Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 54 of 60

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Later that night, Hermione left the bathroom and cautiously let herself into the bedroom, closing the door behind her and letting her eyes adjust to the small amount of light filtering through the thin curtains from the only working lamp post outside. She knew damned well that Severus was awake, but he said nothing, and nor did she as she got changed before approaching the bed. He had his back to her, but he hadn't moved over as far as he could have. Sliding under the covers, she waited on the very edge of the bed until she'd warmed up a bit before scooting over to settle against his bare back, tentatively sliding an arm around his waist and resting her cheek against his shoulder; she could feel the stiff tension in his thin frame.

"Thank you for talking to him," she said softly. "It obviously wasn't easy for you." Or for me, she added silently. She understood why he was the way he was, but it was hard to hear him admit loving someone else when he hadn't said it to her.

He sighed. "No."

"Are you all right?"

"I've been better, but I think so."

"Aren't you going to tell me to stop fussing over you?" she asked gently, trying to lighten the mood a bit.

After a pause, he replied very quietly in a rather small voice, "No."

Hermione closed her eyes for a moment against the tears that threatened. Oh, Severus. Pressing more closely against his back, she hugged him from behind, rubbing her cheek against his shoulder blade. "Do you want to talk?" she asked softly, nuzzling at the closest scar. "I don't mean things that you think Harry should know, or things you think I should know. Is there anything you need to say?"

"I don't know." He sounded rather lost. "I've never talked about it to anyone."

"Did you ever intend to tell anyone? Any of us?"

"No. There are letters in my will that explain some of it, but not all, and I never planned to say anything while I was still alive."

"Well, if you want to talk now, I'll listen. You know that."

He was silent for a while. "I didn't tell him everything. I did love Lily, but part of me hated her as well, by the end. It's complicated, but... in some ways, she was the same as everyone else. She gave up on me, just like they did. We never spoke about my interest in the Dark Arts, or about the Death Eaters, or the Dark Lord. She just got angry and pulled away. If she had ever asked me to choose between her and them, I would have chosen her, but she never did. Just like everyone else, she assumed that I had already made my choice, and acted as if I had; and by doing so, they took that choice away. By the time I did come to choose, most of my other options had already gone. I needed more from her, and she couldn't give it to me. She couldn't be what I needed, and I was never what she wanted, and part of me blamed her for that. It has taken me years to realise that. But it wasn't her fault."

"Not completely, perhaps, but she can't be excused completely either, Severus. The final choice was yours, and you did want it, by then. But plenty of people are partly to blame for you ever reaching that point. It's not all your fault either." She kissed the back of his shoulder and tried to press closer still.

"No, I suppose not." He didn't sound as though it mattered much to him now. "Lily never treated me very well," he said rather distantly. "She was like many young girls, she liked knowing she had a friend she could persuade to do anything she asked, and I was so scared of losing the only real friendship I'd ever had that I didn't have the confidence to say no. She used me rather badly, at times, and I let her. And then, in our final years, after it had all fallen apart... Potter would say things, sometimes, things he could only have heard from Lily. I – I hope she didn't do it deliberately, but she gave him plenty of new ways to hurt me. She never used my name again, either, as far as I know. If she had to refer to me at all, she only ever called me Snivellus." His voice cracked noticeably as he said the nickname, and Hermione tightened her arm around his waist, hugging him as hard as she could.

Pausing for a moment to get himself back under control, he added more calmly, "Before you start feeling guilty, don't. I'm not as damaged as I was back then, at least in certain ways. I've already told you that you don't own me completely. When I give way to you, it's because I want to, not because I have to or because I need to. Part of me always resented it with her, even then. It's not the same now. Understand?"

Briefly amused by the odd stern moment in the midst of this discussion, she smiled a little. "Yes."

