A/N: Yes, I am back. I don't make any excuses, the truth is, I was simply distracted by other projects. It is not like I didn't write during the hiatus, but I wrote mostly a bunch of articles and the occasional smaller piece. Though I did wrote the German version of this chapter quite a while ago, so it is not like I forgot about this project. But I had to make some decisions concerning this story.
You might be happy to hear that I resolved against abandoning this project. It might be the smarter thing to do, just to write up a brief summary what I had in mind, but just remembering everything I have planned for this one makes it impossible to give up on it at this point. There have been also so many encouraging comments (thank you, guys, I'm surprised how many people still find those stories after all this time) that I will at least finish the second year.
But in order to make this more manageable, I had to pick one language, since doing both, even with a translator, means a lot of extra work. So sorry to my German readers, but I stick to English for now. It feels just right, since Harry Potter was written by a British author.
This also means that I desperately need new betas. There are a lot of great people who beta-read for me in the past, but they are either not available any longer or active in other fandoms. So if anyone of you is ready to help me out, I would be very thankful for the help.
This also means that this chapter is not Beta-read. It is also some sort of breather, so to speak. Another reason why I needed so much time for this one is because I couldn't decide on an approach. I eventually decided to do an interlude in order to set some basics things up.
Severus first week back as a teacher at Hogwarts was hellish. His replacement had ruined his very successful work, allowing the students to become accustomed to a very sloppy technique. His greatest concern was the second graders. With the exception of Potter, who he himself had painstakingly trained to follow his standards, they had previously experienced only negligent teaching methods. But he would not allow Potter to have an easy time in his class, only because he had enjoyed better education. Of necessity Severus had compiled for both second-year courses an advanced group that could work on the potions that were actually on the curriculum, while he drummed the basic principles of brewing into the remaining fools the principles.
And this was just the start of a long list of problems. Among the first years there was a Ravenclaw who was either brilliant or completely crazy, in any case, he hardly dared to let her out of sight when she seemingly carelessly threw ingredients into her cauldron with a dreamy look. The third- to fifth-graders, he would quickly get back on track , but the Newt-courses were a disaster. The graduating course was filled with incompetence, because the lunatic had dared to admit students with an E into it. And the newly formed course for the sixth-graders consisted of only two students. But whatever Albus said he would not be persuaded to include students who did not score an O, even if that meant that he had to held a Newt course for a Ravenclaw and a Gryffindor, who kept exchanging adoring looks over their cauldrons. Maybe he should invent a poison against teenager hormones.
But the low point of the week was easily the teacher conference. Like in every year, it was held on the first Saturday of the school year. The meetings were a waste of time in Severus' eyes. But they were mostly very amusing. Especially when Sinistra and Septima were entangled in one of their discussions, whose subject was the more important one. Septima had fought for years for declaring Arithmancy a compulsory subject from the get go. She was convinced that Arithmancy was more useful for a young wizard than astronomy. Snape secretly agreed. Arithmancy was important in many areas of sorcery and requirement for many professions. Astronomy on the other hand was traditionally high-regarded but had few practical applications. However, he did not understand Septima's complains. He would have been very happy to deal only with students who were at least remotely interested in his subject, rather than being forced to torture himself with whiny first-graders.
This time though, Septima was too busy oogling Lockhart (Severus refused to use his first name - or to speak to him at all) in reverence. She was the only faculty member that had not seen through Lockhart yet - probably because she was so focused on staring into his eyes that she did not really pay attention to what he said. Which was currently nothing. In fact, Severus would be surprised if he were ever opening his mouth during one of their meeting again. The Idiot had aroused Albus' fury by using Harry's name to get to the front page. The news that he would teach at Hogwarts would have been at most of interest for the gossip section, but he had repeatedly pointed out that "the good Harry" would be one of his students , and all the newspapers had pounced on the news. No one knew exactly what Albus had done, but since he had ordered him into his office directly after his arrival at Hogwarts, Lockhart had become much quieter. But his self-confidence was not so cracked that he would resist the temptation to bask in Septima's admiration, winking at her not really stealthy manner.
