Summary: A strange plague has descended upon the Wizarding World that wastes away the body and has people seeing spirits. It's up to Harry and Ron to find Hermione and Severus Snape—the last two people who were working on a cure before something went horribly wrong.
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01
A/N: To scare you properly. I give you a Ron who isn't an arsehole. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
There are Worse Things
A CorvusDraconis Short Story
It's not denial, I'm just selective about the reality I accept.
"I really don't think this is a good idea, mate," Ron said with a frown. "Nothing could be worth all this. You Apparated us through three jungles, Antarctica, a wetland in some place called Florida with hungry alligators and water moccasins, and five haunted castles with rodents of unusual size."
Still damp from their trudge through a tropical wetland, the frigid temperature at the gates of the latest castle of unusual size had Ron's teeth chattering. It was hard to dress properly when his best mate was seemingly randomly transporting them across the globe.
Harry and Ron stood at the gates of a grand estate that made even Hogwarts look like a shabby little cottage with a pond. The gardens surrounding the castle were expansive and maze-like, and the gargoyles perched on the stone columns bracketing the gates glowered down at them with malevolently glowing red eyes.
"State your business here," they growled.
Harry glared back at them. "My business is my own."
"Rot then," the gargoyle on the left said with a shrug.
"Harry, you aren't helping any," Ron whispered. He fidgeted nervously as a bitterly cold wind came blowing off the lake. It chilled to the bone, but the gargoyles didn't seem to notice or care. His teeth chattered even with repeated warming charms, and it was clear that whatever was growing in the gardens was either a mix of magical or superior species of winter-hardy plant life.
Ron shivered as he transfigured a stone into a blanket. "We're here to see Hermione."
Harry glared at Ron, but Ron gave him a jerk of a chin in response coupled with a reciprocated glare.
The gargoyle on the right growled. "Lady Hermione has chosen not to receive any visitors."
"It's important," Harry insisted.
The gargoyles were utterly unmoved. "Doubtful," the one on the left said with a disdainful sniff.
"This affects the entire Wizarding World!" Harry barked.
"So does pollution, but I don't see you doing anything about that," the gargoyle on the right snorted.
"This is much bigger than ruddy pollution!"
"Is the Black Plague rampaging again?"
"Oh, I do hope so," the other gargoyle commented. "It's been far too long since the humans had a good and proper scare."
"No, it's not the bloody Black Plague!" Harry yelled.
Ron sighed, rubbing the space between his eyes with his fingertips. "Ronald Weasley and Harry Potter to see Hermione Granger on the matter of the withering plague she was working on at the Ministry. It's gotten even worse, and no one can manage to decipher her notes."
Harry shot Ron a pointed shut up expression, but Ron just scowled and narrowed his eyes at him.
"Do you want to get in there or just bloody freeze to death out here?" Ron demanded.
"The Kinslayer," the left gargoyle spat, his stone body utterly still.
"The Bondbreaker," the other snarled, its lips pulling back from its teeth.
"Harry Potter," a familiar cold voice bit out from beyond the gates. "Saviour of the Wizarding World. What brings the likes of you to the very doorstep of the Undead Nation after all you've done for us?"
"Sanguini," Harry said with a set jaw.
"In the flesh, as they say," the vampire said icily, his eerily pale features much like porcelain in the moonlight. "No thanks to you."
"You tried to Turn Hermione!"
"After you attempted to kill her— by botching the sacred Rite of Turning that should have been performed by her chosen mate," Sanguini spat. "And even I could not fully do so. It took great effort on the part of the entire Council to pull her out of Limbo."
Ron jolted at that. "What do you mean to pull her out of Limbo?" Frowning, he looked to Sanguini and then to Harry and back. "What did you do, Harry?"
"Did the famous Harry Potter not tell you of that?" Sanguini asked, his pale fingers tracing his jaw as his fangs flashed. "The Turning requires great effort from both parties. A tremendous amount of energy. It is also incredibly intimate. It requires both great trust and an undisturbed time in contact with the vampire that is granting them undeath. The great Harry Potter used all of his Auror connections and skills to break into her private home and interrupt the Rite, breaking the cords that would allow her consciousness to return to her body from the between. It nearly killed Severus, and it left Hermione floating in the between for months—months during which Severus was but a rabid animal that had to be contained for the good of all and she—she had to be coaxed from the between by the Vampire Council in his stead. Amongst our kind, the bond between eternal mates is the most sacred of all. If we had been granted the authority to do so, we would have slain you on the spot for your grave transgression, Mr Potter."
Ron's face paled and twisted in horrified realisation. "You broke into Hermione's house? Why the hell would you do that?"
"Snape used his vampire powers to seduce and mind control her, I know it!" Harry hissed.
"He courted her for three years!" Ron yelled. "They were working together on a cure for the plague!"
"He was going to Turn her into a vampire!"
"She was dying of the plague, you idiot!" Ron hissed. "He couldn't just let her DIE!" Ron's face was bright red with fury. "It was her choice. Her right to choose!"
"The healers could have helped her, then she wouldn't have had to be Turned!"
"Like the healers are helping those that are dying right now with no cure?" Ron retorted. "The reason we are here right now? It is the reason we are here right now, isn't it?"
"Wait, how did you know—" Harry trailed off, looking uneasy suddenly.
Ron closed his eyes and sighed. "I'm married, mate. I've been married to Pansy for years now. Hermione even witnessed it in front of Kingsley in a little cottage out in Wales. It was kept secret because my family is all anti-Slytherin, and you—I knew you'd overreact."
Ron sighed again. "Exactly like that." He shook his head. "And they call me the overly emotional one. Look, mate, if you went and pissed off the whole Undead Nation with some daft notion that you were saving Hermione for me, then I think you've been eating too many of my mum's special cabbage rolls. Hermione and I only have you in common, and everything else was just her trying to keep our sorry arses alive. Now are we here to see about a cure to the bloody plague or not?"
Harry looked like he was ready to spontaneously combust on the spot. His forehead and neck were an unhealthy shade of red and his cheeks were very flushed.
A carriage pulled by a pair of Thestrals landed on the road and was pulled up to the gates by a coachman dressed in an impeccable black box jacket and top hat. The coachman, however, was nothing but a skeleton. Two flaming blue orbs sat in the sockets where the eyes would have been. Its jaw opened, and no sound came out, but the gargoyles keened and the gates opened to let the carriage through.
The Thestrals reared and pulled the carriage forward at a quick trot, snorting softly as their hooves clicked against the stone pathway with a bell-like chiming sound.
The gates quickly snapped shut before Harry could step inside.
Sanguini bowed his head, seemingly in thought. His head bobbed slightly as if he was conversing with someone. Sanguini pointed to Ronald. "You may come in, Mr Weasley. Mr Potter will remain out here. The Bondbreaker is not welcome in this place."
Harry looked ready to protest at once, but Ron shook his head. "I'll ask her about the cure," Ron said grimly as the gate opened up to admit him.
The gargoyles growled at Harry as he seemed to decide if forcing his way inside would get him his way.
Ron stepped through the gate quickly, and the gate closed behind him with a swift clack.
Sanguini waved one hand absently, and a very small and uncomfortable-looking wooden stool appeared beside Harry. "Have a seat, Mr Potter," the vampire said. "It is the very least I could do for the man who exposed us to the Muggles." He bared his teeth slightly at him, fangs glinting. "Consider it a gift that I did not allow you inside. There are many here who would very gladly take you out the moment you stepped on our ground. And here— your pitiful human laws mean precisely nothing."
