Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 51 of 60

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Severus was completely disorientated when he woke up shuddering and sweating from another nightmare – they were rare now, but they still happened. The dream itself left him largely unmoved; he was used to them by now. Most of his disorientation came from the unnatural silence; frowning, he reached to touch the other side of the bed and found it cold. Then again, he supposed it wasn't that surprising; Hermione had still been awake when he fell asleep, and she'd been in a bit of an odd mood all day. Sitting up, he found his dressing gown – for once, she hadn't stolen it – and padded barefoot to the bathroom, splashing cold water on his face to sluice away the sweat.

He hoped it was just the Elder Wand that was bothering her, because otherwise it meant he was in deeper trouble than he had thought. Today had actually been their first real fight since their relationship had started, and it was certainly bothering him. He'd understood her warning loud and clear; that moment when she'd stood and challenged him had been a very clear message that he was on his last chance as far as this particular offense went. That was fair enough – he'd kept things from her before and admitted that it had been the wrong decision, and then he'd gone and done the exact same thing again. If he repeated this mistake once more – well, he was reasonably sure she wouldn't leave him because of it, but she would certainly make him pay big time.

Given how much this minor disagreement had affected him, he had resolved to do everything he could to avoid a bigger fight – at least until he was psychologically a little more stable. He wasn't daft enough to actually think they would never fight; arguments had been part of their friendship long before anything else had existed between them, and he was guilty of provoking her for his own entertainment sometimes, since she did look so damned sexy when she was angry. Severus was just about savvy enough to know the difference between those fights and real fights, and one experience was enough to convince him he never, ever wanted to seriously fight with her again. Frankly he was embarrassed at how quickly he'd backed down; that was a legacy from Lily, who had left him virtually incapable of genuinely opposing anyone he cared about. At least it didn't affect the rest of the world, he reflected philosophically; he could still enjoy being a bastard to everyone else.

That said, he doubted it had bothered Hermione too much, genuinely angry though she had been. He'd been smart enough to explain himself honestly, ignoring his pride; he did know what he was like, after all, and he'd spent the past couple of months desperately trying to avoid making any really stupid mistakes. She knew him well enough to understand, which was why he'd got away with the threatening warning and been given another chance.

Something was bothering her, though, because she wouldn't have got up and left the bedroom otherwise. Thanks to Phineas, bloody interfering portrait that he was, she knew Severus didn't sleep well alone any more, and she wouldn't have left without waking him unless she was concerned that her fidgeting would disturb him, which meant something was preying on her mind. Feeling a little more awake, he left the bathroom and went downstairs; half past three in the morning probably wasn't the best time to try and deal with whatever the problem was, but Severus didn't see why, not if they were both awake anyway.

As he had suspected, she was sitting at the kitchen table with the Elder Wand in front of her, staring at it with a distant expression on her face and her lower lip firmly caught between her teeth as she distractedly fiddled with a lock of curly hair. Amused at being proved right, he cleared his throat softly to attract her attention.

Hermione nearly had a heart attack when Severus cleared his throat from the kitchen doorway. Barely choking back a yell, she glared breathlessly at him. "From now on you either make noise when you walk, or you wear a bell around your neck."

The ghost of a smile touched the corner of his mouth. "Sorry. Habit."

It was obviously too early for complete sentences, she noted. "Did I wake you?"

He shook his head. "How long have you been down here?"

"I'm not sure," she admitted. It probably hadn't been very long, if Severus was awake; frankly she was quite impressed she'd made it out of the room without disturbing him.

He nodded to the wand on the table. "It really does bother you, doesn't it?"

"...A little, yes." She bit her lip and looked at him helplessly. "I'm sorry, Severus. I just – I don't know, really. It's..."

Cocking his head to the side, he gave her a thoughtful look. "It might help if you stopped thinking of it as the Elder Wand and just think of it as wand," he suggested, reaching into the pocket of his dressing gown. "Here, try this." He threw something at her and she caught it reflexively, nearly dropping it at the sudden sensation.

