Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 49 of 60

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By morning, Hermione had a pounding headache and had been doing a great deal of thinking. She hadn't slept much, probably not for more than a few minutes at a time; once the shock had subsided, her brain had kicked into gear and wouldn't let her sleep until she had worked things through in her head. Severus had passed out, more than fallen asleep; he had been restless and agitated most of the night, quieting only briefly each time she stroked his hair and murmured wordlessly to him.

Mostly, he was what she had been thinking about so hard, in particular remembering the lost look in his eyes. He had been under so much strain throughout all of this, since the war had started; he had held it together brilliantly, and she was certain that she was the only one who had seen what a toll it was taking on him, but he had been close to losing it before this had happened. He was right on the edge now, and she knew it wasn't vanity to realise that if he hadn't had her he might well have lost it completely. It was always nice to be needed, but she could wish that it wasn't necessary. Still, if she could help him hold things together, that was something – it wasn't as if she could think of anything else she could do.

Harry is the seventh Horcrux, she told herself firmly once more, forcing herself to acknowledge it again. There was absolutely no point in refusing to think about it; that wasn't going to make it go away. Acceptance was the first step, right? The only problem was, she didn't know what the second step was. Even making allowances for Severus' natural pessimism and increasing despair, it was very unlikely that Harry could be saved. Hermione wasn't sure they should even tell him; it might be kinder not to.

The prophecy said either Harry or Voldemort would have to kill the other one, but even this new knowledge didn't explain why, or what would happen if someone else killed one of them. If someone killed Voldemort now, he would eventually find a way back, which would kill Harry. If someone killed Harry, though, it wouldn't make any difference who it was – it didn't have to be Voldemort, even if making him destroy his own Horcrux would be nicely ironic. It made her sick to think about it so coldly, but if someone smothered Harry in his sleep right now, Voldemort could be killed as soon as they found him and it would all be over quickly. By 'someone', though, she supposed she meant Severus; she certainly couldn't do it, but she wasn't sure he could either. Asking him to kill the son of the woman he had loved for so long was too much, really, especially on top of Dumbledore. Maybe that was what the prophecy meant – that someone from the other side would have to kill Harry since none of the Order were capable of it.

Unless Harry killed himself, of course. Her friend was noble enough and daft enough to do that if they told him he was doomed. He'd think he was sparing them, or something. That was another reason not to tell him; it would keep him from doing anything stupid and irreversible until they were sure there was no alternative.

That should be the second step, Hermione decided, staring blankly across the room as the sky began to lighten outside and listening to Severus snoring softly as he finally slept more deeply. Work out who else should be told. The third step would be to start dealing with the problem, if they could, but the second step should be to decide who else needed to know; obviously that should be as few people as possible, for safety's sake if nothing else. She bit her lip; the Order as a whole shouldn't know. Losing Dumbledore had hit them very hard, and she had observed just how much the wizarding world needed to believe in Harry over the years; her best friend found his fame annoying and embarrassing, but she wasn't sure he had ever realised how important he was to people. Learning this would destroy their faith and leave them all as hopeless as she felt right now.

Professor McGonagall was the head of the Order now, but there had to be a reason why Dumbledore hadn't told her about the Horcruxes, let alone this. Aside from him just being a bastard, anyway, she told herself uncharitably, before trying to figure out how her Head of House would react to this news given that she had just lost her leader and close friend. Probably not that well.

What about the Weasleys, particularly Ginny? They were Harry's family regardless of blood ties. They deserved to know, but what purpose would it serve? They would have to be told before the end, anything else was just too unfair, but it seemed pointless to hurt them until it proved necessary. There was a very faint chance they might find a way out of this, after all – not much of one, true, but still a chance.

Hermione bit her lip again; she didn't really have the right to make this decision, and she remembered how angry she had been with Severus for withholding harsh truths from her to spare her feelings. But, equally, she couldn't begin to imagine how she would have suffered for all those months if she had known. She'd have to talk to him and see what he thought.

That just left Harry and Ron. It was going to crush them both, and she could honestly admit that she selfishly didn't want to have to say it. Severus would tell them if it came down to that, but it wasn't fair on him either. Harry had believed he was doomed to die since... well, at least since the end of fourth year, and frankly she was pretty sure he'd believed it since first learning who Voldemort was. But he'd been so much more optimistic recently, as his relationship with Ginny became more serious and they worked their way through the Horcruxes. Taking that away from him now... and Ron would be devastated too. Harry was his brother, near enough.

