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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19. Finders Seekers

Summoning a small gleam of light, Hermione ran through the courtyard, over the stone bridge, and didn't stop to catch her breath until she'd reached the Rune Gate. Far below, at the edge of the forest, a light flickered in Hagrid's hut. To her left, down a steep slope and through a copse of fir trees was the Whomping Willow. So far away! Even if she ran like the wind, she wouldn't make it through the tunnel and back before anyone realized she was missing, and if, by chance, she caught up with the portrait thieves—thieves, plural, that's what Filch said—what then? She scowled. Why those portraits? Why would anyone want to steal one of those old things when there were priceless and much less talkative artifacts within easier reach?

She looked in the opposite direction, towards the lake. Like the tunnel, the tomb was also too long a sprint, not that she believed there'd be anything there to see but a heap of broken stones. 

An unpleasant thought washed over her with the night air. There'd be nothing, unless she'd been wrong about everything and Snape had been the victim of body snatchers, thieves determined to desecrate his flesh along with his memory. Then, she remembered something Harry told her: Voldemort made himself corporeal again with stolen bones. If that were true, then the portraits were just a decoy, collateral damage.

No, that was simply too ghastly! Just thinking about it made her stomach lurch. She closed her eyes and leaned against one of the damp stones. The only way to get answers was to investigate both places. To do that, she'd have travel faster.

She could, provided the Professor hadn't reset the Apparation Jinx.

There was only one way to find out. She closed her eyes, pictured the tree—no, not the tree!—the stones in the clearing that sat safely outside its striking distance, and turned widdershins.

Whee-Sploosh!

Not far away enough.

Branches whipped with intention, slashing her face and neck. Shielding herself, Hermione pointed her wand. "Immo-BUH!" A branch slammed into her stomach, knocking her backwards. As she landed hard in the wet grass, the Willow pommeled the ground nearby, splattering her with broken branches and globs of mud. This time, luckily, she had fallen out of harm's reach. As the tree rallied for another assault, Hermione cried, "Immobulus!"

The tree froze, sending down another cascade of muddy drops.

Pulling herself up, conjuring as much light as she dared from her wand, Hermione limped around it, scanning the area for clues. She'd been so sure the thieves had used the tunnel as their escape route, but if anyone had been there recently, all evidence of their passing was now lost.

After muttering a quick Scourgify, she plopped down on a rock. The spell had set her clothes to rights but her face was another matter. Blood oozed from the cuts on her cheeks and lips. Her dittany and makeup were in her bag, back in Snape's apartment. If she wanted to conceal all evidence of her outing, she'd have to move even more quickly now. An owl hooted in the forest and the wind rose, sending another shower down from the nearby trees.

Water...the lake... She sprang up. "Of course!"

She closed her eyes and vanished again, reappearing on the wooden plinth outside the boathouse.

Its door was unlocked. Entering, she saw a dozen boats stacked neatly in racks for the summer. Beyond them along the far wall, oars and coiled ropes rested on hooks. In just a few months, they would carry first year students to the castle but now, nothing seemed amiss.

Another dead end. Sighing, Hermione stepped outside. She stared out across the misty lake and then turned, her eyes following the narrow stairway that led to the castle. Only seven years before, she'd made that night passage from the platform, so excited, so full of hope. Seven years...it seemed like a lifetime ago. For the first time, she regretted her decision to return in the fall and wished that she'd never accepted the position of Head Girl.

Head Girl...she sniffed. Once, it had been all she ever wanted but she wasn't that girl anymore. How could she possibly inspire others, instill school precepts and principles in them, when a part of her felt that those were only empty words? Then, there was Professor McGonagall. Whether she'd been right or wrong in her suppositions—correction: accusations—by voicing them she had broken a trust, a bridge not even magic could rebuild.

Still, someone had summoned her here for a reason and whether that was Stokes, Snape or someone else, Hermione wasn't leaving until she found out. Waves lapped against the dock. Behind her, something splashed in the lake, startling her. Hermione squeezed her eyes shut and willed herself to a spot just outside the glade.

Dumbledore's vault loomed like the skull of a great beast in the moonlight. She stood beside it a moment, alone in darkness with only the plashing of the lake, the wind, and the soft crackle of water dripping from the trees all around. If he could see me here right now, what would he say, she wondered.

Leaving it and circling behind, she made her way to the entrance to Snape's tomb. Someone, probably Filch, had cut the grass recently. Wet clumps clung to the hem of her jeans and her boots, and hers were the only imprints in the soft ground. Hadn't Filch had told them the thieves had come through the woods?

When she reached the evergreen bough, she paused, unsure if she was ready to witness what lay beyond but knowing she had to. She took a deep breath and whispered, "For Severus." Pushing the branch aside, Hermione inched her way through, mindful of the slippery exposed roots, until the ground leveled and pine needles squelched beneath her feet.

Tonight, no colored orbs hovered in midair and no ghostly manifestations rose to recite riddles. Blinking back disbelief, Hermione stared at the tendrils of mist that threaded through the trees like smoke and eddied around the hulk in its center. She'd heard the explosion—they'd all heard it. They'd seen what it had done to Filch. A blast that strong should have decimated everything in its path. Legs shaking, she took a few, cautious steps inside the glade. Although the tomb's cover had been removed, propped at an angle against the side of the vault, both it and the crypt remained intact. "He lied," she said, "Filch lied."

