Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 47 of 60

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Severus was quiet and subdued the following morning. Hermione wasn't surprised; he had been suspiciously silent before she had fallen asleep and again when she woke, and she doubted he had slept much. He was also a bit snappish, which again wasn't a surprise – he obviously felt angry and embarrassed about letting his guard down so much and clearly had a few problems with the entire concept of letting anyone else see his pain. Harry was the same, although not quite so strongly, so she was used to it; her best friend had always been moody following any occasion when she hadn't seen him at his best.

That didn't mean she was going to let Severus get away with it; after the third time he snapped at her for something trivial – in this case, jogging his elbow when she reached past him for the newspaper – she told him bluntly to go and sulk somewhere else until he was in a better mood. Surprisingly, it actually worked; he glared at her rather sullenly, but slunk off upstairs without another word. She knew from watching him with Poppy and Dilys that actually the feared Severus Snape tended to obey bossy women quite often, which was definitely worth bearing in mind, although she knew it wouldn't always work. Best to save that particular weapon for when she really needed it.

Hermione herself felt fine. She felt a little guilty about not being upset, actually, but when all was said and done, she simply hadn't known Dumbledore very well, and his machinations had caused her fiancé and her best friend a lot of heartache and pain over the years, as well as putting her personally in danger once or twice. She was sad for other people – obviously the Order had lost a dear friend, flaws or not, as well as the toll it had taken on Severus, and the way it must have devastated Harry – but not for herself. So she passed a relatively peaceful morning reading quite contentedly and listening to the radio, before it occurred to her that Severus seemed to be spending quite a long time sulking, all things considered, and she headed upstairs to find out where he was.

She had half-expected to find him asleep; God knows he needed it. But in fact he was awake, sitting cross-legged on the bed and hunched forward over what she thought at first glance was a notepad. He didn't look up, apparently utterly absorbed in whatever he was doing, and she took a closer look before recognising a sketchbook. Hermione hadn't seen him drawing before, and studied his face curiously; his eyes were oddly distant, almost blank, and didn't seem to be focused on his work, giving him a very faraway expression lacking the concentration she would have expected. Despite that, he seemed peaceful and relaxed, almost as though he was daydreaming.

Venturing closer, she watched his hands, trying to see what he was drawing; upside down and with his hand partially obscuring it, all she could see was a few careful lines, until he slowly dragged the pencil down the page in a flowing curve and she saw it was an otter, or at least it would be when it was finished.


He jumped, dropping the pencil and almost tearing the paper, nearly cracking his head against the wall behind him. "Fuck! Don't do that!"

Hermione bit her lip, trying not to laugh, as he glared at her. "I'm sorry. You must have been miles away."

Still glaring, Severus exhaled shakily and pushed his hair back from his face. "I was. Bloody hell, Hermione."

"I said I'm sorry. I'm used to not being able to sneak up on you; I assumed you'd heard me."

"Hmph." He put the sketchbook down carefully. "For future reference, if I'm drawing, I won't hear you."

"Duly noted." She crossed the room to sit next to him, touching his shoulder apologetically as she leaned past him to get a better look at the drawing. "I've never seen you that oblivious. Are you always like that when you're drawing?"

He nodded. "I can't explain it, before you start pestering me with questions. It's a kind of meditation, I think, but it's not something I've ever been able to analyse, and it only ever happens when I'm sketching, or sometimes – rarely – it used to happen when I was at the piano."

"Phineas called it a trance."

"I suppose so. As I said, I can't explain it. I usually don't even know what I'm drawing at first. It just... happens, subconsciously."

"You weren't planning to draw an otter, then? It's very good," she added, leaning against him as he picked the pad up once more.

"Thank you. No, I wasn't; I didn't plan to draw anything specific."

"Do you ever try and draw something deliberately?"

"Sometimes, but it usually doesn't work as well as if I just let it happen."

Hermione glanced up at him. "Have you ever drawn me?" she asked curiously.

He nodded slowly and a bit uncomfortably, his eyes sliding away from hers. "Yes, several times. No, you can't see the pictures," he added, sounding more like his usual self. "I destroyed them. It was far too dangerous to leave them around, even protected. Especially with your allies helping you snoop around," he said pointedly.

She grinned. "I don't think I could have been any more confused about you, but I suppose finding a picture of me might have done it. And Phineas would never have let you live it down."

