Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 41 of 60

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Three of them weren't used to such stressful, nerve-wracking and energetic activities as robbing the most secure place in wizarding Britain; Severus was used to it, at least more than they were, but he was also more injured than he was willing to admit, which was hardly a surprise. Either way, that afternoon had passed surprisingly sedately despite the attempt at celebration, and they had all sought sleep early and slept straight through – at least, Hermione had.

She opened her eyes blearily now, still feeling rather worn out – more from emotional stress than physical weariness – and noted from the light that it was later than she usually woke. More unusually, Severus was still absolutely dead to the world; he almost always woke first, but she could hear his faint, barely-audible snoring behind her and there was a certain heaviness to the feel of his arm around her and the press of his body against her back that indicated he wasn't going to wake in a hurry.

Not that there was any real reason to get up, she supposed tiredly, yawning. It wasn't as if they had anything to do until either they heard from Dumbledore or someone worked out how they could find Nagini. That was likely to cause a few problems fairly soon, since nobody in this house was good at sitting and doing nothing. Don't borrow trouble, she told herself sleepily, beginning the cautious process of disentangling herself from Severus to take advantage of the bathroom being unoccupied.

By the time she had finished her quick shower she had identified the main reason she felt tired, which also probably explained her less than cheerful attitude this morning – she was always moody the first day, and for some utterly insane and very annoying reason none of the many skilled female Healers over the centuries seemed to have worked out anything that helped with cramps. You'd think that's the first thing any witch would do, wouldn't you?

She stood on the landing for a moment and listened; the boys were still snoring, and she wasn't in the mood to go and start breakfast anyway. In fact, she felt like going back to bed; obviously this month was going to be particularly bad, which was just bloody typical really.

Yes, she decided a few moments later, going back to bed definitely seemed like a good idea; she looked at Severus, who in her absence had curled into a ball and snuggled deeper into the hollow in the centre of the mattress, and smiled. He really did look adorable when he was asleep, which was an observation she knew he would absolutely hate. Deciding reluctantly not to give him the wrong idea by sliding back into bed with him, she crossed the room in search of her comb instead and began laboriously tackling her wet hair.

Shortly afterwards, Severus announced his return to the world of the living by attempting to stretch and roll over, which resulted in a low groan. Hermione paused and looked over at him sympathetically.


He opened one eye. "No. Stiff. Christ, I can barely move," he muttered, stretching again and wincing as something clicked audibly. He cast a look at the bedroom door, obviously debating the merits of a hot shower versus the effort that would be needed to get there, and clearly decided it wasn't worth it, closing his eyes again.

"Does that happen every time?"

"No," he mumbled, still not really awake. Stifling a yawn, he made an effort to explain. "The Cruciatus pain usually makes my back and joints ache, but I can still move. This doesn't really hurt now, but I've seized up."

"Poor you," she told him, not particularly sympathetically. He ignored her, which was probably just as well, cautiously sitting up, swinging his legs out of bed and starting to try and work the kinks out of his back and limbs. Feeling vaguely guilty, she put her comb down and stood up, crossing the room to him and moving to sit on the bed behind him. "Here, let me help."

While nowhere near a trained masseuse, by now she knew enough anatomy to have a vague idea of where the worst spots would be, and in fact as she started gently rubbing his shoulders she could almost feel the knotted muscles; experimentally digging her fingertips into the worst places gently, she heard him groan softly and felt him lean back against her, and grinned, pushing lightly at him. "I can't reach if you do that, silly. Sit up."

Responding with a sound closer to a purr than anything she had ever heard from anyone who wasn't Crookshanks, he obeyed. "You really are a woman of many talents," he mumbled, already beginning to relax. "Oh, that's good, just there..."

Biting back a laugh, Hermione concentrated on the muscles between his neck and shoulder on the left hand side obediently, kneading briefly with her thumbs and feeling him arch slightly just like a cat being stroked before she started moving further down his back, absently tracing the rough slickness of all his scars at the same time. She rarely paid much attention any more; they were just another part of him. As he relaxed further she moved closer, sliding her arms around his waist and resting her cheek against the warmth of his back, just enjoying being close to him as her fingertips found another scar on his stomach and idly began following it downwards.

