This story was written in honour of Kelly Chambliss on the occasion of her fifth anniversary in the HP fandom.
As a result, for once she couldn't beta my story herself, and Tetleythesecond did a wonderful and much appreciated beta-job.
Dear Professor Chambliss,
When Miss Skeeter informed me of the little party thrown in honour of your "Five Years in Fandom", I was more than willing to join in. We have collaborated so pleasantly during your three Minerva_Fests, and indeed, I am most touched you went through the trouble of organising them in the first place. Each edition has been most satisfying, as Severus would put it, and I'm deeply grateful.
Now, according to Madam Skeeter, you've expressed a wish for more Minerva McGonagall, Spinster Detective stories. I would be glad to oblige. But, as I've said before, there are drawbacks to being a real life Miss Marple. Miss Marple's caring author makes sure she runs into murders on a regular basis. I don't have a caring author; the sad consequence is I don't have another juicy mystery to tell you.
I could, of course, murder one of my colleagues, and Merlin knows I've been tempted on occasions. But such an action would necessarily turn me into a most unreliable author, for I would have to pretend solving the crime I had committed myself. I would also have to fail – which would make me not just an unreliable author, but out of character as well – or I'd spend my remaining years in Azkaban.
And killing a colleague would be morally wrong. In the words of Hercule Poirot, I don't approve of murder.
There is one instance, though, where Amelia Bones and I collaborated to solve a small mystery. In terms of interest to the general public, it is very much on a par with Miss Marple's famous Case of the Missing Jar of Shrimps. And while she refers to that story frequently, she never actually tells it, knowing full well her readers prefer a meatier tale.
This, however, is the best I can do. I apologise for the complete lack of dead bodies in this story, and I can only hope you'll judge the good intentions, rather than the actual Case of the Missing Kittens.
It all started when Amelia Bones invited me for a good talk and drinks. She had sent me an Owl, and the very briefness of the message, as well as the sharp scratches of her quill, told me that she was most annoyed at something.
Therefore I was not surprised to be greeted with a heart-felt, "Men! What's wrong with them?" as I stepped out of her fireplace.
"Apart from everything?" I said with a smile. We'd had evenings like this before, and I knew there would be an excellent, if highly aggravating, story to follow. And quite a bit of good Firewhisky.
Once we were settled comfortably in front of the fire, Amelia started on her tale. I'll leave out the expletives – I understand there is something like a maximum word-count on the stories one can post here – but here is the essence of what she told me.
Amelia had been asked to investigate a case of Muggle baiting. This in itself was an insult, for Amelia was already in a high position in her department. In fact, it was only two years later, in 1992, that she was promoted to Head of MLE. Muggle baiting is usually a simple matter, dealt with by the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts office.
But what was worse, when she was sent down to investigate, the Minister himself, Cornelius Fudge, had explained that he was convinced there was no truth in the tale, and it was made clear that a report in which Amelia confirmed there was no case would be beneficial to her career. The threat was never made explicit, of course, but it was very clear.
"I don't hold with that," Amelia said. "If I had even the slightest doubt, I'd send in a report demanding a full investigation, and damn the consequences."
She would have done it, too; she was that kind of woman. But what annoyed her even more was that there was, in fact, no trace of Muggle baiting or any other kind of magical activity at all. "And yet there's something," she added. "That's why I need your help. Your advice."
I was surprised, since I had no experience with crime other than the minor misdemeanours of my students. But of course I was willing to listen.
"The first remarkable thing," said Amelia, "is that the letter that alerted us to the baiting was not only anonymous (that's common enough), but it was sent from Kent, while the baiting seems to take place in Surrey.
"It's the nature of the baiting I find particularly worrying. It seems kittens go missing on a regular basis from the house of, one presumes, a great cat-lover. The address in question is Wisteria Walk, Little Whinging, Surrey, and that's where I went to investigate."
The mention of this particular address gave me a nasty shock, and it showed. Amelia immediately asked what was wrong, and I found myself in the uncomfortable position of not being able to answer honestly.
The honest answer would have been, "That's where one of the members of The Order of the Phoenix lives; a Squib named Arabella Figg. Albus has asked her to keep an eye on Harry Potter who lives nearby."
But Potter's address was only available on the strictest need-to-know basis. The Minister knew, the Head of MLE knew (but Amelia wasn't Head then), and, of course, Albus knew. So did Hagrid and I, but Albus had never shared that particular tidbit with the Minister.
I felt most uncomfortable at deceiving my dearest friend, as well as somewhat apprehensive – Amelia Bones was the best Auror on the force, and her interrogation skills were famous. There was, however, one way out, and I took it.
"Those kittens!" I said. "It sounds nasty. A very nasty sort of crime, be it Muggle baiting or not. One kitten missing – that can be an accident, or a child desperate to have a pet of its own. But several kittens going missing … what happens to them? It sounds like …"
I shivered, and it was not all play-acting. Amelia smiled apologetically. "I should have warned you," she said. "I should have known how a story about kittens would affect you."
