In which Harry finds comfort in his own routines, solitude, Grimmauld Place, and normality in the sound of incoming trains. He ought to have known a cat would subtly change things to suit its own machinations.
AN: This was my Cliché Fic Fest entry, and I had a ball writing it. Thank you to my beta PygmyPuffofDoom, any other mistakes are mine.
A Grim Old Cat
It had only taken four days after the war had finally ended for Harry to fall into a new daily pattern. He was no longer needed, no longer had a responsibility owed to anyone, and the thought had unsettled him enough that he'd hastily taken comfort in another routine. Much like his summers of youth, Harry took solace in the morning, in the time of day that was still fresh and innocent. The time of day before the newspaper arrived, before the Floo calls began their bombardments, before the funerals began.
Ginny and Fred had been buried six days after the battle. Hagrid the week following that.
Harry poured his coffee into the thermos, the wafting scent of the coffee mixing with hot chocolate smelling absolutely divine. It was likely quite unhealthy for him, but he figured one small indulgence wouldn't kill him. With his thermos in hand and scarf around his neck, he headed to Kings Cross station. The station wasn't busy at all at six am; he arrived just before the morning commuter rush, and he liked to sit at a bench on the platforms down near the open end of the tracks. Pre-recorded public service announcements beeped over the speakers as Harry settled himself on the hard bench, pouring his coffee chocolate mix into the little thermos cup. His scarf was wrapped around his neck, a knitted scarf in muted red, blue, grey, and green. Not quite Hogwarts colours but close enough. The rainy mist outside was causing a slight fog to seep into the station from the open tracks, and Harry watched quietly for the train from Welwyn Garden City to come in.
He sat for an hour, his usual and only time spent outside of Grimmauld Place, and spotted four people that he would have liked to have recognized in another life.
Harry sat cross-legged on the sofa in the living room, facing three neatly stacked piles of letters. To the left was a small bundle of letters from reporters who all wanted an exclusive scoop with him. The second were a pile of notes and cards from people who were congratulating him on exterminating Voldemort. The third was a rather disturbingly large pile of letters from people asking for donations from Harry to fix up their lives after the war. Assuming Harry had earned money for his heroic duties, as nothing of the like had ever been reported or alluded to.
Humming somewhat tunelessly to 'London Bridge is Falling Down', Harry folded the reporters' letters into little boats and aimed them at the fireplace. His connection was closed to Floo calls, so he needn't worry about inadvertently poking anyone in the eye with a paper mast. He'd managed to burn four boats before a bright white cat startled him and broke his concentration.
"I shall assume, Mr Potter, that your refusal of my Floo call is merely a precautionary measure left over from the war," Professor McGonagall's voice admonished, as her tabby cat patronus preened at Harry from the floor. Harry blushed sheepishly, even though he knew patronuses couldn't transmit images.
"I have something important for you, Harry, and I should like to see you soon for tea."
Harry waved away the patronus, and tossed the rest of the letters in the fireplace. The idea of going back to Hogwarts made him feel slightly queasy, his stomach twisting uncomfortably as he considered the Floo, the gritty feeling of the castle's stones, and the smell of the gas lanterns burning in the halls. Rolling his shoulders in a slight shudder, Harry brought forth his wand and cast a quick-cover cleaning spell. He paused just before attempting the patronus charm, and instead wrote a small note inviting Professor McGonagall for tea. His Floo might be closed to incoming calls, but it delivered the message just fine.
"But I thought…I mean. You're a cat sometimes. Why don't you want to keep him?" Harry asked, looking into the cardboard box on his coffee table. Curled up inside was a skinny blue-grey cat that had ears slightly larger than proportionate for its body size. Professor McGonagall had brought it through, much to Harry's confusion.
"I think he is best suited for a male companion," McGonagall said, in a very dry tone Harry suspiciously recognized as sarcasm.
"What, is he a little terror?" Harry asked, putting his hand in the box and slowly petting the cat. It didn't wake up, but emitted a small contented sigh as it put a paw over its head.
"One might form that opinion," she confirmed. Sitting back in her seat, she busied herself with the tea tray Harry had prepared. "It's a Russian Blue cat, Harry. They're rather quiet, but very intelligent and very loyal."
"Sounds like someone I knew," Harry morosely said. His focus was on the cat, but he looked up quickly as a thought came to him. "Has Hermione been speaking to you?"
"She has not, though I do believe any concerns she has about your welfare are well-founded," McGonagall said, giving Harry a disapproving look.
"She worries too much. I just need some time to myself."
"What you desire and what you need are two very different things, young man," McGonagall answered right back. "Be that as it may, I am still in need of a cat-sitter until the end of August."
"Yeah," Harry considered, still petting the cat. "I wasn't looking for a pet, but, well. It might be nice to have one here. What's his name?"
"That's Severus Snape," McGonagall conversationally answered.
Harry's hand stilled over the cat.
"Severus Snape as in named in memory of, or that's actually Snape?" Harry asked, his voice even.
"Mr Potter," McGonagall started, sounding put upon.
"Four hours searching for his body, and he was a bloody cat all along!" Harry exclaimed, accidentally hitting the box with his hand. "Four! I couldn't sleep for days because I thought I'd failed him, thought I'd let him needlessly die. And what was he doing, chasing mice?"
"He was in a coma for three days, while I fought to keep him alive!" McGonagall admonished, making Harry turn his head away in embarrassment.
"There is a reason, Harry, why Severus is now in feline form," McGonagall continued, giving him a very stern look. Just like when he was younger and in class, Harry remained quiet. "Severus was appointed Headmaster on the 20th of August of last year."
"By Voldemort," Harry muttered, sitting back into the couch. The cat remained asleep in the box.
"And Hogwarts has provisions for its Headmasters, as a sort of insurance. If one is injured during the job, there is a stipend for that Headmaster to collect for the rest of their natural life."
Harry blinked and stared at McGonagall as she calmly selected a shortbread biscuit.
"You're joking," Harry deadpanned.
"Do you doubt the risks of the job?" McGonagall asked, a slight twinkle in her eye. Harry wondered if it was a skill that came with being a deputy headmistress.
"I suppose not," Harry agreed, defeated. "So, as long as Professor Snape stays Headmaster until the 20th, he can then collect on his…err. Headmasterly benefits."
"And you want me to take care of him. Snape. The man who hated my guts even when he was working against Voldemort to help me."
She finished her tea and put it back on the tray, staring at Harry as if he were missing something important.
"You don't think we might kill each other?" Harry asked, thoroughly confused. The little animal in the box seemed harmless, but so did pixies when first encountered.
"Oh for goodness sake. He is a cat, Mr Potter. Not a professor, not a spy, and he shan't be docking points from Gryffindor. I believe you witnessed Mr Malfoy in a similar state, although as a ferret," McGonagall said, exasperated.
"Err, yes. But why did you make him a cat?"
"Severus sustained a lot of injuries," McGonagall said, her eyes slightly wet. "Changing him to a cat reduced the blood loss, and strengthened the healing spells. Episkey is a lot stronger on a one stone cat than an eleven stone man."
That made sense to Harry, and he slowly stroked the fur of the cat's belly.
"And you're not changing him back yet?"
"Not until he's been Headmaster for a full year, Harry. The Board of Governors cannot dismiss a Headmaster without serving them the papers in person."
"That's a convenient loop-hole," Harry grumbled. The cat was starting to look rather cute, curled up in the box with its face tucked under its paw.
"I believe Albus wrote it in," McGonagall said, watching Harry pet the cat.
"Am I the only option, Professor? Voldemort's dead now and I want..."
"Yes, poor Mr Potter," McGonagall sternly interrupted. "Three months caring for a small cat is most definitely equal to the twenty years dedicated by the very man."
The cat mewed in the box, and they both regarded it.
"...the very cat," McGonagall amended.
Harry's face flushed as he realised how selfish he sounded.
"He doesn't know who he is?"
McGonagall's face softened a bit and she handed him a collar.
"I expect he'll recognize your scent as someone he can trust," she said.
Harry curled one finger behind the cat's ear, and felt the scarring left from Voldemort's curse under the cat's chin.
"All right," Harry said, putting the collar on the table. "I suppose I can cat-proof this place."
"Ooouuuw," the cat yowled, startling Harry out of his nap. He'd spent an hour cat proofing everything in the house he could think of that would be dangerous. The sleeping spell McGonagall had used for the Floo trip had finally lifted and Harry finally got to see his first glances at Snape as a cat.
