio stopped as soon as they saw Jack. He threw them what he hoped was a dangerous look. Could he take the three of them with magic? Did the rules allow it? They had not attacked him yet.

Not a sound could be heard from inside the restaurant. Bad sign. It usually meant everyone was dead or had already escaped. Jack wished he had his gun instead of a piece of wood. But no muggle weapons while pretending to be an Auror. Also, no attacking muggles without good reason.

‘Come on. Give me a good reason.’

The thugs had not moved. Any false move could start the fight. Jack realized two of the men constantly looked to the one with the tattoo. Probably the leader. He was scowling at Jack, unwilling to give the order to kill him. Professionals then. To hell with everything!

-Well, gentlemen… -he started, but was cut short.

The sound of gunshots resonated in the street from the restaurant. Someone shouted. The professionals went for the door, deciding to ignore Jack. Were they really going to enter in an unknown building during a shootout? He muttered a curse and followed them.

As he entered, he saw the lights of a magical fight. Then someone firing repeatedly with expert precision. The floor was littered with inert bodies. Jack hoped they were not corpses. His eyes searched for the contenders. There would be time later to worry about the absurd combination of weapons in the fight. For a few seconds, he could see them.

Three figures stood in the middle of the ruined restaurant. One, tall and bald, held a gun pointed towards a bulking blond man. But said man was not even looking at him, his bloodshot eyes were fixed upon the smallest of the figures. The lithe frame of young master Fowl hovered over the bloodstained floor, one hand wielding his wand, the other extended as in blessing. Something flowed towards him from the scattered bodies. A shadow, speckled with threads of red light.

Jack had only an instant to see it all. The professionals aimed their guns to Fowl. The teenager flashed them his blue gaze and gestured with his wand, as if throwing something in their direction. Then thunder, heat and pain.

He was thrown out of the restaurant with a blast. As he flew through the air he saw the other three men, describing similar trajectories along with some glass and the pieces of the building. He felt as if he had been hit by an invisible wall. For some reason that seemed immensely funny. Until he hit the ground. The world went black.

-*-*-*-

Jack was pushed back into reality with a low groan and a splitting headache. His ears were ringing and he had more contusions that he cared to count. Bloody hell. He blinked a few times and realized the blue thing above was real. He was laying on his back and his lungs felt on fire. Why did it hurt so much? Oh, yes. He was still in Knightsbridge.

The memories of his last conscious minutes was shoved back into his skull and Auror Jack Harkness groaned. How long had he been out? He tried to move and his body protested. While he waited, bracing himself for another try, he felt his senses coming back to him. The colours returned and he started to hear again. He heard gunshots. So he had been out only a few seconds.

Jack struggled and managed to stand. In front of him, right in the middle of Knightsbridge, Artemis Fowl was facing an armed giant.

The blond man from before was firing round after round to the boy, but to no effect. Fowl held his wand in front and waved it constantly, protecting himself. Or at least that was the overall effect. The real thing was harder to take in.

Every time the teenager described an arch with the tip of the wand, the bullets slowed rapidly till they stopped mid-air for a second, and then fell to the ground. It was by no means a perfect method, and in a given moment one of the bullets flew through and grazed the boy’s left arm, leaving a bloody trail. If something distracted him, he would die.

Fowl seemed to be aware of that, and never took his gaze from his opponent, deflecting wave after wave of metal projectiles. Jack found it mesmerizing. His concentration was palpable and his features were tense. What was that kid doing? Jack had been in the wizarding world for years and he hadn’t even heard of something like that. Then he noticed two things. Behind the boy, his shadow was swirling within its contours, darker than it should be; and next to it, the tall, bald man that had been inside the restaurant, looked at the young master with concern. The bodyguard (because Jack knew he was Fowl’s bodyguard) must have been reluctant to interrupt the boy, given the evident risk that this would entail. But he had a tortured expression and was clearly ready to intervene.

This was wrong. Jack could not even begin to count the breaches of the Statute of Secrecy that were currently in progress. More than had happened in a decade. And, he remembered, wasn’t he supposed to be a magic-cop? Time to earn his payment.

Jack walked around the battle-field. He saw the professionals, still lying over the pavement. They sported some ugly bruises and were surrounded by debris. Looking back at the restaurant, Jack saw that all the front part had been blown to pieces. Fowl had shattered the entire thing. He had been damn lucky not to get hit by debris.

When he was two meters from the bodyguard he found himself at the end of his gun.

-Auror Jack Harness -he said. -Can’t you do anything to stop this?

The man lowered his gun.

-If I did, I would have stopped it already- his eyes were following the movements of the teenager. -But I can’t distract Artemis.

-Does he even know what he’s doing?

-I… -I’m not sure. But you will not disturb him either. -There was pure desperation in his voice. Jack finished sending a reinforcement request to headquarters.

-But we have to do something!

-If we distract him now… Blunt is too fast. He'll kill him.

So the name of the blond giant was Blunt. Jack realized he was screaming at Fowl.

-What did you do? What did you do, Fowl? What happened to Mr Spiro?! Die! Die you monster!

He fired frantically and kept screaming similar demands. That man was terrified. And Jack was suddenly aware that with every bullet Fowl stopped, the shadow behind him grew larger, angrier, as if it burned with black fire. Jack shuddered as he looked at the thing at his feet.

-All the energy from the bullets -said the bodyguard, as if talking to himself. -It has to go somewhere.

Somewhere? Jack was at a loss.

‘The Doctor would know. He would solve it in a second. But he is not here Jack, so try to be a little less thick.’

The bullets were stopping, deaccelerating, losing energy. Where was that energy going?

‘This is magic, I don’t know if physics apply, but if the principle of conservation holds then Fowl has to be putting all that energy somewhere or…’

And it hit him. What problem seemed to be growing? The energy was going to his “shadow”. Fowl was still holding it. No wonder he looked tired.

The shooting stopped for a moment. Blunt had run out of bullets. The teenager trembled almost imperceptibly, but Jack saw it anyway.

-Use it! -he shouted at him without thinking. -Fowl! Look behind you!

The teenager turned his head enough to throw him a confused and hostile look. And then he saw his own shadow. Understanding flashed in his eyes. Luckily, he was smart enough to get it.

-One moment he was there, and the next he was out! -Blunt was still shouting, but now his voice was hoarse. -What… What are you?

-I am surprised, Mr Blunt -said the teenager. Jack could not see his face but he could hear the smile in his words. -You have actually asked your first good question.

Blunt’s face had gone grey. Almost as if he was falling, Fowl bent a knee and touched the ground with both hands. The ground rippled like the surface of a lake. The pavement broke as the wave advanced, propagating in a circle centred in Fowl. Jack and the bodyguard (Butler, that was his name) were untouched by it. The ripple continued at least fifteen meters before stopping, damaging many of the nearby buildings and cars. When the rumble ended, Blunt was down.

Jack saw the blond man trying to stand, his head bloodied from the impact of his fall. There was fear in his eyes, and Jack was not sure if he would try to attack the boy again or just run for his life. But Fowl did not give him the opportunity to do any. Jack felt another blast of magic coming from the boy, this time more controlled, directed towards the man. Blunt shrieked as the ground opened below him and a moment later he was trapped in the middle of the street, with only his shoulders and head poking above the asphalt.

Butler rushed towards his employer, and helped him to stand again. Jack followed him shortly after. The reinforcements would arrive in any moment now. All things considered, the fight had been really short. At least, for the amount of destruction it had caused.

He noted that Fowl’s shadow had returned to normality. For some reason he felt relieved. He had never seen magic like that, and he did not exactly want a repeat.

-Well done kid -he said when he reached the teenager. -For a moment I thought you were dead.

The boy regarded him with sang-froid. Damn, this kid would make a good agent.

-Auror Harkness -he said, his words a little shaken. -I’m sure we can come to an arrangement.

Was Fowl trying to bribe him already? Jack smiled, delighted. He had been wrong. This kid would make a great accomplice.

-It won’t be so easy -answered Jack. -The aurors are already on their way. May I ask what kind of magic were you using?

Fowl grimaced and looked at his bodyguard, who was inspecting the wound on his arm.

-I’m afraid it is a family secret.

Jack whistled.

-You must have an interesting family.

Fowl arched an eyebrow.

-You are remarkably relaxed for being an agent. What is it that you really do, captain Harkness?

Jack froze. How…? How did he know?

-It’s rather simple -said Fowl, after Butler announced that the bullet had not caused much damage. -When you were first introduced at the manor you were going to say captain, but you corrected yourself and said auror. Your physique is the one of a man used to combat, and you have some quirks characteristic of the army. Furthermore, you are using a trench coat of World War I. So, perhaps a muggle-born American, whose European family had a strong military legacy? You have been in the army too. That would be my guess.

Jack smiled. It was a good theory. This Fowl fellow was really something else. Not just a posh brat as he had thought when he first met him. He could not be blamed for not taking into account time-travelling weirdness.

-You got right almost all of it.

-And yet, nothing of that explains your personality. Careless but focused, half in jest but alert. It is not something you usually find in soldiers. And of course there’s the mystery of how you became a soldier if you are a wizard. I’ve read history. Wizards had not fought wars since World War II.

Well, bloody hell. Jack had been not aware of that. Though it certainly explained some shady episodes of the war.

