Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 50 of 60

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They didn't make much progress over the next few days, except thinking of and discarding several other possibilities, but overall Hermione was starting to feel marginally better. The war had suddenly grown very, very quiet; the obscenities at the Ministry continued, but there were no reports of anything else and the Order seemed rather bemused that nothing seemed to be happening. Evidently Voldemort had gone into hiding, save for the times Harry reported him going on a cursing spree. Realising that he wasn't immortal after all hadn't done him much good, apparently.

He had also worked out who was responsible; the Prophet had run full pages on all four of them, complete with much higher rewards for information or corpses. Harry had cheerfully elected to pin them all up on the living room wall, much to Severus' disgust; his photograph seemed to share his attitude and was seldom visible. Hermione was just amused that the photos all dated back to before the Triwizard Tournament, except for Severus' which by the look of it dated back to the eighties; he looked a lot younger and had slightly longer hair. When challenged, all he had said was that he had made a considerable effort over the years to avoid being photographed whenever possible. Hermione had been less amused to note that her own photo dated back to before she'd had her teeth fixed and had obviously been taken on a humid day judging by the level of frizz, but having a picture on a Wanted poster that didn't actually look much like her had to be a positive thing.

The lack of progress was both frustrating and depressing, but Hermione was more grateful than ever that Severus was there. He could spot instantly when the strain of acting cheerful was getting too much, and if either of the boys' conversation wandered too near a danger zone he was remarkably skilled at provoking arguments to change the subject while she regained control of herself; he was also proving rather good at helping to distract her from her brooding and relieve some of the stress once they were alone. Just having someone else share her worries was helping, as was the fact that he so obviously had faith in her being able to hold things together even if they didn't find another way.

He was asleep at the moment, although probably not for much longer, and she snuggled more closely into the curve of his body and the warmth of his arms, listening to his quiet snores with a small smile. Spending the rest of her life waking up to this sounded pretty damned appealing. Absently she traced patterns across the arm draped around her waist, brushing the fine black hairs on his pale skin and moving to the inside of his forearm to follow the edges of the sizeable scar where the Dark Mark had once been, before being distracted from her thoughts when he stopped snoring and sighed heavily against the back of her neck.

"You take a positively perverse joy in waking me up early, don't you," he mumbled in a sleepy growl.

Hermione grinned and lifted his hand to kiss his fingertips. "Yes, because you're adorably grumpy when you've just woken up and it's very cute."

"You're insane."

"You don't seem to be objecting too much," she retorted, pointedly wriggling to push back against his increasingly obvious erection. He didn't reply to that, drawing his hand away from hers and resting it on her stomach once more before trailing his fingertips upwards over her skin to her breasts; sighing happily, she relaxed against him to enjoy the sensations as he nuzzled at her neck. Spending the rest of her life waking up to this sounded pretty good too.

Severus was still half asleep, so he was gentler than usual as his fingers crept between her legs, apparently in the mood to take his time about things; that suited her just fine at the moment. Glorious though their mutual passion and excitement could be, she had found that she preferred nice and slow and gradual when she wasn't feeling very happy about things, and when he wasn't teasing her unmercifully Severus was very, very good at the slow and thorough approach. Shifting against him as he stroked her, she closed her eyes as his fingers slid inside her, arching against his hand as her pleasure built.

By the time she reached her climax, he seemed a little more awake, leaning over to kiss her as she rolled lazily onto her back in the aftermath. Smiling against his lips, Hermione kissed him back, running her hands down his scarred back, before impulsively drawing away as he moved over her. "No," she murmured, looking up at him before gently pushing at his shoulder to get him to roll over. "Let me..."

He really wasn't fully awake yet, since it took him a few moments to work out what she was doing, but he got the message as she kissed his chest before starting to move lower. "You really don't have to..." he started, but his tone of voice gave him away and she paused to smile at him.

"I know that," she told him in a voice of exaggerated patience, almost absently kissing one of the scars on his stomach. "I liked it," she admitted a little more shyly, dropping her eyes for a moment before looking back up at him and adding, "I liked what it did to you, too."

