Time seemed to fly after that for Harry. He realised that he'd missed his birthday at some point, an event which was usually the highlight of his summer. Of course, the last two summers had brought the only true celebration of his birthday that he'd known – a huge man named Hagrid had brought him a slightly squashed cake and his friends had sent cards that Dobby the house elf had stolen. This year he'd been too busy to notice the day as it slipped past, though thinking back to it he'd gotten his watch on his birthday. How ironic that Severus Snape had given him a birthday present without either of them realising it!
There was something going on with the teachers, because Snape was called off to several meetings during their study hours, which meant Harry was sent back to his room. Snape was always in a foul mood when he came to release Harry, but the mood wasn't directed at him and he kept his head down so it wouldn't be. Harry was told very firmly that there would be additional security added to the castle and that he was not under any circumstances to go outside without an adult. That meant that when Snape decided to let Harry outside he had to go too, which cut into the mans study time.
On the bright side, Harry was shown a really cool garden. It was heavily warded, and Snape threatened to hex him really bad if he tried to break in or show other students where it was during school, but the garden itself was fantastic. It was full of climbing flowers and sculpted shrubs and fruit trees. There was a maze, a bubbling fountain, a lawn and benches and deckchairs to sit on. There were one or two statues, which moved about and changed pose now and then. Snape took to bringing his work out with him while Harry explored the garden thoroughly, though he refrained from climbing the trees until he found Professor Flitwick up one. His Charms Professor challenged him to a climbing race, which the little man won. Professor McGonagall beat them both in her cat form though, and Professor Sprout declined to join in at all.
The night before the Hogwarts train was due to depart, Professor Snape instructed Harry to pack his things up and took him back up to the Gryffindor Tower. It was a bit weird being the only person there, and Harry put his trunks down at the foot of his usual bed while his guardian stood in the doorway and watched him.
"The Headmaster has arranged for you to port key to the station tomorrow, Potter. You will be joining your friends on the Express. Do not discuss your summer living arrangements on the train, no matter how well Granger thinks she's warded the door," Snape droned in that strict voice he had. Harry nodded, unable to keep the grin off his face. He loved going on the train, as it meant his return to the one place he loved to be; even though he'd spent the summer at the school, it wouldn't be the same if he didn't arrive at the start of term on the train.
"Do not steal any flying cars," Snape instructed coolly, "Are you still wearing your pendant?"
"I haven't taken it off, sir," Harry blushed, not wanting to admit how cool he thought it was. He didn't want his teacher to think he was being a creep or something. These holidays had been a lot better than he'd expected, and he thought he'd figured out enough of Snape's Rules to be able to get along better with the other man.
"Continue not to," Snape nodded, "I have reviewed your electives, Potter. They'll do for now, though you will also be taking arithmancy. I would prefer you not take divination, as it has no purpose, but the Headmaster dissuaded me from removing it arbitrarily."
"Uh… yes sir," Harry did his best not to sound resentful. He'd chosen his courses to be with Ron and Hermione after all, and he was fairly sure that Ron wasn't taking arithmancy at all. Harry suspected that Hermione had put herself down for everything, but he was sure that the teachers wouldn't allow that. Snape nodded once more at him and gathered his robes closer, preparing to leave.
"You'll wear your school uniform to the train. I will meet you at ten forty precisely in the foyer of the school. The elves will send your dinner to the common room. Goodnight Potter."
"Goodnight sir," Harry replied quietly, "Thank you for all you did this summer."
Snape harrumphed under his breath and swept off down the stairs. Harry's reluctant Guardian didn't like praise, but Harry had to at least acknowledge all that the other man had done for him this summer. To ignore it wouldn't have been polite, and no matter what Snape said, Harry had at least learned some manners.
"Do not steal any cars," he muttered rebelliously under his breath when he heard the portrait shut, and then grinned and went to short sheet a few beds. After all, what was the point of being alone in the Tower if he didn't prepare a few surprises for his friends? Fred and George especially.