Strained by his efforts to ignore the sickening display beside him, Severus turned away - and encountered Pomona's angry look. That was not good. The always cheerful Herbology teacher was very, very unforgiving when angered - and Severus had to rely on their good will if he did not want to buy the plants for his experiments himself. Although he had no idea what had aroused her anger, he returned her gaze confidently. Everything else would have interpreted it as an admission of guilt. Meanwhile Albus , Minerva and Filius discussed enthusiastic the usual topics - cost savings , blah , blah, promising first-graders , blah, blah , the board of school governors usual requests, blah, blah. Apparently nothing had changed in his one-year absence, only the assembly had changed slightly. With Mrs. Keen, who was watching everything with an sharp eyes, for the first time ever a Muggle took part in the meeting. And Poppy was conspicuously absent, which was unusual. As a school nurse, she was free to stay away, but usually she did not make use of the privilege and participated nevertheless.
Why was Mrs. Keen even present? Severus was not interested in the problems and inadequate knowledge of Harry's spoiled muggle cousin.
"He needs more contact with other children of his age," said Mrs. Keen . ""Perhaps he could participate in some of the classes?"
Fortunately, potions was a subject in which muggles were totally out of place. While the other teachers discussed, which courses could accommodate Dudley, Severus began to take notes. But not about what was said, instead he designed a very complicated test for his fifth graders .
"Before we come to the last point on the agenda, does someone like to address another issue ?" Albus finally asked.
"Harry Potter," was the immediate reaction. Of Course. Severus was not surprised in the least. The only amazing thing was that Hooch was the one who had spoken.
"The boy is essential to the Quidditch team! Such a talent should be not left untapped."
Or maybe not. Merlin forbid him from Quidditch obsessed!
"Harry is not part of a house," Dumbledore reminded her gently. "It would not be right if he played for a team."
"Not so fast. He could pick a team," Minerva said. Their eyes glowed with obsession. Naturally she was convinced that Potter would follow in the footsteps of his father and want to play for Gryffindor.
He should better interfere before these fools were carried away.
"Potter is already in a special position. We shouldn't give him additional privileges. I do not believe in favouring certain students."
"For example by granting them a separate class?" Pomona asked icily. Ah! So that was the fire crap which burned her. None of her Hufflepuffs had qualified for the advanced group.
"I allow my students to do the potions that match their skills."
"All students must do the same test later. You give some of them an unfair advantage."
"I will not hold them back due to some twisted sense of justice."
"You've never taught students separately before," Minerva interjected. "Why this sudden change of heart?"
"I also never had to teach a group with such a different level of knowledge. Too many do not know the most basic aspects. The only thing they have learned is to duck quickly enough in an emergency."
"An admirable attitude," Albus praised him. "That you take on all this extra work."
Pomona opened his mouth to argue, but Albus cut her off. "As far as I know Filius allows his students to learn the advanced variant of spells if they master the basic one quickly. And do you not allow yourself the best pupils to help you in the greenhouse?"
"That's different," argued Pomona. "A reward for good work."
"It is an advantage for them because they get more hands-on training," Severus said. "We all know why the Hufflepuffs get the best grades in Herbology."
"And why Slytherin loses less points than all the other houses," spat Pomona.
"Let us stay on topic," Albus interrupted soothingly . "How is Harry doing in his lessons?" Severus was not fooled by the casual tone. In one way or another Albus questions always had a meaning.
"Great!" Filius said enthusiastically. "I always let him practice the advanced spells." No surprise. After all the private tutoring Severus did, Potter should be far ahead of his classmates in most subjects. But why "always"? It was the end of the first week, Filius had only taught the class for a single and a double lesson.
"Transfiguaration is not his forte," said Minerva, visible disappointed. Again no surprise. Thanks to the teaching methods of Oldridge Harry was always extremely nervous during this particular lesson For a moment, Severus wondered if he should make Minerva aware of the reasons for Harry's difficulties , but he refrained. The past could not be helped and there was no reason to cuddle the boy. The sooner he overcame his fear, the better. It was bad enough that all teachers already praised him beyond measure.
"Severus," Albus finally asked.
"His performance is acceptable," Severus growled. He did not bother to mention that Harry was of course in the advanced group. Certainly Albus knew this anyway.
„That's good. But I think it's better if we don't pile any additional obligations on him at the moment. He will miss class several times in the next few weeks. And we will need a substitute for Severus." Now he had the full attention of everyone present, even Septima torn herself away from her amorous reveries.
"Did something happen, Albus?" Minerva asked worried.
"Nothing unexpected," came the reassuring answer. "I have received this morning message from the ministry. Next week the Dursley's trial starts."
Note: Regarding Harry's skills in potions: Despite the ongoing difficulties with Snape he manages decent marks in the subject. I think under different circumstances it could have been a fairly acceptable, but not outstanding brewer.