It just so happened that Severus was the only Order member to hear it when the alarm for #4 Privet Drive went off. He had to be, for on his insistence, the spell was set to alert him at Spinner's End only as a last resort if every other Order member had been tried. Twice.
He looked up from his book with a glower, but the little silver instrument didn't explode into dust at all, and instead went on squeaking and hooting and hopping up and down in its distress.
"Surely there is someone else you can shrill at," he sneered, flipping a page harder than necessary. "Try Grimmauld Place again. Or the Burrow."
The alarm changed pitch as a particularly energetic hop tipped the device off the mantle ledge, but the fall only added an insectile buzz to its panicked racket. The damned thing, Severus noted with a glower, was now vibrating itself across the floor, each blast of steam glittering with red sparks. It seemed to be angling toward his foot.
"Fine, fine," he grumbled, throwing the book aside and standing. "I'll go and bloody see to it." He'd have fought harder, of course, had it been Albus in person instead of his gadget demanding that Severus hie himself down to the depths of that well-groomed Muggle hell just because Potter couldn't keep his wand to himself. But though it was tempting, there seemed little point in protest now: the damnable charm would give him no rest until he went and made sure Potter's nose was wiped. And besides, and after the last time it had annoyed Severus with its antiphony, Albus had warded the thing against hexing, cursing, hurling, boiling, explosions, banishment, transfiguration, and being hammered to bits with boot-heels.
Potter would have to do for substitute.
Severus apparated to #4 Privet drive's back garden directly once he'd transfigured his clothes to something a Muggle wouldn't mistake for a vicar's. He had caught sight of the shielded nook -- between the Dursley's cheap metal garden shed and some hydrangea bushes -- in Potter's memories, back when he'd been trying to teach the wretch to keep his brain, such as it was, to himself. The boy had, Severus recalled, considered the spot a particularly good hiding place. Severus supposed it would do service for him now -- If Potter knew one thing, it was how to skulk about unseen, after all. He turned in place...
And cursed at once as he emerged into overgrown shrubbery and cobwebs, with barely enough room to draw breath, let alone hunker down and take shelter. Hiding place indeed! A toddler would be too large for it! The brat was an idiot, and Severus was lucky not to have been splinced!
"Sorry to disappoint, Potter," Severus gritted, his struggles snapping off several of the hydrangea's repulsively pink blooms. "It will take more than a hedge and your celebrity to cover your arse this time!"
A shriek sounded from within the house, shrill and loud as a rabbit being wrung slowly in half -- a rabbit the size of a carthorse, perhaps. Still, the noise provided the burst of adrenaline Severus needed to extricate himself from his herbaceous imbroglio. A scant moment later, he flung wide the kitchen door to find Bedlam within.
A mountain of a man -- Potter's Uncle, Severus recalled -- lay on the floor like a great felled tree, his face and arms bleeding from dozens of long, ragged cuts. It looked as though the man had been set about savagely with a metal pen-tip. Severus caught his breath on a curse, but a second, closer look eased the lurch of panic in his belly; Sectumsempra left smooth cuts, deep and clean as a razor, while these were jagged, clumsy tears. And besides, there was no way Potter could possibly know that spell, unless Severus himself had taught him.
Not likely, that. But reassurances aside, it still cast the man's injuries into a mysterious light. The cuts on his arms were angry, but hardly looked deep enough to account for his collapse. More bloodstains wicked up through his shredded oxford and the vest showing through beneath, but the man breathed smoothly, and showed no signs of convulsion or vomiting. His head seemed intact, if unpleasantly florid, so whatever had toppled the obese creature, it hadn't been a common poison or a murderous blow.
In the corner behind the man huddled a boy -- roughly Potter's age, and half again Gregory Goyle's size -- squealing like a stuck pig, and gripping a dishtowel to his wrist as though the limb were severed and spraying his life's blood in gouts. Through the flailing, Severus was hard-pressed to see any blood at all on the ham-sized, but otherwise average hand. The Cousin's scream twisted off into a sharp, terrified hiccough as his watery blue eyes took in Severus' robes and extended wand.
"Mum," the boy wheezed as the blood drained from his face. Merlin help him, was the idiot delusional? Severus raised his wand as muffled thuds and shouting sounded from the next room, all but drowning out the whimper. "Mummy!" the boy tried again, desperation clearly growing.
"Where is Potter?" Severus growled, feeling his temper fray as he noted that the idiot's hand sported nothing more than two small puncture wounds on the pad of the thumb. Not even enough to stain the dishtowel, though they might be a bit inflamed.
Parseltongue not enough for you, Potter? Severus wondered, stepping forward.
The fat boy made to retreat, as though he'd forgot he was already crammed into the corner, and his voice rose again to the hysterical squeal when Severus caught his hand and turned it to the light to examine the bite mark. "MUMMY! MUMMY COME QUICK!" he screamed, trainers squeaking and slipping, leaving black streaks across the gleaming tiles.
Fed up, Severus pressed the nerve cluster between the wrist tendons to make the idiot be still and let him see the wound. Only instead of having the thick arm go limp in his grip, Severus found himself suddenly catching the entire, not-inconsiderable mass of boy as he gave a final whimper and fainted dead away.
"DUDLEY!" Petunia Dursley stood in the kitchen doorway, flushed, panting, and brandishing a cracked plastic broom like a demented, homely Valkyrie. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY SON?!"
Severus cast a wordless charm to lower the flabby lump to the ground beside his father. "Merely stopped him dashing his brains out on your cooker, Tuney," he said with a smile, relishing the horrified recognition that spread across the woman's face as he wiped his hands on her embroidered dishtowel. "Now suppose you cease all these histrionics, and explain what's happened, hmm?"
Like her son, Petunia's face went white, but then it flushed furiously crimson. She pointed a shaking finger. "You! YOU! YOU FR-" A rising twitch of Severus' wand-tip froze the word on her tongue.
"Freely admit that I'd like nothing better than to show you the exact colour of your own spleen?" Severus made a show of musing, "Absolutely. However, as I don't suppose Lily would have condoned me eviscerating her sister, I shall simplify my question for you instead: What's happened here." He twitched the wand again as her mouth opened wide. "Politely, if you please."
Oh, what cool satisfaction curled in his belly to watch Lily's repugnant sister struggle to contain her loathing. He offered her an unreservedly smug smile, and nodded at the man on the floor. "If you're having trouble working out where to start, perhaps you ought to fetch another towel while you're thinking. Your husband seems to be leaking all over your nice clean floor."
That tore it. Her eyes flicked toward the fat man, fluttered in distress, and then she turned a look of incandescent hatred on Severus. "You get him out of here!" Petunia hissed, and her knuckles creaked audibly around the broom-handle. From the lounge came a thud, a crash, and a small noise of distress.
"Do you hear me?" the woman screamed, lurching once more into fury. "He's an animal! He's a dangerous, mad animal, and I won't have him here!" She stopped just short of grabbing at Severus' robes, but only because he put his wand in the way. Even then, she leaned into the jab as though unaware of the danger. "You take him away! Take him away, and I don't care what you do with him, do you hear me?!"
Severus caught the broom in his off hand, gripping hard at Petunia's knuckles to wrest it free. Only the moment his skin brushed hers, the unmistakable feeling of wild magic burst through the crackling air between them -- as yet unseen, but intent, so very, darkly intent.
He drew a breath, tried to think, but the magic coiled up, sharp and unexpected in Severus' throat, rushing out with the words on his tongue before he realized quite what was happening. "Yes," he heard himself say with a terrible certainty. "I will take him."
Petunia gasped, shocked rigid as scarlet sparks leapt from Severus' wand, pinning both of them in place with looping chains of fire and shadow. "What- what are you doing?" the words were shrill and terrified, as though she'd only just remembered what magic could do to the likes of her.
Another day, Severus might have pressed that advantage, but at that moment, he was struggling with that same question. What was happening? What the hell had Potter done in this house to charge the very walls of it with such a potent, desperate power? Now that the magic gripped him, Severus could see it all around, grudging dust ingrained in the spotless worktop, the gleaming appliances, the pristine floor, all filthy with anger, fear... pain. What had Potter done? And why, in the name of Merlin's hairy grey scrote, was Severus, even gripped by this primal misery, promising to take the boy on himself?
However, Severus would sooner have shown his throat to Lupin on a full moon than allowed Lily's petty, envious, useless sister to see him wrong-footed. So he focused on the woman herself; face pinched and sour even in reckless fury, the shadowy magic wrapped so tightly around her that it seemed to weep from her pores like tarry sweat. Gone far beyond the realm of logic and forethought now, he stored the vision away, to consider once his primal, animal instinct had done with them both.
"I'm giving you what you want, Tuney," Severus used his best classroom sneer and a grip of iron to hold the woman still until the dancing sparks faded, and the chaotic magic settled its will into place inside them both. "I am taking Harry James Potter away from you, as you've asked," he said, and the words rang with unquestioned truth inside him, even as they echoed from the flowered kitchen walls. "He is mine now, not yours. And you will never speak of him again, nor seek for him. He is gone from you, never to return."
Once more, Severus felt the magic pushing out through his lips, read its power in the sudden dilation of the woman's eyes, the unfocusing of her glare into soft puzzlement as she sensed the loss of something she could not fathom. The magic, satisfied at last, becalmed itself, rendering Petunia merely homely instead of horrible.
"But... but you can't do..." she pulled away, dropped the broom, and stepped back, pressing her hand to her brow. "What... what are you... I didn't...Vernon? Where are you? Verno-" Then she stumbled over the fat boy's out flung arm, and utterly distracted herself with a scream. "DUDLEY! Oh, my Diddykins, what's wrong!"
Disgusted, Severus threw the dishtowel at her head on his way out of the kitchen.
The parlor was in utter disarray; lamps smashed, tables overturned, chairs tipped, framed photos scattered in drifts of smashed glass at the base of the mantelpiece. Even the sofa's chintz cushions were cantilevered, as though Potter had kicked them askew on his way over. There was a fat handprint in blood on the white-painted doorframe.
Potter was here. Somewhere. Severus could always sense it when the little bastard was lurking where he oughtn't to be, and the recently faded magic amplified that prickling in his thumbs into a full-blown, itching desire to lay hands on the idiotic, careless, reckless, impulsive little fool, and.... He shook his head to clear it. Potter was here, and with the amount of magic that had been going off around the place, the Aurors would soon be here as well if he didn't get about his job. Severus concentrated to block out the histrionics in the kitchen, and summoned his Patronus -- a soothing silver grace in this florid mundanity of a house. "Go to Arthur Weasley," he told the doe. "Tell him that I have the Potter situation in hand."
With a solemn nod, she leapt away. Hearing the fat boy's squeal as he returned to consciousness in the other room, Severus envied her escape no little bit. He flicked a silencing spell at the doorway, and turned back to examine the lounge as the yowling faded.
He heard Potter's shallow, panting breath at once -- low to the floor, rapid and pained. It stilled the instant he took a step toward the sofa, and there came just the barest rustle of movement. Something curled in his stomach, hard and angry. Potter never did know when to hold his provocative tongue, did he?
"Come out of there, Potter," Severus said, watching the space behind the sofa for any glimmer of invisibly-cloaked escape. Another rustle was his only answer. A clock on the mantle began to whirr, and Severus ground his teeth as its tinny chime shattered the silence. "If you make me fetch you out," he said once the clanging stopped, "it will go the worse for you, boy!"
There was no reply -- even the panting had gone still.
Severus was used to his skin prickling around Potter -- the brat had a way from first glance of setting his teeth on edge, -- but something intangible, some sense subtler than a hunch, was telling Severus that things were more wrong than even Potter's disastrous norm. He flicked a silent summoning spell, but the hated invisibility cloak did not come slithering from beneath the skirted chintz sofa. Instead, something thudded hard against the wall behind him, startling Severus around in a whirl.
