Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 45 of 60

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It was both funny and a bit pathetic, really, Hermione reflected in some amusement. For almost eighteen years she'd slept on her own quite happily, except for the occasions when Crookshanks deigned to grace her feet with his presence if he had nothing better to do at night. And yet all that had apparently been undone by two months of sharing a bed with Severus; she had found it almost impossible to sleep without him snuggled up against her back, and if her dreams after she had finally fallen asleep were any indication then she had very quickly become accustomed to regular sex. The room had seemed far too quiet without his soft snoring, and too cold without his warmth beside her, and her body missed him.

It didn't look like Severus had slept much either, if at all, but that wasn't a surprise. She knew he rarely slept in a strange place anyway, and there was a lot on his mind. She didn't have much time to watch him over breakfast anyway – he wasn't eating, which she would have to scold him for later – because the full Weasley clan were present, minus the still-absent Percy, and it was impossible to hear yourself think what with the twins teasing a blushing Harry and Ginny and Ron trying to talk to his father about getting a blood sample later.

Professor McGonagall wasn't present this morning, which was possibly just as well. Hermione had spoken to her Transfiguration teacher – at length – last night after the older witch had found her in the library and asked to speak to her. It hadn't been a fun conversation. Hermione was a little embarrassed to remember it; she hadn't lost her temper like that in a long time, but she couldn't stand one more instance of someone judging Severus so unjustly and something had snapped and the next thing she knew she'd been shouting loudly enough to leave her hoarse. Ranting, really; it had taken a few minutes for her to calm down. Professor McGonagall had stared at her, utterly lost for words, her expression cycling rapidly between shock and outrage before abruptly starting to laugh.

Her parting shot as she left the room had been, "You're more of a match for him than you know. I almost feel sorry for him." Hermione still wasn't sure she quite understood that, but either way, she was going to tread carefully now. She wasn't sure if Severus knew exactly what had happened, but he did look to be in a marginally better mood this morning, even if he was tired.

When she returned to the library after breakfast, she found Severus already there, and in distracted-scholar mode; barely looking up from his notes as she came in, he said almost absently, "I'm glad you're here. If you don't have anything else to do today, would you like to research how we're going to break down Arthur's blood to extract any traces of Nagini's thaumic signature?"

Hermione blinked at him. "I assumed you were going to do it."

He shrugged, glancing up through the curtains of his hair with a slightly wry smile. "I could do, but to be honest you're likely to be better. You already know something of working with the blood spectrum, and I believe your Arithmancy marks are higher than mine; it was never one of my best subjects."

Unable to hold back a smile at such a compliment, she teased gently, "I don't think I've ever heard you admit that you can't do something before."

"Don't let it go to your head." He sat back and stretched his long legs out in front of him, crossed loosely at the ankles. "I've been watching you during our planning sessions, and at Gringotts, and everything else we've done," he said more seriously. "I'm not sure you even realise you're doing it, but you keep holding back to give the boys a chance to take part, and to try and stay out of the limelight and avoid notice. I think perhaps you always have to some extent – you were always the brains of the Trio, but you've never admitted it as far as I know. Remember the talk I gave you on your strengths and weaknesses, Hermione. It's all right to be smarter than other people. It's all right to take charge of the things you are good at; there will be times when you'll have to hang back and let someone else shine because it's one of their skills, and it will balance out. It's not a sin to be clever and it's not arrogant or hurtful to acknowledge that you're smarter than your friends. They would be the first to admit it. It's all right to be smarter than other people," he repeated softly, watching her intently.

She sat down opposite him, staring at the floor for a few minutes while she got herself back under control. She'd told him a little about her childhood before Hogwarts, but she certainly hadn't told him everything. "How did you know?" she asked finally.

His dark eyes were soft as he looked back at her. "You certainly weren't the only child to have been mocked and teased for being brainy. It takes one to know one, after all. I have grown very skilled at spotting children who were bullied... even if I occasionally made things worse rather than doing anything about it," he added, looking away.

That hadn't really been an apology, but she suspected it was intended to be, and for the moment she was willing to accept it. At some point – probably in the middle of a fight about something entirely unrelated – she was sure they would end up having a discussion about certain things he'd said or done; even when talking about what he had said about her teeth in fourth year, he hadn't apologised then either. But for now, this was enough, as he slid his notes over towards her and quietly left the room and she settled down to read.

Hermione was in the kitchen after lunch, helping to clean up rather half-heartedly with her head buzzing with blood formulae, when Mrs Weasley clapped her hands to attract attention and looked around at her children and the others in the room. "Everyone scat, please; I want to talk to Hermione."

"Subtle," Harry muttered, giving her a sympathetic look as he unashamedly bolted for the door with the others. Hermione sighed as she watched her friends scramble to exit, most of them looking puzzled and Ron looking rather worried; at least Severus wasn't here. He'd disappeared upstairs with his lunch ages ago, although she'd bet he hadn't eaten it.

"I suppose Professor McGonagall spoke to you this morning," she said tiredly when everyone else had gone, briefly and suspiciously eyeing the small picture frame by the door for signs of movement – there was no way Phineas wasn't eavesdropping if he'd heard what was going on. Sitting down, she suppressed another sigh and rested her chin on her hand, staring at the table. "Yes, it's true. No, he didn't force me. Yes, I know what I'm doing. Yes, I know how young I am. No, I don't think I'm making a mistake." She didn't want to be rude, but she wasn't sure she could take anyone else questioning her right now.

When there was no reply, she risked a glance at the older witch and found her smiling. "Minerva said you weren't very happy with her. Don't look so worried, Hermione; I'm not going to repeat the same questions. There wouldn't be any point, would there? She wasn't trying to insult either of you, you know. She's just worried about you."

"I know," Hermione admitted with a sigh. "I didn't mean to lose my temper. I just get tired of people doubting him. I've heard some of the things the others say behind his back." She bit her lip, glancing up uncertainly. "If you didn't want to make sure I wasn't being coerced, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?" she asked.

Mrs Weasley sat across from her, placing a cup of tea in front of her and picking up her own drink; the older witch smiled gently. "I actually wanted to ask if you were all right with things, dear. Minerva means well, but she does tend to focus on one problem and overlook the rest, and I remember what it's like to be young and in love under confusing circumstances. Arthur and I were very young when we married, and it was all rather overwhelming."

"You do believe it's love, then?" she asked hopefully.

"I certainly believe it is for you. I'm less sure with Severus, simply because I don't know him as well, but I can't see him doing this on a whim, not with all the problems it's going to cause. And I certainly don't believe he would force you into anything, physically or otherwise," she added with an unladylike snort.

"Really?" Hermione asked rather doubtfully. "Almost everyone else seems to..."

"I've seen too much of him and of the rest of the Order to take the general opinion at face value. But we'll get to that in a minute. I was being serious, Hermione – are you all right with all this? It's happening quite fast, after all..."

Hermione nodded, relaxing a little and taking a sip of her tea. "I know, but it's not as if it was terribly unexpected. I mean, I didn't realise he felt the same, but I've felt this way about him for quite a long time, so I've got used to it, sort of."

"And the engagement?" Mrs Weasley asked gently.

"No, that one was a bit of a surprise," she admitted, smiling at the memory. "To him as well as me, I think. But I meant it when I said yes. We won't be thinking of marrying for quite a while yet, anyway. Definitely not until after the war, and probably not for a while after that – I want to finish school first."

"And what then? What will you do for a living, or Severus for that matter? Will you settle down and raise a family? I don't want to sound like I'm interrogating you, Hermione. I just want to reassure myself that you've thought about these things. Women have to think about the future more than men do."

"We haven't discussed it yet. We will do, soon, but we've got important things to do with the war to get out of the way first before we'll be able to think about personal things." Hermione bit her lip. "We haven't talked about children. I really have no idea what he thinks, but I'm pretty sure he isn't interested in fatherhood, and I definitely don't want a family. That might change when I'm older, I suppose," she added before Mrs Weasley could say anything, privately adding, when Hell freezes over, "but right now I don't. We will need to talk about it. I don't know what I want to do after my NEWTs, either, but I definitely want a career. All Severus has said is that he's not going to teach any more, so we'll need to talk about that, too."

"Don't leave it too late, Hermione. The war is important, but this is the rest of your life, and that's important too." Mrs Weasley got up to refill her tea. "I have to ask this, dear; I'd be a poor mother if I didn't. What about Ron?"

She smiled ruefully, accepting the fresh cup. "It's okay. Ron and I... we wouldn't have worked anyway, even without Severus. I do love him, but not like that. We'd kill each other, I think; we fight more than we're friends. That's fine with Harry as a buffer, but if it was just the two of us... it would end very badly. Even when I did like Ron, I could never really see a future with him. I don't think we want the same things out of life. He agrees," she added, looking up. "I've talked to him about it, before I was with Severus. Harry spotted it first."

"So the boys do know?"

"We're all living in the same small house. I doubt we could have kept it from them for this long. But yes, they know – it was Harry who worked out that I liked Severus in the first place, actually, and I used to talk to them about it sometimes before I knew he felt the same." Hermione smiled. "They've both been really good about it, actually. Apparently Ron went mental when Harry told him, but I didn't see that. They do sometimes still look a bit confused by it all, but really, they've been great." She stifled a laugh. "Mostly I think they're scared of giving Severus an excuse to kill them."

Mrs Weasley laughed softly. "I shouldn't tell you this, but there have been bets going around the Order about how long it will be before he snaps and brutally slaughters Harry. Have there been any problems? I don't for a moment expect that Harry would tell anyone if there were, but I'm hoping you'll be more honest."

She shook her head. "No, nothing major. They're working out their differences. Harry knows the reasons why Severus always hated him now, and they're dealing with it. It's pretty complicated." She smiled. "Severus knows I won't let him do anything to my friends, so he's behaving himself."

"Is it just because of James?" Mrs Weasley asked calmly. "I always thought there had to be more to it than that, but I was never sure, and obviously I could never have asked Severus without getting my head bitten off."

Biting her lip to stifle a laugh at that, Hermione shook her head. "No, it's not just because of James, but that was definitely a large part of it." She fell silent, glancing at the older witch, who looked at her and smiled a little sadly.

"Don't worry, Hermione, I'm not one of those who dismisses it as a stupid schoolboy grudge, not any more. I thought it was, at first, but the more I saw Severus and Sirius interact, the more I realised it must go far deeper than that." She shook her head, putting her teacup down and leaning forward. "It doesn't take a master spy to see how much they hated one another, and Severus always seemed to come off worst."

"Why did nobody else see it, then?" Hermione asked, somewhat exasperated. "I always felt as though I was the only one." A thought occurred to her. "Were you at school with them?"

"No. Arthur and I left a couple of years before they joined, I believe. I don't know what happened between them at school, but it obviously wasn't good. They had no contact with one another until the second war started, Hermione – only the senior Order members knew who our spy was during the first war. I think precisely so none of the Marauders would find out that Severus was still in their lives."

Or so Lily wouldn't? Hermione wondered briefly how they might have reacted. Obviously James and Sirius would have predictably reacted the way Sirius had this time around, as Moody and some of the others did, assuming that Severus was lying and working to betray them all; what would Lily have thought, if she'd known her former friend had turned away from the Death Eaters for her sake? She shook it off and looked back at Mrs Weasley.

"I hadn't even heard his name before Dumbledore brought him into a meeting with a few of us," the older witch continued thoughtfully. "Most of us hadn't, but Albus and Minerva knew him, obviously, and they were both looking at him as though he was dangerous, which didn't create a good impression for the rest of us. And Alastor would never have trusted any Death Eater, no matter who it was – he was staring at this nervous young man as though he was You-Know-Who himself. Severus couldn't have been more than twenty, and he looked absolutely terrified. I didn't understand why they were looking at him the way they did; he certainly didn't look like a threat.

"The Order wasn't structured in quite the same way then; there were several circles, if you like, and the one Arthur and I were in was the only one to have any contact with Severus. I was usually up and about at night with one or other of the boys, and that was usually when he came to report after meetings with You-Know-Who, so I saw a fair bit of him. He was... well, it took him a few weeks to get his confidence up, and then he started snapping and sneering at us once he was brave enough to stand up for himself. I haven't heard anyone who can beat him at sarcasm," she said almost fondly. "He was never a nice man, really. But on his own, away from the group, I was always surprised at how polite he was; he was never rude to me, and he tried to keep out of the way if I was busy. And he was quite often hurt, too, although he always refused to admit there was anything wrong and would get up and storm out if I pressed him. He hid it well, but it was obviously taking a terrible toll on him; I saw him almost crying once."

Finishing her tea, Mrs Weasley shrugged, her expression pensive. "I was never really sure about him one way or the other until the night my brothers were killed. Fabian and Gideon were killed by five Death Eaters, although Dolohov is the only one I know the name of. I remember that Severus came directly to the Burrow to tell me, instead of going to our Headquarters at the time to report to Dumbledore as he should have done; we were interrupted by Albus' Patronus several times while he was telling me what happened. I asked him why, afterwards, and he shrugged awkwardly and said he thought I deserved to know first. It was completely out of character for him and nothing like his normal behaviour, so I decided that the way he usually behaved was probably a bit of an act."

"That sounds like him," Hermione agreed softly, smiling a little. It was exactly like Severus to do something like that, and to snap and snarl and do anything to avoid it ever being mentioned again. "He always hates it if anyone points out that he's done something nice or honourable. He feels safer when he's growling at people, I think."

Mrs Weasley nodded. "I was there the night Albus told Sirius and Remus that Severus was a double agent in service to the Order. They... didn't react well. Remus accepted that Albus knew what he was doing – eventually – but Sirius was... furious. Disturbingly so. And the first time they were both in an Order meeting... Albus threw them both out in the end; they were about to draw wands on one another. I've lost count of how many arguments I witnessed, but it was always Sirius losing his temper and Severus turning very cold and spiteful. And no matter the circumstances, it was always Severus who was told to stop it, even if all he had done to set Sirius off was walk into the room. I admit it was usually Severus who started it, but not always. And although I very frequently overheard Sirius saying some truly nasty things about Severus, I don't believe it ever happened the other way around."

Hermione shrugged. "I just can't understand why everyone assumes Severus would have been stupid enough to start a war against four popular boys when he was on his own. Even the people who don't like him admit that he's clever, and everyone insists he must be self-serving because he's a Slytherin, but somehow they think the feud with the Marauders was his fault? It never made sense to me even when I hated him too."

"You know, that's a very good point. I hadn't really thought of it in those terms before, but you're right. Anyway, that's why I don't have quite the same view of Severus as the rest of the Order do. Despite all seven of our children constantly complaining about Professor Snape's teaching methods," she added with a laugh. "It never did any of you much harm to have a strict teacher. The Herbology teacher before Pomona Sprout was an unholy terror, and so were one or two of our many Defence teachers. That said, he does go far too far on occasion..."

"He knows," Hermione said softly. "Some of the time I'm not sure he even realised he was going that far until he'd said it, and other times he just lost his temper. He does know. We've talked about a couple of the things he's said to me over the years, and some of his behaviour towards Harry. He finds it almost impossible to ever apologise for anything – not out of pride, he just genuinely can't manage it gracefully. He does try and behave, but... he's not suited to teaching school-age students. He gets too frustrated and it makes him irritable. I know he's pleased about not having to go back. I sometimes think Dumbledore shouldn't have made him stay so long, but I suppose it was necessary." And I suppose I wouldn't have ended up with him, would I?

Mrs Weasley nodded thoughtfully. "Well, my point was that he is very unpopular. Unfairly so, perhaps, but he is. You're not going to be able to keep this a secret forever, Hermione, and when it goes public..."

She nodded. "It's going to be horrible. I know. Most of the Order will never speak to me again. Sirius and Moody will probably come back from the dead just to yell at Severus. We'll probably both get hate mail, and the papers will be full of ghastly stories."

"Are you prepared to deal with that?"

"I don't really care, to be honest. My best friends don't mind. I'm a bit worried about my parents, but I don't think they'll react too badly. The people I respect – Madam Pomfrey, Professor McGonagall, you – are okay with it. I can cope with people I don't know not liking me; I went through it when I was fourteen. I'm sure it'll be a bit upsetting when it happens, but it's not going to affect my life, really. Besides... Severus is worth it."

The older witch smiled a little, before looking serious once more. "It's going to be worse than when you were fourteen, Hermione. You were still a child then. You're an adult now, and they're going to trash your reputation and call you every foul name under the sun. You'll be called a slut and a whore and accused of everything that nasty-minded people can imagine."

"I know a Healer who can prove that I was still a virgin at the beginning of May this year," Hermione said flatly. "They can say what they like."

"Poppy is a valuable ally," Mrs Weasley agreed, before leaning forward again. "That does bring me onto my final point, dear," she said gently. "Is there anything you want to ask me? I know you haven't been able to speak to your mother, and I'm not sure how they treat such things in the Muggle world..."

Oh, God. Hermione fought the blush with everything she had, battling an almost equally strong desire to laugh; she certainly hadn't expected this. Absolutely not. She had a good relationship with her mother, but it had never been the sort where either of them would feel comfortable discussing it; she'd had sex education in Year Six the year before starting at Hogwarts, and she'd known the general concept long before then from various documentaries on television and from all the things children overheard and picked up accidentally, and any girl with an inquiring mind and access to a large library didn't need formal education on the subject. She'd never understood how the other girls could be comfortable discussing it in a group; it had always seemed as though it should be private, to her.

"No, thank you," she managed to reply when she could speak without stammering or laughing. "I appreciate the offer, but... everything's fine." I can't wait to see Severus' face when I tell him about this. Frankly, although there were still one or two things she was a little curious about that they hadn't tried yet, if she was going to ask anyone it would be Severus himself and she'd rather experiment than actually ask about it. Absolutely nobody else needed to know.

All things considered, it had been a bit of a strange day, Hermione reflected that night. The talk with Mrs Weasley had been very unexpected, but it had also been enlightening, if a bit embarrassing at times as well – she supposed that seven children would give any woman a practical and matter-of-fact outlook on life and love. It had left her feeling more confident, anyway; there would be a lot of problems, but nothing she couldn't deal with; nothing they couldn't deal with. She did wonder if Severus knew that he had a friend in Mrs Weasley; somehow, she doubted it.

Aside from that conversation, she had spent most of the rest of the day in the library, reviewing what she knew of blood analysis, supplemented by notes from Poppy, and studying Severus' notes. He would be there when the time came to analyse Mr Weasley's blood and he would talk her through it if she needed it, but he had made it clear that he thought she could do it without his aid. Strangely, she didn't feel frightened by that; nervous, yes, and she knew she'd ask him to check what she was doing just to be on the safe side, but his quiet confidence in her made it easier to have faith in herself.

Rolling onto her back, she stared at the ceiling pensively; she was tired, but sleep wasn't coming any easier tonight than it had done yesterday. Speaking with Mrs Weasley today had been nice, but she really missed her parents, and had done since accepting Severus' rather panicky proposal. She wanted to share this with her family, as well as her friends, and she couldn't. Not until Voldemort was dead. Sometimes it felt like her whole life was being put on hold until Voldemort was dead; and if she felt like this after only a year or two of it, how must Severus feel, after a decade and a half of waiting to be allowed to live his own life? Although she supposed he hadn't been waiting for that at all; he'd never thought he would have a life worth living.

"Brooding?" a quiet voice asked from the wall, and Hermione rolled her head to the side to glance at the small dark frame, although there wasn't enough light for her to see the portrait.

"Trying not to, but yes." An idle thought occurred to her. "I suppose you were watching, that night last summer, weren't you?"


"When I asked Severus to sit with me so I could sleep."

"Yes." Phineas sounded like he was smiling. "He stared at the wall until you sounded like you were sleeping; then he turned his head and watched you. He stayed there for almost an hour, just watching you sleep, before he left. I've no idea what he was thinking; even by his usual standards, his face was expressionless. He loves you very deeply, you know, Granger," he added, apropos of absolutely nothing.

"I know," she replied softly. Severus had never said so, and possibly never would, but she did know he loved her. It would be good to hear him say it, even if only once, but she didn't think he was capable of it yet. One day, perhaps she would find out the full story of what had happened to him to leave him so damaged, but it didn't matter right now.

"Is it just your brooding keeping you awake?" the Slytherin asked archly. "I inquire because you're not the only insomniac in this house at the moment. It seems he misses you, too."

"He's never a sound sleeper," she answered, smiling a little. "You can't know it's because of me. There's no way he'd have said anything."

"Stop bickering with me and go to him, fool Gryffindor," he told her bluntly. "Nobody else on this floor is awake. Stay close to the wall in the hallway and the floor won't creak. Neither of you will be fit to live with tomorrow if you don't, and things are going to start moving again soon. Besides, you need to start learning to be a Slytherin; if you want him, go and get him."

Hermione hesitated. Every instinct told her no, told her to stay here and be a good girl and not to take the risk, but... She grinned. Slytherin, or Gryffindor? Sitting up, she swung her legs out of bed. "You're a bad influence. I think you spend too much time talking to Dilys."

She didn't bother knocking on his door; what would be the point? He wouldn't have warded it, instead trusting to the fact that nobody would even think of disturbing him; he'd know she was the only one who would walk in without announcing herself first.

His curtains were open when she slipped inside; the door didn't creak due to the silencing spells he had ringed his room with. Severus' room was at the front of the house, and the Muggle street lamps outside shone into the room, much as they did back at Spinner's End. The bed was still made, and hadn't been slept in; the door clicked shut behind her and she turned to find Severus regarding her with his head cocked to the side quizzically. He was only half dressed, his shirt hanging open over his bare chest, and his wand dangled loosely from his hand.

She nodded to it, smiling. "Expecting trouble?"

"Always," he replied lightly. "You never know when some foolish Gryffindor might come sneaking around, up to mischief." He stepped around her to put the wand on the bedside table before turning to face her and arching an eyebrow. "You realise this is a bad idea."

"Then tell me to leave," she murmured, padding barefoot across the worn carpet to stand close beside him, looking up at him challengingly; there was enough light for her to see the gleam in his dark eyes as one side of his mouth slowly curved into a small smile. "No? Kiss me, then, and stop teasing, or it'll be dawn..."

His soft purring laugh sent shivers down her spine. "My little Gryffindor is growing bold," he murmured, wrapping his arms around her and drawing her close before lowering his mouth to hers. Hermione made a quiet sound of approval, reaching up to wind her fingers into his hair as he kissed her, closing her eyes as his hands slid under her pyjama top and started to lift it up.

She was trembling by the time they were both naked, half-clinging to him as they kissed more passionately; he had backed them both across the room to the bed by that point, leaving their clothes scattered on the floor, and now he sat down and pulled her into his lap before kissing her again. Drawing back for a moment, she cupped his face in her hands, taking a moment to simply look at him as she caught her breath; her fingers traced his sharp features, the high cheekbones and strong jaw, feeling the roughness of the day's stubble and the softness of his lips before brushing his lank hair back from his eyes and daring to trace a finger down the arched bridge of his hooked nose. She knew Severus didn't much care for the way he looked, but he was beautiful to her, even if nobody else would agree.

Hermione kissed him again, gasping softly into his mouth as one of his hands trailed over her thigh to dip between her legs. Gripping his shoulders for support, she shuddered against him as he stroked her, before shifting to try and press down onto his fingers as he pushed two inside her. "I've missed this," she told him breathlessly, running her hands over his chest and arching her back slightly. She half-expected him to laugh and point out that they had only been apart for a single night, but he didn't reply at all, focused entirely on what he was doing as he deftly twisted his fingers inside her and bent his head to kiss her breasts.

He pushed her to the very edge of orgasm and kept her there, frustratingly close to climax but not quite able to reach it. Squirming against his hand as sweat broke out down her back, she tried not to whimper; he really was too bloody good at teasing. Pressing harder onto his fingers, shuddering, she reached down to touch him in return and tried to tease back, squeezing gently until he groaned. "Severus, please..."

Drawing his hand away, he gripped her hips and shifted beneath her, preparing to lift her onto him, before pausing and licking his lips as something evidently occurred to him. Staring at her through burning eyes, he smiled slowly, leaning forward to lick the rim of her ear and nip softly at her earlobe before whispering, "On your knees, Hermione..."

Easing off his lap onto the bed, shivering in happy anticipation, she did as he asked and settled herself cautiously on all fours, twisting to watch over her shoulder as he knelt behind her. Severus steadied himself with one hand resting lightly on her back, gripping himself in his other hand and leaning forward over her, slowly guiding himself inside her until he could lean forward further to take his weight on his arms, flexing his hips as he slid fully into her. Biting back a moan at the sensation, she pushed back against him, breathing raggedly as she adjusted to the new angle.

His movements were slow and gentle at first, letting her get used to the feel of this new position, until she was rocking back against him with every slow thrust and trying not to whimper; kissing her shoulder and biting lightly, he straightened up, gripping her hips and starting to move properly. Keening softly, she pushed back to meet him, shuddering with the more forceful rhythm as her body began to tighten. So close, so close... "Oh, fuck," she gasped breathlessly, biting her lip before crying out as she climaxed at last, sinking forward onto her elbows as her arms gave out.

Severus stopped moving, one hand sliding down her back as she trembled beneath him. Leaning forward slightly, he tangled a hand in her hair, gently but firmly tugging her head up; increasing the pressure, he drew her up onto all fours again, before sliding his other arm around her waist and leaning back to pull her up onto her knees as he sat back on his heels. Keeping his hand in her hair, he drew her head back further, kissing the taut skin on her neck and nipping at her throat as he started to move again; his other hand moved higher to cup her breast, his fingers finding her nipple as he thrust into her once more. Closing her eyes, she gave herself over to the sensations, hearing his ragged breathing growing heavier before hitching as he reached the end; he bit her shoulder hard enough to leave a mark, crying out thickly as he came.

Snuggling into his arms afterwards, Hermione sighed contentedly and relaxed; amazing though having sex with him was, it was this intimacy afterwards that she valued most. It was the only time Severus ever seemed to genuinely relax. It wouldn't last; by morning he would once again be tense and stressed and brooding; but for these few hours he was peaceful and happy. "That's better," she mumbled, sighing again.

He chuckled drowsily. "Always glad to be of assistance."

"It's been a bit of a weird day," she observed lazily, closing her eyes. "I thought there would be something going on when I saw how many people were here, but nobody seems to be doing anything. Except staring at you," she added with a hint of a question in her voice.

"I know. Don't worry about it yet."

"So you do know why."

"I suspect I do, yes, but I don't know for certain."

"And you're not going to tell me. Haven't we been here before, Severus?" she asked reproachfully.

"If I'm right, you'll find out soon enough. And if I'm wrong, no need to worry." He yawned. "I don't think either of us slept much yesterday, and you'll have to get back to your own room in a couple of hours. Get some rest, Hermione. Don't trouble trouble until trouble troubles you."

Severus opened his eyes sleepily and with some reluctance the following day; nothing on this earth was ever going to make him like mornings. They had become a lot more pleasant now that he was usually waking up with a beautiful naked woman in bed with him, admittedly, but that pleasure was tainted today by the fact that she was going to have to sneak back to her own room very shortly. He allowed himself a couple of minutes to enjoy being snuggled up with her again first, though, warm smooth skin and soft curves and insane curly hair everywhere; he was going to need the memory of this to get him through today. Yes, he knew exactly why the Order had all gathered and why they kept staring at him, and as soon as he had woken up he had known his time was up. It wasn't going to be pleasant, and he was going to need Hermione before it was over, he suspected.

Reluctantly he pushed himself up on one elbow, brushing her hair back out of the way and leaning forward to kiss the faint bruise he had accidentally left on her shoulder last night. "Hermione," he murmured, his voice a sleep-roughened growl. "Time to get up."

Her sleepy sound of protest made him smile, before she yawned and slowly rolled over to blink drowsily at him. "It's still dark, Severus," she complained.

