"I distinctly said simmer. Now lower the flame under your cauldron before you poison us all, Mr. Lawley."

If there was a class period Professor Snape despised most, it was this one, with the dangerous combination of overconfident first-year Ravenclaws and half-witted first-year Hufflepuffs. The only saving grace was that it was the final class of the day.

He watched in disbelief as the trembling student poked his wand haphazardly at the flames, which instantly flared up higher than before, licking the sides of the cauldron and making the edges of his sleeve smoke. Snape stalked over and pushed him roughly out of the way.

"Five points from Hufflepuff for being flawlessly incompetent," he growled, flicking his wand impatiently at the base of the cauldron.

Even though the fire died down instantly, the potion was still boiling rapidly, sending up thick clouds of acrid steam. He tried to avoid breathing it in because he had been fighting the urge to sneeze since the beginning of the lesson and the pungent aroma from the overstewed hyssop was intensifying the uncomfortable prickling sensation in his sinuses. He massaged the bridge of his nose, hoping to delay what was rapidly becoming inevitable; his eyes were streaming and his breath was beginning to hitch with the increasing urge to rid himself of the irritation, but he would not give the wretched little first-years the satisfaction of catching him in a moment of weakness. He moved quickly to the water basin in the corner to splash his face. The cold water was bracing and seemed to clear some of the grogginess and fatigue that had been plaguing him all day.

As he reached for the towel hanging nearby, the tickle in his nose suddenly became overwhelming and he buried his face in the towel, barely in enough time to muffle a powerful sneeze. He winced against the sudden stab of pain in his throat.

This was not happening. It was the last day of term before the Christmas holiday and Snape was looking forward to the relative quiet and calm of the castle in the absence of most of the students. He had no intention of wasting any of his free time in being ill.

He sniffled in an attempt to clear his head, but realized his mistake belatedly. Rather than relieving the prickling sensation, it had worsened and spread and as he stood with his back to the class he could feel another sneeze building, one he knew he would be helpless to stop. He stifled the second and then the third sneeze as quietly as he could and still the irritation was not lessening. This was the worst possible time and place for a sneezing fit; right in the middle of the resting stage of the brewing process, when the silence in the classroom was absolute, save for the soft burbling of the potions in the student's cauldrons. He could almost feel thirty pairs of eyes boring into his back as he tried to regain his composure.

He swiped roughly at his nose with the towel, tossed it in the bin and turned reluctantly, hoping no one had noticed and prepared to immediately deduct points from anyone who had. While most of the students seemed to be studiously ignoring him or staring in horror at the contents of their cauldrons, a flustered-looking Hufflepuff girl was watching him carefully. He narrowed his eyes at her in warning. If she made any attempt at all to bless him, she would find herself in detention, upcoming Christmas holiday or not.

As Snape passed her on his way to his desk, his voice was low as he said, "I would suggest next time you pay more attention to your work and less attention to me...perhaps then you won't ruin your potion." The girl blushed scarlet and finally dropped her eyes from his.

"Time is up," he said when he reached the front of the classroom. He sank heavily into his chair and pressed a knuckle into the corner of his eye, trying to stave off yet another sneeze. "Leave a sample of your potion on the desk and then get out of my sight..."

Eager to escape the oppressive dungeons to begin their holiday, excited chatter immediately broke out amongst the students as they bottled their work and cleared their cauldrons. Chairs were squeaking on the floor, phials were clattering against the tables and Snape could feel the answering throb of a headache beginning in his temples.

"...quietly," he added with a snarl.

As the students approached his desk one by one, he acknowledged the few tentative holiday wishes with a curt nod and waited impatiently for the room to clear. Gloriana Sullivan, the same Hufflepuff girl who had been watching him earlier was the last to approach, and she stood frozen in place, her potion phial still clutched tightly.

"I will take that, Miss Sullivan," he said, holding out his hand. "Since you seem incapable of finding the rack that's directly in front of your eyes." She nodded, but made absolutely no move. Good god, was he going to have to pry it out of the girl's fingers? "Miss Sullivan?"

"Happy Christmas, Professor," Gloriana squeaked suddenly, and in one swift move she drew a bulky package from her bag and dropped it on his desk, along with her potion vial. Snape had to make a quick grab for the phial as it rolled off his desk, and when he straightened, his gaze fell on the wrapped parcel. He looked to Gloriana for an explanation, but he could only see the back of her as she quickly scuttled from the classroom.

