Vespertine

Got Love? Whether it’s unrequited, extramarital, obsessive or completely otherworldly, this fic’s got it covered. Contrary to public opinion, Severus Snape didn’t die at the Battle of Hogwarts. Although he’s not exactly “alive,” he is on a mission to possess the very thing that eluded him in life: love. While love might be the best revenge, it’s never easy. When murder and madness are part of the mix, desire has teeth—and this kind of love really bites!

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16. A Study in Emerald

"We'll get there quicker this way, Hermione. Follow me." Instead of heading for the stairs to the main floor after leaving the Infirmary, Hagrid headed to the right, down a corridor lined with vaulted windows on one side. Midway, he stopped and looked out over the fog-shrouded grounds. "Did Argus tell you where he was headed?"

"I tried to tell you earlier. I haven't seen him since early this morning, just before you returned." Looking out on the bleak landscape, she shivered. "I hope he's not still making his rounds. He said there'd been a rash of petty thefts lately and blamed the workmen."

"He's startin' to sound like his old self again." Hagrid chuckled.

"Is the Professor awake?"

"Not yet."

As they approached the entrance to the Headmaster's suite, the gargoyle that stood guard flexed its claws and snarled at them at first, but then, seeing McGonagall, it folded its wings and allowed them inside. As they passed through the narrow archway, a chill met them; a cold that only intensified as they rode upwards on the escalating spiral stair. The first to enter the Professor's office, Hagrid saw the flapping drapes, the scattered papers and the puddles of rainwater on the floor.

"What a mess. They must've blown open in last night's storm." Hermione hurried to close the windows and right the drapes.

After setting Minerva gently on the divan, Hagrid started to the fireplace but an empty space on the wall caught his eye. "Wind didn't do that," he said. Above him, the portraits exchanged glances, but none of the former heads of Hogwarts spoke.

"Didn't do what?" Hermione said, still whisking the pools of water away with her wand.

"Old Archibald MacNabb's missing," he said, pointing a singed spot on the wall. Then, turning, he took in the rest of the room. "So's Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Severus. They're all gone."

Behind them, Minerva opened her eyes.

"I don't know about the other headmasters, but Filch brought Snape's portrait back to his old quarters," Hermione said. "He said Professor McGonagall was going to throw it away."

"Wanted it moved is more like. Argus gets some funny ideas, sometimes," he said, and began to pick up the books and papers. Then he saw the cabinets and inside, the colored smoke wafting over bits of broken glass or hovering above small pools of a dark, oily substance. "But he may've been right about thieves. Someone's been in these cabinets who shouldn't have been."

"Not the memory collection!" Skirts rustled and the divan creaked.

"Professor!" Hermione ran to her. "You shouldn't try to move so fast."

"I'll be fine, just give me your arm." Leaning on Hermione, she tottered across the room. Peering through the cracked glass doors, immediately drawn to the topmost shelf, to the tiny bottles made of a glass so violet they appeared nearly black, Minerva was not surprised to discover that now, not one of them remained intact. Minerva flung open the doors, allowing the last tendrils of Severus' past to flood her nostrils with an odor as sharp as vinegar.

"Can you tell what's been taken, Professor," Hermione asked, shielding her nose with her sleeve.

"Not taken, broken. Broken beyond repair...So many irreplaceable memories, so much history, utterly destroyed," she said in a small, faraway voice. Then, clenching her fists, she began pounding on the wooden frame. "Vile, spiteful, malicious..."

"Come away before you cut yourself." Slipping one arm around her shoulders, Hagrid gently guided her back to the divan.

Hermione headed for the Floo Powder. "We should alert the Ministry. I'm sure Mr. Weasley will—"

"No, no we mustn't!" Minerva's voice rang through the room. But after seeing Hermione's shocked expression, she said, "I'm sorry, dear but I don't want to bother Arthur with something like this. It isn't the first intrusion we've had since the war ended."

"It's the first time someone's gotten so far in and past the gargoyle, at that," Hagrid said. "What'd they do, fly?"

Hermione ventured her next question cautiously. "Whose memories were they?"

"I'm not entirely certain. Professor Dumbledore kept a list somewhere. I've been meaning to find it," she said, one hand nervously brushing a wisp of hair from her bandage.

"Well, unless whoever did this was invisible, someone here must've seen somethin'." Striding to the middle of the gallery, Hagrid addressed the portraits, "You're an awfully tight-lipped lot today. What the devil happened here?"

