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An Education In Potions

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By the spring break that some called Easter break, due to the overlap of said holiday adored among many muggles, Lily was looking a little less like a wax doll. She was listening in class and taking notes again. She looked like she was eating and sleeping, even if she didn't smile near as much, and hadn't lost her temper at all. More frustrating, Potter was still spending a lot of time with her. The only benefit of that was the way the number of his so-called pranks had plummeted, and Severus wasn't even certain the remaining activities were because of Potter and his cousin or if some of the younger students had taken to color-changing and random feathers, moving the sets of armor around the castle, and inanimate objects making an assortment of noises under various circumstances.

Rumor had Lily and Potter as dating, occasionally as a double date with Sirius Black and whoever had his eye that weekend. Potter had become almost tolerable, so if he was what it took for Lily to no longer be mistaken for the cursed animated dead, then… then Severus could tolerate Potter's continuing existence. He still didn't like Potter or his interest in Lily, though he couldn't fault his taste in this instance.

By graduation, word had somehow spread, though Severus didn't know where the rumor had started, about how Potter intended to marry the muggle-born Lily Evans. Severus had even seen Potter confronted about these rumors by a rather irritating Ravenclaw pure-blood who felt her lineage and excellent grades made her a far better choice of future-bride of James Potter, who might be descended from Godric Gryffindor – rumor insisted the Potters were, but nobody had offered any proof.

Potter had just smirked at her, "Of course I'm marrying Lily. It's always been Lily, from the first time I boarded the Express. It just took her a while to agree."

Severus would be quite reluctant to admit he spent his spare moments over the next week devising a probable poison that should kill in a way the current medical potions would not be able to repair. He'd hidden all his notes in a secret compartment of his trunk, a compartment he'd further concealed and then locked so only his own blood and magic could open the concealed drawer. The notes probably violated some law or other, and it would be best not to let the wrong people find out about it. Of course, Severus wasn't certain all the wrong people would be worried about laws. In some of his more suspicious moments, he wasn't quite certain what the wrong people would intend to do about the notes – imprison him, or use the poisons.

Graduation brought a freedom from Hogwarts, freedom from childish dunderheads, freedom from being around so many people. Severus was so pleased he was even smiling. Tomorrow, he would be joining Potions Master Ulster to start his apprenticeship, even though the official NEWT results wouldn't be sent for several weeks. Now-former students were rejoicing all over, and even those who were still students for a while longer were in good moods at the completion of the school year.

In short order, Severus left Hogwarts, hopefully forever, and was ensconced in the Ulster home, where Potions Master Ulster lived with his ancient mother, as well as his elderly wife. Their two daughters were grown and wed, with grandchildren who sadly had shown no interest in potions yet. He was learning so much here!

His mood faltered a little when an unremarkable tan owl dropped off an announcement for the wedding of James Charlus Potter and Liliwen Grace Evans. Potter, for all his many faults, could keep Lily safe. It might be the only thing the spoiled brat of a Gryffindor could do right, but he would keep Lily safe. It was one of the few things he considered a certainty about Potter.

His certainty of Potter keeping Lily safe faltered in late September, with the Wednesday issue of the Daily Prophet. It wrote about a group of Death Eaters attacking a small shopping district near Leeds, with shops owned and run mostly by half-bloods, with a muggle-born running a clothing store and another muggle-born with a pastry shop. The Death Eater attack was interrupted by a group of private citizens, including the Potters. James Potter had dragged Lily into a fight with Death Eaters! Was the man insane?

Severus spent the next week hating James Potter all over again for endangering Lily in such a reckless manner. He refused to comment on his moods or anything in the paper except for the article discussing a possible shortage of ingredients from Greece, due to political conflict among the muggles. That article had led to a week and a half covering the proper ways to determine if and how to safely substitute ingredients and how the potion's purpose affected the chances of substitutions.

By the time the article came out in December, discussing how the Potters had been present at a conflict where the mysterious Dark Lord had fought, Severus had remembered how Lily would never just stand back because she was a girl. She would never stay back and out of the way just because she was a witch instead of a wizard. Severus frowned at the way the article mentioned the Dark Lord had been driven away by a group effort from several notable light wizards. The bland owl from Alice, now engaged to Frank Longbottom with a wedding planned for the spring, mentioned there had been a group of three wizards and Lily, and one of the wizards had been heavily injured.

