Chapter Two: Feline Antics
The pain had gone when Harry woke. He kept his eyes shut, trying unsuccessfully to go back to sleep. Only half-conscious, he noted that his bed seemed to have got a lot comfier overnight, and he had somehow changed into pyjamas without realising it. Funny, he thought sleepily. He could have sworn he went to bed in his jeans.
"Pippa, no. Go and play downstairs, you'll wake Harry."
Who's that? I know that voice.
"But, Daddy …"
The first voice shushed the girl's one and Harry heard footsteps from another room.
"Spoilsport," the second voice said, before she ran down a corridor within earshot.
Harry, vaguely wondering what was going on, heard a door open and close before the first voice whispered, "Harry? Are you awake?"
He peeled one eye open and then the other, blinking wearily. "Professor?"
"I told you last night, it's Albus."
"Right." Harry rubbed his eyes. "What's the time? Where am I?"
"It's just gone eight, and you're at my house. The cat is what's on your feet, if you're wondering."
Harry squinted through blurry vision. He could make out a dark shape curled up on the bed. Now he knew it was there he could feel the warm weight, like a hot-water bottle.
"Mm. That's nice."
Albus chuckled and sat down on the bed. "How are you feeling, Harry?"
"Um … okay … I guess," Harry mumbled, the events of last night returning slowly. Remembering how he had hugged Professor Dumbledore, he felt a sudden urge to pull the covers up over his head – but he couldn't, as said headmaster was sitting on them.
"How's your arm?"
"My what? – Ouch. Oh, that arm," Harry said wearily, sitting up. "Um … doesn't hurt that much … not unless I lean on it or something," he said slowly as he tried moving it.
"I would offer to get Minerva to look at it if you want, but she's only just got up and she hasn't been well lately," Albus said, holding out a hand to examine it himself.
"Professor – Albus?"
"This is your house, right?"
"So … what's Professor McGonagall doing here?"
Albus suddenly gave a mischievous grin. "I can't believe a clever boy like you hasn't worked it out yet."
Harry considered. "… Whoa. That's just … weird. Scary."
"Yeah – Finding out the rumours that have been going round Hogwarts about you two for the last four years are actually true – Oops …"
Albus chuckled. "Don't worry Harry, I'm no stranger to the rumours. They've been going round school for approximately fifty years."
"Professor McGonagall hasn't been teaching here that long, has she? I thought she was younger than that -"
"The rumours actually started when she was still at school. I think she was in sixth year when I first heard of them. They weren't true of course – not for another … hmm … ten years. Although we were quite good friends for a long time before."
Harry considered it. He had to admit he wasn't surprised.
"Well, think about it from the public's point of view. One male, one female, known each other for practically all her life, in a close working relationship that includes boarding at the workplace most of the year. If it wasn't inevitable in itself, the rumours certainly are."
"You have a very good point. Minerva honestly considers it pointless to live under her maiden name, because she thinks it's too obvious. But she would be anyway even if there was no need for secrecy, otherwise there would be two Professor Dumbledores …"
"Can I ask a question?" Harry interrupted.
"Why are we sitting here discussing my teachers' love lives?"
Albus smiled. "Well, you did ask."
"And … Harry."
Albus sighed. "On a closely related topic … We need to talk about last night."
Harry's insides clenched painfully. "W-what about it? What's that got to do with what we were talking about?"
"Because," his headmaster said gently, "we need to decide what's going to happen now in terms of your residence and guardianship."
"I promise you now you will not go back to the Dursleys', Harry. But that means you need a new home."
"Privet Drive was never my home," Harry said bitterly, "Hogwarts is."
"You consider Hogwarts your home Harry, because there has never been anything better for you. That can change now."
"What do you mean?"
"Harry, you need a proper home, somewhere you can stay in the school holidays, somewhere you're happy, somewhere where people will love and look after you." Albus took a deep breath. "Minerva and I have been thinking, and … well, we'd like to offer you a home here, with us."
