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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3. Peacock and Narcissus

A breeze, stirring the vines, snuffed her candle and rifled the pages of her book. Narcissa set it aside. Just as well, she thought, the words had started to blur into one another and it hadn't been her intention to fall asleep out here in the gazebo again. She rubbed her eyes and looked about the garden. The sight of so many buds hidden among the leaves gave her hope. Soon there would be clematis in twilight colors and swags of white bougainvillea to curtain the gazebo but now, only the datura she charmed year-round lifted their proud trumpets to what was left of the night. Though it was still too early in the season to sit outside, she told herself that she preferred the damp, the chill, and even the wormy smell that always arose from the earth before sunrise to sleeping in her marital bed. Despite numerous purging spells, an uncomfortable essence still pervaded the manor. She could feel it, unpleasant and oily upon her skin, a film that would never wash away.

Lucius said she was imagining things, of course. Just as she'd been "overreacting" when she insisted on taking all of her meals in her room, "hysterical" when she set the dining room table ablaze (to purge it of all traces of dark magic and even darker memories), and "vindictive" when she moved into the guesthouse at the edge of the garden a week ago. Though doing so lessened the frequency of her night terrors, the dark essence remained; Narcissa knew that there were some things not even magic could erase.

She still had nightmares about Charity Burbage. The role she had played in that poor, innocent woman's death, fear and silence her burden to bear, and knowing now that Voldemort's blood status wasn't as pure as he'd claimed made her feel all the more the fool for allowing herself to be duped, lead, intimidated. Then again, they all had. In the end, even Severus, whom she'd counted among the cleverest of their number, wasn't immune. Severus...another life she'd played a role (however small) in ending.

She quit her wicker chair, pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders, and hurried down the gazebo steps to a narrow path bordered with moonstones. Although they felt like ice against her bare feet, their glow always comforted her. She glanced over the garden at the manor, where lights still blazed in every window. Wondering why Lucius (who wasn't similarly afflicted by nightmares or guilt or any kind of remorse, survivor's or otherwise for that matter), had left them on all night, she started down the path back to the guesthouse. 

When a sudden 'bang' outside the box hedges set all the peacocks screaming Narcissa barely batted an eye. That would be the paper. Lucius still insisted on receiving his copy of the Daily Prophet hot off the presses by Nighthawk Express and the damned delivery bird never dropped it in the same place twice.

She waited. When the hedges parted, however, it was not a nighthawk but Lucius who stepped onto the path with the paper.

"Are you a spirit of health or a goblin damned?" she said, the line from her favorite play ringing through the murky air.

"What?" Startled, he stopped. "What are you doing out here, Cissy? You'll catch your death." He pointed to her bare feet.

Actually, Narcissa found herself warming quite fast. "You wore that outfit yesterday."

Lucius brushed a twig from his coat. "My meeting with Skeeter didn't go as planned."

Her eyes blazed, but her words came out frost-edged in puffs of white: "You were with Rita all night?"

Unperturbed, he strode to the gazebo and threw the newspaper on the table. "Have you seen this morning's edition?"

"Why would I bother? There'll be nothing inside of interest." His less than skillful evasion was not lost on her.

"This will interest you, Cissy. Come, take a look."

She joined him, intending to give him a piece of her mind but when she saw the headline, started to laugh. "'Advice for Antiquers and Artifact Seekers: an In-depth Interview with Messrs. Borgin and Burkes?' Well, it pales in comparison to her usual subject matter, I'll grant you that." She rubbed her arms. "Do you think harmless twaddle is a trend she'll likely continue?"

"Granger attacked her," he said darkly. "That blasted Mudblood confunded her and Weasley did nothing to stop it. Nothing!"

Now who's overreacting, she thought.

"By the time I rejoined her—"

"After you ran away, you mean. And after you promised me you'd stay away from Hogwarts," she said, face clouding. "I'm surprised Minerva didn't incinerate you on the spot."

"I'm still on the Board of Directors, whether she likes it or not," he huffed. Wicker squeaked as he shifted in his seat. "But Sybill Trelawney was there and she said something quite interesting. Quite interesting indeed. It seems someone we thought lost to death has escaped its cold embrace."

Narcissa paled. "Not Voldemort? It is, isn't it? I was afraid Potter couldn't pull it off. He didn't have it in him, any more than Draco; they're just boys! He'll come for us, Lucius; I know it. Even now, I can feel his presence, cold as a cloud across the sun, his desire for vengeance unrelenting as time itself." Pacing beside the table, she said, "We must plan our escape but where can we go? No place on earth is safe. When I think of what almost happened to Draco, I—" The words caught in her throat. She fisted the folds of her gown. "There'll be no new life for us now, no start afresh. We'll never be free of him, Lucius. Never!"