The vampire wrinkled his nose at him and then walked down the path through the formal garden, utterly silent as only the undead could be.
"Ronald," Hermione greeted, rising up from the garden bench. Her fingers brushed lightly against a shimmering silver-white lily that turned its flower toward Ron with a hiss.
"Tut," Hermione admonished the flower. "We do not hiss at guests."
The flower drooped a little, but Hermione stroked the petals tenderly until it brightened and shimmered.
As Ron approached, carved pumpkin lanterns lit the path, glowing with sinister faces that cast even more sinister shadows and light along the pathway. The air seemed warmer once inside the gates as if the land was suspended in a time when it was less frigid.
"Hey, Hermione," Ron said as he pressed a fond kiss to one cool cheek and smiled at her.
"I presume that this is not a social call for tea," Hermione said with a chuckle.
"I really wouldn't mind a hot cup of tea," Ron confessed. "By the way, Harry is outside the gates probably seriously considering using his invisibility cloak to sneak inside with one of the carriages."
"The gargoyles can see invisible things," Hermione said with a wink. "The results might be comical. If he does get past them, there are worse things in store for him."
Ron snorted. "Might be worth it too, but I think he's already done quite enough to endear himself to the undead. He can be a pretty good mate and all, but I think something is broken inside him. Since he died and came back. It's like he's desperate to fix things to the way he believes they should be."
Hermione shook her head. "Ron, I don't think there is a fix for what he wants. He's always wanted a family, but that family has always been the one he dreams of, not what he actually has."
Ron sighed, sitting on the bench when Hermione gestured for him to join her. She poured him a cup of tea from a silver service that had appeared out of nowhere. He took the tea and nursed it for a few minutes before attempting to speak again. "I wish this visit was for more than business, but I need to ask you if you and Snape had any success developing a cure for the plague. I know you really weren't in any condition to work on it after Harry— well, now I know what really happened. I can't believe, well, maybe I can. I'm so sorry, Hermione. Maybe if I had told him about Pansy and me—"
Hermione shook her head. "It wasn't your fault, Ron," Hermione said with a frown. "You didn't break your way into my home and interrupt my then soon-to-be-husband's attempt to save my life. It was honestly none of Harry's business who you married or who I did, and if he paid any attention at all to anyone other than himself and his dreams—he'd have at least asked either of us what we wanted." Hermione rolled her head, and the bones of her neck cracked a little as they realigned. "Now, tell me, what has you coming all the way out here outside of our regularly scheduled teatime?"
Hermione frowned. "Did the cure not work?"
Ron stared blankly at her. "We have no cure."
Their teatimes had always been limited to talk about things outside the plague as it had been the main reason she'd been Turned earlier than expected. She'd lost more than just her mortality, and Ron didn't want to bring such things up to her. The work on the plague cure had been something she'd died for, and any work she did on it, he knew, was a gift.
"I sent you the cure via courier," Hermione said slowly. Her eyes suddenly changed from a warm brown to a bright, glowing gold. "Severus and I perfected the formula, dosage, and titration to be sent to the Ministry's team of potioneers to be tested and distributed. St Mungos was already pressing for emergency priority testing for their more dire patients."
Ron blinked, tilting his head in puzzlement. "It was the Ministry potioneers that requested we come out to beg you for your consideration. People are hallucinating headless horsemen and vengeful spirits everywhere, walking off cliffs to escape packs of phantom hounds, or fleeing vines from carnivorous pumpkins, and dying of sheer fright from all manner of what they claim are hauntings." Ron's eyebrows creased together. "And they are all wasting away, just like you were. Losing their minds and their bodies. It's almost as if the plague is getting stronger and stronger as we get closer to Hallowe'en."
"Did they not understand the instructions?" Hermione asked.
"Hermione, they never got any instructions. There was no formula to be had."
"I sent them via a trusted courier," Hermione said. "He delivers for us all around the world. His very first stop was to be the British Ministry. We didn't want to risk an owl possibly handing it off to the wrong official and it getting lost somewhere along the way."
Ron seemed to frown even harder. "Hermione, could I get a copy of the formula? You can seal it or whatever you need to do, but I need to get it to the Ministry potioneers."
Hermione's body was utterly still in the manner Ron recognised was one of the vampire species' bigger tells. Zombies tended to swagger and sway. Ghosts were obviously transparent. Spirits floated, but vampires stood as still as a gravestone. It had taken Ron some effort to realise the scope of the changes Hermione had gone through in her Turning—a process that had taken far longer than was typical, thanks to Harry.
He'd seen the effects on Snape as well.
The often silent yet attentive man had transformed into a snarling, violent beast of a man that had to be contained in a special holding cell to keep from tearing apart any and everything in his broken, maddened state.
If anything, it had proven to Ron how much Snape had truly cared for Hermione as well as how much control the man had had all his life to have never shown such violence or bestial fury before then. It had been a humbling sort of revelation for him.
The vampire elders had worked night after night to entice Hermione's spirit and soul back to her body— something that normally happened along with physical contact and shared blood with the one who did the Turning. Instead, more than one vampire had strived to bring Hermione back to her body before Snape went irrevocably mad, and Hermione was lost forever.
Snape had been in no condition to do it himself. Turning required sanity, and Harry—gods Harry of all people—had taken that from him.
The vampires had just said something had gone wrong with the Turning.
They had never said it had been Harry who caused it.
Had they wanted to spare him some truth, or was it because he was too close to Harry?
No, he thought, there had to be some other reason.
Then again, he realised, they had been so focused on saving Hermione that nothing else had seemed to matter. Perhaps, that was the gift of being immortal. Grudges could wait until the more immediate concerns were addressed. They would have time, later, to confront Harry's attempt to "save his friend" by both botching Hermione's Turning and exposing "real vampires" (ie Snape) to the Muggles that had been attracted to Harry's screaming through Hermione's busted front door.
Obliviators and vampire "suppression" teams had effectively blanked out the collective memory of an entire village, blaming the disturbance on a Hallowe'en party prank that had gotten out of hand. Now, the little village had a huge festival planned for the upcoming holiday that promised to be "even better than last year's scare" which made Ron wonder if maybe the Obliviators and suppression teams had been a little bit too effective.
The plague had begun to appear in the populace after the war. Small cases at first that took a long time to progress made the healers think they had more time to solve the riddle of its creation and cure. But, as time went on, the contagion seemed to grow worse. No longer spread by contact, it had become airborne after a few years, and Healer Granger had been one of the first infected by the new strain thanks to her work to find a cure. Snape, who had been at her side the entire time, had fallen in love with her and she with him.
Their plan to marry in the usual fashion had become impossible. Within a matter of months, Hermione had started to waste away, barely able to remain standing, and unable to hold a quill to write her arithmancy and potioneering formulae without the help of a dicta-quill.
The plan to Turn Hermione after their wedding turned into something more immediate, and Hermione had told him her plans knowing that he would understand why she couldn't tell Harry or even his family.
Ron had purposely stayed away that week, knowing that it required privacy and time, but when a week had passed and Hermione didn't contact him and Harry's having a simultaneous special assignment at the time, Ron's Auror senses had been tingling.
He hadn't thought Harry's actions were related, though, how could he?
How could he suspect his best mate and fellow friend of Hermione Granger to be the architect of Hermione's almost true death?