"Mrrrrow," the cat quietly said, its dark eyes large and distrustful as Harry looked into the box.
"It's all right, you're safe," Harry said, picking up the cat and holding it in his lap. He'd asked Kreacher to fetch some supplies and set up a temporary litter box in the living room, along with some food and water. From the way the cat's claws were digging into his thighs, though, Harry assumed the cat wasn't going anywhere fast.
"Figures you'd be a distrustful cat, sir," said Harry, slowly petting the cat and holding it close. He was rewarded with a light purr after the first minute, and on the fifth, the cat finally stood up and shakily made its way to the bowl, turning to watch Harry along the way as if to monitor him once again.
The cat spent the entire day following Harry around Grimmauld Place, completing its own inspection of the house as it went. Harry didn't mind, but he quickly learned to walk slowly on the stairs to avoid being tripped. It didn't seem to be bothered by the thunderstorm that started after supper, but Harry wasn't as blasé about the weather. He hadn't thought about where the cat would sleep either, and halted as the cat followed him into Sirius' old bedroom just past half nine.
"I don't have a cat bed," Harry needlessly said. He clutched his own nightclothes and watched as the cat inspected the room. Harry's bed was partially made, as he only slept on one side of it. He'd never shared the bed here with Ginny, but he'd thought of it often while camping in hideout.
The cat jumped up onto the bed in time with a thundering crack from outside, and Harry shook his head. He changed quickly, keeping the lights bright to hide the flashes of lightning seeping through the window.
One thing Harry missed while in the wizarding world was the ability to light most of the room with a single muggle light. His bedroom had twelve candles lit, on stationary pedestals because he didn't trust himself around floating candles. Lightning lit up the room like a stuttering camera flash, and Harry hung his clothes up while counting. He got to nine before he heard the rumble of thunder, happy that the storm wasn't overhead yet. Another reason he missed muggle lights was their ability to mask most of the storms outside.
"I'll ask Mr Weasley about updating this place tomorrow," Harry needlessly said, pulling back the covers for bed. The cat didn't move, so Harry had to fold himself and slide in at an awkward angle.
A simple spell extinguished the flames, and Harry watched shadows flash along the walls with the storm outside. It was getting closer, by his counting, and Harry was irritated with himself that at eighteen he was still unsettled by a thunderstorm. He was sorely tempted to put the lights back on, but knew that would just prolong his sleep. The cat, who had waited until Harry had twisted his body uncomfortably around it, stood up and stalked toward Harry's pillow.
One reason he went to bed early was that he didn't like staying up alone at night. It was somehow much different than being alone during the day.
Harry also wasn't afraid of thunder, but the large old house seemed to shake and come alive with each crash. He had a flashback to the summer of his fifth year, unbearably hot and crammed into Grimmauld Place with the Weasleys and Order. This time, though, when he crawled under the covers there were no whispering voices from the twins next door or sounds of someone walking down the hall.
"Rowww," the cat purred. Its eyes were glowing in the dark, and it seemed very intent on kneading the life out of Harry's bed linens.
"I wonder if this is your real personality," Harry said, smiling as he pet the cat. It seemed to be focused intently on the headboard, paying Harry absolutely no mind. His flexing paws caught some of the pillow cover as he kneaded, and Harry turned his head slightly to keep his hair from getting caught. "Evil Professor Snape, Head of Slytherin, master of the dungeons, Voldemort's most trusted betrayal."
The cat, deciding the pillow had suffered enough, threw itself bodily against Harry's shoulder. Its warm fur was rather nice and soft against Harry's neck.
"You're not afraid of anything, are you? You're like, a real superhero."
A strong ripple of thunder sounded overhead, causing Harry to flinch.
"Severus Snape," Harry whispered, his heavy hand scratching the top of the cat's head as thunder banged overhead. "How did you get to be so brave?"
The cat busied itself licking its front paws, and Harry smiled up at the ceiling. He saw another flash of light and counted it down.
"One elephant, two elephant, three elephant," Harry muttered, wincing when thunder clapped. It was closer. He'd always counted the storm distance, ever since he was six years old and had overheard Aunt Petunia comforting Dudley during a bad storm.
The cat, unperturbed by the weather, paused in his bathing to give Harry's cheek two licks.
"Daft cat," Harry said, allowing himself a small smile. He softly pet the cat as the storm raged on, lulled to sleep by the strong purring vibration through his shoulder. The last thing Harry remembered as he drifted off was the cat's scratchy tongue against his finger as the cat gave him another friendly lick.
Harry liked the early mornings. The nights were full of shadows and memories and guilt, but the mornings felt fresh and free. Grimmauld Place was in a busy and working-class neighbourhood in London, and Harry preferred it most at daybreak, as the sun was young, and the streets mostly still empty. He wrapped himself up in a thin jumper, his old jeans, scuffed shoes that were slightly singed from the final battle, and his woollen striped scarf.
"Mmmrrrrr," the car purred, stretching on the floor at Harry's feet.
"Oh, err," Harry said, his hand halting over his thermos. The coffee had just percolated and he was just about to add it to the already poured hot chocolate.
The cat sat regally, blinking its dark eyes up at Harry. Harry's shoulders slumped, and he turned back to pour the coffee into the thermos without spilling. The old flip clock to his left clicked as the little plastic numbers inside flipped down to six am.
"If you want to come along, I suppose I wouldn't mind the company."
Harry picked out a bench to sit at as one of the platform lights flickered overhead. This time he sat near the end of platform 8, always Platform 8, and settled the cat down beside him. Fog was rolling in through the open end of the station, the damp air swirling around Harry's jumper, though it would soon penetrate to his t-shirt. Harry poured himself a small mug from his thermos and sat back against the bench, waiting on the six-eighteen train from Royston. A National Rail employee gave Harry and the cat a quirky look as he walked by, but Harry didn't acknowledge the man. Instead, Harry flipped open the door to Hedwig's cage and reached in, slowly petting the cat's head with his slightly calloused hands. The cat was wrapped in a small blue blanket, and glanced warily about the station before settling in.
"One of us should at least be warm," Harry reasoned, pulling the blanket snugger around the cat. The cat's dark grey eyes glared as the Royston train hooted its arrival, but settled in as Harry scanned the crowds for faces that were familiar to him.
"Cat! My house is not a litter box!" Harry admonished, kneeling down and peering under the sofa. Once the cat had learned that Harry was a provider, and not dangerous, it had gone on a grand exploration of the house, sometimes neglecting to find the litter box in time. The cat eyed him curiously from under the sofa, where it was chewing on what appeared to be a dead fly.
"Dust bunnies are not toys," Harry said, shaking his finger. He withdrew it immediately when the cat focused on it as its next pouncing target. "And laundry on the floor is not a loo."
Harry straightened up and looked around the living room, at the piles of papers strewn about every surface and the used dishes on the coffee table. He'd sent Kreacher to Hogwarts to help out there, but never bothered to do the washing up for himself, not since he'd returned to the house after the battle. It was only the beginning of June now, but Harry had just seemed to notice how untidy the house was.
"I suppose it could do with a cleaning," Harry said, nudging a tasselled pillow away from the cat. Harry picked up a bundle from the small side table, a photograph of him and all the Weasleys the morning of Bill and Fleur's wedding. He'd wrapped it away in an old shirt after the battle, but wiped the frame clean now and placed it on the fireplace mantle. Ginny and Fred, standing next to each other, gave him a slow but happy wave as they smiled at him.
"Mum says I'd do much better helping George out," Ron said, scratching the side of his head. "Reckons the aurors are too strict for the sort of chaos we're good at."
"She has a point there," Harry considered. Paper sacs from the grocers were on the floor, along with scattered newspapers, and one pile had a suspicious moving lump in the middle of it. Harry had been reading about traditional wizarding mid-summer celebrations before Ron and Hermione had come with groceries. The paper suddenly moved, and a skinny grey-furred head popped up.
"What on Earth are you doing?" Harry asked, watching as the cat stalked over to him on the couch.
"He's certainly friendlier as a cat," Hermione said. The cat jumped atop the sofa's back and head-butted Harry.
"Because he can't remember he's Snape," Harry said, withstanding the head rub with rolled eyes.
"Could you imagine if he did?" Ron laughed, facing the cat's pensive stare. "Likely cough a hairball up on you while you slept."
"He still might, once he finds out he spent his summer as my pet," Harry grumbled, shaking his head as the cat started chewing his hair.
Hermione gave Harry a sympathetic look, but it was more the one she reserved for when Harry and Ron got themselves into trouble.
