"Paul, keep your hands up when you throw a punch. Throw it from the shoulder, hard and fast. I want you to hit that bag like you'd hit one of the bullies who gave you that shiner." Severus instructed, watching as Paul sparred with the heavy bag.
He had Harry working on his footwork with the jumprope, later he would have the two boys spar against each other. This was the second session they had together, and so far Severus was pleased with how the two boys were working out. Paul was roughly the same build as Harry, both were slender and not very broad or tall, and so relied more on quickness and out-thinking an opponent that brute force.
After fifteen minutes, the boys had worked up a good sweat, and Severus allowed them a rest, letting them drink some water and sit down. The gym was separate from his potions lab by a connecting door, one that only he and Harry could see, since Severus had magicked it so. "Well done. Next, you can spar with each other."
Paul and Harry looked excited at that. The two boys were competitively friendly, and enjoyed the sparring sessions. Paul had picked up the basics of boxing very quickly, he was bright and eager, and paid close attention to what Severus said and did. Had he been a student in potions, Severus would have said he was first rate for following instructions and comprehending the subject quickly.
"I bet I'll knock you on your backside," Paul said.
"You wish," Harry laughed, not unkindly.
"Sure I will. See you sitting on the floor," returned his friend.
"All right. Come here to the center of the room, on the mat," ordered their teacher.
The two teens bounced up and took positions opposite each other, gloves raised. There was a blue gym mat on the floor, which served as an impromptu ring. Harry had loaned Paul an extra set of gloves and high-top shoes.
Severus watched them carefully, his goal was to give them a partner to improve with, not to encourage them to hurt each other. Though the two threatened each other playfully, he sensed the two boys would never regard each other as true rivals.
Pual faked a jab at Harry's head. Harry ducked and shot a rabbit punch towards the other boy's ribs. Paul blocked it. The two circled, calling out good-natured insults.
"Paul, get your arm up, so you can block, this isn't the waltz!" Severus reprimanded. "Harry, watch for openings and take them, don't hesitate. He may be your friend, but right now he's your opponent."
A flurry of blows were exchanged, Harry made Paul stagger from a well thrown uppercut and then Paul went low and got Harry in the stomach. When the two were so tired they could hardly lift a glove, Severus declared the sparring session over.
He praised both of them and then they all went upstairs to have a snack and something cool to drink.
Paul sipped a glass of apple juice slowly and said, "If those idiots try anything with me now, I think I can at least get in a few good punches."
"Most likely. You're a quick study, Mr. Mosier," Severus agreed. "And that should be enough for you to walk away. Remember, you don't have to win a fight, just be able to walk away from it. Most bullies don't like it when their victim fights back, they're cowards at heart."
"And I'll be with you too." Harry reminded him. He had just received his schedule for volunteers at the shelter, and was working the same days and hours as Paul, since another volunteer had quit that shift to go to university. "And if they start anything with you, they start it with me too and I can give them what for all right."
"You can, so long as it's self-defense," said his father sternly. "But I find out that you deliberately picked a fight, and you'll be grounded for weeks, Harry James. Am I clear?"
Then he turned and asked Paul what it was like working at the animal shelter.
* * * * * *
Wednesday was Harry's first day at the shelter, where he was introduced to the staff of the Happy Paws and Claws shelter, which was a no-kill shelter that had plenty of warm hearted people, but not enough space for all the animals brought to them. The overflow was sometimes shipped to a larger shelter in the city of York, and that one sometimes favored euthanasia. Harry and Paul's job was to walk the dogs and feed them and feed the cats and play with them and clean up some of the kennels. One of the first rules the director told Harry was to not get attached to any one animal, because you never knew when it would be adopted, or develop a terminal illness or something.
"We try and follow that rule," laughed Gina, one of the reception meet-and-greet staff. "But trying and doing aren't the same. There's always one that just gets you, no matter how hard you try not favor him or her over the others. There was this one little Yorkie called Patsy, she was absolutely adorable . . .we all cried when she was adopted . . ."