Idiot, he chided himself. He had been far too close to the entire situation to see it for what it was.
Ron had, admittedly, learned much more about vampires than most mortals were privy to, and perhaps that was good as it had helped him with quite a few cases that had been supposed vampire victims. In the end it had actually been a mad alchemist that was harvesting fresh blood for his experimental potion work in an effort to create the fabled elixir of immortality. He'd used a two-pronged harvesting device to frame vampires. Sadly, or perhaps, fortunately, the idiot had poisoned himself trying to drink gold, jade, cinnabar, hematite, arsenic mixed with other magical and supposedly magical compounds while trying to avoid the plague.
Karma was a pretty strange creature.
He wondered what it had in store for Harry.
A sudden movement startled Ron out of his woolgathering as a vampire seemed to step out of the shadows. "Lady Hermione," the vampire said, bowing politely at the neck.
"Sebastian, you do not have to address me so formally," Hermione chided him.
The rather pale shake of the head told Ron that this vampire was either "younger" than Hermione or of a lesser power and status. Considering how scary Hermione was as a mortal witch, it did not surprise him at all that Hermione held a serious clout in the vampire world… or even notoriety of sorts.
The vampire handed her a scroll wrapped neatly with a crimson ribbon. Dark red sealing wax the colour of dark blood sealed the parchment together with the ribbon. "As you requested."
"Thank you, Sebastian," Hermione said. She flicked an elongated nail to the tip of her finger to allow a crimson bead of blood to drip from the wound and held her hand out.
The other vampire quickly took her hand to his mouth and placed a kiss to it, tongue flicking at the offering of blood. The vampire bared his teeth slightly, and Hermione bared her fangs in return before she tilted her head to dismiss him. Sebastian retreated the same way he came, silent and swift.
Ron no longer winced at such shows of vampire solidarity, and Hermione had become less subconscious about showing such things in front of him. It had been an adjustment for them both. Still, when all the gobstones were down, Hermione was still Hermione. She was still his friend.
Hermione handed him the scroll. "Be careful who you give this to," Hermione said carefully. Her eyes were still the golden colour that showed her vampiric nature. Unspoken warnings danced in her voice that echoed his Auror "tingle" as he'd learned to call it.
As he took the scroll, she held out a pair of crystal phials with a glowing blue liquid inside. "For you and Pansy."
Ron's eyes widened. "The cure?"
"And the inoculation against it if you do not already have it. It will also protect any unborn children Pansy may be harbouring in her womb."
Ron took Hermione in his arms and hugged her fiercely. "You're the absolute best, Hermione."
Hermione gave him a tolerant look. There had been a time when physical contact with him (a mortal) would have been fatal so soon after her Turning, but she had become better practiced at coping with acts of human spontaneity and not immediately sinking her teeth into a juicy artery at first contact.
He knew the feeling, only it usually involved a plate of barbeque chicken wings.
There had been a time, not so very long ago, that Hermione was not trusted to be alone with anything with a pulse. Her Turning had been quite traumatic, and it had made wrestling the vampiric nature much harder for her to control. The elders, namely the very Council that ruled the vampires, had taken turns feeding her to ensure her bloodlust was fully sated so that her sanity and her soul could reseat itself. In those days, he had had to stay in a separate room separated by some sort of high-tech Muggle tech-glass that his father would have died to see— separated her from taking her fangs to his throat before she could rein herself in.
The struggle, Ron recalled vividly, had been an intense battle of wills for her. Had she been anyone else, perhaps, she probably wouldn't have made it without killing someone.
And to the vampires, he learned from his experience with Hermione's condition, the mind was exactly what they wanted to preserve the most. Knowledge and influence was power. It was no wonder Hermione had found favour with them.
There were those who didn't survive the Turning with their minds intact, and Ron had seen those sorry sods being "sent to the Earth" as a danger to themselves and their society. The Council did not tolerate exposure of their kind unless absolutely necessary in Muggle circles and there was only slightly more tolerance for the magical world that at least knew vampires were real.
Because of her bond to multiple high-ranking elders on the Council that had allowed her to be successfully Turned, she was a "child" to all of them, her fate bound to multiple bloodlines rather than just one. It made her important to each bloodline that took a share in her making, and it made any threat to Hermione everyone's business.
Ron just hoped Harry didn't do something unbelievably stupid like sneaking onto the grounds. The Undead Nation was like the grounds of the embassy, the very land was under the law of their Council. If you stepped upon it, you submitted to their rules just as the vampires followed Wizarding rules when visiting the Ministry.
"Thanks, Hermione," Ron said with a relieved sigh. "Really."
Hermione's smile exposed a flash of pristine white fangs, something she wasn't quite used to concealing. "Just make sure that scroll gets to the right people."
Ron knew she also meant for him not to tell Harry about it.
They'd been friends long enough that he could sense that without being told. Hermione would, very likely, not expose herself to the mortal world for another few decades at least— time enough to work on strengthening her control around mortals so she would not be a danger to them or herself. She'd accepted it, but she still cared enough to continue her work on a cure for the wasting plague.
She was and always had been brilliant but scary.
She still wore her healer's circlet as well, and Ron knew that just because she'd become a vampire didn't mean she'd stopped being a healer. He had a feeling, however, that the conditions and diseases she healed presently were far more expansive, even more so than what St Mungos saw on a daily basis. He was happy for her. Hermione always thrived on learning more things. She'd have a very long life of constant learning ahead of her.
"I'll tell Pansy hello for you," Ron promised. "She's been staying holed away at home refusing to go out because of the plague. She doesn't want to risk the baby."
Hermione smiled. "I'm glad she'll be okay."
Ron saw a flash of wistfulness move across her expression. He immediately felt sorry knowing that Hermione had been robbed of having children thanks to—
She'd planned on having a child or two before being Turned.
That had all but ended when she'd caught the plague and had to be Turned in order to save her life.
Hermione shook her head at him, having read the regret on his face. "I'm truly okay with it, Ronald," she said. "I made my choice, and I have Severus at my side."
"I can't say that's what I'd want to have for the rest of my life," Ron said.
Hermione scowled, and Ron laughed. "I'm not the one that has to live with him forever."
Hermione snorted. "I happen to like him just fine," she said.
"I should hope so. You're kind of stuck with him."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "For always, I know." She smiled.
"And at least half if not more of the Vampire Council."
Hermione just shrugged. "I was always high maintenance."
Ron laughed. "Made up for all that time when you had to take care of us. It was due for someone to finally take care of you. I'm just sorry I couldn't do much."
Hermione purposely took a slow deep breath and let it out, something Ron knew she didn't have to do but did mostly for his benefit. "You just take care of Pansy and keep your family safe. You're still my friend, and there isn't a scorecard I'm keeping between one act and another."
"Good, because I'd be in the hole for sure," Ron said ruefully. "I've been botching up my life choices since I was eleven."
"You've made better ones since you got married," Hermione ribbed.
Ron stuck out his tongue. "Almost being a dad, I guess. Realising that my family is against me because I didn't marry the one mum thought I should. Kinda puts things in perspective. I've since learned who my real friends are, I think. Finally. At least Bill and Fleur understand. I never thought I'd say that. Maybe I have grown up."
Hermione nodded with a flash of fang. "Maybe you have."
Ron snorted. "Always the tone of surprise." Ron frowned. "Do you think Bill and Fleur—"
"They're fine," Hermione assured him. "Neither of them are fully human."
