Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 30 of 60

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Untitled Document

Severus glanced briefly around his almost totally dark office out of idle habit before returning his attention to the document on the desk in front of him. He'd had it drawn up almost a year ago, but he hadn't really thought he would use it. Suppressing a sigh, he quickly scanned the neat print again, although he near enough knew it all by heart by now, just making sure it said what he wanted it to say.

I, Severus Tobias Snape, acknowledged and named godfather of Draco Lucius Malfoy, only son of Lucius Abraxas Malfoy and Narcissa Black Malfoy, do hereby renounce the right of guardianship over Draco Lucius Malfoy and formally deny the duty of godfather.

Short and to the point, and almost shockingly brief for a legal document, and yet so much was potentially riding on these few lines. Shaking his head, Severus glanced quickly around the room again as though making sure he wasn't being watched – senseless paranoia even by his standards; there was nobody within hundreds of yards of his office, and although he was reasonably sure a portrait would be watching him, they couldn't see what he was doing from the single frame on the opposite wall. Quietly pulling a needle from his pocket and pricking the tip of one finger, he squeezed a single drop of blood onto the dotted line beside today's date before picking up his quill and signing it swiftly.

I'm sorry, Draco. I care about you, but you've been beyond my help for a long time now; there is nothing more I can do for you or your family except try to free us all.

His dark eyes tightened for a moment as he felt the brief lick of flame around his wrists before the sensation faded away again; the Unbreakable Vow was no longer completely in force. He had sworn it on behalf of his godson, and now there was no such person. It wasn't a complete solution, the Vow was still there, but it was definitely weaker now. Just this simple act had given him a chance of surviving an attempt to disobey what he had sworn. Whatever might drag him down, it wouldn't be this.

However, he still needed an actual way out. He didn't like his chances of surviving just based on this; he needed something else to sway the odds a bit further in his favour. He'd have to sleep soon, he wasn't strong enough yet to go without rest as candidly as he used to, but before that it was time to get his Pensieve out and look again at the memory of swearing the vow in the first place. Severus wanted to make sure he remembered every single word exactly; he'd found one loophole, and where there was one, there might be more. One link broken, out of the countless chains that bound him; it was a start, at least.

Hermione had to admit she was impressed with Snape's recovery; she had been present for his next check-up in the hospital wing and although he wasn't out of the woods yet, the improvement was startling. Apparently sheer stubborn bloody-mindedness could take the place of weeks of rest and medication; even Dilys hadn't quite dared ask how he was managing to heal so quickly, and she personally suspected that Snape himself wasn't really sure.

The student body as a whole were less impressed, though. Professor Snape was back to his usual vicious, partisan, ruthless self; the hourglasses were shuttling House points back and forth so frequently it was a surprise that the glass hadn't cracked. With what even Hermione conceded was malicious glee, he spent every Defence lesson verbally and physically testing his students, pushing them far harder than he had done even at his worst in Potions. The number of detentions didn't increase, though; he didn't have time to oversee them. He had rejoined their training sessions on the few evenings Hermione didn't force her friends to revise, and although he didn't often participate his supervision did help.

One such training session on the last evening of May had been interrupted by a message from Dumbledore, and the three Gryffindors were now sitting in front of the Headmaster's desk, while Snape leaned against the wall with his arms folded and sneered with open insolence. Glancing sideways out of the corner of her eye, Hermione noted that Ron was studying his lap and Harry was staring at a spot on the wall behind Dumbledore, not quite meeting the old man's gaze; the atmosphere wasn't as friendly this time. Everyone seemed more suspicious, less certain and less trusting, and from the distinct lack of twinkle in the Headmaster's blue eyes, he sensed that they weren't happy with him.

"This wasn't a terribly important meeting tonight, and I am sorry for interrupting what I am certain would have been a very detailed revision session," he said genially, evidently deciding to ignore it for now; Hermione saw Snape's sneer deepen, his eyes gleaming with mockery. Dumbledore continued, "I merely wished to say that I am very close to confirming the location of one of the remaining Horcruxes. I should know for certain within a few days."

"Do you know which one it is, sir?" Harry asked the wall; he wasn't quite squirming, but he was obviously uncomfortable, evidently still confused about recent events.

"I'm afraid not."

Snape cleared his throat, his sneer fading – slightly. "Do you know which one is in Hogwarts?" he asked, and everyone turned to stare at him.

"There's one in Hogwarts?" Harry asked blankly.

Dumbledore shook his head. "Not to my knowledge. What makes you say that, Severus?"

He frowned. "I thought it was obvious. He will have hidden one here. The school is too important to him for him not to have done so."

"I'm not convinced..."

Snape's lip curled. "No, well, you wouldn't be. You come from a different background." He turned and looked at Harry with a thoughtful expression. "Think about it, Potter. You can see why there must be a Horcrux here, can't you?"

