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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34. Mortal Implements

The day October ended dawned like any other: the moon slipped below the horizon, the sky lightened to grey, and in the distance, a whistle shrilled the start of another day's toil for the working poor. The days were getting shorter now, the nights biting down with intention. He turned on his side, melted the frost on the tiny window beside his bed with the palm of his hand, and watched the mill workers shuffle by on the street below, the ghostly puffs of their breath mingling with the smoke from their pipes and cigarettes. Today, he would not count himself among their slow processional, a living metaphor for man's forward slog into fate's inescapable maw. One way or another, his end would come much sooner, as swiftly as night fell.

Knowing did not make it any easier.

He knew the attack would happen after nightfall. Weasley was too cowardly to risk a daylight confrontation. Although Severus could not meet him as an equal, he was not going down without a fight nor would his pride allow Hermione to battle in his stead. He didn't want her come at all but could no more hold her off than he could will the stoppage of time. The best he could do was arm himself against the inevitable. He made a mental list of items he'd need from the local chemist's, then threw off his covers and rolled out of bed, mindless of the cold planks beneath his bare feet.

After shrugging on his favorite woolen robe, a Black Watch plaid, whose patches needed patching, he padded downstairs, refreshed the fire in the grate, and slipped into the tiny kitchen to start the coffeemaker. It, along with electricity, was one of the few modern conveniences he allowed himself. While waiting for it to brew, he fetched the morning paper from the stoop.

A few minutes later, wreathed in wisps of Dark Roast, Severus settled into his favorite armchair by the fire and proceeded to bury his beaklike nose in the Cokeworth Clarion. Like all Muggle papers, its photos were still; each subject comprised of a matrix of pinpricks in varying shades of grey, black, and white. The type on its cheap paper never failed to smear and its reporters, ever eager to cater to the whims of their largely uneducated, indiscriminate subscribership, obliged by cramming its columns with the kind of stories that rivaled The Daily Prophet's predilection for anonymous sources and absence of fact checking. Despite the Clarion's obvious shortcomings, Severus sometimes detected hints of the magical world in its accounts of hauntings, unexplained phenomena, and alien abductions.

Hints but never anything substantial. The old Healer had made good on her intentions to keep Hermione away and her admonitions about his breaching the wards proved disturbingly true: King's Cross Station was just another rail stop; the wall outside where Diagon Alley should have been was just an expanse of bricks and mortar. No thin spots signaled to him the last time he walked those narrow, London streets; no portals opened and no familiar arms reached out to beckon him inside.

No one and nothing that is, until yesterday.

Tea with Kreacher! The sheer absurdity of it made him laugh, but the irascible old house elf had given him the most hope he'd had in months and not just the hope of seeing Hermione again. Truthfully, thinking about that now filled him with more dread than having to face Weasley as a mere mortal.

Then a headline caught his eye:

COKEWORTH TEEN IS CULT'S THIRTEENTH

COKEWORTH–A local girl is dead this morning, the latest victim in a series of slayings that many believe are the work of a traveling satanic cult. Responding to the upscale Chatham Park District late last night on an anonymous tip, police found the badly mutilated body of a teenage girl, whose name is being withheld pending identification and family notification. Discovered only a few yards from a well-lit walking path in the district's eponymous park, the child suffered a broken neck, multiple stab wounds to her upper body, and severe blood loss. When asked if they were pursuing any suspects in what is now the thirteenth in a string of brutal, ritualistic murders that have plagued Surrey, Midsomer, and surrounding communities since late May...

The hair on his nape prickled. Brutal...blood loss. He didn't have to read between the lines to know what the article's author meant by stab wounds: the description screamed vampire. Chatham Park was just down the street, a less than five-minute walk from his home! Was this Weasley's way of toying with him? He'd had no qualms about making a werewolf his personal foot soldier or killing Hermione. Still, it seemed unlikely he would tip his hand so blatantly.

Unless he wasn't planning to act alone.

Severus ran down the potential list of wizards who wanted him dead. Aside from Skeeter and Shacklebolt, he couldn't think of anyone else Weasley would want to enlist as an accomplice, unless he was planning to dispose of said witness afterward.