"He knows when not to push his luck. It's Dilys who would have hounded me over it. That woman must have been a total nightmare when she was alive."

"Don't talk rubbish," she told him, amused and recalling her earlier thoughts. "I've noticed that you let all your female friends boss you around. I think you secretly enjoy it, you know."

"Hardly. I'm not a masochist." He sounded lofty and vaguely contemptuous, but she could see a very faint touch of pink over his cheekbones and knew she'd struck a nerve. Making no attempt to hide her laughter, she sat up.

"If you say so. Anyway, I'm going to add to it; it occurred to me earlier that it's been months since anyone's done a proper health check on you."

"Oh, you have got to be joking." Severus looked caught between exasperated and amused.

"Not in the least. Come on, get up." Further supporting her theory, he let her tug him to his feet and stood still obediently in the middle of the floor, although Hermione missed the gleam in his eyes that would have warned her he was up to something as she started her diagnostic charms again.

Just like old times, she reflected idly as she worked, although mercifully the results this time were different. Oh, there were still plenty of problems – it would likely be many more months if not years before he was completely healed – but all the damage was old now and nothing was threatening. Caught up in examining some of the internal scarring on his liver, she didn't see his hand move until he pinched her backside, making her yelp and almost drop her wand.

Severus looked at her innocently, blinking and generally attempting to look as though butter wouldn't melt in his mouth – an attempt which might have been slightly more successful had he not obviously been trying not to laugh. "You bastard," she told him, trying to sound stern. "That wasn't nice."

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

"I have a wand aimed at you, you know." Even as she spoke, she shifted her weight, and suddenly lashed out to hook her foot behind his knee, shoving the heel of her hand against his chest at the same time.

Naturally, he saw it coming and promptly dodged, but he had forgotten where they were standing and his bedroom simply wasn't big enough; he caught the edge of the bed and wavered, off balance. Following the advantage, Hermione rammed her shoulder into him just hard enough to push him further off balance, and after a moment's struggle he let himself fall, seizing her arm at the same time and dragging her down on top of him.

Dropping her wand, she grabbed his wrists and leaned forward, trying to pin him before he could do anything else; he was laughing now, his eyes dancing as he wriggled against her grip. Bracing himself against the bed, he bucked and twisted sharply, rolling them both clean over, but again he'd forgotten the lack of space and they both fell off the bed onto the floor; unfortunately for him, Severus was on the bottom, and he wheezed as the air left his lungs.

"Serves you right," Hermione told him breathlessly, pinning him again, by the shoulders this time, as she fought her own laughter. She'd never seen this playfulness from him before. It had been a mistake to free his hands; his fingers slid under her shirt, tickling her ribs, and she couldn't stop herself squealing.

"Severus, don't! Please!" She'd successfully kept the fact that she was horribly ticklish from her friends for years. Struggling in vain to get away, she almost collapsed, shrieking with helpless laughter. "You bastard, stop it!"

She tried to retaliate, and from the way he twitched he probably was ticklish, but one look at his eyes told her he was cheating and using Occlumency. Hermione tried to do the same, but her concentration was completely gone, as she tried desperately to avoid his hands. Still, she might not be able to win a tickle fight but she knew a few other ways; reaching down between his legs, she grabbed him and squeezed, not particularly gently, stopping just before it might have hurt. "I mean it, stop it!"

He stopped obediently, freezing into absolute and total stillness that made her worry for a moment that she'd been too rough, but he was still grinning and after a moment he relaxed and laughed again. "All right, I've stopped. For now," he added, his eyes glittering with mischief as she fought to regain her breath and her dignity.

"Masochist," Hermione wheezed breathlessly, feeling him starting to swell under her hand as she squeezed him again, more gently this time. She knew she really ought to be angry with him, but she'd never seen him so light-hearted before. "Bastard."

"Such language, Miss Granger," he drawled mockingly. "Someone has obviously been a very bad influence on you."

"Can't imagine who that would be," she retorted, sitting up astride him and trying to glare down at him disapprovingly with no sincerity whatsoever. He sat up to try and get his breath back, shifting her weight into his lap properly, his hands beginning to wander again, and after a moment's struggle she gave up and surrendered grudgingly, leaning in to kiss him. "I'm going to make you pay for this later, you know."

"I have no doubt of that whatsoever," he replied dryly, returning the kiss as his hands slid under her shirt once more, not tickling now but simply seeking to get the cloth out of his way.

