The Gifts of the Animagi
"It was a cold and windy night like this," said Sadie from under her veil, between puffs on her long foul pipe, "when Harry Potter was born."
"I thought he was born in the summer?" observed the stranger under the cloak and hood, as he stretched his legs toward the fire.
"Are you tellin' it, or am I?" Sadie snapped. Before the stranger could
>answer, she resumed her gravelly narration.
"All right, so it didn' 'appen until some time arter he was born. What diff does it make, I ask you? But it was in the deepest dark of winter when the Animagi came. They knew old Wots 'Is Name wasn't to leave 'Arry alone for long, so they wanted to give him protection, like.
"On a night like this--thank you, don't mind if I 'ave another--the Potters arranged to have an early Christmas party with their nearest and dearest. Dumbledore was there, (here Sadie lowered her voice, for some reason), an' 'is good for nothin' brother o' course, and (back at her usual hoarse rumble) old Minerva McG, and all their crowd. And it seems there were a few of them that was animagi, wouldn't you know. Maybe more than let on, if you know what I mean. They was dark days, you remember."
If any of her audience nodded, Sadie could not tell. Two of them were invisible, and the cloaked stranger seemed to be staring into the fire.
"First the Potters' closest friends gave their gifts. Don' ask me to explain 'em, I'm jus' tellin' like I saw. Young Black, of beloved memory..."
The veiled woman seemed to notice the cloaked figure, and gave a sudden start.
"...that is to say..."
A large gloved hand raised itself, beckoning the storyteller to continue. In her confusion Sadie stammered a little, then cleared her throat and ploughed onward.
"Well, Black you know, was a friend of the Potters at that time. An' whatever happened later, hadn' happened yet, so there it is. Young Black gave the child a teething ring shaped like a steak bone with a bit of marrow in it. It was one o' them everlastin' kind, from the Purple Papoose in Diagon Alley. Flavor of a treacle tart, I think he said it was. An' poor Lupin gave 'im one o' them wind chime thingies, made out o' wolf fangs, all strung together. I hate to imagine where he got them from. They made the prettiest little sound, though...
"Is this a story or the minutes from a baby shower?" grunted the invisible voice that was calling itself Merlin that night.
"You just stow it," said the other voice, known as Endora.
"An' I forget 'is name, the little fat one what Black supposedly killed..."
"Supposedly?" said the cloaked figure, making Sadie jump again. She kept forgetting that he was there, which was odd, since he was the only visible person at the table other than herself.
"Cheese, he gave the baby a round of cheese," Sadie said in a self-conscious rush. "I'm getting' to the good part, you wait. Now then, we know a certain female of the Scots persuasion, what can turn into a cat of her own free will. Would you believe she had knitted that baby a cap and a pair of booties in the tartan of clan McGonagall? An' she spun the wool herself, out o' a hairball what she coughed up in her feline state."
"Now you're jus' pullin' our leg," said Merlin irritably.
"Shush," Endora barked. "Go on, Sadie. We're all ears."
"She wasn' the only one what expectorated a Christmas present for little Harry. No, it was a certain double-crossin', throat-cuttin', tight-fisted git of our acquaintance, who as you know becomes a goat whenever an Apostle's or Evangelist's day falls on a Tuesday..."
"That would be my fault," Endora interrupted.
"I beg your pardon..."
"It was an accident, in school. A project I was doing for Charms work fell out of my bag and into his cauldron in Potions class..."
Somehow Sadie conveyed the impression of glaring fixedly in Endora's
direction, though her face was hidden by a veil. Endora's speech ran down awkwardly.
"As I was saying," Sadie went on snappishly. "He gave Harry a bezoar."
"For Christmas?" Merlin exclaimed. "I say, that's just outra...er. Ahem. I mean, what a thing to do."
Sadie's freezing gaze had penetrated her veil yet again. She resumed, while tapping the contents of her pipe bowl onto the hearth and beginning to stuff it with coarse, nasty-smelling tobacco from a leather pouch in her handbag.
