‘I said get off my property,’ Vernon spluttered again, although it was with slightly less vehemence than he had managed in the previous attempt. ‘Or are you deaf as well as stupid?’ It was a mark to the fact that Gryffindors were not as eternally ignorant as Snape believed when he felt Harry take a couple of smart steps backwards.
‘Potter will be coming with me.’ Harry didn’t look any happier with this than his overweight excuse for a relation did, obviously torn between which of the two he wanted to win the stand off. In the end he settled for crossing his arms with the air of someone who was willing to wait and see. ‘You have five minutes to collect your belongings,’ Snape snarled in Harry’s vague direction. Evidently his presence inspired greater obedience than the relatives managed to achieve, since Harry immediately sidled towards the door, sliding past the impressive bulk blocking the entrance. His uncle was too engrossed with the professor to pay him much heed, so Harry took the stairs to his room two at a time, throwing the door open so that it crashed against the far wall, causing Hedwig to jump.
‘Looks like we’re going, girl,’ he muttered apprehensively, pulling his heavy trunk out the cupboard and wincing when it dropped the couple of inches to the floor with a loud and reverberating thud. Haphazardly throwing back the few books he had removed, he then gathered the letters that were scattered across his desk. On the most part, they consisted of Ron’s scratchy scribble, not made any more legible by the speed and excitement with which his friend normally wrote. Most didn’t even contain more than a few lines, and the more thoughtful might have waited to at least fill a piece of parchment before sending it. But Ron, it seemed, had taken to the habit of writing anything and everything of any remote interest that happened and reaching for the nearest owl. Fortunately, it was normally Pig who got the honour of the long journey, and the excitable owl had quickly become as frequent a resident as Hedwig. The few times Errol had attempted the flight he had taken up lodgings and refused to move for a week, his head stuck pathetically under his wing. Harry had prodded him a few times with a pencil to make sure he was still alive, and then let him be.
After kicking the hefty trunk towards the door, Harry opened Hedwig’s cage. ‘It might be easier if you met me there,’ he said appreciatively, running a finger down the soft feathers on her chest. ‘I don’t think we’ll have the best company for the trip.’ Hedwig just hooted softly in agreement, spreading her wings and leaving an empty cage behind her. Jamming it under his arm, Harry proceeded to drag the trunk towards the stairs.
‘…This coming from a lowly Muggle.’ Harry heard the words floating up to the landing before he had even left his room. He pulled more frantically at his trunk, but it refused to slide across the vulgar floral carpet at any speed greater than agonisingly slowly.
‘…You’re all good for nothing…’ The trunk finally pivoted over the top step, and Harry felt his grip slipping on the handle in his hurry, the insults continuing to pass between the two standing below him. In any other circumstance it might have been amusing, but Harry was painfully aware that, no matter the outcome, he was now destined to spend time in the company of someone who not only hated him, but was also in a stinking bad mood because of him. They had to be separated, preferably before either his uncle got cursed, or Snape received a detailed description of everything that was wrong with his kind. Harry attempted to glare his rebellious trunk into submission, since he was sure he had been able to lift the stupid thing, just about, in previous years. He mentally blamed Hermione for its increase in weight. It wouldn’t surprise him to discover she had secretly been slipping in extra books. Gritting his teeth, he braced it against his back to get a better hold, the sharp corner digging painfully between his shoulder blades.
‘…Impure, nothing but a waste of air…’ Reaching gingerly for his wand with one hand, and slowing the progress of his now eagerly sliding trunk with the other, Harry heard a familiar snort of anger from his uncle. Risking a glance over his shoulder, he saw Vernon’s hand curling round the side of the door, obviously making to slam it in the Potion Master’s face. And he did - or at least he tried to - the door coming to a bone jarring halt midway through its arc as a flash of red stopped it in its tracks. ‘How dare you!’ Snape roared, wand hovering in the air between the two. Harry dropped all pretences of saving his trunk and earning, if not his aunt’s approval, then at least not her outright scorn. He leapt down the stairs so that it slid down behind him uncontrolled, almost taking out his feet.
‘Sir, no!’ Harry jumped in front of the aimed wand as Vernon almost fell backwards in fear, shying away as Snape looked at Harry with detestation.
‘Finally ready, are we then, Potter?’ he managed to growl.
‘Yes, sir,’ Harry answered sullenly, gesturing to where his trunk had landed at the bottom of the stairs, taking a sizeable chunk out of the banister. Snape snorted with indifference, turning on his heel and stalking past the garden as Harry stepped around his cowering uncle to retrieve it, heaving it through the doorway and down the path to where Snape had finally stopped, tapping his foot with impatience.
