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His Favorite Pupil

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Mary Gibbons was a painfully shy, non-descript Hufflepuff who was in her third year when Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ronald Weasley started Hogwarts. She was a good student- industrious, forward-thinking, and polite. She was the type of student who would have rather blended into the wallpaper than be noticed by anyone, student or teacher alike. She just wanted to do her schoolwork, get good grades, and be left alone.

Her favorite class was Potions of all things. She enjoyed the art of potion making, and she appreciated that it was in fact a mixture of art and science and magic. Her work in Snape's class was always of the Outstanding level beginning in her very first year at Hogwarts, a rare feat as he was a harsh task master. She gave Professor Snape no trouble, rarely spoke unless asked a direct question, and unfailingly turned her homework in precisely on time. Her essays were well thought out and insightful without being a regurgitation of the textbook. She also brewed nearly perfect potions every class and kept her work area meticulously clean as she did so.

She would never know it, and he would most assuredly deny it if asked, but she was in fact one of Professor Snape's favorite pupils. He actually looked forward to seeing her in his NEWT level classes where he could really challenge her intellect.

He found himself pleasantly surprised to not have to wait that long.

-----

One Friday, coincidently before a Hogsmeade weekend, Snape had dismissed the class and they were all filing out. He was sitting at his desk, glancing over the abysmal essays that the class had just handed in.

He looked up at her quiet voice. "Professor?"

"Yes, Miss Gibbons?"

"May I ask a question about today's potion?" she asked nervously.

"Go on," he said, toning down his normal snideness in the presence of someone genuinely interested in his class.

"This potion gets its volatility from the fire roach wings, if you were to adjust that amount down and increase the foxglove seed and pine pitch to make up for it, would it be a more stable brew? So you could make it ahead of time instead of only as needed?"

Snape folded his hands on top the pile of parchment and brought his full attention to bear on the nervous girl. "That is an interesting school of thought, Miss Gibbons. Rather than giving you the answer, I would offer you extra credit points if you draft an essay explaining your reasoning and how you would adjust the ratios safely and test effectiveness. We can discuss your hypotheses after I've read it."

She smiled at him and nodded. "I'll have it for you on Monday, Professor."

"I look forward to reading it then."

Snape wanted to shake his head at how happy she had seemed when she practically skipped out of his classroom.

Her idea had merit, not particularly necessary, however, as there were far more potent and efficient potions beyond a third-year that did the same job, however he liked how she thought and didn't just accept the recipe in the book as the gold standard for a particular brew. There was a subtle art to potion making, one not all students grasped, but some, like himself for instance, could grasp that concept and flourish. He suspected that Miss Gibbons had the makings of an extraordinary Potions Master in the future, she just needed encouragement and guidance. Neither of which were his particular forte but he decided that Miss Gibbons was perhaps worth the effort, for the sake of potion making if nothing else.

-----

At the end of class on Monday she handed him a fat scroll of parchment. She had written almost six feet on her proposed changes to the potion.

He looked at it for a moment, realizing she must have worked all weekend on it. He looked up at the nervous girl and said simply, "I'm surprised you managed to write so much on a Hogsmeade weekend, Miss Gibbons."

She blushed, she actually blushed, and replied, "Oh, um… I didn't go to Hogsmeade this weekend, Professor, it was more fun for me to work on this."

He nodded in acknowledgement. He could appreciate a thirst for knowledge outweighing a frivolous weekend. "Very well. I will see you after class on Wednesday to discuss it."

She smiled at him again and said, "Thank you, sir, I look forward to your critique."

-----

He read her essay through that night. Then again the next day with quill in hand to make notes and corrections. It was an unnaturally good essay. Thought and care had been put into it, but there was also a passion for the subject he rarely saw. He kept his comments firm, but constructive hoping to encourage her to expand on her thoughts and knowledge.

When they met after class that Wednesday her arguments and defense of her thoughts and proposals were sound, based in quality potion making practices. He had rarely enjoyed a conversation with a student more. She was young and just beginning her education, but her mind was keen, her thinking free flowing and pushing past the textbook, and her passion for the subject clearly evident.

He unintentionally made her smile again when he offered her the opportunity to actually run her experiment during his normal office hours. Most other students would rather lop off a limb than spend additional time with him, but not her. It was rare that he was in the role of a traditional mentor, a role he normal avoided and abhorred, but this student was different, she earnestly and honestly wanted the knowledge he could impart and the chance to learn from him.

-----

Three times a week she spend an extra hour in his lab, diligently running her experiments. She took meticulous notes in her lab book and as always kept her work area immaculate. She would occasionally ask him a pertinent question, sometimes about a result she didn't understand, others about better laboratory practices, but she didn't pester him as he worked at his desk, didn't feel the need to make inane conversation. She did her work, did it well, and bothered no one.