"Good." He paused before speaking again, more softly. "I didn't tell Potter the whole truth about why I hated him, either. Mostly, I hated him for bringing it all back to me. I thought I was over it, you know. I thought I had moved on. I went for months, almost years at a time without really thinking about any of that. I wasn't happy, but I suppose I was content enough, even though I didn't really like my job and even though I was isolated and somewhat lonely. And then Dumbledore announced at the end of one year that Harry Potter would be turning eleven at the end of July, and it all came crashing back in on me and I realised that I hadn't managed to move on at all. And then I saw him for the first time, with his mother's eyes in his father's face, and it hurt, and I hated it. I hated still feeling like that after all that time. He tore open wounds that I thought were long healed, and I spent the next few years trying to deal with things I had already dealt with once already, slowly working through it all over again."

Hermione nodded against his back to let him know she was listening, not really sure what to say in response. Now that he had said it, this made a lot more sense than any other theories she had ever managed to come up with. Oh, my poor Severus. You shouldn't have had to go through it all alone. And nobody around you ever realised, or would have cared if they had...

"When the Dark Mark came back, part of me was relieved," he continued quietly. "It gave me the perspective I needed to truly put it behind me. I was able to think far more clearly about what I was actually doing with my life and why I was doing it, and I started to realise that I was doing it for me now, not for Lily or anyone else any more. I wanted to re-enter the war and work against the Dark Lord, because I wanted it, not because I felt I should or because I thought I needed to. I finally started to understand where my own personal lines were drawn and what sort of man I had become. And once the war began again, I remembered what was really important."

He shifted slightly, and she recognised the motion; it was the way she herself snuggled back against him when they lay curled up with him spooned against her, just a slight movement to reassure herself that he was there and to appreciate the warmth of his body. Nuzzling his shoulder, she moved her hand slightly over his stomach, cuddling closer against his back and trying to offer him what comfort she could.

Severus sighed again; he was beginning to relax a little bit now, some of the tension easing. His voice sounded less remote as he spoke once more. "And then you started to insinuate yourself into my life. It took me a while to realise what was going on, and a while longer to know how I felt about it; as I said earlier, I don't live in a world of sudden bright epiphanies and dazzling revelations. It's always been far more gradual, far more cautious; I always have to be sure before I admit anything even to myself, and I wasn't sure about you for a very long time. I didn't understand what was happening. I still don't, really; I can't possibly explain it, but somehow you found a gap that I didn't even know was there, and you managed to become what I need. I didn't think that was even possible. I didn't think it existed, so it took me a while to recognise it."

He sounded almost amused for a moment. "I've never wanted very much from life. All the ambition, the magic, the interest in the Dark Arts, the need to prove myself, it's mostly a front, an attempt to take second prize, to compensate for not being able to achieve the main goal. All I've ever truly wanted, deep down, was not to be alone, to have just one person in my life completely. One person who didn't hold back, who could give everything of themselves to me and who could understand and accept everything about me in return. I saw other people all around me doing just that and envied them. I've been jealous of most of the world since I was a child. I didn't understand that before, either. The past year or two has taught me a lot about myself, and I have you to thank for that."

She smiled against his back and shook her head. "You never need to thank me for anything either, Severus."

"Touché. But I worry about the price you pay for loving me, and the price you will pay in the future. Because I... I do – love you, you know, Hermione, but that probably won't be enough. I know who and what I am, and what I am is damaged, psychologically and emotionally. I don't know if I can be what you need."

She swallowed and tried desperately to keep her voice light, closing her eyes to hold back the tears. "Okay, well, I'm a girl, and this is the first time you've told me you love me, so I'm going to need a minute here before I can talk." Resting her cheek against his back, she breathed in the familiar scent of his skin, the clean smell of rain after a storm touched with all the subtle hints of herbs and minerals and copper and smoke. Her breathing eased, the tears receding as she gathered her thoughts and sorted out what she wanted to say.

"I don't know either," she said finally. "Nobody knows until they try it. But I'm as sure as I can be right now. Ask me again in fifty years or so. I don't need all that much out of life either, really. With you, I know you won't hold me back, you won't ask me to fit my life to yours, to be what you think I should be. Right from the first year, you've always seen the real me, not the person I was trying to be. That used to scare me, but now I know it's what I want. I know you'll let me go the way I want to go, without resenting it, that it's what you want as well, that your life will fit with mine. I know you'll let me be independent and I know that when I need you, you'll be there. I know you're a bit damaged, but I don't think it's actually all that important, because you know it as well so we can work around it. I know I love you, and I know you love me. We're both very smart people, so I'm sure that between us we can work out the rest as we go along."