"And finally, there was old Abigail Scudder, what taught Astronomy in those old days. Abbey, bein' a stargazin' type, had learned to become an eagle so's to fly high above the clouds and city lights. An' she gave the lad two gifts. One, a quill what had dropped out of her own tail, and the other, a pair of mittens made out of a rabbit she had caught one night. Also, a copy of her star chart for Harry's golden birthday, which is a ways off yet, you know. But that ended up gettin' stuck in a crack under the windowsill in Harry's bedroom, what was lettin' in a cold draft.
"That very night, after the baby had been put in his crib and his Mum and Dad were sleepin' off a bit of holiday cheer, a wicked wizard what didn't get invited to the party found 'is way to where the Potters was livin' at the time. He just happened to have a branch o' Gubraithian fire with him, like, and 'e chucked the branch right in the boy's window. Now, if it had landed anywhere in the room it would have burnt down the whole house with all souls in it, before anyone could do a thing about it. But it had to land right in the middle of the bed where Harry lay."
"No!" Endora's throaty voice sobbed, the drink shaking in her invisible hand.
"Yes," said Sadie. "Without those gifts of the Animagi, 'e woulda been done for right there. But for some reason--maybe too much drink, who knows--" Sadie's voice took on a slightly self-righteous tone, as she poured herself another brimful glass of firewhisky, "'is parents 'ad put 'im to bed without taking off the selfsame gifts. Booties, cap, and mittens all courtesy of 'is most powerful magical friends. An' that baby just picked up that fire and chucked it right back out the window, where it lay burning in the snow."
"Huh," said Merlin, while the empty bottle waved itself in the air above the place his voice came from. "What's the matter with that barman?" he muttered. "What am I, invisible?"
"But a certain evil wizard godfather..."
"Sirius Black, you mean?" said the cloaked stranger.
"I was speaking figuratively," said Sadie in an offended tone of voice. "Using poetic license, as it were."
"I beg your pardon. Do go on."
"Anyway, the enemy outside wasn't givin' up so easily. He had a retort of some kind of poison on him, something that I'm sure was meant to cause horrid, disfiguring pain. He climbed up the side of the house to make sure his aim was true, then he hurled it right down on the baby's face. As luck would have it, he was gnawing on the bezoar, which turned out to serve him better than the teething ring what Sirius had got him. The poison ran right off him and burnt a whole in the bottom of his crib, and the baby fell out on the floor with a bump and began to crawl away.
"Enraged, the enemy, who shall remain unnamed, began to crawl in the window. But as he stood up, the back of his neck was nicked by one of them wolf's teeth on the tinkling mobile what Lupin gave the lad. An' it bein' a full moon, the poor fool immejately turned into a wolf and hopped right out the window again, to 'owl 'is 'ead orf and chase arter the moon. 'An little 'Arry Potter was saved to fight evil another day, thanks to the gifts of the Animagi."
Merlin snorted scornfully. "Likely story," he said. "Not a very good one, neither."
"Whatever do you mean?" Sadie asked in a tone that lowered the temperature around the table by about two degrees.
"Why, you didn' say what 'appened to the bone, what Sirius gave the lad."
"I didn't say it was goin' to be a perfect story," Sadie growled, puffing her veil outward with the force of her speech. "It's what 'appened, that's all."
"Not bloody likely," Merlin remarked unwisely.
"No, it's quite true," said the mysterious stranger under the cloak. He was cutting off another slice of lemon and adding it to his silver tumbler of firewhisky.
"'An what would you know about it?" Merlin's voice blustered, though not without a faint tremble of uncertainty.
"I was there," said the cloaked stranger. It held up its deadly-looking knife, which sparkled silvery clean in the firelight. "And if you want to know why that werewolf did not return to finish what it had begun, that story is mine to tell."
Three throats swallowed, two of them invisible.
"And what," Endora asked with a tiny tremor in her mannish voice, "what is that story called?"
"Just for you, my dear," said the cloaked stranger, "I'll call it... 'The Double Barreled Wizard.'"
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