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An Education In Potions

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Severus Snape had been a very nervous boy when he'd first boarded the Hogwarts Express at eleven years old. He'd been excited at the idea of learning more magic than bits and pieces snatched during brief times with Mother or from turning through her books at night. Her selection was considerably more limited than the school, judging by his required book list, and Mother's focused almost entirely on potions, things which could become potions ingredients, the ways the changing seasons and astronomical alignments could affect potions, and painful spells for anyone who dared to interfere with your potions. He had hopes of learning other things, so when he could live in his own place, it wouldn't be small and dingy and always have odd smells combining unwashed laundry, stale beer, and the lingering fumes of potions.

His friend Lily Evans had also been there, which had helped. He was still nervous, and when he was nervous he became quiet and suspicious and more sarcastic. Lily said it made him look like he was glaring at the world. Severus responded by insisting that the world was full of far too many stupid people. Then he'd gone pale and felt cold, worried Lily would be angry at him for snapping at her and proving her right at the same time.

Lily had understood, and hadn't held it against him. There had been a few other people they'd met, some wanting to rile up or frighten the ‘wee little firsties' who hadn't shared Lily's understanding and forgiveness. Severus was quite certain far too many of them were also stupid, except for the ones who seemed like bullies, which was worse than simply stupid.

A pair of cousins, calling each other Jamie and Siri, had been particularly obnoxious, mocking him for his old robes and the nose he'd had the misfortune of inheriting, sharp and prominent and looking rather like those on some of the old marble busts of old Roman men. Severus hoped he'd grow into his nose, because it looked ridiculously large for an eleven year old – which didn't mean he wanted those obviously rich boys to taunt him about it! They'd taunted him about his robes, about his hair looking greasy, about his nose, about looking sullen and disagreeable and being a ‘useless waste of space'.

Lily had chased them out, one hand clutching the laces of her winter boots, which she was swinging about like a weapon. Watching her beat them about the head, shoulders and defensively raised arms with her boots was a thing of beauty. Severus hoped they'd keep the bloody lip and nose, and wind up with black eyes.

They'd been taken into a magnificent castle and waited to be sorted, and he'd learned that Siri was Serious – or perhaps Sirius like the star? – Black, and he'd been sorted into Gryffindor, which was the red house. He'd felt the defensive glare slide into place as Lily was sent to Gryffindor. He'd eventually gone to Slytherin, and he'd felt more nervous and prickly with every step. Jamie turned out to be James Potter, who also went to the red house. Severus was immediately concerned for Lily, trapped in a dorm with the two boys she'd already tangled with on the train. He was pleased they both still had bruises.

By the time they went to their dorms in the dungeon, Severus was certain half the Slytherin house hated him already, or would for his muggle father or the family's limited funds. He'd been even more defensive and irritable than normal, and snapped at twelve different members of his new house and reduced a third year to tears. Not an auspicious beginning… It gave Severus low expectations for life at this school, though at least he'd be away from his father.

Severus was proven correct in his estimates. He had no friends in Slytherin, and had been put into a small room with two other first year boys. He'd established a neutral near-silence with Julian Vespasian, who spoke fluent Italian and Latin, and felt the majority of churches were lead by hypocrites. On the other hand, Andrew Cobble was an ignorant, barely-literate ham-fisted Neanderthal who couldn't read without moving his lips and had only the vaguest ideas of manners or hygiene. Cobble had spent most of the first three days trying to insult Vespasian and Snape both, though the greatest challenge to his insults was deciphering the thick Cockney accent.

By the end of the first month, Severus had concluded as a rule the Hufflepuffs were far too cheerful and should be avoided. The Ravenclaws would be a constant source of academic competition, even if half of them had no idea what to do with a bit of information once they had it. The Gryffindors… emotional, loud, impulsive, far too likely to follow senseless athletics – who cared about quidditch or broomstick racing? – and less likely to study or use sense in life. It made him fear for Lily's future. As for too many of the Slytherins, they seemed to be caught up in games of politics and schemes to benefit with minimal work, and focused on those rather than on learning.

Why were so many people such dunderheads?

When Potter and Black began to show a fondness for pranks, Severus felt irritation and relief. Irritation because he'd never understood the point of pranks, seeing them as a waste of time and embarrassing for the one hit by them. And relief, because it meant they might not be as nasty to Lily as he'd feared. Though as the months passed, he started to realize their pranks disrupted studies and could be used to cause problems for people they couldn't affect with more respectable methods, and the teachers just dismissed their behavior as harmless pranks, and boys trying to stave away boredom. Potter and Black must have been two of the most bored people in the United Kingdom, and it made him wonder how they managed their class work.

