I. Embers (Word count: 150)

Ah, but Slughorn loved brilliance. He fed it whenever he spotted it, fanning those tender flames until the conflagration finally drew the attention it deserved from others. And of course, those possessing that brilliance always remembered who first fed them that precious, craved kindling, and they were always grateful. It was an efficient system.

As usual, Slughorn ran his gaze over the newest crop of potions students, trying like a happy child to guess which would be the most useful. His attention did not rest long on the scrawny, unwashed boy in the front row. Nothing there indicated brilliance. No, the handsome one in the back with the easy smile and glasses looked the part of this year's shining star, or so Slughorn thought. Cheerfully, he started class, immediately favoring that boy to see if today's guess about brilliance had been right.

Within one lesson, he knew he'd guessed wrong.

II. Kindling (Words: 149)

Severus Snape was not the kind of boy to inspire healthy attention. He was unattractive, rude, and generally unpleasant, but by the end of his second year, Slughorn had to admit that he'd never even seen a potions student so brilliant.

Except, possibly, for Tom Riddle; but Riddle didn't count.

Slughorn had really wanted it to be Potter, but that boy had no interest in potions. Potter's love ran to the showier disciplines – transfiguration and flying – and he'd made it immediately clear that he did not care about Slughorn's favor. Potter did not need Slughorn's favor. He already had everyone's favor. There was no undiscovered brilliance here for Slughorn to feed.

But Snape – unloved, unfavored, unmistakably brilliant if one could see past his exterior – was as yet undiscovered, ripe and virgin territory.

Well, one couldn't have everything. Resigned, Slughorn gathered his well-honed kindling and prepared to fan the flames.

III. Combustion (Words: 140)

Somewhere along the line, Severus had apparently decided that he was ugly and unlikable, and therefore any time attempt to improve upon either was a waste. This was unfortunate for him socially, but it played well into Slughorn's plan. Severus was so convinced of his own repellency that when Slughorn began to favor him instead of Potter in his classes, his trust and adoration for that professor were nearly instantaneous.

By year four, no potion was too difficult, no assignment too big, no exam too frightening. By year five, Slughorn took Severus under his wing and began special tutelage in potions and alchemy that not even NEWTS students could dream of, and Severus aced it all.

Both were delighted. Brilliance flourished. Severus dreamed of revenge and power, and Slughorn dreamed of power and influence. The two dreams meshed extraordinarily well.

IV. Fire (Words: 193)

"Severus."

"Hm?"

"I think you've fallen asleep." And so he had, his cheek pressed to his book, his potion only half put away. "So sorry, professor." A wave of his wand and his project was stored.

"Quite all right, my boy. Same time tomorrow?"

"Yes, professor. Thank you."

Severus went to bed and Slughorn wondered. He wondered what manner of child created potions with such beauty and yet treated himself and his enemies with such hate. He wondered just what brilliance mated with such dark intensity would bring. He wondered at this miserable boy who lost his ugliness when consumed in the act of potion making, whose concentration ate away his scowl and put life in his eyes. He wondered just when Severus had grown tall enough to meet his gaze directly over the cauldron's simmering fumes.

When had Severus' heated but keen conversation became so distracting that it made him unaware of the child's less fortunate features?

There was danger here, but surely not enough to worry about. Brilliance deserved the time he put into it. There was no risk for the dedicated.

Contented, Slughorn put the worry out of his mind.

V. Inferno (Words: 196)

Slughorn had never known a student like Severus.

Concientious, detail-oriented, and possessed of an instinct for creation that Slughorn found incredible, Severus by his fifth year was nearly as advanced in potions as Slughorn himself. The professor was running out of things to teach him. This was somewhat frightening, but more disturbing yet was the discovery that few other teachers seemed to care about Severus' brilliance at all.

This was largely Severus' own fault. He continued to be unpleasant, flinging his hatred at the world at every opportunity. Severus was not a person who was socially advantageous to know, and normally for Slughorn, that would have been the end. A boy who couldn't help him in life was a boy who deserved no attention. Yet, Slughorn could not drop him; not after so many years, so much investment

So much intensity. Everything Severus did was… intense. Everything.

Slughorn told himself that Severus could be taught pleasant behavior. Such brilliance should not be wasted, and while Slughorn waited for that teaching to take hold, he would continue to meet Severus' eyes over the fumes of the cauldron each night.

Slughorn had decided; Severus was worth the risk.

VI. Burning (Words: 174)

The Dark Lord had attacked. The Dark Lord had attacked. The Dark Lord had attacked, and everything was changed. The students whispered in the halls. Professors held secret meetings discussing life and death, and Slughorn began to consider that he really was getting too told for all this fuss.

That night over potions, Severus seemed more intense than usual; powerfully enough that Slughorn found himself being gratefully lost in the blackened hatred of those eyes. He wondered when Severus had grown taller than he was. He wondered why such victory meshed with the hatred in those eyes to create raw, dark fire. He wondered, allowed himself to wonder, if that intensity grew or defused when Severus reached climax.

What a beautiful, terrible idea. Revolting, and yet just forbidden enough to hold a certain… pull. Distracted by the intimacy of his new fantasy, Slughorn nearly missed Severus' final words.

"I'm joining him. Have a good summer, professor." And he left.

And Slughorn wondered, for the first time, just when it was he'd grown so afraid.

VII. Ash (Words: 164)

Gone was the miserable little boy whom Slughorn had known. He had friends now, powerful friends, and – it appeared – no longer feared anything.

"You need me."

"I am beyond your help."

Gone was the grateful child who desired his attention, who devoured his favor like a warm honey. Gone was the boy who looked at him with joy because he'd once been kind.

"You'll never get a job in this country that's worth anything without me."

"What makes you think I'll ever need anything that He cannot give me?"

So much confidence, so much POWER; such strength.

"…you need – "

"No. You do. However, you never took what you needed – even when I was in no position to stop you – and now, it's too late. The Dark Lord wants you to retire. Quit your post by the end of the year… or face the consequences."

Finally consumed by all his black fire, he left, and Slughorn wondered just when Severus had become an adult.