Hermione drew back, tugging slightly as she pulled her arm from around his waist, and he obediently rolled over to look at her. As she had expected, his eyes were guarded, but it was more important that he could see her face right now.

"I don't need hearts and flowers, Severus. I've never been that sort of girl. I'm not dreaming of a white picket fence and two point four children and a dog. I want a difficult but rewarding job that will challenge me without being soul-destroying and at the end of the day I want to come home to my ugly cat and pick a stupid fight over dinner with my snarky git of a husband and then make up in bed afterwards. I don't need to hear that you love me twenty times a day and domestic bliss would bore me rigid. I fell in love with my eyes open, Severus," she added. "I do know what you're like. Not only do I absolutely not care any more, but I've come to like it. You're a bastard, but you're my bastard."

He was smiling almost despite himself by the time she had finished speaking, wry humour and genuine warmth glittering in the depths of his black eyes. "Well, as long as we're clear that I tried to warn you."

She laughed softly and pushed him to lie on his back, curling up against his side as his arm settled around her and resting her head on his chest to listen to the reassuring steady rhythm of his heartbeat. "Shut up and go to sleep. I do want to talk about your parents at some point, but not now. It's been a long day. We've got a Horcrux to destroy, a Dark Lord to kill and then a life to organise."

"Yes, dear," Severus replied, his rich voice heavy with dry sarcasm.

Severus woke up with his face full of bushy brown hair again and smiled wryly to himself as he carefully turned his head away to find some clear air to breathe; he was getting quite used to this now. Truthfully, he hadn't expected them to last even this long; even just this last couple of months were beyond his wildest expectations. He had assumed either she would have come to her senses or he would have massively fucked up by now. It didn't seem likely that she was going to come to her senses any time soon, though, since against all logic and reason she did seem to be completely in her right mind and to be well aware of who and what he was – but there was still plenty of time for him to fuck up.

He gently blew the last few stray hairs away from his face and settled deeper into the bed, savouring the warmth of her body snuggled against him as he thought back. It still seemed rather surreal to him; her birthday and last night had both been unbelievably terrifying experiences. They had also been in the wrong order, he acknowledged to himself wryly. Originally, he had intended to let her know how he felt and give her plenty of time to get used to the idea before he started hinting – hinting – at long-term plans such as marriage; but he'd panicked.

To be honest, he was surprised he had managed to say anything at all. In the end, proposing had been easier than admitting he loved her, which seemed strange to him. He supposed it had a lot to do with his upbringing; his parents' marriage had been rather meaningless, and really, he had only proposed because he felt he should, because he had wanted Hermione to know that he was serious and hadn't had the courage to actually say that. He didn't give a damn if they married or not; it was the emotions that mattered, not the symbols. Although he had to admit, his possessive streak enjoyed seeing his ring on her finger, and it was a pleasant thought to imagine her taking his name. His bastard side was quite enjoying everyone's reactions, too, he conceded wryly.

Last night, though... he'd expected his voice to crack like a teenager's, as the words stuck in his throat. He'd never been so scared – even returning to Voldemort, two hours late, to establish himself as a double agent again hadn't frightened him so much. That said absolutely nothing good about his mental health, but it wasn't really his fault. He had never in his entire life spoken of love to anyone except in the abstract; he'd never told anyone that he loved them. He hadn't been the affectionate kind of small boy who said he loved his mother as naturally as breathing; he supposed he had loved her, sort of, but it had been a complicated situation. Presumably he had loved his father when he was very little, before he'd known what the man was like, but he didn't remember and he'd certainly never said so. As for Lily... ha. The less said about that, the better, really. And there had never been anyone else.

