"Hey, Severus?" Harry called into his guardian's study.
"You promised to tell me why we needed protection today, remember?" Harry reminded him. Severus had conveniently avoided seeing Harry at breakfast and had spent most of the morning locked in his study. Finally, the curiosity became too much for Harry and he went to seek him out.
"Yes," Severus replied, setting aside the paperwork he was filling out. "You ought to come in and sit down."
"That bad, huh?" Harry asked, trying to lighten the mood.
Severus's lip twitched. "For most people. For you it is more or less a common occurrence."
"What is?" Harry asked, taking a seat in a leather armchair.
"Have you read the newspapers recently?" he asked.
"Only the front cover. Something about a prisoner escaped from Azkaban?" Harry asked, trying to remember.
"Yes, that one," Severus said, looking tired. "His name is Sirius Black and we have reason to believe that he is after you."
Harry was quiet for a moment, thinking about the ramifications of this. "Why?"
"There is speculation," Severus said after a moment's hesitation. "but the belief is that it is out of revenge. Sirius Black was said to be one of Voldemort's inner circle."
Harry groaned. "I hate it that people have grudges against me from something I did as a baby."
Severus looked away.
"I didn't mean you," Harry said earnestly.
"It is almost the same thing, if not worse, hating you because of your father instead of loving you because of your mother," Severus said thinking aloud.
Harry tilted his head, studying Severus. This was news to him; Severus had said he and Lily were best friends but he assumed it was like his relationship with Hermione. Friends.
"You loved her, didn't you?" Harry asked.
Severus nodded, working hard to keep his emotions under wraps.
"I didn't know..."
"Does it change anything?" Severus asked.
"Not really. But now that's something else we can share," Harry said. He stood, thinking it best to leave Severus with his thoughts. "I'll go now. Thanks for not lying to me."
Severus didn't respond. Harry made his way to the door.
"Oh, can you sign that permission form for me to go to Hogsmede?" Harry asked, turning in the doorway.
"I do not think so, Harry," Severus said.
"What?" Harry asked, surprised. He did not envision it becoming a problem.
"With Black on the loose, I am not sure it is safe."
Harry turned to pleading. "Oh, come on Severus! You know I can defend myself. And I won't be alone."
"We shall see, Harry," Severus said firmly, closing the matter to all argument.
Every child knew what those words meant. "No". Harry sighed.
"Okay," he conceded, pulling the door shut. Now was not the time to argue with Severus but Harry would not let it go completely. Of that he was sure.
Severus sat back at his desk with a deep breath. For as many times as he had lied in his lifetime, this time left him feeling exceptionally guilty. He should have told Harry that Sirius Black was a filthy traitor. Yet, somehow, he simply could not do that given that he was guilty of a similar sort of perfidy himself. In fact, it was his fault that Black was put in that situation in the first place. Not that Severus was defending the delinquent, for if he had not betrayed the Potters, Severus would not be in this situation either. The blame was truly split between the two of them and, of course, the Dark Lord. Severus hated the thought of sharing anything with Black though he was glad that Harry would get to see the real Sirius Black rather than the idolized version that James would have presented.
Then there was the matter of Lily. Severus did not realize that Harry knew nothing of the depth of feeling he held for her. Even now the child did not realize. It had become such an integral part of Severus that he had not considered the fact that it was not blatantly obvious. Severus remembered what he had seen in the Mirror of Erised. Himself with Lily and Harry as their son. The perfect family. If only James and his friends had not ruined it, Severus's life could have gone in a completely different direction. And Lily would still be alive.
Severus shook himself. He knew that it would not be as he imagined it. Harry would not have grown into the same person. Living a comfortable life, Severus could not deny that he most likely would have lost the strength of character that is so prominent within him now. Though if Severus had anything to say about it, he would never have been spoiled.
He ran his hand through his hair. These were meaningless thoughts and there was paperwork to do. He dipped his quill in ink and resumed his work.
"Almost ready?" Snape called up the stairs.
"One second!" Harry responded.
Severus waited impatiently on the landing. In a few moments, Harry came out of his room, hopping on one foot while trying to pull his other shoe on. He stumbled and caught himself by the banister.
Severus simply raised an eyebrow.
"Don't give me that look," Harry said.