It was all too much to think about right now; she wanted a distraction. Carefully rolling over on her half of the narrow bed – she was becoming quite practised at that now – she looked at Severus, who had finally managed to sink into proper sleep about an hour ago. He looked exhausted and tense, even asleep. He also looked scruffy, she noticed with a slight smile; 'designer stubble' might be a good look on some men, but it didn't suit Severus at all. If he had grown a proper beard it might have looked okay, but a night's stubble just made him look like a vagrant. Moving closer, she leaned in and kissed his forehead gently, and then his lips.

"Good morning, love," she murmured against his mouth. He responded to the kiss sleepily, slowly opening hazy and tired eyes, and she watched the shadows creeping back into his gaze before impulsively reaching out to lay her fingertips against his lips.

"I've been thinking," she told him quietly. "I don't think we should tell the boys everything yet; we don't know enough. This morning we should tell them that we have to deal with the connection to You-Know-Who in Harry's scar before we can kill him; that'll do for now. We don't tell them it's actually a – a Horcrux, not yet. I know it's not likely there's a way to destroy or remove it without killing Harry, but until we're sure one way or the other I don't want him to know, and Ron's such a crap liar that we shouldn't tell him either yet. And we don't tell anyone else in the Order; most of them don't know about the connection anyway and it'll just confuse things. Let the boys relax a bit while we can; maybe there's something they can do at Headquarters, or something, although we'll probably need Harry nearby to test things. You and I need to research Horcruxes as much as possible and make absolutely sure there's no way around it; I know there's almost no chance, but I have to be sure that we've tried everything before I give up. Okay?"

Severus was staring at her with a very odd expression on his face, and Hermione blinked when she realised what she had just done, recalling her voice growing stronger and more certain as she spoke. Her lover treated her as an equal and no longer gave her orders – and in fact hadn't done so since long before they had left the school – but that was his choice, not a mutual agreement, and she had always treated him as the leader of their little group. She certainly had never tried to take charge like this, jokes about bossy women aside. Biting her lip, she watched him uncertainly, wondering how he was going to react; he'd fought hard to get out from under the control of both his masters.

He continued to stare at her for what felt like an eternity, his eyes narrowing slightly, before finally he sighed and looked suddenly very, very relieved. His shoulders relaxed, some of the harsh lines of his face softened, and he gave her the most beautiful smile she had ever seen on his face. "Thank you," he said quietly, before breaking eye contact to roll over onto his back and stretch.

Hermione hadn't expected that, but as she watched him she abruptly remembered a conversation they had had in the kitchen not long after arriving here, before they had become lovers.

"I'm a follower, not a leader... I would far rather have someone I trusted simply tell me what to do."

Half the reason for his increasing stress over the past few months had been the pressure of taking charge of things, she realised. He had fought to get away from his masters because he didn't trust them, not because he wanted to blaze his own trail. It made a great deal of sense, now that she thought about it; after all, he had gone to Voldemort even though he suspected it was the wrong choice, rather than picking his own path. He had wanted someone to follow, which actually explained a great deal.

That didn't mean she necessarily wanted to be in charge of things now, though, but there was no way in hell she'd take it away from him now. If he had faith in her, well, she'd just have to try not to let him down. Telling Harry and Ron what to do wasn't much of a stretch, she reminded herself, and if Severus was happy to follow her suggestions, that wasn't a bad thing. It wasn't as if she had suddenly found herself leading the whole Order of the Phoenix or something equally terrifying. And Severus was still going to be a decision-maker; he wasn't going to abandon her. Even so, it was a bit weird how pressured she suddenly felt; he must have been feeling like this for months.

Severus turned his head and looked at her with the familiar crooked half-smile she adored, and the look in his dark eyes was just as familiar, the one that suggested he could tell exactly what she was thinking. It wasn't even Legilimency most of the time, just intuition that could at times be very irritating. "It's not much fun, is it?"

"If it makes me look as tired and worn out as you have done recently, I'm resigning," she teased gently, and he snorted a soft laugh, rolling onto his side to face her and reaching to pull her into his arms.

