Harry ducked round the corner, yanked back a tapestry and went racing down the passageway behind it -- luckily he did know all the shortcuts to Gryffindor Tower, thanks to the Marauder's Map. Snape would no doubt realise where Harry was going ... but would he know the password to get in? If he did, Harry wouldn't have much time to act ... and the cards and letter were charmed against damage; Harry couldn't just toss them into the fireplace.
He'd have to use his Invisibility Cloak to sneak past Snape ... hide the cards inside the one-eyed witch's hump or behind the mirror on the fourth floor. Snape was going to hang him out to dry for this one ... maybe Harry could explain to Dumbledore afterwards, privately ...
Harry burst from the passageway, clutching a stitch in his side. He sprinted to the end of the Gryffindor corridor, gasped out the password to the Fat Lady, scrambled through the portrait hole and dashed across the common room, up the spiral staircase and into the fourth-year boys' dormitory.
To his astonishment, someone was already there, rifling through his things -- but it wasn't Snape, it was a witch. She gave a small shriek and spun around. With a bit of thought Harry identified her as Madam Turpin. Plump, nondescript and middle-aged, she'd been hired on as staff early in the year ... something to do with the kitchens. Dumbledore had introduced her one night at dinner ...
'What're you doing?' Harry demanded.
'You scared me half to death,' she said reproachfully, one hand pressed to her chest. Then in a flash she pulled out her wand and sent ropes shooting out of it, which lashed themselves around Harry's arms and legs. Before he could open his mouth to protest, she said briskly, 'That Famous Wizard card -- the one of you as a baby -- where have you hidden it?'
'I haven't,' said Harry in exasperation. 'I don't know what happened to Professor Snape's card, but I swear, I didn't take it!'
'Of course not, dear,' said Madam Turpin. 'I took it. I meant your one. I know you have it, you and your friends were talking about it one evening at dinner last fall.'
Harry remembered. Draco Malfoy had been in particularly fine form that day in Potions -- ickle Harrykins this, ickle Harrykins that. Harry, Ron and Hermione had been wondering how much longer Snape was planning to leave the card up on the blackboard, and puzzling over how he could have got hold of it in the first place. Come to think of it, Harry did recall that Madam Turpin had been bustling around in the background ...
He stared at her blankly. 'You took Snape's card -- and you want mine -- but why?'
'For the gold, of course,' said Madam Turpin. 'I'm a thief, dear, this is how I earn my living ... and you will tell me where you've hidden that card, unless you want to spend the rest of your life as a snake ...'
'You --?' said Harry, now truly dumbfounded.
'Yes, me. I may not look it, but I know a lot about Transfiguration. I'm a thief -- ' Madam Turpin vanished for a second and a small brown ferret took her place, '-- and an Animagus,' she said, reappearing. 'I can enchant Transfigurations so they can't be reversed -- Snape was only able to bring you back after I removed the spell, and not even Albus Dumbledore could figure out what I did to Professor McGonagall.'
'So ...' said Harry carefully, '... it was you who changed me back, when Snape couldn't?'
'Yes, dear. I hope you weren't too badly frightened. Professor Snape needed something to occupy his thoughts. He almost caught me in Professor McGonagall's rooms, and she almost caught me in his classroom, right after I'd escaped the Tangler Charm. She'd been prowling around as a cat that night. I'd hoped to convince her that her Animagus transformation had become unreliable. A transformed cat might too easily recognise a transformed ferret ...' A look of extreme annoyance came over Madam Turpin's face. 'I hadn't expected anyone to come looking for her so quickly. Really, Professor Snape is the nosiest man in the world ... but to go into a woman's bedroom like that ...'
'I knocked first,' said a voice from the dormitory door.
Harry whirled, over-balanced and fell backwards onto the floor, nearly hitting his head against the post of Ron's bed. Madam Turpin shrieked again, but before she could raise her wand Snape had disarmed her and cast the Body-Bind curse.
'That time,' he added, with a nasty smirk.
Harry sat up as best he could, bound from neck to ankles. Snape glared down at him.
'I ought to bring you to the Headmaster's office like that,' he said softly, 'and if you ever run from me again, I will. We shall be taking Madam Turpin to see Dumbledore. He should be quite relieved that the cause of last term's Transfiguration mishaps has been discovered.' Snape pointed his wand at Harry, paused and gave him a twisted smile. 'Unless you have some reason to believe Madam Turpin is not the guilty party after all ... Perhaps she has been framed by Miss Granger's cat ... or maybe Mr Longbottom's toad is the true culprit ...'
'No, sir,' said Harry quietly.
In fact he was fairly certain that Madam Turpin wasn't the person behind the snake incident: she didn't seem to realise it had been Harry himself who blocked Snape's reversal spell and then transformed back on his own. Harry didn't think it wise to mention this to Snape, however.
The ropes vanished and Harry got up. Most fortunately, Snape did not insist on completing Madam Turpin's search of Harry's trunk before setting off. He made Harry walk ahead of him ('where I can keep an eye on you') with the Body-Bound Madam Turpin floating between them. They must have made an extremely peculiar sight as they went down the corridors, past the gargoyle sentry and up the revolving stairs to Dumbledore's office.