The port key deposited him in a nearly empty compartment. There was a man sleeping in it, in old robes, and his case in the luggage rack was marked RJ Lupin. Harry didn't have time to wonder if he should go looking for his friends when Hermione and Ron opened the compartment door and grinned at him, dragging in their luggage.
Harry had been thanking his lucky stars ever since he'd been port keyed to his room with his friends that they had taken the news of his unexpected status as Snape's ward so calmly. He'd had a niggling fear that they would not react at all well to the news, given that Snape was not a favourite in Gryffindor, and Harry was one of his favourite targets. Ron had been his main worry, but the redhead had settled down and listened when Hermione really shouted at him, and Harry's hurried sentences had seemed to get the point across. Ron had even thanked Snape for taking care of Harry, which was a bit embarrassing, but well meant when all was said and done.
He helped Hermione stow her luggage and watched with apprehension as she let the monster she'd bought out of his carrier. Crookshanks did not appear to be a very Hermione sort of cat – Harry would have thought she'd choose something a bit… neater looking. This cat looked like it had smashed face first into a wall, and its fur was all over the place, kind of like his hair. Ron collapsed onto the bench opposite the man in the carriage and pulled Harry down with him, warning Hermione to keep Crookshanks away from Scabbers.
As they'd only had time to really exchange the briefest amounts of information about their holidays, Harry asked his friends what they'd gotten up to on their travels, and was treated to a monologue by Hermione followed by a more disjointed discourse from Ron. They both knew better than to ask him more about his holiday at the school, and as he'd promised not to tell about the fabulous garden Snape had shown him, Harry merely spoke generally about practice in potions and spending a bit of time outdoors.
Ron asked if Harry had his permission form signed yet, and when Harry confessed he didn't know what Ron meant, his friends told him about the Hogsmede trips that third years and above could go on this year. He needed his guardian to sign his permission form, and Harry wondered if Snape had forgotten to mention that, or if the man had some sort of Slytherin plan in place. Either way, he'd have to ask on a day that he didn't have potions with the Professor, as he didn't want any accident, real or imagined, to cloud his guardian's decision when he asked. He mentioned that he wasn't sure if the form had been passed on and left it at that while the three of them exchanged significant looks.
The conversation turned to the subjects they were taking, and Hermione was being a bit evasive about things. Before either of them could figure out a way to make her talk that wouldn't wake the sleeping teacher in their compartment – which they'd deduced thanks to Hermione – the train shuddered to an abrupt stop.
Of the events that followed, Harry never really had a clear and true account. He remembered a ragged black cloak and cold, and a woman screaming and being afraid, followed by a hoarse voice and a bright light, but he didn't really start tracking events again until the train was once more under way. He came to himself lying on his back on one of the seats, Ron bracing him and feeding him small bits of chocolate. He felt cold and clammy, but the chocolate seemed to be dispersing that, so he opened his mouth obediently and let Ron feed him a bit more. When he was strong enough Harry sat up and finished the chocolate, which Hermione took as a good sign. Ron sat close enough for Harry to slump on if needed and Hermione stood close to his knees, her hands twisting the hem of her blouse.
"Who was screaming, sir?" Harry asked as the new teacher returned to their compartment. The man was thin, his hair was turning prematurely grey and his face was scratched by something with long nails. His robes were kind of shabby, but they looked warm enough, and despite the amount of sleep he'd had since the journey began he looked tired.
"No one was screaming," the teacher's voice was also hoarse, and Harry swallowed his protest. He was sure he'd heard something…
"What was that?" Hermione sounded frightened and Harry helped Ron haul her to sit between them, the action instinctual. She didn't need it, but the two boys were in the habit of protecting and sheltering her when they could. Of course they'd never say that out loud – Hermione would hurt them for sure.
"That was a Dementor," the teacher replied calmly, looking at them closely, "They guard the Wizarding prison of Azkaban. They were searching the train for Sirius Black."