-There is always a loophole.

In this case it was literal. He looked around at the damaged street and felt slightly nostalgic. Knightsbridge was such an iconic place in the big city.

-Was it really necessary to destroy it?

Fowl scanned his surroundings.

-Perhaps.

They arrived then. As if they had appeared from thin air, a dozen of aurors arrived at the scene. Jack’s boss was in front. Of course Scrimgeour would send him.

-Artemis Fowl -said one of the women, stepping apart. -Consider yourself under arrest for breaching the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, and six other violations of specific decrees.

-Ah, arrested and without lunch -said the boy. -Does this remind you of anything, Butler?

-Egypt, El Cairo, that deal with the priest’s tomb. There was a riot that week, but you insisted in going.

-There was gold.

-Of course there was.

As they talked, they were surrounded by the aurors. Jack was amused. Those two must have some stories to tell.

-Harkness- barked his boss.

-Yes, inspector?

-You will stay for the trial. You are a key witness.

His eyes promised long hours and a mountain of paperwork.

-Sure thing, boss.

-Everyone, to the Ministry!

-*-*-*-

When Artemis and Butler arrived at the Ministry escorted by the aurors, there was an immediate commotion. The large hall they entered first was full of wizards and witches, that seemed to be using the long rows of fireplaces in the wall as some sort of teleportation gates. When one of them stepped inside, the flames rose and they disappeared with a crackling sound. An inverse process took place when one of them arrived instead of leaving. The whole thing seemed very interesting, but Artemis had no time to think on it. Every pair of eyes converged in the formation of aurors and for a few moments everything was silent.

The inspector puffed out his chest as if he were a peacock. Proudly, he guided the others across the hall, forcing everyone in his way to step aside. In contrast to the haste he had shown before, he imposed a slow pace now. After a second, Artemis realized why. This was a show. Someone wanted him to be seen as a criminal. Someone capable of giving orders to the aurors. Was this a personal grudge, a family feud or a part of a political scheme? He would have to find out fast. Know your enemy and all that.

People started to whisper and their soft murmur grew as they advanced through the hall. Then they started to talk more openly.

-Isn’t that…?

-They sent the aurors after him in the middle of the day…

-It’s the son of Artemis Fowl. Remember him? Scary man, that one.

-…told me he attacked a muggle.

-… in the middle of London!

-Kids these days, huh?

-Fowl. The child is a Fowl.

-… criminals, the lot of them!

-I thought they had left the wizarding world.

But why? Wondered Artemis. What was anyone to win with this theatre? At his side, Butler was scowling to the growing multitude. He still had some guns, the aurors had not bothered to search him. They must have thought they could manage a muggle. What a stupid thing to assume. However, the inspector had confiscated Artemis’s wand. After the scene they had encountered in Knightsbridge, it was the most logical thing to do. The only reason he was not handcuffed was the admonitory glare Butler had fixed on the inspector.

In the middle of the colossal hall, they reached a fountain where a group of golden statues poured water into a circular pool. They were a wizard, a witch, a centaur, a goblin and a scrawny little creature with big ears that Artemis did not recognize. The sight distracted Artemis from his current problems for a moment. Could it be covered in real gold? After Gringotts he could expect anything.

The rising voices around him pulled him back to reality.

-It’s just a boy, for Merlin’s sake! Don’t treat him like a death eater!

-The Fowls were death eaters too!

-…the scandal. Clearly, Fowls don’t belong here anymore…

-Scrimgeour has lost his mind! It’s just a boy!

Interesting. He had heard that name before. Rufus Scrimgeour was the Chief Auror and could become a problematic enemy. But Artemis could not think of a single reason why the Chief Auror would want him discredited. He hoped that at least it was something he had actually done.

Artemis noted that some of the younger members of the public looked at him with fascination, as if he was some kind of prodigy. Well, he thought, he really was. There was some sympathy from these people, could he use that to his advantage. He added a new variable to the problem. Yes. Yes, it could work.

The wizards and witches were now shouting at each other, and as they reached the farthest end of the hall, the inspector left some of the aurors behind, with orders to disperse the crowd. With a lot of clattering, a lift descended and the grill slid open. The aurors entered and one of them pushed Artemis inside.

-Well, my friend -he said to Butler, careful to keep his voice smooth. -That is what I call an entrance. They will be talking about this for weeks.

The lift shook and started to descend.

-As long as it doesn’t go before the news of your imprisonment -was the gloomy answer.

-It won’t.

Butler raised his eyebrows.

-You have a plan?

-Oh, most definitely.

Around, the nearest aurors stirred, nervous.

-*-*-*-

They were guided to a dungeon, and into a cell, albeit one very close to the entrance. It was quite remarkable that the Ministry had an entire dungeon inside. Before he left, the inspector informed them in no uncertain terms that even if they could not convict Butler because of him being a muggle, they could and most certainly would erase his memory.

-But only after my case is solved, I suppose -said Artemis, refusing to show any sign of fear.

-That will not take long -informed him the inspector, with a hideous half-smile in his blotchy face. -Your trial has been scheduled for today’s evening. Courtroom Five, six o’clock.

Artemis tried to conceal his surprise. Was wizarding justice really that much faster, or were they rushing his trial on purpose?

-Very well- he pronounced- I would like to contact a lawyer.

The inspector snorted.

-There are no lawyers in the wizarding world, boy. The council will receive the information and consider it. I myself will hand my report to Scrimgeour right now. You only get there to answer the questions they might want to ask you.

Artemis was aghast. No lawyers? An immediate trial? It certainly saved time, but things did not bode well for the accused. He needed to think.

Pressing together the tips of his fingers, Artemis wondered how had he missed such important details. On the previous month he had studied magical law as much as he could but, he realized, he hadn’t looked into the exact procedures in court.

-Do you mean I will have to make my own defence?

He had expected to instruct his assigned lawyer, whomever he would be, on the details of his plan before the trial.

-You will answer the questions they ask you. Nothing more.

It seemed a terrible way if they wanted to ensure anything like individual freedom and Artemis said so.

-We are here to ensure public security -sentenced the inspector. He fixed his brown eyes in Artemis and frowned. -I did not believe Scrimgeour when he told me, you know? I thought he was mad, sending us to arrest a boy. Only because he had a hunch about Harkness’ reinforcement request. Then I saw what you did. We all saw it. Now I’m with Scrimgeour. I want you out of the wizarding world. You are a menace, Fowl.

Artemis held his condemnatory gaze. A little spark of anger ignited in his chest.

-Fortunately that’s not for you to decide, inspector. Have a good day. I will see you in the evening.

For a moment, it appeared that the auror was going to object the dismissal. In the end, he shrugged and exited the cell. The metal door closed with a sombre sound. Artemis sat in the bench and folded his legs into the lotus position.

-I need to think Butler, consider the most probable outcomes and try to figure a way out.

Butler nodded.

-Fine. I would very much want to keep any wizards away from my head.

That was to be avoided at all costs. Artemis did not want a new Butler.

-Artemis… -said his bodyguard, after the first minute of silence. -What happened at the restaurant. What did you do?

That was the same question Blunt had screamed at him while he shot him. Should he answer? Could he not? Artemis considered it. He did not wish to revive it.

-It was blood magic.

-Did you do it… on purpose?

-No.

-Then how did you…? Heck, Artemis, I’m trying to understand but you are not helping. How in heavens were you so powerful?

His voice was tense. He had been worried, Artemis realized. A part of him wanted to apologize, but Artemis Fowl did not apologize, so he offered the best explanation he had instead.

-As you surely noticed, there was a lot of blood in En Fin after the sonic grenade exploded. Blood has certain… inherent power, that only blood mages can perceive. It was there, latent, harmless. I could feel it. One becomes a blood mage very easily, just by willingly casting a blood spell. And we both know I have done that. However, I did not want to use it. It has certain drawbacks that I would prefer to avoid. When Spiro shot the first time, I shielded myself casting an ordinary spell with my wand. Then Blunt fired, and you came running from the kitchen, ready to die protecting me. I panicked.

Artemis saw Butler’s eyes widen.

-I am rather fond of you -he continued –so I unconsciously tapped into that power storage at my disposal, magic from blood I had spilled. I redirected the bullets to my right and I… I stopped you.

The sensation had been strange, like agonizing heat flowing through his arm. He had extracted kinetic energy from Butler, but he had not released it so it had ended in some sort of personal reservoir. Later, when he was fighting Blunt, he had also absorbed the momentum of the bullets. He was not sure what would have happened if Harkness never made him realize that he was overloading.

-So blood magic allows you to do that? Control movement?

-That is an overly simplistic way of putting it, but essentially yes. Still, it’s not everything it does.

-What do you mean?

-Did you see Spiro?

-Yes. He was unconscious but alive.

-I am not sure of what I did to him.

Butler regarded him with concern. Artemis rarely admitted being ignorant about something.

-Al right. One last question, what happened to your shadow?

-I think the effect you saw in my shadow was proportional to the blood magic I was wielding. It grew when I absorbed energy, and disappeared when I poured all the blood magic I could muster into the ground. That’s what caused the wave.

That seemed to be enough for the man, at least for the moment.

-You did a very dangerous thing, Artemis.

-I know.

-But If you hadn’t, one of us could be dead now. Maybe both. So I will let it pass. But remember your promise about blood magic.

