Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR. Another "missing scene" for you to peruse. This could be seen as a prequel to other stories I have written but it is strictly a stand-alone. I hope you enjoy it. Constructive reviews are always welcome. Flamers will be invited to my sister-in-law's house for Christmas dinner (be afraid…be very afraid). Special thanks to Tessie and Amy for beta-reading this (huggles to both of you!).

A Professional Interest

Severus sat in the staff room and looked around at the other professors, a sneer of contempt curling his lips. Albus sat at the head of the table, smiling and waiting for the others to settle down before standing up to address them.

"I have called you in here to discuss the Second Task," he began.

"The Second Task? What about the Second Task?" chirped Flitwick excitedly as Severus glared at him.

"Your reactions are always so ridiculously extreme…it's a wonder you haven't self-combusted yet," he thought savagely.

"I thought that the matter had been finalized well in advance," Minerva asked uncertainly, looking somewhat puzzled.

"It is true that the Tasks have been finalized but there is one element of the Second Task that has not. We need to agree on who the object of each champion's quest should be," the Headmaster answered, sitting down.

"That shouldn't take too long," Severus mumbled, in a voice highly reminiscent of his stomach's grumbling. For reasons known only to himself, Albus had called the meeting at dinnertime. Ordinarily, this would not have been a problem had Severus not had to spend the entire lunch period cleaning up after a particularly nasty explosion brought on by a rather distracted Seamus Finnegan.

"In some cases, Severus," Albus' eyes twinkled merrily as they surveyed his surly Potions Master.

For a moment, Severus felt a fleeting twinge of anxiety but quickly suppressed it. The choice for each champion was reasonably obvious…

"Well, we all know that Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang are seeing one another," Professor Sprout said affectionately. "I say that she would be the thing he would sorely miss."

There were general noises of approval around the room. Severus simply rolled his eyes at the Herbology teacher.

"Another shining example of your amazing grasp of the blatantly obvious," he thought with wry amusement.

A parchment appeared in mid-air and a golden quill wrote the name of Cho Chang in bright silver ink on the parchment.

"Well, that is one down and three to go," Albus said cheerfully.

"Pour mademoiselle Fleur, la personne qui lui manquerait le plus serait sans doute sa petite soeur, Gabrielle. C'est un choix logique," Madame Maxime said quickly in French, forgetting that she was not at Beauxbatons in her excitement.

Albus looked at her in some confusion.

"She said that Miss Delacour's sister, Gabrielle, is the most logical choice for the Beauxbatons champion," Severus said shortly, ignoring the appraising gaze of Professor Trelawney.

"I did not know you spoke French, Severus," the misty-eyed Divination teacher simpered, causing Severus to shudder involuntarily.

"I suppose tea leaves cannot show you everything. If you bat your eyelashes any faster, you will give yourself a headache," he thought as he sneered at her ridiculous display, his expression plainly showing that he knew a great deal of French…some of it not acceptable in polite conversation.

Albus nodded at the parchment and Gabrielle's name soon accompanied Cho's.

"I think that we should choose Ronald Weasley for Harry Potter," Minerva spoke up with warm pride flashing in her eyes.

"They are best of friends," Madam Hooch nodded.

"Practically inseparable," muttered Mad-Eye, taking a sip of his bottle.

"Sometimes I have to question what exactly is in that flask, Alastor," Severus wondered bitterly.

"I agree. It is the best choice for our youngest champion," Albus nodded once again at the parchment and Ron's name appeared next.

"Now, the question is who do we choose for Viktor?" Albus threw the question out and Severus watched as the others thought about it. This one was going to prove particularly difficult. The first thing that came to mind was Viktor's broomstick…it probably was the most precious thing to him.

"I don't suppose we could throw Karkaroff into the lake?" Severus asked mockingly.

Even Minerva chuckled at that. The surly professor from Durmstrang had hardly made himself welcome since arriving at Hogwarts. Always lurking…looking as if the entire Hogwarts faculty was conspiring against him and his school. He had not even deigned to show himself at this meeting…surprising, since it involved the Second Task and the student he almost looked to as a son.

"No, Severus. The squid would not be too happy about that. Remember, Igor is somewhat squeamish about water and…"

"Well, he didn't have to try to curse the poor thing out of the water. It was only being friendly!" Madam Pince shouted, visibly affronted that anyone would try to attack the beast.

"Is it any wonder that you would defend a cold-blooded and rather frigid creature?" Severus smirked as the thought crossed his mind.

"Calm down, my dear professor. Please. We all know that Karkaroff can be somewhat…challenging at times but that is no reason to throw him into the lake," Albus countered.

"Besides," Severus drawled, "Viktor probably wouldn't try very hard to rescue him."

Professor Binns had to suppress his chuckles and started rising into the air. He quickly recovered although he blushed bright silver for several moments.

'I have a suggestion…Miss Hermione Granger," Albus remarked casually.

"No…" Severus thought quickly.

"Why Hermione?" Asked Minerva, whose expression showed concern.

"He can't be serious…"

"I have noticed that Krum has taken a liking to her. He asked her to be his partner at the Yule Ball and they have been spending some time together lately. He is probably closer to her than to any of his own classmates," Albus said in a neutral voice although Severus knew that the older professor had caught his worried expression.

"Why exactly am I worried…it is not as if she will be harmed…"

"Are they dating?" Madam Pince looked almost affronted…Hermione was one of her favourite students.

Severus felt his hackles rise at that question.

