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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22. Official Business

Nodding quickly to Hermione, Minerva rose to meet him, careful to position herself in front of the sofa. "Well, it's about time you've come, Arthur," she said, casting a nervous glance over his dirty, wrinkled robe. "Have you any news?"

"I'm so sorry, Minerva. I'd hoped to come sooner," he said, brushing the ashes from his robe. "I wanted to tell you before you read about it in this morning's Prophet."

"I thought you'd have come straight here with a team of Aurors." She pulled a small linen handkerchief from her sleeve and twisted it in her hands. "I waited for you until well past midnight and then, when you still hadn't come..." She sniffed. "Such a terrible travesty—I couldn't stop thinking about it. I'll have you know, I haven't slept a wink."

"Midnight?" Arthur's head shot up. "How did you know?"

Peering around Minerva, Hermione said, "Mr. Filch told us."

"Filch told you," he said, and then repeated the phrase, while staring at her with an expression that was somewhere between disbelief and disappointment. Then, he turned to Minerva. "Filch? What in Merlin's name was he doing down there?"

"Well, visiting, I suppose. That's when he discovered them, of course. He caught them in the act, although too late to stop them. I've never seen him so distressed," Minerva said. "I hope your arrival means that you've found the persons responsible. Have you brought him back to us?"

"Brought who, where—what the devil are you talking about?"

"Why, Severus, of course," she said, daubing the corner of one eye. "Robbers ransacked his crypt last night and stole his remains. I sent you an Urgent Owl."

"I never received it," he said.

"Oh, well, now you know." As she nodded, one hand fluttered up to pat an invisible strand of hair back in place. "Please, sit. Hermione and I were just having brunch. Would you like a cup of tea or something to eat?"

"Thank you, no," he said, taking a seat next to Hermione. "The only Owl I received yesterday was from Ron. He's quite worried about you," he said to her. "You should be at home. Having been gone for so long, I'm sure your parents must have missed you terribly. What brought you back here?"

"It's a rather long story. It's quite silly, really," she said, trying her best not to laugh at what had become an all too familiar pattern of behavior. Worried? Sorry was more like it—and write? Ron never wrote anything if he could help it, especially letters: he loathed them. Their last exchange—tantrum, to put a finer point on it—had occurred just after they'd learned of the plans for Severus' memorial service. In retrospect, its timing hadn't been ideal, but Ron had taken his grief a step further: accusing her and Harry of disloyalty and threatening to withdraw his friendship if either of them paid their respects to their late professor.

"It's not silly at all. I couldn't stand the thought of you rattling about all alone in an empty house," Minerva said.

"Alone? Where are your parents?"

Something in his tone told her that he knew exactly where they were. "Australia," she said, now wondering what else Ron might have said in his letter.

"You look like you've been crying. Are you sure you're alright?"

"I'm fine. I just didn't sleep very well last night," she said, adding a silent, but I'm sure Ron's already told you that, too. A sudden chill swept over her with the thought. She rubbed her arms.

"You said that you had news, Arthur. Are you going to tell us or must we guess?" Minerva collected her cup and saucer, and settled back in her seat.

"Yes...well then, I take it neither of you has seen this morning's Prophet." Favoring Hermione with a long look, he pulled the folded paper from his robe. "By the way, what time would you say it was when Filch discovered Severus had gone missing?"

"His remains were stolen," Minerva said, a sudden crispness edging her tone. "We had just finished dinner but it was late, so maybe half seven or eight."

"Are you sure?"

"Reasonably so," she said. "Why? Is that significant?"

"It could be," he said.

"Hagrid was with us," Hermione said, glancing between him and Minerva. "We heard a terrible noise; we thought it was thunder, but then, Filch burst in and told us what had happened."

"I'll need to speak with both of them, of course. Rather than be the bearer of bad tidings, I'll just let you both read this. Once you do, I'm sure you'll both agree that the two events are too astonishing to be mere coincidence."