It was his wand, his usual one. Hermione looked down at the slim length of dark wood, startled by the feel of it. It wasn't common for people in the wizarding world to handle any wands other than their own, although she wasn't sure if it was a matter of etiquette or if the situation simply never came up, but she had touched a few others before and it was usually a rejection, ranging from polite to vicious depending on the wand. This felt different – not acceptance, as such; this wand was tuned to Severus and after so many years it wouldn't work willingly for anyone else. Not that 'willing' was the right word, but most wands did have some degree of awareness even if it wasn't true sentience, a bit like the way the castle seemed almost but not quite alive sometimes. Still, there was a sense of recognition, almost, a quiet acknowledgement.

Blinking, she looked up at Severus, who was watching her calmly. "Well?"

"It's not quite the same as the Elder Wand, but... there's something. Your wand knows who I am, if that doesn't sound stupid. But I don't understand, Severus. Since when do wands work like that?"

He shrugged. "Wands shape themselves to their owners. You should talk to Ollivander about it; it's actually quite interesting. Younger students can probably use one another's wands without too many problems, which is why Weasley was able to use his brother's old wand when his own broke. The older you get, the more your magic develops into your own personal signature, and the more difficult it is to adapt to another wand; in addition, older wands tend to be more resistant to a change of ownership."

"So why isn't your wand fighting me?" she asked. "How long have you had it?"

"Since just after the first war. My first wand... broke." From the almost unnoticeable pause and his tone, Hermione was able to translate that; he'd done something stupid during a post-traumatic episode and broken the wand. He shrugged. "My point was, it behaves like me. Since I would be completely unable to harm you using magic, my wand won't resist you. Air and water are not so very far apart, which helps, and your magic is naturally more... benign, almost, and more adaptable, since you aren't a natural warrior."

"Is it normal, though, or is it just you?"

"I have no idea," he admitted calmly. "I doubt most people would even think of using someone else's wand unless it was an emergency. I would imagine there is some degree of recognition between close couples or family members, but it's probably more extreme in my case, for a variety of reasons."

"My wand's upstairs, or I'd let you try it," she said thoughtfully.

Severus gave her a look of mock disapproval. "I taught you Defence for a year, and you still go off without your wand..."

She snorted inelegantly at him. "The only thing likely to attack me in this house is you, and I don't think a wand would do me much good. Assuming that I'd want to stop you."

That brought a smirk to his face, as he finally left the doorway and came to lean against the table next to her and she stood up to lean against him. "There is that, but it's still a bad habit to get into."

"I'll bear that in mind, Professor."

He huffed in soft amusement and leaned sideways a little to pick up the Elder Wand, absently twirling it between his fingers and regarding it thoughtfully. "Truthfully, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about."

"Really?" she asked. "I tried a couple of simple charms earlier, before you came downstairs. It scares the hell out of me." It did feel dangerous, in a way her own wand never had no matter what spell she cast. Severus' wand... she looked down at it thoughtfully. She could tell that it was more powerful than hers, but it was more the potential for danger than actually being dangerous. A little like Severus himself, actually, now she thought about it, at least when he was with her.

He shrugged. "It is very powerful, yes, and as I said before that makes me somewhat suspicious, but there doesn't seem to be anything special about it. It's just a stronger version of our existing wands."

"It can't be defeated."

"Supposedly," he agreed, turning it over in his fingers. "And I'm sure that's true in terms of raw power. But I've taught you about duelling – all the power in the world isn't going to help if your opponent is faster or smarter. I'd wager this can still be outwitted if it's in the wrong hands."

"Then why does You-Know-Who want it?" she asked mischievously. "He was a Slytherin; shouldn't he know better?"

Severus started laughing at that. "Impudent wench," he chided her, his eyes dancing with humour. "Here, take it." Somewhat reluctantly, she took the wand off him, handing his back; he put it back in the deep pocket of his dressing gown, watching her turning the Elder Wand over in her fingers. "It still bothers you," he noted quietly.

Awkwardly she looked up at him. "A little," she admitted uncertainly. She'd spent most of the day thinking about it, about what this said about Severus. The boys had been teasing her quite a lot – when Severus wasn't in earshot – but despite what they obviously thought, she knew he hadn't meant it sexually when he spoke of not having a dominant personality; in some ways that would have been easier to understand, even if it made her a bit uncomfortable, but in fact Severus was usually in charge during sex, as much as there was someone 'in charge' when they made love. He did sometimes like her to be in control, but only sometimes. It was linked to his reluctance to lead, and his odd and strained relationship with Dumbledore, and possibly Lily, and his status among the Death Eaters, and all sorts of things, and it made for quite a daunting tangle.