Severus had plenty of time for his own studies. Lily remained his only friend, though she'd made several new friends, particularly a pair of cousins named Alice Sedgewick and Victoria Catchborough. He sometimes studied with his room-mate Julian, though neither of them considered the other a close friend. It took until November to convince Slytherin Head of House Professor Slughorn to move Cobble out of their room, and that only happened after Cobble touched a potions experiment Severus had going – one he'd told both of his room-mates not to touch and placed signs with large, dark print ‘potions experiment – do not touch!' Cobble was expected to be released from St Mungo's around New Years, and he would be switching rooms with Thomas Yaxley, quiet, observant, and Yaxley's boots were more intelligent than Cobble.

Yaxley's comment about his interactions with the rest of the house were to suggest since he lacked impressive family connections, his choices were to fade into the background, collect enough blackmail to be left alone, or become useful enough for his family background to not matter. Yaxley didn't mention the fourth option, of making yourself useful and convenient enough to someone with power to only need to worry about their whims and tastes rather than those of everyone.

Severus knew full well he was too sarcastic and not nearly skilled enough at remaining silent in the face of dunderheaded stupidity to fade into the background. Nor was he anywhere near submissive enough or good enough at pretense to take the fourth option, which was admittedly often more distasteful for the girls. He would just have to observe for potentially useful information while working to become skilled enough to stay unbothered.

And then Potter and Black started doing more pranks, many of their efforts aimed at the Slytherins. It became worse when a pair of Weasleys – Martin and Philip – took this as a challenge. In theory, the teachers should have reined them in, kept their pranks from interfering with the learning and studies of other students. Professor McGonagall had too much to do to properly track and rein in her Gryffindors. It made Severus wonder how it was even allowed for someone to teach one of the core classes and be a Head of House and be Deputy Headmistress, because she was really too busy to give enough attention to any of those positions. Professor Slughorn was too busy with his cultivation of potentially useful social contacts, like the future heads of House Potter and Black, to defend his less important students.

Headmaster Dumbledore dismissed the whole thing as ‘amusing, light-hearted pranks'. Or maybe that should have been Light-hearted, because it was obvious to many of the Slytherins Headmaster Dumbledore favored the traditionally Light families, and thought they could never do anything with intent to cause harm – harming someone wasn't Light, therefore they couldn't intend to do that. And he seemed to view Light as interchangeable with Good and Dark as interchangeable with Evil, which was not only a vast oversimplification of current Ministry classifications but also wrong. While there had been many evil people from traditionally Dark families, there had also been evil people from Light families.

Severus was trying to learn exactly what made someone Dark or Light anyhow. It assuredly wasn't a question of good or evil. Nor was it a matter of how nice a person might be, because one of the nicest, friendliest people Severus had ever met was a third year Hufflepuff named Persephone Alektios, from an old Greek family long associated with the Dark. She was appallingly friendly, excelled at Herbology, and while absent-minded and for some reason obsessed with pomegranates, she was just… nice. She had the sort of features which weren't quite pretty, but suggested she would be quite striking once she'd grown into her nose and firm brows, like some great queen of antiquity.

On the other hand, the Potter and Weasley families were counted as Light, and both seemed obsessed with pranks and quidditch, though it might be just a bit biased to judge by the ones at school. Severus refused to accept quidditch or pranks as a basis for classifying someone as Light or Dark. He'd been listing the families at school, identifying which were associated with Light or Dark and trying to make sense of it all.

Lily hadn't laughed at his confusion, sharing it herself. Gryffindor didn't give any more of an explanation of Light and Dark than Slytherin had. The question intrigued her, and she had volunteered to add to his lists as much as she could.

By his third year, he'd secured a place of pride among the Slytherins, consistently top in his year in Potions and within the top five for Defense. He'd even regularly been assisting students from fourth and fifth year for their potions, generally willing to help in exchange for potions ingredients, or new spells outside of the curriculum, or useful information regarding potions. More of them were willing to help against Potter and Black, mostly to preserve their potions tutor rather than any sense of affection. He'd found himself in a pattern of mutual loathing mixed with respect for their skills with Potter and Black, pure loathing for their year-mate Pettigrew, and a confused dislike for Lupin. Lupin didn't participate as much, but not once did Severus see the taller boy even try to stop Potter and Black.