-----

He found the three fifth year Slytherin boys tormenting her that weekend. They had her lab book and were playing a vicious game of keep away from her, threatening to set it ablaze unless she admitted that she had a crush on her potions professor. They were insinuating all sorts of lurid things were going on down in the potions laboratory. She was knocked to the floor in tears and terrified that her work was going to be destroyed.

Snape swooped in and stood menacingly behind the oblivious boys. She saw him and her tears stopped.

He plucked the lab book out of the hands of one of the idiot boys and they all spun around to see him there, absolutely furious.

"Gentlemen, I will see you all in detention this evening. And that will be twenty points each from Slytherin. Leave now."

The boys scrambled away quickly. Snape stepped over to where Mary was slumped on the floor and handed her lab book back to her. Neither said anything, but he gave her a little nod before he turned and left.

-----

No one in Slytherin ever hassled her again. She never found out what happened to the boys during their detention, but all three separately and sincerely apologized to her in the coming days. And she even heard rumors that they were hexing anyone who dared insinuate anything inappropriate was going on in the potions laboratory.

-----

Her experiments were coming to an end. She had attained the results she wanted and was able to reproduce them every time.

He had her write up all her findings and notes in proper academic format and gladly read her first and second drafts and supplied firm but constructive criticism. He made her defend her paper and found himself inordinately and inexplicably proud of her when her spine straightened and she met him head on, ready with her facts and figures. He was giving her all the tools he could to ensure that she would be successful in the future.

-----

It had been several months since her extra credit project had been completed. And while that project had ended, she still stopped in during his office hours to ask questions or hash out new theories she had. Occasionally she would help him restock the ingredients or prepare potions for the hospital wing. Every now and again he would share a journal article or two that had caught his interest. If anyone had suggested that he enjoyed the time spent with her he would have jinxed them and all their future progeny. He was merely ensuring that the future of potion making was in capable hands.

-----

The end of term her third year came quickly and the final meal in the Great Hall was its normal loud and boisterous self.

Professor Dumbledore had handed out various awards and commendations of note. He came to one of the last and smiled.

"This next award is the first that this Professor has ever awarded in his tenure here. Professor Snape says this about the recipient, "This student shows an uncommonly high aptitude for the art of Potion making. She is a careful and conscientious student who has the ability to think far beyond the text to look for deeper understanding and knowledge. Her work this year, as in years past, has been exemplary. I hereby confer upon Miss Mary Gibbons the award for Outstanding Potions Student of the Year." "

There was a roar from the Hufflepuff table. They were completely unused to having one of their own achieve such an award. And that it came from everyone's most feared professor made it all the more sweeter.

Mary went to the front of the Great Hall to collect her little plaque. Dumbledore smiled at her widely as did the rest of the teachers. Snape didn't. But he did give her a single nod that meant more than all the other congratulations put together.

-----

She was leaving Hogwarts forever, her schooling here finished, the graduation ceremony long done. Her last day was one of packing and goodbyes.

She made her way to the dungeon, knowing he would be there.

He was in the supply closet, taking a final inventory for the end of term. He heard her quiet, "Professor?" and turned.

Mary Gibbons had blossomed since her third year. She was now confident and secure in her own knowledge. He knew she had also grown socially having seen her on the arm of more than one Slytherin boy since her fourth year. While he could possibly take some credit for the former, the latter was all her own doing.

"Miss Gibbons," he replied in his normal calm way.

She stepped towards him. "Sir, I just wanted to say goodbye."

He put the inventory parchment and quill down on a nearby shelf. "Shouldn't you be with your friends today, Miss Gibbons?"

The same smile that she had cast at him when he had made her practically giddy as a third-year crossed her face as she said knowingly, "I am with a friend, Professor."

She stepped towards him and bravely kissed his cheek. "Thank you for everything, sir. I promise I'll make you proud in the future."

He didn't reply immediately. The shock of her actions freezing him into immobility. He didn't have friends. He didn't have people appreciative of the things he did.

He finally met her eyes and said softly, gently, "You will be the best of us, Miss Gibbons. The very best of us."

-----

Epilogue

Her tears were flowing freely at his funeral. They had been since a Ministry official had shown up at her door with crates of books and notebooks for her as directed by his will.

Her tears kept flowing. Long had all the other mourners left. Her husband's arm closed around her shoulder. Her Slytherin husband's arm, one of the three boys who had tormented her in fact.

Professor Snape would never know that she would achieve the title of Potion Master. Nor would he ever know that she would become one of the most influential and important potion brewers to ever live. All due to his influence. His teaching. His faith in her.

the end.