"Yes, it is not like I told you to get ready a half hour ago," Severus responded sardonically.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Come on, let's go. I can't wait to finally meet a person that my oh-so-amiable guardian dislikes! It will be a totally new experience for me."
Severus gave him a glare.
"Oh, come on, why is Professor Lupin so bad?" Harry asked.
"I decline to answer that."
Harry shrugged, grabbing a handful of Floo powder. "Okay. Where are we going?"
Harry threw his powder in the fire. "Hogwarts, Snape's chambers."
He stepped in and arrived moments later. The dreary room was utterly, and regrettably, unchanged. Severus stepped through a few seconds later and headed immediately to the door. Harry trotted after him. They headed to the Great Hall where the Head table had been set for the luncheon.
"How come I was invited to this?" Harry asked quietly, noting that only teachers were present.
"Lupin specifically asked if you would be there," Severus replied.
Harry didn't reply. He assumed that, like many others, he was simply anxious to meet the famous Harry Potter. Well, Harry, at least, was anxious to meet him.
They took up seats towards the center of the table near McGonagall and Flitwick. Dumbledore and Lupin would presumably sit across from them.
"Harry Potter?" a gentle voice asked from behind Harry. Harry turned around, then stood up. A tall man with light brown hair stood there with an incredulous look upon his face. Harry noted that his wide smile crinkled the scar that adorned his face.
"Yes," Harry replied. "Are you Professor Lupin?"
"I am," he said, still gazing at Harry with wonder. "You look so much like your father."
"You knew him?" Harry asked, surprised. He hadn't made the connection that if Snape knew both Lupin and his father, it could mean that they knew each other.
Lupin smiled. "We were best friends." He glanced over at Severus. "You didn't know?"
Harry shook his head.
Lupin grasped Harry's arms. "Its wonderful to finally meet you," he said, then went to sit across from Harry and next to Dumbledore.
Harry didn't think he looked like a werewolf, especially. In fact, he was more fascinated by the fact that he had been best friends with his father. Harry wondered why Snape hadn't told him, though the reason behind the enmity between them was now clear.
The food arrived and occupied everyone's attention for a while after Dumbledore introduced Lupin. Eventually, small conversations broke out around them and Harry found himself listening avidly to stories of Lupin's Hogwarts days.
"So, naturally, we couldn't tell anyone about the stolen dungbombs since it would mean admitting that they were ours," he said with an air of guiltiness.
"So what did you do?" Harry asked.
Lupin shrugged. "Took the loss and went the rest of the year without them."
"That's disappointing," Harry said with a grin. He looked over at Severus who had been silent throughout the entire story. He nudged him in the arm. "You okay?"
Severus broke off his glare at Lupin to look over at Harry. "Before they were stolen, I believe many of those dungbombs made their way into the Slytherin dormitory."
Harry gave a light grin when he noticed Lupin stifling a laugh. Severus noticed the same thing and resumed his glare. In order to spare Severus, Harry changed the subject. They chatted about various things for the rest of the meal and Harry found it to be rather pleasant.
Severus, on the other hand, found it to be nothing of the sort. He sat watching one of his worst enemies win over his son. He could see Harry enjoying himself, listening to details of his father's escapades. Lupin did not mention Sirius at all. Severus had always declined to detail James's pranks for most of the time they were at his expense. Lupin was making him look weak in front of one of the few people who knew him truly and one of the people whose opinion Severus cared about. What if Harry grew to prefer Lupin's company? Lupin was much more like Harry; Severus was...what was he? Why had Harry chosen him in the first place? If Harry was forced to make a binding decision, Severus had doubt over whether or not he would win. Perhaps it was early to think of such things, but in time, once Harry got to know the werewolf better... Severus's hand clenched in his robes underneath the table. As always, his face betrayed none of his emotions, save the loathing that was intensified within his dark glare.
"That was nice, don't you think?" Harry said happily once they arrived back home.
"Very," Severus said sarcastically.
Harry looked at him. "Oh, Severus, Lupin is really nice. Why do you hate him so much?"
"You can not understand," Severus said a bit harshly. "Lupin and his gang were arrogant recreants and most likely still are, or would be."
