Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 46 of 60

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Very slowly, Severus climbed the stairs to the isolated landing where Dumbledore's room was, drawing the cool silence of his Occlumency defences around him once more and letting everything fade into the distance until it didn't touch him any more. It wasn't as if he hadn't known this was coming.

Poppy was waiting for him outside; her eyes were bloodshot. "I'm so sorry that it has come to this, Severus."

"It's not your fault." He pulled back his sleeve and showed her the red lines that had reappeared, wrapped around his wrists. "I don't see why the rest of them should know, but this would have had to happen anyway. I knew that when I swore the Vow last summer." Having no choice wasn't exactly new for him, after all.

"Do you want me to stay?"

"No." He knew she wouldn't be able to handle it. Besides, he wanted a little privacy for a final talk with the old man first. "Don't let Hermione come up here. I don't want her here right now. Stay with her, please. I would tell you to try and stop her fretting about me, but I suspect I would be wasting my breath."

"You didn't tell her this was coming? Oh, Severus..."

"She knew it was a probability. She would only have worried if I had confirmed that it was a certainty. Besides, I wasn't totally sure myself until I woke up this morning. Go downstairs with the others, please. You, too, Phineas," he added without raising his voice. "I won't have you watching me now, not this time."

Alone at last, he took a deep breath and pushed open the door, stepping through and closing it behind him before turning around.

He looks so... small. Severus regarded his master with a curious sense of detachment; his emotions concerning Dumbledore had always been rather complicated, but he had always feared him to some extent, in many ways more than he had feared Voldemort. In particular he recalled the night he had gone to kneel at the old man's feet and beg for Lily's life; Dumbledore had been awe-inspiring then, terrifying and powerful, and it had been easy to see why even the Dark Lord had feared him. And now... now he was just another sick old man.

His dark eyes scanned the figure lying on the bed dispassionately. Dumbledore's face was gaunt, almost skeletal, and his whole body seemed shrunken, painfully emphasising the missing hand and forearm. The darkness of the curse had reached his face and neck now, increasing the sallow, almost yellowish tinge to the skin. Severus felt a brief flicker of morbid, gallows humour; he looks worse than I ever did. Pushing it away, he glanced around the room and saw Fawkes perched on the open windowsill; the phoenix trilled very softly, a single muted note, and dipped his head briefly in acknowledgement.

"Severus." Dumbledore's voice was a weak and thready whisper, but although they were sunken and dull the blue eyes were still keen and aware, if not as piercing as they had once been. He could see the old wizard's pain and the whites of his eyes were grey; Vow or no Vow, it obviously wouldn't be long. The old man coughed. "Thank you."

I'm not doing it for you. He moved forward to the bed with some reluctance and stared down at his master expressionlessly. "Dumbledore." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small bottle and lifted it to the light, studying the contents critically.

Dumbledore blinked slowly. "...Poison, Severus? Why...?"

"Because I want time to... say my farewells," he replied with a tight smile, "and because using the Killing Curse isn't simple, even for a Death Eater. This is just as painless, if not quite as quick." A better death than you deserve. "Can you drink it yourself?" he asked dispassionately. "No? All right." He helped the old man raise his head, holding the bottle to his lips, refusing to let any of his thoughts touch him as he watched Dumbledore drink.

When the bottle was empty, he pocketed it and sat on the edge of the bed, staring down at his master. He'd spent years dreaming of the day he'd finally confront the old man and let all the old anger and hurt spill out, but now that he was here, most of his rage seemed to have gone. Having had to act as the leader over the past couple of months had helped him understand what it could cost someone, and he could see what damage so many years of it might have done, but understanding the other person's point of view had never stopped him feeling angry about the way he was treated before; that wasn't it. No, there just didn't seem any point in being angry now, not when faced with this rather pathetic figure of a sick and dying old man. It wouldn't change anything.

"How long?" Dumbledore asked weakly, lying back.

