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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26. The Gathering Storm

Part I.

"Perspective?" Hermione's stomach knotted. The spirit approaching her was not the Fred that she remembered. His shoulders were squared, his brown eyes were dark as pits and his lips, usually curved in an impish grin, were now pursed in a grim line. She wondered why he'd brought her to the Founder's Circle—exactly how he'd done so, to put a finer point on it. She called for Severus with her mind again, only to have silence answer. Had Fred tampered with her thoughts? Was he blocking them somehow now? Ghosts, at least what she knew of them, just didn't possess that kind of power, even Peeves, who had the ability to move solid objects, couldn't have pulled something like this off, which meant that Fred, either alone or in part, must've found a way to tap into the castle's magical all-source. Her cheeks burned at the thought. What right had he or any of them to delay or intimidate her! Emboldened by rising anger, Hermione stepped up to him, mirroring his stance. "Fred, if this is your idea of a joke, I really don't have time—"

"I do. Oceans of it. It's what got me here, you know. I was so busy joking; trying to set others at ease, I didn't see what was coming until it was too late."

A shaft of moonlight pierced him, swallowing one shoulder with its glow, while infusing the rest of his transparent body with an eerie luminosity. Hermione shivered. "Fred, I'm sorry you died, I truly am, but why have you brought me here?"

"To give you what I didn't have. Call it a lesson in Future History. Remember your Sorting..."

"Yes, of course," Hermione huffed, even though it wasn't a question, "but honestly, Fred, what's that got to do with—"

"When you're only eleven, on your own for the first time and overwhelmed by the enormity of a place, you'll take comfort wherever you can find it, even if it's some silly game with a talking hat. It all seems harmless enough. Of course, it's not—harmless—it never is. Our esteemed professors neglected to tell us that—and before we could think, before we could ask, we were herded and sorted and set on a path, our House our destiny," he hissed, each word buffeting Hermione with a frigid blast.

"You don't believe that. I won't be drawn into some rubbish debate." Hermione started away, but the knot of spirits tightened around her.

"It's not rubbish," he boomed, his voice rippling the currents of mist that had been slowly undulating beneath him and sending ghostly waves across the stone floor, an unearthly tide that Hermione could feel in the soles of her feet. "Do you really think you'd be here right now, if that greasy git hadn't led you every step of the way?"

"He's not a—and he needs my help!" Hermione spluttered, struggling for purchase.

"Your help," he snorted. "Why yours, particularly? Why not McGonagall's, she's a far stronger witch—or Harry's, since he was so fond of championing Snape's so-called heroism after the fact? The Hermione I knew would have asked herself that."

"Severus fought for our future!"

"Some of us won't have one because of him!" He soared through her, his spirit riddling her flesh with a lingering cold.

Fists clenched, Hermione rounded on him. "Are you threatening me? You can't hurt me—none of you can—and if this is your idea of extracting some petty vengeance, I'm done with it, do you hear me!" Drawing her wand, she leveled it at his chest. "I mean it, Fred. Let me go!"

"Threats? Vengeance? I'm beyond all that. All I'm asking is for you to consider your path," he said, making a sweeping gesture with his hand. A small archway appeared where a balustrade framing the night sky had been only a moment before. Through it, Hermione could see the ruined fountain in the courtyard outside the Great Hall, smell the sweet, spring wind and hear the patter of rain against stone.

"Go home, Hermione," Fred whispered. "Find a decent bloke, fall in love, grow old—make the sacrifice we made mean something."

So close, it would be so easy: just step through and walk away... Hermione lowered her wand.

"That's a good girl," Fred said. "Just a few steps more and you'll be safe and sound. One foot in front of the other: that's all you have to do. Easy-peasy."

Easy-peasy...the coward's way always was. But where would she go? "I don't have a home," she whispered.

"Hermione?" Fred's voice in her ear, a spreading chill.

She turned to him. "No."

The portal disappeared and the floor heaved once more; the air thickened and columns swayed, but this time, she was ready. Hopping atop the otherworldly swells, she let the crest of the waves sweep her sideways, depositing her on more solid ground at the edge of the rotunda. "Did your father put you up to this? You sound just like him. You must know he's here. I'm sure he's told you how he plans to avenge your death. I suppose you think that's heroic."

