rillalicious: (Rilla writing)
[personal profile] rillalicious
Fandom: HP
Title: The Librarian's Debt, Chapter 3
Pairing: SS/HG
Rating: PG (this chapter)
Warnings: Vampiric themes
Summary: In the course of helping old friends, Hermione's research takes her to an infamous underground library.
Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize. Making no money.
A/N: Special thanks to [livejournal.com profile] ellensmithee for the beta read. As always, thanks so much for reading and reviewing. Writing this story is a real treat, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Chapter 1
Chapter 2




"Stay."

Hermione teeters for a moment, holding steady on tiptoe as she draws herself up, rolls her shoulders back. She lifts her chin and starts to turn around. She is not so taken in by the dark romanticism of this place that she cannot recognize danger, and the combination of a strong vampire presence and Severus Snape stokes a constant swelling of danger in her heart. Still, there is need in his voice, and she will not leave.

"Why?" she asks, aware of the door ajar behind her, of the cool air outside the deliciously musty library.

"You have questions, don't you?" he says, curtly. Then adds, "I get precious little company in this place."

"This library's reputation is widespread. Surely you have other patrons."

"Idiots, mostly."

She presses her lips together to keep from smiling.

"I'll admit, I have questions as well," he says.

She reaches behind her, pushes the door closed. "I'll do my best to answer them."

"Come," he says, and he turns away, expectant that she'll follow.

He moves like a shadow, she thinks, like a dark rivulet of running water, tumbling its way down hill. Every footstep is fluid and certain, which becomes a more surprising feat once they pass the reference desk into the shadowed depths of the library. Stacks of books interrupt the aisles everywhere and he dodges them with ease; he knows this place by heart. At times the darkness and obstacles make her stumble, but he doesn't look back, even when she cries out in surprise as she catches her foot on massively thick tome that jerks into her path of its own accord.

She clutches the book he's given her to her chest as if ready to hide behind it in case they are caught. She is certain by now that no one but Snape has ever been back here, not for a very long time at least. She feels like an intruder, a trespasser, a Hogwarts student creeping through the Restricted Section at night beneath Harry's cloak.

"Am I... allowed?" she asks, finally.

"To speak? Or to enter this part of the library?" he says.

"To be here."

"The vampires will be hunting for hours. You'll be long gone by the time they return."

"That wasn't an answer to my question."

"I never said it was."

They walk forever, the light diminishing with each step, and by the time they reach the appropriate hall, his dark robes and hair have dissolved into their surroundings completely. If not for the low glow of a fireplace when he opens the door, she might not know to stop at all.

"My private quarters," he says, and motions for her to enter.

"You live here," she says. "Right in the library."

"It would appear that way."

She walks into the room, unsurprised by the sparse furnishings, or the shelves of books and occasional potions ingredients lining the walls.

"Sit," he says as he approaches a low cabinet.

She lowers herself into a threadbare armchair beside the fire, watches as he opens the cabinet door. Swirls of frosty air escape the refrigeration charm, and he reaches inside for something. He resurfaces with two bottles of ale.

Hermione cocks her head.

"I assumed you were thirsty," he says.

"I am. But... ale?"

"You were expecting something more sinister? I don't drink blood, Miss Granger."

"I know that. I just... I don't know what I was expecting. Something more tragic, I suppose. Like absinthe."

He raises that one condescending eyebrow, but his expression is thoroughly bemused. "Absinthe?"

"I don't know!" she says, feeling quite defensive now. "I generally stick to butterbeer or an occasional glass of mead."

"Does Molly Weasley still make her own?"

"Yes, but not so often."

"Horrible stuff."

"It is not."

"Says the butterbeer aficionado." He snorts and hands her the bottle. "Absinthe indeed."

She wants to cover her face with her hand and shrink away from the embarrassment, but instead she sips the ale.

"Is this going to be the extent of our conversation?" she says.

"I should hope not," he said. "Or I'll regret requesting your presence."

"Are you going to tell me how it happened?"

"How what happened?" He sinks into the chair nearest hers.

"How you came to live here."

"I died."

"Yes," she says, feeling ever more impatient with his evasiveness. "We've covered that. Then what?"

"The vampires saved my life. They brought me here."

"What were vampires doing there in the first place?"

"Werewolves are not the only dark creatures to haunt the Shrieking Shack, Miss Granger. Regardless of what Black and Lupin believed."

"Did you know them?"

"In passing," he says. He pauses for a long draught of ale, then conjures a small table and sets the bottle between them.

"Why did they help you?"

"They had been long convinced that I could be of use to them," he says. "They saw an opportunity, and they took it. They brought me here. I have not left since."

She moistens her lips, framing the next question in her mind.

"Were they at the Shrieking Shack that night because they were fighting for Voldemort?"

Snape's lips quirk in amusement. "You have spent precious little time in the company of vampires," he says. "They are opportunists. They were biding their time, waiting to see what would happen. I'm sure you've read enough about them to know that with the amount of blood I spilled that night, they flocked to the proverbial scene of the crime."

She shudders, quite involuntarily, as her imagination runs wild in the most gruesome ways. "How did you survive that?"

"The... leader of the group recognized me. Instead of allowing them to feed, he commanded them to return the blood to my body."

"Return the--that's impossible."

He leans forward now, stretches one long arm across the table, turning it over, palm up, in front of her. With his other hand, he tugs at his sleeve, exposing his bare wrist.

"I have a pulse, Miss Granger. You can feel it for yourself. Ergo, there is blood in my veins."

