Length: ~3500 words
Summary: Cats have their territories. Privet Drive, in Little Whinging, Surrey, is claimed by a stray tabby cat with spectacle markings around her eyes.
A/N: lazy_neutrino's gift, posted to the anonymous gift exchange comm, hp_holidaygen
"Dumbledore turned and walked back down the street. On the corner he stopped and took out the silver Put-Outer. He clicked it once, and twelve balls of light sped back to their street lamps so that Privet Drive glowed suddenly orange and he could make out a tabby cat slinking around the corner at the other end of the street. He could just see the bundle of blankets on the step of number four." PS/SS, Chapter One: "The Boy Who Lived."
The tabby cat may have slunk around the corner at the end of the street. But she had no intention of staying there after Albus had left, and she was certainly in no mood to celebrate the strange disappearance of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named--not yet, anyway. She gave Albus time to Apparate away, and then she returned to the front step of number four, Privet Drive.
The bundle of blankets was still there. Wrapped inside them, fifteen-month-old Harry Potter slept on. Very gently, the tabby rubbed her nose and jaw against a tiny blanket-wrapped shoulder. Comforted by Harry's warmth and his sweet baby-smell, she purred.
But Minerva McGonagall, who owned the mind inside the tabby cat, was not one to be soothed by creaturely comforts for long. After a few minutes, she withdrew and leaped to her favorite sentinel post on top of the garden wall.
She was still there when the sky lightened and the street lamps began to go out. Once the sun was up, though, she thought it best to jump down and crouch among the hydrangeas, so that, unobserved, she could watch what happened next.
Albus could talk all he liked about the mystery of the sacrifice of love which had saved Harry Potter. He could speak of the charm of blood magic he had cast on Harry, which this Petunia Evans Dursley person's cooperation would seal. He could even talk about preventing fame from going to Harry's head. Minerva understood all that, and she'd relented, for once Albus got a notion into his head, no amount of arguing would get it out again. Besides (she most unwillingly admitted it), he was right.
But that didn't mean she had to like it. Nor did it mean that, in objecting to poor Harry's being plopped on the Dursleys' doorstep, she was entirely wrong. For as soon as that Muggle creature opened the door and gave a shriek that might have woken the dead (and certainly outraged sensitive feline ears), Minerva McGonagall knew that Petunia Dursley would run true to established form.
Sure enough, after giving her shriek, Petunia stared with loathing at the baby she knew would upset the tidy apple-cart of her life. She snatched him inside before the neighbors could see, scooping up from the step the letter that fluttered from his blankets. Minerva crept up to the window after Petunia had slammed the front door and was less than surprised to hear Petunia howling with offended outrage, along with that spoiled brat of hers and that lump of a man she called her husband.
But do things ever turn out quite as we expect? Certainly Minerva found her own curiosity piqued, when, while stalking among the dahlias, she saw Petunia holding a sleeping Harry on her shoulder and gazing out a north-facing window in the direction of Godric's Hollow and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
A moment's thoughtfulness on Petunia Dursley's part was not enough for Minerva to feel safe in leaving number four, Privet Drive, to the care of Arabella Figg. Minerva had always been a rule-follower, though, so she went to Albus first.
"Mrs. Figg's a Squib," Minerva told him. "And she's not getting any younger."
"I know, and who of us is?" Albus said mildly. He opened a small glass jar and extended it across his desk. "Care for a sherbet lemon?"
"No, thank you," said Minerva, making a face. "I'm sure I'd loathe those things."
Albus smiled and popped one into his mouth. After working on the sweet a bit, he grew serious. "I don't like the denizens of number four, Privet Drive any better than you do, Minerva. But there Harry must stay, for there alone is he safe. Voldemort is not dead--"
Minerva refused to flinch. "I know that."
Dumbledore ignored her interruption. "And no matter how theatrically threatening I may be to her in my letters, I know very well that I don't control Petunia Dursley. She needn't tolerate my interference in her life if she doesn't want to. I'm sure she realizes that if she decides to turn Harry out, I can't stop her."
"You mean you won't stop her," said Minerva.
"No," Albus replied quietly. "I always say exactly what I mean. I can't force Petunia Dursley to keep Harry Potter. The wizard who could bring himself to do that does not go by the name of Albus Dumbledore."
"But you can't leave Arabella to take on those--those Dursleys all by herself!" Minerva exclaimed. "That's asking too much of her!"
