Chapter 1 : Explosion!
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It was nearly the end of October at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Halloween was fast approaching and students were in high spirits. Arista Snape, daughter of the Potions Master, had just finished her potions class with her father and now headed down to the infirmary for her lesson with Madam Pomfrey, the medi-witch. Arista possessed an extraordinary healing talent and she sharpened her natural skills by taking extra-credit classes with Poppy for an hour and a half every other day.
Meanwhile, back in the dungeons, the current class of Gryffindors and Slytherins had arrived and were busily concocting a Youth Potion. Neville was sweating buckets and had managed to melt down yet another cauldron within the first half-an-hour of class.
Professor Snape was furious. Holy Merlin, but the boy was such a dunderhead, it was almost unbelievable! He made Severus want to tear his hair out. “Longbottom!” he snapped, striding over to the smoking mess and pointing his wand at it. “Evanesco!” The contents of the cauldron and the cauldron itself vanished. “You’ll receive a zero for today and you’ll stay after class with me until you brew this Youth Potion properly!”
“Yes, sir,” Neville said miserably, shivering at the angry glare Snape was giving him. His ineptitude at brewing potions was as legendary as Severus’s temper.
“Tough break, mate,” whispered Ron to Neville as he packed up his books and prepared to depart the classroom once the class was dismissed.
Once the current class had departed, Snape swept over to Neville and told him to start re-brewing the potion. “Practice makes perfect, Mr. Longbottom. Ingredients first, and this time read the text, don’t just stare at the page like an imbecile and hope that it will somehow be absorbed into your brain.”
“Y-yes, sir,”Neville gulped and set to re-reading and re-measuring.
Severus knew he was probably being unduly harsh with the child, but he wasn’t in the best of moods today. His head was pounding and he was growing more and more frustrated with his students’ lack of concentration and general carelessness. How many times must he go over basic rules before they heeded him? One hundred times? A thousand? Infinity?
He cast a quick glance at Neville, noting that the boy seemed to be focusing better now that he was alone. Hmm. . .maybe that was the key? Put Longbottom in class and he was distracted, but get him in a more private setting . . .
He recalled that Neville had done particularly well two summers ago under Arista’s and his tutelage, one on one. Structured classroom situations seemed to make the boy extremely nervous and easily flustered. And your yelling at him didn’t help much either, Severus, his conscience rebuked.
Snape rubbed a hand across his eyes. Merlin, but he was tired! He’d spent almost all of last night brewing a batch of Class 5 Healing Salve for Poppy and had gotten barely five hours of sleep. He’d forgotten that he was now thirty-four and not twenty-one, his body couldn’t function as well on the meager amount of sleep he’d been getting. Not any more.
Small wonder he’d been so irritable. Even so, he knew he should have controlled his temper better and not been so abrasive. He sighed inwardly. That flash fire temper was his greatest bane and he’d fought all of his adult life to control it. For he had sworn never to be like his father, who had allowed his temper to rule him.
My head rules, not my heart.
That self-discipline had come at a great cost, hard won and bitterly fought for. And still, it was not perfect.
Severus rubbed his eyes and wished this day would end so he could go back to his quarters, drink some tea, and relax with a good book before dinner. Today the mask of the snarky professor was poking him uncomfortably and he longed to remove it. But he hadn’t dared, not with the Slytherin Death Eater children in the room. His cover as a spy would be blown for sure.
But now, with only Neville, perhaps he could let it slip a little, and simply be Severus. Severus, who could apologize for those sharp sarcastic comments, comments that he knew did much to wound Neville’s self-confidence. There were times he hated playing the role he’d created so long ago. “Mr. Longbottom—” he began in a much gentler tone.
There was a sudden hiss and he saw to his utter horror that Neville’s solution was bubbling and frothing like a volcano on the verge of erupting. It was the correct color but it was far too agitated, which could’ve only happened if the boy had added too many snake scales to the mixture.
“Longbottom!” he shouted. “Move away! Now!”
But Neville just stood there, too petrified to move, his eyes wide and scared in his moon face.
“Neville, dammit!” Snape roared, then he lunged at the boy, yanking him back and down, just before the entire cauldronful of Youth Potion exploded.
Hot yellow liquid splashed everywhere, spattering the entire classroom as well as the Potions Master, who had not had time to cast a Shield Charm, so intent was he on getting his student out of harm’s way.
All he had time to do was throw an arm over his face before bright yellow droplets rained down on him . . .hitting the exposed skin of his left hand . . .and altering him rapidly.
* * * * * * *
Arista had just finished putting away the new batch of Healing salve her father had delivered to the infirmary that morning when the fireplace suddenly flared up with green flames and Neville stuck his head through and yelled, “Arista! There’s been . . .uh, an accident in the dungeons . . .it’s your father . . .”
The jar of salve she’d been holding fell to the floor and shattered, but she barely noticed.
“What? Neville, how bad is it?”
“Uh . . .you really need to come see for yourself . . .”the boy sputtered, sniffling. “I’m so sorry, Arista, it’s all my fault . . .!”
“Never mind that, Neville!” she snapped. “Just get out of the fireplace so I can come through. You can apologize later.”
“Oh, right.” Shamefacedly, the boy withdrew.
Arista tossed a handful of Floo Powder down and said “Snape’s classroom!” Then she stepped into the green flame and vanished, appearing a moment later in her father’s classroom.
The walls, floor, and the desk were covered in bright yellow splotches. Probably the remains of Neville’s latest potions disaster, she thought wearily.
Neville was standing off to one side of the fireplace, biting his lip nervously.
Arista ignored him, searching the room frantically for her father, who was presumably injured. It was then she caught sight of the small boy standing near the desk. He had dark shoulder-length hair and deep brown inquisitive eyes and he was wearing a set of black robes that were ten times too big for him.
“Neville? Where’s my father?”
But before Neville could open his mouth to reply, the little boy looked up at her and said softly, “Hello. I’m Severus. Who are you?”
Arista staggered backwards and nearly fell into the fireplace.