Ron's eyes widened. "Never thought being a little less than human would be an advantage. That'll stick in a few pureblood craws."
Hermione smiled. "I'm sure it will. It will also make them question who is or isn't pure if they haven't gotten the disease. It's luck, really. How does one control the spread of any disease? Some of it is simply prevention, and the rest is mostly luck. The cure will, however, help level out the playing field."
Ron sighed heavily. "I really do appreciate you, Hermione. You know that don't you?"
"I know," Hermione answered. Her crystalline claws scratched the side of her chin as she wrinkled her nose slightly. "I had my doubts for a while, but you're okay."
Ron laughed. "I was a git. I know it. I was caught between the witch who knew almost everything and the boy who thought he did. I wasn't sure who to be jealous of more."
Hermione waved one hand. "It's hard to see your talents in yourself when you compare yourself to those around you like a contest. Not everything is a game of Quidditch or chess where there are winners and losers."
"Sure, I know that now," Ron said. "But you can't reason with a teenager."
"Don't I know it," Hermione said dryly.
Ron rolled his eyes. He sobered quickly. "I need to get this to the Ministry right away." He stopped, silent. "Hermione?"
Hermione tilted her head.
"Could I use your Floo?"
Hermione nodded, understanding. She bowed her head a moment, and Ron recognised she was "speaking" to someone— another vampire somewhere.
"Sanguini will," she began, pausing slightly. "See him out."
"Thanks, Hermione," Ron said, giving her a peck on the cheek. "Harry would have me in the Sahara and the taiga before we'd get home."
Hermione winced. "No, I think you need to go." She levelled her gaze at him. "He isn't at the gate anymore."
Ron's eyes widened with realisation. "I'll go. Tea on Saturday, right?"
Ron rushed off through the garden toward the castle where the main Floo waited.
Hermione closed her eyes. "Dumbledore isn't here to protect you anymore, Harry," she whispered as she stroked the nearby lily. It purred at her, rubbing against her fingers. "And I cannot help you either."
Harry made his way through the gardens easily enough after slipping under the invisibility cloak and hiding on an incoming carriage's luggage carrier. Determined to find Hermione and free her from Snape had been his goal since the day Molly had told him that Hermione had spurned Ron's advances toward marriage.
He'd been fine with them working together. The two were so alike in their academic minds, but not as a couple. It just wasn't right for Hermione to overlook Ron, his best mate, and for Snape of all people. No matter what the man had done during the war—
There was no way Ron would settle for the likes of— sodding Pansy Parkinson had Hermione not been mind rolled by Snape. And Snape was a bloody vampire.
A real vampire.
That meant that Hermione was under his spell for sure.
When that vampire courier had come to the Ministry, he'd intercepted him—set him to flames before he could corrupt the Ministry, too. There was no way he was going to let vampires get their hooks any further into the Ministry after they had already bribed them to Obliviate the town that had found out vampires truly existed.
It would have been so much easier to let the Muggles deal with them, but it never got that far along.
Then, instead of letting him take Hermione away from Snape, they let that damned Sanguini take her from him as some group of vampire elites had dragged Snape away. Now, the little village was celebrating Hallowe'en with elaborate costume contests like they'd been doing it for years. It was so infuriating.
He was tempted, when he saw Hermione standing with an almost skeletal-looking undead, to wait for the other to leave and just grab Hermione and get out. But he knew he had to deal with Snape first. He had to make sure Snape couldn't get his greasy hooks back into Hermione.
"How are you doing, child?" the almost skeletal undead asked, his wizened skin stretching over his facial bones in a way that seemed impossible.
"Better now, Elder Ahmose," Hermione replied with a slight bow of her head.
"Do you hunger?" he asked. "It is all right if this is so. You are very young, and it can take many years to see past the hunger."
Hermione nodded, her eyebrows knitting.
The elder took out a small phial from his coat pocket and drank from it. Almost immediately, his features seemed to fill out, his skin flushed with a rush of blood. "Your Severus is quite brilliant with potions. His adaptations for our species have made it easy for us to feed ourselves and not rely on preying upon an growingly dangerous world.
He took his wrist in his mouth and bit down until the blood flowed. "Drink, child. We need not fear the hunger anymore."
Harry felt bile rising in his throat as he watched Hermione take the blood offering to her mouth, closing her eyes as she drank. The elder vampire's power pulsed as he fed her, a strangely hot power coming from a creature Harry knew was the walking dead.
He had to get Hermione away from them before she became too tainted by their brainwashing and blood!
Hermione shuddered as she stood. "Thank you, Elder Ahmose."
"You are quite welcome, Lady Hermione," the elder vampire said with approval. "I must fly. There is trouble brewing, and I must attend to it before it becomes a fire or worse."
Ahmose smiled. "There is always worse, child. My best to Severus whenever he pulls himself out of the laboratory."
Hermione chuckled. "It might be a while. He has a new project he's working on."
"It was his passion for potions that attracted our eye so long ago," the elder confessed. "We did not wish to lose such a great talent to something as fleeting and petty as war."
Hermione nodded. "Safe flight to you, Elder Ahmose."
"Night be ever with you, child," he replied as his form swirled into that of a great bat that flew out the open window.
Harry pondered getting Hermione out of the castle first but decided that he needed to get Snape out of the way. Without his insidious influence, Hermione would return to Ron and they would both be happy and with that, Molly would surely be happy too.
He lurked around the hallways, following the enchanted compass he had filled with Snape's old memories. A part of him felt it was his fault Hermione had fallen for Snape. If Snape had his memories back from the war, he'd never have gone after Hermione to begin with.
Snape had told him to let them go—that he didn't need them anymore—but Harry had held onto them. They had his mother in them. They were—special.
But the memories were still Snape's, and they had allowed Harry to track him down to this castle with only a few hiccups, each time plunking he and Ron into a patch of rare plants in the middle of the gods' forsaken wilderness. But they had finally arrived at the seat of the normally well-hidden Undead Nation.
Finally, he could bring Hermione home.
He saw no sign of Ron, which concerned him somewhat, but knowing Ron he probably was outside the gate looking for him. Ron just wanted the cure to the withering plague, but Harry wanted the whole pie. He wanted Hermione to come home too.
After finding the laboratories, he located the door that had to lead to Snape's lair. There was an impressive-looking underground garden that would have appealed to Neville had he been there, but Harry ignored it. He took the door near a patch of lilies that looked like the ones from Snape's memories.
The lilies hissed and spat as he went by, snapping at the air, but they could not reach him.
A shambling creature that was completely covered in thick shaggy hair walked through the laboratory door. "I'll see that Lord Marius gets this right away, Lord Master Severus," the creature said as it carried a eerily glowing flask of potion. It trudged by Harry without even stopping.
Harry easily slipped through the partly-open door to find Snape bottling up his potions with his back to the door.
The laboratory was surrounded in countless shelves of potions ingredients that made even the storeroom at Hogwarts' look small and meagre. Some of the walls housed enormous aquariums with live creatures in them, many far too horrifying to identify.
"Adel, I require some of your slime," Snape said, his voice a low rumble.
An eel-like head poked out of one of the aquariums, and a creature splashed out, floating in the air as it "swam" toward Snape. The creature resembled an eel if only just, and writhing tentacles moved about around the beast.
Harry cringed as the creature rubbed up against Snape with a hiss, head-bonking the vampire's arm like a cat seeking pets.
