Chapter 1: Haunted House
The rain was coming down in buckets as Harry made his way up the path towards the grim, foreboding building at the top of the hill. It was late in the evening and very nearly dark outside, but he could still perceive its outline against the backdrop of the dusk sky. It looked more like a barn that a house, being ill-kempt and dilapidated to the extreme. Actually, the only inhabitants Harry could imagine living in such a dismal biscuit box were ghosts.
Well, either that or the every-slithery, ever-sneering Professor Severus Snape.
The latter reality was true. It was just Harry's luck that his least favorite teacher from Hogwarts should be in closest proximity to his aunt's house, from which the 12-year-old had been thrown earlier that day for inflicting one too many magical "accidents" on his relations since he started demonstrating his knack for wizardry.
Now he could only think of getting back to Hogwarts, even if it was the middle of the summer and school was out. It was the only place he had ever really felt at home, and he was sure Headmaster Albus Dumbledore would be able to work out something and allow him to spend his summer somewhere on the grounds. The only problem was that he had absolutely no idea how to get back to Hogwarts. The train behind the wall of the London tube station, he knew for a fact, did not run when school was out.
So he had done the very practical thing of going to the local library and rummaging through the phone and address books for his teachers. Of course, he would have preferred help from one of his fellow students, but unfortunately, his friend Ron Weasley was on an archeological expedition in Egypt after his dad won the lottery, and his other friend Hermione Granger was on holiday with her family in Paris. Worse yet, it seemed that the teachers he would have preferred to locate all lived far afield from London, and for all he knew, were off on far-flung vacations.
But there was one sure-shot, blood-curdling, stomach-churning one, but still a sure-shot. Snape, he had heard for a fact, never went on holiday. Furthermore, he lived in a factory town in the midlands, more within striking distance than any of the other teachers from the capital. So Harry had taken the last remaining change he had in his pockets and bought himself a one-way bus ticket there, in hopes that the man might at least have the courtesy to help him get in touch with Dumbledore and point him in the right direction towards Hogwarts.
Now, standing on Snape's rickety front porch with all his worldly possessions in a suitcase and bird cage (he would rather had died than leave Hedwig at the mercy of his estranged relations), Harry mustered up all the courage he had and pressed the button to ring the doorbell…only to discover it was decidedly broken. Hesitantly, he rapped on the door with his knuckles. Still no sign of life or movement from within. The overhang was leaking something terrible, and Harry was getting drenched. He noticed that there was a tool shed not far from the house, so he set down his belongings, hopped off the porch, and sloshed across the yard to take shelter there.
Stepping inside, he felt even more spooked than before, observing spider webs, shelves of bottles containing potions and poisons alike, and various cages and containers with both living and dead frogs, snakes, and mice. He assumed the potions master used them for scientific experimentation, especially given the long wooden table littered with dissecting tools. Harry's stomach flipped. He had disliked Snape pretty much from the first day of potions class, and the feeling was clearly mutual given how the teacher had made a public example of him in front of the other students, but now the boy felt sick.
He was just about to abandon the whole notion of asking him for assistance and take off into the unknown, come what may, when he was stopped cold in his tracks by an unnerving screech, and the biggest black cat he had ever seen leaping in front of his path. Harry yelped, and fell backwards into a shelf of potion bottles.
Badly shaken already, he was more distraught to hear heavy footfalls and the pale visage of Severus Snape standing over him, holding a flickering lantern in his hand. He was still dressed in the black cloak he had always worn at Hogwarts (and Harry by now was fairly convinced it was more a part of his body than an article of clothing), and his matching black, greasy hair looked more disorderly than ever. His face resembled that of any storybook phantom, and his expression was one of sheer horror.
"You," he blurted, and the level of distain in his voice was palpable.
"I…I just…had to ask you a question…"
"What?!" Snape snapped. "You come trespassing on my land, damaging my property, and now you plan on taking a survey, is that it?"
"No, I mean…I just…"
"You just." The professor squinted at him. "How did you, of all pernicious persons, locate my place of residence?"
"Looked you up at the library," Harry mumbled. "I just wanted to know how I could get back to Hogwarts."