Most of the dogs in the shelter, there were thirty of them, were older dogs, some whose owners had passed away and no one in the family wanted the dog anymore, and some who had been summer pets, bought to shut up spoilt children whining for a dog, and later abandoned when the family went back to their townhouses in York and Manchester, and some were strays. There were three mongrel puppies, a cross between German shepherd and rough collie, adorable fuzzy balls of black, gold, and white mischief.
"They won't last long. People will come in to adopt them before the week is out," predicted Paul. "Everybody loves a cute puppy."
The cat room had thirty-three cats, ranging from adults to six-month old kittens. They had mostly the same stories as the dogs. Harry liked a big gray cat with a scar down his shoulder the best. His name was Major and he had the personality of a very grumpy old warrior. He reminded Harry of Mad-Eye Moody, he walked with a limp and had a slightly crooked tail, you could tell he'd been on the streets. At first, he ignored Harry when the boy tried to make friends with him, the other cats would come running when he opened their food cans or the treat bag, but Major ignored him haughtily.
He had his own dish separate from most of the other cats, and he ate alone, no other cat dared to come near him, except for the playful kittens, whom he drove away with a low growl or a hiss.
"That's old Major, he doesn't like anybody. He lost his owner in a fire, he made it out, but his owner didn't," Paul explained. "He's been here for months, nobody wants him 'cause they think he's ugly with that scar he's got and he's not exactly a welcoming sort."
But Harry felt sorry for him, he had a feeling the big gray tom was lonely, but too proud to admit it. So when it was his turn to feed the cats that day, he gave all the other cats their normal dry and treats and saved a small piece of cold chicken from his lunch for the temperamental gray cat. He put the chicken into Major's bowl.
The cat yawned and pretended not to care, but as Harry was leaving, he saw Major go over to his bowl and eat the chicken.
On Thursday, Harry returned in the afternoon, and said, "Hey, Major. How's it going?" The cat looked at him, watched him fill up the bowl with food, then sauntered over and started to eat it, giving the boy's hand a token caress with his head as he did so.
Harry smiled and squatted down. "You're not ugly, you're just a warrior cat. And the best warriors have scars. I have one." He flipped up his hair to show the cat his own scar. "I'm sorry you lost your family. But maybe someday you can find a new one."
Major made a strange noise then. Harry thought he was growling, but then recognized the rough sound as a rusty under-used purr. The cat purred as he ate, quickly and neatly, then he washed his whiskers and looked at the boy speculatively, his green eyes bright, before he strolled off to one of the kitty gyms, knocked one of the youngsters off his favorite ledge beside the window and lay down.
The cat room was a free roaming area that allowed the cats to stay enclosed, but without being in a cage. It was much healthier for the cats and they adjusted better that way. It also allowed people to interact with the cats more.
Friday, Harry finished walking a bouncy Labrador mix named Lacey, and after putting her back in her crate and getting licked to death several times, he went back to the cat room. He had some cold chicken again for Major. The gray cat with the piercing green eyes was lying beside the window, gazing disinterestedly outside at the birds fluttering along the pavement.
Several other cats came up and rubbed against him and Harry petted them. Finally he reached Major and knelt down with the chicken in his hand. "Hey, Maj. Look what I have for you. But you have to come and get it. You're not afraid, are you?"
Major gave him a look of utter disgust. Then he began licking his tail.
Harry remained where he was. "You know, with that sort of attitude, you'll never get adopted by anyone. Unless you just don't want to get adopted and miss your owner too much. Is that what's wrong with you? You're still mourning?"
The cat lifted his nose and gave Harry a look, as if to say, what do YOU think, dunderhead? Save me from stupid kids!
The looke reminded him so much of Severus at his wits end with a dense student that Harry started laughing.
Major sniffed and went back to grooming.
"Sorry. But you remind a lot of my da, he always looks at people like that when they ask dumb questions." Harry held out the cut up chicken.
Ten minutes passed before Major rose and ate the chicken from Harry's hand. Then he did a strange thing. He stood on his hind legs and rubbed his face against Harry's cheek, purring loudly.
The door clicked open and he heard Paul say softly from behind him, "Well, I'll be! You got old Major to let you pet him. That's just amazing! He never lets anyone pet him. Spits and hisses at us."
Harry gently ran his hand down Major's back, and the cat arched and rubbed, purring like a rusty radiator. Then he saw Paul, and he stopped purring, glared at the other boy, and fled behind the kitty gym, tail lashing.