Severus regarded her thoughtfully. "It shouldn't. I don't have a problem with it." He frowned slightly, trying to find the right words. "I don't mean to make it sound as if you somehow own me, or anything so extreme. That's not what this is. It's the same tendency that has shaped a lot of my past, but it is not the same situation. This was my choice, Hermione." He smiled suddenly, his black eyes glittering. "I hate to disappoint you, but you do not control me, not completely, and sadly I'm not going to turn into your willing slave." He paused just long enough, before adding slyly, "Unless you ask nicely."

"Oh, shut up." She couldn't quite hold back either the laugh or the blush. "You know damned well that's not what I meant."

"Yes, I know." In a rare display of spontaneous affection, he moved closer and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. "You worry far too much about simple things. I'm happy to have someone to follow that I can trust. You have no idea what a relief it actually is, after so many years under the control of someone I never trusted at all or of someone else who betrayed my trust."

Hermione leaned against him, nuzzling against the softness of his rather worn dressing gown and breathing in his familiar scent. "I think it's just because... for so many years you've always seemed so independent, so individual."

He rested his cheek against her hair and was silent for a long moment before sighing. "It was out of necessity, more than desire. I never had anyone to look out for me, so I had to learn to look after myself. It was never my idea, or I might have been happier about it. I know you've worked out why I joined the Death Eaters in the first place by now..."

"I think so. After you lost Lily, and then Dumbledore made it so obvious that his side didn't want you, you were looking for someone who did." She realised it was the first time she'd said Lily's name to him, but he hadn't even tensed slightly.

"Yes. Initially I only went to hear the Dark Lord speak to shut Lucius up – he was adamant that I'd do well with them. I didn't really know what was going on in the war, on either side. The Dark Lord was very different then. You've seen memories of Tom Riddle – he was still young, still handsome, and he was charismatic and powerful and gifted with rare insight. He only had to speak to me once for a few minutes to guess exactly what I was looking for, and that's what he offered me. It took a long time for me to realise it was false, and given how cynical I am, that is no mean feat." He sighed.

"Until recently, the first year I spent as a Death Eater was the happiest of my life. I was kept out of the true bloody darkness of the fighting and I didn't want to believe any of the rumours or the news reports. It felt like I had a place to belong where I was valued. I wouldn't have got my Mastery without the early sponsorship the Dark Lord arranged for me – wizarding academia is very much a pureblood aristocratic world still. It was a chance at a life I could never know any other way. And it was a lie."

"That's why you stayed with our side this time around, isn't it?" Hermione said quietly, sliding her arms around his waist and pressing closer. "Apart from knowing the difference between right and wrong, I mean. It's what kept you going through everything that happened to you."

"Yes. I wanted revenge for that lie. Because for a short time I was happy, and for the first time in my life I was sure of myself and where I fitted in. And then he took that away from me." Severus breathed out slowly. "It was the last great betrayal. My parents were the first; they should have loved me, and didn't. Dumbledore should have looked after me, and didn't. Lily... it was complicated. And then the Dark Lord showed that he was no different after all and that my fine new life was the same as the old one. But despite it all, I put up with what each of them did to me, because I still hoped. I still wanted it to be real. Since then, I have been living in a vacuum, in almost total isolation. But not through choice."

He drew back enough to look down at her, and his dark eyes were warm, crinkled slightly at the corners in not quite a smile. "Believe me, Hermione, I'm much happier like this. I don't want to carve my own path any more. It's bloody miserable. Besides," he added more lightly, "it's just a wand. You're over-thinking it."

"I'm good at that," she said rather ruefully, feeling better. That 'until recently' had been a telling comment. She might not command Severus' soul, but she was pretty sure she owned his heart, which was certainly nice to know. And really, he was such a stubborn bastard that she hadn't really expected him to suddenly start meekly obeying her every whim – it would be downright creepy if he did, frankly. "This still doesn't really explain what we're supposed to do with the Elder Wand, though. Are we supposed to give it to Harry, let him Disarm one of us or something?"

Severus gave her a rather blank look. "Why?"