"Get back to Hogwarts," Snape repeated, incredulously. "What do you think, that it's open any time of day or night, in any season, at your beck and call?"
"But my aunt kicked me out of the house today," he explained. "I thought Professor Dumbledore might have a solution. But I didn't know how to get in touch with him. I figured you would able to reach him, though."
"Oh, I see," Snape sneered. "So I'm the slave of the chosen one. I'm here to enable your prolific correspondence with the wizarding world."
"Look, can't you just help me this once?" Harry pleaded, struggling to his feet. "Then I'll be gone like a flash, I promise. Professor Dumbledore would see to that, I know he would."
Snape exhaled, and then sarcastically stated, "Yes, Dumbledore the great can solve anything." He gestured to the mess Harry had made. "Clean up those bottles, and then get back to the house. I'll decide what to do with you inside."
Harry decided he might as well do as he was told, in hopes that professionalism would supersede personal feeling and Snape might actually put him in touch with Dumbledore. After getting most of the potion bottles, both broken and unbroken, put back on the shelf in no particular order, he headed back to the porch.
This time, Snape was waiting at the door to admit him, though his dark, beady eyes read "Not Welcome". Harry didn't much care; he just wanted to get in out of the rain which had already soaked through his sweater and jeans. And even if the house was creepy, it couldn't possibly be as creepy as the tool shed. Or at least, not the same variety of creepy.
Nonetheless, in this case, the book could very well be judged by its cover, for the house's dreary exterior complimented its seedy interior. It was almost entirely dark, except for a light bulb hanging from the ceiling in what Harry assumed was supposed to be the sitting room. There was an ancient-looking sofa, and several shelves stashed full with books, as well as more potions bottles and chemistry equipment randomly lying around on the floor and on a scratched-up coffee table.
For once, Harry started feeling sorry for Snape, wondering if his lack of sociability had anything to do with his surroundings, or if it was the other way around, and his surroundings mirrored his inner state of miserable-ness. Either way, his teacher was obviously not in the mood for a philosophical discussion on the subject.
"I could just throw you out, you know," he remarked high-handedly. "Then what would you do, oh magnificent one, wandering through the country all alone at night in a rainstorm, with town drunks and wild creatures lurking about in the shadows? I think it could be most satisfying to turn you loose, at that…"
"You can't scare me!" Harry shot back, getting angry. "You're just being a bully!"
"Watch…that…tone," Snape hissed, and there was a deadly earnestness in his words that made Harry shudder.
"Why do you hate me so much?" the boy blurted, feeling vulnerable after being disowned by his only living family just hours before. "What did I ever do to you?"
"What did you ever…" Snape paused, and snickered ruefully. Then he seemed lost in his own thoughts for a long moment. "It's late," he acknowledged at last. "I have no tolerance for bickering with an uninvited house guest. We can cover whatever ground there is to cover in the morning." He gestured to the sofa with a broad sweep of his arm. "Take it or leave it, Potter."
Harry reluctantly put his belongings down on the ground, stumbled towards the sofa, and crashed out on it. The springs were obviously sprung, so the landing was harder than he had expected. But he was too exhausted to complain about the discomfort, and was admittedly rather relieved to have somewhere dry to sleep. Well, mostly dry, that is, as the roof was afflicted by various leaks, which Snape had set up various buckets to catch. But there was one right over the couch that Harry had a feeling might be his bane all night long.
Still, he refrained from commentary on the conditions, even when he felt a rough woolen blanket tossed unceremoniously over him, accompanied by his host's aggravated mutterings. However, he did snap to attention when he felt some other weight on top of him, which began to "meow" ominously. It was jumbo creepy cat from the shed, who had evidently followed them inside, and was now crouched on Harry's stomach, staring at him with big, yellow eyes.
"Oh, and Potter," Snape called from somewhere across the room, "I wouldn't give Bastet any reason to resent your presence in her domain. She gets rather defensive, you know, and might just take the notion to…scratch your eyes out."
Harry then heard the professor close the door of his room with a slam, and proceed to secure at least three locks before retiring and leaving Harry to face his lone lady friend for the night's duration, trying to outstare her intermittently till the break of dawn.