Harry blinked, startled at being included, then frowned pensively as he thought about it. He nodded slowly. "I think so, yes. Yeah, he would have put one here if he could have. But when? And where? And how do we find out?"

"'When' seems easy enough," Hermione said thoughtfully – she didn't know why they were convinced that Voldemort would have chosen somewhere as obvious as Hogwarts, but they were, and that was good enough for her; she'd ask later. "When he came to apply for the Defence job, before he cursed it. He can't have seriously thought you would give him the job, Headmaster, so maybe he had another reason for coming back here."

"This is all supposition," Dumbledore said quietly. "I find it unlikely that something as powerful as a Horcrux could be concealed here without someone knowing."

"We didn't know what the diary was when it was here all year," Ron said, flushing slightly when everyone looked at him – he was never comfortable participating in these discussions, especially not now things were so tense.

"And as the Dark Lord is so fond of telling us, your senses aren't as keen as they used to be," Snape said delicately, keeping his expression impassive.

"Very well, Severus. Since you are so convinced of this, by all means, enlighten us. Where is it?" Dumbledore asked, sounding faintly irritated.

Snape shrugged, leaning back against the wall again, absently tracing his fingertip over his mouth as he thought. "I would guess either within the Chamber of Secrets, or the Room of Hidden Things," he said finally.

"What's that?" Hermione asked, echoed by Harry and Ron simultaneously.

"It's a facet of the Room of Requirement. I have only seen it once or twice – it looks like an immense warehouse filled virtually to the ceiling with everything you can imagine. You could hide anything in there and it would likely never be found. Even if you know what you are looking for, it's difficult to find it."

"I guess I need to check the Chamber of Secrets, then. Should we all go?" Harry asked, sounding somewhere between nervous and excited.

Snape shook his head. "We can't all go. Your tie to the Dark Lord allows you in. Weasley is a pureblood. Since I am Head of Slytherin I might get away with being a half-blood, but I might not. The Headmaster is pureblood, but probably not limber enough to climb through a tunnel under a sink. And there is no way that a Muggleborn would ever be allowed to set foot anywhere designed by Salazar Slytherin, at least not alive. Besides, even during exam preparation I think the students might notice our merry band all traipsing into a girl's lavatory, if Myrtle doesn't simply shout it from the rooftops. It will have to be just you and Weasley. As we seem to have a free evening, I may as well try the Room of Hidden Things."

"Can I go with you, sir?" Hermione asked instantly. He gave her his best public scowl, his eyes remaining neutral despite his furrowed brows and the stern set of his mouth, and she nearly lost it when she saw Dilys grinning at her from behind him. Keeping her laughter under control, she gave him a pleading look. "I can't go with Harry and Ron, and I want to be involved."

His lip curled. "You can't always get what you want, Miss Granger," he told her flatly, with the faintest hint of a gleam in his dark eyes.

"Take Miss Granger with you, Severus," Dumbledore commanded, and Hermione had to look down so her hair would fall forward and hide her face until she could control her expression; she could hear Phineas snickering, and Harry was muffling a suspicious cough behind his hand.

"Dumbledore..." Snape protested, sounding perfectly sincere in his objection.

"That wasn't a request. Two pairs makes more sense than you going off by yourself; besides, you may need help. The Room of Hidden Things is rather extensive."

"Help?" he repeated, his voice dripping scorn that Hermione knew was aimed at Dumbledore rather than her; Harry coughed again.

"Enough. If we are going to do this, let us be about it. Sadly, as Professor Snape kindly pointed out, I will be fairly noticeable if I go wandering, so I shall have to remain here."

"What am I looking for, sir?" Harry asked, swallowing his 'coughing fit' and clearing his expression.

"If there is a Horcrux in the Chamber of Secrets, it will be something that belonged to Salazar Slytherin," Snape told him. "It would appeal to the Dark Lord's odd notion of poetry; he wouldn't have put anything else in there. Look for something that does not belong; you can use the Verdimilious Charm to check for anything that has been enchanted to look harmless, but I doubt he would have bothered to conceal something he believed only he could get to. It will have Slytherin's name on it, or at least his initials."

"He has the same initials as you, Professor," Ron noted, and flushed again when everyone looked at him. "What? I just thought that was interesting."

Snape raised an eyebrow and gave him a withering look before turning away. "I have no idea what artefacts of Slytherin have survived, so I can't tell you much more than that. You handled the diary, so you know you are unlikely to sense much from it, but your senses have developed since your second year and you will be expecting to sense something."

"It wasn't the basilisk, was it?" Harry asked. "I mean, Nagini is one, so we know they can be animals..."

"No. He woke the basilisk, but he did not create it; Nagini is his familiar, not just a mere animal. I doubt he would trust two living things. Besides, only one Horcrux would be active at once, and at that time it was the diary."

Harry nodded. "If we find it, what do we do with it? Is it dangerous? The diary wasn't..."

"Stab it with another fang?" Ron suggested.

