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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27. Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble

Part I.

The vaulted ceiling imploded with a shudder. Its great arches crashed to the floor, bashing the toppled founders to bits and sending up thick clouds that filled the space with an acrid, suffocating grit. Meaty crackling sounds filled the air and the wind lashed her back with stony shards. Choking, eyes streaming, Hermione pushed on, struggling for purchase over buckling flagstones and piles of debris that seemed to spring up at every step to catch her feet. As she glanced at her intended destination, her heart sank. She should have reached Severus by now! Perhaps the floor did have a mind of its own. The path that should have been leading her straight to him now seemed longer than she'd thought. The fissure at its end seemed narrower and the light within bleared a cheerless grey-green. The smoke could account for the dimness, but maybe something in its noxious odor was causing hallucinations.

The sickening realization almost stopped her in her tracks. Stumbling forward, Hermione shielded her mouth and nose with one arm while crying out to him in her mind, Help me, Severus!

You're almost here, his voiced purred inside her head. Just a few more steps and we'll be together.

Together. The word caused more tears than the burning smoke. Ruined or not, the Founders' Courtyard was still a sanctuary, one even he could not breach. No, don't you see? She called to him again, Fred and the ghosts—they've harnessed the castle's all-source and cast a jinx. The closer I try to get to you, the further you move away! I don't know how to stop it. Help me!

They have no power over you, especially Weasley, he said, his tone edged with unmistakable bitterness. Hermione, just take my hand. I'm right here!

Wanting to believe him, Hermione reached out again as she staggered through the smoke, but with each of her now-tentative steps forward, his silhouette grew smaller. I can't feel you, Severus, she said, groping for him. I can barely see you!

"Enough of this borrowed trickery! I'm coming for you!"

"Severus, no!"

The instant he stepped through the fissure, sparks erupted, bursting into a sheet of impenetrable flame. Howling in disgust, he pulled back. As the fiery wall disappeared, Hermione watched him shrink into the distance, carried away as if caught on some terrible reverse treadmill that she inadvertently controlled.

A treadmill, yes!

That gave her an idea. She stopped, hoping that absence of motion would reverse the spell's effects, but when she looked at Severus again, he remained exactly as far from her as he'd been before.

Jets of light erupted from the fissure, each producing curses. "Blast it, they've conjured a rebounding charm," he hollered through the thickening smoke. "I can't break it!"

Tendrils of smoke closed in around her. No longer ethereal, wisps began eddying about her arms and legs with palpable intention. Her hand, now clammy, still held her wand, but Hermione knew that casting any defensive spells would just make things worse.

Wind shrieked and the floor rippled again, forcing her forward. As she sidestepped another pile of suddenly sprouting debris, the path around it brought her close to the now-open edge of the balustrade. Looking down, Hermione could not see the ground—or what rational thought dictated should have been the ground beyond the courtyard.

Then, another idea came to her. Like the last, it was one almost ridiculous in its simplicity, but she had to do something and sooner rather than later. The longer she fought against the jinx, the weaker she'd grow. Already, her head pounded, her lungs burned and every muscle in her body ached. Allowing herself one last glance at the now-tiny figure of Severus, one last hope of being with him, Hermione leapt over the broken balustrade. The ground lurched again, rising in a stony wave to block her escape. Instead of letting it bash her back into the courtyard, with the last of her strength, she grappled its rocky crest and vaulted over it into the fog.

 

Part II.

Ash spewed across the room, disgorging three riders on the hearthstone of the Headmaster's Suite. Skidding across the floor on his stomach, Hagrid crash-landed against the coffee table, toppling both it and the remains of what might have been a very large and intricate ice sculpture, much to his chagrin and Fang's delight. Stepping daintily out behind them, Minerva turned back to the mantle and grabbed a handful of Floo Powder.

"Erhm, sorry about that, Perfesser." Hagrid righted the table, which, except for a few scratches, was still serviceable. Then, looking up at Minerva, he said, "Where we goin' now?"

"We aren't going anywhere," she said.

"You think they caught our updraft?" Hagrid heaved himself to his feet and joined her at the fireplace.

"You did use a great deal of Floo Powder; there's bound to be residual, but only one way to know for certain." Arm cocked, she stared at the dark interior, waiting for the telltale crimson glow.

"Odd the Ministry had nothin' to say about our usin' it just now, innit?" He peered over her shoulder.

