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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24. Echoes from the Dead

When Hermione touched the wall and whispered what she wanted most, she expected the light blue paint beneath her hand to fade away, revealing a base of bricks or blocks, which would then reassemble into some form of entryway. In other words, what she'd seen the Room of Requirement do so many times before. Part of her actually expected to find Severus waiting for her, too.

Not this.

Stone surrounded her. Imprisoning her in a cold and unyielding embrace, it pressed against her, until she could not move and each breath became a strangled croak as rough stone scraped against her hands and face. Hermione called out to Severus with her mind, each attempt returning a dead silence that was terrifying in its enormity. They shared a connection, so why couldn't he hear her now? Where was he? Had the barrier been stronger than she'd been lead to believe? Was it preventing her from finding Severus now or was this Professor McGonagall's work? Even now, Hermione wasn't certain where or with whom her professor's true loyalty lay. Had McGonagall tricked her, trapped her in this unescapable living carapace?

No, not a carapace, she thought. A tomb.

And it was alive. She could feel it, strong and steady, pulsing around her like the beating of an enormous, invisible heart.

It squeezed her from all sides again, its immense weight crushing her. She doesn't want me to find him, she never did! Emboldened by the sudden burst of anger, Hermione summoned the last of her strength and pushed back, thrusting herself against the vault of solid stone.

The wall fell away. Hermione plunged through darkness, until finally hitting another smooth, hard surface.

The pile of dead leaves covering it did nothing to soften her landing.

She lay in the leaves, eyes closed, listening to their scratch and crackle as the wind swept them away. Once normal breathing resumed, Hermione scrambled to her feet.

She was standing in the middle of what appeared to be a colonnade or rotunda, whose four corridors stretched into impenetrable blackness. The white columns supporting its walkways gave off a ghostly glow in the moonlight—if it was moonlight. At its very center, encircled by carvings of climbing vines, was a much thicker column. Near its base, standing on plinths, statue men and women in long, white robes reached skyward, their clasped hands forming the center block from which carved ceiling battens arched outward. Blinking back disbelief, Hermione circled the column. Mounds of leaves covered its base, but she did not have to brush them away to know the names they concealed beneath the statues' feet.

Until now, she'd only seen renderings of it in books.

It was the Founders' Courtyard and no one had seen it for nearly a thousand years. Only a handful of scholars actually believed in its existence; even Bathilda Bagshot had denounced it as myth in Hogwarts: A History.

She stopped before Salazar Slytherin's effigy, remembering what he'd said earlier about Hogwarts being built on a site of mystical convergence. Of course, Severus, knowing that, would have discovered a way to tap into those magical currents and use them to his advantage. And he'd have to protect himself because the Room of Requirement did not discriminate amongst the desires of its would-be users: between those who hunted and those who wished to remain hidden. Her experience with Professor Umbridge during her brief membership in Dumbledore's Army was testimony enough to that. How silly she'd been, thinking she'd just step through a wall and into his arms.

Into his arms...the thought sent trills through her. I'm here, Severus, she said, with her mind. Exactly where you wanted me to be. Please, come to me.

Another gust of wind sent a swirl of mist through the columns and into the covered rotunda. Drifting to the center of the room, it encircled the pillar. There, it began to mound, morphing into strange shapes as it grew larger and more substantial. Then, Hermione heard someone whispering from inside its opaque depths.

Starting to the cloud nearest her, she said, "Severus?"

"We do not speak his name."

The sibilant voice came not from the cloud, but directly behind her. "We?" Hermione turned.

Then, screamed.

Hovering inches away, the spirit of Rowena Ravenclaw, a horror in ruined oils, glared down at her. Darkness, seeping from her distorted eyes, trickled down her misshapen cheeks like rivulets of black blood. Reaching her chin, they mingled for a moment with the creeping smears of waxen flesh tones, before slip-slopping into slick puddles on the stones below. "Behold your lover's handiwork! See what has become of me."

"At least you still have form," shrilled another woman's voice from the ghostly cloud.

"No, he—I don't believe you," Hermione said, backing away. Cold clapped her back and she heard a rustle in the rafters, high above. As she looked up, a hail of leaves and debris pelted down.

Malicious laughter followed.

"You shouldn't have come here. Your very presence poisons our sanctuary. Already, you have become one with him—I can see it, the pale worm, wriggling beneath your skin." Rowena pointed at Hermione's wrist.

"Sanctuary? I don't know what you're talking about." Scowling, Hermione brushed dirt and leaves from her hair. "I was trying to find Severus."

"The Other is not welcome here—never speak his name again!" Rowena roared, spraying Hermione with bitter, linseed-scented spittle, while Peeves peppered her with a second barrage from above. "Leave us!"

"No, Mother. There is still time for her, yet."

An icy blast shivered through Hermione as Helena, trailing mist, flew between them. "And that's enough from you too, Master Peeves," she said, looking up. "Remember, you are only here at our invitation." As she turned to face Hermione, diamonds glinted in the coronet on her head.

"You...brought me here?"

Folding her hands primly against her waist, Helena smiled shyly and said, "As he wished."

"Who? I don't understand." Hermione stared at the grey flush that was now creeping over the Lady Helena's cheeks. Was that—was she...blushing? Deciding she didn't care one way or the other, Hermione took a step towards her. "Why am I here?"

"Her time is finished. You're a fool, if you believe otherwise," Rowena huffed.

"I believe because he believes. This way," she said.

Leaving Salazar's statue behind, Hermione followed Helena, careful to give Rowena's likeness a wide berth as she passed. As the pair made their way to Godric Gryffindor's statue, a black cloud suddenly obliterated all light in the rotunda. More ghostly whispering and tittering followed this.

Then, a gust of wind whisked away the darkness, and the moon's eerie, bluish light intensified over a spot in the corridor, illuminating a familiar form clad in grey.

Tears stinging her eyes, Hermione gasped.

"Beautiful spot isn't it, I mean, as sanctuaries go," he said, the ghost of smile playing upon his lips. "Did you know the first Sorting at Hogwarts took place here?"

Hermione shook her head, still unwilling to believe her eyes.

Gliding over to her, Fred Weasley said, "I thought it might help put things in perspective."

 

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