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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9. Patronum Draconis

"I know what I saw! Why won't you believe me?" Sybill struggled with the attendants. One held her arms, while the other, brandishing a wand with a lavender glow at its tip, jockeyed for an ideal position. "He's alive, Minerva! He spoke to me! Just ask Mr. Filch, he saw Sev—Get that thing away from me!" Wrenching herself free, she knocked the wand from the second attendant's hand and flung herself at McGonagall's feet. Fisting hanks of the elder witch's long skirts, she buried her face in them, saying, "Please don't leave me here! I'm not crazy! Just ask Mr. Filch! Please, please!"

The attendants started for her again but one look from Minerva stayed them. "I did ask him, dear," she said. Kneeling, she embraced her sobbing colleague. "He found you standing at the edge of the Astronomy Tower. If he hadn't stopped you..."

"He lied!" Sybill's head snapped up. "I never went outside. I never left the room!"

"I'm sorry, dear, but I can't let you return to Hogwarts." Wan light gleamed in the Floo behind her. "It's for your own safety."

"Please! If word gets out, I'll be sacked," Sybill said, tears fogging her glasses and trickling down her cheeks. "I have nowhere else to go!"

"Shh..." Tightening her embrace, Minerva rocked her and smoothed her hair. "You will always have a home at Hogwarts."

"Just what. Albus. Said," Sybill said, hiccuping. "If he were. Here..."

"He'd say there's no shame in asking for help when you need it."

"I don't need help! Severus came to me! He spoke to me! Your words are as hollow as his grave!" Pushing her away, Sybill traced a figure-eight in the air. "Let me lead you...lead you on...on..." As she began to sway, her voice became double-throated, deep and alien, an amphibian cry across an uncaring universal sea. "I will show you the way...a path without end, without beginning..."

"No, not again!" McGonagall shook her. "Stop this at once! Come back to me!" The glow in the Floo flared gold.

Sybill's eyes rolled back and her head bobbled like a rag doll. "The dust will siiiing...the moon will weeeep...He is not there...Heee does not sleeeeep...Paatronumdraaaaconis... paatronumm....draaaaconis...paaatronnnummmm..."

Ashen-faced, McGonagall signaled to the Attendants. "Please! She's having a fit!"

Hurrying to her side, one placed the tip of his wand on Sybill's shoulder. Violet, deeper than twilight, spread outward, blanketing her in a soft glow. Her paroxysms ceased and she slumped on the floor.

Stretching his hand over her, the other whispered, "Surgere sine noxa." Sybill's unconscious body rose slowly into the air. "There, she'll sleep now," he said, gently tucking a blanket in around her.

The first attendant patted McGonagall's arm. "Don't you worry, Professor, she's in real good hands. Madame Lavatska's the best," he said.

"Yes, thank you. I'll visit soon, dear, I promise," Minerva said, watching as the attendants bore her away down the long hall. The walls of the unit, charmed to reflect the color an individual found most soothing, appeared a matte grey-green to her, an effect made all the more depressing given the tiny, orange flames that flickered in sconces set in recesses along the hall's length. "Forgive me, Sybill, but you gave me no choice," she whispered. As she did out of habit, one hand flew to the brooch at her neck and toyed nervously with its round, gold edges.

"There is always a choice." Madame Olga Lavatska, Senior Healer in St. Mungo's behavioral wing, ghosted out of a nearby archway. "I know that face, Minerva," she said in her thick accent. "Why do you make the face?"

"Oh, Olga, the signs were there all along; why didn't I recognize them sooner?" Turning to the Healer, she whispered, "Even the House Elves said her garbage clinked."

"A lonely woman beset by spirits?" She gave Minerva a hug. "Save that story for those who haven't known you half a lifetime."

"I'm so glad to see you, Olga," she said. "Lately, Hogwarts has been so...There are so many things I've wanted to..."

"I know. I can hear the storm behind your eyes," Madame Lavatska said, fixing her with a bird bright gaze, one made all the more owlish by pale, golden eyes set above a hooked nose and framed in wisps of white hair. "But to be a seer is to be lonely; we both know this. Sorrow is ever Sight's gift. That I can help her manage," she said, shrugging. "What concerns me more is that our exchange is not confidential."

"What?"

"It followed you here." Olga pointed to the pale globe hovering inside the Medi-Floo.

"A Prying Sphere? They've been outlawed since the First Wizarding War!" Fists clenched, Minerva rounded on it. "I demand you reveal yourself at once!"

The ball's aura pulsed. Sparks popped and sputtered beneath its glassy surface. Then, a familiar voice said: "The Minister for Magic summons you to an emergency meeting in his—"

"Arthur Weasley," she spat. "How dare you!"

"It's for your own protection, Minerva," he said. "Please, just come."

"Go on," Olga said, "We'll talk later."

Minerva squeezed her arm. "Take care of her." Then, taking a handful of powder from a dish on the mantle, she threw it into the maw and marched into the flames.

Kingsley met her at the hearth inside his office. "Before you say anything, Minerva, I can explain." Taking her by the arm, he steered her toward a mahogany conference table, where a very sheepish-looking Arthur Weasley sat waiting. Beside him was a roll of newsprint.

"I see your newfound power has had quite a corrupting influence," Minerva said, striding over to him. "How long have you been following me?"

"I'm sorry but I had to," he said. "There's been an incident—well, another incident." He rose and pulled the chair out for her. "I know you're angry but please, just sit."

Azure robes swished as Kingsley paced at the head of the table. "I don't know how much longer we can keep it out of the papers, now that Skeeter's gotten wind of it."

"What's happened?" asked Minerva.

Kingsley stopped pacing. "The Malfoys are dead."

"Not dead, murdered! Murdered in cold blood!" Arthur thumped the table with his fist. "One of the servants found them."

"A brutal attack, ghastly business: Narcissa's throat torn open and Malfoy's heart... missing," Kingsley said.

"Missing?" Professor McGonagall pulled a linen handkerchief from her sleeve and held it to her lips. "And what of Draco?"

"We think he's on holiday with the Parkinson family at Devil's Reef but the resort is so exclusive, getting past international security's been a nightmare."

"Poor boy." So many people hated the Malfoys now. There were those who thought the Ministry had been much too lenient with them; others, a handful of would-be vigilantes, had circulated rumors of a reward for Lucius Malfoy's death in the weeks following the Battle of Hogwarts. While these low wizards would talk about doing anything for a price, she didn't believe any of them would actually perpetrate such a vicious attack. "Do you have any suspects?"

After the men exchanged nervous glances, Arthur said, "Yes, we think—well, that is, we have a theory..."

"We're still not ruling out Fenrir Greyback as the culprit." Before Weasley could interject, Kingsley said, "We know he was seriously injured during the Battle of Hogwarts but there was no evidence of his actual death. Given his degree of involvement with the Death Eaters, he certainly had motive, and the brutality of the crime fits."

McGonagall nodded.

"At first, I thought so too, but this morning, I found this," Arthur said, opening his copy of The Whinging Wire.

Little Whinging... Minerva's stomach knotted as she scanned an article written by Ruby Preacher, Special Wire Correspondent:

GRISLY MURDER SHOCKS SMALL COMMUNITY

SURREY—Responding to an emergency call from Number Four Privet Drive late last night, Paramedics discovered the body of Petunia Dursley...

McGonagall's eyes widened. "Petunia dead? Oh, this is just dreadful!" Dropping the paper, she reached for Kingsley's arm. "Does Harry know?"

"Not yet."

"She was a terrible foster mother to him but she was his last living blood relative!" She daubed her eyes with her handkerchief. "Do you think Greyback is connected to all three deaths?"

"I think that's a distinct possibility," Kingsley said.