"I'd say Arthur's covered his tracks quite well," she said, eyes never leaving her intended target. As its stone back flushed scarlet, she motioned to him with her free hand. "Stand back, Hagrid. You and Fang might want to go over by the door. I've never done this before and I'm not sure if it will work."

Salazar, who'd taken a keen interest in the latest turn of events, said, "You might want to stand to one side yourself, Headmistress."

"Obstructing your view am I?"

"Not at all. But if I'm correct in my assumption, that's quite a force you're about to create."

"For once, he might have a point, Perfesser. C'mon Fang, you can finish that over here," he said. Snatching up the block of ice, he coaxed the Neapolitan to a safer spot in the gallery and then returned to Minerva's side.

"I'm not moving until I see the whites of Arthur's eyes," she said, grimly, one hand tightening around the Floo Powder.

The licking flames multiplied, becoming a roaring red sheet, although the howling within it almost drowned the sound of its vortex completely. Hot gusts buffeted Minerva, their sheer force threatening to knock her off her feet.

Salazar sprang from his seat. "Take hold of her, man!"

"Yes, I think you'd better, Hagrid," she said. "Here they come!"

As Hagrid's enormous hands tightened around her waist, two forms appeared within the Floo's maelstrom: one clawing frantically and the other desperately defending himself against those blows. She always hated Floo travel, Minerva thought, and while she'd never been one given to schadenfreude, she couldn't stop herself from smiling at Arthur's current misfortune. Only when he turned and made eye contact, only when she saw the depth of fury in his eyes—oh, and if looks could kill!—did she heave the handful of powder in his face and scream, "To the Dungeons!"

New flames whirled about Arthur and Sybill, obliterating them and casting them downwards rapidly with a hollow 'Whoosh!'

Clutching one of the fireplace's massive, carved corbels, Minerva watched, transfixed by the vacuum created by their sudden departure. Its force threatened to tear the hair from her head and her skirts from their seams; the door flew open with a bang; the walls trembled violently, setting portrait frames swinging and knocking; books toppled from their shelves and sheaves of loose paper flapped about the room like a haphazard headless flock. Shards of shattered porcelain and glass soon joined their number, filling the air with lethal shrapnel. Fang dove beneath the nearest trestle table for refuge. Several throw pillows and the coffee table now became airborne projectiles, as did the couch, which groaned and began juddering across the carpet on its stumpy, clawed feet.

"Get down!" Hagrid yanked Minerva to safety, seconds before the Floo's hungry maw sucked it down.

The flames guttered and the roaring ceased. Papers fluttered to the ground, portraits stopped creaking, and the room would have fallen into silence, except for the rain pinging against the windows and Fang's soft whimpering.

"Oh, yer alright, you big coward," Hagrid said, softly. "Oh, and you, Perfesser?"

"I'm fine, fine." Disentangling herself, Minerva sat up and straightened her spectacles.

"The Dungeons? Why, you sent 'em straight to Slytherin! Why didn't you pack 'em both off to the Ministry?" Hagrid asked as he heaved himself to his feet.

"I was afraid that would endanger too many innocent people. An interval in the Dungeons will give Arthur a chance to cool his heels. At least one of them can swim. Oh, thank you," she said, taking his hand. Rising, she shook her skirts and brushed off her sleeves. "Besides, with all the flooding, Slytherin's the absolute last place in the castle where Severus would be."

"It ain't him that worries me." Hagrid tugged at his beard.

"I know it's not an ideal plan, but it should allow just enough time to send for help and a head start on our search Hermione. Assuming she's still in the Room of Requirement will make our task that much easier." Hurrying over to her desk, she pulled a sheet of parchment, a quill and inkpot from a drawer. "Right now, I need you to go find Mr. Filch. Tell him as much as you think he can—well, as much as he needs to know."

"Needs to know? Do you hear yerself, Perfesser? Merlin's beard! If Dumbledore were here—"

"But he's not." Her nib stopped scratching. "Don't look at me like that, Hagrid," she said, looking up to meet his angry glare. "You've seen for yourself what Arthur's intentions are and I hate to think what would happen if Filch were to accidentally cross paths with him. Unless you fancy adding a werewolf caretaker to your cadre of magical creatures, Filch needs to know about Sybill for his own safety—and don't worry, the Room will let him in, provided he's with another wizard. I don't know how well that map of Arthur's will work when it's sopping wet, but once we're inside, we won't appear on it in any case, which works all the more to our advantage. I'll join you both after I've sent this Urgent Owl." The quill bobbed as she resumed her writing.