‘I would have thought you’d be slightly more excited to be leaving,’ Snape muttered with all the patience of an irate hippogriff, barely waiting for Harry to catch up before pacing down the street again. ‘What is keeping you so long?’ he snapped intolerantly when Harry immediately lagged behind again, fixing him with a patented I’m-better-than-you-why-must-I-waste-my-precious-time-in-your-presence? glare.
‘It’s heavy,’ Harry muttered, biting his tongue on the many additional comments he wanted to make. Snape sighed heavily and wearily, no doubt at the immense aggravation of all things Potter, pointing his wand and firing a shrinking charm at the dropped object. When it was no more than the size of a fist he stopped, eyebrows raised as he looked expectantly at Harry.
‘I will have no further excuses,’ he snarled, sweeping round as Harry bent down to retrieve the tiny trunk before running to catch up. Even then, he struggled to keep up with the professor’s long stride, breaking into sporadic moments of a half-running, half-jumping movement to prevent getting left behind. He scowled to himself, an act that mirrored Snape, who was concentrating furiously on the road ahead of him.
‘How are we getting back?’ he finally asked, but there was no response. Chewing over the idea of repeating himself, Harry instead asked the only other question that had been plaguing him. ‘You wouldn’t have cursed my uncle, would you?’
‘And if I had?’ Snape’s tone was short. ‘You are in no position to question my actions, Potter. Or need I remind you of some of yours?’ Harry glowered to himself, face heating up slightly again as he stared at his feet. ‘Besides,’ Snape continued with rather more malice in his voice, ‘I would not be the first to curse a member of that terrible family.’ Snape looked down on Harry’s worried face, his own twisting as he realised exactly what Potter was thinking. ‘I would not have hurt them,’ he snapped angrily, furious that the boy could even think such a thing.
‘You did say he was unworthy of the very air he breathed,’ Harry pointed out with a hastily added, ‘sir.’
‘I never said I particularly liked Muggles,’ Snape sighed with exasperation. ‘But, for the most part, I don’t want to see them all killed either.’ He paused for a moment considering what he had just said as his lips curled upwards slightly. ‘Although there are always exceptions.’ Harry didn’t comment.
‘How are we getting back, sir?’ Harry changed the subject quickly. He didn’t particularly want this trip to wind up as some sort of insight into the workings of Snape’s mind: mainly he just wanted to get through it alive and, if at all possible, unscathed.
‘Floo Network.’ Harry waited to see if any further information would be offered. It quickly became apparent that it would not.
‘I didn’t think there was a connected fireplace near here.’ Snape rolled his eyes, crossing the street without warning.
‘Normally there is not, nor would there ever be, but for the purposes of today, there is one fireplace that will do.’ Harry cheered slightly when he approached the familiar garden of Arabella Figg. The permeating smell of cats actually seemed quite appealing if it would get him away from Privet Drive while spending the shortest amount of time in Snape’s company that was possible. He would have bathed in it. The doorbell rang cheerfully inside the house as Harry waited, Snape’s scowl deepening as he heard the lock sliding behind the door. Apparently his distaste spread to Squibs, as Harry could see his eyebrows rising distastefully at the woman who greeted them.
‘Harry!’ she exclaimed, pulling him bodily into the house as Snape followed, carefully positioning himself as far away from anything solid as was possible. If he could have floated, Harry was sure he would be doing so right now. ‘How have you been?’
‘Fine,’ Harry started to reply, just to find himself cut off by an impatient snort.
‘This is not the time for pleasantries.’ Snape’s voice cut smoothly through the conversation. ‘The Floo Network is only accessible for a short period of time, and anything we can do to further shorten it is only prudent.’ He looked meaningfully at Arabella, who nodded dismissively.
‘Yes yes, we all know…death, destruction, Death Eaters and approaching doom. Don’t you ever get tired of expecting the worst?’ She chuckled to Harry as Snape seethed, her fingers grasping his arm with remarkable strength for her seeming frailness and steering him inarguably down the hallway.
‘It is only sensible to prepare for the worst, to ensure there are no nasty surprises.’ The last part of the comment was aimed more specifically at Harry, who found himself still being dragged towards to kitchen despite Snape’s protests.