"Have you been out lately, Harry?" Hermione softly asked, her voice only slightly hopeful for an answer.
"Took out the litter to the rubbish this morning," Harry pointed out, refusing to discuss the matter further.
The cat seemed to enjoy apple nut bread. Not the nut bits, just the regular bread part with melted butter. Harry sat at his now-customary bench on the platform, the cat curled up in the blue blanket at the bottom of Hedwig's old cage.
"I wouldn't have made a good Ravenclaw," Harry said, passing another bit of scone into the cage as the warning bells for the 06:29 from Peterborough approached. "Although blue is my favourite colour."
The cat nibbled on the pastry, and then began calmly licking the butter remnants from Harry's fingers.
"Look," Harry said, nodding his head slightly toward one of the doors of the train. "Could be Remus, you think?"
The cat stopped licking for a moment, seeming to stare into space as the lookalike passed. The same scraggly brown hair and slightly oversized suit, but the sleepy expression on the man's scar-less face was a little too innocent to fit.
Harry had another sip of his hot chocolate coffee mix and settled back against the bench. The cage door was open, facing him so it was easy to reach in and pet the cat.
"I like to think that they didn't really die," Harry softly said. He was distractedly scratching behind the cat's ears, watching the train empty. "I pretend that they've just gone to the muggle world."
The cat had no answer, but instead rubbed its face against Harry's hand and started purring loudly.
Harry had never been a particularly loud person, and when alone he did not feel the urge to fill silence with constant noise. He was the same in the shower, preferring his own random thoughts for entertainment rather than singing whatever song he happened to have heard last. His mind wandered as freely as his hands, and he usually found himself wanking at some point during the shower. He'd originally felt guilty and angry with himself for it, shamed that Ginny had been gone for only a few days and he'd started masturbating. But he could only go without for three days before the wet dreams started, so Harry restricted himself to pulling off in the shower. He'd started fantasizing about different bodies, first to keep his thoughts pure about Ginny in honour of her memory, but gradually because he began to find long tapered legs, narrow waists, and broad shoulders rather appealing.
The base of his cock throbbed with impatience as his mind enjoyed his dreams, and his hands led himself through an unhurried wank as the water massaged his skin. Though he could admit his fantasies predominantly featured men now, Harry still imagined himself as being the one on top.
With his come swirling down the drain and his toes well into the wrinkly stage, Harry shut the water off. He didn't have much planned for the day, though he wanted to see if he could get the living room properly tidied. Ripping back the shower curtain to fetch his towel, Harry stared at the counter. The cat, who had been sitting perched on Harry's towel for god knows how long, was giving him a bored look.
"Do you mind?" Harry growled, one hand covering his softening penis. The cat's tail twitched, but it showed no sign of embarrassment or contriteness for watching Harry. The only reaction it gave was a disturbed meow when Harry ousted it from the bathroom and reclaimed his towel.
Lucius Malfoy had been one of the first to face the Wizengamot, and this time he had not claimed to be under the Imperius curse. Somewhat fortunately for him, most of the panel had been at the Battle of Hogwarts and seen the quivering servant Malfoy had been reduced to. Several during the trial appeared to recall fondly times when Malfoy had been openly ridiculed by Voldemort.
He'd been sentenced to a mixture of nightly house arrest and reparations in the form of manual labour, something Harry found poetically just. All three Malfoys had taken the sentencing in stride, and seemed to not realize that their standing was rather low at the moment.
They had seen fit (Harry suspected it was part of their punishment) to send Harry a small note of apology for the bothersome war mess that had occurred. A small and rather strongly scented bouquet of flowers had accompanied the note, which Harry had given to Kreacher for Hogwarts.
He'd expected to never hear from the Malfoys again.
At the beginning of July, Harry's front door was sharply rapped on thrice, each knock sounding rather more impatient than the last. Harry, who was in the kitchen, was in no hurry to answer the door. While not under fidelius, Grimmauld Place was under a strong compulsion spell that only the most determined visitor could bypass.
The cat merely watched with disinterest from the bottom step of the stairs as Harry passed.
"Some guard cat you are," Harry grumbled.
An impeccably dressed Lucius Malfoy stood on his doorstep; approximately number five on the list of people he never thought he'd see there.
"Hullo," Harry said, a dishtowel over his shoulder and flour all over his arms.
"Show some manners boy and inv-," Malfoy cleared his throat, looking distinctively uncomfortable to be standing there. "Ahem."
Harry raised his eyebrow. "No, I think the front step is fine. What are you here for?"
Malfoy swallowed visibly, obviously peeved to be at the disadvantage.
"Draco would like to start a business in Diagon Alley," Malfoy began, cutting quickly to the point and glaring at Harry in case he laughed. "Clothing and the like."
"And you want some capital?" Harry asked in disbelief. He'd had more than a few letters from people asking him for money, but no outright personal demands. Fortunately, Malfoy looked disgusted at the idea.
"Absolutely not. Merely your...patronage should suffice," he said with a disdainful sniff, seeming to dress down Harry for the jeans and shirt he was wearing.
"I'll think about it. Might not buy anything though," Harry shrugged. "Why are you really here?"
"I have official business with Severus Snape," Malfoy announced, somehow managing to stick his chin upward and still look down on Harry. "If you know where he is located, I highly suggest you inform me at once."
"You don't know where he is?" Harry asked, his voice somewhat amused. "Rather hard to do business then, isn't it?"
"This is an important and time sensitive offer," Malfoy said, his teeth gritted. Whatever else he was going to say was cut off when the cat appeared in the doorway and sat down beside Harry's leg.
"A familiar, how fortunate of you to have found one," Malfoy sarcastically said, staring down at the dark grey cat.
"He's not, really. Just a cat," Harry defended, wishing the cat would go back inside. Malfoy had a calculated look on his face, and Harry figured Malfoy had pegged the cat as Snape.
"What's its name?"
"Err. I call him Cat," Harry said.
"So it doesn't have one," Malfoy said, looking speculatively at the cat.
"No. I suppose if you want to be formal, you could call him He Who Has Not Been Named," Harry said, hoping to distract Malfoy from looking too closely at the cat. It worked, as Malfoy looked up at Harry with a blank stare.
"It's a sort of joke, you see," Harry explained.
"Ah…yes," Malfoy slowly said, regarding Harry as if he were daft. He slowly withdrew a scroll from his pocket and seemed to consider it for a moment, before glancing down at the cat again.
"If that's all, Mr Malfoy, I think it's time that you left," Harry evenly said, holding his ground and not liking the calculating look in Malfoy's eye as he studied the cat.
"You'll find, Mr Potter, that I do not take kindly to -"
The cat made a rather sickening sort of hiccough sound, and retched half a hairball and some uneaten kibble onto Malfoy's shoe. Harry bit his lip not to laugh at Malfoy's disgusted expression. He nearly drew blood when he saw Malfoy menacingly draw his cane apart (either to banish the vomit or hex the cat, Harry wasn't sure) and was left with just the poncey snake handle in his hand.
"Suspicious timing for you to acquire a cat," Malfoy hissed, shaking his pant leg. Interesting. Lucius Malfoy couldn't do wandless magic.
"I've always sort of had one," Harry replied, as calmly as he could. The cat, who was now sitting by the umbrella stand, was serenely licking his paw and seemingly ignoring the conversation.
"Evanesco," Harry added, as an afterthought.
"How much paperwork is there to fill out?" Harry asked, sitting at the kitchen table. McGonagall's head was in the fireplace and she was lecturing Harry on the proper steps for the forms.
"Two-hundred odd pages," she immediately answered, passing another bundle through the fire. Harry noticed that she was frowning at the pile of dishes on the table, and his only partially eaten lunch.
"Have they tried to fire Snape yet?" Harry asked, stacking this new bundle next to the first one. The cat was under the table sitting on Harry's feet, its front paws covering a cork that Harry had thrown down there earlier.
"They're looking for him," McGonagall confirmed, a small smile on her face. "To persuade him to teach potions again."
"Potions?" Harry asked, looking up from the instruction sheet. "He hates kids."
"Yes, well, as truthful as that is, Severus has yet to kill any of them and the position would remove him from the post as Headmaster."
She passed one further packet of paper through and Harry grimaced at the leaflet at the top of the pile. It was an advert for a Hogwarts open house, to be held a week before school opened as a form of welcome back for pupils and parents. Harry had already refused attendance three times, begging off with the excuses of exhaustion and shyness from the press. The two main reasons he'd refused (which he'd not shared) were the large crowd and the fact that he'd need to leave Grimmauld to attend.
"Professor, I'm not go-"
"Potter, just consider-"
"I won't, I've given..."
"Harry, it would be nice if you attended."
Harry sighed and moved the paperwork to the edge off the table.
"I know. I'll think about it," he lied, his eyes focused on the table.
"Good lad," she said, and for a moment he was afraid she'd reach through the fire to pet his cheek.
"Let me know if you have any trouble with the forms," she said, waving as she disappeared into the green flames. The cat gave the small cork a strong whack, and sent it skittering through the fireplace after her.
"Yer a bum, you're a drunk..."
A warbling off key voice echoed through the open window in the kitchen, as Harry read through Sirius' old school notes. The cat, which was sitting on the kitchen table, glanced irritably at Harry as four heavy knocks sounded on the door. It was half eleven, and the kitchen was illuminated by several blue candles. Harry hadn't been able to go to sleep, and was trying to read until he was exhausted.
A second crash came from the porch, where Seamus Finnegan seemed to be having trouble remaining upright at the back door. Harry rose slowly, marking his place in The Dark Artist: Spellcrafter Profiles, and opening the back door.
"Yer an old slut on junk, lyin' there in tha..."
The rest turned into murmurs as Seamus hiccupped his way inside. He completely missed the cat, and appeared to be confused over whose house he was in. That didn't stop him, however, from finishing the rest of the song.
"Happy Christmas yer arse, I pray god it's our last!"
The chorus finished, and Harry swiftly grabbed the bottle of firewhiskey from Seamus' swinging hand.
"Celebrating something?" Harry asked, a smirk on his face.
"S'my first confert Harry," Finnegan hiccupped, blinking at the cat. "Concert."
"Brilliant, Seamus. Just brilliant," Harry said, shaking his head as he laughed. "Want some tea?"
"No, no, I've got…ehm," Seamus tried. He positively reeked of alcohol, and his face was lava red – the effects of firewhiskey. "I came to get'ya, we're goin' oooot."
Harry looked down at his comfy (and slightly holey) pyjama bottoms and slippers. He had an old t-shirt on, and his hair was even more of a mess than it usually was.
"Yeah, I don't think so," Harry said, for reasons that had very little to do with how he was dressed.
The cat continued to glare at Seamus; the little twitches of its tail the only display of its disproval. The kitchen, though slightly untidy with papers over the table and a day's worth of dishes in the sink, wasn't too horribly messy. Seamus didn't seem to notice, in any event.
"Hey kitty kitty kitty," Seamus said. He didn't seem to be too overly focused on getting Harry out, something Harry was thankful for. However, as calm a cat as Snape had been with Harry, he figured it was a good idea to keep Seamus away from clawing or biting range.
"He's a bit of a loner," Harry warned. There was a piece of toast left over from dinner on the counter, and Harry passed it to Seamus. It likely wouldn't do anything to sober his friend up, but it might stop Seamus from getting worse.
Seamus leaned against a portrait on the wall, with his wand and the toast in his hand and a stupid look on his face.
"You wanna go dancing?"
"No thanks, Seamus," Harry said, fighting another laugh. He noticed that the cat's bowl was empty, and fetched a can of wet food from the cold cupboard.
"You could even have sex now," Seamus hiccoughed, not noticing the blush on Harry's face. "War's over."
"Do you need help getting home?" Harry asked instead, setting the plate of wet food down on the table in front of the cat. It was sniffed at disdainfully, and then ignored.
"No. I'mma use the loo first," Seamus declared, tripping out into the hall towards the washroom.
Harry sat down heavily in the chair closest to Snape the cat, and idly started petting him.
"I think he's trying to drown his sorrows," Harry said, finding the petting movements to be rather therapeutic. "But sorrows are very good swimmers."
"An' the bells are ringin' out fer chrissmas day," Seamus hummed, entering the kitchen again. He seemed to be more focused on the portraits now, as if he was looking for someone.
The cat started purring loudly, its tail still twitching in irritation but its body leaning toward Harry. Harry smiled, giving more liberal pets now.
"Just like lots of people would blame you for my parents' death. But I don't. Even though you sicked up in my shoes this morning."
The cat continued purring, as if nothing Harry had said had any significance.
"Diagon Alley!" Seamus suddenly yelled, grasping a portrait and bonking his head against the painted fireplace.
He crumpled to the floor with a groan and looked up at Harry with a troubled expression.
"Seamus, you're drunk. Go home."
"The fat lady got me drunk," Seamus replied, not bothering to get up. "You come too."
"The only place I'm going is bed," Harry said, pinching out a candle. He hated calling Kreacher late in the evening, but the little elf was no-nonsense and would return Seamus to his own flat in a short period of time.
"Come on, Potter. Voldy's gone, don't lock yerrself up," Seamus said, his eyes closing. Kreacher collected him in a not so gentle way, and rolled his eyes at Harry as they disapparated.
"Well, that was exciting," Harry said, pinching out the rest of the candles. He left one lit to lead the way upstairs, and was happy that the cat followed. Changing for bed was fast, and Harry sighed happily as he slipped into the cold sheets.
He wasn't afraid of going outside. He still could, and he proved that every time he went to Kings Cross. But the multitude of people; muggles walking around completely ignorant to the threat they'd been so close to facing, that made his skin prickle. The whoops and yells and shrieks of children running in the streets made his fingers twitch. The stares, whether from muggles at the scars on his body from the battle or from wizards and witches at the lightning bolt on his forehead; th ey made his stomach churn.
His house though, Grimmauld Place, it calmed his nerves. The smell of the wooden floors and the slightly dusty wallpaper was comforting to him, just like the ghosts of meals in the kitchen that had been previously shared amongst two generations of Order members. The dusty books and lounging chairs reminded him of his time with Ron and Hermione, and the aftershave in the upstairs loo reminded him of Sirius.
With the light now out, the cat threw himself against Harry's body, stealing half the pillow and nearly breaking Harry's nose with the force. Even this was reassuring, as even though Snape was in feline form, Harry felt slightly safer knowing another wizard was right there with him.
On the thirty first of July, Harry awoke to find Pigwidgeon fluttering about his room. Ron, Hermione, his dorm mates and the Weasleys were due to arrive later that afternoon for cake and tea, but Harry hadn't planned anything for the morning. From the pillow, the cat traced the owl's movements with one eye open, its twitching ears the only signal that it was awake.
"What have you got for me then, Pig?" Harry asked. He was sitting up in bed, his legs tangled up in the blankets, with his arm outstretched. The bird landed with a happy trill, offering the envelope it carried. Beside him, the cat's tail flicked.
It was a muggle envelope.
Harry turned it over and stared at it, wondering how a muggle had sent him mail through Pigwidgeon, of all owls.
A high-pitched chittering sound beside him startled, and Harry turned to stare at the cat. It was making the weird noises, and appeared ready to pounce on the owl. Pigwidgeon, smarter than he looked, recognized the noise and took off immediately. The cat followed after, scratching Harry's leg through the blanket.
"Bloody hell," Harry swore, wincing as the chase progressed about his room. Entirely certain that the owl could outfly the cat's leaps, Harry turned his attention back to the letter.
Opening it made his stomach clench, as he recognized the writing immediately. Aunt Petunia's.
"To Harry Potter, on his 18th birthday.
As I am quite certain that circumstances will cause us to part ways before you turn eighteen, I am leaving this note with that red haired man that dared destroy our sitting room. In spite of our differences and past, you are my relation, and the grudge I bore you was mostly misdirected from anger over your mother's death. For that, I apologise. I expect that you will still be mindful of our safety during this second war, and I wish you luck against what horrors you will face.
Gobsmacked, Harry put the letter down. There were two photographs included in the envelope, one of him and his parents when he seemed to only be a month old, and one of him as a seven year old, laughing as he swung high on a park swing in Little Whinging. They were both muggle photographs, and there was no explanation with them.
Harry put the photos on the bedside table, reading over the note again as it lay on the bed. It sounded almost as if his Aunt had tried to hate him, just to protect herself from her own jealousy. And still, she'd been killed by death eaters.
The cat had somehow snuck back up on the bed without Harry noticing, and was pawing the letter.
"This is what jealousy does. You hated me, my Aunt hated me, half the wizarding world hated me," Harry accused. The cat, ignoring Harry's finger pointing, climbed into Harry's lap and started kneading Harry's thigh.
