AN: This tale was nicely cleaned up by the wonderful YenGirl. It was born from a day where everything in the morning went wrong and eventually went right. Severus got to suffer for me.
This is a gift for Pekeleke.
Ranchan-akar's comment has shown that I need to give a time frame for this tale. It takes place about 6 years after the first vanquishing of Voldemort.
A Day of Frustration
Severus rolled over and pulled the thick covers tighter around him to ward off the chill.
Burrowing his head deeper into his pillow, Severus ignored the nagging voice that told him to respond to the summons. He wanted to sleep just a bit longer.
"Severus Snape! Get up now and answer me!"
He was pushing the covers back and sitting bolt upright before he registered that the voice real and belonged to Poppy Pomfrey. He threw on his dressing gown and rushed out into his sitting room, dropping onto the cushion he kept near the hearth. "What happened?"
Poppy spoke quickly while repeatedly looking back over her shoulder. "We're having an epidemic, Severus. I need Pepper-Up and a rendition of ASP's Influenza-Bane. I've used up most of my supply and there are still children trickling in from all the Houses."
"We're dealing with the cold and the flu?" Severus glanced at the clock on his mantle. Just before four o'clock on a Saturday morning, no wonder he just wanted to sleep. It hit him then. "Poppy, I can't brew Influenza-Bane. There're no generic versions as it's still proprietary. ASP is the only company that brews it. You need to place an emergency order."
The Healer's tired eyes bore into his. "I'm placing one right now. I'll send in the forms later, but I need them by noon at the very latest."
Severus searched her knowing gaze before giving in. "I'll start brewing."
Ending the floo call, he went to start his morning.
As he shut the door of his private lab behind him, Severus ran a tired hand over his face. The pot of tea and toast he requested were on the far counter, ready to wake him up. A quick look through his closets and cupboards while he munched on toast spread with jam proved he had all the ingredients he needed. 'Poppy knows that I'm Aconite, Supplier of Potions. I knew she was suspicious, she had to be, but this proves it.'
Memories from years ago swept his tired mind back in time.
Albus Dumbledore rested his hands on the table as he spoke, "Is there any other business that needs to be addressed before we head home for the summer?"
Severus impatiently waited. This was his next to the last obligation before he could quit these halls. He just needed to stop by Pomfrey to learn which potions she needed and then he was gone. Pushing his chair back a tiny bit, he prepared for the final farewell. He wanted to catch Pomfrey before she left the room, then he wouldn't have to track her down.
"I do, Headmaster," Poppy Pomfrey leant forward as she spoke.
Severus bit back his sigh and pushed his chair another two inches back. He didn't think her business would take too long.
"Poppy," Albus smiled at her, inviting her to speak.
"As you named Snape as Head of Slytherin, I think we need to outsource the Infirmary Potions."
Severus jerked his head about, ending his contemplation of the window as he now stared at her. Visions of days free of brewing – at least school brewing – flitted through his mind. He could research, experiment, or brew potions to sell, or do something not related to his craft at all. Read, cook, work in a garden, go for a stroll. He could relax. Albus' answer dashed those thoughts.
"Is there something wrong with his potions? How can be a Head of House prevent Severus from completing this task?"
"Time, Albus. Snape can't be required to spend his summer brewing for us, so he would be brewing throughout the school year. With him being a Head of House, he would also be expected to be there when they needed him. That could lead to a potential problem of time. Either he would be up to all hours not getting enough sleep just to brew for us, or he would ignore issues in the Slytherin House out of the necessity of brewing." Poppy shifted her concerned look to where Severus was sitting. "Either way, he will be pulled too thin."
Severus glanced at Rubeus' face, noticing the tightening of his lips and the way his friend's dark eyes narrowed as he looked at Severus. 'She's right then. Rubeus sees something bad happening to the students or in the school itself because of this.' Turning so he could see both his friend and Pomfrey, he waited to hear her solution.
"I have been searching out a solution since you promoted Snape two weeks ago. Most potion suppliers want an extraordinaire amount of money and have a minimum order size for Infirmaries, but there are a few smaller ones that are reasonable."
Severus couldn't help the small nod he gave at her assessment. His own company functioned in that small niche. Most of his summer and Christmas holidays were spent brewing for the three business Infirmaries whose contracts he held. His was the first company to compete against the bigger firms and now, three other firms had noticed the lack of competition in that niche; namely, supplying ad-hoc potion orders to those infirmaries. Severus didn't mind his new rivals, he didn't make enough to live off of, but it did provide him with a comfortable nest egg just in case.