"It's okay. He just doesn't want anybody to see him being nice, it'll ruin his rep as a big old badarse tomcat," Harry said, thinking that Major's personality traits were very much like a certain Potions Master's.
"Right. Want to come play with the puppies? It'll be the last time we can, since they've all gotten homes and their new owners will be picking them up today."
Pual and Harry spent the rest of their shift playing with the shepherd-collie pups, brushing and grooming them, so they were all nice and clean for their new homes.
Three couples came in wanting to look at cats to adopt, none of them were interested in Major, which made Harry breathe a sigh of relief. One adopted a playful yearling tabby named Mitzi, and as Harry was bringing her out in a special animal box to the couple, the door to the shelter banged open and Big bart and two of his gang sauntered in.
Harry stiffened, then handed the couple their kitten and they left. But he forced himself to be polite and act like they were a potential customer. "Hello. May I help you?"
Big Bart and his friends, Crooked Nose and Stoner Boy, as Harry dubbed them to himself, laughed as if he had told the world's most hilarious joke.
"Sure you can help us, kid. We need us a cat to catch the rats. A big strong one." Bart began to walk back to the cat room.
Harry followed, not trusting them.
They flung open the door and it banged against the wall, startling most of the cats into flight.
Only Major did not run. He shot the newcomers a contemptuous glance and then looked out the window.
Bart's eyes alighted upon the big gray cat. "Oooh! Look at that one! He could take a rat easy! Take Big Jim's bulldog too in the cat vs. dog tournament down at the pub. C'mere, kitty. You're gonna make me lots of money."
"I wouldn't, if I were you," Harry warned, the hint of a sneer in his tone.
"Shut your gob, kid, and go mop up some dog piss." Bart growled. "Here, kitty, nice kitty."
Major hissed and lashed his tail in warning.
Bart guffawed. "Yeah, you're gonna tear up that mangy dog." He reached out to pick up Major.
Major whirled, lightning quick, and Bart screeched and drew back a bleeding hand. "Mangy beast! I'll teach you!"
"Leave him alone!" Harry yelled.
Major ran through Bart's legs and towards the door.
Bart was shaking his hand and muttering curses after the cat, who was running hell for leather towards the door, which had been left ajar.
Harry turned to head him off, but Stoner Boy tripped him and he sprawled on the floor.
"Oops. Watch your step!" roared Stoner Boy.
Harry picked himself up, watching as Major's tail disappeared around the corner. "You dumbarse! Now look what you've done!"
"Oh, boo-hoo! Poor little kid lost his kitty!" mocked Crooked Nose.
Harry ignored him and ran out of the room, hoping to find the escaped Major quickly.
Big Bart followed, saying, "I'm gonna find that damn cat and use its guts for my guitar strings."
Harry found Major on top of the receptionist counter, his ears back. "Major. Easy, boy. Nobody's going to hurt you."
"Except me!" Bart put in, and shoved Harry hard into a little table with pamphlets. "Outta my way, loser paws!"
Harry winced as the corner of the table caught his hip. Then he shoved himself upright and snarled, a feral gleam in his eyes, "You hurt that cat, fat boy, and you can kiss your arse goodbye."
"You think you can take me?"
Before Harry could respond, Crooked Nose yelled, "There's the cat!" and ran at Major, who was crouched beside the door.
Just as he did so, the main entrance to the shelter was opened by a young couple, and though Harry screamed, "No! Don't open the door!" it was to no avail. Major saw his chance and took it, bolting between the feet of the new couple coming in.
"What on earth is going on out here?" asked the receptionist as she emerged from the back room, she had been checking on a sick kitten.
"Major got out!" Harry told her and then he called loudly, "Paul, where are you? Come and help me find Major."
Big Bart and his gang stormed through the door, still determined to find the feisty cat and make him suffer.
Paul soon joined Harry and they ran out the door too.
Harry was furious. He wanted to beat the members of the Purple Crushers in to the ground. Not only had they been rude and nasty, but they had let Major out too. "Brilliant, Mr. Stupidity!"
