Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 31 of 60

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Severus walked to the dungeons in a complete daze, unashamedly making a run for it; right now he needed a very cold shower. He also wanted a drink, but that wasn't really an option. He was trying not to think about what had just happened, but with limited success; if it wasn't for the fact that his brain seemed to have melted in a few important places, he wouldn't be able to clear his mind at all. If he was Summoned now, he was dead, but that didn't even occur to him; mostly he was very confused, and painfully aroused, and slightly terrified.

That had been... well, he didn't want to call it a mistake, as such, but it had certainly been a very bad idea. Despite all his brave resolutions about finding another way and giving himself time to explore whether there really was anything between them, he had never intended to approach her in any way while she was still his student – he certainly hadn't planned to pin her against the wall and kiss her senseless. The Fiendfyre had stirred up his emotions and weakened his self control, certainly, but he couldn't blame it completely – he had wanted to do that for a very long time now.

He stood in the bathroom and stared rather numbly at his reflection; he looked somewhat shocked, although it was doubtful that anyone else would have spotted it. Shocked was an understatement, he told himself distantly, licking his lips again – he could still taste her mouth on his, and his eyes glazed for a moment as he shivered with the force of the sensory memory, remembering the way she had whispered his name. It had been a hell of a lot better than any kiss he remembered, although there hadn't exactly been many; better than any of his tangled fantasies, too.

Blinking slowly, he tried to be analytical; he had never allowed himself to speculate in any detail about her private life in case he killed someone, but now... he hadn't been her first kiss, certainly – well, he knew that, he'd seen that oaf McLaggen mauling her before Christmas – which was actually something of a relief since he wasn't sure he could be gentle enough, but he didn't think she had gone further. She had been caught off guard by his arousal – so had he, come to that; he'd hardened so fast it was a miracle he hadn't fainted – so it seemed she might still be a virgin. He couldn't decide if that pleased him or worried him.

Not, of course, that it was likely to be a concern. It had been one kiss – well, two. Unbelievably good though it had been, at least for him, that was all it was. It was an encouraging sign that she hadn't looked appalled, disgusted, furious or terrified, and that she had kissed him back, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. The world was going to hell, but if he did somehow find a way out of the snare that was growing tighter by the day, she still had a year of schooling ahead. He wasn't sure he was strong enough to wait another year, not now. If he hadn't weakened tonight, he might have managed it, but with the taste and feel of her mouth in his memory... no chance. Whatever dwindling moral code he had still possessed had died a tragic death an hour ago. Whether they continued as pupil and teacher or not, he'd have her sooner or later.

Except for the fact that he was likely to be dead by next month. Sobering as the thought was, even that couldn't kill his arousal right now; gritting his teeth, he sighed, stripped off and got in the shower, switching the water as cold as it would go and trying not to whimper as his body protested. A small treacherous voice in the back of his mind was pointing out darkly that if he was indeed going to die, then why not take her while he had the chance? It wouldn't matter after he was dead. And she had been willing, if shocked; once she had recovered from the initial surprise, she had kissed him back. It wouldn't take that much to make her his.

Don't be stupid. He shook his head and looked down at himself sardonically; thin, ageing, scarred, unattractive. Hormones did not make a girl truly willing; most seventeen year olds would shag anything. Afterwards, she would probably regret it, regardless of whether he survived to see it or not, because she certainly wasn't ready for that yet. He wouldn't do that to her.

So, where did this leave him? He had already known that he wanted her, for a variety of reasons that were only partly physical. Apparently she wanted him, or at least didn't object to him wanting her, which was surely a more accurate interpretation. It didn't change the facts. She was twenty years his junior, she was his pupil, and everyone who knew them both would be after his blood if they had any idea of what had just happened. She wasn't likely to tell anyone, and he certainly wouldn't, but this couldn't be kept a secret indefinitely. If he survived the end of the year, he couldn't just pretend it hadn't happened and go back to the way things had been before; his willpower was almost superhuman, but even he had limits.