"I think you've got a few decades yet before you start looking as beaten-up as I do, and given your starting point I don't think you'd ever get this bad."

Hermione had to smile, leaning in to kiss him; only Severus could manage such a tangled and complicated compliment. He kissed her back, slow and lingering, before drawing back to look at her as the smile faded from his eyes. "Hermione..."

"I know," she cut him off quietly, touching his cheek. "I'm not deluding myself, Severus. I know there's virtually no chance. But I can't let myself think like that until I'm sure we've tried everything, even if it's futile. I have to try, no matter how pointless and hopeless it is. Do you understand?"

He nodded. "Gryffindor," he murmured, trying to tease, offering an attempt at a smile. "Then we'll try."

She nearly tripped over Harry and Ron on the landing when she went to use the bathroom; she was glad she had thought to steal Severus' dressing gown before leaving the bedroom. The boys usually weren't up this early. "Good morning."

"Sure you can drag yourself away? We're not interrupting anything, are we?" Ron asked rather acidly, and Hermione blinked at him.


"I sat up half the night waiting for you to come and tell me what was going on, Hermione. I heard you go to bed, and then your wards went up and I realised you weren't going to tell me. So when Harry came round this morning and asked what happens next, I couldn't tell him anything. Because you two were too busy."

Hermione stared at him, remembering the absolute agony she and Severus had shared last night and feeling the despair threatening to crush her, and her temper began to fray. "If that was actually what had happened, you'd have the right to be angry," she told him curtly. "But it wasn't. Now if you'll get out of my way so I can get to the bathroom, we're going to talk to both of you when we get downstairs."

"Nice to know where the war falls on your list of priorities. I suppose we should be grateful you actually remembered the wards this time."

She was about to reply when the bedroom door swung open. Severus' expression was cold enough that even though he was shirtless and still a bit sleep-rumpled and unshaven, he still managed to look profoundly intimidating. He also had his wand in his hand. "One more word, Weasley. I dare you."

"You can't blame us for being a bit annoyed," Harry said grumpily. He didn't look as angry as Ron, but he obviously had a headache and kept touching his scar gingerly. "It's not a lot of fun sitting around waiting for you two to finish so you can tell us what's going on and what Dumbledore said we've got to do now."

"You weren't waiting for any such thing," Severus told him coldly. "Neither of you deserve an explanation, but the reason you haven't seen either of us this morning is simply that we did not wake as early as we usually do. This is your final warning – if either of you say anything more about our private life, I will turn you both out of this house and you can go back to Headquarters, or straight to Hell for all I care." Pushing his wand into the waistband of his trousers, he stalked past them and slammed the bathroom door behind him.

"Don't look at me like that," Hermione said irritably. "I don't find it funny either. Do either of you really think we'd put off telling you anything important just so we could have sex? I didn't tell you last night because it makes more sense to tell both of you at once and Harry was still unconscious, and Severus is right, we haven't been awake very long. If there was anything we could do right now I'd have told you about it already. I'll see you both downstairs."

Severus was shaving when she came into the bathroom and closed the door in Harry's face; he gave her an ironic look in the mirror and moved over to let her near the sink. "And this mood is before we've told them anything," he noted, speaking carefully to avoid nicking himself. "I understand why you wish to lie to them now."

"I don't want to lie to them, and I'm not going to directly lie," she said with a sigh, picking up her toothbrush. "But they don't need to know the full truth yet. Harry's a lot better with his anger than he used to be, and Ron's temper is better too, but this will send them over the edge and I don't want to see you hurt them, or see you get hurt because you're holding back for my sake." He raised an eyebrow, but didn't deny it. "And there's no point hurting them both until we know for sure. It's bad enough you and I feel like this without spreading it around." She smiled a little sadly. "I understand why you didn't tell me what was going on, now."

He nodded, rinsing the last of the lather from his face and wiping stubble from the blade of his razor. "They won't thank you for it when they find out, but this is for the best. Neither of them can do anything to help anyway, and it's going to be difficult enough without dealing with their anger issues at the same time." He smiled suddenly. "You're the one making these decisions now."

"Oh, shut up," she told him through a mouthful of toothpaste. "Go and finish getting dressed, you're distracting like that and we need to go and talk to them." That earned her a pleased smirk and a sarcastic salute, but he did as he was told.