He proved quite insistent, and it wasn't long before she was naked and sitting on the edge of the bed as he knelt with his face between her legs; tangling her fingers in his hair, she bit her lip to hold back a moan of pleasure as he slid a finger inside her, licking and sucking. Shifting, she hooked one leg over his shoulder and leaned back against the wall, closing her eyes to focus more completely on the sensations. Sadly he was simply too damned good at this for her to stay angry with him, which didn't bode well for the future, really. Still, it was difficult to care right now, as he increased the pressure and slid a second finger into her and she felt the glorious pleasure uncoil and spread through her as she came.

Afterwards Severus tugged her back down onto the floor with him, apparently too impatient to stand up, pulling her into his lap once more and leaning back against the edge of the bed. The pace slowed as he kissed her again, more gently now, and she relaxed as she reached down to guide him inside her, shifting onto her knees and sinking onto him with a low groan of pleasure as his arms settled around her.

Kissing him again, she gripped his shoulders gently as she started to move; once she had settled into a rhythm he began to move with her, closing his eyes and breathing raggedly as he shuddered beneath her. He seemed more unguarded now than she had seen him in a while, his pleasure written clearly in his expression, and when she touched his face he opened his eyes and smiled at her, a soft smile that filled her with warmth. He was more vocal than usual as well, soft gasps and groans escaping him as they moved together, and he moaned her name as he climaxed.

Getting onto the bed seemed like far too much effort. Hermione was quite happy to sprawl half on top of him as they lay on the worn carpet, catching their breath in the aftermath. "You're still a bastard, you know," she murmured, nuzzling his chest and tasting the salt of his sweat.

"No, I'm not," he replied lazily, playing with her hair. "My parents were married years before I was born."

It was the first time he had mentioned his family in weeks; she was about to take the opening he'd given her and finally ask about his parents, but silver fire swirled into existence beside them and the moment was lost as a Patronus formed – Professor McGonagall's distinctive tabby cat.

"Good morning, Severus. Would you be able to stop by Headquarters today? I'd like to speak to you. Thank you."

Severus groaned, dropping the arm not draped over Hermione's waist across his eyes as the cat faded. "Damnit. She probably wants to apologise or something," he said, sounding utterly disgusted.

"Is that such a bad thing?" she asked gently. God knows, Hogwarts owed him a hell of a lot more than a simple apology. The school had failed him badly in so many ways; they should have seen what was happening to him.

"Yes," he replied grumpily. "It's going to be unbelievably awkward and she's going to be asking a lot of questions that I have no intention of answering. If she even looks like she's thinking of hugging me, I won't be held responsible for my actions."

"May I come and watch?"

"No you may not."

Grinning in sudden mischief, Hermione stretched across his thin frame to retrieve her wand from where it had fallen, conjuring her silver otter. "He says he'll be there in an hour or two, Professor."

"What did you do that for?" he complained.

"It gives you time to have a shower and something to eat, and it gives her time to try not to brood about why I answered instead of you and what we've been up to," she replied impishly, and he laughed softly.

"How very un-Gryffindor. You've learned well."

"You don't get to take all the credit, Severus."

"I wouldn't dream of it. Let me up, then. It's time to drag your little friends back to work too; if I'm not allowed to have fun, nor are they."

I can't wait until I never have to set foot in this dump again. Severus closed the door to Grimmauld Place behind him and looked around the hallway in distaste; his house might be a shithole too, but at least it always had been, rather than being a decayed wreck of somewhere that had once been better. And, of course, his house had never been infested with the Black family. Not that the Snapes were much better, but they had been marginally less insane.

"Filth!" Mrs Black screamed at him from the wall, and he rolled his eyes.

"Shut up, you old hag. Go and terrorise your son's ghost; you deserve each other," he said dismissively, walking past the portrait and heading deeper into the house.

He eventually found Minerva in the library and stopped in the doorway, leaning against the frame and shoving his hands in his pockets. "Go on, then," he said wearily. "Let's get this over with." For once, he noticed, she actually looked her age; most of the time it was difficult to remember how much older she was. Minerva always seemed to have endless energy and never stopped working. He reminded himself sternly that she had lost her closest friend and oldest companion yesterday and ordered himself to behave.

