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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25. Racing with the Moon

Minerva reappeared inside the tunnel beneath the Whomping Willow, but the instant she felt solid ground beneath her feet, her heart started flip-flopping like a fish out of water and a buzzing filled her ears. While the sensations were familiar to her by now, the side effects of the potion she'd been injecting beneath her skin always came over her unexpectedly and at the most inconvenient times imaginable. However unpleasant, those feelings still were a small price to pay for ultimate protection—especially if her assumptions about Sybill were correct. She only hoped there was enough aconite in her latest mixture to repel that new appetite.

Then, she wondered: had the potion produced similar effects in Severus? Having suffered its side effects for mere weeks, she could only imagine the toll extracted when multiplied by years! Its abrupt discontinuation could be contributing to his unreasonable (to put it mildly) behavior now, though it was a pale excuse for everything he'd done since: the murders, Sybill's madness and now, manipulating Hermione.

Steadying herself against a rockier section of the tunnel's wall, she took a few deep breaths, while she waited for the palpitations to pass and for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. Hermione, so resolute in her belief that Severus could be saved; that the reclamation of a soul was as simple as spinning a Time-Turner. Hermione, so young and talented and trusting—too trusting—so thoroughly convinced that what she felt for Severus was love. Of course, it was not—love—and what it was made her unwilling to listen, unaware of the danger that lay ahead. Minerva rested her head against a flat stone; the cold soothed her.

Once her heart had resumed a more normal beat, Minerva squinted down the narrow passage. She hadn't set foot in it or the Shack for over two decades—the day she'd watched Dumbledore conjure the finishing touch to his then-latest secrecy scheme: the ill-tempered willow tree. So extravagant, she'd thought then, the lengths to which he'd gone; so unreasonable, his refusal to send poor Remus to an experimental Healer—even after young Severus had so easily unmasked his secret, along with his hiding place! Back then, of course, she never would have believed the deceitful web that she would soon weave would not only out-Albus Albus in its sheer grandiosity but also make her an accomplice to multiple murders!

At least Remus had never killed anyone.

She ran her hand over the wall. Time and the seasons had taken their toll: roots had broken through parts of the ceiling and walls; and frost heaves from too many winters had turned its once-smooth floor into a warped and pitted path, allowing ground water (and gods knew what else) to collect in stagnant pools. From the nearest of these rose a stench, simultaneously rank and musty: the bitter attar of long-drowned things. Nose wrinkling, she started down the tunnel, pulling herself along by using its rocky outcroppings and vines.

A few yards in, however, she realized she'd never get to the stairway at its end in time. What little light the outside entrance afforded faded after her first turn, plunging her in an earthy darkness that closed in from all sides. Unable to recall how many turns the tunnel took before it reached the entrance to the Shack's ground floor, she couldn't risk discovery by blundering about or using her wand—

If Arthur hadn't spotted her already on that map of his. Now, she wished Hermione had told her more about it—specifically, which places James Potter and his band of "Marauders" hadn't known about when they'd created it. Since Lupin had been one of his closest friends, she prayed that the spot where she now stood and the building beyond had been left uncharted for discretion's sake.

Thunder rumbled outside.

A storm would only hasten night's arrival and would not postpone the inevitable. Beyond the clouds, the moon would still rise and exert it power. Time was running out; if she had any hope of rescuing Sybill, she had to move quickly.

When another thunderclap rained dirt from above, the grey Tabby with the black marking that looked like an "M" on its forehead shook it off, disgusted.

Now stronger, more agile than her human form and able to see in the dark, Minerva navigated every twist and turn of the underground path on sure, silent paws. Reaching the landing in record time, she stopped and sniffed. Her sense of smell was keener in cat-form, too: the rank smell that had assaulted her earlier wasn't coming from standing water, as she'd first thought, but from inside the Shrieking Shack; and although it floated like a layer over other smells, her feline instinct recognized it instantly. Her hackles rose. Given the time of day, it was much stronger than she'd expected.

Too strong...

The thought shivered her long fur coat. Shiver quickly turned to shudder when she remembered seeing Greyback's body on her icy map, but then, to a rage so strong Minerva had to bite her own tongue to keep from howling. Even in his current state of maniacal misguided mindlessness, this was a low move for Arthur: using a heap of rotting remains to threaten poor Sybill!

