On a quiet Saturday afternoon, Harry sat on the couch next to Severus, propping his elbow on the pillow on his lap as he held his chin in his hand. He had Severus light the fire in the fireplace before them, since it was unbelievably cold in the chambers for a September day.
"Are you going to lock yourself down here all day?" Severus questioned, his eyes never leaving the papers that he was reading on his lap. "You're not going to join your friends?"
"Not yet," Harry answered. "Ron and Hermione are just starting to warm up to me now. I reckon we might be all right within the next few days." He beamed. "I just want to stay down here with you for today."
"That's fine with me," Severus said distractedly, pinching the bridge of his nose in irritation. Harry tried to peek over Severus's shoulder to see who's paper it was, but he couldn't get a good look.
"Dad," Harry started suddenly, "I was thinking that I might start sleeping in the dormitories again. Is that okay?"
Severus finally lifted his eyes off the papers, glancing sideways at Harry. "For Merlin's sake, why wouldn't that be okay with me?"
Harry turned pink. "I dunno, just asking."
They fell back into a silence as Severus put his focus on the papers and Harry's eyes swerved onto the fire again. Things had been quiet at Hogwarts so far - as quiet as things were in the chambers now. No writing on the wall, no attacks, no Dobby, no basilisk. What if things ended up being different this year? What if things remained quiet? He'd never gone a year so far without something happening.
"Severus," Harry asked slowly as he remembered something he'd been meaning to ask, "was I on the Quidditch team last year?"
Severus's brow furrowed as he looked over. "Yes, why?"
"Well, in my first year I was on the Quidditch team, too," Harry explained, fiddling with his thumbs, "and in my second year... and I was wondering, if it might be possible for me to... well... well, to...." Harry trailed off. He glanced up at his father to find the man smirking.
"I'll talk to Professor McGonagall and Mr Wood about it," Severus spoke up, causing Harry to break out in a smile.
Harry leaned against the couch comfortably, the wide smile still pulling at his lips. "Brilliant," he murmured, pleased.
Then, they fell back into that incredibly noiseless silence.
Harry fidgeted, letting out a loud sigh just for something to be heard. Eyebrows raised, Severus looked over at him, saying, "Is there something wrong, Mr Snape?"
"You should talk to me," Harry suggested innocently. "Or let me help you. What're you doing?"
"I'm grading papers. Can you not wait until I'm finished? Then we can talk." Severus studied Harry. "Perhaps you may prefer finding Mr Malfoy, Mr Weasley or Ms Granger? You can always find me later."
Harry bit his bottom lip, about to answer when he noticed something strange with the fire.
"Hey," Harry said, frowning, "what happened to the fire—"
He was cut off, startled, as Sirius appeared in the fireplace, looking a little dishevelled. He stepped out, dusting himself off, flashing both Severus and Harry an overly cheerful smile.
"Hello Sev, hello Harry!" Sirius clasped his hands behind his back. "What's going on with you lot today, hm? Anything interesting?"
"What are you doing here?" questioned Severus suspiciously, picking up the pile of papers and setting them down slowly on the floor next to his feet. "What happened? Did you finally burn the house down?"
Sirius shook his head. "No..." He swallowed, locking eyes with Harry. "Oh Harry, I'm so sorry, I didn't even mean for it to happen, it was an accident!"
Harry frowned. "What did you do?"
Sirius took a step closer, running his fingers through his hair nervously. "I lost Black," he finally said reluctantly. "I honestly didn't mean to," he added hastily at Harry's horrified look, "but I remember how cats are allowed to be let outside, and so I've been letting him out and he's always came back, and this time he didn't."
Harry jumped to his feet. "You lost Black?" he repeated, feeling a lump form in his throat. "He's gone?" Harry looked back at Severus. "Dad, you should've let him stay here! Now he's—he's—"
"No," Sirius said loudly, shaking his head wildly. "I won't have you regret leaving your pets with me. I'm sorry. You know what? I'll go back, and Moony and I will look for him and—he probably just got locked in one of the rooms downstairs. Sorry for bothering you lot, I'll go now. Don't worry."
Harry shook his head, jumping up to his feet. "I'm coming with you."
"You certainly are not," Severus spoke up. "You're in school, Harry, and you will not go gallivanting around town with Black. You'll stay here at Hogwarts, understand?"