"Of that group, the one who has the best reputation and whose delivery schedule would work with ours is Aconite, Supplier of Potions," Poppy finished, watching Dumbledore expectantly.
Severus did everything possible not to react. Poppy wanted to hire his company to replace himself. There was no way Albus would agree to that. The Board of Governors would definitely declare it a conflict of interest. Neither party would agree to paying him for what he had been doing for free. Once Pomfrey learned it he was the sole employee of ASP, she would also want to change companies.
"Aconite?" Dumbledore frowned slightly as he leaned back in his seat considering her request. He then turned towards Severus. "What is your opinion of them, Severus?"
Severus did his level best to maintain his standard facade while his brain was whirling. He couldn't promote his company, but at the same time, he categorically refused to slander it. He watched Rubeus out of the corner of his eye as he answered, hoping his friend would give him some hint to the future his words wrought. "The journals hold them in good standing. They're a small company, but always fulfil the requests of all their clients. Those clients appear to be satisfied with the quality of the goods."
Rubeus was smiling, his dark eyes crinkling up at the edges. Severus took that to mean the paths presented to the half-giant were good. So far, so good then. Part of Severus' mind was already designing the contract for Hogwarts, wondering just how much of a discount he should offer. The amount of potions he typically brewed for the Infirmary would make the order of a size even the bigger firms would drool after.
Baby blue eyes studied Severus a touch longer before shifting back to Pomfrey. Severus slowly released the breath he had been holding. He wouldn't put it past Dumbledore to search his mind, or at least he was paranoid enough to think the man would do it.
"Very well, Poppy," Dumbledore smiled, "contact them and see if they can take our order. The contract will have to be approved by the Board by the end of the month." He looked over the rest of the table, waiting for just a moment before waving a hand towards the door. "Have a wonderful summer!"
Severus caught up with Rubeus just outside of Hogwarts' door. "Want to get a drink?"
Rubeus flashed him a smile before jerking his head towards his hut. "Here or at the Hog's Head?"
Severus struck off towards Rubeus' place. "Your brew is good and the atmosphere is better."
The door closed softly behind them, and Rubeus stoked the fire higher before plunking two brimming mugs on the table next to the biscuit tin. Severus took his normal seat and sampled his pint and then he sighed in contentment. Rubeus took a draught of his own drink before he rested an intelligent gaze on Severus. "What's botherin' yeh, Severus?"
Severus studied the inside of his mug as he considered what he should reveal. Rubeus could keep a secret, that much he knew and trusted, but this was his backup plan. 'I'll want to keep Rubeus in my life if I ever had to use it, so I should tell him some.' Looking up, he cradled his mug as he spoke. "Aconite … I work for it. It's my part-time job."
Rubeus' eyelids drooped down until his eyes were half covered as he studied something Severus couldn't truly imagine. Severus knew that look – the hag-ridden half-giant was studying the paths of the future, looking for any pitfalls he could see.
Then those eyes snapped open and black orbs, ones that seemed to see forever, bore into him as Rubeus spoke."Yeh know I can' see yer future paths, but even before I knew it was yeh, I knew this was a good idea. Tell yeh boss to accept the contract. When Madam Pomfrey suggested Aconite, thin's were brighter for the school."
Severus searched Rubeus' eyes, relief filling him. "I'll tell them to make the contract for four years. You'll let me know if anything changes?"
He reached for the biscuit tin as Rubeus nodded.
Pulling the ingredients out and placing them on the table, he couldn't help the smile that curved his lips. It helped to make decisions when you had someone with Rubeus' talents to assure you that you made the right ones. It was part of his attempt to get the half-giant to accept his ability to see the future paths were truly a blessing and not a curse – at least most of the time. They were currently on the second contract, and Rubeus had assured him that nothing was going to change with this one. Severus didn't think either of them, Rubeus or Poppy, knew he was Alistair Ulric, owner of ASP, but he was now sure Poppy knew that he worked for them.
Five o'clock came and Severus slowly lowered the temperature on the Influenza-Bane. The potion had a pale green sheen which was worrying him slightly as he couldn't think of a single ingredient, motion, or combination that should create that colour and he had never observed it before. The explosion happened when he moved to retrieve the large flask he had already labelled. The now florescent green potion shot straight up, splattering against the stone ceiling, and ricocheted back towards the table and floor. Severus cast a containment spell around the area, one he never had to use with this inert potion, and stared at the green stalagmites on the ceiling and the edges of the table.
