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.