"Devil is such an amorphous term, it's hardly worthy of my legacy," Salazar Slytherin drawled from his gilt pane.

Hermione glared at him. "Your legacy ended with Voldemort."

"That's the wonderful thing about heirs, Miss Granger. Do your job right and there's one in every generation: an eternal return."

His last words jogged an unpleasant memory of Trelawney, moments before she began raving about blood and weeping moons; but before she could ponder it further, a violent choking fit seized Minerva. "Can I get you anything, Professor? Here, you must be freezing." She draped a tartan throw over her shoulders and conjured a roaring blaze in the fireplace. "Would you like me to fetch you a cup of tea?"

"No, something stronger, I think," she said, gasping. "Perhaps we should all have one. Hagrid, would you, please?" she said, pointing to a group of decanters and glasses on a nearby table.

"Oh, before I forget." He reached into his pocket.

"None for me thanks." Hermione stiffened as he passed Minerva the locket.

"This letter you spoke of before, do you still have it?"

"You really didn't send it?" When McGonagall shook her head, Hermione said, "It's with my things. I'll go get it, if you like."

"Not alone you won't! I don't know who sent you that Owl, but the more distance you put between yourself and Hogwarts right now, the better off you'll be." 

Hagrid returned with their drinks. Taking hers, McGonagall said to him, "Please accompany Miss Granger to Slytherin to collect her things and see her safely to the edge of the grounds. She can apparate home from there. I'm sorry you came all this way for nothing, dear."

"I can't go home, Professor. I don't exactly have one at the moment." She told them what she'd done to her parents, what had happened to her the last time she'd tried apparating, and her meeting with Mrs. Stokes.

Hagrid interrupted, "Well, there's your answer, Hermione. Mrs. Stokes probably felt bad about how she left things and this was her way of tryin' to set them right." He downed his firewhiskey in one gulp and headed back to the decanter. "Vandals or not, you can't just throw her out, Perfesser. She's got nowhere to go!"

Minerva stiffened. "I'm not trying to throw anyone out!"

"You only want me to leave so you call kill him!" Rounding on her, knowing she'd just tipped her hand but unable to stop, Hermione's next words came out in a tumble. "You think he's a monster but he's not; he's just like Harry, an accidental Horcrux, only made by Nagini this time instead of Voldemort. I think that's what he was trying to tell us that night and I think he sent the letter because he needs my help—he needs all our help—and after all he's done for us, I will not let you hunt him down like an animal!"

"Who?" Both said.

"Professor Snape."

While Salazar's wry smile turned into a Cheshire Cat grin, Hagrid nearly choked on his firewhiskey. "Sehvuggh! Severus is dead, Hermione. I should know. I found him just where Harry said I would, brought him here, and even helped Argus clean him up. Think I'd have known if he were still livin', wouldn't I?"

You didn't notice Harry was alive the morning you carried him back, she thought. "What if you only saw what he wanted you to see?"

"I'd say it was an awful mean thing to do to those who cared about 'im," he said.

"Now, yes; but he wasn't so well-liked at the time of his...we didn't learn until later what role he really played." Hermione stopped and gazed into the fire. Its flames reminded her of teeth. Dragon's teeth. Shuddering, she crossed her arms.

Only Minerva seemed unfazed by the outburst. "If Severus were still alive, I assure you that I would be the first to champion his cause; but I'm curious, Hermione, how did you arrive at this conclusion?" she asked softly.

"Earlier today, I accidentally knocked your brooch off the table." Hermione turned back to her. "It opened; I read what was inside."

"A token from childhood—not everyone keeps their memories in phials," Minerva said, "I don't know what you thought you read..."

"They were ingredients for a potion to repel a vampire. You've been injecting yourself with it, slowly poisoning yourself because you're afraid of him." Hermione tapped her neck.

"Severus, a vampire—you're mad!" Hagrid's laugh echoed down the gallery. "Then again, he always favored black. Looked like a giant bat sauntering down the corridors, he did." Mimicking Snape's gait down the length of the room, he tossed his head and flapped his elbows.

"I'm serious, Hagrid! Only, he's not a vampire and he's not dead! You can't deny that Professor Trelawney saw him—more than once—Mr. Filch told me," she said, before the professor could ask, noticing the way her hand trembled at the mention of Sybill's name. "She knew. That's the real reason you sent her to St. Mungo's, isn't it?"

