by: Violet Gryfindor
The corner of Privet Drive and the intersecting side street was a very quiet corner. The grass was no longer very green, this being late in the year, but all the houses were neat and entirely commonplace with brown brick facades and windows in all the normal places. There was nothing untoward about this corner at all. The only people ever seen there were those who lived in the area, and even then they sped through in their automobiles without a passing glance. But no one noticed the tabby cat who calmly sat near this corner, her strangely human-like beady eyes watching every auto which passed by. She did not belong here.
That fateful morning of November 1st, 1981 was the same as all others before it for the residents of Little Winging, Surrey, especially those who lived upon that corner of Privet Drive. The Dursleys at number four in particular led a normal muggle lifestyle, the cat noticed from her precarious perch upon a wooden fence. She had remained in this horribly uncomfortable position for most of the day, watching the Dursley family.
The cat was unimpressed. One simply did not allow the cat, usually known as Professor Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, to be unimpressed. That was something one did not do.
She had watched as the head of the family, Vernon, left for work in his perfectly average automobile. His bulging eyes and short, nearly non-existent, neck bothered her greatly, as did his unpleasant voice. He had stared wildly at the cat as she sat by the corner of Privet Drive, looking a map of Surrey.
Since when do cats read maps? he asked himself incredulously.
After blinking, Vernon looked once more at the cat, who was now glaring back at him like a stern teacher. The strange markings around the cat’s eyes almost resembled a pair of square-shaped spectacles, but Vernon knew that was impossible. It was simply a figment of his imagination, most likely the product of all that greasy food he had eaten the previous day. Shaking his head as though to clear it, Vernon stomped on the accelerator and his auto disappeared into the realms of suburbia on his way to London. Gracefully, the cat leapt off the fence and sauntered down the street, stopping in front of number four, Privet Drive.
There was nothing special about this house, nothing at all to set it apart from the others along that quiet street. Its clean windows sparkled in the early morning sunlight, the lawn was wonderfully groomed, and the gardens were neatly weeded. The cat sat there a few moments longer, thinking about how much this house would change in the period of a day.
How sad it was that the cat had to be sitting in front of that house on Privet Drive. It was not a place that she would usually be had the choice been hers, but now, with the dreadful events of the previous night, she had forced herself to come and watch these Muggles who would become the guardians of the Boy Who Lived.
So much had happened to the cat, or rather her human self, since the rise of Lord Voldemort. Her world had crumbled and everyone lived in fear. Now, that fear was gone, but at a terrible price: two of the most talented and kind-hearted people she had ever known were now dead, murdered by the worst curse known to wizard-kind. Others she knew were also dead, or close enough to death that life no longer mattered to them.
The world had shattered like a pane of glass, and not even the death of the Dark Lord could repair the damage. Witches and wizards all over the world were celebrating the banishment of evil, but she could not. Not when she knew that the one who had defeated that evil would have to live away from his own kind for years, possibly years of suffering and pain. But there was no choice. The boy would have to live among muggles until the time came for him to attend Hogwarts. Not only was it for his own safety, but for his sanity as well. Being hailed as the saviour of the world when he could not even remember the occasion would be cause for much emotional pain. The boy would have enough to live with growing up without parents.
A loud, bloodcurdling scream caused the cat to jump. It seemed as though the terrible cry had emitted from the house in front of her, but she could not believe it possible. Then, through a ground-floor window she saw a very tall, thin woman fighting to put a pair of shoes upon the feet of a kicking, screaming, purple-faced infant who did not want to have the shoes put on him.
“NO, NO, NO!” the infant cried at the top of his tiny, but powerful lungs.
When the door to number four Privet Drive opened, the cat was sitting near a hedge, licking a paw and trying to look like an ordinary cat. The woman who exited the house, dragging along the infant, mildly resembled her now-deceased sister, but only in the shape of the face and nose. Otherwise, she was not alike at all, particularly in the way her mouth frowned and her pale eyes inquisitively watched everything around her. But she did not notice the cat.
As the woman, who the cat supposed to be Petunia Dursley, and her son made their way down the street, the cat could hear the infant loudly begging for sweets. Loving to spoil her young son Dudley, Petunia of course agreed to get him some.
Disgusted, the cat sniffed and settled herself down for a long wait. The person she was waiting for would not arrive until night fell. While sitting near the hedge, the cat began thinking and remembering things she had not thought of in many years. Things that she had pushed back into her memory, not wanting to remember them, but not wanting to forget either.
The main staircase of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was lined with curious eyes, woken in the middle of the night by the news that someone was dead, killed by a mysterious and dangerous creature. People’s heads craned to see the draped form as it was slowly carried down from the girl’s lavatory on the second floor. Teachers watched morosely, not noticing the students high above them, also quietly watching what they knew to be a body.
At the bottom of the marble staircase, Headmaster Armado Dippet stood shaking his bald head and wringing his bony hands.
“Oh, what are we going to do, Albus?” he asked the tall man beside him in a hushed voice. “What will happen when they hear that a student is dead?”
The other man looked more angry than saddened, his auburn hair and long beard giving him a greater aura of authority than the feeble-looking Headmaster of Hogwarts.
