A/N: This is my newest FF and I'm interested to see where my bunny will go. If you're coming along for the ride, try to be patient with me! I write as often as I can when inspiration hits. I'm posting this as I go rather than waiting until the entire story is finished. I hope you enjoy it...bear with me!
The idea took hold one day while Harry was out by the lake. He was sitting at the shore, at the place where he and Sirius had almost died at the end of his third year. He was staring across at where he had stood while using the time turner; where he'd thought he'd seen his father casting the Patronus that saved his life. Suddenly, the thought popped into his head. His father had done it, so why couldn't he? What better way to connect with his father and Sirius and Lupin than to do it himself? He could teach himself to be an Animagus. His first thought was that he'd need Hermione. But he quickly banished that idea because she'd demand that he register himself, and he didn't want to do that. His dad hadn't, so he didn't think he should have to, either. Besides, it wasn't like he was going to use his Animagus form to do anything nefarious, like Rita Skeeter. He wouldn't spy on people and publish their secrets for everyone to see. He was just doing it to honor the memory of his father and his father's best friends; Harry's friends. And maybe one day he'd even teach Teddy, to help him connect with his own father.
He immediately got up and headed back toward the castle. He was glad he was one of the only students staying over the summer. He didn't fancy running into anyone while he tried to find information on becoming an Animagus in the library. He was at Hogwarts because he felt like he didn't really have anywhere else to go. There was Grimmauld Place, but Harry didn't really feel grown-up enough to live on his own yet. He'd never gone grocery shopping; never even bought toilet paper. Besides, he'd be returning to Hogwarts in the fall with the rest of his class to prepare for NEWTs. They'd been cancelled after the battle. Hermione was ecstatic they would get to make up for their lost year. Harry felt much more neutral about the whole thing. He knew he probably didn't really need his NEWTs to become an Auror. Given who he was, he figured he could do pretty much whatever he wanted and no one would try to stop him. But Hogwarts felt like home, and he didn't mind being able to stay an extra year.
His footsteps echoed in the hallways as he made his way to the library. He rounded the corner and almost crashed into a tall, dark figure.
"Mister Potter," Snape's voice was contemptuous, "whatever could you be doing inside on such a pleasant summer's day? I should hope you're not up to something. It's never too early to lose house points."
"N-no sir," Harry stammered. "Just headed to the library. Need to do a bit of studying."
"How industrious," Snape nearly sneered. "Do try to keep out of trouble, Potter. I have better things to do with my summer than spend my time supervising detentions."
Snape passed Harry and continued walking down the corridor. Harry wondered if Snape was serious about losing house points and getting detention over the summer. Probably. It didn't seem like Snape had changed much, even though the war was over and he didn't have to pretend to serve Voldemort anymore. Harry and other Order members had testified on Snape's behalf while he lay recovering in St. Mungo's from Nagini's bite, and the man had been cleared with much more ease than Harry would have thought possible. If Harry expected Snape to be more cordial to him now that Harry knew the truth, he was mistaken. Snape still seemed to dislike Harry just as much now as he did before. At least Harry had some understanding of why, now, since he knew Snape had been in love with his mum. At least, that's what the memories he'd seen made it seem like. He supposed Snape would never get over his hatred of his father, and Harry would just have to learn to stay out of Snape's way. Harry wondered if Snape would resume his post as Headmaster or if he would go back to teaching. And if he did return to the classroom, would he go back to teaching Potions or Defence? Harry stopped his musings once he entered the library, at once beginning his search for any materials that would help him on his quest to become an unregistered Animagus.
It was easier than Harry had thought it was going to be to find information on Animagus transformations. What wasn't easy, however, was the transformation itself. He quickly realized that his father, Sirius, Lupin, and even Peter must have been very talented wizards to manage learning the magic on their own without any formal training. Harry wasn't even sure he could do it. Once again he thought about asking Hermione for help, but the need for secrecy won out and he decided he would just try to go it alone.