He hadn't really planned to say it like that, either. He hadn't wanted to make it such a big deal. Yes, it was important, probably more important than anything else, but it shouldn't have been so dramatic. Frankly, he should have said something long before this anyway. Hopefully Hermione had already known he loved her, but in some ways she was almost as pessimistic as he was and he suspected she hadn't let herself think about it until he'd finally said so. That hadn't been fair to her, really, but not as unfair as yesterday had been. He hadn't realised until afterwards, when he'd gratefully escaped up here to metaphorically catch his breath and sort himself out again, but it really must have been hard for her to hear him admit to formerly loving Lily when he hadn't let her know that he loved her now. A lot of other women wouldn't have tolerated that so patiently, he suspected; he was more grateful than ever to have found someone who understood why he was the way he was. Finally making himself admit he loved her seemed a very small price to pay, no matter how difficult he had found it to force the words out.

Severus wasn't entirely sure why it scared him so much. Certainly fear of rejection was part of it, but he trusted his instincts up to a point, and he trusted Hermione's honesty and her ability to know her own feelings for what they were; he'd known for weeks that she loved him, bizarre and unbelievable though that was. Reflectively he carefully brushed her insane hair out of the way again and pressed closer against her back, nuzzling against the back of her neck and relaxing once more as he thought about it. Listening to her breathing, he concluded finally, rather unhappily, that it was because he didn't think his love was good enough. He knew the limits of what he had to offer anyone, and to him it didn't seem like it was enough; after all, he was inherently unlovable and about as emotionally developed as a stone. She deserved so much better. Still, Hermione didn't seem to care, and after the way she had spoken last night he was reassured that she did know what she was getting herself into.

As though agreeing with him, she sighed in her sleep and shifted back against him, drawing his attention away from vague uneasy thoughts of the future to concentrate very much on the present and the arousal he had been ignoring since he woke up. Severus grinned to himself, not at all displeased to be feeling like a teenager again, and quite deliberately shifted in return to rub his insistent erection against the curve of her arse, kissing her neck gently and listening to her breathing change as she started to wake up. He could get used to this, too, he told himself.

Hermione knew they had a hell of a lot to do, and the sooner they got on with it, the better; there was one more Horcrux to destroy, and they had the means to do it at last, and the boys were going to be worried and impatient. It was utterly selfish to delay for any reason, really, but she defied anyone to remember that if they woke up in bed with an unusually affectionate and sleepily amorous Severus Snape. Humming in pleasure as his hand started to wander, she leaned back against him, twisting a little to try and see his face as he kissed her shoulder and nipped lightly at her skin. "Good morning," she murmured lazily.

"So it seems," he responded in almost a purr, his breath warm on her neck; she could feel the slight rough scratchiness of stubble as he nuzzled at her skin.

"Down, boy," she chided, shivering happily.

"I beg your pardon?"


"That's better."

Grinning, she shifted and twisted to look over her shoulder at him. "I mean it, behave. Not now, okay? I can't focus. I'll make it up to you later, I promise."

Sighing theatrically, he yielded and settled down again obediently, pointedly wriggling to shift his hips back away from her a bit before sliding his arm back around her waist. "Worrying already? I told you, it should be fine."

"This is me, Severus. You really think that's going to make any difference?"

"True," he agreed, nuzzling against her neck idly; not sexual any more, at least not as much. "Is it just that?"

As always, his perception was completely accurate. "No, not just that. I learned a hell of a lot yesterday, you know. Are you okay?"

He made a vague sound as he thought about it. "I've been happier, but actually yes, I'm all right. What about you?" he asked guardedly. "It was all a little strange..."

"I knew the important parts already," she reminded him. "And it was interesting to meet Harry's aunt. I've not really heard much about her." It had also been very nice to finally hear him say that he loved her, although she knew better than to mention that. There was one thing that had been bothering her, though. "I think you should talk to Harry this morning, before we start," she said quietly.

"Don't you think I talked to him enough yesterday?"

"I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about what you said before we got to the house."

