Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 56 of 60

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Her headache had gone when she woke up, and given how tired she had been last night, Hermione felt pretty damned good, all things considered. Still a little tired magically, perhaps – she certainly wouldn't want to repeat anything on that scale for a while – but nothing serious. She let her thoughts wander back to yesterday; it had been unlike anything she had ever done before. The closest thing she had to compare it to was Healing, actually, when she and Poppy had both been working on Severus; occasionally their magic had touched as they worked. But it hadn't been quite the same as yesterday. With Severus in control of things, she hadn't been able to sense much, but there had been a faint awareness of all her friends, a sense of unity and purpose, all shaped by her partner's remarkable stubborn force of will.

Severus himself was still dead to the world, so she took the chance to very carefully roll over on her half of the narrow bed without disturbing him. Settling down again, she watched him sleeping, something she didn't get to see very often given what a light sleeper he usually was, smiling to herself as her eyes traced his familiar features.

He wasn't a handsome man by any stretch of the imagination, she admitted as she watched him. His hair never looked clean no matter what he did, he was too thin, his teeth were crooked and his hooked nose was too big. She couldn't care less, because if you looked past that, underneath it all was an absolutely incredible man. Yesterday... on the surface, it had seemed fairly simple once the idea was in place, but she had felt enough to appreciate the concentration and focus it must have taken to hold so many things in perfect balance for long enough to do what they had done. The intensity she had felt from him was awe-inspiring, and she didn't know anyone else who could possibly have done it.

Using the Elder Wand had been interesting too, she reflected. It had felt far less frightening with Severus also in control, and she had to admit it had been exciting to handle that much power. She still didn't much like the feel of it compared to her usual vine wand, and she didn't plan to keep it after the war was done, but it didn't scare her the way it had. It had helped her feel how her magic could work with his, too; since neither of them were truly compatible with the wand she had been able to sense their magic separately. That was definitely something she wanted to research someday, how they could work together and what sort of things they might be able to achieve.

Severus' breathing changed, distracting her, and she smiled a little guiltily as his eyelashes fluttered before he opened one eye and gave her a not very impressed look. His eyes were still slightly bloodshot, but he looked a lot better than he had done yesterday. "What are you staring at me for?" he mumbled sleepily.

"I like staring at you. You're just going to have to put up with it."

"Hmph." Closing his eyes again, he rolled onto his back; suppressing a smile, she scooted across the bed to nestle against his side, resting her head on his chest as his arm settled around her shoulders.

"How's your headache?"

"Gone, luckily. That hurt a lot. Still, it could have been worse."

"I felt the edge of it before everything broke apart. It was pretty intense."

"If I weren't an Occlumens, it could have been interesting," he agreed, yawning and falling into his usual habit of idly playing with her hair. He usually ended up tangling it worse than it already was, but she never had the heart to stop him.

Snuggling closer, she listened to the steady rhythm of his heartbeat under her ear, absently tracing a scar with one finger. "You did something amazing yesterday, Severus," she said quietly. "You saved the Chosen One's life – not for the first time – and you made it possible for us to defeat the Dark Lord. And most people will never know, will they? Even if we told everyone, people wouldn't believe it and wouldn't care. Doesn't it bother you?"


"Why?" she asked, lifting her head to look at him.

His black eyes were calm. "Why would it? I've never been a hero, Hermione. I've never wanted to be. When I changed sides, my one condition was that Dumbledore kept his mouth shut. People don't like me. I'm not a likeable person. I don't want people suddenly pretending to like me just because I've done something impressive. I lost all interest in being popular when I was very young, when I realised it would never be sincere, and I have been used to being disliked for a very long time. I genuinely don't care what most people think of me; there are very few people in the world whose opinion actually matters to me, and they'll know what happened here. Everyone else can go hang themselves for all I care; I didn't do this for them, after all."

"Well. I think you're a hero. Just so you know."

He closed his eyes, attempting to look bored with the conversation, but she had seen the flicker of almost surprised pleasure before he hid it. "Silly girl."