His smile looked a little sheepish, before he closed his eyes with a soft hiss as she settled between his legs and leaned in to lick him before taking him into her mouth. She hadn't been lying, it was fun and quite arousing to watch the effect she was having on him – and to listen, too, as her usually almost mute lover made a sound very close to a whimper and arched his back before pushing himself up on his elbows to watch what she was doing to him. He wasn't at all vocal most of the time, but apparently normal rules didn't apply to this.

Hermione suspected Severus hadn't had this done for him very often, if at all; it did seem to completely destroy his self control and most of his restraint, and while it would be nice to think that she was naturally just that good, somehow she rather doubted it. Gently increasing the pressure as she sucked him, she listened to his breathing hitch and gasp as he shuddered and smiled to herself, making a mental note not to try and learn to take him into her throat just yet. That would have to wait until she was sure he could stay calm enough not to try and thrust against her, because he wasn't exactly small and if he moved at the wrong moment it could prove rather unfortunate. He groaned, distracting her, and she looked up; he had his head thrown back and his eyes closed, his hands clenching into fists as he grew closer to climax.

Shuddering and suppressing another groan, he reached down to tangle his fingers in her hair, gently pulling her head up off him. "Enough," he gasped breathlessly, his eyes burning. "I want you now."

That suited her just fine; she crawled up the bed and let him pull her down into a fierce, eager kiss before he rolled over to pin her down and ground his hips against her, breathless and hungry. She shifted under him, arching her back and digging her nails into his shoulders, moaning softly into his mouth as his tongue slid against hers before he shifted position slightly and thrust home with a low groan in the back of his throat. He was right on the edge already, and she watched him trying to fight the inevitable as they moved together, his expression twisting as he bit his lip hard and shuddered; tangling her fingers in his hair, she pulled him down to kiss her once more, whispering his name against his mouth and tightening her body around him, and his back arched as he cried out and shuddered again with the force of his orgasm.

Slowly regaining their breath in the aftermath, they settled down again, neither of them wanting to return to the real world just yet. Hermione snuggled closer against his chest and let her mind wander, listening to his heartbeat slowly returning to normal as his breathing slowed; from the way he had nuzzled into her hair and relaxed, he was intent on going back to sleep. "Severus?"

"Hmm?" he replied absently, his voice slow and lazy.

"This is a bit of a weird question, but does Dumbledore have a portrait automatically, or does someone have to paint it?"

There was a short pause before Severus asked quietly, "What on God's green earth made you think of that now?" He sounded as though he was trying not to laugh, which she supposed was better than being insulted; a lot of men might be offended to find out their lover was apparently not paying attention during sex, even though that wasn't actually what had happened.

Smiling ruefully, she looked up. "It's not quite as much of a non sequitur as it sounds, I swear. I was thinking it was probably just as well that you don't have a portrait of either Dilys or Phineas here, because they'd never leave us alone and we'd never get a moment's peace, and then I wondered if Dumbledore's portrait was sharing an empty castle with a bored and angry Dilys..."

A very, very evil smile of pure sadistic delight set Severus' black eyes glittering as he chuckled softly. "I hadn't thought of that... Yes, his portrait will have appeared virtually instantaneously, although I think it takes three days for them to wake up. Oh, I really must talk to Phineas next time we go to Headquarters. I cannot wait to hear what she's been doing to him."

"You are an evil man," she murmured, grinning as she nestled closer and rested her head on his shoulder. "What about portraits elsewhere? Does he have anywhere to run to?"

"No," Severus replied gleefully. "I'm sure he'll end up with a portrait at the Ministry eventually, but someone will have to paint it and link it to the one in Hogwarts. Right now he's stuck there." He laughed softly once more, obviously enjoying imagining it. Hermione had to admit she was enjoying thinking about it too; Dilys and Phineas knew everything Dumbledore had ever done to Severus, and both of them were surprisingly protective – and they both enjoyed causing trouble. She could picture Dilys cornering Dumbledore and making him squirm as she told him off in great detail for all of it, accompanied by Phineas' sneering commentary. I've got to get a full report soon.