"What beggars belief is how Rita Skeeter is allowed to continue spreading such slanderous spume with her querulous quill," Minerva huffed. "Here, let me just clear this away." She picked up the brunch tray so Arthur could spread out his paper, but when she saw the headline, the pot and cups she was holding rattled:

LOVEBIRDS REUNITED IN PLOT AND PROPHECY!

LONDON—Late last night, one of St. Mungo's newest and most notable patients fled hospital grounds in an astonishing breakout that has left hospital officials baffled and citizens questioning security protocols at the once-prestigious health institution.

Shortly after ten o'clock, Sybill Trelawney, the former Hogwarts Divination professor involuntarily admitted to St. Mungo's psychiatric wing after a suicide attempt, escaped through a thin spot in the hospital exercise yard. According to an anonymous source with close ties to the Ministry of Magic, Trelawney's would-be rescuer enveloped her in a cloud of mist before the two vanished from sight. Described as a tall man in a long, dark cloak, the Seer's liberator was none other than the undead paramour Trelawney had alluded to in her most recent prophecy: rogue vampire, Severus Snape!

Ah, but Trelawney's predictions contained more plot than prophecy, Dear Readers, for the two lovers did not act alone! Assistance came from fellow St. Mungo's inpatient, Simon Mulciber. Seen with the disgraced Seer only moments before her disappearance, Mulciber, a former Death Eater and known associate of Snape's, attempted to abscond with the pair!

What diabolical deeds does this not-so-golden trio plan to unleash upon the unsuspecting world? Will an army of vampires be our adversaries in Wizarding War III? We have only Trelawney's earlier intimation: "Blood will run and the moon will weep."

When asked why such dangerous psychiatric clients were allowed to fraternize so freely within the wards of St. Mungo's, Olga Lavatska, the Senior Healer assigned to Trelawney's care, refused comment. Mulciber, now in custody, denies all memory of his complicity in last night's events...

 

Beneath the story was a picture of a thin young man in a woolen watch cap. Face darkening to match it, Hermione scowled. "Coincidence? You can't possibly believe that Professor Snape is responsible."

"I am merely reiterating what has become a popular public sentiment about Severus," he said, tapping the paper with one finger. "Rita's right: it all fits."

"Right? She's vile! Snape is dead and the rest is rubbish!"

"I agree," Minerva clipped. "That's quite a piece of fiction the two of you've concocted. 'An anonymous source with close ties to the Ministry,' indeed!"

"I think Mulciber and Greyback abducted Professor Trelawney. They're probably the ones who broke into the crypt, too; they'd have had plenty of time to hide the body. Where was Mulciber apprehended?"

"Not far from St. Mungo's," Arthur said. "What makes you think he was working for Greyback?"

"Mulciber was one of Greyback's Snatchers. He was at the Malfoy's the day we were captured, the day Bellatrix Lestrange gave me this. Didn't Ron tell you?" Flinging herself back on the sofa, she pulled up her sleeve; the slur the dark witch had burned into her forearm was still visible.

"I know what you told me." He shrugged and leaned back, but his eyes never left hers. "Ron has added to your story since."

"Are you saying that Hermione is now a suspect in your misguided inquisition, Arthur?" Minerva said, stiffening.

"That depends." His hand started inside his robe but then, stopped. "Where is Severus hiding, Hermione? Where does he sleep?"

Head shaking in disbelief, she said, "He's not hiding anywhere, Mr. Weasley, he's—he's—gods, what could I have possibly done that would make you even suggest such a thing?"

"It's just something Ron said in his letter. Perhaps I misread. Anyway, he's quite worried about you."

"Is he?" Apparently, Skeeter wasn't the only one with an appetite for fiction.

"I cannot believe that you still insist upon making these specious claims. Severus is dead, Arthur—dead—and poor Sybill has been kidnapped by Greyback! Oh, I can only imagine what he'll do to her—that is, if he hasn't done so already. You know what he's like." Rising, Minerva began pacing the length of the gallery.