"Oh. That." He sighed. "I'm not happy about that, but I needed him to shut up and pay attention, and shocking him is the fastest way to achieve that, as is reminding him that he is not the centre of the universe. And I admit I lost my temper with him. From my perspective he really is whining about nothing most of the time and a bad childhood is no excuse. I don't speak of my own experiences precisely so I'm never tempted to hide behind it. I know intellectually that just because his childhood wasn't as bad as mine doesn't mean he didn't suffer, but really, intellect doesn't have much to do with this."

"Tell him that, then."

Severus shifted closer, pressing his face against the back of her neck, and sighed again. "I can't talk to him about this. We're not friends, Hermione. Last night was because he has a right to know about his parents, nothing more. We'll never be friends. You know me better than anyone, but even you can't fully appreciate how much it hurts me every time I look at him. We tolerate one another because we have to work together and because we both care about you, but it's never going to be more than that. He isn't as obnoxious as he used to be, and I think he sees me differently now, but we're never going to sit down for heartfelt talks. I'm sorry, but I still find it difficult to talk to you, let alone anyone else, and especially not him."

Hermione thought about this, absently twining her fingers through his where his arm draped her waist. She was disappointed, but at least he was being honest. And really, given six years of mutual hatred sparked by a hell of a lot of issues, even this level of tolerance was pretty amazing. They could work on it later. "Okay," she conceded finally. It was a shame, but it could be worse. "I'll talk to him after breakfast then, just quickly. I want to make sure he understands what you really meant – he's always been a bit funny about talking about the Dursleys."

She felt him nod against the back of her neck before he squeezed her hand gently. "He shouldn't be too hard on Vernon and Petunia, you know. I know what they did to him – I probably know more than you do, actually, if he won't talk about it – but it was a complicated situation. Not many people would be willing to raise someone else's child under such odd circumstances, and not many Muggles could cope – even imperfectly – with a young wizard who wasn't their own, especially one who could bring danger to them later. They both knew why they needed to shelter him and what might happen."

"I suppose..." she agreed reluctantly, remembering a few childhood incidents. It couldn't have been easy for her parents, and they hadn't been in danger.

"Besides, remember their experiences of magic," he continued absently. "Petunia was always jealous of Lily's powers, and I admit I often rubbed her nose in it when we were young. And once Lily was accepted into Hogwarts, she was left out in the cold; she never got as much attention as her sister. Good marks in English and Maths do rather pale beside a sibling who can turn her purse into a small animal. Then Lily and James were killed and they had Potter dumped on their doorstep; I explained most of it when I visited her, but then they encountered nothing from the magical world until Hagrid smashed down the door, shouted and threatened and gave their son a pig's tail. Later the younger Weasleys broke into their house, and their own son was attacked by Dementors – Petunia knew exactly what they are and what they do, believe me. Then the twins attacked their son, that stunt with the toffee..."

"How do you even know all this? I know, I know, you're a spy and you know everything, but seriously..."

He chuckled softly and relaxed against her back. "Arthur told me about that one. He was horrified; I gather Petunia made some quite creative threats while he put things right. Anyway, the damage was done. Their only encounters with magic have been frightening and painful and potentially dangerous. I'm astounded they let Potter back into the house after any of that, especially after he nearly killed Vernon's sister."

"You're right," she agreed ruefully. "They still didn't need to treat him quite so badly, though."

"Didn't they? It's not always so simple, Hermione; you should know that by now. Do you think I chose to act like such a bastard to an eleven year old boy the way I did? You know I'm not the way I am through choice. I literally couldn't stop myself a lot of the time. If asserting his inferiority and treating him as less meant they didn't do anything worse to him, then we got the best possible result out of it. If it had been too bad, he wouldn't have been left there."

"Dumbledore wanted him there, Severus," she pointed out coolly.

He chuckled again. "You're not a natural cynic; don't try. Yes, he did, but you haven't met Arabella Figg, have you? If it had been too bad and Dumbledore wouldn't listen to her, she'd have gone to someone else in the Order and rallied a rescue mission. Hell, she'd probably have done it herself, single-handed with just her army of cats. Potter came out of it all right. Better than he would have done had he been raised in our world as a spoiled little prince. Imagine if he had turned out like Draco?"

"Is that any way to speak about your godson?" she asked, more amused than anything else now.

"I care about him, that doesn't mean I don't know what a little tosser he is. He'll grow out of it." He stretched. "I suppose it's time to make a move; I need a bit of time to prepare before we get things moving and I want to stop by Headquarters quickly. Go and give your friend whatever therapy he feels he needs, and try to make sure he's reasonably calm and cheerful."

"You're going to have to give us a few more details than that before we start, Severus."

"I know, and I will, when I get back from Headquarters."

Frankly Severus was happy to get out of the house; the last thing he wanted or needed right now was to be dragged into any more heartfelt emotional revelations. Today wasn't going to be at all easy and he needed to be as calm and reasonably tempered as he ever got, which meant after this quick trip he'd need to meditate while the others sorted themselves out.

As was his usual habit when unaccompanied, he Apparated to a short distance from Grimmauld Place and approached on foot; with Moody gone the Order didn't have anyone paranoid enough to insist they make sure the place wasn't being watched. It was Secret-Kept, of course – Minerva had taken over from Dumbledore – but the Death Eaters knew the approximate location even if they couldn't get in.

Someone was watching, he realised instantly, and his thoughts stilled as he automatically shifted into Death Eater mode; drawing his wand smoothly, he moved forward in a soundless stalk down the alley. The noise of his Apparition had alerted the unseen watcher; he'd have to move quickly. As soon as he spotted the faint shimmer of a Disillusion charm, Severus lunged forward, jumping sideways as the hidden figure tried to dodge and shoving his victim up against the wall with one hand tangled in a fistful of robe.

The figure struggled briefly, then paused and whispered hoarsely, "Professor Snape?"

Severus raised his eyebrows and loosened his grip slightly; he knew that voice. Raising his wand, he brought it down none-too-gently on his victim's head and lifted the Disillusion charm, staring into the pale face of a very unhappy Percy Weasley.

"Well, isn't this interesting," he murmured, placing the tip of his wand into the slight hollow just below the young man's Adam's apple. Apparently focused exclusively on the renegade Weasley, he let his senses expand, trying to judge if there was anyone else nearby. "Unfortunately for you, I am in something of a hurry. You have thirty seconds to tell me what you are doing here and why I shouldn't eliminate you." Not, of course, that he would actually kill the daft bugger, but he suspected Weasley wouldn't believe that; the young man looked like a complete nervous wreck, thin and pale and shaking and badly in need of a shave.

"No – please, I..." He gulped, sagging back against the wall and looking at Severus through frightened eyes. "I've been waiting here for a week, trying to see someone to speak to. I..." He sighed, his expression changing, and his shoulders slumped. "The Burrow's been abandoned. I want to see my family, sir."

"I taught you for seven years, Weasley. You know I'm not stupid. I don't believe for a second that my old friends won't have thought of using you to try and get access to the Order."

"I wouldn't do that!"

"Not willingly, no," Severus agreed. "That would hardly pose a problem for them. You are out of time, Weasley."

"Please, Professor. I – I was wrong. I knew that months ago, but I couldn't get away. I... I don't even know if my family are okay..." He faltered, and Severus sighed.

"They're all alive and well. The Order have suffered one or two losses, but not from your family." That was more of an explanation than he really owed this young idiot, but he'd taught Percy Weasley for seven years and he wasn't a bad person. Just a bit idiotic occasionally, a bit too focused on bettering himself and with the true Gryffindor's ability to ignore anything that didn't fit with his shiny view of the world until his face was rubbed in the truth.

"...Thank you, sir. Who...?"

"As if I'm going to tell you, given who you work for," he replied scathingly. "You're a woeful idiot with no sense of perspective, Weasley, but you're not stupid."

"I don't work for them any more. I left."

"They don't let people leave. I should know. You go in alive, and you come out dead."

"Yes. Well." Weasley looked down. "I wasn't exactly important enough to be missed, was I. Look, Professor, I know I've been a – a woeful idiot, and I was wrong. Very wrong. I don't know how much you know about what's been happening at the Ministry..."

