I don't own any of the characters that you might recognise. I don't make money with this (I wish I did – I truly do but sadly, no).
"NEWTS," he explained, his voice raspy, "are the most important exams you will take in this school. I could not care less if you fail or pass – but the potions this and next term will be volatile, outright dangerous or poisonous. Furthermore, I do not want to rush any of you to the Hospital Wing because you weren't paying attention and I do want my classroom and this castle to be in one piece once this year is over. So if you could hold your dunderheaded stunts until you're in Divination or Care for Magical Creatures..."
His robes billowed as he turned around rapidly to face the class for the first time. Ten students in total. A nice, even size. Five Ravenclaws, three Slytherins, two Gryffindors. Severus Snape groaned inwardly. It had to be the Weasley Girl and Granger. The two most exasperating females that house ever produced in his class – and Loony Lovegood right next to the red-head. Maybe seven students would have been a better size for his class.
All of them, however, looked at him in a mix of surprise, shock, disbelief and fear. 'Good,' he thought, 'let them be afraid.'
True, nobody had known that he would be teaching this year. After all, he had left in disgrace, he had allegedly died, and then, thanks to Poppy Pomfrey and a team of Healers from St Mungo's, plus a nice anti-dote he had brewed when he had had the chance to milk Nagini a year or so before, had resurrected him. Or simply brought him back from the death-like state he had been in.
And wonderfully enough, people had grovelled. The current Minister, Kingsley Shacklebolt had grovelled, his former colleagues had grovelled, including, but not limited to Filius Flitwick, Pomona Sprout, Rubeus Hagrid, Aurora Sinistra, Septima Vector, and the person who had grovelled the most had been Minerva McGonagall. She had basically been begging his forgiveness on her kness (well, that was exaggerated but it would have been nice. In reality, it had been a heart-warming look in the eye, a few tears on her part, a wobbly handshake and a, shock, hug).
And because he had nothing better to do – and wasn't really sure he would get a job, an income anywhere else, and he did not fancy being an independent brewer (because, honest, who would want to buy potions from a murderer, even though the Wizengamot in all his wisdom, had found him not guilty), he had turned to teaching again.
Trust the Boy-who-lived-again-and-again-and-again to take his side in a quick trial that was over before it had begun. Pensieved memories, Veritaserum and he had been free to go. Two days in a cell in the Ministry was all it had taken.
"And so it begins," he spoke softly, the venom back in his voice. Though the rasp wasn't gone. It probably wouldn't. Not ever. Damn snake. "Draught of Diplomacy. Instructions on the board. Begin."
Quietly, he moved back to his desk and sat down. Sometimes, like today, he strongly felt the toll the war had taken on him. His voice would be almost gone by the end of the day, the wounds on his neck where that snake had bitten him had barely healed and hurt and itched under those high collars, his legs sometimes shook and he had to sit down instantly, otherwise they would crumble and he would fall unceremoniously. The nightmares were kept at bay with Dreamless Sleep. At least one consolation.
On a bad day, the legs were worst and today, the first day of classes, September 2nd, was naturally such a day. Especially, since some of those nosy, idiotic children were still staring at him wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Damn Weasley Girl, damn Know-It-All-Granger. And he thought they were done staring by the time the Feast had ended the night before. All the students, all the children, everyone, even the Muggleborn First Years, had stared at him. Not that he had acknowledged them. He had just eaten, then left.
Back to the dungeons, where he belonged.
"Are you quite done staring at me?" he asked the two Gryffindors and the Loony. "You have exactly an hour and twenty minutes until the potion is on my desk."
And with that, his eyes went back to the parchment on his desk. He had to do his lesson plans for the Sixth Years. Had been a while since he had taught them.
Hermione shot Ginny and Luna a look – one that she hoped would convey all her sentiments on the subject of Professor Snape. Puzzlement, mostly. Yes, she had read that he was still alive in the Daily Prophet and even in the Quibbler and the Evening Prophet, but most of them had only reported that he was alive – not that he would be teaching. She had fully expected old Slughorn again. With him, it would have been simpler. But she would need at least an E in Potions in her NEWTs, if she wanted to go into Healing or Magical Law Enforcement. Both good options. She had not quite decided yet.
An E was a must though – and with Snape correcting her essays, her assignments and grading her potions (and that would make up 60 percent of her final grade after all) and an independently graded NEWT could only make up for so much.
She squinted, looked at the board and started preparing her ingredients. She had no intention of making him belittle her any more. She would not make the mistakes she had made in the past. No excessive hand-raising and feeling the pathological need to answer all the questions asked. She would demonstrate that the War had matured her. And it most certainly had.
Some days, when the weather changed, especially, she could feel the ache and tremors in her limbs – courtesy of Bellatrix Lestrange and her Cruciatus. And today was one of those days. It had been rather cold and rainy the last fortnight or so and just this morning, the sun was up with a blaze and the temperature had risen. One of those painful, achy days. Not that anyone knew. Why should she tell them?
Her best friends had gone straight to Auror Training, not bothering to redo their Seventh Year. She had been offered positions as well – but she wanted to finish what she had started. She wanted those NEWTs, she didn't want a job just because she had helped bring down Voldemort. She didn't need gifts, didn't want gifts. Or perks. No, she would work for what she wanted. Hard, if she had to.
Not that Ron understood. She paused, the knife in her hand in mid-air and smiled. Ron. She was, without a doubt, in love with that bloke. But when he had asked her to not go back to Hogwarts, to move in with him and start working, she had to refuse. Not that she didn't want that – it would have been nice to be with him all the time but school was, at the moment, at least, more important. And he had promised to come and see her every free weekend he had.
