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An Education In Potions

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Summer continued to be full of Riddle ordering the men who were his marked subordinates – and occasionally Severus spared a moment to wonder just what sort of implications the larger mark carried – to look for names of magical couples expecting children towards the end of summer. He'd even ordered a few to look in other countries. He was compiling lists, and making notes after some names and crossing others from the list entirely, for reasons unknown to Severus. Not that Severus was going to ask anything about the list, he valued his life more than that, thank you very much.

He'd taken up something called occulomency, which was supposed to help protect his mind against intrusion and external control or influence. Partly by protecting his memories and thoughts from manipulations and partly by making it harder for anyone to reach through by creating barriers and defensive measures. He'd first seen references in the descriptions of a few potions, and bee watchful for an explanation. He'd found a few helpful texts in the Riddle manor, leading him to assume Tom Riddle knew some of the art himself. More alarmingly, while practicing sorting and protecting his memories, Severus had found hints that he had been obliviated several times during his fifth year at Hogwarts. He didn't yet know who or why. He was attempting to tease out clues and regain his memories, but it was slow going, and too much time prying at them caused headaches.

For a while, he was gloriously distracted by an old manuscript detailing a potion alleged as capable of inducing a permanent physical change in the drinker. Changing a man into a woman, or a woman into a man, one that wouldn't wear off the way polyjuice did. He had a few doubts, though it was still a fascinating intellectual exercise. The manuscript had been damaged in several places, and some of the translations were not always consistent or exact. Likely even if he could decipher a recipe and brewing directions, he'd need to do some experimentation to adjust that into a workable brew. Now to hope all the needed ingredients still existed, or suitable substitutions could be made…

Recovering his obliviated memories was going slowly. He had a single image of himself standing by the Shrieking Shack under moonlight, his hand reaching for the door handle. He didn't know why he was there, though he thought it might be late fall or early winter. There had been a fragment, opening the door to one of the potion's labs to see one of the seventh year Slytherin girls, robes in a puddle on the floor, straddling a male who was not dressed in student's uniform pants, the expanse of her pale skin hinted at by the shadows. There had been a startled squeak and a flash of light accompanied by ‘Obli' which must have been the obliviate spell. A feeling of walking into the Slythein common room, which stank of fear and blood and something else… Not enough to make sense of what was missing, but enough he was certain it had been multiple occasions with different people messing with his memories. The very idea made his skin crawl.

In August he was dragged away from his research into the old manuscript concerning a potion which he now suspected had once been commonly used on captives who were then sent to Roman brothels, and still later by lords after the fall of Rome who wanted to silence and humiliate their rivals, or lacked a healthy son to follow their footsteps. August witnessed Riddle calling for vast quantities of potions to treat all manner of combat injuries, and the discovery Riddle's list had narrowed to three couples. Frank and Alice Longbottom had produced a son named Neville on July 30th. Hans Brenmauer, a German wizard who had been resisting invitations to join Riddle, and his wife had welcomed a son named Erwin early on July 31st. Last on the list were James and Lily Potter, who'd had a son named Harry on July 31st. Riddle's followers were making determined efforts to find the three couples, all of whom had gone into hiding. Occasionally, one or the other of the adults would be sighted, often resulting in fierce battles, which meant injuries, which meant brewing more medicines.

September was tense, with a vast number of medical potions still being requested. He'd also been ordered to brew a batch of a potion used to muddle wits, one which couldn't quite be classed as mind control, but certainly helped persuade people. More importantly, it didn't show up in tests for true mind control potions, mind altering spells, or the confundus draught. There were also requests for potions to counteract insufficient sleep, though he was not told whom they were intended for. Riddle had a number of private meetings, both in the manor and elsewhere, likely for those who didn't trust enough to reveal the manor to, or else he felt too poorly behaved.

September's tensions and frantic activity bled into October. The tension didn't ease, and there was a subtle darkening of Riddle's mood. Severus hadn't seen it, but he suspected one rather irritating wretch had been consumed by Nagini, considering the reedy voiced fool was gone and Nagini drowsing in the sunbeam with a rather large lump in her body. This was at the same time not surprising and also quite horrifying.

Then in the last gasp of October, Riddle seemed enervated and gleeful. He was smiling as he paced and plotted, and on the afternoon of October 31st he called three of his loyal followers, the ones marked with the big black skull and serpent, and they all vanished.