What had she said? We'll wait and see what happens. Presumably that meant that if they both made it through the coming firestorm, they would have to talk about it. All men were bad at talking about their feelings, and he knew he was worse than most; he'd make a complete hash of it, but he would try, since he didn't have anything to lose. Maybe by then he might have some idea of what exactly he was feeling, but he wasn't hopeful. He had no idea what she wanted to happen, and he refused to let himself think about what he wanted. Wait and see. And in the meantime, give himself hypothermia, because that seemed to be the only way to cool his blood right now.

Hermione really was going to be the death of him, he decided ruefully, utterly confused still.

Hermione headed back towards Gryffindor Tower with the boys in a very thoughtful frame of mind, only half listening as they pelted her with questions. She told them about the diadem in more detail, describing the Fiendfyre, but she certainly wasn't giving them her full attention, although she did at least manage to avoid walking into a wall.

"What else happened?" Harry asked, narrowing his eyes, as they took their usual chairs in the empty common room and prudently cast Muffliato around themselves.


"What else happened?" he repeated. "You're really out of it." He waved a hand in front of her eyes and she gave him an irritated look.

"I'm fine."

"That's nice to know, but it's not what I asked," he pointed out.

"Was it Snape?" Ron asked. "You don't look like you normally do when you've had a fight with him, but..." His eyes widened. "Oh, Merlin. Is that it?"

"Is what it? What are you talking about, Ron?" she snapped, wishing they would both go to bed and leave her to sort out her tangled thoughts and happily relive the recent memory in peace.

"You and Snape. Something's happened."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You're blushing," Harry said in a shocked voice; he was grinning. "You've got to tell us now." He hesitated and started to go red himself. "Well, not if it was..."

"Oh, God, Harry! We were gone for about half an hour, most of which was spent finding and destroying a Horcrux," she snapped at him. "Get your mind out of the gutter. No, I wasn't shagging a teacher."

Ron broke the startled silence. "Well, something definitely happened," he said matter-of-factly, "because you'd never say anything like that if you were your normal self. Did you snog him?"

She could feel that she was blushing now and hated herself, and them. Harry said, slightly more gently, "Come on, Hermione. You're acting strange. If you don't tell us, we're going to worry. What happened?"

"He – he kissed me, if you must know," she mumbled, staring at the rug; she hadn't wanted to talk about it just yet, not when it was still so new. Her lips still tingled with the memory.

Ron sat back with a low whistle, and he and Harry exchanged looks. "Guess you were right. I'm glad we didn't bet, now."

"What?" Hermione hissed, looking up furiously.

They looked sheepish before Harry explained. "We were trying to decide which of you would snap first. Ron thought it would be you, and I thought it would be him."

"You – you..."

"We weren't trying to be nasty, 'Mione. Honest. You've got to admit this whole situation is a bit weird; ever since you told us you liked him, we've been talking about it. Mostly trying to work out why," he admitted wryly. "And once we started to think maybe he liked you too, we were trying to guess what might happen."

"I hate you both."

"Nothing new there," Ron said cheerfully. "So how was it?"

Despite herself, she smiled. "You're seriously asking me to tell you if Professor Snape is a good kisser or not?"

"The world has become a very scary place," he replied gravely, shaking his head and grinning at her. "It's not like I can get the horrible, horrible thoughts out of my head, so we might as well talk about it."

"Git. Even you admitted he's not that bad."

"You're changing the subject," Harry said in a sing-song voice, and Hermione gave him a withering look.

"Put it this way, it was a hell of a lot better than 'wet'," she retorted sweetly. "And there was no crying." She was actually glad she was already blushing, as it occurred to her that it had been wet... only not in that sense. She'd been trying not to fidget in her chair for some time. Still, her point had been made, as Harry looked a little embarrassed.

"No need to be nasty."

"Don't be so nosy, then. Apart from anything else, what do you think he'd do to you if he found out you were taking so much interest in his personal life?"

"Ack. He's not going to find out, though, is he? You wouldn't do that to us."

She hesitated for a long moment before smiling ruefully. "Only because I think he'd be just as angry with me for talking about it in the first place. But seriously, both of you, stop it."

"We're really not trying to tease, Hermione," Harry said earnestly. "Honest, we're not. We just want to make sure you're okay. I mean, this is Snape we're talking about. I don't think he'd really do anything to hurt you, but he's not exactly normal, and we've all seen what can happen when he snaps. This is a bit of a weird situation."

She relented, starting to feel a bit better. "No, I know. It's okay. But really, I'm absolutely fine." She smiled a little. "More than fine, actually. I really wasn't sure he was interested." And it had felt... amazing. Definitely something to think about later; she doubted she'd be able to sleep anyway. It would take more than meditation to calm her mind after that.

"Did you actually, you know, talk about it?" Ron asked archly. "Or were you too... busy?"

"Don't start playing this game, Won-Won," she told him sweetly. "I promise, I can embarrass you a lot more than you can embarrass me."

"He'll behave," Harry said, kicking his friend in the shin. "Did you talk about it, though?"

"...Not really," she said quietly, biting her lip. "Sort of. It was a bit rushed. The timing's pretty crap. He's still half convinced he's probably going to die at the end of term – whatever it is he's not saying, I'm starting to really dread it – and there's so much for both of us to worry about. He said – well, implied – that if we survive whatever's about to happen, we'll talk about it then. There's not really time right now."

"Are you okay with that? You deserve better, you know."

"I'd rather he was honest about it, Harry. Better that than to lie and make promises he can't keep. He could have done, you know. I'd have believed pretty much anything he said at that point," she admitted. "He's not taking advantage of the situation. This way we both know we're interested and we've got a bit of space to think about it. If we get a chance to talk later, hopefully we'll both know what we want. Obviously it's not what I was hoping for, but he's really not free to promise me anything at this point."

"I suppose so," he agreed, frowning. "It's not really fair to you, though."

"It's not fair to either of us, Harry," she said gently. "Severus is trying to deal with so much already – it's one reason I haven't tried harder to let him know how I felt before now. I didn't want to add to it. He's got more than enough to cope with right now without having to worry about my feelings, but it's out now. We're both just going to have to wait and see what happens."

"Severus?" Ron repeated, sounding rather incredulous.

"Well, I'm not going to keep calling him 'Professor' now, am I? That's a bit creepy." She very carefully tried not to dwell on that thought.

"What do you think is going to happen?" Harry asked, dragging the conversation back on track.

"I really don't know," Hermione admitted softly. "He's worried about something big happening at the end of this year and he was convinced that it's going to kill him. I don't know if that's his normal pessimism or if there is a reason to be worried, but Dumbledore hasn't been acting right either. He's told me he's going to try and find a way out of it, but I don't know if he'll be able to. Something big is coming, and it's going to be bad. But if we both get through it and get a chance to talk..." She hesitated. "I don't know. He's not the kind of man to play games; I don't think he does casual, and he wouldn't risk everything unless there was something there. I mean, if anyone on either side found out about this, I can't even bear to think about what would happen. He wouldn't take the risk if it wasn't important to him, I don't think."

"But he's not actually said anything, has he?" Harry asked gently.

"Well, no." She tried to smile, starting to realise again just how far out of her depth she was. "I think he's nearly as confused as I am, to be honest. It's not exactly a normal situation for him, either, is it? I'm his student, I'm a lot younger than he is, I've annoyed him immensely ever since he met me, I've physically assaulted him twice and stolen from him and I've learned an awful lot about his past and about what he goes through that he'd really rather I didn't know. I'd be worried if he did know what he was doing in this situation, frankly."

