Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 33 of 60

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
Untitled Document

There was a moment of thick, oppressive, ringing silence as everyone stood frozen and stared uncomprehendingly at the two wizards. It had been a professional, bloodless amputation; Dumbledore fell back towards the Order's ranks, clutching at his arm and leaving his blackened hand on the floor.

Severus had an odd, twisted smile on his face as he moved suddenly and swiftly, turning and bringing his wand up and across in a wide arc, and he broke the silence by screaming so loudly that his voice cracked, "SECTUMSEMPRA!"

Whatever damage had been done by that spell in those old records, it clearly hadn't been how it was meant to be used. Wielded properly, by its creator, the results were devastating. Half a dozen robed and masked Death Eaters went down screaming and clutching horrific wounds as blood sprayed into the air in scarlet bursts, even as Voldemort howled in sudden outraged realisation, but Severus was already moving – racing across the floor in a blur of black and leaping onto one of the House tables.

"Well?" he snapped as he skidded along the polished wood. "What are you all waiting for? Christmas?"

Without ceremony, he took aim and sent a vicious Entrail-Expelling Curse at the nearest Death Eater, and vaulted off the far side of the table without waiting to see the results as at least three different hexes collided in the space where he had been standing a second before. The air was suddenly filled with magic, and the battle began in deadly earnest.

It was very different from the fight at the Ministry, Hermione reflected breathlessly; they had been inexperienced children then despite all their efforts with the DA. Now she, Harry and Ron were in a corner, rotating so that two people were fighting while one person stood behind them to catch their breath and keep a lookout, and they were holding their own surprisingly well. The Order had separated into groups and were fighting back to back; she had seen at least some of the Weasleys, and Moody, and a couple of others she hadn't really had time to recognise before everything had kicked off. She had no idea where Severus was at the moment, and she was more frightened for him than she was for herself.

They were horribly outnumbered; the only reason that the Order were still putting up a good fight was that the Death Eaters seemed more interested in punishing the traitor in their midst than in battling their official enemies, and because there were so many of them that they were getting in one another's way in the relatively confined space. The only time she had caught a glimpse of Severus, he had been right in the heart of the fighting, hard pressed but holding his ground; in that brief sighting she had realised that despite all his words in their training sessions, he had been holding back. Now, he was unleashed, and fighting with everything he had; it was both awe-inspiring and rather frightening.

Wiping her face on her sleeve, she touched Ron's shoulder and moved forward to take his place, letting him fall back to rest. "Hurt yet?" she asked hoarsely.

"Nope. Knackered, though," he told her with a grin, leaning back against the wall. "Incoming," he added without much inflection in his voice – they were all a bit numb by now. Turning, Hermione cast a well-aimed Burning Hex and the Death Eater retreated with a snarl to put out the flames licking down his arm.

Harry laughed breathlessly as he sent a Stunner streaking into the crowd – they weren't using lethal spells unless they could see who they were aiming for. "You do have a thing for setting fire to people, don't you?"

She returned his laugh as her gaze swept the chaos anxiously. "Well, it works."

"Speaking of fire, bloody hell!" Ron said from behind them, standing on tiptoe to stare across the hall. "Look at him go!"


"Snape! He's just gone charging after someone, and – I don't believe it." He started laughing.

"Ron, mate, if you don't tell us what's going on I'm going to chuck you out there," Harry said as he hastily threw up a shield.

"Sorry, but this is brilliant – Hermione, you've got to see this!"

"I'm a bit busy right now, Ron! Tell me!"

"Well, I can't see for certain, but I'm pretty sure Snape's just jumped on – well, it's got to be Dolohov, because he's using that horrible purple fire spell that Dolohov used on you at the Ministry. I didn't realise he even knew about that."

"He's doing what?" Hermione asked incredulously.

"Well, we always knew Snape was good at revenge," Harry noted, deflecting another spell. "I guess he took it personally that you got hurt. Still worried about what he feels for you?"

"I'm not so busy that I can't hex the pair of you," she warned, somewhat flustered. She had forgotten that she'd told him who had cursed her, but he had been oddly insistent.

Leaving Dolohov screaming and choking on his own blood as he began to die slowly, Severus weaved between a couple of battles, taking a moment to regain his breath once more. The hysteria had faded, his Occlumency defences once again saving him from completely losing his marbles, and the world had reduced to the need to stay alive at all costs. Fire burned through his veins and it was as though he had never been injured in his life; he felt ten years younger, keenly aware of his own strength. He would pay for that later, but... he wasn't dead yet. Against unbelievably shitty odds, he had survived the world going to hell around him, and he wasn't going to stop now.

The world had gone mad, Severus decided rather shakily as he took a moment to try and catch his breath, trembling and absolutely terrified and half out of his mind, sky high on near-narcotic levels of adrenaline. It was impossible to think, and in a melee like this thinking was death – you didn't have time to think, only react. Dodge, shield, duck, counter, strike, run, block. He knew his rational mind had gone into shock, because his inner monologue had been reduced to a mindless gibbering repetition of What the fuck?