Frustration roiled through him, building up into a full boil. With his hands clenched, he turned his back on the wasted hour of his time and started on the Pepper-Up Potion. Checking each ingredient for cleanliness and suitability, he prepared them. He watched for any unique colours or temperament of the potion as he brewed. It took another hour, but when he finished it was perfectly normal. Briefly glaring at the horrible mess still waiting for him to clean up, he turned back to the Pepper-Up to find the typically volatile potion solidified in the bottom of the cauldron.
The frustration that had calmed as he brewed rocketed back through him. His hands shook, his jaw clamped shut against the screech of frustration. He dealt with dunderheads for five days out of the week, he wouldn't give into his frustration this easily. With exaggerated care, he placed the cauldron into the sink, before removing the containment spell around the first potion's area. He moved that cauldron as well and then cleaned up the mess, keeping samples of the concoction to test later.
After cleaning all his equipment, his hands, his face, brushing off his robes, scrubbing the table, and setting up everything fresh he started brewing again. He once again checked each ingredient before it went into the cauldron and paid extremely close attention to his preparation all the while double checking his equipment as he went. This time, there was a containment spell around the cauldron as it erupted, so only the ceiling and the area closest to the cauldron were covered in the fluorescent green goo.
One more hour was lost – he now only had five hours to complete two potions of which he knew he needed at least four batches each, and both needed his undivided attention.
"ARGGGGG!" The screech echoed off the walls as his hands curled into fists. Luckily he wasn't holding anything or it would have gone flying. Severus spun about, his back to the mess, his shoulders shaking as he tried to contain his anger. His potions didn't go wrong like this. Not when he double and triple checked everything. Not when he brewed in his private lab. Tears leaked out of his eyes as he gritted his teeth to hold in another scream. His jaw failed to hold in the sob and his tears came in earnest. Slamming a fist into his leg once, he knew he didn't have time to give into his frustration and anger. Poppy was waiting on him, expecting him to have what she needed when she needed it.
The tears wouldn't stop, but they didn't prevent his mind from racing about in an attempt to find a solution. 'A prank! That has to be it.' His anger increased, forcing another sob and bout of tears. 'Someone pranked my lab! Where can I brew now? I don't have time to deal with this!' He knew his classroom wasn't a choice – if whoever could get into his lab, they could've easily done the same to his classroom.
Fighting for relative calm, he dashed his hands across his cheeks, wiping away the evidence of his lack of control. He needed a place that no one could reach, a place with ingredients and a lab. There was only one place like that and it even had a backup supply of the potions Poppy needed. All he had to do was get there.
Striding out of the castle at seven on a Saturday morning without being noticed was easy, getting out of the grounds was just as simple. The walk had given him a time to consider, and now his paranoia was running high. He pointed his wand at himself.
"Effrego totus," the spell was growled out. Severus refused to think of every protective enchantment that he just ended while he hoped to end a possible prank one. He would just have to recast them on his robes again later. Spinning on his heel, he flicked his wand towards the ground and Apparated away.
Seconds later, he appeared in a small room. It used to be his bedroom when he was a child but he changed it when he inherited the house. Now it was his decontamination room – the room he knew nothing could escape once it was trapped there be it spell or potion. Shedding every article of clothing, he strode through the door closing it firmly behind him and headed for the shower. Under the hottest water he could stand, he scrubbed every inch of himself with a soap that would neutralize any potion residue left on his hair, face, and body. Then, dressed in his summer clothes, he headed for his storeroom for his backup supply.
In the kitchen he grabbed a quick sandwich and crisps after he sent the potions through ASP's normal delivery channels, and rinsed the meal down with a large glass of water. Dressed his brewing robes, and after coating his hair with the thick, greasy potion used to keep loose hairs from falling into his work, he headed to his lab to start once again. The potions he sent should be in Poppy's possession in about two hours and that should grant him another three hours to brew the rest she needed and a decontamination potion.
Albus Dumbledore rushed into his office as a high pitched alarm wailed out of one of the many contraptions on the shelves behind his desk. Tapping it with his wand, he silenced it, but couldn't stop the alarm racing through him. Something had happened to Severus. The tracking spell he placed on his Potions Master was no longer working. He left his office and headed for the dungeon. There had to be a reasonable explanation for this, he just needed to see Severus to know what it was.
