A/N: This little fic didn't want to leave me alone while I was trying to finish my other WIP so here you go. It's a relatively short story that for once stays very close to canon, with the exception of the epilogue of course. This one has (rather obviously!) borrowed inspiration from the great corvusdraconis but the actual story is mine. This will be a slow burn, T rated.
Severus Snape sat stiffly next to Quirinus Quirrell while the new batch of first-years were to be sorted. He often tried to sit next to either Minerva, Septima or Hooch for the sorting as all three of them were excellent betting companions, but this year he had drawn the short straw. Quirrell was odder than ever, insisting on wearing a turban and being skittish and paranoid.
They were always so small. He recalled his own sorting but at the same time it was hard to think that he and Lily had ever been that small. He noticed another redhead in the batch. Great. Another Weasley. Just what we need. Draco Malfoy was also there this year, his godson, a spoiled little brat if there ever was one, destined for Slytherin of course. Otherwise the batch of students looked pretty much like they always did, with one notable exception.
He hadn't been able to avoid the fact that Harry James Potter was due to start this year. The scrawny boy who walked up to the podium looked just like James but skinnier. And he had her eyes. Lily's eyes, in James' face. Albus had already pulled him aside earlier and reminded him of the promises he had made, making his burden of guilt and longing just a little bit heavier again. His eyes were drawn to the boy's messy hair at the Gryffindor table once the meal had begun, of course Potter would be in Gryffindor, where else, and one time their eyes met across the Hall, contact broken when Potter rubbed that hideous scar he wore on his forehead ever since that horrible night.
Much later that same evening he pulled on his shabby nightshirt and doused the lights before falling into his large and fluffy bed, the one luxury that Hogwarts provided apart from the free meals. Thirty-one blasted years old and this is all I have to show for it? What is the point? Why am I doing this, again?
Something woke him up in the middle of the night, a sound or movement perhaps, something out of place. Quietly he Summoned his wand and lit the lights in the room but didn't see anything out of place, and his wards were undisturbed. After checking all rooms again, including the bathroom, he went to bed again but kept hold of his wand.
There it was again. A very muffled squeaky noise from somewhere on the floor. He lit his wand with a nonverbal Lumos and got the shock of his life when two dark eyes peered at him from the side of his bed. When the creature noticed him looking, it chirped and suddenly jumped up next to him in bed. An otter, by the looks of it, a young one, all brown fluff and large eyes.
"How did you get in?" he muttered as the otter sniffed at his shoulder, hair, and bicep before apparently deciding that he was a good substitute for whatever it was looking for.
The otter squeaked at him again, licked his chin with a raspy tongue and curled up in a ball right by his arm, apparently content to go to sleep.
"Ah well, I will deal with you in the morning if you belong to one of the new first-years," he muttered.
Soon both otter and man slept soundly, his large hand splayed over the otter's soft back.
In the morning he woke up alone as usual, and would have thought that the whole otter thing was merely a dream if it weren't for the tufts of brown otter fur that had rubbed off onto his nightshirt, and the faint smell of sea in his bedsheets.
The otter didn't show up anywhere during the next few weeks. He kept his ears open but nothing seemed amiss; no otters were reported as pets and no one was complaining about suddenly appearing aquatic mammals. He scoured the library for information about otters and found a bit about their habits and a bit about the symbolism but nothing that indicated why an otter would choose to materialise in his bedroom in the middle of the night, without disturbing his wards.
He really couldn't understand Albus' motivations for keeping Gryffindor paired with Slytherin so often for classes, especially in Potions. The new first-years were worse in that regard than basically every prior year he had taught until his own school years with the Marauders, with the insolent Potter brat and his ginger sidekick mouthing off at Severus at every opportunity or at the equally insolent Slytherin brat Draco whom he had to coddle. The class also contained an insufferable bushy-haired girl who thought that she could get to answer every single question if she only raised her hand high enough. At least she was a fast learner, surprisingly so for a Muggle-born.
