I own nothing you recognize. I simply play in JKR's universe for fun.
Many thanks to Excessivelyperky and Shandy for looking this over and their suggestions.
I began writing this story in February 2005. It completely and happily ignores the events taking place in the Half Blood Prince. Be forewarned, this fic is novel length with 60 chapters already written. Relationships evolve and action builds slowly.
Severus, September 12, 1997
Newt level potions was definitely Severus Snape's favorite class to teach. No more self-destructive Neville Longbottoms, no more mediocre Pansy Parkinsons, just Hogwarts' best and brightest with a genuine interest in potions. Or at least a very good reason to be in the class and take it seriously.
Sitting at his desk at the front of the Potions classroom, Professor Snape looked up from grading the Second Year's essays on the uses of lavender in relaxation and anti-stress potions. His quill paused over the pot of red ink (Scroll and Quill's special blend, number 8, favored because it stayed blood red even when dry) as he did his customary critical scan of the classroom to ensure all was well. At least with the advanced students, he did not usually find it necessary to stalk and hover in order to prevent errors in measuring or choice of ingredients, let alone practical jokes and horseplay of the kind that resulted in cauldrons exploding and injuries to students. Six years of previous instruction and witnessing the results of brewing errors had at long last instilled a sense of safety into their flat little heads.
The aspect Severus most appreciated about this class was the opportunity to make the students think. Their assignment should keep them busy thinking for the next two hours. After twenty years of teaching the potions curriculum to congenital idiots (Gregory Goyle came to mind in that category) or very young (Who thought it was a good idea to teach potions to eleven year olds?), Severus was bored.
The First through Third Year classes required nothing more than posting directions on the blackboard, lecturing on basics, teaching chopping, slicing, and grinding techniques, followed by watching every move the little dunderheads made to ensure they did not blow themselves up. After almost twenty years, the only interesting thing left to do was to detract House points, assign detentions, and otherwise torture the students (within the limits of the Hogwarts' policies and procedures manual).
Fourth and Fifth Year students posed a bit more of a challenge. They had the capacity to surprise and their ability to make truly serious errors was astounding. Their creativity in practical joking or seeking revenge on their fellow students was unparalleled. It should be noted that the notorious Weasley twins did not become true menaces to society until they hit their Fourth Year. The Weasley practical jokes were often quite entertaining. Severus recalled fondly the time they caused Slytherin's Fifth Year males to develop pink feathers on their genitalia just in time for Valentine's Day. Still, that sort of behavior was not to be publicly condoned if one is to retain discipline. On the bright side, it did keep some of the young men of Slytherin from participating in the Hogwart's unofficial, but annual Festival of Fornication. At least working out the antidote posed a challenge for the better part of the evening and got Severus out of chaperoning the dance.
Unlike the rest of the faculty, Severus Snape did not breathe a sigh of relief when the Weasley twins abandoned academic pursuits during their Sixth Year to open a joke shop. A considerable amount of creativity and originality went into their potions work, something Professor Snape appreciated, even if he could not reward them for it with grades or House points. They were Gryffindors, after all. In retrospective, dealing with Fred and George Weasley kept his wits sharp and challenged his ability to develop new antidotes.
Once Owls were out of the way, the number of students continuing to pursue potions education dropped considerably. At Sixth Year, Potions class was no longer mandatory. It was a highly selective elective class. Students applied to be admitted and could be denied admission by the instructor, with approval from Hogwarts' Headmaster. After five years of instruction by the brilliant, if highly sarcastic and unpleasant Professor Snape, the students who applied knew exactly what they were getting themselves into.
Snape's standards of excellence were the highest among the faculty and beyond reach for any but a small percentage of the most intelligent and capable students. Technically, the phrase 'small percentage' was not entirely accurate, since Severus did not consider even one percent of the students capable of meeting his standards. If, in a given year, one student met his highest standards, it was a very good year.
In the year of 1997, the Seventh Year Potions class included a few students Professor Snape did not accept of his own free will. The most obvious case in point was Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived To Become An Annoyance. From Severus' point of view, Potter's first mistake was being born. His second was not being born a squib.