‘There is always time for a cup of tea.’ Harry couldn’t be sure if Arabella actually heard Snape’s groan of despair, or if she just ignored it. She released Harry’s arm, nodding towards a stool that he perched himself on warily, unsure if it was naturally such a revolting colour or actually made out of the cat hairs it resembled. ‘After all, a cup of tea never hurt anyone.’ Judging by the noises coming from Snape, he heartily disagreed with that comment.
‘We must be leaving,’ he instructed as Arabella lifted a dainty china teapot covered in daisies. ‘Now.’ He folded his arms imperiously, glaring at her, daring her to argue.
‘Tch tch.’ Arabella shook her head, placing the teapot carefully back on the tray. ‘Far be it from me to keep you from your obviously most important duties.’ She smiled at Harry as Snape swept, uninvited, towards the living room. That Harry hung behind and took a moment to help her, after she was inexplicably overcome by a bout of unexpected weakness, only served to incense the Potions Master further. ‘I take it you brought your own Floo Powder? Never had the need to keep any myself.’ Snape nodded curtly at the woman’s increasingly cheery voice, pulling a small bag from his robes and gesturing for Harry. Emptying a handful he cleared his throat impatiently as Harry stepped into the fireplace.
‘It was nice to see you again, Mrs. Figg,’ he said politely, ignoring Snape’s continuing pointed coughs before raising his hand and throwing the powder with a shouted ‘Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place!’
The kitchen was empty as Harry fell through the flames, hand reaching out to grab a nearby chair and stop himself from falling on his rear end. Fortunately for what was left of his pride, he had regained his sense of balance before Snape appeared behind him.
‘Give me your trunk,’ he commanded. Harry quickly pulled the small object from his pocket and placed it on the floor. It had barely reached full size again before the Potions Master was stalking across the room. ‘Professor Lupin will watch over you tonight,’ he said dismissively.
‘Professor Lupin is here?’ Harry brightened again instantly, looking round the abandoned kitchen. The Order had obviously been busy, as the table was littered with plates and glasses. If someone hadn’t even enchanted them clean, then they must have left in a rush, and since Kreacher insisted on being as useless as always, there was no one else to do so. Snape noticed his wandering attention, treating him to a snide smile.
‘Feel free to clean up, although should you have more pressing things to do, I’m sure it can wait until Mrs Weasley arrives in the morning,’ he commented sarcastically.
‘Will Ron be coming too?’ Harry’s constant noise was really beginning to wear on Snape.
‘Unfortunately,’ he grimaced. ‘After all, we’re already sheltering one out of control teenager, why not another?’ Harry frowned at the comment but said nothing. ‘I trust you know where your room is?’
‘Can I speak to Professor Lupin?’
‘It would not be advisable.’ Snape nodded in the direction of the window as Harry stepped closer, twitching the curtain a side and looking up into the cloudless sky where the full moon hung eerily. ‘He will know you have arrived, but I suggest you stay away from the Master Bedroom.’
‘But I thought, with the potion…’ Harry looked round the empty room dejectedly. The prospect of an evening to himself was not as appealing as it had first sounded. He could hear the taunts of approaching boredom already. Cleaning was almost sounding like fun.
‘He is still a werewolf,’ Snape commented with no hidden amount of distaste. ‘Not some family pet you can throw a ball for.’ Apparently the thought amused him, as the corners of his lips curled slightly in a smirk. ‘He will not appreciate the company.’ Harry crossed his arms sullenly, not mentioning the fact that it had been the company of Sirius and his father that had kept him sane for all those years. ‘Do not even think about it.’ Harry looked up in faint surprise, creasing his forehead as Snape glowered down at him. ‘Not only were your father and Black exceedingly reckless, but they were Animagi. Illegal Animagi.’ Snape couldn’t resist the extra dig. ‘You are not. To a werewolf, there is a great deal of difference.’ Harry shrugged.
‘I won’t go there, sir.’ Snape doubted the truth in the statement. After all, Harry had happily gone chasing after a troll without a second thought, and then he had gallivanted off looking for the Chamber of Secrets. He had searched for a convicted murderer without batting an eyelid, and to top it all off he had broken into the Ministry. Snape could only be thankful that he had no friends to drag along with him this time, although he wasn’t so sure thankful was the right word. Accidents would befall reckless Gryffindors, and they always seemed to involve more effort to clear up on his part than he was comfortable with. The world wouldn’t miss another Potter-loving hero worshipper, but he could do without the extra paperwork.
‘See that you don’t.’ He made to leave. Too much time spent in the company of the boy gave him itchy fingers. Be they to curse or strangle he wasn’t sure, but he settled on the fact that either would do.
