Chapter II


Colin and Dennis had already settled into the cabin when Harry came in. They were speaking to each other with great and vibrant enthusiasm on a subject Harry had no care to know about. Anything the boys could be discussing would be of no importance or interest to him. To make matters worse, their voices had not changed yet so it was twice as annoying listen to them. He had only hoped the conversation would let him slip in without notice. Two sets of eager eyes suddenly turned upon him. Alas, no luck. Harry tried not to roll his eyes when the Creevey brothers greeted him in unison.

Harry sighed, wishing he could be with Ron or Hermione in the cars reserved for prefects and Head Boy and Girl. Unfortunately, the three of them had been separated for the better part of the summer. Ron, having nearly lost an arm during their last battle with Voldemort, spent six weeks at St. Mungo's LRW (Limb Reattachment Ward). He'd been under heavy sedation while he was there and, as Ginny wrote, he'd been "too belligerent to write and so wickedly wonky, Gilderoy Lockhart could have had a mate in Ron in the mental ward." The rest of the summer was spent back at home recovering his senses.

Hermione, however, was spending as much time as she could with her muggle parents before they would be put into protective hiding. The decision was made due to the fact that one Death Eater assassin made it to the Grangers' bedroom, not before obliterating two aurors on the way. This attack had not been unprovoked, for it was Hermione who had developed the plan and led the attack to retrieve the Specter of Spindling while Harry faced Voldemort once again to distract him.

Therefore, with Ron and Hermione indisposed and friends in the OP busy with all things Voldemort, Harry had been forced to spend yet another summer holiday with the Dursleys. On the upside, his muggle relatives had grown terribly anxious around him and tended to think twice before mistreating him. The downside, however, was that he was stuck at number 4 Privet Drive under strict orders from Dumbledore not to leave the Dursleys. The malevolent threat of Voldemort and the Death Eaters far outweighed his dislike for his family, Dumbledore told him, and he was indeed safest with them whether he liked it or not.

The new school year was beginning to look just as miserable as the summer, if it was to start being stuck on a train with both Creeveys. Harry wallowed in self-pity for a few moments while Colin and Dennis shot annoying questions at him at the rate of a semiautomatic hopped-up on speed. Then a hopeful ray of light came to his mind and pushed away the heavy clouds. He was heading to Hogwarts, far, far away from the Dursleys, to his final year. His graduating year. End of term brought the summer and Harry's eighteenth birthday - his ticket to freedom. He also had the strong feeling that he would finally vanquish Voldemort once and for all. He had come so close only months ago but the pale python of a man managed to slither away once more. There was no way Harry would let the Dark Lord take another mutated snake breath once he had him locked in his sights again.

Harry gave a halfhearted grin at the boys and took to the only seat available, next to Dennis. As he put his rag of a bookbag in the overhead compartment, he turned, and only now noticed the fourth person in the cabin with them. He looked over to the stranger in the window seat on Colin's bench.

"Who is that?" he asked not, to one boy in particular - for he knew either one of them would answer, if not both.

It was Colin who answered, all a-jitter like a happy puppy greeting its master. "We don't know! She was already here, asleep when we came in."

Harry slipped his glasses back up to the proper place on his nose and looked her over. The first thing he noticed was the yellow and blue tinted sunglasses with shiny gold frames. They looked expensive, but judging from the rest of her outfit probably knockoffs. They almost resembled the pair Dudley had tried to wear over the summer. They had been far too small and not the right frame for the shape of his face, but he proudly wore them, bragging they were designer Guccis. They were actually a pair he'd swiped off a street cart selling counterfeit designer sunglasses and watches. He'd also managed to steal a "Prada" watch for Petunia, claiming he'd saved and then bought it for her "just because no other mum could be so perfect."

The sleeper had sandy colored hair woven into braids and worn like a halo around her head. Harry noticed that from travel or poor hair maintenance they'd begun to unravel. A green t-shirt and sleeveless blue hooded pullover covered most of her upper body, but Harry could still admire the tan on her exposed arms. Her blue jeans were so faded that they would hardly be considered blue anymore. He raised a curious brow at the twenty or so safety pins pinned to each torn and worn cuff.