The next two years were mostly filled with the glories and dangers of potions. Severus continued learning where and how to harvest an assortment of ingredients, without returning lacking certain parts of his anatomy. People just sauntered into apothecary shops without even considering how one acquired griffon feathers or snake venoms or dragon scales. He also learned how to secure his notes and ingredients stores – a terrifying series of lessons Master Ulster taught, often by breaking through the protections and removing things. Master Ulster never damaged the ingredients in this process, considering the mere idea of such waste horrible, but he would hide them elsewhere, eventually behind concealment spells and additional protections. Tedious punishments full of old, poorly written books, menial drudgery, and physical exhaustion lurked if he failed to complete his regular lessons or brewing, even if one of his necessary ingredients had been removed from his storage cupboard.

He delved into old and even ancient writings on potions, ingredients and theories about why some of the things worked or didn't work as expected. One month he would be studying the effects of the lunar phases on harvesting assorted plants – while fluxweed was the most widely used and among the more sensitive, it was far from the only plant so affected. The next he spent studying research in the effects of using magically controlled or altered animals to harvest fur, teeth, horn or feathers. A third was spent on ancient healing potions used in the scattered countries now counted as southern England. The next month might see him reading on the differences in using adult or juvenile creatures as sources, following that with human-based ingredients, what they could be used for and why so many of those things were regulated, restricted, or flat-out illegal.

This was punctuated by continuing journeys to learn how to identify and harvest rare plants, or bits of magical creatures. Severus learned a variety of languages in this pursuit, grateful beyond words for a twelfth century Potions Master recorded as Johann who'd devised a potion which could hold a language, and even better, it was fairly simple to brew and could be taken multiple times, though not more than once in a lunar cycle for fear of accidental and uncontrollable urges to gnaw on the bones of left arms, resulting in assault, maiming, and cannibalism. Quite a brilliant potion, and remarkably safe, especially for the time period of its creation. The moonlight over Tibetan mountains while searching for a small pink flower useful in an assortment of potions meant for bones was a breathtaking sight. So was the sun rising over the pyramids of Egypt. The jungles of India were also beautiful, but he was certain he would have enjoyed them more without finding himself used as bait for tigers and their magical cousins the harimau, though their expedition did not encounter any of the harimau. He'd found more enjoyment from the snake farm, where he'd learned the proper way to milk venomous snakes without being bitten.

By the time he'd studied with Master Ulster for five years, he'd learned enough he could easily have buggered off and taken a job as a ward-breaker or ward-setter in any number of places outside of England. After all, few in England would want to hire someone who bailed out of an apprenticeship contract, even if it turned out Master Ulster was considered rather eccentric and a bit dangerous. He had also picked up a great deal of knowledge pertaining to curses, hexes and assorted painful magic. The Defense Mastery gave him a pleased feeling, though he still felt far too many idiots could manage the same. Master Ulster hadn't been able to break into his supplies or notes for almost six months.

Severus hadn't been able to keep up with all the news, though he was aware of continuing attacks and crimes committed by people now called Death Eaters, who served a dark lord the Daily Prophet was calling He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or You-Know-Who. Death Eaters would attack and kill muggle-born and their families, or burn their businesses to the ground. He wasn't entirely certain, but strongly suspected this You-Know-Who was the same person previously called Lord Voldemort, and the transition had happened over one of the many trips Master Ulster had organized. An obviously unhinged man with minions killing and rampaging in his name, seeking… what? What goal could they have? Earlier issues of the Daily Prophet suggested Lord Voldemort had attempted politics about a decade ago, seeking to maintain old traditions and expressing concern about muggle-born and their muggle culture. Severus didn't quite understand what benefit there was supposed to be in a campaign of murder, destruction, suspicion and civil unrest. It wouldn't change the cultural differences between magical and muggle, and it certainly wouldn't educate the muggle-born about magical tradition.