“We will do what we must, Headmaster,” Albus Dumbledore replied calmly, his blue eyes betraying emotion where his voice did not. “Myrtle’s family will have to know about this.”
Dippet looked for a moment at the draped body which had now reached the top of the stair to the first floor. “Yes, yes, I know that, but how are we to tell them how it happened? There was not a mark upon the girl at all! Nothing to say how this dreadful thing happened!”
Dumbledore frowned. “As you know, Headmaster, there are spells which can easily do such things as kill a person without leaving any evidence.”
“Many creatures can do the same thing, Albus,” Dippet returned, his voice hardening for a moment. “I will have to speak with that Hagrid boy again. Always bringing dangerous creatures into the school. This cannot be allowed to happen, especially... especially with this...”
“You cannot be sure that this was Hagrid’s fault, Headmaster,” Dumbledore argued. “The boy is utterly harmless and his ‘pets’ are wholly in his control.”
Dippet shook his head. “No, I will speak to him as soon as everything has been cleared up. If I find out that he played a role in this girl’s death - “
”You can be sure that he did not,” Dumbledore pressed, his voice dangerously quiet.
Still shaking his head, Dippet began moving off. “I will leave it to you, Albus, to take care of all this.” He waved his hand at the almost-ghostly form coming down the steps. “As you advised, I will go send and owl to the girl’s parents. Oh, this is horrible!”
He walked off, still wringing his hands and shaking his head.
The lifeless form of Myrtle Nettleton, the unfortunate third year who had mysteriously lost her life while hiding from bullies in the second-floor girls lavatory, continued down the staircase. Just behind it appeared a young woman with long black hair that was loosely tied back from her serious, but not unpretty, face. She hurried over to where Dumbledore stood, her eyes full of questions and something that came close to fear.
“Professor, what’s happening?” she asked, a hint of fear in her voice. “Someone said that a person was dead...”
Dumbledore did not meet her eyes. “I am afraid so, Minerva. Headmaster has given me the duty of laying Myrtle to rest.”
Seventeen-year-old Minerva McGonagall, Head Girl of the school, held a hand to her mouth, shocked by the news. “Does anyone know how it happened?”
Looking over at the staircase to the Slytherin dungeons, Dumbledore answered, his voice dropping barely above a whisper: “Headmaster believes it to be the fault of Rubeus Hagrid.”
“But you do not,” Minerva finished for him. “Nor do I. Rubeus wouldn’t bring in a creature that kills like this. He may be careless sometimes, but he wouldn’t go this far.”
“Ah, but you see, Minerva, Headmaster cannot see anyone else to lay the blame upon,” Dumbledore said, his eyes still watching the lower stair. Minerva followed his gaze to try and see what he was looking at, but could not discern anything in the shadows.
Her mind was in turmoil. After being woken by the arrival of Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes, nudging at her hand, Minerva had hurried as fast as she could down from the tower chamber, sending students to bed along the way. It was from them that she learned why the castle was in uproar: a student was dead. The entire time she rushed down the staircase she asked herself how something like this could happen. Hogwarts was perhaps the most secure building in England other than Gringotts Bank in London. There was no possible way that some outside being could enter the castle.
Unless someone let it in, Minerva thought to herself. Or worse, it was already inside the castle.
From the top of the stairs, she had seen the Headmaster and Dumbledore talking. The discussion had ended as an argument with Dippet shaking his head and rushing off. Minerva silently cursed the man who would not listen to Dumbledore, who she fully and almost blindly believed in.
Seeing the body had shaken Minerva far more than anything else in her life. Death was not new to her, but wrongful death was. Hurrying past the shroud to get to Dumbledore, she saw a single, pale arm hanging down. That image would never leave her.
Now, standing beside her mentor and house head, Minvera could see that he had guessed the truth, but could not prove it.
“Who did this, professor?” she asked, her voice shaking. “Please, I can see you know!”
“Tom Riddle,” was all he said before stepping forward to open the door.
With him gone, Minerva now saw what, or rather who, he had been looking at over by the stair to the dungeons. There stood a tall, handsome boy with glittering emerald eyes and neat, raven-black hair. Perhaps the most popular boy at the school, Riddle was a Slytherin prefect and someone that Minerva did not like very much. But what disturbed her the most was the expression on his face. It was the most evil smile Minerva would ever see; a cross between a sneer and a look of horrible accomplishment.
It was a look that would remain her memory forever.
The cat sat so stiffly that anyone who saw her would have believed her to be a statue. She did not bother to notice anything that went around her now that her mind was in such turmoil at that dreaded memory and the thoughts it brought her. If she had only known then what was to happen only thirty years later! By then, many had forgotten Tom Riddle, who had disappeared after leaving school. Even Minerva no longer thought of the boy who stood watching the morbid procession with such a look on his face. But she knew that Albus Dumbledore had not.
