An: Thanks to AvadaK3 and Yengirl for pointing out ways to fix this chapter. I'll admit it isn't 100%, there are some things that Yengirl mentioned that I still have get to. But since I won't be able to get to them for a bit, I figured I would at least give you guys the slightly better version. ^-^
Chapter 1: Home again, the request
Severus walked through the door of Hogwarts after crossing over her war torn grounds. There was nothing he could do out there. Even though it was just a bit after dawn there were squads of Herbologists working on the landscapes, smoothing over rucked up soil, planting plants, and in general remaking the land. They were even replanting the Whomping Willow after Pomona Sprout healed it the best she could, and her best was really good. Severus knew that with the exception of the defense against dark arts professors, the professors at Hogwarts were the absolute best that were available in their fields.
Looking about at the shattered stones that made up parts of the entry hall, he picked his way over to the Great Hall. It was hard to see his home destroyed like this. He had tried so hard last year to keep her safe, even though it might not have seemed like it. He had even fooled a lot of old friends. 'At least they all believe me now. Sure, it took Potter and his friends to help clear my name. But Minerva, Pomona and Filius also helped. As soon as Potter told them of what Albus had me do, they could pick out how I was helping without my prompting. I didn't know I was that transparent.' Even if it could have blown his cover, he couldn't help being glad that he had been that transparent though.
Opening the Great Hall's doors he peered at the rubble that were the old house tables lying shattered on the ground. The dark magic was still swirling through the air of the room, making it hard for him to breathe. 'I can help here. I know how clean up this contamination. It might take a bit, but I can do it.' Finally feeling useful now that he was free from his hospital bed, he crossed to the center of the room, taking a feel of the power fluxes that were about him. With a flick of his wand, he sent the remnants of the tables to the sides, noting that he needed to get the house elves to create new ones. Hogwarts still recognized him as the Headmaster, even though it was almost guaranteed to be shifted over to Minerva. It should happen with in the next week now that he was here for the shift to occur. He had left her as Deputy Headmistress, so the school was responding to her touch, and should easily accept her as the Headmistress. She technically should have been when Albus died, but Voldemort had put him in charge and the school had accepted him. Just as he settled into scan the hall to find the areas of concentration, Minerva strode through the door.
"Severus Snape! What do you think you are doing?" Her eyes snapped over the the pile of debris and back to him. "You are not to be doing anything strenuous. Doctor's order... and more importantly, Poppy's orders."
Severus looked into her hazel eyes, trying to see if she was going to enforce those orders. One look told him that she was. She didn't care for him this past year, or at least she had tried not to. That all changed the moment it was revealed that he was still working for the Order, and that he had been doing so without any of their support. But Severus knew he wouldn't give in without at least trying to argue his case. "Minerva, I have to help. This.." He gestured to the destruction that was in the room, but including the parts that were over the entire grounds. " ... is my responsibility. I helped make it. I have to have a hand in cleaning it up." The hazel eyes soften and he thought he might have won.
"Severus... this is everyone's responsibility, not just yours. You carried your responsibility alone for so long, and it almost cost you your life. Let us handle this part. You need to finish getting well. Now, get to your dungeons and recoup. Do something that is relaxing. You haven't had a chance to really relax in years. Take it now." The last was said in such a firm voice, that he knew that he better not argue.
A final glance about, he wondered if he could sort out the energy lines. He knew she would never agree to it, and since he didn't know them as well as he should in this room, he would just make a mess out of it here. There was one place that he knew the power layout of like the inside of his potions stock closet. He could track every energy line in the entire school from that one spot and know if they were where they should be, if they were blocked, or hindered in anyway. He had to know them there, for if he didn't there was no telling what they would do to his experiments. And he was lucky that that place was right were Minerva told him to go, his private potions lab in his dungeons. 'She might even expect me to be in my lab, as she knows that the creation of a potion is one of the most relaxing things for me to do.'
Turning about he headed out, carefully maneuvering his way down the stairs into the welcoming embrace of the school. That was one of the reasons he loved the dungeons. He was surrounded by his home, held in her arms, warm and comforting. He had missed this while he was in the Headmaster's suite. Of course, it could have been because he felt guilty for being there. He was sure that he had been welcomed there as well. 'But that will be Minerva's soon. And I can safely retire to my dungeons.'
Opening the door of his private potions lab, he smiled slightly as the wards tingled over his skin. He had not wanted Slughorn in there or any students, so he had heavily warded the door. So much that if they had tried to force the issue, the person would've had to see Madam Pomfrey right afterwards. Closing the door behind him, he let the wards fall back into place. The last thing he wanted was one of the overprotective ladies finding him doing what he was about to do.
