phoenix ashes
the path of the serpent (chapter 4)



After a strikingly good night's rest, Severus took a long shower, got dressed, and reluctantly made his way to the Great Hall for breakfast. It never was (and never would be) a pleasant way to start the day.

Entering the Great Hall, Severus ignored the students. And his colleagues.

"Good morning, Severus!" greeted a irritatingly cheery professor Flitwick.

"Morning," Severus grunted as he took his seat next to him. He grabbed a bread roll and buried it under a thick layer of cream before sinking his teeth into it. As soon as he started to chew, his mind wandered off to the evening before. Frankly, he couldn't stop thinking about it.

The fact that Lucius had given him control, had given over so completely--so rare for the man to do! It had made him so vulnerable, so beautiful, yet it was such an unheard of thing to do for him. Giving up control was one thing; totally surrendering (which was precisely what he had done) was quite another. Granted, it had suited his plans perfectly, but he felt confused about it nevertheless. Why had Lucius done it? Maybe bec --

"...dead, Severus," amused mumbling came from his left side. Flitwick again.

"Excuse me?" Annoying hairy dwarf!

"I said that your bread roll is already dead, Severus. In fact, it is extremely dead by now," Flitwick chuckled.

"Seem to have missed the decree about limiting chewing time, then," Severus snarled and opened his mouth for a second bite when a conversation further down the table caught his attention.

Minerva had just mentioned the name of Remus, that much he could hear. And something about professor McDowell, who was now officially discharged.

"Two months into the new schoolyear! Two months!" Minerva seemed agitated. "It is truly remarkable that he could find a replacement so soon!"

"So McDowell never got over his little encounter with that boggart then, did he?" Severus scowled, not even trying to disguise his contempt.

"No, but Albus already found a new DADA teacher; Remus Lupin is coming back," said Flitwick.

Lupin? Remus Lupin? The potions master stared at his bread roll. One bite really was more than enough for breakfast.

"Already leaving, Severus? You havent even finished your bread roll!"

"Not hungry." With his characteristic strides, Severus left the Great Hall and headed back to crawl under his familiar rock. How dare he? How dare that old man to not even consider to ask him for that job? Dumbledore knew how much he wanted to teach DADA! How dare he--


"Ah, our precious werewolf." Severus stared at the new arrival standing in the hall and felt all his old hostilities creeping up towards the surface again, exposing themselves. "Maybe we should consider a reservation for your kind to keep you in. You certainly would look more cared for." He glared at the patched, shabby robes Lupin wore and shook his head in mock concern.

"Nice to see you too, Severus," Remus smiled calmly. "Any idea where the Headmaster may be?"

"Right behind you, Remus," Dumbledore stepped down from his stairs and gave him a warm welcome. The Potions Master snorted and started to walk away.

"Please stay, Severus. I wanted to talk to you too." Dumbledore called him back and beckoned the two to follow him up the stairs into his office again.

Severus followed but only because he knew he couldn't refuse without losing his current job.

"I am so glad to see you again, Remus," After sitting themselves down and pouring some tea, Dumbledore patted Remus on his knee and gave him a warm look.

"Thank you for having me, Headmaster. You have no idea how good it feels to finally be able to work again," Lupin sighed, stirring his tea. "And I must thank you again for being able to redraft that anti-werewolf legislation - it will give so many of us our lives back. Or at least 'a' life..." He took a sip of his tea and looked rather tired and disappointed. " soon as the wizarding community manages to overcome their prejudice."

"Unknown, unloved as they say, I know. It will take time, Remus. Time and information. But I have no doubts that it will all work out fine in the end, dear boy. In the meantime, you can start on the educational aspect of it in your classes. And that will be quite a challenge already...and speaking of challenges..." Dumbledore shifted his attention to his sulking Potions Master who was staring at the fire, "I have quite the challenge for you, Severus. If you are willing to accept it, that is."

Severus kept silent and just looked at him, feeling rather suspicious. There had to be a catch in him being here, he just knew it.

"You know that I can not afford to lose you as a Potions Master, since you are just too good at it and nobody could ever replace you..."

"What do you want from me, Headmaster?" His patience ran out quickly and besides, when the Headmaster started with this little speech it always meant asking favours. More work. More obligations. More pressure. He had heard this little speech too many times already. And always regretted what came next.

Dumbledore gave him one of his warmest smiles and chuckled. "I think I have a challenge for you that no Potions Master can or wants to resist. I want you to make a new potion. And I mean new as in not existing yet."

That got his attention, indeed. A discovery, a breakthrough, that meant a challenge worthy of his skills and intelligence. Something he craved for! It also meant acknowledgement at least and maybe even fame!

"I want you to create a potion that completely suppresses the Wolf so werewolves won't have to go through their horrible metamorphosis anymore. Do you think you can do that?"

Severus turned to Lupin but he seemed to be as much taken away as he was. Still, being the Potions Master he was, his brain immediately started to analyse ingredients, alterations and effects. It was rather overwhelming. Very overwhelming.

"Headmaster, I...have you any idea of what you are asking me to do? Not only will it be extremely difficult, and that is quite an understatement, but it will also be extremely dangerous to make!"

"Now, now, Severus. At least give it a try, will you? I know it is never been done before and with good reason; There is hardly anyone around who would be able to accomplish it. But you have a golden oppertunity here, my boy--you can test it straight away!"

"But Headm...a guinea-pig...ah yes...such opportunities..." For the first time that day, Severus relaxed a bit and smiled.

Lupin stared, rather alarmed at that smile, and for the first time had his doubts about the Headmaster's ability to assess a situation. He was not so sure that Severus would not use this 'opportunity' to settle some old scores. And Merlin knew he was quite capable of that!

"Excellent, that is settled then. Now, if you will excuse us, Severus I have to give Remus his time-sheets and..."

"Of course...Headmaster..." The Potions Master rose from his chair and left, making sure not to acknowledge Lupin as he went. He knew Dumbledore was only using him. Again. Coaxing him. Tempting him. Playing him. And he felt resentment about it. A lot.

But still...the thought of being the one to invent a totally new potion! And one as complex as that! That prospect threatened to make him feel almost...excited!

He quickly made his way through the castle, when he almost walked into another one of those loathsome beings.

"Five points from Gryffindor, Potter."

"For what, sir?" Harry stared dumbfounded at his passing Potions Master, holding his books closely against his chest.

"For breathing."


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