She sat with her arms crossed around her chest, her head propped up against the window, creating a foggy aura against the glass around it.

For a fleeting moment, Harry had a horrible thought that she might be another Luna Lovegood. Shooing that thought from his mind, he convinced himself that from the looks of things she seemed too hip to be a loon like Lovegood. Harry was about to take time to consider the sleeping stranger when Neville Longbottom came tripping in.

"Sorry guys, e-everywhere else is full." Neville slid the cabin door shut behind him. "I-I didn't think you'd mind." He turned to the cabin mates with a pleasant smile, expecting warm greetings.

Harry noticed that Neville had grown yet another few inches, his shoulders had broadened handsomely, but he still quivered and stuttered as the first day he'd seen him. Potter was already annoyed that he had to be away from his two best friends. Another face that did not belong to them was more than he cared to deal with. He did mind that he had to be in a cabin with the dual presidents of his fan club, and to add clumsy, needy Neville was insult to injury. "As you can see, Neville, we're pretty full in here as we-"

"Of course we don't mind, Neville!" Dennis exclaimed, interrupting Harry's dismissal of him. "Here, Harry, make room, OK?" He gave Harry a bit of a shove, and the younger Creevey slid himself down to the other end of the bench to make room for Neville in between.

Harry was far too stunned to protest. He closed his gaping mouth, and then reluctantly moved over a bit further to give himself all the millimeters that could be afforded in the space between him and Neville. Harry let out a bitter huff, not bothering to hide the inconvenience put upon him. The others did not seem to notice.

Neville cheerfully took the seat offered to him. "Thanks 'arry, thanks Dennis!" He was genuinely thankful; his sugary tone was proof of that. He grinned widely at both boys, receiving a mirrored expression from Dennis but barely half a smile from Harry.

"No problem!" Dennis replied in the same cotton candy air as Neville. This made Harry cringe.

"Yeah, my pleasure." Harry grunted under his breath. He couldn't believe his luck. All he had been able to think about on the way to platform 9 3/4 was spending time laughing with his best friends and getting fat on the delights on the candy cart. He had forgotten Ron and Hermione would be in special cabins, and now he was stuck with Dennis, Colin and Neville. The boys weren't really all that bad - it was just not what Harry wanted. Potter crossed his arms, turned away from them as best he could in the space allotted him and pouted out his lower lip like a toddler.

Neville, meanwhile, had seen the other passenger immediately. Taking a quick glance at the dreamer, Neville opted to properly say his hellos to his friends before mentioning her. How were your summer holidays? Got new cameras. Started a garden. Excited for the new term. Neville matched the Creevey brothers' enthusiasm tier for tier as they exchanged news and greetings.

His chuckles fading, Longbottom now took full notice of the fifth cabin mate next to Colin and asked about her. "Who could she be, do you reckon?"

"Your guess is as good as ours, Nev," Colin answered with a shrug.

Neville then cocked his head sideways as he considered this passenger. He thought seriously for a moment, furrowing his brow into his forehead. Harry turned his face back towards Neville, wondering what kind of answer his simple friend would come up with.

"She's probably one of the American exchange students," Neville said matter-of-factly, to which the Creevey brothers displayed identical expressions of recognition and amazement. Harry in turn squinted as the mention of exchange students in passing conversations with Ron around end of term slowly came to memory.

"Ah! That's right, I plum forgot!" Dennis squeaked. Harry half expected him to slap his forehead in an exaggerated gesture but Dennis just nodded over to the stranger. "She must be seventh year so she'd be in class with you and Harry, Neville!" All of the boys stared at the sleeping female passenger.

"Though, I don't know," Colin said, trying to peek behind her sunglasses. "She looks like she may be a little bit older." He shrugged looking back at the others. "But it could be the tan."