Wizards made very little sense sometimes. Shaking his head, Severus drank his coffee and returned to his study of Russian research into how various statuses and conditions of the wizard or witch could affect their brewing, or to a lesser extent their spell-casting. Not status in the sense of how far back their magical ancestry reached, but an assortment of health factors, such as being fevered or having fasted, if they were an adult or a child, if they were an animagus or a lycanthrope. Another book had covered things like the moon matching the phase it had been in when the witch or wizard had been born, the season, if it was day or night, inside or outdoors, if it was raining. Next in the collection was an entire volume concerning a witch or wizard's sexual history and how that might affect their brewing or casting. The fact of that book being twice as thick as the one on environmental factors told Severus a great many magical researchers were bloody perverts.

It didn't surprise him. A great many people of all sorts of differing occupations were perverted, hormone-crazed dunderheads. Magical researchers were still people, and while slightly less likely to be dunderheads, there would still be hormones – oh, pardon, the magical no doubt preferred ‘bodily lusts and cravings' to such muggle-sounding terminology as mentions of hormones and body chemistry. There were so many times Severus promised himself he would find the time to bring his knowledge of muggle sciences up to a higher level. So many times he was forced to conclude he just didn't have enough hours to do so yet. Not now. Maybe after he'd achieved his Potions Mastery?

Master Ulster had what Severus could only describe as a conniption fit when Severus signed up for the Potions Mastery trials in December. He would far rather test his skill than celebrate any holiday, regardless of name or tradition. What was the point, when he didn't have anyone to celebrate with? After several days of insults and sulking, Master Ulster was persuaded to conclude Severus taking the trials would only reveal to Severus Snape the vast amount of things he still needed to learn. Really, the idea of Severus Snape passing his Potions Mastery before he was even twenty four? The average age was closer to sixty, and the record for Britain's youngest Potions Master had been held for centuries by a prodigy passing at thirty five in spring of 1675. Master Ulster was certain that while Severus Snape was talented, and had a tongue as sharp as any blade, he was no Gregory Brightwater!

January astonished Master Ulster and magical Britain by showing that Gregory Brightwater was no Severus Snape. Severus who passed his Potions Mastery Examinations on his first try, at the tender age of twenty three. Severus who shattered a record held for centuries.

Master Ulster had offered tight-lipped congratulations before meandering away boasting of being this young prodigy's Master and Mentor. He'd murmured something about finding the perfect first position for young Severus…

End part 4.

Severus had spent a whole week of giddy delight. He'd made his Mastery, and at an impressively young age. He had his whole life ahead of him to delve into the mysteries of potions, to probe for new secrets and techniques. Decades to learn new ways to tease out uses from plants and the subtle additions of powdered minerals, the delicate processes for drawing on the strength of magical creatures. In that week, he packed his things, his small collection of practical clothing and well-used potions equipment, a reasonable selection of ingredients and a lavish selection of reference materials, copied volumes on the research and experiments of prior masters, and journals of his own notations. Now that he was no longer Master Ulster's apprentice, he couldn't expect to keep staying there indefinitely.

Ten days after Severus Snape was awarded his Potions' Mastery, Master Ulster arrived late for lunch, a smile on his narrow face. "I've found the perfect position for you, young Snape. You'll be working for a schoolmate of mine, one who has big plans. Sadly, my health isn't enough to be enough help for him, but someone of your youth and vigor? Oh, he'll be delighted!"

"Who is this school-mate of yours? Would I recognize the name?" Severus tilted his head, something about Master Ulster's expression causing a sense of cold dread along his spine. While no longer a young man, Phinius Ulster had always seemed in good enough health for all manner of expeditions to gather ingredients.

"I doubt his name would be familiar with you. Tom Riddle, from London. He was a Slytherin just a year behind me," Master Ulster allowed himself to drift in memories for a few moments.

"The name is unfamiliar," Severus admitted. "Though I am not familiar with the various London based families."

