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extract of aconite
by Raven

PG-13, gen. Snape has a new research project. It's pure science, but elements of humanity keep getting in the way. With thanks to Louise Lux.

There were a lot of unemployed Death Eaters around.

 It made sense, if you thought about it. Only Voldemort himself had known the names and locations of each and every one of them, and while at the time it was simply a part of the secrecy with which he conducted his affairs, it proved to have an added benefit. If a green-eyed child mysteriously survived an attack on his life from the Dark Lord himself, vanquishing said Dark Lord in the process, it prevented any of his supposedly loyal Death Eaters from walking into the Ministry offices and turning the whole lot of them in.

Not that some of them didn’t try. Karkaroff did it; so did several others, all in exchange for immunity to prosecution. Lucius Malfoy sweet-talked his way out of Azkaban in slightly different fashion, claiming to be under the Imperius curse. Considering how much Malfoy gold was currently rolling around their coffers, the Ministry had no choice but to agree.

So while a few loyal Death Eaters were safely entombed and in no need of paid employment, there were many that couldn’t say the same. However, having successfully avoided Azkaban, most of them possessed a certain degree of smoothness and charm with which to ease themselves back into polite wizarding society.

And that left just one maverick, a Death-Eater-no-longer-loyal who had a job, but felt as unemployed as the best of them. His name was Severus Snape. He had been Potions master at Hogwarts for three years now; ever since his dramatic switching of sides, in fact. Many wizards and witches had gone from light to dark – he was one of the few that made the journey back again. Dumbledore trusted him, and as the crooked-nosed headmaster of Hogwarts was once again unchallenged as the greatest wizard in the world, one might say that Severus Snape was, for lack of a better way of putting it, set up for life.

 There were a lot of unemployed Order members around.

 Now that definitely made sense. For eleven years, they had been Dumbledore’s secret weapon. The Order of the Phoenix had fought the forces of the Dark with everything they had. It wasn’t their blood, sweat and tears that finally won the war, but it was their endless, untiring determination to fight on to the bitter end that made sure the wizarding world survived long enough for Harry Potter to eventually defeat Voldemort. And now, Voldemort was gone, the forces of good had triumphed, etcetera, and one by one, the Order members had emerged from behind their triple-strength wards and out of their password protected hiding places, blinking in the bright sunlight. Some were finding it hard to accept, but the role they played was no longer needed. Dumbledore officially disbanded them a week after that fateful Halloween. Some of them, particularly the Aurors and Ministry employees, were working to round up the remaining Death Eaters and Voldemort’s lesser allies, but most of them were attempting to discover who they had been before.

They all had things to do, now. Teaching. Writing for the Daily Prophet. Keeping cats. Working for the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts department at the Ministry. Raising a pack of red-haired children. Buying up dodgy cauldrons. Making dustbins explode.




After three years as a Death Eater and three years as an Order member, Snape found himself feeling somewhat useless. No, useless wasn’t the word for it. He wasn’t useless. He was Potions master at the best school for witchcraft and wizardry in the world. That was something, certainly. And then, he hoped to move on to the Defence Against the Dark Arts position some day, and he had just been made Head of Slytherin house…  no, he certainly wasn’t useless.

Aimless, then. That was better. He had a good head in a crisis, everyone knew that, it took nothing short of catastrophe to ruffle him, and sometimes more than that. And as well as that, he possessed a scientific, subtle mind, a truly unusual mind, one that was better suited to in battles to decide the eventual fate of the wizarding world than marking a bunch of first-years’ Potions essays.

It was a strange price to pay for the return of peace, but Snape supposed he could pay it. If this was what life had to offer him now, then he would take it without complaint. He wasn’t asking for a return of the war, nothing like that, just some – what was it? – yes, meaning. Something else to aim at, to strive for, some sort of a goal

 – – – – – –

 It was Newt Scamander’s fault. The old man had the Ministry at his beck and call as always, and besides, Snape had never liked him.

But when he approached Hogwarts’ Potions master, asking for his help with a very sensitive, very important project, Snape began to see him in a new light. He agreed to consider it, then agreed to learn more about the details of the project, then he agreed to take part on a freelance basis, then on a less-than-freelance basis, weeks passed, months passed, and suddenly, Severus Snape had a purpose again. The full force of his cold, clinical intellect was once again being put to a use worthy of it, and besides, the old man hadn’t been lying. This was a very sensitive, very important project, and Snape might just prove the key to its eventual success.

 And here he was again, during the school’s Christmas holidays, on a chilly morning on an Unplottable moor somewhere, and he’d been sitting here eight hours already and was beginning to feel the numbness in his fingers and toes. There was a wooden table and chair provided for him, and there were other people around, all carrying cups of coffee and trailing bits of paper and shouting instructions to one another. For fully grown wizards and witches, all with Apparition licenses, they seemed to spend a lot of time rushing from place to place. Or so Snape thought, his lips curling into a sneer. Pitiful amateurs, most of them. The potions they brewed were acceptable, certainly, and sometimes even more than that, but they had nothing of the subtlety required to gauge the reactions to the potions they made up with such gay abandon. It was all in the details, all in the fine layers and shading, and Snape knew he was the only wizard present with anything like the kind of skill required. Which was why he’d been given the job, he supposed.