Dennis nodded, agreeing with his brother's train of thought. "Yea, she reminds me of our cousins KiKi and Brigit who always stop by before going back to University after a summer holiday at some beach. They always look older than they are, all golden and glowy-"

"Except for two summers ago when they fell asleep after a party and got all red! They waddled around like lobsters, not wanting to sit 'cause their bums were burned!" Colin chuckled and Dennis laughed with a snort. They failed to mention, however, that they incessantly tormented their cousins by flicking watermelon seeds at their burns, causing the girls to slap at their skin in a knee-jerk reaction. The boys eventually did get their punishment handed to them when they woke to find themselves covered in molasses with mosquitoes let loose upon them. As their laughter came to an end the Creeveys suddenly felt itchy.

"Well, she could still be a seventh year, even if is she is older, " Harry chuckled. "You know what slackers those Americans can be." Harry meant it as a joke and had expected at least a sympathy laugh. What he got was raised brows and a "how rude" look from Neville. Harry quickly wiped the grin off his face and cleared his throat. Tough crowd.

In an attempt to divert their scolding gazes and steer the topic off his bad joke, Harry asked, "Why is Hogwarts in an exchange program anyway? I mean, we are in a time of war, you know. Vol-" - Harry saw the look of horror in the boys' eyes as he uttered the first syllable but went on to say the Dark Lord's name anyway - "-demort is out there, probably more powerful than ever, ready to attack at any time!"

The Creeveys nodded. "That is a good question, Harry!" Colin said. "It is dangerous, bad luck even. The last time we had foreign students at Hogwarts, one of us got killed!"

"Why do think they are doing it, Harry?" Dennis bent forward to look over at him.

Harry felt confident that he was back in their good graces. Colin and Dennis were his biggest fans after all. They ought to have stories for their classmates of how brilliant Harry was as he so splendidly chose them as his cabin mates and shared his wisdom. Brilliant indeed, although he really didn't have an answer. Harry stammered on, cursing his brain for not coming up with even a decent explanation "Well, um... I guess ... it could be ...because..."

This was when Neville scooped away the attention the boys were giving Harry. "Well, I was talking to Hermione back at the platform and she said that the Ministry wants to keep up public appearance."

The boys' heads whipped back to Neville. "Allowing a student exchange program gives a show that everything is fine, that school activities are uninterrupted and that they are confident there is no truth, to rumors of the resurrection of the Death Eaters and the Dark Lord."

Colin and Dennis nodded in admiration of Neville's knowledge on the subject. Neville smiled, and then gently patted Dennis' back. "But we know different, right guys?"

"Yeah! Neville!" Colin shouted so loudly Harry nearly jumped out of his seat. He thought Colin's eyes were going to fly right out of their sockets he was so excited. "It was amazing how you used Ridikkulus on that Death Eater, turned his robes to fangless snakes that sucked at his neck!" Colin reenacted the look of said Death Eater and the snakes with his hands. "I would have never thought such a thing would work!"

"Yeah! Quick thinking! It distracted him long enough to get him away from Ernie!" Dennis jumped in his seat so violently; Harry felt the vibration under the cushions. "THEN! Then you nailed him with the Cruciatus Curse! It was fantastic." The famous Potter was dumbfounded. If there was any truth in what the boys were saying, Neville had more power in him than he thought. He looked at Neville, who sat tall, smiling proudly but with an air of humility. Harry swore he saw a blush pinking in Longbottom's cheeks.

"Glad you were with us, Neville!" Glad you were with us, NEVILLE? But what about him? He had been the one standing face-to-face with Voldemort while Neville had battled only meager Death Eaters. Harry looked back and forth at the boys. Their worshipful eyes set their sights on bucktooth Neville. A scowl imbedded itself on to Harry's face. Jealousy was beginning to take hold.

In an attempt to win back attention and gain some praise, Harry cleared his throat and said, "Yeah, that's really neat, Neville." He sat tall ready to be gushed at, "Kind of like when I fought wand to wand with both Bulstrode and Goyle on my way to defeat Vo-"

"And, Neville!" The boys didn't even hear Harry. " When you cast Expelliarmus on that Deathguard's wand so that Ginny Weasley could petrify him!" Colin was leaning forward his face flush with excitement as he added sound effects to his description.