It is well-known, I think, that I have a special affinity with cats. I nodded and begged Amelia to go on.
"Well," said Amelia, "I've been to Wisteria Walk. And to all the surrounding streets. It's the most depressingly Muggle suburb it's ever been my misfortune to visit. There is no sign of magical activity, no sign of witches or wizards living in the area, and, frankly, no earthly reason why any witch or wizard would want to live there.
"There's only one thing that struck me as incongruent. It's an area where everyone tries very hard to look not just respectable, but as close to upper-middle-class as they can get. Keeping up with the Joneses is very much the order of the day.
"Now, I noticed one elderly lady, she lives in Wisteria Walk itself, who doesn't try to keep up appearances. She's the kind of person who wears carpet slippers and a hairnet when she goes shopping, and in that neighbourhood it's completely wrong. Either she's an exceedingly eccentric Muggle woman, or she's a Squib. And I rather think she's a Squib. It's just a feeling, you know. But I'm rarely wrong."
Which was true, more's the pity. Amelia was getting close. I did some very quick thinking.
"I see why you can't find Muggle baiting, then," I said. "Squibs don't bait Muggles. They don't have the magical skills, and they have to live like Muggles themselves. They'd be mad to litter their own doorsteps."
But the situation was worrying nonetheless. Reports of Muggle baiting in the area where Harry Potter lived. He was, at the time, about ten years old. More than old enough for involuntary, childish magic. Not old enough to bait Muggles, and a child raised by Muggles would be most unlikely to do so. Unless he hated the people he lived with. I had seen them the day we left him there, and I could not quite disregard this possibility.
But missing kittens? Possible cruelty to animals? Merlin forbid.
On the other hand, Harry had been hit by an Aveda Kedavra. He had survived with only a scar. Was it truly 'with only a scar'? Or was there other, invisible damage as well? Did one survive a Killing Curse without any form of mental damage? If one's parents were killed before one's eyes, as well? True, he had only been a baby at the time. But no-one could say for sure. Harry Potter was the first person ever to survive a Killing Curse. There was no known information.
Someone would have to look into the case. Not Amelia on her own – I couldn't fully brief her. Nor could I do it on my own. Amelia might find out, and besides, I needed her help and information.
"But I agree with you it's worrying," I continued. "You said you wanted my advice. How can I help?"
"It's that old lady," Amelia said. "The Squib. A Mrs Figg. That's what it says on the letter box – A. Figg. And she wears a wedding ring. No trace of a man, though. Divorced, or, more likely, a widow. Well, I've seen Mrs Figg with her cats. Mind, one could argue that makes it all the more likely she's an eccentric Muggle with too many cats. There are quite a few of such cases. But I've heard her talk to her cats, and there's something odd there.
"Not the talking itself. Eccentric Muggle talking to her pets – perfect. But it's the way those cats respond – they really seem to listen. To understand. I'm thinking those cats might have a drop of Kneazle blood, but I can't say for sure. I've always been more of a dog-person."
"You want me to check out the cats?" I asked.
"If it wouldn't be too much trouble? I know it's your summer holidays. But I'd like to be sure," said Amelia. "It could be Muggles taking those cats, but if they are part-Kneazle, there's the Statue of Secrecy to take into account. Or it could be witches or wizards, and then I want to know what the hell is going on."
"Won't that be a risk to your career?" I asked.
"No, not yet," said Amelia. "I can hand in a report saying there's no Muggle baiting and it's not a lie, either. There is not. There's either Muggles stealing what they think are cats, or there's magical folk involved with part-Kneazles. Once I know what's what, I can take appropriate action."
"I'll be glad to help," I said, "I would enjoy helping you, even." The whole thing was a god-sent. I could keep an eye on what was going on. If Harry was involved in any way, I could inform Albus before anyone else knew of it. At that point, I'd have to take Amelia into my confidence, but I knew she could be trusted.
And, quite frankly, this whole business of the missing kittens did worry me. There was something very nasty in the very notion of several missing kittens. The Ministry, it seemed, would be pleased to hear no magical people were involved and would not inquire further. They didn't care about the kittens.
I did. And, for all her gruff ways, so did Amelia. I knew she saw things exactly as I did: a nasty deed is a nasty deed, regardless of who commits it.
"So you're willing to spend time on this?" asked Amelia. I nodded, and she smiled. "That's a deal, then," she said. "Let's set up a plan of action. But first, have a refill." And she filled up our tumblers.
I raised mine. "To the success of our investigation," I said.
"Bones and McGonagall, Girl Detectives," grinned Amelia, raising her glass as well.
"We're not girls," I said. And Bones and McGonagall? I wasn't going to let that cheekiness pass. Sometimes Amelia needed reminding that I was her senior by fifteen years.
"And shouldn't it be a McGonagall and Bones Mystery?" I said and took a firm swig of whisky, trying to look as hard-boiled as a twenty-minute egg.