Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 48 of 60

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"Harry!" Hermione dropped to her knees next to her friend. He was still conscious, pressing his hands to his scar and trying not to whimper in pain. "Ron, get out of my way," she added, drawing her wand again before pausing as she realised helplessly that she had no idea how to help with this. His scar had been prickling more or less constantly ever since they had left Hogwarts, but the connection had been mostly closed and it hadn't hurt very often or given him many dreams.

Severus hunkered down on Harry's other side, his dark eyes intent. "What are you feeling, Potter?" he asked in a low voice. He clearly wasn't surprised.

She glared at him. "This is why you wanted Harry to be here, isn't it?"

He gave her an impatient look. "This reaction would have happened no matter where he was. Talk to me, Potter – what's going on?"

Harry's eyes were squeezed shut and he was trembling. "I... I'm not sure. I think – I think he must have had Nagini with him when it happened, it's been so quick. I – he's angry, really angry, but..." He paused, opening his eyes and blinking up at the three of them. "Hurt," he said in an almost wondering voice, looking at Severus. "You were right... he did care about her. And... he's moving, he's thinking very hard about something. I think he's going to check on the others, like you said."

Severus nodded. "You're not going to have much fun in the next couple of hours, Potter. Each time he finds a Horcrux missing, he's going to react rather badly. If you see anything or feel anything to let us know where he is, say so."

Harry pressed the heel of his hand to his scar. "Easy for you to say. This isn't exactly fun."

"I've had him in my head as well, you know," Severus told him tartly, but without as much bite in his voice as he would once have had. "I don't know how to stop this, so we might as well get some use out of it. It could be important to know something of what's happening on the other side."

"Okay, fine, but can we talk about something else until he finds the first one? I don't want to think about it until I have to. It hurts."

Severus shrugged and looked at the others. Ron grinned. "Quidditch?"

"No," Hermione and Severus said in unison.

Harry almost laughed, sitting up and leaning back against the kitchen cupboards and looking at Severus. "But you can play; you refereed that match in our first year."

He rolled his eyes. "Not for fun, I assure you. Playing it is better than watching it, but I still find it dull. Shut up, Weasley," he added at Ron's mock-horrified gasp.

Harry shrugged, closing his eyes and rubbing his forehead; Hermione decided to make herself useful and stood up. "Severus, have you got any painkilling potions in your cellar, or are there any Muggle pills around?"

"Yes, to both, but I'm not sure they'll help with this. Try making willow bark tea, I know I still have plenty of that. Come on, Potter, get up off the floor; we might as well be comfortable while you do your impression of a canary down a coal mine."

"Why would there be a canary in a mine?" Ron asked blankly as the three of them headed for the living room, and Hermione grinned as she listened to Severus actually explaining it while she made Harry's tea. I wonder if he even realises how much he's mellowed around the boys?

By the time she joined them in the living room and gave Harry a mug – she had made more and left the rest under Stasis charms in case he dropped it – the conversation had moved on to what they had just done to get rid of Nagini, although unsurprisingly Severus hadn't tried to explain the technical details. Nudging him further over in his chair, she squeezed in beside him and settled closer to listen.

"I used poison because on this occasion I could," Severus explained. "Think about it. A Horcrux is a piece of someone's soul, infused with Dark magic. There are very few things more powerful or more dangerous; ergo, anything that can destroy one is equally dangerous, unless it is purely physical such as a basilisk fang, which wasn't possible here. A poison was far safer than a spell; I know three different spells that will destroy a Horcrux, and Fiendfyre is actually the least dangerous of them."

"What exactly is Fiendfyre?" Harry asked. "I've seen it used before – You-Know-Who sent it at Dumbledore at the Ministry, and Dumbledore used it against the Inferi in the cave after you'd left. What's so special about it?"

"Simply its power," Severus replied. "It is magical fire rather than physical; it is created rather than conjured, and it burns far, far hotter than any ordinary flame. It is shaped by the will and strength of the caster, which can make it appear almost sentient if wielded correctly, although it has no true mind of its own. It is, however, very dangerous; it is difficult to control and frequently escapes the caster's hold, usually fatally for everyone in the vicinity."

"It's just fire," Ron objected.

"No, it is not," Severus started, before Harry hissed and spilled some of his tea; Ron grabbed the mug from him as they all sat forward to watch him anxiously.

Harry had his eyes squeezed shut again and his face was pale. "He's somewhere I haven't seen before. It looks like – I think he's kneeling, looking for something on the ground. He's – digging? He's worried, concentrating."

