My thanks to Kelly Chambliss, who once again did a miraculous beta job.
Argus Filch was grumpy, irritated, and bad-humoured.
As I write this line, I realise that readers of this tale would probably think he must have been having a good day, then. Where's the story in a grumpy Filch?
Not that I have any readers, of course. These notes are not written with publication in mind – there is a market for mystery stories, but editors do expect a certain body count in the manuscripts submitted to them. In the few little mysteries I have solved, bodies were sadly lacking. In the only case where I had a corpse in chapter one, it sprang to life again in chapter two. Most disappointing. For readers, I mean. The body in question was quite happy that it was alive. So was I, eventually.
But if I had readers, I would point out to them that Argus Filch was grumpy and bad-humoured after a Board Meeting, and he loves Board Meeting Days. He is the only one at Hogwarts who does. They make him feel important, a result of Albus's excellent people skills. Albus always asked Argus to prepare the Board Room – clean it, set out cups and saucers, and align the chairs and such. Argus took great pride in this job and in the fact that he, rather than the House Elves, was deemed trustworthy enough to do it. "Me and the Headmaster have everything ready," he used to assure me.
When I became Headmistress, I naturally kept this arrangement. Argus does an excellent job, and there was no reason for change. Therefore, the day after a Board Meeting we get the closest thing to a cheerful, smiling Argus Filch that one can expect to see in this life.
But after last week's Board Meeting Argus was very much out of sorts. When several days of grumpiness had passed, I felt the problem needed addressing. I therefore started my day with a few necessary tasks, then I did a few not very urgent ones, then I had coffee, and then I had reached the stage where further procrastination would enter the realm of neglecting one's duties. So I set off to listen to what I expected to be a long rant on How the Whole World is Against the Working Class Man.
The story I heard left me gasping in surprise. A crime has been committed against Argus – or rather, against Mrs Norris. Perhaps 'crime' is not the correct legal term. Perhaps I ought to use the words misdemeanour or unlawful action. But whatever the correct word may be, I think what was done to Mrs Norris was a very wicked deed.
An investigation, therefore, is in order.
I have by now some little experience in detective work, so my first action was to take out a small, leather-covered notebook for my notes on the case. Scrivenshaft's has an excellent range, and I always order a dozen in different colours at the start of the school year – they are uncommonly handy for other things than crimes as well.
I will now outline the basic information in The Case of the Cat Show Corruption. Yes, that title is rather ludicrously alliterative, but right now I don't have a better one. As a working title it will do.
Here is what Argus told me, in a slightly more coherent and chronological order.
Board Meeting Day had passed without a hitch, as usual, and Argus had done his normal duties. He had not noticed anything strange during the day.
He had assumed that Mrs Norris, too, has spent her usual Board Meeting Day – not at Argus's heels, where she likes to be, for Madam Muriel Prewett, one of our oldest, most venerable [and most annoying – my opinion, not Argus's] members, is allergic to cats. Mrs Norris therefore spends Board Meeting Day either roaming the grounds in fair weather, or on foul days curled up on a hearth rug in Argus's rooms.
However, when Argus went to look for her at the end of the day, he couldn't find her. He checked every likely spot in the castle and the grounds. He then went to the gates to check whether she had gone into Hogsmeade. This would have been most unusual, but by then Argus was at his wits' end. A condition he tends to reach fairly quickly, true, but he was right that Mrs Norris seldom goes off alone.
Near the gates he heard her mewling. He called, she mewled louder, and he rushed towards the sound, and found her tied to an Elder tree. And someone had shaved her – there were two large, bald patches on her skin. It had been done carefully, and she hadn't come to any further harm. By the time Argus found her, she had already made quite some progress in biting through the rope that tied her; another hour at the most and she would have been able to set herself free.
Now, this might sound like the kind of thing a student would do. Mrs Norris is not uniformly popular, and students often do have completely misguided ideas on what is an acceptable prank and what is not.
But this week's Meeting was the one at the end of the Summer Term, and the vacation had already begun. Therefore, my first words were, "But who can have done this? It can't have been a student."
It was then that Argus made his startling revelations.