She frowned and bit her lip. "I don't know, now I've said it. I suppose I just assumed it would be him."

"Nothing says the Hallows are even relevant," Severus pointed out. "I think Dumbledore was just concerned with keeping the wand away from the Dark Lord. The prophecy says Potter has the power to defeat the Dark Lord, but I don't think it refers to the Hallows. Anyone can use the Elder Wand once they've won it. 'Letting' him Disarm one of us wouldn't work anyway – that's not a victory. It's the same logic that Dumbledore used – had I done as I was told, he'd have died undefeated master of it." He shrugged. "It's a nice idea, using the super-powerful wand he's been hunting for to kill him, but I don't think it's necessary. Do bear in mind it was the Daily Prophet that christened Potter the 'Chosen One', not anyone remotely rational."

Hermione stifled a laugh, remembering her dealings with the media. I'd love to see Severus talk to Rita someday. "Good point. This shared-ownership thing is still weird, though. Are we supposed to use it together, or something?"

"I have no idea." Severus frowned suddenly and twisted to look up at the clock on the wall. "I'm not really tired – this is quite a normal time for me to be awake – but it's nearly five in the morning now," he observed.

"God, is it really?" Until he'd said it, she hadn't realised how tired she was. "This isn't the sort of conversation we could have had in daylight," she said thoughtfully. "I think people's minds work differently at night."

"They do," he agreed. "I used to get a lot of research developed at stupid hours of the night. You get ideas at night that would never occur to you by day."

"We should become nocturnal until this is sorted out, then."

He chuckled softly. "If you're proposing that we spend all day in bed..."

"Oh, behave yourself. Come on. I want to go back to sleep, and you know you don't sleep enough."

Most of the next two weeks passed in a blur of endless days and sleepless nights as September drew to a close. Hermione was getting more stressed out, and both the boys were clearly starting to worry. Severus was running out of ways to try and ease the pressure on his lover or to distract Potter and Weasley, and the tension was getting to him. Minerva had written via Potter's owl to ask what was going on, reporting that the Order were growing restless, and he'd told her that something had come up to delay them, but he wasn't going to be able to stall for much longer.

The Order weren't the only ones, either. He wasn't remotely surprised when his evening cigarette was interrupted by the back door opening and Potter rather cautiously approaching him – Hermione was having a bath, or the boy wouldn't have dared. "What do you want?" he asked, unable to summon any incentive to keep his irritation out of his voice. He was fed up with his houseguests now and would very much like for them to piss off somewhere else more often than they actually did.

His tone earned him a sullen look, but the unspoken tentative truce between the males in the house was still holding, albeit only barely. Potter shrugged and picked his way through the weeds to stand nearby, making a face at the smell from his cigarette. "I wanted to ask you what's really going on, sir."

Amused at the regression to 'sir' – the boys weren't sure how to address him; he hadn't told them they could use his first name – Severus glanced at him. "And you think I will tell you because...?"

"Because I deserve to know?" Potter asked hopefully.

"Says who?"

There was a pause before he sighed. "Please."

Severus took another drag on his cigarette, holding the smoke in his lungs for a long moment before exhaling slowly. "We haven't told you for a reason, Potter. You trust Hermione, don't you?"

He fidgeted. "I know she's trying to do what's best, but... it's obviously bad. Is it that this link can't be broken? Can he still use it, or what?"

"I'm not going to answer any of your questions. Wait. When you need to know, we'll tell you." Potter opened his mouth, and he continued smoothly, "If you even think of saying it's not fair I will hex you. You're too old to whine. Life isn't fair. Hermione has your wellbeing at heart and when you do learn what's going on you'll understand why she wanted to wait."

"And you?"

I do what she says, he thought rather whimsicallyIt was tempting to say it just to see the boy blush, actually, but Severus restrained himself and merely shrugged. "I do not have your wellbeing at heart," he replied dryly. It was very strange to see James Potter's grin without any malice behind it.

"I worked that out all by myself, thanks. You won't tell me, will you?"

"Not until Hermione decides you should know. She knows you better than I do, and I trust her judgement. We're working on it, Potter. Don't hassle her about it. It wasn't an easy decision; she knows how much you dislike being kept out of the loop. Pretend you don't think anything is wrong, and try to stay out of our way. And don't let her catch you trying this again," he added dryly. "She won't be pleased."

