Chapter 4: Down the Drain
The final stopping point on the pre-trip agenda happened to be just across the field from Snape's ignoble place of residence on the hill. It was a quaint little cottage that seemed to have materialized from a Grimm's fairytale story (short of the gingerbread, of course), and the custodian seemed more than a little like an eccentric elderly fairy godmother.
"Oh, dear me, if it isn't young Snape," she noted, adjusting her spectacles. "What in heaven's name coaxed you out of your cave?"
Snape rolled his eyes indicatively towards Harry, who was standing awkwardly behind him.
"Oh, what a dear little moppet," she regarded him.
"Uh…a what?" Harry queried.
"Are you two by any chance related…?"
"NO!" they both yelped in unison, causing the old lady to jump.
"My, my…you certainly are passionate about it!" she huffed, patting herself on the chest to calm her nerves.
"It's just…he's merely a student at the academy at which I am currently employed," Snape explained shortly. "Due to circumstances that would take too much time and energy to properly explain, I am under the obligation of depositing said student at the school grounds, and must drive to Aberdeen as a result. The reason for my visit here is to request that you look after my cat and Venus fly trap while I am away."
"Oh, that cat of yours is a wild thing…doesn't take well to anyone…"
"That does not negate from the fact that she still needs feeding," he pointed out. "And as usual, I'm more than willing to…return the favor in some way, at some point, if need be."
Typically, when he was out of town during the school sessions, she readily agreed to make sure that his pets and plants remained happy and healthy, and batted away any miscreants trying to smash his windows or otherwise damage his property with her formidable cane. In return, he would agree to water her garden and feed her birds when she was off visiting her grandchildren in Brighton. But this time, she seemed harder to induce to accept the mission.
"You picked a terribly bad time, it being summer and all," she fretted.
"Are you leaving on holiday?" he queried.
"No, but my grandchildren will be visiting, and I've so very much to do preparing, so very much to…" She paused and tilted her head slightly. "Actually, there are a few things you could do in the present to help…seal the deal, as they say?"
He raised an eyebrow dubiously. "What precisely do you have in mind?"
The "few favors" Mrs. Wimpleton had in store for Snape to fulfill included fixing her leaking kitchen sink with her late husband's primitive, rust-laden tool kit (with a drip that kept falling in his like Chinese water torture as he lay on the ground fighting the flow of the ruptured pipe), trying to get her pet Cockatiel, Waldo, to peacefully move into the bigger cage with the lady bird, Henrietta (even though Waldo seemed to have no great desire to be forcibly paired with Henrietta, who Snape suspected might murder him), and to assemble a giant Charlie Brown Christmas interactive display for her front lawn (evidently, regardless of the season, she was determined that her grand kiddies should experience Christmas in July).
There was also the mission of helping her weed through a massive crate of TV Guides, describing all the greatest highlights of soap opera plots for the past 15 years….which she turned out not wanting to get rid of in the end anyway. But still, she took every opportunity to reminisce at length about her favorite episodes of young hearts turning, which set Snape's anti-sentimental stomach to churning.
Meanwhile, the lady of the house had kindly presented Harry with a plate full of oatmeal raisin cookies and a glass of chocolate milk. Snape did not approve.
"I believe I have quite effectively paid my debt to society, madam," he growled, wiping a greasy lock of his hair out of his face and leaning against the kitchen wall, exasperated. "Are you agreed to the original bargain of pet and plant care, or aren't you?"
"Don't you go pressuring me, young man," she scolded him. "Very forceful about having your way; all your family has been…"
"You know, you need to get out and socialize more, meet a nice girl who can teach you some manners, and encourage you to re-paint that crumbly old house…"
"I'm quite content with the current paint, thank you," he hissed.
"Oh, don't be a savage! That nasty stuff is peeling off left and right! It's a disgrace to the neighborhood!"
"I needn't bother to remind you that we both live on the outskirts of the neighborhood proper," he grumbled, "and I'm not aiming on winning a home and garden competition."
"But I may be!" she stated, pointing to a piece of paper stuck on her refrigerator that listed the date for just such a contest coming up the autumn. "And my proximity to your dump would surely spoil my chances! Guilt by accidental association! You don't even put up pretty curtains, or Venetian blinds! Just those hideous, black, wasp-infested shutters!"
"Mrs. Wimpleton, if it your deepest desire, you are welcome to banish the wasps from my shutters when you go over to feed my cat," he offered, slyly. "And then feed the insect corpses to my meat-starved carnivorous plant. Now, we really must be going, so I bid you…adieu!"
He grabbed Harry roughly by the arm and dragged him away from the table, and the plate of cookies, although the boy did manage to stuff a couple of them into his pocket.
When they got back to Snape's house, the evening sun had already sunk in the sky like a rock in a pond, and the professor was fit to be tied. Fortunately, the younger Tidsbury had kept his bargain and driven the rental car up in front of the porch to make it easier to load with necessities. Harry wedged Hedwig's cage snugly between his own luggage and Snape's overnight bag in the trunk, and while the owl didn't seem particularly keen on this mode of transportation, Harry figured he was safer away from a certain long-clawed feline.
