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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12. Until It Sleeps

"Argus! There's been an accident," Hagrid bellowed. The door shivered beneath his kicks. "Open this bloody door!"

Filch was nowhere in sight. Hermione sprinted to the entryway and tugged at the pulls on one of the immense doors. Heavier than she remembered, she'd barely cracked it open when Hagrid pushed through with an unconscious Professor McGonagall in his arms. Hot on his heels, Fang followed, nearly knocking Hermione off her feet. Scowling at first, he said, "Took ya long enough, Argus, what are ya, deaf or...Oh, it's you Hermione. Sorry. Didn't expect to see you back so soon. Well, good! Let's get her to the Infirmary. Fang, stay!"

"What's happened," she asked, running after him. "Was she attacked?"

"Found her on the bridge," he said. "Think she's had another one of her fainting spells."

"Another? How many has she had?"

"This makes three I know of," he said as he bounded up the stairs, taking three and four at a clip. "Started just after school closed. Old age catchin' up, she says but I'll tell you what. She don't eat more'n a bird, that's her problem. Old age—phaw!"

Reaching the landing, he paused in front of the clock to catch his breath. When Hermione joined him, he said, "Don't know what she was doin' out there but she did a number on her head this time. Open that door for me."

After charging into the Infirmary, he deposited McGonagall in the nearest bed. "Fetch some water and bandages. They're just over there," he said, grimacing at the blood that covered one side of her face from forehead to shoulder. "Can you hear me, Minerva?" When she did not respond, he leaned over and felt her wrist for a pulse. "Stubborn as ever." He nodded. "She'll come back to us."

When she returned with dressing supplies, Hermione saw that he had already removed the professor's soiled cloak and was not attempting to unpin the emerald and silver brooch that secured her high collar. Its dainty clasp proved too much for his clumsy hands but Hermione unhooked it in a flash. As she loosened the stiff fabric, however, she found more wounds on McGonagall's neck. Older, from the look of them: a series of tiny scabs, each encircled by a bruise. "Hagrid, what could have made these," she asked.

"Her hands shake something fierce," he said. "Haven't you ever noticed? Probably poked herself."

For as long as she'd known McGonagall, the elderly witch had always looked and sounded so old, she'd just assumed the obvious. Now, too embarrassed to press the matter any further and believing that this was yet another clue to why she'd been summoned back to school, Hermione turned her full attention to the larger wound. After a thorough cleansing, thankfully, it proved to be only a small laceration, which she dabbed with dittany and covered with gauze. During her ministrations, McGonagall murmured but did not awaken. After she'd finished, Hermione tucked a blanket around her, pulled up a chair on the other side of the bed, and said, "I'll stay with her."

"No need for that," he said. "I'll get Sybill. Lookin' after someone else'll do her a world of good."

"But Professor Trelawney's not here, Hagrid." Then, she told him why.

"That don't sound like our Sybill at all," he said. "Oh, sure, she's always been a little flighty, havin' premonitions'll do that to a person, you know—but moonin' over Perfesser Snape? I dunno who tol' you that but nothin' could be further from the truth. She always kept her distance on account of him bein' a Legilimens, afraid he'd read her mind and steal her secrets. Can't say as I blame her for protecting what's hers." Taking a large handkerchief from his coat pocket, he mopped his brow.

"Mr. Filch told me. He found her."

"Well, he hasn't been himself and the last I seen of her was the night we laid Severus to rest. Even before she went on about hollow graves and such, she was working herself into quite a state over all the ghosts she said were hiding in the castle, afraid to come out. Didn't want to say nothin' at the time, but what they got to be afraid of, bein' dead an' all? But I told her, I said: even dead folks gotta adjust." He put the handkerchief back in his pocket. "Well, I'd best go find Argus. He can look in on her later. When she gets like this, she can stay out for a long time. If you need a good, strong cup of tea, Poppy's got the makings in that storeroom back there." He pointed to the back of the room and then lumbered out, leaving Hermione alone with her thoughts.

No ghosts? Apparently, they were only hiding from Professor Trelawney. If they were ghosts at all... Rumplebolt, the Room of Requirement's magical seepage, and even her half-formed hypothesis about numinous transference: each offered a more reasonable explanation of events than Filch's, Tale of the Lovelorn Lush. Leaning back in her chair, she crossed her arms and scowled. Why had he lied to her? More importantly, why had she believed everything he said was true? But hadn't she just seen the same vision of Snape flying without a broom; hadn't she just heard him make her an offer similar to the one he made Sybill?

