~Those Witching Shades~
Author's Note: This story is written for Everyone Loves an Irish Girl's So You Think You Can Write Competition. Prompts: "Inner demons" and "butter". The story takes place during the summer before Harry's third year at Hogwarts.
Summary: Harry is curious about the locked door Mrs. Figg warned him never to open... I got into the Halloween spirit early this year.
Rating: T for creepiness.
"No funny business here at Mrs. Figg's while we are gone, do you hear me?" Uncle Vernon grabbed a fistful of Harry's hair and yanked his head back so Harry was forced to look his uncle in the eye. "Otherwise, you know that you will be spending a month in that cupboard again."
"Not to worry, Mr. Dursley," said Mrs. Figg in her curious little singsong voice. "Harry is such a good boy. Oh, dear, do you have a fur ball again, Mr. Paws?" If she thought it was odd that her neighbor had just threatened to lock his nephew in a cupboard, she certainly didn't let on; she just kept fussing over a fluffy orange cat that Harry had until that moment mistaken for a shaggy pillow.
"A good boy?" Uncle Vernon's small eyes narrowed suspiciously as he scrutinized Mrs. Figg's wrinkled face.
Mrs. Figg nodded serenely. Her round, porcelain blue eyes had a slightly vacant look in them, and Harry suspected, as so often before, that Aunt Petunia was correct in her assessment that Mrs. Figg wasn't quite "all there". "Yes. Harry always enjoys looking at my albums. I have thousands of photographs of my cats. But you have never seen my scrapbooks, have you, Harry? Those have pictures of cats, too. Some of them are very lovely. I have cut out cat pictures from newspapers and magazines ever since I was a little girl and pasted them into scrapbooks. I have hundreds of scrapbooks."
Harry groaned, and Uncle Vernon smiled slightly. "I am sure my nephew will enjoy that a great deal, Mrs. Figg. We will be back for him around eleven - that should give him plenty of time to look at all of them. Let me know if he gives you any trouble at all."
Uncle Vernon gave Mrs. Figg a brief nod, glowered at Harry, and turned to leave, tripping over a small black cat on his way out.
"Ouch!" Uncle Vernon shot the cat a suspicious glance and seemed to be about to say something scathing, but at the last moment, he seemed to think better of it. "Thank you again for watching him, Mrs. Figg," he muttered. The next moment, the door had slammed behind him.
Was it Harry's imagination, or did the little black cat seem very pleased with itself?
Harry turned to Mrs. Figg and sighed: "I suppose we should get started on the scrapbooks, then?" He didn't mind Mrs. Figg, not really, but staying at her house was always desperately dull.
"The scrapbooks? Oh, all in good time, Harry." Mrs. Figg stood still for a moment, her pale blue gaze lingering on Harry. The vacant expression was suddenly gone from her eyes now. "Does you uncle really lock you in a cupboard, Harry?"
"Erm." Harry felt himself flush. "It's not a big deal, really..." He squirmed under Mrs. Figg's unexpectedly shrewd gaze.
"You look thin," said Mrs. Figg softly. "Would you like some food?"
Harry, who remembered Mrs. Figg's cabbage soup rather vividly, winced. "Oh, no thank you. I'm... not terribly hungry."
Mrs. Figg smiled ever so slightly. "Oh, I wasn't thinking of cabbage soup this time, Harry. Maybe I will bake you a cake. I do bake rather well. You will enjoy that much more than he soup. No need to tell your uncle." She wandered into the kitchen, and Harry heard her mutter to herself: "Let's see now... Flour, baking powder, sugar, almonds, butter... Oh, dear. I seem to be out of butter. What a pity; he looks so terribly thin. I really should bake him a cake."
She poked her head out of the kitchen door, her wispy grey hair sticking up from her head at funny angles. "I think I will just run down to the shop for a minute, Harry."
"I can go for you," offered Harry, eager to be allowed out for a solitary evening walk.
"Oh, no." Mrs. Figg looked horrified at the thought. "I promised I'd watch you - I can't risk you roaming along the streets alone at night. No, that won't do at all. I will go by myself, and you can stay right here, dear. You can watch a little television if you like. Just don't sit too close to the set; some of the rays it emits can be terribly harmful, I hear. And make sure you lock the door very carefully behind me, all right?"
"All right," muttered Harry.
"Good." Mrs. Figg reached for her handbag. "I will be very quick. Don't open the door for any strangers, dear. Oh, and don't try to open the locked bedroom on the second floor. I keep... er, personal things in there."
"Okay." Harry smiled. He couldn't help wondering what personal things the odd little Mrs. Figg kept hidden behind locked doors. The body of the late Mr. Figg, perhaps? A collection of beloved mummified cats? Containers of vintage cabbage soup?
"I will be back shortly." Mrs. Figg cast a quick glance in the hallway mirror and shuffled out through the door, her hat askew and her thick stockings wrinkled around her ankles as always.