"I wouldn't dream of asking Arabella Figg to take anyone on," Albus said. He lifted the lid from his jar of sherbet lemons. While selecting another, he added, "And I wouldn't presume to place any more constraints on Minerva McGonagall's conduct than the Statute of Secrecy requires."
The trouble was, Minerva learned as the years passed and Harry grew older, the Statute of Secrecy was quite limiting enough. It seemed as though the only safe times to Apparate in and out of Privet Drive were the times when Harry was in bed. She could change into the tabby and patrol Privet Drive until the Dursley family were up and Vernon Dursley had gone to work, but even in cat form she couldn't get that close to the nephew whom Petunia tossed out into the garden most mornings, so that her son could have the television to himself.
For Petunia Dursley did not like anything around her to be out of place, and her eye for what was out of place was as sharp as the bony elbows with which she so often poked poor Harry. And was there anything more out of place in a neat suburban garden than a cat who looked as though she didn't have a home?
At number four, Privet Drive, the answer to that was emphatically no. Thus Minerva found herself ducking the jets of water Petunia sprayed at her from the garden hose, or having her tail yanked by "Dudders" while Petunia uttered tinkling little laughs that sounded like glass breaking.
That wasn't the worst of it, though. The worst was to see Harry watching it all with a sad and too-mature expression of sympathy on his face, as if he, a fellow-sufferer, knew exactly what Minerva was going through.
At five years old, he shouldn't have understood what Minerva was going through. He shouldn't have been a fellow-sufferer with a soaked and hissing stray cat.
Sometimes, needing a respite, Minerva the witch took tea behind the closed curtains of Arabella Figg's house. One day she was there sipping orange pekoe through a souvenir mug ("Greetings from Beautiful Brighton!"), while Arabella's cats wound themselves around her ankles.
It had been a bad week, not so much for Minerva, but for Harry. Dudley had got into a nasty habit of pulling Harry's hair and taunting him for its James-like untidiness. When Harry finally fought back, Dudley howled like a werewolf in transformation, which brought Petunia into the room to shriek like a banshee, which roused Vernon from his pre-prandial nap.
In his rage, Vernon had nearly struck the boy. Minerva, who had been curled on a window ledge in tabby form, staring in horror at the scene in the Dursleys' lounge room, didn't know what she might have done if Vernon had actually hit Harry. But, catching sight of Harry's red face and his most unchildlike glare, Vernon had thought better of it and had sent Harry to his cupboard without supper instead.
"What are we doing to him?" Minerva asked Arabella despondently. "What will Harry turn into because of us? I don't care if that Petunia creature is Lily Potter's sister. This can't be what Lily and James would have wanted."
"Lily and James couldn't have anything they wanted the moment Sirius Black turned traitor," Arabella pointed out.
The mention of Sirius's treachery stabbed Minerva to the heart, as if it had happened yesterday, not nearly five years before. And what about Sirius, anyway? If he hadn't spent sixteen years tormented by Walburga and neglected by Orion before finally running away, mightn't he have turned out differently?
"It's not that I don't trust Albus," Minerva said. "Of course he's right: only a very ancient and powerful magic will protect Harry if You-Know-Who should ever return. But I still say, in the meantime, what are we doing to Harry? He's just a child, an innocent child." The very thought made the tea taste bitter in Minerva's mouth. She put her mug down firmly on the tray, so that the teaspoons rattled and clinked against the sugar bowl. "Dursley's bad enough," she said. "But that--that woman. She can't be Lily Potter's sister. I can't believe it. I won't..."
"You think Petunia's bad because you've never seen the other sister," Arabella said.
"Other sister? But Lily didn't have another sister. She couldn't have had one who was worse--"
"Not Lily's sister. Vernon's sister. Miss Marjorie Dursley and her bulldog, Ripper. They come as a matched set," Arabella said, looking morosely at her own mismatched teacups. "You haven't seen her yet. My advice to you, if you do, is to run as fast as you can in the opposite direction."
But on the day Minerva met Miss Marjorie Dursley and her bulldog, Ripper, she couldn't bring herself to run in the opposite direction.
It was the thirty-first of July, a beautiful summer day and Harry Potter's sixth birthday. He received no attention at all. No party, no cake, no ice cream, no gifts--unless you wanted to call Dudley's old shirt, faded and hanging to Harry's knees, a gift. Minerva preferred to call it an insult.
Harry knew it was an insult too, for you know about such things when you're six, even if you don't know how to talk about them yet. After breakfast, Harry wandered dispiritedly into the garden before Petunia ordered him out of the house, as if he was already sick of Dudley's teasing and his aunt's rebukes.