Smiling, Hermione ignored this and stretched to kiss him. "I mean it." He kissed her back, probably as much to shut her up as because he actually wanted to, and she closed her eyes as the kiss deepened, losing herself in the familiar taste and feel of his mouth as his hands began to wander. Shifting until she was mostly lying on top of him, she relaxed into his kisses, shivering pleasurably as she felt him growing harder beneath her before breaking away to help him remove the oversized t-shirt she had slept in.

"It's nice to have your full attention again," Severus murmured against her neck, kissing the sensitive spot below her ear as his fingers caressed her breast. "You've been rather distracted with stress recently."

Letting him roll them both over, she buried her fingers in his hair and arched up against him. "I know. I'm sorry..."

"Don't be," he replied absently, clearly more interested in nibbling along her collarbone. "Your best friend's life was at stake. You wouldn't be you if you weren't worried."

"I don't want you feeling neglected, though," she murmured, wrapping her leg around his thigh and shivering as the stubble on his jaw scratched pleasantly against her skin.

He chuckled softly and lightly tweaked her nipple before lowering his head to tease it with his tongue. "Don't be absurd. I intend to claim you all for myself soon enough; I'm willing to wait until we've got this minor irritation of a war over with. If you do neglect me in future without a good excuse, I shall let you know."

"Fair enough." Closing her eyes, she ran her hands slowly down his back as his fingers slipped between her legs, tracing the familiar pattern of slick scar tissue and feeling the long muscles flex as he held himself above her. His breath was warm against her skin before his mouth found hers once more, his hips shifting against hers in a familiar teasing rolling motion that made her squirm under him.

His tongue slid into her mouth at the same moment as he entered her, and she lightly dug her nails into his shoulders as she arched to meet his slow thrusts. He was right, she did feel able to pay more attention now that she wasn't sick with worry about everything; okay, they still needed to get rid of Voldemort, but that didn't really seem so important compared to what they had already done. Besides, she couldn't see it being that difficult for Severus, given everything else her amazing man had achieved. Tangling her fingers in his hair, she kissed him again, moaning into his mouth as they moved together.

As her pleasure built she broke the kiss to try and catch her breath, freeing one hand from his hair and slowly dragging one fingernail down his spine with just enough pressure to make him groan and arch his back; she had discovered this particular weakness of his entirely by accident. His low growl made her shiver in pleasure as he shifted his weight and began to move a little more vigorously, both of them beginning to breathe raggedly before she gasped his name and shuddered, right on the edge.

He moved his mouth to her ear, tracing the rim with his tongue before whispering, "Go on, let me feel you..." and the sound of his voice was enough to send her over, biting at his shoulder to muffle her cries; a moment later he cried out softly in answer and shuddered with his own climax.

Catching her breath in the aftermath, Hermione stretched lazily and settled more comfortably against his side, resting her head on his chest once more. "I can't remember the last time I woke up not worrying about something."

Severus chuckled softly, relaxing against the pillows. "Not that I particularly want to crush your good mood – I don't remember the last time you woke up not worrying about something either – but I feel I should point out we're far from finished. There's still the small matter of the Dark Lord and his army."

"I know that, misery," she retorted, thinking about lifting her head to scowl at him and deciding she couldn't be bothered. Settling for poking him in the ribs instead, she snuggled closer. "After yesterday, though, it doesn't seem as serious as it did before. I mean, if we can do that, we can deal with him."

"As simple as that, hmm?" he asked mockingly; she could hear his smile in his voice. "I do take your point, though. There is something rather euphoric about doing something nobody thought could be done." His tone became curious. "Just how much could you sense?"

"Umm. It's hard to describe. I couldn't follow the specifics of what you were doing, but I got a general impression of it. I don't think the others felt as much as I did."

"That would make sense, I suppose. You are far more familiar with my magic and my mind than they are, and there were more links between the two of us than anyone else in the circle."

She nodded against his chest. "I think if we'd been doing something less strenuous I might have been able to catch some of your thoughts, but all I could really pick up was concentration. You are scarily single-minded sometimes, you know."

"I've had to be," he agreed quietly. "Being aware of anything that might distract me could have proved fatal more times than I can possibly recall. I learned to block out everything that wasn't relevant to the task at hand."

