Early July, 1992
Adam Murphy of Magical Law Enforcement was at least fifteen minutes late, but as he'd expected, the man he was meeting was there, slumped reading on a park bench with his legs stretched out so his tennis shoes rested on the pathway in front. He looked up without so much as a twitch at the noise from Murphy's Apparation.
"What if someone trips?" Murphy asked.
Severus Snape smirked. "It will be their own fault for not looking."
The Hogwarts professor said nothing else. He'd never admit to any of the anxiety or concern that gave his silence an expectant air.
Murphy had learned to be a bastard at Snape's feet, for a few years as fellow students and later in his own final year at Hogwarts, by observing the older man's evolving teaching style. He could never match the master, however, so he told him, "I managed to keep the aurors out of it but made it clear to the parents that this was a one-off. If those boys test their pranks on muggles again there's nothing I can do. Or would care to, frankly."
Snape sat up, pulling in his long legs, silently inviting Adam to sit. "Thank you. Perhaps the scare will get it through those thick skulls that their little games could get them sentenced to Azkaban."
Murphy grimaced. "It had better. Azkaban is no place for kids. If we had a juvenile system like civilized countries do I'd have kept well out of it. You know I don't consider muggle baiting innocent fun or high spirits."
His friend snapped his book shut with a sigh and tucked it into the battered messenger bag on the ground beside him. "I doubt they even realize that that is what they were doing. There was no hatred involved in using muggles, it was merely convenient," he said with a sneer. "They're from an established Light family that always sorts Gryffindor. In their tiny minds anything they do is either noble or a harmless joke."
"Bloody Marauders left a fucking legacy, didn't they?" Seeing the tired scowl this comment earned, Adam realized he was in danger of spoiling their day and decided to change the subject. "Chole sound good?"
"I've never tried it," the cautious professor replied, "but I have been craving Indian cuisine of late. I've been dreaming of butter chicken since last month."
Murphy gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder and rose. "Let's get you some, then."
There was no need to change their appearance since both were already dressed in muggle clothing. Snape wore knee length shorts and tennis shoes. Only his long-sleeved linen shirt might attract notice. Murphy himself wore khakis and a white t-shirt which had a big red W. It had been a gift to celebrate Murphy's acceptance into the MLE as well as a Snape joke, being an homage to his friend's status as a wizard combined with a nod to his muggle heritage. The shirt represented an American college football team whose symbol was the badger.
Snape had found the ambiguous W amusing, but Murphy wouldn't be surprised if he'd sent them a few excellent pictures of fierce badgers with a note to update their logo. Severus was like that.
Their arrival at the restaurant fell between the mid and late meal rushes. After they'd ordered food and received their drinks, Murphy asked, "Done brewing yet?"
"Barring the potions that can't be stored for any length of time, yes. And yes, I've also ordered or purchased lab supplies for the school year. Why do you ask?"
"Can you get away for a week or two?"
Expressionless, Snape repeated, "Why do you ask?"
Murphy snickered at the show of suspicion. "EuroDisney. Care to go?"
"Is that a joke?" Snape hissed, then schooled his manner to politely accept his meal from the waiter.
"Dead serious. It'll be a lark."
"It's a theme park. It's undoubtedly infested with children, especially at this time of the year."
"They wish. I've read they aren't getting the crowds they'd hoped for. We'll be fine."
Snape gave it some thought, chewing thoughtfully, before saying as if it explained everything, "They did build it in France."
"Do the French hate fun?" Adam asked, tucking into his chole.
"The French, as I understand it, are quite protective of their language and culture, not to mention their taste buds. Imagine their reaction to American style cuisine, everything fried with a pile of burnt bacon on top, as well as the constant promotion of Disney's insipid film versions of their fairy tales. Don't they take a degree of pride in Charles Perrault?"
"It's bloody children's stories, Sev! Who's going to care as long as the rides are exciting?"
"We'll be beaten to death with baguettes before we learn whether or not they are," Snape said with certainty.
Murphy brightened. "We're going? Brilliant!"
Snape enjoyed several leisurely bites of his chicken before catching Adam's gaze with glinting black eyes. "So, why exactly are we fleeing the country?"
Adam froze before admitting with a wry grin, "I'm angry. The Ministry's putting every available resource into hunting down Sirius Black. Not just the aurors' resources, even though they're the experts on Dark wizards. That might make sense."
"The Ministry? Sensible? Don't be absurd," Snape said, earning a cynical chuckle in reply.
"Absurd's the word all right. They want the rest of the MLE to drop everything, too, every last current case we're working on, to chase down every rumor of a sighting of the bastard, whether it's a reliable source or not."
He sighed and drank some of his ale. "Black's not the only criminal in Britain, or even Wizarding Britain. He isn't the only killer, for god's sake!"
"He did murder a dozen people," Snape countered.
"He did, and he was caught because he sat there raving about it! Most criminals aren't that fucking helpful, Sev, and the more time lost between a crime and beginning the investigation, the likelier it becomes that we'll never solve it! If I'm expected to ignore every damn case I've been working on, I may as well use some of that wasted time for the holiday I'd decided to put off indefinitely!"