She looked up with a troubled expression and shook her head slowly. "Oh, Severus. Why did you never say anything?"

He sighed. "What would have been the point?" he asked quietly. "You never believed me anyway. It would have been my word against... I don't even know how many people were there. Dozens, at least, and your favourites among them, and they all would have sworn blind that nothing happened. Nobody would have stood up for me," he added more softly; it still hurt to think about that. Lily had betrayed him; her hurt pride had meant more to her than all her Gryffindor principles, or the previous seven years of friendship. He'd tried to excuse it as just temper, her being angry and hurt because of what he'd said, but... it hadn't been, really. There had been far more to it than that.

"How many incidents did I never find out about?"

Severus looked at her tiredly and knew he should lie. This was a truth she didn't need to hear. It had been so long ago; why make her confront it now? With everything that had happened... with Hermione... he truly didn't care any more. "You don't want to have this conversation, Minerva. Believe me. Let it go. Please."

"No, Severus. Tell me."

Bloody Gryffindors. He sighed again. "They had a magical map that showed them exactly where I was at all times and made sure they'd see anyone coming before they got caught, and an Invisibility Cloak that let them sneak up on me. What do you think?" he asked grimly. During the worst he hadn't had a moment's peace. He hadn't been able to hide, or run, and every time he tried to fight he was hopelessly outnumbered.

She looked very sad, and he looked away hastily, not wanting to see the guilt or the pity in her eyes. There was more than one reason why he had never tried to have this discussion with anyone. "You should have told someone."

"Do you really think I was too honourable or too proud to tell on them?" he asked, staring at the floor. "People knew. Poppy was furious that Dumbledore never listened to her when she tried to tell him about the injuries I kept receiving, at home as well as at school, and barely a week went past without her losing her temper at Horace for not getting off his lard-filled backside to help me. And you remember Lily Evans trying to stand up for me, in the first and second year." But not after that. She had decided it wasn't worth it, not when it never made any difference and just associated her name with his. Severus was pleased to find that saying her name hadn't hurt; that particular wound was closing, slowly.

"Severus, I –"

"Don't say it, Minerva. Please."


"It won't change anything."

"I know, but I'm going to say it anyway." She stood up and crossed the room to stand in front of him; only an inch or two shorter than he was, she could look him in the eyes. "I'm sorry, Severus."

He looked up and met her eyes. "No, you're not."


"You knew something wasn't right, Minerva. You'd been a teacher for a long time, and even a blind, deaf cretin who'd been living in total isolation could have seen there was something wrong with me. There's not a single member of staff who taught me who can honestly say they had no idea I was being bullied. I remember sitting in more than one Transfiguration lesson with visible scrapes and bruises, or my arm in a sling. You didn't want to know, because you didn't want to see what your favourite cubs were really capable of. Or did you think I had decided to slit my wrists on a whim? You must have known part of the reason why I did it."

To his relief, he didn't sound angry. He was tired of being angry and bitter and resentful about it. Plenty of people had bad childhoods; all right, his had been unusually bad, but still, it was no reason to wallow in old issues. He'd spent decades struggling to stop caring about it, fighting not to let it bother him. As it turned out, all he had needed was to find something more important to focus on, someone he knew would fight for him. He knew as surely as he knew the difference between night and day that had Hermione been there she'd have taken on the whole damned school for him, and that made it easier to bear the memories.

The fact that three of the four were dead helped, too. It might have taken the best part of thirty years, but he'd won.

She couldn't meet his eyes any more. "Severus, I..."

"Don't," he said more gently. "There is nothing you can possibly say, not now. It was a long time ago; what does it matter now?" He wondered briefly if she even knew about the incident in the Shrieking Shack; probably not, or she would have mentioned it by now. Biased Gryffindor or not, even Minerva couldn't have ignored that, although Dumbledore had managed to.

"If things had been different... would you still have joined You-Know-Who?"

"No," he replied simply. If someone else had offered him a place to belong where he would be valued, he wouldn't even have considered it. "But then who knows what might have happened? Without me as a spy, half of you would have died in the first war, and it's doubtful we'd have had fifteen years of peace to prepare for the second. I certainly wouldn't be here now without everything that's gone before." He wouldn't be with Hermione, either, because he wouldn't have been at Hogwarts in the first place and never would have met her. Nor would she ever have looked at him twice if he had, without the Healing to link them. Lily might still be alive, too, but she might not, and even if she had been, she would never have been his.