Harry knocked and the door swung open. Dumbledore looked up from his desk.
'Harry, Severus,' he said pleasantly. Then, in a more puzzled tone, 'Jane?'
'Madam Turpin has just claimed responsibility for tampering with Professor McGonagall's Animagus transformation and thwarting my reversal spells,' Snape said. 'I overheard her telling Potter -- she had him tied up and was searching his trunk.'
Harry nodded in confirmation. 'She was after Snape's Famous Wizard card, and she'd found out I had another copy.'
Snape looked down at Harry, his lip curling. 'Because she's president of the Harry Potter fan club, I suppose,' he sneered. 'Just because Madam Turpin has confessed to one crime, don't think you can --'
'Because it's valuable,' said Harry. 'Worth hundreds of Galleons.' At Snape's disbelieving look, he added, 'Ron said so, he has a value guide.'
Dumbledore raised his wand to perform the counter-curse on Madam Turpin.
'Watch out, she's an Animagus -- a ferret,' Harry said quickly.
Dumbledore set his wand back down. 'I think Minerva should hear about this,' he said in a very serious voice.
Dumbledore tossed a handful of glittering powder into his fire and soon Professor McGonagall was clambering out of the fireplace. Snape told his part of the story -- he'd arrived in the dormitory just as Harry was asking Madam Turpin if she'd reversed the snake Transfiguration -- and Harry told his. He claimed he'd run to Gryffindor Tower after hearing Snape's card had been stolen as he was afraid the real criminal might try to take his one too.
Professor McGonagall was frowning thoughtfully as Dumbledore shut and magically locked the door before releasing Madam Turpin.
'What do you have to say to this, Jane?' said Dumbledore mildly.
Madam Turpin gave a frightened squeak and scuttled behind Dumbledore's desk. 'He did it!' she said in a petrified voice, pointing at Snape. 'I caught him in the kitchens, trying to put a potion into Professor McGonagall's water jug! He made it all up to blame me -- told the boy he'd turn him back into a snake and pickle him if he didn't go along ...'
The murderous look on Snape's face would have convinced anybody who didn't know better that Madam Turpin was telling the truth. Cornelius Fudge would have had him arrested on the spot. Even Harry, who knew quite well that Snape hadn't threatened him with pickling, had to wonder -- Madam Turpin's accusation was so close to what Ron suspected Snape of doing to Harry.
Snape had just taken a step towards Madam Turpin when Professor McGonagall held up her hand. 'Leave her to me, Severus!' she barked.
Harry stared at her, amazed. Never before had he heard Professor McGonagall's voice so filled with fury, or seen her mouth go so thin. With a wave of her wand, every object in the room -- including Harry, Snape and Dumbledore -- rose off the floor and hovered three feet in the air. She pointed the wand at Madam Turpin, who turned back into a ferret, then transformed herself into a cat.
Round and round the room the angry, hissing cat chased the squealing, terrified ferret. After a minute or so of this, the ferret stopped short right under Harry and gathered itself up for a jump. Harry tried to back away -- he didn't want it climbing up his leg -- but floating above the floor as he was, his feet merely churned the air.
Luckily at that moment the cat pounced. It seized the ferret by the scruff of its neck and shook it back and forth like a terrier worrying a rat. When the cat finally let the ferret drop, Professor McGonagall and Madam Turpin reappeared. Professor McGonagall's teeth were bared and several strands of hair had flown loose from her bun. Madam Turpin cowered away from her, shaking with fright.
'Now, Enid Kelly ...' Professor McGonagall snarled. 'Are you ready to tell us the truth?' Madam Turpin gazed at her in terror, took a couple of gasping breaths and fainted dead away.
'How did Professor McGonagall know her real name?' said Hermione. 'Enid Kelly wasn't on the Ministry's registry when I checked it last year ...'
'She was,' said Harry. 'The Australian Ministry's registry, that is. Not that it's done them much good. Madam Turpin -- I mean, Kelly -- hasn't got any unusual markings and so many thieves use enchanted ferrets ... She's been a suspect in loads of cases in Australia, but nobody could ever prove it was her and not some other ferret. It's good Professor McGonagall keeps up with that sort of thing -- once she called Madam Turpin by her real name, she knew the game was up.'
'What'd she done to Professor McGonagall?' said Ron.
'Slipped her a Confusing Concoction,' said Harry. 'Animagi -- if they transform while they're Confused, as animals it can take days for their minds to come back, unless someone reverses the Transfiguration. It happened to Madam Turpin once, that's how she knew about it. Snape thought it was something like that, but he reckoned Fred and George did it as a prank. That's why he was so hacked off at them that day.'
'But how on earth did she make you able to change into a snake?' said Hermione.
'She -- she swears she didn't,' said Harry. 'I asked about that potion you told me about and Snape didn't think she could've given it to me. She didn't seem to know I could turn into a snake. Course, as many times as she'd changed her story ...'
