Disclaimer: I do not own anything recognizable from the Harry Potter books or movies. I am making no money from this.

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All these years of teaching must surely have rattled my brain. Or perhaps it was simply the stress of spying; I think that only the Headmaster knows how I feared that the darkness in me would resurface for good under the strain of what I found necessary to do in order to prove my "loyalty" to the madman who I still cannot bring myself to call anything but The Dark Lord. Or maybe there's something to that Muggle psychobabble that Poppy's become so fond of lately and deep down, I'm so afraid of being happy that my every decision is committed solely to making myself miserable.

I fight the urge to snort out loud. That mirror of mine would no doubt feel the need to make a comment. It's already managed to annoy me by bursting out in loud laughter at my hair—slick and oily as usual—this morning.

Mirrors are expensive. I do not need to worry over the cost of very many things; I have always lived very simply. Still, I don't want the bother of having to find another looking glass which suits my...unusual temperament.

I sit down in one of the chairs by my fireplace—not wingback, as many would expect, but thick, overstuffed and cozy, perfect for flopping in after a day of teaching those dunderheads they call students. Classes begin today, the first since the defeat of the Dark Lord. Oh, joy. More dunderheads melting cauldrons and wreaking havoc on my classroom—but at least Longbottom won't be returning this year. He and the Golden Trio are forever out of my hair.

I could have had the Defence Against the Dark Arts post this year. The Headmaster offered it to me this summer; he told me that I had finally earned it. And instead of accepting on the spot as I had dreamed of doing for nearly two decades, I surprised even myself by saying "No, thank you, Headmaster," before I had a chance to think. So, this year's Defence teacher is none other than Silas Nichols-Smith, an egotistical idiot who makes even that twit Lockhart look humble. However, at least he seems to know what he's talking about. I may not have to treat him to a demonstration of my—ah—special form of the disarming charm. How very refreshing.

I smirk. Lockhart cannot even remember his own name, but the last time I saw him at St. Mungo's—for I was wounded in the final confrontation—he flinched and said something to the effect that he didn't want to learn how to fly. Or at least, I thought he did; it's hard to tell when someone's gibbering in terror, after all.

Pity.

At any rate, I refused the job that has been among my most closely-held desires in all the years that I have taught here. I cannot help but wonder why. Why, when it was the class that I most wanted to teach, did I refuse when it was offered? Have I begun to believe Dumbledore when he's said that it would be hard to find a fit replacement for me?

He may be right. Potion-making is a highly dangerous form of magic; dire things can happen if a potion is improperly prepared. Potions Masters are rare. Few people possess the subtlety required to become truly accomplished at what we do, and many of those who have it are not inclined to enter such a dangerous field.

Perhaps over the years I have become accustomed to my job to the point of—dare I say—enjoying it. I have a great many experiments in the works for which, as Defence teacher, I would not have time. And besides, though terrifying small children is not high on my list of favourite things to do, I must admit that it's vaguely satisfying to be able to let my personality through and yet avoid the worst disasters at the same time; even eleven-year-olds beginning to feel their hormones taking over will be meticulously careful if their teacher seems suitably intimidating. Or at least, so I have observed over the years.

My smirk grows deeper. Even Longbottom learned a thing or two in my class.

I stand and fasten my cloak over my robes; the dungeons are chilly today. Besides, I have always prided myself on my flair for the dramatic; no better way to sweep into a classroom but with my black robes billowing and my cloak flapping out behind me. Before I open my office door, I fix my best scowl upon my face, though the mirror shows that I still bear the barest trace of a smirk. I leave the office that has become so familiar and sweep through the corridor to my domain.

I have some dunderheads to teach.

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A/N: Just a quick note to anyone who may be following any of my other works in progress. Nothing's been abandoned. I took a fairly lengthy leave-of-absence from writing, so to speak; trust me, I needed it. However, I've been doing some fairly intensive editing on "Gone Quantum" and the next chapter of "Reflections" should be up sometime soon as well, Deo volente.