Minerva was looking at him speculatively in a way that always put him on the defensive. "What?"

"You've changed," she said quietly.

"What are you talking about?" he asked irritably.

"You're not angry any more." Abruptly her eyes narrowed. "And I just realised, I never told you what I wanted to speak to you about, or why I was apologising. You were there and listening yesterday, weren't you."

His lips twitched as he tried to hold back a smirk. "Of course I was. I was in the room when Hermione made the Floo call, but even if I hadn't been, I'd have heard her at the other end of the house once she got going. I think half the street heard her, even with my wards." Christ, she really had been magnificent; she was gorgeous when she was that angry, fierce and blazing and gloriously unconcerned with what anyone else thought.

Minerva shook her head, looking somewhere between rueful and annoyed. "I should have known. You've been a terrible influence on that girl, you know." He bit his tongue to hold back the response he wanted to give, on the basis that it would have earned him a slap, and she added pensively, "But I think she's been a good influence on you." She poked him in the chest with a stiffened forefinger. "So look after her. Understood?"

Amused, Severus made a show of rubbing the spot. "When did this turn from you apologising to me into you lecturing me?"

"Oh, behave yourself," she replied with an inelegant snort. "Get along with you. And take the boys with you before Molly ends up strangling one of them."

"I'd rather leave them here."

"Yes, I'm sure you would," she replied dryly. "Go on. And Severus?"


"I really am sorry, you know."

He searched her gaze uncertainly. Life had been easier as a bitter, lonely cynic, he reflected; always expecting the worst of people was refreshingly uncomplicated. Before, he'd have sneered at her and walked off, but now he found himself almost sure that she was sincere, and he didn't actually know how to respond. Rubbing the back of his neck, he settled for an awkward shrug and a muttered, "Thank you," before making a hasty exit.

He headed for the kitchen first, on the logical assumption that it was the most likely place in the house to find Weasley. For once it was devoid of anyone with red hair, not even Molly; she must be cleaning something. Unfortunately, the room wasn't empty.

"I hope you're happy now," Lupin said bitterly, glaring at him through bloodshot eyes.

Severus raised an eyebrow at him. "What are you talking about this time?"

"Tonks has gone to take her things to her parents. She's not speaking to me."

Good. He kept a straight face and tilted his head slightly, narrowing his eyes. "And what does your romantic strife have to do with me?"

"As if you don't know."

"Lupin, I very seldom know what you're whining about. Usually because I don't care. Have you seen Potter or Weasley anywhere? Some of us have work to do."

"Yesterday Hermione told half the Order about what happened after our Defence OWL down by the lake. Neither Minerva nor Tonks knew anything about it."

He raised both eyebrows, trying to hold back a smile. "That's hardly my fault. I certainly didn't tell Miss Granger about it. I assume Potter was gossiping about the results of his little spying trip into my Pensieve; the girl's always had a thing for defending underdogs. And it isn't my fault your woman didn't know what a little bastard you were, either." It wasn't often he got to act innocent.

"Why can't you just let it go?"

"I'm not the one talking about it now, am I?" he replied calmly. Minerva was right... I'm really not angry any more. That must be partly why this all seemed so confusing to him. He'd been angry ever since he could remember, really; being without it now was really quite strange. "Do stop whining at me, Lupin. Minerva will always forgive anything her precious Marauders do. As for Nymphadora, God only knows why she chose you in the first place but I doubt she's really going to forsake it over something that happened nearly twenty years ago. Don't be so pathetic. It serves you right for not talking to her properly in the first place; you can't treat a woman like that and not expect it to come back and bite you." He was well aware that he was being a hypocrite now, but it was worth it to see the werewolf flush.

"As if you know anything about women," he said viciously.

Severus smirked at him, and made it as smug and arrogant as he possibly could. He'd spent the night snuggled up in bed with Hermione, and Lupin had spent it being told off at long bloody last and getting a dose of much-needed karma. He'd spent the morning on the bedroom floor with his fiancée riding him and the taste of her pleasure in his mouth until his orgasm overwhelmed him and made him cry her name in ecstasy, and Lupin had spent it sulking on his own. "I do well enough, thank you," he responded smugly.

