December 8, 2010: The Parlor, 312 Stirring Way, Apt 7b, Ottery St. Catchpole, Devon, England
Hermione’s first impression of Haldwin Hithelward was in no immediate danger of being discredited; just being inside his house lent credence to her earlier assertions on the man’s apparent laziness and sheer lack of taste. She’d never considered herself as an overly judgmental person, but her current dusty surroundings and the strong, tell-tale scent of mildew were very hard to ignore. She had to wonder how he had survived for this long in such unsanitary environs.
“How’s your cuppa miss?” Haldwin asked through a mouth filled with a yellowing fencerow of teeth. “Would you fancy some sugar or honey maybe. I believe the cream has passed its prime, but I may have some milk. Of course if there is something stronger you might like-“
“Plain’s fine, sir.” She said, trying not to frown; Ron had told her too many times than she was, as he put it, a bit “frowny” with people. She pushed what she hoped was a friendly smile to the front of her face as she took the bravest sip of tea she ever had—such was saying a lot after her many brunches with Hagrid, who was possibly the worst cook she had ever encountered. Hoping to avoid biscuits, she quickly moved to urge the nervous man along. “So, as regards the owl you sent yesterday, you say that you have information concerning my missing cat?”
His nervousness drifted off of him—stronger than the stale scent of sweat that permeated his company—and she was very curious as to whether he was always like this. In fact, he took so long to speak that she was about to open her mouth to prompt him again when he surprised her by beginning to talk.
“Oh! Erm—yes I have some…well, yes I know some things about that.”
“Splendid!” She said excitedly, mostly attempting to brighten the mood somewhat. “It would be great to find him. My children are rather devastated by his absence; Hugo, in particular, is just beside himself over this ordeal. He’s only two now, and Crookshanks just intrigues him so.”
Haldwin was nodding and muttering to himself. Whether or not it was in agreement to her statements was not altogether clear. She thought better of asking him about his peculiarity though, surmising that it might be best to let it pass for the moment. “Yes, well a pet is like family I suppose.” He chuckled lightly. “Of course in my case, with Crookshanks and all, I reckon you’d say that we are family since he’s my baby brother.”
Nothing he could have said could have shocked her more than this revelation. Well maybe something—no, she was quite speechless over it. It left a lot to consider, from Animagi, to powerful rituals, or even some pretty bizarre curses; the research implications were pretty broad, but she could likely get at the truth with the right book or books to reference. Of course there was also Haldwin himself and whether he might be lying for attention or some other motive. There was also the distinct possibility that he might just be slightly daft or even downright crazy. Of one thing she was absolutely sure: Ron would have a field day with this one, and she’d never hear the end of it.
“Surely you can’t expect me to-“She began, but quickly lost steam; there was a better way to get at it. “How is this possible? He is a cat after all. I should know because I’ve used every revealing charm I know to test him as a possible Animagus”
He nodded apologetically, and his narrow shoulders shivered a fretful shrug. A very nervous hand raised a dangerously sloshing hot cup of tea towards his pursed lips and he braved his pungent brew with a loudly slurping sip. She glanced at the watch on her wrist and was about to remind him that it was his turn to speak, once more, when his worried, wearisome voice began to explain.
“You’re right to think me pranking you, miss. I told him you’d never believe the truth of it, and that a smart lady like you would be hard to convince. Told him all of that, several times. He said I’d manage fine—of course, he’s the best brother, always believing I can do loads of things—but I convinced him to leave you a little something to go on. Just in case, you know.”
He held a sealed letter out to her, and she took it without saying anything. It was heavy parchment, and had likely been written some time ago by the condition of it. She knew several spells that could help her narrow down the date of its composition, but skipped them, being pretty certain that her hunch was likely right. She broke the seal and began to read the close, tilted writing that covered less than half of the page’s surface.
If you are receiving this letter then I suppose that an apology is in order. I have been less than honest with you about who I really am, and for that I can offer only the smallest of explanations.
The truth is that I was once a man, and was cursed into this state by a woman whose love I could not reciprocate. Since that night so very long ago, I have been the cat that you have come to know, the one you call “Crookshanks”. As for my duplicity in the matter and the charade I have orchestrated by acting as nothing more than your loyal pet; about that I can certainly illuminate things somewhat.
I live a half-life, and am so sad to admit that my human self is dwindling more and more each day. In fact, I have recently come to notice that sometimes a full month will pass without any human thoughts entering my brain. My brother, who you must be meeting even now, is the only connection I have to the man I was, and he is unaware that that person is being slowly replaced by the creature he was cursed into becoming so very long ago.
I fear that soon I will be only Crookshanks, and nothing more will remain of the person who is writing you this letter. This is why I have placed myself in your care over these last few years, and you have only known me as the animal. If that is all that I will be, I’d like to think that I would be taken care of, and you have certainly proven yourself to be the type of caregiver I would hope to have. You and your family are my people, and I care for each of you and know that your home is the right place for me, as Crookshanks. This is why it pains me to reveal the truth to you now, but there is no choice.
Since you are reading this, you should know that I am taking one last trip to Liverpool, to honor one of the greatest men who ever lived. I do this only because, if I am fading away, I couldn’t bear NOT to do it. But, I must have fallen into mishap, or Hal wouldn’t have contacted you. I can only fear that my past has caught up with me even as my future threatens to erase who I was. The irony is not lost on me, and I only hope you can help me, even if I wished to never involve you in any of this.
As the hour grows late, and it kills my paws to struggle at holding this quill, I will leave off now in hopes that you can piece together the rest for yourself. Should you be unable to solve my problem, please take care of my brother and support him if he takes it hard. I have no worries for me, because I have come to accept my lot in life and merely hope that the people I love, Hal and your family, will continue on happily without me.
Hyildibart “Crookshanks” Hithelward
She sat the paper down with great care, her mind going in a million directions at once. This was far too much to consider, and the strangeness of it…well it was like something right out of the Quibbler. She looked at the man sitting opposite of her, and the sadness in his eyes stifled every negative though she had previously associated with him. He obviously cared a great deal for his brother; he cared enough to set his cowardice aside long enough to approach her when Crookshanks had come up missing. It wasn’t a lot, but a little backbone was enough to be going on with.
“I think I’ll take that ‘something stronger’ now.” She said, trying to make her voice as friendly as she could. “I guess we’ve got a lot to talk about and only a short time to do it.”