But why had he lied? More importantly, what else had he lied about? Since her arrival, he was the one who'd been feeding her tales of ill-fated romance and attempted suicide, while acting like a man possessed—and she'd believed him! The more she thought about his actions, the more they frightened her. Had Filch gone mad? Had she? Although she'd had her share of inexplicable experiences—Snape, for one—had she really seen him or just dreamed him? Was she dreaming now? Then she remembered something Professor McGonagall said about Severus protecting his tomb from grave robbers: 'A wizard's last spell is often his most potent.' If she could believe it...she knew something was happening at Hogwarts but each time she thought she'd figured it out, it slipped away, wrapping itself in another layer of strangeness and uncertainty, enigmatic and hollow as a Matryoshka doll.

Hollow...Trelawney's frothy voice boomed in her mind. He is not here, he does not sleep...

Trembling, she approached with wand raised, allowing its wan light to illuminate the vault's smooth interior. Although she hated to admit it, she could no longer ignore this truth, cold and unyielding beneath her hands, undeniable evidence. There was not a smudge, not a scrap of cloth or strand of hair inside the crypt. Severus' vault was empty.

The moon will weep...

Hermione's face prickled and tears stung her eyes. No, not the moon: a stupid, silly girl, mooning over her lost professor, chasing ghosts, obsessed with something that could never be, her theories and accusations as hollow as his tomb! Moaning, she pushed away from the vault. Mist swelled around her, so thick she could not see, while the ground suddenly softened, threatening to pull her in. Panicked, she pried herself free and flung herself backwards, only to whack the back of her head against a low-hanging limb. Her stomach heaved and for a moment, she could not catch her breath. A miniature constellation bloomed before her eyes, a roaring filled her ears and the forest began to spin. Pitching sideways, she fell, her scream barely a gasp.

Strong arms caught her, lifted her.

Hermione opened her eyes. Severus stared back. Blood oozed from the scratches and gouges that covered his face, wounds that looked almost black against his pale skin. "Could a ghost do this?" He pulled her close into a long kiss.

This can't be happening, she thought, her incredulity quickly drowned in darkness and desire as his tongue found hers. How many times had she imagined this moment and desperately yearning, chased it into the depths of her dreams? Her hands slid over his chest, so smooth and bare beneath his robe. 

"I need you, Hermione," he whispered. "Let me in."

I need you...Part of her knew that she should pull away but Hermione found herself suddenly incapable of any movement that did not bring her closer to him, to his kisses, trailing across the cuts on her cheek, while his tongue inscribed syllables of unspoken promise against her feverish skin. Her voice sounded like someone else's, a distant whisper in her ears, as she murmured her assent, pulling him closer, tracing and tasting his wounds, willing her magic to heal them. Somewhere, thunder grumbled, its warning bass eclipsed the moment his mouth found hers again, suckling her lower lip, each long tug producing indescribable waves of sensation within her. "I dreamed of you," she moaned, moving against him, a shadow dancer hypnotized by the strains of an invisible orchestra. "Am I still dreaming?" In the trees nearby, something yowled.

"No, I'm here," voice cracking, Severus pulled her to his chest and stroked her hair. "Hermione, I have waited so long..."

Pulling back, she looked up at him. "But...how?"

Before he could answer, the air crackled and night exploded around them.

"Get away from her! I won't miss you a second time."

Minerva stood at the far edge of the glade. "When you didn't return with Hagrid, I thought I might find you here. Believe me, Hermione, I'd hoped to spare you from this."

Severus tried to shield her but Hermione broke free and snatched up her wand. Instead of hiding behind Snape, she threw herself between him and McGonagall, screaming, "Leave him alone, Professor! You don't understand!"

"You were so close—but he's neither a haunt nor a Horcrux." Angling her wand, she began circling closer. "Tell her what you really are, Severus."

Following her movements, Snape said, "I am what I have always been."

"That's not an answer!" She stopped. "He's a vampire, Hermione. Tell her what you did to the Malfoys and Petunia Dursley!"

Hermione whirled and stared up at him. "You killed them?"

"He made it look like a werewolf attack," McGonagall said, behind her.

"The Malfoys put a price on my head," he spat. "As for Petunia, I can't imagine many will mourn that loss, including you, Minerva."

"As long as your actions were noble, I would have protected you. Now, I'm afraid that's for the Aurors to decide. They'll be arriving at any minute." Minerva leveled her wand at them. "Step aside, Hermione."

"No! You know how much Mr. Weasley hates Severus! If what you say is true, he'll never get a fair trial—if he lives to see a trial at all."

"There won't be any Aurors or trials, at least, not tonight." Severus reached into his robe. His hand returned, holding a small, soggy roll of parchment. He held it up, so Minerva could see.

"Bastard!" As she drew her wand back, preparing another curse, Severus burst into a colony of bats. Screeching and swooping, they flew over Hermione's head, straight for Minerva, almost knocking her off her feet before they dove into the forest and out of sight.

Hermione watched them flap away, stunned. Vampire, murderer...McGonagall's words rang inside her head. Was he? Severus hadn't denied the accusations. If anything, his oblique responses only underscored them. I am what I have always been neither justified his taking lives nor validated McGonagall's attempt on his. Whatever Severus had done or become—

I need you, Hermione. I need you...

His voice, echoing inside her head, the one thing she still believed, steeled her resolve. Let McGonagall take her back to the castle; let her try to lock her inside! She would find a way out, a way back to Severus. He was with her even now. She could still feel the delicious pressure of his kisses, the trills his strong body made as it moved against hers.

Let me in...

Hermione wanted nothing more.

While McGonagall rose, sputtering something about Hogwarts, Hermione continued to stare into the night, transfixed. Nor did she struggle when steely fingers clamped over her forearm and sent her body twisting and hurtling through space. Even here, Severus was with her.

She could still taste his blood in her mouth.

 

 

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