In an effort to calm his nerves, he went to his lab and began to brew. Calming potions, stomach soothers, bruise balm and blood replenishers. Salve for muscle aches and a potion to heal cracked bones. Headache draughts and ulcer medications. He paid little notice when the sun went down, barely sparing the attention to light a few candles. He paid less attention when the sun rose again. He finished up his last cauldron, pulling the headache relieve off the fire and leaving it to cool, then stumbled out of his lab. He wasn't certain how he'd found himself sitting on the couch in his sitting room, but it seemed like a splendid idea. And then he closed his eyes for just a moment…

Then he was half curled on the couch with the most awful crick in his neck, his eyes gummy and scratchy, his mouth tasting like some of the fouler potions had tried to mingle on his tongue, and his skin itching. He staggered towards his bathroom, shedding clothing the whole way, frantic to feel clean. It was only as he was toweling himself dry that he realized he was quite ravenous. He pulled on the first clean things he could reach, and gave a mumbled request to the house-elf – "Korti? I'd like some food, and strong tea."

By the time he'd managed to find socks – and the only reason they matched was the simple fact that all his socks were plain black – there was food in his sitting room. All the clothing he'd shed was gone, no doubt taken for a much needed cleaning.

After he'd finished the soup and bread, and combed out his hair, Severus found his boots. Something strange seemed to be going on. He cautiously left his suite, finding no sign of Nagini or Riddle.

There was no sign of anyone else at all. The whole manor seemed deserted, which never happened.

Puzzled and suspicious, Severus apparated to the nearest town. He made his way to a hidden pub frequented by wizards, with a faded sign of a green dragon twisted into an odd position, and uneven letters proclaiming ‘the Dansing Dragon' dangling over a wooden door. The building was packed with wizards, drinking and cheering and talking about ‘the Boy who Lived' and how it was glorious news. He'd never seen such a uniformly cheerful gathering.

‘…such a pity about the Potters…' and ‘attacked right there in Godric's Hollow' and ‘glad the nightmare is over' and ‘thanks to the lady of magic' and ‘bless the Boy Who Lived!' came from dozens of throats in dozens of voices, the words and comments overlapping and blurring into a cheerful cacophony.

Severus had a bad feeling about the whole ‘Boy Who Lived' – with audible capitalization, no less – people kept babbling about. Combined with the implication of something bad happening to the Potters, and he was Not Pleased. Any sort of tragedy could befall James Potter, but he wanted Lily to be safe. This was starting to sound as if Lily wasn't safe at all. He barely remembered leaving the pub.

It was nearly midnight when he realized he was being followed by a pair of Aurors in their red robes. One of them, a tall man with red hair, murmured something he couldn't decipher. Severus blinked at him, trying to make sense of what had to be words, had to have been a question. The world swayed a little.

Something in his silence or posture didn't please them, and the second caught his elbow, and then they were in a different place, a wood paneled corridor with brass lamps at intervals. They escorted him to a small room, with a table and some stiff chairs, and asked him a series of questions, which he tried to answer. Some were easier, and sometimes he had to ask them to repeat what they'd just said.

"Mr. Snape," the red haired Auror began, his voice suggesting he'd spent his youth in the countryside.

"Potions Master Snape," he corrected, voice emotionless.

"Alright, Potions Master Snape then. I'm going to have to ask you to stay here for a while, we have some questions and I'm not sure you're quite up to answering them." He continued.

"I was brewing a bit longer than advised," Severus murmured, his mind drifting. "This… I'm in the Ministry offices, aren't I?"

The second Auror tugged at his elbow, and he found himself escorted to a small room, with a sitting area, and a three quarters wall dividing off two other sections, one containing a sink and toilet, the other a cot and small table. Without thinking about it, he removed his boots and fell into the cot, pulling the rough blanket over his head and closing his eyes.

The fuzzy thought formed, he was showing all symptoms of shock. How irritating.

End part 7.

In the end, he'd been questioned on and off over what had to have been several days. He'd explained he was a recently certified Potions Master, and as was traditional, his mentor, Potions Master Phinius Ulster, had negotiated his first position. He'd been contracted as a personal brewer for a Slytherin alumni named Tom Riddle, who had a country manor. They'd gone away after that, apparently feeling the need to see if he was really a qualified Potions Master.