Idly, she began tracing random patterns over his sparse chest hair with one finger. "I think it's part of what made you such a scary teacher," she teased gently. "Being on the receiving end of such a disturbingly focused glare was extremely intimidating." Nowadays, of course, she had discovered a lot of advantages to being on the receiving end of such focused attention, she reflected with a happy shiver.

"That was rather the point," he retorted; she could hear that he was smirking, and he had probably guessed where her thoughts were drifting. "I don't recall this supposed fear of me ever stopping you from doing something you shouldn't have done, either," he added, not without justification. Poking him in the ribs again and suppressing a smile, she returned to what they were supposed to be talking about.

"I felt it at the end, too. You were protecting us all from that backlash, weren't you?"

"I know that tone. Don't scold me. Of course I was – how else could we have survived it relatively unscathed? Your shields aren't anywhere near strong enough yet, and none of the others have any. Besides, I was the one in control of the circle."

"You assured me there was no risk."

"I did no such thing," Severus responded mildly. "I assured you that I thought it was safe. I also made a point of telling you that I wasn't totally sure what might happen."

"Hmph. So what caused it? Was it the energy given off when a Horcrux is destroyed, translated into mental and metaphysical terms?"

"In all honesty, I'm not quite sure. I was very tired at that point and working on instinct; I wasn't really thinking clearly. I believe it was partly that, and partly Potter's mind rebelling against all invasive presences, both the Horcrux and us."

"It did work, though?"

"You felt it almost as powerfully as I did. Don't start worrying about things we've already done, Hermione, for God's sake," he chided her affectionately. "It worked, and I imagine Potter will be fine once he sees fit to rejoin us."

"Is he going to be any different? I know some of the things he could do came from the Horcrux, like his being a Parselmouth..."

"I'm not sure about that specifically, but his magic was shaped by the Horcrux as it developed, so I believe the damage has been done, for lack of a better phrase. He will be a little weaker for a while, as I was when I removed my Dark Mark, but his body will compensate quickly and as far as I know he'll unfortunately be the same as ever, although perhaps a little more psychologically stable. Lucky sod," he added dryly, and she stifled a giggle at his wry tone. "It's hard to say anything for certain. This has never happened before, after all."

"Fair enough. I suppose we'll have to wait and see." She yawned and nestled closer. "So what's your plan for how we defeat the Dark Lord?"


"Don't even try it, Severus," she told him, laughing softly and turning her head to kiss his shoulder. "You've been planning this final fight for decades. And I know you've got some sort of plan in that tricky Slytherin mind of yours."

After a pause, he relaxed with a soft huff of amusement and wound his fingers into her hair. "You're giving me too much credit, I'm afraid. I don't have a specific plan yet, although I won't deny I've thought about it quite a lot. I have a few possible ideas, but nothing concrete."


"Do I assume from the rather suspicious silence outside that Weasley has been sulking downstairs all night and that Potter might be in a good mood this morning?" he asked archly after a few minutes, and she laughed softly.

"I'm afraid so. I decided it was easier to tell Ginny to go ahead than for her to sneak up later. You don't mind, do you?"

"It's nothing to do with me. But remind me to burn that mattress once everyone moves out. And don't tell Molly I allowed it or I will never hear the end of it."

By the time Hermione and Severus made it downstairs, they found that Ginny had been the first one awake; she had gone and kicked Ron awake with the love and concern only a younger sister can show and between them they had managed a fair attempt at breakfast. That was probably just as well; everyone was magically drained to some extent by yesterday's exertions and likely to be ravenously hungry. Harry in particular was quiet and focused on eating half his body weight in bacon and eggs, but nobody seemed very talkative as they ate.

Ginny had been sneaking looks around the table throughout the meal, particularly at Severus, and Hermione wasn't surprised when the temptation finally proved too much and her friend lifted her head and opened her mouth to say something. She watched in some amusement as Severus gave the redhead a look; he wasn't glaring or scowling, it wasn't threatening in any way, but something about the steady regard of those black eyes had Ginny meekly closing her mouth again and looking back at her food. Hermione had been on the receiving end of that stare many times over the past couple of years; it really wasn't a threatening look, it simply implied that whatever you were about to say had better be important.