"I think we're both enjoying this more than is healthy," she noted, stretching. "You've corrupted me." He raised an eyebrow as she looked down at him, and she bit her lip to hold back a laugh. "I didn't say I objected."

"Something in all this still doesn't make sense," Ron said idly over breakfast.

"All what?" Harry asked.

"The Horcruxes and everything. It seems like there's something missing. Okay, we've been dealing with the Horcruxes, I get that part, but what's everyone else doing? What's You-Know-Who been up to, kidnapping people and stuff? It just feels like there should be another bit to the story."

"That's true," Hermione agreed thoughtfully. "I've been wondering since we found out who the prisoners were that the others rescued from the Malfoys. Some of them were obviously just targets of opportunity, or attempts to find out where we were. Luna was probably to punish her father for writing anti-You-Know-Who propaganda – I wish they'd take the Taboo off his name, that sounds really stupid – but why Mr Ollivander? Or the Gringotts goblin? Severus, did you get any more information from Dumbledore?"

"Some," he replied slowly after a few moments, glancing up from his coffee with a frown, "but it still doesn't entirely make sense to me. I've been ignoring it for now because the Horcruxes and Potter's scar were by far the most immediate problem and because to be honest it sounds utterly ridiculous, but... the Dark Lord is looking for another wand, I think mostly because of his wand sharing cores with yours, Potter. Dumbledore believes, and I think I agree, that he is looking for a very specific wand mentioned in an old story. Have you all heard of the Tales of Beedle the Bard?" Ron and Hermione said yes; Harry said no.

"They're faerie stories for wizarding children, Harry," Hermione explained. "Kind of like the Brothers Grimm. They have morals and things."

"Oh, okay."

"Have you read them?" Severus asked. This time only Ron said yes. "Do you remember the story of the three brothers, Weasley?"

"Er, yeah," Ron said slowly, blinking. "You-Know-Who's after the Deathly Hallows?"


"The what?" Harry asked blankly.

"Story time, then," Severus drawled, sounding faintly amused. "Are you all sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin." Hermione choked back a laugh and promptly moved her chair around the table to settle against him, resting her head on his shoulder to listen as his hand found hers under the table.

"A long time ago there were three brothers named Peverell. They were on a journey and they came to a bridge over a river; half way across it, they were stopped by Death Himself, and they had to defeat him in order to cross. Different stories talk about different challenges; in some tales they had to fight a duel, in others they had to answer a riddle or win a game that could be anything from chess to poker to dice, or bring him some outlandish item. They won, anyway, and each of them was granted a wish from Death."

"That's not how the story goes," Ron objected.

"These stories are very old, Weasley. They have changed over time. I've read several radically different versions; I'm summarising here. Don't interrupt."


"The eldest brother asked for the most powerful wand in the world, one that could not be defeated. Death fashioned a wand from the branch of a nearby elder tree and gave it to him. He won every duel he ever fought, until one night he bragged drunkenly in a tavern about the wand; someone cut his throat while he slept that night and stole it.

"The middle brother asked for a way to recall the dead, for his fiancée had died a few months before. Death picked up a stone from the river bed and gave it to him, and when he turned it in his hand the shade of his loved one appeared before him. He returned home to be with her, but she was not there in truth; she was even less than a ghost, for she could not or would not speak to him, nor could they touch. He went mad in the end, and finally he turned the stone again to release her and then hanged himself."

"Gosh, this is a happy little story," Harry said. "I bet all the little children sleep really well after this."

"It's no worse than some of our stories," Hermione pointed out. "Little old ladies being eaten by wolves, wicked stepmothers trying to kill innocent children, evil curses and so on. And the original versions tend to have lots of rape and violence in as well. They weren't supposed to be happy bedtime stories; they were supposed to be lessons, or warnings."

Severus cleared his throat pointedly, his eyes gleaming in amusement, and continued. "The youngest brother asked for a way to hide from his enemies, even from Death Himself. Death tore off a piece of his robe and gave it to him, and whenever he wore it he became invisible to all. He used it for many years and lived a full and happy life, before choosing to pass it to his son and allowing Death to take him at last.