Big Bart whirled about, fists clenched. "Listen, pondslime, I've had all I can take of you!" He grabbed Harry by the collar and shook him. "Mind your own fuckin' business!"
"Get off him, Bart!" Paul shouted , and then he jumped upon the other and punched him.
Bart was so shocked that he let go of Harry, who managed to land on his feet, and went to slam Paul up against the wall.
His two other companions, Crooked Nose and Stoner, cheered, and then they came after Harry, their eyes glittering with the chance to do some mayhem.
Harry was ready for them, balanced upon the balls of his feet, his fists and arms ready . Stoner lunged, arms windmilling and screaming like a demented cartoon soldier. Harry dodged a punch, then slipped under the other's guard and caught him a good one under the chin, knocking Stoner down.
He whirled around, mindful of Snape's lessons in guarding one's back, and met Crooked Nose's fist, blocking it with his arm. It hurt but not as bad as it would have connecting with his face. Now all the footwork Severus had drilled into him stood him in good stead, as it made him quick to move about and duck, and finally land a great one to the other's midsection.
Crooked Nose doubled over, groaning and clutching his ribs. "Next time, walk away," Harry told the other boy coldly.
He looked over at where Bart and Paul were scrapping and saw that Bart had a black eye and was whimpering, Paul was nursing bloody knuckles, but that looked like all. Paul delivered a magnificent uppercut and knocked Bart agains the side of the building, and then he turned away.
"Come on, Harry. Let's see if we can't find Major before it gets dark."
"I didn't see where he went," Harry said, still quite upset over the cat's escape.
Paul groaned and looked up and down the road, and then across the street as well. He spotted a gray flash near the depot, where they were doing construction and maintanence on the vehicles. "Harry, I think I spotted him!"
"Where?" asked his friend.
"Over there, by the depot."
Harry squinted, wishing he dared alter his eyes to a hawk's for just a moment. But Paul was right next to him and he couldn't take the chance. Suddenly, the smoke gray shadow moved, and Harry saw that it was Major. The cat peered about then got up and ran around the side of the building.
"Hell, he's getting away!" Harry yelled. "We've got to split up! Paul, you take the left side and I'll take the right. Hopefully we can get him before he decides to climb onto the roof."
The two friends scattered, and as Harry raced across the street and around the side of the depot, he called, "Hey, Major? Want some chicken? Hmm . . .?"
He had just rounded the corner, where some yellow warning tape was set up because construction crews had started digging some new wells. There was garbage strewn everywhere and piles of dirt. Harry made smooching noises and waited for Major to come out.
Then he heard Paul cry out and felt a thump as something hit the ground.
"Paul? Where are you? You okay?"
"Harry!" Paul's voice sounded far off. "Harry, I'm down here! Major jumped into a hole and then I fell into one. . ."
"Hold on!" Harry yelled, starting forward. He peered down a rather large hole and called, "Paul? You okay?"
"Not . . .really. Think I sprained my ankle."
"Oh, damn. Listen, I'm going to get some help—" He turned to do so and suddenly the loosened dirt around the rim crumbled.
Harry fell into the hole as well, unable to stop himself. He landed at the bottom of the ten foot shaft in a shower of dirt, almost stepping on Major. "Sorry. Can't see," he told the cat, reaching to pick him up. Holding the cat made him feel ten times better and kept his rampant fear at bay for now. "Paul?"
"I'm here. What just happened?"
"Uh, the part of the hole I was standing on just gave way and here I am."
Paul gulped and said, very quietly, "I have a bad feeling about this. Harry, nobody knows where we are."
Harry shivered, then said, "Maybe if we scream for help someone will hear us."
It wasn't much hope, for the depot was deserted, but they had nothing to lose.
"Help! Help!" they screamed.
Nobody heard them.
* * * * * *
Three hours later, Severus was pacing his den, worry and anger warring within him. Harry still hadn't returned home yet and it was past four o'clock. He couldn't understand why it was so difficult for the boy to remember to call when he went over Paul's house and was going to be late. The clock ticked loudly upon the mantle and Severus scowled at it.
He was half an hour late, not so much by some parents' standards, but Severus had already set down ground rules before and consequences. He gave his son five more minutes, then he was calling up the Mosier residence and giving Harry a piece of his mind. They were probably playing video games again and had forgotten the time, Snape thought disparagingly. Well, that game system was going to be the first thing he restricted once Harry got home and he grounded him for the weekend.