‘Is there anything to eat?’ Harry questioned before Snape could even have the door open, with a little more hope than he guessed the boy had intended.
‘Don’t tell me those Muggles don’t even feed you.’ Were Snape a bitter man, he might have taken considerable joy in the realisation it was true, Harry’s angry glare telling him all he needed to know.
‘You didn’t exactly give me a chance to grab something before we left,’ Harry lied, meeting Snape’s mirthless smirk with a challenging stare of his own.
‘You will find plenty to eat in the cupboards,’ Snape informed him shortly. ‘If you could refrain from burning down the house, I am sure it would be appreciated by all.’ He made for the door once again, this time managing to wrap his hand around the handle and turn it a full rotation before that annoying voice stopped him once again.
‘How am I supposed to cook it?’
‘Cook it,’ Harry repeated. ‘I doubt Mrs. Black had time for anything so Muggle as electricity, and I can’t use magic outside Hogwarts.’ The last comment was made with the kind of know-it-all tone Snape expected more from Granger. Clearly too much time with the girl was rubbing off on Potter in the wrong ways. He still refused to study, but picked up on her more irritating character traits. The grin was all his though, watching as Snape made his way towards the ancient oven, muttering to himself about house elves and work that was beneath him. The pot hit the stove with a loud clang that caused Harry to wince as Snape muttered an incantation he would rather no one else knew that he knew. Thick soup poured from the end of his wand; the portion not exactly generous but enough to shut Harry up, which was all Snape was really concerned with at this point. The bowl hit the table with enough force to crack it, but that did not happen, much to Harry’s surprise.
‘Now, if you have finished wasting my time,’ Snape’s voice clipped icily, ‘I have other places to be.’
‘Thank you, sir.’ Harry tried to hide the snicker but failed as Snape’s eyes narrowed and glinted.
‘Be grateful we are not at school.’ Snape reached for the door handle one final time, relieved to finally have the door open and no more inane questions and requests to further annoy him. ‘But as it is, I do not have the time to deal with your consistent insolence.’ Harry engrossed himself in the contents of his bowl, tearing a chunk of bread as though it were the most interesting experience in the world. Only when the door slammed shut did he risk a quick glance up, eyes flickering beneath the thick fringe that obscured most of his vision.
The soup was gone too quickly, and as he had feared boredom soon followed. The house had changed very little since he last visited. Sure the rooms seemed a little cleaner, but it was only so long he could spend admiring the grime free state of the walls. He counted the stairs, but apparently they had fixed themselves at fourteen and seemed reluctant to grow any new ones, so he counted the floorboards. He then compared the count in each room, only to find them depressingly similar and certainly not different enough to warrant any hidden rooms or passageways. It seemed the Black family was remarkably dull when it came to dungeons or secret chambers, and Harry could feel his faith in pureblood traditions slipping. With the house lacking in shrines to Muggle torture, he resorted to a tried and true method of entertainment: seeing how long he could balance on one leg. Hermione would have been proud, what with the pile of unread books he still had sitting in his trunk. Nevertheless he was taking the time to finish what was sure to be a valuable endeavour. Imagine if Voldemort captured him tomorrow and he didn’t know how long he could balance for…the idea was unthinkable.
When his right leg ached from all the hopping round the room, he shifted to his left, only to be rewarded with significantly less success and a bruised shin. It was whilst he was sat uncomfortably on the floor rubbing some life back into his legs that the thought struck.
He wasn’t the best company, but given his severe lack of choices, Harry was willing to accept the conversational ability of a Blast-Ended Skrewt. Jumping to his feet, he took the stairs two at a time, skidding to a halt at the top as he threw open the first door. It was empty, but at least he was being momentarily entertained through looking. He didn’t dwell on the thought that the house only boasted a total of four bedrooms, and he had reduced the list of possible hideouts to two.
Well, one. Buckbeak may have resided in the Master bedroom last year, but he doubted even a hippogriff would be willing to spend a night in the same room as a werewolf. But when the third door opened to yet another disappointing array of nothingness, he began to question that assumption. After all, Snape himself had said that whilst a werewolf didn’t appreciate the company of a person, other animals were normally fine. Okay, so they hadn’t been his exact words, but the meaning was clear enough. And it wasn’t fair for Buckbeak to be cooped up all the time.
Harry made his decision and reached for the door handle.