When they returned, they seemed much more respectful. Likely they'd found he really was a Potions Master, and learned a bit of the reputation of Master Ulster. But the questioning continued, along with questions about the terms of his contract with Mr. Riddle of no known title, about what sort of potions he'd been asked to brew, what sort of books were in Riddle's library, if Riddle had a familiar. News of Nagini seemed to unsettle them, as did the comment ‘of course a parseltongue would want a snake for a familiar, they could talk to each other.' He'd managed not to call them dunderheads.

He'd lost track if it was the seventh or perhaps the eight or maybe more times that they'd returned to question him. Somehow, the phrasing of one of Auror Weasley's questions made the connection in his head – they were referring to Lily in the past tense, as someone who has died. The Late Mrs. Potter.

"Lily is… Lily dead?" Severus rasped, his throat going tense and tight and his whole body going cold. "That… the one thing Potter was supposed to be able to do was keep her safe…"

"I thought you had a falling out toward the end of school?" the other Auror arched an eyebrow.

"I may not have agreed with some of Lily's choices," Severus spoke carefully, still uncertain of the current situation, not knowing how many of Riddle's people were in the Ministry. "But once upon a time, Lily Evans was my dearest… my only friend in the world. For that, I would not want her dead. Though I will not pretend I ever held any fondness for James Potter."

He managed to gather there were grave concerns about Mr. Riddle and everyone closely connected to him. A personal brew-master counted as connected, and so Severus Snape found himself being held in the minimal security wing of Azkaban. It was still cold and damp and unwelcoming, and he was held in a small grey cell without windows. Light came from the hallway, never going fully out but sometimes dimming for what might have been hours. He was given food, the first meal after the lights brightening being bland porridge and weak tea and the other being a thin vegetable soup, a stale roll, and a glass of water, the lights dimming a while after the soup. Dementors drifted along the halls twice during his stay.

The morning after his fifth breakfast of porridge, he found himself taken back to the Ministry. The Dementors were a terrible experience, giving him nightmares and chills. He knew if whoever was investigating, if whichever individual had used a bit of influence to get him put here while they looked closer into his past had their way, he'd likely remain a prisoner of Azkaban until he died. A fate far worse than simple death, and one most people would do almost anything to avoid.

Severus knew he wasn't anywhere close to his best. But the shock had worn away, and the knowledge that Lily Evans was dead weighed at him like an anchor. Most likely, that fragment of alleged prophecy he'd overheard from that melodramatic hack had been Riddle's motivation for going after Lily. Meaning he carried a measure of guilt for her death. A debt he would never be able to repay.

The shock might have worn away, but he was running under the impediments of grief, poor sleep due to the miserable conditions, nightmares, and Dementor presence, insufficient food, and the frustration of not knowing what had happened. Hardly the ideal state of mind to hold a conversation with Albus Percival Brian Wulfric Dumbledore, Chief Mugwump of the Wizengamut and Headmaster of Hogwarts.

Dumbledore claimed to have arranged for him to be freed from Azkaban. Claimed to have been the one force working for his freedom. Blythely assured the Minister Snape had been Dumbledore's spy against Dark Forces, and should be released. Murmured about hostile forces insisting Severus Snape was a Death Eater which, as he must know full well, was the term used for the sworn followers of the Dark Lord Voldemort, often called He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or You-Know-Who. He went on to mention powerful political forces and maneuverings, against which a young Potions Master might be poorly prepared to defend himself. Mentioned the ease by which powerful political figures could arrange for people to disappear, either into an unmarked grave or the cold depths of Azkaban, and hinted such disappearances would not be a new thing.

A week later, Severus was setting up some of his things in a room in Hogwarts, having signed a two year contract to teach Potions at the school. He'd been left with the unspoken but firm impression his other option would be a return to Azkaban. Lily was dead, and would never be able to speak for him again. Alice was in St. Mungo's, and nobody could say if or when she might recover. Ulster… Ulster had served him up to Riddle on a silver platter, and would hardly speak on his behalf now.

Maybe teaching students wouldn't be as bad as he feared? Perhaps he could have interesting intellectual discussions with his soon to be peers? Maybe things would be…

Severus sighed, knowing he was only trying to fool himself. This was going to be miserable. But the food and accommodations would be considerably better than Azkaban.