"So, those are the Deathly Hallows. The Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone... and the Invisibility Cloak."

"What?" Harry's voice was almost a squeak as they all stared at the older wizard.

"Yes," Severus said calmly. "The Hallows are real, and you own one."

"Wait. The story's true?" Ron asked.

"Well, I'm sure the details are false. I don't think the Grim Reaper exists as a person and if he did I think he would be a bit too busy to bother playing games with mortals. But the Peverell family did exist, and there were three brothers; the eldest, Antioch, had his throat cut in a tavern robbery; the middle one, Cadmus, committed suicide; and the youngest, Ignotus, died of old age." He half-smiled. "And the Peverell bloodline can be traced from that youngest brother; later, one of them intermarried with Godric Gryffindor's descendant, and then later still a daughter of that line married a man from the Potter family."

"Really?" Harry asked faintly.

"Yes. You are directly descended from that younger brother. Your Cloak is one of the Deathly Hallows, apparently – I admit, it was quite a surprise to me."

"How do you know?"

"Dumbledore." He shrugged. "There were a lot of memories in the vial he left for me. It was all rather jumbled and chaotic at first, but he was clear enough."

"Well, how did he know, then?" Harry asked rather worriedly. "I mean, there must be loads of Invisibility Cloaks."

"There are, but none like yours. They are nowhere near as effective; the charms wear off, they become damaged, they can be detected. Moody's eye was the only thing we know of that could see through yours."

"You-Know-Who is after the Hallows, then?" Ron asked.

"Not all of them. Until he realised we had got to his Horcruxes, he had no reason to want to hide, so the Invisibility Cloak would hold no interest for him; equally, I doubt he wants to talk to the dead, so he probably doesn't want the Resurrection Stone either. He's after the Elder Wand, supposedly the most powerful wand to ever exist, somewhat melodramatically known as the Deathstick."

"Where are the other Hallows?"

"I think Dumbledore had the Resurrection Stone," Severus said thoughtfully. "He hid that from me, but I think he must have. I believe he wanted to keep it if he could. I've no idea what he might have done with it, but I don't know where it is."

"Why would he want to use it?"

"Oh, Albus Dumbledore had a lot of nasty little secrets in his past," Severus replied softly. "He was nowhere near as snow-white as he seems. Either way, it's not important. It's the Elder Wand that everyone seems to be concerning themselves with."

"That's why You-Know-Who wanted Ollivander. To find out more about it."

"That would seem logical, yes."

"Does the wand really exist?" Hermione asked.

"There have been legends about it for centuries. Think of it as the One Ring from Tolkien; supposedly the wand is trying to get back to its true master, which is why its owners tend to die even though the wand itself apparently cannot be defeated in a duel. People commit murder to own it, they steal it, sometimes it appears to betray them to allow itself to change hands. Then it seemed to vanish out of history. The Dark Lord isn't the first to have taken an interest in it; Gellert Grindelwald hunted for it first. He used the sign of the Hallows as his badge."

"What's the sign?"

Severus drew his wand – rather awkwardly, since Hermione was still nestled against his side and somewhat impeding his wand arm – and sketched a glowing sign in the air; a triangle with a circle inside it, bisected by a straight line.

Hermione looked at it. "It looks like the Pink Floyd logo from the Dark Side of the Moon album."

He started to laugh. "It does, rather, doesn't it?"

"Wait," she said, amused by a stray thought. "What did you say was the name of the brother who had the wand?"

Severus glanced at her and laughed again, his eyes glittering as he followed her train of thought. "Antioch."

"Oh God. You-Know-Who is actually looking for the Holy Hand Grenade."

This time even Ron joined in the laughter; Severus had unearthed a few old videos lurking at the bottom of a drawer, including the Life of Brian and the Holy Grail, and Harry and Hermione had taken it upon themselves to educate their friend about Monty Python following Gringotts.

"Are any of the Pythons wizards?" Harry asked. "Because that would be awesome."

"Not as far as I know," Severus replied mildly, "but it's certainly an entertaining thought."

"Did Grindelwald ever find the wand?" Ron asked.