He leaned against the wall for a few seconds' respite, staring around him at the absolute chaos of a couple score of people all trying to kill one another. He'd done this. This was his fault. But what else was he supposed to have done? Murderer or not, Severus knew he couldn't have made himself kill Dumbledore, not and survive it. His sanity was so painfully fragile – possibly it had snapped already. But it wasn't supposed to be like this... No time to think about it. Turning, he plunged back into the madness, looking for Minerva – she would be guarding Dumbledore, and one of them needed to take charge and give the order to retreat. They couldn't win and the longer they tried, the more people would die. The Gryffindors were finally going to have to learn to run.

To his immense relief, he finally caught a glimpse of the Trio, safely tucked into a defensible corner and working pretty efficiently as a team. He'd like nothing more than to join them, but his motivation for this insanity might be a little obvious if he stood guard over Hermione, and he didn't think they really needed his help anyway. He had other things to worry about right now, in any case, as he suddenly found himself facing a pair of very frightened grey eyes as a now-conscious Draco cowered back against his parents.

The noise of the battle seemed to recede as Severus and the Malfoys faced one another. As though this was just a casual chat, as though they had all the time in the world, Lucius raised a hand and unfastened his mask, lowering it slowly and staring hard at him. "This is your plan?" he asked icily. "To throw us all to the dogs?"

"I don't have a plan," he replied nonchalantly, trying not to sound too breathless as some of the adrenaline chose that moment to jump ship and abandon him. "I told you I didn't."

"You told me you would protect my son."

"And I have done. He's still alive, isn't he? And he's not a murderer, either. He's not beyond forgiveness, whichever side wins."

Lucius and his wife exchanged glances before Narcissa turned and elegantly fused someone's legs together with something a little more dangerous than the Leg-Locker Curse, keeping the little space around them clear. She turned back and asked mildly, "How did you do it? The Vow..."

"It's a long story," he told her honestly. "I meant it, though. I'm doing what I can." Glancing around, reflexively repelling a curse aimed at his head, he tried not to laugh.

"Severus," Lucius said finally, "have you lost your bloody mind?"

"Yes," he replied simply, shaking his head. "The world's gone mad, so I thought I might as well join in. I honestly have no idea what I'm doing or which side's going to win – there are suddenly a lot more than two. But I'm doing what I hope is the right thing. I think."

"You had better be right," Lucius said after a moment's pause. He hesitated and shook his head, his blond hair straggling around his face. "Why did you do this?"

Taking a risk, he met his friend's sharp grey eyes. "Why have I ever done anything?"

"Ah... I see. Interesting." Lucius arched an eyebrow and almost smiled before turning away and looking at his wife. "Come, my dear. Let us get our son away from this mess. The Dark Lord has other things on his mind right now, since even with only one arm, Dumbledore seems to be doing quite well. Draco, come along. And don't look to your left, Greyback appears to be eating someone. We will talk about this at home. Good luck, Severus."

"Good luck," he replied, bewildered by the irony of such a civilised conversation in the middle of such insane brutality and violence. At least they didn't blame him. Which was more than could be said for almost everyone else, he suspected, a distant flicker of pain overcoming the sting of his injuries and the crackling blankness of adrenaline for a moment.

Ignoring it, he headed for the nearest little knot of Order members. Arthur, Bill, Minerva, Kingsley, Dumbledore – a formidable group under even these circumstances. He had no idea who else had got here in time; his memory of the previous hour was a little sketchy right now. "Run," he told them breathlessly as he reached them. "We'll all be slaughtered unless we get clear now."

"Severus..." The old man's voice was slurred. Shock, presumably; it wasn't blood loss, Severus knew how to do a proper amputation. He shook his head, starting to feel shaky, and turned to look at Minerva instead.

"What happened?" she snapped at him, her accent as thick as he had ever heard it. Briefly and irrationally he wondered if the portraits were watching this, and shook the thought away, a buzz filling his ears.

"Scold me later. Get him to Headquarters. Tell the others to run. I'll get the children out. There's no time," he snapped, already turning away. He glanced briefly across the Hall to check that Hermione was still all right, then grinned recklessly to himself as an approaching figure caught his eye; time to do something really stupid. "I'll distract everyone. Start the Order moving. Trust me, just once more."

A few minutes later Harry, who was taking his turn to rest, swore suddenly and grabbed Hermione's shoulder, pointing; she and Ron both turned and gasped. Severus was up on the only long House table still intact, duelling with Voldemort himself.