End part 8.

Severus Snape was the new Potions Professor, with Nicholaus Newton, the Astronomy Professor, as the Head of Slytherin, replacing the recently retired Horace Slughorn. He replaced Sibyll Trelawney, the Divination Professor, as the newest member of the faculty, with most of them being the same individuals as had held the positions when he had been a student himself. His preparations for the new school year included inspecting the potions brewing areas and having the house elves replace anything too damaged to continue using and verifying that they'd sufficiently cleaned everything over the summer. He also made certain there were sufficient stores of many of the common ingredients, which would be used in the lessons to supplement some of the ingredients the students were expected to purchase, or in later years, gather.

Madam Pomphrey also gave him a list of things she'd like to have on hand in the infirmary, very politely asking if he'd brew some of them, if he had the time. He'd noticed not all of the things he remembered being in frequent use were on the list, and glanced at her. "No stomach soothers or bruise balm? Nothing for easing homesick first years to sleep?"

"I brew some of the supplies myself. But I fear the fumes from preparing the medicines for cracked bones leave me feeling a bit dizzy, and every time I've tried to brew the Cinmore's Balm over the last forty years something has interrupted me. Every single time. So I'd far rather ask you to brew it, since the interruptions always come at a time where it ruins the whole batch." Madam Pomphrey shook her head, "And you'll notice the list doesn't include anything for the young witches and their female issues. I can and do handle those myself."

"Every time?" Severus blinked, and double checked the list, realizing he hadn't even noticed the omission of the witch's potions. Something he was quite glad to not need to brew – while well within his capabilities, he'd rather have as little knowledge of the student's feminine cycles and potential contraceptive concerns as possible.

Madam Pomphrey nodded, one hand rubbing at her temple, "Every single time, without fail."

As for the remainder of the staff, it was rather odd. He was informed he had the right, as a fellow member of the faculty to call Professor McGonagall by her given name, which was Minerva. Likewise, he was permitted to call Professor Flitwick by his given name of Filius. So far, he hadn't managed to refer to either of them in such a casual manner. He'd only started to be able to manage using first names with Nick Newton and Ivy O'Leary who taught Herbology after a long discussion about plants and phases of the moon and star ascendancies and their adjustments for potions. The discussion may have involved a little alcohol, but none of them had finished the talk drunk, or staggering. Professor Kettleburn hated his own first name enough that likely only the Headmaster and Madam Pomphrey even knew it, though he'd started to refer to him as Kettleburn, without the title of Professor. Things were still awkward with Professor McG… Minerva, since he felt like she'd always taken the side of Potter and his friends. He vaguely recognized the Muggle Studies Professor, though he doubted they'd ever spoken during his own time as a student, and they spoke in no great depth now.

It was odd in a way he'd not even contemplated before accepting the somewhat better than Azkaban position of Professor.

But the students… they almost drove him to drink. If he'd been religious, he would have been alternately praying for patience and calm or cursing the students to unholy and horrible demises. Had he belonged to one of the older, bloodier faiths, he might have even cause one of the wretched dunderheads to vanish as an animal sacrifice. The younger ones were ignorant, careless dunderheads, with insufficient appreciation for the dangers of potions. The fourth and fifth years, still lacking in appreciation of the potential dangers, were all about the ideas of love potions and ways to get things as fast as possible. The sixth and seventh years were arrogant, self-important fools who thought they knew more than they really did. Someone was going to die one of these days, and he'd be responsible…

His initial concerns were presented to the Heads of House and Dumbledore at the first staff meeting. Dumbledore twinkled, waving one had as he said, "oh, the students are just pleased to return to the castle for the year. Let them enjoy themselves."

After the first month, his words were less tactful. "The dunderheads are going to kill someone at this rate. You are fortunate beyond words none of the wretches have crippled themselves or someone's precious child yet."

"Now, my good fellow, surely you just need to enforce a little class discipline? I'm sure they just don't understand the risks," Dumbledore waved off those concerns.