"The real proof is right here, Minerva." Arthur tap-tapped the paper. "Keep reading. Unlike some people, I'm sure you'll see reason."

Minerva adjusted her spectacles and read: "Resuscitation attempts proved unsuccessful, as the victim had sustained severe trauma to the neck region."

"Aha! There, you see!" 

Swatting Arthur with his cap, Kingsley said, "For the love of Merlin, let her finish!"

"Her wounds are like Narcissa's. Yes, Arthur, I see that." Pursing her lips, she regarded him narrowly over the top of the page before resuming her place. "Neither of the victim's family members—husband Vernon and son, Dudley 'Big D' Dursley, who has a history of ties to local gang activity—was home at the time of the incident." Expecting another outburst, she looked up, but he only motioned for her to continue. "Pending further investigation, police have ruled her death suspicious. I should say so!"

Folding the paper neatly, she handed it back to Weasley. "Thank you, Arthur. I think I understand now."

Beaming, he said, "I knew you would."

"It's definitely the work of a rogue werewolf."

Arthur clapped his head in his hands and groaned.

"One with a known grudge against Harry Potter and the Malfoys," Kingsley added.

"I trust the Ministry has taken steps to prevent Greyback's further intrusion into Muggle territory. I wouldn't put it past him, trying to recruit more Snatchers," she said. "A were-infestation in the Muggle world would be disastrous."

"Are you both blind?"

"Please forgive Arthur's outburst, Minerva. He's drawn some rather interesting conclusions of his own."

"Mock me all you want but a werewolf isn't the only creature that inflicts neck trauma," Weasley said.

"You mean, a vampire?" Minerva fought to stifle a laugh. "Surely, you can't be serious! While relations between Wizards and Sanguinem have always been guarded, they've still been reasonably amicable for centuries! What in Merlin's name leads you to believe that one of them would attack a defenseless Muggle?"

"I've seen her body."

"Arthur, you didn't tell me about this," the Minister spluttered. "When did you—oh, never mind when—how?"

"Thanks to Charity Burbage, I have a few connections in the Muggle world," he said. "One of whom works as one of those, those whatchamacallits—it's like a Healer on Wheels," he said, drawing invisible circles within confused circles in the air. "He's the one who took me to a place called the 'Mordchoowary'. Fascinating place, like a wandmaker's chest, only with bigger drawers and freezing cold, of course. It's where Muggles keep their dead."

Minerva made a face.

"If the poor woman's body is evidence in a murder investigation, I'm surprised they let just anyone in the Moreshoe—whatever it's called," Kingsley said. "Tell me, Arthur, do I want to know how you managed to do this without getting caught?"

Weasley grinned. "For some reason, the Head Healer was under the impression that I was Chancey Cleaver, the famed Muggle mystery author. He's a big fan of Cleaver's work."

"You Confunded a Muggle." Kingsley shook his head.

"And set a Prying Sphere on me; let's not forget that. Shame on you!"

"Petunia Dursley had just two wounds on her neck—puncture wounds—and not a drop of blood on her. She'd been bled whiter than a winter hare." Folding his arms, he said, "We're dealing with a vampire. Care to guess who he is, Professor?" McGonagall sat tensely, fists clenched in her lap. Arthur leaned back in his chair. "Severus Snape!"

"It's preposterous! It's absolutely scandalous," Minerva spat. "Severus Snape was a hero: a freedom fighter for the Wizarding world! He died championing the just cause and I will not tolerate such contemptuous treatment of his memory." She slammed her fist so hard against the tabletop that both men jumped. "Nor will I abide the concomitant and malicious maligning of Harry Potter's character to which your so-called 'conclusion' alludes." All color had drained from her thin face, except for the red splotches on her cheeks. Rising, she aimed a gnarled finger at the now-goggle eyed Weasley and said, "Harry was with him. He watched Severus die! That is a fact. You know it as well as I, or perhaps your half-baked hypothesis presumes Harry Potter is a liar now, too. Severus Snape a vampire? Nonsense!" Visibly shaken, exhausted, Minerva sank into her seat. "You should be ashamed of yourself." Eyes brimming, she turned away.