Hermione stared, only vaguely aware of Harry stepping forward and nudging her back into the corner to watch while the boys kept fighting. Severus' robe was in tatters and he'd shrugged most of it away, but what remained stirred and eddied around him, caught in the swirling current of his magic that was also blowing his hair back from his face. Blood was pouring from a shallow gash above one eye, but aside from tilting his head slightly to keep his vision unimpeded he was ignoring it. His eyes were alight, fierce and blazing and more alive than she had ever seen even in the Room of Requirement; this was Severus Snape unleashed, holding nothing back, a creature of instinct and passion and raw power that put the rest of them to shame. There was something primal and savage and oddly beautiful about him as he fought; by contrast, Voldemort was a twisted thing made of darkness and hate.

A momentary lull in the battle made the noise level drop as quite a few people on both sides paused to watch, so they heard Voldemort hiss venomously, "You dare, Severus? You are mine!"

The entire castle could have heard Severus' furious reply. "No! I'm not yours any more than I am Dumbledore's! I am my own!" he snarled thickly, following the words with a swift onslaught of spells that actually had his master backing up a step.

"All this over a dead Mudblood?" Voldemort asked angrily as he retaliated.

Ducking a spell and deflecting another, Severus threw back his head and laughed. "You stupid, arrogant prick," he gasped contemptuously. "You never knew me at all, and nor did Dumbledore. Either of you could have had me, heart and soul, for ever, but neither of you understood a damned thing about me." He bared his crooked teeth in a feral grin and taunted, "Pretty poor for someone who invaded my mind once a week, isn't it? Don't you wonder what else you might have missed?"

He paid for the jibe a moment later when he didn't quite jump clear in time, a jet of red light leaving a deep slash in his side. Looking absolutely livid with fury, Voldemort advanced along the table as he stumbled. "Little fool, you know nothing!"

Dropping to one knee to regain his balance before he fell off the table, Severus looked up through the curtains of his hair and sneered contemptuously, his expression pure scornful Professor Snape. "I know I'm going to see you dead," he promised grimly, before laughing breathlessly as he threw himself off the table, rolling and coming to his feet in one effortless movement. "But not today." He smashed the table out from under Voldemort's feet and bolted back into the heart of the fighting.

"...Okay, your bloke is seriously cool," Ron said after a moment, grinning as Hermione turned to blink at him. "That was awesome. I thought Snake-face there was going to throw a tantrum and start stamping his feet."

"He's right, though, we can't win this today," Harry said worriedly. "We're going to have to run for it, but I don't know where we can go or how we're going to get past that lot to get to the door. Ron and I can Summon our brooms, maybe, but..."

"Then do it," a totally unexpected voice said hoarsely, and all three of them gaped as Severus broke free of the chaos in front of them. This close, they could see that most of his clothes were in tatters; he was bleeding in dozens of places and standing awkwardly, gasping raggedly for breath, but his dark eyes were still blazing and he was actually almost smiling, in a rather unsettling manner. "Muffliato," he rasped, before speaking quickly. "Summon your brooms and get ready. In a moment I'm going to do something that will buy you time to get clear of the castle. Go to St Anne's. I will follow and I will find you there. Don't worry about the Order, they're already starting to leave – you three are the targets. No questions. Finite. Go!"

Before any of them could even think of saying anything, he whirled and was gone back into the heart of the crowd, pausing just long enough to castrate a luckless Death Eater before vanishing from sight as his victim collapsed screaming and clutching at the bloody ruin of his groin. Hermione felt no sympathy; she could hazard a pretty good guess as to why Severus had chosen that particular method of injuring whoever it was.

"What –" Ron began, but Harry cut him off.

"Don't argue, there's no time. Accio brooms! Where did he want us to go?"

"I know where he meant. Nobody else could possibly know. Get us past the gates and I can Apparate us there," Hermione said, dodging to one side to avoid being clouted by the broomsticks. "God, I hope he knows what he's doing..." she added worriedly, staring at the blood he had left on the floor.

"I think he's got a better idea than anyone else does at the moment," Harry told her reassuringly, half-dragging and half-pushing her onto his Firebolt before climbing on in front of her. "I know I haven't got a bloody clue. Just like riding Buckbeak, hold on to me and look at my back," he added, turning to grin at her – they all knew she was a terrible flier at the best of times.

"Git," she muttered. "What's..."

Her question went unfinished; a moment later every single Death Eater still standing collapsed to their knees or fell over entirely, clutching at their left arms and screaming in agony. She caught a brief glimpse of Severus, white-faced, his gaunt features twisted into a snarl of pain and his right hand pressed to his Dark Mark, before Harry kicked off from the ground and he and Ron shot forward towards the door as the Order began their own retreat.

Whatever Severus had done, it clearly didn't affect Voldemort, who launched himself directly at them with a howl of frustrated fury; even as both boys dodged and zigzagged frantically to try and avoid the jets of spell-light, they heard Severus scream, "CRUCIO!" and Voldemort literally fell out of the air, screaming in a horribly inhuman high-pitched buzzing wail of outraged pain.