Snape turned and caressed the creature's head, his mouth open in a slight smile of fang. "Such a good girl," he praised it, giving the creature a small biscuit that smelled strongly of fish. He took a pipette and extracted some slime from the creature's mouth and put it in one of the simmering potions. "Thank you, Adel," he said, rubbing the beast under the chin.
The eel-creature floated toward the aquarium and then dove back in with a splash.
Snape cleaned his hands thoroughly before stirring the cauldron in front of him. The potion turned multiple colours, and Snape made adjustments on the fly, his hands working faster than Harry could ever remember him doing in class. He realised he'd never really paid much attention to it before. He had always hated potions.
The potion turned a bright silver and then gold, and finally a shimmering otter leapt up from the cauldron and back into the potion with a bloop.
Snape cast his hand over the fire and extinguished it, pouring the potion into various flasks and vials and stoppering them. Then, he took the last few ladles and preserved the potion in crystal phials—something Harry would have expected to see in the likes of Malfoy Manor.
Snape carefully packed the potion flasks and vials into a shipping crate, nestling it in fine wood excelsior before placing the lid on top. He shrank it down after sealing it securely, attached a shipping tag, and made a whistling sound with his teeth.
A large bat descended from the ceiling, allowed Snape to affix the shipping box to it via a specialised harness, and then it flew off to deliver the parcel.
Harry knew that this was his chance to get Snape while he was distracted, and he used a silent Auror stun typically used to take down Dark Wizards without revealing the user's location.
Snape swiftly turned, staring into the space where Harry was hidden. "Ah, Mr Potter. How nice of you to drop in." The spell Harry had cast fizzled out harmlessly on the Dark wizard's shields. With but a flick of his hand, Harry found himself bound like a mummy, his wand stuck in a puddle of melted candle wax.
When Harry was eleven, Snape had been an intimidating figure of authority, but while he was sure the wizard hated him, everyone of authority always told him that Snape was to be trusted. He hadn't believed it, of course, until Snape's very own memories had proven he'd been wrong about him in so many ways.
Wrong about his father, too.
He'd realised at the end of the war that the man was— complicated.
And he'd been fine with it up until he realised Hermione wasn't paying any attention to Ron like she was meant to.
There wasn't a weekend dinner at the Weasleys that Molly didn't lament on how she wished Hermione would stop leading her Ronald along and settle down and be a good witch for him like they were meant to.
Meant, just like he and Ginny were.
He'd attributed the distraction to her intensive study to become a healer so she could help her parents. Then, it was the focus on the withering plague.
But falling for Snape?
It was all wrong.
Snape had loved his mum, and that had set him on the path to become Dumbledore's agent. That meant that any interest the Dark wizard had in Hermione was just as fake as the act he'd put on to the Dark Lord. And if he could fool the Dark Lord, then he knew Hermione was a helpless victim!
And he'd survived because he was a vampire!
"I'm an Auror, Snape! You have to let me go and submit to justice!"
Snape's eyebrows lifted. "On the contrary, Auror Potter, I do not."
"You ensorcelled Hermione's mind with Dark magic!" Harry hissed. "I'm bringing you in to be judged before the Wizengamot!"
"My relationship with my wife is none of your business, Auror Potter," Snape said as he ran his crystalline claws across his jaw. "Oh, but you weren't here to bring me in, were you?" Snape asked, his expression as still as stone. "No, you were here to kill me."
"Your marriage to Hermione will be annulled when they realise you Imperiused her into it!" Harry yelled.
"Imperiused?" Snape scoffed. "Do you think a mind as strong as Hermione Granger's would be so weak as to be fooled by mind fuckery? Do you really think she would engage in a Rite that requires absolute trust under duress?"
Snape narrowed his eyes. "Oh, wait. No. You wouldn't know. That is why you barged into her private residence and broke the Rite of Turning and almost murdered both her and me. Because in your mind she couldn't possibly love me. Forget the three years we courted, worked together, learned about each other. Forget the fact, not that it was any of your business, that she knew what I was after putting the facts together with regard to my survival. No one else did. Forget the fact she was dying of the plague and made the decision to be Turned early knowing she would never be able to have the children she dreamed of. But none of this mattered to you, did it, Auror Potter? Just the little worm that grew into a dragon in your mind. The whispers of a grieving Molly Weasley who wanted nothing more than a perfect little family of Gryffindor heroes."
Snape curled his lip. "But you couldn't think on your own, could you, boy? You just had to bow to the Weasleys yet again. Because they could never be wrong, now could they? They were your perfect family. The model for all that your family should have been."
"I find it infinitely ironic that your own best mate, the infamous ginger boy blunder of Hogwarts, grew a brain and got a job. Got married. Succeeded in life. Grew. Up. And yet here you are, still swimming around the same old kiddie pool, stubbornly clinging to the pool pony of your life's dream."
"Damn it, let me go, Snape, or the Ministry will see you dead for assaulting an Auror!"
Snape scoffed. "No, they won't. You see, you're not in Britain anymore, Auror Potter. You're on sacred ground in the very seat of the Undead Nation. The moment you walked through our gate, uninvited, you denied yourself the protection of the right of the honoured guest. No, instead, you flipped two fingers toward Britain and stepped onto our land— the land consecrated to the dead and undying. The law of the dead and undead is what rules here, Auror Potter. And here it is the only laws that matter."
"I swear to you on the Erinyes, that under earth take vengeance on men, whosoever hath sworn a false oath, that all I have said to you is the absolute and unvarnished truth, so mote it be," Severus bit out with a feral expression. "Can you say the same?"
Harry struggled futilely against the bonds. "You don't scare me, Snape. I have your memories, and when you get them back, you'll be the first to dump Hermione to the wayside. You'll break her heart and be exposed as the bastard liar you are."
"I have lied often and for many different reasons, Mr Potter," Snape said grimly. "I do not lie to my wife."
"Once she knows the truth, she'll know I've always been right about you," Harry insisted.
"She knows my entire life thanks to you," Snape said, his expression sombre. "When you broke us from our marriage bed and sundered our bond, all the barriers between us broke. Instead of a slow assimilation, you gave us a raging hurricane. A flood. A tsunami. Then all the debris went cascading into the between, carrying her soul along with it. And you broke the bond that tied her to this world and me. She would have died had Sanguini not intervened and given those precious seconds for the Elders to arrive and tether her soul to her body. Even then, it took nearly a year for her to open her eyes."
Severus' expression darkened. "A year of terrible insanity. A year that I was condemned to believing her dead. Gone. Forever lost to me."
"There is nothing you can do that will make me believe a single word that you say," Harry hissed.
Snape's lips curved slightly. "Good thing I don't have to say anything."
Snape suddenly bit his hand and forced it over Harry's protesting mouth even as his fangs flashed and he sank them into his throat. He tore his mouth away, spitting out Harry's blood rather than swallow a single drop, but he kept his hand firmly clamped over Harry's mouth until his blood went down the younger man's throat. "Memoriam in sanguine," Severus growled out as he hurled a stunned Harry to the side.
Severus' black eyes turned a bright, glowing gold. "I hereby invoke the undead Rite of Justice," he said through bared teeth. The blood on his fangs and mouth seemed to fade away and then slowly dissipate like smoke. "May the gods have mercy upon you, Potter, for I will not."
"Get up you freakish good-for-nothing!"
Harry woke up to ice-cold water being thrown on him.
"Now look at what you've made me do. You'll clean it up and you'll help your useless mother with the chores, you lazy boy!"