"Mr Weasley," Dumbledore said gently, "the explosion when Harry did that to the diary nearly knocked him out and seriously threatened much of the castle's foundations. I would prefer it if you brought anything you find up here to me, where we can destroy it safely. Do not touch it with your bare hands if you can help it and handle it as little as possible, but you should not be at risk."

"What if it's in the Room of Hidden Things?" Hermione asked.

"I can destroy it without causing an explosion," Snape said quietly. "I do not think it is a good idea to risk bringing it into the castle proper unless there is no other choice."

He and Dumbledore locked gazes for a moment, unmistakeably challenging and with an undercurrent that Hermione didn't entirely understand that looked like a warning, before the Headmaster sighed. "As you wish, Severus. Just be careful, all of you."

Hermione stood with Harry and Ron for a moment outside Dumbledore's office; the boys were grinning, mirroring her own excitement. "I never realised Snape had a sense of humour before," Harry noted. "It's not often anyone else manipulates Dumbledore, is it?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. Obviously neither I nor Professor Snape are pleased about this. Now shut up and listen – please be careful. Just once, try to do something in the war that doesn't end with injuries. For sheer novelty value, if nothing else. I'm not going to be there to nag you, remember," she added, and they shared a laugh. "Oh, one other thing..."

"Hermione, we're not children any more..."

"You still are, actually, mate," Ron pointed out cheerfully. "It's okay, I'm of age, I'll look after you."

"God help us all," Hermione replied, rolling her eyes. "I just wanted you to take a quick look at the basilisk corpse and let me know what condition it's in, if that's okay."

Harry stared at her. "Uh, why? It's a big, creepy dead snake. It's probably rotted away by now anyway – although I guess it might not have, it's pretty cold down there. But why?"

She grinned sheepishly and lowered her voice. "I know someone who would probably give a couple of limbs for certain basilisk parts. They're very, very rare Potions ingredients, you know." Both of them burst out laughing, and after a moment she joined in. "Oh, shut up. Please?"

"Yeah, okay, I'll take a look. It's not like it's going to be hard to miss. I'm not bringing any dead bits back with me, though. That'll have to wait."

"Fair enough."

"If you are quite finished?" Snape called acidly from further down the corridor. "Let us get this school trip over with."

"Last one to find a Horcrux is a rotten egg," Ron said under his breath.

Hermione caught up with Snape's long strides as they walked quickly through the silent corridors, glancing up at him. He was staring straight ahead, his eyes narrowed slightly in the way she recognised as meaning he was thinking hard about something. "Are you sure about this?" she asked softly.

"That there is a Horcrux in the castle? Yes. He will have put one here."

"How do you know?"

"Guess. Why would I be certain that the Dark Lord would think the castle important enough? Why would Mr Potter agree? And why would Dumbledore not understand why we were so certain? Think about what you know of all three of us and how we differ from the Headmaster."

Biting her lip absently, she thought about it as they kept walking. "Oh," she said finally, understanding slowly dawning. Harry saw Hogwarts as his home, and the house where he actually lived as just a stopping place. Tom Riddle had asked to be permitted to stay at school over the summer rather than return to the Muggle orphanage. And Snape had apparently been abused outside school. For boys with no family, or at least no loving family, Hogwarts became all-important. "I see."

He glanced down at her for a moment, something flickering through his eyes before his face turned impassive once more. "Yes, you do." He added after a moment, "You aren't so very different."

She nodded silently; it wasn't the same situation, she had a loving home waiting for her and family who loved her – well, usually she did, although they weren't there right now – but she belonged at Hogwarts more than she did in the Muggle world. "It's strange that the Headmaster wouldn't feel the same way about the school," she mused.

"Yes. It is." Snape's voice was clipped and quiet, but the faint anger in his eyes wasn't directed at her and after a moment he relaxed again, letting her ask more questions.

"What do we do if it's not in the Chamber or the Room?"

"We ask the ghosts, the house elves, the portraits. One of them might know something. If all else fails, we ask the castle itself." He looked down at her again. "Hogwarts is aware of far more than most people realise, although it cannot communicate very easily."

"I know." He raised an eyebrow, and she explained softly, "Last week. I shouldn't have been able to open the gates to get you, but I did. I didn't think about it until afterwards, but the gates are warded against anyone who isn't a teacher."

Snape nodded. "That would explain it, yes. I shouldn't think you have ever had to wait for a staircase when travelling to and from the hospital wing, either, have you?"


"There you are, then. But I am certain it will be in one of these two places."

"You said it would be something of Slytherin's if it was in the Chamber. What if it's up here? Which one will it be? We don't know what they all are."

"We know it's not Nagini, or the diary, or Gaunt's ring. If it's not in the Chamber it won't be Slytherin's; he wouldn't keep that anywhere else within Hogwarts, it will be elsewhere if it's not in the Chamber. I don't believe he would have used a relic of Gryffindor's if he could avoid it. That leaves something belonging to Hufflepuff or to Ravenclaw."

"Maybe both?" she suggested. "He might have left two in the castle. I know it seems risky on the surface, but not if nobody else is looking, and nobody else can get into the Chamber of Secrets, can they?"

"Not as far as I know. It's possible, I suppose, but I don't think so. Here we are..." Snape held up a hand to stop her and slowly paced back and forth in front of the innocently empty stretch of wall, concentrating. The door appeared, and he half-bowed somewhat mockingly to her. "Ladies first."

Stifling a laugh, she gave him a half-hearted glare and opened the door, venturing inside and staring. "Wow."

He followed and closed the door behind him. "Dumbledore did say it was rather extensive," he noted dryly.

Hermione continued to stare. The room looked, at a rough guess, twice the size of an industrial warehouse, and it was filled almost to the ceiling with... well, everything. Furniture seemed to form the bulk of it, but there were plenty of smaller things – books, lamps, statues, jewellery, rolled-up carpets, stacks of loose paper, animal cages and tanks, crates and boxes and chests of all sizes...

"How are we supposed to find anything in this?"

The frustration in her voice almost made Severus smile. "If finding Horcruxes was easy, Dumbledore wouldn't need any help," he pointed out mildly, looking around.

"But we don't even know what we're looking for. It will take years to search all this."

"Will it? Remember where we are."

"We can ask the Room?"

"I think so, yes. I don't know how accurately it will be able to guide us, but it should at least be able to give us a rough idea."

She nodded slowly, her expression turning thoughtful as she scanned what was literally centuries' worth of clutter. "How did you find out about this place?"

He felt a little sheepish at the memory, smiling ruefully. "I happened to come into possession of something that did not technically belong to me, and I needed to hide it rather quickly. I had known about the Room of Requirement since my second year – I stumbled upon it by accident one night. I asked the Room for somewhere to dispose of my ill-gotten gains, and it showed me this."

Hermione glanced up at him, her eyes dancing with quiet laughter. "What did you steal, and who from?"

"None of your business," he replied easily, smirking a little. It was the only time he had ever successfully managed to frame the Marauders for a stunt, rather than them framing him, and he was simultaneously both proud and slightly embarrassed. It had been childish, yes... but it had also been extremely funny. And Minerva never had found out what had happened to the contents of all three bookshelves in her office, or her favourite hat.

"How will we know what the Horcrux is?"

Severus suppressed another smile; nobody else could jump so easily from topic to topic with a never-ending stream of questions about everything under the sun. Not all that long ago it had seriously irritated him, but that seemed hard to remember now. "I don't know."

"You don't?"

He gave her an amused look. "Surprisingly enough, I do not in fact know much about such a twisted form of Dark magic," he told her sarcastically, privately enjoying her faint and quickly-suppressed blush.

"I didn't mean it like that..."

"I know you didn't. The fact remains that I have never made a Horcrux, or encountered one. Hopefully one of us will be able to sense it. Otherwise we may be here some time. Now, if you can manage to restrain yourself, stop asking questions for a minute and let me concentrate." Pacing to the wall, he laid a hand against the stone and closed his eyes, concentrating. If there is a Horcrux in here, I need to find it... He was only partly relying on the Room of Requirement, though. A Horcrux would contain a tie to the Dark Lord, and he had something similar on his arm, after all, as well as being more in tune with his instincts than most people.

Breathing slowly and deeply, he opened his eyes just enough to see where he was going, letting his senses expand. Hermione's magic virtually glowed, warm and bright; he heard her draw in a breath to say something and lifted a finger to his lips. She stayed silent and he looked away from her, slowly walking forward, prowling between the piles of junk as she followed him as quietly as possible.

Yes, it was here somewhere, he could feel it. Maybe it was imagination, or just the Room projecting, but he could sense something, making the skin on his left forearm tingle and little shivers run down his spine. Oh, yes; he certainly knew the feel of the Dark Lord's magic by now, a crawling, insidious heat as foul as an infected wound. His head turned from side to side, trying to narrow it down; turning abruptly into a narrow gap between a large cabinet and a stack of chairs, he paused, looking around.

"Somewhere here," he said softly. "It's close."

Hermione brushed past him and looked around. "Um, give me a clue?"

Biting back a laugh, Severus shook his head, making an effort to snap out of it. "I don't know. Look around this general area for something that doesn't look like junk."

He was digging through the somewhat dusty contents of a desk drawer and trying not to sneeze when she said hesitantly, "I might have found something."

Severus looked up, trying to see where she was. "What is it?"

"It looks like a diamond tiara. I assume that's not junk."

"Probably not," he agreed, following her voice around a tall shelf. When he saw her, she pointed to a table; there was a rather ugly marble bust, so weathered he wasn't sure if it was male or female, and a suspiciously sparkly circlet of metal and gems.

"Technically, it's a diadem, not a tiara," he noted distantly, before realising what he had just said. "Don't ask how I know that. In fact, unless I am very much mistaken, it's the diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw."

"I guess it's not lost after all," she replied dryly; somehow he wasn't surprised that she had heard of it. "Can we tell Professor Flitwick later? He'd love to know about this."

"I'm sure he would. Unfortunately for him, I don't think it's going to be in very good shape when we're finished with it." Covering his hand with the sleeve of his robe, just in case, he carefully picked the diadem up and carried it over towards the door, away from the furniture and other junk, putting it down on a clear bit of floor and hunkering down to look at it.

Hermione crouched opposite him, pushing her hair back from her face. "This is it?"

"You tell me. What can you feel? We already know you can differentiate between magics. Can you sense anything?"

She reached out hesitantly to hold a hand above it, biting her lip fiercely as she concentrated. After a moment she shivered and withdrew her hand, looking up at him uncertainly. "I'm not sure. There might be something, but I might be imagining it..."

"It's not strong. Nobody spotted what the diary was, after all. But this is definitely a Horcrux." He stared down at the innocently sparkling diamonds, trying to get his mind around the concept that this was a piece of his master's soul.

"How do we destroy it?"

Severus glanced up in momentary amusement, arching an eyebrow. "We don't."

She actually looked disappointed; you had to admire her determination to do everything. "I suppose not. How does one destroy it, then?" she asked sarcastically, and he tried not to smile. Impossible girl.

"Not much can destroy something that powerful. I am all out of vorpal swords, sadly," he commented, and saw her grin at the Jabberwocky reference. "I am going to use Fiendfyre. I imagine you've read about it already?"

"A little," she replied primly, sitting back on her heels and evidently ignoring his mockery. "Isn't that dangerous?"

"Yes," he admitted candidly. "But I know what I am doing. Trust me."

He'd said it automatically, without thinking, and he certainly wasn't expecting Hermione to shrug and reply calmly, "I do trust you. Should I get out of the way?"

Blinking slowly at her, he shook it off after a moment and nodded, standing up with a wince as his knee cracked in protest. "Yes, keep back. I have no idea what happens when you destroy one of these things. For all I know, it might explode even though it isn't active; be ready with a Shield Charm just in case."

Staring down at the diadem, he exhaled slowly, letting the cool dark water of his mental defences calm his mind and clear his thoughts with the ease of long practice. This, then, was one seventh of his master's soul? The Dark Lord grew a little weaker and a little less stable with every piece that was destroyed. Severus took a moment to think about why he was doing this, about everything Voldemort had ever done to him personally and to countless others, about what he knew of how Tom Riddle had become Voldemort in the first place, then cleared his mind once more. When he was ready, he drew a deep breath, held it for a moment as he drew his wand, then whispered the incantation.

God, he'd forgotten how this felt! Heat spread through him and coiled in his stomach, and the world slowed down as his senses leaped to life. Every sound was magnified until the steady pounding of his heart was as loud as a drum beat and his breathing sounded like distant surf. All the subtle scents in the room became much stronger, from the musty smell of dust and the lingering potions smells that clung to his robes to his soap and the distinctive scent of Hermione's perfume or shampoo or whatever it was that smelled of apricots. The strange light in the Room of Requirement seemed suddenly too bright, and the slender threads of flame emerging from the tip of his wand glowed so brightly he couldn't look at them directly as the coiling power in his belly flowed upwards and along his arm, through the wand and arching across the small space to slowly wrap around the diadem on the floor.

His heart began to race as sweat broke out down his spine, and there was a momentary pressure in his head as his Occlumency defences intensified to cope with the sudden flood of feeling. This was why Fiendfyre was dangerous; it fed on the caster's emotions, and he was repressing so much that some of it began to bleed through, rage and stubbornness and lust and grief and hate and pain and triumph, all tangling together as the fiery ropes grew brighter. Dragging in a ragged, gasping breath, he steadied himself, regaining a rather precarious balance. That's it... control it... There was nothing here that wasn't in his control. It was all from his own head, and he was the strongest Occlumens he had ever heard of. His dark mental ocean was filled with strange currents and waves, but it was holding.

Beginning to breathe harder now, he watched the whirling flames curling around the diadem, licking across the metal and gems as his body reacted to the power streaming through him. He hadn't done anything this intense, this dangerous, in years. Licking dry lips, he fought to maintain his balance as the storm raged through him, channelling it all carefully into the thin lines of white-hot fire as the metal began to heat up.

"Are you all right?" Hermione's voice rang like a bell, shivering with odd harmonics in his current state of heightened awareness; she had moved closer, but mercifully not too close. A slip now could well kill them both; if the Fiendfyre got away from his control, it would burn until there was nothing left to burn, fuelled by too many years of suppressed emotions.

"Yes," he answered distantly, his own voice sounding deeper than usual and humming oddly in his ears. "Don't distract me." He could all but feel her biting her lip and for a moment almost started laughing as his temperature spiked and the fire grew brighter still.

The diadem was beginning to glow now as the metal grew hot, and Severus stared intently at it as the air around it shimmered with heat. This was a piece of the Dark Lord's soul, and it was going to die tonight. Burn, you snake-faced bastard, burn! Hatred flared briefly again in the maelstrom inside his head, flowing out into the fire. Burn! The delicate shape began to warp, the stone beneath it blackened and starting to crack as the now glowing metal began to melt and flow, and an ugly surge of fierce exultation filled him as he stared at the flames without blinking.

The room itself was heating up now, and a moment later one of the glittering gems popped and shattered with a hiss of flame. Magic surged; he heard Hermione gasp, distantly, as the Fiendfyre roared higher for a moment. Yes! He bared his teeth in a silent snarl of triumph. Burn, motherfucker! For a moment the fire burned beyond white-hot, and it was impossible to draw a breath as it became an inferno; his ears popped, then a breeze stirred the smoke and the flames began to die down.

The echoing silence was deafening, as the fire died away to nothing and they stood staring at one another in the dimness. Vaguely Hermione was aware in her peripheral vision that the Room of Requirement had shifted again; now that they had found what they sought, the – what had he called it? – the Room of Hidden Things had faded away and they now stood somewhere quiet and empty, but she only had eyes for Snape. He was staring through her, rather than at her; his dark eyes were too wide and his right hand was pressed to his left forearm so tightly that his knuckles were white, but he didn't look like he was in pain.

"Did you... feel it?" she asked uncertainly – if the Death Eaters could sense it when the Horcruxes were destroyed, they were all in a hell of a lot of trouble.

He blinked slowly, seeming to come back to the real world, and his grip on his arm loosened as his eyes came back into focus and his gaze met hers. "Not physically," he replied softly, "but..." He shook his head, his lips quirking at one side into the half-smile she valued. "Damn me if I'm not starting to think we might actually win." Shivering, he rubbed his arm briefly and let go. "I haven't used Fiendfyre in a long while," he added absently. "It is not easy to keep control."

She glanced briefly at the ground, where the strip of battered and half-melted metal still smoked, unrecognisable as anything at all now. "It is destroyed, isn't it?" she asked, looking back up at him.

He nodded. "Yes," he said simply.

They continued to look at one another for a few moments, trying to absorb the fact that they had just destroyed a piece of Voldemort's soul, that they had basically started to kill him. Hermione supposed they should pick up what was left of the Horcrux and take it back to Dumbledore and the boys, but she was in no hurry to touch the thing and appreciated this chance to catch her breath and absorb what had just happened.

Only, for some reason, catching her breath didn't seem to be very easy. It was suddenly difficult to breathe once more, only not because of magic this time; the tension in the air didn't have such a straightforward source. It was dawning on Hermione that this was the first time she had been alone with Snape when he hadn't been either bleeding to death, dangerously depressed or quite ill in a very long time, since their runs had stopped, and now he was staring directly into her eyes from closer to her than he had been before, close enough to feel the warmth of his body – she could have touched his robe had she moved her hand even slightly. Despite the intensity of his gaze, there was no weight of Legilimency behind it, just the force of his personality, but that was enough to have her unconsciously licking suddenly dry lips as she stared back at him.

His pupils dilated ever so slightly; it was as if she saw a slender trembling thread in the dark depths of his eyes snap, before two small black sparks kindled and began to burn. The atmosphere was suddenly thick enough to choke on, charged with electricity that had nothing to do with magic, and she barely had time to shiver in sudden stunned realisation before her back hit the wall she had forgotten was there and his mouth came down on hers.

Her first kiss had been Viktor, in fourth year, as had a lot of subsequent kisses – they hadn't gone further than that, but still, she had spent a fair amount of time with him. She had been out with a Muggle boy who lived just down the road from her once or twice in the summer holidays, trying to forget the war and have a normal life just for a week or two. And the less said about her disastrous 'date' with Cormac, the better. But none of them had felt anything like this.

His arms were braced against the stone on either side of her, effectively trapping her – if she had had any intention of trying to move, which she didn't. She knew that his body temperature was usually a degree or so below normal, leaving his skin cool to the touch, but right now his slender frame was burning as his body pinned hers against the wall, all sharp angles and bones overlaid by lean sinewy muscles that made him stronger than he seemed, and his mouth... his mouth was scorching her, as his tongue slid along the seam of her lips and she opened to him eagerly, closing her eyes. This close, his scent was almost overwhelming, the complex scent of rain, minerals and herbs touched with familiar notes of copper and smoke and something that was just him, and now she could taste him as well, as his tongue entered her mouth and the kiss deepened; he tasted of something dark and bittersweet and smoky that made it even more difficult to think.

She was vaguely aware of sensations; the solid stone wall against her back was probably the only thing keeping her standing at this point. One hand was digging into his shoulder, feeling the deceptive strength in him, and her other hand was tangled in his hair, grease and all, as she arched against him. They broke apart for a split second, just long enough for her to draw in a ragged breath and whisper daringly, "Severus..."

It was the first time she had ever said his Christian name aloud, and although the syllables sounded breathless and uneven it made him shudder as their mouths met once more and she began to kiss him back, tentatively beginning to explore his mouth in return. A shiver ran through him and he shifted even closer, and she drew in a sharp breath as she felt the unmistakeable hardness of his erection pushing against her, barely hesitating before tilting her hips to press against him in response as more of her brain dissolved into mush.

She had never felt anything like this before; now for the first time she started to understand all the silly clichés she'd read about in the trashy novels and magazines that Lavender and Parvati left lying around. She couldn't get close enough to the heat of his body, and he was kissing her as though he intended to devour her. Months of tension had been leading to this, and she'd spent so long trying to decipher his feelings without ever really being totally sure how he felt about her, and now relief mingled with desire as she yielded to the fierce hunger in their kiss.

After what seemed like years, Snape – no, Severus – gentled the kiss, slowly drawing it to a close and pulling away as she opened her eyes, backing off a couple of paces and staring at her. His lips were slightly parted, there was a faint flush in his pale cheeks, and his chest rose and fell rapidly as he breathed a little raggedly; his dark eyes were still burning, but his overall expression was neutral bordering on slightly dazed. Licking her lips, she stared back at him uncertainly, trying to catch her breath and remember how to stand up without the wall's support.

Several times he seemed on the verge of speaking. Finally he sighed and relaxed a little, looking away from her briefly and glancing back. "I don't think I should have done that," he observed quietly, with a slight huskiness to his voice that she had never heard before that sent shivers down her back. If anything, he sounded a little rueful; he certainly didn't seem horrified, appalled or disgusted, although there was a faint trace of almost embarrassment in his face and she would wager the entire contents of Gringotts that he was nowhere near as calm and controlled as he seemed.

Still a little breathless, Hermione had to swallow before she could answer him. "No, you probably shouldn't," she agreed as matter-of-factly as she could manage. Whatever the circumstances, she was only seventeen years old, and he was her not very attractive bastard of a teacher, and twenty years her senior, and they had a war to fight; she had thought of all these reasons a long time ago. Only, looking at him now with his eyes burning into hers and her lips still tingling from his urgent, fierce kiss, none of that really seemed important, especially when she remembered feeling his obvious arousal pressed against her – his robes hid a multitude of sins, it seemed. "You're not going to try and apologise, are you?" she asked uncertainly.

They looked at one another, calming down now, that fire in his gaze slowly cooling as they both regained their breath, although the intensity in his eyes didn't lessen. Finally, he sighed again and relaxed properly, his eyes half closing as he moved back another couple of paces. "No, I'm not going to apologise, because I do not feel the slightest bit apologetic; I am not remotely sorry," he told her quietly. "But... we have so little time. It is only a month until the end of term, and..." He shrugged and looked back at her, and without that wondrous hunger in his eyes she could see his own uncertainty.

"I know." And she did; she didn't believe in his inevitable death as strongly as he had done for so long, but whatever was going to happen at the end of this year, it was going to be bad. They had destroyed one more Horcrux tonight, but there were still three more to go, and then there was the small matter of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Severus was still one of them, at least for a little while longer, and he was right on the edge of his limits both physically and mentally, and she too was stressed and tired. It was the very worst time to be introducing this sort of emotional confusion. She looked at the floor and the scorch marks surrounding what remained of the Horcrux. "...I suppose we should get back to the others."

"Hermione," he said quietly, and she looked up, startled at his use of her first name and suppressing a shiver at the sound of his voice. He looked troubled, but his eyes met hers without wavering. "This isn't over. I – I don't know what's going to happen, but..."

Reassured that at least he was trying, she smiled a bit shakily at him. "Don't start telling me comforting lies now. I always liked that you were honest with me. We – we'll wait and see what happens."

He didn't look pleased at being let off the hook, but he nodded slowly, his gaze searching hers for a long moment before he finally looked away. "Well, then," he said awkwardly, turning his attention to the melted remains of the diadem lying on the floor. Kneeling, a little stiffly, he held a hand out palm-down above it and concentrated for a moment before fishing his handkerchief out of his pocket and using it to pick up the distorted metal, standing slowly. He wasn't looking at her any more; suppressing a sigh, she turned and headed for the door, resolutely not looking at whatever the Room of Requirement might have created from whoever's thoughts had been the stronger.

"Hermione," he said again, his voice still very quiet. Despite herself, she turned and found him standing very close behind her. His harsh features were as expressionless as ever, but his eyes softened fractionally before he reached out and touched her cheek gently, trailing his fingertips down over her skin; as she shivered, he stepped closer, tipping her chin up a little and lowering his head. This second kiss was much gentler, over far sooner, almost but not quite chaste; he stared down at her for a long moment after he had drawn away, before repeating firmly, "This isn't over." Holding her gaze for a moment longer, he took a breath and straightened, drawing Professor Snape's mask back into place and striding past her to open the door. "However, right now, we need to leave, before I do something we will both regret."

Despite herself, she smiled a little. "How do you know I'd regret it?" she asked as she followed him, savouring the taste of his mouth still. He was right – if he had kissed her again the way he had that first time, she doubted anything could have stopped her falling into bed with him, but she would have regretted it afterwards, because she certainly wasn't ready for that – but still...

He almost laughed, shaking his head. "I've met your parents, if you recall. You were brought up better than that. Come along."

The walk back to the Headmaster's office wasn't really all that long, but it seemed to take a very long time, and the tension was thick enough to choke on. Hermione was pleased to find that she knew him well enough to see that he was trying not to panic, or she might have taken it personally. Her own panic was probably going to hit soon, but right now she felt fairly numb; it was quite hard to believe it had just happened, let alone actually think about it.

She had known that something would have to give sooner or later, now that they both seemed at least vaguely sure that the other one felt something. It had been insubstantial and undefined, but there had been something between them for a while now, and it had surely only been a matter of time before something happened, but somehow she hadn't quite imagined this. Another reason for her lack of panic was her distraction, she suspected; Occlumency or not, she kept reliving the kiss, and if she couldn't sort herself out she was going to walk into a wall or something.

From his reaction, he clearly hadn't actually intended to kiss her, she suspected as they headed back through the corridors. That was probably the Fiendfyre; everything she had read about it had warned that it fed the caster's emotions, which was why it was so difficult to control. And certainly his expression as he watched the diadem burning hadn't been terribly rational. It made sense – he wasn't the impulsive type, and although she doubted he really cared about the regulations any more she still didn't think he would have so completely disregarded the rules if he'd been thinking straight. He didn't seem to be regretting it, but he clearly wasn't sure what happened next, and nor was she.

Well, it was never going to be easy, was it? she mused idly as they approached the gargoyle guarding the staircase to the Headmaster's office. One thing at a time; get this Horcrux dealt with, and survive the end of term intact. Away from the school, it would be easier to talk, when they weren't surrounded by constant reminders of their different stations and when things would hopefully be a little quieter. It would give them both time to calm down, too, and work out what they felt.

She was jerked out of another brief reverie by someone calling her name, and looked up to see Harry and Ron jogging towards them, both a little dishevelled and grubby and looking thoroughly fed up. "No luck, then?" she asked, relieved that her voice sounded normal, sneaking a quick glance at her companion; he gave the boys a distracted scowl and returned to staring into the distance.

"No," Harry said grumpily as they joined the two of them. "Just rocks and water and bits of snake."

"And cobwebs," Ron said with a shudder, pawing at his hair. "What about you?"

Biting her lip for a moment to control herself, Hermione replied as casually as she could, "Oh, yes, we found and destroyed it already."


"Not here," Severus said curtly, apparently returning to the real world; his eyes were visibly Occluded. He glared at the gargoyle blocking the way and said sourly, "Pepper Imps," before sweeping past and up the stairs.

"What's wrong with him?" Harry whispered.

"Nothing. Come on, if you want to hear what happened."

They followed him into Dumbledore's office and the Headmaster looked up sharply enough that he clearly wasn't as blasé as he seemed. "Well?"

Severus pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and unceremoniously shook it open, sending the battered and warped lump of metal thudding to the desk; one of the blackened gems popped out of its setting and cracked in half as it rolled away. They all stared wordlessly at it for a moment before Dumbledore reached out with his good hand and touched it hesitantly. "You're certain?"

He nodded. "The diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw was a Horcrux. And now it isn't."

Harry and Ron crowded in for a closer look. "What did you do to it?"

"I would have thought it obvious that I burned it," he said shortly. "If I may be excused, Headmaster? I will give you a full report in the morning."

Dumbledore frowned at him. "As you wish, Severus..." After he had gone, the Headmaster looked around at Hermione. "Miss Granger, is everything all right?"

She went for wide-eyed innocent, on the basis that Dumbledore didn't really know her and wouldn't realise that it was a load of rubbish. "I'm not sure, sir. Professor Snape used Fiendfyre to destroy the Horcrux, and he seemed a little shaken afterwards..." That's the understatement of the century... She managed not to either blush or giggle, but it was an embarrassingly close thing.

"Ah. That would certainly explain it. Very well, then." He smiled and looked at the three of them. "I'm sure Miss Granger can provide a full explanation of tonight's events. I will study this for the next few hours and if there is anything to add, I shall speak with you after I have discussed it with Professor Snape tomorrow. Good night."

"Good night, sir."

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 30 of 60

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