Severus could feel the magic of his summoning spell dragging as the cloak, not with Potter, as he'd assumed, fought to obey. Another wand-flick turned the wall transparent, and Severus squinted into a narrow, dark sort of cupboard behind. Potter's school trunk, pressed tight against the invisible barrier, the silvery mass of the cloak wadded up inside it. Well then. That would make things easier.
"Last chance, Potter," he said, and gave the sofa a kick. "You should know I'll not mind dragging you out of there by force, if you-"
He froze at the throaty yelp. Then he shook his head again. "Oh, do stop whining, you wretch!" He kicked the sofa again, harder. "From the look of things in the kitchen, you deserved everything Petunia could possibly have dealt out with that flimsy broom of hers!"
"Owwwww!" Potter's wail was longer this time, louder, with a shrill sort of desperation soaking the sound with equal measures of warning and plea. The hair on Severus' arms stood up. "Potter?"
"Mmmf." A rustle, and the panting resumed.
Severus dropped to his knees, and edged his wand under the sofa's ruffled skirt. A loud hiss gave him pause, until he remembered Potter's gift with Parseltongue. The little bastard couldn't be that badly off if he was up to multilingual profanity. Severus lifted the fabric aside and peered under.
Two green eyes caught the dim light and glowed briefly red as the loud, warning hiss sounded once more.
"Bloody hell," Severus agreed after a stunned and silent moment.
"HAGRID!" Severus bellowed over the screaming as soon as the flames turned green. "Damn you, man, ANSWER ME!"
With a yelp and scrabble, Hagrid's useless boarhound fled from the Floo-portal's view, tail firmly tucked. Severus braced his weight against the cupboard door as best he could while keeping his feet out of reach from the crack beneath it, and strongly considered just casting an accio on the gamekeeper to get him from Hogwarts to Spinner's End more quickly. It was more the question of power requirement than the dubious legality that gave him enough pause that the hairy half-giant could come thundering in from the garden.
"Howd on there, Fang, ye great ninny! You don' fit under the wardrobe, and you know it!"
"Rubeus Hagrid, damn you, leave that idiot dog alone and get through this damned Floo," Severus bellowed over the din.
"Tha's never Severus Snape, is it?" Hagrid's face filled the hearth with whiskers and confusion as an unearthly howl rang from the closet. "What've you got there, Professor?"
*Oh, nothing much,* Severus thought, stifling a jump as Potter screeched and threw himself at the door again. *Just the Boy Hero of the Wizarding World, who's taken it into his foolish head to transfigure himself into a-*
"A bloody disaster is what I've got here," Severus gritted at last, eyeing his wand where it had rolled to rest beside the fireplace. "And it's only going to get worse if you don't get over here and make the idiotic thing calm down before it injures itself!" *And possibly me* he didn't add, thinking of the marks on Vernon Dursley with some trepidation.
A surge of green light, and a billow of soot on his mother's hearthrug heralded the arrival of Severus' current definition of salvation. "Good Heavens, Professor," cried Hagrid, tossing his great, hairy coat over Severus' fireside chair as soon as he'd gained his feet, "wha's got into that cat? She's howlin somethin awful."
"Is he really?" Severus couldn't stop his lip curling, even as he had to brace against the door again. "Oof. You lie still in there, you little cretin! You'll only make it worse for yourself!"
"Professor!" Hagrid looked scandalized, "It's no good trying to give a moggy detention, 'specially one tha's been hurt, from the sound of it! You need to calm him down, not get im even more scared."
"Oh, very astute!" Severus threw up his hands and shouted over the din. "And just how would you suggest I achieve that, given that I've already tried calming charms, stunning spells, binding spells and sleep spells, and nothing seems to make the damned thing stop hurling itself about like a fur covered bludger!" He panted, quite unable to recover the slightest grip on his dignity now there was an actual human at whom he could rant. "It was all I could do to even get him here with those blasted Muggles still about, and now I can't even get close enough to examine his injuries-"
"He is injured then?" Hagrid was scandalized.
"Well, why did you think he was SCREAMING?" Severus leapt away from the door as Potter's transfigured talons sank clear through his boot leather, and pricked his ankle bloody. "LITTLE BASTARD!" he bellowed, whirling to give the door a solid kick. "I OUGHT TO SKIN YOU FOR A HAT, YOU UNGRATEFUL- MMMMF!!"
"You hush now!" Hagrid said and kept his hand wrapped firmly over Severus' mouth, bodily lifting him out of reach of a flailing, grabbing black paw. "That's no way to talk to a poor frightened creature now, is it?"
Severus closed his eyes, took a breath through his nose, and willed himself to find the strength to resist murdering flea-bitten pair of them.
"You got to speak in a soft voice," Hagrid explained, clearly mistaking Severus' lack of violent resistance as acquiescence. The half giant set him on the far end of the sofa and removed his paw just as Severus' resistance to biting the man was beginning to fail. "It don't do to expect him to calm down if you're all in a froth yourself. Half his fear's o what you'll take an urge to do to him, most like."
"Perhaps you were sleeping when I told you that I have already tried calming spells on him," Severus managed to get the words through his teeth, but only just. He glanced at his wand, but decided to let it lie, lest he accidentally hex the eyebrows off the half-giant. "The little bastard threw off every one, and then he damn near broke his own neck trying to climb the bookshelf!"
"Aye, that's the trouble wi cats," Hagrid chuckled, dropping to his knees, and crawling toward the coat cupboard, where the Cat Who Used To Be The Boy Who Lived was yowling and clawing at the gap. "They got just enough magic in em to slip out of any bag, don't they? Spells don't do no good when they get in a mood. Can't keep one in when he want's ter get out, can't keep one out when he wants ter get in. Here now, Maulkin," Hagrid's rump towered as he put his cheek on the floor and crooned to the crack under the door. "What's all this noise then?"
"OUUUUUUUUT!!!" Potter yowled again, claws flashing white as he dug at the door with a frenzied urgency. One would have thought he'd been locked in with rabid acromantulas instead of just Severus' extra rain cloaks and wellies.
"You ran in there yourself, you ungrateful little cretin!" Severus shouted back, sucking his bitten thumb now that he didn't need both hands to wedge the door shut. "And by Merlin, you'll pay for the damages! I ought to have left you with the Muggles, you -" Too late, he spotted Hagrid's reach for the cupboard's latch. "No! Don't open that-"
The door crashed free of Hagrid's grip, releasing a jagged streak of black fur and spitting malice. Severus refused to be ashamed of lifting both feet out of reach when the evil little creature flung itself under the sofa. "It took me an hour," he said with terrible precision as Hagrid sat upright with a grin and picked a bit of fluff from his beard, "to get the damned animal IN there."
"Aye, well, he didn' much like it anyhow." Hagrid dusted his thighs and got to his feet. "Why not leave 'im to me for a bit, now I can have a proper look at him? You can fix up some tea while me and your man there get acquainted."
There were at least six deadly poisons which were undetectable by taste or smell in black tea. Ten, if one was only looking to make the drinker temporarily miserable, instead of permanently dead. Severus silently recited their ingredients alphabetically and then the poisons themselves in order of toxicity while he sought the patience to answer Hagrid's impertinence. By the time he'd composed himself and a sufficiently pointed response, however, the imbecile had wedged his head and shoulders under the sofa and could be heard murmuring in a childish sort of sing-song. The cat hissed again, though it was beginning to sound a bit uncertain of itself.
Snarling a curse against Gryffindor idiots everywhere, Severus pushed to his feet, and then stormed into the kitchen to find his mother's tea things.
Tea being a quintessential English ritual, it turned out to be a good idea; attending to the details of the arrangement gave Severus time to think. The china pieces were ferreted out and assembled on the tray alongside delicate nuances of truth and obfuscation; sugar and milk found, but certainty of approach was not; the pot warmed, and the temper cooled; the tea leaves and the story measured, checked for freshness and believability; biscuits and bread with butter (not too much of either, on his salary,) plated, along with such tidbits of advice and usefulness as would be most tempting to the great, oafish Gryffindor; each step as precise as any potion Severus had brewed for either of his masters.
Of course Hagrid couldn't be told where the cat had really come from. The man couldn't keep a secret no matter whose life depended on it, and Potter's current, self-transfigured state had to remain a secret, even from the Order and his meddling friends. Especially from the Order and his friends, Severus realized with a grimace, for wild magic followed no rules of spell crafting, but flowed like a dark river from desperation, fear, anger, hatred, lust, avarice and envy directly into result. Often even the wizard responsible couldn't know exactly what he had done, but one thing was certain; only the will that had shaped the wild magic could fully undo it.
The Ministry tended to look the other way from such instinctive -- even animal -- bursts when they occurred in young children, so long as no one was killed. Let the infant's tantrum be calmed, and reason reasserted itself often as not. Once a child had attained his wand though, he was expected to master his temper; not to inflate his aunt, not to fling puddings at dinner guests, not to turn himself into a vicious beast and attack his relatives, not to smash glassware and dent the spines of rare books in his teacher's cherished library, and most certainly not to bite holes in the boot leather of his potions master!
This latest scrape was far beyond even Potter's usual level of disastrous, thoughtless mischief. Transfiguring himself into a cat -- not even a proper animagus, not even able to function with what usually passed for a brain, but an actual animal! Even Potter's celebrity wouldn't be enough to dig him out from under the scandal -- not so close on the heels of the Prophet's slander campaign last year.
Severus set the boiling kettle on the countertop, took a deep breath through his nose, and ignored a thud, crash, and muffled cry from his lounge. Potter was going to have to clean up his own mess this time -- no whitewashing from Albus and the boy's friends in the Order of the Phoenix. Potter had transfigured himself, and who better than Severus to enforce the consequences of such an undisciplined action?
He felt the stirrings of a smile begin to tug at his mouth at the realization that for once, Potter was stuck with his own comeuppance, and even if the Order were to learn of it, they could none of them change a thing! Even his Head of House, the meddling old tabby, couldn't un-spell such a primal working without Potter first having decided that he wanted to be an aggravating, impudent, spoiled, and shallow boy again, instead of an alley cat.
Well. If it was motivation the boy wanted...
Another thud, and then a shriek set Severus' feet in motion before his mind even framed the need to bolt to the lounge. He hit the door at a run, tea tray levitating forgotten behind him just as Hagrid gave a shout of triumph and held the squirming, screaming cat aloft.
Hagrid pushed himself upright with one hand, the other holding Potter firmly by the barrel, black fur bristling between his thick fingers. "Whoa now, old son, easy, easy," he crooned, as though Potter weren't clawing and kicking bloody furrows in his forearm.
Wild magic surged up once more, spurring Severus across the lounge to snatch the cat away with a wordless snarl. The black, taut body whipped around in Severus' arms the instant Hagrid loosed his grip, but instead of attacking him, Potter latched his claws into Severus' robes and clung. He was shaking violently and voiced only a murmur as Severus curled both arms around his back to support his weight and hold him close.
There was a man with huge, hard hands, his face was purple with rage, his voice a meaningless thunder as the man shook him, and shook him, and shook him, and he couldn't breathe, couldn't speak, couldn't see, couldn't get away, couldn't get-
"Good," Hagrid's low, easy voice cut through Severus' confusion, "tha's good. Hold him soft now, Professor. Budge down yer hand under a bit so he don' think he's like to fall..." Severus let his wrist be tugged into position, wincing as his palm passed over a hot, swollen lump at the base of Potter's tail. Potter flinched as well, voiced a tiny bleat of protest -- A high voice shrieking, swearing. A fierce grip that hurt his tail, hauling him backward, upside down and swinging. Pain, such pain as the world wrenched askew, Then once Severus' hand pressed up under his heels, Potter leaned into Severus' grasp with a shuddering purr.