She sets her bottle aside and wipes the remains of condensation on her lap before raising two fingers to his wrist. His skin is much paler than hers, the sallow tone she remembers from Hogwarts faded into something milkier, as if he's seen the sun even less frequently than before. Indeed there is a beating pulse beneath his skin. She has known that since their first meeting in the alley behind the library, but somehow the urge to touch, to feel once again for herself, over comes that bit of logic.

"How do vampires return your blood?" she asks.

"That I cannot answer. I was in no shape to take notes."

"And there's not a book about it? Not in this entire library?"

"Vampires guard their secrets fiercely," he says. "Their oral history is well concealed from the outside world."

"Then why this place?" she says. "Why are vampires so protective of all this written knowledge if they're not guarding their own secrets here?"

"I believe I've already answered that."

She thinks for a moment. "They're opportunists," she says. "They want to know everything there is to know so they always have the advantage."

Snape exhales and makes the sound of a man who has been waiting for something for a very long time. "Do you know who the last visitor from Hogwarts was, Miss Granger?"

She shakes her head. Her fingers are still pressed to his wrist, but he hasn't asked her to move them. His skin is much cooler than hers, and remains that way, even as her fingertips go warm and damp in her nervousness.

"Gregory Goyle," he says.

"Oh." She wouldn't have expected that. "Why?"

"For reasons that are none of your business," he says, and his tone reminds her that she is not on amicable terms with this man, in spite of the somewhat amicable facade.

"I apologize," she says, and she withdraws her hand from his wrist. He flinches, just barely, but enough to let her know that her retreat has had its desired effect. He was craving the contact. "I take it he wasn't good company?"

He pulls his hand away with deliberation, tugs his sleeve back down over his wrist and smooths it.

"I am, as they say, starved for conversation." This sounds like a confession, a bearing of his bewildering soul. Again, it's unexpected, as if he wants to keep her from adopting any kind of certainty about him. "And you," he continues, "are in need of information. I would like to present you with a proposition, Miss Granger."

Hermione closes her hand around the bottle of ale, tightening her fingers to disguise the tremor of apprehension that shakes them.

"Oh?" she says, and she crosses her legs at the knees. "I'm listening."

"I find the case of Jordan's child... fascinating. If my instincts are correct, you'll need a potions master at some point."

"I've never been intimidated by difficult potions," she says, her chin rising primly.

"So I'm aware," he says. "If you don't want my assistance--"

"I didn't say that." Her defense is quick. "If you're offering assistance, I would do well to take it, I know that. But at what cost?"

"You have," he waves the bottle of ale in the air absently, "little reason to trust me. I realize this. I also realize that my request may seem... trite, in the face of what I am offering to provide. However, I give you my word that it is most sincere. All I ask in return is for conversation. Regular meetings at a predetermined time."

Hermione runs her tongue over her upper lip and watches his gaze drop to his lap. "I'm sure I can arrange for that," she says.

"The caveat, Miss Granger, is that you mustn't miss a single appointment."

"And if I do?"

"Our deal is off, and I will expect the book to be returned within twenty-four hours."

Now she, too, lowers her eyes, looks at the book that has not left her lap since she sat down. There is something more going on here. This is the man who managed to deceive Voldemort for so many years. She is not convinced his undisclosed motive is sinister, but it is likely to be self-serving.

Still, she does not minimize her own cleverness. Voldemort was not defeated by Severus Snape alone.

"All right," she says. "I agree."

Though his facial expression does not change, he looks pleased. She doesn't know whether to find that portentous or promising.

~*~*~

"Late night?"

Lee is leaning against the banister of the grand staircase as Hermione enters the foyer of Brown Manor.

It must be after four in the morning. "Yes," she says, and she starts for the stairs. She has so much to process, still, that her mind just doesn't seem to have room for Lee and Lavender's troubles, as selfish as that seems.

"You know," says Lee, when Hermione is on the third step, "Lavender thinks this is all her fault."

She stops moving and reaches with one hand for the banister. "That's ridiculous. You've told her that, haven't you?"

"Every damn day," says Lee. "It doesn't help. She thinks that if she'd paid better attention in the D.A., if she'd used a stronger spell against Greyback before he attacked her, if she'd run away and hidden instead of staying to fight..."

"Lee, nothing can change what's already been done. It's Greyback's fault, not Lavender's."

"I know that. She doesn't. It's why I talked her into calling you for help. If he dies, she'll never forgive herself." Lee's gaze drops to the book she clutches at her chest. "Is that why you were out tonight?"

She nods. "It was difficult to procure."

"You think it will help? That it could save him?"

"It might. I think that, right now, it's the best chance we have."

Lee opens his mouth, but before he can speak, the sound of whimpering filters down the staircase.

"I should take care of that, before he wakes Lav," he says.

"Of course," says Hermione. "Go to your son. I think I'll... do some reading before bed."

Lee smiles, as if her intention alone has given him a bit of hope. "The sun'll be up in an hour."

"I know." There was a reason Snape had finally rushed her from the library, after all. The vampires must be returning by now. "Then I'll do some reading before breakfast instead."

"Thank you, Hermione. For all your help."

"You're very welcome, Lee," she says, and she watches him take the stairs two at a time until he reaches the top. What she doesn't say is that she's not dealing with this all alone, not anymore. Perhaps she'll be able to figure out the mystery of Severus Snape through the course of it all.


~~~


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Rilla

January 2012

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