No one moved. No one spoke. As the mantle clock chimed the hour, an uncomfortable silence stretched in the space between each musical tone.

Nothing is more terrifying, more formidable in its power to command memory and reality, grief and joy, accusation and absolution than the female lacrimal gland. Kingsley, who still lived with his mother, knew this, as did Weasley, who'd felt the weight of water so many times, he would've gladly wrestled a horde of Acromantula with one hand tied behind his back to avoid his present predicament. Both men glanced from each other to McGonagall's heaving back, and back at each other again. Kingsley had absolutely no experience consoling crying women who weren't related to him and Arthur lived with one who made him do all the crying. As each stared helplessly at the other, the look on both their faces was unmistakable: Now what?

Kingsley folded his arms and shot Arthur a Well I hope you're happy, moue.

Countering, Weasley opted for his time-tested, best-wide-eyed, How was I to know? stance.

As befitting his position, Kingsley shrugged this off, favoring his opponent with an arch-browed, I think you owe her an apology sidelong glance with accompanying head toss.

ME? he mouthed.

Yes, YOU! Kingsley mimicked, jabbing the air between them with his index finger. His digital maneuver spoke volumes: If you'd kept your gob shut about Severus being a vampire, we wouldn't be in this mess!

"Then how do you explain the Patronus?" Weasley spluttered, finally breaking the silence. "Hermione and Harry both saw it, and moments ago, I distinctly heard Sybill say—"

Minerva blew her nose. Startled, the Minister assumed the posture of a soldier at attention, while Arthur unsuccessfully tried to blend into the back in his chair. "Kingsley," she said, turning to him, while gifting He-Who-Must-Be-Ignored with a close-up of her uplifted palm, "did Lucius and Narcissa sustain puncture wounds to their necks?" She said 'puncture' as if trying to spit out a mouthful of sour grape leaf tea. "Were their bodies, like Petunia's, as one in our company has so vividly described, bled whiter than a pair of winter hares?"

Kingsley tried to expel the immense, invisible cotton ball that had suddenly decided to lodge itself in his throat. "Uh, well, as a matter of fact...No."

"No?" Her word contained every ounce of winter in the world.

"While the amount of blood lost was significant, it was quite visible, I assure you."

"Indeed. Knowing that a werewolf also possesses fangs, can you honestly sit there and tell me that this is the work of a vampire?"

Kingsley shot him one last, triumphant, I told you so glance.

"But Hermione said," he stammered.

"In case you've forgotten, Arthur, I was there, too. I saw the same apparition of a dragon as Harry and Hermione. An apparition, that's all." The stop sign hand waved with a flourish before delicately joining its mate on the varnished tabletop. Regarding Weasley imperiously down her long nose, she said, "All evidence thus far indicates a werewolf committed these crimes. Do the Aurors know Greyback's current whereabouts, Kingsley?"

"There've been a number of sightings in Knockturn Alley, but nothing definite."

"It's not Greyback," Weasley muttered. "There were wizards who swore that Snape was—is—a vampire."

Addressing him as if he were a very small child, one who'd just uttered the Muggle equivalent of 'bugger' in a very quiet but crowded church, McGonagall said, "Those were nothing more than cruel rumors, made by children about a child, a fellow student who was malnourished, unusually intense, and who also suffered from a rare form of anemia. Yes, anemia, Arthur. Ask Poppy, if you don't believe me. James and Sirius were nice boys, but where Severus was concerned, their teasing went too far."

"Then how would you explain his extraordinary talent at Legilimency," Arthur pressed. "How do you explain what you all saw at his tomb?"

"If you'd done your homework, Arthur, you would know that the vampire is a metamorphmagus, a being capable of transforming itself into multiple creatures, as well as environmental phenomena, such as mist and fog. As a student, Severus never displayed the slightest aptitude for Transfiguration. How do you explain that—or this: if he was a vampire, why then, in all his time at Hogwarts, was he never afflicted with bloodlust? To my knowledge, Severus Snape never bit a single soul!"