"Five, ten minutes." He exhaled slowly and shook his head. "It shouldn't have come to this, Dumbledore. None of this should have happened. You've been such a fool. It would have taken so little on your part; just the smallest gesture would have won me to you right from the start, and this could all have been prevented. I didn't need much. All you had to do was acknowledge that it wasn't always my fault; all you had to do was give me a chance, just once. That would have been enough. What did I do, Dumbledore, except be Sorted into Slytherin and be picked as a target by your favourites? Even when you scolded me and punished me, I could see in your eyes that you knew I wasn't to blame. Black tried to kill me; you know he did, no matter what you said. He tried to kill me, and you did nothing, except threaten me until I promised not to say anything – as if anyone would have listened to me anyway. Why did my life never mean anything to you?"


"I'm not expecting an answer. Shut up and let me talk. You owe me that much, at least. You see, I don't think you have an answer, any more than I think Potter or Black could ever explain why they hated me, or the teachers could explain why they always looked the other way. I didn't do anything wrong. I was only eleven, and I certainly wasn't the Dark Arts expert and sneaky little bully everyone says I was, not then. I was just a young boy who had been badly treated at home and couldn't make friends easily, that's all. Everything else came later. I didn't fit in, and that's apparently all the excuse people needed."

He stared down at Dumbledore, who had closed his eyes but was apparently still listening – he was still breathing, anyway. "You never understood why I joined the Death Eaters, did you? The Dark Lord only needed to speak to me twice to see how to win my loyalty, but you never saw it. He offered me a place to belong and told me I would be valued, not judged. That was all it took. If you'd done the same, I would have been yours, not his, because no matter what anyone thinks of me, I never wanted to serve evil, and power and ambition were always second. Nobody else even pretended that I mattered to them, so I went to him. It was that simple, and yet you never saw it."


"I said, don't talk. This isn't a conversation and I'm not interested in your justifications. I just want you to listen, so you'll understand before you finally snuff it and stop ruining people's lives. It's a shame we don't have more time, because there's a lot I could say, but it doesn't matter. I really just wanted to tell you that you've always been wrong about me. If I really was the man you've always believed, Dumbledore, I could have destroyed you a very long time ago. You see, I'm not stupid, and I've never been able to trust you, so I made sure I had a few aces up my sleeve that I could use to protect myself if you ever turned on me."

He leaned closer as Dumbledore opened his eyes, feeling a very unpleasant smile forming. "I know about Aberforth, and I know about Ariana, and I know about Gellert. I know everything, Dumbledore. You should be very, very grateful that I'm not the scum you think I am, because I've never told anyone, although God knows you've given me enough reasons to do it over the years. I thought about it every time you laughed at me, every time you patronised me, every time you rode roughshod over my feelings and made it clear that I would always mean less than nothing to you no matter what I did."

For just a moment, he saw old pain and genuine fear in the blue eyes that had once terrified him so much, and it brought a stab of dark and vindictive pleasure. Severus had waited a long time to say this; he was glad he'd got the chance before the old man died. "I never even told Potter, after you broke your word to me and told him about Lily. Perhaps I should have done, but surprisingly, the boy isn't stupid; he worked out all by himself that the only reason you had for telling him was to spite me. I didn't turn him against you, Dumbledore; you did. Even the best chess pieces will only let you push them around with no explanation for so long. If Lily had still been an issue, perhaps I would have done, but I don't think you ever understood that, either. She hasn't been my motivation for a long time."


"I'm not going to tell you everything, amusing though it would be to see your face if I did. It's really none of your business." And he wanted Hermione kept out of this, anyway, because he knew he shouldn't be doing it. Justified it might be, but it was still wrong, really.

