Author's Notes - Hi! I can't tell you how much all the reviews, alerts and favorites have meant to me over the last week. They were a bright spot during a stressful time. I hope you continue to enjoy the story, which as you will see, veers a bit from the Goblet of Fire in this chapter. Reviews and comments are always appreciated, even if it takes me a while to respond!
Standing in front of the fireplace in the Slytherin Common Room, Severus Snape scrutinized the first years who had been Sorted into his House that evening. Ten in all, seven wizards and three witches, they stood in a huddled group to one side, obviously intimidated by their older housemates. He'd rectify that situation after addressing the entire group.
"Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts. I trust you came prepared to study and with your summer assignments completed. As this is a new year, I shall not dwell on the events of the last except to reiterate that bullying will not be tolerated. I could mention that I expect you to earn more House points, but after last year's dismal showing, I suspect such advice would be redundant. Before I have a word with our newest members of Slytherin House, does anyone have any questions?"
The room suddenly filled with raised hands, which didn't surprise Snape in the least. There were always questions, and bound to be more now that the TriWizard Tournament had been announced.
"Yes, Mr. Warrington?"
"What date will be used to determine eligibility for the TriWizard Tournament? I'll be of age in a month."
"You must be of age on the day you put your name up for consideration, which occurs at the end of October. So, yes, Mr. Warrington, you would be eligible. As for the rest of you, let me assure you that the Headmaster meant what he said. Underage wizards and witches will not be allowed to apply. There will be no exceptions to this rule, full stop."
Several hands went down, but there were enough remaining that Severus feared it would be a very long evening.
"What is your question, Mr. Harper?"
"Why can't we play Quidditch this year, Professor? Only one student from Hogwarts will compete in the tournament. What are the rest of us supposed to do?"
"Watch," he answered tersely. Then, in a flash of inspiration, he added after a beat, "Or join the Dueling Club. I will post the meeting time on the board tomorrow afternoon."
There was an excited murmur that rippled through the Common Room. Even the first years appeared interested in his announcement. Severus thought it a brilliant plan. He'd long believed the students needed a more practical approach to defense, and the Dueling Club would provide that. Plus, Rose could practice her growing skills on a variety of opponents.
Several more hands went down. "Yes, Mr. Bole?"
The seventh year appeared somewhat hesitant to ask his question, which surprised Severus. Although quiet, Hugh Bole was not shy.
"Professor Dumbledore informed several of us that you'd been seriously ill over the summer. He said . . . he said it was Phoenix Flu."
Crossing his arms, Severus recalled all the reasons why he hated Albus' interference in his life. No doubt the old man had meant well, but the last thing he desired was the sympathy of his students, especially after the lingering shame of his supposed Potions accident. The disdain in his voice when he replied, therefore, was quite real.
"Did you have a question, Mr. Bole? Or were you simply keen to spread unnecessary gossip?"
"Neither," the young man stammered. "We simply wished to help. If you need anything, sir, anything at all . . . ." He trailed off, suddenly at a loss.
Snape raised his eyebrows, completely taken aback. "We, Mr. Bole?"
The studious young man blushed as he ran his fingers through his short, dark hair. "A few of us, sir, mostly your N.E.W.T. level students. Professor Dumbledore said you could use a teaching assistant for some of your classes, but we thought we'd offer to do some brewing as well."
The corner of his mouth quirked upwards. Pepperup Potion wasn't that difficult to brew, nor was the potion Poppy preferred to clean out wounds. Perhaps it was time for his more advanced students to garner some practical experience. His time could certainly be better used elsewhere.
"Thank you, Mr. Bole. I hope you were sincere in your offer for I intend to accept it. Any N.E.W.T. level student who wishes to brew potions for the Hospital Wing should report to my office tomorrow after dinner. Any further questions?"
Pansy Parkinson held her hand up high, a nasty smirk on her face. Severus gritted his teeth. "Yes, Miss Parkinson?"
"Have you banged Draco's mum yet?"
