Thanks to Ayerf for the beta.
The Cullens are not in this chapter, but it was necessary for the plot.
Chapter 2. Potion and Portkey
Two years later, a very satisfied Severus was in his laboratory in the company of Harry Potter. The young head of the Aurors had just offered his help to his best friend’s husband by giving him a bit of his blood. What he would not do for friends! Severus knew that and knew how to take advantage of it. Of course it did not go off without a hitch; Potter had insisted on knowing what his blood would be used for. Deep down, Severus was aware he would have done the same if their situations were reversed. However, he was very annoyed for being obliged to reveal he was working on a process that would make potions assimilable by diurnal vampires, and that he could not use his own blood because he was diabetic. As for Hermione, she had already provided him with blood samples the previous month. He could not ask more from her.
“What is the interest of creating such a process?” Harry inquired while Severus was putting a plaster on his arm. “Those vampires are already very favoured by nature. I can hardly see what you could improve in them. It’d be like creating potions for giants.”
Severus raised his head. “The question seems valid at first sight. Yet each creature has one or several weakness. For example, the diurnal vampires sparkle in the sun, which forces them to be cautious when they move or to live in cloudy areas, lest the Muggles could spot them. If a potion could reduce their sparkling, they would barely be detectable in a throng.”
Harry frowned. “I don’t like that idea much.”
“I don’t either. For that matter, I have no intention of broadcasting my findings.”
Harry’s curiosity got the better of him. “Isn’t it a waste of time, to create a process that will remain confined to a laboratory?”
Severus answered as he put out his equipment. “Not in this case. I believe that the reasoning leading to create a potion for vampires applies to the creation of potions for other species.” Severus straightened up and headed towards the door, Harry following him closely. “For example, one could efficiently treat house-elves when they hurt themselves at work, or treat a sick unicorn.”
“That must please Hermione,” Harry said with a smile.
“Actually, she was the one to come up with the idea. She thinks that this discovery could facilitate the rapprochement between wizards and magical creatures.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
The two men arrived in the Snapes’ lounge. If anyone had told them, years ago, that one day they would hold a friendly conversation, they would not have believed it. And yet, for Hermione, each of them had made concessions, until they found out that a friendship was possible between them. They shook hands and separated before going to work, Severus in his laboratory, Harry at the Ministry.
After several weeks of gruesome work in cauldron fumes, Severus smiled broadly at the flask of red potion in his right hand. At last he had a sample he could test. All he needed was a subject. Well, that would have to wait. He had promised Hermione and Eileen to take them for a week-end in Paris, and they had to participate to a victory ceremony at the Ministry as soon as they returned. If he added the time needed to pack, to travel, and to sleep, he had to delay his search of a subject by three days. The saying was true: there wasn’t a busier person than a retired one.
The Ministry ceremonies to celebrate Voldemort’s defeat got shorter each year, which is why the night was still young when the Snape family returned to their dwelling, and certainly not dark enough to hide the hole in the roof of the house in Spinner’s End. Severus, Hermione and Eileen stood for a while in front of their house, too dumbfounded by the jet-black void in the middle of the tiles.
Eileen was the first to react. Her pretence at adulthood fled by the window—or rather the hole in the roof—and she took refuge in her mother’s arms. The adults started and jerked out of their trance. Severus sent his Patronus—a lioness—to Harry.
“What are we going to do?” Eileen moaned. She was still hidden in her mother’s bosom.
“We’re waiting for Harry,” Hermione answered.
A bit later a thunder-like crack resounded down in the street. Harry had arrived. The Auror rushed to his friends at once, but stopped as he noticed the state the roof was in. “Shit!” For once Hermione did not admonish him for swearing in front of Eileen.
“We’ve been absent for two hours,” Severus said in an even voice. His spouse was not fooled, though. He was clenching his jaw too tightly to really be that calm. He carried on with his explanation. “We came back from Paris at the end of the afternoon. The house was intact then. That happened while we were at the Ministry.”
Harry was perplexed. “Why not while you were away? The thieves, if they are thieves, would have had more time.”
“Probably because everyone knows we would be at the ceremony, whereas our trip was not public knowledge,” Severus replied.
“It wouldn’t have been too difficult to know about it,” Harry retorted. His eyes never left the hole in the roof.
Severus shrugged, but the gesture held more anger than indifference.
The young man turned to the family. “Do you know if somebody else knows about the … potion?”
“I hope not. I’d just finished my research last week. I only had to test it on a subject.”
Severus started to pace. His dark moving silhouette contrasted with the three others’, who were like statues. His loud breathing echoed the pounding of his shoes on the uneven cobblestones of the street. He violently fisted his hands and his face contracted in a vicious rictus. Without warning, he stood in front of Harry and threatened him with his wand.
“The leak could only have happened when I had the ‘courtesy’ to visit you at the Ministry to keep you updated about my work’s progress. It was just before we left for Paris on Friday. You always had a big mouth,” he hissed.