"Digging – is he looking for Gaunt's ring?" Hermione asked, digging her fingers into Severus' arm as she watched her friend worriedly.

"I don't know. I think so. He's trying to tell himself this isn't the right spot..." Harry's voice had slowed, become almost dreamy despite the pain in it. "But he knows it is. He's standing now, looking to find out who's been there – yeah, it's that old house I saw in Dumbledore's memories..." He cried out and screwed his eyes more tightly shut. "He knows it's gone. God, he's so angry..."

After a few minutes he opened his eyes again, wincing. "He's moving again. Ow." He tried to smile, turning to look at Severus and swallowing hard. "You were saying?" he asked with obvious bravado.

"Bloody Gryffindors," Severus murmured under his breath. Hermione poked him in the ribs and he half-smiled at her before returning to his earlier lecture. "Fiendfyre is pure magic that manifests as flame. It is also known as Cursed Fire because it derives from the darker spectrum of the caster's magic, as Healing magic comes from the lighter end. In and of itself it is not dark magic, but it comes from the darker impulses and feeds on the more dangerous emotions of the one who casts it, amplifying those emotions and weakening their control both of themselves and their magic. Using it at all creates a certain instability, which worsens the longer the fight continues." He glanced briefly at Hermione with a hint of humour in his eyes. "It leaves the caster vulnerable to... distractions."

She bit her lip to hold back laughter, recalling the first time she had seen Severus use Fiendfyre. He had certainly been rather distracted; she was quite pleased with that particular loss of control. God alone knew how long it would have been before either of them made a move otherwise.

"When You-Know-Who used it, it was a giant snake," she said reflectively. "It took lots of different shapes when Dumbledore used it. But when you destroyed Ravenclaw's diadem, it didn't. It was just thin tendrils of flame, almost like ropes. Why is that?"

"Because the Dark Lord learned Fiendfyre as a weapon, as did Dumbledore," he explained quietly. "I learned about it in that context, but I was actually taught to use it when I was working for my Mastery, as a means of creating certain Potions ingredients. Like any magical fire, if left burning long enough, Fiendfyre creates ashwinders, and ashwinder eggs are valuable ingredients in a number of different types of potion. I used it as a tool, rather than a weapon; I've never tried to fight with it, and nor will I ever do so if I can help it. My emotions are volatile enough when I fight without unleashing Fiendfyre and I doubt I would be able to distinguish between friend and foe if I were to use it in combat." He sniffed disdainfully, his eyes glittering. "Besides, although I have my moments, I'm not quite as theatrical as either of them. It's a waste of energy to make it look pretty."

"So how do you counter Fiendfyre?" Ron asked. "I know stuff like Aguamenti doesn't work."

"It's very difficult and depends on the circumstances. It's better not to try. If anyone uses Fiendfyre against you, run."

"Fair enough. Can you teach us how to cast it?"

"I can," Severus replied calmly, "but I won't. Neither you nor Potter have the control needed to use it; it would kill you and anyone who happened to be nearby. And Hermione's magic simply isn't suited to it; it's too violent."

Harry snorted with pained laughter. "You don't think Hermione's violent?"

"Hey!" she protested, before twisting to glare at Severus as he started trying not to laugh. "And you can shut up."

Biting his lip to hold back laughter, Severus gave her an impish look before shaking his head and glancing over at the boys, who were both laughing now. "That isn't exactly how I meant it."

"Shut up," she repeated irritably, annoyed that the armchair they were sharing wasn't big enough for her to move away. His arm tightened around her shoulder before he kissed the top of her head.

"Sulking's my job, not yours," he told her, too quietly for the boys to hear. "You're not suited to that, either."

"Hmph." Relenting, she rested her head on his shoulder. "Anything new, Harry?" she asked with an obvious change of subject.

He grimaced, gingerly touching his forehead. "It's hard to tell. He's a bit, um, insane right now – I'm feeling a lot of things at once. I think he might be in the cave, though, so any minute it's really going to hurt."

"Short of Stunning you, I don't think there's anything I can do..." she said apologetically, and he shook his head.

"It's okay. This is important. And I do want to feel it when he realises he's screwed."

"That settles it," Hermione said wryly. "We've all been spending far too much time with you, Severus. You've corrupted us."

"Weasley, I wouldn't say anything if I were you," Severus responded, smirking.

"Oh, come on, that one was just too easy," Ron replied cheerfully.

"Ron," Hermione said warningly, although in hindsight she should have known better than to hand him a straight line like that.