Dennis clapped and hooted. The three of them were locked in deep in praise of each other. When the mutual love fest ended, the Creevey brothers wanted to know more about the American students and asked Neville a barrage of questions. "There is more than one Magic School in America, right? How many students are coming? Who was sent there from Hogwarts?"

"Well, there are four students coming." Neville went on to answer each question, thoroughly sharing all he new about the American students. Harry was lost in complete dismay. Could his day get any worse? When had Neville become such a hero? Maybe he should have been nicer to the Creeveys these past years. Having lost interest in him, they must have latched on to an eager soul willing to please them, as Harry never could. He sulked on his end of the bench.

With Neville and the boys' voices finally fading out of existence, Harry stared at the sleeping American student. She was kind of cute, Harry thought, and would definitely keep his attention easily from Cho, who ended up coupling with a graduating Ravenclaw at the end of the year. They hadn't had much of a relationship anyway, so he couldn't really blame her for finding someone new. The memory of their heavy make out sessions had Harry curling his toes in envy of the older boy who for sure got to shag her. His eye wandered over the body of the sleeper. He wondered what her name was, whether she had a boy friend, whether she wanted one or just good shag. He was well over due for his first, and maybe this girl would be the one to do the honors. He was the famous Harry Potter after all. The Creeveys may have found a new star to follow, but he was sure everyone else still held him in high regard.

Harry's eyes slowly began to glaze over and his scowl grew into a silly grin as he considered the girl's tanned skin and curves. He wondered when he'd be able to use his invisibility cloak to spy her in her skivvies or less...

The last of the first years were sorted into their houses. Snape was not surprised at the newcomers to Slytherin. Two out of the three were pureblood children of Death Eaters and one was from a line whose family traditionally went to Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. As for the rest of the first years, four had gone to Hufflepuff, three to Gryffindor and only two to Ravenclaw. Slim pickings this year. This was not unsual, however. Every so often only a handful of new students entered Hogwarts. This balanced the years when two or three times the usual amount of children come through those massive magic doors.

Dumbledore clapped as he stood and said his welcomes to the new students and made his usual speeches. The Headmaster then stood silent, looking out to all the students in the Great Hall in such a way that each one thought Dumbledore was looking directly at him. He raised his arms, adding dramatic gestures as he spoke, his voice bellowing out to all in the great hall.

"My students, most of you have heard or even read about what I am about to announce, so this should not come as a surprise to you. Those who will be surprised should keep themselves better in tune with current events!" Dumbledore waved a scolding finger to the crowd but gave a smile to show that he wasn't entirely being serious.

"Children, look among you. Who is missing from your house? Four students were chosen to participate in our first student exchange in nearly fifteen years. Four Hogwarts students were chosen to go to America for the school year and four students from the American magic schools were chosen to attend Hogwarts!"

Harry squirmed in his seat. He nudged his elbow roughly at the red head's side. "You get to see her now, Ron," he whispered. He told Ron Weasley all about the girl on the train. As soon as he'd found him at the station, Harry hadn't stopped talking about her until they entered the great hall. "I wonder if there will be another one just as cute, for you!"

Ron was indeed intrigued. If this girl was as scrumptious as Harry described then things were looking up. He'd had his fill of the girls at Hogwarts; new blood had him licking his lips in anticipation. He'd grown into quite the ladies' man while Harry had only petted around with Cho. New faces meant new conquests and Ron was eager to start, especially as his summer had been spent half out of his wits in St. Mungo's.

"Yeah, let's see, there are supposed to be two seventh years, a sixth year and a fifth year- or rather the American equivalent. Won't it be great if they all are girls?" Ron crossed his fingers and both boys chuckled. Chuckling turned into coughing and throat clearing when Hermione narrowed her eyes at them.

Hermione let out a huff and rolled her eyes at Ron and Harry's antics. Could they not think of anything else? Being around the boys proved right her notions that teenage boys were not worth giving up her study time. She was glad that she had spent her time with older, not to mention mature, men such as Viktor Krum. He was always respectful of her and never pushed her further than she wanted. They kept in touch with owl mail. Unfortunately, they saw each other less and less as the months passed and Hermione only now realized that she hadn't heard from him since before finals of last term.

