Severus' promise to himself lasted until a few days before the next full moon. Of course, he realized this would be the case shortly after that first night back, but for the life of him he couldn't think of any way to avoid the werewolf while bringing him his potion. He could have a house elf deliver it, he supposed, but he really did need to observe the other man's tolerance to it, at least that first month, and probably for some time thereafter. The potion was notoriously tricky, and tended to react differently depending on the imbiber.
So it was with an impressively impassive face and a steaming goblet that he stood in front of the door to the new professor's office, knocking crisply. He could hear the invitation to enter drifting faintly out to his ears, and he opened the door and swept in frostily. He took in the state of the room with mild interest as he entered…several bookcases, stuffed haphazardly with scrolls and books, most clearly left by Lupin's predecessor: a complete set of Lockharts waved cheerily at him from next to a stack of Witch Weeklies. The rug here was threadbare, and obviously scrounged from some back room, as was the furniture. The walls were bare.
"Oh, hullo, Severus," Lupin greeted him, one eyebrow cocked curiously. "What brings you- oh, the potion, I see. Do I need to take it this early?"
Severus was rather disappointed to note that the other man didn't look the least bit uncomfortable in his presence, and he placed the goblet in front of Lupin with rather more force than was strictly necessary, slopping a bit onto the top of the desk. "Yes, you do," he answered sharply, trying to cover his own discomfort. "You need to begin the treatments at least three days before the first night of the full moon, and twice a day on the nights of." The desk was covered with papers from students, several school-issue quills, and a half-empty bottle of ink.
"I see," Lupin answered, plucking the goblet from the table and getting his hand wet from where the potion had dribbled down the side. He sniffed it, his face curling into a little moue of disgust as he put it back down hastily. "Ugh, it smells horrid," he commented, absently licking the side of his hand, and flinching once more. "Tastes it, too."
Severus sighed, exasperated, and pulled forth his wand. To his amusement, Lupin blinked, and picked the goblet back up. "No need for that, Severus, I'll drink the damn stuff."
"No, you idiot," the Slytherin sighed again, and muttered, "Tergeo," while waving his wand over the desk, effectively cleaning the surface of the excess potion, along with some previously spattered ink. "You didn't think I was threatening you, did you? Honestly."
"Well, you do have something of a reputation around here," Lupin mumbled somewhat sheepishly, smiling up at the other professor. Another one of his patented close-lipped smiles, Severus noted as he snorted at Lupin's comment.
"I try to keep my intimidation tactics confined to the student population, Lupin. I find it puts the rest of the faculty a bit off," he said rather sniffily, surprised as the other man burst into warm laughter.
"Oh, I had forgotten what a sense of humor you had," Lupin explained as he leaned back in his chair. Severus immediately scowled, as he remembered who he was standing here with and talking so casually to…not someone he could trust at all. Not someone he knew, either, not really. Lupin seemed to sense the change in mood, for the smile drifted off his face, to be replaced with something else, something a little sad, a little angry.
"You'd best take that before it gets cold," Severus directed icily.
"Yes, I suppose I should." Lupin took another ginger sniff at the contents, then squinched his eyes shut and downed the whole goblet in several long swallows, his throat working. "Oh, god!" he exclaimed, placing the goblet shakily back on the desk and scrubbing at his mouth with the back of his hand as though to somehow rid himself of the taste. Severus felt a petty surge of gratification at the other man's discomfort, and it made him generous.
"That's probably the monkshood, I understand it is quite unpleasant to those with your…taint. I suppose I could try to mask the flavor with something else next time."
Lupin snapped his eyes up to meet Severus' dark ones, and scowled. "I understand it tastes quite 'unpleasant' to pure wizards, as well," he snapped, and Severus was pleased at how well he was able to hide his surprise at Lupin's suddenly harsh tone. Of course, he had been quite fierce in his youth, as well, when pushed too hard…"Is that all you need from me?"
Severus was tempted to assent, and escape, but his sense of professionalism would not allow him to leave just yet. "No, in fact, it is not. I'm not sure how familiar you are with this potion…"
"I've read everything I could find on it. Most of the articles I found were in scholarly journals, though, so they were a bit beyond me." Lupin's voice had dropped to a safe neutral now, and he did not look at Severus as he spoke, instead focusing on a spot just beyond the Slytherin's right shoulder.