"Be careful, she's a violent person," Harry said impishly. His eyes were watering and he was obviously in pain, but he was still grinning.

"I am not!"

"I couldn't walk without limping for three days," Ron pointed out.

"You deserved it," Harry said thickly.

"I never did get to the bottom of that," Severus said thoughtfully, and Hermione looked up at him.

"And you never will. Will he, boys," she added pointedly.

Harry cried out, putting a stop to further conversation, pressing both hands to his head. "He's just found the empty basin. God, he's furious. He's moving fast now, he's already out of the cave. I don't know where he's going but he's definitely got some kind of plan... he's thinking about different people. He wants to see someone, but I can't – oh, it's Bellatrix."

"She's still alive?" Severus asked nastily. "Pity."

"I suppose they're going to Gringotts, then," Ron surmised. "This would be fun if it wasn't splitting Harry's head open."

Hermione reached up without looking and put her hand over her lover's mouth before he could say anything. "Not one word, Severus Snape." She felt his lips move as he kissed the palm of her hand, but he didn't try to speak, although she could feel the vibration of silent laughter in his chest.

It took the rest of the afternoon for anything else to happen. Harry's scar had been stinging and prickling constantly, but it wasn't until early evening before he nearly scared them all half to death by screaming in sudden pain and clutching his head once more.

Severus put away the wand he had reflexively drawn with an annoyed scowl as Hermione scrambled out of his lap to go to her friend, kneeling by his end of the sofa. "What's happened, Harry? Are they at Gringotts now?"

"He didn't go," Harry said thickly. "Just sent the Lestranges. They've only just got back. They've told him it's gone. He's – oh, God, this hurts! He's furious, and he's just cursed Bellatrix..."

"Good," Severus said very quietly, with an extremely unpleasant look in his eyes. "I hope she's screaming."

"Creepy," Ron told Hermione in an undertone.

"I imagine she deserves it," she replied equally softly, keeping her eyes on Harry's face. "What's happening, Harry?"

"I don't – I can't tell. It's all – there's a lot of screaming. I think there was a full meeting, and he's... cursing everyone, I think. He feels crazy. Worse than I've ever – I can't work out what's..." He was shaking. "He's scared, under it. He knows what we've done. He knows it was us. My head – I..." He groaned in pain.

"Enough," Severus said quietly, standing and crossing the room to them. "We don't need to know more. Hermione, do you know the sleep spell?"

"Yes." She drew her wand. "Dormio, Harry." He collapsed sideways onto Ron, who complained good-naturedly as he wriggled out from under his friend.

"How long's he going to sleep?"

"Until dawn, or until I wake him up, whichever happens first. Hopefully by then You-Know-Who will have calmed down..."

"I doubt it," Severus said reflectively. "By the sound of things he's lost what remained of his mind. He might behave a little more rationally in an hour or so after he's burned off some of his temper, but his emotions aren't likely to be much calmer." He stared down at Harry pensively. "I wish I knew exactly what the link between them was."

"I reckon Dumbledore might've known," Ron said with a shrug. "But if he did, he never said anything."

"Maybe he did," Severus said slowly, turning and giving Hermione a pointed look.

She stared back at him blankly for a moment before remembering the little vial of memories. "Not now, Severus."

"When, then?" he asked. "How long should we put it off? Bearing in mind that the leader of the other side has just gone insane and is now truly capable of literally anything? This is the last task, Hermione, and then it's over. I want this finished." He met her eyes and held them.

Hermione bit her lip. He hadn't ordered her to hand the memories over; he hadn't even asked, which she appreciated. It was up to her – she very much doubted he'd take them by force if she refused.

"What's going on?" Ron asked.

She sighed, still looking at Severus. "Dumbledore left some memories for Severus to look at after we'd got rid of all the Horcruxes. There's one more thing we have to do before we can beat You-Know-Who, apparently."

"Really? Crap. I thought we were done. Do we know what it is?"

"Not yet."

Ron frowned, staring between the two of them, before heaving a put-upon sigh and hauling himself to his feet. "Whatever. You two stay here and be cryptic. I'll drag Harry upstairs and dump him in bed, then stay out of the way or something. Let me know when one of you wants to make sense." He drew his wand and flicked it at Harry, levitating him carefully out of the room.

Severus cocked his head to one side, watching her thoughtfully. "Why are you so reluctant?" he asked.