"More than enough," he replied curtly.

"Well, you'll understand why I had to get out, sir. Some of the things I've seen... I never wanted to be part of that..."

"Don't you dare start crying on me. I've had all the gushing sentiment I can stand recently. You know I can't simply take your word for it. Look at me."

He was in a hurry, and he wasn't really anxious to wade through the miasma of guilt and misery inside Weasley's head; if he wanted to do that he had enough inside his own mind. Doing his best to keep his touch moderately light, Severus skimmed the young man's surface thoughts and memories as quickly as possible, catching flashes of the same abominations he'd seen inside Umbridge's mind, only this time tinged with horror rather than dispassionate pleasure. He pushed deeper, searching for familiar faces, but wasn't surprised not to see many; the Weasleys were blood traitors, but more than that, they were poor, which was truly an unforgiveable sin. None of his former brethren would lower themselves to associate with a Weasley no matter how he tried to separate himself from his family.

Pulling back, he shook his head and lowered his wand, regarding Weasley dispassionately. The young man stared numbly back at him with the old eyes of someone who had been shocked out of his nice comfortable safe world and dragged into a realm of nightmares. Slytherin eyes, frankly; he'd lost count of the number of students who had passed through his office with eyes like that. Resisting the impulse to bite his lip, he pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.

"Why the hell is it always me," he muttered, giving Weasley a diluted version of his old Professor glare. "By rights I ought to kick you half way to Land's End for the trouble you've caused your family, but I don't have time for that. I ought to leave you cooling your heels here and send Professor McGonagall out to deal with you too, but I don't have time for that either."

"Are you going to kill me?"

He gave him a withering look. "You were never as vastly annoying as your younger brothers, and I haven't killed any of them yet, although Ronald has come dangerously close more than once. No, I'm not going to kill you. Wait here."

"There you are, Minerva. I need to talk to you."

"Severus, how lovely to see you again. I'm fine, thank you, and how are you?" she asked dryly.

"Funny. I really don't have time for a long conversation. I'll give you the full details sometime tomorrow; the edited version is that Dumbledore told me the nature of the connection between Potter and the Dark Lord, and we've been working on how to break it. Now we can, and in a few hours I hope we will. Once that's done, there's nothing stopping us from ending this."

"Really?" she asked, all sarcasm forgotten. "Severus, that's wonderful!"

If it works. He shrugged impatiently. "I'm taking someone with me to help with this, but first I need one of those bits of paper with the location of Headquarters."

"Why?" she asked suspiciously. "I'm not agreeing to bring anyone else in here."

"You will this one," he replied dryly. "I'm doing a Weasley swap. I need Ginevra, so I'm leaving Molly someone else to fuss over endlessly."

It took a moment, but she got there. "Percy?"

"None other. Looking and feeling very sorry for himself. He's been skulking around outside for days hoping to spot someone who might want to let him in."

"You've checked him, I assume?"

"Don't be insulting. I really am in something of a hurry, Minerva. Leave him there for all I care."

"I had expected Hermione to make you slightly less grouchy, you know," she observed dryly, and he snorted. She's incredible, but she's not a miracle worker. "All right, all right. Here. Go and bring him in. What do you need Ginny for?"

"I said I'll tell you tomorrow." He took the paper with ill grace and headed back outside to let the rogue Weasley into the fold once more.

Severus was really getting impatient now. He tried to hide it, pacing back and forth and trying to stay out of the way of the roomful of crying redheads, scowling if anyone looked at him. Molly had attempted to hug him and he had only just evaded her; luckily she seemed to have forgotten his existence now, and Percy was in danger of being suffocated if she didn't let go of him soon. Even Arthur and the twins were almost crying. It was nauseating, frankly; Severus had never been comfortable around happy families that didn't despise one another. In fact, it disturbed him, especially when there were so many of them. But every time he was tempted to interrupt and snarl at them, he could practically hear Hermione telling him to leave them alone; they hadn't known if Percy was alive or dead or if he hated them or not, they were entitled to be pleased to see him.