In a way, it was a shame Black was dead. He'd love to see his face when he realised he was still single and likely to stay that way but Snivellus had ended up with a beautiful and intelligent young woman half his age. Damn, victory felt good. He was perversely looking forward to Lupin's reaction when he found out, too. Hopefully it would be public, and more of the werewolf's friends could see his polite mask crack to expose the inner Marauder.

Lupin glared at him resentfully. "Why do you do this to people, Snape? Why do you enjoy spoiling people's lives?"

"Ah, so that's what this is about. My setting that essay on werewolves, and later telling the school what you really are." He sighed, bored, and leaned against the doorframe. "You asked for it, Lupin, after that stunt with the Boggart. You can spout all the pretty words you like about wanting to help Longbottom with his self esteem, but we both know you couldn't resist the chance to play Marauder again. Publicly humiliating me when we were sixteen was bad enough; doing it when we were over thirty was just pathetic. We both know that had it been the other way around I would have been fired instantly for unprofessional conduct. You can't claim that I deserved it; I ignored you except when I had to take your Wolfsbane to you. All you had to do was return the favour, but no, you couldn't resist. Miss Granger and half the Ravenclaws would have worked it out anyway."

"And telling your students, when they didn't work it out? Was that revenge too?"

"No. That was because they deserved to know. You're dangerous, Lupin. 'Forgetting' your Wolfsbane was utterly inexcusable after so many years, and truly unforgiveable. If Black hadn't been there to fight you, you would have bitten or killed four people that night; one of them would have been me, and the other three were innocent children. Unbearably annoying though they were, and happy though I would have been to see them all expelled, I didn't particularly want them dead or furry. I don't think the war would be going very well if the Chosen One was a werewolf, or rotting in a shallow grave; do you? Stop blaming me. You made the mistake that endangered people, not I. And you chose to resign; I didn't get you fired. Dumbledore would never have sacked you even if you had eaten someone – especially if it had been me."

Straightening up, he sneered at his old enemy. "Now grow up, stop sulking, and go talk to Nymphadora, because she's the only woman who'll have you and you can't afford to let her go. And stop whining at me. I am not to blame for what you've done. The next time you insist on this confrontation, I'm going to hand your arse to you in a sling, because you're boring me now." He gave Lupin his most insulting smirk, turned on his heel and walked away with a victory march playing in his head.

Severus had just started climbing the stairs in search of the errant members of the Trio, whistling tunelessly between his crooked teeth, when the front door opened and closed. Over Mrs Black's renewed yells, he heard a woman's voice say in a subdued tone, "Severus?"

Sighing, he turned on the step to see Tonks looking up at him with an almost guilty expression. Every time he saw the Hufflepuff he was taken back to when she'd been thirteen, staring at him with her hair flickering nauseatingly through every colour imaginable as she tried falteringly to explain how she'd almost killed half her class this time. She had been far worse than Longbottom ever had; he'd had to stand guard over her for the full duration of every lesson because she was too clumsy to be left unguarded for even a minute. "What?" he asked irritably.

She looked somewhat depressed, much the way she had when she'd still been pining over Lupin in the first place, brown hair not changing. "Severus, I..."

"In the interest of expediency, let me interrupt you. I've already had two conversations today about Miss Granger's desire to champion the underdog and I do not care for a third; I have better things to do. You were already aware that the Marauders targeted me at school; this changes nothing. It was almost twenty years ago and I have other concerns on my mind. He's sulking in the kitchen if you want to talk to him, but leave me out of your tangled lives."

Studying her expression, he sighed again, picturing Hermione's look of rebuke had she heard him; his conscience was Gryffindor-shaped, it seemed. Relenting, he softened his voice slightly. "He was a boy being led by Potter's father and your damnable cousin, and I was far from a blameless and innocent victim." At least by that point. "And you are not so fond of me that you are going to lose any sleep over learning that I was picked on at school; let us not pretend otherwise. Now, if you will excuse me..." He drew his wand. "Sonorous."

Taking a deep breath, he turned and called up the stairs, "Potter, put the girl down and get your scrawny backside out of bed! Weasley, stop plotting with your brothers! I want you both down here in five minutes!" He turned back. "Quietus." Leaning sideways, he aimed his wand past Tonks at Mrs Black's portrait, flicking her curtains over her to shut her up, before looking back at the Metamorphagus.

She was grinning at him. "Poor Harry. You probably just gave him and Ginny heart failure, you know."