"Well, I'm not sure what has been printed in lay publications, but this potion can cause a wide range of side effects, some of which can be quite dangerous. Not only that, but it does not have a standard concentration that seems to work for all werewolves…I have brewed the most commonly used concentration, but it may be that you will require either something stronger, or weaker." He rubbed the bridge of his nose tiredly. "It is quite possible, and in fact likely, that I will have to adjust the potion somewhat during the course of your treatments."
Lupin surprised him again with a bitter laugh. "Treatments. Ha. As if this were some sort of illness that could be cured…"
Severus glanced at him sharply. "It is, in fact, the medical model that has allowed research wizards to develop the Wolfsbane Potion…in the past, lycanthropy has been seen strictly as a curse, and thus not-"
"It is a curse, Severus. Don't fool yourself on that point," Lupin interrupted him, now transferring the weight of his gaze to the bookshelves. "That potion isn't for me. It's for you."
Severus frowned, confused. He sank down into one of the sagging chairs. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, I don't need the potion. I can be locked up…but locks can break, right? And since Belkin couldn't get the so-called Werewolf Protection Acts pushed through the Ministry, they had to find some way to control us, right?" His voice was drained, distant, and Severus felt something twinge inside himself. "If they can't kill us, might as well try something else."
Severus didn't really know what to say to that. He knew what Lupin was talking about: Ravell Belkin had been attempting to get the Ministry to put their official stamp of approval on her personal quest to wipe werewolves from the face of the earth for many years now. The Werewolf Protection Acts were simply the first step in that process: a law that would require all werewolves to register with the Ministry and give up most of their rights as wizards.
But he also knew several of the people who had developed the Wolfsbane Potion – had, in fact, brought his own insights to the research. Maybe the money the Ministry contributed was motivated by fear, yes, but Nicodemus Pavlov and Ulfric Wagner had the purest of motivations: Pavlov's sister had been bitten, and Wagner was a werewolf himself. Both had been working diligently on a cure for many years, and though they had fallen short, this potion was an enormous leap forward in the research.
"Maybe you should just tell me what I should be watching out for," Lupin interrupted his musings.
* * * * *
Remus leaned his head into his hand as Severus continued with his exhaustive list of possible side effect. "…dizziness, light-headedness, some slurring of speech, blurring of vision, loss of or increase in appetite, interruption of sleep patterns, dry mouth…" He still had that silky baritone that Remus could listen to for hours, but really, the man was a bit of prat at times, wasn't he?
There had been a few moments there when it had seemed like they might actually be able to get on a bit. Not the way things used to be, certainly, but who could expect that? They were both very different people now. A few moments when Severus had talked to him like he was a person, and not some dead rat he had found in his bed. Then that wall had crashed right down again, and Remus was sorry he'd even tried.
He resolved to make no further effort on the icy Slytherin's behalf…he didn't have the energy, and besides, what was the use? Of course, he reminded himself with sheepish honesty, that would probably go out the window the next time the potions master pretended to be human again for even a second. He was too starved for company that could speak English and enjoy a good cup of tea. Even if that company sneered at him whenever his back was turned. And often while he was looking right at him!
"Lupin? Are you listening to me, Lupin?" Severus' voice cut sharply across his inner monologue, and he looked over at the other man mildly.
"Yes…well, sort of." He nearly snickered at the predictable scowl that eclipsed the other man's face as he continued, "But look, you don't expect me to remember all of those, do you? I'll just tell you if I'm feeling anything out of the ordinary, shall I?"
"I suppose that will have to do." Severus pursed his lips in a particularly prissy manner, and Remus had to feign a sudden bout of coughing to cover his escaping laughter. He looked up to see the other man looking at him with one eyebrow raised eloquently.
"Still a bit, um…the potion. Yes." Severus snorted, and Lupin suddenly frowned, remembering something the potions master had said. "Look, if it requires different concentrations, shouldn't you simply start me on the highest dose? I don't want there to be any mistakes, I don't want to hurt anyone."
"I had thought of that, but it's much too dangerous to try the highest dose. I'm not familiar with your system and you seem to be somewhat…compromised of late." Severus shifted those expressive dark eyes to the side, and Remus furrowed his brow, trying to figure out what he meant.
