Timing can make or break a potion.   Brew too long, and delicate ingredients may be spoiled.  Fail to brew long enough, and the result could be a foul and useless--or possibly worse than useless--mess.   Snape checks the clock.  Now should be just right.  He adds a dollop of gizzard of harpy, and the potion begins to giggle.  He adds a pinch more; the giggle deepens into a thick guffaw.  Just half a grain more and the laugh is now a full-fledged cackle loud and raucous enough to startle the black cat beside his feet.  Perfect!    He tosses in the third finger of a thrice-dead zombie; the cackling boils itself down and is gone.   Now there is only the bubbling of the liquid and the ticking of the clock.

Snape tosses the leftover gizzard down to the cat at his feet.  It's no good when it's more than twenty minutes old.  By then the blood has begun to congeal.  The cat gobbles it gratefully, curls around his ankle and politely purrs in request for more. 

"That's it," says Snape.  "After we're done, you can have anything you want.  A whole flock of them if you like.  We all can."

The cat meows--a dissatisfied sound--but returns to his spot on the floor.  He was lying with forepaws atop an open book of runes.  He scans the end of the right-side page, flips the leaf over with a paw, and begins at the top of the next.

Careful to avoid the cat, Snape steps over to his ingredients' shelf for the final one.  Tears of will o' the wisp: he locates the tiny phial up near the ceiling.  He waves it down to settle gently in his palm.  He checks the level.  It should be just enough.

The cat meows sharply. 


Snape spins, sending his hair flipping madly and almost dropping the little bottle on the floor.   Remus stands in the doorway wearing yesterday's clothing, which hangs--if possible--even more poorly on him today than it did then.

Snape's eyes shoot to the cat and then back at the doorway.  "Remus."  He stretches the name out on his tongue.  "What brings you down here?  It's not yet your time of the month."

Lupin's lips are still flushed from their recent excesses.  On his left ear, a trail of ruddy bite marks can be followed as they wend their way down to the angry purple splotch  not quite concealed by the rumple of the threadbare collar that he wears. Where last week his professorial robes might have added extra cover, now he sports only the patched gray sweater.  His robes, like most everything else he owned, are already packed.

"I'm sorry if I'm disturbing you, Severus." Lupin's precise diction stumbles awkwardly around the question, like a boulder found unexpectedly blocking one's path during a pleasant amble in a park.  "This morning was my last class, you'll remember.  I don't know exactly where I'll be staying or when I might next visit, so I wanted to say good-bye."

"Now is not convenient.  I'm in the middle of preparing an unknown potion for analysis for the...finals." Despite it all, Snape amuses himself with his careful choice of words that ironically allows his improvised lie, in a manner of speaking, to be true.  Not that it matters, but he finds it clever all the same.

"I might help," Lupin tries. "Even though I've never been good with the fussy bits of potions, I'm not bad at following directions.  Mostly, I just wanted to spend this time with you."  He offers a quiet smile. 

The cat pricks up its ears and emits a rumble that could not be called a purr.

"I'm expecting company." Snape keeps his voice frosty; it's not difficult, of course, but it surprises and annoys him that it hurts.

Lupin's face closes in.  "Oh. I see."  It's the voice of one who has come to take rejection in stride.

Of course Remus won't argue with him, but Snape might have liked a little stronger protest.  Snape focuses his legilimency and is reassured and once again reminded that there is more beating in the heart of Remus Lupin than meets the standard eye--and not only under a full moon.

Remus shoves his hands deep into his pockets.  "I'll leave you to it then."  He hesitates.  "Or, perhaps I might return later?  My train is not until tonight." 

With the cat listening, Snape knows the safest avenue is to say "no."  For all its power, occlumency can be rendered useless in a split-second by the tiniest lapse of wayward tongue.  But to his mind rushes the memory of animal passion: heated pawing; sticky sweat soaked up by magic by the sheets;  the rasp of curly hairs against his skin; passionate clutches that held too hard and too long; the wild thrusts, imprudently rough and deep; the frantic pants of desires dangling just barely out of reach or thwarted; the unfettered howls of climaxes violent and soul-wrenchingly deep.   He remembers the moments after when wizards could be just men, touching, holding, kissing, loving as if nothing else existed in the world.  He remembered wishing that that moment could last forever, thinking that there must be a spell somewhere to make it so.

