Disclaimer: To my eternal annoyance, I am not being paid to write fanfiction. If I were, I would quit my job, drop out of school, and spend the next twenty years breeding plotbunnies. Er, anyway. JKR owns the characters and the settings you recognize, and well as what's "really" going to happen. She's very kindly allowed loons like me to play with them, and We Praise Her For It. I seem to recall that the movie people have some sort of rights, too, so genuflections to them as well.
He was twenty-one. He was the youngest teacher in a century. But Professor Severus Snape was not at breakfast, trading pleasantries with his colleagues. He was not in his office, making changes to the speech he had prepared for his first-year class that afternoon, or preparing the cauldron he would need for demonstrations later in the day.
Instead, he was the bathroom of his new quarters, pacing between the sink and tub, talking to himself in a voice barely above a whisper.
"They are nothing more than schoolchildren," he said. "You can do this."
More importantly, he had to do this. For all Dumbledore's talk about his "extraordinary ability", he knew that his appointment had been political, arranged, albeit unknowingly, by both sides. With the Dark Lord's power rising every day---and his methods becoming more violent---Severus knew that failure could destroy his fragile position as a spy. Dumbledore could not be seen to employ a poor teacher, and the Dark Lord did not tolerate incompetence.
The only problem was, he had no idea how to teach. Certainly the curriculum was within his abilities, and he'd tutored Wilkes once, a few weeks before the NEWTS. Much as it shamed him to admit it, it was the students he feared. Unlike the professors he'd admired, he had no presence. He was thin, and pale, and above all, young. Even the Dark Lord, who had promised him respect and power, valued only his solitary development of new potions.
He stared into the mirror, fixing in his mind the first time he had successfully lied to the Dark Lord. These children had nothing on Voldemort. He would act with authority, and they would accept it. He was a professor; he was an adult. He could fool anybody.
Giving his reflection a curt nod, he swept from the room.
He chose to wait at his desk, a medieval cleric's workbench that gave him an elevated view of the classroom. He could see and hear the sevenths as they entered, without seeming to look up from the parchment he was working on. There was no sense in losing the advantage of height, or of appearing too interested in their conversations.
Paul Church nodded in greeting as he took a seat in the first row. Severus returned it, but moved his attention immediately down the row. If he prolonged the greeting, Church would assume that house loyalty gave him power in the class, and Severus could allow no authority in the classroom other than his own.
Sweeping his gaze over the class, he recognized Connor Cowan in the fourth row, whose nose had been broken by a Bludger, and whose prone body Potter had stepped over on his way to claim the Quidditch Cup. He had a sudden, gripping flash of rage on behalf of his former house, continually stepped over and sometimes on as Gryffindor won another bloody trophy. He stabbed his quill into the inkwell.
At precisely eight o'clock he swept around the desk and stood at the front of the class.
"Silence," he said.
The Slytherins looked up. The Gryffindors ignored him.
"Silence!" he snarled.
The chattering subsided, but an ill-timed giggle escaped Sarah Pinkett. She clapped a hand over her mouth and exchanged a grin with Amanda Bryant. The two girls folded their hands and stared up at him, a twinned mockery of polite attention.
Their reaction unnerved him. What were they playing at?
Nevertheless he outlined the potion they would be making in measured tones, thankful that he'd remembered to practice it in advance, and told them to start.
He watched them gather ingredients: they ignored him, for the most part, and commenced making mistakes he'd learned to prevent in his first year. Was it really possible that after six years of Potions classes they couldn't manage so basic a brew? Sighing, he began walking past their cauldrons.
"Mister Fish! Can't you read---the unicorn hoof powder goes in before the sliced kelp!"
Fish started, and stared up at him, bug-eyed. In a widening circle, talking ceased and whispers started. Within seconds, the whole room was staring at them.
"Put the kelp down," he bit out. The warning in his voice prompted Fish to action. He turned his back, and immediately the whispering grew. What were they talking about?
It wasn't until they were bottling their results that he caught part of a whispered conversation.