She'd had a busy summer, but usually Viktor sent a letter every two weeks like clockwork. Hermione had intended to write to tell Viktor that she would not be available for the summer but he'd never written a response to her usual pre-exam letters. Hermione knew he was joining a new team that summer; perhaps he'd just been too busy to write. She blushed, suddenly feeling guilty that she had so easily forgotten him these past couple of months.

Dumbledore was finishing his speech and Hermione returned her attention to the headmaster. "The four will be sorted into houses, just like our first years. I ask you kindly to treat our newcomers with respect and courtesy. I am sure some of you will build a lasting friendship. And now, our American exchange students."

The great doors opened again. The four newcomers shyly stood in the great doorway with all eyes upon them. Hermione noticed the tall black girl adjust herself to a confident stance as she took the first step. The handsome boy next to her, who was unmistakably Native American, followed in suit.

Hermione had read once that certain peoples had inherited a natural disposition and understanding to magic and even had a keen use of ancient or "core" magic. Native Americans (with minor differences in each tribe), Gypsies and Aborigines were among the few to have these abilities. It was rare to find them in the company of wizards wielding "silly" wands.

The two younger exchange students followed the others closely as they all walked down the aisle to the sorting hat. There were only two girls in the bunch and Ron snapped his fingers in disappointment. "Ah well, at least there is one for each of us, Harry." He watched as the four Americans came up and then passed them. He looked for the girl Harry described, blond and tan. But there was only the tall (and well filled out Ron noticed) black girl, and a small girl with short reddish brown hair. "Um, Harry," he whispered, "which one is yours?"

Harry anxiously looked up and down the aisle looking for his sleeping beauty. "She's not here!

"Sh-she's not here!" He looked around frantically. He counted the exchange students: one, two, three, four. There were only supposed to be four. Maybe there had been a mistake; maybe there were supposed to be five. There had to be. Why else would she have been on the train?

He looked back down the aisle to the great doors, squinting to see if perhaps she was there, lagging behind. All he saw were the doors closing, telling him no one else was coming.

"That's weird, Harry. You sure she's not one of those girls?" Ron looked towards Professor McGonagall, who stepped forward, greeting the students in kind, and began to call each forward under the sorting hat.

Harry looked at them intently. Maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him. But no, the girl asleep in the train was not one of them. There was one definitely a seventh year, the tall girl named Delila Wilkensen, who was sorted into Ravenclaw, and the short brunette, whose eyes practically disappeared behind freckles, Melanie Hurtston.

"That one's probably the fifth year," Ron whispered to Harry. "Kind of young but has potential." Hurtston was sorted into Gryffindor. The seventh year boy, Robert Blackcrow, was put in Slytherin and the sixth year boy, Thomas Miles Tempest the Third, was placed in Hufflepuff. Hermione thought he looked like a long lost relative of Santa Claus, with round red cheeks and a belly to match.

Harry shrugged at Ron. He knew he hadn't imagined her. "I didn't see her get off the train…" Harry searched for a reason to explain why she wasn't there. Ron saw the glimmer of panic in his friend's eyes. He found this rather funny.

"She was still asleep when we all got off…" Harry said, his voice trailing off as his brain tried to make sense of it all. Ron began to snicker. "Maybe she was on the wrong train?"

"Maybe you dreamed her up, Harry!" Ron was convulsing trying not to laugh out loud. "You probably fell asleep and dreamed about your pretty blond all the way to Hogwarts."

"I didn't!" Harry shoved at Ron's shoulder. He hated being teased, especially if Ron could be right. He still protested, despite his own fears that she might have well been dreamed up. "She was there! Ask Neville!"

"Shhh! Stop being so rude!" Hermione scolded the boys. " Honestly you two, Professor Dumbledore is still speaking!"