"Why aren't you?" she countered, sighing. "You haven't stopped, Severus. How long has it been since you let yourself just stop and rest for five minutes? It's not good for you. And whatever this is, we both know it's going to be something terrible. For all I know he's going to tell you that we're never going to win, that there's another prophecy or something that means You-Know-Who can never die until it snows on the Sun. I'm not in any hurry to face any more pain or hardship. I've had enough, and so have you."

His eyes softened. "I know, and you're not wrong. I dread finding out whatever's in that vial. But we're so nearly there, Hermione. I've spent decades working for this moment. We can't give up now. One last effort, and it's finished, and we're free. I don't want to give any more of my life to this, not now." Stepping closer, he touched her cheek gently. "I've got better things to do with it now."

Closing her eyes, she leaned against his hand and sighed again. "You're right. I want this over, too. We've got our life to live together. But... what if he does tell us we can't win, Severus? Or if he gives us something else to do that's going to take years? I don't want to do this any more. I'm not like you, I can't push my whole life aside for something this dark and terrible and pretend it doesn't hurt."

He moved closer again and slid his arms around her, drawing her close against his chest and resting his cheek against her hair. "We both know Dumbledore didn't know everything. We're proof of that, you and I. Even if he does say something like that, that doesn't mean he's right. But we won't know unless I look." His arms tightened. "We can win this, Hermione. I don't know whether we will or not – I have never told you sugar-coated lies before and I am not going to start now – but I do know we have a very good chance, more than we have ever had before. I'm not going to give up this close to the end." More lightly, he added, "And nor are you. You're as stubborn as I am, and you could no more walk away from this than you could make it snow on the Sun, and we both know it."

Relaxing, she nuzzled into his shirt, breathing in his familiar smell and letting the warmth of his body soothe her jangled nerves. "I know. I'm just so tired, mentally and emotionally worn out. I don't know how you managed it all this time."

"By repressing everything so strongly that I've ended up a neurotic mess," he replied dryly, and she smiled despite herself.

"Well, there is that. All right, then. Do you have a Pensieve here?"


"I want us to look together."

"You know I'm not going to agree to that."

She pulled back just enough to look up into his face, keeping her arms around his waist. "Severus..."

"No, Hermione. Those memories are Dumbledore's last message to me, and he was truly furious with me. Whatever he had to tell me, he'll have phrased it as baldly and as bleakly as possible, and you don't need to hear that. I wouldn't put it past him to simply try to cause me additional pain, too, and you don't need to hear that either. I give you my word that I will tell you everything war-related from those memories."

She searched his gaze. "No more secrets, no matter how bad it is, not even to try and protect me."

"I promise."

It was a physical effort for Severus to drag his head out of the Pensieve, and he staggered back from the bench, reeling almost drunkenly across the cellar to the support of the damp brick wall. Shaking his head as though he could deny what he had just seen and heard, he stared in silent horror at the innocent silver swirls as the full dreadful understanding began to seep into him, filling in the last little gaps in his knowledge. Dumbledore hadn't needed to go to any special effort to cause as much damage as possible; the old man had simply told the truth, quietly and without embellishment, and somehow that just made it worse.

Oh, God, no.

Now Severus understood everything at last. He understood just how terribly he had been manipulated, how everything had been controlled, how he had been betrayed and lied to yet again. And not just him. All of them. Dumbledore had been pulling the strings this entire time, pushing them all around the chessboard just to get to this point. A low, animal sound of pain escaped him, almost squeezed out of him by the knot that seemed to have formed in his chest, and he sank into a crouch and put his head down between his knees, not at all sure that he wasn't about to faint.

How long? How long has he known?

How far back did the betrayal go? How long had the old man suspected this, and never said a word? Severus couldn't even breathe, shaking in an agony of awful comprehension. There had never been any chance of saving Lily; her death had been foreordained. He had come to terms with that, reluctantly, over the years since her murder. But everything he had done since then, everything he had endured, had been to protect her son – only there had never been any chance of saving him, either. Harry Potter was not supposed to be saved. Harry Potter was supposed to die.

Severus sank deeper into his mind, unconsciously seeking the protection of his Occlumency defences, trying to think through the pain, but it wasn't working this time. He hadn't thought that Dumbledore could hurt him any more; he hadn't thought there were any feelings of trust left to betray. He had thought he was immune to betrayal and lies now.

He'd been very, very wrong.

God, it hurt. A child's pain with all the strength of an adult behind it. It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was all supposed to have been for Potter, damnit. The boy was supposed to survive, to triumph, not to be sent to his death like a sheep being led into the abattoir.

How do I tell them this?