Obtaining her position as Transfiguration teacher at Hogwarts had brought Minerva back to the place she felt most comfortable. A place where she knew she belonged. Little had changed since her time there as a student, except for the second floor lavatory, which had been locked up since the girl’s death thirteen years before. After a while, however, she was able to walk past that room without a glance back into the place where death had come too soon. The memory of Myrtle’s death become only a distant memory, as did Tom Riddle, whose name Minerva did not hear until rumours of a strange evil rising on the Continent came to her ears.
The news of another dark wizard did not bother Minerva at first; the Continent was a long way from England, and in effect, Hogwarts. She left the vanquishing of such evil to those who were trained and capable to do so. Minerva McGonagall was a teacher of magic, not an Auror.
A noise stirred the cat into coming out of her reverie. From the sidewalk facing her came Petunia Dursley and her spoiled brat of a son, Dudley. It seemed as though Dudley had learned a new word from the look of pride on Petunia’s face.
“Now, dearest little Duddykins,” she was saying with a highly annoying baby voice. “We’ve made it back home, haven’t we?”
“WON’T!” shrieked the little figure who looked like a child, but to the cat was a little demon.
Petunia seemed thrilled rather than angered by this word. “Oh! You’ve learnt a new word! Just wait until your father hears, he’ll be so proud of you, little angel!”
Inwardly, the cat groaned at the absurdness of it all. Now Lily Potter would never have said such a thing or treated her son in such a way. Instead she -
Then the cat remembered. Lily was dead, as was her husband James, at least, that’s what people had said.
Harry, their young son, had miraculously survived the horrible attack by Lord Voldemort. No one quite knew how, except for Albus Dumbledore, and he hadn’t told anyone the truth about the Boy Who Lived and the Dark Lord. The Dark Lord who had once been called Tom Riddle.
When the rising of evil began, Minerva had foolishly believed that nothing would come of it. Oh, how she was wrong! How wretchedly wrong not to notice the strange similarity this dark wizard had to the Slytherin prefect she had once known! Dumbledore had been the only one to see the truth and to recognize Voldemort for who he really was.
For the next decade, Minerva had watched as people joined Voldemort’s ranks, looking for power and glory. Some actually believed Voldemort’s claim that muggle-borns should not be allowed to learn magic or even be accepted into the magical world. Many pureblood families saw mudbloods as a disease - a lower race that would one day take over. At the creation of the Order of the Phoenix, Minerva saw young, talented witches and wizards put their very lives in danger to stand against this rise of evil. Now, the majority of these brave souls were dead, murdered by the blackness that surrounded their world.
There was a time when it seemed as though Voldemort would win, that his armies would destroy all that had been in existence for centuries. The terror that hung over everyone - wizards and Muggles alike - seemed eternal and permanent. Then came the news that Voldemort was gone, destroyed by a mere infant. The Boy Who Lived, Harry James Potter.
Deep in thought, the cat jumped up onto a stone wall in the Dursley’s garden. She didn’t even bother about being seen. Frankly, she didn’t care. When the car rolled into the driveway, the cat looked up, curious. Seeing that it was only Vernon Dursley arriving home from his boring London workplace, she glared at him then pretended to act disinterested. After he attempted to shoo away the cat to no success, Vernon entered the house huffily, but not without a second look back at the curious cat who he swore was the same one who had been reading the map that very morning, and who had glared at him like a strict teacher.
The cat listened to the Dursleys as they discussed their respective days. Hearing Vernon’s story about strange people dressed in colourful robes and owls flying through London, Minerva scowled. All over the country, and perhaps even the world, her kind were celebrating the end of the terror that had held them in its terrible grasp for so long. But that was no excuse for making themselves conspicuously visible to Muggles, the cat believed.
As the sun began to set, the cat settled in for a long wait upon the cold, hard wall. She desperately hoped that the person she awaited would arrive soon. Keeping the cat form for such a long period of time would make for a painful experience the following day, one that would include strange urges to scratch whoever annoyed her and purr when she was happy. Most undignified for a person of her level, thought the cat’s human mind.
She listened as the Dursleys watched the evening news and later got ready for bed. As Vernon Dursley lay awake, pondering the peculiar sights he had seen that day, the cat was looking up and down the street for the person she knew was to arrive at any moment. A car door slammed in the next street, two owls swooped overhead, but still the cat did not move. She remained as still as a statue, waiting.
Then she saw him appear from nowhere and her worst fears were proven. His coming to Privet Drive, a place where he obviously did not belong - even less than the cat - meant that all the rumours had been true. Lily and James were dead, giving their lives to the cause after so many lucky escapes. No longer would Lily’s ringing laugh be heard, nor would James play tricks on his friends. No longer would the world know two brilliant people. No longer would a boy have a family who would love and care for him.
While the cat thought about what the world would miss, the man she had waited all day for took what looked to be a silver lighter out of his pocket. Silently, every light on the street went out, flying across into this mysterious object the man held. The whole area was as black as the darkest of nights. Not even the moon dared show its face.
The man, with his flowing white beard and garish purple cloak, turned and walked back towards the number four Privet Drive. The cat watched him intently, but made no sound. Albus Dumbledore, head of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, among other things, sat down beside the cat without even looking at her. He did not need to look to see who it was.
“Fancy seeing you here, Professor McGonagall.”
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