Severus Snape was not having a good holiday.
Firstly the headmaster seemed to be plotting something, asking all sorts of odd questions about Longbottom of all people, and demanding old report cards and associated paperwork. This new inconvenience had taken nearly a whole day to forge (and Snape was aware that even Filius, the perfectionist and lover of paperwork had also deemed it unnecessary in the past, so it wasn't just him). Granted Filius was (embarrassingly) more crafty about it and had managed to convince Dumbledore that all his paperwork had simply been lost in the disaster that was the Weasley twins turning his entire office to sponge cake during the previous year.
Neither Filius' cheerful remembrance of eating away any evidence, nor Dumbledore's selectively easy distraction had improved Snape's own disposition. The only bright point was that Minerva looked just as sour as he did.
Adding to his problems the Potions Alliance Agreement had expired at the end of May, and a new contract brought in. This caused almost six percent of surcharge on all imported ingredients (nearly half of his standard school stores, and a good 80% of his advanced and rare ones). However apparently this, according to the school governors, shouldn't affect his budget at all!
Snape did suspect he would be able to make Lucius see reason (or risk having to pay Snape to tutor his own Godson), however for the moment it caused multiple headaches.
In clearing out the stockrooms to do a count of the schools stores he had also discovered a whole batch of off ingredients where too much moisture was getting in. He suspected a great deal of the stock would have to be moved over the following weeks unless he could convince the house-elves to do some masonry maintenance.
Finally (and the icing on the already souring cake), he had just heard that the werewolf Lupin would be taking up the Defence post that he had been turned back for, for yet another year! Because apparently having a mastery in four subjects, three of which qualified you for the post, was not nearly as good a qualification of being a dark creature and having studied several certificates on the matter. Not to mention the fact that said werewolf had nearly killed him as a child. Defence indeed.
It was now the second week of the summer holidays, and this was Severus' first day off from Hogwarts matters, and it was with a great sigh of relief that he left the castle and apperated to Malfoy Manor where he was invited for dinner. He made his way along the path from the gates to the front porch with well-practiced ease; he had been keyed in for many years now. It was a new elf that bowed and took his coat at the door, then directed him to the front sitting room; a minor divergence from usual paths that preceded another change that left the potions professor gaping in the doorway.
"Hello Severus, how lovely to see you." Narcissa smiled up at him across the tea set. But her presence barely registered in Snape's world.
"Hello Professor… You'll catch flies."
Harry Potter was sitting having tea with Narcissa Malfoy. Harry Bloody Potter! Apparently the brat had no sense of self-preservation.
It was actually the memory of a scene in Diagon Alley, rather than the end of the war that Harry usually thought of when he thought of Narcissa Malfoy (nee Black). Harry could respect Narcissa, and actually, he always had (along with a healthy dose of from-afar). He had never bothered to find out, but he suspected that she might have been a Slytherin queen in her time at Hogwarts (he knew Lucius hadn't been king, as he went to school at the same time as Bellatrix and Andromeda). Lucius was however, a master politician, and Harry sometimes wondered how on earth Draco turned out like he had. With Snape for a God Father, and Lucius and Narcissa as parents it was a little odd. It was one of the moments Harry first recognized this that he thought of every time he saw the Malfoy matriarch.
Madam Malkin squealed and clutched at her heart.
'Really, you shouldn't accuse... dangerous thing to say... wands away, please!'
But Harry did not lower his wand. Narcissa Malfoy smiled unpleasantly.
'I see that being Dumbledore's favorite has given you a false sense of security, Harry Potter. But Dumbledore won't always be there to protect you.'
Harry looked mockingly all around the shop. 'Wow... look at that... he's not here now! So why not have a go? They might be able to find you a double cell in Azkaban with your loser of a husband!'
Draco made an angry movement toward Harry, but stumbled over his overlong robe. Ron laughed loudly.
'Don't you dare talk to my mother like that, Potter!' He snarled.
'It's all right, Draco,' said Narcissa, restraining him with her thin white fingers upon his shoulder. 'I expect Potter will be reunited with dear Sirius before I am reunited with Lucius.'
As much as it had hurt at the time, it had also secretly amused Harry a little. Draco had still been enemy number two at the time (Tom was a little more worrying), and despite the harsh words Harry had even then had a better understanding of what it was to be Slytherin than Draco had. All Draco did was protest and whine, but Harry and Narcissa had a real exchange of teeth. It had felt good at the time to know Harry was in a class with Narcissa, rather than Draco.
