If a more banal home exists, I can not claim to have seen it. The two story building was identical in architecture and coloration to every other house on the street. The shrubs were trimmed with precision, and the lawn mowed to uniform length. The pastel flowers that bordered the off-white house were bland, and I doubted they would produce any notable fragrance. Every window of the house was curtained with the same dull off-white cloth. The only features that differentiated it from its neighbors were the slightly larger then average car in the driveway, and the number four on the letterbox. Though I was loath to approach any muggle residence closely, the headmaster had given explicit instructions.
At exactly 5:37pm Potter was to leave his relative's home, and proceed immediately to the home of Arabella Figg, a few blocks away. It was a task even a mentally deficient three-year-old could perform, so of course Potter had to be supervised. I adjusted my cloak of invisibility, so that I could see my pocket watch. 5:42pm; that must be some sort of record for incompetence. I waited another five minutes before going to investigate.
I'd been instructed not to use any detectable charms or curses, as the Ministry kept a somewhat adequate watch of the area, so I was forced to search on foot. The windows at the front of the house were completely obstructed with curtains, so I walked through the side yard, and around to the back. At first glance the back yard was as deserted as the front, but a sudden motion caught my eye. I turned.
The sight was so ridiculous that I nearly dismissed it as surreal. A pair of feet kicked desperately in the air, just visible over the top of the back fence. I searched the rest of the yard carefully, just to make certain the situation was not some sort of elaborate if oddly baited trap, but the house was silent, and the sky was clear.
The fence was a few inches taller then I, white washed, and topped with blunted pickets. I mentally cursed the headmaster for sending me, then grabbed the cross beam and pulled myself up. The scene before me almost made the entire blasted predicament worth it.
Potter had apparently tried to climb the fence, but had somehow slipped or tripped in the attempt. Instead of falling on one side or the other, the front of his rather frayed belt had caught on the top of one of the pickets, and he was hung upside down. He was unable to free himself, because the shirt he wore, which was incidentally seven or eight sizes too large for him, had fallen up over his face and arms. His feet continued to wave pointlessly about in the air.
I might have wished for a camera, if I were the sort. I took my knife from my sleeve, and slid it under the edge of Potter's belt. He seemed to notice then that he was not alone, and froze. I flicked the blade. He yelped as he landed on the shrubs in the neighbor's garden.
After a few minutes of rolling about and kicking, Potter managed to put his shirt in order and get back to his feet. He was forced to hold up his trousers with one hand, as they were seven or eight sizes too large as well, and he was now belt-less. He adjusted his glasses with his free hand, eyes darting about the yard. Curiously he turned towards me. I glanced down to make sure the cloak was still covering my hands.
"What are you doing here?" Potter demanded.
I thought he was bluffing and stayed silent. He took his wand from his pocket and aimed it in my general direction.
"I know you're there!" he said, attempting to put menace in his rather high voice, "I can hear you breathing!"
I was fairly certain that that was a bluff as well, but I would be held responsible if the fool boy started firing curses all over creation. I chose to reveal myself.
"You are over ten minutes late Potter."
The boy jumped as I spoke, and for a moment he looked nauseous.
"Dumbledore sent you?" he asked, as if this were offensive.
"Do you know someone else capable of preparing the Wolf's Bane potion?" He looked as if he had another pointless objection to voice, so I spoke first. "There isn't time for your whining Potter. The moon will rise within the hour."
"Fine!" he declared, then turned and ran away from me, across the neighbor's yard. He climbed their fence with out incidence and disappeared from view. He was heading toward Figg's house. As I was not going to go hopping over muggle fences, I lowered myself to the ground, and went back to the sidewalk.
As I came upon Figg's house I noticed an unusually large number of cats slinking off in the opposite direction, and as I started up the front walk, I was forced to side step the steady stream of felines, flowing non stop from the cat flap in the front door. Potter must have been inside. Werewolves and cats do not get along.
As I entered the home the stench of cat urine washed over me. It was far from being the worst thing to ever float up my nostrils, but it added to the unpleasantness. I could hear the old squib and the boy chattering in the basement. I was half tempted to just lock the door right then and there. Tomorrow morning there would be one less batty old squib or one less Potter in the world, and we would all be better off. Of course Dumbledore would have my head if that happened. None the less, it was an enjoyable thought.
I went to the kitchen to check the potion again. I told the squib not to touch it before I left to get Potter, so of course she had fiddled with it. The volatile nature of the potion precluded transport from my dungeons at Hogwarts, so I was forced to prepare it in her kitchen, on the primitive muggle stove. Closer inspection revealed that she had only given it an experimental stir. I would of course bring her meddling to Dumbledore's attention later. I filled up a goblet, and proceeded through the hall, and down the tilted, rickety staircase into the basement. Potter was seated on one of the hundreds of stacks of old newspapers the mad old squib had collected there.