"He could've easily brewed a potion."

"When he was just a boy? Rubbish," she huffed.

"Maybe he and Greyback are working together."

"Your lack of knowledge about the subject you're so vengefully pursuing is simply astonishing, Arthur," Minerva said primly. "Vampires and werewolves are mortal enemies. I'll leave it to you and your legendary investigative prowess to discover why."

Knowing the ice between them was already thin as rime on an October puddle, Arthur said, "How do you explain Professor Trelawney's latest prophecy?"

"Sybill has always been a very fragile soul. The stress of recent events has driven her past her breaking point, which is why she's at St. Mungo's." The elderly witch shook her head sadly. "I fear that she will not be recovered in time to start the new school year. You seem to be terribly fond of predictions, Arthur. Perhaps you'd like to teach Rudimentary Divination in her absence?"

The barb hit its mark. His ears turned the same shade as his hair and his face flushed livid purple. With Charity gone, he'd been hoping she'd offer him a spot as a guest lecturer in Muggle Studies. Now, with all bets for that off, before he could stop himself, he hissed, "Perhaps I will, Minerva. It'd give me the perfect opportunity to rout Snape from his coffin."

"That is a base accusation. Should anyone care to apologize, I'll be staying at the Leaky Cauldron until the morrow. Know that you may expect my full cooperation in your pursuit of Fenrir Greyback, Minister. Good night." Nodding curtly to him, she strode regally out the door, black silk skirt hissing in her wake.

After she'd gone, Shacklebolt drew a deep breath and said, "That certainly went well, wouldn't you say?"

"I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me." Arthur ran a hand through his hair.

"You don't have to apologize to me."

"I'll send Aurors to search for Greyback but with your permission, Kingsley, I'd like to conduct a private investigation of my own."

"Lack of permission's never stopped you before," he said, chuckling. "What's your next move?"

"As soon as she's well enough, I'd like to speak with Professor Trelawney."

 

Part II.

After having a bite in the castle's empty kitchen, Hermione brewed a cup of chamomile tea and returned to Slytherin. Fascinated by the filled-to-overflowing, floor-to-ceiling bookcases in Snape's apartment, she couldn't wait to explore such a wondrous collection. The fire crackling in the grate had chased away the chill, although its inviting glow did little to relieve the chamber of its starkness. Its other walls, blocks of stone, were bare and bleached as bones. As she set her mug on the coffee table, Filch's words came back to her: This was his home. Home? It was more like a tomb. She looked at the portrait.

A very watchful tomb, although, to her amazement, the former Headmaster still hadn't moved from his frame. His pupils, nearly as dark as the irises surrounding them in what was undoubtedly his most striking feature, while still observant, had lost much of their unnerving, Here's-the-void-staring-back-at-you intensity. Even his stern countenance seemed to have softened, losing some its characteristic angularity in her absence.

Oh, don't be such a goose, she thought, It's merely a trick of firelight.

Still, the more she gazed at the painting, the more drawn to its subject she became. How the painter's hand had managed to reveal some secret part of Snape's soul with nothing more than brushstrokes of oil across canvas was irrefutable proof that the portrait's creator had been nothing short of a master. A glossy curtain of onyx hair framed a complexion as luminous as the moon. While his nose was just as she remembered, a beak befitting a bird of prey, the mouth beneath it was strong and finely shaped, and the deep richness of his lips startling in their sensuousness, as were the hands clasped at his waist: long, tapered fingers with nearly translucent nails; large but delicate, they seemed less the hands of a potions master and more those of an artist, musician, or a lover.

A lover?