Dumbledore's voice bellowed on. "And just one more announcement, children- settle down, settle down. The feast will begin momentarily, I promise. As you know, every year it seems we have a new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher. This year is no exception."

Finally, Professor Snape thought. He'd waited for this announcement all day. His mouth turned up its corners as he thought of the looks on the children's faces. Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw would have the mixture of surprise, indifference and polite nods. The Gryffindors would be beside themselves, mouths gaping open in stunned silence. The fearful look in their eyes would be priceless. From the Slytherins, no doubt cheers and boisterous applause. This was the moment he had been anticipating for far too long.

"However, I do hope you will be pleased with our choice." Dumbledore looked around to the professors on both sides of the head table. "I have it on good authority that your new Professor is extremely talented."

Professor Snape sat tall in his seat…

"... And campaigned for this position whole-heartedly and earnestly..."

The Potions Master pulled his seat back and brushed his robes...

"I present you, your new Dark Arts Professor..."

Shape straightened his collar and stood...

"Professor Ana Jenski, our fifth American newcomer." The doors opened again and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, barely allowing the doors to spread, ran in. All heads turned toward her.

Her robes were wrinkled and buttoned awkwardly. She had a hair tie in her mouth and was actively putting up her crimped and frizzed hair from failed braids up into a ponytail as she hurriedly made her way to the faculty table.

"Um..." Harry swallowed hard. "That's her, Ron." Harry's mouth gaped open. He had been fantasizing about a teacher? His face felt hot and tingly; no doubt he was as red as Weasley hair. Ron's snickering didn't help his embarrassment either.

Miss Jenski approached the head table and took to her seat between Dumbledore and Snape. "So sorry, sorry I'm late!" She shook Dumbledore's hand nervously. She spoke quickly and all in one breathe, "I fell asleep and then I got lost. I'm so sorry, this is embarrassing."

"Quite all right, dear." Dumbledore was amused. His kind smile and reassuring gaze calmed her. "Understandable. It is a big school after all. " Dumbledore returned his attention to the students. "And now ... enjoy!" The feast began and the faculty sat to dinner as well.

Miss Jenski smiled at the Headmaster. "Thank you for having me, and my students." Turning to Snape before sitting down she said to him, "Oh I must look a mess. What a way to make a first impression."

Professor Snape just stood there frozen in stunned silence.

"She was to teach an elective class-sixth and seventh year Muggle Studies!" Snape burst into Dumbledore's office, his anger kept courteously from his voice, but shown clearly on his face. Snape remained in the doorway waiting to be invited, even after barging into the office.

Dumbledore did not reveal his surprise. He simply continued to feed the few remaining sunflower seeds in his palm to Fawkes. He knew Snape was angry. He was usually angry about something in the beginning of term, but it most times it was some nonsense about Potter or his friends scheming or insults and how he hated to put up with it. It had been more frustration than anger all those times, but this was something different. Something had Snape fuming. Though manners and his natural reserve hid it well, one could not mistake that look in his eye. Dumbledore waited a few moments, hoping Snape would take this time to calm himself, before moving behind his desk.

"Have a seat, Professor Snape." Dumbledore gestured to the chair in front of his desk as he calmly took to his own seat.

Finally. Snape was annoyed that Dumbledore had him wait so long before acknowledging him, but dismissed it as punishment for his rude entrance. Nevertheless, he had a right to be angry. No amount of rude behavior he delivered could equal the snub cast on him by Dumbledore.

Snape grit his teeth, holding back his anger. He stepped forward and spoke slowly, each word as stiff as his posture as he walked. "Why was I not informed? Why was I kept in the dark?"

Approaching Dumbledore's desk, he declined to sit, opting to stand by the offered seat. It was a gesture not overlooked by Dumbledore. Snape continued as his murderous gaze met that of Dumbledore. "It was my position and was taken from me with such subterfuge."

"Subterfuge?" The Headmaster propped his elbows on the cushioned arms of his chair and intertwined his fingers at his stomach. He could see the anger in Snape's eyes, though it was a meager hint to the man's true rage.