The flames in the fireplace flared and then abruptly snuffed out as Severus battled his rage. He unthinkingly pulled out his wand, causing the students nearest him to take a hasty step backwards. Beyond reason, he would forever wonder what he would have done had Draco not hurled a Stunner in Pansy's direction. Reacting on instinct alone, he cast a Shield Charm in front of the intolerable witch. The spell glanced off the shield and smashed into the wall leaving a smoking hole in the masonry.
For a singular moment, time seemed to stretch. Snape watched Pansy's arrogance crumble as she looked to the damage done to the wall. In his peripheral vision, he could see Blaise Zabini and Theodore Nott restrain Draco. The first years had scattered to the edges of the Common Room as had many others. Strangely, Callum Derrick hovered to his right while Hugh Bole sent a high-backed chair skidding across the floor.
As his perception reverted to normal, the green leather chair bumped against the back of his knees with enough force to send him falling into it. Only then did he understand that his entire body shook with fury, although with Narcissa's charms his reaction could easily be mistaken for weakness.
For a brief interlude, he sat bent over in the chair, his hands pressed against his head. He needed to calm down before he did something he would regret. During that short interval not one person opened their mouth to speak, for which he was truly grateful. When he did look up, he leveled a baleful stare at Pansy Parkinson. With a malicious grin, he realized she shook as much as he.
His ire abruptly vanished to be replaced by a crushing fatigue. He'd almost done the one thing he'd vowed never to do—use his magic in anger against a student. He glared at the impertinent teen who now refused to meet his eyes. Wearily, he spoke in a too calm voice that carried to all corners of the room.
"Miss Parkinson, the number of points I could deduct for your insolence would rob Slytherin of the House Cup before classes begin. Your blatant disrespect is surpassed only by your crass lack of manners. However, I grow weary of punishing the House at large for your transgressions. You will therefore serve a month's detention with Mr. Filch as well as suffer through tea with the Headmaster tomorrow afternoon in his office. Moreover, I intend to owl your parents and inform them that I can no longer in good conscience teach you Potions. Report to Mr. Filch immediately after dinner tomorrow. You are dismissed."
Pansy stormed off towards her dormitory, every eye upon her. As soon as she had walked out of sight, however, the Common Room erupted in sound. Severus didn't bother to demand quiet. Instead, he looked to his Prefects.
"Mr. Bole, Miss Dalton, please take the first years to their dormitories and make them welcome. Assign each of them a suitable second or third year who can ensure they find their classes in the morning."
The first years safely out of the way, Severus gazed resignedly at the remainder of his students. "That was not how I intended to welcome you back," he stated in a firm tone. "However, I refuse to let the actions of a single person mar what I hope will be a successful year. If there are no more questions, I suggest you return to your rooms to unpack."
There were none. As the students began to file out of the Common Room, he added in a waspish voice. "Mr. Malfoy, I have not forgotten that you attempted to injure Miss Parkinson. Come here."
As the blond wizard marched sullenly to his side, several of his classmates whispered words of support. If nothing else, Parkinson's rudeness had garnered some sympathy for the young Malfoy heir. At least he need not worry about the teen being shunned by his fellow Slytherins.
While the Common Room continued to empty of students, Snape delivered a blistering tirade, although he made no move to stand. "I am appalled by your lack of restraint, Mr. Malfoy. To send a Stunner flying at Miss Parkinson for a rude comment, no matter the subject, shows a gross lack of maturity on your part. You will serve detention with me for the next month for your display of temper. And, let me reiterate, that such behavior will not . . . ."
He trailed off, certain that they were finally alone. As soon as he stopped speaking, Draco crouched beside the chair. The boy's surly expression instantly changed to one of anxiety.
"Should I call for Madame Pomfrey? Is your chest hurting? Rose and I looked up Phoenix Flu and it said that there was a possibility of heart complications. I told her Healer Welby had cleared you, but she—"
Interrupting midsentence, he waved off Draco's concern. "There is no reason to contact Madame Pomfrey. I saw no point in continuing since we are now alone."