Harry turned to face Severus, trying to muster the saddest look his face could even possibly produce. "Please let me go find Black," he implored, clasping his hands together for an added effect. "If I can't find him within an hour I'll come back."
"Maybe it's better if you stay here, like Snape said," Sirius put in. "I can find him Harry, and when I do, I'll write to you. Better yet, I'll Floo here and tell you myself."
Harry wasn't going to settle for that. "Dad." Harry's lower lip jutted out. "Dad? Daddy?"
Severus closed his eyes in irritation, sighing. "Go, go. If you're not back in an hour I shall be there to get you. Be warned."
Harry smiled. "I promise. One hour."
"I've checked all throughout the house," Sirius explained as they stepped out of the lounge. "Every single room. Twice."
"You said he didn't come back last night. Did you check outside?"
"The entire yard," Sirius answered firmly. He twisted the handle of the front door, opening it. Harry stepped through, momentarily blinded by the sun. He shielded his eyes, skimming the lawn. The neighbourhood was quiet, barely even a sound to be heard.
Harry walked down the steps, checking in around the side of the house. Sirius stepped in the mulch of the garden, peering into a bush in front of the porch.
"I don't see anything," Sirius said, sighing.
Harry watched as Sirius even lifted up a rather heavy rock, examining the ground underneath it.
"Don't look under a rock," Harry moaned, closing his eyes. "Look, he has to be around town. It's a small town, isn't it? We'll just have to look everywhere."
Sirius walked over to Harry, a sad look on his face. He flung his arms over Harry's shoulders, hanging his head.
"Do you hate me?" Sirius questioned gloomily.
"Of course not." Harry awkwardly patted Sirius's back. "You're just rotten when it comes to looking after pets. I know that you wanted to keep Black here with you, but maybe... when we find him... he should come back to Hogwarts with me? I can somehow convince Dad to let him stay in the chambers."
A pained look crossed Sirius's face, but he sighed a sigh which sounded like a wordless agreement. Sirius dropped his arms and backed away, investigating the garden once more. Harry looked up at the house before him, so large and so empty for one person to live in alone for most months out of the year. It wasn't like Remus lived in the manor along with Sirius while he and Severus were at Hogwarts. Sirius was alone most of the time, so it was no wonder that he wanted Black to stay with him.
"Or..." Harry found himself saying out loud slowly, "Black can stay here, as long as you promise to keep a good eye on him."
Sirius's eyes widened for a second, then he gave Harry a curious look. "You'd honestly let Black stay with me? After I lost him?"
Harry nodded. "He'll keep you company," Harry said. "As long as you don't lose him again."
Sirius's face softened as he smiled. "I promise that I'll keep a better eye on him while you're gone. Thank you, Harry." Something behind Harry soon seemed to catch Sirius's attention. Harry turned around, following Sirius's gaze.
Remus Lupin was walking up the gravel driveway, and even though there was a bit of a distance between them, Harry could tell that there was a concerned look across the man's face.
"Oi, Moony," Sirius called. "You all right?"
Remus stopped halfway up the driveway, putting his hand above his eyes to block out the sun. "What did you say your cat looked like again?"
Sirius paused for a moment, eyebrows pulling together. "Black. A little white on his forehead, chest and paws. Fat."
Harry frowned, looking up at Sirius. "Fat? Black's fat?"
Sirius gave Harry an apologetic grin. "Sorry, kid. It's not like I overfeed him, he just... got that way."
"Are you sure that he had white on his forehead?" Remus called back. "Or on his paws?"
"I think." Sirius looked uncertain at this point, looking back and forth between Remus and Harry. He scratched the side of his head. "Didn't Black have white on his forehead, Harry?"
Harry slowly shook his head. "Just on his chest. Sirius... what—?"
"No." Sirius raised his eyebrows, staring at Harry dead in the eye as he spoke, as if trying to convince him that it wasn't true. "He had white on his chest, his forehead and paws. I remember, because when you and Snape were in Ireland, Black would always follow me around the house, in every room that I went into."
"When Dad and I left to go Ireland, Black only had white on his chest," Harry argued. "He had white on his chest when he was a kitten too, and yellow-ish, green eyes."
Sirius snorted, shaking his head. "Black had blue eyes."
Harry's mouth immediately opened to argue, when Remus, still standing in the middle of the driveway, yelled to them. They both turned around, having momentarily forgotten that Remus was there.
"I think you should follow me," he said.