Exasperated, he walked into the kitchen, picked up the phone, and dialed the Mosier's. "Hello, this Harry's father, Severus Snape, I was calling to ask if you wouldn't mind sending Harry home now, he was supposed to be home half-an-hour ago. . .You thought they were over here . . .? Harry told me he was going to be at your house after they were done at the animal shelter . . .They never came back . . .?" Severus fought to keep the panic from his voice. "Have you called the animal shelter, Trudy? They last saw the boys running after an escaped cat? Good God! Then there's no telling where they might be. Now, let's not panic here, I'm sure they're still roaming around looking for this stray cat . . .It's getting dark, I think we ought to go over to the shelter and look around there, if we can't find them, we can always call the police then and report them missing . . .If you'd like, thank you. I will see you in a few minutes, goodbye."
Severus hung up, now even more alarmed. He knew he could find both boys in an instant using a simple Locator Charm. Trudy Mosier had offered to drive them both over to the animal shelter and together they would try and locate the kids from there. Only you, Harry, could get lost chasing a stray cat. Merlin have mercy!
* * * * * *
Two hours previous:
Harry tried to breathe normally, recalling all of his exercises in relaxation and meditation. He held Major against him, breathing in the cat's scent and the scent of the dirt all about him. Strangely, Major did not mind being held, and made no attempt to get away. The cat's touch anchored him to reality, made him able to think past his fear. He would not fall apart now, not in a real emergency, not in front of Paul.
"Harry? You okay?"
Harry couldn't see his friend in the hole with him, but he reached out a hand and grasped Paul's own. "Yeah. It's just . . .closed spaces make me nervous . . ."
"Me too," his friend admitted, and his voice shook. "I . . .I don't really like riding in elevators either."
"You're . . .claustrophobic?" Harry repeated.
"I . . .yeah . . .Because one time when I was small, I locked myself in a closet in our basement, and when they found me it was hours later and ever since I hate dark small spaces. It feels like . . .like the walls are going to collapse . . ."
"Hey. Relax. The walls are fine." Harry said, talking softly and calmly. "Are you okay? You hurt your ankle, right?"
"Mmm . . .think I sprained it."
Harry felt his friend shift around. "You'll be all right." He took a deep breath, and began to count slowly, reminding himself that he had not even been in the dark for an hour. He squeezed Paul's hand. At least he wasn't alone. He wished he had his wand, but since it was the summer and he lived in a Muggle neighborhood, he had left his wand home. Thinking of his wand made him think of his father, whowas probably going to be furious when Harry didn't show up at home. "My dad's going to have a conniption when I'm not back by four o'clock."
"So's my mum. Think they'll come and look for us?"
"Of course. And they'll find us too," Harry said, speaking with confidence. If there was one thing he did know, with utter certainty, it was that Severus would always find him.
"How will they know where we are?" Paul asked, his voice slightly hoarse from yelling for twenty minutes.
"My da can find anyone, trust me." Harry said.
"I wonder how long it'll take them?" Paul asked. "I . . .I don't know how long I can take this . . ."
"Do you know how to do visualization?" Harry asked quickly, before his friend could panic. If Paul started to lose it, Harry didn't know if he could keep it together.
"Yeah. My therapist taught me. But I don't think I can concentrate with the way the earth is all around me and I can barely see my hand in front of my face . . ."
"That' s the best time. Come on, we'll do it together." Harry urged. "And we don't even have to close our eyes. Ready? I can see a quiet stretch of beach with aquamarine water and trees . . ."
"What kind of trees? Palm trees? Coconut trees?"
"Banana trees. I like bananas. Then I can see seagulls flying and a dog barking . . ."
"A big white German shepherd. Like Wolf. I always wanted to adopt him," Paul said wistfully.
"He's a nice looking dog. And has a good temperament."
"Yeah, but my mother's afraid of big dogs, since one bit her when she was a kid. So I couldn't ever bring him home. I still can't believe you got Major to eat out of your hand. Where is he, by the way?"
"Here. On my lap."