Minerva the tabby crouched in the shade of a well-foliated rose, watching him. He clambered up on to the bench and sat there, swinging his skinny legs and staring disconsolately through his sellotaped glasses, straight at the dense stand of roses in which Minerva lay hidden.
Harry didn't see her. He didn't seem to see much of anything at all. He was silent for a few moments; then, softly and slightly off-key, he began to sing.
"Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday to me.
Happy birthday, dear--dear me,
Happy birthday to me."
Minerva couldn't stand it any longer. The tabby cat with the spectacle markings came out from behind the rose bushes. She leaped onto the bench beside Harry and assumed her most winsome look.
Harry broke off his birthday song to look at her. "Hi," he said. "I know you. I saw you at Mrs. Figg's."
Minerva was somewhat taken aback. Harry had never seemed to like Arabella's cats very much.
"And here too," Harry continued. "I saw Uncle Vernon try to kick you out of the drive. But he missed. You were fast." He gave a mischievous smile and very gently and tentatively scratched Minerva behind the ears.
Minerva nuzzled his wrist. "What's your name?" asked Harry. "Tabby?"
It sounded like a good name to Minerva. She stepped into Harry's lap, curled up and purred. Harry petted her. Slowly his tense little body relaxed.
Through her half-dozing, cattish bliss, Minerva wondered whether he was always so afraid. If so, the few minutes of unquestioning, unthreatening affection she could offer him for his birthday couldn't possibly be gift enough.
A car crunched into the gravel drive. Harry started, and Minerva jumped off his lap.
The car door slammed and a female voice boomed like a cannon going off. "Petunia! Where are you? Not in the bubble bath at this time of day, I hope?"
Harry slid off the bench and peered warily through the slats. "Aunt Marge," he muttered, and not happily, either. To Minerva, he sounded fearful, resentful and contemptuous all at once.
Minerva crept forward until she could see into the drive. The woman shouting at the front door so closely resembled Vernon Dursley in her commodious proportions and florid coloring that Minerva decided she must be Miss Marjorie Dursley. But where was Ripper?
Minerva had no sooner asked herself the question than she had her answer. A frantic barking, interspersed with menacing growls, went up beside Marjorie Dursley. Around the back of Marjorie Dursley's car came nothing less than a monster: a huge black bulldog with a hanging, slavering tongue and a mouthful of deadly sharp teeth.
Ripper shot straight for Harry and Minerva, who were hiding behind and underneath the bench. Minerva leaped out from beneath the bench. Another leap took her over the wrought-iron fence and the hedge behind it, into the neighbors' garden. She peered back through the close-growing branches into the Dursleys' garden, ready to run if she saw the dog trying to get at her by digging under the fence.
But Ripper wasn't near the fence. He was on the Dursleys' lawn, dancing beneath a tree, looking up into the branches and barking with predatory glee. Harry was nowhere to be seen.
"That's my boy, Ripper; treed a beastie, have you?" Marjorie boomed with delight. "Ha, ha, see there, Petunia? Ripper'll have your nephew for dinner, and he won't be a trouble to you any longer."
Your nephew? That brute had chased Harry up a tree?
Her heart pounding, Minerva squeezed through the hedge and between the fence railings back into the Dursleys' garden. From the safety of the shadows beneath the fence, she looked upon the appalling sight of Harry high in the branches of a tall tree, staring down at Ripper. Ripper, his teeth bared and a growl rumbling in his throat, glared back.
Marjorie Dursley laughed. Petunia, standing beside her, had her mouth pressed in a thin line. Her eyes, flickering back and forth between Ripper and Harry, held a strangely calculating apprehension.
Harry, standing on a frighteningly thin branch, clung in trembling silence to the tree trunk. He didn't cry to either one of his aunts to help him. Worst of all was the expression on his face, a look of terror mixed with resignation. It made Minerva feel sick.
It also brought her to a decision. She was going to decoy that dog away from Harry. And if she could get Ripper to chase her as far as the alley off Wisteria Walk, the tabby would turn back into the witch, Minerva McGonagall, complete with her wand.
What happened after that would be up to Ripper. Albus could say what he liked about it. Minerva was past caring.
Minerva sprang from the shadows. Claws out, hissing, she raced up to Ripper. Sure enough, the dog turned to her. Minerva sprang again and raked Ripper's nose, delighting wickedly in the feel of his flesh yielding to her claws.
