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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8. Beyond the Gloaming

An "immediate" trip to Hogwarts proved more problematic than Hermione had anticipated. She wouldn't risk another botched apparation; the Floo Network, commandeered for emergency medical transportation during the last siege, was still closed to all but the highest-ranking Ministry officials; and the Knight Bus, while still operational, was too risky. Harry wasn't the only one who'd suffered unwanted notoriety in the wake of Voldemort's defeat—Rita Skeeter'd made certain of that. Unfortunately, this left only one other option for travel, one she hated above all others.

When night fell, Hermione tucked her hair in a cap and donned a black hoodie. Leaving the house by the back, Nimbus in hand, she shouldered her pack, gripped the shaft of the broomstick tightly in her hands, closed her eyes, and said, "Up!"

At first, the broom zigged across the garden with her in tow, sweeping dew from the grass and upending garden chairs and potted plants. "Up! Up!" she shrilled, clinging desperately upright, one foot in the stirrup, one leg dangling. "Please, won't you just go up!"

The broom made another jittery circuit around the lawn again, forcing her to swallow a scream. Then, angling, it flew straight into the nearest treetop, disturbing a murder of crows. "Sorry," she said, disentangling herself from the twigs. Then, settling into a flying stance, head low, both feet securely in the stirrups, Hermione took a deep breath, and said, "Hogwarts."

Nothing happened.

"Come on, move." She tried nudging it forward with her hips. "Hogwarts, now."

The broom refused to budge.

Sighing, she said, "I guess I should've just apparated."

If "please" had roused it from disuse's torpor, her threat of apparation lit a fire under its bristles. The broom rocketed into the sky, whisking her over rooftops and rivers, and turning London's lights to pinpricks.

By the time Hermione reached the castle, the moon had risen, stippling the courtyard with blue shadows. Water gurgled in the old fountain, splashing over shards of its broken bowl, and at the main entrance, a hunched sentinel stood with a lantern in one hand and a small club in the other. "Who's that there, eh? State your business."

She recognized the rough accent immediately. "It's Hermione, Mr. Filch," she said, stepping into the lamp's orange glow. "I'm here to see Professor McGonagall."

"Oh are you?" When he lifted the lamp for a better look, Hermione saw the bandages around his hands and a bulge beneath his ragged neckerchief. "Well, that's you, alright, but I'm afraid you can't see her. She's not here," he said.

Tearing off her cap, she spluttered, "Not here! What do you mean she's not here?"

"She had to go. There were...circumstances."

Noticing the club still hadn't left his hand, Hermione shifted uneasily on the flagstones. "What kind of circumstances, Mr. Filch?"

"That's all I'm at liberty to say, Miss Granger."

"Then how do you explain this?" Hermione handed him the letter, if for nothing more than to make him set his club aside, which, much to her relief, he did. "It's an urgent summons from Professor McGonagall. It came by Special Delivery Owl earlier this evening."

"I can read it just fine, Miss," he said, a familiar edge creeping into his tone.

"Sorry. Do you know when she'll return?" When he shook his head, she knew her next question was a long shot, but persisted. "Do you know what she might have wanted?"

Filch scratched his head. "Just about everyone's cleared out. Except for the work crews during the day, it's been pretty quiet around here since, since...well, you know." Turning, he scowled into the castle foyer's torch lit gloom. As he did, Hermione could see scaffolding by the main staircase's blasted balustrade. The smell of varnish wafted out. Staring into the darkness, he began nodding slowly, as if one of the shadows had just spoken to him.

"What is it, Mr. Filch? Is something wrong?" Her pack felt like a bag of boulders on her shoulder and her arms and thighs ached from gripping the broom so tightly. In her haste to leave, she'd also forgotten to finish her dinner, something her stomach wouldn't be letting her forget any time soon. When he didn't respond, she said, "Well, since she's not here, I guess I should head back to London. You'll tell her I came, won't you, Mr. Filch. Mr. Filch?"