"Shame." If he didn't get to spend the rest of the day having sex, nor did anyone else. Besides, winding Potter up was still fun despite their alliance. He moved back down the stairs into the hall and passed her to stand near the front door. "Bugger off, Nymphadora. And pass the word; the next person who tries to talk to me about this is going to get hexed."

Hermione heard the front door open and close, followed by Severus' voice. "Do stop complaining, Potter. You should be thankful I didn't walk in and drag you out personally."

"It still wasn't necessary," Harry argued. "Ron and I don't say anything if you or Hermione forget Silencing charms."

She blushed, listening, and smiled when she heard Ron point out, "Yeah, mate, but that's not out of politeness, is it? It's because we're not brave enough to go up against the two of them."

"Very wise, Weasley."

"Hello, boys," she said dryly as they came into the living room, including a smirking Severus in the greeting. From his expression, he'd been enjoying himself. "What's all the fuss about?"

"Ginny wanted to come and join our team because nobody at Headquarters will let her do anything," Ron explained, jerking his head towards Severus. "He said no."

"You don't seem that bothered."

"I'd rather not have to sleep down here brooding about my best mate and my little sister, thanks. It's bad enough with you two." He was trying not to sound sulky, but it couldn't be much fun being the only single person in the house.

"Behave. Cheer up, Harry, you'll see her again soon. And you wouldn't be any help at all if she was here distracting you anyway," Hermione pointed out, looking over at Severus. "Fun morning?"

"Not remotely, but there were some positive moments," he said reflectively. "Are we ready to go?"

"Almost, it's all set up in the kitchen. Have you got whatever poison or potion you're going to use?"

"It's in the cellar. I'll go and get it."

"What are we doing?" Harry asked, still looking a bit moody; clearly Severus had interrupted something. Hermione found it hard to be very sympathetic, since frankly she would rather still have been in bed with her significant other as well.

"Nagini, hopefully, now we've got Mr Weasley's blood sample."

"What do we do if this doesn't work?" Ron asked as they padded into the kitchen and gathered around the table, looking down at the shallow white tray under a large magnifying lens and the little vial of blood.

"Think of something else."

"Well, as long as we've got such a detailed backup plan, we'll be fine," Harry said sarcastically, and Hermione kicked him gently.

"One sarcastic man in the house is enough."

Taking a deep breath, she held it for a moment and exhaled slowly, looking down at the tray again. She knew what she was doing, but still, she couldn't help feeling a bit nervous. Helping out as part of the team was one thing, but being the one to actually do this was something else. Severus came back into the kitchen with a small bottle in his hand, took one look at her and came to stand just behind her right shoulder, leaning forward slightly and pitching his voice too low for the boys to hear.

"Relax. You can do this. I wouldn't have suggested it if you couldn't. Take your time and stay calm."

Leaning back a little to feel the warmth of his body, she nodded, focusing on her breathing. "All right. Is everyone ready for this?"

"Are Harry and I actually doing anything, or just watching again?" Ron asked mildly.

"I might need you to help me sort out the stuff that's Weasley from the stuff that isn't, I don't know how difficult this is going to be yet. Sorry, Harry, but you're just going to be watching, I think." Severus had insisted they both be present, but he hadn't said why.

He shrugged and grinned ruefully. "Nothing new there, and I wouldn't even know where to start with this anyway."

Taking another deep breath, Hermione slowly poured the little vial of blood into the tray; it had been treated with an anti-coagulant already. Drawing her wand, she started with the basic bloodwork diagnostic charms, and over the next few minutes learned quite a bit about Mr Weasley's general health; he didn't have any blood disorders, his blood type was O negative, he had recently had a mild infection somewhere, and there were signs of inbreeding somewhere a long way back in his family tree. That was the easy part, sorting out the blood into its component cells and separating the platelets, red cells and plasma from the white cells. The next part was going to be more difficult, because half of it wouldn't even be physical at all; she needed to find the magical signatures attached to the particular kind of leukocyte that carried it, and she wasn't sure which of the five types it was.

Biting her lip absently, she set to work in more detail, only dimly aware of Severus' quiet presence at her back as he watched over her shoulder. If Nagini's venom was still in the blood, it would have been treated as a foreign substance, a pathogen... That meant it would have affected the macrophage cells, since they wouldn't have been able to remove it, but it was more likely to be in the lymphocytes somewhere. Wait – memory cells were the only blood cells to have a lifetime of more than a few weeks; they'd be the ones to carry magical signatures.