Severus made a faint humming sound of approval, leaning back against her, and she smiled, letting her other hand trail upwards over his ribs and across the sparse hair on his chest until her fingertips could lightly circle one of his nipples; she had found out over the recent weeks that he was more sensitive there than she had thought a man would be. He responded with another pleased humming sound, as her hand moved lower still and brushed against the head of his erection.

"Massage or not, I'm still not terribly mobile this morning," he said softly after a moment.

"I can tell," she replied, suppressing a smile – he'd have already twisted around to pin her down and kiss her senseless if he was his normal self. Shrugging, she added quietly, "I'm cramping anyway." She remembered that last month she had been worried about his reaction; they hadn't been together very long and could barely keep their hands off each other – still something of a problem, admittedly, albeit quite a nice problem – but when she had said 'no' Severus had stopped instantly and apparently without taking offense and hadn't seemed to require her somewhat embarrassed explanation.

"Ah." He started to sit up and she gently tightened her arms around him.

"No reason to spoil your fun," she murmured.

After a moment Severus said carefully, "It's not compulsory, you know."

Smiling at his tone – foolish man – she slid her hand a little lower, brushing against a little more of him. "Are you about to try and tell me you're not interested?" she asked dryly, kissing the back of his shoulder. "Shut up, Severus," she recommended as he drew a breath to say something else, and he did as he was told.

Closing her eyes, Hermione concentrated on her sense of touch, gently curling her fingers around the solid warmth of him; she had touched him before, of course, but only fairly briefly. Now she took the chance to explore in more detail, listening to his breath hitch as she stroked him and feeling him lean back and arch slightly into her hand. He felt so alive under her hand, warm and vital and so hard she could feel his pulse.

While she was trying to think of a non-embarrassing way to ask if she was doing it right – although he certainly seemed to be enjoying himself – Severus once again demonstrated his ability to read her mind, reaching down to gently lay his hand over hers, subtly guiding her without making her feel like a total idiot in need of step-by-step instruction. Following his touch she tightened her grip a little, squeezing gently, settling into a rhythm as his breathing grew heavier before he turned his head, reaching up with his free hand to touch her face. It was pretty awkward trying to kiss at this angle, but as she slipped her tongue into his mouth it seemed neither of them cared very much.

Reaching down between his thighs with her other hand, she gently cupped him in her palm, feeling how delicate the skin was here, soft and unmarked. He sighed into her mouth, his hand tightening on hers as he wordlessly encouraged her to increase the pace and the pressure, starting to breathe more quickly as he drew closer before he broke the kiss and groaned thickly, arching back against her. She could feel him about to climax, she realised absently as she nuzzled his shoulder, feeling him tighten and contract in her hand as a shudder ran through his body. A moment later he gasped softly and his hips bucked slightly before he cried out as his head fell back against her shoulder, and she felt him pulsing in her hand as he came, shivering.

Once he had cleaned up, he gave her a soft-eyed smile and asked mildly, "What was that in aid of? Not that I'm not appreciative, but..."

Shrugging, she smiled at him. "Nothing in particular. I just wanted to." It had been nice to actively pleasure him for once – glorious though their lovemaking was, she knew she still had a hell of a lot to learn, and he was usually the one doing all the work. Leaning in, she kissed him lightly on the lips. "If you want a shower before the boys wake up, you should go now."

It wasn't until after breakfast that Dumbledore finally responded. Silvery light burst into the kitchen, nearly scaring them all half to death and causing Severus to unleash a startled flare of wandless magic that left a scorch mark on the opposite wall before it swirled into a recognisable Patronus, shaped like a phoenix. Hermione had never seen the Headmaster's Patronus, but it wasn't difficult to identify even before it spoke.

"Remus has passed on your message, Severus. I have prepared memories that tell you everything, but I will not send them until Nagini has been eliminated. Should something happen to me before then, Minerva has been instructed to send them to you."

That was the end of the message. Hermione glanced at the boys as the phoenix faded, before the three of them looked rather nervously at Severus; he had been in a good mood earlier, unsurprisingly perhaps, but there was no sign of it now. His black eyes were hard and cold and angry and his expression was visibly darkening before he growled, "You stupid old bastard, what the fuck are you playing at now?" Shaking his head, he added, "You'd think being near death would be enough to stop him acting like such a fucking child, wouldn't you."

"That's not really fair," Harry objected. "I know he's treated you pretty badly, but he's always been fair to us."

"What? No, he hasn't," Severus said, giving him a slightly startled look. "Don't be ridiculous, Potter. He's been lying to you and manipulating you from the moment you stepped off the train."