"Oh, yes," Severus said matter-of-factly. "The Dark Lord was directed to Gregorovitch, another wand maker, by Ollivander, and apparently he was running all over Eastern Europe trying to track down what became of Grindelwald."

"Grindelwald was defeated by Dumbledore, wasn't he?" Ron asked.

"Oh, there's a lot more to that story than the public know about," Severus murmured, putting his wand away. "But yes."

"So Dumbledore had the Elder Wand, too?"

"For quite some time, yes. He no longer has it." There was a slightly odd tone in Severus' voice; Hermione twisted to look up at him and found his dark eyes were Occluded. She bit her lip, thinking; who had ever defeated Dumbledore? A moment later she gasped, shocked.

"You've got it."

"What?" Harry and Ron both exclaimed.

She kept staring at Severus. "You Disarmed Dumbledore back in Hogwarts, just before everything kicked off. The wand you took from him... that was the Elder Wand, wasn't it?"

He was smiling now, his expression somewhere between sheepish and amused. "...Yes."

"My God." She thought about this for a moment, exchanging slightly bewildered glances with the boys. "What was supposed to happen? You would have got the wand anyway if you'd killed Dumbledore, wouldn't you?"

"Originally it was supposed to be buried with him, not used. The idea was that, since I would be following Dumbledore's orders when I killed him, he would have died undefeated. The wand would never fully answer to any living wizard, and the Dark Lord would therefore never be able to use it properly even if he got hold of it." Severus rolled his eyes. "Of course, the Dark Lord wouldn't have known that, and once he eventually found the wand and worked it out he probably would have killed me. If Dumbledore knew that, he didn't seem particularly concerned. I don't know what he was actually hoping to achieve by any of this, to be honest. His memories didn't explain everything."

"So is it still his, then?"

"No. I wasn't following the plan when I Disarmed him; to all intents and purposes, I defeated him."

"Why do you still use your old wand, then?" Harry asked. "I mean, it would be pretty handy to have a super-powerful wand on our side, wouldn't it?"

Hermione felt a cold shiver run down her back, pulling away from Severus to stare at him. "Yes," she said slowly. "It would."

He blinked, apparently realising what she was thinking, and tensed slightly. "Hermione..."

"Why didn't you tell me this sooner?" she asked levelly. "The most powerful wand in existence has been in your hands for months, and you didn't tell me, despite everything we're trying to do."

Severus hesitated, his eyes turning distant and Occluded once more, and his voice was calm and flat when he spoke. "Potter, Weasley, may we have some privacy, please."

Neither Harry nor Ron wanted to hang around when it seemed that a row was imminent, and they both scrambled up and took the remains of their breakfast elsewhere in a hurry. Hermione barely waited for Severus to set a silencing charm before demanding angrily, "Why the hell didn't you tell me about this before?"

Severus stood up, apparently not willing to sit and be shouted at, but he did back off to avoid looming over her. His eyes were hard. "What difference would it make? Yes, I've got the bloody Deathstick, but so what? It's not going to help unless we know what to do with it. I can't just wave it vaguely at Potter and hope it does something."

"That's not the point, Severus! No more secrets, remember? You promised me!"

"That's not fair. You know I would have told you once it became relevant. I thought you had enough to think about." He shook his head and swiped his hair out of his eyes with an irritated gesture. "All this shit about the Hallows makes no sense to me. It sounds like fairytale garbage and I can't see any way it's supposed to help us, so I chose not to add to everything else you're worrying about. I thought Potter's scar was more important."

Stalking across the kitchen, she glared at him. "That's not the point!" she repeated. "I'm not a child, Severus, and I'm sick of you not telling me things because you think you're sparing my feelings. I spent a whole year putting up with that crap from you because I wasn't allowed to challenge my professor, but I'll be damned if I'll put up with it now. You've got the most powerful wand in existence and there's an artefact out there that can recall the dead, and you can't see any way it's supposed to help us?"