Tired of too many inexplicable events, too many conflicting variables, Hermione sprang from her seat. Mimicking the words of Snape's ghost, she said, "It's time for you to see only what I want you to see." Drawing her wand, she began walking around the room in a slow circle. "Protega Maxima...Fianto Duri...Repello Inimicum..." Since she did not know if her protection spells would be strong enough to bar spirits or residual energy, she added, "Repello Fantasma...Repello Phantasmata...Repugno Spectra," and threw in a Muffliato for good measure.

Satisfied with her efforts, she began exploring the room, admiring the intricate woodworking and columns, and allowing the wall's soft beige to soothe her nerves. A bookshelf ran the length of the wall by the storeroom. Having had her fill of texts with teeth, she browsed Poppy's extensive collection of medi-witch supply catalogues and nursing magazines, many of which were outdated. Finally, she found something more recent, a single issue of The Journal of Wandless Healing. She took it back to her seat, hoping its contents would be as benign as its brown cover suggested.

Between glossy, full-page ads for Nu-Skele-Gro (the flavor they'll crave in their bones!) and those for Spectacula Tabs (take a bite out of your blues!), the journal's table of contents looked promising, at first. One article, extolling the virtues of dirigible plums for heightening personal consciousness, was as amusing as it was implausible. Another, claiming to be a research study comparing the efficacy of sublingual mandrake paste vs. raw leaves in releasing one's "inner animagus," proved nothing more than a series of testimonials touting an exclusive (and expensive) brand of hydroponic mandragora. Following these were items highlighting upcoming conferences in advanced aura differentiation, past life regression, and for a mere thousand Galleons, the adventurous at heart could partake in either a Devil's Snare Vision Quest or something called a Negativity Flush, an attitudinal makeover complete with Stinksap facial and Bubotuber aromatherapy at the New Stonehenge Spa and Sweat Lodge.

Stinksap and Bubotubers? Surely, this had been someone's idea of a joke. Poppy was too sensible to believe in pseudocraft and Hedgewitchery. On the bright side, at least the journal hadn't launched an attack. Chuckling, she tossed the magazine on the table, knocking Professor McGonagall's brooch on the floor as she did. It split open as it landed. Thinking she'd broken a priceless heirloom, Hermione moaned, slid out of her chair, and knelt down to investigate.

What she discovered prompted a moment's déjà vu, one that set her thoughts racing again. The brooch, actually a locket, hadn't been broken at all. Careful to avoid its tarnished clasp, she opened it, revealing what its interior had hidden all along: a scrap of folded parchment. Beside her, McGonagall murmured in her sleep. 

When she did not awaken, Hermione turned back to the parchment. She did not know how long she sat staring at the folded scrap of paper, debating whether to open it. Any way she rationalized it was an invasion of privacy, a betrayal of trust. Outside, the sun conceded its battle with the burgeoning clouds and the wind rose, spattering raindrops against the windowpanes. Inside, insatiable curiosity finally won a battle of its own: Hermione carefully unfolded the parchment. Scrawled across its surface, lines of rust-colored calligraphy resembled a poem:

Asphodel and aconite in water or in wine
Slakes undying appetite if taken over time;
When introduced beneath the skin,
It shields from wont unkind.
Yet like a curse that leads astray
Fed but once, forever it will stay.

What she held was no poem but a vague recipe for a potion, an appetite suppressant of some kind, and now, recalling Hagrid's words, Hermione's head reeled. Asphodel, a foul poison, had no medicinal uses to her knowledge; the only one she could think of for aconite was its use as a werewolf repellent. Why would the professor take something like this? She scanned the paper again. Beneath the skin...Undying appetite...The verses spoke to an unquenchable hunger, eating away at its victim, eroding her from within. "A tumor? Cancer?" Impossible, she decided. Witches and wizards were immune to such diseases.

Unless she'd been hexed. It could've happened any time during the war; a spell so horrid that slowly starving herself, poisoning it into submission was the only cure. Hermione could think of only one wizard vile enough to cast such a curse but dark magic lived only as long as its caster. By that logic, Voldemort's malice should have died with him. So why hadn't it?

There was still so much she didn't know! Equally enigmatic was the author of the strange rhyme, whose initials, O.L., provided the only clue to his or her identity. Hermione refolded the parchment. Only after returning it to its hiding place did she notice the chill that had stolen in with the rain. She tucked another blanket around the professor before heading to Poppy's storeroom to make a cup of tea.

Cold wasn't the only thing that came in with the dampness.

