He was later to reflect that it was only the memory of his furious outburst a few days earlier, that prevented him from eviscerating the smiling little figure on his settee. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Harry," he said once he was sure he had sufficient command over his tone of voice. "The Headmaster warned you – during the first night feast, no less – that that particular staircase was dangerous. What in Merlin's name possessed you to go up there?" Let alone mention it to a teacher An inner voice added in exasperation.
"We didn't go there on purpose," said Harry indignantly. "We were running away from F..." Finally, finally his brain caught up with his mouth and he shut up and looked guilty. They stared at one another for what no doubt seemed to the boy to be a very long time.
Snape hurriedly considered his options: scold? Ignore? Patient remonstration? Fatherly warning? For some reason his brain skittered away from the last one and he settled on, "Well, you've just admitted to a rather rash action with the troll – I won't berate you further, I'll just point out that this is the sort of thing that happens when you don't think before you act. Whether it's Malfoy trying to get you into trouble." For some reason that produced a flinch. "Or a schoolmate suggesting an adventure – always take the time to think first. Not only is it more sensible and grown up, it also keeps you out of a lot of trouble you do not want to get into."
Harry nodded sheepishly. "It's sort of difficult to remember when it's all happening around you," he said.
"I know, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try." Well, that was probably as much as the boy could take in for now. "I am going to have a cup of tea, would you like to join me?"
"Yes, please. By the way, Professor, you know I won't be able to come next week, don't you?"
"Ah yes, Quidditch. I hope you will understand when I say I hope your team loses?"
Harry grinned over the edge of his teacup. "Only if you understand when I say I hope your team loses."
The afternoon ended much more amicably than he had thought possible that morning.
He saw little of Potter except at mealtimes until the Friday morning when First Year Snakes and Lions had their lessons. It was Stomach Soother, a simple mixture which demonstrated to the students the importance of proper measurement, since too little wingerweed caused the potion to solidify in the cauldron and too much made it curdle into lumps.
"In the unlikely event of any of you completing this potion to my satisfaction, I shall be sending it up to Madam Pomfrey. Unfortunately, while very efficacious it is also impossible to store for very long, even with statis charms. " He saw Granger lift her hand and continued smoothly. "Statis charms preserve items from deterioration and other forms of rot. You will learn them in the Fourth Year." The hand came down.
"Now I have warned you about the dangers of carelessness in measuring. I shall be most displeased if your work demonstrates any lack of attention. You may begin."
They scurried about and he was surprised to find the box of beetle eyes almost empty and was obliged to fetch another one from storage. After that, he stalked between the rows, his hands clenched behind his back and his tongue trapped behind clenched teeth. Oh how he longed to let rip. Finnegan was playing the fool and had somehow succeeded in blunting his knife, consequently he was not so much cutting as mangling the ingredients; Parkinson and Goyle had apparently mislaid the few brains they had between them and had managed to omit two vital steps all together. He let them all continue, perhaps a double lesson spent producing something completely useless might convince them of the necessity of attending to instructions – yes and skrewts might fly.
He wandered over to where Potter and Weasley were double-checking their ingredients before they began. Doubtless at Harry's insistence. He permitted himself a brief moment of satisfaction until he saw the boy was frowning.
Then Potter noticed the Professor was standing before him and the frown cleared. "Sir?" he said. "Why are we using wingerweed? It said in that book you lent me that it doesn't keep and that you should use woundwort where ever possible."
"Unfortunately, woundwort also known as...? Anyone?"
And it was Longbottom of all people who answered. "Er... Wood Betony or Stachys Officinalis."
He was so surprised he heard himself say, "Quite right, 5 points to Gryffindor. As I was saying unfortunately, woundwort is highly accidic. It aggravates the stomach conditions it is attempting to sooth."
Potter considered for a moment and Snape found himself holding his breath. "Come on," he thought, "Come on." Maybe once every five years he came across a first year who was prepared to think beyond the recipe, the first step in becoming a true potioneer.
"Is that true of the other woundworts like er... marsh woundwort?"
"Yes." Nearly there.
"Can't we add something alkali to counteract it?" There is was. The tiny step in the right direction.
"I'm afraid not - "
"Because that would attack the woundwort and make it not work!" Potter pulled a face. "I'm an idiot."
Well, he wasn't standing for that! "On the contrary, Potter. You spotted a problem, you suggested a solution and you thought that solution through. Of course, you might have realised that the same solution would have occurred to those who have made this potion before you." Harry grinned and Snape wondered for a second why that didn't irritate him. "However, if no one ever questioned anything, nothing would ever change. That was a perfectly reasonable question based on prior research." He gritted his teeth. "Ten points to Griffindor."
His house might well have take all the points for the Lions amiss, however he redeemed himself by taking most of them back due to Finnegan's totally unacceptable mess. Admittedly, Parkinson's and Goyle's was worse, but no one but him could tell as much. Except possibly Bulstrode who looked distinctly thoughtfull at the end of the lesson. He made another mental note to keep an eye on her and her little group. At least she seemed to have the sense to keep her thoughts to herself, possibly because her potion had been one of the seven which had been bottled for the Hospital Wing; a much larger proportion of the class than was usual.
He had a free period after the lesson so he went to check the store cupboard. That first box of beetle eyes should have lasted at least another week – it always had in other years. A quick glance at the stocks and a longer glance at his records revealed that for some reason this crop of First Years was a whole week ahead of schedule.
And it was only the beginning of November too.