By Yule, his he'd started taking points in tens and twenties for the least violation of classroom safety. He'd assigned dozens of detentions, and Rolanda had thanked him for the use of a few students for proper broom maintenance, and he hadn't had to chip, dice, or grind the more common ingredients since school had started. After a pair of Gryffindors caused an explosion sending six students – including themselves – to the hospital wing, he stalked into the staff meeting. If those brats hadn't been caught in the explosion he'd have injured them himself. "I ought to turn some of those ignorant dunderheads and reckless fools into potions ingredients! Gladstone had to be transferred to St. Mungo's, and may have a limp for the rest of his life."

"Surely you are exaggerating," Dumbledore dismissed his concerns.

Severus spent the rest of the meeting fighting to control his temper enough to not try to strangle the Headmaster with his own beard. He'd had to ask Filius and Ivy for the details of the meeting later. The remaining five months of the year witnessed ‘the dungeon bat' stalking through the halls, scowling at everyone. Detentions were assigned like Victorian calling cards, and points flowed away like money in the hands of the Ministry. The least observed violation of potions safety would cost ten points – more if there was a chance of explosions, fifty for a chance of poisonous fumes – and a minimum three days detention. One day scrubbing cauldrons, the second preparing tedious ingredients, and the third copying lines concerning what their carelessness could have caused.

He hoped there would be enough letters whining to parents about the mean new Potions Professor for Dumbledore to release him. Twice he raised concerns at the staff meetings that perhaps he was ill-suited to teaching students in such a format. It was a doomed hope.

He tried harder the next year. At every monthly staff meeting, he complained about careless, reckless students who were going to maim or kill someone eventually. Quarterly he insisted he was ill-suited to teaching general, introductory classes, and he wasn't certain he was well-suited for the older ones either. He took hundreds of points within any given month, and assigned dozens of detentions.

It wasn't enough. He remained Potions Professor at Hogwarts. He remembered that in his fifth year, a sixth year girl named Callista Shropshire had been found hung in the common room, a wire embedded in her neck and blood everywhere, staining her nightgown horribly, with bruises on her arms. Slughorn had attempted to obliviate everyone, replacing the image with the idea she'd run off with her Hufflepuff boyfriend. He remembered a voice telling him he'd uncover ‘the secret in the Shrieking Shack', but not what he'd found or who had told him to go. He still felt like his mind wasn't safe enough.

End part 9.

Mid-October of Severus's third year of suffering as a teacher, Nick confessed he was considering retiring. Severus had since learned Madam Irma Pince, the librarian, and Professor Septima Vector of Arithmancy were all Slytherin Alumni with considerably more seniority than Severus. But he had a bad feeling about the manipulative Headmaster… His particularly foul mood lasted until the news of a meeting of the School's Board of Governors on the second of November. A meeting where, if they knew ahead of time, the assorted school staff could present concerns.

One member of the Board was Ascella Black, sure to be concerned with the quality of education and being able to factually claim Hogwarts was superior to foreign schools. Another was Jonathan Weasley, sure to be concerned with the safety of the brats… that is to say the safety of the children, among them his grandchildren and possibly even a great-grandchild. A view likely to be shared by Augusta Longbottom, who was Alice's mother-in-law. He would take the chance to make his case about some of the teachers being very poor fits. He had four names, four cases to present. It was almost enough to make him wish he believed in someone he could ask for luck.

He waited until Dumbledore had made his case, sweeping out in a flurry of robes in brilliant oranges and reds, rather reminiscent of the plumage of Fawkes. Then, Severus slipped into the room where they were murmuring about Dumbledore's report of the first term of the year. "Members of the Board, if I may offer a few less optimistic opinions on a few members of the staff?"

"And who are you?" the aging Weasley offered, his faded red hair a ring around the top of his wrinkled head, round glasses sliding down his nose.

"A concerned member of the faculty. I desire to bring to your attention a few members of the staff who are… shall we say not the best we could be offering to the students?" Severus attempted to evade the answer at this point.

"Do elaborate, young man," Ascella Black arched one still-dark brow, the rest of her hair thickly streaked with grey and piled in a curling mass atop her head. A good match for her twilight-hued robes, which appeared to be a thick and likely warm velvet.

"Cuthbert Binns for History of Magic," Severus began.

"Sweet Merlin, is that ghost still around?" demanded a short man with a monocle and thin, pale hair. "He died my second year as a student!"

"He is. This does not encourage learning," Severus admitted.

"A wholly justified complaint then. Who's next on your list?" asked Jonathan Weasley.