This room at least did not stink of cats. Instead there was moldering paper and turpentine to contend with. I'd spent a good portion of my day in here, applying strengthening solution to all the walls and door, to ensure the werewolf would not be able to escape and massacre nearby muggles, should the Wolf's bane potion fail to work. On a regular basis I proclaim the superiority of potions to charms, but in this incidence I will grudgingly admit, a reinforcing charm would have been a great deal less frustrating and time consuming.
Potter looked up as I reached the bottom of the steps, but the squib continued to blather on oblivious.
"…won't be so bad I'm sure. Dumbledore knows what he's doing. It'll be over in no time. I'll make you breakfast in the morning. What do you want? Cream of wheat? Who doesn't like cream of wheat?"
Potter just looked down at his hands and injected quite "no-thank-you"s whenever Figg paused for breath. He pulled at a loose thread in his sleeve.
"…I could make pancake's I suppose. I don't know what I've done with the skillet though. Do you think I could make them in the oven? They are called cakes after all. Do you need a blanket? I suppose the fir will keep you warm enough. It's rather hot down here to begin with. Do you need something to keep you busy? I've got some cat toys upstairs. They're for cats of course, but I'm sure they'd give you something to do. I've got a ball of string that Mr. Tibbles is fond of. I don't suppose werewolves like to play with string?"
Potter looked more miserable by the second, but I was forced to interrupt. I simply can not stand that many stupid questions crammed into such a short span of time.
"Get upstairs Figg."
The old woman gave a little gasp of surprise, but failed to have a heart attack. She gave me a glare and Potter a nod. Though she didn't argue about leaving I could hear her muttering about unpleasant house guests as she went up the creaking steps on equally creaky legs. The door to the basement shut with a little click a moment later. Potter looked up from his sleeve then.
"Why'd Dumbledore send you?" he asked in a flat voice. "Where's Sirius?"
I thought perhaps I should ignore that inane question, as the wanderings of that particular madman were not my concern. But unfortunately that was no longer true in the least. He'd left Potter to me. I glared down at the boy, who refused to break eye contact.
"I am here because Dumbledore requested I come. In regards to Black, I neither know nor care. I suppose he had something more important to attend to. Surely your godfather bothered to write to you, explaining his absence?"
Potter didn't respond to my question, but he seemed to shrink down a little, as if trying to blend in with the stacks of moldy newspaper. There was a sudden clatter from the ceiling, and Figg muttered a curse, of the profane kind. Potter seemed to shrink even further.
"It's not sound proof?" he asked quietly.
"Unfortunately no. You'll have to keep the barking to a minimum."
Potter was in my foot space in that same instant, glaring up at me, lips pulled back to reveal teeth, sharper then they should be.
"Just give me the potion and get out!" he half growled half shrieked.
I put the goblet in his shaking hands, turned and walked up the stairs. I locked the door behind me.
I seated myself on the couch in Figg's living room. It was covered in cat hair, but no more then any of the other furniture. The thought of spending the entire night there was enough to turn my stomach, but Dumbledore had forced a promise out of me. I looked at the clock on the mantel. I watched it, to be more accurate. I watched the second hand swing around, and the minute hand follow slowly after it. As the hands finally swung into place, at six and nine, the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and without thinking I took my wand from my sleeve.
The first cries were choked and strangled. I found myself praying that they would not grow any louder, though I can think of no benevolent deity who would be inclined to listen to me. The boy groaned and for a moment the house and everything in it paused in tense silence. The screams that pierced it were not human.
A glass shattered in the kitchen and a moment later Figg scrambled into the living room, tea all over her front. She paused next to the couch, gave me an appraising glance and proceeded on to an arm chair that was a bit farther away from the basement door. She seemed utterly devoid of stupid comments.
The screaming rose in pitch and volume until the windows rattled. I am not certain if I imagined it, or if I really could hear sounds of tearing and popping coming up through the floor, but I dislike to dwell on it in either circumstance. As the minute hand moved on to ten a final howl rose up around us, entirely animal. It faded slowly.
Figg spoke and I started.
"Dumbledore never did explain it to me," she said. Her hands clenched the arms of her chair as if she was about to experience great and terrible pain. "How did Potter get bit in the first place?"
I looked at the clock again. There were nine more hours to get through. Figg was still staring at me.