"S'pose you know best, but I still don't like it," he said. "C'mon Fang, let's get on with it." He trudged to the door, grumbling to himself.

Once he'd gone, Minerva carefully folded the parchment and went to the window. Night was falling as fast as the rain and fog obscured the grounds. Taking her wand from her sleeve, she rapped three times on the glass with its tip and then opened the window. A small owl whose feathers matched color of the dusky sky flew through the opening. Alighting on the wide sill, it snapped up the square of parchment in its beak and then waited, regarding Minerva with its bright yellow eyes. Leaning in, she whispered a single name.

A name that was not Kingsley Shacklebolt.

The owl nodded, as if seemed to understand and then turning, swooped off into the night.

Part III.

Hermione landed with a splash, waist-deep in a pitch-blackness whose chill assaulted her with an unwanted host of dank odors: rotting parchment, wet wool, mold and mildew. Overlaying these, riding the waves that slip-sloshed against the unseen walls of wherever she'd landed, was another smell, although this one was far more pleasant and oddly familiar. She felt it curling beneath her nostrils, teasing her with warm hints of amber and cloves, earthy and comforting, yet esoteric as incense.

It intensified, awakening visions of a letter in her hand and the folds of robes forgotten in armoire in an empty room. It was his smell and a part of her knew that he was near her now, so near. "Severus," she whispered. "Are you here?"

Strong arms encircled her, lifting her, pulling her close. "Good thing you jumped when you did. For a moment, I thought I was going to lose you," he said.

"For a moment, I thought so too," she said, nuzzling against him. "Where are we, anyway?"

 

 

Death and the Maiden

The waters receded with a rush and a host of candles winked on, bathing the room in soft gold. In the fireplace, flames whooshed to life, snapping and crackling over once-drowned logs. Shivering, Hermione found herself standing in a room that looked exactly like the one in which she'd spent her first night in the castle: same lumpy green couch and sagging chairs, same wall-to-wall bookshelves, same threadbare carpet.

Almost identical. "Your portrait," she gasped. Hanging above its mantle, the room's only piece of artwork was now a black rectangle in a gilt frame. Her feet made squelching sounds as she went over to the fireplace.

"A definite improvement, wouldn't you say?" Severus said, watching as she ran a hand over its frame. His lips curved into a wry smile when she tentatively probed what should have been an expanse of flat, black canvas and her fingertips disappeared in its unknown depths.

"It's so cold!" She pulled her hand back and turned to him.

"I hadn't noticed," he said, flashing her a toothy grin. "Why did you seek out the ghosts?"

"I didn't. They waylaid me when I tried to use the Room of Requirement to find you." Thanks to them, holes and slashes now riddled her favorite sweater. Shivering again, she rubbed her arms and winced. Her hands came away red. It wasn't a great deal of blood, but the sight and then the smell of it stirred something inside her. Not the dizziness she'd felt earlier that morning, but another sensation, a pull she could feel in the pit of her stomach. One glance at Severus told her its effects were manifold in him.

"You didn't need a magic room to find me. Our connection is stronger than that." He licked his lips.

"About that, Severus," she began.

"You're hurt; let me help you." He started to her.

"It's nothing, really. I'll be fine." She backed away, wiping her hands on her wet jeans.

"What's wrong?"

When he took a tentative step towards her, she retreated, careful to keep the couch between them. "Nothing's wrong, I—I..."

"I would never hurt you, Hermione."

"I know..." But she inched away from him again, her backward progress now bringing her up against the side of a sopping wet armchair.

"What have I done to make you so afraid of me?"

It's what I think you're about to do that frightens me, she wanted to say. And she was afraid. For the first time, alone with him, Hermione began to fear for her safety. Up until now, she'd assumed his intentions were honorable, but she'd assumed so many other things, and everything McGonagall had told her about him earlier only contradicted what she thought she knew. While he'd never hurt her before and part of her wanted to believe he wouldn't now, another part of her couldn't ignore how strongly blood affected him. Her blood. What if he couldn't control his hunger? No one, not even the professor, knew where she was. "I thought about you when I jumped," she said, desperate for something to say. "I knew the Room would take me to you, but is this really where you've been all this time?"

"What is the First Rule of Concealment, Miss Granger?" he asked, affecting a professorial tone. "Hide in plain sight. I thought the flooding was rather ingenious." Dark eyes glinting, he reached for her.

