Big thanks to SometimeSelkie for her wonderful beta reading skills.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything HP related. It all belongs to JK Rowling, Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Inc., Warner Bros., and any other entities involved.
Severus absentmindedly petted the golden soft fur on the back of the kitten's neck and it softly purred without waking up.
Severus was sitting in his favourite armchair, reading by the fire, knowing all too well that this was one of the few last lazy evenings. It was one week into the school year and soon there would be a constant supply of essays and quizzes to be corrected.
Later in the night, Severus yawned and closed his book. It was time to retire. The kitten on his lap yawned too, got up on his furry legs and it stretched its back, unconsciously sinking the needle-like claws into Severus' waistcoat.
Severus hissed at the sharp pain. "No claws, you bloody menace!" he reminded the kitten, taking it into both hands, looking into its wide golden eyes strictly. The bloody menace meowed softly; his strong hands evidently not causing pain to the delicate animal.
Severus carefully put the cat on the floor and watched it run towards the door, the same as after the two previous visits. "You could stay here, if you wanted," he told it, knowing that it wouldn't. She was of an independent nature - something that Severus had always believed he preferred over the dogs' clingy attitudes. He had been wrong.
The Potions master opened the door and let the kitty out with nearly inaudible, "Take care."
One week and five kitten's visits later, Severus was sitting by the fire in his comfy armchair, his head tilted limply backward, his back leaning heavily on the backrest, his clever hand caressing soft golden fur.
"The third year Slytherin-Gryffindor class is a hell on Earth," he informed the cat, and her purr got louder in response. "Malfoy is trying to blow the classroom up for a petty childhood rivalry and half of the Gryffindors don't really need his help to make their potions explode."
Severus knew he should do something productive, but he was so tired that he didn't even feel like reading. He sighed deeply, wearily. "Being a teacher is a damned job," he shared with the animal, "and this year Albus had to hire Lupin, of all people."
About an hour later, Severus decided that more sleep could lift his spirit at least the smallest bit. "I'll call it a night, Golden, so you'll have to leave now," he told the kitten, not bothering to invite her to stay, as it had proved to be a waste of time in the past.
She meowed offendedly when he laid her on the stone floor and she made an attempt to climb up his trousers. Severus lifted her and admonished, "What did I say about claws?"
"Meow," she answered.
"All right," Severus said resignedly, "I'll take you to my bedroom and when you want to leave, you'll wake me up."
Before Severus went to wash and clean his teeth, he had ordered a portion of kitten food, as he remembered that cats were nocturnal eaters. A house-elf with a sock on one of its bandy legs appeared and Severus briefly considered the possibility that he was hallucinating. Then he shrugged it off. If the Headmaster could wear flashing golden-pink robes with planets and unicorns running over it for the Welcoming feast and was able to hire a werewolf as a teacher, he was capable of all kinds of lunacy, ordering house-elves to wear one sock included.
To his surprise, when Severus woke up the following morning, Golden was still lying on his pillow, sleeping.
Severus ordered food to his quarters, cherishing that it was Saturday and he wasn't required to go to the Great Hall. "Let's pretend that we're not at school and the students don't exist," he told the kitten. The house-elf who brought the breakfast was blessedly sock-free and Severus decided this was going to be a much better day than yesterday.
"What's happened?" Pomona asked Minerva at lunch the very same day, voicing the question that was on Severus' mind as well. The Gryffindors, especially the third and second years were mostly missing and the rest of them were obviously agitated.
"Potter's cat got lost," Minerva answered. Again, Pomona voiced Severus' question when she commented in surprise that she had thought Potter had an owl, not a cat.
"He lost his owl during the summer, and Miss Granger got him a kitty," Minerva explained briefly. Severus nearly snorted. Leave it to Potter to lose an owl – an animal who was able to find its way anywhere. Of course, after a split-second he realised the euphemism. He felt pang of sorrow, remembering his pain when his mother's owl had died.
"What happened?" Pomona inquired. "It was quite a young bird, wasn't it?"
"Potter wouldn't talk about it to anyone." Minerva shrugged. "My guess would go to the awful Muggles he lives with. I told Albus all those years ago not to leave Harry with them."
Severus excused himself as soon as he finished his meal. Today, apparently, wouldn't be a better day than yesterday, he thought sadly. On his way to the dungeons, he took a magical whistle from his pocket and called a school owl.
Potter, come to the Potions classroom immediately. Alone. Professor S. Snape
He pocketed the pen he had scribbled the note with and headed to his quarters. This was just his usual luck - a creature he got used to visiting him belonged to a Gryffindor - Potter, no less. Of course, there was still a chance that it all was an odd coincidence and two animals were involved, but Severus had never been an optimist.