"You weren't around the day that he and James Potter"---the name was spoken with great reverence---"got into it. You should have seen him, down by the lake---" The speaker, a dark-haired Gryffindor Severus didn't recognize, glanced his way and lowered her voice. A few unrecognizable words later, her companion snorted with laughter.
He stiffened, furious. He should have expected it. He had known that sooner or later his history as the butt of Potter's jokes would come out, but he hadn't expected it so soon. Resolved, he swept toward them, arranging a smirk on his face that promised they'd regret their words. He was so intent he almost didn't hear it---a stage whisper behind him:
He saw red. His revenge forgotten, he rounded on the offending student. He had half-pulled his wand when noticed that the whole room was staring at him in horror.
"Out!" he hissed. "Get OUT!"
Severus spent the next hour in his quarters. He wasn't certain what had made him angrier---the students' lack of control or his own. Several broken bottles later he felt calmer, but his mood was darker than it had been even this morning. He knew he was late for his next lecture (fourth year Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff), and that only made it worse.
Slam! The door reverberated as he stalked into the room. Twenty-eight faces stared, stock-still.
"Wands away," he growled. "And be quiet."
To his amazement, it worked. He described the potion to an absolutely silent class, and when he told them to begin, they scrambled to obey. Even better, they exercised caution as they worked. True, several hands shook as he passed, but the assigned potion was such that it forgave the slight timing error.
He was just beginning to recover from the horror of the previous class when a boy in the front row added Asperi mane to his Whirlwind Potion right as it reached the boiling point. Idiot!
"Under your desks!" he barked, and just in time, too, because as Mr. Geary's head cleared the cauldron, it exploded, splattering Mr. Summers and Miss Cassell with hot green goo.
"Evanesco!" The spattered potion disappeared from their clothes and skin, but he could see welts beginning to form. Miss Cassell was whimpering, hands hovering over her face.
"Jordan, get them to the infirmary. Tell Madam Pomfrey they'll need the Apocum immediately. And you!" He rounded on Geary in fury. "What possessed you to a frozen ingredient to a boiling potion? How appallingly ignorant can you be not to realize the explosive elements at work? Did you bother to read the text at all?"
Geary's eyes began to shimmer with unshed tears, and he bit his lower lip, shaking his head miserably. At that moment, something blossomed beneath the rage---a hot rush of victory, of power.
"Ten points from Ravenclaw, for sheer stupidity," he spat. "I will require a three-foot essay on heat dynamics on my desk tomorrow morning, as you clearly do not understand the principles at work. Now clean up the mess you've made."
Geary drew his wand wearily.
The class gasped collectively.
"Back to work, all of you."
It wasn't until he reached his office after the class that he allowed himself to reflect on his own reaction to berating Geary. It had felt good. Really, satisfyingly good, to have given the boy a set-down equal to his own stupidity.
And if he were really honest with himself, he enjoyed knowing the miserable brat was suffering.
He knew that the punishment was extreme, but in a room full of explosive ingredients, he could not afford to be soft. Acting the dark wizard, heightening the students' wariness around him, seemed the only thing that would bring them to heel.
McGonagall, he remembered, drew precision from her students through sheer force of personality. He craved the kind of respect she had, based as it was on her character and abilities. He wanted, desperately, to remove the stigma of having signed away his life to the Dark Lord, to act like the decent person his defection should have proven he was. Unfortunately, revealing it was not among his options. He smirked at the irony. He was, as always, driven to his behavior by circumstances beyond his control. Dumbledore and Voldemort were the actors in the world. They acted, and the rest of the world reacted to them. He had only two choices: to play nice, and lose what precious control he had, or to play mean, and have some small facade of the power---the respect---that his skills deserved.
Between power and failure, was there really a choice?
For the second time that day, the door to the potions classroom crashed open, and a room full of wide-eyed students stared as their professor stormed to the front of the class.
"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion making. As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the
Their faces turned upward, open before him, some full of fear, some of awe. In a way, it was almost respect.
 Asperi: A ice/wind horse-like creature from the 3rd edition D&D monsters manual. I chose it because you can read about it online ::wink:: It's available at:
 Apocum: A soothing salve used by the Romans. There's a detailed entry for the word at: