Severus turned back into a human. “This”, he hissed. “Was an utter and complete waste of my time. I told you nothing good would come from it.”
“I do not really see your problem”, Dumbledore replied, his eyes twinkling, a sure sign that he was barely suppressing his laughter. “You have, successfully, become an animagus. No mean feat. Why, there are only seven registered animagi in all of Britain – eight, now.”
“Seven. I will not register this – this embarrassment! I absolutely refuse to!” Severus crossed his arms in front his chest. “And as I told you before, it is not the work or intelligence required that puts people off becoming animagi, it is the utter uselessness of approximately ninety percent of all animagus forms. As evidenced by my own.”
“Uselessness? Ah, Severus, you never know, you never know.” Dumbledore looked at him over the rim of his half-moon glasses, eyes twinkling, edges of his mouth clearly twitching now.
Oh, how Severus hated him!
“It is weak – it will not give me any advantage in a fight. It is not inconspicious enough for spying, but manages to be humiliatingly common despite that. And it does not even make up for all this by being capable of flight. There is no possible use to this animagus form.”
“All in all, I would say, you are not worse off than Minerva”, Dumbledore said in a fake soothing tone. Severus could almost hear him chuckle in his mind. “Her animagus form is rather small, too.”
“Minerva can at least use her form for spying”, Severus replied coldly. “And impress her students.” Even he, already rather cynical at Hogwarts age, had been impressed when she had turned into a cat.
Now he envied her. A cat. Nothing was wrong with cats. They were dignified animals that didn’t draw attention anywhere. No one would look twice at a tabby cat. Even though she was registered, Minerva would still be able to spy unnoticed on a lot of people.
He would not have complained had he become his patronus form. Sure, a doe would stand out like a sore thumb in most places, but it was an elegant animal with some dignity, and sometimes, even the Forbidden Forest was a location where a spy could be needed – not that the Quirrell debacle was likely to repeat itself.
Admittedly, changing his sex might have been slightly disturbing, but probably not much more so than changing species, if at all, so there was that.
“It has its downsides, too”, Dumbledore replied after some deliberation. “Do not tell her I told you, but she confided in me that a clueless Muggelborn first-year once attempted to pet her when she was sunbathing in that nice spot between greenhouses two and three.”
“I am sure she can cope.” Severus turned to leave. There was only so much taunting he was willing to endure.
“Severus.” Dumbledore didn’t raise his voice. He knew he didn’t have to.
Severus turned. “You want something else. What is it?”
“An important mission. I will leave it to you whether you use your animagus form or not.”
He had not been asked to do anything remotely like a mission since the Dark Lord’s fall. Keeping an eye on Quirrell ... and the more and less suspicious Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers before him, he could do while remaining at Hogwarts and could hardly be considered a mission. “You have a lead on the whereabouts of the Dark Lord?” His knowledge of the prophecy didn’t keep him from hoping he might be the one to end Lily’s murderer. After all, Divination was a rather imprecise science.
Severus had thought the prophecy to mean that a powerful wizard would ‘approach’ from Europe or the Americas, and that the Dark Lord would set him on researching the birth dates of wizards of note, a nice, unbloody task that would ensure he was unavailable for killing and torturing.
He would regret that naive assumption till his dying day.
In the meantime, he learnt that whenever someone in power – which lately had only meant Dumbledore – wanted him to do something, he could expect, at best, humiliation, and would risk his life at the other end of the scale.
No, Severus’ existence only held nasty surprises. If he wanted to spend time with nice, safe, if boring research of useless facts, he had to do that on his scarce spare time.
“You still long for revenge more than you wish for redemption?”
“I cannot redeem myself.” Lily was dead. He could never undo that. “Revenge is the best I can hope for.” He couldn’t stand that disappointed gaze the old wizard gave him. “Do you not wish to prevent the death of innocents at the Dark Lord’s hands, too?”, he added.
“I do. And as luck would have it, what I need you to do will further, albeit indirectly, both your thirst for revenge and our goal to protect innocents.”
“I have received reports of ... disturbing things happening in Privet Drive.”
“Privet Drive?” He had never heard the name, but it spoke for itself. One of those streets that had been named, not by tradition, but by someone with zero creativity. He decided at once that he hated the place.
“The place where Lily’s son lives.”
Lily’s son. He felt a twinge in his heart. The old manipulator only ever called Potter that when he needed Severus to protect him. Obviously in the vain hope that it would distract him from the fact that Potter junior was an almost perfect copy of Potter senior.
“Potter is doing illegal magic?” Wasn’t that the ministry’s job to handle? Perhaps Dumbledore wanted Severus there because he knew the Ministry, especially Fudge, would be much too soft on Potter ... a mistake Severus certainly wouldn’t commit.
“Allegedly, yes, but that is not the problem. My contacts in the Ministry tell me there was a hover charm performed there – hardly dangerous, and apparently the only thing that was harmed was a dessert with sugared violets. No, what I am worried about are the bars that appeared on one of the bedroom windows. Upstairs, no less.”
Using a hover charm to ruin a dessert was, Severus had to admit, rather harmless, considering a Potter was involved. Giving the boy house arrest for so long that it was worth it putting bars on the window the muggle way did seem rather excessive. But of course, this was Potter. He might have done worse and found a way to deceive the Ministry ...
“I take it you want me to look into that?” Neither Dumbledore nor Fudge would ever allow Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived to be expelled from Hogwarts, but a man could dream. He would investigate what Potter had done, and then ... well.
“Discreetly, and fast. And please do not let your prejudice against the boy cloud your judgement. If he is in any imminent danger from his relatives, remove him immediately. If not, gather as much information as you can and report back to me.”
“Harry lives with his aunt and her husband. I think you remember Petunia?”
“Regrettably.” That made things a lot more difficult. He had felt sorry for the people who had to live with Potter, but now that he knew one of them was Petunia ... if anyone deserved Potter, it was her.
He couldn’t feel the slightest bit sorry for the destruction of her dessert.
“I will give you the adress.”
Severus inclined his head. “Under one condition. If I find out the boy did anything to warrant his apparent punishment ... you will not intervene on his behalf.”
“If his relatives merely grounded him, I will not intervene in any case. If, however, this is only an outward sign of physical violence ... ” Dumbledore shook his head. “Harry is, overall, an obedient boy. He served his punishment last year without complaints – unlike young Draco, I am told. Had he been forbidden from leaving the house for a week or two, there would be no need to put bars on his window.”
Severus decided not to mention that any sensible child would refuse to go into the Forbidden Forest at night, only accompanied by a half-giant of questionable intelligence. If he had known what Minerva intended, he would have intervened. “Very well.”