They both still looked worried, and she sighed. "I know. Don't look at me like that. I know this isn't ideal. But it's what I've got." She managed a proper smile, pushing aside the panic that was starting to threaten her. "Anyway, this is me you're talking to. I'm not going to jump into anything without thinking about it. It's just been one kiss – well, two, if you want to be technical. Wonderful though it was, it's just a kiss. There's not going to be more to it unless we both know what we want." She almost laughed. "I was brought up better than that."

The boys exchanged glances, but seemed to be reassured by this. Harry relaxed and gave her an impish smile. "Wonderful, eh?"

Blushing again, she nodded. "Yes."

"Gross," Ron decided. "I'm going to go to bed and hope I don't have nightmares."

After he had gone, Harry looked at her seriously. "Are you really okay?"

"Yes, actually. It's not perfect, but life isn't, really." After a moment she admitted, "Okay, I'm starting to panic a bit now that my brain is working again, but you know me, Harry, I worry far too much about everything. I know I'm out of my depth, and I don't really know what I'm doing, and I don't know what's going to happen now, but... it could be a lot worse, and I trust him not to hurt me, at least not deliberately. He's trying. We'll get through the end of the year, and then we'll find some time to talk about things, once we know what else we've got to deal with."

She smiled at him a little shakily. "This is Professor Snape, Harry. It was never going to be the romance of the century, was it? He makes you look emotionally developed and open. I'm certainly not going to do anything I'm not ready for. This isn't a crush for me and I'm not going to let myself get in too deep unless I know for certain how he feels and what's going to happen. I don't want to get hurt any more than you want to see me get hurt."

His green eyes searched her face for a moment before he relaxed properly and leaned back in his chair. "If it was any other girl, I'd be seriously worried," he told her, "but I believe you. You're a lot smarter than the rest of us put together; I trust you to know what you're doing. Just be careful, okay?"

"I will. Stop worrying so much. Whatever he does feel for me, I do know he doesn't want to hurt me either."

Harry nodded. "You're going to have a hell of a lot to talk through by the time you get the chance."

"I know. That's why part of me is glad we're waiting. Like I said, I wasn't sure he was interested; I need time to think, never mind whether he does or not."

"Okay, then." He grinned. "By the way, I took a look at my old pal."

"What? Oh, the basilisk. I'd forgotten all about that."

"You wouldn't be able to say that if you'd been down there. It's not as cold as I thought it was... you would not believe the smell."

"Oh, dear. So much for that plan, then. It was just a thought."

"Well, it depends what he wants from it," Harry said with a shrug. "The meat's a bit... uh... gooey, now, and the guts and stuff seem to have gone – rotted, I suppose, or something ate them. There could be anything down there. But the skin still looks okay, and so do the old shed skins, and the bones are all fine. I was going to try and bring one of the fangs back in case it came in handy, but I had visions of tripping and landing on it or something."

"I'm glad you didn't, then." Hermione grinned and shook her head, fighting another blush. "Somehow, I don't think Potions ingredients are really going to be his highest priority right now, though."

He grinned back at her. "It was really that good?"

This time she managed to suppress the blush, but only just. "It really was..."

"You're mental."

"Probably," she agreed wryly. "Anyway, I'm sure you find my love life absolutely fascinating, but what about yours, hmm? How are things with you and Ginny?"

He grinned sheepishly, looking almost adorably soppy, frankly. "Er, it's going well." His smile faded. "But..." Hermione sat up, looked at him steadily for a moment, then reached out and slapped him around the back of the head, nearly knocking his glasses off and making him yelp. "What was that for?"

"Because you're about to say something stupid so I wanted to get it over with," she told him tartly. "I know you, Harry Potter. You're thinking that something big is going to happen soon, and that with all the Horcruxes to hunt and so on we might not be coming back to Hogwarts if things go wrong, and you're considering being noble and pig-headed and moronic and finishing with her. Aren't you?"

He squirmed. "Um... if I say yes, will you hit me again?"

"I should, by rights. Don't be thick, Harry. You're trying to be an arrogant hero and a prat again. If – if, mind – something does happen, we're not going to be thrown out on our own. Assuming the very worst, if we end up leaving school, it will be because the school has closed. If that happens, we'll still have Dumbledore with us, and Severus, whatever he might think. We're not going to lose contact with the rest of the Order, either; the Weasleys at least would never stand for it. Maybe you won't be able to see Ginny for a while, but that doesn't mean you should split up. She's waited years for you to wake up; she's not going to get bored and look elsewhere just because you don't see one another for a few weeks at a time. Do you trust her?"

"Yes, of course I do."

"Right, then stop being stupid. If something happens, everyone's going to get an explanation – I'm sure the Order all know that Dumbledore's got us doing something special by now. Ginny will understand. And she's going to be absolutely furious with you if you try this. Don't make decisions for her, Harry. It's the single most annoying thing a man can do. She's not stupid and she knows the risks of being involved with the Chosen One; let her make her own choice if it becomes necessary. Okay?"

He nodded meekly. "Okay."

"Honestly. I've got enough personal problems of my own without having to sort yours out as well."

He stuck his tongue out at her, but he was trying not to smile. "Well, who else am I supposed to talk to? Ron doesn't know anything about girls anyway, and I definitely don't want to talk to him about his sister."

"Here's a novel idea; you could try talking to Ginny herself." She rolled her eyes at him. "I'm not spending the rest of my life trying to manage your relationships for you. You're both going to have to learn to do it by yourselves. Ron's probably already beyond help, but you still have a chance."

Harry actually pouted at her, his eyes laughing. "All right, all right, I get it. I'll talk to her." He grinned. "You know, this is really weird. Snape destroyed a piece of Voldemort's soul tonight, and we're sitting here talking about our love lives. That seems a bit daft and self-obsessed, doesn't it?"

"We're teenagers, Harry. We can't help it." She grinned back at him. "It's not so strange, though. We don't really know what to do about the Horcruxes. We're just doing what Dumbledore tells us to do at the moment; it's too big to think about all at once, only in small bits, one Horcrux at a time. Talking about it isn't going to help. But this, we can do something about – talking about it makes us feel better. You look better, and I feel better. And we'll be better at coping with what lies ahead if we're not all emotional wrecks. Besides, I personally think it's nice to remember that the fate of the world doesn't depend on everything we do. Some things in our lives are still just about us."

"It must be nice to know everything about everything," he told her, smiling. "Everything you've just said seems really obvious now, but I'd never have thought of it on my own. I wish I was as smart as you."

"Oh, shut up."

"I'm serious. Thanks."

"You soppy bugger." Hermione shook her head and smiled at him. "You're welcome, Harry. Now, it's getting late; we should get to bed. I think these last few days are going to be very, very busy."

As they went their separate ways, Harry called across the common room from the stairs up to the boys' dormitories, "Hermione?"


He waggled his eyebrows at her. "Wonderful?"

"Good night, Harry."

"Night." He gave her a look of pure mischief. "Sweet dreams."

Annoyed with herself for blushing yet again, Hermione shook her head, glared at him and turned away, heading for her own bed and smiling to herself. I think they will be.

Severus had never been so relieved that lessons stopped in June for the exams. He could not have coped with trying to teach. His mind was all over the place, his near-legendary focus utterly shattered in the space of two days; his thoughts wandered more or less constantly and he couldn't concentrate on anything. One or two of his colleagues had noticed he was a little distracted – Minerva had finally beaten him at chess last night, and had crowed over it most immaturely – but nobody had questioned him, possibly because they knew he would have ripped their head off if they had. Even the portraits had largely left him alone, apparently accepting Hermione's story that the Fiendfyre had left him rather shaken up; it was powerful dark magic, after all. That was just as well – he didn't want to imagine Dilys' reaction when she found out what had happened. He had always hated being teased, and she never did know where to draw the line.

And, thank Merlin for small mercies, he hadn't been Summoned. If the Dark Lord started digging around in his head again, he could deal with that without even thinking about it, but in his current distracted state of mind he was much more likely to make a mistake that would earn his master's wrath, and although he had regained his health to all outward appearances he didn't really want to test it. He was also more likely to get into a disagreement with one of his brethren, and frankly they weren't worth the effort. Additionally, he didn't really want to encounter Lucius or Narcissa at the moment, not now he had formally disowned Draco – he didn't intend to abandon the boy completely, but still, it wasn't what they expected of him and it would rouse suspicion.

He had to admit that he had been avoiding Hermione, but equally, she had been avoiding him. They had passed one another in the corridor the following morning, and exchanged a glance that had lasted perhaps a second or two that had conveyed a hell of a lot, and since then by mutual accord they had kept their distance from one another. He knew he was capable of pretending it was for the best and massively fucking up, but this was genuinely mutual, because during that one glance they had both seen that neither of them had a clue what happened now and were both extremely confused. It wasn't the most mature way to handle things, but there simply wasn't time. Once term ended, if they were both still alive and nothing had gone too badly wrong, they'd find time to talk. Right now, both of them needed to slow down and avoid getting too deep too quickly.

It was a bit of an awkward situation, but nowhere near as bad as it could have been, he reflected philosophically. If this... whatever it was... hadn't been mutual, it would have been sheer bloody agony, and he'd been there before and had absolutely no desire to go through that again. Confusion was acceptable, for the moment. Confusion didn't hurt, and confusion could eventually be dealt with. And, really, there were more pressing things to worry about – the war took precedence over his romantic incompetence.

As though the thought had been a summons, silver light flared in the corner of his living room, interrupting his wandering thoughts – he had been trying to read, but his attention had drifted ages ago. Interested, Severus watched the Patronus forming, wondering whose it was – he was seldom contacted by Patronus; the Order members he spoke to most often were Dumbledore and Minerva, who would talk to him by Floo since they were in the same building. It looked a lot smaller than most of the Patronuses he could think of... he blinked as the shape formed. An otter? Who...

The otter sat back on its hind legs and spoke, and he stared as Hermione's voice told him, "The Headmaster called us just now – well, he called Harry, and Ron and I tagged along. We're going after a Horcrux as soon as we're ready."

As it faded, he kept staring for a frozen moment before shaking it off. The message was, for the moment, more important than the method of delivery. He had no idea where they were going or what he might need, or how much time he had to prepare; standing, he found his coat and boots, foregoing the robe for easier movement, and headed swiftly out of the dungeons through his usual back door. Once outside, he automatically looked towards the lake for a moment with a wry smile before turning and jogging down the drive through the warm June evening.

The image of the silver otter stayed behind his eyes; it was the first time he had seen Hermione's Patronus. Peculiarly, it suited her, at least in some respects, but... well, why couldn't it have been something less embarrassing? He was dismally certain that the problem with his own Patronus was related to her, and if it turned into an otter he might as well just shoot himself. He could try it now, of course, and see what happened now that he knew what hers was, but frankly he was too embarrassed. At least the otter wouldn't look female, he supposed – the doe was a serious insult to what masculinity he had left – but Tarka wasn't much of an improvement over Bambi's mother, really. Bloody typical. So much for the big bad Death Eater. It was pretty ironic – he was a dark enough wizard that he shouldn't really be able to cast a Patronus at all, and in fact he was the only Death Eater who could, yet its form was the girliest and most pathetic of anyone's he knew, or at least it had been.