Artemis didn’t have any intention of using said magic any time soon. Using the amount that he had in Knightsbridge had been a terrifying experience. He had been ecstatic, overwhelmed, scared and overstimulated at the same time. Fortunately, he had kept some of his rational mind. Enough to make sure that the majority of the fight took place in the street. There was an important reason for that.

-I am not an advocate for euphoric spell-casting -he reassured Butler. -I will keep blood magic as my very last card.

The bodyguard smiled almost imperceptibly. He did not seem to care about being in a dungeon in the ministry of magic, with his fate depending on a trial they would face without lawyers.

-Good. Now start thinking.

How strange, Artemis thought, to have someone who trusted him so completely.

-*-*-*-

After two hours of continuous meditation, Artemis was interrupted by the arrival of a visitor. Butler stood up and started pacing around like a caged tiger. The door opened and the Headmaster of Hogwarts stepped inside, clad in his usual long robes.

-I’m afraid I don’t have time for tea, Headmaster -was Artemis’s salute. He felt a little bit of annoyance at the older wizard’s presence. This visit wasn’t something he had expected.

-Good afternoon to you, Artemis -answered Dumbledore, with his usual impassibility. -The Minister summoned me with haste this afternoon. It seems that the examiners are at each other’s necks. No one can agree on what kind of magic did you use that the Trace did not register.

Artemis had been counting on that. The Trace was not good detecting blood magic, and having access to it was the only reason he had dared to fight Blunt so openly. Had he only had the option of using regular magic, he would have been very careful not to let the Ministry find out. If they learned he had found a way to do magic undetected, they would not be very happy.

-So, given that it was you who placed the Trace on me, Fudge asked your… professional opinion I suppose.

Dumbledore´s eyes twinkled.

-Professor McGonagall told me you found out about that. You must know, Artemis, that I did it for your own good. To keep you safe.

-I’m sure you did -said Artemis, without conviction. He felt a slightly nervous. If there was someone who could interfere with his scheme it would be Dumbledore. He was too powerful, too old. He knew to how to play this game and if Artemis was right, he had been wining long before his own father had been born.

-And what answer did you give them?

-Nothing more than the truth. The Trace had only been slightly disturbed. There was no way to know what you had done exactly. The Fowls are an old family, they could have learned any kind of magic and then find a way to pass it to the next generations.

Artemis narrowed his eyes.

‘Why is he helping me? What would he ask in exchange?’

-And you did not risk an educated guess?

-Oh, I’m more interested in facts. Here is one that I found very interesting: they said you blinded a muggle. The short fellow with ring in his hands. You gave him a commotion too.

So Spiro was still alive. Good. Artemis wanted to enjoy a long non-lethal vengeance in the form of slowly crushing the man’s company. And he wanted Spiro to see it.

-Is his state… irreversible?

Dumbledore mistook his question for guilt.

-Luckily, no. The aurors took him to St. Mungo to be treated. He will be obliviated, of course, as will Mr Blunt, who is being treated for some broken bones. The later may thank us, though. He is very scared.

That would not do. Artemis wanted them to know why he was going after them.

-If you must know, they attacked me first.

-I do not doubt it. But you are still responsible for your actions. Or would you deny that?

-Why are you here, Headmaster?

-I suppose you can imagine they are worried. No one noticed you used magic. If Jack hadn’t reported it, they may have never noticed. Scared people can be unwise. I would hate to see you unjustly punished, Artemis, but I can’t do anything if I ignore your circumstances. I am here as your friend. I could speak in your favour. Please, let me be of help.

As he talked, a concerned expression appeared in Dumbledore’s face. He really seemed to care. Once again, Artemis was tempted to seek his advice. To tell him everything and trust his experience to decide the best course of action. It would be so easy.

‘No. If I do that, I will be relinquishing my freedom, my right to decide. Furthermore, I would be seen as one of his pieces. He is not offering friendship, but asking for compliance.’

He wondered how many had accepted Dumbledore’s words and put themselves in his hands.

-As much interesting it could be to have the Chief Warlock as my defence witness I doubt it’d be allowed. Also, I think this place would benefit greatly if a younger voice was heard within its walls. Thank you Headmaster, but I will speak for myself.

Dumbledore seemed disappointed, but did not insist. After a few enigmatic remarks he left, announcing he would be present at the trial.

-I think he is in a crusade to save your soul -said Butler, after the sound of the steps exiting the dungeon quieted.

-Oh, too late of that, I no longer have one. He should have come earlier. Maybe I would have needed him a couple of years ago; now I am my own magician.

He went back to thinking.

Eventually they brought them some food. Muffins and some ungodly beverage that Artemis was sure they were trying to pass for tea. Half an hour before the trial, Miss Hamilton appeared. She was somewhat dishevelled, as if she had been having a very busy and not exactly pleasant day. Strands of her blond hair had escaped from her chignon.

In a regretful tone, the woman informed Artemis that the Minister would not take a side on the current affair, and could not show any preference until the verdict had been given. But he would not act against Artemis either, ceding his place in the procedures to the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement instead.

-Then I suppose I will be taken to the Wizengamot and not to the Council of Magical Law.

Miss Hamilton blinked, realizing she had given away such information. Apparently, she decided she could say a little more.

-The position of your family ensured it, as did the insistence of the Head of the Auror Office, Mr Rufus Scrimgeour. There has been quite a commotion in the Ministry today because of this. I have barely found the time to communicate you the intentions of the Minister. He is sorry that he cannot help you.

She was rather a good assistant, Artemis thought. He did not blame her for Fudge’s decision. Despite being moved by cowardice, the Minister’s choice of not taking sides was logical. Artemis was a newcomer; he was interested in winning him to his side but did not trust him yet.

-Of course, mademoiselle. However, I do not intend to lose. Please tell Fudge that when the court rules in my favour, we can renegotiate the terms of our friendship.

The woman stared at Artemis for a moment, as if remembering who she was talking to. She shook his head.

-You are so young, sometimes I forget… Forgive my words, master Fowl. I’m afraid I am exhausted. Please consider that the Minister is not willing to stand against you in court. He is a prudent man, but he will recognize a capable ally when he sees one.

The message was clear. Fudge would wait and see. He would congratulate him if he won, brush him aside if he failed. That was the nature of the game. Very well. She excused herself politely and left in some new errand. At least she was smart enough not to treat him like a child.

‘I have to prove myself in this, make evident that I’m a player. There is no choice but to procced based on everything I have learned of wizarding law and hope it is enough. I cannot afford to lose.’

-Artemis -spoke Butler. -This means we are on our own. I really hope you have an incredibly good plan, or we are out.

Artemis felt a rush of excitement at the challenge. He actually had it. A bold, genius, elegant plan. But what else was to be expected from him?

Chapter Text

In which unorthodox methods are proposed, old laws are resuscitated, friends and foes are revealed and there is much indignation from all parties involved.

Exactly at six, Artemis Fowl crossed the doors leading from the dungeons to Courtroom Five. It was an impressive sight. The walls were made of dark stone and the entire place was lit by torches, placed on elaborate iron holders. The room was oval, with benches rising in levels along the curved limits. Above, the ceiling rose high and was supported by eight black columns. Artemis steeled himself. The courtroom was full, every sit and stair taken.

The murmur of the conversations died as every gaze converged in him. There must have been around three hundred people there, and between the multitude Artemis recognized several of the faces he had seen while entering the Ministry. As he walked to the other side of the room escorted by two aurors, there was a new uproar. Apparently, the controversy had only worsened during his stay in the dungeons. Maybe he could use that to his advantage. He would make sure his enemies lamented turning the trial into a public affair.

People in the benches started to discuss heatedly, while others were satisfied to follow Artemis’s advance. He scanned the room, rapidly classifying every person who seemed to stand out. There were many aurors, especially in the first rows, haughty bureaucrats, ominous politicians and euphoric reporters. With the last lot was a blonde woman wearing jewelled spectacles and a predatory expression. Artemis felt slightly disquieted. Should he worry about her?

Further along his path, he saw others, perhaps more relevant to his current situation. Dressed in fine clothes and with the elegant arrogance of the blue-blooded and wealthy, around twenty wizards and witches that obviously belonged to old lineages were looking at him. Artemis was surprised to find Wilhelm Spielman among them. The German boy nodded in acknowledgement and Artemis returned the greeting. The others watched the exchange with interest. Specially a man with long silvery hair and a rich coat. He looked at Spielman, then to Artemis, and then to Fudge, who was sitting with the aristocrats. Artemis had never seen the Minister in person but he had seen portraits and photographs and therefore could recognize him. He was talking to a witch at his right. The silver-haired wizard frowned, as if trying to solve a riddle that didn’t amuse him. Good. If Artemis was to win, he had to get their attention.

-…a scion of the old families should not be treated as a common criminal!

-But they are traitors! Everyone knows Fowls are traitors!

-He’s just a boy. Scrimgeour is just crazy. He sees the father, not the child.

-He should be banished! Obliviated!

-… nothing more than a criminal.

Oh, yes. There was that complication too. He had to make them see beyond his family’s reputation.