Outside the ward, at one with the shadows, Severus waited, watching and listening, even as Hermione cast the magical barriers that should have barred her from his sight. They shared a connection now: he was in her blood and she in his. Easy, it would be so easy for him to take what he wanted, what his psyche had experienced in her dream: to savor in flesh the tantalizing fruit his miserable existence had placed on the most far-flung of branches. She could no more hide from him now than she could command the sun to move backwards. The sun...while it remained hidden behind the clouds, for the first time, he could feel it squirming over his skin, leeching his strength. The price of becoming, a moment's penance offered for a lifetime of masking his essence. A price, yes, for great power always demanded an equally great sacrifice.

His glance fell on the bed. Sacrifice. Minerva knew that. She would not stay down for long and when she saw what he had done, she'd stop at nothing to defeat him. Their battle began the moment she rejected his dark gift. If he ran, she would hunt him; if he forced his will, he would turn her into a monster, a mindless creature driven by appetite alone. Minerva, his oldest friend! He threw back his head and a moan, indistinguishable from the susurration of the shower outside the window, escaped his lips. Every path ended in death and Death mocked him at every turn. He would find a solution but what he needed to do now was hide and rest.

 

Part II (London)

"Swing set, wet day, she's there, I say, 'Please share my umbrella.'" Blue brolly in one hand, Gilderoy Lockhart swung around one of the arbor posts and sashayed his way to a spot next to Sybill on the glider. Around him, other patients clapped and hollered in approval.

"That's lovely," she said, giggling. "I used to adore that song."

"Really? I could've sworn that I just made it up. Well, I made you smile, at least." He scooted closer to her. "What've you got there?"

"The latest indignity that odious Madame Lavatska's trying to foist upon me," she said, tilting the paper dispenser so he could see its contents. "Better living through chemistry: the white ones are Fug Lifters and the red ones are supposed to quell angst. Well, this is what I think of her therapy." She scrunched the cup in her hand. Before she could sling it into the nearest puddle, however, another patient, a man in a black watch cap, grabbed her by the wrist.

"Wouldn't do that if I were you, love," he whispered. "They're worth more than you think."

"Simon, isn't it? From group therapy?"

He nodded. "I thought what you said earlier was very moving. He's a lucky bloke, your friend. What'd you say his name was?"

"Severus. Severus Snape," she said, feeling waves of a familiar lightness wash over her with every syllable. "Oh, I wish he'd come to me, whisper to me! He says the most fantastic things whenever we're together and want to know the best part? The Universe falls silent when he speaks. It's such a relief!" She tapped her head and giggled.

"About those pills," he said.

"I don't need them. They won't work, anyway," she said hotly. "The only thing that does—what I really need—is a drink. What I wouldn't give for a nice sherry! But as long as I'm stuck in here, I'm afraid that's off limits." She waved at the fence. "Trapped like a rat in a cage!"

"You can't get out, but the Candyman can get in," he said.

"Who?" Both of them asked.

"Comes every day. There's a thin spot just over there, where the wards are weak. You'd be surprised what moves through those bars without setting off the alarms." He nodded towards the oak tree. "He'll get what you need and bring it back after dark. Anything you want..." Leaning in, Simon whispered. "Anything at all..."

"But I have no money," she said.

"You've got all the currency you need." Taking the cup from her hand, he said, "These babies are like gold on the street."

Sybill looked towards the fence again but could see nothing but fog in the alleyway. "I've never done anything like this before. What's his name? What should I say to him?"

"Leave it to me. Sherry, right?" He pocketed the pills.

Laying a hand on her arm, Lockhart said, "I don't think this is such a good idea, Sherry. How well do you know this fellow?"

"I think he has a kind face, just like yours, Gilderoy," she said. "How could you not trust your own face?"

"Well, when you put it that way..." he worried his curls with one hand. "I'm sorry, which one of us is Gilderoy? Awfully antiquated, isn't it? Is it a family name?"

"You see how well their treatments are treating him?" Simon winked at Sybill. "Your guess is as good as mine, mate." Simon clapped Gilderoy on the back and then, laughing, left the two and shuffled over to the tree.

Behind it, a tall, hooded figure waited. "You sure took your sweet time," head low, Fenrir Greyback growled.

"Had to be sure she's the one, didn't I?"

"Well?"

"It's her, alright," Simon lit a cigarette. "And she knows where to find him. With any luck, she'll lead us right to him."

"Him into our trap, you mean," he said. "She recognize you?"

"I'm the bloke with the kind face," he said, chuckling. "Even if she did look under my cap, I doubt all those stitches would ring any bells. Damn woman nearly killed me with her blasted crystal ball. Oh, before I forget," he said, taking the pills from his robe pocket. "Baby wants her bottle."

"Keep 'em for your trouble," Greyback said. "Just be ready."

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