Harry had to scramble from the bed, wet and dripping, his teeth chattering from the cold that seeped through the very walls.
He startled as a bony fist lifted him off the ground by his tattered sleep shirt. He saw a woman with her head down and bruises on her arm holding out her hand to him. "Come, Severus," she said softly.
Harry shivered in place. No! This wasn't right! He wasn't Severus! He was Harry!
The man flung him toward the woman, and he could smell the strong odor of alcohol on his breath. "Help your mother. Maybe between the two of you freaks, you'll make something useful."
He learned not to make a sound.
Sounds always incurred the man's drunken wrath.
No! His father never beat him! His father loved him! Was a great man! A hero!
The house was but one more identical, drafty place that made the cupboard under the stairs seem warm and welcoming. At least the Dursleys had heat and electricity.
His mother was useless to protect him. She cowered under the man's heavy-handed threats, some not simply threats at all. She would hold him to her in the dark and drafty cupboard, whispering her love to him even as she trembled in fear. She'd tell him stories of the magical world and that he'd be able to escape there when he was older, at least for a time.
No! This wasn't his mum! His mum was beautiful and kind! His mum loved his dad! She was magical and talented!
The woman pressed him to her as she trembled. She stroked his messy hair.
The water for washing was cold. The woman would tell him to wait until the man was at work. She'd draw him a cold bath, but she'd warm it with magic.
His mum was magical!
But if she had magic, why was she content to stay in this place?
She was magical! Powerful!
Why be weak? Unknown?!
He would never be weak.
He would go to Hogwarts and become a man of power! He would move his mum out of this hovel and this town!
No, no! This wasn't him. This wasn't his life! Harry clutched his head.
The woman whispered stories of the magical world as she used but a few drops of shampoo to lather his hair. They never had much. The money went into his da's drink. If he didn't have a drink, he was even worse—
Harry shivered despite the warmed water.
The red-headed girl was beautiful.
Her older sister was a menace. Calling her names. Calling her a freak.
She was scared of him at first, but then they became friends. He shared his mum's stories of the magical world.
It had to be better than what they had, right?
It was magic!
She promised they would be friends forever, but as he saw her laughing and talking at the Gryffindor table, he felt the first stab of reality in his stomach.
She didn't need him anymore.
That fucking Potter and his gang. (No! My dad was a good man! A hero!)
They were after him again.
Somehow they always knew when he was alone.
They would strike like snakes in the grass. No honour.
Calling him names.
Knocking Lily's books to the floor.
He had to be more powerful.
He had to be better than they were.
He had to protect himself and Lily.
She'd smiled as he'd hung by his ankles even as she told Potter and his gang to leave him alone.
He'd called her that word.
She spurned him, cursing them all.
He'd tried to apologise.
There would be no forgiveness.
The friendship that he thought they had—
Nothing but cold ashes.
She sent her Gryffindor friends out to meet him rather than talk to him herself.
All of Slytherin thought him mad, an idiot.
But she was his friend!
Surely she wouldn't abandon him! It was just a mistake!
He was done being tormented.
He was done being weak.
He was done being the one who hid, hoping the teachers would see he was in trouble and help him.
There was no help for him here.
He had to take charge of his own destiny, and he would.
The man at the tavern had promised power and recognition. He promised him an apprenticeship with the best potioneer in Britain. All he would have to do is wait for when he'd be called to do his duty. Prove he was worth something.
He would prove it.
He would show everyone.
No! Everything was wrong!
This wasn't how it was to be!
He just delivered that stupid drivel the woman spouted at the tavern to his lord.
Lily was in danger!
For the friendship he remembered—
She didn't deserve to be helped! She forgave Potter but not you!
I have to save her.
I'll go to Dumbledore, he'll know what to do! He'll save her! I'll do anything he wants.
Just save her.
Save her, please.
He didn't save her.
I didn't save her.
Now, Dumbledore wants his payment in my servitude. He ties me with my guilt. He ties me with my failure.
He talks to me like some doting father, but I am just another kind of slave.
I serve two masters.
His name is Sanguini.
He's a vampire.
Slughorn always had him at his parties, and I always wondered why.
He tells me, now, that it was to find talent that should be preserved.
He says I shouldn't have to die because both of my masters seem to want it. It would be a waste of knowledge. A waste of life.
What would a vampire know of life?
I'm laying here bleeding out from the Crutiatus and beatings from my "brethren."
He offers me a choice and time to think upon it.
He offers me blood to heal my wounds— just a taste, not enough that it would Turn me, no.
Turning requires time.
But I don't have forever to decide—
Soon enough, both of my masters will want me dead. One wants to be immortal, and the other wants me to kill him before I die.
What about my soul, old man?
The Rite is done.
When I die, I will rise again, free of my previous masters.
I will, of course, have to answer to the Council as all vampires must and to Sanguini until I am "safe" to be around.
Sanguini is not the kind of vampire to lord over his fledglings provided they do not disrespect the rules we all must live by to remain hidden in an increasingly paranoid world.
It is not normal to complete the Rite and be still mortal, but Sanguini respects that I must perform my final tasks on my own terms— as the fallible mortal I started out as.
When I die, he will know, and he will come to me and guide my soul back to my body.
Granger isn't like the girl she once was.
The war has changed her.
She grew up so fast. Had to.
I regret not being able to take her under my wing as a teacher. She would have been such an excellent potioneer with the right care and guidance.
If Potter could become an overnight genius just by stealing knowledge from my old textbook, think of what glorious things Granger could have accomplished with purposeful guidance.
Alas, it was not in my power at the time, and I was a far more bitter, angry man then.
Something has changed in me over the last year.
Working with her.
We fought like cats and dogs at first. She wanted to try so many different approaches that I knew wouldn't work.
She is brilliant, but she doesn't have the experience to know why certain combinations won't work on a living, breathing person who has to take the potion.
Her knowledge of healing is outstanding. Even Poppy was never so inspired or driven.
I have to admit we make a very good team.
If only we could solve the mystery of this damnable plague that has its victims seeing spirits, experiencing terrible hallucinations, and more before it starts withering their bodies until they die.
She knows what I am.
Of course she does.
She's no fool. She's Hermione Granger.
I'm the one who gave her reading assignments on vampires and werewolves back in the day.
Yet she doesn't shy away from my touch.
Gods, please don't let me fail her.
We will solve the mystery of this plague together.
She has fallen asleep lying against me again.
Such liberties she takes upon my person.
But I don't dare complain. The feel of her pressed against me. Living, breathing, trusting—
Even knowing who I am.
What I am.
Sometimes, I can imagine a life with her at my side. Our debates. Our epiphanies. Together.
I realise with her what I never had before: peace and trust rolled into the very same moment. Warmth. Desire to preserve the moment, to make more moments just like this one.
I'm going to brew her some nutritive supplements and invigoration draughts. She spends so much time working on the cure that she forgets to tend to herself.
I may be undead, but she still needs sleep and food.
She accepted my courtship offer.
I can hardly believe—
I don't deserve—
She says it's her decision on whether I am worth her effort, and she chooses me.
My heart beats. Gods. It truly beats.
The elders tell me this is a sign.
I cannot read her mind without her permission, but I thought that was normal. I never did understand females. Their minds were always too complicated when I wanted something simple. I never tried to invade a mind like the Dark Lord or Albus Dumbledore. The times I had to do in the past were always because of Albus, and even then it was to train that insufferable arrogant brat of James Potter who thought he couldn't learn anything from someone like me.
They never think they can learn from me. They never do.
She learns from me. Trusts me.
Sometimes, I catch her listening to my voice. Attentive. Even to the littlest things. Mumblings. Talking to myself.
I watch as she works so devoted to her pursual of a cure. She still has time for me, though. So unlike Lily when we were students. Even in the midst of such work, her hand closes around mine and I feel my heart beating so strongly.
I think we are getting closer to a breakthrough. She's onto something with her Arithmancy. It takes a bit longer for her to explain it to me so I can focus it on the potion craft. She does, though.
No condescending. No mocking that I may not have focused on Arithmancy in school. No I-told-you-sos. Just teamwork. Companionship.
I never thought it possible.
She lays beside me and we talk of the future.
She wants children or at least a child. Sanguini said it would be possible since she's still mortal. Her womb could still carry life.
Marriage was discussed.
She— wants to be married to me.
Sanguini came to explain what must happen, eventually. The choice to marry a vampire requires certain life adjustments. We figure around the time the child or children would be of schooling age, she would be Turned.
It must be her choice as it was mine.
She said the choice was easy. It wasn't a matter of not wishing to be at my side for all time.
She just wanted to be a mum.
She'll be a wonderful mum, my witch.
Sanguini said he will come by often to help ease her into the society. It will be slower and easier on her than it was on me. I was Turned in a time of war. She will be Turned by me as an act of love and trust.
Ironically, she'll be around the age I was when I was Turned when all is said and done.
I look forward to a life with her. A lifetime.
An undead lifetime.
Had I known such a thing lay in store for me, how much would have changed for me?
Feeling her against me—her heartbeat, her life so close to mine— I know I would have moved mountains for her just to ensure she made it to this point in my life, to be there like a lighthouse over the stormy seas.
It is enough to know she is here with me now, and she will be with me until the end of all things.
Coming back from Weasley's private wedding had my witch in tears, and I had no idea what to think or do.
All I could do was hold her as she swore they were good tears.
How could anything that makes me want to go wrestle a bear in the woods and chop down a hundred trees and fight a dragon just to make her smile again possibly be good?!
Mr Weasley said it was a witch thing. Just hold her.
When did he grow up?
Everything is wrong.
The bloody plague went airborne. Hermione is seeing spirits everywhere. The first sign of the disease. She'll lose her mind, and her body will waste away.
She was supposed to have children. Be a mum.
She was supposed to beat this disease!
Gods, please help me save her. The cure has to be in our equations. Now! Now before there isn't any time left.
The only thing she wanted was a child.
Don't make me take that away from her.
Don't make me steal her most poignant dream.
Don't make me.
Please. Gods. Please.
Let the cure be in these notes. Let this revision be the one that works. The one that succeeds.
The elders and healers say there isn't much time left. I have to Turn my witch before her mind cannot recover from the transition. There has to be sanity left to call her back to her body— to me.
Sanguini was wise to prepare her for what was to come long before now— years before her planned Turning. I can only be grateful for that.
My stomach is in knots.
My soul is tormented.
This wasn't the way it was supposed to be.
She holds my hand as she always has— with trust. With love.
The contact keeps her from drifting and seeing spirits.
It's the same contact that will help me guild her soul back to her body.
I've studied the process. Gone over it a hundred thousand times. I've rehearsed it in my mind over and over.
She says she's ready.
I look at her, and she's the most beautiful creature in all the world.
Please don't let me fail her.
Sanguini said he will be nearby just in case something unexpected happens. He said I'm too good of a study to fail. I wonder if I should have him Turn her—just so I don't bungle it.
He said it will be instinctive in my case.
She's to be my mate, my wife.
There is nothing more sacred amongst my kin.
This is something I must do.
Don't let me fail her.
Agony broke my sleep.
Hermione was nestled in my arms as we rested in the earth, keeping our bond to each other and the Earth itself. She had yielded to my bite. She had taken my blood.
The words came so naturally.
The binding words.
The Rite of Turning.
I had pulled her to me as we sank into the Earth as the bond solidified and called her soul back to her body as one would entice a hungry cat with some morsel of meat.
We were drowsy with the intensity of the bonding.
It was so natural, so right.
Her love was so unconditional.
Her regret at lack of children paled in comparison to her love for me.
I felt it all, and my very soul resonated with hers. Our heartbeats were syncing—
Worse than any Cruciatus!
I was vaguely aware of someone screaming at me.
The soft touch of warmth of Hermione's body against mine fell away, no, jerked away.
I roared in anguish, instantly wrathful, my vision blurred as my body struggled to regain what was lost.
A spell hit me on the face, but I barely felt it. Another struck my chest, but felt only the anguish as the tendrils of power that wove together my soul to Hermione's were stretched and torn.
I felt the snap. I heard it in my very soul as much as I felt it. My tether to her was gone. Her presence— gone.
Her body fell lifelessly to the floor, no longer supported by my energy, no longer bound to my magic and my unlife.
I barely recognised the yell of Sanguini as he flung someone away from Hermione. He bit his wrist and put it to Hermione's mouth, yelling at her to fight her way back.
Potter was there. Yelling. Screaming at me. I no longer recognised words. A crowd of gawkers came in and started yelling and screaming, too.
I saw red.
I saw black.
I saw death.
I would tear apart everything and every single one of them to feel the touch of my mate once more.
Sanguini cursed in a language I didn't know, and his power exploded outward and floored every mortal in the room as if by a Petrificus Totalus.
Shadows moved in the room.
Ancient vampires seemed to rise up from the very ground as shadows made into form.
The agony was more than torture, more than pain. I threw myself at them, heedless of who or what they were. I couldn't feel her. I needed to feel her!
A cold hand touched my forehead before I could jerk away, and one of the Elders said something in a language I did not know. I fell backwards, twitching but unable to act.
"Wipe their minds!" a voice roared.
"Save the bond!" another said.
"Drop this mortal's body in bloody Antarctica and forget the damned address!"
"It's Harry Potter!" another voice said. "We can't—"
"Call the Minister for Magic. I want this Auror's balls on a skewer, and his mind sundered!"
"What of Severus, my Lords?"
"Put him in a holding chamber until we can bring Lady Hermione back to her body!" another voice barked. "There will be no saving him until she's conscious again!"
"Call in the Obliviators," another voice said. "Make this botch of a revelation go away. NOW!"
I knew no more.
Harry Potter twitched on the ground, foam leaking from the corner of his mouth as he lived the entire life of Severus Snape in the space of just a few minutes.
When Ron returned to the gates of the Undead Nation, he brought with him a squad of seasoned Aurors. His face was grim, and blue eyes almost grey with the heaviness in his soul.
"Aurors Weasley, Hastings, Burkhardt, and Fitzgerald here to take Harry Potter into custody."
The gargoyles on the gateposts looked down at them. "You are expected. Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring."
The gates creaked open, blue flames licking the area where the gates had been closed.
The Aurors swallowed hard and walked across the flames into the garden path towards the looming castle.
Skeletons raked the pathway and the sand gardens, pruned the hedges, and tended the statuaries. Banshees flitted about the flowers, clipping the dead heads from Muggle flora while also attending the magical flowers. Bats dangled from the branches of various trees, stretching their wings, munching on fruit, and hungrily chasing insects.
Two sentries stood at the main door, headless save for the pumpkin serving as a proxy. Glowing fire cast a creepy light across the entryway from within the pumpkin's empty hollow. The pumpkin heads turned to stare at the Aurors, their eerie fires changing from blue to green to amber. They turned away to face forward, seemingly uninterested.
The Aurors swallowed together in unison, no less creeped out by the sentries then they were of the lands they stood on.
As they walked through the entryway, a pale butler with an impeccable suit stood waiting for them. "This way, sirs," the butler said. "Lords Sanguini and Severus and Lady Hermione await you in the next room." He gestured with an outstretched hand.
The Aurors halted a few steps in when Sanguini and Severus stood smoothly in greeting. Hermione stood after them.
"Hello, Ronald," she said quietly.
"Hermione," Ron said with a small smile. "I'm sorry that it is not, again, a purely social call.
"That is quite understandable," Hermione said as she accepted Ron's kiss on the cheek. "Are you here for Harry?"
Ron nodded. "Kingsley received the legal papers from the barristers. The Rite of Justice?"
Sanguini placed his fingers along the edge of a planter. "It was within our rights to end his life for the interruption of one of our sacred rites," he said. "He entered our land without invitation to murder Severus."
Ron closed his eyes. "I know."
"It was my right as his sire to destroy Mr Potter, but Severus has chosen a different sort of justice," Sanguini said. "The sharing of memories. It is called the Judgment. It is where the phrase to walk in another man's shoes came from, I think. Mr Potter lived Severus' life, and it is up to the gods whether he can survive such epiphanies."
Severus took Hermione into an embrace, pulling her close to him with a gentle tug. She lay her head on his shoulder as a thrum of power pulsed between them. "My mate has recovered, Mr Weasley. I, too, am recovered. I will take this as the blessing it is while the world is troubled enough with the plague. Mr Potter may face whatever justice the British Wizengamot decides upon, but our part in it is done. We will outlive him by countless years. He will have to live with himself for as long as he is able."
He gestured to the far couch where Harry Potter was lying akimbo. He twitched every so often, drooled more, and let out a groan that sounded a lot like "braaains."
Severus sighed. "Alas, I cannot guarantee that Mr Potter will recover to whatever standard is normal for him anytime soon."
"Well, at least he's not dead," one of the Aurors said, his eyebrows creasing together.
"Obviously," Severus said, his lip twitching slightly.
Hermione touched his cheek and smiled, and the dour expression vanished with a small tug of the lips.
Harry shot straight up and cried, "You don't know what you do by keeping me here. I am speaking from the depths of my heart, of my very soul. You don't know whom you wrong, or how, and I may not tell. Woe is me! I may not tell. By all you hold sacred, by all you hold dear, by your love that is lost, by your hope that lives, for the sake of the Almighty, take me out of this and save my soul from guilt! Can't you hear me, man? Can't you understand? Will you never learn? Don't you know that I am sane and earnest now, that I am no lunatic in a mad fit, but a sane man fighting for his soul? Oh, hear me! Hear me! Let me go, let me go, let me go!"**
The Aurors looked at each other with unease. Ron closed his eyes. "We'll take him into holding and keep him there until the Wizengamot makes its decision. I have a feeling that he'll end up in Mungos—probably for quite a while." Ron closed his notebook and sighed. "Professionally, I must apologise for the misuse of resources and magic that was used to torment you. Personally, I am sorry someone so close to me was responsible for your anguish, and I was unable to do anything about it."
"The years bring us perspective unlike those who measure their lives in a handful of years," Sanguini said. "Tenacity is admirable in an Auror, but it must be tempered with the need for truth and the respect of the cultures one may not be a part of. Perhaps it is the ambassador in me, but you are not responsible for the actions of your friends."
Sanguini ran a finger along his jaw. "Mr Potter is being judged now by many gods. Will be judged by your Wizengamot. Is judging himself even now. He will be very tired for a very long time. To be a prisoner within one's own mind can be even more maddening than in a cell with physical bars."
Ron nodded. "We'll take him," he said. "The release of the cure for the withering plague happens this week. If it pleases you all, I would like to hold off on prosecution of Harry until the majority of the inflicted are treated. Not to protect Harry, you understand, but not to take away from the significance of the cure. I want people to get in to be treated and not get swept up by some Rita Skeeter hogwash she cooks up over this."
Severus, Sanguini, and Hermione tilted their heads at the same time, seemingly in discussion with each other.
Sanguini nodded, and Severus sighed.
"We do not mind, Auror Weasley. We would prefer if the focus is on the cure for those infected by the plague."
Ronald jerked his head sharply in reply. "Thank you."
The Aurors moved to hoist up Harry and take him with them.
"Tea this weekend, eh, Hermione? This time without all the unneeded drama, right?"
Hermione smiled. "If you can manage it," she replied.
Ron grinned. "Come on, you lot. Let's get Harry back to the office. We have a lot of paperwork to do."
"Right, boss," the Aurors said, dragging Harry out.
"Be well, Hermione, sirs," Ron said, bowing his head politely.
"Be safe, Ronald," Hermione said. She watched the Aurors leave and closed her eyes.
Severus ran one claw across his neck and pulled her to it wordlessly, allowing her to drink her thirst away.
"You did very well, child," Sanguini said. "You faced four mortal heartbeats in the same room and did not pounce upon them like a starved beast. I'm very proud of you."
Hermione smiled as she wiped a drop of blood from her lips. "I am glad you were both here with me in case I— didn't pass my endurance test."
Severus smirked. "I've known you long enough to know that you can do anything you put your mind to, witch."
Hermione smiled. "So can you."
They kissed, their fingers interlocking as the pumpkin lanterns on the windowsill glowed with a soft, golden light.
"Come, children," Sanguini said with a smug smile. "Let us fly and put the drama behind us. A hundred thousand nights await, and we are free to live them all.
Hermione's face brightened, and Severus looked at her suspiciously. "I thought you did not like flying."
"On brooms," Hermione said with a laugh. "I rather like flying as a bat!"
"Catch me if you can, child," Sanguini said, zooming out the open window with a flurry of squeaks.
Hermione let out a squeal of delight as her form changed into that of a bat, and she gave chase to Sanguini.
Severus stood there contemplating his life's options for a moment before he flew after them both, squeaking in utter indignation at being left behind.
The three bats swooped and dove over the Aurors as they left the garden, squeaking with mischief and delight before flying high into the night sky.
Ron looked up as he ruffled his hair with a chuckle. "Goodnight, Hermione," he said as they stepped out of the gate and Apparated to the Auror's office with a crack.
Cure for the Withering Plague Released by Undead Nation
Lord and Lady Snape of the Undead Nation have released their curative for the infamous Withering Plague that has terrorised Britain and most of Europe for the last few years.
Healer Lady Hermione Snape née Granger had been working tirelessly with Lord Snape, master potioneer, to cure the Withering Plague since it first started to spread across Britain. She was, sadly, infected when the strain went airborne, and her then-fiancé was forced to Turn her in order to preserve her life and her work on the cure at her request.
The cure works both as a cure and a preventative, but St Mungos is administering the doses for those who have the disease first with the oldest cases taking priority as more of the formula is being distributed across the world.
The British Ministry of Magic as well as others have praised the efforts of the Undead Nation in their selfless work to make the cure possible as well as the accolades that they have neither accepted nor demanded any monetary compensation for their efforts.
A/N : Happy Hallowe'en!
** There are various quotes taken directly from the master of horror, Bram Stoker. If you recognised them, excellent!