"Yeah, I know." He hesitated and took a deep breath, steeling himself for something. Severus was expecting to be asked about Lily at last, or perhaps the Marauders, so it was a shock when the boy asked tentatively, "You and Hermione... it's really serious, isn't it?"

He gave Potter an incredulous look. "It has absolutely nothing to do with you. Keep your nose out, if you don't want to lose it." Part of him wanted to laugh; the notion of this boy trying to be the protective guard, assessing his commitment and ready to threaten him, was ludicrous.

"She's my best friend and I don't want to see her hurt," he said stubbornly.

Severus regarded him for a long moment, finishing his cigarette. "Then for once, you and I have the same goal in mind," he said finally. He and Potter would never like or trust one another, there was too much history there, but they had reached a sort of understanding over the past year. "Now get lost."


Late one night at the beginning of October, Hermione lay awake listening to the rain outside. She could tell from the sound of his breathing that Severus was awake as well, but neither of them had spoken for some time. She blinked wearily, staring at the ceiling in the darkness, so tired that she was close to tears, and finally said quietly, "We've been through all your books now, haven't we."

"Yes," Severus agreed equally quietly, his breath stirring her hair for a moment as he shifted closer to press against her back.

"And we didn't find anything. Not one damned thing."


"And all our ideas have been useless. Is there anywhere else we can look?"

"I don't know. I don't think so. All my contacts have gone underground months ago and it would be too dangerous to try and locate anyone who might know something. There's nothing at Hogwarts. And none of the Order would have anything about this except maybe Dumbledore himself, and if he did know anything useful he didn't say so."

"I guess that's it, then." She bit her lip hard and swallowed, trying not to cry. "...Damnit."

His arms tightened around her and he nuzzled her hair to one side to kiss the back of her neck, although he didn't say anything for a while. Finally he sighed heavily and she felt him press his forehead against her shoulder. "We still have time on our side. The Dark Lord doesn't know. But unless one of us has a divine flash of inspiration... that's it."

She choked back a sob, and he moved back against the wall to give her enough space to roll over before she buried her head against his chest and started crying. He held her without speaking, stroking her hair and letting her cry herself out, until she finally fell into an exhausted sleep in his arms.

Severus lay silently and stared over Hermione's head at the wall, feeling the absolute helpless fury pulsing through him in time to his heartbeat. There was nothing he could do, either to save Potter's life or to try and ease his lover's pain. If there was a way, he'd do it, no matter how high the price, but there simply wasn't anything he could do, and he hated that most of all. He regretted even telling her, but if he hadn't then he knew himself well enough to know that by now he would have lashed out and hurt her badly out of his own frustrated pain; besides, he never wanted to lie to her about anything important.

Suppressing a sigh, he looked down at the young woman sleeping huddled against his chest, gently brushing her impossible hair back from her tear-stained face. I'm sorry, love. I tried. He just wished there was something he could do to make it easier for her, he mused a little sadly as he carefully untangled a stubborn curl from where it had caught on her ring, lightly tracing a fingertip over the gems. It wasn't much, really, but it was all he had to offer; he'd never really been good at declarations of love anyway. Leaning in, he kissed her forehead lightly and settled down, trying to clear his mind enough to sleep.

Hermione woke up with a pounding headache and the knowledge that she hadn't had anywhere near enough sleep; that was becoming progressively more normal now. She couldn't understand how Severus had coped with his increasing stress for the better part of two years; a little over two weeks had almost finished her off, and she wasn't on her own. She wasn't sure what had woken her this time; her lover was still asleep and didn't seem to be having a nightmare, and the house was quiet.

Lying quietly in the darkness, she considered the dream she had been having – nothing earth-shattering; she'd been remembering the day Severus had removed his Dark Mark. Why was she thinking about that now? Frowning slightly, she realised her hand was resting over the scar inside his left arm, and bit her lip. Something told her that it was important, but her head was buzzing with fatigue and stress and she couldn't quite work out why. Wait... how had he done it? He'd untangled his magic from the magic of the Mark; it had taken over an hour and a lot of power, and he hadn't said how he'd done it, but he had, so obviously it was possible. Could he perhaps untangle the Horcrux from Harry in the same way? It would obviously be difficult, but he was fairly familiar with Harry now, and very familiar with Voldemort. If souls had some sort of anchor in the physical plane – which presumably they did, if Horcruxes could be bound into physical objects – then theoretically it had to be possible.