Scanning the article again, three words caught his eye. Little Whinging was in Surrey and late May... A vision of Petunia as an undead wretch driven solely by appetite made him shudder. He'd drained her dry and hadn't given her a drop of his blood: how could she have survived?

How many others have there been? Hermione's accusation rankled like a thorn in his mind.

Were there others? Sirelings who might want to seek out their newly human maker for one, last, little nip. The thought of the Malfoys as vampires made his skin crawl.

He dropped the offending section on a stack of yellowing newsprint beside his chair. Intending to lose himself in the daily crossword, he grabbed a pen from a nearby side table, but as he began folding the paper into a neat rectangle, a celestial blue banner sprinkled with stars caught his eye: the horoscope written by the Clarion's resident astrologer and "psychic intuitive," Zaphira Montolov. Poised over a crystal ball in the photograph (divining winning lottery numbers, no doubt), Zaphira's kohl-rimmed eyes regarded him with manic intensity, as if multiple portents were about to fly out her ears, zing about the room and burst into showers of multicolored sparks. For a moment, Severus was almost sorry the picture couldn't move or speak, and while he hated predictions on principle, he could not stop his gaze from zeroing in on her one-fate-fits-all prediction under Capricorn:

You deserve what you have. Revel in your accomplishments.

He crumpled the paper into a ball and tossed it into the flames.

Sybill had been one of those "accomplishments." Had she survived? If so, how well had she acclimated to her transformation, to the discovery of being only human? Severus stretched his thoughts back to early May and the single choice from which all others toppled like dominoes. Of course, if he hadn't Turned himself, he'd be dead. There was no need to belabor that point or feel any shade of survivor's remorse, but if he lost Hermione now, his future prospects would be bleak, indeed. He had a degree from an institution that didn't exist, a vocation he could not practice because there were no such things as magic or wizards, and a sitting room filled from floor to ceiling with reminders of powers he no longer possessed. Spells were just words; a wand just a stick!

His stomach rumbled.

He didn't want to eat but would have to if he wanted to maintain his strength. With a groan, he stomped over stacks of books and magazines on his way to the kitchen. A cast iron skillet sat on the stove top, but a quick peek in the icebox told him he was out of bread, cheese, and eggs—he'd used up the last of those for yesterday's tea—and an inventory of the cupboards produced only a tin of sardines.

He gashed his finger trying to open the tin.

A school of oily, silver fish flew across the kitchen, adding another stain to the wallpaper's already fly-speckled collection, and without the aid of any magical intervention. Severus stuck the injured digit in his mouth and sucked, willing the familiar warmth to wash over him, the dizzying, almost orgasmic surge of pure power contained in a red pool of protein, minerals, and platelets.

Except for a great deal of dribbling, nothing happened, except now he'd need a sticking plaster, one more thing to add to the growing list of essential human things he didn't have! Sighing, he rolled up his sleeve and rinsed his finger at the tap. Water trickled down his wrist, forcing his attention to a patch of pale, unblemished skin on his inner forearm, another part of his past obliterated: his Dark Mark.

During their extended chat, he'd shown his arm to Kreacher, offering the absence of skull and snake as proof of powers lost: 'When Sybill bit me, the werewolf in her took the wizard in me, along with the vampire. I've lost my magic, my powers, Hermione: everything.'

Kreacher, though, had had other ideas. 'Magic is never lost. Either Master Snape put his power in Mistress—'

'Put my power in her?' He groaned. 'I made Hermione a vampire in an act of pure selfishness! I knew she didn't want to be one but I couldn't let her go—I wouldn't let her die. I took her humanity, her maidenhead, her chance to live a normal life, and now you're saying that somehow, even without a soul, I managed to make her a Horcrux?' The thought saddened him tremendously. Gods, he'd had his fill of bloody Horcruxes!

'A Horcrux is made in hatred by those who fear death,' the elf said, beady eyes glinting. 'Either Master Snape hid his power or something inside Mistress pulled Master's power in.'

'Pulled it in?' In his over two-decade immersion in the Dark Arts, he'd never heard of such a thing. 'For what purpose, Kreacher?'

