Headmaster Albus Dumbledore made his way down to the dungeons to check on his favourite professor. The weeks leading up to the proposed start of the new term had been very tiring, even more tiring than the actual battle where so many had died. There had been so much to do and so little time as the wizarding world had staggered on its heels in the aftermath of the Second Voldemort War. The physical damage to the school had been bad enough but the damage to the entity, Hogwarts, the consciousness the castle had developed over a thousand years of magical ambiance was horrendous. Acting as father confessor and parent to a traumatised castle really took it out of an old man, and Albus had to admit - no matter how privately - he was a very old man now. Still, while the wizarding world needed him, he would find the wherewithal necessary to carry on.
Severus, the man he thought of as his son, had almost been taken from him permanently, too. Azkaban had been very unkind to Severus, more so than most people these days, leaving him a hollow shell of himself. Although, in hindsight, the Ministry and then St Mungo's had been even worse. Despite the ex-Death Eater having survived being brain-blasted at the Ministry, a rogue Medi-wizard had tortured Severus while he was still unconscious and all but killed him.
Sometimes, it seemed the Fates had a special dislike for Severus and were determined to see how far they could push him before he broke completely. Still, the younger man had survived and even rebuilt his mind enough to start writing a definitive guide to potions ingredients, if only to prove he could still remember. Unfortunately, he had left almost twenty years of his emotional growth behind and was right back to the emotional mindset of his mid-twenties, an unfortunate age for Severus.
Albus waited without expectation for the strange little Snape Family House-elf, Levil, to let him into the Potions Master's quarters. Levil was not like the Hogwarts elves who were helpful and excitable, he was well spoken and gravely reserved. He had volunteered to help look after Severus when he was all but catatonic when they first rescued him from St Mungo's. Albus himself has gone out to the decaying Snape Family Estates to ask for a house-elf to assist and was amazed that the chief House-elf had asked for volunteers. Levil had been the most qualified elf and had caused chaos when he first arrived, ignoring the Chief Hogwarts house-elf, cooking Severus' meals and cleaning his quarters and generally demanding full autonomy over Professor Snape's domestic arrangements. If Albus was a nervy type of person, the watchful alertness of the very composed elf would unnerve him as it let him in and went to touch Severus' arm gently, alerting the younger man to his presence.
Unexpectedly, Severus rose and came over, taking the comfortably worn wingchair opposite the headmaster and staring at the table until the house-elf made tea and biscuits appear. There were also small salmon and cucumber sandwiches, as well as bite-sized quiches and a cheese board, much more than the mandatory pot of tea and plate of plain digestives the house-elf usually produced. Earl Grey poured itself into the headmaster's teacup while a separate pot poured thick Russian Caravan into what could only be described as a 'gazunda' decorated with a black cauldron that filled with green potion as the tea was poured.
"Well, Severus, and how do you feel this afternoon?" Albus asked the same rhetorical question he always asked, helping himself to some afternoon tea.
"I finished my catalogue and have not lost any of my knowledge concerning plants, their harvesting and preparing for potions," Severus reported and Albus detected a smug note in the soft voice, which made him smile.
"That's wonderful, my boy, but it does not tell me how you feel yourself."
Black eyes flicked up to meet blue and a small nod ensued. "Better."
"Do you feel up to teaching NEWTs level potions, is the real question. Minerva and I have been planning the new school year curriculum and feel that, if you can manage NEWTs level, it would be beneficial to have someone in to teach years one to five. This would give you more time to brew potions of a more… challenging… nature." Albus continued to sip his tea in silence as Severus considered his words. After a long pause he added, "St Mungo's has asked if you can brew some specialised and experimental potions for the war wounded, if you are up to it."
Severus' head came up fast, his glare enough to melt paint at five feet. "I wouldn't brew for St Mungo's if it was…" He drew a deep breath and continued to glare at Albus when the old man chuckled indulgently. Finally he followed the headmaster's gaze and felt a faint flush of colour heat his ears. His wild magic had turned one wall to a sheet of solid ice. Snorting in disgust, he deliberately waved a hand and banished the residue with an emphatic flick. Taking a deep breath, he let it out in one long sigh. "Can I think about it? I do not particularly like St Mungo's at the moment." His expression turned ugly for a moment or two before smoothing out again.
"Certainly, my boy, but think quickly as I need to locate a Potions Honorarium to assist you. Professor Slughorn has not returned and indeed, is nowhere to be found. He left a card saying he had had enough of teaching and all the excitement and was going to retire to the country for his health so I assume he has done that."
Severus snorted inelegantly. "Done a runner, has he?" he muttered, then nodded resignedly. "Very well, get in the Honorarium to teach the dunderheads and I will teach the sixth and seventh years and also brew for St Mungo's. Just have them send a list of what they need. I do not feel like facing the public just yet, especially not bloody so-called healers."
"Thank you, my child. I am sure they will appreciate it."