Two somewhat sullen boys were waiting downstairs, and they had made breakfast. Hermione took that as an apology, since in the face of all their current problems a squabble was hardly the end of the world, and assembled a sandwich out of bacon and toast as Severus made her some tea. "Okay. First, Harry, how's your scar?"

"It seems all right," he reported cautiously. "It's been prickling all the time since I woke up, and occasionally it twinges a bit, but he seems to have calmed down. He was absolutely rabid yesterday, and scared under it, but I can't feel much today."

"That's good. It also brings me onto what we've got to talk about this morning. Dumbledore left some memories for Severus, as you know; I haven't seen them, but there seemed to be quite a lot," she added thoughtfully, glancing at Severus, who had his mouth full and simply nodded before swallowing.

"Yes, he told me some other things too, but it can wait."

Taking his word for it, Hermione nodded and looked back at the boys' expectant faces, steeling herself and thinking of fog as she focused on keeping her voice level and moderately cheerful, bluffing as desperately as she ever had to give the impression that she knew what she was doing. "Well, it's not exactly good news, but we knew it would probably be something complicated. We don't have to track down any more mystery artefacts or anything, but it turns out this connection between Harry and You-Know-Who is a bit more important than we thought, and we've got to work out a way to break it before we can kill him. Otherwise it could harm Harry too."

They exchanged glances before nodding in blithe acceptance. "Makes sense, I guess," Ron said. "Did Dumbledore say how we do that?"

"Did you think it would be that easy?" she asked wryly, and winced inwardly at his grin. She didn't want to lie to her friends, but she didn't want to hurt them either.

"Fair enough."

Harry put his orange juice down. "Well, I won't be sorry to get him out of my head. Did Dumbledore know what this connection is? I did ask in fifth year and he didn't know then..."

"So he said," Severus muttered, before raising his voice and replying smoothly, "And what makes you think you would understand the technical details if we told you?" Hermione gave him a grateful look and buried her face in her tea; she was a much better liar now than she had been once, but still, it was more believable coming from the consummate Slytherin.

Harry grimaced. "Fine, don't tell us. So am I going to need an exorcism or something?"

"It's a thought."

"Behave, both of you," Hermione told them. "We don't know yet, Harry. This morning I want to talk to you about all the times you've shared dreams or felt what he's feeling, and the time he tried to possess you, and anything your scar does, and see what I can puzzle out. Severus is going to be trying to find something in his books. Ron..."

"Yeah, yeah, stay out of the way," he said sourly. "This sucks, you know. I feel like a spare part."

"Shut up, Severus."

"I'm not touching that one."

"Ha bloody ha," Ron said moodily, scowling at the table. "I'm serious. What's the point of me being here?"

Hermione was relieved that Severus didn't seem inclined to answer that, instead focusing intently on his coffee. She gave her friend a sympathetic look. "Don't say that, Ron. You're one of us, we're a team. Okay, at the moment you can't really help with this, but you hate research anyway and I'm not leaving you alone with Severus for any length of time. God knows what would happen. There might be something you can do later and we'll definitely need you when we finish this last task and go after You-Know-Who. Right now, if you want to go and see your family or something, you can, but I don't want you to feel like we're shoving you out of the way."

He sighed. "Yeah, I know. I'm trying not to sulk, but I feel out of place here."

Harry changed the subject; he had been watching Hermione and Severus through narrowed eyes for a couple of minutes now. "When did you come up with your plan, Hermione?"


He was trying not to grin. "Only there seems to have been a leadership change when we weren't looking."

"I don't know what you're talking about," she replied loftily, more relieved than otherwise at the change of subject. Severus glanced up from his coffee mug with an amused expression as Harry and Ron exchanged looks.

Ron grinned cheerfully at her, forgetting his bad mood at last. "Well, you've been bossing us around for six years. Even Snape couldn't hold out forever. I'm surprised he lasted this long."

She rolled her eyes. "You're not as funny as you think you are, Ronald. But... you don't mind that I'm not telling you everything yet, do you?" she added anxiously.

It was Harry who shook his head. "You're one of the few people I trust, Hermione. You'll tell me eventually, right?"

"Yes. Once I know everything to tell."