"Go, go," Hermione gasped breathlessly, burying her face against Harry's back as the brooms shot forward into the night.

Severus managed to keep Voldemort distracted long enough for the rest of the Order to scatter into the Forbidden Forest and from there begin to make their own way off the Hogwarts grounds; he had more than enough hate in him to fuel a Cruciatus more severe than anything that had ever been directed at him. He wished he had more time to stand here and curse his former master, but the others were recovering from the agony he had sent through the linked Marks and he needed to leave – besides, there was a good reason why he and the others were scared of the Dark Lord. He was good, but he had limits, and he was far from fighting fit now. Dumbledore had triggered the Hogwarts wards before he left with the others; Severus activated them with a smear of his own blood down the wall as he bolted for the door and threw himself off the steps.

How he had the energy to maintain any flight at all was a mystery; he was sky-high on adrenaline and pain and sheer mortal terror, his thoughts sharp-edged and white and concerned purely with surviving long enough to get past the boundary and Disapparate. The terror leaped up another notch at the furious howl from behind him; Voldemort was on his trail, and although Severus had held his own with surprising ease earlier he knew he wasn't truly a match for the Dark Lord even without the toll his injuries were taking on him.

He almost made it; the curse hit him in the back just as he was passing over the gates, throwing him past the boundary and smashing him brutally to the ground in an uncoordinated attempt at a roll. He heard bones break, somewhere, but if he stopped moving even for a second he was going to die; barely aware of the agony flowing along his nerves, he kept rolling, scrambling into a staggering attempt at a run and Apparating between one step and the next, falling forward into whirling blackness.

He opened his eyes lying flat on his back in an alley in Manchester, late at night and covered in blood. Hardly a rare occurrence around here, he reflected, suppressing a groan of pain. Rolling onto his side, he somehow made it to hands and knees before unceremoniously throwing up – also not unusual around here. The effort of vomiting nearly made him pass out, as did the surge of nausea caused by the sheer amount of physical pain he was in, but he didn't have time for that. He didn't have time to go into shock, either, he told himself sternly, trying in vain to stop his trembling and clenching his jaws to stop his teeth chattering as he hauled himself to his feet and took stock. At least there was no mess; he'd puked so often in the last few hours there was nothing left, not even bile, and his stomach was sore from retching.

He hurt all over, a bone-deep ache born of fatigue and magical exhaustion as much as injury. Several ribs felt cracked, and one shoulder was a throbbing mess of pain that suggested it might well be dislocated, but his left arm hurt so badly anyway that he couldn't tell if it was useable or not. He still held his wand clenched in his right hand; it took a real effort to uncurl his fingers long enough to shove it through his belt out of the way, his hand spasming and cramping.

Leaning against the wall for a moment as his shaking grew worse, Severus closed his eyes, struggling to pull his Occlumency walls back into place; he couldn't afford to think about what he had just done yet. Clearing his mind as best he could, he staggered clear of the alley and began limping unsteadily down the street, occasionally turning his head to one side and spitting blood.

It seemed to be hours before the church came into view; he had seriously misjudged the Apparition. His vision was darkening at the edges and he wanted nothing more than to pass out, but he had far too much to do yet to let himself do so; in any case, he was badly hurt and would need to Heal the worst injuries soon. Severus made no attempt to look for the three of them; they'd be hidden somewhere and watching for him. Instead he weaved almost drunkenly through the churchyard until he could sink down and sit unceremoniously on his father's gravestone, cradling his aching head in his good hand, and waited for them to come and find him.

Hermione approached him cautiously, the boys a few steps behind her. She could smell the blood on him even from some distance away, but he was upright, at least, even though she could see him shaking. "S-Severus?" she asked uncertainly, realising vaguely that this was only the second time she had ever dared to call him by his first name.

Very slowly he lifted his head; he was very pale, trembling, bloody, and clearly in a great deal of pain, and his dark eyes were remote and Occluded. "Are any of you hurt?" he asked thickly.

"Just cuts and bruises. You?"

"Far worse than that," he replied laconically, "but it'll have to wait. We have to get off the streets. Come on." He hauled himself to his feet with a muffled curse, swaying for a moment before regaining his balance; she saw his hands twitching and recognised the aftermath of the Cruciatus with a wince. "A moment," he said slowly, fumbling his wand out of his belt and pulling what remained of his sleeve to one side to expose the Dark Mark. Laboriously he dragged his wand tip back and forth across the skull and snake design, mumbling, "Obscurus," in a slightly slurred voice as blood flecked his lips, and what looked like a bruise formed on his arm and grew darker, partially concealing it.

"What's that?" Harry asked uncertainly.