Yes, there it was. This was such a strange process – Hermione was used to dealing with more physical things, objects she could see and touch and move, not with things she could barely sense that weren't technically even there. She wasn't even sure what she was doing right now, just following her instincts, which she almost never did; even just thinking about it made her falter for a moment, suddenly worried again. She had always obeyed written instructions; striking out independently and making something up seriously frightened her.

"Easy," Severus' quiet voice murmured in her ear. "You're doing fine... That's it..."

Shivering, she closed her eyes and leaned back against him for a moment. Taking the hint, he moved a step closer and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, careful not to impede her wand hand. Letting his touch steady her, she took a deep breath and focused again, following the faint bright traces.

Mr Weasley's magic... Hermione didn't know him very well, but she'd spent enough time at the Burrow to have a feel for Weasley magic in general, and Severus had told her years ago they were all aligned to earth. It was a quiet, surprisingly subtle sort of magic for the most part, solid and strong, not showy; unusual for such a flamboyant family. Wait, what was that? Yes – yes, that was it. Now, focus until she had the sense of it, then look for something that didn't belong...

What on earth did snake venom feel like, anyway? She'd never had to deal with poison. Although... Severus had had blood poisoning once or twice, from infections or just from taking substances he shouldn't have. It made the cells that she was studying react as they tried to fight. It was the sense of wrongness, of something being out of kilter – any half-decent Healer could feel that. There was something foreign here, something that didn't feel right, but she couldn't find it. I can't do this!

She didn't realise she had spoken aloud until Severus replied softly, his breath warm on her ear as his arm tightened slightly and drew her back against his chest. "Yes, you can. You're almost there. You're stronger than you think, you know that. I couldn't have managed to get this far. Come on, now... just a little deeper..."

He continued to croon barely-audible encouragement into Hermione's ear and she let herself lean against him, trying to focus. She had no idea how long she'd been trying to do this, but she was starting to feel tired. That was strange; she was barely using any magic at all, less than she would use to levitate a feather. Concentrate, she told herself, focusing on the feel of the magic present in the blood. Nagini wasn't a normal snake, she was a Horcrux, and she had been further possessed by Voldemort during the attack, so two pieces of his soul had been present. Look for his magic, then – she knew what that felt like, hot and foul and thick with contagion.

Wait, there was something there. Traces of infection, but not recent – any injury that old wouldn't have anything left by now, not in a healthy man like Mr Weasley. So that wasn't a real infection. She focused on it; similar to Voldemort's magic, but somehow... drier, and colder. More reptilian? Maybe it was just her imagination, but this definitely felt right...

"That's it," Severus murmured. "That's my girl... go on, just a bit more, and then it's done... Good girl..."

Drawing a shaky breath, she started the separation charms again, just as she had done in the beginning to sort out the different types of blood cell. Her head was aching fiercely now from the sustained concentration this took, but it was working. Hold on... hold on... there! She sank back gratefully against Severus' support, leaning her head on his shoulder and watching through half-closed, tired eyes as he reached past her with his wand in his hand; the next step was his, to renew the link between this trace of poison and the original host.

There wasn't much to see, little more than a couple of small sparks glittering in the bottom of the tray amongst the smears of blood. Harry and Ron were both staring intently at it anyway, but she doubted they knew what they were looking at. The feel of Severus' cool power flowed across her skin, but he was working non-verbally, his features set in the familiar scowl of concentration that she adored.

He drew a breath and lowered his wand. "Done. Who wants to do the honours?" he asked, holding up the little bottle of poison.

"It's Harry's turn," Hermione told him. Nodding, he held the bottle out.

"Go on then, Potter. Just pour it out onto that spot."

"We're sure this will work?" Harry asked, eagerly taking the bottle.

"Horcruxes are more vulnerable inside a living host. This won't destroy the soul fragment, but it will kill Nagini, which will have the same effect. Go ahead."

Harry up-ended the bottle. The poison inside was a pale almost lavender colour, and sizzled faintly when it came in contact with the tray, but apart from that nothing happened.

"Did it work?" Ron asked hesitantly after a moment.

Hermione was about to reply when Harry staggered back from the table and dropped the bottle with a cry of pain, lifting a hand to his head; a moment later he collapsed.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 47 of 60

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