So far, Potions classes had gone well. Though I was younger, my results appeared to be the same. Students still paid fearful attention to me when I spoke, and the bright were quickly weeded from the dim witted within the first few minutes of each new group brought to me. Though annoyed and betrayed at first, I enjoyed the vigor my returned youth gave me. Free from torment and fear of the Cruciatus curse, I was twice the speed I had been at catching mistakes and looming over a wrecked brew.
The underlying lightness in me also added a previously unseen kind of patience. Still diligently harsh on the foolish, I was understanding of the beginners, and in my first year classes, I was able to set those with slightly less talent but still a thirst to learn on the right path. Those who melted their cauldrons, however, had no help from me.
The third and up classes were a bit more interesting, because they remembered me as their teacher from before. Where the first-year students of last year knew me only as a strangely distant headmaster, the second and up remembered the stories of my being evil, and then the sudden announcement that I was truly on the side of 'good'. I could see the question in their eyes, but no one raised their hand. I think they were waiting for me to speak of it, and when I went into the lesson as though all was normal and had always been, it discouraged the cowardly who talked down the brave. No one questioned anything.
It wasn't until my 7th year class, double with Gryffindor and Slytherin, that I felt nervous. Among the teens who were awaiting my class was a bushy haired young woman I felt I'd seen too much of recently. She avoided my eye, and likewise I avoided hers, as everyone took their seats. Strangely, she sat next to a Slytherin girl. I wondered if the hero worship of the Gryffindors was starting to get to her; I was realizing she had as little patience for fools as I did. Shrugging inwardly, I started.
"Welcome back to Hogwarts, I hope everyone enjoyed their Christmas Break." I didn't really care. "I am Professor Snape, and will be taking over for Professor Slughorn as Potions Master, as Slughorn requested he return to retirement. N.E.W.T.s will be coming up very shortly, so I suggest we break with the formalities and begin studying the Polyjuice Potion, one of the four you will be tested on for your N.E.W.T." A collective groan issued from the room, and I smiled inwardly. "Before this year, the potions we will make have been restricted to you. They are only available now because you will be highly observed to see you are not abusing your gifts. Should we find you are, those liberties, along with others, will be stripped of you. The Polyjuice Potion recipe is available to you on page 23 of your books. Certain ingredients can only be accessed through me, and only when I know everyone is ready will we proceed. That is not to say you are not on a time limit. You are. Starting when I began this sentence."
There was a rush of movement as everyone flipped through books and readied their cauldrons and tools. As people began to get up to gather ingredients from the table, I interrupted. "Miss Granger, please approach my desk."
She did, without looking nervous. I was almost impressed. "I know for a fact you already know how to produce a Polyjuice Potion, almost as well as I do. You are exempt from this lesson."
"Am I excused to my common room, then, sir?"
"No, I don't wish for that." A flash of what I thought was relief lit her eyes before she went blank again. Hmmm. I think I'm right about the hero worship. "I do wish for you to be an aide of mine for the next few weeks until your classmates are done with the potion."
"Shall I sit, then, Professor?"
I nodded, and she chose a seat at the corner of my desk, close enough to talk but not close enough to be close. I handed her some papers, and she got to work grading and sorting them for me without my needing to explain. I was surprised, and went back to what I was doing; coming up with a new potion that would hopefully make cauldrons unable to be melted by any other potion. I hoped it would make first year classes much easier to maintain their supplies.
When the class was at the loudest, chopping and starting the ingredients to boil, I heard Hermione call to me softly.
"Having trouble, Granger?"
"No, nothing to do with the papers, sir."
"Then what is it?"
She was quiet for a minute.
"Spit it out please, Granger."
"There are a lot of people asking questions about you to me, sir. About why you stayed in the hospital for so long."
I looked at her. She was staring at the paper, her quill to it, but it wasn't moving. "Are you afraid to answer?"
She didn't shake her head, but her jaw set slightly. "No sir. The truth is simple; you needed to recover, and no one wanted to throw you to the press wolves until you had your strength back. All those weeks where you re-learned to walk..." She closed her eyes, and I shuddered. I hated remembering that time, where I couldn't get up on my own. But, it comes with dying and then being asleep for a week; your body forgets.
"What is the problem then?" I asked, forcing my mind away from such thought.
"They are divided, sir, into hero worship, and wondering if you're strong enough to return. There are some who think your long recovery time is a hint at some inner weakness, or else that you were being prodded for information about followers who many have escaped justice."
I rolled my eyes and looked back down at my work. "Everyone who was a follower of Voldemort was there that day. No one escaped. Well, except the Malfoys, but they've never really counted."
I saw her look at me stunned, then silence a laugh. "Well said, sir."
"As to the other comment... Why do they think you would know?"
"Some of the volunteers told them I went to the hospital with you."
"Did those same volunteers tell them you weren't there for the whole time?"
She shook her head a fraction of an inch. "No, sir."
I raised my eyes to look at the classroom. No one was paying attention to us, they were too involved in their work. I took this as a good sign- and a slightly bad one. Everyone seemed interested in Hermione Granger as a figure, but no one was looking anxious at the fact she had to work with the Potions Master instead of doing her assignment. Two years ago, everyone would have been tossing worried glances her way, guarding her as a friend and comrade. Not even the girl who she'd been sitting with seemed to care; she'd quickly joined another pair at a different table and was exchanging smiles and jokes with them. Minerva's words came back to me, along with the promise I'd made. I shifted slightly in my chair.
"McGonagoll told me to keep an eye on you this year."
She almost dropped her quill. "She did?"
I pretended I didn't notice, idly scratching away at my parchment. "Seemed to think there'd be a problem with the students, and perhaps others." I looked again at the small assembly, still concentrating on their cauldrons. "Is there?"
She was silent, her hand still not moving from its place on the page. For a brief moment, she looked like she was going to break and explode in the same instance. "It feels like I'm a million miles away from everyone else. They have no idea what I'm dealing with, and this time Harry and Ron aren't here. I almost want to quit and go home, but this means a lot to me. I just...It's like I've forgotten how to live, with all this on my shoulders. I don't know how to handle it."
"I think a lot of us are feeling that way, Miss Granger." I spoke quietly, the class was quieting down now, as it was getting time to just let things boil and see who failed.
"If you're able to come to me with all this, why can't you go to one of those almost perfect strangers and talk?"
I thought by her silence I had made a good point, and that she would see reason and be able to get back to her life now. Then I heard her place her quill down gently, and turn to look at me.
"You're not a perfect stranger, though, sir. You're someone who has been through it all with us, and in a lot of ways even more than us, and you're still here, doing the same thing I'm doing. I think the only real difference is I forgot recently, and you lost your memory of a real life years ago."
The bell rang. All the students got up, spelled their cauldrons to a back corner of the dungeon to keep brewing, and left. I didn't get a chance to respond, which didn't really matter; I have no idea what I could possibly have said.