Harry surveyed the current scene with amusement. Narcissa and Snape (who was Draco's Godfather) no doubt knew each other quite well. Therefore Harry was quite sure that Narcissa was enjoying the sight of Snape standing gaping in the doorway almost as much as Harry was. In fact, short of Dumbledore and Voldemort, Harry suspected he couldn't have shared a Snape meltdown with a better audience.
'Professor!' Harry said in an overly cheery voice when it became apparent no one was going to speak, 'What a lovely surprise!'
Snape seemed to finally shake his brain back together and his regular mask of indifference slid across his face.
'I am no doubt a fool for finding you anywhere but where I least expect you.' He drawled, then nodded at Narcissa. 'Narcissa.'
'Severus, have a seat. Tea?'
Harry was proven correct in his assumption that he wasn't the only one enjoying this as he watched Narcissa carefully wait until just after Snape took a sip of tea before speaking again.
'We were just discussing my dear cousin, Sirius Black.'
It was only Snape's immense control of facial muscles that stopped the tea from being sprayed across the room. As it was he only just managed to avoid a coughing fit. This was apparently too much however.
'Excellent.' Snape drawled sarcastically. 'I wouldn't want to disturb you, perhaps I should seek out Lucius.' Snape swallowed the tea down rather fast and slid out of the room before Narcissa could as much as blink. She sighed heavily before turning to face Harry again.
'He was always slippery like that.'
It had turned out to be ridiculously easy to get access to Narcissa (something that Harry had anticipated having to work on for the whole holidays at least). It had, however, taken a half-week of consistent hints and mentioning the Black's for the current conversation and attitude to occur. Harry had worked hard, but thought when he got Sirius out (and he hoped it would be soon!) that Narcissa at least would be on side.
Not two days into staying with the Dursleys Harry had received an owl from Draco inviting him to stay at Malfoy Manor for the week for a late celebration of his birthday. Harry had found the whole thing very amusing, as unlike his close friends, Draco was not aware that owls should be sent to Harry during the night. As such, the invitation came during breakfast, stopping Uncle Vernon mid-rant on the social parasites of society. Vernon's face had slowly started to turn an angry red as he had been hinting throughout the entire monologue that wizards pretty much all fell under that category. Harry had expected not to even see the mail, however the letter was lined with real gold, and was so pompous that it actually appealed to his Uncle's pretentious standards. Harry had topped off the comical experience by handing a letter which was included for Petunia over, watching Vernon's dark red face cycle through at least three shades until it settled on a shade of Purple as he finally got to the signed 'Lord and Lady Malfoy, second Earls of Wiltshire'.
Fortunately the dilemma of whether or not to actually allow Harry to attend had been taken out of their hands, as Harry had also received a portkey which whisked him away before any of them even woke up on the following morning. No doubt he would be in trouble when he returned, but what was new there?
Harry had given Draco a sneakoscope (in memory of Ron) from Knockturn alley for his present, then had spent the majority of the first day flirting with Narcissa. Draco had naturally found this rather annoying, however it seemed to amuse Theo and Daphne to no end. No doubt when Lucius returned home Draco had expected Harry to receive a strong snub, however Lucius had recognized a Slytherin play, and had simply rolled his eyes and offered Harry some Superior Red wine from their cellar.
It had taken far more name drops throughout than Harry had anticipated needing in a Slytherin household, however he had managed to turn the topic back to the Black's enough times that Narcissa had eventually caught on.
'You seem very interested in my maiden name, Mr. Potter?'
'My Grandmother was a Black, and I'm Sirius Black's Heir… which I guess makes me head of the Black family.'
It was risky mentioning that, but necessary. Harry remembered the huge fuss that had been made after the war when it came out that Harry had been made head of the Blacks. It was a title that everyone in the wizarding elite had expected to go to Draco due to Sirius' outlawed status. The Goblins however were only interested in increasing their holdings, so Sirius' claim had held.
Narcissa sighed lightly, but Harry could only assume that that topic had already been breached due to his letters to Lucius.
'Do excuse my bluntness, but I can't for the magic in me figure out why Sirius made you heir before choosing to betray your-… Oh dear, you did know he was your parents secret keeper?'
'Hmm. So it would seem.' Harry said mildly. Now that he had the topic where he wanted it he needed to make all his legwork look like it hadn't existed. Sometimes he really wished that Voldemort and all his troops had been Gryffindors, or better yet, Hufflepuffs.
It supposed subtlety seemed to be working as Harry could see Narcissa sending him glances out of the corner of her eye.
'You don't seem… at all angry at Sirius?' She said carefully.
Harry pretended to hesitate then burst his sentence out all at once, 'Well it all seems rather unlikely.'