"Are you mad? We can't stay here! This is the first place he'll look, and he's here, Severus, somewhere in the castle—Arthur Weasley," she said, breathlessly. "I escaped through the Room of Requirement to warn you after he locked me in McGonagall's quarters. I tried to tell him that I was here to help you by convincing him that there's a way to turn you back, to call your soul back with blood magic, but he wouldn't listen."

"Blood magic?" Severus stared at her.

"It's a theory I had—well, one of many, actually—but I think it might still work. All we have to do is find the right spell."

He shook his head. "There is no spell, Hermione."

"But you sent the Owl! You wanted my help! That is why you called me back, isn't it?"

"No. No. Listen to me," he said, drawing out each word as he cupped her flushed cheeks and looked searchingly into her eyes. "I've spent a lifetime hiding who and what I am, subverting my true nature, drowning it in a foul potion out of shame, fearful of its power. Now that I have become the very thing I once feared, there is no going back. Do you understand?"

"But he'll kill you," Hermione whimpered, eyes clouding. "Please, Severus, we have to hide!"

"I'm already dead." He took her hand and pressed it against his chest, allowing her to feel the silence inside his heart.

"But...you sent...the Owl," she echoed, still struggling to comprehend the gravity of his words. "You wanted...me?"

"The only thing I have left to fear is a world without you in it."

Any objection she might have had was silenced the moment his lips found hers, eclipsed by her racing heartbeat when he pulled her close.

"Hermione," he said huskily, trailing kisses across her cheek and down her neck, reopening new and old wounds. Inhaling deeply, as if savoring a sweet perfume, Severus said, "I need you," he said, "I need..."

He sank his teeth into her neck.

Her wand fell to the floor, forgotten. The sudden stab and burn made her cry out, but the pain did not last. Though her mind railed to push him away, Hermione's body did exactly the opposite: she flung her head back and drew him close, holding him fast against the throbbing vein at her neck. Each, long tug of his fangs, draining her of every drop of conscious will and reason, sent trills of desire through her. The candles faded, the room began to spin, and darkness eclipsed her.

Dimly she became aware of movement. Opening her eyes, she found herself in his arms, drifting towards the bedroom door. No, she thought, we can't...He has...he has a...

"Shh...We're perfectly safe here. I will never let him hurt you," he whispered, setting her down on his bed. "No more hiding."

"But he's seen..." Seen what? The thought wouldn't come. She shook her head.

"Oh, Hermione, we've already waited too long."

Something trickled down his chest to mingle with her tears. Slowly, almost shyly, she kissed the spot. Circling it with the tip of her tongue, she savored the liquid's mineral saltiness and the low moan this elicited from Severus. Blood...his blood. More surprising though, was how she found that this simple act of taking his essence inside her was oddly thrilling. A tingling sensation, strange as it was exhilarating, washed over her. With it came an ache so powerful, so unbelievable, she barely heard his robe fall away, barely felt him peel away her shredded sweater and camisole, and then pull her close, embracing her just as she had embraced her shadow lover on the shores of her dream land.

Here with her now, no longer a dream, her lover made flesh. "Is this your magic or mine?" she murmured.

He answered with a kiss, probing, searching, long, and deep. His soft lips and tongue teasing her, tasting her; his gentle hands kneading and stroking, each caress stoking the flames of another, almost unbearable need within her. Fingers tangled in the damp curtain of his hair, Hermione pulled him down.

Their bodies became a blur of lips and hands and teeth, a shuddering leviathan of shared heat, their wordless incantation summoning a spell of sacred darkness, wrought in fricatives and the fluid alchemy of conjoined flesh grinding itself to sibilant crescendo and then, blissful silence.

Outside the wind rose and rain pinged against the window. Somewhere in the storm, a dog howled. Hermione opened her eyes. Candles floated about the room, softly flickering. As she stared at the patterns they cast on the ceiling, she imagined the tower clock's tremendous cogwheels grinding ever onward. She could almost hear the swish of its pendulum, the clang of its monstrous gears. "I thought it would be different," she said.

"You thought what would be different?" Propping himself on one arm, Severus regarded her uncertainly.

"Time," she said. "I thought it stopped, but my heart's still beating."

"It almost did. Stop. In the end I...couldn't." He brushed a lock of hair from her face and kissed her cheek. "That's twice I've almost lost you today."

"Why couldn't you?" She turned to him. "It's what you've wanted all along, isn't it?"