How was he supposed to sit down and tell Lily's son that he had to die? Worse than that, that he had to walk willingly to his own execution? He was only seventeen, and just barely. He'd been an adult for just a few weeks; he had his whole life before him, no doubt filled with unlikely scruffy red-haired children. And how was he supposed to tell Hermione that her best friend was just another sacrificial lamb, that there was no way for them to win, that they had never been supposed to win? They had so few dreams left... he didn't think he could stand to take this away from them. He never wanted to see any of them, but especially Hermione, as broken down and bitter and hopeless as he was. He never wanted to see this kind of pain in her eyes.

You fucking coward, Dumbledore!

Even at the most conservative estimate, the old man had to have known for at least a year, if not more. Fuck Slughorn and his memories and the horse he rode in on; Dumbledore was no snow-white saint and there was no way he hadn't already known about Horcruxes and how Voldemort had extended his life. He must have known for years – since the diary, in fact. It was only a short step from knowing that to puzzling out the nature of the link between Potter and Voldemort.

And the bastard had stood by and said nothing and watched the whole fucking Order labouring under false hope, working for a victory that didn't exist. Oh, they could kill Voldemort easily enough. Without his Horcruxes he was mortal and would die as easily as anyone else. But with the Chosen One, the Boy Who Lived, dead... their talisman would be gone. That wasn't a victory for the Light, only a different flavour of darkness.

No wonder Dumbledore had wanted to wait until after he was dead, Severus considered slowly. If the old man still stood here now, Severus would have killed him with his bare hands. Rage and hate stirred, cutting through the pain, swirling together in a very familiar darkness; he'd felt like this for most of his life, really, although perhaps not quite this intensely.

No more. I can't stand any more.

Lifting his head, he stared blindly around the dark, damp, oppressively gloomy cellar, and a very old pain twisted his gut. It was too much. Too many bad memories colliding with too much fresh pain. His anger hadn't gone, he knew it hadn't, he'd told Potter himself that this sort of anger never really went away; he reached for it now and let it boil through him, turning blazing, desperate eyes on the Pensieve.

His wards were thorough. There was no sound at all and not so much as a momentary tremor as his magic burned through him in a frantic and ultimately useless gesture of denial.

Afterwards he rolled over and sat up, concentrating on his breathing as he gathered himself back together. Ignoring the blackened circle on the concrete floor that was all that remained of his bench, his Pensieve and Dumbledore's last memories, he wiped his face on his sleeve, noting dispassionately that his hand wasn't even shaking. The pain and the anger had all been pushed back down where they belonged, deep under the waters of his mental ocean; he had to think about what he did now.

I promised, he reminded himself dully. How could he tell Hermione this, though? There was no way to soften it, no way he could tell her that Dumbledore might have been wrong, no hope to give her. If there was any way out of this, he couldn't see it. Potter was the final Horcrux, so he had to die before the Dark Lord could die. But it wasn't about that any more, terrible and painful though it was – he would be sorry if the boy died, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, but even Lily's son couldn't command his soul any more. No, it was what would happen to Hermione. She had never lost anyone close to her before, certainly not such a close friend in the prime of his life, not under such circumstances. She was strong enough to survive it, eventually, but not undamaged, and the pain it would cause her... Nothing was worth that, not even the Dark Lord's defeat.

He should have seen this coming. All the pieces had been there, but he had refused to put them together.

Severus understood with a certain cold detachment that he was right on the edge of madness, of an irreversible nervous breakdown. His sanity had been fraying for months if not years, and now he was on the brink, and if he fell now he was going to lose everything. If he didn't fight this now, he was lost for good. His mental ocean was wracked with storms as his battered psyche faltered and he gathered himself for the final struggle, fighting back with everything he had left.

He rocked slowly back and forth on the floor, his dark eyes glassy and blank, chewing his lower lip until it bled and digging his fingernails into his arms until they too drew blood, focusing on the pain to remind him of the physical reality of his body, fighting to stay aware of what was real and what wasn't. He couldn't let this beat him now, not when he had so much to lose. Snarling curses and obscenities half under his breath, he battled for control of his own mind, forcing some stability on his chaotic emotions, seeking to centre himself and find his balance once more, no matter how precarious. When the tears came, he let them flow, no longer caring for the pride that made him try not to weep; the slight emotional release eased a little of the pressure.

Hysteria came and went, taking a little more of the chaos away, a brief storm that left things a little calmer. Slowly he began to relax, the terrible devastation settling. It wasn't himself he was fighting for; he still didn't give a damn what happened to him. Hermione loved him, and she needed him, and he wasn't going to let anything take her away from him. Clinging to his memories of her gave him the anchor he needed, and gradually everything grew easier.