The room was shrouded in darkness, a damp smell hanging in the air as Harry gingerly pushed the door open, trying to draw as little sound from the worn hinges as was possible. He paused, running a hand down the length of his arm to try and stop the tiny hairs that had risen from itching. The smell had hit him full force by now, musty in a way that reminded him of the Forbidden Forest, but all he could make out were vague shadows, occasionally lengthened by the headlights of a car driving past outside. He stepped carefully through the gap, eyes squinting as he looked around the room. He could just about make out the frame of the large four poster bed as he moved hesitantly forward, hand outstretched in front of him for fear of hitting something unexpected. He stopped only when he felt the smooth wood beneath his fingers, his night vision having finally asserted itself as he took another glance around the room. There was no Buckbeak. However, there appeared to be no wolf either. He mused for a moment on the possibility that Snape had gotten it wrong. After all, Remus normally preferred the Shrieking Shack during the full moon. But that would mean he, Harry, was alone in the house, and he doubted Dumbledore would allow even the chance of that to occur.
He suddenly realised the sheets on the bed were rustling slightly, his hand jumping from where it had been resting as though unexpectedly bitten. The bed itself was a mass of shadows, the dark bed sheets making it almost impossible to distinguish whether there was something there or not until the dimness shifted. Harry had always thought Sirius had been almost ridiculously large for a dog, but he had been a puppy compared to the thing that sprawled across the duvet in front of him. And Sirius had somehow managed to help control it? Harry froze as the oversized head lifted slightly, eyes glinting amidst the dark fur that surrounded them, and he was suddenly acutely aware of the shirt that clung uncomfortably to his back, feet sticking slightly to the rough wood floor. Hesitantly, he took a single step backwards, eyes locked as the beast followed his every move. It was Remus, he reminded himself forcefully, and Harry repeated the name over and over in his head even as he swallowed loudly, his throat dry as his feet shuffled beneath him. Remus, Remus, Remus. Still the wolf gave no signs of moving, head turning slowly and lethargically as Harry continued to back away, not breaking the gaze as he fumbled behind him for the door handle, pulling the door open desperately and all but falling through.
Feeling as though he hadn’t taken a breath in an eternity, Harry shakily cursed himself. It had been yet another stupid, stupid idea he had run into head first. Shame battled briefly for dominance over his fear, winning easily as his stomach clenched at the thought of having to face his professor in the morning. Lupin would not have wanted Harry to see him like that, and he only hoped he hadn’t completely destroyed their friendship. His heart pounded painfully in his chest as he stood in silence for a moment, contemplating what would happen now. He didn’t want to move, as though the act of moving itself would make everything that had just happened unchangeable. Moving would mean accepting that time was continuing to pass, whereas whilst he was frozen to the spot he could almost believe time too had frozen with him, and he really, really wanted that to be true.
Taking a deep breath, he shook his head. What was done was done, there was no changing it. He just had to hope his apology would be enough come the morning. The floorboards creaked beneath his feet as he made towards the stairs, his legs at least having stopped trembling. He still felt sick with guilt though, guilt that stuck to the back of his throat as he cringed at his own stupidity, tasting bile.
His room was painfully silent as he slipped into his most disgusting pair of brown pyjamas, placing his glasses carefully on the small bedside table. Sliding under the sheets, he shivered at the surprising chill that had settled on the room, pulling the duvet under his chin and wrapping it tightly round his body. He stared unblinking at the ceiling for some time, the room so much larger with him as its only occupant, and not helped by the blur through which he had to view it. And sleep seemed a long way away as he shifted uncomfortably, punching his pillow a couple of times in an attempt to make it more comfortable. Still his body refused to drop off as he swung violently from side to side, clenching his teeth at his rising annoyance. Screwing his eyes closed he made a conscious effort to slow his breathing, listening carefully to the sound that accompanied the slow rise and fall of his chest. Slowly the rest of him seemed to take the hint and relax, the lines leaving his face as his head slumped gradually to the side.
The house remained silent, the shallow sounds of Harry’s gentle breathing lost amidst all the empty rooms. And when the front door swung slowly open, that sound too was swallowed, the faintest of breezes filtering out before they reached the end of the hallway. The door clicked shut quietly as soft footsteps made their way up the stairs, each one carefully placed so as to make as little noise as possible, robes brushing past the wooden banister with a soothing swish. The bedroom door swung inwards as the footsteps entered, still quiet yet purposeful. Harry did not so much as twitch as hands reached into the recesses of robes and pulled out a long, thin chain with a tiny grating noise. And when the cold chain was placed skilfully around his neck, he flinched only slightly, lost in his dreams as the figure slowly retreated.
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