"Rubbish," he retorted, and received a hollow laugh in reply.

"You think so, do you? Don't tell me you're actually thick enough to believe that we'd carelessly leave the Philosopher's Stone protected only by a few flimsy obstacles that three pre-teens could walk through with barely a scratch, if we thought a minion of the Dark Lord really stood a chance of getting at it. Dumbledore planned that as a test for you years in advance. He wanted to see what the Chosen One was really made of," Severus said scathingly. "All his plots go back years, if not decades. Now he's not in control any more, so he's throwing a tantrum and refusing to play by anyone else's rules."

Harry had gone pale. "That's not true..." he protested weakly.

"Yes it is. You know it, and unless I am very much mistaken you have suspected it for a long time. Think of everything you've endured since starting school, and then think of everything you know about Dumbledore. Do you really think most of it could have happened if he didn't want it to?" Severus shook his head, more wearily than angrily now. "This is pointless. Whatever he's up to now doesn't involve us and we have work to do."

"More sitting around researching," Ron grumbled. He was clearly trying to change the subject and defuse the situation a bit, but if anything it made Harry look more annoyed, not less.

"More like sitting around getting nowhere. At least Dumbledore has a plan, even if you don't like it."

"I doubt it. He never planned this far. And I told you from the start that I don't have a plan, Potter. I've been honest with you, which believe me is not easy. Might I remind you that since the end of June we have found and destroyed three Horcruxes? What else do you want from me?"

Hermione bit her lip; Severus was truly angry now. This wasn't a brief flash of moodiness or an impatient snarl but real, cold anger; his eyes looked like chips of polished obsidian, black and hard and glittering coldly, and his expression was stony save for the vein showing at his temple that was a clear warning that his control was almost gone.

Harry snapped back, his voice rising, "I want to go and actually do something, instead of sitting around this crappy house because 'it's too dangerous to leave' unless you're there. Yesterday was the first time we'd done anything in months and I'm sick of this place!"

Severus' expression had locked into rigid lines. "Then go," he said coldly in a very quiet voice. "But if you do, you won't be coming back. You made your choice, Potter. I told you what I knew and what I had planned, and you chose to accept that. If you change your mind now, I will not give you another chance."

"That's not what Harry meant," Ron said hastily. "He's right that we've not been out and done anything much since we left school, that's all. Now we're near the end, and it's time we got it over with, isn't it?"

"All right, fine," Severus snapped; he sounded a little less cold, but still just as angry. "There's the Floo, and there's the door. Off you go. Where did you plan on going? If you know where the final Horcrux is, by all means, trot off and fetch it, but I'm fascinated to hear why you haven't enlightened the rest of us yet."

There was a short pause that slowly stretched out into a long and very uncomfortable silence, as Harry and Ron remembered that the reason they hadn't done anything for so long was that there hadn't been anything they could do and realised that they didn't have the faintest idea where to go from here.

Severus' lip curled into an all too familiar sneer as the silence deepened. "Then shut up."

Hermione kicked him under the table, landing a solid blow right in the middle of his shin just below the point that would probably have knocked his knee out of place. It was time he stopped taking his bad mood out on the rest of them, no matter how understandable it was. He glared at her, but didn't protest; she could tell from the look in his eyes that he knew he was being unreasonable right now. It was quite a familiar expression.

Working his jaw for a moment, he continued speaking in a marginally less hostile voice, directing his glare at his coffee mug instead. "Whatever you think of me, Potter, I have never lied to you. If I knew what to do from here we would already be doing it. I assure you, I do not particularly want to linger here with you two as houseguests any more than you want to be here, and believe me when I tell you I am far more 'sick of this place' than you could possibly imagine."

After quite a long pause, Harry nodded, staring at the table. "I'm sorry. I just – want this to be over."

"How do you think the rest of us feel?" Severus asked quietly, still not looking at him. "I've been doing this for most of my bloody life, Potter. Until recently, it's been my life."

In what was becoming his usual role, Ron spoke up to try and change the subject. "Would Dumbledore be more willing to talk to Harry, d'you think? Maybe if Harry went to see him..."

"That's not a bad idea," Hermione agreed quickly.