Thirty minutes later his feeling of alarm hadn't abated at all if anything it increased. Severus wasn't in his room, and Albus' spells showed no one in his lab, office, or classroom. On top of that, nobody had seen him except Poppy, who spoke to him very early this morning. With as much discretion as possible, he and his professors began scouring the school while Hagrid began his search of the Forbidden Forest.
By lunchtime, the entire student body knew something was happening.
"Severus is still missing." Dumbledore looked over the gathered faculty, his expression as serious as Rubeus had ever seen it. The other adults looked from one to the other around the staffroom table.
"He could have gone anywhere to find potion ingredients," McGonagall searched everyone's faces, her hands clasped together tightly on the table top. "Surely there must be a place we haven't looked. Somewhere that an ingredient grows?"
Rubeus' brow wrinkled as he concentrated, his mind whirling with places Severus usually frequented. He had checked out most, but the Potions Master wasn't there. Biting back a sigh, he knew there was nothing in the castle that could hurt Severus, not since the Marauders were gone, and if Severus was going into a more dangerous part of the Forest, he would let Rubeus know as they typically went together. His friend was no fool, and both of them knew that a second pair of eyes could spot more ingredients. The rock on his front porch wasn't moved, so Rubeus knew that Severus wasn't off making nice with Death Eaters.
All eyes turned to Rubeus. He searched their faces, seeing several paths for each of them, but none of them showed them finding Severus. Not for the first time, he wished he could see Severus' paths, but they were still shrouded in darkness. "He wasn' in th' Forest, Professor."
Flitwick compressed his lips before speaking up. "I didn't see him on the school roof, either."
Poppy frowned, obviously anxious about being out of the Infirmary. "He delivered part of the potions I asked for around nine this morning. I didn't see him, but they were in the storeroom waiting for me." She shifted to look at all the gathered faculty. "This is the worst outbreak of Influenza that I've seen in years. If you see anyone looking a bit under the weather, send them to me immediately."
Rubeus watched as the paths for the school-wide epidemic shifted, the duration shortening. The professors who were going to get ill now were going to recover faster, taking Pomfrey's words to heart.
Dumbledore studied everyone as he spoke. "We must find our missing professor. I do hope he isn't down with this illness and can't get help."
The paths changed, lengthening the duration of the epidemic if Severus were found before he wanted to be. Hoping his friend was all right, Rubeus spoke up. "He could be in a lab workin'."
"If that is the case, we will leave him to do so." Dumbledore flashed a small smile his way, but Rubeus could tell that Dumbledore knew something he wasn't telling them. "But we need to know."
Hoping no one succeeded, Rubeus left the meeting.
Drawing in a deep breath, Severus let out a sigh of satisfaction. With the larger cauldrons here, he was able to complete Poppy's entire order, restock his backup supply, and brew his decontamination potion. He adjusted the last vial in its carrying case, closed the lid, and tucked it into a travel bag, one that was expanded inside and feather-light that he used to collect ingredients in. On his way up the stairs to the decontamination room, he grabbed another bag, one that he used for transporting volatile materials, to put his other clothes in.
Using a short hooked pole, he placed his robes and other things into the bag and then placed the pole into it as well, making sure the handle was sticking out. He was taking no chance of coming into contact with the contaminant.
A quick twist had him outside Hogwarts once again, and with the ease of practise he slipped into the castle and to the Infirmary without being spotted. Poppy was working with a patient, so he set the carrying cases in her storeroom and left, not disturbing her. He wasn't in the mood to talk to anyone – his frustration had begun to return the moment he entered the castle.
Severus made it to his lab without being stopped, the random groups of students dodging out of his way as he stormed towards them. The hallway with his lab was empty, thankfully, so no one watched as he used the pole to open the door. He cast several repelling charms on himself before he walked through. As he opened every ingredient storage area and spread out the garments he had worn that morning, all using the pole, his anger increased. How dare someone make him have to do this?! It was bad enough that he had to leave the school to brew, but now he was forced to decontaminate his lab.