Ron was trying not to laugh. "You have to teach Dad how to shut Ginny up like that."

Severus looked amused as he returned his attention to his toast. "I have nothing but respect for Arthur Weasley, but he would be hard pressed to intimidate a damp tissue, let alone his teenage daughter."

"I wasn't intimidated," Ginny protested. It might have been more believable if she wasn't blushing and avoiding eye contact as she said it, and even Harry laughed, although he was obviously trying to be a loyal boyfriend and not mock her.

"Of course you weren't," Hermione said dryly.

Ginny looked at her brother. "She's even starting to sound like him."

"It's creepy, isn't it," Ron agreed cheerfully. "You get used to it after a while. And once you realise just how scarily alike they are, it starts making more sense."

"Enough, both of you," Severus said in the weary growl that Hermione recognised as his I-haven't-had-enough-coffee-for-this voice. "Anything to report, Potter? Strange dreams – once you eventually made it to natural sleep – or odd feelings?"

Obviously barely resisting the urge to comment on the slight hypocrisy of that remark, Harry swallowed another laugh and did his best to behave as he shook his head. "Nope, absolutely nothing. My scar feels a bit sore after everything that happened yesterday, but it's not prickling or anything and my dreams were normal. I can't feel a thing from him."

He sounded so happy that Hermione couldn't help but smile, before his grin faded and he began to look really awkward, reaching up to run his fingers through his hair. "Uh... Sir, I just wanted to say..."

"Oh, do shut up, Potter," Severus told him, giving him a look of complete disgust. "Neither of us needs an embarrassing scene." He never had liked being thanked for anything; it was one of the things Hermione hadn't managed to puzzle out yet.

Harry grinned sheepishly. "Okay. Anyway, it's all lovely and peaceful. I didn't really feel anything from him while it was happening, either. I don't think he noticed anything happening."

"What could you feel?" Hermione asked curiously. "You were asleep."

"I know, but I was sort of thinking at the same time, a bit like one of those dreams where you know you're dreaming and you're watching the dream happen, you know? It's all a bit vague but I could sort of feel you all... pushing him out, almost. Then I really did go to sleep after a while and I don't remember anything else."

"Probably just as well," Severus noted. "I imagine it would have been extremely painful. Were you in pain when you came round?"

Harry nodded emphatically. "Oh, yeah. I had a really horrible headache."

"You're out of headache potion, by the way," Ron said. "Ginny took the last of it for Harry yesterday."

"Thanks, Ron," his sister told him sourly, glancing rather uncertainly at Severus. Not intimidated, indeed, Hermione thought in some amusement.

Severus only shrugged. "It's quick to brew and I still have all the ingredients, I think. If not, I have Muggle painkillers. I don't anticipate us all needing it at once again. Besides, we'll be heading to Grimmauld Place later to tell the Order that the unnecessarily secret mission is complete and they can actually do something productive now. I suppose we'll be staying there until some sort of plan has been drawn up," he said distantly.

"You didn't plan this far?" Harry asked.

"I didn't expect to live this long."

Hermione broke the silence that followed this remark by observing mildly, "And this is why you don't try to talk to him first thing in the morning. He's even worse than usual."

Given how tired everyone still was – and how little sleep most of them had had – it wasn't until after lunch that they returned to Grimmauld Place. Once there, they split up; Ginny and Ron went to see Percy, and Harry didn't seem inclined to leave his girlfriend even for a few minutes – Hermione wasn't sure he'd realised that Severus wasn't going to let Ginny stay with them permanently, if they ended up returning to Spinner's End at all.

"What now?" she asked her lover, keeping her voice down to avoid disturbing Mrs Black's portrait.

He shrugged. "I need to track Minerva down and tell her what's happened, and why. I'm not going to be telling anyone else. It didn't occur to me at the time, but we have absolutely no proof of anything we've done, with Dumbledore dead. I rather foolishly destroyed the memories he left."

"I don't blame you for that. We were both upset."