"Professor, I believe you are over-reacting." Dumbledore continued to remain calm. It would be no use to match Snape's indignation with a scolding tone. Dumbledore had to keep it mellow in order to keep the height of Severus's anger at a manageable level. But just how angry was the potions master? Dumbledore had yet to realize the extent of the man's fury.

"I may be, but this situation feels so underhanded, sly, devious and duplicitous—"

"Those all mean the same thing," Dumbledore muttered, but he knew enough not to repeat himself when Snape ignored his comment. For though it was rare, his redundant babbling was a sure sign of the level of his anger. Four synonyms: extremely angry, tread softly.

"-That this carries the stink of subterfuge! I would never have expected such a thing from you, Headmaster." Snape narrowed his eyes down at the man. He was hiding it well, but the flame of his fury was escaping through the cracks of his concrete wall of cold stoicism.

"I am at a loss. What have I done that you would say such things about me?" Dumbledore reached over to the glass bowl on his desk and picked up a candy. Changing the subject for a moment, Dumbledore studied the little round sweet. "Professor Flitwick gave me a box of these little bobbins. He thought I ought to try different styles of candies of my favorite flavor." He held up the piece of candy. "Lemon fizzer, Snape? No? Well, more for me." And he popped it into his mouth.

The Headmaster's nonchalant attitude irked Snape. He took it as a personal slight that his woes were of no concern. However, in case the Headmaster's feigned ignorance was truly poor recollection of an old man, Snape refrained from slamming his fist on the table. "You know exactly what I am talking about, but I will humor you."

His voice this whole time had slowly been growing louder, his tone barely keeping his anger at bay. Old man or not, Headmaster or not, Snape would not keep is rage in check much longer. "Having lost yet another Defense against the Dark Arts teacher at end of term, a replacement had to be sought. Until two weeks ago, there was no one. Thus the position was to go to me, Headmaster."

Raising a brow, he heard the spit on his title. However, Dumbledore kept his cool even though he could practically feel heat of Snape's anger upon him. "Did I ever tell you that the Dark Arts classroom was yours, Snape?" A faint fizzing sound was coming from Dumbledore's mouth.

Snape clenched his fists. No, he never did tell him out right that the class was his-but it was his by right! There was no DADA teacher signed for this term. He'd known all of summer holiday and contained his hope and excitement until there was still no one less than two weeks before start of term. He had always been slotted to take the position if no one could be found. He was the most prepared, most qualified, not to mention the most experienced. Snape let out a heavy breath. "Naturally, I assumed-"

"Ah, see there! That is were the mistake was made!" Albus waved a finger at him. "Never assume anything! You of all people know better." Dumbledore added a trifle of amusement to his tone in hopes Snape would see the humor in his error. It was along shot - it was Snape after all - but worth a try. Fizz. Pop. Pop. "O! That tickles the nose."

Dumbledore's hopes receded when he saw Snape's reaction. His humor was like throwing oil to the fire of the potion master's fury. Snape clenched his fists again until his knuckles turned white. He also clenched his jaw tightly, adding more severe angles to his face. Dumbledore earnestly kept a pleasant smile on his face.

Professor Snape finally managed to speak again, though his tone was not without grave hostility. "What was all that talk of having more responsibilities, extra work not much time to myself-"

"I was referring to your work in the Order of the Phoenix of course!" Did the man not see it? Was he still so anxiously pining after the Defense against the Dark Arts position that everything else did not exist?

"Not to mention you being returned to your high rank among the Death Eaters, as well as your responsibilities here!" Dumbledore's eyes showed pity and his voice never left its mellow state. He continued to explain hoping the honest truth would sober Snape out of his anger. "Severus, I could never ask you to take on teaching other class while you have so much weight on your shoulders. I fear you will crumble under the pressure."

"How greatly you underestimate my abilities, Headmaster." Snape was not deterred.

"Perhaps, but I rather take my chances favoring a safe load. We have lost enough in the war against Voldemort. I would be beside myself if we lost you." Dumbledore raised himself to his feet and came around his desk towards Snape. "Especially if it would be my fault that your mind was split into too many directions." He put a hand on Snape's shoulder to both console and show his sincerity. "I would not have it."