A startling thought, enough to send a flush over her cheeks. Nor could she stop herself from suddenly imagining what it might be like to run her fingers through that silky hair, to feel those lips pressing against hers, tasting that kiss, losing herself inside it. That kiss, those hands—his hands—would they be forceful or gentle, trembling or practiced as they gathered her into an embrace? And if he wanted more, could she...Would she?

A flush of unexpected heat surged through her body. Gasping, she turned away. What am I thinking! He's twice my age and my professor—okay, former professor who just happens to be dead—he's dead—dead for Merlin's sake! "Besides, it's just a painting, charmed like every single other one in this castle. He must've wanted it to have this effect, to reveal an aspect of his psyche or character that went overlooked in life."

The thought was like a bucket of cold water. Aside from a brief crush in her fifth year, no one had ever seen him in that light: not a single, other student, any of his colleagues—and certainly not Perfect Lily Potter, for whom he'd carried a torch his entire life, she thought grimly. Who could blame him for changing his Patronus? No, there'd been no one, unless she believed Filch's outrageous story about that simpering sot, Trelawney (which she did not). While a man certainly had needs—she'd heard that declaration enough from Ron on numerous, unsuccessful occasions—Snape would've had principles, taste, or at very least, a functioning eye-to-brain connection! "Who were you, Severus Snape," she said, her voice ringing through the still room.

Only two things in her immediate vicinity offered any clues: his workroom and private library. Except for these, Snape's former quarters would've resembled just another of the castle's many cold and anonymous chambers; although, even with its extreme minimalist décor, the room still managed to manifest a sentient aura, an expectant emptiness: a pocket of potential energy waiting for light and life to fill it, spur it into being.

Hermione tried the door to the workroom first. Though it boasted no lock, the privacy charm cast over it wouldn't give an inch. Even here, you were never completely safe. Even here, you could never truly be yourself, she thought.

Sighing, she focused her attention to the bookshelves, which unsurprisingly, boasted the most extensive (if not disturbing) collection of Dark Arts references she'd ever seen. Many of the volumes were leather bound with cracked covers, deckled pages, and written in what looked like Numinous Arabic. Two of the larger ones, ancient hair-covered things the size of footstools, bore strange runic inscriptions. When opened, each exhaled a cloud of mildew that made her choke. Between them, tucked among cobwebs and darkness, was a small notebook, whose leather clasp screamed Journal. Insatiable for a glimpse into Snape's thoughts, Hermione pulled it out.

The moment her fingers touched its clasp, tongues of foxfire sprang up around her hand and book pulsed with sudden current, sending painful shockwaves up her arms. Shrieking, Hermione dropped the book. It skidded across the floor and rebounded off the far wall. Unhooking its clasp, the book bared its barbed metal fangs and lunged at her, brittle pages hissing. Screaming, Hermione dove behind the couch. Satisfied, the book snapped its jaws shut and slowly levitated back to its hidey-hole.

Her hand felt wet. Looking down, Hermione discovered the clasp had scored a deep cut across her wrist. Blood dribbled from the wound, speckling her wand and spattering the floor. Wincing, she summoned dittany and bandages from her bag, and then headed for the washroom. As luck would have it, it was located just off the bedroom, the only other room she hadn't yet explored. Please, Merlin, no more surprises tonight, she pleaded silently. No guard rugs or watch pillows!

Apparently, Merlin had other ideas. Wan light flashed and thunder rumbled behind the bedroom door, which chose that exact moment to open with a slow-motion creak. In the impenetrable blackness beyond its gaping maw, something thud-thud-thudded. Hermione's hand—her good hand—tightened around her wand. Another flash illuminated an oblong, an object she hoped was the end of a bed. A nice, safe, boring bed, yes, please! When the thunder came, her hand throbbed in time with its rumble. Wand ready, she waited.

There's nothing there, Rational Hermione's voice, now tinged with exasperation, boomed in her head. The floor's uneven; the vibration opened the door. It used to happen all the time in Gryffindor!

Suggestible Hermione wasn't so easily convinced. Okay, smarty-pants, then what's banging about in there? Filch said this room was haunted—Eee! Another blue-white flash and clap of thunder made her jump.