Severus frowned, transferring his gaze from his coffee to the wall. "I don't know. A year ago I would have said yes, but... whatever the circumstances, Potter, you picked me over him. Albus Dumbledore doesn't deal well with things like that. He needs to feel popular and he needs to feel in charge. I doubt he trusts you any more, because he's never fully trusted me."

"Why not?" Ron asked, frowning. "I mean, he's always said he trusts you, and he's always seemed to most of the time, but it's always seemed weird that you weren't told what was going on, when Hermione asked us if she should tell you." He smiled sheepishly. "We've always hated you, but even Harry admits you're on our team now."

"Very generous of you, Weasley," Severus said dryly. "Dumbledore doesn't trust me for the simple reason that he doesn't understand my motivation for doing what I do. He knows I originally changed sides in exchange for his promise to protect the Potters; that made sense to him. He doesn't understand why I stayed on the Order's side after that agreement was broken; he knows how much I dislike you," he added, glancing briefly at Harry with a slight smirk, before shrugging.

"Dumbledore doesn't believe that I have a conscience, you see. His Gryffindors are obviously on the right side because they're opposed to evil; even the odd Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff is capable of that. But he doesn't believe I would ever do something simply because it is the right thing to do, and he doesn't understand my view of my former master, and he doesn't know about Hermione either. He doesn't know why I joined the Death Eaters in the first place, so he can't understand why I haven't gone back to them. He can't work me out, you see, so he remains suspicious no matter what he says publicly."

"Is there any point in us asking why?" Harry asked, starting to look more amused than angry now.

"None whatsoever," Severus replied blandly, leaning back in his chair. "Anyway, if you want to visit Headquarters and ask, you can, but I very much doubt he will tell you anything. Apart from anything else, he will want to punish you for not staying with him." He glanced at Harry and sighed. "Stop looking like I just kicked your puppy down the stairs. I'm not trying to destroy your hero-worship of him. But try to understand, Potter – your relationship with Dumbledore is extremely unusual. He's never formed that sort of bond with any student, to my knowledge. He is generally friendly with most of the more outgoing Gryffindors, but by and large he ignores everyone else. You cannot judge him solely by the way he interacts with you, especially when he has kept so much from you for so long." He held up a hand. "Don't start questioning me. I know as much as you do now."

"So what do we actually do now?" Ron asked.

Severus shrugged. "At this point, Weasley, your guess is as good as mine. We need some way of finding out where Nagini is. Bugger off and think about it, the pair of you, and find something to do so we don't end up having this argument every single day, because it's likely to take a while."

Harry and Ron buggered off obediently, at least as far as the living room, where they started arguing about the television again. Left alone, Hermione looked at her lover. "What is it you know about Dumbledore that you aren't telling us?" she asked quietly.

"Many, many things," he replied distantly. "I'm not going to tell you, though. His secrets aren't really mine to tell, and I only made the effort to find out in case I ever needed it. It's tempting to tell you just to spite the old bastard, but I'd like to think I was slightly better than that." He exhaled heavily and looked at her. "If you're waiting for me to apologise for my temper, you're in for a long wait," he added coolly.

"I'm not daft, Severus," she told him dryly. "I'm frustrated at not having anything to do as well, but we've done so much more than I thought we'd ever manage. I can't imagine how we'd have tried to do any of this on our own. I just wish you'd talk to me more, instead of holding it all in until you snap, that's all."

There was a long silence. "Gringotts was as far as I could plan," he told her finally. "I haven't got any idea what we do now; I don't know where to go from here and I hate flying blind. And I am now seriously worried about whatever Dumbledore is refusing to tell me; he is hoping that he'll die before I find out, that much is obvious now, which means it is something much worse than any of the nightmares I have been imagining already. I don't know what to do next."

He sighed and looked at her, his eyes guarded. "I am trying, Hermione, I really am, but I'm not used to being able to talk to anyone. I keep forgetting that I can say how I'm feeling without it being used against me. I do know what I'm like, but I'm not sure how to be any different. I've never had a choice before."

She laid her hand over his on the table. "I know, Severus. I'm not trying to make you feel guilty and I don't want you to change who you are. But I'm not convinced that this is who you are. So much of the way you act is a result of the way you were forced to grow up, I think, and the way you've been treated for so long. I don't think you've ever been able to be yourself. I know you hate having to be in charge of all this, and I know you're still really not comfortable with Harry, and I know this thing with us is as confusing to you as it is to me. Just remember that anger isn't your only safe option any more, please, and that you don't have to do everything alone any more. That's all I ask." Squeezing his fingers, she smiled at him before standing and going to join the boys, leaving him staring after her pensively.