It appears that on his days off he likes to visit Muggle Cat Shows. For years he just went as a spectator and enjoyed the sight of beautiful cats and the company of fellow cat-lovers. But six years ago he came into a tiny inheritance – left to him by an aunt 'because he is a poor, helpless Squib'.
In Argus's own words, he weren't poor or helpless. He were underpaid, but he weren't some poor beggar. He were going enjoy the money, in a way the old besom would proper hate. He were going to join a Muggle Cat show – as a competitor.
Since, according to Argus, the old aunt disliked both cats and Muggles, this seemed a suitable revenge. Argus bought himself a cheap Muggle suit and some stationery and entered Mrs Norris in the Household Pet category.
"And she won, the little beauty!" he said – and now I know what a real smile looks like on Argus's face.
This first Cat Show had been a small village affair. Argus didn't know how Mrs Norris would like it, and he is one of the few Squibs who live completely in the Wizarding world. He was concerned about his own ability to perform in a Muggle event as well.
But both Argus and Mrs Norris took to their new parts with panache, and after that first show they went from strength to strength. This year, Argus has entered Mrs Norris for what seems to be the most prestigious event of all: the Supreme Cat Show. This show is held annually in November, and Mrs Norris has been entered in the Supreme Household Pet category.
In order to compete, she needed a winning certificate from another show, and the two of them had achieved that as early as March. Argus had planned to enter another show this month as well, one he and Mrs Norris both love and attend annually. This show took place two days ago, but Mrs Norris, with her shaven skin, was obviously in no position to participate.
And now Argus is convinced someone has 'nobbled' Mrs Norris.
To be more precise: he is convinced Lucius Malfoy has nobbled Mrs Norris.
It was at this point in his narrative that I gasped in surprise. I don't know what struck me as more outrageous, the idea that Lucius Malfoy participated in Muggle Cat Shows, or that his pet was entered in the Household category rather than a pedigree one. The idea of Lucius 'nobbling' an animal was actually the least unbelievable of the three.
But, unlikely as it may seem, Argus's story does stand up to scrutiny.
First of all, the cat that won the show is the property of Stan Shunpike. Stan Shunpike is the driver of the Knight Bus, and I was sincerely pleased when he applied for that job shortly after leaving Hogwarts. I recommended him at the Ministry, for I knew he would enjoy driving the bus and do it well enough. I also knew there was little else he was suited to. There was no problem with the boy's magic; he's not a borderline Squib at all – it's just that he was and is singularly stupid. The most taxing part for him would be to give people the correct amount of change.
During the Voldemort period Stan was sent to Azkaban. This was an act of gross injustice on two counts. First, he had not done enough to deserve Azkaban. And, second, it was perfectly clear that he barely understood what had happened and that he had merely done what others told him.
Argus and Stan have always got on well, ever since Stan's Hogwarts days. Stan often felt 'the stupid one' in a class full of brighter children. Unfortunately, that's exactly what he was. Hogwarts selects its students on magical ability, and while the very clever ones usually manage to find their way, the very stupid ones have a difficult time of it. Had he been a Squib, his parents might have managed to find him a Muggle Special Needs school, where he could have learned at his own speed.
As it stood, we teachers all tried to make the best of things. It was Filius who had come up with the idea to let Stan help Argus occasionally. It was a task he could do well, and it made him feel valued.
And while none of us ever openly admitted it, Argus, too, benefited from being with a wizard boy whom he could mentor, since poor Stan was clueless on just about anything.
Argus told me that during the last weeks of his stay in Azkaban Stan met Draco Malfoy. A friendship had sprung up. The way Argus told it, the idea was not as unlikely as it seems.
"Stan were friendly to Draco," he explained. "Stan doesn't judge people. Mind you, Professor, I think that's mostly because he hasn't got no brains to be judgmental with.
"There's a lot of talk on how Draco is a criminal and should 'ave known better. Well, on the one hand, he should. He did wicked and wrong things. But his parents brought 'im up to believe all that Pureblood stuff. And it seems to me that we mostly whine that kids don't respect their parents' ideas. And now that we have a kid as did respect them, we whine again. I'm not saying Malfoy was right. I'm saying I can see how he got in with the Death Eaters – being the sort of kid as admires his father. And then it exploded in his face.