"Who's gone and dislocated yer tail then?" Hagrid murmured, oblivious to Severus' own shiver at the flashes of sense-memory the cat was bleeding. He could feel the half-giant's touches as though Potter's body was a drumhead, each gentle brush of finger or thumb echoing in twitches and tiny, lurching gasps against Severus' chest. Hagrid's umbrella sketched healing spells in the air as the litany continued. "Ooer. Been kicked as well, aven't yer? Sorry I ad to grab yer so, I didn't know it would hurt. And look at all these scars-"
Pinching, pulling, fingernails digging into his scalp, ripping his hair, forcing his face down into-
"Do not touch him there," Severus heard himself snap, his voice choking-dry and strangling-tight as he shielded the back of Potter's neck from Hagrid's hand. "He doesn't like it."
"No, I can see why he'd not do," the man nodded grimly. "All these little grey patches in his coat, see? Them's scars, they are, and old ones too. Nothing else makes black fur go white in streaks like tha." Severus looked up at the strange coldness in Hagrid's voice and found himself startled at the quiet outrage hardening the brown eyes as he wiped his bloodied arms clean with a spotted handkerchief. "These Muggles you said you took him from; they had a boy, didn't they?"
Wary, Severus nodded. "Why should that matter?"
"Well, it's usually boys as torture cats, isn't it? There's some as can't let the beasts be themselves without thinkin' their ownselves is made smaller for it, so they prove how much bigger they are by makin' em bleed." Hagrid wrung the atrocious handkerchief with grim dislike, though his voice never rose above the low range he'd used before. "A boy what likes to hear a cat scream gen'rally learns he likes human screams too, before long."
That explains some Gryffindors, Severus thought sourly. But then Potter's distorted, blurry memory-faces flickered once more through his mind. Angry man, hateful woman, frightened boy, barking dog, jeering children, cold teachers, in an endless, swirling assault. "He is not going back there," he snarled, as much to himself as to Hagrid.
"Nouuu..." Potter agreed, clinging a bit harder.
Hagrid blinked, then smiled and dabbed at his eye. Severus only then realized he'd been actually stroking the damned cat. "I always knew you was a good one, Profess-"
"Spare me your treacle-soaked declarations," Severus grumbled, pushing past with the shoulder which wasn't bearing up under six-odd pounds of bony, purring Potter. "My interest is purely practical. I can't afford a House Elf, and something must keep down the mice and rats in this place when I'm at Hogwarts!"
"Oh, a course," Hagrid didn't sound convinced, damn him. "And so he's a good mouser then?"
Severus sat and waited for Potter to let go now he wasn't so far from the ground. "He is a cat, is he not?"
"Nou," said Potter as he let go his hold on Severus' shoulders, and clambered down to settle in his lap.
"Be quiet, you," he told the wretch, receiving only a solid thump of Potter's mended tail across his thigh by way of a reply.
Smiling indulgently, Hagrid helped them both to tea.
I have dealt with the contretemps at the Dursley's house. After considerable effort on my part, I have convinced the Muggles not to throw Potter's useless hide out into the street for his unwarranted display of magic-laced temper. However, as Mrs. Figg can most likely tell you, the Dursleys are quite easily alarmed by magic, and the interference of magical folk, and it is my concerted opinion that, upon the appearance of any further Wizarding citizens in their home, they would most likely repudiate Potter entirely, and thereby render his lingering blood protections entirely null.
They are ignorant Muggles, Headmaster, but they are ignorant Muggles who hold sway over a celebrity whose importance even I am not prepared to entirely decry. Kindly refrain from sending any other Order members to that house until the beginning of term, if you would be so kind, as I do not care to see my considerable exertions of tact and restraint fall to naught over a well meaning but intrinsically disastrous desire for a teatime chat and a game of exploding snap with the boy hero of the Wizarding World.
Severus set down the letter and considered. Ought he to claim that he had confiscated Potter's wand to prevent further infractions, or would that goad the Headmaster to even further meddling? He could just imagine the twinkle the old man's eye would get if he guessed Severus was keeping something from him. He took a sip of his morning tea and grumbled, "Heaven forefend, of course, that anyone might conceal a detail or two from Albus Dumbledore. Hmph."
"Wow," Potter observed from the countertop, where he was sniffing dubiously at the window screen, his tail erect and twitching just at the tip as he tracked some bird or other across the garden. Clearly his Seeker instincts would not suffer from the idiot's latest debacle.
"What did you do with your owl, anyhow, Potter?" Severus suddenly thought to wonder.
"Owwt," came the reply.
Severus ground his teeth. "Don't be ridiculous! Concentrate! The owl. Where is it? So help me, if you make me return to that suburban cesspit just to rescue your blasted familiar, I shall skin you for mittens!" He leaned his chair back in the tiny kitchen and swept the cat from the windowsill with one arm. Potter squawked in alarm and clung with more force than was strictly necessary, but he let Severus drop him into his lap with only mildly affronted dignity.
"Owwwwwt!" he insisted, tail giving three emphatic flips as he glowered. The damned cat seemed to be waiting, as though Severus were a pupil slow on the uptake, damn it.
"Speak English or cease wasting my time, Potter!" Severus demanded. It was hardly as though the boy couldn't, after all. It was just a matter of the idiot deciding he wished to undo what he and his wild magic had wrought.
Laying his ears back, Potter stood up in Severus' lap, pushed one paw directly over Severus' lips, and enunciated the word almost as clearly as ever he had when he'd been a boy. "Oouuwwwwwt!"
Severus drew breath to reply to the cheek, when a flicker of memory drew him short. He closed his eyes, recalling in exact detail the memory-image of the Dursley's rumpled lounge, where he'd found the cat huddled beneath the sofa. Shattered pink pottery from a hurled lamp, framed photographs askew on the walls, cushions rumpled, feathers scattered about... white feathers. An effort of will drew one feather in particular, into sharp focus; a long, blunt wing pinion ticked with black at the edges had been stuck in the overly groomed hedges just outside the windows. It had twisted gently in the breeze, just barely pinned in place by the holly's prickly branches.
"You let the owl out," Severus said, opening his eyes to regard the cat soberly. Potter sat back on his haunches, forepaws still braced on his chest, ears not yet fully un-tucked as he waited. "You tried to, at any rate, didn't you?" A slow blink of those green eyes, and at last Potter sat back properly, turning to groom his already smooth shoulder.
Severus prodded the beast out of his pretended inattention. "Did they kill it?"
"Out." Potter launched himself off Severus' lap, and went to stick his nose back into the vile smelling tinned pâté that Hagrid had sent along by way of the animal's 'food'. "I hope you know," Severus told him, "I shall henceforth never heed another complaint from you regarding the taste of my potions. Not if you're willing to eat that wretched stuff."
Potter merely mumbled with his mouth full and switched his tail again. Severus took up his quill.
To help calm the Dursleys, and alleviate their worries, I released Potter's owl. I daresay the creature will have the wit to take herself to Hogwarts, or to somewhere equally unobtrusive until school reopens...
Dried Kingbeetles rattled into the mortar like golden beads, bouncing and jostling as Severus watched the scale's needle carefully.
"Wow." Potter observed from the other end of the worktop, his green eyes alight with curiousity.
Severus, weary of the endless chore of pitching the cat out of his brewing space, simply moved his knives to the other side. Potter had never demonstrated such a fascination with potions preparation before he'd turned himself into an animal. "You may not help!" Severus warned as a black paw quested idly for the mortar's alluring contents.
Potter sank obediently back on his haunches and washed an ear, but his attention was clearly caught. Severus sighed. "The beetles get their colour from the dragons they infest," said, as though the wretch were any more likely to heed him in fur than in a school uniform. "And they provide a less volatile result than pure dragonscale in potions where there is a chance of interaction with dark magics... such as Remus Lupin's bloody Wolfsbane potion, which I am preparing to brew ... now." He tipped the jar upright with a flourish. "Four ounces exactly."
Checking his notes, Severus set the jar aside only to have the damned thing topple over and send Kingbeetles rolling everywhere. Potter, of course, gave chase at once, knocking the tightly-rolled insects far and wide. "IDIOT!" Severus bellowed, dropping his scale to grab for the cat. "YOU ARE HELPING AGAIN!"
Undeterred, Potter leapt to the floor and chased one of the gleaming beetles into the corner with barely a backward glance for Severus' ire, damn him. Cursing roundly, Severus fetched out his wand and summoned the beetles back to the jar. Potter, half under a shelf with his tail twitching in delight, made an excited sort of chirrup, a lightning-fast backward scramble, and an acrobatic leap, twisting wildly to snatch his quarry like a snitch from its flight. Like a crunchy snitch.
"You'll regret that," Severus predicted darkly, watching thirty knuts' worth of Kingbeetle disappear down Potter's maw. "Reactions with dark magics, remember? That includes such magics as when idiotic boys turn themselves into cats, and drive their Professors to homicide. It could very well make you explode. Or liquefy. Or regurgitate fire. You had better turn back into a boy at once, so I can throttle you properly..."
Potter merely finished his snack, sat up smartly, and said, "Mowr?"
The parlor Floo activated before Severus had finished counting to ten.
Potter sought refuge behind the athanor at once, and managed to kick over the coalscuttle wriggling his way into the narrow crack.
"Severus?" the Headmaster's voice rang down the kitchen stairs. "Are you all right down there, dear boy?"
"Quite," he shouted back, tightly capping the Kingbeetle jar. "I shall come up directly." He crouched to glower into Potter's refuge, and mouthed 'stay there'. Useless, of course, but one had to try, and after the idiot's panic at being locked in the coat cupboard, he hardly dared shut the workroom door with him inside. He sketched a quick warding spell on the threshold instead and hoped Potter would know better than to try it.
"I can come down," Albus' voice was cloying with concern. "I shouldn't like to disturb your brewing..."
"It can wait." He took the stairs two at a time and ascended into the kitchen to find the Headmaster filling his mother's teapot at the tap. "What are you-"
"Well," the old man chuckled, boiling the water with a tap of his wand, "I could hardly just have a House Elf ask you to come up to my office for a spot of tea, given that you haven't been at Hogwarts in a week and a half." He tipped a wink at Severus and added two cups to the milk and sugar he already had on the tea tray. "I take it Hagrid was able to assist you adequately when you summoned him last week?"
Rolling his eyes at the unsubtle interrogation, Severus fetched a packet of biscuits down from the cupboard and dropped them on the table. "He was not entirely useless," he allowed, thinking of the scat-clearing charm, the feeding instructions, and the surprisingly effective notion of using aguamenti minimus as a discipline tool. Although Severus was certain a squirt of water, however cold, just did not deliver the same satisfaction as throttling the irritating creature would do, he did have to admit that it resulted in fewer applications of healing salves to his own arms. And too, Potter didn't hide under the sofa and murmur his distress for days after a dousing, as he had the one time Severus had attempted physical correction. "Had you wished for an evaluation of your Care of Magical Creatures professor, however," he went on, "you might simply have owled me..."
Albus twinkled and slid into the facing chair. "Pish tosh. I merely wish to be certain you had the help you needed, Severus."
"If this is yet another bid to force me to allow that Granger girl to assist me with the Wolfsbane potion preparation..."
"Nothing of the sort," Albus cut him off with an upraised hand and a smile. "Although I do still believe she would be an asset to your efforts...?" Severus shook his head decidedly. Albus sighed and went on. "Of course. No, Severus the reason I needed to speak with you is this; I have a... small errand, which will take me away from Hogwarts for some time. A fortnight, perhaps. Or longer."
"Then the Order meeting on Thursday," Severus prompted, his mind already sorting his questions in order of importance. "Cancelled?"