Amused at his own woolgathering, he shook it off. He needed to pay attention; something like this could be dangerous, although admittedly if it was too risky Dumbledore wouldn't be bringing his precious Potter along. If nothing else, he was going to seriously annoy the Headmaster by tagging along like this, and he'd have to concentrate to make sure the old man didn't try and lose him somewhere along the way. At least he would get to see Hermione again, and in public – which for once was a good thing, since it would mean they would have to behave normally. It would also mean he couldn't give in to temptation, which was likely to be more of a problem than he would have thought it might be; since that night, his dreams had been extremely vivid and detailed, and he wasn't about to put any faith in his self control.

Mind you, if that was the biggest problem they faced tonight, they would be doing extremely well.

Overall, Hermione was quite pleased at how calm she felt as she and the boys followed Dumbledore down the drive. It had been a very strange couple of days, admittedly, but she was managing to stay on top of things and not let her nerves get the better of her. The night it had happened, she hadn't slept much, understandably, but she hadn't really worried all that much – she'd been too busy discovering how startlingly vivid her imagination could be. Revision had kept her preoccupied throughout yesterday, and then last night she had had a panicky fit of tears which had mercifully been short-lived and had been at least partly hormonal, and today had been better. It was going to be all right eventually, provided they could both survive the last weeks of term. One of the biggest potential obstacles had been her worry that Severus would either not be interested or would do something staggeringly idiotic and try and prevent anything happening, and since she knew he was prepared to at least try, she was pretty sure they could work something out eventually.

It would have been nice to talk to someone, but she had discussed it with Harry and Ron as far as she intended to and in fact further than she had wanted to. Poppy wasn't an option; the nurse hadn't had a problem with the two of them in the abstract, but now that something had happened, even if it had just been a kiss, that might have changed and she'd rather not know. Dilys and Phineas were even less of an option; she didn't want to imagine the teasing or the jokes, which would almost certainly be filthy. And they would tease Severus unmercifully, too; she'd like to spare him that, if possible, and he wouldn't be happy to know she had been discussing him anyway. So as far as the portraits knew, nothing had changed and she was busy preparing for exams.

Besides, there were more important things to deal with first; she watched the Headmaster's back for a moment before glancing at the boys, who were both grinning in a kind of nervous excitement that matched how she was feeling at the moment. From the way Dumbledore had talked, this Horcrux was far more difficult to get to and far better guarded than the ones that had been dealt with before, for whatever reason; she really hated facing the unknown, and the last time she had left Hogwarts to do something related to the war they had nearly been killed and she had been badly hurt. Dumbledore was with them, and despite the recent awkwardness Harry at least seemed more relaxed because of it, but she wanted to sway the odds a bit further in their favour just in case – hence the message to Severus, although she had always intended to try and involve him as much as possible, since he was the one who had bled for this so often. If anyone could keep them safe, he could.

And, okay, she could admit that she also just wanted to see him. She had been disappointed that he hadn't been waiting at the doors, and the entire way down the drive she had been straining her senses, since she wouldn't put it past him to sneak up on them. The Headmaster's presence and the fact that Severus wasn't aware that Harry and Ron knew what was going on would mean he would have to behave as nastily as he usually did, though – she wasn't looking forward to his reaction when he eventually found out how much her friends knew – and that was a shame, although it was also safer. Even two days later, she could still taste him, and it was very distracting.

Firmly making herself rehearse potentially useful charms and spells in her head, she let fog cloud her thoughts as she calmed down, listening to the boys bantering in whispers. A shiver ran down her spine as they approached the gates, remembering the last time she had been down here – for a moment she could almost smell blood – but then it was replaced by an entirely different sort of shiver when she saw the muted red glow of a lit cigarette falling to the ground, and she couldn't keep the smile from her face as Severus' deep, silky voice drawled softly, "Good evening, Headmaster. It is a pleasant night for a stroll, is it not?"

For a heart-stopping moment it looked like a disaster was imminent, as Dumbledore drew his wand with startling speed and spun around; a patch of shadow beside the gates moved as Severus stepped forward, both hands raised to show that they were empty. "Now, now..."

