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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4. The Hazards of Wishful Displacement

Part I

Expecting to see a familiar house, Hermione opened her eyes, only to find herself standing smack in the middle of Diagon Alley. Fire had gutted most of the shops that lined the narrow street. Their broken windows stared balefully back at her, like sockets of empty eyes. She struggled to find a logical explanation—because there just had to be one—why she'd been blown so far off course.

It didn't take her very long to arrive at one. Before the war, apparating hadn't been allowed on school grounds. She'd probably made accidental contact with the vestiges one of those wards when casting her spell. Landing in the middle of a dark, deserted street was now the result.

Glass shattered nearby; rough voices hooted. Not so deserted then. Hermione closed her eyes, conjured an image of her mother playing the piano, and quickly turned again.

When the queasiness passed and she opened her eyes again, she didn't recognize the place at first. In the dark, all forests looked alike. Then she heard something moving towards her through the trees. Something very large. "Lumos," she said, her voice an almost-bark. Eyes, too near, flashed white. Hermione screamed. Startled, the doe leapt over a boulder, splashed through a pond, and then fled into the woods.

Hermione plopped down beside a fallen log to catch her breath. The rocks, the pool, the little clearing just beyond: now she recognized the old campsite. While it had been a home for a time, it still wasn't her home. Obviously, she'd done something wrong again. Leaning back, she let the night close in around her, while she recalled Professor Twycross' lecture on apparating: 'One has but to recall The Three D's: Destination, Determination, and Deliberation. One must be completely determined to reach one's destination, and move without haste, but with deliberation.' She'd done everything right, so why was she sitting in the middle of the woods with her heart hammering in her chest and her stomach doing somersaults? 

Hoping her third try would indeed be charmed, she rose on shaky legs, closed her eyes, and turned widdershins.

"Merlin's beard!" A cup clattered against a saucer and Arthur Weasley looked up from a puddle of tea on the kitchen table. "You gave me quite a fright, Hermione. I thought you'd gone. Did you forget something?"

"Apparently. Did you have any difficulty traveling tonight, Mr. Weasley?"

"Not at all," he said, mopping up the spill. "Why?"

Sinking down on the bench opposite him, she told Arthur all about her adventures in apparating. When she'd finished, he said, "You're right, it could very well be vestigial magic. When so much numinous energy is released in one place, it's bound to leave shadows of itself behind. I could feel traces of it at Hogwarts earlier tonight. Add inexperience to that mix—now, don't argue, Hermione, you're still new at this. I'm sure that's all it is but just to be safe, I think you should stay here tonight. I'll take you to London with me in the morning. You can catch the Tube from the Ministry. Whether it's vestigial magic or not, it's best you let it wear off. I wouldn't want you landing neck deep in some Welsh moor."

"Thank you, Mr. Weasley. I think I'll turn in now," Hermione said. She started to rise but then stopped. "Oh, I almost forgot to tell you! Something very odd happened after you left."

He leaned across the table. "Not another premonition, I hope?"

Hermione told him what she'd witnessed at Snape's tomb. "It talked about a path with no end and no beginning, almost as if it were trying to warn us off."

"It's a riddle, certainly, a sanguine one at that." His face clouded. "Are you sure the specter was a dragon?"

"At first, I thought it was a Patronus but Snape's was a doe, and Professor McGonagall said that no wizard could ever have two. Do you think that's true?"

"We knew so little of Severus; perhaps it's a familial symbol of some sort. Whatever it is, its mystery will have to remain until morning." He yawned.

Each headed to bed and night passed without further incident.

Hermione awoke to find Mr. Weasley bustling about the kitchen in high spirits. After breakfast, he whisked her away without a hitch; in a blink, the two materialized in an alley near the Ministry. "Now, you're to go straight home without using magic and stay out of trouble." He hugged her. "Though Hogwarts won't reopen until September, you're still a Head Girl, remember."

"Believe me, Mr. Weasley, I never try to find trouble," Hermione said, laughing. "I never have to."

He waved her off with a smile. Her words from the night before as well as Sybill's strange pronouncement still haunted him, but he'd be damned if he'd let either ruin his good humor. He made a mental note to visit the Department of Mysteries and then, slipped down the alley and through a familiar back entry.

