I've been asked a couple of questions a lot, so I decided it's time for an author's note. First about whether or not this will turn into slash, and specifically into Severus/Harry slash. Yes, this series will eventually be slash. No, it will not be a Harry/Severus pairing, they will remain on a strict mentor-child relationship. And, since several people wanted to know, there will be seven stories in this series.
This is not beta read. The next update will be in February. I am aiming for regular updates of one new chapter a month.
Chapter one: Summer of Hope
Harry's summer so far had been great. It had gotten off to a marvelous, if somewhat unexpected start when Dumbledore had awarded him the points that won Slytherin the House Cup. It had resulted in a party with Harry as the center of attention, all of it good attention. Evidently, with the points he'd won, everyone had decided to forget they were angry at him. Flint had even offered him his position on the Quidditch team back.
Harry had told him he'd think about it, and he would, but he honestly didn't think he'd go back on the team. He now had two Horcruxes in his possession and Severus had the third one, but that still left three others. They were out of his reach for now, but that didn't mean he couldn't prepare. S.I.M. was going to take up even more of his time and he already had his extra lessons in Potions and Defense. As much as he liked Quidditch, it just wasn't that important this time around.
But aside from the fact that the whole House had accepted him back, Harry was mainly overjoyed with the points because it meant that Draco wouldn't be punished as severely. He was under no illusions that Draco would escape punishment completely, but winning the House Cup would at least help.
At home with Severus, the summer had been just perfect. Severus had not only backed up S.I.M.'s plan, but had even helped with keeping their involvement with the book a secret. He'd gotten it approved by the board and despite all of the pressure he knew they put Severus under, he hadn't given Harry and his friends up as the authors. Lucius might suspect, given that Draco had subtly told his father it would be in the best interest of the Wizarding World to support Severus' proposal to the board, but Harry doubted Lucius would pursue it. The book was, after all, just one more step in what he considered the right direction.
Aside from their plan to provide Muggleborns with more information, Harry's summer had been ordinary and without any excitement. He'd been reveling in the feeling of being a completely normal kid for once. And in a week's time, he'd be back at Hogwarts for a blissfully normal year.
Of course, he should have known it wouldn't last. While last summer, which had started out similarly idyllic, had been rudely interrupted by Sirius' mental problems, this summer was interrupted by something even worse. Namely the appearance of one house-elf, who was a familiar sight with his bloodshot eyes and aged appearance, exacerbated by the white hair growing out of his bat-like ears.
"Kreacher!" Harry hissed.
It had been many years since Harry had last seen the house-elf who was now standing in his room at Spinner's End, but there was no mistaking his identity. In the previous timeline, Harry had hated Kreacher with a passion for his betrayal of Sirius. He had not been sorry at all when he'd learned that Remus had killed the house-elf in a fit of raging grief a couple of months into his sixth year at Hogwarts.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Kreacher has come to serve Master."
"I'm not your Master," Harry said confused. "Sirius Black is."
"No, filthy blood traitor is not Kreacher's Master," Kreacher crowed triumphantly. "Kreacher was surprised, yes, yes, he was. Not happy , no, not happy, to have nasty brat, friend of mudbloods and blood-traitors alike, as Master."
Harry stilled in abject horror as he realized what Kreacher meant. After Sirius' death, he'd become Kreacher's Master. Whatever magic Hermione's ritual had used to sent him to the past must not have fooled the house-elf's magic. Kreacher was still bound to him, not to Sirius. Harry sat down on the bed with a groan. Just what he needed, a deranged house-elf who hated him but was forced to serve him. How was he going to explain that to Severus?
"Kreacher was bad," the house-elf said, drawing Harry's attention back to him. "Kreacher spied on Master. Very bad, yes, very bad. But Kreacher saw! Kreacher saw Master in great house of snakes, friends with great wizards like young Malfoy. Kreacher is happy to serve Master!"
Harry blinked in surprise. While it was creepy that Kreacher had apparently spied on him – and for how long, Harry had to ask himself – he was glad Kreacher liked him now. Perhaps that would keep the house-elf from doing something disastrous later on. Slowly, a plan began to form in his mind. Perhaps, once he'd ascertained the location and protections of the last three Horcruxes, he could use Kreacher to retrieve them.
"Does Sirius know he's not your master?" Harry asked.
"Filthy blood-traitor thinks Kreacher is dead," the house-elf spat out.
"Good," Harry said, glad there were no added complications like explaining how he'd become Kreacher's master. "Keep it that way. Do you have somewhere to stay where no one will know you're there?"