He and Lily had a few ideas about the Dark-Light question, slowly pieced together over the years. Many of the Darker families traced back to Celtic or Nordic roots, and had some traditions involving natural cycles and giving back to the lands. Some even admitted perhaps previous generations had sacrificed birds, rabbits or swine at important dates, though of course such things were in the past. Rumors that any family had ever sacrificed anything more were all just malicious slander best not repeated. Light families seemed to trace more commonly to Roman or Frankish roots, and seemed more about directing things according to human will.

Lily's first reaction had been confusion. After all, so many philosophers and fiction writers in the muggle world, thought some of the philosophers were from before the Statutes of Secrecy and the related muggle-magical separation, insisted the effort to bend nature and others' behavior to their own will was of the Dark, while the Light was all about compassion and forgiveness and the expanse of knowledge. Severus had understood her confusion, sharing it himself. Except many of the Celtic and Nordic traditions involving the natural cycles included blood sacrifice. While there were extensive arguments over just how much of those traditions remained in face of the growing official stance discouraging any sort of blood sacrifice or use in rituals or potions, the simple fact was most families had been identified as Light or Dark centuries ago and remained counted in the same category now.

Such a strangely simple thing to separate someone over. Centuries-ago Grandpa's willingness to ritually kill an animal at solstice forever marking a family as ‘Dark'… How was slaughtering and then eating an animal at solstice that much different from being willing to kill and eat the same animal at some date of no astronomical significance? How was keeping a family unified through a meal of grilled rabbits at a celebration on the spring equinox any worse than a meal involving hams and abundant sweets during the spring holiday called Easter?

Lily was right, magical people were strange folk.

End part 1.

Never the most social of people, Severus remained rather limited in his interactions during his years at Hogwarts. Some of the other Slytherins taught him bits and pieces of magical tradition in exchange for potions tutoring. He'd stabilized into reasonably polite study arrangements with a few Ravenclaws, some of which involved exchanges of knowledge and others just the occasional deciphering of various hand-written texts. Severus was much better at reading anything described as angular-spiky, Glorianna Brabbant excelled at open-loopy handwriting, Oliver Kinsey did well with angular-blocky, and a baffling Ravenclaw called Geminus Powell who refused to use he or she for personal references was the unquestioned expert at deciphering left handed scrawling, being a lefty theirself. He wasn't afraid to admit his first impossible crush was on Persephone Alektios, and he was quietly distraught when she left after taking her OWLs, with rumors about having an arranged marriage in Greece.

Through it all, Lily was his best friend. Quite a few other Slytherins objected to this, citing her lack of heritage. Calling her pushy and temperamental and an intruder. Calling her, like others of muggle parentage, a mud-blood. Julian said he'd lost count of the times Severus' friend Lily Evans had fought with someone for one of her causes or after being insulted. Severus would nod, but he could tell the exact number of times.

Third year, with the beginnings of elective classes, had made the class-work more difficult. Severus learned most of the wanded classes considered the first two years ideal for a basis in theory, with the later years good for increasing magical use and demand, which would have another sharp increase if they took the classes at the NEWT preparatory level. Severus had opted for Arithmancy, Runes, and Healing with semester classes in Household Magic, Household Maintenance and Home Modification, and the options to gain additional languages at a rate of one per month for the rest of his time at Hogwarts or until Madame Pomphrey determined he needed to change his language-acquisition schedule.

It also marked James Potter deciding he wanted Lily to date him. This meant his hostility towards Severus increased, viewing Severus Snape as a rival for Lily's affections. Lily, naturally, wanted nothing to do with dating James Potter. She even called him an arrogant toe-rag, a braggart, and a publicity-seeking show-off with delusions of merit.

Though only to himself, Severus would admit that Potter did possess a few areas of talent. He was quite talented at flying, such that even the Slytherins who hated his family and behavior admitted he could fly. Potter was also quite talented at Defense and Transfiguration, such that if he ever put the folly of pranks behind him, he could do amazing things. Except Potter was too determined to have what he considered fun.

Severus had no intention of telling anyone how James Potter's determined, if inept, pursuit of Lily had caused him to see her in such a way as well. And Lily was wonderful… Lily was his second crush. Possibly third if one counted an impossible wistfulness for one of the HolyHead Harpies chasers, Amanda Stratford. But Severus didn't count an impossible tangle of lust and admiration for someone not only a decade older but whom he'd never even seen in person as the same thing at all.