'Filch said! Filch said!' Get a grip! There is another possibility.

"Right," she said, effectively merging her warring inner selves. It would be just like him to pull a stunt like this, too. "Peeves, I am not amused." Wand high, Hermione charged at the door. "Leave this room at once!" The wind moaned and she heard another thud, but when she tried to cross the threshold, the door slammed in her face, knocking her off balance.

Snape watched her with interest from his perch above the mantle.

Hermione tottered backwards, catching her leg on one of the sofa arms. Arms wheeling, she toppled over it, barking her injured hand on the corner of the coffee table as she fell. Fresh pain raced up her arm. "Damn you, Peeves," she hollered from her splay-legged landing spot on the hardwood floor.

Behind the door, a single muffled thud! replied.

Aching and angry, humiliated but no longer afraid, Hermione aimed her wand and screamed, "Alohomora!"

The door ppened, revealing darkness and nothing more.

Severus licked his lips.

"Lumos." As she barged inside, eager to confront Peeves, a blast of rain hit her in the face. At the end of the room, an open window banged against its casement. Crossing to it, she closed it with an exasperated bang. Then, leaning against the sill, she closed her eyes and groaned, letting the rain beat an angry tattoo upon the mullioned windowpane.

When her heart finally stopped hammering in her ears, Hermione opened her eyes. The bedroom, much like the sitting room, reminded her of monks' quarters in a monastery she'd once visited. Spartan, utilitarian, and sexless, it was more of a holding cell for someone whose life lay outside the realm of physical and material pursuits. Its furnishings consisted of a bed, wardrobe, and battered steamer trunk. The bed, a standard-Hogwarts-issue four-poster, lacked chill chasing drapery of any kind. Its duvet, though substantial, was shabby and suspiciously dimpled, as if its owner had taken up sleeping atop his covers. A thick candle stub mounted in a curved glass container stood on the bedside table. Once lit, it cast a cheerless, sallow circle on the ceiling. The wardrobe, while identical to those in the dormitories, lacked that version's patina of vintage graffiti.

Hermione opened it, releasing a cloud of homemade sachet that reminded her of incense. A nightshirt, coat, and pair of torn pants hung limply on its hooks, waiting for an owner who'd never return. The thought stung her eyes; she closed the door. The trunk lid, much like the workroom door, wouldn't budge.

The door to the tiny washroom was opposite the trunk. Hermione slipped inside to clean and bandage her hand. As she returned to the room, she noticed a small scarf wadded at the foot of the bed. It, along with a small radio, was the sole glimmer of personality in an otherwise impersonal room. Though faded, threads of gypsy red, orange, maroon and gold glimmered in its complex, lacy pattern. Handmade, too; she recognized the treble clusters and picots. Crochet. Her mother tried to teach her one summer but in the end, only Crookshanks loved the result. Imagining Professor Snape with a hook in one hand and a hank of yarn in the other made her giggle.

She picked it up, intending to fold it, but then saw a bulge beneath the coverlet. Pulling it back, Hermione discovered an empty wine bottle.

The radio sputtered to life:

She found a mountain that was far too high
And when she found out she couldn't fly
Mama, it was too late!

The scarf—Sybill's scarf—slipped from her fingers.

It's too late
She's gone too far
She's lost the sun

As the music played on, a hollow lightness, blossomed within her. A burgeoning night, whose glittering canopy of stars buzzed as their multitude erupted from a limitless, revolving dark.

She's come undone—

No, no-no-no-no-no, no
Un-doe, doe, doe-doe

Moaning, Hermione staggered from the bedroom, slamming the door behind her. She stood outside it a long time, listening, wand at the ready, but heard only the storm raging beyond the next room. As much as she hated to admit it, Mr. Filch had been right on two counts: Trelawney's delusional excursions and the room's otherworldly occupant. She only hoped that Peeves had had enough fun for one night.