Harry was positive that if he'd had help from Hermione he could have mastered the transformation much more quickly, but as it was, it took nearly a month of hard work before he was finally able to complete the transformation. He had tried and tried and he thought he'd come close a few times, but all of a sudden, one Saturday morning while he was alone in the dormitory, he tried it and suddenly felt himself shrinking and changing shapes. It was a bizarre feeling; similar to drinking the Polyjuice potion, only stranger because instead of changing from one person to another, he was changing from one species to another. The good news was that the transformation wasn't painful, as he imagined Lupin's change into a werewolf was. In a matter of seconds, he found himself on all fours, quite close to the ground. Excited to see what he'd become, he looked down at his feet to see furry paws. He felt something on his back twitch, and suddenly realized he'd grown a tail. He tried to say something, but all that came out was a, "Rowrrrr." It startled Harry so much that he sat down and blinked. He must be a cat. His first thought was disappointment. A cat was so ordinary. He'd hoped he might be a Stag, like his dad; like his Patronus. Maybe a bird, since he was so good at flying. Oh well, he thought to himself. At least he wasn't a rat. Or a snake. A cat wouldn't draw attention from anyone. At least he could walk around without anyone thinking twice about seeing a cat in the hallways. He got up and sauntered over to the full-length mirror by the door.
He saw what he deemed to be quite a handsome cat in the reflection. Glossy black, a close match to his natural hair color, he still had startling green eyes, and markings around them that could be likened to glasses. He had a white streak of fur down the center of his forehead that bled into his pink nose. All-in-all, he liked what he saw. He closed his eyes and tried to reverse his transformation. Moments later, he found himself on his hands and knees in front of the mirror. He'd have to work on being able to end up standing.
"Wicked," he said aloud with a smile. He went over to open the dormitory door and without a second thought, he changed back into his cat form and quickly ducked out and headed down the stairs to the common room. It was empty, which didn't surprise Harry, as there was only one other Gryffindor staying the summer at the castle. He made his way over to the portrait, unsure of whether or not it would open for him. He lifted up a paw to push it open, and it swung wide. He silently padded out into the hallway and began his exploration.
Things looked different from his new viewpoint. He noticed that the stone floors were quite dirty. He also found it easy to spot small insects crawling along the walls. It was also easier for him to hide in the shadows if he needed to, which he did at one point when Professor McGonagall and Professor Sprout rounded the corner, chatting quietly to one another. He made his way outside into the sunshine and headed toward the lakeshore. He lay down in the soft grass and stretched out. He was much more flexible as a cat. The sun was warm and the breeze was nice, and before he knew it, Harry was asleep.
When Harry awoke, he felt disoriented. It was strange waking up in his cat body, since he'd only just been in it for a few hours. He didn't know how long he'd slept or what time it was, but he was hungry. He made his way back up to the castle and as he passed by the Great Hall, he heard noises. Checking around quickly, he made sure he was alone, and then transformed back into himself. He opened the door and went inside, seeing that it was dinner time. Upon his entrance, the professors at the head table all stopped and stared at him. They quickly went back to eating their food. All except Snape, who glared at Harry hard enough that Harry was worried he might be in trouble for being late to dinner. His thoughts flashed back to his earlier run-in with Snape and his mention of detention. Harry broke eye contact and made his way over to the Gryffindor table where the other student sat eating silently. Harry thought he remembered she was going to be a third year. He sat across from her and his food appeared in front of him. His presence seemed to intimidate her, though, as after she looked up at him once, eyes wide, her eyes didn't leave her plate for the rest of the meal.
The next day found Harry sitting in the courtyard after breakfast, reading his Transfiguration text. He smiled grimly, thinking Hermione would be proud that he was studying when he didn't really have to. He nearly dropped his book when a voice startled him from behind.
"Come with me, Potter," Snape commanded.
Harry closed his book quickly and hopped down off the ledge he was on. "Why, sir?" he asked in what he hoped was a polite tone.
"Because I said so," Snape snapped.
Harry's temper flared. Why was Snape being so rude to him? He hadn't even done anything wrong. He supposed he was maturing, however, when his sarcastic retort died on his lips. That, or he had gained a remarkable amount of self-preservation over the past year. He followed Snape out to the castle grounds, passing debris that still lay scattered from the battle.