Severus stood up. "I know you never intended me to survive, Dumbledore. Once I was no longer of use, you'd have made sure I was lost, one way or another. Sorry to disappoint you, but I intend to get my life back. Whatever you've been hiding, whatever final damning revelation Minerva's holding onto for me to see, I'm going to make sure I get through it. I'm not going to let you win. I'm not who you think I am, or what you think I am, and I'm going to prove you wrong. Because I don't think you're a particularly good man, Dumbledore, regardless of how you've led the Order for all this time – and I don't deny you've led them well and achieved quite a lot. I've always been suspicious of your real motives, though.

"Because one thing has always puzzled me. Why, when you knew I'd overheard part of the prophecy, did you not try to prevent me telling my master? You made absolutely no attempt to stop me reaching the Dark Lord with what I knew. I can't accept that you didn't know Pettigrew wasn't reliable, either; if you truly wanted to keep the Potters safe, you'd have been their Secret-Keeper yourself. And don't get me started on everything you've put Potter Junior through, or all the times you've ignored what I told you – if you'd listened to me, this second war could have ended virtually as soon as it began. I think you wanted all this to happen the way it did. And you should be very grateful that I can't possibly hope to prove it. Otherwise I'd have just fed you unicorn blood, and I'd make sure you stayed alive to answer for it."

Dumbledore had closed his eyes again, but the old man's weakened body was tense and his breathing was unsteady. Severus looked down at him coldly.

"I don't know what's on the other side, Dumbledore, but you've ruined far more lives than I. I hope there's justice beyond the veil, because you need to pay for what you've done, but it's not my problem any more. We're done, you and I." He turned away.

"Wait." The old man's voice sounded weaker than ever; there could only be a few minutes left. Severus stopped, but didn't turn around.


"...Stay, until the end. Please."

Frankly astounded by the request, he turned to look back at his master. He thought about the times he had been close to death, in particular the most recent one, when he had been tortured to the brink of death and had been saved by Hermione's magic and the battered copper bracelet he still wore around his wrist, remembering the terrible loneliness and fear. He could see that feeling in the old man's eyes now. Severus hesitated for a moment longer, thinking, then took a breath.


Turning, he walked away without another word, closing the door behind him. Leaning against the wall, he slid down to sit on the worn carpet in the hallway, staring at the opposite wall silently for a few minutes that felt like eternity, until his wrists burned painfully and he sat watching the red lines slowly fade away.

The atmosphere in the kitchen was truly terrible. Hermione worried her lower lip between her teeth, trying not to fidget; the silence was getting to her. Nobody was saying anything, or looking at each other, and all of them were obviously trying not to look at the door or glance upwards. Under the table, she was gripping Harry's hand, probably hard enough to hurt; he held on just as tightly, and his face was pale. She strained to hear the slightest sound from upstairs; it felt like a very long time had passed.

After what seemed like an eternity, they heard Fawkes cry out, a single note of pure sorrow that faded into the distance, and Harry's nails dug into her hand as an odd kind of mutual shiver ran around the room, but still nobody spoke. They eventually heard footsteps on the stairs, and Hermione stared anxiously at the door as Severus finally came in.

His face was completely devoid of expression; she hadn't seen him Occluding so strongly in a very long time. It made his black eyes look cold and lifeless again, and his gaze remained distant as he briefly and dispassionately scanned the room.

"Severus," Minerva greeted him quietly, sounding a little hoarse. "Is it..."

"Yes. He's dead." His voice was as empty as his eyes, his words clipped and emotionless. He glanced at Hermione and the boys, briefly and without any apparent interest. "I suppose you three will want to remain here for a while... I will expect you back in a few hours. We still have work to do." He turned away without saying anything else.

"Severus, wait," Lupin said, standing up. "What... you have to tell us more than that. Please. Did he..."

Severus sneered at him, his voice turning a few shades colder. "If you're hoping he left you some final meaningful words of wisdom, you're going to be disappointed, and I'm not giving you an action replay. He died. It was quick. It was as undignified as every unnatural death. There is nothing else to say."