 Part II.

Being a department head had its perks. The line was shorter and the stall more spacious. The loo had a low cistern with a silver button on one side and the water in the bowl was always the color of a summer sky. The stall's sides, cool to the touch, looked like slabs of green stone, but the railings that ran the length of them were, to Arthur's mind, the nicest part of all—no more sloshing and sliding about. Using these now, he hoisted himself up, stepped inside, and when he was ready, pressed the button. A whish-swoosh later and he was standing in the Ministry's Apparation Foyer.

He made his way down into the main concourse, admiring the new fountain at its center: a circular pool edged in smooth stone from whose center jets of colored water erupted at regular intervals. Overhead, on an enormous screen, Kingsley Shacklebolt and the Muggle Prime Minister beamed down as they shook hands. (Well, Kingsley was beaming but Mr. Blair's smile looked a little thin.) Chuckling to himself, Arthur waited for three words to appear at the bottom of the image, a slogan summarizing Kingsley's agenda for his term: Unity, Equality, and Tranquility. It was a beautiful a sentiment for what promised to be a beautiful day!

Humming to himself, he headed around the fountain to the edge of the concourse, passing a kiosk that offered the latest editions of the Quibbler and Daily Prophet. He picked up a copy of the latter and after exchanging pleasantries with the attendant, scanned its headlines. No mention of Hogwarts or clandestine memorial services anywhere: perfect. It was a new day, a gorgeous day indeed, he decided, one made even more glorious by the owl he'd received just after sunrise: Molly was coming home.

"Mr. Weasley! You're just the person I'd hoped to see," Connie Burbage, Charity's niece, looked up from behind the display of Muggle artifacts she was installing on a series of wooden display tables. The torch that ran on a thumb switch, the palm-sized radio, and the fat fellow with the light-up nose he recognized instantly; they'd occupied space on the shelves of his old office for years. Concerning the last one, while he didn't quite understand the purpose of teaching children complex surgical procedures, he loved the sound that red-nosed bloke made when someone touched him in the wrong spot.

He noticed she'd also painted a series of colored spots on the floor. Next to these was something resembling a weathervane, only one indicating colored hands and feet where the cardinal points should have been. Behind it was a sign: Test Your Agility in a Game of Twister (No Magic Required). When he'd been promoted, Kingsley had allowed him to choose his successor in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Department; naturally, he'd chosen Connie, a witch who'd been raised by Muggles. She had Charity's curly hair and bright smile. At the moment, she was also standing in the midst of a hopeless tangle of black and orange plastic cords, whose near ends converged in a long, black box.

"I've never seen one of these before," he said. "Do they bite?"

"Only if you're careless." She pulled one out of the box and held it up for him. It had three prongs at the end. "And of course, only if there's a power source. I'd hoped to install a completely interactive display, something that would really give wizards a taste of Muggle life—let them stand in those shoes, so to speak—but to do that, I'll need electricity." She indicated a large box with a glass front and an aerial on top. "Do you know where the Ministry's ley line infrastructure overlaps with the Muggle power grid? I know there must be outlets around here somewhere, I just need to lift the edge of the cloaking veil."

Arthur ran a hand through his hair. "Ministry Custodianship could help you with that more than I could, but why couldn't you just charm them? Your aunt had a smaller one of these telly-visions at Hogwarts and it ran just fine without electricity."

"She did—and Professor Dumbledore knew?"

"He allowed it for educational purposes. His favorite show was a documentary about time travel: 'Doctor Who.'"

Connie spluttered and dropped the cord.

"I'll bet her things are still at Hogwarts," he said. "I'll send for them, if you like."

Still giggling, Connie said, "Yes, thank you. That would be nice."

"Mr. Weasley! You've gotta come now! There's been a breach—well, not a breach exactly, but he's there again and he won't go and Miss Puddergust says that if you don't get rid of him for good this time, she'll send him back to St. Mungo's in a purse! I don't know why a purse, exactly, but I think she'll do it." A breathless girl who couldn't have been older than Ginny tugged at his arm. He didn't recognize her, but the steel grey robe she wore told him immediately where she worked and who the he in question was.