"My father...can't...feel me." Fred turned away.

Breaking from the ranks, Rowena wafted over to Fred. "Time will change that," she said, squeezing his arm with her ruined hand, "everything but her mind. I told you: his hold is too strong."

"She's my friend," he said.

"She's his now; don't waste your time," scoffing, Rowena glared at Hermione.

"Time's all I have," he said.

A low hum filled the air. Statues listed on their bases and the ceiling buckled with a groan, sending down another barrage of dirt and dead leaves.

"He knows she's here! We have to go!" Helena shrieked, flying to Fred's side.

"Please, Hermione, leave while you still can," he said, as Helena pulled him away. "Fangs—not a good look on you!"

At the end of one corridor, a jagged crack appeared, bathing the long walkway with an eerie green glow. Solid stone crumbled and a tall silhouette appeared inside the breakage. "Still meddlesome, even in death, Weasley," it said.

"Severus!"

This time, the ghosts made no move to stop her. Curling like smoke, each vanished in her wake. As she sprinted down the Slytherin corridor, gusts of wind screamed through the colonnade, toppling statues and columns.

Only Fred remained behind, sadly watching her run away. "That's not your home," he said, his words swallowed by the moaning wind. "I only hope you live to see it."

 

 

Part II.

Hagrid and Fang were just about to tuck into their own version of tea, when Minerva apparated into the hut with a bang that set plates rattling. Fang barely raised a wrinkle, but Hagrid's jaw dropped, along with the slab of homemade bread he'd layered with pickle relish, a thick slice of ham, and an inch-thick hunk of cheddar. "Perfesser McGonagall, what in Merlin's name's the matter?" he spluttered.

"I need your help. Hogwarts is under siege."

The table overturned as he sprang to his feet. Fang looked up and whined. "Not Death Eaters, again. There can't be many of 'em left to—"

"It's Arthur Weasley." Skirts rustling, she picked her way over sapling-sized table legs and around Fang, who was now busying himself with the feast on the floor. "He's completely mad: he's kidnapped Sybill—she's a werewolf now—although kidnapping's the least of his crimes." By now, she'd reached the fireplace. Standing on tip-toes, she began rifling through various boxes and bowls that lined its mantle. "Today alone, he's used an unsanctioned barrier charm, at least one Unforgivable Curse, and a Circadian Hex."

Hagrid stared at her, gob-smacked. Finally, he said, "Arthur—our Arthur—a kidnapper and Sybill a—how?"

"Greyback. He's dead. Make that two Unforgivable Curses. All in the name of petty vengeance." She pushed a tobacco pouch and a box of matches aside. Outside, the wind picked up, lashing the windows with rain.

Floorboards groaning beneath his weight, Hagrid joined her at the hearth in less than three steps. "Vengeance?"

"No...time...to explain," she said breathlessly. "Right now, we have to get to the castle; we have to raise a barricade." One hand found a small, painted bowl; she picked it up and sniffed its contents. Nose wrinkling, she tossed it aside and continued rifling through the menagerie on the mantle. "Blast it, Hagrid, where is it?"

"Where's what? Hey, careful! That pipe belonged to me Da'," he said, as it joined the bowl on the cushion of a nearby chair. "Stop, Perfesser; please, look at me."

"Arthur's been keeping her prisoner in the Shrieking Shack. I managed to stall them—Sybill can't apparate in her condition—but only for a few minutes at best. If we don't hurry, they'll beat us to the castle!" Balancing herself by clinging tightly to the edge of the huge stone mantle, she glanced at him over her shoulder. "Floo Powder. Where do you keep it, Hagrid?"

"Are you tryin' to get us both rooms in Azkaban? You know the Ministry's forbidden usin' it and they keep an awful tight eye on the Network, too." He gazed nervously to the crackling flames. "Why, if someone heard you just now, they'd send a team of Aurors before you could say—"

"Let them!" Minerva wheeled on him, sending up a grey cloud as she landed on the braided hearthrug. "I don't care if they send the Minister, himself! After being made a prisoner in my own home, I'd love to give Kingsley Shacklebolt a piece of my mind!" Lightning flared in the window beside the fireplace. "You should have seen the way Arthur treated poor Hermione—the horrid things he accused her of doing with Severus!"

