Chapter 1 - Errands

"Ah, Severus," Professor Dumbledore said as the staff room door opened yet again. Although this was the third interruption, there was no hint of frustration in his voice. "May I introduce Professor Kimber Alderfer. She will be teaching Muggle Studies next term."

Severus strode forward impatiently and shook the hand of the mousy-looking woman who stood beside the headmaster. She was nearly as tall has he, and he couldn't help but notice the closed expression on her face. Yet another new professor who had been warned against him, he supposed. It didn't matter. What mattered was that he get back to his dungeon as quickly as possible.

He sat silently throughout the meeting. It was only a week after the end of term, and Dumbledore was already discussing who would be next year's prefects. Severus spoke briefly on behalf of Malfoy, knowing Lucius would be irate if Draco wasn't chosen. Dumbledore appeared to realize this as well, and hardly heard anyone else's arguments. This decided, Severus excused himself before they could start discussing the Gryffindors, which he knew was the very next order of business.

Professor Alderfer watched her new peers in silence. Her gaze lingered a bit too long on the Potions Master before she looked back at Dumbledore and she could swear the old man winked at her as a result. Luckily she was just tanned enough to be immune to all but the most embarrassing blushes.

The trouble began for Severus only three days later with a slight knock on his office door. "Yes?" he said testily, looking up from the lesson plan he'd been revising.

Professor Alderfer entered. He smirked as he noticed that she didn't close the door behind her. 'Probably concerned about keeping her exit route accessible,' he thought. He saw no reason to ruin the reputation that proceeded him so conveniently. "Well, what is it, Professor?" he snapped, not bothering to lay down his quill.

"The headmaster asked me to fetch three leaves of devil's snare from your store room," she began hesitantly. He was pleased to note that she didn't try to meet his eyes.

"It is the only other door off the classroom you just came through," he replied smoothly, sounding as though this were the most obvious thing in the world.

"Yes, I noticed that. However I've never seen devil's snare and could use some help identifying the correct leaves." She sounded penitential, and he smirked again.

"I see." His tone was insulting enough to make her set her jaw stubbornly as he swept around his desk and into the storeroom. By the time she joined him, he already had the leaves in hand. He glared at her as she took them, mumbled her thanks and fled. Only then did he allow himself to smile. That was almost as much fun as scaring first year Hufflepuffs.

Only two days later, just as Severus was congratulating himself on managing to skive off another staff dinner, she knocked on his door again. He suppressed a sigh and invited her in as warmly as he had the first time.

He kept his expression neutral as she stood near the door. She obviously had no intention of approaching his desk a second time. "The Headmaster asked me to collect you to attend dinner," she stated. This time she looked at him warily and he graced her with another smirk.

"Tell him I'm in the middle of an important experiment and cannot be disturbed." Severus answered, looking back down at the cauldron of liquid that was only beginning to bubble on his desk.

"I'm not going to lie for you, Professor. That's nothing but dreamless sleep potion. I can smell it from here. If you'll follow me?"

Severus looked up in shock just as she disappeared back out the door. She spoke softly, but in this case with great authority. It wouldn't do for her to tell Dumbledore that he'd lied to get out of dinner. For one thing he'd never get away with it again. He swore softly to himself and extinguished the magical flame with a wave of his wand before following her out the door.

By the time they reached the Great Hall, Severus was leading. She'd nearly taken them down the wrong passage twice before he'd brushed by her impatiently. Manners be damned! If he had to go to the bloody dinner he was, at least, not going to make a spectacle of himself by walking in late.

As he ate, he thought about the new Professor. She seemed to have no knowledge of Potions ingredients, though she recognized the dreamless sleep potion perfectly. He wondered what such an obviously talent-less witch could need that potion for anyway. She could not have been involved in the last war with the Dark Lord, as she was at least 4 years too young. She would still have been in school when he'd been defeated. He was surprised out of his thoughts when she spoke to him over Professor Flitwick's head. The Charms Professor had long since ceased to mind such things and ignored them politely.

"Severus? When you finish that potion, might I have a flask?" She didn't sound as nervous as he thought she should, and he nearly refused her. But at that moment he felt Dumbledore's eyes fall on him. Perhaps it would be best not to annoy the headmaster so early in the summer.

"Certainly, PROFESSOR," he began, purposely reminding her that they were NOT on a first name basis, "though I shall likely not have it finished tonight," his voice was tight, and his gaze remained on Dumbledore. The old man smiled at his discomfort and Severus narrowed his eyes before looking back down at his food. She had winced at his words and he felt an empty sense of victory, which soon wore off. He stood abruptly and excused himself. He finished the potion quickly and set a flask on the desk closest to his class room door before retiring to his quarters. Perhaps the pesky woman would leave him alone for the rest of the evening.

He was pleased to make it through the rest of the week having seen her only once in Hogsmeade. He'd worried at first that helping her pick up the books she'd dropped would encourage her to interrupt him more often. However, thus far it appeared that she was as happy to leave him alone as he was to be left alone.

Just after dusk on Saturday evening he was forcibly reminded that the new Muggle Studies Professor was the least of his worries. He hurriedly flooed Dumbledore to let him know that he would be gone, then ran quickly across the grounds, apparating as soon as he passed the gates.