"Blocks the Mark, temporarily," Severus explained hoarsely. "He could track me through it, otherwise. Weasley, do me a favour and grab hold of my wrist, and pull hard when I tell you." Blinking, Ron came forward and did as he was told. "Now," Severus told him, and yanked back, twisting slightly, reaching up to press at his shoulder with his free hand. There was an absolutely horrible noise and he snarled wordlessly in pain before gently drawing his arm away from Ron's grip and flexing it. "That'll do. Let's go. Quickly."

"You could have just asked me to reset it for you," Hermione told him acidly as they began to follow him down the street away from the church.

"I may need your magic a lot in the next few days to help patch me up again," he replied unexpectedly. "No point wasting it now, especially not after everything else you've done tonight."

"Are you all right?" she asked softly, and he shook his head.

"Don't. I can't afford to be anything but all right yet. Later."

"Later," she agreed reluctantly, falling back to walk with the boys as they followed him silently through the darkened streets. Gradually their surroundings changed, the houses growing smaller and shabbier and closer together, and the streets changed from tarmac and paving to cobbles in varying states of disrepair. Finally they turned down a shabby cul-de-sac of grubby terraced brick houses, several with boarded-up windows; of the three lamp posts in view, one was broken, one was working dimly and the third was flickering on and off. It looked like the Victorian equivalent of a council estate, and screamed industrial working-class North – it could have been straight from the credits of Coronation Street. She exchanged puzzled glances with Harry, both of them wondering what they were doing here. Ron just looked confused; there was nothing like this in the wizarding world.

Severus headed directly for one of the houses at the end of the row. "We're not safe until we're inside," he said tersely.

"Is this an Order safe house?" Harry asked, and he shook his head.

"No. Right now there is no such thing."

"Then how do you know this place is safe?"

Severus gave him a tired look and turned away, reaching the door of the house and fishing in his tattered robe, drawing out a key on a length of grubby string. "Because it's mine."

"You live here?"

"Unfortunately. Now get inside so I can arm the wards," he ordered curtly, unlocking the door and shoving it open with his shoulder. The three of them filed past him into a dark, narrow hallway that smelled strongly of damp, and he slammed the door as he followed them in. There was a click after a moment and a dim light bulb flickered to life overhead, illuminating the cramped entry complete with threadbare carpet and peeling wallpaper.

"Don't the Death Eaters know about this place?"

"Yes, some of them, but it's protected. It's safe enough, at least for now." Severus turned from the door, his expression bleak and harsh. "We stay here until the Order contacts us," he said shortly. "Explore if you want. Not that there's much to see," he added distantly, disappearing through a door that appeared to lead into a kitchen that looked as cramped and shabby as the hallway, shutting the door behind him.

The three teenagers exchanged long, slightly disbelieving looks. A hell of a lot had happened in a short space of time, they were all numb and exhausted and had no idea what was going on, and now... "This place is worse than Headquarters was when we first got there," Ron said flatly. "He really lives here?"

"Apparently," Harry agreed slowly, looking nonplussed. "C'mon, maybe the rest is better..."

It wasn't. The living room was lined with bookshelves, all old and warped by age and damp; the carpet was worn thin, the armchairs and sofa didn't match and sagged alarmingly, and everything was dusty and had an air of neglect. There was no carpet at all on the narrow, creaking stairs, although by the feel of the floor there had been at some point in the past. The paint was grubby and peeling and the musty smell of damp was stronger as they headed upstairs.

Of the three doors on the landing, the first one proved to lead to the bathroom. "At least this is okay," Ron commented, looking relieved.

"It's a lot newer than the rest of the house, that's why," Harry said quietly, looking around. "A lot of old Muggle houses didn't have bathrooms. There was a bathtub in the kitchen by the fire, and the toilet was in a shed in the garden."

"Weird," Ron replied, shaking his head.

"No, they just hadn't invented the right plumbing yet," Hermione explained. "No Vanishing spells or cleaning charms, remember. Come on."

The second door led into the master bedroom, which was clearly unused. The mattress on the double bed looked new, still wrapped in the rather dusty plastic sheet, and there were no sheets or other linen anywhere. The wardrobe doors and the drawers in the chest were all open to air the furniture and were all empty. There was a box on the windowsill that proved to contain a few odds and ends of jewellery – a broken watch, a man's wedding band and a woman's wedding and engagement rings. Apart from a framed picture by the bed, the room was otherwise empty.

Harry picked up the frame, and the other two crowded close to look. It was a black and white Muggle photograph, a wedding picture, the two stationary figures smiling in a forced, posed sort of way at the camera. The groom was tall and lean, with a familiar hooked nose; the bride had long dark hair, heavy brows and thin, pinched features.

"Huh, no wonder Snape looks like he does," was Ron's verdict. "Poor bugger never had a chance, with those two for parents."

"Shut up, Ron," Harry and Hermione said in unison.

Still studying the photo, Harry said slowly, "They don't exactly look happy, do they?"