It had been another week before Master Ulster arranged an introduction to Tom Riddle of London. Riddle was a dark haired wizard of unremarkable height or build, with dark red eyes and a sense of magic and secrets and darkness which whispered to the ears and coated the tongue. Severus still wasn't certain how to define dark magic, but Riddle had it, and in abundance. He also had ambition, and wanted to reshape the political face of magical Britain. Though he was a bit vague about just what he wanted to change or what he wanted to change things into…

Master Ulster negotiated Severus' first job before they'd even met. It was with some surprise Severus Snape found himself contracted as Tom Riddle's personal brew-master for the next five years, with permission to brew and sell on the side so long as it didn't interfere with requests from Riddle, who would be responsible for providing or paying for all ingredients and equipment for what he wanted. Lodging would be provided by Riddle, in this case the use of a small suite in a country manor, consisting of a bedroom, a full bath, a sitting room and what had recently been converted into a lovely potions laboratory. There was also the benefit of having the right to look through Riddle's library while contracted to his services. It seemed… it should have been a glorious opportunity, so why did it make Severus tense and fill his gut with churning ice?

For the first two months, there was nothing he could put his finger on. The tension in his gut and along his spine never faded, leaving him stiff and looming tall and particularly short and clipped in all his words. Every instinct he had insisted something was not right, was dangerous. He had nothing but twitchy instincts, a fascinating and unsettling library full of a remarkable collection of books from all facets of defense and dueling, including warding, battle magic and a few foreign books on the more vicious spells Britain labeled ‘the Dark Arts'. There were a few books on rituals, half a dozen on stars and their movements and significance, and a dozen on ritual magic. Three dozen books on potions and ingredients, though some of the ones involving the use and harvesting procedures for the more animal based ingredients would be poor choices for reading material for the younger wizards. Riddle was in touch with an extensive circle of associates, many of them other Slytherin alumni, and some from various locations in Europe. He was asked to brew an assortment of potions, many with medical uses or for the control of magical creatures. Some of the potions, such as large quantities of bruise balm and burn creams, were fairly simple, while blood replenishers and skele-gro were more complicated. While he wasn't quite certain who would have the folly to try to bend the wills of some of the creatures, the opportunity to work with some of the complex potions was delightful.

It should have seemed perfect. The chance to brew an assortment of potions, some quite challenging. The rights to research in an extensive library. Learning names of influential wizards, some from other countries, and occasionally having the chance to talk to those same wizards. Slughorn would have called it the chance to build a network of contacts and make connections.

Severus Snape couldn't stop suspecting there was some vicious catch to this silver opportunity.

Some of the books were a bit questionable, and there were quite a few on curses and other dark magics, but he hadn't seen anything specifically banned. Some of the Slytherins were from traditionally darker families. Some of the wealthy and influential wizards were dunderheads. He wasn't sure what purpose there might be to controlling some of the creatures. But... There was nothing which could be considered proof.

Something still nagged at him, a cool shiver along the nape of his neck, an unease deep in his bones. It made him feel tense and restless, more watchful of his surroundings. He wasn't sure if it was instinct warning of trouble or paranoia acting up. Unsure, he held his tongue most of the time, when the topics didn't concern potions work, and tried his best to watch everything.

There was nothing wrong with Tom Riddle having a familiar. Or giving his familiar a name, or perhaps, as Mr. Riddle was a parselmouth, sharing the name the familiar had given herself? Nagini was an unusual snake, looking remarkably like a hybrid of a common viper and a Burmese python, which he recalled were non-venomous constrictors capable of reaching considerable size. Severus was unsure how such a hybrid could have come to exist – a small part of his mind had contemplated a blending of fertility, lust and health potions in conjunction with confundus and compulsion charms before forcefully redirecting his mind to matters of potions. He did not want to know the intricacies of breeding hybrid snakes! Many wizards and witches had familiars, many Slytherins had snakes, and it would be foolish to expect a parseltongue not to want a familiar they could properly speak with at their side.

He was always left with the impression she was considering how everyone around her would taste. Quite unsettling.

