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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17. Cat and Mouse

She ran through the night in a strange wood, hair in tangles, glasses shattered. At every turn, branches slapped, thorns scratched, and roots threatened to turn her ankles. Sybill pressed on to her unknown destination, each gasp and gulp of air searing her lungs.

She screamed for him—Severus! Severus!—each syllable bursting forth, torturous, distorted; but no matter how far or fast she ran, IT dogged her like a second shadow, an unknown and unseen monstrosity, so close, she could hear its ragged panting, feel its hot breath gusting over her back, her neck, her cheek...

It smelled like blood...

Claws dug into her shoulder, cruelly spinning her around. Flailing and shrieking, she found herself staring into the jaws of a dragon...the eyes of a lover!

Sweat pouring down her face and fingers aching from clutching the sheets so tightly, Sybill startled awake, still gasping, "No, no, don't hurt me! Don't hurt me, Severus!"

She sat up and let her eyes become accustomed to the gloom. She was in her hospital room. Door closed, shades drawn. Slowly, as if being careful not to startle her, the lights atop the wainscoting resumed their tangerine gleam. There was no forest, no savage beast. There was only her, alone with her fear.

Severus said he loved me—loves me, she mentally corrected. Why would he ever want to hurt me? At first, her heart trilled at his name; but then a shudder ran through her as she recalled the horrid, distorted face from her nightmare, the claws, and then, the pain.

If it was a nightmare...

It was always so hard to tell! She kicked off the sheets, which were damp with sweat. Her mind, her psyche, her entire being was a cistern, forever collecting the deluge of vibrations, voices and visions that fell from the Cosmos. While the Universe was infinitely generous with its bits of unbidden information, she'd yet to find a way to distinguish sixth sense from nonsense. Which was just maddening as it was maddeningly unjust. Although a few of her predictions had come true, the divide between their original presentation and eventual manifestation was enormous, an unbridgeable chasm. The cool air stippled her arms and legs with gooseflesh. She pulled up her knees and hugged her pillow. Her great-great grandmother hadn't had this problem and neither had her great aunt, both of whom had been blessed with an effortless ability to distinguish pap from prophecy, while she remained, for lack of a better term, Third Eye Blind. They'd gotten the gift; she'd gotten the genetic booby prize.

Sybill rolled out of bed, went to the washroom and splashed cold water on her face. She cleaned her glasses and put them back on, but the face that stared back at her in the mirror did little to lighten her mood. Booby prize, indeed, the only way she'd found to control her so-called "gift" was to shut herself in and shut it out. Both of her relatives had surrounded themselves with family and friends, committees and charities. All that buzz and hubbub, that ceaseless bombardment of noise inside and out! How did they stand it?

A cool breeze stirred her hair. She hadn't closed the bathroom window and now, saw that dusk had begun to settle beyond the barred windows. Her teeth felt fuzzy. She brushed them and rinsed with a swig of green mouthwash. Minty flat, it lacked a certain, welcome sting. Her hand trembled slightly as picked up the bottle. Alcohol-free. Of course it was.

A familiar hollowness opened inside her. A void with a voice all its own:

Not for long...

She looked outside again. No, not long at all. Night would fall, Simon's friend would come, and afterward, no terrors would invade her sleep. Buoyed by this thought, she threw on her robe and for the first time since that morning, left her room.

The walls in the corridor had turned from grey to pale yellow. Sybill padded down the hallway, careful not to smile or make any conversation beyond a single-worded greeting with those she met along the way. Thankfully, Madame Lavatska was not among them.

The flesh on her arms started to crawl again. Sybill rubbed them. After only one group session, she'd decided to give the old bat as wide a berth as possible. The meanness of the thought made her pause for a moment. Calling Olga an "old bat" was far too unkind; the elderly Healer was soft spoken and had projected nothing but kindness towards her. Still, something about her unnerved Sybill. It was her eyes, she decided. Eyes that looked into rather than at a person. Held by that unnaturally pale gold gaze, even the Dark Lord himself would've confessed his deepest fears.

By now, she'd reached the T-section in the hallway. As she leaned against the wall to let a large group of patients pass, Madame Lavatska's words came back to her.

You seem quite enthralled by this Severus. So much so, the mere mention of his name exerts a measurable effect upon your demeanor. Severus and you blush; Severus sets your heart beating as fast as a field mouse's... You say it is love...do you know what the word "thrall" means? It means control, complete dominion. Take care your little mouse is not devoured by a cat.

"The claws that swipe, the teeth that catch," she said, murmuring a line from a half-forgotten poem to herself. Perhaps it had been a "cat," not a dragon that had crept into her dream, turning it into something dark and terrible, and that cat's name was Olga! What did she know about love or Severus? Dear, sweet Severus, if only he would come and take her far from this horrid place!

