Chapter I: The More Things Change
Professor Severus Snape, youngest Potions Master to ever teach at Hogwarts, glowered at his first-year class of Gryffindors and Slytherins.
Three years, he thought bitterly. I’ve been here three years, and the silly brats are still the same as they’ve always been.
He wondered if he had been like this at eleven: cheerfully obtuse, without the slightest awareness of his own ignorance and insignificance. He doubted it very much.
He had given this first-year class the usual "softly simmering cauldron" speech on their first day, complete with the "dunderhead" insult delivered with the necessary amount of scorn. And it had had its expected effect: fear, but not enough to inspire any actual competence.
Now the little darlings were busy making a simple Sleeping Potion. Or at least, it would be simple for any rational being. Severus scanned the classroom warily, watching for signs of impending catastrophe.
He saw one such sign sitting in the far corner of the Gryffindor side of the room. Nymphadora Tonks—his lips curled at the thought of the outlandish name—had picked up a bottle and was staring vacuously at it. Silently, he glided over to the green-haired hoyden.
"Miss Nymphadora Tonks," he said, his voice silky, even caressing. It had taken him years to overcome his natural tendency towards shrillness and develop his signature tone of soft intimidation. "Would you care to explain to the class exactly what is so fascinating about your ingredients that prompts you to gaze vacantly at them and neglect your potion?"
The girl looked up at him, and Severus felt a surge of impotent fury. Was she actually smirking?
"If I dumped all of this in the cauldron, do you think it would it explode, sir?" she asked demurely. Snape opened his mouth to let out a nasty put-down, but the girl had already removed the stopper from the bottle and reached over her cauldron.
"No, stop, you silly girl--" Severus made a wild grab in her direction. She dodged him—and ran straight into the cauldron, knocking it over and spilling its boiling contents all over the floor. She gasped in horror. He made a move towards the overturned cauldron but slipped in the spilt potion, and landed flat on his back on the floor.
The Gryffindors tittered openly, while the Slytherins seemed divided between House loyalty and the undeniable fact that Professor Snape looked startlingly like a knocked-over scarecrow.
"Silence!" he roared.
"Oh," said Tonks breathlessly, "I’m so, so sorry, Professor. Really I am. Here, let me help you up--"
"NO!" said Severus hastily. He recovered himself and added, "I think you have done more than enough already."
The girl squirmed.
"Sorry," she said, visibly uncomfortable. "D’you want my help cleaning up, or…" She trailed off when she saw the look Severus gave her.
"Get out," he snapped. Tonks gave him one uncertain look, then fled. "All of you! Fifty points from Gryffindor! Get out, or it’ll be a hundred!"
The first-years scrambled out of the classroom in a cloud of whispers and giggles, leaving a highly annoyed Potions Master on the floor, surrounded by a puddle of ruined Sleeping Potion.
Seven more years, he thought wearily. Seven more years and the Tonks brat will be out of here, along with the rest of this pack, and I will never have to suffer in their presence again.
* * *
Nymphadora Tonks suppressed a shudder as she walked towards Professor Snape’s office in the dungeons. The place brought back bad memories for Tonks—memories of overturned cauldrons and spilt ingredients, of botched potions with horrific results, and of a greasy hook-nosed professor who somehow knew exactly what to say to shatter a clumsy eleven-year-old’s self-worth.
Creepy, she thought, shivering. No wonder that old windbag likes it. She looked around the smooth walls for the door.
"Lost, Miss Tonks?" Tonks jumped, turned around, tripped over the hem of her cloak and tumbled to the floor. Professor Snape loomed over her, an unpleasantly amused expression on his face. "Dear me—the years have not taught you grace, it seems…or even an elementary sense of balance."
Tonks picked herself up, rubbing her elbows and thinking of several insults she would have liked to hurl at Snape’s grease-soaked head.
"Good morning, Professor," she said, trying to sound courteous and failing.
He ignored this pleasantry and opened the door to his office, motioning for her to come in.
For crying out loud, girl, why’re you scared? You’re an Auror. You’re supposed to be able to deal with serious Dark wizards—a bitter middle-aged man should be no trouble. Tonks straightened, stuck her chin in the air and marched in. But she could not help feeling that, in expecting her to work with this cantankerous waste of space, Professor Dumbledore was really taking the concept of unity too far.
A/N: Thanks to Zsenya for beta-reading this!