"We are doing repairs on the castle today, Potter," Snape stated as he walked briskly. Harry had to jog to keep up. "As an of-age wizard, you shall be helping, lest you find something ill-advised to do in your idle time."
Harry was surprised. He didn't think Snape would think him capable of being much help at anything, let alone something as important as repairing the castle. Then again, maybe it hadn't been Snape who had decided to let him help. Maybe Snape was just the one who had been sent to fetch him. As they rounded the side of the castle, he saw the other professors and several people he didn't recognize levitating stones up and into their rightful places in the partially destroyed wall.
"Do try not to kill anyone, Potter," Snape said condescendingly, and then strode off to the other side of the group.
It was surprisingly hard work, and the day was hot. Harry was glad he wasn't wearing robes, or he was sure he'd be sweating buckets. He'd been commanded to take a few breaks and get water by Professor McGonagall. Finally, she announced it was time for lunch. The group headed back up to the castle and Harry wiped the sweat dripping from his brow. As they made their way to the Great Hall, someone swept up behind him.
"For Merlin's sake, Potter," Snape sounded disgusted, "go take a shower before coming to eat. You smell worse than a hippogriff's stall."
Harry's face clouded over and he was about to snap back at Snape that he was sure he didn't smell worse than anyone else, when he decided a shower would probably feel nice after the hard work. It wouldn't take him long, and he'd be down to eat quickly.
When he returned to the Great Hall showered and changed, Snape gave him a surprised look. Harry supposed he was shocked that Harry had actually done what he'd asked.
The rest of the afternoon was spent fixing up the west wall of the castle. McGonagall pronounced that they would be working on the Astronomy tower the next day. Snape gave a particularly sour look at that. Harry didn't feel much better about it.
Harry went to the dorms and took another shower before dinner. He was sore, and impressed that the work they'd done, even though it had all been magical, left him with such a feeling of accomplishment. After dinner, he had a few hours before curfew, and he wasn't really in the mood to study, so he transformed into his cat and decided to prowl about the castle. He hadn't realized it, but he'd wandered down to the dungeons. He heard two voices arguing behind one of the doors. Harry looked up and saw that it was Snape's office.
"Of course I don't want to be Headmaster anymore," Snape sounded exasperated. "I'm more than happy to leave you with that task."
Harry nudged the door open with his nose and slunk inside, staying close to the wall and out of sight.
"Well, you can have your pick of Potions or Defence, then," Professor McGonagall offered him.
"I don't care," Snape said, running his hands through his hair. Harry noticed that the glare was gone from his face.
"Do you even want to come back?" McGonagall sounded a bit put-out, although Harry couldn't see her face.
"And what else would I do?" Snape countered. "It's not as though I'm qualified to do much else."
"I'm sure there are positions that would suit you," McGonagall said. "You've got the freedom now, if you wanted, you could leave."
Snape sighed. Harry'd never heard a sound like that come out of Snape before. He sounded tired.
"And go where? I might have been cleared but my name is still worthless. Legally, I'm not responsible for what I've done, but I'll never be able to work anywhere else. No one would offer me a position; not with my background." Snape sounded defeated. "I find it hard to believe that anyone – save those remaining from the Order – would trust me as far as they could throw me."
"I'm sure it's not quite as bad as all that," McGonagall sounded unconvinced, though.
"In any event," Snape continued, sounding a bit less despondent, "I'm comfortable here. I suppose after all these years I've become a moderately good teacher."
Harry wished cats could snort.
"Until I am able to find other employment, I shall stay on staff," he paused, as if giving something thought. "I believe it would be easiest if I were to continue in the Potions post. I have the curricula for that already established."
"Very well," McGonagall answered. "Thank you, Severus, you are most welcome here."
Snape waved her away. "Yes, yes, oh," he stopped her. "I shall need a list of the students who were in NEWT Potions and their OWL scores."
"What for, Severus?" McGonagall sounded confused.
"I only accept those with Outstanding into my course," he said, as if she should know.
"You can't deny students who have been in NEWT Potions for the last year, Severus," Harry could hear the frown in her voice.
