The Dark Arts
Severus Snape
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Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix Half-Blood Prince
Published: 10/22/2006
Updated: 10/22/2006
Words: 1,511
Chapters: 1
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City of Ghosts

La Reine Noire

Story Summary:
April, 1982. Venice is a city of ghosts, especially for those trying to escape them.

City of Ghosts

Author's Note:
Written for the

It is easy to disappear in Venice. Serene as its nickname implies, shrouded in centuries of mist and moss, redolent with the soft swish of lapping water. Easy to disappear from the world, and equally easy to lose oneself.

That is not, of course, the reason why he came here. Though even his reasons are manifold and restless, and he has ceased to wonder which is closer to the truth. He spoke to Professor Dumbledore -- he will never call him Albus, no matter how many times the Headmaster insists upon it -- of the vast collection of Renaissance magical texts in the Biblioteca Marciana, and his interest in them. The Headmaster parried with a remark about recently captured Death Eaters, and gave him a three-week leave of absence.

The magic here is old. That much is obvious. He can feel it through the cobblestones beneath his feet, or in the slightest brush of his hand against a wall. Marble-carved eyes seem to follow him as he makes his way from salizzada to ponte to calle, deeper into the maze with no string to lead him back.

Much like his thoughts. Labyrinthine logic, Rosier once called them. Really, Snape, I never know how you reach the end, but somehow you do. Rosier, now mouldering in earth somewhere in Herefordshire. Severus attended the funeral, though he has never been sure, even at the bitter end, whether or not he would have called Rosier his friend. It is, after all, the least he could do.

A glance up at the clear Roman lettering of the sign, and he smiles bitterly. Calle della Morte. The street of death. It is a small street, more an alleyway to be quite honest, and wreathed in shadows. Strange how shadows have faces sometimes, and here most of all. It is the first time he has ever set foot in this city, and already he is haunted.

Even in the broad expanse of the Piazza San Marco, where the basilica rises like a strange creature wrought of gold and lacelike stone, demanding and revelling in the awestruck stares from the tourists. Look at me, it seems to say, see how I shine. And Severus, ever in the shadows, watches, as he once watched a very different creature soar above a roaring crowd, red-and-gold robes sweeping almost gracefully behind him. One has stood for more than nine hundred years. The other snuffed out at twenty-two. Severus would like to call it justice, but the word sticks in his throat.

He turns his back on the square and its glittering centrepiece -- a monument fit more for Gryffindor than Slytherin -- and returns to his wanderings. Past the ruins of the Teatro La Fenice, where he hears the echo of a song, sweet as any soprano's air, and flames flicker at the corners of his vision. A mask shop, tucked into a corner, the window a riot of colours, but it is the delicate lady's mask of green and gold that catches his eye and holds it--

(Green eyes furious, then disdainful as she turns away. Green eyes swallowed by a green light. Green is the colour of death.)

--and he staggers back, nearly colliding with a Muggle couple strolling arm-in-arm down the bridge. Mutters something in very bad Italian under his breath, and all but runs across the bridge to get away.

Past a palazzo and its walled gardens, he can see the Canal Grande, and he pauses at the foot of the Accademia Bridge to catch his breath. Below, several gondolas meander along, their occupants' laughter floating upward. He cannot remember the last time he laughed, and it did not feel like the grinding of broken glass.

Across the expanse of water, he can see the Palazzo Dario. A cursed place, they say, whose owners have an unlucky habit of meeting violent deaths. And it is not a great leap to make from such a palazzo to a House. A Most Noble and Ancient House, to be precise, that now lies in ruins around the shattered creature that once stood as its matriarch. No sympathy from Severus; more of a morbid fascination, really, with those who once had everything he always wanted. A name, a family, a status.

Now, there, justice has been served. Sirius Black represented everything that Severus was not, and never had been. Even Severus admits the other was well-named, the brightest star in the Hogwarts firmament, while Severus kept to the dark, safe haven for a half-blood Slytherin. Of course, there is always a price. But while Severus paid his for seven long years, Black will pay his for the rest of his life, if it can even be called a life.

The memory of a cowering, trembling Peter Pettigrew collapsed on the floor before the Dark Lord mere hours before the deaths of the Potters means nothing. Severus will never allow it to mean anything. As far as the world is concerned, the last hope of the House of Black sold his best friend, his wife, and his one-year-old godson to the Dark Lord with a smile and a shrug, while his darkly beautiful cousin tortured two Aurors almost to the point of death. The Lestrange brothers went along with it, to be certain, but Severus has no doubt that it was Bellatrix who did the deed. Only Bellatrix would be so careless, rendering her victims unable to give her the information she sought.

The sun is setting, and the surface of the water is dusted with gold. From the church on the other side of the square, a thread of violin melody wends its way into the evening air. It is a city of enchantments, La Serenissima, magical and otherwise. A city that collects ghosts, not only from herself, but from all those who pass through as well.

"Oh, mope, mope, mope. You're worse than my brother."

Severus starts at the voice, and spins. The young woman is dressed very oddly, in black from head to toe, dark eyes studying him with no small amount of amusement. One hand toys with the pendant around her neck. A symbol he should recognise, but it escapes him for the moment. "I beg your pardon?" he finally manages, the words all but tripping off his tongue.

"You're alive. You really should remember that sometimes," she observes, stepping forward to join him next to the bridge. "You'll be here a long time, Severus Snape. You should live while you've got the chance."

His eyes narrow. "Who are you?"

"Does it matter?" she smiles. "You should let the dead go, and think of the living."

Severus frowns, and looks out at the canal again. When he turns back, she is gone, leaving behind not even the echo of footfalls to mark her presence. The violin continues to play, its melody subtly changed into one he could not name, in spite of recognition. For a second or two, he can see a silhouette at the corner of his eye, a lock of pale blonde hair curling and twisting loose from her usual chignon to fall over her shoulder. She wears blue -- her favourite colour, he knows -- and she smiles at him, the smile that makes his insides twist, for she is, and has always been, as far above his reach as any star.

That makes him laugh again, a hollow, brittle sound. The only one of those accursed Blacks who isn't named after a star, and, in his eyes, the only one worth knowing. The delicate exterior conceals a steely resolve, those eyes capable of drawing mad promises that can bring nothing but regrets. She is everything he has ever wanted moulded into the form of a beautiful woman. A friend, a confidante, the mother of his godson, Draco Malfoy.

He does not recall any incantation, but when he glances downward, there is a glass in his hand. Finely wrought Murano glass, a stem like a twisting tree branch, filled with wine the colour of garnets. And he raises it to the fallen.

To Rosier, golden and selfishly rash, and Wilkes, his faithful shadow. To Travers, who put his voracious appetite for knowledge to its darkest and most terrifying use. To Bellatrix, as beautiful as she was mad, even before they gave her to the Dementors. To one Lord Voldemort, for it appears a prophecy did come true.

To James Potter, cut down in his prime. To Peter Pettigrew, lying in pieces in the middle of a street, fragments of his body indistinguishable from the Muggles taken with him. To Lily, who has ceased to exist save as the mother of the Boy Who Lived. To Narcissa Malfoy, the embodiment of all he desires and cannot have.

And, lastly, he smiles. To Sirius Black, who blazed across the sky, and fell just as explosively as he had ever risen. May the Dementors enjoy their feast.

He drinks as the sun sinks below the horizon, and twilight settles upon La Serenissima. City of dreamers, lovers, and ghosts.

Yes, the young lady our Potions Master met is Death, borrowed temporarily from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.