"Oh no, I daresay Kingsley can moderate the meeting in my absence," Albus smiled absently. "I merely wished to inform you, along with a few other key Order members, that you might wish to keep your schedules somewhat flexible whilst I am gone." At Severus' sharp glance, Albus gave a solemn nod. "I should like to know, in the event of unexpected trouble, that I might count upon your support..."
So he would be going alone into danger then. And worse, into danger he wasn't certain of, and thus had no means to plan against. Small wonder Potter was forever diving into similar debacles, given his chosen role model! "And the school?"
"In Minerva's capable hands. Though, of course you may come at any time, should you wish to do your brewing in the dungeons. I am told we have quite a complete potions supply pantry."
"Give or take the odd, migratory boomslang skin and gillyweed," Severus grumbled under his breath. "I'll do well enough here. Unless you're afraid I might poison your pet werewolf...accidentally."
"Actually, it is more a matter of quickness of response," Albus replied, deadly sober. "If my Patronus knows where to find you, the chance of your aid coming in time is highly improved."
Ah. So it was that sort of an errand then. Severus drained his own cup. "Then you may send him here. I shall endeavor to be prompt in my usefulness."
The Headmaster traded a smile for his sarcasm and refilled their teacups. "So then," he changed the subject with a show of bonhomie, "have you considered what projects you plan to assign your NEWTs students this year?"
Albus took an hour further to leave, gossiping about various Order members, and Hogwarts staff politics while Severus steadfastly tried not to imagine the havoc that Potter, high on stolen Kingbeetles, was likely wreaking in his brewery. When the old man finally took himself away, Severus wasted no time on clearing up.
He rushed down the stairs, boot heels clattering, only to be caught at the threshold by his own warding. Inside, the #2 cauldron he'd left on the worktop lay on the floor, rolling back and forth in the shattered remains of several jars, which must have toppled from that cleared section of shelf above. One candle lay on its side, guttering in a pool of wax, while the other teetered on the worktop's edge. Shreds of paper fluttered in the air, and the cat... the damned cat was nowhere to be seen.
Drawing his wand, Severus heard again Hagrid's admonition -- Yer can't just go shoutin and flingin im about if yer want im to settle here. That's what them Muggles did to im, clearly, an he didn't take that well, did he? What he needs if he's to trust you, is a pattern he can rely on, like. So's he'll know when you yell, it means summat about him, an what he's done, not jus that he's in for a beating for no reason at all...
While Severus maintained that ransacking his brewery and destroying potions supplies was, in fact, an offense worthy of a sound beating, he did have to allow that wringing Potter's neck would most likely not help his cause. So instead, he took a calming breath. Then he took another, then he kicked the doorframe twice. Then he unwarded the door and stepped in.
"Come out here at once, you little cretin," Severus demanded, not disguising the fury in his voice. "Do not make me hunt you out, or I shall-" A scrabble of claws on stone had him whirling to the right, wand drizzling sparks that highlighted a scabrous brown rat in green as it streaked for the door. A second clawing racket turned him back, just as Potter, eyes feral with the joy of the hunt, burst from his hiding place and barreled up the stairs in hot pursuit.
Severus stood still, thinking for a moment, recalling minute details of what he had seen. Then, when a rattling clang sounded through the floorboards above his head, he shook off his reverie as to whether the term 'cannibalism' would entirely apply, and rushed upstairs to see what could be done to save Potter from his instincts again.
What he found when he arrived in the lounge, however, was that the chase had ended -- apparently in a sliding struggle across the hearthrug, and directly into the fire irons, which had gone over and rolled everywhere. Potter seemed winded and a bit dazed -- clipped by the fire shovel, Severus supposed, -- but unhurt as he stood unsteadily at Severus' approach. Pettigrew however, still in his animagus form, lay curled in the ashes under the grate, leaking blood from his nose and eyes as the hair on his back sizzled. The poker's heavy, sharp iron hook was embedded in the back of his neck.
"Hmph," Severus observed, crouching to be certain the traitor had breathed his ratty last. "Perhaps you are not entirely useless after all," he allowed as the cat wobbled near and leaned against his knee.
"Owt?" Potter asked, pawing at the lifeless rat's tail.
"I think not," Severus replied and wedged the corpse firmly into the hottest part of the coals. Then he stood, brushed off his knees, and took his ease in the wingchair. Potter took the refusal and the invitation in stride, leaping into Severus' lap and settling down with a rumbling purr.
"We shall wait for the silver paw to fall free," he told the brat as he smoothed the fluffed ridge of fur still standing along his back, "then I'll dispose of it in a Knockturn Alley gutter. No one need ever know that he came here to spy at all." One black ear swiveled back, attentive, but the purring did not abate, nor did the contented flex and release of Potter's claws against his knee. "That does not mean, however, that you've leave to ransack my workroom for amusement's sake." He poked the cat in the side and won a glare for it. "And if I find you eating my Kingbeetles again, I shall dose you on Gillyweed and throw you in the lake."
Potter continued to purr, undeterred, and after awhile, Severus found himself smoothing the cat's fur once more while they watched the flames consume the traitor who had robbed them both.
That night, it was harder than usual for Severus to clear his mind for sleep. He had, over the past two weeks, become accustomed to Potter's nightly regard when he would prop himself against the bedstead, close his eyes, and breathe deeply until the pattern of ebb and flow subsumed all the chattering thoughts of the day. In fact, he had rather grown to hope that the wretch might take a lesson from that memory, assuming he should ever decide to resume his life as the Boy Who Lived, instead of the Cat Who Lived To Make Severus' Life Interesting.
So he could not truly blame his agitation on Potter, crouched just by his feet, and kneading the tatty knit throw with gusto. Not when it was memories of Lily that flitted, bright as sparks in a summer night, through his brain. She unsettled him, always had done, from the first time her green eyes had met his, from the first time she'd said his name, shouted at him, laughed with him, fought with him...
Severus took a deep breath, held it, and told himself firmly to desist. Lily was gone -- first at his own offense, twice over when she married Potter, thrice and irrevocably when she died that night in Godric's Hollow. Harry Potter was his problem now. He cracked an eyelid to glower as the cat wandered up the length of his leg and settled against his thigh with a rumbling purr.
"You might take heed, you know," he grumbled, "seeing as how it was this very practice at which you so spectacularly failed last year."
Potter only yawned, then licked his paw. Severus went back to his breathing.
An eternity later, tense and irritated as much with himself, as with the vibrating lump beside him, who bloody well would not be still and let him concentrate, Severus gave it up as a bad job altogether. He'd have to resort to drastic measures if he wished to get any sleep at all.
Potter grumbled as the blankets flopped over his head and whined when Severus leaned over to rummage in the night table. Severus ignored him, finding the earthenware pot he wanted and thumbing the cork out of its throat. He was half hard already, as frustration often made him, so the cooling, tingling dribble of oil along his cock was enough to bring his twitching flesh smartly to attention.
He sighed as he took himself in hand, focusing readily on the sensation of twist and slide, the oil cold where his hand slipped away, nearly burning where skin touched skin. He needed no imagined lover for this, no sparkling, heated green glance, no soft-bitten lip holding back a sigh. Here, the mechanics of friction were enough to whelm the fractious, leaping distractions of -
Tickling whiskers on his shaft, each brushing touch a torment and a shocking delight. "Wow!"
Severus' orgasm startled out of him with a shout and a convulsive shudder. Hot, sticky ropes of come slung up along his chest and belly as he gasped, milking the release for all it was worth. Potter scrambled off the bed, getting halfway to the door before he realized that Severus wasn't the least bit inclined to follow him. There, he turned back to glower, somehow managing to look offended, excited, horrified, and enthralled at once. And debauched, with a pearly strand of come strung between his bristling whiskers like a spider's thread. Severus' cock gave another twitch when Potter's pink tongue slipped out and removed it.
"When I said you might take note," he panted, reaching for his wand to clear the mess up, "it was not precisely an invitation." Severus cast the spell and flipped the covers back over his lap. Potter watched, still licking at his whiskers, clearly unconvinced. "Fine sensibilities for one who was eating insects earlier today," Severus smirked, then patted the covers at his side again. "It won't kill you. Now come on, and let's get some sleep."
And if he should dream of Potter himself, boy-shaped and irreverent with Severus' come dripping in artful ropes from his nose and chin? Well, he'd just take care not to recall it in the morning, that was all.
On Tuesday night, at 3:35, Potter slipped again. This time, the subtle shift of the bed, the settling of a heavier weight, a greater mass against his left side, did not catch Severus off guard as it had the first time Potter had turned back into a boy in his sleep.
He lay still, eyes closed and listening to softly whistling, even breaths too deep for any housecat to make. Potter's skin was hot against his palm, no trace of the silken fur Severus knew he'd fallen asleep stroking. He traced the line of a shoulder and a rib-striped side against the darkness, first with his eyes and then with his hand.
Something in him knew beyond question that waking the boy would be disastrous -- likely as much of a setback as Severus' response to the unexpected change the previous week had been. Whispering scorn and derision for his cowardly behavior had not, as expected, sparked the Gryffindor to challenge and prove him wrong. Instead, Potter, furred and four footed by the time the sun rose, spent the next three days sulking underneath the athanor. If he'd ventured out for food or water, it had not been where Severus could see any trace of it, and given that he had spent much of that time in the brewery himself, he was fairly certain the fast had been complete.
"You got to just keep to the pattern, see?" Hagrid had told him through the Floo that first night. "Whatever it is that's scared him, he'll only come over it once he believes things en't going to follow along like they always did in the Muggle house. Summat you've done's reminded 'im, see? An only time'll mend it, not you yourself."
The fifth day had found the cat sitting, silent and grave on his worktop when Severus came down to see to the Wolfsbane potion's progress. Even hardened as he was to such childish manipulations, Severus was not entirely able to quash a sense of relief to see the cat in the open again. He hadn't even scolded when Potter devoured an accidentally dropped Kingbeetle.
And now, sleep and a week of pussyfooting between them found Potter in flesh once more -- vulnerable, warm, and soft against Severus' side, head pillowed on Severus' arm, his belly swelling and easing against Severus' palm with the rhythm of his breath. He smelled more or less the same as he had done in fur, Severus realized; dry, faintly spicy, with a salty, subtle musk that spoke to the baser instincts in a plainly sexual tone. His baser instincts, untroubled by such issues as age, gender, or propriety, responded readily.
Rolling onto his side, Severus gathered the boy into the hollow of his body, and brought his knees up behind, cradling his erection in the warm welter of blankets between them, spreading both his hands over the smooth expanse of chest and belly. Potter mumbled in his throat, but accepted the change readily, curling firmly into Severus' hold before settling soft once more. His penis, Severus couldn't help but notice, was erect, brushing damply against the bone of his wrist as Severus buried his nose in the boy's downy hair.
"I know why you stay," he whispered, letting Potter's scent fill up his nose. "I know it's not that you fear the Dark Lord, and you certainly have not ever truly feared me..." His fingertips caught on a chilly, pebbled nipple, and Severus did not resist the urge to gently pinch it. "You'd not have transferred your kin-bond to me, if you had done." A gentle moan, a stretch that pressed those narrow hips back against his erection, and snagged the breath in Severus' throat. "No, Potter, you fear you'll be sent back to them again. To the Muggles. To the belts, and the fists and the words that cut you worse than either could do..." his lips found the warm ridge of an ear, and Severus paused to sample it with lips and tongue. "But I wonder if you realize how greedy I am, boy... I wonder if you know that I do not give up what I have claimed as my own..."