"Bloody hell! He's letting you hold him?"
"For at least half-an-hour." Harry said proudly. He stroked Major gently.
"You know what that means, don't you?"
"That he should go home with you."
Harry snorted. "Fat chance. You heard my father. No pets. Except Hedwig."
"I guarantee he'll change his mind once he finds you. I wonder how we're ever going to get out of this hole?"
"Could you climb a rope?"
"I can't believe I was so stupid to fall in this hole in the first place," Harry lamented.
"That was my fault. I fell in it first. After your bloody cat."
"He's not my cat." Harry argued.
"You say that now." Paul insisted. "Anyway, if I have to be stuck in a dirty dark hole, I'm glad you're stuck with me, Harry."
"Me too. I'd rather be trapped with you than with that arsehole Bart. Or those other two idiots."
"Tell me about it. That was an awesome punch you gave the tall one."
"Crooked Nose." Harry supplied. "You weren't too bad yourself. I saw what you did to Bart."
He felt Paul smile. "Pretty cool, huh? Like Muhammad Ali. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."
"And fall like a rock."
"Aww, shut up, Harry!" Paul ordered indignantly. Then he realized what he had said. "Wait. I take it back. Talk to me."
So Harry did, and together they talked themselves through their panic and fear, until the fear was nothing but a memory.
Harry must have dozed, because he remembered a period of quiet and then he woke and found nothing but darkness in front of his eyes. He almost panicked before he recalled where he was and what had happened. It's only dark. And the dark can't hurt you. Keep it together, Potter-Snape. For Paul. Last thing he needs is to hear you lose it.
Somehow that realization gave him courage, more courage than he had ever had before, and that enabled him to stay calm and rational. Severus would find him. He had to keep believing that. Severus would never desert him. They would be rescued.
Suddenly he heard the crunch of tires on gravel and footsteps and voices.
"Are you sure they're here?" came a voice Harry recognized as Trudy Mosier's. "This place is deserted."
"Trust me." Severus replied evenly.
Harry nudged Paul. "Wake up! They've found us!"
"Yeah." Harry started shouting. "Da! Da, we're down here! In this hole!"
Paul joined his voice to Harry's. "Mum! Over here! Mum!"
"Listen? Do you hear that?" exclaimed Severus. He followed the urgings of his spell and the boys' voices to the hole. "Harry? Harry, are you all right?"
"Da! I'm okay. I just can't see."
"Paul! Are you there?" came Trudy's voice.
"Yeah, Mum. I'm okay too, except for my ankle. Think I sprained it."
"Thank God! Oh, thank God!"
They could hear the sounds of soft sobbing and Severus saying something calming.
Then Trudy called down, "Boys, you just sit tight, we're calling the police, they'll get you out. Just relax, okay, Paul?" She turned to Severus. "My son suffers from acute claustrophobia."
"Mine also." Severus told her. "Although the dark is more of a phobia with him than small spaces. I'm surprised he sounds so . . .calm. Even with his therapy . . .that's an amazing thing."
"What's amazing is how you knew where to find them."
"Call it intuition," Severus said smoothly. He wished he could use his magic to get the boys out of there instead of having to wait for Muggle assistance, but there would have been no way he could have explained that away.
Fifteen minutes later, sirens sounded and police, search and rescue, and an ambulance pulled up.
They quickly shone searchlights down into the hole and after determining that the shaft was stable, lowered a long pulley with a sling. Harry helped Paul get into the sling and they hauled him up first.
Then it was Harry's turn. He put Major in his shirtfront and got on the sling, strapped himself in, and was pulled up.
The first thing he saw were the unfamiliar faces of the police and rescue team. "Are you hurt, kid?"
"No, I'm fine. Just a couple of scrapes and bruises." In his shirt, Major squirmed and hissed.
"Yes, sir. My friend's the one with the sprained ankle."
"Harry!" Severus quickly shoved past the knot of paramedics and policemen. "You're sure you're all right?" He took his son by the shoulders and just stared at him.
"I'm fine, Da. Really."
Abruptly he was smothered in Severus' embrace. "Harry, if you ever scare me like that again, I swear to God, I'll—"
"Ground me for life? Knock me into next week?"
