A new life. This is what she was here for. The death of her husband hadn't exactly come as a shock, he was 30 years her senior after all, but she had never quite been able to get rid of that idealistic sense of hope that they'd had more time than that. They'd only been married for three years, hardly a dent in her lifetime as she was now 26 and a widow.
Which was why she was currently stepping onto Platform 9 3/4 to board the Hogwarts Express where she was to take up a post as the new Muggle Studies professor. The rather eccentric headmaster had thought a trip on the train would be an enlightening experience for her, rather than simply apparating or flooing in to the school. She was American and had therefore not attended Hogwarts, but rather the Salem Academy of Witchcraft in the northeast corner of the country.
She looked at the red locomotive currently belching steam onto the platform with no small amount of distaste. She was not very fond of riding by train, she'd had a horrible experience on the Eurostar train two years previous where the train they'd been riding in had unexplicably broken down in the Chunnel. She wasn't clausterphobic, but it was enough to make her think she was. Images of water crashing down on top of her had flooded her brain in mere moments, the unfortunate side effect of having an overactive imagination and a naturally paranoid outlook on life.
A new life, right? She heaved a sigh and boarded the train, quickly found an empty compartment and settled in for the long ride ahead.
What seemed like days later, she awoke to the feeling of the train slowing down for Hogsmeade Station. She gathered her things and stepped off the train to much cooler weather than what she'd been enjoying in London. Before she could put her things down to pull her coat on, an older woman in black robes approached her.
"Samantha Collins?" She asked, her Scottish accent making itself immediately evident. Samantha nodded and smiled in acknowledgement. The woman was probably in her 60s or 70s, her graying hair pulled severely back in a bun secured at the base of her neck. She wore glasses perched on the tip of her nose and instantly reminded Samantha of her dearly departed mother-in-law. "I'm Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall."
"Good evening, Professor McGonagall," Samantha replied, offering her hand. The older woman took it obligingly and offered a tight smile. The woman seemed stressed to her breaking point, a bleak sign when taking into account the fact that the school year hadn't even started yet.
"Come along, we're taking a carriage up to the school," McGonagall explained as she turned towards the station exit. She seemed aggrieved at having to travel in such a manner.
"Another of the headmaster's enlightening experiences, I take it?" Samantha ventured a guess. McGonagall gave a long suffering sigh.
"He is so very fond of making a lasting first impression," the professor answered with a roll of her eyes.
However put-upon the professor may have seemed, Samantha was glad of the suggestion as she was rewarded with a view of the castle in the last throes of sunset. She'd seen castles, to be sure, but none so impressive as the structure that loomed before her. The turrets seemed to pierce the coming darkness, while the lake reflected the last vestiges of the day in its depths.
The thestrel pulled carriage made its way to the massive front doors of the castle, stopping to allow its passengers to step out.
"The house elves will see to your bags," McGonagall said as they mounted the steps. The large doors opened for them and she continued as they walked. "We shall first pay a visit to the headmaster and then I will show you to your rooms."
Samantha paid her no mind as she was now gawking at the cavernous entrance hall she was faced with. McGonagall stopped at the top of the stairs to allow her young companion to regain her senses and catch up. Samantha quickly did so and followed the deputy headmistress to Headmaster Dumbledore's office.
"Peppermint patty," intoned the witch when they reached a gargoyle Samantha assumed was the guardian of the office. Her assumption was proven right when the gargoyle leapt aside to reveal a winding staircase.
"Enter," she heard an aged, but congenial voice call when McGonagall rapped on the door. Once again, she was taken aback by the sheer oddity that was the headmaster's office. A massive desk stood at the top of a couple of stone steps, next to which was a large perch which currently had a pile of ash beneath it. In another corner, there was a table filled with odd silver gadgets that whirred, hissed, popped, and made all number of other noises as they spinned and puffed away on the table. There were portraits lining all walls of the office, some were dozing while others eyed the newcomer with interest.
"Ah, Mrs. Collins," the headmaster greeted her warmly as he descended from his desk. Samantha could think nothing else than that the eccentricity of the office was personified in the form of its occupant. The headmaster wore deep purple robes, the hems of which were of a gleaming silver. His long white beard was secured with a length of cord at the end of which were baubles of varying sizes and colors.