Severus was well aware that he was far, far luckier than he deserved. He knew damned well that one of the many, many reasons he had been alone so long was that nobody else would put up with him. He was antisocial, undemonstrative, withdrawn, defensive, moody and often just plain unpleasant. Finding someone who was smart enough to know all that and yet somehow didn't care had really turned his world upside down; he'd never thought that was even remotely possible. He seldom dared use the word love even just inside his own head, but against all odds he was finally close to being certain that Hermione really did love him – the real him, which was really almost unbelievable. She knew him better than even Lily ever had; he hadn't held back and pretended, with her. She'd seen who he really was, every fucked-up, beaten-down inch of him, and she was still here. It was too much to take in, sometimes.

At the moment, he was waiting to find out why she'd been in such an odd mood for half the evening; he'd known her too long not to know when she was up to something. By his reckoning, her cycle was over for the next month, which had a pleasant sense of anticipation tingling through him anyway, but anticipation was starting to give way to puzzlement as he wondered idly just what was taking so long. Whatever it was, he had seen that she wasn't completely sure about it, before she'd barricaded herself in the bathroom.

Stretching out more comfortably on his half of the narrow bed, he watched the door through half-closed eyes, musing. The past few days had given him a great deal to think about. Surviving Gringotts more or less intact had been nothing short of a miracle – for all his posturing, Hermione had been dead right, it had mostly been a bluff and he was frankly amazed that it had worked. Dumbledore... well, he'd told her the truth, he was seriously frightened of whatever the old man wasn't saying, but there was absolutely nothing to be done about it yet. And he didn't have the faintest idea of how to go about locating that bloody snake. Instead, his thoughts had mostly been preoccupied with assessing his own attitude, following what Hermione had said to him in the kitchen earlier in the week. Nearly forty years of being walled up inside his own head had left deep scars that it would take time to overcome, and he was extremely thankful that she realised that...

His thoughts were derailed rather abruptly when Hermione finally reappeared, closing the bedroom door behind her before turning to face him with her lower lip caught firmly between her teeth. That particular habit drove him absolutely crazy anyway, and somewhat to his dismay she'd started to realise it, but on this occasion she wasn't trying to tease; she looked extremely nervous, if he was any judge, and he was about to ask why when she took a deep breath and slowly shrugged out of her dressing gown.

Oh, my God. Severus stared, truly speechless for one of the few times in his life, as his mouth went dry and his heartbeat accelerated dramatically. She was wearing... well, he didn't actually know what most of it was called; he wasn't really an expert on lingerie. Whatever it was, it was very sheer silk, a rich warm shade of dark burgundy that looked very good indeed against her skin, and it was thin enough that he could see very clearly that she wore nothing else under it. Her nipples and the dark thatch of hair between her legs stood out, drawing his eyes down her body; the silk finished in a fringe just brushing her thighs, giving him a glimpse of creamy skin that led down to lace-topped stockings.

Very slowly he looked back up towards her face, trying not to drool too obviously. It wasn't exactly the way she looked – it did look wonderful, but he'd never needed it, and she really didn't have the confidence to make it as seductive as it deserved to be. What really had his pulse racing and his body stiffening was the fact that she'd done this to try and impress him, that she'd clearly gone to a hell of a lot of effort for him. The idea that she thought he was worth it was yet another confusing new experience, and one he was eager to explore in more detail.

He had no idea what his expression looked like at the moment, but it made her blush. The silk partially concealed it, but he'd seen her blush while naked often enough to know how far it went. Embarrassed or not, she smiled at him; it was shy and uncertain, but under that was a hint of promise that took his breath away. Swallowing, he licked his lips, trying and failing to think of something to say; deciding that words weren't really necessary right now, he settled for smiling back at her without shielding, letting her see the emotions swirling around his head, before shifting over on the bed in silent invitation.

Caressing her body through the flimsy silk, trying to behave and refrain from ripping the pretty thing to pieces in his eagerness, Severus wondered briefly why she'd done this. It really wasn't necessary; surely by now she had realised that he was utterly addicted to her no matter what she was wearing. He had never known anything approaching this level of mindless physical obsession, as he kissed her neck and nipped gently at the sensitive spot under her jaw while his hand explored the curve of her breast through the satiny fabric. Recently his fingers had been itching with the urge to paint again; he'd been sketching for most of his life, but he hadn't actually painted anything in many years. This was surely art, he decided absently, the dim light from the street lamp outside highlighting and shadowing the curves of her body and catching in the glorious tangles of her hair.