Tensions in the Slytherin dorms only increased. More and more students were complaining about the many mud-bloods and how mud-bloods had no respect for old traditions. How they kept bringing in their muggle clothing and muggle holidays and muggle food, talking about their muggle ways and wanting everyone to act just like muggles, but with wands. Some had even started muttering about how mud-bloods should be put back in their place, or dealt with. Fights with spells and occasionally knives were becoming more common.

Lily and a Hufflepuff named Aaron Galackowitz had managed to create, just before winter break in their fifth year, a runic project which would enable a muggle electrical device to run on ambient magic. Their proof of concept for their runic array had been a muggle record player, and there had coincidentally been more than a few muggle records on hand. They'd started gently, with their in-class demonstration being a record of Beethoven's compositions, followed by a second record with classical orchestra pieces. Then, after class they'd began to play the Beatles, and Celtic folk songs and Ziggy Stardust. They'd played Queen and Led Zepplin. Few of the magically raised had any idea muggle music could sound like that.

Someone had managed to get copies of the runic array onto other record players. Severus still thought there had been a few special plants added to some of the snacks served at the resulting Hufflepuff party, the smoke escaping from beneath their door had been particularly pungent. The Ravenclaws had started with an assortment of classical instrumental pieces and somehow wound up with things involving loud guitars and shouting with a great many drums. Gryffindor had started into the debate of Beatles or Elvis, with no clear winner. And a riot had broken out in the Slytherin dorm when someone had played Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, resulting in almost thirty students needing treatment from Madam Pomphrey.

He'd have thought that was much more amusing if he hadn't wound up with a five inch slice along the bottom of his left arm and a cracked jaw from the brawling. And he had no intention of ever telling anyone how he'd bitten the arm of the person trying to smash him against the floor.

For that matter, it was a small miracle he managed to remember anything from the second half of his fifth year, what with the frantic preparations for OWLs, the rampant rumors, the increasing hostilities, and the recurrent loud music at all sorts of unpredictable times, including once at three in the bloody morning. These all contributed to the increasingly frequent fights among Slytherins, with spells and knives and fists and occasionally flung books and chairs used as weapons.

Several people were almost certain Remus Lupin was an unregistered werewolf, including Glorianna Brabbant and Thomas Yaxley. Though a few in Slytherin, among them that idiot Cobble, had fallen in with the absurd theory proposed by Malcom MacMillan and his girlfriend Hannah Trancy about Lupin really being a girl, and ‘she' dating at least one if not more of ‘her' room-mates to compel them to keep ‘her' secret. Severus alternated between thinking even Dumbledore wouldn't be mad enough to think a werewolf would be safe at a boarding school and thinking he'd consider the whole thing quite amusing so long as none of his favored students were harmed.

Her dorm-mate Lydia LeStrange was convinced Alecto Carrow had been pregnant in early February, but had managed somehow to miscarry before it would become obvious. As Alecto Carrow wasn't known to be involved with anyone, and in fact her brother Amycus was almost rabidly over-protective of her, this theory raised more than a few eyebrows.

One of the seventh-year Weasleys over in Gryffindor had quite publicly asked his girlfriend, the shy, dark-complected Priyana Muniyappa, to marry him after Gryffindor's last quidditch game. The other had asked a muggle-born Hufflepuff named Natalie Reed. Muniyappa had accepted her Weasley, Severus had no idea if the Hufflepuff had done the same.

He didn't have much in the way of clear memories during OWL exam week. A few fragments of a food-fight starting between Potter, Black and a pair of Weasleys, which had grown to include most of the Gryffindors and part of the Hufflepuffs. Black had, quite gloriously, wound up with a pitcher of cream spilling all over his face. A pair of the sixth year Slytherins – Willahelm Langley and Ruben de Aquitaine - had managed a partial duel in the common room the day he'd taken his Charms OWL, and both had been dragged away to the hospital wing. And a third year Ravenclaw from the Lovegood family had wound up in a screaming match with a Gryffindor about whether or not Tyranolagomorpha were real or just made-up tosh.

Except by the time he made his way onto the train to go back to King's Cross in London, there were rumors he'd called Lily… but he'd would never call her that. And he couldn't remember any angry words with Lily even nearby.