Pushing her sudden excitement away, she settled deeper into the bed and made herself think it through carefully. If it was possible, fine – then what? They still needed a way to remove or destroy the Horcrux once it wasn't tangled up in Harry so much. Think, damnit. Conventional thinking hadn't provided an answer, so it was time for unconventional thinking. Maybe they had been looking at things the wrong way. The scar wasn't a normal Horcrux, so instead of thinking of ways to destroy any soul fragment, what about ways to destroy Voldemort's soul specifically? What was he vulnerable to?

Oh, what's the use. If they knew that, this would have been over much more quickly.

Abruptly she froze, not even breathing in case she disturbed the tiny fragile seeds of an idea that were beginning to form. God... could it really be that simple? No wonder they'd missed it. Very slowly, she exhaled, staring into the darkness with wide eyes and biting her lip furiously. It sounded stupid, even just inside her head, but all the evidence was there. It had worked before. If there was a way to enhance that previous effect, make it stronger, there was no reason why it shouldn't work again, stupid or not...

"Severus," she hissed after a few minutes, unable to wait any longer. "Severus, wake up."

Hermione felt a little guilty about disturbing him; he'd been working so hard recently, trying desperately to find a solution and battling to stay as optimistic as he was capable of for her sake as well as keeping the boys distracted. That combined with his natural occasional insomnia meant he'd had less sleep than she had. But this was important, if she was right.

"Severus," she hissed insistently, gently nudging him with her elbow. Finally she got a sleepy grunt of complaint that didn't even sound human. "Are you awake?"

"No," he mumbled fuzzily.

"This is important! Wake up."

He groaned faintly. "All right, all right, I'm awake," he growled finally in a gravelly, rough voice, sounding absolutely shattered. "What?"

"I've had an idea. Well, two separate ideas. Firstly, do you think you'd be able to separate the Horcrux from Harry the same way you separated your magic from your Dark Mark?" Not giving him a chance to respond, she carried on talking excitedly, twisting around to face him. "Because I think if we can untangle them, then Harry will be able to destroy the Horcrux himself. You-Know-Who can't possess him, remember, not for long – something about Harry hurts him, means he can't stay in his head. Dumbledore said so. Okay, he said it was because of the power of love, or something else that sounds really daft, but whatever it is, something means You-Know-Who can't take Harry over, so logically once the Horcrux is untied from him..."

Severus opened bloodshot eyes and reached out to put his hand over her mouth. "You're babbling. Shut up for a minute. Breathe, then talk," he ordered sleepily.

Obediently she stopped talking, sitting up and shamelessly stealing the blanket to wrap around herself as she gathered her thoughts before repeating herself slightly more coherently. Shivering, Severus reclaimed part of the bedding with a glare before sitting up in turn to listen, frowning slightly before his expression turned completely blank. "Hermione..." he said slowly.

"I know," she interrupted. "I'm a bit more romantic than you are, but that's not exactly saying a lot. I know how stupid it sounds to say love's going to save Harry. I thought it was stupid when he first told me about Dumbledore's theory. But there's proof of this, Severus. It's happened before. You-Know-Who could only possess him for a few minutes, and it hurt him to do it. And this Horcrux is the last one, it's the weakest. It's got to be worth a try, hasn't it? Even if it doesn't work, we haven't lost anything. If you can untangle it, even a bit, that's going to help."

He didn't answer, rubbing his eyes wearily and scratching his stubbled jaw as he woke up a bit more. Obviously he didn't think this was going to work, but Hermione wanted to be sure he had a reason beyond cynicism; if there was an actual reason why it wouldn't work, fair enough, but she wasn't going to let him dismiss it until he'd really thought about it. This was the closest thing to a breakthrough they'd had, and she watched his face anxiously, noting the dark shadows under his eyes a bit guiltily – this probably could have waited another couple of hours.

Very slowly his expression changed, his gaze sharpening as his focus shifted elsewhere. Recognising his lost in thought expression, Hermione held her breath as he frowned pensively; when he absently traced a fingertip along his lips she started to smile. That meant he'd thought of something and was working through it. He murmured slowly to himself, "Like a tongue on frozen steel, like flesh in flame..."