"I don't believe Wilhelm Wessex has even met a muggle in his life, and he holds the position of Muggle Studies Professor. His course materials are out of date, and lack several quite significant advances in muggle devices, some of which could endanger the Statute of Secrecy. He believes muggle Britain is still under the authority of Queen Victoria, who died in 1901." Severus made a gesture, before cutting off the rest of what could have been a long rant. "At best he is not preparing the students at all, more likely he is giving them faulty information. Hogwarts should do better."

"It was a very impressive funeral…" Ascella Black looked wistful then shocked. "Wait, you mean the presumed Professor of Muggle Studies doesn't even know who the reigning monarch is?"

"He doesn't. Nor does he have the first idea what the position of Prime Minister means." Severus couldn't find words for his disdain.

"Next on your list?" Augusta Longbottom insisted, one of the younger faces among the Board.

"Sybill Trelawney, who holds the post of Divination Professor. The woman constantly smells of cooking sherry. Her classes are filled with predictions of gruesome deaths and tawdry scandals. And not one student from her OWL-prepatory class can explain why an individual should have their own divinatory tools rather than using someone else's. She is swathed in fringed and beaded shawls and scarves, rattling with necklaces, and her… If any of you have had the misfortune of seeing an amateur presentation of the Farce of Toulouse, with the over-done false seer in the second act, you can get a good idea of how she acts." Severus knew he was sneering. "I… it is my personal belief the woman is nothing more than a showman of the most melodramatic sort."

"That's three names. Who's the fourth on your list and why?" a lean man, battered by life, with an eye patch and a number of scars. Probably a former Auror.

"The fourth name on my list is the Potions Professor. While this individual is quite knowledgeable concerning potions, his temperament is extraordinarily ill-suited for teaching at a school such as this. He is impatient with questions, short-tempered, shows little sign of humor, and is a profoundly unhappy, bitter man. He holds an assortment of grudges against whole families, and considers the vast majority of the students to be reckless dunderheads attempting to get someone killed or maimed. He had taken almost four thousand points from students in just over two years, and assigned hundreds of detentions. He is not a good choice to teach children, and I strongly urge you to release him from his teaching contract," Severus hoped he didn't sound like he was begging.

"One might get the idea you don't like this fellow," mused Jonathan Weasley.

"A name," demanded the man with the eye patch.

"Potions Master Severus Snape." He held his head firm, his gaze moving to look each of them in the eyes.

"But that's… you," whispered a round faced woman, with laugh lines and a few sprigs of pine woven into her hair.

"And I am a poor choice for dealing with children," he agreed.

"Then why are you here?" the man with the eye patch demanded.

"Headmaster Dumbledore seemed to think it was a good idea. I fervently believe Hogwarts had accommodations superior in all regards to Azkaban, a place I was given the impression I might return to if I did not agree to his terms. I believe the investigation was since determined to have found no legal fault in my actions, but the Headmaster has it in his head I should be here. I do not share his enthusiasm for the idea."

"What is your opinion regarding your employment?" Ascella Black was tapping her chin with one lacquered nail.

"For the good of the school, get me away from the youngest students!" burst out of him before he could stop and consider tact. "I might be able to handle the NEWT-prepatory students, but the ones who have not yet taken their OWLs have no sense of the dangers of potions, and I still have to give detentions for imbeciles trying to throw random things into cauldrons. Of course, I'd rather not trade dunderheaded students for Azkaban, but there must be some middle ground."

There were a few moments of conferral, and then they all seemed to come to a conclusion. "We will find replacements for History and Muggle Studies, perhaps even a muggle-born, since they should be able to manage a few of the details. We can have an expert out to remove Binns by the weekend. As for you, find a replacement and we can have you only dealing with sixth and seventh years by Yule, find a Potion's Master and you can shake the dust of this castle from your feet and be free."

Severus bared his teeth in a fierce smile, pulling a piece of parchment from one of his inner pockets. "I have a list of candidates right here, some of whom are qualified to teach the NEWT students. With your approval, half of them could be here within a week's notice, the others wouldn't take more than a month."

"Then in no more than a month, you'll be a free man, Potions Master Snape," promised Ascella Black.

"For the good of the children," Augusta Longbottom smirked at him.

For the first time in quite a while, Severus felt hope. He would escape this place, escape the dunderheads.

End part 10.
End Education In Potions.
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