Anger made his eyes glitter like polished obsidian in an expression she hadn't seen from him in a very long time, but he kept his voice calm, albeit just barely, as he replied coldly, "You weren't listening. The Elder Wand will do us no good at all if we don't know what to do with it. As for the Resurrection Stone, I already told you that I do not know where it is; I also told you that it cannot literally bring back the dead. Nothing can. I have researched the subject quite extensively in my younger years and there is nothing that can recall true life to the dead. I haven't told you before now because there is nothing to tell; the Hallows may be real but they are useless to us right now, as far as I know. And it was to spare my feelings as much as yours; do you think I'm enjoying watching you getting more and more stressed and upset? I saw no point in bringing up yet another useless idea. Besides, when was I supposed to have told you? We've barely stopped, these past few days, and it's been difficult enough to think about anything the old bastard told me without totally losing it. I would prefer not to have another nervous breakdown. If that's all right with you."

Despite the anger and the biting sarcasm in his voice, his honesty helped defuse Hermione's temper, as did the look in his eyes; under the anger she could see how tired he was, and how much he hated the argument. He looked tense and unhappy and was obviously bracing himself for the worst, a theory supported a moment later when he looked away and sighed, his voice turning very quiet as he reflexively shook his hair across his face to hide his eyes. "I'm sorry for not telling you earlier. It's not because I'm treating you like a child. Is it so wrong of me to want to spare you any more burdens? I'm trying to make sure you don't end up as much of a wreck as I am. I wish I'd had someone trying to help me."

Slowly closing the gap between them, she touched his arm gently and winced inside when he flinched. "No, I'm sorry. I understand – and you're right, there hasn't really been time, and to be honest I don't need any more confusion. But I'd still prefer it if you had told me, no matter how useless. You said I'm in charge, remember? It's not up to you to decide what I should or shouldn't hear any more, Severus. Don't keep anything else from me." Instinct led her to keep her voice firm; that was an instruction, not a request. She wasn't going to let him get away with this again. Looking directly into his face, she held his gaze, staring into his eyes and refusing to blink.

He stared back at her with a troubled expression; there was some inner struggle going on behind his eyes that she didn't fully understand. After a long moment he exhaled and nodded, lowering his gaze almost submissively. "I give you my word."

Hermione rejoined the boys in the living room, with Severus trailing after her and looking rather subdued.

"Everything all right?" Harry asked awkwardly.

"Just a minor disagreement. I think we've got it sorted out now," she replied with a cheerfulness she didn't really feel; Severus had obviously learned his lesson now, and she was sure he wouldn't do this again, but she didn't much like being angry with him and he was very clearly unhappy about it. They'd have to talk about it again later; right now they still had the Hallows to discuss. "Where were we?"

Harry looked uncertain, clearly not wanting to trigger anything else, but shrugged and glanced at Severus, who was leaning against the wall and staring at nothing. "I'd just asked why you were still using your old wand, if you've got the Elder Wand."

"I don't like the feel of it," Severus replied slowly after a short pause, seeming to snap out of his brooding and come back to the real world. "I did try a few spells with it, briefly, after we arrived here, but my old wand suits me better and feels more natural. Something about the Elder Wand doesn't feel right to me. That sort of power isn't free and I don't entirely trust it." He hesitated, looking uncomfortable, and bit his lip. "Besides, I'm not convinced that it truly belongs to me," he added softly, "not completely."

"It must do. You defeated Dumbledore and took it. Isn't that how it works?" Ron asked.

"Weasley, has anything in this whole mess ever been that simple?" he replied sarcastically, looking slightly more like his usual self. "I never bothered to mention the Hallows to you because it doesn't really make much sense to me. I'd like to think that one of the main focuses of the war was something a little more important than a nursery tale."

"Well, this particular nursery tale is actually true, apparently," Harry pointed out. "So why wouldn't the wand belong to you? Whose is it, if it's not yours?"

Severus gave them his crooked half-smile; Hermione frowned at him, because although his expression was as hard to read as ever she thought he might be slightly embarrassed, which didn't make sense. "I'm not completely sure," he said slowly. "It's only a theory, but I think it may be because I don't have a – a dominant personality. I may be a Slytherin, but I'm not particularly ambitious, and I certainly don't care about whether or not I own a powerful wand. I think a wand as strong as the Elder Wand... it does partly answer to me, since I did win it fairly, but I think it is also influenced by the person that I answer to."