Turning quickly, he said, "No, no, you can't go back now. It's too...dark." He looked up at the sky as if he'd never stars before. His bulging eyes flicked to one side, as if someone had just whispered a particularly juicy secret in his ear. Then, handing back the letter, he nodded and said, "She'd want you to stay here. Yes..." He nodded again, as if trying to convince himself. "She'd want you to wait 'til she gets back. Come on, then."

Motioning for her to follow, he led her inside the castle's damp, drop cloth shrouded interior and down a long corridor to a side staircase. Though portraits still hung on the walls, their human subjects were curiously absent. Empty chairs sat at empty tables; sheet music and instruments lay haphazard in abandoned drawing rooms; and in one pastoral scene, an army of ants busily carried off a vacated picnic. Also absent were Nearly Headless Nick and the Bloody Baron. Even Mrs. Norris, who usually stuck to her master like a furry second shadow, seemed to be off hiding or hunting elsewhere. It's like walking through a mausoleum, Hermione thought.

As they made their way down another set of stairs, their footsteps echoing in the hollow dark, a small shape with wings the color of night followed their progress from inside the vacated wall portraits.

When they reached the landing, Hermione immediately recognized the pedestal that once boasted an enormous, emerald-filled hourglass. Now empty, it canted at an odd angle near the entryway to the private quarters for the head of that particular house. "Slytherin?" she said, "Why on earth are we here?"

"The student quarters are closed off for repairs, so you'll have to stay in Severus' old rooms," he wheezed. Passing the pedestal, they approached a replica of the Slytherin coat of arms. Carved from Bluestone in bas-relief and mounted inside a thick frame, a shadow seemed to hang over its former grandeur like a pall. "No one comes down here much but if you ask me, it's the best of the lot," he said, running his hand down one side of the frame. A moment later, Hermione heard a click and the sculpture swung open, revealing a small anteroom, at the end of which was a narrow, wooden door. "That is, if you don't mind sharing with a ghost." He chuckled at his own joke. Then, taking an iron key from his coat pocket, he inserted it into the door lock. "Ah, but after battling Voldemort and single-handedly battling a mountain troll--bet you thought I'd forgotten about that--I'd think a brave Gryffindor like yourself would make quick work of a ghost, eh?"

Was it just her imagination, or did this usually irascible busybody of a man just tease her? "You think Professor Snape is a ghost?" Perhaps he's been into the firewhiskey, she decided.

Favoring her with a crooked grin, the caretaker handed her the key and stepped through the arched threshold into Snape's room. A moment later, a small oil lamp flickered on. "There, that's better. Come on in, then."

More curious than fearful, Hermione followed him into a sitting room that seemed terribly cold. To her right, a wall of books stretched from dusty floor to cobwebbed ceiling; to her left, a ratty couch and two equally shabby, padded chairs, all upholstered in what once might have been signature Slytherin green, faced the gaping maw of a large stone fireplace, over which, a portrait of the late Professor Snape presided with characteristic disdain.

"That's odd,"  Hermione said. "Why isn't he with the other headmasters?"

"He's lucky he's here at all. Found him beside a pile of rubbish in the hall, I did. Can you imagine the indignity!" Filch raised the lamp to better illuminate the portrait, whose gilded frame was chipped and badly marred. His almost-reverent action and the lamp's outmost halo of pale gold did little to improve the portrait's subject, however. Snape stared derisively at them down his long, hooked nose. "When I tried to put him back with the others, Professor McGonagall said that she didn't want him in her new office," he said bitterly. "Said him looking over her shoulder all the time gave her the chills. So, I brought him here." He nodded at Severus. "This was his home most of his life. This is where he belongs."

Professor McGonagall had a point. Even in the gloom, she could feel those beetle black eyes of his boring into her, following her every move. Hermione shivered.

"Bedroom and bathroom are in there." He gestured arthritically to the door on the far wall. "Furniture's serviceable." He pounded the back of the couch with his bandaged palm, raising a thick cloud of dust and with it, a faint smell of something else, something spicy, musky, and strangely familiar. "There's a little workroom behind you, just there, not that you'll need it." As Filch gestured with the lamp, the late professor's eyes seemed to flare angrily. "Nothing more than a storeroom really, but you'd be wise to—"

A sudden coughing fit interrupted him, pitching him forward and forcing him down on the sofa.