Remus led the two into a house only five houses away from the manor. Harry had no idea what Remus was doing, or how he knew whoever lived here, but one glance at Sirius showed that he had no idea, either.
They were greeted by an elderly, plump woman, with greying hair that used to be a dull brown, but she had bright, vivid brown eyes. She showed them into the lounge, where an equally plump black cat sat in a box with newspapers underneath it.
"Black?" Harry frowned, looking up at the adults around him. "Why is Black here?"
"This kitty's yours?" The lady looked confused. "I found the poor thing a few months ago. I put up fliers around town—didn't you see them?"
Harry shook his head. "I didn't. I don't understand—a few months?" He looked up at Sirius. "Didn't you just lose Black last night or something?"
"I did," Sirius answered. "That's not Black."
"Yes it is! That's Black."
"Black had blue eyes and white—"
"Sirius," Remus suddenly spoke up, shaking his head. He gave his friend a look. "Do you remember when Harry and Severus were in Ireland, and you left the front door open?"
Sirius blinked. "Well, yes."
"And we couldn't find the cat? Then, later that day, you said you'd found him?"
"I did find him."
Remus sighed. "Sirius...."
"I don't believe it," Sirius blurted as soon as realization hit. He let out a low groan, bringing his palm up to his forehead. "I brought in the wrong cat? For Merlin's sake! It looked exactly like Black! How the bloody hell is that possible?"
The lady scowled. "Sirius Black!" She glanced at Harry quickly. "Apologize to your godson for your inappropriate language."
Sirius looked at Harry sheepishly. "Sorry."
Harry let out a breath, giving Sirius a small smile, then tilted his head to the side as he studied Black. "What's wrong with him?" he finally asked curiously. "He looks... weird."
Harry looked up as the lady smiled, obviously finding something amusing. She stepped over to the box, patting Black's head gently.
"First of all," she said softly, "he a she, and she giving birth."
Harry's mouth fell open, staring at the woman in disbelief.
For a second, Harry thought that the word had slipped from his own mouth, but the voice didn't match. It was Sirius who'd said that, looking as gobsmacked as he felt.
Sirius hastily looked over at the cat in the basket as she started to purr rhythmically. He stepped closer, trying to get a better look. "So—so this is Black, and... he's really a she? And she is... giving birth?"
The lady nodded solemnly. "She's awful young. A kitten giving birth to kittens—it's a little worrying, but I'm sure she and her kittens will be fine."
Harry swallowed, taking a step closer to get a better look, too. Sirius immediately covered Harry's eyes with his hands.
"What are you doing?" Harry demanded, peeling Sirius's fingers off of his face.
"She's giving birth!"
Harry flushed. "I know that, I'm not thick. I heard."
"It might take a while," the lady told them. "Depending on how many kittens she's giving birth to. You can stay if you like, but this is really all up to her—I'll stay by her side in case there's any complications. After the kittens are born they should be left alone for about three days... but even then they shouldn't be held until at least a week. I can look after them until you wish to collect them." She peered at Harry curiously. "Although... shouldn't you be in school, young man?"
"Er, yes," Harry replied uncomfortably. "But, uhm... well—"
"We really ought to be getting back," Sirius interrupted quickly. "Rem, would you mind staying here until I take Harry home? I'll be back as soon as I can. Thank you so much, Mrs Wilbraham, we really appreciate it."
Sirius pulled Harry out the door, closing it on the way out. He let out a breath, shaking his head. "Can you believe I brought in the wrong cat? Can you believe that Black is a girl? Ugh, this is going to be such a long story to tell Snape."
Harry shook his head. "I'm still having a hard time believing it. Kittens. Wow." He paused, looking down as he kicked a rock on the side of the road with his shoe. "Is that the reason you bought Hedwig for me? Because you lost Black?"
Sirius shook his head, nudging Harry's shoulder. "No way. Last year, Harry had an owl named Olly, but when Harry died we gave him to Ron. I just thought you might like one now, and... I can remember Snape telling me something about how you had an owl named Hedwig." He grinned. "Is there any kind of resemblance, do you find?"
Harry grinned back. "You wouldn't even be able to tell them apart."
Sirius put his arm around Harry's shoulders. "I know this Hedwig couldn't replace your Hedwig, but I hope you like her nonetheless."
Harry nodded, grinning as Sirius planted a kiss on the top of his head, then asked,"Will you tell me every day how things are going? How Black and the kittens are? I wish I could stay here, but... I s'pose I have to go back to school."