"What – stay here – with you?" he said weakly. Albus nodded.
"It's completely up to you, Harry, and you don't have to decide now. But we'd love you to stay here. I don't think you realise, but we both care deeply about you; you're very important to us. I know it must seen strange to you, being your teachers, but we've wanted to have you here since you were a baby. Minerva and your mother were very close, and we wanted to adopt you: it was only the threat of Voldemort that stopped it."
"I …" Harry opened his mouth and closed it several times, no sound coming out. "I-I – I'm not sure … Can I think about it?"
Albus smiled. "Of course you can; take as long as you need. In the meantime, do you want some breakfast, or stay in bed for a while?"
Harry considered. "Um … stay in bed a bit, I think." He yawned.
"Try not to go back to sleep."
"May I ask a favour of you?"
"What is it?"
"Well, I believe the girls are dying of curiosity and are longing to see you now. Will you let them come in and talk to you if I warn them that you've just woken up?"
"Yeah, okay. How old are they?"
"Pippa's five and Miranda is seven. Shall I let them in now?"
Harry nodded, scratching the cat behind the ear. It was purring softly, with thick silvery fur that was silky to the touch. Albus stood and moved towards the door. Looking back, he said, "Minstrel seems to like you."
The cat purred in agreement.
Randa and Pippa were in their room, sitting on Pippa's bed.
"Do you think he's awake yet?" Pip asked in hushed tones.
"For the millionth time, I don't know!" Miranda said in exasperation.
Her sister paused. "What about now?"
"Ahem," a familiar voice said from the doorway.
"Daddy! Is -"
Albus chuckled. "Yes, Harry's awake, and you two can go in and talk to him if you're quiet, all right? He's only just woken up and I'm not sure he's used to children your age."
"Thanks Papa!" both girls said at once before racing towards the stairs.
Miranda slowed to a walk, and Pippa went to the other extreme by walking on tiptoe. Albus shook his head and turned to the other door.
The girls paused outside the door to the attic room.
"You knock," Miranda murmured.
"Why me? You knock. You're the oldest."
An amused voice spoke up from inside. "I can hear you and I'm awake, so you might as well not bother knocking."
They looked at each other and nodded, and Miranda pushed the door open.
Harry sat up and watched as the door opened slowly, revealing two small girls of about the ages Albus had said. The room was dim because the curtains were still drawn, but he could see that they looked extraordinarily similar, save for their hair – the older one had black like Professor McGonagall's, and the other had auburn.
"You can come in, you know," he said, his mouth twitching slightly in amusement.
The older – Miranda – edged apprehensively into the room, but Pippa sprang up onto the bed and sat herself cross-legged down next to Harry. Her sister followed a moment later, sitting the other side of him. Harry looked from one to another, not sure who to look at.
"Er, hello," he said rather nervously, when neither girl showed any signs of doing anything but stare up at him in wonder out of identical green eyes. To his mild surprise, they were not staring at his scar, just his face in general.
"Hi, Harry," Miranda spoke up, crossing her own legs. "Why are you here?" It was spoken out of curiosity, not hostility.
"Um, Du – your dad brought me here last night. I guess I'm staying for the summer."
Two faces fell and Harry wondered what he'd said wrong. "What?"
"Just the summer?" Pippa pleaded, hanging onto his arm – fortunately not his bad one. "Can't you stay longer?"
"Forever?" Miranda added.
A warmth suddenly spread through Harry as the words registered. He suddenly felt wanted, and found the sensation rather scary … but pleasant.
"Well … we'll see," he said finally.
"Yay!" Pippa threw her arms around him and Harry froze, not used to the physical touch, but she didn't seem to notice.
"So," he said happier, disentangling himself from her eager embrace, "you're Pippa, right?" He turned to the other sister. "And you're Miranda?"
"Yep," they said together.
"How old are you?" he asked, making conversation.
"Five," Pippa said.