"In any case, we have no way of proving any of this, so it's easier not to say anything much except that we've removed the things that made the Dark Lord immortal and broken his link to Potter. I'm not going to go into detail for anyone except Minerva, and I wouldn't even tell her if I could avoid it because she's going to realise that Dumbledore knew all along."

"It's not going to be a fun conversation, is it?"

"It won't be too bad. She won't say anything about it. We've never had the kind of relationship that involved any discussion of feelings beyond mutual irritation and I really have had all the emotional heart-to-hearts I can stand."

"Harry wants to thank you," she chided him gently. "That's not a bad thing."

"Easy for you to say," he retorted. "Besides, after everything we've all seen and done and everything that's happened... trying to say 'thank you' or 'I'm sorry' for any of it is just absurd. It's better to let sleeping dogs lie."

"I suppose so," she conceded. "Do you want me there?"

"It's up to you. I doubt it's going to be very interesting – you know it all already, after all. Besides," he added, his eyes dancing, "you bite your lip every time you hear me tell an outright lie."

"I do not!" Hermione protested automatically, before thinking about it. "Do I?"

He smirked at her. "Yes."

"Well, damn."

"You don't do it when you lie any more," he offered mildly.

"Stop teasing, Severus, or I'll come with you and sit and hold your hand just to make Professor McGonagall laugh at you."

"Fair enough. I'll see you later, then."

Hermione wasn't remotely surprised when Severus matter-of-factly let himself into her bedroom that night, merely moving over to give him room to slide into bed beside her without comment. Most of the adults in the house already knew about them by now anyway.

"Good evening," she remarked dryly, and heard his soft huff of laughter as he settled comfortably against her back.


Stretching lazily, she snuggled back against him as his arm settled around her waist. "It's nice to have a bit more space," she commented absently. "I like being curled up like this, but at least in a bigger bed I don't have to worry about ending up on the floor every time I roll over."

"You could have Transfigured it if you were that bothered," he pointed out.

"I thought about it, but it didn't feel right. I mean, it's your room. I didn't want to change anything."

Severus snorted with laughter. "For God's sake, Hermione, you could blow the place up and I wouldn't care. Paint bright pink and blue ponies on the walls if you like. Nothing on this earth will make me like that house; do what you want with it. Hopefully we won't be there much longer."

"I was never a pink-pony sort of girl. You should have changed at least some things, though, Severus. Have you altered anything since your parents died?"

"Yes," he said a little defensively. "I replaced some of the furniture. And put the bathroom in, such as it is." He sighed against the back of her neck. "I know it's not healthy, and I probably shouldn't have stayed there as long as I have, but... I didn't see the point, to be honest. I spent most of the year at Hogwarts anyway, and why bother redecorating if I was the only one who would see it? Why bother moving when I was so rarely there?"

"It might have helped with your nightmares..."

"Some of them, perhaps, but frankly the dreams about my childhood are far less draining than the Death Eater nightmares."

She wasn't sure what to say to that, truthfully, and they lay curled up in comfortable silence for a while; she could tell from the loosely relaxed feel of his body that the conversation wasn't bothering him, and it was probably easier to talk about this subject away from Spinner's End. "How bad was it?" she asked finally, quietly.

"I don't have a scale for these things. It was... bad. But it could have been worse." He shifted and settled more comfortably, sounding more thoughtful than anything else. "You need to understand, Hermione, it was depressingly normal. A lot of the other children on the estate were in similar circumstances – you've seen what the neighbourhood is like. I grew up that way; I was probably about seven before I began to understand that other children didn't live the way I and my neighbours did. We were all horrifyingly poor, and my father wasn't the only man unable to cope with the shame of not being able to provide for his family and of feeling like a failure. I didn't really see anything wrong with what was happening for a long time, because I didn't know anything else."

Hermione took a breath and bit the bullet. "Your father hit you."

"Yes. Frequently. And he was worse to my mother." He breathed out slowly. "He was a true alcoholic, worse than I ever was, and he was naturally predisposed to be a mean drunk anyway. I adapted. I learned to stay out of his way when I could, and how to avoid making it worse when I couldn't."