Stepping up to his prep table, he focused on the energy lines that he knew were there. He had to be careful of where he placed his cauldrons, which ingredients he used where, and what potions he made in which section of the room. The potion classroom did not call for such precision because he had chosen his room with care. It wasn't the same room that Slughorn had taught them in because that room had a few lines that crossed one corner. Sure, Slughorn had kept the students out of the corner, but even as a student Severus noticed that the energy lines migrated slightly, not to mention the energy fluxes of nearby one. His classroom had no lines, nor any influence of the lines that were in rooms nearby. That was why his classroom was so far away from the others. Not that he would ever bother to explain that to his students. They didn't need to understand how energy lines affected their potions unless they started brewing for a living, and then they would find out at that time. His lab, though, had lines. He utilized them in certain potions. If he was making a healing potion, then he would make it in the far corner of his room that had the lines that led to the infirmary because healing energy traveled through them. Likewise he would make protection potions in the influence of the ward lines, or one that should not be influenced in the center of the room, the one area that was completely shielded.
Standing next to his table, he tried to focus on the lines, but they were totally out of proportion, not one was where it should be. They were skewed, discolored, or just plain missing. Narrowing his eyes, he looked over his cauldrons. Finally he picked out his number five pure silver one and placed it on the table in front of him. It was the one that was normally temperamental, picking up any signature in the area and magnifying them. It was the one he always brewed Lupin's wolfsbane in because it magnified the effects of that particular potion.
As he ran his fingers over the rim of the cauldron, he felt a compulsion to collect ingredients. Fighting the prompting, he tried to figure out who was attempting to control him. A gentle but firm feeling surrounded him, pushing him to do as asked. It was that combination that told him who it was: Hogwarts, his home. She wanted him to make something for her. Setting up his research notebook, he laid the quill on it that would record everything he did while he created this potion. The quill wrote down which cauldron he had on the table and then hovered over the page, waiting for his next move.
Giving into the compulsion, he followed her directions. He blindly collected ingredients and prepared them. Part of his mind that he still had control over, noted the effects of each of the ingredients, and plotted out how to add them to the potion so it would not explode. The ingredients were as varied as he could imagine, as were the methods of preparation. Cutting, dicing, mincing, and powdering were used as well as many others. A few ingredients were left whole: lion tears, basilisk venom, eagle feather, badger fur. He wondered at the connection to the founders as he add other plants and animal parts onto the table. A quick motion of his wand started the fire under the cauldron and another put a scant amount of water into it. Just as the bubbles started to form on the water's surface he added his first ingredient.
After that he fell into the rhythm of potion making. Adding ingredients, stirring clockwise, counter clockwise, stirring the cauldron in one direction while simultaneously moving the cauldron in the other, raising and lowering the heat, and waiting for the potion to simmer, rest, thicken, cool or heat back to a simmer. Listening to inner prompting of the castle and his own talent. The music that a potion had; the dance that the Potion Master had to understand. Much like a truly talented minuet dancer. The potion was the leader, the one that determined what they were going to do, and the Potion Master was the partner, the one who had to read the leader's body language to know what their next step would be. If you were a poor partner, then you would often make a misstep and would ruin the dance. But if you were good, then you made it look beautiful and easy. And that was difference between a Potions Master and a Potions Brewer or a student. A brewer could make known potions, but it took a master to create a new one, or even modify an old one. And a student was a given, they were still learning the steps, they couldn't be expected to have mastered the dance yet. How long he danced the dance he didn't know. He never was in touch with time when he was brewing like this, even without the castle's influence. He did know that Minerva would have a conniption if she knew what he was doing, but he was finally completely relaxed. After one last stir, he set his stirring rod on its rest and slowly lowered the heat two degrees at a time. Any more or less and the potion would explode. He could feel it fighting the bonds that the ingredients were making. The more volatile ones were trying their best to break out of the potion, to explode across the room. But he wouldn't let them, he need that power in his potion and he was going to keep it trapped in there. Never taking his eyes off the glistening spring green surface, he watched as the bubbles slowly stopped forming and the steam stopped rising from the surface. Now it was safe to walk away from the cauldron. The ingredients were locked in tight, the potion was stable. Pulling out a number of different sized vials that he felt was right, he carefully filled them, being sure to fill them to the top and not to spill a drop onto his table.