Almost as unsettling as the charm Mr. Riddle had used to place what looked remarkably like a very dark green tattoo on his left inner forearm. It had been cold, the feeling of the magic slipping into his skin, and for a moment he'd thought it felt like snake scales sliding into his flesh. The mark permitted Riddle to locate him, or summon him when Riddle wanted to ask him to brew something else. The green mark the size of his palm looked like a snake wrapped around and passing through the jaws of a skull, a snake which bore a strong resemblance to Nagini. Some of Mr. Riddle's associates - the Slytherin alumni, a pair of rough-voiced Germans and a very pale man with a thin, papery voice and a Russian accent – bore a similar mark on their arms, twice the size and black. He could feel the magic their marks carried, and while he couldn't properly decipher it, it was obvious to Severus their marks did many more things than the simpler one on his own arm. After an assortment of time pondering the possible abilities of their marks while waiting for various potions to reach the next stages of their brewing, Severus had decided he didn't want to know.

Some of those individuals bothered him, in an undeniable way he couldn't put into words. It was exactly the sort of imprecise emotions based blathering he'd always loathed, and now… he couldn't explain in words, he just had a feeling. That was even more frustrating than the feelings of caution and danger caused by some of the individuals. Though he was almost certain the Russian was a vampire. Not certain enough to say anything, but he had his guesses. One of the Germans had spoken of Grindlewald and his ideas…

Severus Snape had no doubt that Potions Master Ulster had gift-wrapped him and dropped him into danger with a smile. Possibly due to jealousy, as Severus had learned Phinius Ulster hadn't attained his mastery until he was sixty eight. And he still didn't have anything he'd be able to get law enforcement to accept. Questionable tattoos, an older German remembering the days of Grindlewald, an intimidating familiar, a Russian scholar who was probably a vampire – none of it good enough.

He sent it all in the disguised letters to Alice. He even admitted he knew it wasn't enough for law enforcement to act on, but perhaps others would have different little hints, would be able to see what he couldn't, see other things. Maybe…

This ‘golden opportunity' was feeling more and more like a noose around his neck.

End part 5.

Seven months into his services as personal brew master for Tom Riddle, Severus found himself in the Hog's Head Tavern in Hogsmeade one cool spring evening. He'd ventured here to collect a few deliveries of potions ingredients from some of the individuals Riddle knew, some ordinary enough, others difficult to find in England, and a few brought over from Germany by one of the sons of that older fellow who'd spoken so fondly of Grindlewald. The various packages had been carefully tucked into his satchel, and he was now sipping at a tankard of ale. The fact he was tucked at a tiny table in one of the various odd nooks along the walls meant he disappeared from the notice of most of the patrons, a feat made simpler by the way many of them were downing their tankards and shots of an assortment of brews.

Riddle was up to something. Severus was almost certain he had some connection to this Lord Voldemort fellow who was almost certainly ‘You-Know-Who', though he wasn't certain of the details. He'd shared his suspicions in his disguised letters to Alice, but doubted she would be able to make anything of them either. He'd not had any correspondence from Potions Master Phinius Ulster since he'd been placed into service of Tom Riddle, leading to the suspicion Ulster was done with him, and likely quite jealous. After all, the death or hospitalization of a renowned Potions Master would have been mentioned, if not in the Daily Prophet then certainly in Potions Quarterly. No, it was obvious Ulster had washed his hands of Snape.

Severus had been trying to convince himself he had no reason to feel betrayed by Potions Master Ulster. It wasn't working.

In an effort to distract himself, he frowned at the figure who had just emerged from a door a bit down the wall, revealing there was a small room behind the wall. While taverns often had back rooms for smaller meetings or private events, it wasn't really private. Only a fool would handle anything truly sensitive in such a location. If nothing else, the identity or at least presumed appearance of whoever went into or out of the room could become fodder for gossip.

Whoever had just left wore an oddly fashioned hooded robe in a patchwork of assorted colors and fabrics, from red velvet to teal silk and all manner of shades between. The boots just visible beneath the buttoned robes – which had further been closed by a sash of cloth of gold – were deep violet and had toes which curled up at the ends, giving an exotic flair to everything. Nothing in their appearance suggested the individual belonged in a dim tavern like this.