"You don't sound angry."

"I'm not, really, not any more. I used to be, for a very long time, but the first war knocked much of it out of me and pushed the rest down out of the way. I didn't have time to have issues with my dead father, not when I was too busy dealing with the fallout from the Dark Lord's issues with his father," he added dryly. "I grew up, Hermione. I saw enough of life to appreciate what might have driven my father to become what he did. It shouldn't have happened, but it did. Under the circumstances... Times were hard. Harder than you can imagine, I think, with your background. There were times when we couldn't even afford food, or heating. There was nothing my father could do – whatever else I can say about him, he tried his best to find work. There simply was none to be had. He couldn't provide for us, couldn't fulfil his role as head of the family, and it turned him sour. He took it out on us because there was no other target." He paused, then added more thoughtfully, "That makes me sound as though I've adjusted to it. I haven't. I hate him and I will never forgive him, and it forms a significant part of my anger issues. But I do understand at least something of why it happened, and I can deal with it."

"Did Lily know how bad it was?"

"No. I refused to let her see where I lived, and I was frightened of what might happen if I took her home to meet my parents. She knew we were very poor, and that my father had a temper, but nothing more than that. She was too young to work it out, although I'm certain her parents suspected."

"Did Social Services exist back then?"

"I truly have no idea. It wouldn't have mattered if they did, though – nobody would have reported it. Half the families on the estate were in the same situation, and even the ones that weren't... we didn't trust the officials, anyone connected with the police or the government, not when they had let things fall apart so completely. Even the midwives and nurses weren't really welcome. We fended for ourselves. It was a strange time by normal standards, but again, I didn't know anything else."

"Just how bad was it?"

Hermione lay quietly for a while, trying to imagine what Severus was describing as he spoke of how the factory and the mill had closed and all available employment had suddenly vanished. Nobody could find a job and nobody could earn any money. He told her about some of the children he played with dying of simple sicknesses that shouldn't have killed them because they were too ill-nourished to survive it, about learning to steal during the worst times, about the wives gathering together to swap old clothes back and forth to try and find things they could re-use and trading between themselves – his mother had sometimes exchanged 'herbal medicines' for food or clothing, at least in the early years.

He had grown accustomed to never being clean; none of the other children were either, and none of them had clothes that fit or that were free of holes and tears, even if his did normally look more outlandish. He had grown used to almost always being cold and hungry, and stopped really noticing it. He hadn't paid much attention to the contrast between himself and Lily and Petunia; it hadn't been until going to Hogwarts that he had really realised how skinny and stunted he was. He had taken the lack of money for granted, calmly accepting the lack of – well, everything, really. Much of his early advanced knowledge of magic was simply because his mother's old spellbooks had been the only thing to read in the entire house and they couldn't afford anything as luxurious as books. He had been one of the only children in the street who could read at all, and the Muggle school he had sporadically and reluctantly attended had barely deserved the name.

What he was describing stunned her; if he had been describing life in early Victorian England, she could have understood it, but this was the 1960s he was talking about. She had had no idea such poverty-stricken conditions had still existed that late, not that she had ever really thought about it before. "I feel so horribly middle-class," she said finally, and he chuckled softly.

"Don't start feeling guilty about this, insufferable Gryffindor," he told her affectionately, tightening his arm around her waist. "This was decades before you were born. And it wasn't talked about – there were no charity fundraisers, no concerned celebrities reporting on the television. Nobody paid any attention. We were too busy surviving to care what anyone else thought, and the rest of the country was busy recovering from the world wars and the end of rationing and moving into the technological revolution. It wasn't so bad for me. I was pretty tough – I never even took ill, except for the usual bouts of chicken pox and measles and whooping cough and all the other traditional childhood blessings. No vaccinations then, you see. I had no siblings to share what little food and clothing we had. Even the abuse wasn't so bad, compared to what could have happened. A boy in the next street died because of what his father did to him. And I learned to survive. I wouldn't be here now if I had had a different upbringing."

"It wasn't all right, Severus." His accepting attitude was worse than everything he had described, somehow.