Draco scanned the room before turning back to Snape. "You're sure you're alright, sir? You were shaking so badly I thought you would fall over."
Ignoring the question, he spoke candidly to Narcissa's son.
"While I understand your reaction tonight, Draco, you did your mother no favors. It would have been far better had you scoffed at such an absurd notion rather than attacking Pansy like she had exposed some dirty little secret."
"But it's not such an absurd notion, is it, Professor? I mean, you and Mum have been spending quite a lot of time together."
Severus ground his teeth as he clenched his jaw. "If that is a question, Mr. Malfoy, it is not one I have any intention of answering. Your mother's private life and mine are just that—private."
Draco blanched. "I didn't mean it that way, Professor! What you and Mum get up to, I mean . . . ."
"Unless you wish to make this conversation more awkward than it already is, I suggest you stop right there. I'm certain you learned from your father the importance of appearances. While I commend you for defending your mother's honor, some will see your reaction as confirmation of Pansy's tactless accusation. In the future, it would be far better for you to make some dismissive, disparaging comment about me rather than take offense at the question."
"But . . . !" As the teen mulled over Snape's advice, he slowly calmed. "Fine, I'll pretend that Mother couldn't possibly see anything in you. Which do you prefer, greasy git, or bat of the dungeons?"
"Cheek, Draco." Severus' warning, however, came with a smile. "You will still have to serve detention."
"Could you give Rose detention, too?"
"And why would you think she'd enjoy cleaning out cauldrons for a month?"
"I have to clean out cauldrons?!"
The indignation in his voice made his Head of House smile. "I'm sure I can find something more inventive. As for Rose, you'll have ample opportunity to see her. Now, go to bed and tell that dog of yours that he'd better not go wandering off tonight."
Pausing, he added thoughtfully, "Or hex Parkinson for that matter. Your cousin cares little for appearances, but it would be unwise for him to reveal his presence."
Snape watched Draco leave before he slowly stood. With a flick of his wand, he returned the chair to its proper place. First Dumbledore's confession and now this—he wasn't sure he could take any more emotion upheaval that night. Retreating swiftly to his quarters, the Potions Master considered his reaction to that horrid girl's taunt. Truth be told, he should thank Draco for his impulsiveness; it had precluded him from blindly lashing out. With that disturbing thought in the forefront of his mind, it took him several hours to fall asleep.
Walking into his Potions classroom after an early, hurried breakfast, Snape instantly noticed the clean cauldrons sitting on the tables alongside several Potions ingredients. For an incredible moment he wondered if the house-elves had taken it upon themselves to assist him, but then he noticed the responsible party standing near his stores.
"Mr. Diggory, I trust you had a decent summer?"
The affable Hufflepuff grinned as he turned towards the Potions Master. "Better than yours, I imagine, sir. How are you?"
"Much better than I look," he answered dryly.
"That's fantastic, Professor Snape." Cedric's Diggory reply was filled with false cheer; he evidently did not believe his teacher's assurances. Snape hoped Narcissa's Charm would wear off soon. "I set out all the ingredients for the Boil Cure Potion except for the crushed snake fangs. You seem to be out."
"I'll ask Hagrid if he has any. I've not had the opportunity to restock the school's supplies."
"I'll ask him, Professor. I was about to leave for breakfast anyway. If he doesn't, should I put out the ingredients for a Fever Reducing Potion? That's easy enough to brew."
"Thank you, Mr. Diggory, but I'd rather not trust such costly ingredients to a group of first years. No, if Hagrid doesn't have any, I'll switch to a burn healing paste."
"Sure thing, Professor. I'll ask Hagrid straight off."
The young man raced out of the dungeon before Severus could thank him for his help. Temporarily alone, he sat at his desk to review his lesson plan before his students starting filtering in. At least with a class of Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, the students would be on time. Pomona ensured that her new students travelled to class as a group, and Filius left maps of the castle in the Ravenclaw Common Room for those few students who hadn't already memorized the layout from Hogwarts, A History.