Harry shivered and let Hermione sling an arm around him and pull him close. He hadn't admitted that he knew Black was his godfather, something that he would tell Hermione and Ron once they were back at Hogwarts. He was fairly sure they could find a place to talk there in peace.
AN – I don't intend to rehash the books word for word here, or even event for event. Some events will be unchanged and therefore implied; some will be 'filtered' through HP or SS eyes and emotions according to their new circumstances. Any quotes or descriptions you recognise are JKR's – just thought I'd re-emphasise that.
When they finally reached the steps of the school Professor McGonagall was waiting for them. She very deftly cut Ron off from the rest of the Trio and ushered Harry and Hermione away, telling the woeful redhead that he'd be seeing his friends again soon. Harry traded a nervous look with Hermione and followed his head of house along to her office. Snape was waiting outside it with Pomfrey, and Harry had a sinking feeling that his reaction on the train had been reported to his guardian and the school Matron.
Sure enough, Hermione was ushered into McGonagall's office, and Snape herded Harry into a nearby classroom, Madam Pomfrey tutting under her breath as she followed them in. She had him spelled up one side and down the other before he knew what had hit him, and Harry scowled at the floor when she started fussing about sensitive students and their reactions to the Dementors.
"He won't be the only one, mark my words! Have you had any chocolate, dear?" Pomfrey ignored his scowl with the ease of long practice and folded her hands at her waist, eyeing him sympathetically. Before Harry could answer Snape had produced a potion and handed it to him with a pre-emptory gesture.
Harry swallowed a sigh, knowing that his guardian was in no mood for games or protests and uncorked the sickly orange sludge, downing it in one swallow before Pomfrey could do more than start in on her protests. Snape wouldn't poison him, and none of the potions he'd been given over the summer had done anything unpleasant to him, except of course for their taste.
"There is no need to potion the boy, Professor! A bit of chocolate is all…"
"This potion is much more effective," Snape droned smugly, eyeing Harry as he coped with the rush of warmth and energy that the potion had given him. He was hungry now; his appetite restored, and didn't feel the need to fall into the nearest bed the moment he got to the Tower.
"I do feel better, Madam Pomfrey, and Professor Lupin gave us all some chocolate on the train," Harry mediated, and she sniffed, eyeing the Potions Master with disfavour.
"At least we have a Defender who knows his cures and remedies this time," she muttered under her breath, "Well Potter, best to be getting on with you. Make sure you drink some of the hot chocolate the elves will be serving at the feast as well."
"Yes ma'am," Harry nodded obediently, "Thank you for the potion sir."
Snape sniffed in a dismissive way and Harry turned for the door, glad that his back was turned so he could grin when Pomfrey tutted under her breath at Snape, a very disapproving sound. The fact that his guardian had bothered to bring him a potion at all put him well ahead of the Dursley's in the 'caring for Harry' stakes, but there was no way he'd tell the school Matron this.
Hermione was in the corridor waiting for him, her collar disarrayed as if she'd been fiddling with it. Harry reached over so as to neaten it up for her and she took his hand as they hurried down to the Feast. Ron had saved them both a space, and the Sorting was about to start with Professor Flitwick leading the firsties up the main aisle. Snape, McGonagall and Pomfrey all slid into their chairs as the first student was called up and Harry revealed in a low voice that he'd had to go and see the Matron because of the Dementor on the train.
Malfoy was giving him some very spiteful looks, and even pretended to faint when Harry tracked a new Slytherin student to the House table. Harry scowled and sighed, turning back to face the Gryffindors.
"Don't worry about Malfoy, Harry," Ron said in a low tone, having also seen the blonde's antics, "He's just being a git."
"That's going to get really old really fast," Harry grumbled, but let Ron distract him as they cheered for the new Gryffindor.