Hermione unwound Eileen’s arms from her midriff and pushed her daughter behind her. With a couple of quick steps, she reached the two men. “Severus, please,” she begged, “not in front of Eileen.”
Her words seemed to calm Severus a little, for he stepped back. However, his breathing was still as choked and his wand directed at Harry.
“I promise I had nothing to do with that,” the Auror exclaimed, his hands raised as a sign of peace. “You know I’d never do that to Hermione or you. There must be an explanation.”
The trembling of his voice betrayed a deep disappointment, tinged with resentment at the Potions master’s lack of trust in him. The two men assessed each other for another couple of minutes, then Severus lowered his wand. “It pains me to admit that I have to believe you. Your loyalties are so absolute that it’s a flaw of your character.”
Whatever the situation, Severus had mastered the art of turning a compliment into an insult. Harry was so accustomed to it that he did not pay attention and only noticed the essential: the other man still trusted him in spite of circumstances not in his favour. So he answered with a sincere, “Thank you,” before he proposed they enter the house to check if anything was missing. Hermione decided to wait on the ground floor with Eileen while the two men, guided by the Lumos emanating from Severus’s wand, climbed the narrow stairs up to the laboratory, the only room visited by the intruders.
“That doesn’t explain how they could overcome my wards,” Severus noted. “Only Hogwarts and the Ministry are better protected than my house, and only because some of the spells used on those locations are so ancient that nobody knows what they are.”
“This is far from reassuring. Not many people have resources enough at their disposal to pull off such a coup.”
They stopped in front of the closed laboratory door. Severus opened it. In the weak light of the illumination spell and the quarter of moon peeking from behind a cloud, they could see that the room was in disarray: empty vials, parchments here and there, cupboard doors ajar. Yet nothing was broken, and no potion had been spilled. Whoever the uninvited guests were, they had been cautious. What kind of thief took care of leaving their victim’s den in good shape? Someone who knew his way around potions, was the answer Severus’s mind came up with. He rushed to the desk sitting against the farthest wall.
“Merlin’s bollocks!” he yelled, enraged, as he grabbed a wooden box. “They stole my research!”
He threw the empty box against the wall. It damaged the panelling before falling to the floor, unmarred. It was a safe-box, one of George Weasley’s greatest successes. It was supposedly inviolable. Harry had never managed to open one forcibly, and didn’t know anyone who could claim having done so. He felt pity as he watched his best friend’s husband, hunched over his desk. He was clutching the edge of the piece of furniture. His shoulders were shaking with suppressed rage. After several minutes, he calmed down enough to straighten up and turn to Harry.
“Do you have a suggestion, O chief of Aurors?” he sneered.
Harry was not disconcerted. “Maybe. Only a very skilled Curse-Breaker could have penetrated this room and opened your safe-box. To my knowledge, only Gringotts and the wizarding mafia have the resources to do so.”
Harry thought he saw Severus pale when he mentioned the wizarding mafia. Admittedly, the Death Eaters looked like teenagers in a summer camp when compared to that organisation. Except for Bellatrix, of course.
“If the wizarding mafia is involved … What would their intentions be with my process?”
“Let’s go back to Hermione and Eileen. They must be starting to worry, and I’d rather we discuss all of this with her. She’s as concerned as you are and always has good ideas.”
The two men were deep in thought when they returned to the ground floor.
“I’ve sent Eileen to bed,” Hermione announced as soon as she saw them. “And I’ve prepared some tea. Don’t worry, Severus,” she added when she noticed his frown. “I checked the first floor and the bedrooms before. Nothing was touched there.”
Once they were all gathered around a pot of tea, Hermione started. “What did you find?”
Severus stood up and paced on the colour-faded carpet, his hands laced behind his back. “The thieves only took the parchments and the test potion of the process that makes potions trans-species. The roof will have to be replaced, but everything’s intact. I’ve cast a protecting spell in case it rains. We must not forget to recast it every three hours.” His anger had not abated yet.
“Only that? But you have hundreds of Galleons worth of ingredients in your laboratory, some of them are nearly impossible to find.”
“Obviously money isn’t the motive,” Harry said. “Anyway, not immediate and easy money they could get out of selling stuff on the black market. The thieves acted with the long term in mind. As I said to Severus, only excellent Curse-Breakers could get into your house, which narrows the field of research to the goblins or the wizarding mafia.”
“The goblins? As far as I know they’re more interested in gaining the right to wield a wand than by potions.”
“Maybe. The thing is, they’d need to convince their human Curse-Breakers to commit the theft. Not a lot of humans would agree to do that for the goblins. Besides, their Curse-Breakers are hired nearly as much for their morals than for their abilities …”
“But … the wizarding mafia … what would the interest be for them?”
“Yes, Harry,” Severus insisted. “What would the interest be?”
Harry put his empty cup down on the coffee table and turned his eyes to the dancing fire in the fireplace. Then he made a decision.
“What I’m going to tell you is strictly confidential and restricted to the Auror department, on orders from the Minister himself.”