Potter came to the Potions classroom a few minutes after Severus had brought Golden – who probably wasn't Golden at all. Severus quickly stopped petting her fur, pretending he was just holding the kitten impassively.
"Star!" the boy exclaimed. "Er- Hello, Professor. Where did you find him?"
"Her," Severus answered dryly.
"What?" Potter furrowed his brow in his usual stupid way. He took Golden from Severus' hands and cradled her to his skinny chest lovingly, whispering to her how worried he was.
The older wizard's throat constricted. He wished suddenly he had kept the kitty in his quarters, secretly. Who ever came to his rooms, anyway? Golden could have lived a long life with him, cheering his days, and no one would be any wiser.
Severus swallowed and turned around. "Sit down, Potter," he ordered over his shoulder. He sat at his teacher's table and the boy sat in front of it, still cradling the small feline to him. It was more than Severus would expect from a Potter, to have a loving feelings for an insignificant cat – she was beautiful, no doubt, but she was certainly nothing to show off with as the snowy owl had been. Speaking of the owl...
"I said that your cat was a female, not male. And I didn't find her; she found me and stayed a few evenings and the whole night, tonight." The green eyes blinked at him and then turned down to the purring feline. Severus continued gravely, "I have a more serious matter to address, however. What happened to your owl, Potter?"
A storm of emotions crossed the student's face - pain, shame, anger, and some less clear feelings - and his eyes filled with tears. Potter shook his head and started to rise, evidently deciding to try to run away from Severus, from his painful question as well as the boy's own memories. Severus could explain to him that nobody could escape his painful memories, but he supposed he wasn't the best person to do so.
"I take the question back," he said instead. "Sit down, and for God's sake, don't squeeze Gold- eh, Star that much."
After the boy did what he was told and the kitten could breathe properly again, Severus continued. "Let me rephrase my question. Supposing that the demise of your previous pet had something to do with your Muggle family, how are you going to prevent this cat from getting harmed?"
Potter still looked distressed, but thank Merlin he was no longer on a verge of tears. "I thought I would give her to Hermione for the summer," he said, scratching Star behind the ears, and both wizards watched her narrow her golden eyes in pleasure. His answer confirmed the involvement of Muggles in the death of the owl, Severus noted.
"Let's say that you won't leave her with Miss Granger, but with me," Severus said silkily. "I, as repayment, will punish those Muggles in revenge for your owl."
The boy became absolutely stiff. It earned him a displeased "Meow" from Star and a badly-hidden impatient gaze from Severus. Come on, Potter, Severus urged inwardly, you were nearly a Slytherin, according to Albus. It's not as if Gryffindors aren't vengeful too.
He continued persuasively, "It would be a punishment that wouldn't be associated with you or the wizarding world at all, something they couldn't ever blame you for."
"They blame me for everything," the boy murmured, more to himself than to his teacher. Then he raised his eyes to Severus. "What would you do to them?"
"It depends on what happened," Severus answered honestly, and he raised his hand to stop the student's objections. "You don't have to share details. Just tell me if it was an accident or an intentional killing."
"It was a murder!" Potter exclaimed and his eyes shined as the Cruciatus Curse. "Vernon, - Uncle, he didn't allow me to let her out of her cage and when she was screeching, he- he-" Potter stopped and swallowed heavily, tears running down his cheeks. Teardrops started falling onto Golden's fur and the cat hissed in dislike. She wriggled out of his hands and jumped elegantly onto the teacher's desk, which she crossed swiftly, and jumped on Severus' lap.
The green eyes full of tears followed her, betrayal clearly written in Potter's face.
"Now, now, Potter, this doesn't mean anything. Cats are rather Slytherin-like creatures, moving where they feel best at the moment," Severus cajoled and then he cleared his throat. He couldn't believe that he was comforting Potter. "Back to important matters, though. What about Petunia and other residents of the household?"
Too late, Severus realised he used Lily's sister's name. Fortunately, Potter didn't notice. "She said it was a foul-smelling creature and that she was happy it's gone," the boy said in a hate filled voice, "and Dudley laughed. The fat pig laughed!" he shouted. "I hate them all!"
"They will be punished," Severus promised. "We have a deal. I'll tell you after the revenge is delivered, what it consisted of. You will let Gold- Star come to me in the evenings and leave her with me for summers. No word of this goes anywhere further, Potter," Severus added in a voice that allowed no objections.
"Deal," Potter said firmly, he got up and extended his hand to Severus. To the older wizard's surprise he added, "As Star is a bit yours this way, we can call him - er, her - Gold Star."
"Golden Star, actually," Severus corrected him and shook his hand. Then he cleared his throat in discomfiture. "Thank you."
He handed the boy Golden Star and dismissed him with a nod of his head. Potter walked to the door, where he turned back and nodded as well before he left. Little did the two of them know that they might have changed whole future.