'That Sirius would be so strongly against the Dark right up until the moment he joined Vol- The Dark Lord.'
'He wasn't disowned. One could usually count on Lord Black to know what's what.' Narcissa mused.
Harry had always wondered about that, but honestly thought that Sirius' father had just been keeping all of his eggs out of one basket… or thinking he had. No matter how the old lines liked to say they were behind Voldemort's cause, Harry was quite sure their years of Line survival held a stronger allure deep down.
'His father didn't exactly put an effort into getting him out of Azkaban either.' Harry pointed out. He held his breath, hopefully that should lead to-
'Well once a trial has been held it's almost impossible to refute.'
Yes! Internally Harry was doing a celebration dance, but externally he let his face crinkle into worry.
'I've heard that about the Wizengamot, but I just can't seem to find any record of his trial in the ministry files at all! I just don't think there was one.'
Harry thought throwing his arms about in supposed frustration was a little too much, but Narcissa's thoughts seem to have been de-railed enough that if it was, she didn't notice. She had stopped dead in their walk along the Malfoy portrait gallery.
Harry noticed some of the portraits seemed to come awake and listen in at her abrupt tone. He scanned their immediate surrounds but couldn't see any recent generations who might have portraits in Hogwarts. Not that Harry thought Dumbledore would have managed a spy within Malfoy manor, but best to be sure.
'He was heir to the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black! That's an outrage!'
Harry hated the class snobbery that came from the olde houses, but he could only just stop himself from rubbing his hands together in glee as Narcissa bristled more and more and got a determined spark in her eye. He couldn't stop the smirk when she started muttering about looking up the legal tomes and contacting Lady Parkinson (Pansy's uncle was a lawyer for the Wizengamot), but by that stage she was too involved to notice.
'It makes me wonder who else might not have got a trial in the hubbub of the last war.' Harry couldn't help but add.
He actually thought Sirius would be enough incentive for Narcissa (She was still a Black, married or not), but adding a little extra didn't hurt too much. Besides, he didn't think there were any more innocents held in the prison, as Kingsley had made it one of his first acts as minister to check. However that was all after Voldemort broke all his Deatheaters out, and there had been quite a few join-or-die losses at the same time that weren't on record. Hopefully it would just be Sirius, but even if there were others who didn't get a trial Harry thought they deserve a trial guilty or not, and he could only be glad if any innocents were freed.
With re-trials or fresh trials came the risk, of course, that more Deatheaters would be able to worm their way out of Azkaban. Other Deatheaters (like the Malfoy's) who had escaped and made their money, or redeemed their character would probably be more willing to help out a fellow follower. In fact, sadly, Harry suspected they would relish the chance to have someone so obviously in their debt.
If this worked, unfortunately Harry could probably say goodbye to a fair amount of his future-knowledge, however thinking back on it he was now deeply ashamed of himself for leaving Sirius to rot away for such a pathetic reason. Sirius had been Harry's only family, still was really. Even though Hermione and Ron had been through so much with Harry, Sirius had been named his Godfather, and had wanted Harry. And he had wanted Harry for just being Harry. It was still something Harry valued above all else. Even if it turned out Sirius did know about Harry's parents, Harry could much easier forgive Sirius than Lily and James.
Besides, the sort of Deatheater who might get out because of any re-trials might actually help the odd sort of plan Harry had coming along. At worst they would be the first suspects if Voldemort did manage to come back without the ministry being aware, and any supporters of them would be suspected again, no matter if they had been "under imperious" and gotten away with it.
Harry didn't see Narcissa at all the next day, and wasn't sure if his plans were progressing or not. She didn't let any hint show at the dinner table when Harry saw her next. He was soon distracted and busy crossing his fingers on other matters not long into the conversation.
It was an informal tea, signified by Lucius and Snape who came in their day robes, and that they were all seated on the balcony taking advantage of the warm summer night. Harry didn't let the informal setting fool him, and was rewarded for his efforts when the first topic of conversation put him on high alert.
'I hear you are to have some new colleagues this year Severus.' Lucius seemed genial, but Harry noticed that he, rather than Snape was holding Lucius' attention.
Harry could only assume that it was Remus rather than Hagrid that Snape assumed they were talking about however, as his scowl rivaled the anger some of Voldemort's glares held.
'Sadly Hogwarts standards are slipping significantly by the year.'
'No doubt the children will be subject to all sorts of monsters.'
To Snape's credit he didn't so much as blink.
'Oh, you mean Care of Magical Creatures? I suppose he has had quite a lot of experience, but I do hope Albus won't be rash enough not to check on the… scale of creatures.'