"Well, I knew he didn't come from a happy family already," Hermione said briskly, feeling a little uneasy at this glimpse of his private world. This was somehow worse than when she had trespassed in his official quarters – and the fact that his real home was even more depressing than those lonely rooms was horrible. "Come on, there's only one room left..."

"Snape's bedroom," Ron said, leering playfully at her. Rolling her eyes, she smacked him on the back of the head as she passed him.

The final room was indeed Severus' bedroom. Smaller than the other two rooms, it was barely large enough for a narrow single bed, an equally narrow wardrobe with drawers underneath it and a rickety desk under the window, which looked out on the overgrown strip that evidently passed for a back garden. Despite the quilt and pillows on the bed and the clothing in the wardrobe, it didn't look much more lived-in than the rest of the house; the only personal touches anywhere were the old, faded Slytherin tie knotted and looped over a corner of the headboard and a dusty cardboard box under the desk.

It was Hermione who picked up the box, putting it on the bed and opening it. There was a jumble of items inside it, and she sorted through it slowly in a kind of morbid curiosity, putting each item on the bed for the boys to look at. A framed certificate that proved to be his Master of Potions diploma. A leather folder that held his OWL and NEWT certificates and a very faded, much folded piece of parchment that turned out to be his Hogwarts letter from 1971. A somewhat creased and faded Muggle certificate confirming that he had passed his driving test in 1984. His Hogwarts contracts of employment, a simple one for a year's Defence and a much thicker one for Potions. An old-fashioned style Slytherin scarf, rather the worse for wear, unravelling at one end and with several holes in it. A key ring holding half a dozen assorted keys, some of which were rusty. A wand sheath, scuffed and worn. Several blank diaries, dated 1979, 1983 and 1991 respectively, that had never been used.

Under all this detritus was an old photograph album that looked seriously in danger of falling apart. Gingerly Hermione lifted it out and exchanged guilty glances with the boys, all three of them silently asking one another what they should do.

"Go ahead," Severus said tiredly from the doorway, scaring the hell out of all three of them. He half-smiled a little at their reactions, but there was no warmth in the expression and it soon faded. He had cleaned himself up a little and discarded what remained of his robe and his coat, and by the look of him had taken several healing potions, but his shirt was bloody and he was leaning against the doorframe for support.

"We don't have to do this now," Hermione said quietly. "You should be resting."

He shook his head wearily. "Not yet. And if we don't do this now, we never will. I'm too tired to do anything stupid, and one of you at least should see it."

The album, when Hermione set it gently on the bed and began to leaf through it, was actually more than half-empty. The first photo made her smile despite herself; a skinny eleven year old Severus scowled very self-consciously at her, looking very embarrassed in his new Hogwarts uniform and fidgeting with the cuff of his robe, as an eleven year old Lily smiled rather shyly next to him. The next photo was of the Evans family, and she shifted to allow Harry to see; Lily looked to be in her early teens, standing beside a girl who looked enough like her to be her sister Petunia, and a smiling older couple stood behind them.

There were a few more pictures like that, snapshots of a family Severus hadn't belonged to; he was in one or two of them in various stages of gangly teenage awkwardness, always off to one side and either scowling defensively or half-smiling sheepishly. There was one photo of the Snape family – Severus looked about five or six, and neither he nor his parents were smiling. Towards the back there was a very old yearbook photo of Eileen Prince in her Hogwarts uniform, holding what turned out to be a Gobstones trophy, and an equally old photo of a Muggle football team that was so faded it was difficult to pick out Tobias Snape in the front row. Apart from that, the album was almost empty, except for a piece of parchment at the back. Hermione unfolded it and stared in confusion before swinging around to look at Severus.

"You kept this?"

"Yes," he replied quietly, meeting her eyes. His gaze still held the almost frightening blankness of Occlumency, but he was using it to block out his pain and exhaustion, not to guard his thoughts.

"What is it?" Ron asked at her elbow; Harry was still looking at the photos.

"A letter I wrote in second year," she said slowly, looking back down at it, "thanking Professor Snape for making the Mandrake Draught after the basilisk Petrified me. I don't understand... Why did you keep it?"

An odd smile twisted his mouth briefly. "Because," he said very quietly, "you were the only student who thought to thank me. I have dealt with dozens of severe crises and accidents during my teaching career, and that note was the first and last thank-you I have ever received from anyone."

Her throat tightened for a moment before she made herself relax. "I see," she said quietly. It shouldn't have been like that for him, but there was nothing she could do about it now.

Slowly he pushed himself away from the doorframe and limped over to the bed. He pawed briefly through the pile, unceremoniously tossing the certificates and the bunch of keys onto the desk and throwing the junk back in the box before turning his attention to the photograph album. He picked out the photos of his parents and Hermione's letter and put them on the desk before gesturing vaguely at Harry.