Exhausted and tearful, she curled into a ball on the couch. Her tea had gone cold, but she couldn't summon the urge to reheat it. Her arm felt so heavy she doubted she could even reach for the mug if she'd wanted to. She stared into the fire, hoping to cast the evening's unpleasantness from her mind. She did not know how long she lay gazing at the flames, or the moment she became mesmerized by their soft crackling, their gentle sibilance a soothing mantra: Sleep...sleep..sleep... The fire's glow cast its comforting warmth over her like a blanket and soon, she succumbed to welcome slumber.

Time passed, creeping like a mouse around a watchful cat. As the flames receded, a shadow wafted like smoke from the portrait's frame. It lingered beside Hermione, stroking her cheek, tantalized by the auburn glints in her hair, the rosy fullness of her parted lips, and the drying garnet at her wrist. The shadow found all reds irresistible.

Deep in the starless dreamlands, Hermione rode the last echoes of the thunder to an unknown shore whose warm, soft sands seemed familiar to her as a featherbed. There she lay, while the stygian waves rose and fell, waiting, waiting, waiting until waiting poured like water into wanting, and wanting flowed into needing... Soundlessly, her secret heart cried across the dreaming's uncharted distances, calling out to the Unnamed, willing him into being, summoning her unknown lover with a child's conceit.

Darkness came. Invisible hands smoothed the hair from her face and soft lips trembled against hers with their first kiss. Blind, she reached for him, knowing just where he would be; she always did. Believing he was her conjuration of innocence, longing, mystery and sin—not one who came of his own accord—she drew him in, savoring his mouth's spice and mineral-salted heat, a promise released with each fervent kiss. Probing, searching, long, and deep, he kindled unimaginable fires within her, every crush of his lips cascading like molten streams across the curve of her jaw and down her throat, pooling at the delicate spot on her neck where her life thrummed like a second heartbeat.

There, he hesitated, his tongue drawing slow circles over her quickening pulse. His hands smoothed down her shoulders and over the swell of her small, firm breasts, where cunning fingertips teased her nipples, pebbling them with desire.

New pleasures rippled through her, begging her to round a previously forbidden curve to the fantastic territory that lay beyond. Placing her hands over his, guiding him, she murmured her assent. Clothes dissolved like her inhibitions. Caressing and nipping, seeking out passion's every hidden pore, hands and lips and teeth blazed new trails across her breasts.

His tongue drew languid runes down the plane of her abdomen, while one hand dipped between her thighs, circling and rubbing the buried rosebud within. His questing tongue soon joined them, diving inside her and driving her past the precipice of all discretion. Fisting his long hair, desperately holding him inside her trembling folds as she ground against him, knees to the wind, Hermione let his fervent ministrations propel her to a place where madness howled, delicious and indiscreet. Panting, she released him, only to feel his mouth crush against hers again and taste herself, thick and salty-sweet inside his kisses.

He shifted. Arms she could not see moved against her. Her legs rose, bent back upon her, pinning her; and between her legs, at the entrance his sweet mouth had just left hot and slick, she now felt a dull pressure, followed by a sudden, pleasant pain. She gasped as his longing stretched her until she thought her hips would break and then, filled her with its throbbing length.

Slowly, at first, he receded, pulling himself, inch by inch away, outside her, and leaving another unfulfilled hunger, raw and aching, in that empty place. Slowly he returned, rising inside her like the sea in a cavern, only to retreat again, no matter how hard she tried to hold him in.

Groping frantically, begging him for release in the pitch-black depths of what she still believed was a dream, Hermione squirmed beneath him. Gradually, his strokes acquired strength and speed. Panting huskily, his thick shaft drove harder and deeper into her clenching, velvet heat. Bathed in sweat, she arched into him, digging her fingers into his hips and screaming until liquid heat erupted and breakers of dark bliss eclipsed her.

The last thing she remembered was a sudden sting and a tug at her wrist.

 

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