Harry turned back to his friends. Severus was standing behind Hermione’s seat. He was gripping the chair’s back. The couple’s attention was entirely focused on the Auror.
“The mafia has been recruiting diurnal vampires as henchmen for the last few months. Those creatures are very resistant thanks to their very hard skin. They may even be able to go through most magical wards unscathed.”
Severus and Hermione gasped. Indeed, that last information was unknown by the public at large.
“My potion is an anti-sparkling one,” Severus muttered darkly. “If it works, the diurnal vampires will be able to move around in broad daylight without being spotted. I don’t even want to think about all the possibilities, like Polyjuice …”
Silence fell while the two wizards and witch digested the potential consequences of the night’s events. That vampire species, discovered quite by chance ten years ago after the attack of an American wizarding family, was feared by every wizard in the world. The only efficient curses against them were of the Dark quality, and curses like Sectumsempra were known by but an infinitesimal part of the wizarding population.
“I don’t understand,” Hermione said slowly. “Wouldn’t it be a risk for the wizarding mafia to give more power to creatures that already are very powerful? Couldn’t the vampires try and take over the organisation leadership?”
“The risk isn’t as dire,” Harry replied. “Most of those vampires live alone or as couples, and are nomads. They don’t care much about power as long as they can feed. There are a couple of exceptions, like the vampire armies in the South of the United States, but those are more preoccupied by fighting their own kind. The real danger could come from the Volturi. If they ever hear about your process, Severus, I fear a new war could break out.”
The Volturi—the vampires who made the law in the vampire world—were well known by wizards. They had signed a pact of cohabitation with the Italian Ministry of Magic and did not interfere in wizarding affairs. However one did not need to have a degree in psychology to read a strong taste for power on those ancient creatures’ faces.
“Then we must get my parchments back as soon as possible,” Severus concluded. “But how? Where to begin?”
“I suggest first that we keep quiet as long as possible about the robbery,” Harry suggested. “If it were known, the Ministry would have to put an Auror team together to investigate the case. If the mafia is involved, they’ll know about it and would hide their implication even more carefully.”
“Whereas if we act discreetly, it’ll be easier to inquire after Severus’s research,” Hermione finished with enthusiasm. Her smile faded, though, when a thought crossed her mind. “Do we have an idea of where to begin?”
“I think so,” Severus said. A couple of ideas had already come to him. “We won’t start our investigation with the mafia. We’re too well known. Any question on our part would reach their ears at once. I propose that we explore the vampire side of things.”
“Sure. We’re going to be ever so discreet if we go on interviewing every vampire,” Harry said sarcastically.
But Severus looked smug. He walked around Hermione’s armchair and went to rummage through a drawer of a cabinet near the fireplace. He took a white cardboard rectangle out of it. “Not if we’ve got help.” He held out the card to Hermione.
“Oh,” she said. “I had forgotten.”
Wordlessly, she handed the card to Harry. He read: Edward Cullen, Denali Park, Alaska. There was a phone number on the back.
“You know the Cullens?” Harry exclaimed.
“This one came to see me two years ago. He’s the one who involuntarily gave me the idea for the trans-species process.”
“It’s quite notorious that the Cullens and the Volturi don’t exactly get along well,” Hermione added. “It’s a brilliant idea, love.”
The Snapes exchanged a rather intense look. Severus’s black eyes, unusually warm, met Hermione’s loving brown ones. Luckily for Harry, that exchange lasted only a couple of seconds. He felt like a voyeur. As soon as the moment was past, he spoke to hide his embarrassment. “Since we have their phone number, we could call them with Hermione’s mobile phone.”
Severus scowled. “I don’t think so. We may be watched. It wouldn’t be any good to inform our enemies of our decisions.”
Harry was going to protest, but Severus prevented him. “I’m going to pay them a visit as soon as tomorrow or the day after. I know that one of the Cullens can See the future. She’ll see my arrival and will tell her family. I only need a couple of things and an illegal Portkey.”
After another half hour of brainstorming and arguing, the three friends, exhausted, agreed to implement Severus’s plan of action.
“I’ll cover for you about the Portkey. Tell me what time you’re going off, and I’ll create a diversion in the Department of Magical Transportation.”
“Thank you, Harry. I really appreciate the gesture.”
The practical details were settled at once. Severus would leave the next day at the end of the afternoon and arrive at the Cullens’ sometime during the morning. Eileen would Floo to Hogwarts in the morning as had been previously arranged with the school headmaster. As for Hermione and Harry, they would go to work at the Ministry as if nothing were amiss. Harry would go and ask an “important” question to the employee in the Department of Magical Transportation to distract his attention from the charms watching the boundary at the time of Severus’s departure.
On Monday around five p.m., a bottomless bag—charmed by Hermione—in his hand, Severus put a finger on a match box. He felt as if he was hooked behind his navel and hurled into nothingness. He was shaken, turned upside down for several minutes before he could at last put his feet on dry land.
He was in Alaska, and the sun was shining.