"Take what pictures you want, Potter. I don't want any of them any more. I know you have some pictures of your mother, but I don't think you have any of your grandparents or your aunt."

"Thank you, sir," Harry said quietly as he selected two or three photographs.

Severus snorted wearily. "I think we're past 'sir' now, don't you? Apart from anything else, I'm reasonably certain that cutting limbs off your employer is grounds for dismissal even if there was a school left for me to teach at." He pitched the album and the rest of the photos into the box, then dropped it outside the bedroom door and leaned against the doorframe once more, rubbing his eyes. "Which of you has the least conspicuous Patronus?" he asked tiredly.

"Ron's is a terrier."

"That'll do, then. Weasley, do you know how to send a message via Patronus?"

"Yes..." Ron choked off an automatic sir from the end of the sentence.

"Send it to Professor McGonagall, then. Tell her that the four of us are safe for now and we'll contact her again in a couple of days if we don't hear from the Order before then. I'd send another to your parents, too."

"You need to rest," Hermione told him worriedly.

He gave her a long look. "If I stop now, I'm going to collapse, and I probably won't wake up. I need to take a couple more potions and mend a couple of things first. No, don't help me. Sort out sleeping arrangements. I'll only be downstairs... my supplies are in the cellar."

By the time they went looking for him, he had been gone long enough for the three of them to take it in turns to clean up and to get into an argument about the beds, and for several people to have sent Patronuses demanding to know where they were. When he was told of this, Severus made a suggestion about what the Order in general and the Headmaster in particular could do with their Patronuses that had the boys staring at him in awed delight and made Hermione scowl. "You need to sleep," she told him in a brittle voice.

"We all do," he agreed hoarsely, looking about ready to drop where he stood. "Who's sleeping where?"

"Ron and Harry will take your parents' room..."

He nodded. "Fine."

"And you're sleeping in your room."

"No, I'm not," he told her matter-of-factly.

"Told you so," Harry muttered.

"Sir – Severus, you're hurt, and you're exhausted."

"Neither of which are new occurrences for me." He shook his head and gave her a very tired look. "I don't think I can physically climb the stairs. You Transfigured the sofa? That'll do, then. I'm too tired to care and I'm too tired to argue." He rubbed his eyes. "Are any of you hurt?"

"No. We only had a few cuts and bruises, we're fine. But... what's going on? I mean..."

He nodded wearily. "I know, but I am literally minutes from going into a coma. We should all get some sleep; it's been an insane few hours. We'll deal with everything tomorrow... we have a great deal to sort out."

Ron and Harry both exited surprisingly tactfully and disappeared upstairs; Hermione followed Severus into the living room, watching as he dropped onto the edge of the Transfigured cot and bent to laboriously remove his boots. "Are you all right?" she asked quietly.

He lifted his head and looked at her with dull eyes. "Probably not," he replied honestly. "But I'm too tired for anything else right now. Tomorrow, Hermione. Even I will sleep like the dead tonight. Tomorrow will be soon enough to talk. For the moment, we are safe."

Hesitating, she came forward slowly and rested a hand on his shoulder. He shivered slightly and turned his head to rest his cheek against her hand, exhaling heavily in a long sigh. "I'll be all right. I'm too tired to dream. So are you. Go to bed."

She wanted to stay with him, but she sensed that he wanted to be alone just for tonight, and in any case she was utterly exhausted and wanted to go to sleep before her brain woke up and made her think about what had happened. "I'll see you tomorrow, then," she said softly, squeezing his shoulder before turning away. "Good night."

"Good night," he echoed softly as she closed the living room door behind her.

When Hermione woke up, she was conscious of several things. There was sunlight filtering around the somewhat threadbare curtains. She was starving hungry. She ached from head to foot and still felt tired. And the bed smelled like Severus. Rolling over, she snuggled deeper into the hollow in the middle of the mattress, concentrating on his scent; this house had a very unhappy atmosphere, but she had slept long and deeply because of that subtle and oddly reassuring smell of him.

She heard the plumbing creaking and complaining briefly twice as the boys visited the bathroom, and finally reluctantly forsook the small comfort of the bed to do the same. Without clean clothing, a comb, some shampoo, some toothpaste and a lot of time, there was a limit to what she could do with her appearance, but she did the best she could and drank some water, starting to feel marginally more human.

Meeting up with the boys on the landing, she led the way cautiously down the stairs. The door to the living room was open and Severus was up and about, shambling around the shabby kitchen. He was moving slowly and gingerly, holding himself stiffly, and he was still wearing his bloodstained and torn shirt, but he had washed and shaved and looked a lot better than he had done yesterday – probably due to the coffee she could smell.

"Sit," he grunted by way of greeting. "Drink. It's black coffee, tap water or nothing; I don't have anything else here. We have a lot to talk about."

"And to do?" Harry guessed as they helped themselves to coffee.