With the vials in his robe pockets and his wand back into his holster, he walked out of his lab, following the school's quiet directions. His steps were directed back to the Great Hall. He glanced up at the ceiling as he walked in, trying to figure out the time of day. His eyes were met by blank stone. Looking back down, he skirted the debris pile and stopped on an obscure stone near the wall under a torch scone next to the spot where Ravenclaw's table would normally reside. Pulling out one of the medium sized vials, he carefully poured the potion over the stone and watched as it was completely absorbed by the stone leaving not a drop visible. As soon as the last drop was gone, he was directed to another location in the castle to repeat his actions. He annointed the gargoyle outside the headmaster's office, the floor in front of the room of requirements, a sink in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, and other unusual places. Then the tug took him out onto the grounds. He noticed that night had fallen sometime while he was inside. The potion sunk into the ground just as readily as it had stone. The Forbidden Forest was a spot he was very anxious to walk into since it was more dangerous now than it had ever been. But the creatures there still seemed to recognize him from his many potion ingredient collecting excursions. They let him pass them without attacking. Some watched him carefully and others even seemed to be guarding his steps. He was near the end of Hogwarts' wards when he stopped to pour his potion. His steps then took him along the edge of the wards stopping periodically to tip over another vial of green liquid on the scarred surface. His steps lead him back toward the doors of Hogwarts as predawn was hinting at a blush across the sky.
Still following the castle's prompts, he went down the teacher's stairwell to the lower levels of the dungeons and then trekked down a dead end hallway. The wall moved out of his way as he approached it. With a bit of trepidation, he stepped into the opening in the wall to see another set of corridors, ones he had never seen before and he had thoroughly explored his domain. He paused, looking about, worried and a bit cautious about entering an area he had never even knew existed. He wasn't even sure that Albus had known about it. The castle sent him a feeling of reassurance and then tried to push him forward. Flickering a glance back to the familiar hallway, he accepted that he might never see it again. 'And that is how I have lived so many years of my life, especially that last couple, that this should be no different. Am I prepared to never return to complete the mission set before me?' The answer was the same as it had been ever time he had stepped out on a mission for Albus: Yes. He was still headmaster and the castle wanted him to do something for it. 'Maybe Minerva will become Headmistress without a lot of politics.' Locking up all his gloomy thoughts, he headed into the unknown.
Time was a relative thing in the dusty corridors. So was distance. Severus had no idea how far nor how long he walked. He knew he was getting really tired and a bit hungry, but with skill born out of practice he forced those feelings away. He could indulge in creature comforts when he was done. His path ended at an old steel banded wooden door that was intricately carved with the founders' animals as well as vines that linked them together. The door opened up to him and he stepped through onto a stone rune carved floor. Between the runes were grooves that were at least six inches deep. The grooves ended in a deeper circular groove that surrounded a one foot square stone that had gently rounded edges, blurring the square shape slightly. There were shallow bowls set in the four cardinal directions surrounding the center stone at the beginning of the grooved trenches. Each one was etched with vines and intricate runes running about the rims. He was standing on the only surface that was not covered with a rune. Even the wall and the ceiling were decorated. 'The ward room of Hogwarts. No one has ever seen this... not since the time of the founders and even then they were the only ones who saw it.' The idea that he was not making it out of there alive was reinforced. He just couldn't believe that he would be shown this and then be allowed to walk out to spread the knowledge. Not that he would, but that didn't change the fact that no one in centuries had lived to tell about this room if anyone had actually seen it.
Drawing a deep breath, he pulled out the largest potion vial as he acknowledged that this was his last gift, his last chance to make everything right. Closing his eyes briefly he concentrated on the promptings of his home. With his eyes opened, he poured a bit of the potion into each of the shallow bowls and then into each of the floor grooves. The last bit was poured over the center stone.
Following the silent prompts he stood on the center stone, pulled his wand and silently cast.
The north bowl caught with a fire that burned the same color as the potion. He wasn't surprised, barium chlorate was known to burn that color and a number of the ingredients were highly flammable.
The south bowl was next.
Then the east and finally the west.
Once the west one was lit the bowls tipped over dumping their contents into the grooves near them. Severus watched as the smoke and flames shot towards the ceiling and the walls, catching the runes in their play of light and dark. He saw the flames rushing down the grooves and the floor runes start to glow. 'The others must be glowing as well. It is just hard to tell through the smoke.'
He notices how close the flames were to the circular groove. 'The fire is almost here. This is it. There won't be any oxygen left in the room in a minute.' Taking as deep a breath as he could, he felt the heat of the flames flare about him as the center circle caught.
More than thirty feet up, above the ground, the morning sun was just cresting the horizon.
Every surface that had been touched by Severus' potion erupted into a fount of green flame, rushing towards the sky before falling back to the ground and rushing through the areas around them like a flaming green river.
The flaming river raced through the forest, hallways, and rooms clearing out the residual tainted magic. It also re-energized burned out lines, unobstructed blocked one, and realigned the magic of the castle.
The castle wards snapped back up with an almost audible crack.
The whole castle seemed to burn in an eerie green smokeless fire that left no traces of it passage. Once the sun crested the horizon, lighting up all but the Forbidden Forest, the flames had vanished as if they had had never been there.
An hour later worker came to begin their day.