Dumbledore took a deep breath and exhaled heavily. "Severus. This is a surprise. Are you on your way out, perhaps?"

"Do we really need to speak in code all the time?" he inquired in a not quite scornful tone. "No, I haven't been summoned. I had nothing better to do and decided to invite myself along on this jolly sightseeing trip. I trust you have no objections to that, under the circumstances."

"I cannot leave the school unprotected, Severus..."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "I don't believe it is unprotected, although I would enjoy seeing Minerva's face had she just heard you imply that she isn't capable of defeating half the Dark Lord's army all by herself. She and Filius Flitwick are both skilled, experienced and powerful duellists, as you well know, and the other teachers are mostly capable of looking after themselves. Except possibly Sybill."

"It is a risky time," the Headmaster said neutrally. "You know what's coming."

"Then stay here and face it," Severus shot back, his eyes hardening. "If you really thought it was so risky you wouldn't be standing here arguing with me, you'd still be in the castle. Shall we?"

"This is going to be fun, isn't it?" Ron murmured as Severus opened the gates and bowed mockingly to his employer. "I would have expected him to be in a good mood."

Hermione stifled a laugh. "He is in a good mood. He likes winding Dumbledore up. Come on."

Harry demonstrated almost suicidal bravery again by moving to stand between the two older wizards, grinning cheerfully and trying painfully hard to pretend everything was fine. "Where are we going, sir?"

"Before we leave, I wish to reiterate what I said in my office," the Headmaster said gravely. "I expect each of you to obey me absolutely, without question or hesitation. That means you too, Severus, if you insist on accompanying us. I will have your word, or we go no further; Harry and his friends have already promised."

The two men stared at one another; something had hardened in Severus' expression, his black eyes darkening still further with the beginnings of anger. "What would be the point of giving my word?" he asked finally. "You don't believe that it is worth anything." His jaw tightened for a moment before he sighed, appearing to relax. "I will do as you say, as long as it makes sense. That's the best you're going to get; take it or leave it."

"One day, Severus, you are going to push me too far," Dumbledore said almost cheerfully, and the skin twitched under the younger wizard's eye, although he didn't answer.

Harry cleared his throat bravely and repeated, "Where are we going, sir?"

Turning away, the Headmaster evidently decided to ignore his employee as much as possible, addressing himself exclusively to Harry with only a brief glance at Ron and Hermione. "A cave on the coast, near the orphanage where Tom Riddle grew up."

"Where they went on holiday, and he scared those two children?"


"What are we going to have to face, sir?" Hermione asked. "You said in your office that this one was more heavily protected."

"Yes, Miss Granger. I do not know the exact nature of the protection around it, but it is more extensive than the others have been. We will not be able to Apparate directly there, only to the cliffs above. I hope you can all swim. As for what we will find once we get there, let us find out. Harry has travelled by Side-Along Apparition before; have either of you?"

"No, sir," Ron said.

"No, sir," Hermione lied, resisting the urge to glance at Severus; she could almost feel his approving smirk. Last summer... it had been less than a year ago, but it felt like another lifetime. So much had happened since then...

"It is somewhat disorientating, but not harmful. If you would hold hands? Harry, on my right, if you could take my elbow. Mr Weasley to my left, with Miss Granger. Severus, I can give you our co-ordinates..."

"I wasn't born yesterday," Severus replied scathingly, striding forward to stand next to Hermione. He was facing away from her, not merely looking in the other direction but with his entire body angled away from her, and his harsh features were set in a scowl, but she felt her heart speed up as his fingers linked through hers in the darkness between their bodies. He hadn't so much as glanced at her since meeting them at the end of the drive, but this made up for it; she dared to squeeze his fingers briefly, and his thumb moved in a slow circle over her hand in response that made her shiver before Dumbledore spoke again and jolted her back to the present.

"Very well, then. One, two, three..."

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 31 of 60

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