"Ms. Rhodes, please," she smiled as she took the headmaster's hand. Despite his age and outward appearance, she could feel the power he still possessed. He wasn't the defeater of Grindewald for nothing, after all. At the headmaster's look of confusion, she explained. "My husband has recently died and while I am not ashamed of having married a Muggle, I felt that reverting to my maiden name may stop any scandal before it started."
"I am sorry, my dear, I was unaware of your loss. Please accept my condolences," the headmaster said as he led her to an armchair in front of the fireplace. "Please, be seated." He took the seat opposite her, while McGonagall sat herself in between the two.
"Thank you, headmaster. I also wanted to thank you for hiring me on here, despite my lack of teaching experience."
"Nonsense, child, we all must start somewhere. Your credentials are far and away enough to recommend you. Not to mention that having spent the past 5 years in the Muggle world will certainly aid you in your subject. Our last Muggle Studies professor was a pureblood who, while fascinated by the Muggle world, did not exactly have a full grasp of his subject," Dumbledore chuckled in rememberance of the poor man.
"I should hope so," Samantha agreed with a soft laugh. "Perhaps I will be able to extracurricularly indulge in my area of expertise if your Potions professor does not mind sharing a little bench space."
McGonagall and Dumbledore shared a nervous glance before both took a deep breath to speak.
"I shall speak with Severus and see what arrangements can be made. I would hate for you to sacrifice your research in order to teach outside of your chosen area of study," Dumbledore interjected before McGonagall could voice her opinion on the likelihood of the Potions professor wanting to share a castle, much less bench space.
Samantha quirked an eyebrow at the man's name, hoping he didn't live up to the moniker, but smiled in response to the headmaster's assurances all the same. Surely her expertise in the field would get her foot in the lab, so to speak.
Professor McGonagall showed Samantha to her rooms, letting her know that a house elf could fetch her anything she needed.
Her rooms were certainly more impressive than anything she'd imagined. Her idea of a boarding school teacher's lodgings was more akin to that of a monk than the luxurious suite she now found herself in. She had a sitting room decorated in rich hues of burgandy and dark woods complete with a large fireplace against one wall. The room had large, exceedingly comfortable armchairs with a matching sofa as well as a smallish circular dining table set into bay windows with three chairs sitting round it. Empty book cases, which certainly wouldn't be empty by the time Samantha had finished unpacking, lined an entire wall in front of which stood a desk with a large leather desk chair behind it.
Samantha opened the door to her bedroom only to be even more enamored by the environment she was to live in. A large four poster bed stood impressively in the middle of the room, its dark green curtains tied back to reveal the entirely too large bed. The stone floor was covered in an area rug to ward off the cold and a wardrobe stood in the corner of the room with a chest of drawers next to it.
Sufficiently pleased with her rooms, Samantha summoned a house elf to obtain some food. She'd not eaten since that morning and after the day's excitement, was now feeling the effects of having done so.
The next day found Samantha in her classroom, attempting to clean out some of the rubbish that had been building up in its disuse. Apparently the noise she created in her efforts attracted a prowling visitor.
Severus Snape was spending a few moments of his morning walking off his breakfast when he heard clattering coming from one of the classrooms. He had suspected it to be Peeves, as the students had not yet returned from their summer holidays to overrun the castle. Snape pulled his wand from his sleeve and silently entered the open classroom. What he saw was completely unexpected.
The woman had been attempting to lean over a desk to pick up her fallen sweater when Snape entered. Snape's rather enticing view, then, was of her backside as she bent over one of the student's desks. He debated for a moment whether or not he should make himself known, when the woman apparently accomplished her task and righted herself. Pity.
Samantha stifled a gasp when she turned to find a man darkening her doorway. A phrase aptly applied to the man currently staring unashamedly at her; he had lank black shoulder length hair and wore austere black robes that covered him from head to toe.
Snape was surprised, to say the least, to find the young woman in the castle. He'd only recently returned from a trip abroad to gather potions ingredients and had not yet been made aware of any new appointments to the staff. He could only assume the woman was the new Muggle Studies professor given her manner of dress, which, in his opinion, was entirely inappropriate for a teacher. Her black sleeveless shirt had a v neckline and sank entirely too low and, although giving him a very nice view of her cleavage, did not lend itself well to teaching teenage boys. Her tapered and extremely form-fitting jeans were finished off with a pair of pointed toe, stiletto heeled boots.