By the time Severus opened his eyes, he felt exhausted and sick, his mouth filled with blood and his head pounding, but he'd won. Very slowly pulling himself to his feet, he swayed for a moment as he grew light-headed, spitting out the blood and leaning on the wall until the dizziness passed before pulling himself together and starting to clean up and heal the damage. He still had absolutely no idea what they were going to do now, but at least he was sane enough to understand the problem. Shivering fitfully, he looked himself over to make sure he'd removed all physical evidence of his little breakdown, before glancing up the stairs to the cellar door and sighing. If he was to keep his promise, he was going to have to break his love's heart.

Severus had been down in the cellar for a very long time now. Hermione fidgeted uneasily, refusing to look at the clock again, refusing to admit how scared she was. He kept the cellar tightly warded and she couldn't hear a thing, but her instincts were screaming at her that something was wrong.

When he did eventually make his way up the stairs, she could see in his face that it was bad news; he was very pale and moving oddly stiffly, keeping his eyes lowered to hide his expression as he said quietly, "I need a cigarette first." Walking past her, he headed outside into the dark garden without saying anything else, and she sank her teeth into her lower lip as she watched his shadowy form pacing back and forth outside for the longest few minutes of her life.

She stood up when he came back in, watching him uncertainly. Some of the blankness in his bloodshot eyes was Occlumency, but under that she could see both shock and pain, and something else she couldn't identify. "I was about to ask if you're all right, but you're obviously not," she said gently. "Please tell me what happened." He closed his eyes and shook his head slowly. "Severus, please. You're scaring me. What's going on?"

"The end of the world, I think," he said slowly. "I know everything now."

"What does that mean?"

"It means we can't win." His voice was flat, stark, and his eyes were cold and remote when he opened them and looked down at her. "We can kill the Dark Lord, perhaps. But we can't win. And he knew it, this entire time. He's been lying to us all."

"Who? Dumbledore?"

For just a moment, rage and pain flared in his dark eyes, before it faded to distant blankness once more. "Yes."

"Severus, please. I don't understand what you're saying. Just tell me." She was certain now that she really didn't want to know, but if it was truly this bad she wanted to get it over with quickly.

There was a long silence before he sighed and said quietly, "Harry must die."

Hermione stared at him blankly. She had heard the words, but they didn't make any sense in her head. Irrelevantly she realised that it was the first time Severus had referred to Harry as just Harry, as a faint buzz started in her ears and she tried to understand what he had just said. Slowly he turned his head and looked at her, and his expression was numb, lost.

"You're sure?" she asked finally, a little unnerved by the eerie calm in her voice.

"Yes. He was doomed from the start. There was never any hope of saving him."


"Because there are seven Horcruxes, not six."

She thought about this for a while, beginning to shiver. Very slowly, the pieces started to come together in her head, numbers adding up and the holes in her knowledge being filled in, as Severus stared at her with hollow eyes. "I see," she said finally, distantly. "How long has – no, don't answer. I don't want to know right now. Is there no way of destroying it without killing him?"


"Do you know that for certain, or are you just assuming the worst again?"

"Damnit, Hermione," he said hopelessly, without any anger in his voice. "I can't lie to you, not about something this important. The power needed to destroy a Horcrux will kill a living vessel."

"What about removing it?"

"Not that I know of. There's no way of controlling what would happen to it even if we did manage to remove it. It could go anywhere."

"Can't we send it back to You-Know-Who? He can't split his soul again so he can't make any more..."

"No. To reabsorb a Horcrux requires absolute remorse. He's not capable of it." He sighed. "Hermione, don't. I've been thinking about this for hours. We can't win this one."

"I don't want him to die," she said after a moment in a small voice.

"And you think I do?" he asked sadly. "Almost everything I've done has been for him. For a lie." He looked at her with lost eyes and sighed. "I'm so tired of being used," he said wearily.

Wrapping her arms around herself, Hermione started shivering, biting her lip as she tried not to think about it. This was somehow worse than she had imagined. Learning something else that made Voldemort immortal would have been okay, because it might not have been true or there might have been a way to undo it. But this? Oh, God, Harry. Her friend had believed for years that he would probably die facing Voldemort, even before they had learned about the prophecy. How could they tell him that he'd been right? That the reason he shared some of Voldemort's abilities, the reason for the link between them, was that... that somewhere in his head, he had a piece of the Dark Lord's soul...?