"Do you know, Professor?" she repeated.
"Potter was trying to play hero. A werewolf was attacking someone, about to kill him, and Potter tried to fight it off, without a wand."
Figg's wrinkled face wrinkled even further as she processed the information. After another minute her face took on a faintly glowing expression that I could call nothing other then pride.
"I new he was a brave one," she said, as if this were some great accomplishment for which she deserved some credit. I could not help but correct her.
"The boy was a fool."
It was a quarter past two when the scratching started. Figg had creaked off to bed six hours earlier. I'd spent most of that time figuring out how to operate a muggle television. The flickering lights that pored from the glowing screen made me feel slow and stupid and I was half sure I'd just imagined the sound at first. It came again, accompanied by a dog like whine.
My wand had not left my hand since the werewolf transformed, and I held it in front of me as I approached the basement. I could see shadows darting across the thin strip of light that leaked from under the door. As I came near, the whining stopped, and I could hear the beast snuffling. The whine came again, more softly.
I was unsure. If something had gone wrong I would be blamed, but I'm to blame any way. I got down on my hands and knees and tried to see through the quarter inch of space between the door and the floor boards. The werewolf's hot dry breath brushed my fingers.
Instinctively I snatched back my hand. I don't know what I was thinking right there and then, but I ran to the kitchen sink. The only soap Figg had was in an odd bottle with a strange nozzle on the top, and I splattered it all over my coat trying to open it. The yellowish liquid smelled of something that might have had pretensions of being lemon. I scrubbed until my skin was raw and the sink was filled with foam. As I watched the water run I remembered.
It was one of the first things we learned in defense against the dark arts, second year. If a werewolf is not in the presence of humans, and not confined, it will seek water. The transformation causes them to shed fluid at every turn. Figg would be cleaning up her own basement, so I was unconcerned with that aspect of it. I pinched the bridge of my nose. Dumbledore had even mentioned it before I started my journey to this god forsaken muggle pit. The whining came again. I'd neglected to leave a bowl of water in the basement, and now the werewolf was nearly dying of thirst.
I took one of the tasteless pink china bowls from the cup board and filled it from the faucet. As I carried to through the hall it sloshed over my hands and onto my shoes. The snuffling increased and suddenly the werewolf began to emit high pitched little yips. I knelt down and put a hand on the knob.
"Go to the bottom of the stairs," I ordered.
My voice was shaking as I spoke and I could not steady it. My heart was nearly deafening me, and I wasn't sure if the werewolf had obeyed. I leaned down peeking through the crack again. I couldn't see it. But it could have gone down a step or two, and crouched out of view. It could be waiting, planning to dart out the second the door opened. I made the potion, but I didn't stay to watch Potter drink it. And I wasn't entirely certain Potter wouldn't just bite me anyway.
I steadied myself, and looked under the door again. I could see nothing but the far wall. My hand returned to the knob.
On three I told my self.
One! I picked up the pink bowl in one hand, and grabbed the knob with the other. My wand lay on the floor by my knee.
Two! It was not as if the werewolf would die if it went for one night without water.
Three! I twisted the knob and ripped the door open. I didn't try to see if the wolf was coming. I dropped the bowl down on the top step and slammed the door again, nearly catching my own fingers. I leaned back against the wall and took a deep breath, but it wasn't over.
The top step was slanted I'll admit, but I think the universe is still trying to settle old debts with me. I heard the bowl wobble, and then there was a clink, and a splash, and then fourteen more clinks as the bowl bounced down each of the steps. The werewolf gave a petulant whimper and I fought down the powerful urge to whimper back.
I heard it pushing the bowl around, rolling it across the floor. There was a faint slapping sound as it tried to lap up the few drops of liquid which clung to the battered china. I would have to do it again.
I fetched another bowl and filled it.
"Stay at the bottom of the stairs!" I ordered. It yipped in response.
I opened the door, my wand aimed at the steps. The werewolf was not in sight, but I saw the other bowl on the basement floor. It had cracked. I took the new bowl and tried to place it on the top step again, but immediately it began to roll. I snatched it back, and tried the second step, but that one was equally slanted. I took a deep breath and stepped onto the staircase. I pulled the door closed behind me, to make sure it could not escape. The steps creaked as I descended, bowl in one hand, wand in the other.