It turned out that they didn't have Potions until the middle of the week, and Harry decided to see his guardian about his permission form before they had a class together, just in case something went wrong. Hermione's timetable turned out to be slightly insane, with more classes than there were hours of the day. He and Ron had quietly agreed that they should keep an eye on their friend in an effort to figure out what she was up to – because she might have been smart but she wasn't the best liar in the castle, by any stretch of the imagination.
After the first day of classes Harry told Ron where he was going and headed down to the Dungeons. Everyone knew where Snape's office was, all the better to avoid it, and Harry made sure that his appearance was up to his guardians expectations before knocking on the door.
"Enter!" Snape barked and Harry did so at once, quietly closing the door behind him and approaching the desk buried under piles of holiday homework. Snape had his red quill out, and Harry hoped he'd been grading Slytherin essays as otherwise he was likely to be in a foul mood.
"Professor, I wanted to ask you about the trips to Hogsmede," Harry said very quietly, aware that he had not spelled the door for privacy, and didn't want to run the risk of being overheard. His guardian had made it very clear that the guardianship was not to be revealed without his express permission, and Harry had no desire to annoy the man prior to asking for a favour.
"Your permission note has not been signed, therefore you are not going," Snape said sharply, "And speak up, boy, the door is warded."
"Yes sir," Harry tried not to sound resentful as he raised his voice to normal speaking levels, "May I know why you haven't signed the form?"
If there was one thing he'd learnt this summer, it was that Snape preferred plain speaking when it came to questions. Trying to talk around the subject would just annoy the older man, and Harry was hoping he could still persuade his teacher to change his mind about missing the Hogsmede trips.
"Because to reach the village you will come in contact with the Dementors surrounding the school, something that you have proved to be incapable of withstanding on the train. In addition, Black will be better able to access you in the village, and despite the lack of reliable sightings, I am not inclined to trust your circumspection. When Black is caught and the Dementors removed I will sign your form, not before. That is my final word on the subject, am I understood?" Snape droned: his eyes boring into Harry. There was no tickling sensation, so at least his professor wasn't reading his thoughts, which Harry knew would only have made things worse.
"Yes sir," Harry sighed glumly, and was promptly dismissed. Malfoy was lurking about outside and treated Harry to his fainting fit impersonation. Snape called the blonde inside at once, which was just as well because Harry was in the mood for a fight, and Malfoy was as good a target as any. He stumped back up to the Tower and threw himself onto the rug at Hermione's feet, shaking his head when Ron asked how his luck had been.
"No go," Harry moaned, "I'm stuck here until the Dementors and Black are gone."
"It's in your best interest Harry," Hermione chided, already buried in her homework, "After all, it wouldn't do to just hand you over to Black for the sake of a sweetshop and a change of location."
"I know that," Harry frowned as Crookshanks plopped itself into his lap and started washing its squashed face, "I'd just like to be able to go and do things like everyone else, is all."
"Still, its rotten luck," Ron was eyeing Crookshanks closely too, "Want a game of chess?"
"You've both got homework to do," Hermione reminded them loudly, and Harry gave his friend a rueful look, mouthing 'later' at the redhead and pushing the cat off his lap.
Despite his disappointment with the lack of permission to go to Hogsmede, Harry enjoyed his first weeks of school. Professor Lupin was a very capable Dark Arts Professor, and the Trio all agreed that he didn't seem to be up to anything at all. Hermione's impossible schedule continued to baffle the boys, and Professor Trelawney 'saw' Harry's death on several occasions. Even Arithmancy, the study that Snape had insisted Harry take, turned out to be really interesting. It was the only lesson Harry didn't have with Ron, which was weird, because he was used to having his best friends with him all the time in class, even if they weren't sitting together.