Hermione laid a tentative hand on his shoulder. "Would you like me to fetch you a glass of water, Mr. Filch?"

"S'th damn cold," he said between gasps. "Al'ays so cold..."

Hermione drew her wand from her sleeve and aimed it at the fireplace. Moments later, flames licked and crackled over its old logs. "There, that should take the chill off," she said, throwing herself into one of the padded chairs that flanked the sofa and sending up a dust storm as she landed. "Sorry."

"It's 'cause of his ghost or so she said. After he passed, she started seeing lights, hearing things." His last words drowned in something thick and wet inside his throat.

Hermione didn't have to ask who she was. "Professor Trelawney must miss him a great deal. I had no idea they were so close," she said, glancing at the portrait over the fireplace. For a moment, she could've sworn he'd shaken a disapproving finger at her but reason soon bested imagination: Of course, his portrait's charmed, just like the others. This, however, birthed an unsettling realization: all charmed portraits could speak. If that were the case and if it were equally true that death had no appreciable effect on its victim's personality, she didn't relish the thought of spending five minutes alone with Snape, much less the night. "Are you sure you wouldn't like some water, Mr. Filch? It's so awfully dusty in here." Rising, she said, "You know, I wouldn't mind—"

"Sybill saw him." He said hoarsely, cutting her off. "And not long after's when it happened. A right sorry mess it was, too."

Hermione scooted to the edge of her seat. "What happened?"

"I suspect it's why the Headmistress called you back, for all the good it'll do," Filch said, staring up at the portrait. "Sybill's gone now."

"Gone?" Hermione's blood went colder than the air in the room. "You mean Professor Trelawney is dead?"

"Dead? Are you daft?" He stuffed a pillow behind his back. "After his funeral, she swore up and down that Severus wasn't dead and she was going to find him. That's when she started seeing him—even said he flew past her window one night. That was the problem." He shook his finger at her. "It was always at night and when she was alone, which the poor thing was, most of the time. Of course, this didn't help her any," he said, taking a swig from an imaginary bottle. Then, leaning in to Hermione, he whispered conspiratorially, "Nor this: you know, she always was sweet on him."

Another coughing fit seized him, which gave Hermione plenty of time to picture the Divination instructor and sarcastic Potions professor locked in a passionate snogging session:

(Oh, Sybill! The moonlight reflecting off your monstrous lenses is as blinding as your beauty!)

(Oh, Severus! Is it true what they say about men with freakishly long noses?)

(Oooh, Syb!)

(Oooh, Sev!)

Oh, gross! Even with both hands clapped over her mouth, Hermione couldn't suppress the flood of giggles, and was relieved when the portrait over the mantle remained remarkably impassive throughout her outburst.

"I'll grant you, she had more than a few loose screws before, what with her predicting this one's death and that, but his completely unhinged that poor girl. Wasn't long before she tried to fly after him. She would've, too if I hadn't been there to stop her! Professor McGonagall packed her off to the old bug-house straight away. As far as I know, she's there still."

No longer laughing, Hermione said, "I'm sorry. That was horrid of me, Mr. Filch. I had no idea."

Waving his hand dismissively, Filch rose. "There's a great deal you don't know. Well, I've got to go lock up now." His joints popped as he shuffled to the door. "After you get settled, there're some sandwiches in the kitchen if you're hungry."

Did wonders never cease? "Thank you, Mr. Filch."

"Oh, and Miss Granger," paused in the door, his face to the silent hall, Filch said, "I wouldn't take any midnight strolls, if I were you. Mark my words: there are still some things even you wouldn't want to tangle with on a moonlit night."

"What kind of things?"

"Well, wouldn't want to be givin' you nightmares, now, would I?" With that, he shut the door behind him, leaving Hermione alone in her late professor's apartment.

 

 

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