When the next individual, an ancient woman who looked older than Headmaster Dumbledore and hobbled with the use of a gnarled cane, made her way towards the door, Snape decided this was slightly more interesting than his emotional tangle over the apparent abandonment of Master Ulster. A tendril of smoke from the woman's pipe drifted his way as the door closed behind her. Tobacco, hemp, and mugwort, probably blended about five parts tobacco to one part hemp and one part mugwort... Mugwort was generally associated with mental clarity and visions.

Leaning back, Severus realized he could hear a little through the wall. The distinctive voice of Headmaster Dumbledore, though he couldn't make out every word. Enough to know the ancient woman was Madam Hull, and Dumbledore was interviewing for a replacement teach for Hogwart's Divination classes. He resisted the urge to snort, Divination being a rather pathetic class from what he'd gathered. Oh, there were any number of useful spells considered to belong to divination, from a range to check if things had been cursed or poisoned to location and directional spells, to most of the medical diagnostic charms. But most of the class was spent on a variety of fortune-telling techniques, none of which would work very effectively without the right magical gift. Individuals possessing any significant degree of the Sight or Inner Eye or whatever you wanted to call it were quite uncommon. Which made focusing the majority of the class on something you either had a gift for or didn't was stupid, the sort of thing only a dunderhead would decide was a good plan.

The world was filled with dunderheads.

He couldn't hear everything, but he did gather that the woman in there had gone to school with the Headmaster's grandfather, making her a very old witch indeed. She'd apparently written several books concerning divination, though Severus couldn't quite catch the titles. It seemed the headmaster didn't like anyone reminding him that he wasn't the oldest and wisest around, because he thanked her for her time and interest, but followed that with some nonsense about wanting to let her enjoy her twilight years without the noise and fuss of so many teenagers running about disrupting her rest. Thank you but do enjoy your golden years. He might as well have said she was too old and sent her off to find a nursing home. Judging from the heavier tapping of the woman's cane as she left, Madam Hull had also interpreted the Headmaster's dismissal as being too old, go away.

The next candidate was a much younger wizard, somewhere in his thirties, his complexion and wardrobe proclaiming his ancestry included some of the Moorish wizards. He made his way inside with a calm appearance, closing the door behind him. Severus considered the apparent calm almost as interesting as the fact this wizard had his wand in a holster at his left wrist, a knife slid into the sash over his stomach, and a sword dangling at his hip. Dumbledore seemed rather alarmed by the knife, with words questioning the wizard's feelings of safety and insisting there was no need for weaponry, as everything was under control.

Even if the darker complected wizard had the Sight, Severus doubted Dumbledore would hire him. Carrying weapons so openly implied a certain willingness to use them, and the Headmaster disapproved of such ideas. It wasn't long before the wizard left the room, fingers combing his beard as he shook his head.

There was a good while after the wizard left where nobody made any steps towards the door. Long enough for Severus to finish his tankard and begin considering if he wanted a second. While the ale here was surprisingly good when looking at the surroundings, alcohol of any variant never made emotional or social problems go away. If Riddle was connected to Voldemort, would he be willing to let a Potions Master leave when the five years were over?

A rattling noise caught his attention. A woman had just entered the bar, her thin form draped in layers of gauzy fabric in pale greens and yellows, which were further bedecked with embroidery in gold and silver and white, and adorned with tiny bronze bells and discs. She had further placed tiny braids with pale ribbons and more tiny bronze bells in her brown hair, and had the resulting mass tied away from her face with a long scarf on shades of yellow, with tassels at the edges. She wore thick glasses and seemed to almost hunch in on herself, as if afraid of the world around her. Quite a few of the worst preconceived notions of a divinations expert all rolled into one package, though about a century too young for some of the more insulting.

From the bits he heard through the wall, her family name was Trelawney, though he couldn't hear if she was Miss or Mrs. or Widow, being much too young for the title Madam outside of her own place of responsibilities and authority. Apparently the Trelawney woman's grandmother had been a notable Seer in her own right, though Severus doubted the gift would be so simply passed on to this generation.