Uplifted by her latest insight, Sybill continued on her way, barely noticing that the walls changed color again; paling to a creamy beige overlaid with ghostly blue patterns that moved like the shadows of leaves in the wind.

The smell of fresh pastry wafted out to greet her before she reached the Common Room, which also doubled as the dining area. Her stomach rumbled. Forgoing what surely would have been an enjoyable lunch with Gilderoy to hide in her room, she hadn't eaten anything since breakfast.

Dinner at St. Mongo's, which seemed to be a combination of Afternoon and High Tea, pleasantly exceeded Sybill's expectations. Trays heaped with miniature egg and cress, cucumber, and potted meat sandwiches sat at one end of a long, lace-covered table. A group of tiered serving platters offered an assortment of scones, fruit breads and biscuits, while another featured towers of bite-sized cakes with colorful frosting. There were pots of jam, blocks of butter, and pitchers of milk and cream. Further down, covered salvers warmed by tiny flames offered roast chicken, a vegetable curry that sent up cumin and coriander scented steam each time its lid was lifted, and mashed potatoes in a sea of rich gravy. There were real linen napkins, fancy plates, gleaming cutlery, and best of all, dainty cups that filled themselves at the touch of a hand.

After loading her plate, Sybill headed through one of the high archways that lead to the sitting area. Not all the frosting in the world could sweeten the sight that met her eyes. Plush or straight, every chair in the room encircled a large, low table. Just what she'd been trying to avoid: another therapy session. Her heart sank.

"Hey, I saved you a seat, sleepyhead," Simon called, waving to her from across the room. She noticed he was still wearing his watch cap. He patted the large overstuffed chair next to his. "Oh, don't worry," he said, noticing the dismayed look on her face. "This is just a left over from the last encounter group."

Relieved she took her place beside him.

"We missed you in sessions today. I hope you have not taken ill."

That voice never failed to raise goosebumps on her arms! Sybill turned to find Madame Lavatska standing behind her chair. She hadn't seen her in the hall or the queue, and now wondered if the Healer had powers of invisibility. "Madame...No, I'm fine just still a little groggy, I guess," she stammered.

"A slight side effect of your medication," Olga said. "And while we allow our new residents a day to adjust, starting tomorrow, you will be expected to attend all meetings for the duration of your stay with us. I see you are already making new friends," she said, her gaze flicking to Simon and then back to Sybill. "Until tomorrow, then." Giving them both a nod, she turned and glided away.

Sybill watched her until she disappeared under an archway. "I don't think I can take another session with her again. Does she always sneak up on people like that? And did you hear what she called us—residents—as if St. Mungo's is some posh spa we're all visiting. Why not call us by our real name: prisoners! I don't know when or how, but I'm going to get out of here, if it's the last thing I ever do!" She crossed her arms and glared at her plate.

"Don't let her get to you. She always rattles people at first. The eyes, the voice, the intensity: she is like the ghost, going where the shadows go...knowing what only shadows know," Simon said, mimicking Madame's thick accent. Sybill laughed. "Hey, but don't go out of your way to cross her, either. You know what they say about Gypsies."

"Her? Really?" When he nodded, she said, "Gypsy or not, she still gives me the creeps."

"Aw, bugger the old bat. Eat something, you'll feel better."

Sybill's stomach ached but she pushed the tray to him. "I'm afraid I've lost my appetite. Help yourself."

"Thanks." Simon shoved a sandwich into his mouth, gobbled it down in a single bite, and licked his fingers. "What you need's a pick-me-up. I've got just the thing," he whispered. "You can't meet the Candyman on an empty stomach." His hand disappeared in his robe, reappearing with a small bottle. He uncorked it and then, poured its amber contents into his mug of dark, beefy-smelling broth. "Bovril—with a kick," he said, sliding it across the table. "Just like Mum used to make."

Sybill looked around the room cautiously. Nearby, patients sat in small groups at other tables, while Orderlies and Attendants milled about, sipping their tea and conversing in passing. Lips smacked and forks scraped against plates. Everyone around her seemed engrossed in the meal and each other's company. No one seemed to be watching them or cared what they were doing. She picked up the mug with both hands and took a long drink, wincing against the bitterness at first, but then, feeling the familiar sting and spreading warmth of the liquor.

"Hits the spot, don't it?"

"Mmm." She nodded. "When will we meet your friend?"

"Meet me behind the big tree at ten." Simon grabbed another sandwich. Eating slowly this time, he watched as she drained the mug.

 

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