And almost worse than that was the look on Severus' face, the terrible bleak resignation that said there was no way out, the knowledge that everything he'd ever fought for had been a lie. Dumbledore was dead, damnit, but somehow he had still managed to cause even more damage to a man already damaged almost beyond repair. Starting to shake now, she bit her lip harder; there's nothing we can do. They had all spent so long fighting to change the inevitable, to alter fate, only to fall now at the last hurdle. Voldemort would die and the war would be won, and that had always been the goal, but hadn't they paid enough already?

The fear was almost overwhelming. Hermione had been frightened almost ever since arriving at Hogwarts, and she had never dared show it; Severus was the only one to ever have guessed what a desperate bluff her bossy know-it-all attitude had been. She had never been prepared for the wizarding world, and nothing could have prepared her for this, and she couldn't pretend any more.

Severus had moved closer, and now he rested his hand tentatively on her shoulder. His eyes were calm and distant again when she looked up at him, as he shielded himself and pushed his pain away; she had no idea if it was supposed to be for his benefit or hers. Pain squeezed her again and her vision began to blur before the first sob caught in her throat, and as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close she started crying.

Distantly she was aware of him carefully backing them out of the kitchen into the living room before sinking onto the sofa and drawing her down into his lap, and knowing him he had probably already warded the room so Ron wouldn't hear what was happening, but it didn't really matter right now. Pressing as close as possible, she buried her face in his neck, sobbing helplessly and clinging to him as his arms tightened around her.

It eased slowly as the initial shock wore off, her emotions gradually settling into an exhausted numbness. Severus hadn't said a word as far as she knew – she hadn't heard him if he had – simply holding her as closely as he could, nuzzling his face into her hair and sliding his hands under her shirt to rest on the skin of her back, maximising their contact. Pressing her face against his throat, she breathed in his scent – as much as she could with a blocked nose; she would never understand how some women could still look wonderful even when crying – and finally reluctantly forced herself to open her eyes and face reality once more.

Gently Severus touched her cheek, moving her tangled hair back from her hot damp skin; his dark eyes were sad. "I wish you hadn't had to learn this," he said softly, and she shook her head.

"Don't say anything, Severus, please. I don't want to think about it tonight."

He hesitated, then nodded. "We should try to sleep, if we can. It's been a long day. Come."

They began to get ready for bed in total silence; there wasn't really anything to say. The dreadful truth hung between them, even if they weren't acknowledging it. When Hermione finally turned to look at him, Severus was staring at her; behind the frightening numbness in his gaze, his eyes were almost pleading, raw need showing in his face. She knew he would never ask, not like this; he was shielding himself as much as possible, pretending to be all right so he could focus on her, trying to be strong when he was hurting as badly as she was. They both needed more.

Shivering, she licked her lips. "Severus." She needed him right now, needed him to make her forget, to feel alive again, even if only for a little while. "Please."

He came to her, touching her face, watching her intently. "What do you need?" he asked softly. "You only have to ask."

She shook her head slowly, unable to articulate it. "I – I need to... not think. Just... feel. Please. I need you."

Part of her had expected him to be rough, desperate, and she was willing to allow him to use her if that was what it took, but despite the volatile emotions in his eyes he was gentle when he drew her to him and kissed her, moving slowly as he continued removing their clothing.

He was almost too gentle, frustratingly so as her own need built, but it didn't take long before Hermione realised that he was looking for comfort more than pleasure, and moments after that she acknowledged that it was what she wanted as well. Quick and near-brutal sex might have blunted their raw emotions briefly, but it wouldn't have helped afterwards; right now it was better to be in his arms like this, winding her fingers gently through hair as he nuzzled close against her breasts, his mouth finding her nipple as his fingers slowly moved between her legs. Her pleasure built gradually, slow warmth overcoming the horrible chill that seemed to have settled over her as he coaxed her higher, stroking and caressing before his fingers slid inside her as he continued to kiss and suckle at her nipples, finally drawing her orgasm out of her in a series of slow, shivering waves as he whispered her name against her skin.

When she slowly reached down to touch him afterwards, she found him only half erect; whatever inner need he was satisfying at the moment, sex didn't have much to do with it. Despite that, he swelled quickly under her hand as she began to stroke him in earnest, shivering and lifting his head from her breasts to bury his face in her neck. By the time he was fully hard she had decided what she wanted to do for him and gently untangled herself from his embrace, easing out of his arms and off the bed; he sat up, a question in his eyes, and she smiled a little as she moved to kneel on the worn carpet.