"This doesn't make it any better," Harry said, a tear escaping and rolling down his cheek. He'd finally gotten some sort of positive recognition from his Aunt, and she had died before anything could be made of it. The cat tucked itself in, flopping down and rubbing its head against Harry's hand.
"It didn't make me any stronger," Harry said, his voice hoarse as his eyes blurred. The cat kept purring, nibbling on Harry's fingers as Harry sat alone on his 18th birthday.
A newspaper had been left on his bench, likely by a morning delivery lad stopping for a cuppa on his route. Harry unfolded the paper and perused it, noting that the muggle world seemed to have calmed down quite a bit after the final battle. With the death eaters gone or in hiding, there were no further muggle kidnappings or murders.
"This ruddy station," a man nearby grumbled, in stained overalls that had patches of reflective material on them. "Busiest of the lot, and they can't fix the fog for more than two months."
He was talking to a fellow rail worker, who seemed slightly more awake.
"Reckon they should put big fans at the end of the bay," his friend joked, passing over a steaming paper cup.
"Yeah," the first man said in thanks. They continued along Platform 8, barely taking any knowledge of Harry and the cage, and disappeared through an employee only door into the foggy tracks.
Harry wrapped his scarf tighter around his neck and dug into his bag for some apple nut bread. He felt almost like his sanctuary had been breached.
The six-eighteen arrived, and Harry watched as mostly the same people alighted from the train. The cat had a small chunk of nut bread it was licking the butter off of, and Harry still had a warm thermos full of chocolaty coffee.
"That one looks like Dudley, you think?" Harry muttered, pointing out a larger young bloke to the cat. He didn't, not exactly. The boy was what Dudley would have looked like had he lost a good three stone. Both the cat and Harry watched as the lookalike slowly made his way off the platform, as if he was in the first week of a new job and still slightly bewildered by the new routine.
"Yeah. You know, I think if he'd gone on, if he'd lived, Dudley would have made something of himself."
"Mmooorw," the cat quietly said. Its dark eyes met Harry's in a calm stare, but Harry wasn't sure whether it was in commiseration or a desire for more nut bread.
"Thank you for trying to warn us," Harry answered instead. "As late as your information was, you tried."
The cat didn't respond, but instead stuck its paw through the cage door to reach more of the nut bread.
"You might have made yourself Voldemort's most trusted servant, but he never really trusted anyone."
His skin getting itchy, Harry shifted uncomfortably on the bench. He'd had enough of other people, and the signs of life moving on. Twisting his thermos cap on tightly, Harry clamped the door shut of the cage and stood up. Kings Cross had far too many muggles to apparate safely out of, but Harry had discovered that Platform 9 and ¼ was a little used apparition point that he could return home from.
Harry consulted Professor McGonagall's notes one more time for good measure. He'd placed a change of comfortable clothes by the sofa, along with Snape's wand and a glass of water. It was the 21st of August, and Severus Snape was officially a tenured Headmaster.
Pointing his wand at the blanket of the floor, which the cat had staked out as napping territory, Harry reeled off the incantation. Nothing happened for a moment, but then the soft thick fur of the cat began to shed away as the body lengthened and returned to its human form. Snape was naked, but curled up in a way to keep most of his modesty as he blinked wearily around. His eyes focused and he seemed to panic, before spotting his wand on the floor next to him.
"Welcome back, Headmaster," Harry greeted. He remained perfectly still as Snape whipped the wand in his direction.
"Potter," said Snape hoarsely, pulling the clothes into his lap as he sat up. His shoulders stretched outward, much like the cat's used to after a long nap.
"I've got sandwiches and some soup on, in the kitchen," Harry said, ignoring the fact that his former professor was naked on the floor, and had spent the last three months sleeping on his pillow.
"No tuna," Snape gruffed, standing up to dress as Harry left the room.
"All your things, what was in the Headmaster's quarters, are in boxes upstairs," Harry said, watching over the silent man sitting in his kitchen. "And Professor McGonagall said to say thank you for the traps you left, by the way."
Harry thought he saw the beginning of a smile on Snape's face, but it was gone before it could even properly form.
"I don't expect a cup of tea would be too much to ask, before I am made to leave?" Snape queried, his voice much lower in pitch than Harry remembered. The soup and sandwiches had been consumed with the sort of gusto a man who'd not eaten human food in three and a half months could conjure.
"You don't have to leave," Harry immediately replied. His body kicked into action and he stood up to make the tea. He opened the cabinet and reached in blindly, turning to look at Snape. "It's a big house, you can stay as long as you'd like."
Snape gave him a considering look, as if he were trying to determine Harry's motives. He probably was, and Harry withstood the inspection.
"Most unexpected, but appreciated," Snape finally said, in a tone that Harry assumed was Snape's version of gratitude. "Someone else can eat the cat food."
Harry's brows knit together in confusion before he turned back to the open cabinet and noticed the stack of wet food cans next to the tea. Remembering the creative hairballs the cat had sicked up around the house, Harry busied himself making tea before he said anything teasing and stupid.
Two hours later, Harry found himself playing host again.
"Welcome back, Severus, and congratulations on your tenure," McGonagall said, holding onto a folder as she sat primly on a chair. "And thank you for everything you did for us in the war."
Snape merely nodded, sitting with his legs folded under him. He didn't make eye contact with McGonagall, and randomly glanced at Harry, as if to make sure Harry hadn't moved.
"I suppose that was your perfectly valid reason for transfiguring me into a cat?" he replied, his gaze narrowed at the fireplace.
Harry sat on the sofa with a plate of biscuits that he'd originally brought in to offer. Neither Snape nor McGonagall seemed to be interested in them though, so Harry collected the crumbs with his finger as he tried not to eavesdrop too blatantly.
"You were injured on the job, Severus," McGonagall said, as if her words were the final truth. "You deserve the benefits."
"Injured," Snape deadpanned, his hand brushing softly against the scars on his neck.
"A habit of yours, with dangerous creatures, at Hogwarts," McGonagall said, her head tilted slightly as she looked at him. "Nonetheless, your house was destroyed by death eaters on the night of the battle, and you deserve the money for a new start."
Snape's back stiffened at that, and it reminded Harry of how the cat had usually sat suspicious when something new was brought into the house.
"How thoroughly destroyed?" Snape asked, as if assessing how much damage he'd personally suffered.
"It's gone," Harry slowly said. "Standard muggle gas explosion."
Snape seemed to be processing this information with as blank of face as possible, seemingly to mask the disappointment he felt. Harry, who'd spent three months watching the cat's tail curl around itself when it wanted protection, didn't miss Snape folding his hands in his lap and turning his shoulders somewhat inward.
"It'll probably take a while for you to sort through the stuff we managed to save," Harry said, trying to sound nonchalant. "It's all upstairs."
Snape nodded his head at that, and reached out for a biscuit, his fingers brushing against Harry's at the plate.
"I suspect it shall, if you were the one to have packed it."
Harry woke up at five forty-seven, reaching over automatically to silence his alarm. He suspected that Snape slept with some sort of sound dampening charm on his room, as the man was likely accustomed to silence after years in the dungeons. Rising swiftly out of bed, Harry threw the covers back over top, taking care not to hit the pillows. The cat wasn't there though, and Harry stared at the empty pillow for a second before turning to dress himself. The house was still and silent, just the way he liked it in the morning.
Entering the kitchen, Harry grabbed his scarf from the hook on the wall and made his way to the cabinets. He stopped mid-way, staring at the bundle on the table, and then up at the ceiling. There was no sound from above, as he expected there wouldn't be, but it didn't explain the buttered slices of apple nut bread wrapped neatly in wax paper and fixed with an elastic band. His thermos sat next to the bread, and upon opening released a comforting aroma of hot chocolate and coffee perfectly mixed together. Neither item was under a preservation charm, and Harry glanced about the kitchen to see if there were any other signs of Snape's presence. His muggle wristwatch beeped for six am though, and he felt a twitchy pull to get to Kings Cross, without being late. Perhaps Snape had retained a few memories from his time spent as a cat, or perhaps he'd merely observed Harry's outing the day before, and happened to be up early enough to make the drink. Whatever the reason, Harry made a mental note to thank Snape later on when he'd returned.
Snape had been surprisingly pleasant that day. He didn't admit to leaving out the hot chocolate coffee mix for Harry, but didn't deny either when Harry had said thanks. He'd sat in the kitchen most of the morning, reading over back issues of the Daily Prophet that had arrived via the Floo. He'd asked questions about the war, seemed to be interested in knowing what Harry had faced during his year on the run. Over all, he'd acted more like the cat than the mean-spirited Professor that Harry remembered him to be.