"Now, Stan wouldn't have thinkety thoughts like that. He were friendly, and Draco were friendly back. And then, when the Malfoys were released from prison, Stan got invited to the Manor. In a proper tizz he were about that. I helped him clean hisself up. And told him which fork to use. And what a napkin is for. After all, I've seen more of the world than young Stan.
"Being with Draco was all right – they liked each other. But Stan was scared stiff of Mr and Mrs Malfoy. But in the end it were all right. You see, Mrs Malfoy has always had cats. Long-haired Persians. Pedigree, of course. You won't find no half-blood things in that household. But while they were in prison, the Ministry used the Manor. So when they got home the house were filthy, the garden were a mess, and the cat were up the spout.
"She had her kittens that night. And Stan, he loves cats, Stan does, he helped with the delivery. One kitten were still-born. The other was all right – but useless in a household that breeds pedigrees, of course.
"Stan told how he loved cats, and how his own cat had died when he were in Azkaban. Cried when he told that story. And Mrs Malfoy said, would he like the kitten. Stan said yes, and everyone was pleased as punch. Draco and Stan are still friendly and he eats at the Manor from time to time – because they all love cats. And they're really nice, Stan says.
"Well, Professor, the whole point with Stan is that he is so easily taken in by bad friends. That's how he got into Azkaban in the first place.
"I say they gave him that kitten so that they could enter it in Muggle shows. Not for the prize money, that ain't nothing, but because Muggles take bets on anything. I know; I read Muggle papers sometimes. Last time they had a Royal baby, they even took bets on the name of the little nipper. Jason some people betted on, but it weren't that, of course. I remember the name: Harry. Like our Harry.
"Anyhow, I dare say Lucius Malfoy wants to make a lot of money betting on the results of the Supreme Cat Show. And he needs to get his cat in. So he nobbled Mrs Norris to keep her out of last week's show – now his cat is qualified, and if Mrs Norris had competed, she would have won.
"And I know he'll try to get at her again before November. Or maybe he didn't just shave her – maybe there's spells as stop her fur from growing back. Do you think he might have done that, Professor? He's a right bastard. Sorry for speaking plainly, but he is."
I immediately promised Argus I'd set up an appointment for him with Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank, which reassured him fully. He knows Professor Grubbly-Plank from her spells as a teacher here, and he knows she's an exceedingly capable woman who will have Mrs Norris all right again in no time.
And I promised Argus I would set up a full investigation, as well. I think that Lucius has got away with far too much already – Shacklebolt is the best Minister we've had in decades, but I don't agree with everything he does. Reconciliation is all very well, but there are times when retribution is in order.
If I find that Lucius Malfoy has nobbled Mrs Norris, I have no intention of letting him get away with it.
Tying her to a tree, indeed!
So, let us examine the current list of suspects.
Lucius Malfoy had the opportunity, for he is on the Hogwarts Board again as a result of one of the Ministry's many Reconciliation projects. He had been at Hogwarts that day.
If Argus's theory is correct, Lucius also has a handy scapegoat in case things go wrong – a very Malfoy thing to have. As crimes go, this is in character.
The one thing that still baffles me is motive. For I really cannot believe that whatever bets are made on the results of a cat show would offer sufficient financial inducement for Lucius Malfoy. He needs money for the restoration of the Manor, true. But I have a strong feeling this would not even get him enough to restore the front door.
On the other hand, there's Stan Shunpike. He has a motive, if he is fanatical about his cat winning the contest. Argus claims the lad would never do such a thing, but Argus is prejudiced in his favour.
But Stan Shunpike most assuredly is not on the Hogwarts Board; he had no opportunity.
Unless he took a day off from work and went to the Castle, of course. This must be checked.
I have asked Argus whether he could think of any other suspects, and he told me the only one "what fair hates Mrs Norris, 'cos she never wins when we compete" is a Mrs Cavendish. Her cat has not qualified for the Supreme Cat Show – in fact, if Stan hadn't entered his cat, Mrs Norris's absence would probably have meant a winner's certificate for Mrs Cavendish.
But Mrs Cavendish is a Muggle – she would not be able to find Hogwarts, nor could she enter it.
It seems the culprit must be found in the Wizarding world, and despite the lack of convincing motives, Lucius Malfoy is a suspect.
I do want to have more information on Stan and Mrs Cavendish, though.