My eyes darted about the cluttered basement, searching the stacks of yellowed newspaper for the beast. There was a flicker in the corner of my left eye, but as I turned it leapt to the right. I nearly missed a step, and water splattered on my shoes. I realized it was the muggle light acting up, making the shadows quiver and jump. I reached the bottom. The other bowl still wobbled faintly, and there was a tiny trickle of blood on the cracked edge. I suppose the werewolf cut its tongue licking it out. I bent, setting the new bowl down. A shadow peeled itself away from one of the stacks and came towards me, accompanied by a myriad of clicking as its claws tapped the floor. I couldn't move.
The creature was black as night, but the fur around its head stuck up in a series of random tufts, not unlike the bird's nest that usually rests atop Potter's skull. Its eyes were the same blazing green, and they watched me with Potter's characteristic lack of basic intelligence. The wolf sniffed at my hands which still hovered over the bowl. It looked up at me again, its nose barely a foot from my own. Its breath touched my face. I could see laughter in its eyes, and the spell that prevented me from fleeing was broken. I backed up the steps, wand aimed, but the wolf dismissed me with a sneeze, and dunked its snout into the bowl. It didn't look up again until I was closing the door. It yipped once.
Thankfully, Potter's return to humanity was much quieter then his departure. There was an aborted howl, followed by a whine, a growl, and finally a miserable moan. It was five in the morning, but Figg was already up, in a tartan bathrobe and carpet slippers. Her head was cluttered with plastic curlers and she was muttering to herself as she passed me in the hall, and entered the kitchen.
"Do you want tea?" she called a moment latter.
I wanted to ignore her, but my eyes were trying to sink shut. "Yes, Thank you."
After a bitter cup of tea, I waited another twenty minutes, figuring that was more then enough time for Potter to put his clothes in order. I opened the door and started down the steps. The light was still on. The bowls lay where they had a few hours ago. Potter was slumped against a pile of papers. He'd put his pants on, as well as one sock and one shoe, before falling asleep.
"Potter!" I called.
He didn't respond. I nudged him with my foot. He groaned and curled up in a ball.
"Potter wake up!"
He moaned and curled up even tighter. "I'll cook breakfast…one minute…aunt Petunia…"
"I am not your aunt. Get up or get a detention!"
With another groan he struggled to sit up. His eyes searched the room blearily. I saw his glasses and few feet away and handed them to him. He put them on his face and looked up at me. His face fell even further.
"Oh yeah…right," he mumbled.
"Finish dressing Potter. We are leaving in ten minutes. You did want to be back before your relatives awakened did you not?"
He nodded. "Can you get me my other shoe?" he asked pointing vaguely towards the other side of the basement.
"I'm not your nursemaid." My lip began to twitch as I fought down a sneer.
Potter frowned, and then shrugged. He rolled over, and on his hands and knees began to crawl towards the shoe. As he moved every joint in his body popped. It was as if someone were cracking their knuckles repeatedly in close proximity to my ear. He got it, and began trekking towards his sock, which was on top of a stack of papers for whatever reason. The popping continued the whole way. I fetched him his shirt, just to avoid more noise.
When he was fully clothed, ( His shirt was on backwards, but I didn't want to waste anymore time), I started up the stairs. He crawled to the base of the steps, and grabbed the railing. His knees shook as he pulled himself up, but he made no requests for assistance.
Fig had cooked up a large pot of gray goop, into which she had stirred canned strawberries. She insisted Potter eat an entire bowl full of the stuff before she let him out of the house, and insisted on lending him a moth eaten red sweater, and a worn old belt before he went out the front door. As he left the cats came streaming back in.
Potter seemed incapable of anything more then baby steps. Despite glares and scathing comments he refused to quicken his pace. The neighbors were beginning to leave their homes, and I did not want to have to deal with a concerned and nosey muggle. I realized I'd left the invisibility cloak at Figg's house.
If it were up to me I'd say to hell with the magical monitoring spells around Potter's home, and simply levitate him back to his hovel, but as I mentioned before, Dumbledore would have my head. I grabbed Potter under the arm, to speed him along. He gave a little yelp and glared at me. As I pulled him along he began to stumble and trip. With something like a growl he shook off my hand.
"Stop it! Just leave me alone!" he shouted.
"If it were up to me I would have never come near you in the first place boy, but it is my responsibility to see that you are returned to your relative's house without incident."
"Whatever! I don't care. Just stop pulling on my arm." He looked as if he intended to run off again, but after two quick angry steps he returned to his snail's pace, breathing as if he'd just finished a marathon. I thought perhaps we would be able to proceed without further antics, but of course Potter had other plans. Half a block later, he decided to pass out. He slumped to boneless to the ground, and only came around after several forceful nudges with my foot.