"Don't ever risk your life like that again," his father scolded. "You hear me?"
"But it wasn't my fault! It was an accident," Harry protested. There came an urgent mew from inside his shirt. Major was not overfond of hugs, especially not ones that crushed him between two hulking humans.
"What was that?" Severus asked suspiciously.
Harry glanced away, and saw the paramedics loading Paul into the ambulance on a gurney. "He's going to be okay, isn't he?"
"Yes. He's going to hospital for some X-rays and to get that ankle strapped up, but he should be fine by tomorrow." Severus reassured him. "Now, answer my question. What . . .was . . .that?"
Harry reached inside his shirt and withdrew Major. "Da, meet Major. He was trying to hide from some bullies, the same ones who beat up Paul. They wanted to try and adopt him and put him in some kind of cat and dog tournament with a bulldog. Like a death match."
Severus eyed the gray cat and said gruffly, "So you're what caused my son so much trouble, eh?"
"He's a good cat, Da. He . . he helped me stay focused down there when I started to . . .panic . . .His owner died in a fire, but he survived, and he's been at the shelter for months, nobody wants him'cause he's scarred and he's not very friendly with people."
Severus reached out a hand and let the cat sniff it.
Major began to purr.
"He seems friendly enough to me. Major, eh? You look the part. An old campaigner."
Major purred louder and gave Severus an imperious stare. Don't feel sorry for me. I'm a survivor.
"Yes, you are. Like both of us," Severus murmured. He scratched the cat under the chin.
"Da, can we keep him? Please?" Harry begged shamelessly. "He saved my life."
"Humph! Endangered your life, is more like it." The elder Snape sighed. "We'll talk about this later on or tomorrow. You're exhausted and you look like something—for lack of a better expression—the cat dragged in. You need a bath, a hot supper, and sleep. And so does he." He placed a hand upon his son's shoulder and led him away from the huddle of police cars and towards the animal shelter, where Trudy had left her car for him, since she had gone in the ambulance with her son.
Severus drove the short distance back to Spinner's End, dropped off Harry and the stray cat, and then returned the car to the Mosier house.
He walked back home, relief that his child was safe and sound causing him to get a lump in his throat. He silently thanked Merlin and whoever else was listening for the gift of his son's wellbeing. Harry might have easily broken his back or his neck falling in that hole. And what dreadful irony that would have been—to survive a war only to die in a stupid accident.
When he arrived home, he found Harry taking a shower and Major in the kitchen, eating a plate of tuna.
Severus examined the gray tom again, noting the muscular frame and the alert posture. Clearly, this animal had not had an easy life after his owner had perished. He watched as the cat cleaned the bowl, then sat up, tail wrapped about his feet, and fixed him with an insolent emerald gaze.
"I suppose if I tried to send you away, you'd only find a way back." Severus sighed. "You're that kind of nuisance. I really didn't want another animal around here, Hedwig is plenty. But they say that the cat chooses the wizard, like a wand. And damned if you haven't chosen Harry."
Major blinked twice and gave a soft meow.
"Oh, very well. I guess there's no law that says a boy can't have two familiars. But mind you don't get cat hair all over my robes. And no sleeping on my pillow. Or drinking milk out of cereal bowls. And if you scratch my furniture I'm removing your claws without anesthetic. Quit looking at me like that. I only agreed you could stay because of my son, not because I like cats . . ."
Major rose, his tail held high, and walked over to the Potions Master. He rubbed Snape's ankles three times, marking the professor as his human, had Snape only known it. Then he sprang lightly into Severus's lap, turned about three times and settled upon the sorcerer's knee. There. Now I'm home.
Severus stared down at the feline, appalled at the animal's audacity. "You can't just . . ..what do you think I am, your own private cushion? You've got some nerve!"
Major ignored the grumbling, having learned at the first sniff that here was a man who desperately needed a cat to make his life complete. And since Major desperately needed a home to keep from being claimed by the scum of human society, they would suit very well. Very well indeed.
How did you like Harry and Paul's adventure?
What do you think of Major?
Next: Minerva convinces Severus to take Albus on vacation with them to Skegness. Should Paul go with them also? Please let me know so I can write the next chapter ASAP. Thanks!