When he had found out why the Fowls were so… interestingly regarded in the wizarding world, Artemis had been amused to no end. Back in the seventeenth century, the Fowls had refused to cut their ties with the muggle world. For three thousand years they had defied the Ministry, raising generation after generation of pureblood wizards and witches with enough power and money to dissuade almost everyone of going against them. They had hidden their magic from muggles, but stayed a powerful family in Ireland. Their place between the two worlds had granted them a perfect position to make profit and so the family fortune had steadily grown. And even though occasionally one or two Fowls had been caught and convicted by the Ministry, most of them performed spectacular escapes and reached the Continent, eluding justice. However, Artemis did not intend to continue that tradition.

‘Although it could be a useful solution someday. Temporarily, of course.’

Finally, he reached the far end of the room. There, in the highest rising benches, fifty wizards and witches in plum-coloured robes were observing him. The Wizengamot. On their left, in an elaborated chair, sat Dumbledore, the Chief Warlock. Before the assembly, along the axis of the oval that was the courtroom, was a chair with chains in the armrests. Artemis was led towards it. Was that for him? How kind of them.

The witch in the centre of the front row, square-jawed and wearing a monocle, spoke then.

-Silence please. The accused will take his seat and we shall proceed.

All conversations ceased at once. Clearly, this was Amelia Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Artemis did as he was told, albeit hesitantly. The moment he sat, the chains in the chair rattled and started to move, confirming his suspicions. It was enchanted. Still, the chains did not bind him as he had feared. They only crawled around a little, like headless snakes.

-Disciplinary hearing of the twenty-seventh of August -continued Bones, while a young man at the end of the benches started taking notes – into offenses committed under the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, the International Statute of Secrecy and the attempted murder of two muggles by Artemis Fowl II, resident at Fowl Manor, Dublin, Ireland. The Chief Warlock is present. Interrogators: Amelia Susan Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Lea Hamilton, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister; Bartemius Crouch, Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation. Court scribe…

Artemis observed the three interrogators. Now he knew what was Miss Hamilton occupation. But if she was a friend, did that mean Crouch was an enemy?

-The charges against the accused will be now presented. That he did, in full awareness of the wizarding law, use magic in a muggle public area, on August the twenty-seventh around one in the afternoon, which is an offense under paragraph C of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, 1875, and also under section thirteen of the International Confederation of Wizards’ Statute of Secrecy. That he attacked two muggles present with intention of manslaughter, which goes against the Law of Murder of Great Britain which is shared by all the wizardkin on British soil, and that he did, deliberately, destroy a considerable portion of Knightsbridge, London, causing considerable property damage and endangering the lives of the muggles that inhabited the place.

Artemis had expected as much. It was enough to have him expulsed and his mind erased. Well, he would not be so easy to take down. What cards did he have? An old family, magical tradition and, of course, a secret of his own.

‘Let´s begin.’

-May I ask something, your Honour?

The witch blinked and stared at Artemis for a moment. Some of the members of the Wizengamot frowned or leaned forwards, nervously. Speaking before the questions begun surely was most irregular.

-The Chair allows it, although the accused must know that he is here only to answer the questions of the Interrogators.

-Thank you, your Honour. I ask the members of the high court of law that I may be allowed to exercise my right to cross-examination. I wish to know my accuser. Under British Common Law, I believe myself entitled to demand this.

Behind him, the soft sounds of many whispers was heard. Truly, it was a blessing that Wizarding Law recognized medieval Common Law. Bones spoke with Miss Hamilton and Mr Crouch. The wizard seemed to oppose Artemis’s request very strongly. Eventually, they reached an agreement.

-The Chair will allow the accused the right of cross-examination under the Decree of Convenient Application of Muggle Law. Rufus Scrimgeour, Head of the Auror Office, is called to the presence of the Wizengamot.

A tall man arose from one of the lateral benches on Artemis’s right. There was something feline in his figure, that reminded him of Butler. A man of action. His hair was a mane with grey streaks; and under his bushy eyebrows, yellow orbs flared. He directed his merciless eyes to Artemis as he descended from his seat and approached the Wizengamot.

‘So this is my enemy. I know nothing of this man, yet he strives to defeat me.’

-Do you wish to make a statement before we continue?

-The accusation was mine; it is true -said Scrimgeour. His voice resonated under the high ceiling. -I find this person to be a criminal and a threat to the wizarding world as were his family members for generations. When they finally left, I considered it a blessing for our brothers and sisters; I wish they had remained that way. If it is in my hand to stop any of their wretched kin to infect our community once again, I will pursue it without hesitation. Justice is on my side. I hope the law is too.

Artemis considered the man’s words. His speech had been passionate and harsh. For a second he wondered what had his family done to Scrimgeour for him to hate them so. Or was he just an idealist? It didn’t sound like that.

A chair was brought for Scrimgeour, who sat beside the Wizengamot, at the opposite side of Dumbledore.

-The interrogation will begin now. Are you Artemis Fowl II of Dublin, Ireland?

-Yes, your Honour.

-Did you have knowledge of the existence of the International Statute of Secrecy before the events that took place today in London?

-Yes, your Honour.

-And did you deliberately attacked two muggles with magic, in a muggle public area?

-I did, your Honour. But…

-I beg your pardon? -interrupted one of the witches of the Wizengamot, an old woman with sharp eyes. -How did a kid like you become a warlock?

Artemis decided to make good use of the story Dumbledore had told them before.

-My father instructed me in battle magic since I was a child. He said every wizard should know how to defend himself. I am sure every member of the Wizengamot is capable of this at least.

That statement should fit in the image wizards had the Fowl family. The old woman seemed amused, but some of her peers started to cough. Artemis almost smiled. Surely, many of them were not warlocks at all. The possibility of all Fowls being warlocks would be disquieting for them.

Bones frowned, as if she distrusted Artemis’s sudden confession. He himself felt a little nervous. If he was wrong about her, that would be enough to be found guilty. After three beats of his accelerated heart, Miss Hamilton made the question he had been waiting for.

-Why did you do it?

-I did it for self-defence. They attacked me first, with the intention of killing me.

The room exploded in chaos. Artemis did not turn but could hear the voices behind him, defending and condemning.

-This is outrageous! -said Scrimgeour, addressing Bones. -The Wizengamot cannot accept any muggle witnesses; and there were no wizards with him to confirm such claim. You have no proof!

The last part was for Artemis himself. Now he had to proceed with caution.

Artemis stood up from the chair rapidly and silenced the audience.

-The truth is, your Honour, that I have proof.

-Liar! -bellowed Scrimgeour, and some voices chorused the word. But he seemed doubtful, as if his prey was escaping a trap carefully set.

-What proof would that be? -asked Crouch. -Harkness was not inside the restaurant, which is where the whole incident started. Was there any other wizard inside?

-Indeed there was. Me.

Artemis heard his detractors start to shout once more between the audience.

-How can we accept your testimony on an accusation against you, Mr Fowl? Your proposition makes no sense.

-It makes sense -contradicted her Artemis. -If you would interrogate me under the effects of the Veritaserum potion. I am willing.

Again, there was commotion, this time between the members of the Wizengamot too. Madam Bones was surprised.

-Do you mean that you want to be administrated the truth-potion and answer the questions of the Wizengamot under its effects?

-Yes I do, your Honour.

Even Dumbledore seemed dumbfounded. Artemis turned around for the first time, interested in the audience’s reaction. Butler, who had been brought from the dungeons with him, looked in his direction with worry. From the seats occupied by the old families, the man with long silver hair was scowling; while Spielman leaned forward in clear amazement. Beyond, wizards and witches were equally exalted. Artemis felt like a stage-magician.

-This is a trick, your Honour -voiced Scrimgeour. -There are those who can resist the potion, and who can tell that Fowl has not drunk the antidote before stepping inside?

-He is just a boy -said Miss Hamilton. -It is very difficult that a minor could resist the Veritaserum.

-Still, it is possible -spoke Crouch. -This cannot be used as proof in a trial.

Careful now. The next step was crucial.

-There is a way, your Honour -pronounced Artemis, with finality. -A variation of the potion exists, that would make it strong enough to bind any man to speak the truth. Of my own free will I offer to mix my blood with the Veritaserum to brew the potion named Aletheia.

Behind him, Artemis heard a unanimous shout of indignation.

-This is madness!

-The boy has lost his mind!

-…folly, insanity!

Bones doubted.

-What you propose has not been used for over a hundred years.

-Y would assume as much, as it requires the consent of the drinker. The blood must be given willingly.

-It is not only that. This practice… is too near to blood magic to be carelessly accepted.

Oh. Had he overlooked an important factor? It was not blood magic, of that Artemis was sure. But it was similar in execution and it could make people nervous.

-Yet it is the only option that I have, your Honour, to prove to the Wizengamot that I am telling the truth.

Madame Bones ordered a vote on the use of the Aletheia. The hands of the members of the Wizengamot rose twice. Artemis’s proposition was accepted by a narrow margin. As a young witch was sent to bring the Veritaserum, he allowed himself to enjoy this partial victory. While they waited, Bones spoke again.

-You are invoking very unorthodox practices, Mr Fowl.

-Desperate times call for desperate measures, your Honour. I certainly hope that we never meet again under similar circumstances.

Artemis tried to make his voice sound formal and a bit regretful. The witch nodded, austerely.

-I wonder -said Dumbledore- where did you learn about this modification of the Veritaserum?

