This is a non-profit tribute to the works of JK Rowling who, together with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and situations elaborated herein.

A/N: Spoilers

He was Severus Snape, Potions-Master, Professor of Hogwarts, reformed Death Eater and spy for the Order of the Phoenix. Head of Slytherin House and Albus Dumbledore's right-hand man even as Minerva was right-hand woman. Third in the chain of command in all school affairs. At least he had been before Umbridge turned up and would be again when Albus returned. Why was he still defined by the events of his schooldays twenty years ago?

It was an answer he didn't have. It was a question he'd almost given up asking but this evening's events had forced it on him again. Potter! It was always that brat Potter.

He pulled himself wearily from the chair he'd collapsed into, forcing his hands to unclench, and dragged himself to the door of his office. He glared at the scattered cockroach bits and shards of glass spilling into the corridor. Filch would want to know who and why if he saw that mess. He didn't want to talk to Filch tonight.

"Evanesco," he muttered and trudged on, letting the door bang shut behind him.

Would this torture ever stop? It would be another two years before the brat finished school but it felt more like two hundred. Two centuries in Azkaban. That boy was like a Dementor, sucking away the few good memories and dragging him back to those he most wished to lose.

His lips curled in a self-loathing smirk. He'd told the brat at their first Occlumency lesson that it was only "weak people" and "fools" who couldn't control their emotions, who wallowed in sad memories and allowed themselves to be provoked so easily. He'd bleated about controlling his anger, disciplining his mind.

So where did that leave him? Weakest, most foolish of all, that couldn't look at young Potter without recalling that other earlier Potter and his gang, without seeing hazel eyes replace green and lightning scar fade to smooth unmarked forehead.

Arrogant over-praised interchangeable Potter. Always his breaking point. He could stand in front of the Dark Lord and lie with a straight face and a blank mind but he couldn't spend one minute in the company of a Potter without boiling over into a fury.

"Five points from Ravenclaw," he snarled, seeing the Brocklehurst girl scurrying out of sight in the distance. She must have been "studying" with Zabini again. He'd talk to him later. Not tonight.

James blasted Potter. He'd had it all, everything a young Severus Snape had ever wanted and known he'd never have: wealth, popularity, Quidditch stardom, academic brilliance, friends to stand beside him in a fight and that crooked smile that made everyone worship him. Everyone except Lily Evans - and even she had fallen for it in the end.

"If he'd ever turned it on me I'd have worshipped him too," he thought bleakly with the self-knowledge he'd taken years to acquire and still found as painful as juggling broken glass. "I'd have clapped and cheered, knuckled my forehead and licked his muddy boots." How jealous he'd been of Peter Pettigrew, untalented and unprepossessing, but still part of that confident arrogant group that could do no wrong in anyone's eyes.

His hands had balled into fists again. He swallowed the jagged fireball in his throat and walked on.

"If he'd ignored me I'd have been content to be invisible."

Ugly, scrawny and unlovable as his father had always told him he was, he'd always known the best he could ever hope for was to be unnoticed.

But no, Potter had had to hate him on sight. What else could he do but reciprocate?From their first meeting as new students on the Hogwarts Express till their graduation seven years later it had been constant, gradually escalating, warfare between them except for that one time Potter had decided he didn't want blood on his friend's claws.

Only Potter's friends had always stood by his side watching his back while his own "friends" always made themselves scarce. Afterwards they'd point out that it wasn't their fight and why should they fall foul of the Golden Gryffindors or their teacher-protectors. How could he have reproached them? He'd been too grateful that they tolerated him at all.

It didn't take long to reach his rooms. He paused at the door and wheeled around. He didn't want to speak to Albus either. Oh he knew he'd have to but not quite yet. They had anticipated that the headmaster might be forced out again and had taken the precaution of preparing a method for emergency communication.

Emergencies! Albus had only been gone two days and already they'd spoken twice, once about the Veritaserum toadface Umbridge had demanded – he'd substituted fake serum of course, hoping Potter wouldn't be stupid or arrogant enough to let her realise – and again about the appointment of a student Inquisitorial Squad. He'd also told him about the Weasley twins' firework mayhem. That for once had been almost amusing. He'd warded his own classroom though because the combination of fireworks and potions was just too dangerous.

Once he was in his chambers he'd have no excuse to delay contacting him again but he wasn't ready to face those blue eyes. Whether twinkling or stern they were too persuasive and saw too deeply. He needed a period of quiet reflection first. Time to decide how to plead his case.

Where, then? He wouldn't get it patrolling. Besides he didn't want to talk to students either, not even to take points. As a teacher he'd always managed to channel his irritability into words but tonight he'd come close to hexing that brat into oblivion. Too close. He wasn't going to risk giving his temper free reign on a substitute.

So no Astronomy Tower either. No interrupting amorous trysts to remind him of what he'd never had, he was too explosive tonight to deal safely with miscreants.

And nowhere, most of all not that, nowhere he might run into Umbridge! So no Hospital Wing, no interview with Montague hexed into a toilet amnesiac and half-dead. Fortunately Poppy hadn't asked him to brew anything for the boy; she'd wanted to try what was on hand first. So all that could wait till tomorrow.

The Forbidden Forest it was then. He'd been planning to harvest some night-blooming hyssop from the forest edge. Tonight was as good a night as any.