"Hmm? Oh, something Dumbledore said once..." he replied absently, not really paying attention now as he focused more sharply on whatever he was thinking about. Abruptly twisting around, he held out a hand and wandlessly and non-verbally Summoned pen and paper to him, leaning back against the wall and hunching over it as he started to scribble furiously, and she watched him anxiously and attempted unsuccessfully to read his spidery scrawl upside down, barely daring to hope.

What seemed like several hours later, she was ready to kill him with her bare hands. He'd stopped responding to anything she said ages ago, completely caught up in whatever the hell he was doing; reading his notes gave her no clues at all because it looked like the ramblings of a madman, nonsensical scribbles and bits of what looked like equations and the odd random word scribbled in a margin that didn't seem to go with anything else he'd written. Half a dozen pages of dense notes had to be a good sign, though, surely, she told herself hopefully.

Finally Severus seemed to switch off, dropping his pen and staring down at his notes for a few minutes before blinking and gradually coming back to the real world. Slowly he looked up, and his dark eyes were glittering with an inner light she hadn't seen in weeks.

Almost afraid to breathe, Hermione asked tentatively, "Well?"

He held up a hand warningly. "This isn't guaranteed, Hermione. You need to understand that. I think there is a chance of this working but I can't promise anything. I may not be able to do anything to separate the Horcrux in the first place, for a start; it might be too tangled for that. Even if I can, it might not make any difference. The theory is sound, but nothing like this has ever been done before and I'm going to be making it up as I go along. I think, if we take certain steps, it might work. That's as far as I am willing to go; I don't want to give you false hope. Frankly the odds are high that it's going to be a waste of time, but there might be a way. I'll need to examine Potter to decide if it's even worth trying."

She nearly collapsed in sheer relief. "But you think it's possible?"

Severus scratched his jaw and looked down at his notes. "Perhaps," he said guardedly. "If I can find out how to separate the Horcrux from him, even a little, then there are steps we can take to enhance whatever it is in him, to strengthen his grip on who he is... It's hard to explain. As I said, I'm going to be making it up as I go along."

"What can I do? Can I even do anything?"

Somewhat to her surprise, he nodded. "I'll need you there. And Weasley, I think. For a variety of potential reasons, but I think it likely I may need some strength from you before the end. This is going to be very difficult."

"And dangerous?"

"I won't know until I try it. It shouldn't be," he said reassuringly. "I wish I could be more certain, but nothing like this has ever been done before, and I refuse to promise anything I may not be able to deliver."

Ignoring this, Hermione flung herself at him and hugged him fiercely, hearing his slightly startled laugh before he hugged her back. "You brilliant, wonderful man. Thank you. God, thank you."

"Thank me when it's done."

Hermione's relief and happiness had lasted about fifteen minutes, which was how long it had taken her to realise that now she was going to have to tell Harry what was really going on. He wasn't going to be pleased. Still, it was hard to worry; she knew Severus was right, this wasn't necessarily a solution and it might not work, but she had faith in him and he wouldn't have said even that much if he didn't think he could do something. She was trying not to get her hopes up, but the past few weeks had been hell, and now there was light at the end of the tunnel – it was almost over, and then she had the rest of her life to look forward to. With Severus, she reminded herself happily, padding out onto the landing to listen and see if the boys were awake yet. Given that she could hear Ron snoring through the door, they probably weren't.

About to head downstairs and see what there was for breakfast, she paused and turned to look at the bathroom door, biting her lip and trying not to grin as she argued with herself and listened to the running water. Giving in to temptation, she opened the door and slipped inside, shutting it behind her; Severus had lived alone long enough that he usually forgot to lock the door, and this morning proved no exception. He was still in the shower, which due to the size of the bathroom was mounted on the wall over the bath; turning and raising an eyebrow inquiringly, he smiled at her, the genuine unguarded smile that was still quite rare.

"Yes?" he asked mildly, his eyes glittering with something much less innocent than the rest of his expression. "Did you want something?"