He moved to brush past, and Lupin caught his sleeve. Severus spun around, turning his body and using the momentum to put his full weight behind a stunning blow to the face that sent the other man crashing to the floor. The sudden, shocking violence caused everyone to freeze, uncomprehending for a long moment, as Severus stared down at Lupin with the same unemotional, cold expression on his face.

"If you ever touch me again, I will kill you," he said flatly. There was murder in his eyes; Hermione had always thought that was just a figure of speech, until she saw Severus' face at this moment. She could see the Death Eater behind his eyes now, and it was frighteningly obvious that he meant it.

"Severus! That's enough!" Professor McGonagall snapped, standing up.

"Is it?" he asked distantly, giving Lupin an indifferent glance before shrugging and turning away. He didn't look angry, as such; in some ways, Hermione thought that made it worse. She had never seen him like this before. "If you say so."

Tonks had gone forward to help Lupin sit up; his nose was bleeding heavily and obviously badly broken, and his upper lip had split over his teeth. It had been a fierce enough blow that Hermione wasn't surprised to see that Severus' knuckles were cut; he had probably hurt his hand quite badly, too. Tonks glared at Severus angrily. "You heartless bastard, Snape. Remus didn't do anything."

"No," Severus agreed. "He never did," he added, turning his flat stare back to Lupin, who dropped his eyes, unable to meet that dark-eyed gaze.

"What are you talking about?"

"It really doesn't matter." He glanced briefly around the kitchen again and curled his lip. "Was there anything else you all feel unable to handle by yourselves?"

"Where did Fawkes go?" Ron asked in a subdued voice, obviously trying to fulfil his usual peacekeeping role by changing the subject and diverting them before things got any more out of hand.

Severus shrugged. "Wherever a masterless phoenix goes." He waited a moment to see if anyone else was going to speak, then turned and left the room without another word, leaving a very uncomfortable and slightly nervous silence behind him; apparently nobody else had seen him like that before either.

Poppy went upstairs to see to Dumbledore's body, and one by one the Order began to file upstairs in small groups to pay their last respects before leaving. Hermione stayed in the kitchen, replaying what had just happened and trying to work out what she should do now; Severus certainly hadn't seemed as though he wanted company, but equally he had obviously been repressing everything very strongly and was obviously more hurt than he was letting on.

It was just herself, Ron and Harry in the kitchen when Professor McGonagall came back, dry-eyed but sorrowful. "Will you three be returning tonight?" she asked.

"I will be, soon," Hermione replied softly. "I think Harry and Ron should stay for now." The boys looked at her and she tried to smile. "You should be with your family, Ron. And Harry, Ginny will want you with her."

"What about you?" Harry asked awkwardly.

It was terrible, Hermione reflected, but she wasn't really mourning. It was certainly sad that Dumbledore had died before his time, but no more so than anyone else who had died in the war. She hadn't really known him well enough to feel very much, and Severus had suffered so much because of him. Is it bad to be angry with the dead? she wondered. I don't know how I'm meant to feel.

"I wasn't close to Professor Dumbledore the way you were. I'd rather go home, to be honest." She had spoken without thinking, but she realised as she said it that Spinners End was home now, damp and depressing though it was. "Besides," she added more quietly, "Severus shouldn't be on his own, not after that. I doubt he'll want company, but I want to keep an eye on him." It wasn't exactly self harm as most people would understand it, but he did have a tendency to hurt himself when he was upset, even if it wasn't deliberate.

"What if he..."

"Don't, Ron. He won't hurt me. It's not as if he needed much of a reason to want to punch Lupin, is it? I doubt he'll talk to me, but even if he loses his temper, he won't hurt me. I'll be fine."

"In that case, Hermione, you should take this," Professor McGonagall said quietly, holding out a glass vial filled with swirling silver. "The memories that Albus prepared to tell Severus what else the four of you have to do. I don't know what's in here, but it's important."

She nodded and took the bottle, putting it in her pocket. "All right."