"She's only fourteen," he felt like shouting out to the Hogwarts librarian. The thought of Krum…touching…her was enough to make him ill…but not as ill as questioning his reaction to all this…

"On that matter, I am sadly lacking in information," Albus replied merrily. Severus noticed that the Headmaster was deliberately avoiding him.

"What on earth is wrong with me? Why am I getting so upset? This is Hermione Granger we are talking about. A friend of Harry Potter. Muggleborn. Gryffindor…" Severus soon got caught up in remembering how she had looked at the Yule Ball…all the more fair as she was paired with that Quidditch-playing behemoth, Krum.

"It is an odd choice. The object of the quest has always belonged to the same school as the champion," Professor Sinistra commented.

For a moment, Severus looked almost grateful.

"I agree. We are setting a precedent for future tournaments," added Professor Sprout.

"Is this wise?" Flitwick asked nervously.

"He may not want to save her…the whole Hogwarts situation and all. We have all heard Karkaroff expound on the subject repeatedly. Who is to say that Viktor won't simply abandon her to the merpeople?" Madam Pince asked pointedly.

"I have every reason to believe that he will complete the task…I believe he does care about her…" Albus began firmly.

Severus jumped up from his chair, interrupting the Headmaster.

"He is from Durmstrang, Albus! Do you honestly believe that his intentions are honourable? Is it not possible that he is attaching himself to…to…Miss Granger in order to gain some sort of advantage over our Hogwarts champion?" he shouted.

"Champions, my dear Severus. Champions. Let us not forget Harry," Albus replied calmly.

"Of course. How could anyone forget the Boy Who Lived?" Severus grumbled. "The fact of the matter remains. You are choosing a Hogwarts student for a champion from a competing school. It is foolhardy to expose her to such a risk."

"As much as I hate to admit it, Severus, you do have a point," Minerva said quietly, looking to the Headmaster with concern.

"There is no one else. I believe we are all agreed to that," was Albus' final decree as he watched the heads nodding reluctantly around him. All except Severus, who returned to his seat and was scowling.

"She does not deserve this," he thought to himself…running through a number of protective potions he might be able to administer to her…just in case…

"This does not have to be unanimous and, as long as the majority of us agree that she is the best choice, then that is the choice we will go ahead with," and with those words, Albus nodded to the parchment a final time and Hermione's name joined the others. The parchment then rolled itself up and fell into Albus' outstretched hand. The golden quill vanished with a quiet popping sound.

"I believe that is all we need to discuss. Thank you for taking the time to attend this short meeting. I will not keep you any longer from your dinners," Albus stood up and dismissed the professors who quickly and quietly filed out of the room.

All but one.

Severus was still seated at the table, one hand massaging his temples fiercely.

"Are you all right, Severus?"

The younger man looked up at him. He was still angry…that much was very apparent.

"Why does it have to be her?"

Albus smiled at the Potions Master and sat down in the chair next to him. "Why should it not be her?"

"She…is the brightest student we have…a most promising witch. If anything were to happen…to her. I mean, it would be a terrible blow to the school…her parents…her friends…"

"You?"

Severus stared at Albus as if he had suddenly grown a second head.

"Me?"

"Yes, I believe that is what I just said, Severus," his eyes twinkled, "and I completely understand your concern for her well-being…"

"My concern is for the reputation of our school," Severus protested hastily…far too hastily.

"…and your concern for the reputation of our school," Albus repeated. "But, when it comes right down to it, she is really the only choice we have."

For a moment, those black eyes blazed with protest but quickly subsided. He nodded, somewhat defeated as he slumped in the chair.

Albus patted him on the shoulder, encouraging him to get up, which he did…very slowly.

"It will be all right, Severus. Go have something to eat and then get some rest."

"I'm not very hungry."

"Then just get some rest."

"If you insist."

"I do, Severus."

"I suppose there is nothing further to say on the matter then," Severus said shortly, his face pale.

"No, Severus. The decision is final."

"May I be there when…?"

"Of course."

Severus nodded mutely and walked towards the door, still wearing an expression of sorrow and anger on his face.

He closed the door quietly behind him.

Breathing in the cooler air of the hallway deeply, Severus made his way slowly to his chambers. Once safely inside, he walked over to the window and opened it, ignoring the bite of the cold air that rushed inside, chilling the room almost immediately.

"Why should it matter to me?" he asked aloud, his breath visible in the cold air.

Why indeed? Why should it matter that a student…a Gryffindor student nonetheless, should be exposed to danger under such controlled circumstances? After all, the danger really was only perceived…there was no chance that anyone would really get hurt.

So why was he so upset? Why did it bother him so much that another student was taking an interest in her?

Images of Viktor and Hermione dancing at the Yule Ball came to his mind and he cringed at how those oafish hands had rested on her delicate waist…how the awkward Bulgarian had looked at her as if she were some sort of exotic dessert. Even the simple fact that the boy could not even pronounce her name correctly irked him to no small degree.

Thoroughly exasperated now, Severus slammed the window shut, threw on a cloak and stormed out of his chambers. He did not want to think about this. He did not want to think about her.

And yet, he could think of nothing else.

Walking in a cloud of anger, he suddenly found himself at the library entrance. He quickly entered the Restricted Section and found the book he was looking for.

"Advanced Potions for Underwater Survival"

"Strictly a professional interest," he whispered as he sat down on a nearby chair and began to read.

But the words rang strangely hollow…even to his own ears…

A/N: For those of you waiting for the next chapters of either "Hour of Grace" or "Come To You By Moonlight", I am working on them. Expect something next week. Sorry for the delay.