He'd had left the door at the top of the landing open. Cautiously, she crept up the stairs and peered inside. A single room comprised the ground floor, one that might have had aspirations of being a kitchen in its early life, had Lupin's rages not turned it into a minefield of shredded cloth, gouged walls and claw-marked chunks of plaster. In a far corner, a tangle of twisted wires, many still attached to tarnished tuning pins, was all that remained of a once-grand piano. During their brief occupation, while apparently using every scrap of non-essential furniture for firewood, the Death Eaters nevertheless contributed to the room's vintage wreckage by using it in equal parts as a dumping ground (judging from the food wrappers, empty bottles, and small animal bones lying about), and—judging from another pervasive smell—an impromptu privy.

Picking her way over rusty nails and bits of broken glass, Minerva followed a flattened path around piles of debris until she reached another set of dusty stairs. Dingy and yellow, light bleared through the partially open door at its upper landing. Then, footsteps shuffled and a dark form moved across the crack in the door, obscuring the light. Minerva shrank back, pressing herself against the wall.

"Here, Sybill, have something to eat. You'll need your strength," Arthur said. A low growl, thick slurping and the ring of tin against wood soon followed. He crossed the doorway again. "That's a good...girl." There was a hollow pop and the sound of liquid sloshing. "Now, how about I fix you a little drink?"

This time, his footsteps receded. Keeping low, Minerva crept to the top of the stairs. The foul odor intensified as she peered through the door.

Half a skull leered back at her. It, along with shards of bone had been tossed on a heap of innards beneath the coffee table, left to marinate in the shadows and in the blood that had congealed on the floor and threadbare carpet. Tail twitching in disgust, Minerva glowered back, but a sound by the fireplace made her look up.

Back to her, Weasley busied himself with a bottle, carefully meting the firewhiskey into a tin cup. To his left in the corner concealed by the door, fabric rustled and then a voice vaguely resembling Sybill's rasped, "Muu-uuhhr...muuh-uuuhr!"

Setting the bottle on the dusty mantle, he turned to her, cup in hand, saying, "I'll top it off and you can have as much as you like, but there'll be no more bottles for you. I'm tired of sweeping up broken glass."

As he headed over to her, Minerva shot through the crack, one leap landing her behind the couch. Crouching low, cautiously, she poked her head around one side of it. But when she saw what sat in the corner by the fireplace, she knew her rescue efforts had been in vain.

A nightmare made flesh, Sybill Trelawney, naked, except for a profusion of long tawny fur, a coat matted with blood and grime, where it wasn't slicked to her unnaturally long arms and thighs, hunkered inside the bed's listing canopy atop a heap of mildewed blankets and shredded clothes. Clasping the tin camping mug with both palms, an effect that might have been comical, if not for the black claws that sprouted at the ends of her hairy fingers, she lifted it, upending its contents into her mouth. After she'd finished, as she lapped the interior with her tongue, Minerva glimpsed the extent to which other features had already transformed. Her nose had become a snout and her jaws boasted a set of the most lethal fangs that Minerva had ever seen, but both paled in comparison to her eyes, citrine and seething with merciless inner fire.

A gaze that made her back arch and hair stand on end the moment it locked with her own.

Roaring, Sybill lunged for her. Thinking he was the target, Arthur threw the cup at her and staggered back, spluttering a command normally used to bring a dog to heel. Tufted ears drooping, Sybill did not retreat into her musty bower, but cowered, whimpering at his feet.

The Imperius Curse, Minerva thought. Although heartbreaking, to see her former colleague under an Unforgivable influence, Sybill's sudden emergence from the shadows had unveiled something even more disturbing: the cause of her too-rapid conversion. Clinging to her like a second shadow, trailing wisps of purple clouds, a miniature full moon hovered over her head, bathing her face with its baleful glow.

A shadow fell over Minerva.

"Amazing what a little moonlight can do, isn't it?"

She looked up to find Arthur Weasley staring down his wand at her.

"I expected you sooner. After Hermione's sudden disappearance, I decided nightfall couldn't wait. Ron told me that certain places don't appear on the map—one in particular," he said, nodding towards the unfolded parchment on the coffee table. "Why don't we discuss it, mage to mage?" When she made no move, he jiggled the wand at her. "Please, Minerva, don't make me force you and don't underestimate me like Greyback did—you see where it got him, don't you—oh, and don't even think of trying anything heroic."

In an instant, she stood almost eye-to-eye with him. "Heroic," she spat, ignoring the snarls her human transformation elicited from Sybill. A snap of Arthur's fingers sent her scuttling back to her blankets, her moon bobbing behind her like a lurid little balloon.