He didn't once ask how he'd been rescued, and did not mention the memories he'd given Harry.
Harry had given Snape Regulus' old room, and full use of the large upper floor bathroom in the evenings. Washing as a cat and being covered in cat spit all summer likely was as disgusting as it sounded, and Harry didn't say a word as Snape took an hour-long bath. When he was younger, and more immature, he likely would have cracked a joke about Snape even taking one. But this Severus Snape, the one who'd kept him company and kept him sane all summer, was not the same potions Professor of Hogwarts.
Harry stood in the open front doorway after supper, holding a mug of tea in his hands. The sun had finally disappeared only half an hour earlier, and he watched the fireflies zipping through the air down the street. It was almost nine, and he would have liked to go for a walk. Ever since Snape had returned to human form, Harry hadn't been sleeping well. He'd not had the wartime night terrors return, but he was restless and had trouble drifting off.
"Can muggles see you?" Snape asked, standing in the hallway shadows and startling Harry.
"If they looked well enough," Harry responded, taking a deep breath to hide his surprise.
"When did you last leave the house, Potter?" Snape asked, looking curiously at Harry.
"I went to the tr –"
"Not to the station."
"It doesn't matter," Harry said, huffing in frustration. He closed and locked the door, silencing the sounds from outside. "I've done everything the wizarding world asked of me. I'll go back outside when I decide to, not anyone else."
He brushed past Snape to go upstairs, ignoring the fact that Snape's body seemed to radiate warmth, and that he'd not moved away from Harry. His own bed wasn't any more comfortable than he felt, and the sheets scratched at his skin, but Harry left the door open as he flicked out the lights. He finally drifted off an hour later, listening to the sounds of Snape walking about downstairs.
Five-fifty am came earlier than Harry expected, and he stumbled out of bed. He felt tired again, the same tiredness he'd had over the last two years of the war, and rubbed the gritty feeling from his eyes.
Harry slipped quietly downstairs to the kitchen, noting along the way that Snape's bedroom door was partially open. He wasn't at all surprised to find his thermos already filled and waiting for him, nor the buttered slices of apple nut bread wrapped in wax paper. The pepper-up potion was new though, and Harry tapped the small phial against his palm before deciding to take it. It wouldn't necessarily give him much more energy, but it would likely stave off the chill from Kings Cross' morning fog.
"Have you decided what you're going to do?" Harry asked, sitting at the kitchen table and composing a grocery list. He was met with silence, and finally looked up to see the answer. Snape was standing in the doorway, wearing a black muggle suit with a slightly longer cut in the jacket than was strictly fashionable. It was a huge update from his previous Edwardian frock coat, and Harry blinked slowly. The cream-coloured dress shirt was still there, but this one fit snugly across his shoulders with a regular neckline and was decorated by a simple silver tie.
"You look loads younger," Harry blurted, his brain seemingly taking a leave of absence.
"Duly noted," Snape dryly responded, though he seemed amused.
"You're back to Headmaster again, then?" asked Harry, his pen poised over the word 'carrots'.
"I never stopped," Snape confidently replied, moving swiftly to the kettle. "I shall require a part-time assistant and flying instructor."
Harry exhaled and sat back in the chair.
"Snape, you know I can't d-"
"Your response is due at the end of the week," Snape continued, as if Harry had never spoken. "And I believe we have both been told by a frustrating and often wise old man that it is our choices that matter, in the end."
Snape left the kitchen after putting the kettle on to boil, and Harry slumped in his chair. Hogwarts was his home, and he'd have given most anything to go back to the home he'd known. But that Hogwarts was gone, and Harry didn't know if he could handle this new version. It was pathetic and childish of him, but Harry had always had far more trouble with mental roadblocks than physical ones. Gryffindors were known for their bravery, and Harry knew that physical pain only lasted so long. He wasn't quite so deft at handling mental challenges.
While the house was no longer under fidelius, Harry still wasn't a fan of many visitors. But the war was over, and as much as he himself didn't wish to go out, he refused to let a level of wartime paranoia rule his life to that extent. He was, however, considering altering his wards to turn away the Malfoys.
"He's in the kitchen," Harry said, opening the door to allow Lucius Malfoy entrance.
"How delightfully domestic," Malfoy mused, following Harry through.
"Severus," Malfoy said, surveying the unmatched chairs with disdain.
"Lucius," Snape greeted, not looking up from his brewing mixture. Harry didn't like the level of familiarity between the two. "I heard you came to call earlier this month?"
"I did, yes. Mr Potter was most unhelpful," Malfoy said, sending a glare toward Harry. "The Wizengamot had an urgent offer to put forth, and I'm afraid it's now past due."
"I doubt I would have been interested," Snape calmly replied, pouring what looked like grain into his cauldron. Harry decided to get a jump on preparing lasagne for dinner, and started digging ingredients out of the cold cupboard while coffee percolated.
"Well, I wouldn't be so sure of that," Malfoy said, faking a considerate pause. "Certainly owning a small apothecary in Diagon Alley is nothing to laugh at, for a boy from Spinner's End."
Snape halted, just a minute second of hesitation before he started stirring again.
"A veritable wizard's dream, were it not for the customers," Snape answered.
Over by the counter at the coffee machine, Harry snorted.
"Haven't you something pressing to do at the moment, Potter?" Malfoy asked.
"Not a thing," Harry cheerfully replied, placing two cups of coffee on the empty end of the kitchen table. Milk and sugar floated over to the table, and a small plate of shortbread followed. He handed Snape's coffee directly to the man, and paused as he felt Snape's fingers press firmly against his own as the mug was transferred. Snape acted like nothing had happened, and continued brewing.
"Of course not. Regardless of your lacking customer service skills, Severus, the Wizengamot was not pleased at all at your refusal to answer their summons," Malfoy continued, wrinkling his nose at either the coffee or the brewing Snape was working on. "What is that?"
"Beer," Snape responded. He took a pause to sip his own coffee and stretch his stirring arm. "Enough of the pleasantries, Lucius. Why are you playing messenger boy to the Wizengamot?"
Malfoy took a sip of his drink to cover his annoyance, and Harry realised that the caffeine might have an interesting effect on him, if he'd never had coffee before.
"A special favour to the Ministry," Malfoy groused. "Your claim for damages has been approved, and you will receive a stipend of seventy-five galleons per calendar month for ten years. The Ministry will also provide you with fifteen thousand galleons in exchange for the complete destruction levelled to your...home."
Snape took this information calmly, and when he'd done the math in his head, sounded rather satisfied. Harry thought it was a good sum of money, though not nearly enough for the past three years of hell that Snape had gone through.
"I assume you brought the papers regarding this settlement?" Snape asked, finishing his coffee.
"Yes," Malfoy answered. He looked to be rather annoyed to be serving as a messenger, but did produce a scroll of parchment from within his jacket pocket.
"Leave it on the table. I have things to prepare for the upcoming school year and shall read it later," Snape ordered, standing up and getting back to his beer.
"You are returning as Headmaster then?" Malfoy tightly asked.
"Naturally," Snape responded. His manner was much calmer than Harry could ever remember it being at school, but as Harry grated cheese for the dinner he realized that the tone was meant to irritate Malfoy more than convey what Snape was actually feeling.
"An admitted murderer, death eater, vindictive, mean-spirited homosexual returning to teach a new generation of children, how simply wonderful," said Malfoy, watching Snape deftly add spices to the brew.
"There are no laws against homosexuals as Headmasters. And I shan't be teaching, in any event," Snape replied, not taking umbrage to anything else Malfoy had said.
"What a pity," Malfoy said, standing up from the table. "It's rumoured down at the local pub that your brewing skills are what managed to keep you alive."
Snape looked up at that, with amusement on his face.
"You have never been 'down to a pub'," said Snape assertively, with the tone that said there was little doubt he was right. Malfoy gathered up his cloak and cane, but did not argue Snape's point. Instead, he looked speculatively between Snape and Harry.
"Of course, amongst the death eaters, it is said that you made a more intimate agreement with the Dark Lord for your survival."
"That mental image was neither pleasant nor called for," Snape responded, crossing his arms. Harry made a disgusted face at the onion he was chopping. "Take your leave, Lucius."
"Merely a thought, old friend. A simple contemplation," Malfoy said, looking pleased as he made to leave the kitchen.