Potions class was no different to any other year, except that Harry was putting a lot more effort into it, in an unconscious attempt to please his Guardian. Ron and Hermione were also better behaved in that class, not that they had misbehaved in previous years. Snape wouldn't have stood for that. With the extra elective and Quidditch practice, Harry was forced to become a lot more organised about his homework and reading, though he was never up to Hermione's standards. Halloween came and went with the usual disaster-in-the-making, and despite the continued threat from Sirius Black, Harry had been intrigued by the discussion between Snape and Dumbledore. He wasn't sure why his guardian thought that a teacher was helping the mass murderer inside; discussion with his friends brought him to the conclusion that it was better not to ask.
Things were progressing quite nicely until the first Quidditch match of the season. This was just before Christmas, and Harry was looking forward to the match against Malfoy and Slytherin. The weather was foul, but Harry was sure that he would be able to find the Snitch anyway when Wood came in to breakfast with a glum expression on his face.
"Slytherin have pulled out of the match. They say that Malfoy's arm isn't right yet," he explained to Harry when the teams Seeker asked what was wrong, "We'll be playing Hufflepuff instead, and they use different tactics to Slytherin."
Wood continued to be one of the hardest taskmasters Harry had ever met. While he loved to win, and found the challenge of Quidditch an intensely interesting one, he wasn't as deep a fanatic as his team captain, who'd had them practising at all hours of the day and night, often in the worst weather too. Even Fred and George had complained, and they were normally so cheerful that nothing seemed to bother them.
"There's nothing wrong with his arm," Harry growled, "The prat wouldn't even have been hurt if he'd listened to Hagrid."
This was still a sore point with the green-eyed teen. Hagrid had been so excited about being a Professor, and once Harry had gotten over his trepidation, he'd thoroughly enjoyed meeting and riding Buckbeak. Now his friend was devastated and the hapless Hippogriff under threat of execution. He hadn't ever seen Hagrid so upset before, and to make things worse he wasn't able to help either. He couldn't go down to the gamekeepers hut without an adult escort, and knew there was no point in asking Snape to take him. During class time of course, Hagrid wasn't able to talk to Harry about anything other than the class. The whole thing was an even bigger blow than not being allowed to visit Hogsmede, which Hermione and Ron had done at Halloween.
The Quidditch game was played in one of the worst storms that Harry had ever seen. If Hermione hadn't charmed his glasses he'd have been blind for the whole game, and part of him wished he had because watching the ground come up at you while listening to the ghostly screams of your mother was something he could have done without.
He'd woken in the hospital wing to the news that the Dementors had mobbed the game, and that his team had lost because Diggory had caught the snitch before realising that Harry was in trouble. The loss of his broom was another blow heaped upon his head, and all in all Harry was thoroughly dejected when the team and his friends were ushered out by Madam Pomfrey.
"We'll be keeping you here for the night, Potter," the school Matron informed him briskly, "I don't like your colour. Have some more chocolate and then get some sleep."
"Yes Matron," Harry mumbled obediently and took a bite to appease her. Truthfully, he was feeling a bit ill, slightly queasy in fact, and the chocolate wasn't sitting well with him. He lay down and pulled his blankets up to his ears, curling into a ball to try and find some warmth. He wished he couldn't remember his mother's voice, pleading like that; it was an awful thing that it was the only time he could recall hearing her voice.
"Potter?" his guardian's voice was quiet, as if Snape wasn't sure he was awake. Obedience to the voice of authority was something that Harry had an abundance of, and he rolled onto his back at once, peering up at his Potion Professor's blurry face.
"Yes sir," he said dully, and Snape leaned over him, poking and prodding as was his way before handing Harry the vile orange potion. It settled his stomach this time, and made him a bit warmer, though it wasn't as effective as it had been before the term started. Harry didn't complain, though, he just handed the empty vial back to his guardian with a quiet word of thanks.
"I wonder why you are so affected…" Snape mused aloud. Harry thought the Head of Slytherin had half forgotten he was there, which may have been why he felt it safe to mention his latest realisation.
"I can hear my mum pleading for our lives," he said dully, "She sounds so afraid."