Understanding dawned. "You don't have to..." he began softly.

"I know. I want to." It was something she had been thinking about almost since they had first become lovers; he was always willing to give her oral pleasure, and seemed to sincerely enjoy it, so surely it was only right that she reciprocate, and she was curious anyway. Maybe now wasn't the best time, but she wanted to focus on something new, to concentrate on him in a way she was rarely capable of during actual intercourse.

She settled between his legs, resting her head on his knee for a moment and looking up at him. He smoothed a few stray curls back from her face with trembling fingers, shadows still in his eyes even as he tried to smile at her. Straightening, she slid her hands along his thighs, feeling the black hairs under her fingers before she lightly grazed her nails over the sensitive spot in the hollow of his hip, feeling him shiver. This close, she could smell his arousal, musky and earthy and utterly male. Studying him for a moment, the thick length swollen dark with blood, she leaned in slowly and opened her mouth to taste him for the first time.

She wasn't sure what to expect. Lavender and Parvati had talked about this quite a lot, and some of their magazines had been quite disturbingly descriptive in some ways, as had some of the romance novels she had read out of sheer curiosity, but all the descriptions had been quite different, which wasn't very helpful really. She had concluded that it must be different with every man and that she would have to wait and see.

He tasted of salt at first, mostly, but underneath that was the taste of him, muskier and more coppery than the rest of his skin but still reassuringly familiar. The feel of him in her mouth was one of contrasts, soft silky skin and hot hard flesh, and she felt his pulse beating under her tongue as she drew a little more of him into her mouth carefully. Distantly she was aware of his hands in her hair as his fingers undid the loose braid and slowly wound into her curls, frizz and all, but she was more focused on what she was doing.

She wasn't daft enough to attempt to deep-throat him; she had never done it before, obviously, and doubted that she would be able to do it instinctively. That was something to learn later, when the mood was lighter and more fun; this was about pleasuring him, not about battling not to trigger her gag reflex and trying not to kill the mood by choking. Once she had worked out how much of him she could hold comfortably in her mouth, she reached between his legs to wrap her hand around the base of him, stroking in time to the rhythm she was trying to build; only then did she start to suck him.

Severus had been silent up to that point, but when her mouth tightened around him he made a sound perilously close to a whimper, his fingers tightening in her hair. Awkwardly trying to roll her eyes upwards to see his face, she saw that he had leaned back against the wall, staring down at her as the familiar heat crept into his gaze and began to chase the shadows away.

Settling to her task, the rhythm between her hand and her mouth grew easier as she grew used to the sensations; he was shivering and occasionally his hips twitched as he fought to keep still and not thrust into her mouth, gradually becoming more vocal. His breathing grew heavier, soft whimpers becoming quiet moans as he swelled still further in her mouth and the salty taste intensified. Finally his hands tightened in her hair. "Hermione..." he whispered hoarsely.

She heard the warning in his voice and ignored it; she knew this wasn't supposed to be pleasant, she'd heard plenty of smutty jokes about it, and maybe she'd never do it again if it was that bad, but this first time she wanted him to come in her mouth. Bringing her other hand up between his legs, she fondled him gently, sucking harder as she looked up once more. He was still staring down at her, but his eyes weren't focused, and a moment later they squeezed shut, his expression twisting. He groaned thickly and his whole body tensed before starting to shudder; despite his best efforts, his hips jerked as his hands tightened in her hair again before he came with a low cry.

The sheer heat was a surprise; she had only ever really felt him climax between her legs before now, and it was hotter than she had thought it would be. His warning had given her just enough time to prepare herself to swallow, and it was a moment before she even registered the taste, which wasn't as bad as she had thought it would be – salty and slightly bitter and faintly metallic, but not too unpleasant. Besides, the look of almost agonised bliss on his face as he watched her sucking him clean would have been worth it even if it had been ten times worse.

Slowly Hermione got to her feet, licking her lips and considering the taste thoughtfully. He reached out and caught her wrist, gently drawing her close and pulling her into his lap; she felt his arms wrap around her and cuddled against his chest. Everything seemed very far away right now; the world had been reduced to the warmth of his body and the taste of him lingering in her mouth. He kissed the top of her head gently. "Thank you," he said quietly.

"I wasn't too..."

"No. No. You were – you are – wonderful." He hesitated. "I..."


She felt him shake his head. "Not now. It will keep. Sleep, Hermione. Everything can wait until morning."

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 48 of 60

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