"And I want you to use the Floo to call here in a couple of hours, please, to spare us worrying. I don't believe Severus would deliberately harm you, but I haven't seen him like that before. The others who don't know the full story will be concerned, too."

Suppressing a sigh, she nodded again and repeated, "All right."

When she let herself into the house a short while later, she found Severus in the living room, sitting on one end of the sofa; he was leaning forward slightly, his elbows resting on his knees, and apparently absorbed in studying a frayed patch on the carpet. On the surface, it didn't look like anything was wrong, but his gaze was still unnaturally distant and remote and he didn't look up when she came in.

Biting her lip, Hermione crossed the room and sat beside him, not sure of what to do. She hadn't witnessed any of the times when he had been seriously unbalanced before; he had always dealt with such episodes by himself. This must be what shell shock looks like, she decided, studying that odd expression in his eyes; it looked like the descriptions she'd read of the thousand-yard stare. Evidently everything was finally catching up with him. He's picked a hell of a time to have a breakdown, she told herself a little hysterically. "Severus?" she asked softly.

He didn't even blink. She bit her lip again, watching him more closely. If it had been anyone else, she would have assumed that they didn't know she was there, but this was Severus. He always knew when he was being watched and he never relaxed, always aware of his surroundings. He knew someone was there, even if he wasn't showing it, and as he hadn't drawn his wand or done anything violent it seemed likely he knew it was her. That was reassuring, but she would still prefer it if he actually spoke to her and let her know he was still there.

"Severus?" she repeated hesitantly, after a tense minute or so of listening to her own heartbeat pulsing in her ears. This time she got a reaction, even if only a small one; he sighed, barely audibly, and lowered his head a little further, his hair falling forward in a curtain around his face. She was about to speak again when some instinct warned her to hold her tongue; keeping silent, she bit her lip again instead, reaching out slowly to rest her hand on his back between his shoulder blades.

It seemed like a very long time had passed, but in reality it was probably only a minute or two before he shuddered under her hand, his shoulders shaking for a moment. She heard him draw in a deep, unsteady breath and heard it catch in his throat before he started shivering almost unnoticeably, and if she hadn't been listening so ferociously hard to pick up any sound at all she would have missed the barely audible little choked noise he made in the back of his throat as he started crying.

He was obviously fighting very hard to stop; she could hear him trying to hold his breath, trying to swallow the sobs, and she could feel the tension in his thin frame as he struggled silently with his pain. Her own eyes started to sting as she wordlessly moved closer, pressing against his side and ignoring the way he stiffened and tried to move away from her, turning his head away as though he could pretend it wasn't happening. Sliding her arms around him, she rested her cheek against his shoulder and listened in silence as he fought to hold back his tears, starting to shake.

I never want to know how he learned to repress everything this strongly, she decided, feeling a bit remote and distant herself now in the face of his pain. By now, Hermione had seen Severus in some truly terrible situations, but even in the middle of agony so acute that he couldn't even scream, he hadn't cried. Involuntary tears might have come to his eyes, but that wasn't the same thing. She had only seen him close to tears twice; once when he had removed his Dark Mark and stopped being a Death Eater, and once when she had told him she loved him. She had never seen him like this, and she felt absolutely useless, unable to do anything except hold him and try in vain to think of something she could say to help, as he gave up the hopeless struggle and leaned forward to bury his face in his hands as his shaking grew worse.

It could have been ten minutes or two hours by the time he got himself back under control once more; Hermione had no idea. The horrible choked sobs had eased, his shaking had slowed and stopped and his breathing seemed easier. He hadn't looked at her once, but he had been leaning against her for some of it, and now they had both moved; he was lying rather awkwardly on his end of the sofa now, curled up in a cramped position that couldn't be remotely comfortable, with his head resting in her lap as she stroked his hair. He had to be uncomfortable, but she didn't have the heart to try and get him to move. She looked down into his face where his head rested on her thigh, gently smoothing his hair back; he was flushed and hot, his cheeks were slightly blotchy, his nose was reddened and the skin under his eyes was swollen. His eyes had been closed the entire time; she understood that it was the only way he could let himself seek comfort from her, that it let him pretend it somehow didn't count.