He should suggest maps to Minerva. The Gryffindors were the only ones who repeatedly had difficulty finding their classes the first week of school. He'd asked her about it once, and she'd told him that the experience helped instill her first years with a sense of self-reliance. While an admirable goal, he thought there were more constructive ways of achieving it.
He heard the distinct sound of Alastor Moody's presence before he saw him. The ex-Auror turned Defense instructor stomped purposefully into Snape's classroom, his magical eye whirring in its socket.
"Snape! Wasn't expecting to find you here so early. I was certain you'd be lazing in bed after such a nasty illness. You don't mind me checking your office and classroom, do you?"
"Check them for what?" he asked, feeling slightly off kilter. Moody's attitude bordered on hostile, quite unlike their prior conversation during Rose's birthday party.
"With your past, I think you know precisely what I'm looking for."
"I really don't."
The scarred wizard did not take kindly to his genuine befuddlement. "Don't play innocent with me, Snape. Others may have conveniently forgotten that you're a Death Eater, but I haven't. Who knows what Dark objects you keep hidden from view."
He couldn't believe the man's gall. Biting sarcasm laced his reply. "Hundreds, obviously. After all, if I'm to raise the next Dark Lord, I'll need to properly train her. What do you drink in that flask of yours besides pumpkin juice, Moody? Firewhiskey? Vodka?"
The new Defense teacher's face turned purple, and Severus belatedly realized that antagonizing a paranoid man might not have been the best of ideas. With an air of resigned indignation, he let the wizard have his way, although he couldn't control his displeasure.
"I can see you are determined to make someone's morning miserable. It might as well be mine. Let me assure you, however, that if I did own anything that could damn me to Azkaban, I would certainly not hide it at Hogwarts under Albus' nose. I don't care what you think about my past, but don't take me for a fool."
"No, just a coward."
Moody made the accusation with such malice that Snape sat stunned. A feeling of unease slid down his spine. He'd only encountered the ex-Auror twice, once at his trial and, much more recently, at Rose's birthday party. At neither time had he sensed the open hostility radiating off the irritated wizard as he did now. What had happened to so drastically change Moody's opinion of him?
Taking his silence for permission, the older man started to rifle through his things with little care for the mess he made. He opened ever door, pulled out every drawer, and inspected each jar of ingredients before stomping angrily to the door.
"You may not be harboring Dark items, but it's clear you're a poor Potions Master. Half the ingredients you should stock are missing. What'd you do, Snape, decide to sell Boomslang skin on the side?"
With an exasperated sniff, he leaned forward in his chair. Really, he didn't have to take this type of treatment, ex-Auror or no.
"You have no right to accuse me of anything of the sort. I humored your obsession with Dark wizards, and now I think it's time for you to leave. If I'm not mistaken, you have a class this morning."
"I have my eyes on you, Snape. One wrong move and I'll—"
"Where you be wanting this, Professor? I'm sorry I didn't get it to yeh sooner, but the blast-ended skrewts gave me a bit a trouble last night."
Tearing his eyes away from Moody, Severus didn't bother to ask Hagrid what a blast-ended skrewt was. He had a horrible feeling that he would be better off not knowing. Instead, warmly greeted the half-giant who had proven to be a true friend as he ignored Alastor Moody's glare.
"If you could put it by the cupboard, Hagrid. Albus' doing, I presume?"
The big man beamed. "An' who else would it be? He was beside hi'self with worry as soon as he heard. Had to do somethin' productive, or he would have given the house-elves fits. Glad to see yeh you up and about, even if yeh do look a bit worse fer wear."
"I'm fine," he protested. "I'm much better—"
"Than yeh look," his fellow professor finished with a chuckle. "Rose told me you'd say that. She an' Ron an' Hermione came teh see me las' night. She's worried, but I told her you wou'dn't let a little thing like Phoenix Flu bother yeh."