"Okay, then." He shrugged. "With you, I know you're not keeping secrets just because you can, or because you think I'm a child. You've got a good reason and that's good enough for me right now." He grinned suddenly. "And if I did know what was going on, you'd make me help research it."

"As if you'd be any help," she teased, surprised and pleased that he was taking it so well. She had known about his trust issues long before Severus had pointed it out to them. "That's the plan for today, then, at least."

"Yes, boss," Harry and Ron chorused, and from the look on Severus' face he had only just stopped himself joining in.

Severus had spent most of the day holed up in the cellar with the worst of his book collection, most of which were illegal, diligently seeking anything that would destroy something as dark and powerful as a Horcrux without harming the vessel, looking for any new information about possession or anything else that might be even vaguely useful. He hadn't found anything yet, but he'd keep looking even though he believed it was hopeless. Hermione had asked him to, and that would have been enough all by itself but she was also right, they couldn't give up until they really had tried every avenue open to them.

All the same, it was gruesome reading at the best of times, and somewhat depressing when you considered how futile it was. He wasn't surprised that Hermione had gone to bed early, and the only reason he hadn't followed her immediately was that he was getting very tired of the boys insinuating things about their sex life. He'd meant what he said that morning, one more joke and that was it; even for Hermione, there were limits to what he was prepared to tolerate.

At least the house was quiet at last; how two teenage boys managed to make almost the same amount of noise as an entire classroom full of them was a mystery to him. The quiet meant he was starting to brood, which meant it was definitely time to go to bed because Hermione would be doing the same. She would probably be in a bad mood, because Severus was the only person she didn't have to put on a brave face for and pretend everything was fine, but so be it; he'd let her take it out on him if that was what she needed.

Severus let himself into their bedroom and closed the door behind him, carefully making sure the silencing spells were in fact in place; the teasing had struck home. Mostly they were fairly quiet, but the headboard was a bit loose, and occasionally Hermione could be quite vocal – which, admittedly, he enjoyed. Irritably pushing thoughts of his unwelcome houseguests aside, he glanced at Hermione as he started getting ready for bed; she was sitting up and apparently reading, but he'd bet his wand arm that she hadn't turned a page in at least half an hour, and he gave her another day at most before the constant lip-biting drew blood.

She moved over to make space for him without looking up, and as he slid into bed beside her he reflected for probably the hundredth time that they really should Transfigure the bed to make it a bit larger, but he knew he wouldn't. He liked being pressed so closely against her. Settling down, he shifted to let her reach across him to put the book down, somehow not surprised when she turned the light off and lay down without saying anything.

Automatically nestling close against her, he considered his options for a moment before asking cautiously, "How was your talk with Potter today? Did he remember anything that might be useful?"

She sighed. "Not really. He's never understood how it worked, or why, and Dumbledore never told him anything specific. I've written down everything he remembers, though, and I'd like you to look at it tomorrow, please."

"Of course." Severus paused, hesitating over what he was going to say next; he didn't want to upset her any more than she already was, but it had to be said. "Hermione..."

"Yes?" The brittle note in her voice said very eloquently that if he told her it was hopeless again she was going to hurt him. He didn't blame her, really, but that wasn't actually what he was going to say. Shifting, Severus pushed himself up on one elbow and looked at her in the dimness.

"You know I'll keep trying as long as you want me to," he said quietly, "but there has to be a cut-off point where we say it isn't going to work. How long do you intend to keep searching for another answer? Potter trusts you enough to let things lie for now, but he's not going to sit around forever, nor should we keep him in the dark for too long, and the Order will eventually be asking questions about just what we're all doing here. Sooner or later we will be called upon to admit everything to everyone, if we don't find a way out before then, and when that happens..."

"I know," Hermione said quietly in a slightly distant voice. "Everyone loves Harry, but defeating You-Know-Who is more important than one person. We all came into this prepared to die if that was what it took, including him. I know, Severus."

He nodded, feeling wretched. "I mean it, Hermione, I'll keep looking for answers as long as you want me to, but I don't know how much time we'll have. The Dark Lord is completely insane and completely unpredictable now and we have no way of knowing if that's going to help or hinder us."