You look exhausted, my love. Her heart ached for him; she suspected he hadn't expected it to hit him so hard. Apparently he had still felt something for his master after all, or it was simply that everything was catching up with him at last. Or both, probably. She continued stroking his hair gently, ignoring the fact that it needed washing, listening to his breath hitch for a moment before it eased again.

"I need to call Headquarters," she told him softly, "and let them know you haven't killed me." He sighed and snuggled closer, the back of his head pressing against her hip; that wasn't exactly an answer, but she took the hint and Summoned the Floo powder to her without trying to move, balancing it on the arm of the sofa and drawing her wand to light the fire with the hand not stroking his hair.

"Twelve Grimmauld Place," she called quietly.

"Hi, Hermione," Harry's voice replied. "Everything okay?"

"Yes. Who's there?"

"Me, Ginny, Ron, Remus, Tonks. Professor McGonagall's drifting in and out. I think everyone else is in the drawing room or something. Nobody really seems to know what to do with themselves right now."

"Fair enough. Are you two staying there tonight?"

"Yes," Ginny answered firmly, and Hermione smiled as laughter came through the Floo.

"Apparently so," Harry said sheepishly.

"Smart boy. All right, I suppose I'll see you tomorrow then."

"Is Snape there, Hermione?" Tonks asked.

"He's in the house, yes," Hermione confirmed, smiling a little as she glanced down at Severus again. He still hadn't opened his eyes, although he had shifted to reach across her lap and rest his hand on her other thigh, cuddling closer.

"But not right there?"


"Are you okay? He hasn't done anything, has he?"

"Like what? Give me detention?" she asked tartly. "Honestly, what do people think he's going to do to us? Has nobody else noticed that he's never raised a hand to any of us in six years, or done anything except make threats, despite everything we've done to him?" She saw Severus' lips twitch slightly, betraying that he was listening, and grinned as she returned to stroking his hair.

"Hermione," Lupin said sternly in a slightly thick and nasal voice, "don't be facetious, please. Has Severus done anything to you?"

"Of course he hasn't."

"Well, what was he like when you got there?"

Hermione gave the green flames a thoughtful look. "With respect, sir, why do you care? I've already said he didn't do anything to me. I don't think you really care about his mood beyond that," she said carefully. She had always liked Lupin, but rather less since starting to see Severus' point of view.

"It's a fair point," Ron agreed from beyond the fire. "We did say Snape wasn't treating us badly." By the sound of things, he suspected that Severus was in earshot.


Abruptly trying not to laugh, she put on her most sarcastic voice. "What do you want me to say, that Professor Snape broke down and cried on my shoulder?" she asked acidly, looking down at the man in her lap in time to see him smile a little shakily. "I don't think he was acting particularly strangely. I'm surprised he hasn't hit you before this, to be honest, sir; he's certainly hated you long enough."

"Hermione!" Tonks protested. "How can you say that?"

"I didn't say he was right." Being a Slytherin is actually quite good fun.

"Yes, well, it's time this stupid fight stopped, isn't it?" the Metamorphagus said. Hermione wasn't really surprised to realise that Lupin clearly hadn't told her anything.

"I don't think that's going to happen," Lupin said sadly.

"Probably not, no," Hermione agreed quietly, stroking Severus' hair again. "I'm not sure I'd find it easy to forgive in those circumstances."

"Hermione, you were in the Shack. He was wrong."

"Yes," she agreed calmly. "But he didn't know that at the time. He thought Sirius was a dangerous murderer, and he knew you hadn't taken your Wolfsbane, and he thought you were in league with him. What was he supposed to do? He made a mistake, that's all. And you didn't see him trying to protect us after you'd changed. I wasn't talking about that night, anyway; Professor Snape hated you long before that."