It seemed a casual question, but Artemis had spent too many hours in the Headmaster’s company to be fooled by appearances.

-Books, Chief Warlock. Is the usual for this kind of knowledge.

More specifically, an alchemy book written by a Templar almost a thousand years ago, preserved as a muggle antiquity in France for centuries. But he was not going to say that.

-Indeed. What an extraordinary thirst for knowledge, Mr Fowl. It shall be most interesting to follow your progress through Hogwarts. Know that you may come to me at any time if you have questions to ask. I enjoy helping my students to reach their full potential.

Artemis’s face remained unfazed. Dumbledore was informing to every listener that he was interested in him, and would try to recruit him for his side.

‘I won’t be your pawn. I will be a player.’

The young witch returned with two wizards, who were acknowledged by Bones as brothers and prestigious potion-makers. They resembled each other as two halves of a diamond. Both had one eye blue and one green. One of them presented the Veritaserum while the other remained behind, his bicoloured gaze fixed on Artemis. Bartemius Crouch took hold of the crystal vial and the two brothers bowed. One of them produced a sandglass and gave it to Bones. Before they left, the one that had stayed behind mouthed three words to Artemis: greetings master Fowl.

Surprised, Artemis had no time to formulate a response. The twins exited the courtroom rapidly.

It was Crouch’s job to hold the vial open so Artemis could spill some of his blood on it. He gave him a penknife, which cut cleanly across his palm. A soft murmur rose at the sight of his blood. Artemis performed the incision and bloodletting with medical efficiency. He did not want them to think of this as blood magic. The expression on Crouch’s face was not helping. There was repulsion and anger in his eyes.

‘He is with Scrimgeour in this. I must beware of him.’

-Artemis Fowl -asked Bones. -Do you consent to drink the potion known as Aletheia, prepared with your willing assistance, so you can provide a trustful account of the events in Knightsbridge, in the twenty-seventh of August?

-I do consent.

He drank the content of the vial in one go. Madam bones turned the sandglass and the coloured sand started to flow upwards.

He felt a shiver crawling up his spine.

Was that the effect of magic or just his own nervousness? Bartemius Crouch was still in front of him, regarding him with a mix of suspicion and fascination.

-You may return to your seat, Mr Crouch.

-Yes, your Honour.

-Now, Mr Fowl, lest continue with the interrogation. Why did you attack two muggles in London?

Artemis saw the scene again, as if he were seeing it through fog. He answered without being able to control his words.

-They were trying to kill me. First Spiro, the Blunt. They shot me.

-Why were you there?

Artemis was about to say “to blackmail him”, but he managed to contain himself. The words fought to slip through his lips. His mouth felt dry.

‘I really can’t lie. How terrifying.’

They could ask him anything, he would be compelled to tell the truth. Such was the power of the Aletheia.

‘I must keep them away from the most… sensitive subjects’.

-I met with Mr Spiro for business. He came to buy something from me.

How was that to distorting the facts?

-Which business was that? -asked Crouch, back on his high seat. -Do you know that the International Statute of Secrecy has strong regulations on this subject?

Artemis felt a bolt of pain in his skull when he tried to lie again. He could not help it. It was an involuntary reflex.

‘No. No. I must not hesitate. Think of it as it were the truth. It is the truth. Just tell them a truth. It is not my fault if they misunderstand it.’

It was a hard mental trick but he managed it.

-I was aware of the regulations. Knowing that my life was about to change because of my imminent return to the wizarding world, I wished to take the first step in a new direction for the family business.

It was true. He had been making the firsts moves for the creation of Fowl Industries.

-Mr Spiro came to buy a tech invention. I expected to make good profit.

-Then why did he tried to kill you?

That had been Bones.

-He had the impression that the deal I proposed was… unfair.

-And was it?

‘No, it wasn’t! It would have saved his company. I was the generous one there, really.’

-It was not. In fact, accepting it would have saved his company.

Because Spiro’s company was going down now. Artemis would see to that.

-Who attacked first?

-John Spiro. He shot at me point blank.

-And only then you used magic.

-Yes.

-But what was that blast described by auror Harkness? Was it a spell?

-No. It was not magic. It was a sonic grenade.

-Is this a muggle weapon?

That would be Misuse of Muggle Artefacts, if Artemis remembered correctly.

-No. Nobody knows how to make one besides me.

-Is it meant to be lethal?

-No. I did not intended to kill anyone with it.

-But why use it against the muggles of the restaurant?

Would they believe the truth? As soon as he considered the question, Artemis knew he had no choice. Just by thinking of it as the truth he had established he could not speak anything different.

-They were all trying to kill me too. Assassins hired by Spiro.

The courtroom was involved in a new wave of shocked conversations.

-How was this business so important?

-It would have decided the future of digital technology.

The blank faces of the members of the Wizengamot told him that they had no idea of what that was. Were none of them muggle-born, or were they too old know of digital coms?

-If they had not attacked you -said Miss Hamilton -would you have used any of the weapons at your disposition?

That was the perfect question. Artemis silently thanked the blonde.

-No. There would have been no combat.

They believed him. Artemis saw it in the eyes of the members of the Wizengamot who had been indecisive until now. The multi-coloured dust on the sandglass placed in front of Bones finished its ascent. Time was up. From now on the Aletheia would start to lose strength.

-The Chair finds this evidence satisfactory. The accused was not the instigator. The muggles attacked first.

Scrimgeour had a bitter expression.

-Do you think us fools?! -he was looking at Artemis. -Do you really expect us to believe you were not committing any crimes there? We know your family. You think you can come clean using words that don’t mean anything for any wizard?

-Now, now -said Dumbledore, almost cheerfully. -It seems terribly unfair to judge a person because the transgressions of his family. Or because he uses words you don't understand.

But Crouch had understood his friend’s insinuation.

-Did this muggle, Mr Spiro, attacked you because you were breaking some law, muggle or magical?

Artemis felt his body tremble. The Aletheia was still in his body.

‘The truth. What is the truth? A convenient truth?’

-Nothing illegal caused Spiro to attack me -he managed to say. He could not say he had not co mitted any crime because he was pretty sure he had hacked several government satellites and then used an illegal weapon to dispose of the assassins. But there was nothing illegal with cornering American millionaires with almost-divine technology.

-And I object to my family being called in such derogatory way. Should the old families of the Isles withstand such treatment from an insolent man?

As he spoke, Artemis turned to face the public. When he pronounced his last sentences the faces of many of the pure-bloods lit up. He was winning them over. They voiced their agreement.

‘Yes. I am an heir. Just like you, I have magical blood. We are brothers.’

This time, Crouch reacted faster than Scrimgeour.

-It is very rare that a muggle attacks a wizard, and there is good reason. We keep to ourselves. The Secrecy protects us all. You may be the descendant of an old family, Mr Fowl, but they must respect the law, just like any other wizard or witch. You could have escaped from the muggles or merely confounded them. Why did you choose to fight if you are aware of the restrictions stipulated by the International Statute of Secrecy?

That was actually a good point. Artemis re-evaluated Crouch.

-That precisely -said Scrimgeour, who was now pacing around his chair like a lion. -If your father thought you magic, you must know how to cast those other spells. Merlin knows he used them very often! Disappearing when things got dire and use his devilish tongue to mislead everyone.

That was quite interesting. Scrimgeour had known his father, probably worked with him. What had happened that he resented him so bitterly?

‘What did you do, father? Trick him, use him, rob him and leave him for dead? Or just insulted his fashion sense?’

-Mr Crouch is right -stated Bones. -There were alternatives to violence, that would not have endangered the wizarding world nor caused such destruction.

-Indeed -continued Crouch. -It was a criminal act, which threatens the secrecy of the wizarding world in clear violation of the Statute; and that could and should have been avoided. Furthermore, it endangered people’s lives and caused severe damage to private property.

Artemis almost shivered with excitement. Now. Now was the moment to play his hidden card. The reason he had allowed himself to fight Blunt in the middle of London.

-May I ask the honoured members of the Wizengamot one question? Where was this combat held?

That was not something an accused could do, and Scrimgeour shot daggers at him. To question the Inquisitors was unacceptable. Nevertheless, Miss Hamilton frowned, probably wondering what was this all about, and answered.

-Knightsbridge, London.

Artemis heard the two words being repeated once and once again in the public. The story must have been told and retold many times since he and Butler arrived to the Ministry escorted by the aurors.

-That is right. It was in Knightsbridge. I invoke the edict of King Edward the III of England: any wizard may defend himself while on the soil of Knightsbridge, against any foe who may come to him. This was stablished in the fourteenth century, preceding the Statute of Secrecy and was never revoked, not by the Wizarding Council of old, nor the Wizengamot. Therefore, the decree still stands.

The courtroom was suddenly very silent. Stunted faces everywhere regarded Artemis with incredulity. Scrimgeour was the first to speak.

-This is outrageous! Fowl is trying to fox his way out with a ridiculous argument!

Bones was unsure.

-If the law predates the International Statute of Secrecy and was never abrogated, it still holds. The Statute did not revoke the Law of the Land given by the kings of England. Each decree was replaced by a new one, but not all of them.

-I ask the Wizengamot to verify that what I’ve said is truth -said Artemis. -May everyone be convinced that I have committed no crime.

Bones, Crouch and miss Hamilton spoke for a moment.