"Not Lockhart again?" A corner of his mouth twitched. Arthur always found Gilderoy's impromptu visits amusing.

The girl nodded. "We keep telling him, the Department of Willful Relocation doesn't exist to fulfill romantic wishes, but he won't listen. I don't know how he slipped past Security this time, but he just burst in, insisting that we send him into the arms of his true love. Now the family we were about to relocate is terrified and their Adjustment Supervisor is in an uproar."

"I assure you, he's quite harmless: the poor man can't remember his own name most of the time, much less another wizard's." Arthur said. "Still, I'll have a talk with his Healer and have his day passes rescinded." Nodding his good-bye to Connie, he started away with the girl, only to have an officer cut him off at the elevators.

"Sir, I need you to dispatch a team of Aurors," he said. "It's urgent."

"A team, you say? Where and for what?"

"Wiltshire. The Manor."

He didn't have to say which manor. "What's Lucius Malfoy gotten up to now?"

"There's been a murder, Sir."

 Part III.

After a short Tube ride and a long walk, Hermione found herself staring at a familiar brick house covered in climbing ivy and a silly shrub that always reminded her of a giant, green gumdrop. Home: she was finally home! She plucked the spare key from the hollow of a ceramic frog, grateful that some things never changed. No car sat in the drive but her parents always liked to leave early for work. She didn't know what she would say to them, but having the day to herself would give her all the time she needed to form an explanation. Expecting to be alone, she turned the key in the lock and stepped through the front door.

A half-eaten plate of egg and chips sat beside a large mug of tea on the coffee table, while a BBC News report played quietly on the television. She dropped her backpack by the couch and walked over to the island that separated the living area and kitchen, but saw no one about. Nor could she hear anyone moving in the small room just off the kitchen, which served as her parents' informal office. "Mom? Dad?" she called out.

"About time you've returned."

Hermione screeched. Turning, she found the family housekeeper, Mrs. Stokes, scowling at her from the basement door. "Oh, it's just you," she said to the diminutive woman who always wore a red scarf over her curlers.

"Didn't mean to startle you." She bustled into the living room, gathered up her dishes, and placed them on the stone-topped island. "Did you have a nice trip?"

"The Tube took longer than I thought."

"Did it now?" Mrs. Stokes nodded knowingly.

"I guess my parents are still on holiday then," she said in the most nonchalant tone she could muster.

"Holiday? That's rich. They're right where you sent them, my girl. I knew that couldn't have been their idea to just pick up stakes and pack off to Australia, and when I saw what you did to those pictures over yonder, I knew for sure. You had to take the train here because you couldn't apparate."

"How did you know?"

"Dumbledore posted me here, straight after your eleventh birthday. Don't look so surprised, he did it for all students of vulnerable birth. Nothing more defenseless than a Muggle but never mind that now. You're supposed to be such a bright young thing, have you figured out why your attempt at magical transportation didn't work, yet?" When Hermione shook her head, Mrs. Stokes pointed to a cluster of oddly composed family photos on the mantle. "You Obliviated your own parents, you foolish girl. Now, just like them, this house has no memory of you. None. You never lived here because you were never born." She leaned against the kitchen island, regarding Hermione narrowly while she waited for the gravity of her message to sink in. "I've been waiting a long time to tell you that. Do you have any idea what an utterly cruel and stupid thing you've done?"

"I did what I had to do to protect them," Hermione said, tilting her chin. "The spell should've worn off by now."

"Oh, and it would've, were they wizards. Didn't they teach you anything at school? That's why there's rules about using magic on Muggles."

Face flushing, Hermione said, "Then I'll find them and reverse the spell."

Mrs. Stokes laughed. "It doesn't work that way, girl; you should know that by now. That charm's got to weaken in its own way and in its own time. It could take at least a year or maybe more, that is, if it ever breaks at all." Mrs. Stokes charmed her dishes clean and put them in the cupboard. "Plenty of time for you to think, so I'll leave you to it. Dumbledore's gone and you're old enough to take care of yourself. My work here's done." She vanished.

Cruel and stupid...No memory...Never born... Hermione threw herself on the sofa and bawled.

 

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