"What I wanted..." He sat up, swung his legs over the edge of the bed, and looked away.

"I didn't mean it to sound quite that way; I was merely stating a fact." Laying her hand on his shoulder she said, "What stopped you, Severus?"

"Time."

"I sorry, I don't quite follow that," she said, chuckling.

"I was born to night, my father's dark gift lying dormant in my veins. I stopped taking the potion, but even before I'd tasted my first blood, I could feel its power changing me." He rose and went to the window. "My Turning was simple but you'd have to die, murdered at my hands to be reborn to this existence, this Unlife. You will never age and never die, but the price you'll pay will be as perpetual as your unnatural immortality: hated, hunted, hounded into the shadows for what you have become—for what I've made you. I couldn't do that to you; I won't do that without knowing..." He turned to her. "Is that really what you want, Hermione?"

"One might ask you the same. I mean, do you hear yourself?" She snatched his robe from the floor and threw it on as she joined him. "One minute you're declaring you've embraced your true nature; the next finds you denouncing it as the world's most unbearable burden and sounding like some self-absorbed prat from an Anne Rice novel in the process. I'm sorry, Severus, but you do! You say it's changed you, but all I see is the little boy with a secret, the Death Eater turned spy. Call it what you will, you're still leading a double life, still trying to fly two brooms with one bum. It's time to choose a broom, Severus!"

Eyes flashing, he wheeled on her. "Then what would you have me do?"

"I would have you whole again, no matter what it took."

"Whole? Human, you mean," he scoffed. "I've already told you, there is no spell in the whole of the wizarding world that can reverse vampirism, let alone restore a soul."

"And I say that's rubbish! We're also told that no one can survive the Killing Curse, yet we both know one person who did; a wizard can't change his Patronus, yet you did; and the Obice Inexpugnas Mr. Weasley cast was supposed to prevent me from leaving McGonagall's quarters, yet here I stand. Shall I go on? No matter how strong the charm or unbreakable the spell, there's always a way out or a way around, you just have to look for it!"

"You don't think I've looked?" he said with a hiss. "Through that door, you'll find the largest Dark Arts collection in the entire world; on those shelves lies over a millennia's worth of knowledge from every known culture on the globe, living or extinct. Did you think I was studying them because I like ancient runes?"

"Severus, please. Let me help you! You can't go on like this—we can't go on like this!"

"You mean you won't," he said, leveling her with a gaze. "At last, I have your answer."

In the hallway, something heavy crashed.

"You can't go in there," a reedy voice shrieked.

"Get out of my way, old man!" Another, louder crash followed this and a dog barked furiously.

"It's Mr. Weasley," Hermione said, paling. "I told you he'd find us! He has the map, Severus. The Maurader's Map!"

"You might have mentioned that earlier."

"I tried, but you were too busy seducing me to listen," she harshed back.

"You seemed to be enjoying yourself at the time." He snapped his fingers, summoning a pair of black trousers from the armoire.

"I thought you weren't running."

"I'm preparing to fight," he said. "You might want to close your robe."

The door burst open. Soaked to the skin, Arthur Weasley, lantern in one hand and wand in the other, charged into the sitting room.

Bruised and bloodied, but still determined, Filch followed on his heels, pummeling his back with both fists. "You will not disturb my master!" he shrilled.

"Your master be damned! Get off me!' Weasley swung the lantern over his head, clipping Filch in the forehead with sharp base. Glass shattered, spraying shards and oil, and filling the room with the stench of singed hair.

The old caretaker fell back, hitting his head on the door frame with a sickening 'thwack'. His eyes rolled back in his head and then his frail body crumpled to a heap on the floor. A string of bloody spittle stretched from his slack jaw to his concave chest.

"Mr. Filch!" Hermione started to him, but Severus pulled her back.

"Is that you, Hermione?" Miniature oil fires sputtered as Weasley squish-sloshed his way to the bedroom. In the flickering candlelight, his shadow seemed to lengthen and sprout horns. "I thought I might find you here. I suppose Minerva's—" he stopped, seeing Hermione's disheveled state and the oozing punctures on her neck. "You!" he spat. "Take your filthy, undead hands off her, you monster!"

"Weasley, your incursion finds me at quite a disadvantage." Naked to the waist, Snape stepped out from behind Hermione. "I'm not dressed for a duel."

"Fine enough for your funeral though. This time, it will be permanent." Weasley thrust his wand at Snape, but before he could utter the curse, Hermione leapt between them.