There was a pause while everyone tried to work this out. Abruptly a slow grin formed on Harry's face, and he elbowed Ron; the boys exchanged a glance before Ron started to grin as well. "Oh. Right."

"What?" Hermione asked impatiently, somewhat annoyed that they had apparently worked it out before she had. Severus gave her an amused look, and both boys were grinning like Cheshire cats before starting to laugh. "What?" she repeated, frustrated. Severus cocked his head and smiled slightly, and she blinked at him as understanding dawned. "You're joking."

He shook his head and gave her a faintly disdainful look. "Hardly. This is me you're speaking to. I wouldn't be suggesting such a thing if it wasn't likely to be true."

"Wand lore doesn't work like that."

"Nobody fully understands how wand lore works," he corrected her calmly, "not even so-called experts such as Ollivander, and he's the first to admit it. I may be wrong, but I know that the wand is not still Dumbledore's, and I can feel that it isn't completely mine."

"It can't be mine either."

He shrugged. "There's only one way to find out, I suppose."

Hermione bit her lip and glared at the boys, who apparently found the whole thing hilarious, watching as Severus straightened up and stretched lazily before holding out his hand, Summoning the wand from wherever he'd been keeping it; Harry and Ron scrambled off the sofa and came for a closer look, and Hermione peered over their shoulders almost reluctantly.

"Is that it?" Ron asked, sounding disappointed. "I thought the Elder Wand would be a bit more... you know, impressive."

"Dumbledore's owned it for years," Harry muttered. "I'm surprised it's not pink and glittery."

Severus started to laugh at that. "He'd be horrified to know you'd worked that one out, you know. He always thought it was still a secret."

"Secret?" Harry repeated incredulously. "He was camper than Lockhart ever was. He couldn't possibly believe nobody had guessed."

"You'd be surprised. Denial is a funny thing. And Lockhart wasn't actually gay, although I can see why you'd think he was. He was a flaming idiot rather than a flaming homosexual."

"This is fascinating," Hermione said tightly, "but can we move on? I think the Elder Wand is a bit more important than Dumbledore's sexual orientation."

"Why does this bother you?" Ron asked, blinking. "Does it matter if the wand answers to you? I think it's pretty cool."

She paused at that. Why does it bother me? Maybe... maybe because it was real, solid proof of just how deep things went. If Severus felt so strongly about her that it was reflected in his very nature, that it could affect such a thing as his mastery of a wand... the thought both thrilled her and terrified her. She was only eighteen, and for all her maturity she had simply never experienced something that intense before. It was bloody scary, even though it was what she wanted and what she thought she felt in return.

Nervous, she looked at Severus, wondering uneasily what he would think of her reaction. He was staring at her through narrowed eyes, his brows furrowed and his expression sharply focused, his penetrating stare piercing all her shields. He wasn't actually using Legilimency, but he really didn't need to. She saw the slow understanding creeping into his eyes, saw him beginning to relax, his gaze softening a little; then for just a moment he let his own shields drop and let her see his own fear. Only for a moment, then his expression cleared and he gave her a very small smile before turning the Elder Wand in his hand and offering it hilt-first, reversed across his forearm as though it were a sword.

"I still think this is nonsense."

His slight smile broadened a little. "All that I have, I give to you. Isn't that how it works?"

"I think she only gets half your stuff, actually," Harry contributed, still grinning.

"That's if we separate, fool," Severus told him crisply. "I don't intend to petition for divorce any time soon."

"Well, you have to get married first," Ron said logically.

"All things in time," Severus replied, giving Hermione an amused look as both boys looked startled. "You're stalling," he added softly. "Take it."

Biting her lip furiously, Hermione shakily reached out and took the wand from him, drawing it across his arm as he moved away and holding it up as a shiver ran down her back and a couple of silver and gold sparks glittered briefly at the tip.

"Well?" Harry asked eagerly. "Does it answer to you?"