Snape kept his eyes at the seat where Dumbledore had sat just a moment ago. His voice began to decline from murderous heights. Despite his rage, he was listening to what the Headmaster was saying. Dumbledore was making good points and perhaps he was over reacting. But it did not explain keeping the new DADA professor secret. "Why did you not tell me you had chosen someone?"

As if reading his thoughts, Dumbledore answered, "It was not my intention to keep it a secret. It wasn't a secret at all. I had only thought to spare you news of any sort. You were recuperating from your trial by fire, literally, from the gauntlet of the Death Eaters. I thought it best to leave you be." Dumbledore squeezed Snape's shoulder affectionately. " Had I known you believed yourself to be DADA professor this term... I did not realize."

Snape shook his head. Dumbledore had always known his desire of the Dark Arts classroom. And that tone in his voice - was that pity? The man pitied him! He saw it in those eyes, which always looked as if they knew a secret hidden from the universe. Snape had done whatever Albus had asked him for the good of all and now the man pitied him. He would not have it. Poor excuse. This was unacceptable!

"Bollocks!" To hell with propriety. "Do not patronize me!" Snape shoved Dumbledore's hand off his shoulder and turned to meet his gaze. "You know how much I wish to be DADA professor! You've always known. The position would not have been a burden; it would have been a gift! A GIFT! I would have handled it with pleasure! With all I have done for you! You OWED ME THIS!"

Dumbledore took a step back. He was not entirely surprised at Snape's outburst, but it was still unsettling to see him this way. Snape had been through so much, suffered long and far more than anyone else he knew in this wretched war. He had hoped that this was not a warning to a break down lurking in the shadows.

"So, instead," Snape went on his face flush with rage, "You have chosen a second-rate scatterbrained strumpet-"

"My, my, how harsh. You don't even know her-" Dumbledore continued to step back.

"Who teaches Muggle Studies!" Snape stepped forward keep nose to nose with Dumbledore.

"She still would be teaching seventh year Mugglisms-"

"My point is, who is this woman? You," Snape practically spit the word out, "and your quirky habits," his expression contorted itself to a strange concoction of rage and revulsion, " have chosen yet another nit wit to teach a core course!"

Dumbledore stopped dead and raised a brow. This was enough. Snape had taken to insulting the Headmaster, his disappointment taking a repugnant turn. Snape, his face mirrored back at him in Dumbledore's eyes, realized he had come far too close to losing control than he was comfortable in admitting. He took a step back. Snape took a heavy breath and replaced a loose hair behind his ear.

The Headmaster stared Snape down. "I stand by my decision, Professor Snape." Dumbledore removed his gaze from Snape and returned to his seat. He now was beginning to get angry as well, a feeling he never comfortable with.

"That would be all on the matter." Dumbledore half expected an apology or at least a look of regret on the potions master's face. Snape did not give either. He was far too angry still with Dumbledore, but more so with himself for letting his emotions get so out of hand. If Dumbledore were anything like Voldemort, Snape would be dead right now. In fact, he thought, he wouldn't have made it past the rude entrance.

Severus also realized that he had made Dumbledore angry, but it seemed not to matter. He had understood he was being dismissed, but Professor Snape remained standing, silent and spiteful. Dumbledore looked up at Snape. His mellow air left him only moments ago. Snape was dangerously scorning his authority. Dumbledore was to put an end to this right now. Not allowing the chance of having Snape misinterpret the offense taken by his behavior, Dumbledore, with the glimmer of a malevolent warning in his eyes firmly bellowed, "You are dismissed!"

Snape's nostrils flared. His lips pursed themselves together in a tight white line. The potions master had greatly offended the old man. What's more, his lack of control had immersed him deep in self-disdain. The year had started on a dreadful foot. Snape turned on his heel and left the Headmaster's office.


Chapter 3:

Hermione takes an interest in her new teacher and classmate. Draco acts as Robert Blackcrow's guide. And Snape trudges on.