'Is this Care?, Draco asked, 'What happened to that old spotty man?'
'I imagine he wanted to keep at least one limb still attached.' Harry drawled, thinking of Dumbledore's opening speech.
'Are you taking CoMC Draco?' Snape seemed surprised. Harry slyly glanced at Narcissa and Lucius, who were wearing opposite looks. Lucius was scowling heavily, while Narcissa looked smug. Harry could only assume that in the original timeline Narcissa had put her foot down on Draco's schooling, like on vetoing Drumstrang.
'Yes, I do hope the new teacher isn't too awful?'
Harry hastily turned his snort into a light cough. In Draco's world getting Hagrid would be like when Harry was informed Snape was the DADA teacher in sixth year. As suspected, the reaction was on par.
'That oaf Hagrid seems to have friends in high places.' Lucius said. Draco immediately chucked a hissy fit and managed to miss the blatantly curious look Lucius was sending Harry. Just for kicks Harry decided to act dumb.
'Oh, I wouldn't call Dumbledore that high.'
For just a second Harry thought he'd get to see Snape loose his composure two times in one week, however other than an exasperated and half-aborted eye-roll, he showed no sign. Apparently finding Harry deep in enemy territory had taken it all out of him.
'The minister seems to be under the impression he should be quite pleased with himself.' Lucius tried again, this time obviously talking to Harry.
'Really?' Harry said in a false-cheerful voice, 'Well when he pleases you so well he is in his element.'
Lucius let out an annoyed huff.
'I am yet to understand how, in the five or so minutes you had before I arrived, you managed to make him think I was so thoroughly behind the idea.' Apparently Harry was far more stubborn than Lucius was patient.
Harry smirked, and couldn't help but rub in a bit of salt. 'What is more, I managed to make Dumbledore think it was his idea the whole time.'
Harry was rather pleased with himself.
'What? So it's your fault we are to be stuck with a hopeless teacher!' Draco did not sound so pleased.
Harry just rolled his eyes.
'You will find, that while his proper English may be a little lacking,' (Everyone except Harry snorted), 'his knowledge on magical creatures will rival nearly every master out there. Besides,' and messing with people aside, the real reasons Harry had wanted Hagrid's transition so smooth, 'Hagrid is so far from understanding what is a normal standard of "safe" creatures, that we won't be restricted to light only creatures until ten minutes before our NEWTS.'
They had actually been very lucky in that regard for CoMC. Harry's original Auror partner Thomas had been several years ahead of Harry at Hogwarts, and apparently hadn't seen much more than a niffler until the end of sixth year. He had had to rely on theory to get him through the nastier creatures on his OWLS, and the late start had both major exam marks suffering. That was one of the problems with a school that taught only light topics. It was one sticking point he and Hermione could never agree on, as she, like so many others, saw Voldemort condoning something, and assumed it was evil.
Draco didn't look so sure, but was remaining quiet, as his parents were both giving Harry contemplative looks. Snape looked outright startled (for him… so just a slight widening of the eyes).
'I wasn't aware that you were intending on falling victim to the Dark Arts, Potter. Pray, try to make sure I am there when Dumbledore finds out. That Grandfather façade needs a shake-up.' Snape drawled, making everyone laugh. Harry was sure he detected a real amount of alarm buried deeply.
'Hasn't a Gryffindor told you sir?' Harry teased, 'I only finished the last war so that I could take over as a new Dark Lord!'
The slight tension didn't leave Snape, however the matter was let drop for a while as Daphne made a remark about Gryffindors in general, and the prejudice of the school as a whole. Throughout the whole conversation Harry couldn't help but note that it wasn't mentioned that he had to eat in the kitchens for almost the entirety of first year, or that for the most part Slytherins tended to do nothing but encourage their darker image. Hypocrisy at it's finest.
Harry thought he'd managed to pull through the topic whole when just before retiring for the night Tracey finally made the point Harry expected one of the kids to make sooner.
'Wait, what do you mean Harry got Hagrid the job?'
Mentally Harry sighed. Lucius' eyes seemed to challenge Harry to explain and he remained silent.
'I wanted something, and the minister was convenient.' He tried to shrug it off, but wasn't really surprised when that didn't float.
'The Minister for Magic was… just convenient!?' Tracey demanded.
Harry laughed. 'Pretty much.'
'And he listened to you?' Daphne spoke up.
'Well, rather he listened to the-boy-who-lived. I suppose something had to come of it.' Harry saw Snape squirm a little so spoke again to draw attention away. 'Honestly, he was one of the easiest men to manipulate I've come across. Minister or not.'