The boy whimpered -- whimpered, by Merlin, -- and his hands sought blindly to relieve the pressure in his cock. Severus caught and entangled those hands in his own, and pressed his erection more firmly against Potter's arse. "Hush, my boy, easy now, I'll see to it when you're ready..." Another mewling, delicious whimper. Severus shivered. "I am not your father, Harry Potter. I am not kin to you, and we share no blood between us, but you wished to be mine, and you made it so..." He transferred both the boy's hands to one of his own and trailed his fingers along the youthful, eager erection with just enough pressure to titillate. "You made yourself mine, do you understand, Potter? That means I will suffer no other to abuse you, to claim you, or to name you..."
He curled his fingers around Potter's cock, slid them down to the root, and took a firm, ready hold. "You are not a freak." A stroke for emphasis, and to make the boy's weight shudder against him. "You are not a hero. You are not a cat. You are not a savior." His own breath was coming faster now, pressure and pleasure gathering behind his bollocks as the smell of Potter's urgent desire filled Severus' nose, and the feel of it filled up his hands. "You are mine, boy," he could sense the magic rearing once more in his throat, in the looming release, in the gasping, eager body that writhed -- but did not struggle -- against him. "You are mine, and I want you-" Orgasm reared up, like a towering wave inside him. Severus stroked harder, twisted, swiped a thumb over Potter's slick cockhead, and snarled his desire against the sweaty, downy hollow behind the boy's ear. "I want you to come... right... now."
Potter's wailing cry, the wet, hot throb of his cock in Severus' palm, the wire-strung shudders wracking his slim, lithe body; all of these tripped Severus over the edge, and he clutched the boy tight as his own orgasm erupted into the sheets.
If Potter awoke, he gave no sign of it, easing down from his passionate crest, going lax and contented in Severus' arms before his breath had evened out. But his slim, strong fingers tangled willingly with Severus' own, and his satiny cheek creased in sleepy satisfaction when Severus had recovered enough of his own equilibrium to examine the boy. He reached for his wand with a sticky hand, and banished the mess they both had made. Then, purely afterthought, he summoned the sheets and blankets from beneath the boy, and put him properly inside the nested warmth, skin to skin, weighty comfort settling over them both.
Potter stretched a little, cuddled close, and settled easily once more. Severus, tucking his wand beneath his pillow, smoothed his palm over the fractious curls before nestling close again. "You're mine, boy," he said once more as sleep drifted in. "You're mine, and this is what it means."
In the morning, the warm body pressed tight to Severus' belly was small and furry once again, but given that the cat showed no signs of skittish trauma, Severus found himself inclined to suppose they had made progress. The only sign that Potter might have recalled the encounter, or the words spoken into his human ear, was a certain clinginess in the cat's behavior as he followed Severus from room to room throughout the day.
Oddly, Severus found it not half so obnoxious as he might have expected.
Albus' Patronus summons came just as Severus was finishing the washing-up from dinner. Potter arched up, startled and fluffy as the silvery phoenix burst through the wall and backwinged over the kitchen table.
"Severus, come to Hogwarts." Albus' voice was taut and strained and did not sparkle at all. "There is a captive, and you know her. Make haste!" And then the bird evaporated in a swirl of sparks.
Severus set down the washrag and took a shaky breath. A captive. Her. It could only be Bellatrix... who was constantly searching for any way to undermine the Dark Lord's faith in him, and who would like nothing so well as proof of his complicity with the enemies of her idol. Damn it!
Potter, still bristling, leapt from counter to table to sniff suspiciously at the air where the Patronus had vanished. "Houw?"
"Ask me again once you're holding your wand," Severus replied, catching up his own and striding for the lounge. He scooped out a handful of Floo powder from the bone cup on the mantle and called "Hogwarts, Headmaster's office," as he threw it into the fire. The green flames reached for him with a roar, and only then did Severus realize that Potter, ever the reckless imbecile, had entwined himself between Severus' feet.
"You IDIOT!" he shouted as the Floo swallowed them both in a dizzying swirl of green.
"-by candle light? Yes, and back again. If your feet are nimble and light, you'll get there by candle-light..."
"Why were you in the Gaunt house, Mrs. Lestrange?" Albus' voice carried calmly over the ragged sing-song. "Were you sent there to guard it? Or were you seeking - ah! Severus, just in time."
Dusting soot from his clothes gave Severus the moment he needed to control his nerves. The cat had scrambled for cover the instant the flames had released them and was now wedged under a curio cabinet. Fawkes seemed the only creature in the room besides Severus who had noticed, but the phoenix was in decline, molting and bedraggled, and seemingly in no mood to defend his territory.
"Hark, hark, the dogs do bark! The dead men are coming to town..." Bellatrix, sang to the ceiling in her breathy, baby voice. "Some in bags, and some in rags, and one in a velvet gown..."
Severus caught her chin in his hand and turned her face to his. Her eyes were a sea of black, barely ringed with steely grey. Her skin was clammy and flushed. "Veritaserum, I take it?" he asked, releasing her back to her nursery rhymes.
Albus, looking more than a bit haggard himself, nodded. "Regrettably, she seems to have prepared against it. Legilimency, now, I fear will be our only recourse." Severus raised an eyebrow, but the headmaster waved off the question before he asked it. "Yes, of course I could do it alone, but not without severely damaging her mind -- perhaps forever. And too, it would take much time, which I fear we might not have. To find her there at my destination, as though set to guard... that is an ominous thing indeed, Severus." He shook his head and smoothed his beard. "If Voldemort suspects that I have guessed his vulnerability..."
"He will have no need to guess, if you continue to discuss it in front of her!" Severus snarled. But he pulled one of the straight-backed chairs close all the same. It would be tricky, doing as Albus requested. It called for a joining of their own minds to a certain extent, before they could breach the madwoman's skull. Severus' secrets -- including the green eyed, hairy one currently growling softly in the shadows -- would be perilously vulnerable to the old man. But he needed access to Bellatrix' mind if his place with the Dark Lord were not to be shattered the instant the wily bitch managed to get free and go crawling back again.
"Sadly, war makes some infractions unavoidable," Albus sighed and stood to round the desk. "Altering another's memories is not something of which I approve, but there are lives at stake, and that must take precedence." He reached for Severus' hand, but halted abruptly as Severus jerked it back with a hiss. "You are called?" The blue eyes were sharp as knives, and all weariness burned away.
"I..." Severus rubbed at his tingling mark through the sleeve. "I think not, but there is something... wrong. Something very close..." a glint of gold on the Headmaster's right hand caught his eye, and just looking at the ring made Severus' Dark Mark ache once more. "What, in Merlin's name, is that?" he demanded through his teeth.
The aged face transformed, suddenly icy, and fierce. Albus curled the ring under his other hand for a moment, eyes blazing with a strange light. Severus' fingers tightened on his wand.
"It's you'll sit on his white haus bane," Bellatrix sang into the tense silence. "And I'll peck out his bonny blue eyen... o'er his dry bones when they are bare, the wind shall blow forevermare..."
Fawkes bated stiffly on his perch, a note of warning in his cry.
Albus blinked, looked down, turned the ring on his finger, and sighed. "It is... very dark magic, I'm afraid. My quest... was to locate it and secure it from its hiding place."
Understanding more than he supposed he was meant to, Severus nodded. "To destroy it, yes?"
Again, the thin old fingers curled... but then they released. "To destroy it," Albus agreed, slipping the ring off his hand. "Perhaps it would be a liability to our immediate goals." And he turned to set the gleaming thing on his desk blotter. His collection of silvery charm-gadgets edged away as though it stank, which, on a magical level, Severus supposed it must do.
Later. he thought, taking a breath and clearing his mind, Bellatrix first, and then the rest once it is known how things stand...
The madwoman's mind was a battlefield: cracked, wild and pitted with holes where Dementors had torn loose massive chunks of her psyche. The Veritaserum added a psychedelic quality to the search, distorting her memories into a wild fairytale perspective fit to give Beedle the Bard nightmares. And they were as hotly defended as any witch's tower under siege. Albus and Severus took turns as to who searched and who distracted, who was sword and who was shield, who diverted and who untangled the barriers between one kernel of truth and the next.
Both were half stunned, weary and dazed once the answer finally drifted to light.
"Finite, Severus breathed.
"Incantatem. Albus finished.
Still bound to her chair, Bellatrix wept in silence.
"Pettigrew gone missing... suspected-"
"-traitor... coward, yes. Weeks now-"
"And she sought proof. Does she suspect he's dead?"
Severus shook his head. "Unless she sees a body, he will always be a deserter. But the cup? Was that Gringotts?"
"Yes." Albus, his eyes still full of memories, sighed. "Her key will be needed. Poly-"
"Juice. No." Severus scrubbed at his face, trying to disentangle his thoughts. "There will be safeguards to that. She must do it herself, under guard, and bring it back here. But one way to achieve that..."
"Not only one," Albus sighed, shaking his head. "Though perhaps Imperio is the safer option. I wonder, though, does she know with what she has been entrusted?"
"Or does she only know it is important to him?" Severus mused, watching the woman's throat as it worked around her sobs. It wasn't very thick, that neck. He had always thought that his fingers might be long enough to span it completely...
"Either way, it must be seen to," Albus replied, "and Bellatrix must be secured."
"Not Azkaban," Severus murmured.
"No, my boy." Albus stood carefully. "I've a sounder measure in mind. Fidelis, I think, to begin with." He chuckled, turned to the fireplace and reached for his Floo powder. "And who keeps better secrets than a cat?"
Cat! The idle joke shot like ice water down Severus' spine, and he jerked about in his chair to search for the green-eyed stowaway. No movement beneath the cabinet -- he'd slunk off somewhere! The door was closed, surely warded. Where the devil could the idiot creature have got to?
"Minerva," Albus was saying, leaning low over the hearth, "I wonder, would you do me the favour of a brief visit in my office?"
A flicker of movement in the corner of his eye, stealthy and sable. Severus whipped around just in time to see a black paw reach up onto the desk, snag the ring, and drag it toward the edge. Potter's eyes could just be seen over the blotter, rapt and lambent.
Choking back a curse, Severus cast a wordless and frigid aquamenti. The thin stream caught Potter square in the scar, and sent him scrambling to cover as the ring clattered and spun across the floor.
Snape rose, wand at the ready. Albus turned from the Floo, wand also raised. Fawkes stooped from his perch and caught the ring up in his beak before either of them could react.
"NO!" Albus shouted, hurling himself at the bird. But Bellatrix gave a sudden wriggle and tangled them both in her toppling chair. The phoenix laboured back to his perch, already smouldering, and there he tossed his head back, swallowed his prize, and promptly burst into flame.
"Albus?" Minerva McGonagall's voice cut through the haze of smoke that filled the room. "Good heavens! Severus, what on earth happened? I could hear that explosion in the main stairwell!"
"Fawkes-" Severus choked, too stunned to shake off the witch's assistance as she hoisted him back into his chair. "He ate-"
"Something which disagreed with him, I think." Albus' voice came from beyond the thickest of the lingering smoke, obnoxiously cheerful, as though he had not just been as near a killing rage as Severus could remember seeing him. "His egg appears to be all right, however."
"Prisoner, yes," Albus spoke over Severus' protest, conjuring a breeze to dispel the lingering haze. "We seem to have a rather urgent need for a Fidelis Totalis anchor, Minerva." He waved a hand at Bellatrix, still tied to the chair, but unconscious now. "I wonder if you might consider assisting us with that?"
The witch's grey eyes narrowed as she took in the prisoner, the pile of ash under the phoenix's perch, the scattered chaos of toppled bric-a-brac around the office, and Severus' disheveled state. Then she gave a tiny huff and conjured herself a seat. "I might do," she allowed, crossing her arms over her breast. "Tell me more."
"Wait," Severus interrupted. "Gringotts. She must be visible and audible to others besides the Secret Keeper, or we cannot force her to retrieve-" he cut off at Albus' warning glance.