Snape looked at him, clearly appalled, and turned on his heel. Harry watched the man leave him behind, trying not to feel betrayed. After all, he'd had no expectations that his guardian really liked him or anything, and obviously Snape thought he was looking for comfort. Harry curled up again miserably, and tried to figure out what to do.
"I thought we might use a Boggart for training," Professor Lupin explained to Harry after Christmas. More and more, Harry was beginning to wish that the Dark Arts Professor had been his guardian instead of Snape. The man scowled at Harry whenever he saw him, but Professor Lupin had known his parents. He'd been concerned about Harry, and had let the teen explain what he heard when he was near a Dementor without running away. He'd also promised to show Harry how to drive a Dementor off.
Harry smothered a grin, even though he was apprehensive. Neville's Boggart had been Professor Snape, and the sight of his guardian in an old woman's clothes had been very funny. Word of the sight had gotten back to the Head of Slytherin of course, and Neville was living in fear for his life. Harry was glad that he wasn't partnered with the forgetful boy for potions, as things were strained enough between Snape and him as it was.
Christmas had not been much fun. Hermione and Ron had fallen out over the delivery of a top notch racing broom, and she'd mentioned it to McGonagall, who had confiscated it at once. Harry knew that his guardian hadn't sent the Firebolt to him, as Snape had made a point of sending Harry a Christmas note to the effect that he would approve Harry's purchase of a broom provided it was not an exorbitant price. Harry wondered if the Head of Slytherin was trying to handicap him against his House, as Slytherin were still flying the Nimbus 2001 models that Malfoy had brought with him as Seeker. He'd never had a chance to ride the broom before it was confiscated and Wood was now pestering McGonagall daily on his behalf.
"Harry?" Lupin's hand on his shoulder recalled his wandering thoughts, "You must be completely focussed if you are to learn this spell. It is magic that is well advanced of your year, and very difficult."
"I can do it," Harry squared his shoulders, "I promise."
"Very well," Lupin's amber flecked eyes examined him closely for a moment and then the lesson began.
Harry didn't have much luck in those first few weeks with the Patronus charm. He seemed to spend a lot of time on his back eating chocolate while Lupin hovered over him anxiously. He wouldn't give up though, and eventually managed to form a sort of white mist from his wand that kept the Boggart/Dementor at bay. Unfortunately the practice had the side effect of almost entirely recreating for him the memory of his parent's death. Harry tried not to go into detail for his Professor, not wanting to upset his father's former acquaintance and end the lessons, but somehow the details slipped out, bit by bit.
Lupin seemed to be almost as upset as Harry about it all.
Harry also noticed that his teacher was suffering from an illness. He'd had tea with Lupin in the Dark Arts classroom on a few Hogsmede weekends, and Snape had found him there once or twice while delivering potions to Lupin. He always scowled at Harry, though he never spoke to him, and Harry wished he could take back his moment of weakness in the hospital wing. He hadn't wanted Snape to gush over him or anything, but he'd chosen to share a deeply personal thing with his guardian and the rejection that had followed still stung.
In addition to this they'd argued about Harry being in Hogsmede. Fred and George had given Harry the best present he'd ever received, in the form of a map that showed the castle and where everyone in the school was. He'd used it to sneak to the magical town and spent some time with Ron and Hermione there. Malfoy had spotted part of him, of course, but Snape hadn't been able to prove anything and Harry was certainly not about to confess. His guardian hadn't found the invisibility cloak this summer because Harry was so good at hiding it, and he didn't want to let Fred and George down by getting the map confiscated either.
However, he disliked the idea of being at odds with Snape, and therefore didn't sneak out again. After all, the man would once again be spending the summer holidays with him, and it behoved Harry to make an effort to get along with him. Otherwise his life would not be worth living. At least in Potions he was still able to keep up with the higher standards he was finding himself operating under, which had a sort of knock on effect with the rest of his classes. Ron had learned to buckle down too, as the red head had muttered to Harry, 'anything for a quiet life'.
Harry could agree with that sentiment.