Just as Harry would come see Ginny. She cast a look at the girl next to her. Somehow, they had started being kind of friends – even though, if she was honest with herself, she wasn't quite comfortable with Ron's younger sister. Probably because she knew her brother so intimately, or maybe just because Ginny wasn't exactly her kind of person.
Quidditch-crazy, openly flirty (despite her relationship to Harry), vivacious, not too bothered with her school-work. Like now – chatting with Luna under a Muffliato while chopping her pickled frogs eyes too finely.
No – she would not make the same mistakes she had done back then. She would not help her classmates. At least not in Snape's class. It would only cause her to lose points. She would be a good student in his class. And she would not be...
"And Harry said that he would be...," Ginny said, suddenly aloud.
Hermione's eyes flew up from her chopping board to Snape and he grinned maliciously. "Miss Weasley, I'm sure we're all interested to see what Mister Potter is up to again this year but maybe he should have told you that the Muffliato spell can easily be cancelled by anyone. Especially when you can see their mouths moving but not sound coming forth. Five points from Gryffindor for talking in class from you, Miss Lovegood and Miss Granger. And a further five from Gryffindor for plain stupidity."
"I haven't...," Hermione wanted to protest before she cut herself off. It wouldn't do. No it wouldn't do.
"And five points from Miss Granger," he smirked. "What a wonderful start of term."
Seething, she looked back at her ingredients. 'He will not bait me, he will not bait me,' she repeated in her head. And still, she had already lost ten points. For doing nothing. He hadn't changed. Nothing had changed. Except now it was Luna and Ginny next to her instead of Ron and Harry.
She lit the fire underneath the cauldron and found herself missing her best friends. Nobody could substitute them.
That would teach them to use that spell in his class. He still had it, apparently. When this week was over, people, students and fellow teachers alike, would not talk about his love for Lily any more. They would talk about the evil teacher who took points and handed out detentions, who didn't have a heart, and feelings, and they would, hopefully, leave him alone then.
The first period of the day – and he longed to be back in his quarters. That would not do.
But luckily, he would be able to hand out a few zeros for the day. The Draught of Diplomacy, one of his own concoctions, had never been successfully brewed by anyone but him. Unfair, yes. Very.
He allowed himself a tiny smirk as he got up, despite the trembling in his legs. He would walk around once, then sit down again. Damn weather. Those changes in temperature always caused the tremors that he still had from being under the Cruciatus to increase. And the wobbly legs were just an added bonus. Besides, it made his neck hurt and itch even more.
Soon, as soon as the school year had started decently, he would hopefully find a little time to work on something that could take care of those things. So far, he had not been successful. But he would be. Only teaching without spying would be infinitely easy. And the spare time he would have. All the nights for himself. Well, apart from those that he had to spent listening to the headmistress waffling on about one thing or another. But he could always resort to Occlumency and, even under her watchful eye (Merlin only knew when she had learned Legilimency but he had felt her probing into his mind the other day), think of something else. A formula for a potion for the tremors, probably, or new chores to have the students do during detention. Scrubbing cauldrons was getting old. One thing he wanted to avoid doing was getting predictable. Well, apart from the predictable snarkiness. And the predictable evilness. And everything else that predictably characterised him.
His legs were getting weaker and he just got to his chair in time. A formula. Something.
Hermione's hands began to shake harder when she put the final ingredient into the bubbling cauldron. She grabbed the stirring rod tighter, her knuckles white and concentrated hard on making those tremors go away. They never did. They never would.
At least that was what the literature said; the little research she had been able to do during the one, first carefree summer in years, had brought up absolutely nothing. But actually, she really had had little time in between helping Harry sort out Grimmauld Place further, looking for her parents in Australia (not finding them yet but hiring a P.I. to do the work while she was back at school – even though that took a large chunk out of her savings), and spending lots and lots of time with Ron.
Ron – Ron. She already missed him a lot.
The draught turned slimy green and she raised her eyebrows. Was it supposed to be that way? The instructions on the board said nothing about the colour it should be. Well, this was as good as it would get. She had added the ingredients in exactly the same order it said on the board and if it turned out incorrectly, well, she had done her best.
Besides, if Snape was adamant on making her look bad, he would succeed, no matter what. She could do her best work, and he would still give her bad grades. That was the way he worked.
Risking a glance though, at Ginny's cauldron, then Luna's, she saw that they had both masses of different thickness and colours. Luna's was white but it looked like the stirring was difficult, it was too gooey, and Ginny's was puce and thin.
She shrugged again, bottled it and with difficulty (damn legs, damn tremors, damn weather), she got up and with an air as arrogant as she could muster, she delivered the vial.
Odd, that, she looked at him for a moment, her eyes meeting his, and she was sure that she had seen the old Snape. The one from her first year, back before she knew about his Death-Eating-Days, back before she knew he was a spy, back before she believed him not to be a spy, and back before she knew that he had murdered Albus Dumbledore. No, in that moment, she didn't see all that.
She saw the unfair Potions Master. Nothing more and nothing less.
And, to be fair to the man (whether he deserved it or not), she would try and continue to see it that way.
So – someone had managed to brew the potion correctly. And of course it had to be Hermione Granger, silly Gryffindor Princess.
And the way she impudently stared at him when she brought it up to his desk – that was presumptuous. Yes, yes, of course. All of them thought had some kind of power over him – just because they knew of one of his weaknesses. Lily. Gone forever. He understood that now.
She would never come back and he had to accept that. And now, having survived the War he had never expected to survive, he had no hope to see her in an afterlife (if such a thing existed) soon. No, he would live as long as possible – bother as many students and colleagues as possible – and read at least three books a week, develop at least one potion every six months and would keep out of the way of socialising.
So – he had big plans for the rest of his life.