She was silent for quite some time before sighing. "How long will it take you to look through all your books?" Before he could answer, she added, "Let me rephrase that. How long will it take you if I insist you take time to sleep and eat and look after yourself properly at the same time?"

He smiled a little, acknowledging the point, and thought about it. "Most of my library is still at Hogwarts, but none of it would help us now anyway. With the resources I have here..." He thought a little more, and then lied quietly, "Three weeks, perhaps." Realistically it would be far less than that, but he wanted to give her as much time as possible to come to terms with things. He would have said longer, but three weeks was probably the longest they could stall.

Her tone said she wasn't fooled but was choosing to accept the lie for now as she replied, "So, the middle of October. That's our deadline, then, I suppose."

I wish there was more I could do. He nodded, tentatively reaching to touch her face, unsure if she wanted comfort or not right now. His Gryffindor was so strong, but he well knew the damage caused if you tried to do everything by yourself. When she leaned into his touch, he trailed his fingers down her cheek and neck to her shoulder, gently but firmly drawing her down into his arms, and after a moment of resistance she yielded abruptly and burrowed into his embrace with a sad little shiver that made his heart hurt.

Cupping her cheek in his palm, he looked at her in the dimness. "I am sorry it has come to this. I wish I could do more." It wasn't fair to burden her now, but Severus knew he had reached his limit. He couldn't give any more; all he could do now was follow her and try to help her as best he could.

"Oh, Severus. You've done so much already." Turning her head, Hermione kissed his fingers gently before smiling and leaning in to kiss his lips. "If it weren't for you none of us would have made it this far. I just need to know you're with me."

"Always," he replied instantly. Always and forever, love. No matter what.

"Then that's enough."

He wasn't convinced, but it would have to do for now, because he had nothing else to offer. She nestled closer against him, shifting position in a manner he recognised, and her next kiss was a tentative request for more; she could still sometimes be shy about initiating anything and always blushed like a sunrise if he made her actually say it. Severus liked that, usually, but he wasn't in the mood to tease tonight and it certainly wasn't what she needed now; instead he returned her kiss, pushing his troubled thoughts and emotions away to focus on her, drawing her into gentle, slow lovemaking as he sought to ease her pain even if only for a little while.

Severus had changed quite dramatically in just a few hours, Hermione reflected. He was noticeably more relaxed and more confident, apparently having a lot more faith in her than he did in himself, and was obviously relieved and happy not to be in charge any more. The change was remarkable, and she wondered again just how different things could have been if Dumbledore had made even the slightest effort to gain Severus' trust and loyalty in truth rather than out of mere necessity. Their situation was still pretty hopeless, but his attitude was much more positive, some of his old defiance showing through again.

Research was Hermione's forte, but this was different. Severus hadn't been exaggerating about the contents of the lab. He had sorted out the books that weren't actively dangerous, but their subject matter was still extremely horrible in some cases, and she was learning more about the Dark Arts than she had ever wanted to. The book she was handling gingerly at the moment was bound in what she was unhappily certain was quite possibly human skin; it was no wonder that he didn't keep these at Hogwarts.

"Why do you even have half this stuff?" she asked, grimacing as she turned the page and was greeted with yet another hideously graphic picture.

"Some of it was inherited," he replied absently, not looking up from his own book. "The rest, I have bought over the years." He glanced up briefly, his eyes glinting. "Imagine the situation we would be in if I was as squeamish as the rest of the Order," he added crisply. "I'm the only expert on dark magic they have. The other side have dozens."

"It's not just squeamishness, Severus..."

"Most of it is. Most of what people refer to as the Dark Arts isn't evil. You know that."

"This stuff is, though."

"Yes," he agreed calmly. "But burying your head in the sand and pretending it doesn't exist isn't going to help anyone. You can't counter something unless you know what it is." He scowled down at his book. "Which is why I am currently learning more than I have ever cared to know about how to make a Horcrux."

"You didn't know already?"

"No. I might have been ambitious, but I certainly never wanted immortality." He gave her a rather wry look. "My life wasn't worth extending, after all."

Wasting a glare on him, and deciding that there was no point ordering him to stop being negative – quite obviously he was only going to obey the orders he chose to – Hermione returned to her rather gruesome reading.



"Severus, come back to this planet, please."