Finally things seemed to be calming down; he rather cautiously approached and cleared his throat pointedly. "Molly, I need to take Ginevra with me. She needs to help Potter with something."

"Is Harry okay?" the girl asked instantly, and he quelled her with a look. She was still young enough to obey the dreaded Professor Snape, at least. Ignoring her question, he looked back at Molly.

"Is it dangerous?"


"Are you lying?"

He almost smiled, and it was an effort to keep his face impassive as a few of the others chuckled. "On this occasion, no."

"How long will it take?"

"I'm not sure. She'll be back tomorrow, I imagine."

"All right, Severus. Go on, Ginny. Behave yourself."

"Yes, Mum."

Out in the hallway, Severus turned to face the youngest Weasley. "This is the deal, Miss Weasley," he told her crisply. "You will do as you are told, without arguing. You will not comment on the house, or on what we are doing, nor will you irritate me by gushing over Potter in my presence. Otherwise you will be staying here. Your presence will make things a little easier, but I do not actually need you there. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir. Can I ask what we're doing?"

"No. I will tell you what you need to know before we begin. Your friends will give you a proper explanation afterwards, I imagine." Quite possibly about much more than just Horcruxes, but he really didn't care any more.

"Yes, sir."

At least someone still listens to me.

Hermione and the others had been pretty shocked when Severus returned with a rather bewildered Ginny in tow, although not half as shocked as they had been when she told them he had found Percy. Severus himself had disappeared upstairs to meditate – or, as he had put it, 'to get a bit of peace and quiet' – after warning them darkly to save long explanations for afterwards. She understood why Ginny was there, at least, but nobody else did. It would have to wait until this was done.

Severus came back downstairs, putting a stop to all conversation, and they looked at him expectantly. His expression was slightly distant, his attention focused inwards.

"All right," he said slowly. "There are two parts to what we are going to be doing. The first part will isolate the link between Potter and the Dark Lord; I will be doing this myself. The second part will destroy that link, which I will need help with. I'm not going into the technical details of how this will work, mostly for the simple reason that I am not sure. Potter, I need to tell you that I am going to be making this up as I go along and there is a chance it won't work."

Harry thought about this, then shrugged. "I guess I won't be any worse off if it doesn't. Will this hurt?"

"I have absolutely no idea, but you are going to be unconscious for the duration, so I don't suppose it matters."


"It's going to be easier on both of us. This is going to involve a fair amount of Legilimency, and you won't be able to either panic or lose your temper if you're unconscious; it is vital that you stay calm and do not fight me. Your mind isn't that strong, and a battle within it will not end well." Hermione noted with some amusement that Ginny looked annoyed but Harry and Ron didn't; they were used to Severus by now and appreciated some of the humour behind his insults.

"What do you need from the rest of us for the second part?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Primarily, magical power, but it's a little more complicated than that. Mostly I need you all to stay calm and not fight me; it will probably feel strange. Don't interrupt me, either; some of this will be quite delicate work and I can't be distracted unless there is an actual emergency of some sort. I suppose one of you should probably make sure Potter is still breathing every so often, too," he added casually as an afterthought. "And that second wand of yours might be helpful."

Hermione blinked at him. "It's going to take that much power?"

"I hope not, but better safe than sorry. No, I'm going to need to use the link."

She processed that, since he was being cryptic because of Ginny; he was going to use their peculiar shared-ownership of the Elder Wand, presumably to make it easier for him to draw on her magic. His copper bracelet was visible under his shirt cuff, too, presumably for the same reason. Then he'd be able to use his links to her to reach Ron and Ginny, possibly... "Are you going to try and form a circle?" she asked doubtfully. That was a very old method used for certain ritual blessings among more tribal communities; she wasn't sure anyone in wizarding Britain still used it.

"Of sorts, yes. That will certainly be the starting point, but as I said, it's going to be more complicated. I'll give you the technical details afterwards, if you like, once I know what it was I actually did. Any questions? No? Good."

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 54 of 60

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