"In the end, she gave me no choice. Sybill became fixated upon the castle's ghosts, especially Severus, for whom she developed an unhealthy attachment. In all the years I've known her, I've never seen her so insistent, so unwavering and so unreasonable in her convictions. What you saw at Severus' graveside was a mere taste of what we had to endure."

"She just missed him is all." Hagrid shrugged.

"Missed him? I'll say. She interfered with the work crews during the day and conducted lengthy investigations at night, solo excursions that often took her into very damaged and dangerous areas of the castle. Her drinking only made it worse. If Mr. Filch hadn't followed her that last night, she would have flung herself from the Astronomy Tower. I assure you, Miss Granger, what I did, I did for the sake of Sybill's safety and well-being," Minerva said quietly.

I've seen him, too was on the tip of Hermione's tongue, but she bit it back. McGonagall's story, almost identical to Filch's, sounded too pat, too rehearsed; if she wanted to out the lie in the alibi and help Severus, from now on, she'd have to keep her accusations to herself. She'd already said too much. "I'm sorry I upset you, Professor. It all seemed to make such perfect sense: the prophecy, the Patronus, even the potion in your locket."

"We've all had a trying day." Minerva's hand fluttered to her neck. "It'll be dark soon; you must be famished. Why don't we all go down and get something to eat? Afterward, Hagrid can help you collect your things. There's a day bed just off my quarters. Until we can find a more suitable arrangement, I'd feel better about having you here with me. Perhaps your arrival was most fortuitous after all, Hermione," she said, rising. "I've been meaning to discuss the S. P. E. W. regulations with you. While I'm proud to have Hogwarts spearheading the House Elf Rights initiative, we need to come to a better arrangement about weekend meals before the new term begins."

After making a quick stop at Mr. Filch's quarters, where they found only Mrs. Norris crunching her kibble and a pot steaming over the hearth, the three headed to the kitchen. For the next hour and a half, there was no talk of Severus or the unfortunate Sybill. Making good on her warning to "discuss" the House Elf situation, Minerva pressganged Hermione to a compromise: a rotating schedule that allowed for time off, whilst guaranteeing the presence of a smaller weekend staff.

As the day dwindled and shadows lengthened, talk turned to Hagrid's recent trip and his successful resettling of Grawp in a colony of half-breed Giants. "He jus' loves it and no one calls him Shrimpy no more 'cause he's one of the biggest ones there. There's young ones there, been abandoned you know, and they look up to him like a big brother. He's got plenty of company and he's with his own kind—I couldn't be happier for him," he said, his voice breaking. "I never couldn't'a done it without Olympe, of course. She sends her regards."

"She seems quite taken with you, Hagrid. I hope she's still not trying to woo you into taking the Care of Magical Creatures position at Beauxbatons." Minerva smiled over her tea.

"Olympe 'n' me? Why, there's....there's no—and there'll be no wooin' goin' on whatsoever," he spluttered, daubing at something caught in his beard. A sudden clap of thunder saved him from more teasing. It rattled the windows and shook the plates in their cupboards. "Looks like it's fixin' to be a nasty night," he said. "I hope Argus is under cover."

"But where's the lightning? To produce thunder that loud, the storm would have to be directly over our heads and would have produced a tremendous flash." Already out of her chair, Hermione went to one of the windows, only to find its lower casement was at eye level. Pulling herself up on tiptoes, she peered outside, where all she saw were swells of ground fog. Why was there always so much fog? "But it's perfectly calm outside—why, it's not even raining anymore!" As she turned back, all of them heard the great doors groan open, a horrible thud, and then, screaming.

Hagrid flew out of his seat. Whipping out her wand, Hermione followed, ignoring McGonagall's pleas for her to stay put. She bounded up the stairs, rushed across the cavernous Great Hall, careful to avoid looking at its ceiling, and through the high doors.

Covered in scratches and blood, clothes caked with mud, Filch crouched on all fours in the foyer. "Thieves! Thieves!" he screamed, his eyes rolling, his mouth spraying frothy spittle, "They came like smoke...I saw...I saw 'em...through the trees!

"We know. They ransacked Professor McGonagall's office earlier and stole some portraits," Hagrid said.

"Damn the paintings! The tomb's been breached! His body is missing! They took him! They took Severus!" Filch's arms gave out and he fell, face down on the floor.

 

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