"…from the man who hosted Voldemort in his own home for months," Harry pointedly said. He could tell by the slamming of the kitchen door and subsequently the front door that Malfoy had heard him.
"Lucius Malfoy has always made a rather large fuss regarding homosexuals," Snape said, unperturbed as he continued on with the beer. "Given his fixation with personal grooming."
Harry snorted coffee up his nose as he laughed.
"I assume you won't have any of the same reservations," Snape finished. His tone was light, but his body was tense in a way that Harry recognised from the cat, when it was investigating something new and disconcerting that had been brought into the house.
"You slept on my pillow for three months," Harry pointed out reasonably. He was feeling cheerier than he had been earlier in the day. "I think I'm quite alright with it."
Ginny had loved Jane Austen romances. Her brothers had teased her mercilessly for it – the strong independent woman who secretly enjoyed romantic novels to sweep her off her feet. Harry hadn't teased, but he'd not understood the appeal either. And still didn't, for he was passed out on the couch in the living room, Pride & Prejudice dropped to the floor with its pages slightly askew.
He didn't remember the book crashing to the floor, but his mind floated to attention when he felt a light touch plucking his spectacles from his face, and pulling off his shoes. The novel was left where it lay, but a soft blanket was draped over him, and soft fingers carded through his hair. Much like his own had done whilst petting the cat, late at night.
Snape didn't leave the room or him, settling down at the end of the sofa Harry was sprawled on. His feet were moved gently, left to press against the side of Snape's thigh as the blanket was tucked around him. The fire flared larger with a spell, and Harry burrowed into the couch. He fell asleep faster than he'd ever done since before the Battle of Hogwarts.
Harry sat at the bench at the end of the platform, watching as three National Rail workers walked along the edge and inspected the track below. One of them was in his later years with a scruffy grey and white beard and a slight belly. He had a mischievous look on his face as he smiled at his much younger colleagues, and it made Harry ache for Albus Dumbledore.
"Some would tell you such tripe that he lives on in your heart," a deep voice said, and Harry startled badly as Snape sat on the bench next to him. "Though you'll find it remarkably easier to merely speak with his portrait at Hogwarts."
Snape was dressed in casual business muggle clothes, though his long hair disrupted the cohesive image of his clothing.
"I haven't been to Hogwarts since the battle," Harry pointed out.
"I am quite aware of that," answered Snape. He reached over to take the end of Harry's scarf in hand, tugging Harry closer to his side. Harry watched intently as Snape's fingers ran over the scarf, finding and tracing the names written nearly invisibly in each block of colour.
"How is it that you can come here, and not anywhere else?" Snape asked, his finger pausing over a name. Fred Weasley.
"Because here is nowhere, and everywhere," Harry cryptically answered, pushing himself closer to Snape and leaning slightly against Snape's shoulder. "And here is just all in my head."
A stubby thumb, the nail broad and flat, scratched at a name in a red block of colour, much like the cat used to do to Harry's pillow at night. Petunia Dursley.
The six thirty-eight from King's Lynn came in and Harry stayed silent, watching the commuters exit the train. Snape broke off a slice of apple nut bread, chewing it slowly in thought as a slight covering of fog twisted around the feet of commuters parading off the platform.
"Make the fog stop, Harry."
Harry stiffened slightly, but he didn't take his eyes off the crowds. Today he couldn't see anyone he recognised.
"As a child, accidental magic manifests itself with strong inner emotions," Snape said, his side warm against Harry's. He was looking upward, watching the pigeons and the occasional owl swoop in under the rafters of the station as the fog burned off.
"As an adult, the cause is the same. The power behind the magic is merely stronger."
A recorded voice drifted out from the train, advising all passengers that the train was now out of service and that they must leave the carriages. Harry stood up quickly, unsure of why the sudden tears in his eyes had come about.
"Potter," Snape said, standing up and walking after Harry. Snape caught him before he could reach the barrier at 9 and ¼, grabbing Harry's arm and spinning him into a rough embrace. The apple nut bread fell to the ground out of Harry's hand and a small sob escaped from his throat.
"I can't stop thinking about them," Harry said, shifting in Snape's almost painfully tight grip. "How can you just go on, like nothing ever happened?"
Snape let Harry go, jostling them toward the apparition barrier and glaring at the muggles who stared at them. Harry was leaning slightly against Snape, but his eyes had cleared slightly and he looked more exhausted than on the verge of bursting into tears.
"That is the very nature of time and space, Mr Potter. One must go forth," Snape dryly said, glancing against the barrier and pulling Harry through with him to 9 and ¼. The apparition point was a cramped little alcove area, which they fit into by pressing closely against each other.
"Imagine living your whole life focused around the worst thing you ever did," Snape whispered, his voice low and commanding in Harry's ear. "And how you'd feel once you'd finally paid your debt."
Lunch was a simple soup and toasted sandwich, with very limited conversation. Snape had his papers spread out about the table, preparing lists for the new Hogwarts year, and Harry had the newspaper open in a false attempt to look for employment. All the windows in the house were open, and fresh air was breathing life back into Grimmauld Place.
Nothing more had been said about their morning journey to Kings Cross. Harry had apparated back to Grimmauld Place with Snape's arm strongly around his shoulders, and the comforting scent of potion herbs from Snape's jacket remained in his senses.
"When are you going back to Hogwarts?" Harry asked, swirling his spoon in his soup bowl.
"August twenty-ninth," Snape replied, not looking up from his paperwork.
"What exactly did you mean by part-time assistant?" Harry asked, glancing over the meeting plan that Snape was making. One thing that Harry had never doubted was that Snape had been a methodically prepared professor.
"The person hired for the position shall find out in due time," Snape replied, pulling a fresh sheaf of parchment over and starting on his welcome back speech for the opening feast.
Harry watched Snape scribble on the parchment, his short fingers almost caressing the quill nub as he wrote. Little splatters of ink sometimes hit against the side of Snape's thumb, but he had exceptionally neat, if tiny, writing. The cat's paws, as Harry remembered, were remarkably agile when it was determined to grab at something from the counter or Harry's desk. Snape's fingers were strong, warm against Harry's the few times he'd touched Harry. His arms were strong too, Harry remembered, from the partial hug he'd given Harry at Kings Cross.
"Are my hands fascinating, Mr Potter?" Snape said, breaking through Harry's concentration. Harry realised that Snape had stopped writing some minutes ago, and he'd not noticed.
"Yes," Harry blurted, blushing as he stood up and escaped to the sink to do the washing up.
Harry stood in the doorway after dinner again, watching some girls across the street chattering to each other as they jaywalked across the road to get home. The air was fresh and warm, there'd been no rain, and Harry took a deep breath as he stepped out onto the front step of the house. No one seemed to care that he was out there, and cars zipped by like they normally did on the road. Harry felt a rush of anxiety as his foot caught on the chipped stone of the step, and he remembered the panic they'd felt landing there last summer, with Yaxley at their heels. Slamming the door shut behind him, Harry's heartbeat slowly returned to normal as he ascended the stairs for the comfort of his bedroom.
He'd spent the evening mostly in Snape's company, quietly sorting through old photos, newspaper articles, letters, and leftover bits of household things from when Grimmauld was still Order headquarters. Things he'd not touched since returning to the house after the battle of Hogwarts. Snape had continued to prepare himself for his return to Hogwarts, occasionally remarking on the value or history of certain items Harry had picked up.
At the top of the stairs Harry opened the door to find a silhouette on his bed, Snape in repose as he waited somewhat tensely for something or someone. He was in a blue dressing gown; his house robe draped loosely over himself as he sat primly on Harry's bed.
"Is this…Am I in the wrong room?" Harry asked, his hand resting on the doorknob as he regarded Snape. It was one thing to have spent the summer with Snape, and over the past few days considered the possibilities of a closer companionship, but Harry had never been good at reading signals and preferred to clarify outright.
"No," Snape plainly answered. He looked up at Harry with a rather benign expression, though Harry noticed the eyes roaming over his body from foot to head.
"Right," Harry tentatively responded, closing the door behind him. Snape watched his every move as Harry kicked his slippers off toward the dresser, and hung his housecoat up on a hook at the side of the wardrobe. The routine was the exact same as every other night, but it wasn't the cat watching him this time. When he approached the bed, Snape didn't retreat.
"I used to sleep on your pillow," Snape said, reaching for Harry's arm and pulling Harry closer. He sounded decisive and pleased, yet somewhat hesitant - just how Harry imagined the Half Blood Prince would have been.