At first Madam Turpin hadn't even been willing to admit being the cause of Professor McGonagall's difficulties. 'Yes, I tried to steal the cards,' she said tearfully. 'But I didn't interfere with any Transfigurations -- how could I have? I was only trying to scare the little dear ...'
No one had an answer to this, until Harry rather hesitantly spoke up. 'Hermione, she thought Sn-- somebody -- gave me that potion Voldemort made for werewolves -- put it into the food at breakfast. Because I'm a Parselmouth ... and Malfoy was trying to turn me into a toad not a snake.'
Dumbledore's eyes flashed. Professor McGonagall's fists clenched; she looked on the verge of attacking Madam Turpin as a woman. Snape gave a contemptuous snort.
'Exactly the sort of melodramatic nonsense Potter and his friends would come up with,' he said. 'The Lycaon Potion is too delicately balanced to be taken with most foods, and in any case, you'd have certainly noticed the taste.'
He turned to Madam Turpin, a most unpleasant smile stretched across his thin face.
'Which isn't to say they won't be believed. Our current Minister for Magic is not a wizard known for his logic. If he thought you'd given a potion made from human remains to the sainted Harry Potter ... really, life in Azkaban would be the best you could hope for. Perhaps, being a foreigner, you are not aware that the use of the Dementor's Kiss has recently been revived in this country?'
Madam Turpin looked about to really faint -- Harry was fairly certain she'd been faking it the first time.
Snape pressed his advantage. 'As we'd already suspected the use of a potion in McGonagall's case -- one of the few things she remembers from that morning is taking a drink of water --'
At that Madam Turpin had finally cracked and confessed to giving Professor McGonagall the Confusing Concoction. She still denied having done anything to Harry, however.
'Dumbledore says she'll probably get a fortnight in Azkaban for using a dangerous potion on someone,' Harry told Ron and Hermione. 'Unless the Australian Ministry lodges a protest -- and likely they won't, they've been trying to get her for something for ages. Then she'll be deported.' Harry brightened somewhat. 'And Dumbledore's making Snape take that card down! He said if it was so valuable people were breaking into Hogwarts to steal it, it needed to be kept somewhere safer.'
'How valuable are those cards, anyway?' said Hermione.
Harry looked at Ron questioningly.
'The last one I heard of went for around seventeen hundred Galleons,' Ron said. 'Mind, that was several years ago. None of them have been up for auction since then, which is bound to drive up the price ...'
'Still, coming all the way from Australia ... to try and steal something from Hogwarts ... and after she nearly got caught once ...' said Hermione. 'It hardly seems worth it. Wouldn't it have been easier to rob one of those other collectors?'
'Other collectors would know what that card was worth. They'd keep their ones protected, not hanging out in plain sight,' said Ron.
'Snape was protecting his,' said Hermione. 'Tangler Charms are very hard to cast -- he probably had to get Professor Flitwick to do it for him -- and even harder to get around. Snape was expecting someone to try and steal it --'
'Snape was expecting me to try and steal it,' interrupted Harry. 'He had no idea it was valuable, he'd got it because he was in on the investigation of Theobrom and Raniday. That letter from Sabella Theobrom he read was sent with one of the cards with my parents, not Sirius Black. Dumbledore asked Snape about it because Snape had shown him that card. It was Dumbledore who complained to the Ministry ...'
'Why was Sabella Theobrom sending Snape any Famous Wizard card of you?' said Ron. 'Not a collector, is he?'
'Dumbledore says she and Snape were in the same year in Slytherin,' said Harry.
'That's still a bit strange,' frowned Hermione. 'If they were in Slytherin together, she must've known Snape hated your father. Why send Snape a Famous Wizard card with his picture on it -- and that soppy letter about what a sweet baby you were? And even if Snape was behind the complaint, why would he be helping with the Ministry investigation? He's never worked for Magical Law Enforcement, has he?'
'If he has, Dad's never said anything about it,' said Ron.
Harry went on more quietly, 'I told Dumbledore about the letter and cards I found, after everyone else had left. He said he'd take them to Gringotts for me. Yours too, Ron. Sorry, but until we find some way to prove Sirius is innocent -- if anyone saw that dog ...'
Ron shrugged. 'Ah, well -- Mum would've made me give it back to you anyway when she found out what it was worth.'
'It's still yours!' said Harry fiercely. 'As soon as Sirius is cleared you'll have it back ... and you, d'you want the other one, Hermione? I know you don't collect them --'
'I think Sirius might want to have it,' said Hermione diplomatically. 'What I want is to know why you can change into a snake.'
'As long as it's not Snape giving me that potion, I don't care,' said Harry. 'Which I reckon he wasn't -- Dumbledore said he was telling the truth about it tasting bad, and now we know why he was acting so weird last fall.'
Hermione was clearly not at all mollified by this.
'Just forget it, all right?' Harry told her. 'Professor Moody's going to have a talk with Madam Turpin before the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol takes her away. If she was up to any other funny business, he'll get it out of her ...'
-- the end --
Disclaimer: All characters and concepts from the Harry Potter series copyright J K Rowling.
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