"She's a little long in the tooth for him, don't you think? You know, I think I could fancy a cup of tea." Heaving himself off the sofa, Arthur headed for the tray that Minerva had moved to a smaller nearby table.

"How can you joke at a time like this? What do you think he will do to her, once he learns that Skeeter's claims have been nothing but codswallop? Lycanthropy would be a blessing. I can't bear to think of her being used as bait, dangled before a nonexistent—oh, I should have known no good would come of this! I should never have sent her away," moaning softly, she braced herself against the window casing.

"You see, Minerva, that's where your werewolf theory falls apart for me." Porcelain clinked and liquid sloshed. "I don't understand why Greyback would need Sybill at all."

"Surely, you can't be serious." She peered at him over the wire rims of her glasses.

Waving his cup, he said, "He has preternatural powers and superhuman strength, just like Snape, so why not hunt him himself and eliminate the middle man—well, woman in this case? Werewolf against vampire: that would be some death match, don't you think? I know I'd like to see it." After raising a mock toast, he took a loud slurp.

"Careful what you wish for," she said, turning away.

"You're awfully quiet. That's not like you at all, Hermione," he said, now returning to the couch. "Not feeling jealous of poor Sybill, are you?"

"Don't be absurd." Weasley's words still ringing in her head, Hermione crossed her arms and quit her seat for a spot nearer to the fire.

"I only mention it because Ron said that you were always a particular favorite of Professor Snape's. 'Always Outstanding,' is how he put it: outstanding in your class, outstanding in your House and recently, at least from what I've heard, out standing in a forest in the middle of the night."

Hermione stared at him, stunned, feeling his pointed glare in the pit of her stomach. She'd thought Severus had staged the robbery of his own tomb, but now, wasn't so sure. If Filch had come upon Weasley, surprising him as he was opening the crypt, it too, could explain the explosion they'd heard and the lack of damage. Then, if he'd hidden in the woods, waiting, he would have seen...everything. Mind racing, she barely heard Minerva's next words.

"Instead of leveling wild accusations and wallowing in past, petty resentments—"

"Petty?" His cheeks flushed livid purple. "If your precious Severus had used even one iota of his preternatural power on our behalf, Fred would still be alive and Molly...my wife would..." He shook his head.

Ignoring his outburst, Minerva said, "Is it true that you have Mulciber in custody or was that just another incendiary tidbit Skeeter tossed in to further fan the flame of popular public sentiment?"

"Of course it's true," he spluttered. "Not that it matters. Someone got to him before the Aurors did." Leaving his seat, he joined Hermione by the fireplace. "Say, 'Greyback,' and his eyes go glassy and he swoons. Not unlike what I've heard Sybill used to do whenever Severus' name was mentioned, eh, Hermione? By the way, I've been meaning to ask, what happened to your face? You look like you've been in a fight."

"If you must know, I was afraid to Apparate here after what happened the other night, so I decided to fly. Unfortunately, I still haven't got the hang of steering and flew straight into a tree." 

"Yes, the Whomping Willow, only it was last night; right before you met Severus at his crypt."

"That is an egregious accusation, Arthur."

"Is it, Minerva? As I told you before, the only Owl I received yesterday was an Urgent one from Ron, who'd just seen something very interesting on a certain tool he still had in his possession. Care to guess what it was?"

"The Marauder's Map," Hermione said through gritted teeth. How could she have been so stupid!

"Unlike some people, it doesn't lie. He said the two of you were standing so close, your names blended together. Quite romantic, unless you know what he really is." Grabbing her jaw with his one hand, he inspected her neck for punctures by twisting her head from one side to the other. "Was he feeding on you? Is he speaking inside your head now? Tell me where he is, Hermione!"

"Stop it! You're hurting me!"

"That's enough, Arthur! Unhand her!" Minerva, who'd rushed to Hermione's aid, tugged at his sleeve. "Do not make me use my wand!"

He dropped his hand and walked back to his seat, muttering, "The map doesn't lie."