"Severus? Don't tell me Arthur's still on about him," Hagrid said, as a clap of thunder shook the hut. "He really has gone off his nut."

"Not this time, I'm afraid. There's something I haven't told you, Hagrid." Turning, she sagged against the fireplaces. "Severus is hiding at Hogwarts and he really is a vampire—well, he is now—he wasn't always—it was dormant in him, the potential," she said, words tumbling forth like a torrent. She told him everything: the potion, the false funeral, what he'd done to Sybill, the Malfoys, Petunia, and finally, how he'd lured Hermione back to the castle. "I don't know why he turned but he did, too quickly for his own good, and now, something's gone wrong—horribly wrong. He's not himself." Wind moaned down the chimney, as she looked up to meet Hagrid's pained stare. "I'm sorry. I should have told you. I thought by keeping his secret, I could keep him safe, but it seems I've failed. Miserably."

"It's not me you should be apologizin' to, but Argus. Have yer any idea what you put him through? He's an old man, Perfesser, older than he likes to let on, and the thought of Severus bein' dead before near killed him!" His shadow devoured her as he glowered down. Thunder rolled between them. "That business at the crypt last night, was that yer doin' or Arthur's?"

"Neither. Severus staged that to lure Hermione—"

"Elder gods! Where is she now?" Hagrid grabbed her by the shoulders, but when she told him, he dropped his hands; his face fell. "The Room of Requirement? She could be anywhere! Merlin's beard, Perfesser, why'd you let her do a fool thing like that!"

"Let her? You know how stubborn Hermione is. I'd have more success holding back the tides."

Fang looked up, sniffed and made a long, low growl, a cautionary sound, almost human in its timbre. Leaving his ham and cheese behind, he lumbered to the closed door and snuffled. His head shot up and his hackles reared, banding his neck in a stiff black ruff; he growled and then glanced back at his master. When Hagrid didn't respond, he pawed the floor and barked.

"Hush, you!" Then to Minerva, he said, "If Severus can't control his own hunger—"

"I know! But Hermione's convinced there's a way to save him. I tried to tell her the truth, but when she's not accusing me of premeditated murder, she's absolutely convinced that what's happened to him is some sort of anomalous vestigial phenomenon, a kind of leftover curse from his last encounter with Voldemort, if you will. What's worse: she actually believes that he summoned her here to help him."

"An anonymous vegetable—she means to make him human again?" When she nodded, he said, "Perfesser, we both know, there ain't but one way ter—" The howl outside stopped him.

Fang backed away from the door, whimpering.

"Please, we're running out of time!" Paling, Minerva glanced nervously at the door.

Louder this time, the howl sliced through the fog and rain.

"Sounds like they're headin' this way. Right, then." Pushing past her, Hagrid extinguished the blaze with his boot. Snatching a dented tea tin from the back of the mantle, he cocked his head towards the fireplace. "Go on, get in. You too, you dopey dog. Mind yer, I'm doin' this for Hermione's sake."

"Thank you, Hagrid. You can lecture me all you want, later." Minerva crept inside the fireplace.

Once she and Fang were safely inside its cavernous interior, Hagrid opened the tin and squeezed in, joining them.

The door exploded, peppering the room with a volley of fiery splinters that ignited stacks of loose papers, and bunches of drying herbs. In no time at all, tongues of flame licked at the curtains, climbing hungrily to the wooden beams and thatched ceiling.

"That's twice in as many years! Stop burnin' down my house!" Hagrid screamed.

Claws wide, still crowned in her enchanted pallid diadem and snarling, Sybill leapt through the broken doorway.

Arthur followed close behind. "Going somewhere? Mind if we tag along? Sybill's just dying to see Severus," he said, yanking her forward by one overlong forearm.

"All full. 'Fraid yer out of luck." Hagrid upended the canister, dumping its entire contents on the hearth. "To Hogwarts," he bellowed. As the three vanished in a rush of red smoke, Weasley and Sybill launched themselves inside the fireplace.

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