Ripper howled in rage. "No, Tabby!" Harry yelled as Minerva spun around to lead Ripper a merry chase into the street.
She caught sight of Harry mid-turn, and what she saw brought her up short. Harry, curling his legs to spring, was preparing to jump out of the tree. And the branch he was going to jump from was thirty feet off the ground.
Ripper gave a roaring bark and threw himself at Minerva. Minerva leaped too, but she'd paused a split-second too long. Ripper sank his teeth into the scruff of her neck. Snatching her up, jerking his head back and forth, he whirled Minerva dizzily through the air.
Minerva yowled in pain and fear. Her fear was not only for herself. Harry, tilting wildly in Minerva's vision as Ripper swung her back and forth, chose that moment to jump.
Minerva was about to transform, was about to put Albus's carefully-laid plans in mortal danger, when Harry, a yard from the ground, slowed and landed lightly on his feet.
Jerk! Treetops spun in Minerva's sight like bits of glass in a kaleidoscope.
"Ripper!" Harry yelled shrilly. "Here, Ripper, you great ugly mutt!"
Her eyes wide and her hands pressed against her mouth, Petunia stared at Harry in horror. But it wasn't Harry's surprising failure to hurt himself which infuriated Marjorie Dursley.
"Mutt!" Marjorie cried. "Call Ripper a mutt, will you? Filthy little guttersnipe!"
Giving a great bark as if of outrage, Ripper dropped Minerva and sprinted after Harry.
"After him, Ripper!" Marjorie shouted.
Petunia lowered her hands from her mouth. "Marge, no!"
The tension in the air was electric. Minerva arched her back and her fur stood on end. Harry ran between his aunts, swerving to avoid Marjorie's hand when she tried to grab him.
Ripper ran after Harry, snapping at his heels. He reached Marjorie; then, looking for all the world as if he'd crashed into an invisible wall, he dropped flat to the ground. Harry shot through the door and into the house.
"Ripper!" Marjorie cried in a stricken voice, and there, finally, on her own face was a little of the fear she'd put into Harry. But the instinctive, untaught Impediment Jinx that Harry had cast on Ripper didn't last long. Harry had hardly slammed the door behind him before Ripper, whining, was on his feet again.
Marjorie slobbered kisses on the dog's scratched snout. "My poor baby! Mutt, indeed! You'll have a chance for revenge, Ripper. The next time you tree that little brat, you can keep him there all night, for all I care!" She, Petunia and Ripper turned to go into the house. "It's that Potter blood running in your nephew's veins, Petunia! If you're not careful, he'll grow up to be a lazy, insolent scoundrel, just like his father! Not that I'm blaming you, of course. Oh, and if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, poison's the only solution for these stray cats."
"Of course you're right, Marge..."
Before Marjorie Dursley caught sight of her and decided to act on her own advice, the tabby cat squeezed through fence and hedge and slunk out of the neighbors' garden into Privet Drive. From there, dashing across streets and padding through gardens, she made her way to the alley between Wisteria Walk and Magnolia Crescent.
In the privacy of the alley, the tabby transformed herself into the witch. Minerva McGonagall then took a moment to clutch her trusty wand and heave a great sigh of relief before she Apparated back to the gate that led into the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Later that evening, after a long, hot bath and a couple of cups of tea laced with brandy, Minerva was in her office, leafing through the Book of Names. The Book rested on a pedestal, and beside it the Birthday Quill sat quietly in its inkwell.
She paged back to 31 July, 1980. On that day, the Birthday Quill had risen from its well and written in flowing, calligraphic script the name of Harry James Potter. His name had been down for Hogwarts since the day he had been born.
After what Minerva had seen today, there was no doubt in her mind that the name would stay there, and in the summer when Harry turned eleven, whether the Dursleys liked it or not, the owl with Harry's Hogwarts letter would arrive at number four, Privet Drive.
It was too bad, in a way. Minerva couldn't always be in Little Whinging. She was a busy witch. She was Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts and Professor of Transfiguration. There were classes and administrative duties during term and conferences at the summer holidays. But as often as she could, the tabby cat would visit the skinny little boy with sellotaped glasses and a lightning-bolt scar on his forehead who lived at number four, Privet Drive.
Minerva would give what pleasure she could to that underfed, undergrown, but far from underspirited child. They'd have fun. She would, until her last visit, anyway. That bittersweet day, fortunately, was still far in the future: the day, just before Harry's eleventh birthday, when Minerva would have to wipe from Harry's mind all memory of a tabby cat with spectacle markings around her eyes.