He'd searched the train for her, desperate to find Lily and learn what had started those ugly rumors. She was in a compartment near the back of the train, with her friend Alice Sedgewick. "Lily? I… there were people saying… the rumors don't make any sense!"

"Why should she even talk to you?" Alice glared at him.

Her glare was a good deal more intense than he recalled and normal. Either her boyfriend Frank Longbottom had been involved in another horrendous exchange of name-puns with Black or she was mad at him.

"I have known Lily for years. And I have very little firm idea of what happened this past week. Such uncertainty is quite unsettling," he snapped.

"You don't remember?" Lily's voice had a tremor. "Look me in the eyes, Sev."

For several long moments, Lily stared into his eyes, her frown changing from suspicion to dismay. "How many spells have you been hit with in the last week? What's been going on down in the dungeon?"

"Too many, and nothing I want to talk about," Severus slumped, his forehead resting against Lily's. "You have no idea how many morons are blathering on about how their ancestry makes them superior, and how they want to put the… put those they consider unworthy in their place. But they've got it all wrong, they have no idea who is or isn't worthy, and it isn't all about ancestry. Though that seems to help a good deal with money. Money clearly matters a great deal in either world."

They'd had a long, awkward talk, involving house rivalries, blood prejudice, the frequent pureblood incompetence, and an astonishing variety of jinxes, hexes and curses. Worse, their long talk had involved discussing their feelings. And then they hatched out a plan, which they promptly swore Alice to secrecy concerning, before involving her with later revisions. He would give Lily information he learned among the snake-pit of the Slytherin dorms. Lily would get the information to Alice, who had a number of relatives in law enforcement. Criminals might be dealt with and plans thrown into disarray. There was a long history of anonymous tips, and an even longer history of people wanting to stay anonymous to avoid the retaliation of being labeled a tattle-tale or an informant, or even the nastier term spy.

But for it to work, he and Lily had to maintain an appearance of continuing friction and anger. The past few years had vastly improved his silent glare, and Lily had improved menacing temperamental snarls to an art. It hurt to glare and stalk – Severus Snape did not stomp like a petulant child – away from Lily. Far too much of their future communication would be by way of letters transported by a particularly bland looking owl.

Lily was worth the trouble. He just hoped they could accomplish enough to make the charade worth it.

End part 2.

His sixth year was dreadful. Pretending a quiet indifference or angry scowl at Lily in the halls hurt. Not partnering with her for Potions or Herbology stung, like he'd been asked to work without both hands, or someone had switched one of them for a foot instead. No longer being able to sit beside her in the library to ask about the latest tricky bit in Charms.

No longer arguing about the use of mud-blood in the Slytherin Common room, though he made a point of being too caught up in his own works to be expected to join any of the discussions. He'd only had to threaten dismemberment twice, maiming half a dozen times, and being cut for fresh wizard blood just over thirty times during the school year. Quite an improvement from what little he could recall of his fifth year.

Rumors were spreading about a mysterious wizard called Lord Voldemort. Nobody seemed quite certain where he was from, perhaps somewhere on the Continent? He seemed to want to make big changes in political directions, and was gathering a lot of support from Dark families, or traditionalists. He talked about stopping the influx of muggle ideas, stopping the erosions of traditions, too often done with the excuse of easing the way into magical society for the muggle-born.

Not that muggle-born were really allowed to properly join magical society. Menial jobs as clerks and secretaries, register-minders or back-room production crew for stores, an assortment of housekeeping for those who couldn't afford house-elves, or marrying someone, likely someone of mixed heritage or one of the assorted poor full-bloods, the sort who didn't make much fuss over being ‘pure-blood' for the requisite seven generations because they hadn't the coin to make a fuss with. Sometimes they could manage being private tutors. Or an assortment of illegal jobs, none of which Severus or Lily heard more than bare hints. Just enough to know there were a large number of illegal occupations, and most of those didn't care about your ancestry.

There were only two things close to a benefit. Firstly, Potter wasn't getting any closer to Lily than he could be. In fact, while Severus didn't know the details, Potter had apparently asked in just the wrong way at just the wrong time and wound up in the hospital wing instead of Transfiguration. Severus suspected Lily might have tried to write to Petunia again – her sister had potential and intelligence, but could be such a spiteful… there were no polite words, though he knew quite a few impolite ones. Secondly, Thomas Yaxley had managed to arrange an introduction to a Potions Master, Phinius Ulster. They'd exchanged a number of letters where the Potions Master was obviously testing his understanding of the field, and it was starting to look like he might be able to apprentice under Master Ulster after he graduated from Hogwarts.