He owed the generous man a debt of gratitude for his confidence. Severus knew that Rose respected his opinion since he had been the one to introduce her to her birthright. Before he could respond, however, Moody sullenly announced the he had better things to do with his time than listen to the two wizards gossip like old fishwives. As the new Defense instructor stomped out, Snape couldn't help but scowl.
"Don't let him get to yeh, Professor. I think that incident with the dustbins is getting' to him more than he lets on. Must a been a might embarrassing to raise that big a ruckus over nothin'. Just between yeh and me, Professor Dumbledore gave him quite a talking to."
Nodding, he didn't bother to ask for particulars. Frankly, he didn't care to know Moody's problems; he had enough of his own. When Hagrid offered to put the Potions ingredients away, he politely declined. He wasn't frail, even if everyone else thought otherwise. Thankfully, he didn't waste time arguing.
"I best be getting to my own classes, then. If yeh need anything else, just let me know."
"I shall. Thank you, Hagrid."
Alone again, Severus pondered Alastor Moody's apparent hostility. He didn't know the man well. Perhaps the rumors were true; perhaps he was as paranoid as everyone said. Two years ago, he would have stormed into the Headmaster's office to demand an apology for the wizard's despicable insinuations. Today, however, he dismissed the incident as nothing more than a desperate attempt by a pathetic man to prove himself worthy of Albus' trust. Merlin knew he had enough experience with that.
When Cedric Diggory returned to ask if he needed any more assistance, he deliberately pushed thoughts of Alastor Moody out of his mind. He had first years to impress. Perhaps this would be the year that he would discover a true Potions prodigy. Smirking over his newfound optimism, he eagerly awaited the arrival of the new students.
Over the next few days, Severus quickly settled into a comfortable routine. While he discovered no prodigies, the first years were not quite the dunderheads he had expected them to be. Moreover, his returning students seemed to have retained more knowledge than was their usual wont; their minds were not sieves after all. Although his red quill still slashed through essays, he found himself writing 'commendable effort' more often than not.
He and Rose ate breakfast together in his quarters. Although he suspected she did this to ensure he ate at least one hearty meal, he appreciated the opportunity to speak to her without her friends hovering nearby. While he had undeniably mellowed since becoming her guardian, he still found it easier to relax when he didn't have an audience.
"I can't believe you're giving the Dueling Club another go. Are you certain you're—"
He jokingly pointed his butter knife at her as he interrupted. "I'm fine, Rose. Besides, the Dueling Club is the perfect place for you to practice your skills. One of my Slytherins rightly pointed out that only one person can be the Hogwarts champion. The rest of you need something constructive to do with your free time."
She grabbed the last piece of toast before he could claim it. "That's all anyone can talk about. Do you have a favorite?"
"So long as it is not you, I have no preference."
"That's the last thing I want, Professor. Really, all I'd like is a nice, quiet year."
Sobering, he leaned forward in his chair, breakfast forgotten. "Rose, I understand how much you wish for that, but your vision this summer says otherwise. You must be on guard at all times. The Dark Lord is not going to sit idle. At some point he will act, and we must be ready."
"But, I'm safe at Hogwarts, right? I mean, Mrs. Weasley said that Voldemort was afraid of Professor Dumbledore. He wouldn't attack the school, would he?"
"You're safer at Hogwarts," he agreed. "But that does not mean you can let your guard down. He doesn't have enough power yet to attack the school directly, but he doesn't need to. All he needs is a faithful servant within the castle. Or have you forgotten what Pansy Parkinson and Marcus Flint tried to do last year?"
She bristled initially, but then rapidly deflated. "I haven't. I just hoped that was the end of it. It's not, though, is it?"
"I'm very much afraid that was the beginning."
She stood up to give him a hug. "It's a good thing I love you so much, Professor, because you really know how to make breakfast depressing."
"Rose, I only wish—"
"I know, and I haven't forgotten. It's just . . . I can't think about it all the time. If I promise not to go wandering off by myself, can we at least pretend everything's normal?"