Out of the corner of his eye, he had just noticed something very peculiar. Mrs. Figg had been looking into the mirror, and a face had looked back at her. But the face in the mirror had not been Mrs. Figg's! The face was old, much older than Mrs. Figg's, and surrounded by long white hair that bore no resemblance to Mrs. Figg's wispy fly-away grey strands.
Harry's glimpse of the face in the mirror had been so fleeting that he couldn't be certain of what he had seen, but a voice in the back of his mind whispered: Dumbledore. That was Dumbledore's face I just saw in the mirror! But how can that be? Are Mrs. Figg and Dumbledore one and the same person? No, absurd! Surely, it had just been some strange trick of the light?
Harry walked slowly over to the mirror, his mind reeling, and gazed into the smudged silvery oval. The pale face that swam before his eyes was his own, and his eyes looked wide and frightened.
Harry frowned at his mirror image, and the mirror boy frowned back. Why would the headmaster of Hogwarts appear, even for a fleeting moment, in the mirror of a Muggle home? The batty old Mrs. Figg had nothing to do with the magical world - or did she?
Harry felt a strange cold creeping over him. Slowly, ever so slowly, Harry's feet carried him up the stairs, seemingly of their own accord. He walked along a long, musty-smelling upstairs hall and opened the creaky doors one by one until he came to one that was locked. Hesitantly, Harry pulled his wand from his pocket. Should he? No, better not; the Ministry of Magic would know if underage students used magic outside school, wouldn't they? No magic, then.
Harry studied the lock closely. Just a regular Muggle lock, nothing very complicated. And Harry had been locked up enough over the years that he knew a thing or two about Muggle locks by now.
It wasn't very hard at all. Two or three minutes with a dull butter knife from the kitchen turned out to be all it took. Then the lock gave, and Harry pushed the door to Mrs. Figg's secret room open, his heart hammering.
The room was almost dark, but something seemed to stir slowly in the strange witching shades along the walls. Harry reached for the light switch with a trembling hand. The golden lamplight fell brightly over the room, and Harry blinked rapidly.
Then he froze.
Harry felt faint. He clutched at the doorframe to keep himself from sinking to the floor. He couldn't even think straight, couldn't begin to process what he was seeing. He just stood and stared at the walls of the small room. He couldn't really feel or think anything except This isn't real. This can't be real...
Every inch of the walls was covered with pictures of Lord Voldemort. The Dark Lord's crimson eyes stared down at Harry from hundreds - no thousands - of photos and newspaper clippings. Some were old and yellowed, others crisp and new.
Up against the wall stood a heavy oak-paneled desk. It was covered with old books, black leather-bound volumes that seemed to be... treatises on the Dark Arts?
How was this possible?
Harry walked, as if in a trance, up to the walls and began studying the newspaper clippings. They were all from wizarding newspapers, and Voldemort's eyes moved in the photographs. Most of the clippings were from the Daily Prophet, but there were others as well, foreign ones from newspapers with odd names like Le Monde Magique, Der Trollspiegel, and El Correo de Búho. All the clippings were marked with dates, written in black ink in an odd, loopy handwriting that Harry recognized as Mrs. Figg's. As Harry studied the walls more closely, he began to notice that the most recent newspaper articles no longer included Voldemort's picture; perhaps the wizarding presses had become afraid of The Dark Lord's face.
But there were plenty of older pictures of Voldemort, and some of them were very old indeed. A few of them were Muggle photographs, showing a young boy that Harry recognized as Tom Riddle, standing outside a bleak building, a sullen expression on his face.
Harry swallowed hard. What could possibly have led a frail little Muggle lady who was pushing seventy from the wrong side to develop a deranged obsession with... Voldemort?
This made no sense.
Suddenly, Harry heard a floorboard squeak behind him. He wheeled around and found himself face to face with Mrs. Figg.
"Oh." A startled whisper escaped Harry.
Mrs. Figg just stood there for a moment, regarding Harry with her pale blue eyes. Then she said quietly: "You have discovered my inner demons, I see. I thought I told you not to open the door, Harry. You should have listened to me."
Harry stared at the strange little lady as if he were seeing her for the first time in his life. "Who are you?" he whispered. He could hear the slight tremor in his own voice. "Are you... a witch?"
"A witch?" Mrs. Figg smiled a little at that. "No, Harry, I'm not a witch. If I had been, I would have killed him long ago."
The idea of the frail little lady with the wrinkled clothes and disheveled hair murdering Voldemort should have made Harry laugh, but there was something in Mrs. Figg's voice that made the laughter stick in Harry's throat.
"Do you..." Harry's voice wasn't working properly. "Do you know Voldemort, then?"
Mrs. Figg nodded. "Oh, yes, I know him. I have known him from the very beginning, back at the orphanage."
"You were at the orphanage with Tom Riddle?" Harry's voice was a whisper.