Minerva, sharp eyed as ever, raised an eyebrow, but forbore comment. Instead, she pulled a hairpin from the tight knot at the back of her skull and transfigured it into a gleaming ring. Two more spells she sketched into the metal, too quickly for Severus to follow, and then she held it out on her palm. "There. This ought to keep her within reach until she's made herself useful."
Albus plucked the ring from her hand with a glowing smile. "A homing portkey with a sticking spell?" he laughed. "Why you are a wily old cat."
"Should she escape your control in Diagon Alley, she will fall directly into mine," Minerva added, no little bit smug. "I trust that will serve. Once you return, I've a place in mind where she will be quite secure indeed."
"Elves mustn't be allowed to see her," Severus warned, "They are too easily tricked."
"Lecture your own Granny," she smiled back, patting his hand. Then she stood, shook her night robe straight, and nodded to Albus. "If that's all you require for now?"
"Of course, Minerva," Albus smiled, stepping around the desk to take her elbow and lead her toward the stairwell. "Only one or two more small things..." Severus pointedly did not watch as the pair edged out onto the landing, but he was on his feet the instant the door clicked shut.
Potter lay on his side at the base of a jumbled bookshelf, one particularly large tome flared open across his head and shoulders. His hind legs and tail were lax and still, even when Severus plucked the book away, and he did not so much as whimper in protest at being scooped up and stuffed under Severus' cloak. The white scar on his forehead was pink with water and blood.
"Well, that's settled the- Severus?"
He resisted the urge to whirl guiltily, instead only turning his head to tip a nod at the Phoenix's perch, and the egg just visible under the pile of ash. "Will he be all right?"
"Oh, I daresay it would take more than a horcrux to dispatch a phoenix as old as Fawkes," Albus chuckled, shuffling into the room and leaving the door open behind him. "And the egg is white instead of black. A good sign, if ever I've seen one. I expect we shall find what remains of the ring once Fawkes is ready to leave the shell behind." For a moment, Albus Dumbledore looked every one of his hundred and fifty years. Then he shook it off with a smile and a comforting pat to Severus' shoulder.
"Why don't you return to your quarters in the dungeons and get some rest, dear boy?" Although phrased as a question, they both knew it was not. "I believe Minerva and I have things in hand for now, but I should very much like to know that you are close by. In case of mishap..."
Too weary to dredge up his temper, Severus only nodded and turned to go, taking care to keep Potter on the far side of his body as he made his way to the door. The cat was a warm, solid weight against his ribs as he paused on the threshold to look back. "Take care with her," he said as Albus righted the Death Eater's chair, and cleared her matted hair out of her face. "She is surprisingly vicious, and always more cunning than one expects."
"Yes," Albus nodded, but did not look up from his task. "I know the type."
"Potter, you are not hurt, but you will be, if you continue squirming-"
Severus resolutely stretched the cat's ear out, ignoring the paw that was trying to push his fingers away. "You ought to know," he growled, "that I am not in any way morally opposed to the idea of sitting on you."
"Then... be..." he pinched a little harder, and brought the charmed silver earring into range, "still!"
"YOW!" Potter screamed as the ring punched through his ear, just above the split folds, but still close enough to lay safely against his head. The wound healed at once, but the idiot animal was already thrashing loose of Severus' grasp, and making for the shelter of the desk where he usually sat to do his late-night marking.
Severus let him go and sucked a bleeding thumb into his mouth. The damage was accidental this time, rather than deliberate and defensive... but it still stung. He took the time to cast antiseptic and healing charms and to banish the clumps of cat hair from his robes -- and just how could a cat that was largely black manage to leave so much visible hair on black fabric, anyway? Then, once his temper had calmed a bit, he activated Potter's earring, and summoned him briskly back to his lap.
"Hush," he said, curling his hand in front of the cat's shoulders and smoothing his ridged back with the other. "You're all right, little fool... just not where you expected to be." The cat looked back at him, eyes narrowed with suspicion, tail beating out his indignation against Severus' belly. "It means you are mine," Severus explained, a smug curl of pleasure unfurling in his groin just to feel the word on his own lips.
Potter sat, his agitated tail stilling, his be-ringed ear giving an intrigued twitch.
"It means," Severus went on, stroking one finger over the smooth brow and down the length of his back, "that you cannot be stolen away from me, neither here at Hogwarts, nor at Spinner's End, nor anywhere else your restless, interfering, irrepressibly trouble-seeking feet might take you." Potter flinched from a tug at his whiskers, but Severus noted that his attention held fast. "It means that, should you find yourself cornered," another stroke, "helpless, or lost, you may use the portkey I have charmed into the ring to bring you home again." Potter arched into his finger, a purr growing in his chest to match the proprietary glow in Severus' own. They knew, the both of them, exactly what that word meant -- home was him now, wherever he might go.
"Hmr..." Potter muttered, pushing his nose and cheek along Severus' thumb as he made himself comfortable in the lap. The cat's buzzing weight nestled deliciously against Severus' half-hard cock, and he did not bother to resist a shiver of pleasure. Mine, the rhythm seemed to say, mine mine mine mine mine mine mine.
"However," Severus added, tipping Potter's chin up to meet his gaze, "you will need fingers, feet, and a human tongue, should you ever wish to make use of this safeguard," he delivered his ultimatum without a moment's concern that the boy behind the beast's slitted eyes could take his meaning. "You are mine, Potter, and it will as often fall to you to enforce that as to me. Am I understood?"
Potter gave a sleepy, smug blink and rubbed his cheek along Severus' hand once more. "Mnyeah," he said then yawned hugely.
And Severus, seeing no reason to be shy at this late date, picked up his pet and took him to bed.
Severus' rooms at Hogwarts were always colder than Spinner's End, especially in the summer. The castle's ancient stones held the chill of ages in them, and cared no more for a hard ground freeze than a dry summer swelter.
It was not a surprise, therefore, that Potter chose to burrow beneath the covers and curl up tight against Severus' hip. His nose and earring made twin points of chill under Severus' ribs, but warmed up quickly enough, and the low, contented purr was strangely soothing to Severus' nerves as he drifted into an exhausted sleep.
And into his sleep crept the most delicious of dreams... thick, velvety fur becoming heated skin against his flank; a cold, wet nose becoming smooth and warm, snuffling at the join of his hip and thigh; a stealthy paw slipping over his belly to trail clever fingers through the hair that curled toward his groin. Those fingers traced swelling veins as his cock twitched and grew, toyed with the foreskin as it tightened, brushed the sensitive head over dry, chapped lips, which parted to let a wickedly curious tongue slip out and swipe across the head.
Then he was awake; the shock of it ringing through him in a twitch he could not repress. The boy nestled between his thighs froze absolutely, not even a whisper of breath warmed the cold trail his tongue had left behind. There was no pretense to sleep possible here, no animal's innocence to cover the desire lurking in the heart Severus could feel hammering against his knee.
He smiled at the darkness and slid one hand over the boy's static-wild hair, just as if he were still a cat. "Your tongue," Severus said, "is more pleasant like this." Potter's fingers flinched tightly, but his breath escaped in a gush of hot relief that made Severus' trapped cock throb in response. He sought through the boy's tangled curls until he found the earring and gave it a gentle twist. "You may continue."
And with a tiny, hungry whimper, Potter did exactly that. His technique was clumsy, but eager, his mouth a sloppy welter of sucking, slurping pressure, flexing press of tongue and throat, and the delicious grip of the occasional gagging sob that brought stars to Severus' eyes. Potter's clever, calloused hands wrapped low down on Severus' shaft, slipping in the hot/cold/wet that trickled down from the boy's eager lips as he worked.
"I could spend myself down your throat," Severus mused aloud, his hands pushing the boy back into action when he froze at the sound. "Fill your irreverent mouth with spunk until it flows over and then lick it from your chin... ahh, yes, mind you use no more tooth than that, boy... You have tasted it before, haven't you? Oh yes... sampled your own when no one could catch you... move your hand down... cradle them... yesssss."
Moaning unreservedly now, Potter rutted at Severus' foot, his eager young cock leaving damp trails against the sensitive arch. Oh, such promise. Oh, such innocent, ignorant passion strung taut as a bowstring in that trembling body burrowed into his sheets...
Seized by a sudden whim, Severus lurched up, grabbed the boy under his armpits, and pulled him up along his body. Potter's yelp gave way to a groan as Severus caught his eager young cock between his thighs, and flexed around it, his own prick tightly pressed between their bellies. Potter, blushing hot in the darkness, clutched at Severus' shoulders, and clung, his mouth falling open to gasp the cooler open air until Severus claimed it in a kiss.
Mine, the word thrummed up and down Severus' spine, set up a rolling, surging rhythm between them as they clung and slid, slipped and suckled, one against the other. He slipped a finger deep between Potter's flexing buttocks, pressing, teasing against the boy's entrance, but never more than a caress, a gentle promise, a coy threat. Soon, Severus was the pursued, with Potter wriggling fiercely to get his finger where they both truly wished it to go.
Only when he felt his orgasm building inexorably in his bollocks did Severus let himself be caught. He pressed in, smoothly, deeply, hooked his fingers and flexed his thighs and held on tight as the boy thrashed and spurted and wailed his release.
Mine! Control slipping, heart a racket in his chest, Severus rolled the still-twitching boy beneath him, reared up onto his knees, and took his cock in hand. His own grip was not so hot, not so wet, not so tight as the boy's skin, but the sight of his come slinging in long, pearly ropes across Potter's flushed and gasping face more than made up for the lack.
Mouth wide and gasping, Potter craned up to catch the spend, his tongue pink and eager, his eyes fierce and bright. His lips were softly damp now, swollen with kisses. Severus brought his spunk-smeared fingers down to trace them and breathed a sigh as the boy sucked them eagerly in.
"Good, boy," he allowed, smearing a drip of come along Potter's downy cheek with the tip of his thumb. "Quite acceptable..."
Eyes lambent in the gloom, Potter sighed and gave a delicate shiver, his cock bouncing against his sticky belly as Severus lay himself down alongside and reached for his wand. There was a tension in that working tongue, a faint shadow of crease beside the warm, soft O those sucking lips made, which suggested the wretch was smuggling a smirk into Severus' bed.
A brisk cleaning charm put an end to that.
"Stay," Severus commanded over the boy's yelp. He caught Potter's shoulder and stilled his backward scramble. "Stay."
With a grudging glare, Potter let himself be pushed down. "M'not a dog, y'know."
Severus quashed a chuckle, and pulled the blankets up over them both before curling his boy snug into his arms. "Mm. Good thing, too. I cannot abide dogs."
Potter was in fur again by morning, missishly grooming his coat, and pretending not to notice when Severus came out of the bedroom in his nightshirt and chamber-robe.
"Ah," Severus said after a moment. "I see it's time for the sexual identity crisis."
Potter cocked back an ear and paused before attacking his shoulder even harder. Severus did not bother to restrain a chuckle. "Oh, do carry on, by all means. I should hate to deprive you of your daily dose of self-imposed angst and woe. Only perhaps you ought to consider this while you are working out whether or not your ego can stand the fact that you sought and attained pleasure at my hand." No mistaking Potter's glare now. It was nearly as petulant as had it come through a pair of spectacles, and over a pout. Delicious, but Severus brushed it off with a negligent wave of his hand.
"I, personally, do not find myself overly concerned with the outcome of your little introspection today," he said, striding to the kitchen to start his tea. "You are mine, Potter. Fait accompli, as they say. Your only choice now, is how you mean to take it -- as a man, or as a pet."
Potter's offended growl nearly made him laugh, but the timely arrival of a house elf spared him.
"Professor Snape sir is waking now?" it asked, ears twitching.