Mulling over her proposition, he took a sip of coffee. Merlin only knew he'd taken every conceivable precaution to keep her safe. After a long minute, he inclined his head. "Agreed, so long as you promise to tell me the minute something out of the ordinary happens, no matter how trivial it may seem."
"I will! I promise! I really appreciate this, Professor!" Exuberant, she gave him another hug, almost tipping his coffee cup in the process. Then, she grabbed her books and raced out the door before he could do more than wish her a good day.
He quickly finished his coffee before undoing the buttons on the cuff of his shirt and carefully unrolling his sleeve. Rose could pretend all she wanted, but there was no denying the evidence imprinted on his skin. In the last month, the mark he'd taken to join the Death Eaters all those years ago had turned several shades darker. Things were far from normal.
Putting away a few unused cauldrons, Severus turned at the sharp sound of Hermione Granger's voice. Although a lovely young witch, when upset her tone could be as shrill as a harpy's.
"You have to do something, Professor. I mean, Rose is alright; at least I think so, sir. But, you should have seen Neville. He'd gone into shock. I don't care if he is an ex-Auror, he shouldn't be allowed to traumatize students like that."
Feeling as if he had missed the first half of the conversation, he pinched the bridge of his nose. "Miss Granger, am I to understand that Professor Moody did something during Defense class today that you deem inappropriate?"
"Inappropriate?" She screeched, forgetting for a moment that she addressed a professor. "I'd say it was more than inappropriate! It bordered on illegal! Or do you honestly think we need to see Unforgivables performed in class?!"
Hell no, he wanted to shout. Instead, he demanded an accounting of Moody's actions during the lesson. After hearing a shortened version, he wanted nothing more than to run to Rose to make absolutely sure that she was alright. Hermione, however, had mentioned that she had joined Draco in walking his dog. He suspected the young man was exactly whom she needed to see. Instead, he strode out of the classroom without a word, convinced that the Headmaster had finally lost his marbles for allowing such a nutter to teach.
Opening the door to Moody's classroom without knocking, he ignored the wizard's indignant protests. Instead, he leveled his gaze at the student sitting forlornly in the chair closest to him. Neville held an untouched cup of tea precariously in his right hand. His eyes still glassy with shock, he stared dazedly at his least favorite professor.
"Mr. Longbottom, a word with you. Now."
The tea spilled from the cup. Severus intentionally overlooked it. Instead, he crossed his arms to wait with an air of irritated impatience while the boy woodenly gathered his things. As soon as the Gryffindor stood, Alastor redoubled his protests.
"Now see here, Snape. You have no right to interrupt. I was just telling Longbottom here how highly Professor Sprout thinks of his Herbology work. You can bloody well speak to him later."
"Mr. Longbottom's obvious talent in Herbology is not at issue here. Your reckless disregard for your students' wellbeing is. He shall accompany me, or I can inform Kingsley Shacklebolt of your decision to demonstrate the Cruciatus Curse in front Frank and Alice Longbottom's son. Which will it be?"
Neville stared at him with his mouth agape. Snape didn't waste time asking what had shocked him more: his hated Potions Master's awareness of his proficiency in Herbology or the utterance of his parents' names. Instead, he pulled on the sleeve of the boy's robe until he started moving. When the teen walked down the stairs, he turned stonily to his colleague.
"Let me make one thing perfectly clear, Alastor. I have my eye on you. I don't care what liberties the Headmaster granted, I will not allow you to torment your students in such a fashion."
The scarred man loudly banged his hand on the desk. "They'll be encountering such spells soon enough. You and I both know it's just a matter of time before the Dark Lord's return."
"Perhaps," he coldly acknowledged. "But as the Killing Curse cannot be countered, I see no reason for a practical demonstration, especially in front of someone who has been personally affected by such a spell."
"And, there's the rub, isn't it? You're not talking about Longbottom now, are you?"
Snape swept out of the room without dignifying the jab with a response. Halfway down the stairs, he realized that Neville waited patiently at the door. Nervously, he bit the inside of his cheek. What the hell was he supposed to say to the boy?