"No, it wasn't. But it didn't kill me. I'd rather not wallow in it; I've got plenty of other damage to worry about. My father was a drunken wreck whose only measure of control over his own life came from beating up his wife and son; it's not a new or unique story and it seemed normal to me. If I had suddenly been placed in that situation it would have messed me up far more than it actually has. It's just one scar amongst many."

"I suppose so," she agreed sadly, shifting away from him to roll over before cuddling close against his chest as his arms settled around her once more. "But... what about your mother? How could she let it happen?"

Severus was silent for a few minutes before replying. "Remember what Dumbledore told Potter about Merope Gaunt," he said finally. "I can't be certain, but I believe my mother was in very much the same situation. I don't think she was ever a particularly strong woman, and I'm certain she suffered very heavily with depression, worse than my own. The Prince family were in decline and I doubt they were much better off than the Snapes at that point. The life I just described to you made me angry, but it wore her down. She was very unhappy, and she simply didn't have the spirit to fight back."

"She could still do magic, couldn't she?"

"...Yes," he answered rather doubtfully, "but she very rarely did. Sometimes the odd bit of housework, when it got too bad for her to ignore any longer. Once or twice she taught me some small thing I could practice to try and keep my emerging power under control. I know she had no skill at Healing, and to my knowledge she never tried to defend herself by using magic against my father. She certainly never used it to protect me."

"You told me in Gringotts you don't know why they married..." she said tentatively. Severus still seemed all right with talking about this, but he couldn't quite hide the faint traces of old pain in his voice; she wasn't sure he was even aware of it.

"No, I really have no idea. I know he knew she was a witch before they married, and I know she wasn't pregnant. I suppose they must have loved one another once, at least after a fashion; I really couldn't say. Something must have made my father overlook his distrust of magic, and God knows my mother had no wealth or looks to attract him. I don't remember any signs of anything even vaguely resembling affection, or anything more benign than tolerance between them, but I may just not remember accurately. For all I know everything was wonderful until I was born, but I suspect that had that been the case my father would have informed me quite frequently. I don't know why she stayed with him instead of returning to the wizarding world, either."

"Do you have any other family?"

"No. Both my parents were only children with no siblings, so I never had any aunts or uncles or cousins. My maternal grandparents died before I was born, and my father's parents died when I was quite young. I'm sure I'm distantly related to quite a few pureblood families through the Prince line, but I've never bothered to find out." His tone lightened. "If we go for a church wedding, my side is going to be rather empty."

Despite herself, she smiled. "Well, that will keep the guest list down, I suppose." Her smile faded. "It sounds so lonely, Severus. Were there no happy times at all?"

He made a thoughtful sound in the back of his throat. "...Well, I do have one good memory of my father. Only one, though. I was six years old, and he took me to one of the nicer pubs in a different part of town, one of the very few with a television, so we could watch the World Cup final..."

Hermione lifted her head to give him an incredulous look. "You like football?" That was an image to make her head ache.

Severus grinned at her tone. "I was six years old," he repeated, "and England were playing in the final of the World Cup. Of course I liked football. I assure you, I grew out of it quite quickly. Anyway, we watched the match together. I suspect this story would not have a happy ending if England had lost, but I remember him carrying me home on his shoulders, with a lot of his friends around us. I remember them teaching me the words to quite a few football chants and songs that a six year old definitely shouldn't know, too," he added dryly.

"I think you're going to have to show me the memory of that at some point," she decided, smiling at him. "That sounds positively adorable." He rolled his eyes in response, and she rested her head on his chest again. "What about your mother?"

"It's hard to say, really. Initially I was too young to understand her, and later I was too angry. She was always rather distant – emotional issues seem to be a family trait. We never really bonded the way I understand children are supposed to bond with their mothers. I wouldn't be surprised to learn she had post-natal depression in addition to everything else, but I don't know enough about it to be sure. She looked after me as best she could, up to a point, but I largely had to fend for myself. I remember a few odd things – her teaching me to read and write, for example – but we more or less lived separate lives." He started playing with her hair; she could feel him loosely winding the curls around his fingers.