"It won't be for much longer, and you need to get back to your room before anyone else wakes up," he reminded her, pleased with the reluctance in her eyes. If he had his way, neither of them would ever leave their bedroom, but sadly the real world was once again interfering.

She mumbled something that sounded like she had learned it from him, before nodding and sitting up, stretching. Severus took a moment to appreciate the improved view of her breasts, resigned to a cold shower this morning, before sitting up in turn and scratching his wrist, trying to hold back a yawn. Here we go.

He lingered as long as he could before venturing downstairs, grimly certain of what he was going to find. Phineas had appeared very briefly while he was getting dressed; the portrait hadn't said anything, but his expression had confirmed Severus' suspicions. Taking a moment in the hallway to ensure all his defences were firmly in place, he took a deep breath and entered the subdued atmosphere in the kitchen, his gaze flickering quickly around the room, assessing.

Most of the Order were present, but not all. Aside from Ronald and William, the junior Weasleys were absent; Poppy wasn't there either, but that made sense. She'd be upstairs, in the sick room. Hermione sat with her friends at the far side of the room, watching him worriedly with her lower lip caught between her teeth; he could tell from her expression that she didn't know what was going on, and nor did the boys.

Everyone else did, though. They were all looking at him, but none of them could meet his eyes. Both Molly and Minerva looked down as soon as he glanced at them; the others all looked away quickly. Only Lupin tried to stare him down; he quelled the werewolf with a glare and moved forward a pace, folding his arms across his chest and looking around impassively, waiting. He wasn't going to make the first move. If they were really going to demand this of him, they'd have to work for it. Finally he arched an eyebrow, and Minerva broke.

"Good morning, Severus."

"I doubt it," he replied quietly. "Well?"

She at least had the decency to look away. "Albus is... much worse. He had a bad night, and Poppy says... it won't be long, now. I... we have all said our farewells. Harry saw him yesterday. Now..."

Severus glanced briefly at Potter, recognising from the boy's expression that the old man hadn't been well enough for any sort of conversation. No matter, the old bastard's portrait would retain enough of a personality to be used for therapy later if need be. The Trio all still looked bewildered.

Slowly he turned back to Minerva. "And what does this have to do with me?" he inquired softly.

"You know what it has to do with you, Severus," Lupin replied quietly. He did wish the werewolf wouldn't use his first name. He never had when they were at school, after all.

He refused to look at Hermione again; he'd heard her draw in a sharp breath and knew she'd just guessed what was coming. Drawing on his Occlumency again, he felt his expression locking into rigid lines. "Say it," he said coldly. "You're all too craven to actually do it; the least you can do is say it. Ask me properly."

The silence hummed with tension and misery.

Finally Minerva cleared her throat and sighed, still unable to look at him. "Please, Severus. Albus is in a lot of pain. We... we need you to... grant him a peaceful end."

"Say. It." No euphemisms; no comforting lies. He wanted them to know what they were asking. It would always have come down to this – the Unbreakable Vow saw to that; his wrists were no longer itching but burning – but there was no reason for them to know that. He wanted them to think about just what they were demanding of him.

She swallowed hard. This must be hurting her; Dumbledore had been her friend for a long time. Severus refused to feel pity, not now. He couldn't afford to. "We need you to kill him," she said finally, with a dignity in her voice that he could respect.

He gave Hermione a sharp look straight from Professor Snape's best repertoire, freezing her in place; she couldn't defend him now. The boys were staring in horror; he looked away from them and sneered at the room in general. "As you wish," he said contemptuously, turning away. It was bollocks; anyone who had passed fourth-year Potions could brew a strong enough sedative that an overdose would grant peaceful death. Even if none of them could make themselves use the Killing Curse, there were other ways. Severus himself had no intention of using Avada Kedavra; he wanted to have a final little chat with the old bastard first.

"Wait – you're going to do it now?" Lupin blurted.

He glanced back, curling his lip. "Is he going to become less mortally afflicted if I let you all bleat at me for another ten minutes first? This has been dragged out long enough."

"But..." The werewolf hesitated. "Can you really do this, Severus? Go upstairs and – and kill him, just like that?"

He felt very, very tired as he stared back at the last Marauder. "Time to find out."

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 45 of 60

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