"That's better," he said. "Now, please remove your wand—slowly—and put it on the table."

Minerva tilted her chin at him. "No."

Expecting him to disarm her forcibly, she was surprised when he sighed, lowered his own wand and backed away; stopping only when he'd reached the opposite end of the couch.

"Then keep your hands where I can see them," he said, face flushing to his hairline. "I mean it, Minerva: no funny business."

"You're one to talk," she said, rounding on him. "You think this—destroying Sybill in your mad, misguided pursuit of Severus—"

"Finally, you admit it! You've been hiding him!"

"—will make you happy, make you a hero?"

"He's a murderer, Minerva."

"Are you any less? Is this really your idea of justice?" She gestured wildly at Sybill. Then, stepping closer, she said, "If you want to do something truly heroic, then put out the moon and send Sybill back to St. Mungo's. Let the Healers tend to her."

"Like you've 'tended' to Severus?"

"At least they can help her! The wolfsbane potion—"

"Won't cure her or wipe the scourge that is Severus Snape from the face of the earth!"

"She-vuhhr-usss," Sybill murmured.

"Yes, Sybill; you'll see your dear Severus very soon," Weasley said, never taking his eyes from McGonagall. "Why, your old friend, Professor McGonagall's come to take you to him, just as I promised."

The excited yips this produced made Minerva shudder. "What you're planning is against all that is good and noble in the eyes of wizard, man and...God," she said, although she hadn't spoken His name to another magical soul in years. When this didn't move him, she tried once more, this time appealing to his paternal instincts: "What about Hermione?"

"Oh, I already thought of that." Clasping McGonagall's hands, so she couldn't reach for her wand, he turned to the corner. "Sybill, I've just heard the most distressing news. We must find Severus at once," he said.

"Sheh-vuuhr-uhhz," she murmured, rising, horrid yellow eyes gleaming at the mention of his name. Clasping her black claws over her hairy chest, she swooned on her haunches and said his name again.

"Yes! Minerva's just told me: he's been unfaithful to you, Sybill. While you've been shut away like a prisoner at St. Mungo's, he's found himself another lover—a much younger woman. A former student of yours, too—isn't that what you told me, Minerva?"

"For the love of Merlin, Arthur," McGonagall hissed, hands tightening on his.

Jaws agape, streaming ropes of saliva, Sybill stared at them.

"And her name is—"

"She's just a child!"

"Hermione Granger!"

"Grrraaa-aaahhh!" Howling furiously, claws and fangs bared, Sybill sprang to his side.

"It's true, Sybill. He's betrayed you—abandoned you," he said, face ashen. "Minerva caught them together, just last night!"

Eyes blazing, she would have pounced on Minerva, had Weasley not blocked her path. "N-n-no, Sybill! You need to punish him!" Then, to Minerva, he said, "She can't apparate in this condition, so we'll have to walk. I'd prefer if you stayed in human form to do it, Minerva. I don't think she's fond of cats." Chuckling, he conjured a ball of light at the tip of his wand and lobbed it effortlessly through the door. Light flooded the passageway. "You'll lead and Sybill, you will follow Minerva."

"You'll never get away with this," she said.

"You're wrong; this ends tonight," he said, motioning her to the door. "Oh, and Sybill, if she tries to draw her wand, attack her."

Taller in werewolf form, eclipsing even Weasley's near six-foot height, Sybill loomed over her, snarling.

Minerva winced at miniature moon, the preternatural diadem that floated between the former professor's ears. Weasley's dark charm had almost finished wreaking its havoc. In just a short time, Sybill's features had grown longer and sharper, more canine in appearance; the fur covering her trunk and limbs, while retaining their human counterpart's tawny hue, had become thicker and glossier.

"Now, Minerva!" Weasley pushed her towards the door.

"Yes, Arthur, alright." At this rate, Sybill would completely transform before they reached the castle.

Not that Minerva intended to remain with her long enough to witness that change.

"This way, dear, follow me; we mustn't keep him waiting." Careful to avoid Snape's name, she headed down the stairs. Their wooden risers, which looked even more unstable with the addition of Weasley's light, groaned beneath Sybill's weight. "This next one's splintered in half, watch your step," she said, adding under her breath, "we wouldn't want anyone turning an ankle."

"Less chatter, more movement," Arthur called from behind her.

If it was movement he wanted—

She stepped down; wood cracked. Turning on her heel, Minerva vanished without a trace.

 

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