The year Severus Snape saw the list of incoming First Years included Harry Potter, son of James Potter and Lily Evans Potter, was a year Severus considered changing careers. From time-to-time, commercial potions companies attempted to recruit him for their research and development departments. However, Severus' sense of obligation and self-preservation caused him to stay right where he was.
At a very bad point in his life, Severus made a promise to Albus Dumbledore. The promise could allow for his redemption for activities engaged in as a minion of one Tom Riddle, also known as Lord Voldemort. The promise required Severus to continue his role as a loyal Death Eater, but actually spy on Voldemort and bring information back to the Order of the Phoenix. The intelligence would be used by Dumbledore and his gang for the purpose of capturing, killing, or at least incarcerating Voldemort and his gang.
The need for those intelligence reports changed one evening when Voldemort was blasted out of his body while using a killing curse on Harry Potter, toddler. No one, except possibly Dumbledore, had any idea how the most powerful Dark wizard in Britain could have his body disassembled by a child not yet out of nappies. Most assumed Voldemort was dead. Severus Snape assumed nothing of the sort. Having more than a passing familiarity with Dark Arts, Severus did not accept the common belief in Voldemort's demise.
He did not know exactly what Tom Riddle had done to his body in pursuit of immortality. The darkness of it made it possible Voldemort had survived in a form not yet seen. Severus' work was not done. There were Death Eaters to be rounded up. Severus' knowledge of their identities and activities was invaluable to the process, but the greater concern was whether or not Voldemort could resurface at some future time. This required Severus to maintain connections with the darker side of wizarding society to listen for rumors about Voldemort reincarnating himself. Severus' foresight in maintaining ties with former Death Eater colleagues paid off when Voldemort returned in 1995, intending to take up where he left off in 1981. With the Death Eaters reactivated, Severus returned to his role of double agent, treading a careful and narrow line between survival and dismemberment.
Severus had issues with Harry Potter. It was déjà vu when eleven-year-old Potter stepped from beneath the Sorting Hat to sit with his fellow Gryffindors. Anger and resentment buried for years bubbled up to the surface. It became a continual battle to view young Harry Potter as anything other than a clone of his father.
James Potter was handsome, rich, popular, and rather shallow. Severus Snape was unattractive, poor, unpopular, and deep. James was intelligent. Severus was brilliant. James, in Gryffindor fashion, had it in him to be a bully. Severus, in Slytherin style, had it in him to be sneaky. Young Severus found himself on the receiving end of cruel and humiliating jokes at the hands of James and his friends. He was capable of giving back as good as he got, but lacked genuine friends to back him up. He never got satisfyingly even with Potter and the Marauders. It was a popularity contest Severus could not win and having lost so badly, he resolved never to compete in that arena again. Severus was genuinely bitter.
Harry Potter caught the fallout of that bitterness. The qualities Snape resented in the father were present in the son; intelligence combined with an unwillingness to apply himself to full potential, a lack of self-discipline devolving into impulsiveness. Just like his father, Potter had a small circle of very close and loyal friends. Unlike his father, Potter had the damnedest luck on the planet.
No doubt about it, Harry Potter should have been killed off any number of times. Professor Quirrel with Voldemort hitchhiking on the back of his head, did his best to do away with the boy. There was a small matter of the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets with Tom Riddle holding the leash. Not to mention Remus Lupin in his werewolf form attacking Potter and his friends on a night with a full moon and no Wolfsbane Potion. Voldemort went after Potter personally during the Tri Wizarding Tournament and sent his Death Eaters after him at the Ministry of Magic. And Sixth Year? Well, Potter escaped from Voldemort that time by the skin of his teeth and more of that luck. If Harry Potter had nine lives, he was on his twelfth.
Severus considered the current version of Harry Potter. The boy had grown into a somewhat more adult form. Physically, Potter gained height and put on weight. He was not as scrawny as he was his first few years at Hogwarts, but still slight enough to hold his place as the Seeker on the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Magically, Potter was fulfilling Dumbledore's hopes by becoming a powerful wizard. Pure magical brawn combined with genuine talent and lightning reflexes, Potter was on his way to becoming Dumbledore's weapon.