His mouth moved lower, finding the line of the scar on her chest as his hand moved elsewhere, searching for the tie that held the garment together before he really did rip it. Lovely though it was, right now he would definitely prefer it if she wasn't wearing it. He was vaguely aware that she was working his trousers down over his almost painful erection, but it was a distant sensation, and not really very important; all his focus was on her, filling his senses and driving him slowly insane as rational thought slowly drained away.

As always, he was unable to focus and remain coherent, and there were only brief flashes of clear recall. Her breasts heaving when he finally got the damned silk out of the way without tearing it. The taste of her mouth when she took control of their kiss, her tongue sliding against his before he caught her lower lip gently between his teeth and felt her shudder. His breath freezing in his lungs when she touched him and wrapped her hand around him. A moment's amusement when she nearly made him purr by nibbling his earlobe; he hadn't even known that was an erogenous zone for him – regardless of her worries, he had as much to learn as she did, in some ways. The thick sweet scent of her arousal and the glorious view between her spread legs, framed very nicely indeed by the stockings he'd been too impatient to remove. The way she tasted, as her hips arched and her fingers tightened almost painfully in his hair, and another brief flicker of amusement as he remembered how puzzled he'd been in his early twenties to discover that apparently he wasn't supposed to enjoy pleasuring a woman like this, before he concentrated on making her cry out.

He regained a little clarity afterwards as he crawled back up her body, pausing to kiss or lick any bit of skin that struck his fancy, enjoying her last little shivers as she relaxed beneath him. She gasped softly in his ear when he entered her, and he felt the sweet little sting of her nails in his shoulders and back as he kissed her deeply before starting to move. Looking down at her, Severus felt the same sense of wonder that he had felt during their first time, and every time since then; he truly didn't understand why she was with him. He didn't deserve her. Her brown eyes were hazy with pleasure, but no matter how strong the desire or the ecstasy it didn't hide the fierce, formidable intellect and power that had simultaneously infuriated and reluctantly impressed him over the years; his thin, battered frame pressed against her curves as her hands slid down his horribly scarred back and she wrapped her legs around his bony hips, moving in time to every thrust. What on earth was she doing with someone like him?

Closing her eyes, she arched her back beneath him and moaned, a long drawn-out sound that held the syllables of his name somewhere in it. He could feel her tightening and pulsing around him, her nails digging into his buttocks as her orgasm took her; only then did he let himself become aware of the mounting pressure in his groin and the building fire in his blood, listening to his own heavy breathing as he held on for just a few moments longer before thrusting into her one last time.

As he came, crying out and shuddering with the force of his pleasure, Severus wondered yet again if he'd ever find the courage to tell her what she really meant to him.

Well, Hermione thought somewhat dazedly, that seemed to go quite well. She hadn't quite known how Severus was going to react to her rather woeful attempt at seduction, but at least he hadn't started laughing, which she had half-feared. In fact... she smiled a little smugly to herself... in fact he had reacted – really rather well. All the same, she hadn't been so nervous in her life, at least not without the comforting help of adrenaline to get her through it; even their first time hadn't made her feel quite so unsure of herself. But the look on his face when he'd seen what she was wearing... yes, she could feel a bit pleased with herself, she decided happily as she caught her breath.

Vaguely she became aware of his fingertips trailing lightly along the top of one of the stockings; she'd have to take them off soon. Evidently Severus had recovered himself enough to be curious; a few moments later his deep voice murmured, "I never quite pictured you as the lingerie type, somehow."

Hermione smiled ruefully, appreciating that he very carefully wasn't saying why that was. She knew that little show would have been a lot more convincing if she'd had any experience at all of making herself look sexy; she'd been standing wrong, she hadn't been able to walk the way she wanted to, little things like that. "I don't think I am, really," she agreed, resting her head on his shoulder and relaxing. "It was... a bit of an experiment."

His soft growling chuckle made her smile. "By all means, feel free to experiment further. What was the source of this particular experiment, though?" he asked.

She laughed softly, nestling closer. "You'll never guess in a thousand years."