Snape took a sip of his own drink, studying Murphy thoughtfully over the rim of his glass. "Which case is getting to you?"
"You really are a bloody mindreader, aren't you?"
"It's a required skill for teaching," Snape replied drily.
"This may sound foolish," the younger man began, eliciting a Professor Snape scowl in response that silently ordered him to go on. "Half a dozen failed Animagus transformations," he said grimly. "Illegal, unregistered, botched attempts that can't be put right."
"Odd. If an expert at transfiguration acts quickly there normally isn't long-term damage," Snape said thoughtfully, eyes a little unfocused as if he were writing notes on some internal blackboard. "That is the very reason aspiring Animaguses are expected to register their intent and to find a mentor. Why were the transformations irreversible? Were they all fatal? If some unscrupulous ass is pretending to mentor would-be Animaguses..." He trailed off, then said, "They'd be completely vile, and their students would have to be idiots. Which isn't the same as deserving to die."
"They aren't all dead, but the survivors haven't been able to be transformed back. They're stuck. There have been at least three bodies found, though. Partial transformations, just like the living ones, that can't be reversed."
"Which would imply that this isn't an ordinary transfiguration, nor an attempt at becoming an Animagus."
"Go on," Murphy said, leaning close to encourage him.
"There's almost certainly a potion or dark magic involved," Snape said quietly.
"That's my own guess, but they're too busy with Black to bother looking into it. They won't allow me to investigate it properly, either."
"Because Black was connected to the Dark Lord," Snape guessed. "The Ministry still panics at the thought of Death Eaters, even though there was almost no movement left after the Lestrange trial. They were arguably the closest thing he had to lieutenants."
Murphy didn't question Snape's certainty about the DE movement. He had suspicions, but given that Snape had firmly discouraged his own interest in joining, was too grateful to pry into his friend's possible past mistakes.
"A Legilimens was called in," he said instead. "The victims' minds aren't clearly human like an Animagus's would be, but they aren't absent as if they'd been transfigured, either. This isn't something we should be ignoring!"
"I gather that you haven't been," Snape replied, "so do please share what you've discovered. Have you identified any of these people? Is there any indication as to whether they were willing subjects or not?"
"I should probably keep you out of this," Adam said, hesitating, "I'm risking my job here."
"How we spend our holidays is nobody else's concern," Snape said firmly, then raised a brow and asked, "assuming you're willing to forgo the souvenir mouse ears?"
"Of course I am," he replied not bothering to hide his relief. He still felt honor bound to offer his friend a chance to change his mind, though, so he added, "but Sev, I can't ask you to do this. Helping with the occasional potion is one thing but this is an actual case."
His friend looked distressed. "Are you saying you haven't been intentionally trying to maneuver me into assisting you? How disappointing. I'd like to believe our years of acquaintance have had some effect."
Murphy laughed before replying to his teasing in kind. "You must have, mate, only the effect was so subtle I didn't notice it happening. You're just that good."
He paused before offering Snape one last chance to back out. "Investigating crime isn't exciting most of the time. It's tedious, mostly looking at details and poking at them to pry loose every fact you can."
"Labor intensive, fussy, frequently dull and occasionally terrifying. Not unlike teaching potions to children, then."
"I shouldn't be asking you to give up your holiday."
"At least I have time at the moment. Grab me before the Headmaster has an idea, I beg of you."
Murphy curbed his initial reply indicating where Dumbledore could shove any ideas. Adam knew that, however much he complained about the man, Severus was deeply loyal to him. He'd never made a serious effort to leave his teaching position despite his many complaints about Dumbledore's interfering ways and inability to share information.
Murphy had speculated with some of their mutual acquaintances but the only concensus they'd ever found was that it was yet another reason Albus Dumbledore needed to be sacked as Headmaster, sooner rather than later.
He was certain that Severus knew how they felt but disagreed. Snape had always been too damn loyal for his own good.
"So, any ideas on what kind of potion might be involved?"
"A misbrewed Polyjuice Potion had a similar effect to what you describe on one of my students. The brew was serviceable until she used a cat's hair rather than human."
"How'd she fuck that up?"
"Carelessness. She scuffled with the targeted student but settled for a hair from her robe rather than pulling one from her head."
Snape left out names but described the girl's transformation into a sort of cat/human hybrid. He was obviously displeased that he hadn't even been allowed to punish the student for unsupervised brewing of a hazardous potion. The details of the girl's condition differed from the victims Adam had read reports on or observed himself.
"They don't remain self-aware, though."
"No. She was fortunate, but I believe it may be because the base potion was Polyjuice. One doesn't lose one's true self under the veneer of another's appearance."
"So what did they use?"
They discussed the possibilities, including variations on the potion used in the complex process of becoming a true Animagus, until the place started to fill up with the evening rush.
The two decided to meet again in a couple of days so Snape could do some research with the dark books he had at home. He imagined the Malfoys might have some useful books as well. Murphy intended to get copies of the victims' files. Snape cautioned him to be careful since there might be more to his superiors' unwillingness to investigate the transformations than their usual incompetence.