Disclaimer: Alas fair reader, they are not mine.
Summery: A story that begins just after the Hogwarts Express draws into Kingscross at the end of book five. The main elements include, Harry Potter, Minerva McGonagall, Remus Lupin, Severus Snape and a confined space. This leads to what can only be described as an interesting start to the holidays.
"Follow the black cat". Harry repeated the last-minute instructions he had received from Hagrid just before the Hogwarts Express left the station. "Follow the black cat." He had been pondering on it quietly for almost six hours now and he had still failed to establish just what the hell it was that the half giant had meant. It was all a little reminiscent of the 'follow the spiders' incident in his second year: however this time there was no trail of little black cats leading into the Forbidden Forest, or anywhere else for that matter. Harry knew this for a fact as he had been constantly looking for this sign, messenger… whatever it was, the entire trip. When he thought about it rationally he supposed that this specific feline might not even be supposed to appear until the end of the holidays but he wasn't going to take a chance and risk missing an opportunity to escape from Privet Drive. Not for the first time in the last month though, he just wished that someone would tell just exactly what it was that was happening and what was expected of him personally.
He bid goodbye to Ron and Hermione, full of promises to keep in touch as well as he could, but after they had departed there was still no sign of anyone there looking for him. This was hardly a surprise though, so grabbing the handle of his trunk he rolled it out of the way of all the hundreds of people milling about on the platform. Setting Hedwig's empty cage down on the ground, she had been left to make her own way back, he sat himself down and got ready to wait for his Aunt and Uncle to arrive. He sat and watched as the rest of the students began to dissipate and wondered to himself how the wizarding world managed to keep itself secret considering some of the totally peculiar behaviour that some of the adults were displaying, never mind what they were wearing…
As he observed the scene before him he absently started scratching behind the ears of the cat that had started winding itself in and out of his legs. The cat! Looking down he was met by a pair of green eyes staring back at him from inside a pitch-black furry mask.
"Hello," he said quietly, continuing to pet the cat. It purred in response and nuzzled into his hand before suddenly taking off across the concourse. It stopped again maybe ten metres away and turned back as if looking for him and gave an impatient meow! The message he had received from the Groundskeeper certainly seemed to make an awful lot more sense now. All the same though, if the last year had taught him anything it was that things were often not quite as they seemed, so strapping the empty cage to his trunk he thrust his spare hand into his pocket and wrapped it around his wand as he set off behind his mysterious guide. Harry was so intent on not loosing his four-pawed piper that he didn't notice as he stepped out of the train station. He followed it across the road and down the street for quite a distance before, with the swish of a tail, the cat disappeared down a ramp and into a low level car park.
Harry hung back, every instinct he possessed screaming that there was something wrong with this situation.
"Is that you Minerva?" came a familiar voice.
"Just how many cats do you think wonder the streets of central London Lupin? Especially with a limp like that," retorted Snape in his all too familiar drawl.
"I was not limping Severus and considering how long we're all going to be cooped up together, I'd be especially grateful if you'd be kind enough to say nothing if you can't think of something constructive to add." McGonagall's tone was more than familiar after five years in her classes "Mr Potter? I know you're there so, if you'd be kind enough to join us." He did as she asked but kept a hold of his wand all the same.
"Well it seems as if the boy isn't quite as stupid as I would assume," Snape said, eyeing the hand he still had in his pocket.
"Severus," McGonagall warned.
"Oh – give up woman."
"Now, now children," Remus Lupin interrupted. "No – it's good that you're on your guard but now I expect that you want to make sure that we really are who we appear to be. Maybe ask us a question only we'd know the answer to?" It seemed like a good suggestion but Harry struggled to think what he could ask them. He thought about asking about his grades or maybe the password to Dumbledore's office but then realised that it wasn't unfeasible that an impostor could know the answer to those. Whenever he'd seen this kind of scenario in a film or the like the questions always seemed to be about the subject's love-life or the like and the thought of venturing down that road just made Harry shudder – never mind that he wouldn't know the answers in any case. But then he had an idea…
"Where's HQ?" He asked quietly but firmly. He knew that you wouldn't be able to find it unless the secret keeper told you where it was but he was certain that to share the address between four people who really ought to know it already would be possible.
Lupin, who had been sitting sideways on the passenger seat near Harry, sprung up.
"Oh – I know this one!" he said with a smile, and for a moment Harry was disturbingly reminded of Lockhart. Leaning close his former Professor whispered the correct answer just loud enough for him to hear above the rumble of traffic on the road above. His Head of House quickly did the same and, somewhat more reluctantly, so did the Slytherin Head. It was hardly as if he'd never had anyone whisper in his ear before but he'd never really appreciated how different an experience it could be depending who was doing the whispering.
"Now can we please get a move on?" Snape asked from where he stood leaning on the roof, standing inside the open driver's door. It only dawned on Harry as he watched them get ready to get into the car, as Lupin helped him lift his trunk into the boot, that the three of them really did look passably muggle. The Slytherin was in dark jeans and a black roll-neck pullover with his hair apparently newly washed and pulled back tidily. McGonagall had her hair braided down her back where it lay on her green twin set. There was something more different about her though and he wasn't quite sure what it was. Maybe it was the fact that underneath her voluminous velvet robes she had been hiding quite an attractive figure, which was now highlighted perfectly by the charcoal slacks she was wearing. He just wasn't certain that was it though. Lupin didn't look wholly different from how he usually did except that it seemed someone had done some impressive repairs to his rather worn wardrobe.
"I'll take the back seat," Lupin volunteered. "No need for you to get all squished yet Minerva."
"Thank you," she replied, looking a little surprised. Harry waited until they were all safely ensconced in the car and were sitting on the ramp waiting to pull out onto the road before he asked the question that had been bugging for some time now.
"What exactly is going on?"
A/N: Hope you enjoyed this - please let me know either way
thanks to Rachel my beta