-The Chair shall send for the registers, but it will be a long search. Your argument is very dubious, Mr Fowl.

An old man wearing a plum-coloured robe stood up in the last row.

-There is no need for that, Amelia. I can guarantee that the accused is right. I know exactly what decree he means, and I can tell whomever you send to fetch it the exact place to find it. In used to be in charge of the registers of ancient laws, and I remember the archives as the back of my hand.

Bones seemed relieved.

-The Chair will allow it. Johanna Bates, listen to the instructions of Mr Hawkworth.

The young witch who had also fetched the potion-maker twins climbed through the benches and was instructed by the old man. Once she had left the courtroom, Dumbledore spoke.

-I ask the honourable Mr Hawkworth to tell the court what is the content of the decree in question.

The eyes of the old man shined at the request. Artemis thanked the cosmos for the desire of elders to be listened.

-The Chair allows it -stated Ms Bones.

-Then I shall proceed.

He told the story. Long ago, in a place called Stonebridge, a wizard knight by the name of Sir Knyvett was attacked by bandits while walking across the bridge at night. He managed to defeat his attackers with both sword and magic and slew the master of the thieves with his own hand. Sir Knyvett was under the command of the King of England himself, who held him in high regard for he had fought the monarch’s wars with valour. So when the king heard the story, he decreed that the bridge and its surroundings be a place where wizards could fight any attacker without breaking the king’s peace. Since then the place was called Knightsbridge.

The decree became part of the laws held by the Wizarding Council, and Knightsbridge slowly turned into an honour field where wizards and witches could duel each other. These duels usually took place there at night after setting guards for discretion and became an important tradition. At that point, Mr Hawkworth finished his recount.

-But that was not all, was it, Honourable members of the Wizengamot?

-What do you mean, Mr Fowl? -asked Miss Hamilton. Should he start paying the witch? She was practically working for him by now.

-All that duelling and using magic in one relatively small area caused rumour to spread across the country. There was magic at work in Knightsbridge, near the king, near the heart of England. All of this brought the witch hunters.

A collective gasp was heard in the courtroom. Artemis continued, allowing his words to become stronger.

-Knightsbridge was the only place where wizards could defend themselves, and those were hard times. There was a considerable magical community, even bigger than the one in London. It would be a massacre. So the day the first witch hunters arrived, the wizards of Knightsbridge revealed themselves and fought them.

There was sadness in the eyes of many of the members of the Wizengamot, and as Artemis walked in circle to face the rest of his audience, he saw similar expressions. Almost tired, as if they had heard similar stories too many times. They probably had.

-During the long battle of Knightsbridge, the wizards gave their families time to escape. Nevertheless, they all died. The witch hunters gave them a clean death and the women and children got away. Tell me, were the warlocks of Knightsbridge criminals?

No one dared make a sound.

-Were they wrong to fight to defend the lives that mattered most to them? Was Sir Knyvett a criminal for defending himself? Was he not rewarded for it instead?

Artemis breathed deeply.

-I have already proven that my life was in danger and that this was the reason I fought those muggles in Knightsbridge. Under such threat, brothers and sisters, would you condemn me for fighting? If the law allows me to do so then, by the eternal spirit of magic, I will.

Fascinated, the people in the courtroom were staring at him in awe. When the applause came, it was thunderous. They were on his side. In front of the Wizengamot, Amelia Bones seemed a little nervous. Scrimgeour and his friends were frightened.

‘You should have known you’d regret making this public.’

Artemis saw the members of the old families, who regarded him with newfound respect. He had won the public, now he needed the faction who could turn the scales in his favour. Next to them, Fudge was smiling beatifically. What a fool. Time for the final act.

‘The play's the thing; wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.’

-Would you let a wizard die so the precious bubble you live in can be preserved? -he started softly. -So you can stay in good terms with every muggle? If this is the case I’d say that the Statute of Secrecy is meant to protect muggles, not wizardkind.

This time some shouted their approval, but most kept quiet. They seemed almost thoughtful. Artemis felt some anxiety, but he brushed it aside. What did it matter, if they were falling for a false argument? What if he convinced them of something he himself did not believe? This lie would save him. That was the only truth that mattered.

Some of the pure-bloods were even smiling now.

‘Yes. I can be one of your golden statues, one of your superior noble wizards condemned to live in an ignorant world. You love to see yourselves as martyrs, don’t you?’

He had known that since the moment he saw the fountain in the Atrium. Then he looked at Dumbledore.

The old wizard had an ashen face and was clutching the armrests of his chair. He had an almost fearful expression and the gaze he fixed on Artemis was one of alarm. What had he said that could cause such a reaction?

In that moment Scrimgeour was not able to contain himself anymore. He jumped from his seat and approached Artemis in long strides.

-This is a mockery of the law!

He was stopped by the two aurors that had been put in charge of Artemis.

-This won’t save you, Fowl!

As a damn breaking under the weight of too much water, the stillness of the courtroom disappeared. Even the Wizengamot started to deliberate loudly, with Crouch and his allies pontificating at the others.

-He’s won, fair and square!

-The law is the law!

That last sentence was repeated over and over by the wizards and witches in the benches. It was chorused even by the members of the old families. Artemis contained a smile. He had won.

Amongst the Wizengamot, the discussion was about to become violent. In the end, Bones suspended the trial until the royal decree had been revised. Artemis was escorted back to the dungeon. As he exited Courtroom Five there was another round of applause.

-*-*-*-

This time, he was not locked up in a cell. Instead, they led him to an austere room where Butler was waiting.

-That was impressive, Artemis. I would never had thought… I mean, how did you know all this?

-I know, old friend. I must confess I have been reading a lot on wizarding law in my free time. I thought that eventually I would need it, and once again I was right.

Butler frowned a little.

-What do you mean free time?

Just before Artemis was forced to explain that his free time was actually what Butler believed to be his sleeping time one of the aurors re-entered the room with a tray. It was just water and biscuits, but they looked like a feast to Artemis. While him and Butler ate, the door opened once more. Two wizards came across it. One was a thin, stooped man who resembled a crow, although there were silver threads in his black hair; the other was younger and tall, with grey eyes and a blue coat. He had a good tailor, Artemis noticed as they greeted him.

The two wizards presented themselves as Godfrey Nott and Felix Rosier.

-We have come here in behalf of the old families, master Fowl -said the older wizard -to tell you that we approve what you have said and done today. It was a laudable feat, adequate for an heir of the magical traditions of Britain. Well done.

Nott offered him his hand and Artemis shook it. The skin of the wizard reminded him of old parchment.

-We have influence, as you have probably guessed. You shall walk free. Although we would advise discretion in the future.

-Of course, Mr Nott. I do not intend to attract the Ministry’s attention for some time, given that I will be attending Hogwarts during the following months.

The man scrutinized Artemis.

-Will you be on Dumbledore’s care?

Which of course meant: are you on Dumbledore’s side?

-Not really. The Headmaster and I have our differences, and I shall be a student of Professor Snape, given the fact that I was sorted into Slytherin.

-Really? How wonderful! My own son is in the same house. Maybe you could be friends. Young people should cultivate appropriate friendships.

Artemis checked his memories of the long conversations held with Crabbe and Goyle. Nott… Oh, yes. Theodore Nott. They were going to share the same bedroom.

-Indeed. I shall look forward to meet him.

The wizard considered his next words carefully.

-You have appealed to many things today that we the old families hold dear. Honour, tradition and wizarding pride. For this you have our respect.

He was sincere. How unexpected.

-We should go now, Mr Fowl. Do not worry about the trial anymore. You’ve won.

Before leaving, Felix Rosier, who had stayed silent during the whole interview, shook Artemis’s hand.

-I expect to hear from your exploits in the future, Fowl. Consider me your friend.

There was intelligence in his emerald eyes. Ambition too.

-That’s very kind, sir. How should I find you? -asked Artemis.

-If there is some justice in the world I shall soon be the head of the Rosier family. Until then, ask for Lady Morgana, she is my mother.

Artemis was left considering the encounter. His plans were near fruition. All in all, the incident with Spiro had allowed him to dive deep into the wizarding world. The next visitor was Dumbledore.

He looked deeply disturbed and did not slow down upon entering. In a moment, he had both hands on Artemis’s shoulders and was looking right into his eyes.

-Who talked to you? -he asked, in his most imperative tone. Artemis was holding his right hand up, stopping Butler from restraining the Headmaster.

-Headmaster?

-Who. Has. Talked. To. You. Whose words were those?

Was he going insane? Artemis maintained his composure.

-They were mine. Why? Do you know others that would concur?

All of a sudden, Dumbledore let him go. The old wizard stepped back and looked at Artemis. He breathed deeply, as if trying to compose himself.

-You do not understand what you are doing, awakening ghosts of the past like that.

-I see. Are these metaphorical ghosts yours, Headmaster?

A flash of pain reached the man’s eyes. He smiled, sadly.

-You are like him. Maybe too much.

Without further explanation, he left the room. Peculiar indeed.

-Did he mean Voldemort? -asked Butler, trying to make sense of the episode.

-No -answered Artemis, amused. -I don’t think so.

There was a better option. A wizard from Dumbledore’s past, an old friend. Artemis shook his head. It was not important.