When the odd, resonant voice began to speak, he froze. Either the woman had some sort of divinatory gift, or she was an impeccable showman. The words didn't sound like her previous voice at all, lacking any hesitation. "The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches. Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies. And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal…"

That was the moment someone near the fireplace took offense at someone else's hand of cards and started hurling insults, mostly empty tankards and a chair. Whatever the Trelawney woman was saying was drowned out in the fighting. Severus might even have been amused except one of the tankards bounced off the wall and clipped his head. The proprietor started throwing everybody out, Severus included.

He made his way back to London with his satchel full of ingredients. He didn't stop at any other pub for a second drink, instead turning the woman's words over in his head. Seer or showman? The words had to have been, at the very least, presented as a prophecy. The timing of a woman giving a prophecy right in the middle of an interview for the position of Divination Professor at a school was rather suspicious, as far as he was concerned. A brief stop at a bookstore enabled him to pick up a few books for recreational reading, an area where he would admit, if only to himself, where muggles far outperformed wizards.

By the time he'd returned to the country manor Riddle called home he was utterly convinced the woman had been no more than a fraud with a sense of melodramatic showmanship. He was even muttering about her ridiculous prophecy as he walked towards his chambers. With practice, he avoided stepping on Nagini, who showed all signs of being asleep in the hall, her length twisting across in a rather obstructive manner. Paying the quiescent serpent no further mind, he continued into his chambers and shut the door softly behind him.

It took four days before he realized Tom Riddle had somehow learned of the prophecy uttered in the Hog's Head. Learned of it and was concerned. Traces of what Severus was certain were fear were hinted at, though he wouldn't dare speak of such things in this manor. But the prophecy – which he still thought was a piece of fraudulent showmanship - had spoken of the Dark Lord… Now Riddle was trying to identify families expecting another baby, sons by preference.

He'd already suspected Riddle of being connected to Voldemort. This was unpleasant confirmation of those worries.

The day after he realized just how seriously Riddle was taking this nonsensical prophecy, he sent of a clutch of letters. One to the Russian who was likely a vampire, but undeniably an expert in the cultivation of night blooming plants. That one mostly spoke of ingredients, and requested a few in small portions, for his own research rather than his employment with Riddle. The second to the old German who spoke of Grindlewald, asking if he might be able to refer Snape towards sources for some of the old country remedies for various illnesses, for they often held more merit than the ivory-tower intellectuals might wish to admit, and Severus cared far more for effectiveness than a respectable academic background. A third went to Lucius Malfoy inquiring as to a few of the details concerning the timing of his wife's birth, the better to personalize a few potions to her for her recent bouts of dizziness and nausea. The fourth was disguised and concealed under an rambling discourse on the phases of the moon and the effect they had on nightshade, and was sent to Alice, with the hidden text explaining the fragment he'd heard from the Trelawney woman and Riddle's reactions to those words. The fifth was to Regulus Black, someone he'd found fairly tolerable in school, inquiring as to how he'd been managing his mother's matchmaking efforts now that he was denied quidditch to settle his mind. The sixth was to one of the London apothecaries, with scathing commentary as to the quality of their toad liver and rat spleen.

The sixth was the least important, though perhaps the one most fitting the character he'd gathered most viewed him to be.

He prayed Alice understood the gravity of the warnings. It didn't matter that he thought the woman's presentation to have been showmanship and bunk. It didn't matter that he thought her words a desperate attempt to gain employment. What mattered was Riddle who was almost certainly Voldemort seemed to believe there was something to those words. If he took actions, then the reality of Trelawney as a prophet or a fraud was irrelevant. And if he was Voldemort, his likely solutions would be to try to kill whomever he considered a potential threat.

He still had nothing which would qualify as solid proof for Aurors. He also wondered just why Riddle was dismissing the idea of a female defeating him and or this Dark Lord. There were women Aurors. A female Minister for Magic. Women regularly placed in the top ten for national and international dueling leagues all the time, and he thought this year's champion was female, though he wasn't entirely certain with Asian names. Last year's second place – by two points – had been an Italian woman, who'd won five years previously. And loathe as he was to consider it of any importance, females played quidditch even in the professional levels, again national and international.

For a few moments, Severus almost wished he was a religious man. Then he could pray to some greater power that Riddle not find whatever small child or infant he'd decided the job-seeking babblings of a fraud meant.

End part 6.