Just as he reached this point in his musings, the desk in front of him shimmered briefly. This was always the way – they’d let him spend the entire night just sitting there making notes, and only then would they get around to sending him the specific details of the case. He sighed. After a moment, the shimmering retreated. In its place was a scroll of parchment.

Snape picked it up and began to read, but the words blurred before his eyes and he had to stop, pushing the hair out of his eyes and looking up at his surroundings as if he’d never seen them before. Nothing had changed. The long stretch of deserted moor in the distance, the tables and chairs and blankets and discarded cloaks and quills and everything else that signified a wizarding presence in the foreground. Right in front of him, the silver cage, its bars strangely delicate in the half-light. It wasn’t really silver, of course. That would be ridiculous, particularly as it was the size of a small room. It was, in fact, entirely Muggle manufacture, for some reason Snape had never been sure about. It was made of steel, plated with chromium so it wouldn’t rust.

Its sole inhabitant was quieter now than it had been all night. Snape looked at it for a moment, shuddered, and promptly despised himself for doing so. It was just another one, another subject in a long procession of them, but he had to admit, this one had been worse than most. One could safely admit that as it was, not much progress was being made with the potion.

He got stiffly to his feet, stretched out aching limbs, and padded silently across to the bars of the cage. The creature inside snarled at the sight of him, its hackles rising, but this was infinitely preferable to its throwing itself against the bars in demented rage as it had been doing previously.  The fight was going out of it, Snape noted; whether that was to do with the potion, he couldn’t be sure, but he resolved to make note of it in any case. There were no other details he could think of, and having walked right round the cage by now, he returned to his chair and desk. His notes were in front of him, as was the parchment with the subject’s details on it. He read through his own notes first.

 “Subject has undergone transformation as per normal… subject is violent and aggressive… … subject exhibits murderous instinct and desire for human prey… subject appears to have taken refuge in self-harm…”

 He threw the piece of parchment down and rubbed his eyes. He could flesh out the bare bones later on. His attention turned to the official scroll; he hadn’t looked at it before. He wondered vaguely if they had withheld it until now for fear of influencing him one way or the other, but he shelved the thought with an impatient shrug and began to skim through the text.

 “Batch #343 – monkshood, powdered wormwood, asphodel, sodium barbiturate, sulphur, lemon juice, water.

 Subject – adult male, Caucasian, aged twenty-one years five months. Average height, slightly underweight, no previous history of aconite use.

 Addendum – ”

What the addendum was, Snape didn’t have a chance of finding out, because it was at that moment a strange, unfamiliar sound reached his ears, almost unearthly in the early morning silence. It took him a moment to realise why it was so unfamiliar. It was human.

Snape got to his feet. Slowly, he walked to the side of the cage and pulled out his wand. “Alohomora,” he said softly, and the door sprang noiselessly open. He entered it with his usual care and delicacy, avoiding the slippery bloodstains on the floor, and approached the subject without embarrassment. It was lying face-down on the floor, by all outside appearances not more than half-conscious. Its skin was much too pale, Snape noted clinically, and then nudged it with one foot. He got no reaction, so with a practised sigh, he kicked sharply, flipping the research subject onto its back. Its eyes snapped open, and Snape took a step backwards. As was the case with so many of them, the eyes were amber, almost gold, and Snape began noticing other details – the overlong hair, probably blonde or brown underneath the dirt and blood, long lashes, familiar features…

Standing in a spreading pool of the subject’s blood, Snape lifted the parchment scroll to eye level and continued reading from where he left off. He knew exactly what he was going to find.

“Addendum – researchers should note that in human form, subject is fully-qualified wizard and entitled to carry a wand.”

Snape stood there, blinking, for what seemed like forever but was actually just a few minutes. The sun had risen properly now, and its light was creeping over them both, Snape, standing so straight and tall, and the werewolf lying at his feet. Snape was thinking of a long-ago day, a threat upon his life, the ensuing rage and confusion, the secret he had been forced to keep, even now…

Sighing deeply, he leant down and slipped his hands beneath his schoolmate’s shoulders. As he stood up, the creature in his arms shifted and muttered something; Snape paused, using one hand to smooth the stray locks of hair off the man’s face.  After a moment, he spoke. “Go back to sleep.”

Only just conscious of the fact he was being carried, Remus Lupin obeyed without a murmur. 

– – – – – –

Batch #343 hadn’t worked. Snape frowned as he inspected its list of ingredients, and then frowned even more deeply as he realised he was staining the parchment with something red. Blood. Lupin’s blood, that still stained his hands and darkened the ground and glittered on the steel bars of the cage.

Yes, the ingredients list. Monkshood and everything else. Monkshood, aconite, wolfsbane… whatever you liked to call it, this batch of it hadn’t worked. Snape paused for thought, looking down at the bloodstains on the parchment, and for the sake of the white-faced, bleeding monster, he prayed the next batch would.

And he wasn’t feeling quite so aimless, any more.

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