He choked. "What – Dilys told you to wear lingerie?"

Trying to stop laughing long enough to explain, she replied, "You told her to help me with my confidence issues."

"Yes, but I didn't mean – that! What on earth...?"

"She didn't specifically tell me to dress up like that. And – I was about to say it wasn't aimed at you, but actually, knowing her, it probably was," she admitted, lifting her head to give him a wry smile. "No, she spent quite a long time making me alter my clothes and so on, in lots of little ways. I thought it was rubbish at first, but actually it did start making me feel better about myself. She did suggest I start experimenting with my underwear, but I thought that was a bit much."

"I did wonder what she was up to," Severus mused, still sounding a little startled. "I couldn't work out what she'd done."

"No, she told me. She thought it was funny."

"She would." He paused, then added in a rather distant tone, "I think I'm glad I didn't know. Teaching you was difficult enough as it was, without starting to speculate..."

Grinning, Hermione decided not to pursue that line of enquiry just now; she did desperately want to know, but it would probably embarrass him, and she didn't want to push her luck. Better to just snuggle closer and enjoy her success, and start thinking of ways to find out what he might like to see her wearing next time she found the courage.

September dragged on, for the most part grey and raining and rather unchanging. The boys were suffering most, especially Harry; Ron was quite happy to watch the television most of the time, finding it almost hypnotic and absolutely fascinating no matter what was on, but Harry needed something more to occupy his mind. He seemed to be spending most of his time writing to Ginny, when he wasn't sulking about the inactivity or trying not to brood or dwelling on the latest crap being spewed out by the Daily Prophet.

Hermione was trying to be sympathetic, and trying not to totally neglect her friends, but it was difficult when she was so preoccupied with the very slow process of getting to know Severus better. They didn't talk much; she had realised very early on that his social skills really were non-existent and he showed no sign of wanting to or being able to start a conversation, and she didn't really feel able to question him too closely yet. By now she had puzzled out most of his early life; she would like to ask him about his parents in more detail, but he had told her after another nightmare that he wasn't ready to talk about that yet. She had decided probably her best strategy was to volunteer stories from her own life every so often and judge from his reaction whether to continue the conversation or not.

Mostly, she was happy just watching him learning to relax around her and starting to just be himself. The more casual clothing was a good indication of his progress, although he seldom let them see that side of him. She was starting to get an idea of his favourite foods or preferred television programs, building a more solid picture of him. And she had already known about most of his hobbies – in fact, she was working on that knowledge now, as she stood on the landing and listened to him singing softly to himself before venturing to stand in the bedroom doorway. He was mending the window catch and had started singing along to the distant strains of the radio from the kitchen some time ago; it had taken her nearly twenty minutes to get this close.

His voice had sounded nice enough through a thick stone wall. Away from the dungeons, it was something else entirely; she was absolutely spellbound, and if the boys dared to interrupt she was going to hex them both. She couldn't understand why he was so self-conscious about this part of his life, but he had seemed genuinely embarrassed and uneasy when she had told him she'd overheard him before. She had two possible theories; either he had at one point had this turned against him just like everything else and been publicly humiliated over it, or – which was the more likely explanation – he was simply so used to keeping everything to himself that the idea of doing anything different was foreign enough to seriously worry him and he had by now blown it up out of all proportion.

The current song was 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World', by Tears for Fears – not one of her favourites, but it was a classic for a reason, and frankly she could listen to him singing absolutely anything. She knew the exact moment when Severus finally paid attention to his surroundings and realised that she was listening, because his voice wavered and cracked audibly as he faltered and his shoulders tensed. To her surprise, after drawing an unsteady breath, he kept singing, picking up the next line with only a slight stumble, although his voice was quieter now and less sure.

Hermione truly hadn't expected that, and she had to smile. Whenever she started feeling a bit insecure about how vague and undefined their relationship was and started fretting about where it was going, Severus managed to do or say something to reassure her about how much he was trying to make this work, although she was – almost – certain that it wasn't deliberate. She had spent years thinking about all his problems, after all; she hadn't gone into this blindly. He really was trying, and that was good enough. As the song came to an end, he turned his head just enough to glance uncertainly at her through the curtains of his hair; smiling at him, she crossed the worn carpet and stood on tiptoe to brush his hair out of the way and kiss him, before turning and leaving the room once more without saying anything.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 41 of 60

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