-*-*-*-

When he was taken back to Courtroom Five, things were under control. There were many more aurors in the lower rows, but the wizards and witches seemed calmer. Madam Bones spoke with finality.

-The Wizengamot has been presented with a difficult case. We have examined all the evidence and authorized unusual procedures on the investigation on the offenses committed by the accused against the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Magic, the International Statute of Secrecy and the Common Law. Artemis Fowl has presented three arguments for his defence; First, that he used magic in presence of muggles as legitimate defence because they were trying to kill him; which is allowed under clause seven of the Decree. Second, that he did not mean to commit manslaughter; a fact that has been verified with the use of the Aletheia potion, which was administrated with the consent of the accused. Third, that it was within his rights to use magic to fight back in virtue of the Decree of king Edward the III of England concerning the area of Knightsbridge where the incident in question took place. Those in favour of clearing the accused of all charges?

Several hands rose behind her. Almost two thirds.

-And those in favour of conviction?

The rest of the members of the Wizengamot including Crouch lifted their arms, with sombre expressions.

-Does the Chief Warlock give his assent to this result?

Dumbledore stood from his chair. He still looked troubled. For a moment Artemis feared he would deny his assent.

-I do.

-Everyone stand for the verdict -instructed Madam Bones. The room was filled with the noises of people in movement. Artemis experimented the most pleasant sensation that he knew. Victory. Somewhere the 1812 Overture was playing.

-The accused is cleared of all charges.

There was a loud ovation that lasted several seconds. Artemis stood there for its entire duration. His entrance in the wizarding world had been a success.

Later, Jack Harkness approached Artemis. With his characteristic smile, he congratulated him and told him to lay low, at least for a while.

-Scrimgeour is going to be after you. He was furious when he left. Better safe than sorry.

After him came the Minister. With his hat in his hand, Fudge looked almost sheepish. The man offered Artemis a smile.

-Hello, young master Fowl -he said. -Would you care for a photograph?

Artemis stared at him and the man started to stutter, nervous.

-For… for the newspapers, of course. Then we can talk… ahem, properly.

-All right.

They took several photographs, using old cameras that one would expect to find in a museum. However, Artemis knew it wasn’t quite the same. The resulting picture would be animated. So wouldn’t it be more accurate to call it a recording?

While the photographers earned their living, the Minister shook Artemis’s hand with enthusiasm. This man, Artemis realized, lived for his position. He liked the spotlights and the power, but it was unlikely that he would ever make a good leader. Well, Artemis could use that. Still, if they were to be “friends”, Fudge had to learn a couple of things.

When they were finally allowed some privacy, Artemis spoke.

-I want a favour.

-Sure, young man. What is it? Tickets for the Quidditch World Cup? Maybe a pet dragon?

Artemis regarded him coldly. Was this a joke, or just him being an idiot?

-I want the memories of Spiro and Blunt intact. Do not obliviate them. Leave them to me. I assure you they won’t talk.

Fudge doubted.

-Well that… I am not sure that’s possible.

-Really? I thought we were going to be friends, Minister. Or perhaps you do not have as much influence as you would have me believe.

The man reddened.

-I mean, of course I could do it for you. But how can you be sure they would not talk?

-They would not dare.

Fudge nodded, capitulating.

-Very well, then. For our friendship.

-Sure. There is one more thing. I would be very grateful if you could arrange for me some… reunions with other of your friends. Only sensible people, of course. Respectable names and reputable families.

Fortunately, the Minister was not stupid enough to miss that one.

-Yes, most certainly! I know many wizards from the old families. It would be a pleasure to introduce you to them.

-Thank you, Minister. And please tell Miss Hamilton that I am in her debt. She was very helpful when all my friends appeared to have deserted me.

Fudge was nervous again.

-Yes, yes. Wonderful witch, Miss Hamilton. We have always gotten along!

When he departed, Artemis was left pondering how easy had been manipulating Fudge. It was somewhat disquieting. Was he like that for everyone? Only with pure-bloods?

The next to approach him was Spielman, who lead a little group. The blond boy greeted him very courteously.

-It is wonderful to see you again, Artemis Fowl. Although I wished it would have happened under more auspicious circumstances. Nevertheless, congratulations. Your defence was inspired and clever. You gave us a good show.

-I’m glad you found it entertaining. But I don’t believe I know your companions.

-Most certainly. These are Vera and Alexei; I am helping them to navigate the intricacies of the British Ministry. They just arrived from Russia.

The girl had skin like porcelain and her dark hair flowed like ink over her shoulders. Her features were painfully delicate, as if the slightest breeze could damage her, and there was something in her manner that suggested illness. Artemis bowed slightly to her. He did not know the etiquette used by the Russian wizarding community so he resorted to the basics.

The boy was older than her, and their resemblance was such that they had to be siblings. His curled hair framed a pale and inexpressive visage. His eyes were strange, bronzelike and with a metallic gleam. In truth, it was discomforting. Both of them wore dark clothes, albeit very expensive ones.

-Pleased to meet you.

-Likewise, master Fowl -answered Alexei, with a heavy accent. -The whole thing was very instructive.

-Weren’t you afraid? -asked the girl, Vera. Immediately she regretted her question and looked at her brother. He did not deign to notice her existence.

-Hardly, mademoiselle.

-It would take more than that to scare Artemis Fowl -sentenced Spielman. -He has ice in his veins.

The German boy introduced the two adults of his entourage, a pair of older wizards in suits, as members of his household. Artemis greeted them in German.

-We must go soon -said Spielman, regretfully. -I promised to return Alexei and Vera to their hotel before ten.

Artemis assured him that he had no trouble with that. He himself had a long road to follow before he could rest.

-I admire you, Fowl -smiled the other boy. -And I repeat what I said about my family’s friendship.

Artemis allowed himself to smile just a bit. They parted, and just before they crossed the doors that lead to Courtroom Five, Vera turned around and exclaimed:

-I hope we see each other soon!

Artemis did not answer. There was something about those Russians that called for attention. But he was tired and had not eaten since the morning, and could not for his life tell what it was.

The numbers of people in the room decreased in a steady rhythm. Artemis found himself in front of a woman dressed in green. The same witch with the jewelled glasses that had attracted his attention when he first entered the courtroom. Suddenly, she was all over him.

-Rita Skeeter -she introduced herself. Artemis looked at her with dread. She was, without doubt, a journalist. Artemis abhorred her kind. Particularly, when they tried to write a story about him.

-I think you know who I am.

The witch smiled, as if they shared a secret.

-Of course I do. In fact, I believe that tomorrow there will be no wizard unaware of your name. You could even compete with Harry Potter himself. What do you think?

-I think Potter can keep the spotlight. Now, if you’d excuse me…

-Interesting! Dou you prefer to move in the shadows? Or maybe this is an unexpected facet of the beloved antihero? A rogue with a heart of gold. What a wonderful young man!

Artemis was sure he was getting a headache. Butler prepared himself to intervene. Up until now he had been content to wait in silence, but he must have seen his charge’s distress.

Rita Skeeter continued raving.

-And handsome too, if you allow me to say it. You have such delicate features. You’re going to break so may hearts… You are going to attend Hogwarts, right? Would you care I asked you some questions?

Artemis answered in order.

-I prefer to be left alone and I am no antihero. No, I don’t allow it; yes, I am; and I think you already did. Good night, madam.

Without waiting for an answer, he walked out of the courtroom. He left Butler to deal with her.

As he departed from the Ministry, his wand was returned, along with the rest of his belongings. Butler caught up with him in the Atrium. At that hour, there were very few people. Artemis did not ask any explanations. Skeeter was not there and that was enough.

Soon, they returned to the muggle-inhabited parts of the city. London was as restless as every night, trapped between lights and darkness. Intrigued by his silence, Butler asked if Artemis needed something.

-I am just tired. It’s not just the trial. I think… Blood magic cannot be lightly used.

Now that the adrenaline had left him, he felt hollow and weak.

-Do you need something? A hospital maybe?

-I don’t think doctors can do anything for me. Still, might be for the best. Even if I don’t want to use it, I have to be able to do so when the time comes.

Butler considered it.

-At what cost, Artemis? -he asked. Artemis stayed silent. He recalled the terrifying sensations elicited by the colossal quantity of blood magic he had used that day. He had almost gone mad. If he had to repeat it, what would it cost?

‘Better make it count, then’.

He closed his fingers around the wand in his pocket and let the city swallow him.

-*-*-*-

Draco was getting bored with Parkinson’s conversation. The girl seemed an endless pit of gossip, and she could not take a hint. As a last resource, he finished his champagne and turned towards Nott, leaving her in the middle of a sentence.

The boy at his right was staring almost melancholically at the cutlery. Draco rolled his eyes. Still, it was better than Pansy’s nonsense.

-Depressed already, Nott? You should have waited until we got to Hogwarts, so you can properly wallow in misery.

Theodore snorted.

-It is not the school that bothers me, Draco. I’m not you.

Very well, point taken.

-This year will be better.

-Whatever you say, just be careful not to come second to the Boy Wonder again.

Anger erupted in Draco’s chest. He was having such a nice dinner… Well, not really, but Nott’s commentary was uncalled for. He took his revenge drinking all the champagne Theodore had left.

-Hey! I’m your guest; you can’t do that!