'Fudge has his moments.' Lucius stated.
'That's very loyal of you.' Harry drawled.
'One has to at least appear loyal. I was rather annoyed to find him so close to being in Dumbledore's pocket that night.'
'Fudge has always looked up to Dumbledore. Fudge is after all a light wizard, and Dumbledore his Lord. It would be quite dangerous, excepting the fact that Dumbledore is too good and noble to manipulate him in any way that is an advantage to himself.'
Harry expected at least someone to be surprised by his sarcastic remarks on the Headmaster, but no one so much as blinked. This worried Harry a little, but he pushed it away for another time to contemplate.
'Fudge is a fool.' Harry continued, 'but a smart fool.'
'That's a paradox.' Theo groaned. The children had been allowed Malfoy wine and Theo was a lot louder than usual.
'One which I find myself sadly agreeing on, although perhaps a lucky fool is more apt.' said Snape.
Theo frowned. 'Why?'
'The first impression that one gets of a ruler, and of his brains is from seeing the men that he has about him.' Harry quoted, getting a kick out of the audience. 'Now, by this standard the minister must be very great indeed… Excepting the fact that you have to take into consideration intelligence and category. Fudge is most definitely a parasite and a flatterer. He has achieved his position because of you,' Harry gestured Lucius, 'not utilizing you. Besides, you belong to someone else, and because of that he will last only as long as you allow him to last.' Everyone in the room tensed, and Harry belatedly realised he too might be a little tipsy, but he ignored it and just continued. 'Excepting of course, if someone else were to come and relieve you of your burden.'
'And are you intending to relieve me?' Lucius asked sweetly.
Harry smirked, 'Ah, but you are forgetting that you do not belong to yourself. It is not your burden to be relieved of.'
'I'm afraid you have lost me.'
Harry was quite sure that he hadn't lost Lucius at all, but he could also play to social niceties.
'Men are so simple and so ready to obey present necessities, that one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.' Harry noticed Blaise giving him particularly odd looks, but ignored it. 'Fudge will be replaced as soon as a real player wishes him to be, however at the moment he is useful.'
'Yes, he is rather, but what use you have for him is what I should really like to know. Also what real use you have for that oaf Hagrid.'
'One never knows when one might need a budding dragon tamer.' Harry teased. 'Besides. Unlike you I like Hagrid.'
'Yes, we all saw how well that turned out. Tell us again Severus, how many weeks did they take rebuilding his hut?'
'Touché.' Harry acknowledged the hit, but would stay on Hagrid's side anyway.
There were a couple more attempts to bring up Hagrid's appointment, but for the most part Lucius seemed to accept that Harry wasn't going to give him a straight answer. He had got Harry to admit to being on the playing field, but Harry didn't really mind that, as he was on the field the moment the AK failed. This time however, he would be pulling his own strings.
He wasn't too horrified with his Slytherin comportment, and thought he got in just as many hits as the adults. Apparently he hadn't been the only one to notice either, as Blaise had been giving him odd looks all evening and made a point of following Harry up to bed when the night was over.
Blaise grabbed Harry by the elbow as soon as they were alone.
'Were you just quoting muggle philosophy to Luscius Malfoy!' He hissed.
Harry was surprised. 'You know Machiavelli?'
Blaise quirked one eyebrow, 'You gave me the book.'
Harry winced. 'Ah.'
'You do realise that the Malfoy's are some of the staunchiest muggle haters out there, right?'
Harry laughed, 'Don't worry, if Lucius ever caught on he'd first have to admit he had read muggle literature.'
Blaise narrowed his eyes at Harry, 'I can't believe any of us thought for even a moment that you weren't Slytherin.'
Harry tilted his head to one side and considered Blaise carefully. 'Do you want to be king?'
'With you around I hardly have a chance.' Blaise shrugged as if he didn't care, Harry wasn't fooled.
'I'm offering.' He stated quietly.
Blaise shook his head quite quickly. 'Oh no, I don't even want to think about what I would owe you for that. Frankly I'm insulted that you think I'd take it.'
Harry laughed quietly, 'Well you never know. Are you going to help me take down our host then?' Harry let it go for now.
There was a long silence before Blaise's blank face switched to a smirk. 'Oh yes, as long as you drag me to the top with you and keep me there.' Then as an after thought added 'You do mean Draco right! Lucius is out of my league.'
Harry laughed lightly.
'Careful what you wish for Blaise, I may not be satisfied with king.' Harry left as his parting shot before wandering off towards the room he was sharing with Theo.