Summoning every ounce of reserve, Hermione said, "Ghosts can also appear on the map, Mr. Weasley," she said, eyes streaming. "Perhaps Ron failed to mention it." She rubbed the side of her face, certain she would still feel the divots his nails had made in her skin.

"A ghost?" he snorted. "Surely, you don't expect me to believe that?"

"I don't know what Ron thought he saw, but after Mr. Filch told us what had happened, I went out to investigate. I knew I shouldn't have gone alone and I'm sorry for any trouble I might have caused," she said, glancing at Minerva, "but I thought I might find clues that would reveal the robbers' identities. First, I went to the Whomping Willow. The Shrieking Shack seemed the most logical place to hide a body—"

"Assuming there'd been a body to hide," Weasley interrupted. "I suppose you went inside?"

Hermione shook her head. "The tree put up such a fight, it destroyed whatever footprints might have been near the entrance to the passage, so I left. When I got to the tomb, it was empty, just as Filch said, but Snape's phantom was still guarding it. And no, not the white dragon that I told you about," she said, before he could interject. "This was a full-bodied apparition. It—I mean, he materialized the moment I neared the tomb and continued to hover, even after Professor McGonagall came to collect me."

"Yes, Ron said he saw her there, too."

"Oh, well, if Ronald said so, then it must be true. No, don't say another word, Arthur. You've abused your daily quota enough as it is. I'd like you to leave now, please." She indicated the fireplace with one hand.

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Minerva. I'm here on official Ministry business," he said, puffing out his chest.

"In what capacity: Head of Harassment, Spurious Speculation or Brazen Bullying? It looks like you slept in that robe." Her hand stabbed at the air again. "Get out."

"I'm not going anywhere until I speak with Argus and Hagrid. I think I'll have a look about the castle while I'm at it and at that crypt, too. I don't doubt that it's empty, seeing as it always was." He started to the door.

"I don't care where you go, as long as you leave," she said.

"Official protocol dictates that I report my findings to you." Having reached the center of the gallery, he paused for a moment to gaze at the portraits. "That's odd," he said, but then, resumed his path to the landing.

"We'll await your return on pins and needles, won't we," she said, slipping an arm around Hermione's shoulders. Still bristling, Hermione was too angry to say anything.

"Oh, that you will," he said from the doorway. "Now, I'm sorry for what I'm about to do, but if I'm to conduct a thorough investigation, I need to ensure that my efforts won't be obstructed." Turning, he brandished his wand and waved it in a wide circle over his head, conjuring a host of worrying-looking sigils and glowing runes.

"A barricade—but we've done nothing wrong!" Hermione started to him but Minerva pulled her back.

"Nor will you," he said. "My Obice Inexpugnas will see to that."

"You have to obtain a special sanction from the Wizards' Council to use that charm! This is a gross violation of Magical Freedom and...Wizard Rights," Hermione sputtered.

"It's one of the perks of my new position, one I prefer to think of as a safety precaution," he said, positioning the symbols over the door's stone lintel, down its frame and across the threshold. "Until I return, no one dead or undead, will be able to leave or enter this room." Two more swoops encircled the windows and portraits in shimmering cryptogram garlands.

"Instead of imprisoning us for the purposes of conducting a wild goose chase, you should focus your considerable energies on finding Sybill," Minerva said. "You do remember she's still missing?"

Outside, clouds swallowed the sun, plunging the room into shadow. "Looks like it's going to rain again," he said, shaking his head. "I hope it blows over before nightfall. There's going to be a full moon tonight, you know. I was rather looking forward to its rise."

"Moonrise?" Minerva paled. Her hand, as it so often did when she was flustered, flew to her brooch.

"That's hours away! Surely, you don't think that you can keep us cooped up in here that long!"

"It should give you plenty of time to think about what you've done. I've given the two of you every opportunity to cooperate. While it's still unclear whether you're lying to protect Snape or have fallen under his thrall, either way, I can't risk your interfering," he said, stepping through the door. "You've brought this on yourselves."

"Mark my words: Kingsley will hear about this," Minerva shrilled, as he slammed the door behind him.

 

 

 

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