Snape slumped in his chair, head resting in his hands. His condition was rapidly deteriorating. Fatigue was creeping into his limbs and every joint felt stiff and achy. He shuddered as a chill began to work its way up his back. He wasn't ill. He refused to be ill. It was just overwork, that was all. A few days of rest and he would be fine. He closed his eyes, relishing the quiet that had fallen over the classroom. No students. No demands on his time. No obligations save for the tiresome Christmas luncheon, but that was days away.

"Excuse me, Severus," came a soft voice. "Did I catch you at a bad time?"

Snape started up in his chair, his eyes flying open to see Remus Lupin gazing up at him, a strained smile on his pallid face. The Wolfsbane. How could he have forgotten? It was nearly the full moon and he hadn't yet started the potion. He shivered at the realization that instead of spending the evening curled up comfortably in front of a fire, he would be brewing in his chilly workroom.

"If you're here for the Wolfsbane, it isn't finished."

"I won't need it for a few days yet." Remus seemed uncomfortable, his gaze traveling about the room as he shifted from foot to foot, crossing and uncrossing his arms.

"Then why are you here?"

"There's a Hogsmeade trip tomorrow," Remus said, leaning comfortably against one of the student tables. "and I'll be going along as chaperone."

Snape raised one eyebrow. "You have my condolences."

"Yes, well, while I'm there, I thought if there's anything you're running low on, for your brewing, I mean..."

"My potion stores are more than adequate," Snape said quickly. "Regardless, I'm capable of restocking supplies myself if necessary."

Lupin regarded him shrewdly. "Of course you are. You just seemed a bit tired at breakfast this morning and I thought..."

"It's the end of term, Lupin. Everyone is tired." Damn him anyway. He was quiet and unassuming and too bloody observant for his own good. Snape tried to change the subject quickly.

"That is a most unfortunate choice of neckwear," he said, drawing his cloak more tightly around himself as another shiver coursed through him.

Remus lifted one end of the purple and blue scarf that was twined around his neck and smiled ruefully.

"Not the colors I would have chosen, no," he agreed. "But it was a gift from Gloriana and it's quite soft and very warm. He motioned towards the lumpy parcel that was sitting forgotten on the far edge of Snape's desk. "I see she made one for you as well. You really should put it on. It definitely takes the chill off."

"She knitted a scarf...for me?" Snape poked it with one long finger, nearly expecting the package to explode or melt.

"She made one for all her professors. Unfortunately, she didn't take Filius'...ah...stature into consideration when she made his. Turquoise and yellow; and it nearly covers him, poor man."

One corner of Snape's mouth quirked at the mental image of Professor Flitwick muffled from head to toe in a garish scarf. His momentary lapse in concentration cost him his control and he had to turn away quickly to stifle a harsh sneeze in the crook of his arm.

"My goodness," Remus said, concern evident in his voice. "Bless you. Not coming down with something, I hope?"

"Of course not," Snape said, sniffling miserably, as he searched fruitlessly through his pockets for a handkerchief.

"I'm pleased to hear it," he said. "There's a nasty cold making the rounds and it would be a shame to be ill on Christmas." Wordlessly Remus stepped forward and placed a handkerchief on the edge of Snape's desk. He raised a hand in farewell as he turned and made his way from the classroom.

Snape picked up the handkerchief between his thumb and forefinger and looked at in distaste. He would rather wipe his nose on his best cloak than borrow this from Lupin, but he stuffed it into the pocket of his robes, just in case.

Of course there was a cold making the rounds. With all the pestilential little first-years running about, how could there not be? But even if he were catching a cold, which seemed unlikely, it would be easy enough to throw off. He had yet to encounter a situation or person he could not bend to his will and his health was no different.

He sighed as he stood slowly and began collecting his things. He would return to his quarters, have a cup of tea to soothe his aching throat, maybe a short rest in front of the fire to dispel some of the chill and then he would start the Wolfsbane. His gaze fell on the lumpy parcel still sitting on his desk and without quite knowing why, he picked it up and tucked it under his arm before making his way out of the classroom toward his room.

He would be fine. It was just a matter of willpower.