From Severus' perspective, the signs that Harry Potter was finally growing up gave him hope of holding off the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse attached to that damn prophecy that only Potter could kill off the Dark Lord. He supposed it was the raid on the Ministry of Magic that finally pushed the boy into becoming an adult. Potter finally understood the consequences of his lack of impulse control when his godfather was killed and several of his friends badly hurt. Since then, Potter was more likely to listen, think, and consider before acting, thank Merlin.
Dumbledore still controlled and manipulated the most important aspects of Potter's life, especially those parts intended to turn him into the wizarding weapon of Death Eater destruction. The most important issue was Potter's future after Hogwarts, now less than a year away. How can one make a living in the wizarding world when one has been trained and honed as a warrior? Lacking standing armies, the Aurory is the only real choice left.
To become an Auror, one must achieve a Newt in Potions. Hence, Harry Potter enrolled in Seventh Year Potions class. Potter's performance on his Potions' Owl did not merit admission into Sixth Year Potions. A good deal of arm twisting from Minerva McGonagall, a bottle of twenty-five year old firewhiskey, and Dumbledore's nonstop nagging with sherbet lemons got Potter back in the Potions classroom once more.
Potter was doing better than Severus expected. Although he would never show a genuine aptitude for potions, Potter was more compliant than in the past. He followed directions, read the assignment before class, and turned in his homework on time. Best of all, he did not fool around in the classroom and paid attention to his work.
Of course, wherever Harry Potter goes, Ronald Weasley can be expected to follow. The day Potter decided to become an Auror, Weasley decided to become an Auror. Doubtlessly, someday when Potter leaves with a bride on his honeymoon, the sidekick will tag right along.
Weasley's admission into the class cost Minerva two bottles of brandy, five midnight patrols on dates to be named later, and a promise not to complain if Severus kicked Weasley out if his grades dropped below passing. Weasley was truly living up to expectations and Severus Snape's expectations for Weasley were quite low. Weasley barely scraped by Sixth Year Potions, mostly due to Granger's nagging and tutoring. Seventh Year Potions was likely to be the same.
Granger. Hermione Granger. The single student Severus hoped to find each year, the one with the aptitude for the subtle science and exact art that is potions making. Not that Severus could possibly realize this the first few years she disrupted his class with her wild hand waving and general know-it-all mode of classroom participation.
In those days, Severus believed Draco Malfoy would be the truly special student. Draco was the one who offered correct answers without reciting the entire encyclopedia. Draco could explain the 12 uses of dragon's blood without making his ears hurt. Draco, Severus' distant cousin and son of his boyhood friend, Lucius Malfoy, could be the one to fulfill the dream.
But Draco topped out early. By the end of Fourth Year, it was apparent Draco's superior performance was due to his extensive and expensive tutelage at home in his formative years prior to beginning at Hogwarts. In the Seventh Year Potions class, Draco demonstrated competence, but not the insight Severus had hoped for. Were Draco to make Potions his career (which would never happen because Malfoys live off their investments), he would be a capable laboratory technician, recreating to perfection the potions invented by others. He would never invent a potion of his own.
Severus expected Granger to plateau early. During her first three years in Potions class, Granger was a fount of information, regurgitated out of the books she read compulsively. Granted, she showed skill in preparation of ingredients, perfectly chopped, sliced, diced, ground, or powdered into whatever form required. Severus had encountered such students before. Possessed of a good memory and manual dexterity, potions would be almost easy until it came time to think. Right about the same time Draco was hitting his plateau; Granger was showing she could move to the next level.
Granger could see the connections between ingredients and brewing conditions. Brewing potions was not the same as baking a cake. One can make a cake from flour, eggs, liquid, fat, flavorings, and a rising agent as long as proportions were correct and basic mixing and baking directions followed.
Complex potions were never as simple as following the recipe. The intent of the brewer affected the potion. The phase of the moon, the vibrations of the ingredients, and material of the stirrer could all affect the outcome. An infinite number of factors to consider, all of which must come together properly to produce the potion desired. Potter, Malfoy, and sometimes Weasley could produce an acceptable potion that would do the job, just by following the directions. Granger could produce the superlative potion, because she could see the factors exceeding the directions. She had the insight, the aptitude, and the gift. She challenged his mind, inspired his own research, and offered the satisfaction a teacher most craves, the growth and success of the student.
And the saddest part of it, Severus could never encourage her to pursue it. Hermione Granger could never become a Potions Master.