"I'll not have students in my class who are less than capable. I have no patience for students who need hand-holding."
"Students who achieved Exceeds Expectations are more than capable of taking a NEWT Potions course," McGonagall was exasperated. "You'll have the students who were in 6th year Potions last year and you'll have a separate section of students who were in 7th year Potions last year. The students coming back to sit their NEWTs will need heavy review. There was not much learning going on last year."
Harry could see Snape's face looking mutinous.
"Could I at least be permitted to set an examination a few weeks into the course to see which students show the level of aptitude for achieving a NEWT?" he asked in a deadly voice.
"No you may not," McGonagall was firm. "However," she continued in the face of his fury, "I shall allow that after Christmas exams, any student not at the Exceeds Expectations level or higher shall be dropped from the course."
Snape didn't look mollified.
"It's the best you'll get, Severus," McGonagall warned. "And," she paused, "you can set your Outstanding restriction for the incoming NEWT classes."
Snape's face finally softened at that acquiescence. McGonagall turned to go and Harry shrunk even further back into the shadows to avoid being seen. He was about to follow her out into the hallway when the door slammed shut in front of him.
Uh-oh, Harry thought. Now he was trapped in Snape's office. Alone. With Snape. Harry had no idea how long Snape was going to stay in his office. In fact, Harry wasn't sure he'd even leave that evening. Perhaps his rooms were joined to his office. Harry resigned himself that he'd just have to wait for Snape to leave before Harry could transform into himself again and get out. He was so lost in his contemplations for escape, he didn't hear Snape behind him until it was too late. He jumped a foot in the air and started to streak off into safety.
"Well, well," Snape's silky voice struck fear into Harry's heart.
Harry felt the hex hit him and he fell, frozen, to the floor.
"What have we here?" Snape came and stood over him. Harry's heart was pounding so fast he thought it might leap out of his chest. Snape picked Harry up and examined him. "A cat," Snape stated the obvious. "Whose cat are you, I wonder?" he peered into Harry's eyes.
Oh no, oh no, Harry silently screamed. Please don't recognize me!
"Perhaps a stray?" Snape tapped his wand against his jaw. "You've wandered quite a ways to find yourself in my dungeon," Snape scolded Harry the cat. He kept his hold on Harry and began to walk to the back of the office.
Please put me down! Harry was frantic. Please let me go! Please don't use me in a potion! Harry was sure he'd read about potions that used cat organs.
Snape waved his wand and a door appeared. He strode through it, cat in hand, and Harry suddenly realized he was in Snape's private quarters.
Oh, I'm going to die, Harry said to himself. Snape's going to kill me and I'm going to die.
"Hungry, are you?" Snape gently placed Harry on a dark green sofa in front of the fireplace. "I'll see what I can rustle up for you."
Snape raised his wand and Harry felt himself unfreeze. Snape left the room and Harry darted off the couch and underneath the nearest chair.
I've got to get out of here, he thought to himself. But he had no idea how. What was strange, though, was how Snape was treating the cat. He hadn't killed Harry yet and he was even getting him food. It was odd seeing Snape be nice to another living creature. He heard Snape come back into the room. The smell of tuna filled Harry's nose.
"Cat?" Snape called. He set the plate of tuna on the ground. "Cat, where are you?"
Harry's mouth started to water at the smell and sight of the tuna. His instincts were at war with each other. Part of him wanted to eat the food and part of him wanted to do everything in his power to escape. He heard Snape walk out of the room and he tentatively stuck his head out from underneath the chair to survey his surroundings. Deciding the coast was clear, he stealthily moved toward the tuna plate and sniffed it. He took a small bite and then his cat instincts took over and he began devouring the fish. In just a few moments, it was gone, and Harry licked his paws without thinking. He sat up, still alone in the room. It was a cozy room, if dark. The sofa he'd been on was a deep Slytherin green. The chair he'd been hiding under was black leather. The fireplace mantle had various knickknacks on it, and pleasant photos hung around the room. Bookshelves lined the back wall and they were filled to the brim with leather-bound tomes. Not the dungeons of his imagination, then. It seemed Snape was human, after all.