Draco smiled for a moment, until he felt Parkinson’s fingers clutching his shoulder. He wished Crabbe and George were there. He could have order them to distract the girl.

-It is my house; I can do what I want.

He turned towards Parkinson again, unwilling to make a scene. Not in his father´s presence. He peeked in his direction discreetly. Lucius was distracted, talking to Mr Crabbe.

-I wish you would pay attention, Draco. This is important.

Draco doubted it. Pansy thought that knowing the colour of the hat of the Minister’s wife was important.

Across the wooden table, his mother was talking with Theodore’s father.

-Personally, I could not find anything against him -said Mr Nott. -He seemed a perfectly nice boy. Perhaps a little cold.

Of course. They were talking about him. Nobody talked of everything else since the day of that wretched trial.

Narcissa shook her head and the black diamonds of her hairpins gleamed with the lights of the table.

-It is perfectly reasonable. He was raised away from us, perhaps thinking that his family was the only magical line in the world. Imagine how lonely that could be!

-Nevertheless, he was quite bright. He left everyone speechless, even Dumbledore! I was there, don’t forget.

-Dear Godfrey, I doubt anyone can forget that you were at the famous trial, even if they wanted to. You never cease to mention it.

Draco felt a bit amused. His mother could be witty.

-Yes, yes; but his intelligence! You should have heard; it was like listening to Grindelwald reborn!

This attracted the attention of Lucius.

-Who was like Grindelwald reborn, Nott?

The older wizard looked at the lord of the house with anxiety. This could be fun. Nott was so easy to intimidate. Next to him, Draco saw Theodore tense.

-I was just recounting the trial to the lady.

-I expected that, since we haven’t heard anything else from your mouth for the last three days. But this new development is interesting.

Draco leaned forward. He had heard dozens of opinions on the Fowl Trial but not his father’s. He was eager to know how that scoundrel was inferior to the Malfoys. He already despised him, so it would only strengthen his convictions. But that was not what his father said.

-I am willing to recognize the boy’s ambition. I knew his father, and the apple doesn´t fall far from the tree. I’d expect him to be ruthless and cunning.

Draco blinked in surprise. Was this his father, giving compliments to a newcomer who had entered the wizarding world in the most scandalous way?

-Anyway, he is a criminal like the rest of his family. They refused to take the higher path and sacrifice their commodities for the sake of the wizarding world, like our family did. They are unworthy, and they don't belong here.

Draco felt the full weight of his father’s gaze and he froze.

-Never forget, Draco. We are superior to this riffraff.

He nodded in response, obediently. Lucius was right. However intelligent, Artemis Fowl did not hold a candle to the Malfoy family. His family. They were clearly outmached.

Shortly after, the dinner was finished and Draco and the other youth were dismissed. Freedom at last.

Draco took Parkinson and Nott to the gardens, to enjoy the nightly breeze. Autumn had finally arrived. He saw Parkinson shiver. She had chosen a summer dress for the evening, and her arms and shoulders were exposed. Annoyed with her lack of common sense, he lent her his jacket. While she put it on, blushing, he noticed that she had overdone makeup. Again. Draco shook his head. Why did she had to exaggerate with everything?

They walked away from the manor, following the twirling paths of stone. The illumination diminished rapidly but they didn’t hesitate. The path was familiar even at night. Draco could have made it with his eyes closed.

-So what do you think? -asked Parkinson.

Draco had not been listening. He looked at Nott for help, but the boy was back to brooding in silence.

-Eh… sure. It’s fine.

-Fine? Have you been listening to me at all?!

-Alright, alright. Just don’t scream at me. What is it?

-Bulstrode is sure he was wearing muggle clothes. In front of everyone! She even looked through every catalogue she could find. There was nothing. He was wearing muggle clothes.

Maybe he could mock a mudblood a little to appease Parkinson.

-Who are you talking about?

-Well, Artemis Fowl, obviously!

Draco sneered.

-I imagine he would.

Nott chose that moment to interrupt his brooding.

-Bulstrode was not even there. And what does it matter what he was wearing?

Something in Draco rebelled against that statement. It was important to dress properly. He had seen modern muggle fashion. It was dreadful.

-And what did he use? Tight jeans and a baggy shirt?

Parkinson laughed.

-No, that would have been too much. Apparently, he was wearing a suit but it was damaged from the explosions.

She said it as if it was fascinating. Draco crossed his arms.

-Sounds terrible.

-Exactly! I don’t know how could he not tidy himself a bit.

-Have you even read the article? -said Theodore. -He was locked up in the dungeons. Like they did with death-eaters during the war with You-Know-Who. Do you think there are mirrors down there?

He was right, but Draco was concerned with another detail.

-What article?

Nott threw him an unimpressed look. Draco suddenly wanted to punch his sarcastic features.

-The one that Rita Skeeter wrote, of course. It was in the Daily Prophet yesterday.

Draco shrugged.

-I don’t care about the writings of that woman. My father says she is a charlatan and a spy.

Finally, they arrived to their secret hiding-spot. Below an old English Oak, someone had carved a series of ponds in the natural stone and surrounded them by marble. The result was a beautiful ornamental stream, flanked by serpentine figures resembling fabulous creatures playing some wild game. Draco had always liked that corner of the gardens. It had been his sanctuary as a child, the place to go when it all became too much. He was stronger than that kid now, or so he believed. He did not hide anymore, but he visited often.

-You think he’ll be in our year? -asked Nott, one they had occupied their usual places between the roots of the oak.

-Of course not, silly. How could he be there if he has not stepped in a wizarding school before?

Draco was not so sure. Crabbe and Goyle had written him during the summer. They had informed him of Fowl’s presence in the school and his supposed genius. How he had been sorted into Slytherin and would be attending the year he earned after the exams. Crabbe and Goyle were sure he’d be put in Third Year. A complication, without doubt. When he referred all of this to Nott and Parkinson, she frowned. The expression did not look good on her.

-A mudblood? In Slytherin?

-He’s not a mudblood -Draco found himself saying. -Just a blood traitor. The Fowls are an old family, after all.

Theodore sunk a hand in the flowing water next to him and looked at it.

-My father said that the previous Artemis Fowl used to be friends with Professor Snape. I wonder what kind of man can do that.

Draco respected Snape, but he was difficult to deal with.

-Did he mention how did they meet?

-Not really. Only that their friendship caused some disagreements between Snape and your father. Would you believe that Malfoy and Fowl were rivals?

-There is not possible competition -declared Draco. -And why would my father want to best a criminal?

-Sure.

They all stayed silent for a moment, hearing the gentle flow of the stream.

-Maybe it is fate -said Parkinson. -Maybe you will meet this new Artemis Fowl and decide you can’t stand him. Suppose you become rivals.

-Ridiculous.

-That would be the day! -exclaimed Theodore. -Draco Malfoy finding someone he hates more than Potter.

-Oh, shut up. That person cannot be real. One would have to be the most disgusting, wretched, imbecilic fool in existence.

They laughed.

-Besides, I think it is most probable that he becomes enemies with Minerva.

Parkinson looked at him with indignation. Oh, right. She didn’t like it whenever he mentioned the French witch.

-Why?

He tried to think of something quickly but nothing came to his mind. Nott rescued him.

-Because they are both muggle-lovers, of course.

Parkinson giggled and Draco was saved.

-Imagine them both in muggle clothes! Fowl and Paradizo, the worst dressed couple of the Isles!

-Wait, I thought we were talking about being enemies.

-Oh, but they would deserve each other. To be terribly miserable for their entire boring muggle lives.

Nott laughed, but immediately looked at Draco and rolled his eyes. He liked Minerva too.

She was smart and knew when to leave Draco alone. And she was trying, just like him. Desperately striving for the favour of her family. Still, Draco would not encourage her. She had four siblings, all pure-bloods, with more claim to the title of head of the Rosier family than she could ever have. Not like Draco. He was already the heir, and his father loved him. He would make him proud.

Draco stood up.

-Let’s make a vow.

-A vow? Whatever for?

-For the next year of school. Let’s swear that we will not let our families down. That we will give our everything.

-You better do- remarked Theodore. -Otherwise Potter will beat you again.

-Just say yes, Nott, before I punch you.

The dark-haired boy smiled, sardonically.

-Are you threatening me?

-Don´t tempt him, Theodore -advised Parkinson, already used to their antics. -And calm down, Draco. No punching under the oak, remember?

Despite the banter, they were willing to do so. Draco felt something warm in his chest. He was the first to take his wand out. It would not be a magically-binding vow, but it was the gesture that mattered. The others followed suit.

-Upon my honour -he started, placing his wand in front of him. -I swear to give everything I have in body, mind and soul, to complete my quest. I will not tire, nor give up. I will not ask for mercy, nor forget my task.

When he finished, Parkinson and Nott had crossed their wand upon his. The silence of the night was only broken by the murmur of the leaves above and the water below. It was almost solemn.

-Well, I think we are ready for another year -said Parkinson, clutching Draco’s jacket. -It definitely could not be worse than the last.

As soon as the words left her mouth, Draco had a bad feeling. No, he’d have none of that. He was going to beat Potter and Granger and every bloody Gryffindor, just like father wanted. He was going to be the best wizard of his generation. It was only natural that a Malfoy claimed that title. He could do it.

‘Just you wait.’