Hermione had genuinely intended to actually talk to him and ask for a few more details about what they were going to be doing, but at the same time she had to acknowledge she'd been lying to herself, as something in the way he was standing managed to effectively derail her train of thought and she found herself watching soapy water sliding over his skin instead.

"Distracting me is cheating," she murmured, following some of the soap with her eyes as it trickled from his neck through the dark hair on his chest and down over his ribs and his flat stomach, past his rising erection and down his thigh, before lifting her gaze to meet his eyes again. He looked amused, and a little smug, but behind the smirk was a little spark of genuine pleasure; he liked knowing that she enjoyed looking at him and that she found him attractive. In turn, she liked seeing his insecurity, knowing that he was trusting her enough to let her see it and knowing that she was helping him get past it. She also quite liked knowing that she was hopefully going to have him to play with for the rest of their lives.

She still felt a little self-conscious about undressing in front of him, but it was certainly easier when he was already naked and she could see his entire body reacting to what he was seeing. Between the extremely enjoyable sight of him waiting for her in the shower and the wild surge of emotion as her fear and depression lifted, though, she didn't feel shy any more and could hardly strip quickly enough, letting the last of her clothes fall to the floor and eagerly moving to step into the tub and under the warm water as he drew her close against him.

There wasn't really enough room for two people, but neither of them had any objection to being pressed closely together as they began to wash each other. "You're tense," Severus murmured after a few minutes, running his hand down her back.

"Can you blame me?" she asked, leaning against him. "Twenty minutes ago I thought my best friend was going to die. I've been going mad for days. So have you."

"True, but I am far more used to feeling absolutely hopeless than you are." He nudged her with his hip. "Turn around." She obeyed, and his hands slid into her hair, carefully working a small measure of her shampoo through the thick curls to her scalp with just the right amount of pressure, and she all but melted against him.

By the time her hair was thoroughly rinsed, his clever fingers had kneaded away all the little knots of tension from her scalp down her neck and through her shoulders, and Hermione was very nearly purring; he was good at this. He stepped closer, his hands sliding down her arms to her waist and drawing her back against him, and she felt his erection pressing against her; his breath was warm on her skin as he began to kiss her neck, his hands skimming lightly over her stomach and ribs to cup her breasts from behind. Leaning her head back against his shoulder, she closed her eyes against the warm water and gave herself over to the sensations as the last of the exhaustion and stress of the past couple of weeks dissolved.

Finally she turned in the circle of his arms, reaching up to tangle her fingers in his wet hair and moulding her body against his as they kissed, gently at first but with rapidly building eagerness. She steadied herself by gripping his shoulders as he lifted her up, apparently without effort, wrapping her legs around his hips as he leaned forward slightly and pushed her against the wall, gasping into his mouth; the tiles were cold. He swallowed the sound, exploring her mouth more deeply as he shifted his legs a little further apart to steady them both, bracing her weight, and she reached between them to curl her fingers around him and help to guide him inside her. It took a moment to find the right angle, before she sank onto him and sighed in sheer bliss at the feeling, echoed by his soft groan of pleasure.

Sliding her arms around his neck, she stared into his eyes as they moved together, the eye contact growing more intense. It took her a little while to gather enough breath to speak coherently; it was almost impossible to think while they were doing this. "Severus... thank you. For everything. Without you... God, without you, we'd all have died years ago." She blinked tears out of her eyes and smiled at him a little shakily. "I love you so much."

His eyes were soft and warm as he returned her smile. "Foolish girl," he murmured, leaning in briefly to kiss her before drawing back to meet her eyes again. "More than anyone, you never need to thank me for anything. It's I who should be thanking you. You gave me a reason to keep going. You made me want to live. You've given me hope, for the first time in more years than I want to think about, hope of a future I never thought I would have. No, Hermione, you never need to thank me."

Realising how Gryffindorishly sentimental this was getting, Hermione grinned at him in sudden mischief. "That was very nicely done, Severus, but I am going to make you say it back one day."

It made him laugh, as he responded to her changed mood; he leaned in to kiss her again and began moving more forcefully. Leaning her head back against the tiles as he nipped at her neck, she smiled and closed her eyes as her pleasure built, gasping and shivering before crying out softly as her legs tightened around his waist. A moment later he shuddered, moaning her name against her throat and joining his voice to hers as they came almost simultaneously.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 51 of 60

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