"Everything really is okay there?" Sirius asked gently. "Nothing bothering you or anything of the sort?"
"Yeah, everything really is okay now. It's been really... quiet."
"I meant to tell you, by the way," Sirius said with a mischievous look crossing his face, "that if you might be interested in Quidditch—and good at it—we have a broom at the manor that happened to be yours...."
"Ah, you're back." Severus looked up from his papers with raised eyebrows. "And with five minutes to spare. Did you find Black?"
Harry plopped down next to Severus. "Sirius took in the wrong cat when we were away. The real Black is actually a girl that's giving birth to kittens in a lady's house right now." He glanced up at Severus hopefully. "Can we keep them?"
Severus snorted. "We already have one cat, that's enough, wouldn't you say?"
Harry shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe it's better that I can't keep them. I'm the worst pet owner ever, aren't I? I can't even tell the difference between my own cat and a strange one."
"That hardly makes you an abominable pet owner," Severus pointed out. "Need I remind you that neither Black nor I could tell the difference?"
"That just makes you and Sirius bad pet owners, too," Harry muttered. He started to grin. "Kidding, kidding."
Severus smirked. "Brat."
"So..." Harry licked his lips, shifting his position. "Sirius was telling me that there's a broom back home that's, well, mine."
"Yes," Severus replied absentmindedly. "You clean with it every day."
Harry rolled his eyes. "If I'm allowed on the team, do you think I'd be able to use it?"
"Of course. It's yours." At Harry's doubtful look, Severus added, "And I mean it's yours, Mr Potter. Don't question me. I've already told you that I know who you are. Do you doubt that?"
Harry shook his head confidently. "No."
At dinner, Harry found himself sitting by Ron and across from Hermione. They were no longer talking to just each other, but seemed to be including Harry in the conversation as well. He was so overly excited that they finally seemed to be accepting him now, that he had no idea in the world what they were talking about.
Neville Longbottom sat next to Hermione, giving Harry a small, nervous smile as he said, "Hullo, Harry."
"Hi, Neville," Harry said brightly.
Neville looked slightly surprised—maybe because this Harry knew his name, maybe because Harry actually answered him. Harry wasn't quite sure why.
Beside him, Ron groaned as Draco Malfoy once again came over and sat down next to Harry. "What are you doing?" Ron whispered, looking around the room again, his cheeks turning a bright red. "You don't sit here!"
"Why not?" Draco snapped. "I want to talk to Harry."
"This is the Gryffindor table!"
"So? I'm not hurting anything by sitting here, am I?"
"Oh, just let him sit here," Neville spoke up, turning a soft pink as he did so. He opened his mouth to say something else, then stopped.
Draco looked surprised. "Thanks, Longbottom." He hesitated. "You know, I've always meant to ask you how you managed to do that potion in class. I simply cannot—"
Harry shook his head, making a noise. Unreal. Just unreal.
Draco, looking as if he didn't even realize that he was being cut off, turned to Harry and said, "Where were you today?"
"Yeah, mate, I was looking for you too," Ron said. "Where do you go? I haven't even seen you in the dormitories."
"I, uhm, went home for a little bit today," Harry explained, ignoring Ron's question. "I have a cat and... apparently it's a girl, and she's having kittens."
"Oh!" Hermione smiled widely. "I love kittens. I bet they're cute, aren't they?"
"I dunno, I haven't seen them yet."
"If I ever have a cat," Hermione said, "his name'll be Crookshanks. It's a wonderful name."
"I doubt I'll have a cat," Draco mused. "I don't think Mother would want to get me one."
As they began a conversation about cats, Harry slipped out of the conversation, staring off into space as his thoughts occupied him. Wasn't it around this time last year—last year in his reality—that he'd started to hear that basilisk? He strained to listen amongst the chatter and clanking of plates in the Great Hall, but other than that, he didn't hear anything.
Well... maybe things would be different this year. It was a different reality, after all, that much was definitely clear. Looking up at the staff table, Harry captured Severus's eye and smiled.
A/N: Ah yeah, another chapter that mysteriously vanished at the last minute and that I had to rewrite. I apologize if it might seem like not *much* has gone on in this chapter, but the beginning of this week so far as been very busy for me, and I didn't want to delay the chapter any longer. I hope that you enjoyed it anyway, and I'd love to hear from you, so click that button! :)