Another late Friday night after he had finished his rounds and wanted nothing more than oblivion, the otter showed up again. This time he heard the shuffling of paws as he was reading a Muggle paperback novel in his customary shabby leather wingback armchair in his small sitting room, nearly done with a glass of Ogdens. It padded up to him, squeaking like an old rubber toy, and rose up with its front paws on his knee to get a better view.
"Hello," he said, eyebrow raised. It still didn't look very threatening, and rather young. The otter cocked its head and squeaked back.
"Can you understand me?" he asked, feeling decidedly silly.
The otter bobbed its head vigorously, so perhaps it wasn't quite so silly. Still, he wanted to make sure.
"Could you jump up on the couch if you do understand me?" he asked, not looking at the couch next to him. Sure enough, the otter did jump up on the couch, squeaking all the while.
"Sorry, I don't speak Otter. Are you an Animagus?"
The otter squeaked again and scratched an ear with a paw, looking unconcerned or perhaps not understanding the question.
"Are you female? Or male?" The otter had bobbed its head at the first suggestion.
"A girl then?"
She squeaked again, bobbing her head.
"By the way, I did some research on otters. You appear to be an Eurasian otter, and I am quite certain that your natural habitat doesn't include dungeon bedrooms in old magical castles." He regarded her sternly, arms crossed, in his best Professor Snape mode.
She chirrped at him, apparently not too concerned.
"Do you have a name?"
The otter bobbed her head again before looking around the room. She bounded over to his old piano that stood along the wall, rather dusty and piled with stacks of parchment and a few books. She leapt up on the stool, dislodging a few of the scrolls, and squeaked at him, clearly wanting him to lift the lid. He approached cautiously and did so, and to his astonishment she played the standard C major scale, squeaking at him to see if he was listening. She played it again and looked up at him, and then once more stopping after the third note, the E.
Angry chirping and she played the scale again, all of it at first and then just the E.
"Do … re … mi?"
The otter played the E again and chirped agitatedly.
The otter bounded down off the chair and squeaked, chasing her own tail like an excited dog.
"Alright, Mi, are you sure you aren't an Animagus? I definitely don't think regular otters play the piano."
If an otter could look confused, she did. She shook her head again and scratched her chin.
He rose to get ready for bed. When he finally doused the lights and turned down the covers, the little brown creature was already curled up in a near perfect circle beside his pillow, front paws in the air, fast asleep. Shaking his head at her, he slipped in next to the young creature, finding it odd to share his bed with a female even if she happened to be small and furry. She nestled in by the crook of his arm, resting her cheek on his bicep. Her fur was among the softest things he had ever touched, and he quickly fell asleep, lured by her soft snorting sounds.
His dark mood soured even further when Hagrid's blasted Cerberus managed to nick his leg. What on Earth made Albus think that such a creature would belong in a school? He was just cleaning the wound when she showed up again, chirping anxiously at the sight of his leg. He had to shoo her off when she tried to lick the wound that he had just treated with Dittany, but her presence felt reassuring somehow, as if someone actually cared about him for once.
During the rest of the school year she showed up occasionally. After the second occasion he started keeping notes, collecting research on otters, notes on her behaviour and the dates she appeared. Still, there didn't seem to be any pattern to her visits and he was no closer by the end of the school year to guess her identity. He'd made some subtle inquiries to Minerva regarding Animagus training but she claimed that no one was currently attempting the transformation. He asked the house elves for some extra fish whenever she appeared which made her squeak happily, but he had to veto her trying to feed him raw cod, head, bones and all. A few times he let her inside his lab when he had to brew a batch of potions for the Infirmary, with stern warnings that she must stay absolutely still and not try anything foolish. Her favourite spots were to either curl up on the work bench next to his cauldron, or perched on his shoulders, peering through his curtain of hair, tickling his ear with her whiskers and occasionally squeakily commenting on his work or licking his neck.
She did make his days just a little brighter, despite the dark clouds that seemed to be gathering on the horizon. He had never been one to care about pets but finally he could understand what made people keep dogs or cats. Not that he wanted one, anyway: a randomly appearing otter seemed just right in terms of commitment.