Kreacher nodded. Harry breathed a sigh of relief. He had no idea what to do with Kreacher for now, so it was good the house-elf could keep himself hidden.
"Good, I don't want anyone to know you're still alive," Harry said. "I have plans and I can't have anyone questioning me about you. Keep yourself hidden for now."
"Kreacher lives to serve," the house-elf said.
With that statement, Kreacher popped away. And just in time too, as Severus knocked on Harry's door and opened it.
"You ready to go?" he asked.
Harry nodded and grabbed his cloak from the nearby chair. As he followed Severus down to Floo to Diagon Alley, he wondered if Kreacher showing up today of all days was some sort of sign. They were meeting the Malfoys in Diagon Alley, just like last year, but this year they would also meet Hermione and her parents. Harry hadn't seen the problem before, but he'd completely forgotten that with Lucius Malfoy there, Draco couldn't exactly be friendly to Hermione.
Suddenly, he felt a bit nauseous at the thought of the day ahead of him. Filled with dread at having to be the go-between his friends, he followed Severus through the Floo. At the other end, a hand steadied him and a softly spoken spell removed the soot from his robes before Harry had even gotten his bearings back. He smiled up at Severus in thanks, which was acknowledges with a small dip of the man's head.
A few moments later, the two of them had met up with Hermione and her slightly wide-eyed parents in front of Flourish and Blotts. Greetings were exchanged, but before anything else could be said, Harry saw Lucius and Draco approaching. Harry let his eyes take the two wizards in. Draco was moving easily, which was a great relief. Lucius however was ever so slightly favoring his left side when he was walking. Only because he was looking for it did Harry notice it. He wondered how much practice Lucius had in acting normal while hiding injuries.
Not for the first time, Harry wondered if it might be possible to prevent Draco's father from returning to Voldemort. He had no intention of letting Voldemort loose on the Wizarding World this time, so perhaps he could save the man. But then Lucius' eyes fell upon Hermione's parents and Harry saw the grimace of distaste that graced the man's face for a moment before being covered up with the usual bland mask of politeness. Harry's visions of a perfect future for him and his friends shattered under the evidence that whatever home life the man might have, he did prescribe to the Pureblood superiority views of Voldemort.
"Lucius, Draco" Severus greeted the pair as they reached the group.
"Severus, Harry, Miss Granger," Lucius said. "And you must be Miss Granger's parents."
"Mom, Dad, this is Mister Malfoy, Draco's father," Hermione said.
She shot a nervous look at Harry and Draco, but Lucius was the epitome of polite, even going as far as shaking Mr. and Mrs. Granger's hands. Harry wondered why the man was making such an effort. He got the chance to ask as the adults consented to meeting up with the children in two hours time at the bookshop and let them go off on their own.
"I hadn't expected your father to be so polite to two Muggles," Harry remarked as soon as they were out of earshot.
"He normally wouldn't be," Draco acknowledged. "He hates that Muggles have access to Diagon Alley. But he thinks Hermione has potential, so he's willing to be polite."
"He said I had potential?" Hermione asked.
Draco nodded, eliciting a huge grin from Hermione. Harry just breathed a sigh of relief. If Lucius Malfoy thought Hermione had potential, it would be less likely that she would be targeted specifically in the war, nor would Draco be punished for being friends with her. At least, not by his father. Harry figured that Narcissa wouldn't need Hermione as a reason, so it mattered little in that aspect.
The trio went to Madam Malkin's first, as all of them had grown enough to need new Hogwarts robes. Harry nipped into Eeylops Owl Emporium to buy owl treats for Hedwig, while Draco and Hermione went across the street for some extra parchment and in Draco's case a new ever-ink quill, much to Hermione's envy.
Harry was done before his friends and leisurely made his way over to Scribbulus, only to stop dead in his tracks in front of the window of Quality Quidditch Supplies. There, in all its glory was the Firebolt displayed. The streamlined handle of ash, treated with a diamond-hard polish, which Harry knew from experience was difficult to keep up, gleamed in the sunlight. The vision it made brought back many memories. Those few weeks spent in Diagon Alley before his third year, meeting Sirius, but also loosing Sirius, both last time and this time. For while Sirius was still alive, he was just as much out of reach as when he'd been dead.
"Cool, isn't it?" Draco said.