It flinched under Severus' scathing glance. "Only, Gabby is being told to let Professor McGonagall to know it when Professor Snape is waking and before he is going anywhere, and so-"
"Tell the interfering old cat," Severus quashed its monologue with volume, "that she may attend me whenever she may choose." The ring in Potter's ear jangled as he whipped his head around to stare, tongue poking out and forgotten between his bristling whiskers. Severus gave him a smirk. "In fact, do relay that I should like the deputy headmistress to join me for breakfast here in my quarters."
"Gabby is doing that," the creature burbled, bouncing on its toes. "And what would Professor Snape sir like to be eating for his breakfast?"
Watching Potter beat a streaking retreat to the bedroom, Severus indulged in a smile. "The usual, of course. Kippers as well. Professor McGonagall likes them, I believe."
The elf left with a snap and a twinkle, and Severus sat down to attend to his morning post before his guest arrived.
The Prophet was, as usual, full of nonsense. The new Minister, like the old one, was putting his all into appearing to do something, while in fact doing precisely nothing, and the rag's staff writers were taking care to shovel as much journalistic manure as they could in hopes of justifying their pay, while still saying nothing conclusive at all. Much the same as ever it had been.
Narcissa Malfoy's barred owl brought a terse, hand written note which asked him to visit but offered no clue as to why. Severus tossed it into the fireplace without a second glance. Whatever the woman's request, it could not be very urgent if she could not bring herself to come and speak to him at Hogwarts or Spinner's End.
Severus was just pouring his second cup of tea when McGonagall and his breakfast both arrived.
"Well, that's done then," the witch said, sweeping into Severus' quarters as soon as he'd opened the door. Such presumption had always annoyed him before; however, having lived for several weeks with Potter making free with anything or any place to which he took a fancy, Minerva's entrance hardly raised his eyebrow.
"The ...withdrawal went well, I take it?" Severus asked as the house elf set out three times more food than either of them could eat. He could tell the Fidelis Totalis had been cast, because for the life of him, Severus could not recall just why Albus had needed to go to Gringotts, or whom he had taken with him. "Nothing untoward or unexpected?" he asked as Potter peered around the bedroom door, nose twitching and eyes grudgingly curious.
"Not that Albus mentioned, when he dropped..." the witch's grey eyes cut briefly toward the serving tray, "the package off with me. Oh lovely -- kippers!"
Trying not to let the spell's limitations vex him, Severus helped her to a couple, then slid two more onto a saucer, and set it on the floor for Potter when she turned to fawn over the house elf. He was pouring her tea by the time she'd finished.
"Thank you, Severus," she said, tapping her wand on the rim of her teacup in the habit of one who had lived through many years of war. ('Once 'gainst poison, once 'gainst potions, and once if the water's queer', as his mother had always said.) "Ahh, but that's nice tea after a long night and a bitter fog -- I'm chilled near through!"
Severus took a closer look at the witch, noted the red nose and cheeks, and the thick winter tartan she had on over her robes. "And what were you doing outside?" Severus asked.
She cut him a sidelong look and smirked. "Installing a new gargoyle on Ravenclaw Tower."
Severus jerked at the sensation of his memory pouring back into place. The Fidelis -- she'd broken it already! His cup clattered on the table as he set it down. "Minerva!"
"Severus," she cut him off with a level stare. "Someone besides myself must remember she exists, and where she is. Out of all the Order, you are the most likely to keep the matter quiet. Fidelis Totalis is a crueller death sentence than the Dementor's kiss if the Secret Keeper dies in silence, as you ought well to know!" She took another sip of tea and reached for her knife and fork. "Never to see or be seen, hear or be heard, touch, or feel the touch of man or woman, wizard or witch, or any breathing creature. Torture enough, even if it's only a matter of weeks, and evil as Bellatrix Lestrange might be, I'll not be party to such a fate as that for her."
Severus drank some more tea while he riddled the matter through. "And so how," he asked as Potter slid silently along his ankle and crouched to sniff at the kippers, "precisely, is turning her to stone and cementing her to the roof of Ravenclaw tower a more merciful end?"
"Well," Minerva smirked, "I'll own that Draught of the Living Death does help a bit. And she's not transfigured, precisely... just encased in a time paradox which happens to be shaped a bit like a gargoyle, is all." Noting Severus' blank look, Minerva contrived an innocent smile. "Well, it's not as if she'll feel the cold inside it, will she?"
"Bloody Unspeakables," Severus muttered, shaking his head. "The lot of you are mad!" Potter began to purr around his breakfast. "And, should you expire," Severus said, "you'll have arranged the means for me to break the paradox, I take it?"
"How's your Gran coming with those eggs then?" the smug old cat smirked. "Of course it won't come to you. It'll go to someone who'll be told to find you in order to learn where to go. I am conscious of the importance of her being contained until the war is over, after all."
Severus had to smile. He knew where Bellatrix was, but not how to free her, while someone else would learn how to free her, but not where she was. Such admiration, however, was anathema to the relationship the colleagues shared, so Severus marshaled his expression as Potter finished his treat, and leaned hard against Severus' leg, in case more might be in the offing. "It seems to me that any plan which relies upon this many people coming together is, by nature likely to turn ... interesting. What happens if one or another link in your chain of information should break?"
And at that, the witch's grey eyes darkened. "If so... well, she will not be the first to die in this war, and I daresay her end will be a kinder one than what she's inflicted on her share of innocent souls in her day."
And with that, Severus had to agree.
Albus would not approve, of course; they both realized that much. However they likewise shared an unspoken agreement that, war being what it was, sometimes a fastidious attachment to the Light was more costly than conscionable. Bellatrix Lestrange was no longer a soldier for Voldemort. That was the sum that mattered.
Potter stood up against his chair, and patted Severus' elbow, just to be sure he and his breakfast needs hadn't been forgot. Severus trailed his fingers down the cat's back, chewed his toast, and thought.
"Albus is resting after his travels, I presume?" he ventured after a moment.
Minerva shook her head, clearly annoyed. "No. Apparently he happened upon a piece of information that has given him cause to believe that Mrs. Malfoy may be amenable to opening negotiations with the Order." Her sour tone spoke volumes, but whether it spoke of the lady in question or the old man who'd gone courting her, was not clear. "He has gone to Whitby to call on young Draco and his mother."
Severus thought of the note he'd burned, and said nothing. Then Potter gave an impatient squall, hiked himself up and wriggled into Severus' lap, where he could sniff at the eggs and kippers just out of his reach. Severus pushed his plate out of paw's range, but suffered the invasion in silence. It did make an improvement to Potter's earlier sulk, after all.
Minerva gave the cat a narrow, suspicious look. "Severus," she scolded, setting her tea aside, "Have you transfigured Mr. Potter into a cat just to keep those dreadful Muggles quiet!"
"For the Muggles? You do remember my transfigurations marks, do you not? Why on earth should I put myself to such inconvenience?" Severus rolled his eyes in derision at the witch's narrow scrutiny. "There are twenty or thirty things I should sooner transfigure Potter into, were I so inclined, and all of them more useful than a silly, scrappy, starveling alley cat."
"You-" Minerva pressed her lips tight, then tried again. "Severus, you never struck me as much of a cat person." She held out a finger for Potter to sniff, which he did obligingly and with a tentative purr.
"I keep him for potions ingredients," Severus growled. Potter dug claws into his knee and whinged when he got a pinch for his presumption. "And he keeps the rodents down as well," Severus allowed, distracting the cat's ego with an offering of more fish. "In that particular usefulness, his minor resemblance to the Boy Who Lived fails utterly, I believe."
Minerva did not look convinced, but she finished her toast all the same. "That reminds me," she said, fetching a fold of parchment out of her pocket and sliding it across the table. "Before Albus went to Whitby, he asked me to give you this. It's about Potter, I believe," she added, as he picked up the note to read it.
In his lap, the cat abruptly ceased to purr. Severus lay a warning hand over his back, and the purr recommenced, a trifle forced now.
"I know you'll think it's coddling the boy," Minerva went on, her gaze following Severus' hand, "but I must agree with Albus. If Mr. Potter's Muggle family were as unsettled as you claimed last month, then it can only be a comfort to them, as well as him have Mr. Potter spend the rest of the summer at the Burrow with the Weasleys."
Slithering from under Severus' hand, Potter dropped to the floor, stretched showily, and trotted to the bedroom, his tail held tensely erect. "I suppose you both imagine I've nothing better to do with my time than to play Knight Bus Driver for your pet hero?" Severus sneered, crumpling the note.
"Well, you were adamant that none of the Order visit the house except for yourself, Severus," Minerva smiled, entirely disingenuous. "And since you seem to have such a comfortable rapport established with the Dursleys, it seems a shame to disrupt it."
"Fine." Severus stood and banished the remains of breakfast. "It will not much signify, I take it, exactly when I deliver him?"
Minerva accepted the dismissal with aplomb and brushed the crumbs from her lap with brisk strokes as she rose. "Oh, some day this coming week should do, like as not," she said. "I believe the Weasleys are expecting him to accompany their family to Diagon Alley, but I daresay an extra day or two certainly wouldn't tax their hospitality." She swept from the room, leaving Severus nearly certain that she'd guessed exactly how far he would be traveling to collect the Boy Who Lived.
Damned cats, always seemed to think themselves sphinxes...
He shut the door, tossed the note into the fire, and went to find where Potter had hid himself. He did not have to look far -- the lump under the bedcovers gave the boy away almost at once. With a sigh, Severus sat on the edge of the bed and waited.
"...I don't want to go," Potter's muffled voice announced after awhile.
Severus gave a snort. "That much is obvious. I believe I had made it clear, however, that you would not be returning to-"
"No!" he clawed the covers down far enough to glare, damply rumpled. "I don't just mean the Dursleys! I don't want to go to the Burrow, or to Diagon Alley, or to Grimmauld Place, or anywhere!" Severus raised an eyebrow, and Potter rushed to the challenge, colour rising in his cheeks and chest. "They'll ask questions."
"And this is unusual for friends one has not seen over summer holidays?"
"No, you don't understand!" he punched the duvet in frustration. "They'll know something happened... to me there. At the Dursley's. What if I have a nightmare? What if I change back again in my sleep and can't remember how to fix it? Crookshanks lives right there in the dorm! He'd know for sure! And what about Remu-"
Severus caught Potter's jaw and dammed the flood of conjecture with a kiss. As expected, the oral assault derailed the boy's useless train of thought, and before long, Potter was a squirming armful, game and gasping and hungry for more. He arched up with a shivering gasp as Severus palmed his cock and bit gently at the silver portkey in his ear.
"One crisis per day is your limit," Severus growled, and rolled his boy firmly back down into the sheets. "Ergo, since you seem to have moved on to social matters, I shall assume that your virginal nerves are no longer a concern..." He laved the smooth chest with his tongue, enjoying the warm, slightly sweaty taste as Harry panted under the assault.
"M'not," he gasped, fisting Severus' hair tight around his knuckles, as though he feared he might float away without the anchorage. "Not a ... virgin."
Severus paused, raised his head to examine the fierce blush that had taken over Potter's cheeks. "You have been with a man before?" he asked, something cold and angry knotting in his belly.
Potter looked away, and his lips pressed the memory of kisses away against his teeth. "What if I have? What if ... What if he did? Would you care?" Eyes glimmered, fiercely afraid. His teeth shone, pointed and small, and too sharp in his angry mouth as the words began to distort over his tongue. "Arre youw gon' t throoow me back jus becaussh I'm no-"
Severus gave Potter's ear a sharp tug, and kissed him until he consented to it and kissed back properly. "I wish to know how careful to be with you," Severus said, pulling back once the rebellion had been forestalled. He left off toying with a taut nipple to catch Potter's bony wrist and draw it down beneath his nightshirt, where his own cock was throbbing hungrily.
"Yes," he nodded as Potter swallowed, "I could easily hurt you with this, as I'm sure you are aware."