"Oh!" he said, as it suddenly dawned on him. "Do you mean because I'm so skinny right now?"
"Yes," Severus answered uncomfortably. "It doesn't…suit you."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Remus exclaimed in exasperation. Really, what a thing to say. "It's not as though I chose to skip regular meals or live outdoors, Severus."
The man at least had the decency to shift awkwardly, and respond rather hastily, "That's not what I meant."
Remus relented somewhat, and changed the subject. "What do you mean, too dangerous?"
"The monkshood…it's poisonous. At any level it's going to cause at least a little nausea, but if I give you a larger dose than you can tolerate, it could cause you to become very ill, maybe even die. If the potion doesn't seem to be having the desired effect at the current dose, we'll try increasing the monkshood, but only in measured steps," Severus explained, his long, graceful fingers running along the arm of his chair as he leaned forward.
"But what about me? What if I can't control myself?" Remus was quite anxious about this point; it had been the biggest argument he had against returning to Hogwarts.
"That has already been taken into account, Lupin," Severus answered almost smugly. "Your door will be locked and heavily warded for your first transformation. We shouldn't have to take such precautions once we determine the correct mixture, but for now, it seems the safest."
Remus sank back into his chair with a little sigh of relief. "Well, alright, then." He picked up a quill and absently began tapping it against his lips, eyeing the other man as he did so. Since when did Severus have so many buttons? And why on earth was he wearing such a high-collared shirt? Remus remembered that the Slytherin has preferred looser, more flowing garments in his youth.
"Why do you know how to make this potion, anyway?" he asked as the question sprang into his head. "Albus said it was a very difficult one…that would require practice, I suspect."
Severus shifted his eyes away. "I enjoy a challenge," he answered shortly. There was something he wasn't saying, but Remus couldn't even begin to guess what it was.
"Well, I suppose if it makes everyone here safer, it's worth it. The nausea and all, I mean. The…side effects," Remus said slowly. He was torn, at times, about his nature. Some people liked to write about lycanthropy as though a werewolf were possessed by something else during the full moon, but it wasn't like that at all. Remus and the wolf were really one and the same…he could feel inhuman instincts roiling just below the surface most of the time, which intensified the closer he got to the full moon.
His senses, too, got sharper. He suspected that was part of the reason the Wolfsbane Potion was so awful…he could smell it so keenly, it blocked everything else out. On the one hand, he was constantly aware of the danger he posed to others. He didn't really want to hurt anyone…at least, no one here. But on the other hand, he was deeply resentful of other wizard's response to him, the expressions of disgust, pity, or fear that were his inevitable due when anyone found out what he was. Outside of his family, he had never found anyone who had accepted him when they discovered his secret.
Except for James, Sirius, and Peter. Dead or gone, now. He let the pain of it seep through him for a moment, fill him with melancholy and the familiar stab of betrayal. Everyone was gone, except for…
He turned to look at Severus, and blinked to find the other man staring at him. His eyes narrowed as he allowed himself to really remember the biting hurt of this man's rejection, who had been a boy he loved. "Why are you helping me, Severus?" he asked, his voice walking the knife-edge of anger, bright and accusing. "Why are you helping a werewolf? A filthy beast?"
Severus looked away again, out the window behind the desk. He didn't answer, and Remus wondered if he was remembering those words that had just been thrown at him. After all, the Slytherin had used them himself, nearly twenty years ago now. Finally, the darker man spoke, his eyes still watching the clouds roll by behind Remus' head.
"You used to bite yourself, didn't you?"
"What?" Remus gaped at him.
"When you changed. You'd bite or scratch yourself. That's where all those scars came from." The werewolf felt physically staggered by the other man's words. He…remembered? Remus had never told him where he had gotten all the ragged scars that criss-crossed his torso and legs. "It's unusual, for werewolves to do that."
"More common in those bitten at a very young age," Remus answered in a soft, strengthless voice.
"I see." Severus stood, and finally looked down at the younger man, his ebon eyes hooded and secret. He leaned forward, across the desk…and picked up the empty goblet. "Do remember to inform me if you're experiencing any of those side effects I mentioned," he continued, his voice cool and professional.
Remus simply nodded. The man turned his back and swept away, his robes sweeping behind him like great raven's wings as he stalked out the door, shutting it behind him with an echoing thud.