"You have to learn to forgive, Severus," Harry implored. "We wouldn't be here having this conversation if not for forgiveness."
Severus inclined his head. "You are right. Naturally. Always right, Gryffindors."
Harry could tell that Severus was still bitter; it was very obvious. He decided it would be best if he left him alone to brood. Harry went to his room, citing a book he wanted to finish before school and sat on his bed to think. He liked Lupin. He was funny, nice, and seemed like an intelligent Defense teacher. The werewolf thing was a minor detail. He hoped that Severus could get over their past because Harry would very much like to be friends with Lupin but given an irrevocable choice, he would pick Severus, of course. Who could think differently?
Harry drug his trunk down the stairs, thumping with each step. Severus stood at the bottom giving him a critical look.
"What?" Harry asked. "I'm not allowed to do magic outside of Hogwarts."
Severus pulled out his wand and levitated it the rest of the way.
"Thanks," Harry said grudgingly.
"Are you sure you are okay with coming a day early?" Severus asked. "I am sure one of your friends would be willing to let you stay with them and come in on the train.""No, it's aright," Harry said. "Half the time Hogwarts is more fun empty than it is filled with people."
"Amen to that," Severus muttered, guiding the trunk to the fireplace. "Go ahead, then."
Harry Flooed with his trunk to Severus's chambers once again and waited for him to come through. He seemed significantly less bitter than the day before but it was difficult to tell whether he was simply covering it up, as he tended to do. When the fireplace flashed green, Harry helped Severus out with his luggage.
"I suppose you have things to do before everyone gets here tomorrow?" Harry asked.
"Yes, I do," Severus replied. "You may go wander about the castle but I would prefer you not go onto the grounds alone."
"Can I go visit Hagrid?" Harry asked hopefully.
"I suppose," he said. "But go straight there and back, alright?"
"Okay," Harry agreed. "See you later."
Severus nodded and Harry left. He loved the serenity of the school, unbroken by the chatter and clamor of students. Especially now that he had nothing to worry about within the school, Hogwarts felt like the safest place on earth. In fact, it had always felt so, despite the dangers of the years before. Harry wandered idly until he decided to head down to Hagrid's hut.
He walked down the path, taking in the beautiful landscaping that lent such a summery feel to the ground. The sun shone brightly and Harry tipped his face to the sky, all but oblivious to his surroundings, focusing only on each step he took. Eventually, he reached Hagrid's small wooden hut and knocked on the door. It opened to reveal a slightly disheveled Hagrid.
"Oh, uh, hello Harry!" he said, a little surprised.
"Hi, Hagrid," Harry said. "What are you doing?"
Hagrid glanced behind him. "Are you taking Care of Mag'cal Creatures class?"
"Then I don' wanna ruin the surprise!" Hagrid said, his bulk blocking Harry's chance of looking into the hut.
Harry's brow furrowed. "I don't understand."
"Kettleburn retired and they asked me to take over his spot!" Hagrid said excitedly.
"That's great, Hagrid!" Harry replied earnestly.
"Yep," he said with a smile, "Got a surprise planned for yer first lesson."
"Sounds great," Harry said with a little trepidation. "Guess I'll leave you to it then."
"Stop by later on, Harry, an' we'll talk," Hagrid promised.
Harry was walking back up to the castle when a small dark shape caught his eye. It was near the forest, at the edge of the school grounds. Harry strained to see and could barely make out the shape of a dog. He frowned. Surely it wasn't the same dog as was at the Weasley's. It barked twice. Harry looked around. If he went over and quickly gave it a pet, Snape wouldn't notice. Or so he hoped. The dog just looked so sad...Harry trotted over to it.
"Hey there," he said, kneeling to pet the dog. It wagged it's tail.
Suddenly, it started barking. Harry looked up. The beautiful sunny day had, in an instant, grown cold and dark. Clouds blocked the sun and the dog continued barking. Heart pounding, Harry turned around to find a black shape in ragged robes floating towards him.
Harry shivered. He felt utterly empty and fell back on the ground.
"Please no, take me instead-" he heard, a woman's voice.
Harry's head whipped around, trying to find the source of the voice. The dog licked Harry's arm as Harry heard a scream pierce the air. The last thing he saw was the figure coming close, close, close enough to touch...