Harry looked up, startled by the appearance of his friends. Mechanically he nodded. Yes, it was a very cool broom. It flew like a dream and the sentimental value he'd gotten out of it because it was a gift from Sirius for him had been enormous. But then he remembered the Nimbus 2001, presented to him by Severus, who always had his back. With a smile, he turned away from the window.
"Yes, very cool," he said. "But I'm happy with the broom I've got now."
"You sound like Dad," he said mournfully.
Harry laughed as Hermione began to lecture Draco on not throwing away perfectly good stuff just because he could afford to buy the newer version. Behind the girl's back, Draco rolled his eyes, but he also sported a grin.
Together they walked into Flourish and Blotts. They were early and none of their parents were there yet, so they set out to gather their books. While Hermione and Draco were looking in horror at the cage full of viscously biting books. Harry bypassed it with a grin, as Hagrid had already sent him the book he'd assigned the Care of Magical Creatures class. He could see the humor in it this time, as he actually knew how to calm the book down. But in the interest of preserving the timeline, and perhaps more than a little bit of Marauder spirit, he decided not to inform his friends just yet about that particular trick.
Harry quickly gathered the books for his classes, giving most of them just a glance. Only Numerology and Gramatica held his interest. He'd seen Hermione with this book quite frequently, but as he'd never had any interest in Arithmancy he had never looked at it before. He was feeling kind of excited about taking a class he hadn't in the original timeline, as it meant he would actually learn something new. Classes could get rather boring, even though he still had to apply himself, which he'd never truly done before.
"You've got everything?" Hermione asked.
"Yes, just picked up the last book on the list," Harry said. "How about you?"
"I've got everything now," Hermione said, as she grabbed her own copy of the Arithmancy textbook. "The Ancient Rune book looks really interesting. I stopped in the Muggle Studies section and you were right, the information in the books is nothing I don't already know and most of it is wrong or out of date. And there's absolutely nothing about cultural differences!"
"Relax, Hermione," Harry said, cutting off the rant he knew was coming. "Like we promised, we'll deal with Muggle and Wizarding Studies this year, remember. Now, any sign of our parents yet, or do we still have time to browse?"
Merlin, it felt weird to refer to Severus as his parent, but Harry figured since the Potions Master was now his guardian for the foreseeable future, it was technically correct. Besides, the man did a better job than any other guardian he'd ever had, so if anyone deserved the epithet, it was him.
"No, no sign yet," Hermione said. "Have you seen Draco?"
"I saw him over in the Quidditch section," Harry said.
Hermione rolled her eyes, which caused Harry to grin. He left Hermione as she began browsing the Arithmancy section, recalling her love for the subject. He just hoped that this time around she wouldn't be forced to use her knowledge of the subject to put up wards and devise offensive spells for use in an all-out war.
Harry aimlessly wandered through the bookstore, pulling out an interesting looking book here and there, but nothing really held his attention. Then he happened upon the Divination section, where he saw Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil excitedly pouring over a copy of Unfogging the Future. Their giggles made Harry exceedingly glad he hadn't signed up for Trelawney's class. And after hearing all of the bad things about Divination and Trelawny from both Draco and Harry, even Hermione had elected not to choose that class. She wouldn't even need the time-turner this time around, for which Harry was glad. It had taken a huge toll on Hermione in the original timeline, even though Harry hadn't really seen it at the time.
"Harry, have you finished?"
Severus' voice pulled Harry out of his musings and he sheepishly looked at his guardian, who'd been trying to get his attention for some time, judging by the slightly impatient look on his face.
"Yeah, I've got everything," Harry said.
"Good, let's pay and get out of here then," Severus said. "I've had quite enough of shopping."
"Do we have to go home already?" Harry asked, disappointed at having to leave his friends already.
"I think we can find the time for some ice cream at Florean's," Severus said with a small smile.
Cheered by that suspect, Harry happily followed his guardian to the register. Yes, this holiday was shaping up to be the best ever.
Two days before the end of the summer holidays, Severus sat Harry down in the living room after breakfast. His face was a blank mask and it set all of Harry's instincts off. Something was wrong, and his thoughts immediately flew to Theo and Draco. Draco had looked fine in Diagon Alley last week and Theo had written to him only a few days ago, sounding fine if not particularly happy. But Harry knew how fast something could go wrong, so it was with dread that he waited until Severus started talking.
"I received a letter from St. Mungo's at the end of the school year, informing me that Sirius Black had been transferred to short-term care and that they expected he'd be declared healthy within a few weeks," Severus said.