"Seven," said Miranda.
"What's the time?"
Miranda started to answer, but Pippa cut her off angrily. "I want to do it!" She jumped off the bed and stared at the clock. Pointing, she said, "The little hand's on the eight, and the big hand's on the six, so it's … twenty … to … seven?"
Harry chuckled. "Nice try Pippa, but you got the hands mixed up. It's half past eight."
"Oh." Her face fell. "But I did get it sort-of right, didn't I?"
"Very good for a beginner," Harry smiled at her and she grinned happily, showing a gap in her front teeth.
"Auntie Poppy's been teaching me," she said proudly. "She says I'm very good."
"And she's right," Harry answered. "Er … who's Aunt Poppy?"
Miranda giggled. "You know her, silly!"
"Yes, she says she sees you more than the rest of the school combined!"
"Madam Pomfrey?" Harry questioned weakly.
"That's right! Only she's Aunt Poppy to us," Miranda informed him.
This would definitely be an interesting holiday.
Minerva had completed her morning tasks, tired but a lot happier. Pippa and Miranda seemed to be on a high too. She eventually shooed them out into the garden and settled down with a mug of tea, plate of Ginger Newts and one of her favourite books. The window in the living-room had jammed and it was stuffy in there, so she sat in the kitchen with a cushion between her back and the seat.
'Ha!' said the Queen, speaking more to herself than to him. 'A door. A door from the world of men! I have heard of such things. This may wreck all. But he is only one, and he is easily dealt with.' As she spoke these words she rose from her seat and looked Edmund full in the face, her eyes flaming; at the same moment she raised her wand. Edmund felt sure that she was going to do something dreadful but he seemed unable to move –
She jumped, almost dropping her book. "Albus!" She quickly bookmarked her place and lay the book down on the table. "I didn't expect you down yet, Harry."
"Morning, Professor," Harry said, slightly shyly. He and Albus were standing by the bench, which obviously meant they'd been downstairs at least half a minute before drawing attention to themselves.
"I suggested he stay in bed for a bit longer but he insisted on getting up," Albus shrugged. "Where are the girls?"
"With the goats, I think. How's your arm, Harry?"
"OK … bit sore."
"I can get Madam Pomfrey over here to have a look if you want, and I can find you a potion for it."
"Thanks," he smiled.
Albus disappeared into the garden to let Pippa out the summerhouse, where she seemed to have locked herself in, leaving Harry and Minerva on their own.
"What are you reading?" Harry asked curiously.
Minerva showed him the cover. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I've always been a fan of Muggle fantasy."
Harry grinned. "I had to read this at primary school."
"Did you enjoy it?"
"I did, but I don't really remember it much."
"You can borrow it if you want."
"Really? … But you're reading it -"
"For the thousandth time, yes. Take it upstairs when you go."
"Thanks," Harry murmured, flicking through the first few pages.
Minerva stepped back and almost fell over a cat. "Oh, Minnie!" she sighed.
"Short for Minstrel. He gets everywhere, don't you?" she murmured, picking the grey, very fluffy cat up gingerly. "Do you like cats, Harry?"
He shrugged. "I didn't use to, but I've sort of warmed up to them a bit now." Minstrel purred as he scratched him behind the ears. "Probably Hermione rubbing off on me." Harry hadn't liked cats back in the days when he was babysat for by Mrs Figg – the way she doted over them added to the fact that they chased him everywhere had left him with a strong dislike of anything remotely feline. But after four years spent in a magic school with cats all over the place, he had got used to them. Apart from Mrs Norris – not even Hermione could like her.
"Come on boy, let's get you somewhere a bit safer, eh?" Minerva directed at the cat in her arms before carrying him into the corner of the kitchen by the open door into the garden, and through another door. Harry followed them.
The living-room was darker than the kitchen, with just one window that was closed. There was a large fireplace, a piano in one corner and two bookshelves against the same wall; looking closer, Harry saw one was for fact and the other for fiction – most of the latter being Muggle books, some he recognised.