"Who are you?" Snape asked without preamble. Samantha was thrown off balance for a moment by his forthright approach, but quickly regained her center.
"Samantha Rhodes," she said, striding forward with her hand outstretched. "I'm the new Muggle Studies professor."
"Indeed," Snape responded, grasping her hand. He gave her a firm shake before dropping her hand. Samantha looked expectantly at him for a moment, before giving him a crooked smile.
"And you would be?" He did not appreciate her tone, but given his gaffe in not introducing himself he uncharacteristically did not give her the tongue lashing he thought she so richly deserved.
"Professor Severus Snape, Potions Master," he answered stiffly. Her face lit up upon hearing his name, certainly not a reaction he was used to.
"Ah, just the man I wanted to see." Snape was at a loss. "You see, my field is actually Potions, but seeing as you've already got the job I'm stuck here," she said, gesturing to the room around her.
"Indeed," Snape said again. "And why, then, did you not simply apply to teach at another school?" She shrugged.
"I didn't want to leave the country and while I could have just as easily taught at Beauxbatons, they didn't have an open Potions position either. Anyhow, as to why I wanted to see you. I have some research of my own that for a number of reasons I've had to put on hold, and I was wondering if perhaps you had some spare lab space you could relinquish for my use."
"I have never met you nor heard of any work you've done, why should I give up my valuable space and ingredients to accommodate you?" Snape sneered at her.
'Oh dear,' she thought. 'He is living up to his name.'
"Well," Samantha started. "I have been published, you may have heard of me by my married name - Samantha R. Collins." A flash of recognition flared in Snape's otherwise cold eyes.
"You were working on an improved wolfsbane, if memory serves," Snape recalled. She nodded and favored him with a bittersweet smile.
"That would be me, although I'm almost regretting having gotten caught in that particular rut. I've received hate mail from pureblood wizards who think attempting to ease the pain of so-called halfbreeds is beneath any magical being worth his salt." Samantha laughed mirthlessly. "Honestly, as if they couldn't even acknowledge the intrinsic worth of the research itself. How many new potions have come out of breakthroughs in seemingly unrelated studies?"
Snape was impressed despite himself. The woman was young, but her work on the wolfsbane potion was undeniably brilliant.
"The hardest part is finding willing werewolves to test on. Most are either so scorned by the wizarding community that they have forsaken it altogether or have let themselves be drawn in by the rot Voldemort is spinning for them. I don't dare go near that lot, while I'd like to help them I wouldn't fancy being one myself."
"I think I may have the answer to your problem, then, Miss Rhodes," Snape started thoughtfully. "I have these past three years been brewing the wolfsbane potion monthly for a werewolf that I know for a fact will not willingly inflict any harm." It pained Snape to say as much after his experiences with Lupin in his fifth year, but he also recognized Lupin's intensely sympathetic nature. Coupled with his longing to be relieved of the curse of his transformation, he would make for more than an adequate test subject.
"Really? How fascinating! I have about a million questions for you, but no time to ask them at the moment as I am still trying to get my classroom in order for next week. Would you have any available time to share with me some of your notes on the potion?" Samantha asked excitedly.
Despite the fact that Snape guarded his free time jealously, he found himself unable to turn down the prospect of doing research with a fellow scholar in his field. It had been years since he'd published, let alone done any real substantial research.
"Perhaps tomorrow afternoon after lunch will suffice?" Snape asked, Samantha immediately bobbed her head in response. "Very well, I shall meet you in the entrance hall and escort you to my lab."
"Thank you, professor. I look forward to it," she said sincerely as she turned back to her classroom.
"Miss Rhodes, one last thing, I do hope that you have more suitable clothing for when the students arrive," he said as he pointedly eyed her current outfit.
"I do, sir, I've just been living in Muggle London for the past few years so my professional wizarding attire leaves a little to be desired. I'm going to head down to the village before school starts to remedy that."
"Very well, until tomorrow then."
"Yes, tomorrow," Samantha agreed with a smile as Snape went on his way down the corridor.