Severus, like many students, left the castle over the holiday break, which he knew older magical tradition had called Yule, and had been grudgingly changed to ‘winter holiday break' on the official documents ten years after Dumbledore became Headmaster. Another decade and it had started to be spoken of as ‘the Christmas holiday break', in reference to the holiday known to most of the muggle-familiar students. This was exactly the sort of eroding traditions many of the magicals were upset about, and Dumbledore was one of the leading figures.

Severus just didn't understand why the Headmaster would seek to erode magical tradition so thoroughly. The Dumbledore family was a long established magical name, going back at least six centuries, though the Headmaster, his surviving brother – and hadn't that been a surprise, the Headmaster having family! – and a deceased sister, were counted as half-bloods, as their mother had been either muggle-born or the daughter of a muggle-born. Information was a bit difficult to discreetly find, though the Dumbledore family had made their income from bees, selling honey and beeswax, as well as bee stingers, wings and antennae as potions ingredients. The Dumbledore apiary had been sold shortly after the death of Percival Dumbledore, father of Albus, Aberforth, and Ariana Dumbledore.

That winter break, though Severus hadn't intended to celebrate any holiday, regardless of name or tradition, he had a meeting with Potions Master Ulster. The man had been quite tall and rather thin, with wisps of ash-grey hair and eyes scarcely any darker. They had talked in person, and Severus had found the man's almost whispery voice, which he'd explained as damaged by decades of potions fumes. After several hours of discussion, Severus had signed a contract, where so long as he received at least an Exceeds Expectations for his potions NEWT as well as three other passing NEWT scores, he would become Master Ulster's apprentice until he made his Mastery, or twenty years, whichever occurred first. As an additional clause, traditionally used to ensure Potions Masters got off to a good start, Potions Master Ulster would have the right to negotiate Severus' first job as a Potions Master.

Such an opportunity seemed almost too good to be true. Everything in the contract seemed in order, there were no hidden clauses… maybe Severus was just too suspicious. Maybe for once, things were going in his favor.

Things seemed to be going almost too well for the rest of sixth year. Oh, the teachers piled homework and quizzes on them as if they expected a sudden demand from the Ministry that each student be ready for their NEWT exams the next Monday. Fighting from stress and politics and blasted hormones more common than Severus could ever remember, and Slughorn was who-knew-where doing anything but deal with the mess as a Head of House should. Hardly two days could pass without someone needing to see Madam Pomphrey, and far too few of those visits were for the witches' biology being unkind. From what his study partners said, Ravenclaw was in a similar state of high tension, with more stress induced hysterics and fewer spell-fights, and quite a few needing medical assistance for over-use of wit-sharpening potions, sleep-replacers, pepper-up from studying by drafty windows, or study-accidents. A few had even managed to overdose on calming potions in an effort to avoid hysterics.

During one of his visits to the infirmary, the result of not getting behind solid cover fast enough when the quidditch team started arguing again on how and why they'd lost to Hufflepuff, he'd chatted with Madam Pomphrey about the mood of the castle. While he remembered things getting tougher after the holidays, this year seemed more intense than previous years.

Apparently, the various political maneuverings of the traditionalists and the progressives and whatever name they were using for Lord Voldemort and the moderates which meant Dumbledore's faction were becoming more heated. Which meant politicians and lowly ministry employees were feeling the pressure, and sharing it with their families, including children off at boarding schools. So this year was worse, though the problems had always been there. It was quite unfortunate for all the students, especially the youngest, who weren't ready to defend themselves from the pressures and dangers.

It was enough to give him moments of feeling sorry for the youngest students. Those moments didn't last long, but they did make brief, uncomfortable appearances.

Seventh year seemed to rush past, in a blur of secret brawls and walking on in too many people snatching passionate moments – often with questionable people in poorly chosen locations. No doubt another reaction to all the pressure and stress. Over the course of the year, almost a dozen girls from the fifth, sixth, or seventh years would be reported as ‘suffering from lucinam iustosque.' A consultation with the Latin dictionary helped Severus figure out was a natural consequence of their poorly chosen rendezvous with their paramours. A few more managed to be fortunate enough to time their few days to a few weeks away from school with the winter break.