"What has he told you?" Lupin asked suspiciously.

"Nothing. It wasn't him who told me."

"It was me, Remus," Harry said quietly, sounding tired and a little sad; he probably hadn't wanted to talk about this. Hermione made a mental note to apologise to her friend tomorrow. "I told Ron and Hermione what I saw in the Pensieve."

"Oh, Harry."

"You knew it bothered me. I tried to talk to you and Sirius about it. It bothered me more to see that you didn't really care."


"What? You laughed it off. You said you weren't proud of it, but neither of you seemed ashamed of it either. I didn't want to know that my dad and my godfather were like that. It was... wrong."

"It was a stupid joke, Harry, and it got a little out of hand. That's all. It's nothing to be so upset about, and it's not worth holding a grudge over, either."

Hermione's temper snapped. She was surprised that her voice still sounded so calm as she replied quietly, "That's not true, sir. And you know it. It wasn't a joke. It was torture."

"No, it wasn't."

"Yes, it was. They call it waterboarding, in the Muggle world. Forcing water down someone's throat until they choke. It's a little different, but it's the same concept. And stripping someone against their will is sexual assault." She felt Severus shake his head against her thigh at that, and laid her fingertips over his mouth. It might not be the worst form of assault he'd been through, but that didn't make it better.

"Remus, what are you all talking about?" Tonks asked slowly. Hermione felt a little bad about that; she liked the Auror, and it wasn't fair for her to hear about this, but she'd had enough of nobody admitting that it had been wrong.

"I'll tell you later. I'll have to, now." She heard Lupin sigh. "Hermione, you're exaggerating. It wasn't as bad as you think. I admit Sirius and James went too far, but I didn't do anything, and they were just messing around."

"You should have stopped them."

"They wouldn't have listened."

"Then you should have gone and told a teacher what was happening, and got someone else to stop it." Hermione stared at the green flames, feeling a little strange. "I never let Harry and Ron do anything too stupid. Even if it meant they didn't speak to me for a while afterwards. I thought being a Gryffindor meant standing up for what was right."

"Do you agree with this, Harry?" Lupin asked stiffly.

Harry sighed. "I don't know. I don't think you all really meant it that way, but Hermione's right, it was torture. I don't see much difference between what you did to Snape and what we saw Death Eaters doing to some Muggles at the Quidditch World Cup. He couldn't defend himself either, and he hadn't done anything to deserve it. Sirius and my dad were bored, so they attacked him. I can't help feeling bad about that. I'm sure there were times when he started it, but I know what I saw. And there were four of you, and only one of him. I doubt he won very often. I'm sorry, Remus, but it does still bother me, and I can see why Professor Snape still hates you. It can't have been easy growing up with things like that happening. I know what it feels like to be bullied."

"You don't know what really happened, Harry. What you saw was bad, yes, and I'm not proud of it, but it was one incident among many."

Hermione tried not to grind her teeth. "Sir, please don't try to say that Professor Snape started it. James and Sirius were a team right from the start, and you and Peter too. I really can't see that he would have single-handedly started a fight with a strong group like the Marauders, not when he would obviously lose."

"Hermione," Severus whispered, too quietly to be heard on the other side of the fire. She looked down at him, and he gazed up at her through bloodshot, tired eyes. "Let it go. It doesn't matter."

"Yes, it does," she whispered back, and he shook his head against her leg, cuddling closer and closing his eyes again.

"No, it doesn't. Not any more. It's not important now. You can't know what it means to me to hear you defending me, but it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of me any more."

"But it's not fair, love..." He smiled slightly and didn't answer, shifting pointedly under her hand until she started stroking his hair again.

There seemed to be an argument taking place on the other side of the Floo now. Hermione raised her voice. "Look, I'm sorry. I'm just getting a bit tired of everyone constantly checking to make sure Professor Snape hasn't injured any of us. He's worked really hard to help us do this, and what he had to do today must have been horrible."