"It was better after I got my Hogwarts letter – my father was pleased that I would be out of the house for most of each year and wouldn't need feeding, and that they would get a little money from whatever was left out of the fund Hogwarts provided for my school supplies, and that he wouldn't have to put up with my increasing displays of freakishness, as he called it. In turn, my mother was pleased because he was pleased; with me gone, things would be less tense at home. She seemed to wake up a bit and shake off some of her apathy, and she'd tell me stories from her schooldays. Trying to prepare me, I suppose; I remember her warning me that if I ended up in Slytherin I wouldn't be very popular because they would know I wasn't a pureblood from my name. But she told me less frightening stories too, about the lessons and so on. It wasn't all bad."

"Well, I'm glad about that, anyway." She nestled closer, resting her head in the hollow of his shoulder comfortably. "I don't know much about things like this. I don't really understand how anyone could treat their own family that way, even with all the difficult circumstances."

"Nor do I," Severus said quietly after a moment's pause. "I spent a lot of time trying to work out why, and I never found an answer. I've seen a lot of cases of abuse since I became a teacher, too – Slytherin has always had the highest number of students from abusive backgrounds. In most instances, there doesn't seem to be a reason that could possibly justify it. Sometimes bad things just happen. I'm just thankful that for all my problems, I didn't turn out like that."

That faint trace of old residual hurt was still in his voice, but she could tell that mostly it genuinely didn't bother him very much any more. That was good, at least, but... Hermione suppressed a sigh. If Hogwarts had just paid a little more attention, he could have been looked after slightly better, and he would have been so much less damaged now. This all explained so much about him, his prickly defensiveness, his reluctance to show his real feelings, his inability to accept that anyone could possibly love him. Then again, as he had said, he wouldn't be here now without that early experience to toughen him – and he wouldn't be Severus without it.

"What would your parents think of me, if they were alive?" she asked finally, curiously. He hadn't really been able to give her much of an idea of what they had been like.

He thought about it, finally laughing softly. "My father would have absolutely hated you."


"Oh, yes. He never did like anyone smarter than he was – which gave him a lot of people to choose from. He would also have thought, quite accurately, that you were far too good for me and well out of my league," he added dryly; she could hear in his voice that he was smiling slightly. "You would have made him feel like a stupid thug just by being better educated than he was, and he would have hated you for it." He paused and added more thoughtfully, "As for my mother, I'm not sure. I think she would have liked you, but I don't really know."

Hermione nodded, snuggling deeper under the blankets. "Well, you're safe from most of my family," she offered. "Apart from my parents, none of them know I'm a witch, and we don't really see them often. I promise never to drag you to a huge family reunion."

"Thank you," he replied mockingly, but she suspected there was genuine relief under the humour. "Although I do still have to face your parents at some stage. I can't imagine they're going to react particularly well."

She grinned. "I think Mum had already worked out that I liked you. I don't know what you said when you visited the first time, but she spent the next couple of days quizzing me about you."

After a pause Severus answered carefully, "I don't think that was aimed at you."

"What? You're telling me that you, the master Slytherin spy, accidentally betrayed yourself?" she asked, lifting her head to look at him.

He scowled at her. "No. At least, I didn't think so. But when she sent your birthday present to me to pass on..."

Hermione stifled a laugh. "Poor dear, did she threaten you? She does that. Don't worry, I'm sure I can convince her to let you live. I think she liked you, actually."

"I doubt that very much," he replied grumpily. "What of your father? Your mother did most of the talking when I spoke to them."

"He's more... conventional than Mum, if that's the right word. He's not going to like the age difference, or that you used to be my teacher. But he's got more faith in me than she does. I think he'll accept that I know what I'm doing. Eventually." She smiled at him. "Don't tell me you're nervous."

Severus glared at her. "Last time I had to endure the meet-the-parents ritual, I was nine," he pointed out irritably. "It was a lot easier."

Swallowing a laugh, she rested her head on his chest once more. "You'll be fine. I know you can be charming when you try, and you did make a very good first impression with the whole saving-our-lives thing. I love you, and so will they once they get to know you a bit better."

"If you say so," he replied, sounding profoundly unconvinced.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 56 of 60

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