Lucius laughed. "Oh darling, there you go again, jumping to conclusions."

"I'm not 'jumping' at anything," she snapped.

"I assure you, the Dark Lord is quite dead. This is someone closer to us, a former member of our ranks." Lucius leaned back in his chair and smiled. "It's quite fascinating and most opportune, considering there's still a price on his head."

"Well, you've narrowed it down to what's left of the Death Eaters." She prodded his arm. "Who is it?"

"Someone with whom you once made an Unbreakable Vow."

Sinking down on the balustrade in relief, she laughed. "That's preposterous! Severus Snape is dead."

"An elaborate hoax, according to Trelawney, and they're all in on it: McGonagall, Potter, and even Weasley. Oh, but you haven't heard the best part." Patting her hand, Lucius said, "Why don't I make us a nice pot of tea and tell you all about it."

For the second time before sunrise, Narcissa found herself on the verge of incredulity. "You? Make tea?"

"I think you'll find me quite adequate to the task," Lucius said, "I'll even use your favorite service: the silver one from Borgin and Burkes."

Her smile guttered like a candle flame in a gust. "No. I won't drink from those cups. I won't touch anything his lips touched."

"Cissy, please come back!"

"We'll drink from my mugs or not at all," she said, heading down the winding path to the guesthouse. The mugs, a set she'd had since her schoolgirl days, were about the only thing on their property Voldemort's presence hadn't sullied. "Wait here."

"She had one of her premonitions—right there at his tomb," he called after her, watching as she glided down the path, around a high trellis of ivy, and out of sight. He wondered briefly if that was a new dressing gown and why she'd taken to wearing pastels. He preferred her in dark colors but made a mental note to compliment her, after telling her his news, of course. Knowing she'd return soon, he began rehearsing, mouthing the words and attempting to mimic Sybill's frothy gestures. He hoped the thought of a dangerous wizard on the run would be enough to make her see reason. He wanted his wife back in his house, back in his bed. He tilted the chair back and closed his eyes. Yes, his bed most of all.

A noise nearby stilled his musing. "Is that you, Cissy?"

The rustling stopped. He heard a small gasp and then, rattling and grating sounds that set his teeth on edge. He started up. "Would you like some help, darling?"

Ceramic shattered and silver clattered against stone. Lucius shot out of his chair. "Cissy!"

Too late.

Narcissa crashed through the ivy trellis. Spurting from the wound at her throat, gobbets of blood slopped down the front of her gown and over the paving stones like a dark river of doom. Mouthing words that ended in thick gurgles, she staggered forward, twisted her ankle in the vines, and then fell, landing at Lucius' feet. The wound at her throat gaped up at him like a toothless, second mouth.

"Blood will run. I wonder how she knew." Severus stepped through hole in the ruined trellis. A dark substance ringed his mouth and hands.

Malfoy drew his wand. "You," he spat.

"Because I could always stopper Death, she could not stopper me. Well, at least not that easily." He licked the blood from his fingers.

Narcissa's blood. Lucius' gorge rose but his hand tightened around his wand.

"Hmm, it's quite bitter, not as salty as I'd imagined and lacking an essential warmth, but you already know that."

"Get off my land," Lucius growled.

"Is that any way to treat a guest? I just wanted to thank you for your thoughtful but premature memorial gift. What's the matter, Lucius? You look like you've seen a ghost. Don't worry, you'll be one soon enough." Eyes glittering, Severus slowly stepped forward, closing the distance between them.

"You'll pay for this," he said.

"That's rich, coming from someone who would have gladly sacrificed his only son to curry favor with a madman. Righteous indignation doesn't suit you, Lucius; I think six feet of cold earth would be a much better fit. Nevertheless..." Leering toothily, Snape opened his arms. "Go ahead, Malfoy, take your best shot. At this range, even a berk like you couldn't miss."

Lucius thrust his wand at Snape and screamed: "AVADA KEDAVRA!"

A fireball shot from its tip and hit Snape squarely in the chest. Lucius howled with delight but his victory cry quickly turned to one of shocked disbelief when Snape plucked the fiery curse from his breast with his bare hand and threw it back. Rebounding on its caster, it blasted a hole in Malfoy's chest, dissolving his heart and killing him instantly. He careened forward and fell atop the body of his beloved bride.

"A pity," Snape muttered. "I'll have to look elsewhere for a bite."

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