"Yes," he agreed wearily. "First things first... we will need to visit Headquarters today, to decide what happens now. I will have a great deal of explaining to do; I'm not discussing it right now. We have more immediate concerns."

"Is this house safe?" Harry asked bluntly.

"Yes. Very few people have ever known where I live, and most of them are dead. The Dark Lord does not know, nor do the Order."

"How are you, physically?" Hermione asked softly.

Severus appeared to be considering the question, his eyes half closed. "Tired. Sore. Alive," he replied finally. "I just need time, I think. One thing I need to do, soon, is remove the Dark Mark, but I'm not strong enough yet. I'll need a day or two of rest before I attempt that."

"You can remove it?" Ron asked incredulously.

"Yes. It isn't even particularly difficult once you stumble on the right idea."

"Then why didn't you?"

Severus gave him a withering look and buried his face in his coffee once more, not bothering to answer. When he surfaced he continued where he had left off. "For now, the Mark is blocked; I cannot be traced through it. That will last for a few days before I will have to remove it." He took a breath and let it out. "The three of you need to decide what you are going to do next."

"What are our choices?" Harry asked carefully.

Severus shrugged stiffly and sat back in his chair. "There are still several Horcruxes to destroy. I know where Hufflepuff's cup is, but not how to get to it. And there is Nagini. I..." He hesitated. "Yesterday, I broke with not only the Dark Lord but with Dumbledore. I do not wish to work for him any longer. If you choose to return to the Order, I will aid you, but not directly; I no longer consider myself one of them. I will continue on this path – alone if I must."

They exchanged glances. Finally Harry said slowly, "Tell us everything. Tell us what happened yesterday, why you did what you did."

"Good; now more than ever, you cannot afford to act without thinking." Severus rubbed his eyes. "I will explain everything to the Order today – to Minerva, at least, and to the three of you, and possibly one or two of the others. Then we must all decide what we will do."

A loud noise outside the window had all of them frantically grabbing for their wands, but it turned out to be Hedwig and Pigwidgeon. Both owls looked tired and somewhat ruffled but seemed very pleased to see their respective owners; to nobody's surprise, Pig carried a note from Mrs Weasley. Ron opened it at the kitchen table as Hermione dug out some water for the birds. "Not much. Ginny got out safely when everyone was evacuated and the others are fine, just cuts and bruises apparently. She says Dumbledore's probably going to tell us what's been happening so she won't say much. She wants us to go home but she says she knows we probably won't, so we're to be careful until we next see her." He grinned. "And we're to be good."

Harry picked up the letter he had taken from Hedwig's foot. "This isn't for me, it's for Snape. It looks like McGonagall's writing; that's weird."

"Not really," Severus said wearily. He rubbed his eyes. "It's a little difficult to write if your dominant hand is missing. Dumbledore's been using a Dicta-Quill since he was cursed but I suppose he doesn't have it with him at the moment. Besides, I imagine he isn't feeling his best right now." Moving forward a little stiffly, he took the letter from Harry and leaned against the worktop to open it, slowly reading through before closing his eyes for a moment. "Damn."

"What?" Hermione asked quickly.

"We lost people," he replied briefly, sighing. "Kingsley died a couple of hours ago, and Moody never made it out of Hogwarts. Tonks is hurt quite badly, but not fatally, and is expected to recover. Hestia Jones is dead as well, although I don't think any of you ever met her – she was killed in an unrelated fight sometime yesterday."

After a pause, Harry asked in a small voice, "What happened? Does it say?"

"They don't know what happened to Kingsley. He got hit with a couple of curses that reacted with each other, and they couldn't undo it in time. Tonks caught the edge of a nasty jinx that essentially creates blood poisoning. It will take a while to clear it from her system, but they caught it early – it was probably Bellatrix; nobody else is insane enough to use something like that in combat. As for Moody, if I'd been thinking about it I wouldn't have expected him to get out of there. A lot of the Death Eaters had personal grudges against him – including me, if I am honest. That eye of his isn't much use in a melee like that and he wasn't as quick as he used to be."

"What about everyone else?" Hermione asked softly. She'd liked Kingsley. She hadn't liked Moody all that much, but he'd been a brave man. Neither of them had deserved that.

"Minor injuries, apparently. Nothing else is mentioned, although I doubt everyone got out unscathed." He breathed out slowly, then came to the table and Summoned quill, ink and parchment. "Potter, may I borrow your owl? We need to see Professor McGonagall, sooner rather than later."

"Yes. Are you up for another flight to London, Hedwig?" She hooted softly at him and settled to preening one wing patiently.

Severus began to write; his hand was trembling a little, Hermione noticed, but nothing too bad. "I know you have pieced together a lot of the story by now, but equally I know you don't know everything. I need you to co-operate for just a little longer, until you have heard my explanation." He still sounded so very tired.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 33 of 60

<< Previous     Home     Next >>