"I... yes. Sort of." She shivered again, staring at the wand as she lowered it. "I can feel it... waiting, almost. It – it's mine in a way, but it feels wrong. It's not suited to me at all, even if it did fully belong to me." The magic in it was very strange; it felt more alive than her own wand, or any of the other wands she had handled over the years, more aware. It felt like fire magic, dry and hot and really not compatible with hers. Or Severus', for that matter.

"Understandable," Severus contributed softly, watching her. "You are not a warrior, and this is very much a fighter's wand. I didn't like the feel of it either."

"I don't want it," she said in a small voice, unconsciously moving closer to him.

He shrugged. "Then destroy it, or think of somewhere to hide it."

"What? You can't do that!" Ron protested.

"It's Hermione's. She can do whatever she wants with it." Severus touched her cheek gently and made her look at him, his black eyes quiet and intent. "It might be powerful, Hermione, but it's still just a wand. Our magic is inside us, not inside a load of sticks. Wands are tools, catalysts and foci, designed to help us use the magic we already have, nothing more. The Hallows are powerful artefacts in their own right, but they're not really important."

"Not important?" one of the boys yelped – she thought it was Ron again, but it could just as easily have been Harry; she couldn't take her eyes off Severus.

"The Invisibility Cloak is useful, but it can't actually hide you from Death. The Resurrection Stone can't truly recall the dead, only sad echoes. And the Elder Wand might be powerful in a fight, but so what? Raw power isn't everything and it doesn't guarantee victory."

"You-Know-Who wants it."

"He's a fool. Dumbledore wanted the Stone, because he wanted something he can't have; I admit I can understand his point of view, but I can also understand how unhealthy it is. The Dark Lord wants power, because that's all he understands. And you, Potter, want invisibility, because you want to return to a time when you were ordinary. You're all going to be disappointed, I feel." Severus shrugged, his smile turning crooked and his eyes gleaming almost mockingly. "They're pretty toys, but they don't matter. They're not real."

Hermione looked down at the wand in her hand, feeling the pulsing dark strength in it and thinking.

Ron said quietly, "The owner of all three Hallows is called the Master of Death."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Yes. But you don't master death by avoiding it; you master it by no longer fearing it. Nicholas Flamel had the right idea, when he gave up the Philosopher's Stone and let himself die. Immortality is an illusion of life; nobody can truly live forever. Living is quite different from merely not dying."

"I don't get it."

"I do, though," Hermione said softly, turning to look at her friend. "At least, I think I do." She grinned suddenly. "I read it in a book. A Muggle fantasy novel. An old woman was arguing with a supposedly immortal creature. 'What don't die can't live. What don't live can't change. What don't change can't learn'."

"Questionable grammar, perhaps, but nicely summarised," Severus drawled, and she grinned at him.

"I'm sure the author would appreciate your opinion, Professor."

"I think I get it, too," Harry said softly. "You-Know-Who is afraid of dying, but... dying is sort of the point of living, isn't it? It wouldn't be life if it didn't end in death?"

"I'm not sure I'd put it that way," Severus commented, smiling wryly, "but yes, you've got it. It's impossible to really put it into words, but you do understand. For once," he added.

Hermione elbowed him in the ribs for that, exchanging grins with Harry. Ron just looked confused, before shrugging uneasily.

"Whatever. You're all mad, but whatever. What do we do with the Deathstick, then?"

"It's Hermione's," Severus repeated with a shrug. "She can do whatever she wants with it."

She looked at the wand once more, weighing it slowly in her hand. "I'll keep it with me for now," she said finally. "Nobody's ever going to think to look at me when they're looking for it, so that'll keep it out of his hands. But I'm not going to use it unless I really have to, and once this is done I'm going to get rid of it one way or another. I'd do it now, except there's no knowing what might happen and we might end up needing it."

"It never does any harm to carry a spare," Severus agreed calmly. "Besides, I'd love to see the Dark Lord's expression if he ever learns you've got the third Hallow. I imagine it will be extremely funny."

"Yes, we should definitely try to annoy You-Know-Who just once more before he dies," Harry said sarcastically.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 50 of 60

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