Minerva gently deposited Minstrel on the sofa and sat down next to him. Harry hovered for a moment, unsure whether or not to join them, before deciding to sit down at the end.
"You've met the girls?" Minerva asked, scratching Minstrel behind the ear.
Harry nodded. "They're … um …"
"A bit overwhelming I imagine, if one is not used to children their age?" Minerva suggested.
"Um, yeah," Harry agreed, glad she had said it and not him.
"You'll get used to them. They're very sweet children, if a bit of a handful sometimes. They take after Albus." She smiled. "The sweet tooth and all."
Harry laughed, remembering the passwords to his office. "Where are the others? Prof – Albus – said something about older ones …"
"Well, Richard – he's starting Hogwarts this year – is staying with friends at the moment. Amber's eighteen, just left, she's living in Diagon Alley weekdays because she's got a job there. The others are older and they've all left home, but they pop in now and again." Minerva spoke factually, but Harry could tell something was upsetting her.
"How many do you have?"
"Nine." She smiled. "So you don't need to worry, I think we can handle looking after one more."
Harry was confused for a moment before she realised who she was referring to. "Oh!" He thought. "How long was I asleep for?"
Whatever Minerva had been expecting, that wasn't it. "Sorry?"
"How long was I asleep for last night?"
"I don't know … Albus said he got back with you about eleven o'clock, and you fell asleep quite quickly. Why?"
Harry shrugged. "You seem to have decided very quickly, that's all. About asking me to stay with you."
"Well actually we've been thinking about it for the last four years. We wanted to before as well when your parents died. The only thing that stopped us was that you have more protection at Privet Drive."
"Oh." The fuzzy feeling was back. Harry had a suspicion he would become rather familiar with it and wasn't sure the thought completely repelled him. Before he had time to think of an answer a soft voice spoke from the doorway, making them both jump.
"I'm sorry," Albus apologised. "The protection was against external threats, not internal ones."
"Albus! You nearly scared me to death!"
"It's okay," Harry assured him. "Really. Anyway, I'm not going back there again."
"No, you're not," Minerva agreed firmly. Looking her in the eye, Harry could see that she looked as if a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Seeing his expression, she explained, "Albus and I have been arguing over your living arrangements every summer – it's a relief to have you here now. Finally," she added, shooting Albus a look.
Harry smiled. As he did so, the cat nuzzled up to him, purring contently as Harry rubbed his back.
"Minstrel seems to like you," Albus commentated.
"All cats like me." This was true – it was the reason Harry had disliked them for a long time. The exception was Crookshanks, who only seemed to care about Hermione.
"I'm saying nothing." There was a strange smile on Minerva's face. "They seem to like me and the children a lot as well. Albus figures it's the cat genes."
"That makes a difference?" Harry said, surprised, after a few second working out what she meant. Albus said it did.
"He's moulting," Harry murmured, looking down. "I keep getting his fur in my hand."
"I know. He's getting old now. Hello, Aberforth."
Harry looked round. Another man had joined Albus in the doorway. Harry was sure he'd never seen him before, but he looked familiar. Then Harry remembered where he'd heard the name before and put two and two together.
"How did you know it was me?" Aberforth Dumbledore asked in an exasperated tone.
"You're the only one on this earth stupid enough to think it's possible to creep up on me." Minerva hit him with a cushion.
"Who's this?" Aberforth said after ducking. Albus introduced them quickly and vanished
"I came to see Phoebe," Aberforth announced. Minerva rolled her eyes.
"Take Harry out with you. I'm sure he'd like a bit of fresh air and to look around. He's living with us now."
"Is Phoebe one of your kids?" Harry asked. Minerva laughed.
"No! Phoebe's a goat. Megan too. We've got horses as well; I think Pip and Randa are with them now."
"It's like living on a farm," Harry said, shaking his head in amusement.