He heard Snape open the door to come back into the room and he scuttled back underneath the chair. He saw Snape's feet stop at the empty plate and sigh. Snape bent down and picked up the plate. He walked it to another open part of the room and Harry stuck his head out from under the chair and saw that it was a small kitchenette. He watched as Snape stood at the sink and rinsed off the plate. He felt as though he was trespassing, watching Snape perform something as ordinary as washing off a dish. Snape put the dish on a drying rack and came back out to the sitting room. He sat down on the sofa with a magazine and pointed his wand at the fire, which was immediately lit. Harry's head was poked out from underneath the chair just enough that he could see Snape open the magazine and begin to read. The fire reflected off the glossy cover of the periodical. The fire was warm and Harry felt himself drawn to it.
"You know, cat," Snape said, catching Harry's eye, "I won't bite you. Why don't you come sit up here?" He patted the cushion next to him.
Did he dare? Harry warred with himself. Snape seemed like such a different person here. Did Harry take a chance and interact with him? Would Snape be more suspicious of a cat that cowered away from him?
"Rowrr," Harry mewed from underneath the chair. Snape patted the couch beside him again. Harry crawled on his belly until he was out from underneath the chair. He sat up, watching Snape carefully. His tail and ears twitched as the fire popped in the fireplace. He contemplated jumping up to the couch to sit next to Snape. He'd not jumped up onto anything yet. He hoped that he wouldn't misjudge the distance and either smash his face into the side of the sofa or fly over the back. Snape's legs were crossed and he had his finger stuck between the pages of the magazine. His face looked so different to Harry. It was free from the scowl that normally was plastered there. He looked almost amused as he watched Harry debate whether or not to join him on the couch. Finally, curiosity got the better of Harry and he crouched down, preparing to jump up next to Snape. He sprung and was thankful that his instincts were as good as they were. He landed gracefully on the deep green cushion and looked up at Snape.
"See?" Snape said to him, "Perfectly harmless." He reached his hand out and Harry shrunk back, but Snape's hand continued without stopping until it made contact with Harry's head. He felt Snape's fingers rubbing his ears and along his jaw. He was unable to stop the purr that escaped his throat, and he immediately felt ashamed that Snape had done something so enjoyable to him. Snape's hands were warm and strong, and Harry didn't have time to resist before Snape wrapped both hands around him and pulled Harry onto his lap. Snape ran his hand down the back of Harry, who arched into the touch with a stretch. Instinct again took over and he began to knead Snape's thighs with his paws.
"Stab me with your claws and I'll be sure to use you in a potion," Snape warned him. Harry was careful to keep his claws retracted, even though he wasn't sure exactly how he did it. He eventually curled up on Snape's lap, feeling both strangely content and completely repulsed at the same time. Snape opened his magazine back up and continued reading. Harry stared into the fire, marveling at the revelation that Severus Snape, of all people, was a cat person.
Harry must have fallen asleep because he opened his eyes suddenly when he was jostled by Snape's movement.
"Cat, you'll have to nap elsewhere, I've papers to grade," Snape shooed Harry off his lap and put the magazine down on an end table.
Harry looked at the clock above the mantle and his heart quickened when he realized he only had 15 minutes before curfew. He went quickly over to the door that led to Snape's office and scratched at it.
"You want out?" Snape raised his eyebrow and followed Harry to the door. He opened it and Harry slid out. He went to the front of the office and did the same thing to the door there. "Well," Snape sounded slightly disappointed, "I suppose you have places to be." He came to the door and let Harry out. Harry went into the hallway and turned around to look back at Snape, who was watching him through a crack in the door.
"Mrowrr," he said.
"Come back if you like," Snape offered, then closed the door.
Harry ran as fast as he could back to the common room and changed back into himself right before the portrait. The common room was empty and he went straight upstairs and flopped onto his bed.
What am I doing? he thought to himself. He felt tremendously guilty, but also fascinated at what he'd done. Who knew Snape had humanity inside him? It made Harry strangely uncomfortable.
Harry dreamt of a warm fire that night, and hands rubbing behind his ears.