"You did," Harry confirmed, goose pimples racing down his arms as his nerves fired up. He'd read and fantasized about intimacy, but something had always gotten in the way. The war had always come first. Harry let Snape slowly smooth his hand over his cloth-covered stomach, smiling ever so slightly as he remembered his thoughts about Snape's hands over lunch.
"And fell asleep with you petting me," Snape continued, watching his own hand as it slipped under Harry's shirt and tangled in the defined trail of hair around Harry's navel.
Harry sucked in his breath at the warmth of Snape's fingers and watched him explore.
"You needed spoiling."
"Hmm," Snape replied, tugging Harry's shirt up and helping him get it off.
"You used to knead my lap all the time too," Harry said, slipping Snape's housecoat off.
"I still will," Snape replied. He pulled Harry down onto the bed with him, giving Harry a soft exploratory nibble on his lower lip.
It wasn't smooth; both had stubble on their chins and wild hair as they kissed. Snape was all lanky limbs and he tangled with Harry's knobby knees. Harry felt himself trembling as Snape's fingers, lips, and tongue explored him, somewhat inexperienced as they passed over various sensitive spots on his body. They rolled, Snape's surprisingly strong thighs cradling Harry's hips and his hands tangling Harry's hair further as they kissed again.
"Do you want…I…" Harry mumbled, fascinated by the very light freckles he found on Snape's shoulders. "I didn't know you'd want this too."
Snape's finger traced down Harry's chest, flicking indiscriminately against Harry's nipples.
"You thought that I couldn't possibly be interested in a good looking man who had the patience to care for me in my incapacitation?"
"You caused a lot of damage as a cat, I'll have you know," Harry said, leaning up with a smile to kiss Snape's clavicle.
"Ah yes. I shall be sure to send you an invoice for all the damage you and your little friends caused me during your formative school years," Snape said, punctuating his points with a slight rubbing motion of his bottom on Harry's very-interested groin.
"Mmmm, you do that," Harry murmured, reaching for his wand to banish the rest of their clothing. "I don't think I can wait."
"Your lack of patience shocks me," Snape dryly said, his thumbs finding delightful pressure points. "What do you plan on doing?"
"I don't know," Harry admitted, his cheeks flushed. "I want to…I want to touch you."
His hands ran up and down Snape's lightly haired thighs, squeezing the muscles that were straddling him.
"I expect you will," Snape whispered, leaning down and strongly kissing the base of Harry's throat. His body pressed strongly against Harry's.
"Aha, what's your idea?" Harry exhaled, enjoying the sensations. So much different from any wandering his hands had managed in the shower.
Snape didn't answer, instead choosing to summon a small jar and guide Harry's fingers to just where they were needed.
"First time?" Snape asked.
"Maybe," Harry admitted, skimming his free hand down Snape's warm chest and the little paunch of his belly.
"Must I be your teacher in everything?" Snape asked, his eyes still closed and his voice not betraying any sort of malice. Harry's attention was focused more than it had ever been in any of Snape's classes.
Snape gave a soft and contented breath of air.
"I trust," Snape said, a lazy smirk on his face, "that you will hit the ground running as you always do."
Harry rather hoped so as well.
"Stay as still as you can," Snape said, his voice low as he slowly adjusted himself. He didn't seem to mind that Harry was distracted, trying not to come right away. "It's been a while."
Not much else was said afterward, the only sound of the room being the grunts and loud smacks of their fucking. The only warning he was given of Snape's upcoming orgasm was a soft kiss to his temple, which undid Harry enough to cause his own. Sweaty and sated, Snape collapsed back onto the bed beside Harry, his hair stuck to his face and his hand mingling with the come splattered on Harry's chest.
"You were a very tactile cat, you know," Harry said after a few moments, his breathing finally returned to normal as he stared up at the ceiling.
"This surprises you?" Snape asked, rising carefully to avoid making a further mess of Harry's sheets.
"Not at all," Harry said, smiling in the semi-dark. He didn't mind a cleaning spell to clean off himself and the bed sheets, which he did quickly while Snape went to the washroom. Snape stalked back into the room, naked as the day he was born but with the same confidence the cat had usually shown. He slipped into the bed next to Harry, and curled satisfactorily around Harry's body.
"Your pillow used to be much larger, Mr Potter," Snape mumbled, obviously quite tired.
"Your arse used to be smaller," Harry yawned back.
Harry woke with frozen toes, his mind groggy as his legs twitched and tried to find the blanket. A heavy arm was draped over his side, and a warm breath steadily hit his neck, with a fan of hair itching his shoulders.
"Mmmh," Harry mumbled, lifting his head. He could feel warm skin against him, a soft penis resting against the back of his thigh as he was wrapped firmly in someone's arms. Snape's arms. From the light of the window, Harry looked around his room and at the discarded clothing on the floor. The alarm clock blinked at him: 6:42 am.
"I didn't go to Kings Cross," Harry dumbly said, wrestling with the blankets and Snape's heavy arms to sit up.
Snape rolled over on his back behind Harry, his pale chest contrasting with the navy blue sheets twisted around him. He had a slight bruise on his left shoulder from Harry's exuberance the night before.
"Have you any reason to go?" Snape asked. Most of his face was hidden by his hair, and he didn't sound even half awake.
"Yes," Harry immediately answered, tracing some of the hair away. As he'd expected, the man's eyes were closed. "Well, I did."
Snape opened his arm for Harry, not saying anything until Harry had lain back down and shuffled close against his chest.
"The only thing you owed them was your absolute best when it counted," Snape said, his voice deep and roughened. Snape's side was warm against Harry's chest, and Harry's head rose slightly with each of Snape's breaths.
Harry's eyes stayed open, as he thought back to the battle. He didn't think he'd ever stop hearing the screams, or remembering the looks on the Weasleys faces when they realised they'd lost two of their own. He thought about this summer with the cat, his quiet days spent in Grimmauld, keeping to himself. And last night, the feeling of euphoria racing through his veins as he and Snape – no, Severus – had made love.
Harry's stomach gave a lurch, and he suddenly felt panicked. That's what they'd done, they'd laid in Harry's bed and made love, laughing and kissing and biting and feeling good. Harry had done that, had enjoyed a night that people like Fred, or Ginny, or Hagrid, would never see.
Anxious and needing to get up and go somewhere, Harry tried to sit back up again. Snape didn't let him go this time, keeping his arms tightly around Harry as they struggled.
"Severus, I need to – "
"You need to think, Potter," Snape interrupted, and his commanding voice caught Harry's attention immediately. He stilled, resting up on his elbow as his legs tangled with Snape's. The dark eyes were focused directly on him from between the strands of hair. "Think of exactly how you will finish that sentence."
The new blue paint in the hallway of Grimmauld Place lightened up the entrance considerably, enough so that it felt like the wrong house every time Harry tried to go upstairs. This morning there were several large trunks at the bottom of the stairs, stacked neatly and labelled "S.T.S". It had taken Harry more than half an hour of begging, and then finally a bribe of a full body massage, to get Severus to reveal his middle name as Thomas. A black travelling cloak had been draped over the top trunk, and a stack of books, held together by a leather strap, was piled on top.
"You're just missing an owl," Harry said, smiling slightly as he looked over the luggage. "Otherwise, you're set for the Hogwarts Express."
Severus scowled, putting his wand into his breast pocket.
"Fortunately, I have your curmudgeonly house elf to take them instead."
"He means well," Harry defended, tying up his own shoes. "Most of the time."
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions," Severus quoted. It was midday, but rainy out, and he blew out the candles that were on the little table by the front door.
"Yes," Harry said, looking up through solemn eyes. "It certainly is."
"How is it that you only have one small student trunk?" Severus asked, changing the subject to a not so serious enquiry. He opened the door and muttered in displeasure, stepping out into the drizzle.
"I never saw the need for much," Harry answered, slightly evasively as he put his own travelling cloak on. He'd never had much of a home to keep things at.
"Absolutely no excuse. I expect you in Hogsmeade first thing tomorrow," Severus ordered, holding his arm out for Harry to take. "No assistant of mine shall wear filthy and ill-fitting teenager clothing."
"Yeah, alright. I can definitely do that," Harry agreed, taking a happy breath as he stepped out into the grisly weather, his arm linked in Severus'. They were taking the Knight Bus to Hogwarts, and Harry was dying to see if Severus could terrify either the shrunken head or Ernie Prang into driving properly.
The slightly more x rated version can be found at any of the snape_potter communities, or snarry dot net.