Severus had no idea what happened to the resulting infants, or if in fact any of them were delivered and alive, or if some might have… dealt with matters using less wholesome methods. He had too many other things on his mind to worry about the possible illegal dealings of in at least two cases influential families, a multitude of hormonal teenagers, a probably comparable multitude of unhappy adult relatives, questionable medical habits, and the potential whereabouts of infants. Infants were certain to be even more frustrating than first year students. He had school work to focus on. He had to fend off the amorous advances of Mircalla Le Fanu whom he was certain was only trying to make the young wizard her family wanted her to marry go away, since he was almost certain her true affections were reserved for a witch in Ravenclaw, Nora Brunswick. He was continuing his correspondence with Master Ulster as well as working on ideas for his Mastery research.

And he'd found a minor spell to disguise his handwriting to send letters to Alice by way of Lily. Most of them had rumors, or names which bore further investigation. A few had some of the bits and pieces of plotting he'd overheard, in one case a plot to rape an heiress in Hufflepuff, thus forcing her to wed someone who would take control of her inheritance, and in another to poison the Ravenclaw seeker with what could easily have been a fatal dose.

While Severus felt far too many people were making poor choices for liaisons and partners, who was he to argue with their right to choose? But the idea of rape offended him on deep levels, in addition to breaking several of the oldest magical laws and traditions. If the rumors were correct, such actions would make the instigator or instigators – in fact, everyone but the victim – incapable of several acts of higher magic, more than a few rituals, and incapable of making a whole category of healing potions. And while he knew some people thought a great deal of Quidditch, he hardly thought who won a game was worth killing over, especially at a school.

He had no idea what investigations or results may have come from the majority of the rumors he passed on to Lily to give to Alice. But the would-be poisoner vanished, with only a flurry of rumors giving eleven different ideas as to what may have happened. The would-be rapist was carted away by a pair of Aurors, and sported several highly visible bruises. The Daily Prophet later reported he'd been found guilty of plotting line-theft and intended rape, though there was insufficient evidence to determine if he planned to kill his near-father-in-law and intended victim/bride, neither of whom were named for their protection. For his crimes, the would-be rapist was to have his magic bound and to be cast out of the magical United Kingdom, with a claim that he would be monitored to prevent future violations of the laws.

Severus wondered if anyone had thought to obliviate the scum before sending him away. Binding his magic would hardly enforce proper behavior. Removing magic as a method would limit his options for causing problems, but it wouldn't stop them all, and it still wouldn't prevent him from attempting any further assault. It would only limit his list of potential victims by excluding those in possession of magic and training.

He would be so pleased to graduate Hogwarts. Then he could leave all the dunderheaded drama and stupidity behind and fling himself into a study of potions. His growing sense of caution had prompted him to begin corresponding with some of the older students he'd been on tolerable terms with, so the idea of him sending and perhaps receiving letters became common-place, and not a reason for suspicion at all. Most of these people were some of the Ravenclaws he'd studied with, or a few individuals who'd mentioned family connections to sources for potions ingredients. All perfectly understandable for his interests… and maintaining a connection and civil terms over letters was far easier than speaking in person.

Unfortunately, Lily returned from winter break looking horrible. She wasn't sleeping well, based on the dark circles under her eyes and waxy skin, as well as Alice's concern. She wasn't fighting with anyone, or sending angry hexes, and had gone nearly silent in classes. Potter had taken to following her around, like an over-protective puppy. And Lily was too far gone with whatever had her numb to chase him away.

Severus managed to learn from Alice that Harry and Rose Evans had been killed in an automobile accident over the holidays. A drunk driver had sped through a red light and smashed into the Evans' car, killing Harry and Rose almost instantly. As if that hadn't been enough, the house Harry and Rose had lived in had gone to that spiteful harpy Petunia, and she'd promptly thrown Lily out.

He would have gone and cursed Petunia with a whole variety of spells almost as black and vicious as her shriveled heart except for being stuck at school for another few months. But once he'd graduated, once he'd reached a suitable point in his potions studies… Actually, a potion would likely be a better choice than a curse. There would be time for longer suffering as well as time to get far away and establish an alibi. It would also be harder for the Ministry and law enforcement to detect, harder still to trace the source.

Once he'd had a bit of studies and a chance to ponder the matter sufficiently, he was sure he could properly express his displeasure towards Petunia Evans. Lily was wonderful, and should be appreciated, not cast aside with spite. Not that he was biased, and Severus was quite willing to admit he knew spite. Petunia Ebrill Evans was filled with spite.

End part 3.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

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.