When done, Snape eyed Harry and gestured curtly to the back of the car. "Get in, you nasty horsefly."
"But…do I have to sit in the back?"
"You're off your rocker if you think I would let you pester me to death by having you ride shot gun. Now get in where you belong!"
"But I'll get car sick in the back!"
Snape squinted. "If you dare to vomit in my rental car, prepare your thumb to hitchhike the rest of the way north."
"Just…GET IN THE VEHICLE. NOW."
"Wait!" Harry yelped. "I…uh…forgot something in the house."
Snape sighed. "Forgetfulness seems to be your prime virtue, doesn't it, Mr. Potter?"
"It'll only take a minute!"
"Well, make it a damn quick minute! I want to be on the road before nightfall. The back ways are treacherous in the dark, and there's a rough bend out by McGinty's farm that…." Realizing that he was starting to nerve himself out with potential Midland driving disasters, he shook his head roughly, and shoved Harry towards the door. "Just get whatever it is you have to get, already!"
The boy exhaled as he closed the door behind him. "Geez, this guy seems like a wreck already," he observed to himself. "Gotta get those calm down pills…but where would he keep them around this place?" He scanned the dimly lit mess that was Snape's living quarters. "He probably organizes stuff just as often as his washes his hair…gah…"
He heard the menacing meow of a cat, and saw Bastet spread out smugly on the couch, to designate as her domain, and her domain alone. An idea came into Harry's mind.
"Bastet," he addressed her, in as sweet a tone as possible. "Look…we've gotta have a talk."
She looked like she had decided the best method to deal with the intruder was to ignore him altogether, tossing her tail to and fro.
"Oh, come on, this is important!" Harry huffed. "Don't you care about your master at all? He's gotta drive, and it seems like everyone in town thinks he's a menace on the road! Even his boss seems to think he'll have a panic attack or something! And last time I saw him…well…he had a kind of creepy look in his eye. I mean, he always does, but this is like…you know…the tension is about to make the cheese slip off his cracker? And that's…not good….especially 'cause I've gotta drive with him! So can't you just…show me where he keeps his nerve pills? Please?"
She continued staring at him, unmoved, for a long time. Then, finally, she got up in slow motion, and elegantly descended from the sofa and sashayed towards the bathroom. Harry followed. Hopping up onto the closed toilet, her gazed seemed fixated on the cracked mirror medicine cabinet just above the sink.
"Oh, of course!" Harry exclaimed, snapping his fingers. "Why didn't I think of that!"
Pulling open the cabinet with enthusiasm, his mood sank as he beheld the menagerie of bottles, both of pills and potions, with spider-scratch writing on them which he was accustomed to seeing marking his failing report card.
"Holy cow," he exhaled. "Has this guy been raided recently?"
Bastet just busied herself cleaning her paw, too superior to pay heed to his barbaric inquiries.
Harry squinted as he tried to make sense of the labeling system. "Insomnia relief…werewolf antidote…migraine relief…love-loss potion…wait, does that mean this guy actually, like, went out with like…a girl?"
Bastet again seemed most unwilling to divulge if her master had a secret night life, but Harry could imagine that she wouldn't like the idea of competing with another lady whatsoever.
"Alright, fine, whatever. Let's see what else…cold and flu symptom relief…draught of the living dead counter-potion…joint pain relief…multi-headed canine bite cure…depression relief and mood enhancer…okay, he must never take that!"
He looked down to the next level of the shelf. "Wow, he's got a lot of allergy medicine…for hay fever, goldenrod, bee stings, troll saliva, mayonnaise, and….oh, no….Bastet! He's allergic to cat dander! Bad kitty!"
She just meowed authoritatively, like a queen on her porcelain throne.
"Hmm…where in the world is it…" He tried standing up on tip-toe to see if there was a second row, and accidentally knocked a number of the bottles in to the sink. One of them opened up and spilled down the drain. "Oh, crickey…he's gonna bloody well freak!"
He snatched up the bottle and read the label, which was written out in bright red marker:
"IMPORTANT: ANTI-VENOM SOLUTION EXPERIMENT"
"Oh, well…he's got enough cure-all stuff already; I guess he'll just have to live without this one," Harry decided, tossing the emptied bottle in the waste-paper basket in hopes that Snape would just forget about its existence in the aftermath. "But hey, it looks like I finally found those nerve pills after all!" He reached in the sink and picked up the bottle marked "Stress Relief" triumphantly.
Just then, the sound of a very agitated would-be driver pounding on a worn-out, squeaky car horn indicated that hell was to pay for the delay.
"Uh-oh…better split! Thanks for the help, Bastet!"
He awkwardly half-patted her on the head, and she awkwardly half-clawed him with her paw, and then he bolted out the door with rescue remedy safely tucked in his sweater pocket for a rainy road trip day.