'Protection.'

'Doubtful. Hermione's powers would be formidable on their own. Are you certain this isn't her way of extracting revenge? Truly, I wouldn't blame her if she wanted to debase me or even if she wanted me dead.'

'Not revenge, Master: reclamation! Mistress will return Master's power in time.' The elf leaned back in his chair and laughed.

'I'm glad you find my ignorance so amusing.' Returned at her discretion, when and if she bloody well liked, it sure sounded like revenge. He crossed his arms and glared, but the action only elicited more peals of glee from his guest.

'Well, if it's not retribution, then what is it? What does one call this drawing out of power?'

Kreacher stopped laughing. Gasping, he wiped his eyes. 'Master truly does not know?'

'No. Please, Kreacher, what is this magic? Don't keep me in suspense a moment longer. Give it a name.'

His features had softened then, taking on an almost-pitying quality, his sallowness deepening, becoming ruddy—was he blushing?

Slowly, almost shyly, Kreacher reached across the table, patted his arm, and said a single word: 'Conception.'

 

Part II

 

Morning slipped into afternoon, dragging clouds behind it. In London, a bell outside the Ministry for Magic tolled the hour.

Deep in his cluttered, basement office and bathed in a pool of lantern light, Arthur Weasley scowled at his latest acquisition. It was an L-shaped object that had two small levers: one sitting atop its long, steel tube and one below, hanging in front of its polished wooden grip. Beneath the top lever and to one side was another, more interesting part, a secret compartment of sorts that he could pull out and spin. Said compartment was the reason behind his scowl. It contained six smaller partitions, six tubular chambers that tapered at the bottom: six spaces for six specific bullets.

That was the problem.

He'd found an assortment of ammunition in a box labeled, "Mortal Implements," beneath his worktable. Most of these were lead balls, no bigger than Knuts, although a few were the size of Droobles, and the tiniest came wrapped in bright-colored plastic coats. None of them fit, however. He needed something longer and slimmer, but so far, those he'd found nestled inside a black leather sling were too fat and the ones he'd found in a smaller box inside a drawer, were far too short.

Sighing, he slid off his stool, crossed to an Apothecary-style chest, and began rifling through its many drawers. In one of these, he found a handful of brass-colored projectiles that looked as though they might fit. Taking them back, he stood at the table and wearily slipped one into the chamber.

A perfect fit!

Its five mates took their places in the surrounding chambers in quick succession and when Arthur closed the secret compartment, the "cylinder" he'd read so much about, it made a sharp click. Finally, the promise of closure lay in the palm of his hand!

"Working on a Saturday? My, you are dedicated." Rita peeked around the doorway. "Are you sure you know how to use that thing, darling?"

"Oh, yes. They're all the rage in Muggle crime novels! You just press this top lever all the way down and after that, all you have to do is point, squeeze this lower lever in the ring here, and bang! 'High-speed lead therapy:' that's what the Muggles call it. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you," he said, when she didn't enter the room. Carefully, he placed the pistol on the table. "All clear! Come in and give us a hug."

"I don't know why you feel you need a gun, when the wand I gave you would do a proper job," Rita said, nuzzling against him.

"Shh! Someone might hear you! From what I've read, taking a blast from one of these is more excruciating than the Cruciatus Curse!" He nodded to the gun, admiring how it gleamed in the light. "I'm saving the wand for Hermione."

Breaking from him, Rita said, "That's what I came to tell you: she's not there. He's the only one who goes in or out—my source confirmed it."

"She will be by tonight, I'm sure. Thanks to you, I'll be ready." 

"I should come with you," she said, pressing close to him.

"No. You should stay as far away from Spinner's End as possible. If things go pear-shaped, I don't want you implicated." He kissed the top of her head.

"What do you think Severus is doing right now?" She looked up at him. "You know, I heard he's working at the mill, stacking bolts of cloth all day. Can you believe it? Oh, how the mighty have fallen!" She giggled.

"Excellent." Arthur grinned. "He can use that cloth as his winding sheet."

"Just promise me that you'll be careful."

"Always," he said.

 

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