Perhaps Remus is not the only one to go a little mad sometimes. Snape makes his choice.  "You're out of Wolfsbane. You should take some with--if your plans are so indefinite."

"That would be nice."

"I'm out."

Lupin blinks.

"But Professor Sprout tells me the current crop is ripe for harvest.  It could be picked to-day."

"It would be nice," Lupin starts carefully.  "If you have the time--"

"I don't. " Snape cuts him off.  The his voice sinks to a low slither, the one that charms or hypnotizes if he wills it to be so.  "You, however, seem to be newly freed of responsibilities.  Return tonight; we'll...pluck it together and whip something up."

Lupin chuckles. "I suppose it's the least I can do.  How long will it take?  My train is at nine nineteen."

"All night.  I trust that's not a problem.  You are the one leaving so abruptly.  It seems the least that you can do."  Snape licks his lips suggestively as the words slide out between them.

Lupin nods.  "I'd like that.  They'll be another train tomorrow." He steps over the cat and toward Severus, his lips tipped forward subtly.

Severus turns away.   Lupin's face drops, puzzled. "What--?"

Snape addresses his rack of ingredients, but his voice rolls low and suggestive.  "You might want to get some rest before then.  Tonight's exercises will be...strenuous.  I would hate to...exhaust you... prematurely."

"Eightish then?"



Lupin leaves.  The cat yawns and settles down again to his book.  Snape turns back to his brew.
A cold draught blows, and two Death Eaters apparate not far from where Lupin had just been.

"Almost ready," Snape says, in answer to a question not yet asked.  He poises the glass phial in over the cauldron and pauses.  He turns dark eyes up to a set behind a mask.  "This is a sensitive step.  You may not want to stay.  Tragedies--" He marks the word with a hiss on the final s, "have been know to occur." 

The visitors exchange a side-long glance.  "How long?" one asks.

Snape tosses his hair.  "Tomorrow.  Maybe the next day."  The lie spills out easily, like so many others before it, but this time he does not know why.   "It's a complex one--hundreds of ingredients.  These things cannot be rushed."

"Wormtail needs it as quick as you can get it done.  He says that without it taken in advance, flesh, blood and bone will be only flesh, blood and bone."

"Rush this potion, and we three might find that Voldemort is not the only wizard minus one corporeal body."  Snape eyes them meaningfully.

The Death Eaters grumble, but disapparate all the same.

Snape remembers the glass phial in his hand.  His muscles are clenched from holding it much too tightly.  If it weren't magical, it surely would have burst.  He studies the little thing, deceptively innocuous in itself, but the final step to a potion that will change the world of wizardry forever.  His cramped fingers groan in protest as he removes the cork.

He adds a drop. Foul black smoke puffs out nearly choking him in its own rancidity.  He incants the words; the brew sparkles crystal clear an crisp and clean as if drawn from the Fountain of Eden itself. 

Snape decants it carefully, guarding his skin from the smallest drop.  It wouldn't do to immolate himself this way on the verge of the their ascent to supremacy. 

The sleeve of his robe falls back as he tips the cauldron. On his forearm, his still has bruises the shape, the size, the scent of Remus's hands.   He pauses mid-pour and reflects how in the grand, sweeping course of the millennia of history, a handful of days can change so much.  Had Remus come to him before Voldemort had, would it all be different now?

But he didn't, so it isn't.  Remus is leaving once again and therefore what will be soon will be.  Snape finishes decanting the needed brew.  He stoppers it carefully and places it up high, behind a high-order invisibility spell---then he adds a second just in case.   With special care he cleans the cauldron and puts everything neatly away.

His job is done.  Everything is in place, and yet something pricks at him as wrong.  Despite all of his long years, it is nothing he can exactly place. If he had to name it, he thinks that it might be called regret.