He looked up with a semi-annoyed glare that held a touch of humour. "You're one to talk. Do you know how many times I saw you almost walking into someone in the corridors because you were reading and walking at the same time?"

"Oh, be quiet." She smiled despite herself, pushing aside her weariness. "What are you looking at?"

"The notes from your talk with Potter. Your handwriting is deteriorating rapidly, by the way."

"I'm not surprised, I haven't written anything in ages. But I'm not accepting any criticism from you. Your handwriting is appalling and always has been."

"True," he replied calmly, his dark eyes amused. "That's what happens when you end up having to try and teach yourself to write, rather than being taught."

"Oh?" she asked curiously. "Didn't you go to a Muggle school before Hogwarts?"

"Theoretically. I was certainly registered, although I seldom attended." He shrugged. "It was a different time, Hermione, and I am from a much lower social class than you. Truancy was more or less ignored because it was doubtful that any of us were going to need academic qualifications, and I didn't exactly fit in." He looked up from her notes once more. "Is this why you interrupted me?" he asked, sounding more curious than irritated; the subject of his childhood seemed less of a taboo now.

"No, I just got sidetracked again," she admitted a little wryly. "I was thinking... what about resuscitation, and near-death experiences, and so on?"

Severus tilted his head to one side, his black eyes turning thoughtful. "You mean killing Potter in a manner that would allow him to be revived?"

"Yes. I know it's risky, of course, but would it work?"

Sitting back, he half-closed his eyes, thinking. Hermione watched him hopefully, but it was almost five agonisingly long minutes later before he spoke, slowly and thoughtfully. "I'm not sure. In theory, it might, but I can see no way of guaranteeing which soul would die – his, or the Horcrux."

"Surely it would be the Horcrux? The body always gets rid of foreign material before damaging itself..."

"Does this count as foreign material, though?" he asked. "Leaving aside the metaphysical problems of dealing with souls – the Horcrux took root in him when he was only an infant. It's been in him almost his entire life; it's a part of him now, and clearly has a strong anchor not just to his body through the scar but to his magic. He's a Parselmouth, after all, and stronger than either of his parents were, because of the Horcrux. I have no idea how we'd untangle the two. We might end up clearing the way for possession of his body by killing him."

"Damnit. I thought I might have found something then."

He shrugged. "It's worth keeping in mind; if we don't find another way, it may be worth the risk. It has a fifty-fifty chance of working, after all."

Sighing, she nodded and went back to her reading, musing; Severus sounded as though he genuinely couldn't care less, totally indifferent, and she knew that was exactly how anyone else who knew him would have interpreted it. You had to be really close to him to notice the shields behind his eyes, and closer still to wonder what lay behind those shields; this was hurting him almost as much as it was her. At least she wasn't alone – Hermione knew she wouldn't be able to do this without him. She'd have had a nervous breakdown by now.


"Another idea?" Despite the sarcasm in his voice, he was obviously hoping it would be a genuine possible solution, as he looked at her.

"Maybe. What happens if we totally disregard this and go ahead and kill You-Know-Who? What would that do to the Horcrux in Harry – would it activate automatically and possess him or something? Would it kill him?"

Severus' lips twisted in a frustrated grimace. "That's precisely the problem – I don't know, and nor does anyone else. This has never occurred before. Even those who have foolishly put Horcruxes inside living things would never, ever use another human."

"I was thinking we could put Harry in a coma or something while we dealt with it. Or maybe we should just find a way of doing that to You-Know-Who – keep him in a vegetative state, harmless, until his body wears out and he dies of natural causes."

"Tempting, but as long as he's alive, his followers will keep opposing us. We can't hope to stop them all while they have something to fight for; belief is powerful. It won't solve the problem of what happens to the Horcrux when he does die, either, only buy us some time."

Sighing again, she wrote it down on her list of failed ideas, just in case they could get some use out of it later. "And we're supposed to be smart."

"Even know-it-alls can't know everything," Severus replied dryly, smiling a little when she half-heartedly glared at him. "If there's an answer, we'll find it. Just think about what would be happening at Headquarters if everyone else knew – they would all be flailing around like headless chickens."

"You have such a high opinion of people."

"And it's one hundred per cent justified. Now will you shut up and let me read, woman?" he asked, and his tone of exasperated affection made her smile despite all her worries.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 49 of 60

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