Harry's first inclination on hearing that was to get angry with Severus for not telling him right away. He even opened his mouth to say something. He had enough of secrets 'for his own good' to last several lifetimes. But the careful non-look on Severus' face made him close his mouth again and think over the statement. If St. Mungo's expected Sirius to be healthy in a few weeks, then shouldn't Sirius be released already? The message had been sent at the end of the school year, which was almost two months ago. Had something gone wrong? Or worse, did Sirius want nothing to do with Harry now that he'd realized that Harry was a Slytherin?
"But?" Harry asked, afraid of the answer yet still needing to know.
"There was a minor setback that delayed his final recovery with several more weeks," Severus said. "I hadn't told you because I didn't want to get your hopes up, just in case something like that happened. He's recovered now, though, and St. Mungo's feels they will be able to release him sometime next week. Since you'll be in school by then, I thought it better if you were to visit him now, should you wish that."
Ah, so Severus had noticed he hadn't liked not knowing about Sirius' transfer to short-term care. Harry couldn't think of any other reason Severus would explain why he hadn't told him sooner. And he had to admit, Severus was probably right. He would have been crushed if he'd thought Sirius was getting released, only to find out it was going to take several more weeks.
"If you want to visit him, you should get your cloak. I will not have time after today, with all the preparations and meetings for the start of the school year," Severus said.
Harry grinned, nodded, and jumped up to get his cloak. Sirius was better! He'd hardly dared to hope, after seeing just how delusional Sirius had been last time he'd visited, but Severus had been right. Sirius was better, Harry's decision to get him free from Azkaban hadn't been for nothing. This really was the best summer ever!
Harry followed Severus through the corridors of St. Mungo's with a grin on his face. He had to suppress the urge to run, his eagerness to get to Sirius hard to contain. At last, Severus stopped at an open door to a small room. He gestured Harry inside, before following him.
Sirius was easily spotted, sitting on the bed near the window, watching the door. Evidently, he'd been expecting them. He looked good, more like the man Harry knew from his parent's wedding pictures than like the man he had in his memories of the original timeline. Harry hadn't ever realized just how bad Sirius still looked, even when he'd been at Grimmauld Place.
Sirius gave him an enthusiastic wave and a huge grin as Harry approached him. Severus stayed near the door, present but not intruding. Had Harry not been watching, he would have missed Sirius' quick look over to the man and the grimace of distaste that crossed his face. It was so reminiscent of the face Lucius Malfoy had pulled when seeing Hermione's parents that all of Harry's happiness faded away, leaving only nerves.
Harry took place on the chair next to Sirius' bed. Now that Sirius' attention was on him again, the happy grin was back on his godfather's face. Harry didn't know what to say, but luckily he didn't have to say anything. The weak grin he shot Sirius was enough to get him talking. Sirius apologized for his behavior and started asking him about his school year.
Slowly, the conversation progressed, carried out mostly by Sirius' enthusiastic recollections of his own school days whenever Harry stopped talking. It was clear that Sirius was no longer deluding himself into thinking Harry was James, or even like James. He knew very well that Harry was living with Severus, even asking him if the man was treating him right. He knew about Harry being Sorted into Slytherin as well. But none of it could lift Harry's spirits, because as the conversation continued, he was drawing some awful conclusions.
"And then we trounced Slytherin, even though they cheated their way through the match. So you see, Slytherins are always cheaters and always will be," Sirius said. "Oh, not you, of course, there's always exceptions to the rule," he quickly added with an apologetic look to Harry.
Harry just gave him a wan smile. Sirius kept saying he was the exception to the rule whenever Slytherins came up, because his godfather had nothing good to say at all about his House, either past or present. And while Sirius had happily talked with Harry about his friendship with Hermione, he avoided mentioning Draco and Theo completely, even when Harry was talking about them. Yes, it was very clear what Sirius thought about Slytherin. And while he clearly still liked Harry despite of his sorting, Harry was coming to an awful realization that right now, he didn't particularly like Sirius. And worse, he didn't trust him.
It was a desolate Harry that left St. Mungo's with Severus when visiting hours were over. Out of all the outcomes Harry had envisioned when he'd planned to clear Sirius' name, nothing had prepared him for this. He'd expected his plans to either fail, making it impossible for Sirius to get custody of him, or he'd get to live with his godfather, which had always been a dream of his. Now that it was finally happening, Harry wasn't as happy as he thought he'd be. But there was no turning back and at least Sirius still loved him, Harry kept telling himself. Somehow, though, it wasn't helping him feel better.