"Please, Mr. Weasley, if you'd just listen—Severus isn't a monster, he's—"

"A murderer: a stone-cold predator!" Weasley jockeyed from side to side trying to get a clear shot at Snape. "And now that he's had his way with you, you'll end up just like Narcissa and Petunia—that is, if a stake in the chest doesn't find you first!"

"What I've done or haven't done with Severus is none of your business," she said, through gritted teeth. "And I'm not a vampire." Outside the door, glass rattled. Shouts and yelps followed.

"Then come with me," Arthur said, beckoning her with his non-fighting hand. "Despite everything that's happened, I am still willing to argue for leniency in your case."

Arms outstretched, Hermione backed into Snape. "Leniency?"

"While I believe you are obviously under Snape's thrall, rendered incapable of even the simplest thought or conscious action, your role in obstructing his apprehension tonight—"

"Apprehension?" She spluttered. "Is that what you're calling murder nowadays?"

"—still makes you his accomplice in the eyes of the law."

"And just whose law would that be," Severus asked icily. Weasley's face purpled.

Her wand was only a few feet away on the floor beneath the coffee table. Hermione flexed her hand and whispered, "Accio—"

"Expelliarmus!" A flick of Weasley's wand sent Hermione's straight into the fireplace, where greedy flames devoured it in a hiss and shower of sparks. "Now, we'll have no more tricks, my girl!"

"I am beyond the reach of your Ministry of Malice," Snape drawled. "Surely, you must know that no spell can bind me and no cell can hold me. I am beyond life, beyond your laws. As for my powers of persuasion, my thrall, as you put it..." Eyes glittering, he fixed Weasley with a pointed glare. "Have a taste."

Weasley scowled at him for a moment. Then his jaw dropped, his eyes bugged, and he clapped both hands over his ears. Groaning, shaking his head, he staggered back.

"Pity your friends at the Ministry didn't brief you better, Arthur." Snape blinked, breaking his gaze. Weasley landed on his knees.

"See what he is!" he shrieked, blood trickling from one ear. "This is what you would protect?"

"You're crazy." Still shielding Severus, she said, "I won't let you hurt him." Thunder rumbled and frenzied barking resumed afresh.

"Don't you move! Steady, now...steady...Fang! You stay put," said a gruff voice from the hallway.

"Hagrid, help us," Hermione screamed.

"That's what I'm tryin' to do!" Curses, frenzied yips, and more crashes ensued.

"Crazy, am I? Perhaps you'd prefer to share in your lover's fate."

"Disarming and now threatening one you're sworn to protect? This is a new low for you, Weasley." Snape lifted Hermione into the air and glided back into the shadowy bedroom. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear you were Lucius Malfoy."

"You'd know all about Malfoy, seeing as you're the one who blew a hole in his chest," Weasley said, storming after the pair. "Step aside, Hermione. I mean it."

"I'm not going anywhere!"

"It seems we've reached an impasse, Weasley. Let me make this easy for you." Gently pushing Hermione to one side, he whispered, "Don't worry, I'll be fine." Then, spreading his arms wide, he said, "Go ahead, Arthur, take your best shot. At this range, even you couldn't miss."

Throwing herself at him, Hermione screamed, "Severus, no!"

"Confringo!" A orange jet spurted from Weasley's wand, but the kickback from the assault spell caused him to stagger back. His wand flew out of his hand and the blast intended for Severus skewed sideways, hitting Hermione below the shoulder, shattering bone and spraying Snape with gouts of her blood. Eyes rolling back in her head, she slumped down against the wall, limp as a ragdoll.

"Who's the monster now?" Severus snarled. One swipe sent Weasley flying into the bookshelves, where he found himself at the mercy of a few lively volumes of arcane magic. While Weasley grappled for his wand, Snape snatched up Hermione and with her in his arms, sailed up and backwards, shattering the bedroom window.

"Damn you!" Weasley kicked the last of the biting magic books away and ran to the window, but his successive volleys fell on dead air. Snape and Hermione had already vanished. Sybill, fur matted and furious from Hagrid's detainment, now bounded in to join him, adding her anguished howls to his stream of invectives. "We'll catch Severus yet," he said.

"Sehhvuhusss," she said, thickly. Without waiting for Weasley's command, she launched herself out the window and over the flagstones. Landing on all fours in the wet grass, she lifted her nose, sniffed, and then plunged down a nearby slope.

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