Mrs. Figg gazed up at the portraits of the pale crimson-eyed man that surrounded them on all sides. "Yes," she said quietly. "I was at the orphanage with Tom. We both were, you see, my sister Amy and I... After our parents died, Amy and I had no one left in the world except each other. I always looked after Amy, since I was a few years older. But one day, I couldn't find her. The other children said that Tom had taken Amy and a little boy named Dennis to show them a cave. A chill ran through me when I heard, for I never trusted Tom. But I was too late. By the time I reached Amy, something had happened to her, something terrible. She was never the same again." Mrs. Figg's glance still lingered on Voldemort's face. "Three weeks later," she whispered, "Amy jumped out a fourth story window at the orphanage..."
She turned at met Harry's glance. There was no emotion in her pale, wrinkled face. "That's when I first met Albus Dumbledore, " she said softly. "He had heard of what had happened, and he came to the orphanage to investigate. Dumbledore spent days talking to Tom, but Tom denied having anything to do with Amy's madness, or her death, and there was nothing Dumbledore could do to prove otherwise. Little Dennis was no longer able to say anything coherent about what happened that day in the cave, you see. But before Dumbledore left, I pulled him aside. I had long since understood that Tom was different from other people, and when I saw Dumbledore, I realized that he was different, too. He had the same powers Tom had, but he would never use them cruelly, like Tom. And I saw that Dumbledore was terribly disturbed by Tom. So I offered Dumbledore my help. I offered to be his eyes and his ears at the orphanage; I promised to tell him about every move that Tom ever made. I wrote to Dumbledore every single day... And Dumbledore wrote back. Gradually, Dumbledore began to tell me more about the magical world that he and Tom both inhabited. He knew that he could trust me; he knew that I would be loyal to him unto death. He knew that I had only one goal in life: To bring my sister's murderer to justice."
Mrs. Figg reached up and touched one of the photographs of Voldemort. The picture seemed to recoil under her touch.
"My sister Amy has been in her grave for over fifty years now," continued Mrs. Figg in a soft voice, "but I have thought of her during every waking hour since she died. Her shadow is always with me, Harry. When Tom became the Dark Lord, Dumbledore even invited me to join the Order of the Phoenix, a secret society devoted to stopping Voldemort. That's how I met your parents, Harry..."
"You... knew my parents?" breathed Harry.
Mrs. Figg smiled. "Oh, yes, I knew them, Harry. They were the most wonderful kind people you can imagine, your mother in particular. But Tom killed them, too, didn't he? Dumbledore says that there is only one person in the world who can stop him."
Harry swallowed. "Me?" he whispered.
Mrs. Figg nodded. She patted Harry awkwardly on the shoulder. "Yes, Harry. You. That's why I live here in Little Whinging, you see, to watch over you, until the day will come when you will finally murder the Dark Lord. I still report to Dumbledore every day; I talk to him in the two-way mirror he gave me. It's hanging downstairs in the hall. Oh, there is Dumbledore at the front door now - I recognize his knock."
They both stepped out of the room, and Mrs. Figg closed the door gently. "I will lock this door now, Harry. And when Dumbledore comes, he will purge the memories of this evening from your mind. You will remember only that you spent a dull evening at a batty old lady's house, looking at pictures of cats. Dumbledore tells me that Tom can sometimes read your mind. We don't want him to see Amy Benson's sister in there, the girl who never forgot. I know more about Tom Riddle than almost any person alive. I follow his every move through the newspapers, you see, and I keep track of everything he does. Whenever Dumbledore comes across a new piece of information, he shares it with me, and I record it for him. He knows that I will always remember every seemingly insignificant detail about the man who is responsible for Amy's death. We talk to each other often, Albus and I, and I even help him form his plans for Voldemort's final downfall. But for now, Harry, it's best if you forget. So let us open the door and let Albus Dumbledore in, and then you will forget everything that happened here."
"No," whispered Harry. "I don't want to forget."
Mrs. Figg looked at him for a long moment. "I'm afraid you will have to, Harry. But I promise to remind you again one day, when he has been brought to justice. We can't risk Voldemort finding out how much Dumbledore knows about his past."
Harry thought about it for a while, and then he nodded slowly and followed Mrs. Figg down the stairs.
Mrs. Figg opened the door. "Come on in, Albus. Lovely to see you, as always. Stay for a while, will you? I am baking a cake for Harry."
"How was your evening at Mrs. Figg's?" asked Aunt Petunia sharply when Harry got home. Harry shook his head slowly. "I... I can't really remember. It's all a blur. There were pictures. Pictures of cats, I think."
Uncle Vernon chuckled. "That's what I heard, yes. Watch were you are going, boy! You almost crashed into the good table."
"Er... Sorry." Harry tried desperately to shake the strange murkiness out of his head. He honestly couldn't remember anything that had happened at Mrs. Figg's. But he felt pleasantly full for once, and there was a delicious aftertaste in his mouth. It tasted almost like butter.