I pulled him upright again, but immediately he began to tip over. The relative's house was only a hundred yards further, but if Potter continued at his current pace it would be noon before we arrived. I have to wash these clothes either way I thought. He protested weakly when I picked him up and threw him over my shoulder. Three minutes later I set him down on his relative's front porch. He put a hand on his stomach and pressed the other over his mouth, swallowing convulsively. The look of nausea faded to one of outrage.
"I can walk…on my own," he gasped out.
"Apparently you can't. Stop wasting my time. Unlock the door and go inside so I can leave."
The boy paused, looking at the welcome mat. "Just go!"
"You forgot your key?" I wasn't at all surprised by that.
"No!" he said, his face pinching up.
I crossed my arms, waiting for an explanation.
"I never had one. Go away. I'm back, you can go."
"Did it ever occur to you to knock on the door?" I asked.
"No, don't!" he said, but my knuckles were already striking the wood.
"Ok, you knocked. Now leave!" The boy became more agitated with every word.
There was a thump from within the house and then a progressive creaking as something huge and ponderous approached the entrance of the house. A pale outline appeared in the bubbled glass panel in the center of the door, a lock clicked, and it swung inward.
"Where the bloody hell have you been, boy?" said the rotund man, his face was pink and steadily heading towards purple. Potter shrugged, and the man, who I assumed to be Potter's uncle turned towards me. "And who the bloody hell are you?"
It occurred to me then that perhaps now was a good time to air the truth. These people after all had a right to know the nature of the creature they were taking into their home. And for muggles they had at least shown a little good judgment; their dislike of Potter was very apparent. I really should have said 'the full moon turned the boy into a blood thirsty animal and we had to lock him up in Mrs. Figg's basement' but some strange sentiment over took me. Also I don't take kindly to those who address me in a disrespectful manner.
"I am from the Department for the Regulation of Underage Magic," I said. "The underage wizard in your care attempted a transportation spell without Ministry sanction, and without any sort of training. He turned up in Glasgow last night. We apologize for taking so long to return him, but it was necessary to impress upon him the severity of his misconduct."
Potter was goggling at me, his mouth opened just enough to give him the appearance of a lack wit. The uncle reached out and grabbed Potter's wrist, dragging him into the house. "Don't worry, he'll be punished."
The muggle made to slam the door but my foot prevented its closing.
"I must also inform you that the boy may still exhibit symptoms of his ill conceived attempt at disapparating."
"What?" said the uncle, glowering at me.
"Should he once again spontaneously regurgitate live mice or snakes, he should immediately ingest a dose of corvalus potion. In case of spontaneous levitation of himself or others you should owl the department of magical catastrophe…"
"Wait, what? Owl did you say? You can't leave him here if he's going to be pulling allsorts of freakish stunts!"
"I assure you the chances of exhibiting side effects are somewhat rare, I simply am required to warn you of the possibilities. With proper rest he may remain asymptomatic."
The muggle looked to be struggling with the three simple sentences I had given him. Potter, who had remained silent until then suddenly clutched his stomach and groaned. The uncle, apparently in desperate fear of mice, snakes or levitation, turned and scrambled down the hall, diving through the first door that presented itself. Without his uncle's no doubt unwanted support the boy began to tip over. I caught him under the arm.
"Where is your room Potter?"
He pointed up the staircase.
I pushed open the door to his small room, and helped him to the bed. He looked up at me with sunken blood shot green eyes, which for once held no impudence or loathing.
"Thanks," Potter said quietly.
To my surprise he actually sounded sincere.
I looked at him. I see Potter all the time; in my class befouling a perfectly good potion; in the halls with his lackeys plotting to stick their noses where they don't belong; on the Quidditch pitch, showing off a broom that costs more then some houses. I see him constantly, but I will admit that until Dumbledore gave me this assignment, I'd never really looked at him. I suppose it's because he's so similar to his father. If you've seen one Potter, you've seen them all. It crossed my mind then, with a sick sort of irony, that Harry Potter looked different from his father because James Potter never had any gray hair. And James Potter certainly never suffered gray hair on my behalf.
I see people's weaknesses, and I see the things that will lead to their failure and their falls. I see in others the flaws that will leave them broken. And as I stood there in that cramped muggle room, I understood what would bring Potter to his end. Being a Gryffindor would destroy him.
I think, in that moment, I understood him. The boy saved my life, not for a reward, not for gratitude, not for fame. It was simply in his nature; his thoughtless, stubborn, self destructive, Gryffindor nature. He saw someone in trouble and he went to their aid. It was no more complicated then that, which made it all the more depressing. I looked at Harry Potter, and he looked back at me. In that moment I could not hate him.
Then he vomited on my shoes.