Setting two medium size flasks in opposite corners of the room, he strode out the door. Two flicks of his wand caused the flasks to explode, and another had a containment spell – one specifically designed for this potion – blocking the doorway and ventilation shaft. A dark grey cloud filled the room and Severus recorded the colours and locations of the lights that temporarily brightened patches of it. Each light represented a spell or a potion destroyed. A growl escaped him as his rare ingredient cabinet lit up a gentle blue, signifying the loss of the preservation spell on all the containers inside. The orange, yellow, and red lights puzzled him as they were sprinkled about the room in random locations. His lab was anything but random, which meant the lights were on non-related object. The last light in the room faded and Severus closed the door. The potion would have to remain untouched for at least eighteen hours, but the closer to twenty-four the better would be. Turning to go, his eyes widened as the door glowed yellow.
'On the door? Is that how it got into the room? They put whatever it is on the door handle or the wood, and then I carried it in? Yellow, orange, red – does that signify how many times that surface was contaminated with this … whatever it is?' Another thought struck him, sending him to his classroom as fast as he could walk. What if someone really had pranked that room as well? The students were bad enough brewers – they didn't need any aid in exploding their cauldrons.
Using the same caution as he had before, he studied the ingredients stored there and was grateful that none would be harmed by his potion. He placed three flasks strategically about the room and, once he exited, set them off. Once again he recorded the colours and locations of the lights. The amount of light from the warm part of the spectrum increased his ire. Slamming the door, he stalked away to check and treat his office.
The door glowed yellow behind him.
He repeated the same actions in his office, and once he closed the yellow glowing door, his angry steps took him to his one sanctuary, the one room here he could call his own. Severus knew it was going on five in the evening and all he wanted right now was to hide away from every living soul in Hogwarts. His temper was barely held in check, and he knew if one person talked to him they would find themselves visiting Poppy or worse, St Mungo's before the day was over. Reaching out for the door handle, his hand stopped just above it as his well-trained paranoia kicked in.
Someone had contaminated his classroom, his office, and his lab. The fact that his lab was involved made him suspicious of everyone in the castle. Most students didn't where it was, but every faculty member did. He didn't want to believe one of them was involved, but as he stared at his door, he found that he couldn't bring himself to trust that they weren't. He had learned his lesson too well as a student – his nightmares were other people's form of entertainment.
A flick of his wand cast an all-purpose detection spell on the door. It glowed yellow. Severus folded in on himself as doubt, distrust, and anger warred for his attention. With a mighty shove, he pushed all the volatile emotions away. He didn't have time for them, he needed to learn how much of his room was contaminated. Unlike the other rooms, there were things in here that were far too sensitive to just arbitrarily set off his potion.
Using the pole, he opened the door and warily crossed the threshold. The room that normally felt so welcoming, like his own personal haven, now seemed like a battleground, where each step, each touch, might destroy him. Wand at ready, he cast the detection spell on each individual piece of furniture in the room and the cushion near the hearth. They all glowed.
A shudder wracked him as his anger rose. Forcing it away the best he could, he checked his bookshelves – there were wards and spells here that if damaged the books would be destroyed. A small sigh escaped him – there were only his spells there. He continued casting the spell on all his things, including his clothes and bed. Practically everything had an unknown spell on them.
Throwing a shield around his bookshelf, he set out the last of his flasks. Exploding them, he flung the door closed behind him and dropped the pole inside the shield. Every step he took away from his rooms the madder he became. His jaw hurt from keeping his screams locked inside and his hands were shaking so much he couldn't open an unused classroom's door. He finally used a silent, wandless unlocking and opening spell to get inside. Another silent, wandless spell set up a series of privacy wards and shields to keep anyone from finding him. The moment he felt the last one click into place, he released his frustration.
Desks shattered, thrown not only by spells but by hand into the walls. Chairs cracked as they followed the desks. Chest heaving, Severus contemplated the slate board, wondering if he could physically pry it off the wall, and in just how many pieces it would be in by the time he was done. The longer he stood there, the more his anger flowed out of him, leaving him cold and tired.
Severus huffed out the last of his temper and sagged down to a squat, his elbows resting on his knees. Rubbing a sleeve over his face, he wiped the sweat from it and surveyed the damage he had wreaked on this room once again. Shaking his head, he moved his attention to his summer weight garments and wondered if he could sneak into Rubeus' house without anyone else being the wiser. As he wasn't suitable company even for the one person here he completely trusted, he dismissed the idea and transfigured parts of the rubble into a bed and crashed. He didn't know what time it was and he honestly didn't care.