Ron answered her, sounding like he was trying not to laugh. "Er, to be honest, 'Mione, it's probably better if you just go. Professor McGonagall came in just before you said what Harry had seen. She had no idea that anything that bad had happened, I don't reckon. It's a bit scary to watch. We'll see you tomorrow, sometime after breakfast."

"Oops. Okay then."

"By the way... Professor Snape's been listening this entire time, hasn't he?"

"Of course."

"Thought so. All right, see you tomorrow then. Bye."


"Oops," Hermione repeated to herself, caught between amused and embarrassed, as the flames died down. "I didn't mean to do that."

"You Gryffindors, always causing trouble," Severus murmured from her lap, smiling a little.

"I think it's just as well that was a Floo call and not face to face. God knows what I might have done otherwise."

"We can always visit again later. I would give virtually anything to watch you hex Lupin. You're bloody sexy when you're that angry, you know."

"Don't tease. I actually feel bad. Nobody deserves to have Professor McGonagall outraged with them."

"He does. And I wasn't teasing." Severus stretched, as much as he could in his cramped position, and relaxed again. "I did just hear Harry Potter defending me, didn't I?"


"Ha. His parents and godfather must be spinning in their graves."

"Behave," she chided gently, combing his hair back from his eyes with her fingers. More seriously, she asked, "How are you feeling?"

He responded with a vague noise that might have meant anything, before sighing and shifting to rub his cheek gently against her thigh. "I'm all right, I think."

"Was it so bad?"

The question drew another wordless and unhelpful murmur before he answered. "Not compared to some of the things I've done. I didn't curse him, if you were wondering. I gave him a painless poison, and I told him a few things I wanted him to hear, and I walked out and left him to die."

"They shouldn't have asked you to do it."

"The Vow, remember," he replied softly. "I always knew it would probably come down to me, in the end."

"Not if someone else had given him poison first, surely. I don't understand why Poppy, at least, didn't..."

He shook his head and tried to snuggle further into her lap, his eyes still closed. "It is no easy thing to take a life, even as a mercy. Poison is easier than a spell, but it is still difficult, especially if you must look at your victim as they die. This is one lesson I hope you will never have to learn, Hermione. Life and death are far more complex than they seem. Few of the Order could kill coldly without battle to heat their blood and dull their senses, and none of them could kill Albus Dumbledore. It's one reason why they needed me."

"I don't see how you've been able to do it for all these years," Hermione said softly, stroking his hair again. "You're not cold or unfeeling, not really. Is it truly just Occlumency?"

"No. I may not be unfeeling, but there is still enough darkness in me to let me kill and survive it."

"It's a good thing there's light in there as well, then, isn't it?" she said more lightly, brushing her fingertips over the soft skin of his temple to the creases at the corner of his eye. "You're going to have to move, my leg's going to sleep. Go and take a shower while I find some lunch, and then go to bed for a few hours. You're exhausted."

"I'm not hungry. I just want to sleep. I feel sick."

"I'm not surprised, but you haven't really eaten properly in nearly two days – or did you think I wouldn't notice?"

He grunted. "I need to go and see Minerva soon... Those memories..."

"She gave them to me. Don't even think of asking to see them, or of trying to take them off me. You're resting today, and we're going to deal with Nagini in the next couple of days. Then we'll worry about what comes next. One thing at a time, and you've been through enough today. Shower and food, then bed, Severus."

"Yes, dear."

She tugged lightly at his hair in rebuke for the sarcasm, smiling. "I already told you to behave."

Opening bloodshot eyes, he lifted his head a little and gave her a teasing hint at a smile. "Will I have company?"

Hermione gave him a mock-stern look, fighting her own smile. "I'll come upstairs and read if you like, but you are going to sleep, Severus Snape."


Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 46 of 60

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