The cool, nimble fingers curled around him, timid now, as they had not been in the dark of the night past. Potter's other hand slipped tentatively along Severus' arm. "What if that's okay?" he whispered, and gave a squeeze.
"That's for me to say," Severus growled as the chill inside him faded, "though you may certainly ask me to hurt you, if you'd like." He gave the nipple a severe pinch and was intrigued at the desperate note of Potter's gasp and the urgent arch of his spine. "Please me well," he offered, leaning low for another kiss, "and I might grant your request."
Potter's eyes fluttered closed, his kiss and his grip equally frantic. He cried out, wordlessly bereft when Severus pulled abruptly out of his arms and rose from the bed to strip. His eyes followed, combed the length of Severus' body as the nightshirt fell away, and though there was a flicker of... something when the boy noted the white scars along his belly and thighs, the hunger never once left his gaze.
"Well, Potter?" Severus dared, giving his cock a long stroke. "Am I going to put this inside you? Am I going to fuck your narrow arse so thoroughly that you feel it next week? Or are you too..." he sneered, "fragile?"
The scarred brow knit, but that pink, pretty cock did not flag as Harry flopped back into the knotted blankets, spread his arms wide, and said, "Tell me what to do."
Harry was pliant and eager. He liked to be kissed until he couldn't breathe, only to be kissed again after a single, straining gulp.
Harry was reckless and giddy. He took orders -- suck, deeper, be silent, count strokes, bend and take it -- as eagerly as dares when his cock was needy and hard.
Harry liked to have his hair pulled, to be bitten hard, and to be given something against which to fight when restrained. He liked his mouth un-gagged, free to lick, to bite, to grit curses when he learned he could not twist free of his bonds.
Harry was, Severus quickly learned, quite a different creature when soundly fucked, or promised the same. A shame he had not discovered the secret to tolerating the brat six years ago.
Of course, regular and enthusiastic sex did not harm Severus' prevailing mood at all, either. Still, one did have classes for which to prepare, and the Headmaster had begun to give Severus that level stare when they passed in the hallways -- the one that meant 'do you have anything you'd like to tell me, Severus?' would soon be finding its way into a conversation.
Potter seemed to have settled his nerves about the coming school year as well, so on Wednesday morning, with the boy drowsing heavy and warm along his side, Severus made his decision.
Summoning a silver cock ring from the night table, he reached down into the warm nest and slipped it over Harry's quiescent penis.
"Wha?" the boy jerked at the chill, then purred and arched as Severus stroked him to full hardness. "What was that?" he asked once allowed.
"A challenge," Severus murmured, rolling Harry under him, so their cocks bumped and skidded together. "Think you're up to it?"
"Up to it," Harry panted, fisting the sheets. "Hah. Yeah. Reckon I am."
"Good." Severus rolled away and out of bed, taking the sheets and blankets along with him. "There is clothing in the wardrobe. I wish to see you dressed in it and ready by the time I am finished showering."
Harry choked down his indignation and cast a narrow glance down at his prick, straining around the ring's charmed grip. "That's not going to come off till you say, is it?"
Severus smirked. "You're welcome to experiment and find out. However, as it would slow you down considerably, I cannot advise it." He turned on his heel and went to have his shower, not in any real doubt as to the decision his boy would make. The only question was how long he might take to come to it.
Harry was dressed when Severus emerged, however, sullen and resplendent in robes of a deep, sanguine brown with Gryffindor maroon worked cunningly into the trim. The charmed ring did its work, making the elegant drape of the fabric fall to best display the straining erection beneath. Harry's cheeks were stained a hectic, humiliated hue, but his eyes were bright with nervous challenge.
"Satisfied?" he asked, turning with arms akimbo.
Severus cocked his head and considered how revealing a robe cut on the bias could be with a lithe, healthy boy inside them. Then he straightened his own robes with a tug and extended an imperious hand. "Do I look satisfied?"
Casting a lewd smirk at Severus' crotch, and the bulge waiting there, Potter slunk from the bed and suffered himself to be gathered close. "Not yet," he murmured, rubbing his palm over the wool until Severus caught his wrist and pulled it away.
"Not yet." Severus unsleeved his wand with a twitch and pinned Harry's gaze as he traced its tip down the line of his throat, over the seam of his robes and down to nestle through the fabric until he found the firm resistance of the ring he'd placed there. Harry swallowed, then keened as Severus gathered a handful of his hair and scruffed him into a kiss. "Soon though," he said as they parted. Then, "Portus."
#4 Privet Drive was empty, as Severus had ascertained with two simple charms before he had even left the bathroom in his chambers. The whole grisly lot of Muggles had heeded a sudden, pervasive urge to spend the day together down the shops, and Severus wished them full measure of enjoyment from their own company.
In the space of a breath, however, Harry went from eager in his arms, to rigid and barely held in place. Severus gave his scruff a bracing shake and kissed the boy until he no longer felt quite on the verge of bolting.
"Sir..." Harry breathed as Severus released him. A finger across his lips dammed the questions up.
"The back garden is no place for this," Severus said, steering Harry toward the kitchen door with a firm hand in the hollow of his back. "Let us go inside, where we may speak in private."
"It-" A gulp, and a shiver. "The door's probably locked."
"You know where they hide the key, I expect?"
Another fine tremour coursed through the tight-knit muscles under his palm, then Harry nodded. "Flower pot. Under the hydrangeas."
"See to it, then."
Potter seemed calmer once he'd emerged from beneath the shrubbery, though the line of his jaw and the whitened knuckles as he gripped the key betrayed his effort. His hand shook badly fitting the key into the lock, and by the time he'd turned it his fingers were noticeably shorter, nails lengthening and folding back into their beds.
"Cease," Severus growled, tweaking the ring in Harry's too-long ear and pressing the boy back into his chest. "You are mine, remember?" The belly under his palm trembled, and he dug his fingers in as Harry nodded shakily. "You are mine, and you are to trust me and do as you are told." He tipped Harry's chin up, and farther up, until he peered, inverted and helpless, into Severus' eyes. "Do you understand me?"
The shadows of a hundred mundane torments flickered through those green eyes, but between one blink and the next, they were veiled behind a show of feline nonchalance. "Sure," the boy whispered, then pushed the door open and awaited his next order.
And that was surely worth a kiss and a promising stroke, wasn't it?
Harry led the way upstairs for his trunk. Severus followed, examining the Dursley's suburban hell with fresh eyes for its history. The picture-lined staircase, devoid of any face that was not Petunia's, her husband's, or her son's. Lily's eyes were nowhere to be seen and neither were Harry's.
He did not miss the cupboard beneath the stairs, with its locks all on the outside, nor did he fail to notice similar locks on the door to which Harry led them. The irony of the cat flap did bring a smile to Severus' face, however brief.
Whether from distaste, Harry's reckless, formless spell, or fear of reprisals, the Muggles appeared to have left his trunk alone. His owl's cage stood empty but intact on a lopsided cabinet, and as Severus watched, Harry emerged from under the bed, clutching his wand and a small cloth bag that clinked as he stood.
"That's it, then," Harry said too brightly.
"What about the rest of..." Severus sneered at the jumble that crowded the room, "this?"
"Dudley's," he said in the same brittle tone as he toed the trunk. "Everything of mine's locked up in here."
Severus nodded, then shrunk the owl cage to pocket size and sent the trunk floating out through the door. Reassured, perhaps, that his hated relatives were not about to burst in and find him there, Harry grinned in answer to Severus' mocking bow and sweeping arm. But his grin faltered when, after following him out onto the landing, Severus sat down on the trunk, flared his robes out of the way, and began to unbutton his trouser placket.
"What are you doing?" Harry hissed, clearly torn between the urge to bolt down the stairs and the wish to interfere with Severus' deliberate, inexorable disrobing. "You can't! What if they-"
"They?" Severus drawled, lifting his cock free and giving it a stroke to wake it from its doze. "Do you imagine they matter to me in any way?"
"N- no sir," the boy managed after a moment. Then he drew a deep, shaking breath and drifted close, the charmed ring displaying his erection through his robes with every trembling step.
"Quite right." Severus gathered Harry in to straddle his lap. "I care more for a fart in a windstorm, to put it bluntly..." catching the brown robe up out of his way, he wrapped Harry's own hands around the bunched cloth and clamped the bloodless fingers tight with a glower of unmistakable command. Rattled, but obedient, Harry held on and bit his lips as Severus' fingers set about the more pleasurable task of easing the boy open.
"You belong to me, do you not, Potter?"
Trembling for a far better reason now, Harry nodded and bore down with a shiver. "Y-yeah. Yours... But it's just-"
"You are mine, Harry," Severus growled, oiled fingers working deeply into Harry's taut, vibrant heat. "Mine. Not just in my house. Not just in my bed." He hooked his fingers just so and reveled in the desperate noise his boy made. "Not just in my classroom, or my dungeon rooms, my office. Not just in Hogwarts..." Another inward push, and the charmed oil dripped hot and slick down his knuckles. Severus bit at Harry's collarbone through his robes, and pulled his fingers free as his boy pressed close with a cry.
"You're mine," Severus breathed, taking hold of Harry's hips and guiding him into place. The tip of his cock nudged against that greased, twitching hole, and it took no wild magic to summon the claim to Severus' lips then. "You're mine everywhere, no matter who's looking, or who might see. And you will ride my cock here and now, to prove it!"
"Yessss!" Harry breathed, entranced and panting and sinking down, down, down. The heat of his body clasped Severus in slow, blissful torment. He held tight to Harry's hips, forcibly restraining the urge to plunge the boy downward, hoist him off, and drop him hard again, and again, and again...
Damp lips pressed against Severus' temple, gusting a low, damp groan as at last, Harry gained his seat. Severus leaned back, drew Harry's hands to his shoulders, and then braced his weight on the far edge of the trunk.
"Now," he said and caught Harry's glassy, hungry stare. "Fly for me, Seeker, fly for me alone."
And with a keening shout, Harry did. Fingers wound tight in Severus' robes, he clutched and writhed, bucked and plunged and fucked himself beautifully, wantonly, perfectly, his swollen lips tumbling a silent litany as he went. 'Yours... please... yours...' the words slipped out, gasp-taut and shiver-quick. Harry was every inch of him sinuous and lissome, and so very beautiful that Severus couldn't stop himself lunging in to bite that flexing, sweaty neck and leave his mark there for all to see.
"Yours!" Harry yelped, coming with a fierce wriggle.
Severus could only growl as his vision blurred to white sparks, and his bollocks turned themselves out into Harry's spasming, blinding heat.
They clung for awhile, gasping in tandem, propped into each other's weight with far too much faith in balance while they waited for hearts to slow and brains to clear. Harry's nimble fingers quested through the sticky mess on Severus' belly for a moment, then he hissed, trembled, and brought out the silver ring -- or rather, the broken twist that remained of it.
"Was that supposed to happen?" He giggled, turning it between finger and thumb.
Severus scowled. "If you persist in breaking my gifts, they'll be few and far between."
But Harry's grin only deepened as he flicked the ring to the carpet. "Hey, you set the challenge! Not my fault if I exceeded expectations..." the puerile joke flickered and died out in his eyes as the crunching sound of tyres in the front drive and the hum of a motor filtered through the quiet house.
Severus traced a thumb down Harry's cheek, kept the boy's green gaze focused on his own as he asked, "Whose?"
A gulp, a smile, and not a twitch of shifting weight. "Yours."
"Just so," Severus agreed, and gathered the boy close once more. Voices outside, strident and shrill. The jingle of keys, the clatter of shoes.
Severus yawned. "I have always found that woman utterly tedious," he said as the front door's lock ground open. "She and her grotesque family are not worth getting dressed over."
And so saying, Severus apparated the both of them home to Spinner's End.
~*~ Fin ~*~