Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 57 of 60

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Hermione had expected Severus to have nightmares following their late-night conversation, assuming she didn't end up having any herself, but he had apparently slept peacefully all night, and in fact he had also apparently had some rather pleasant dreams, if the way he woke her up in the early hours was any indication. She couldn't say she was particularly displeased about it, really. Upon reawakening at a more civilised hour, the promise of a repeat performance was dashed by a rather pointed throat-clearing from the wall; mumbling something impolite against Severus' lips, Hermione sighed and reluctantly broke the kiss. "Good morning, Phineas..."

"Good morning," the portrait replied dryly.

"I trust there's a reason for this," Severus growled, making no attempt to move from his current position half on top of her as irritation replaced desire in his dark eyes. "Otherwise you are going to be barred from every single painting in this house. Not only that, I may brave the Hogwarts defences in order to trap you in a frame in Myrtle's bathroom."

"Good morning to you too, Severus. I assure you I don't particularly want to be here either, but I felt you would prefer it if I interrupted you, rather than Minerva."

After a moment Severus echoed Hermione's earlier impolite remark and rolled off her, careful not to trap the blanket so she could pull it up over herself as he did so. "Point taken. What does Minerva want, then?"

"For a start, to spank you for not staying in your own bedroom like a good boy, I believe," Phineas told him, smirking. "But mostly to make sure you both come to breakfast, along with everyone else currently in the house, since it's time to start making plans properly."

"Oh, God, why a breakfast meeting? Has she somehow repressed how terrible staff meetings always were when food was involved?" he complained, sounding thoroughly fed up.

Ignoring her surly mate – she was no happier about the interruption, but really, they'd survive – Hermione sat up, carefully keeping hold of the bedding. "Who's in the house right now?"

"Just the Weasleys, Mr Potter, you two, Minerva, Lupin and Tonks. The commanders and assorted red-headed hangers-on, in other words. That's all that remains of the inner circle. The foot soldiers are elsewhere awaiting a summons to battle," he added rather sarcastically.

"When is this pointless exercise in futility to take place?" Severus asked, twisting to look at the clock.

"Too soon for whatever sordid activities you had in mind for this morning," the portrait told him. "Get up."

Severus' retort was rude enough that Hermione stretched her leg across the mattress under the bedclothes and unceremoniously prodded him towards the edge of the bed. "Come on, grouch. If we don't get down there early enough for you to have a cigarette and some coffee before it starts, you're likely to kill someone."

"Fine," he grumbled, hauling himself out of bed reluctantly and picking up his wand, moving over to the window to get enough light to shave.

Smiling fondly at him, Hermione turned to look up at the portrait. "I've been meaning to ask you a question."


"What happened when Dumbledore's portrait woke up?" she asked innocently, aware of Severus' sudden interest from the other side of the room.

Phineas cocked his head and gave her one of the most evil smiles she had ever seen. "I am genuinely sorry you both missed it," he told them sincerely. "Dilys spent the entire three days waiting in his frame hovering directly in front of him with her wand drawn..."

"How well can you interact with other paintings?" she asked interestedly. "I know the Fat Lady got drunk off painted wine every Christmas..."

"Anything that's part of a painting we have access to, we can use," he told her. "It's why if you look closely most of us have books in the background of our portraits, and we can swap them around. It is very, very dull being a painting, most of the time."

"Hence your fondness for meddling in other people's lives," Severus observed dryly.

"Quite so," Phineas replied, entirely unashamed. "You can thank us later." Over the wizard's rough laugh, the portrait continued mildly, "And yes, we can use magic against one another, up to a point. It isn't easy, and it doesn't exactly do much damage, but it is possible, although we cannot feel pain. Anyway, when Dumbledore woke up, Dilys was right in front of him in full righteous wrath. He managed less than two minutes of her speech before trying to run."

"Speech?" Hermione echoed, grinning. "She wrote a speech?"

"She's had nobody to interfere with since June and only my reports to entertain her. She wrote several speeches. Very long and angry ones. It took her most of a week of more or less solid non-stop ranting before she started to repeat herself, not including the time spent tracking down whichever hiding spot he was cowering in. I believe he was quite offended that not a single painting in the castle was willing to shelter him. Ever since then, he has been very quiet indeed, except for unsuccessful attempts to wheedle news out of me."

"Oh, I wish you could show us," she said longingly, shaking her head and smiling.

Severus turned away from the window, having finished shaving, and grinned a little unpleasantly as he crossed the room to find the clothes scattered across the floor. "As do I. I look forward to returning to Hogwarts to collect my possessions; do tell Dilys I would like a full re-enactment. And I trust you are going to leave him ignorant of everything for as long as possible. Let him stay helplessly in the dark for a change."

"As you wish. I have also been instructed to remind you that Remus Lupin will be present and you are to play nicely. That was a direct quote."

"It sounds like it. Go away, Phineas."

The portrait smirked and departed without saying anything else, and Hermione regarded Severus with some amusement as he started getting dressed. This was the side of him nobody else got to see – he was still scruffy with sleep, his hair a mess and a pillow crease fading on one cheek. He also had a noticeable love bite on his neck and traces of smugness in his eyes, she noticed, smiling as she reluctantly began to gather her own clothes.

Catching sight of her own reflection as she did up her jeans, she laughed softly. "Anyone looking at us right now can tell exactly what we've been up to," she observed conversationally, before pausing as something occurred to her.

Severus glanced up sharply, his eyes narrowing for a moment as he caught her meaning, and smiled a little. "That's really how you want people to learn?" he asked.

"Well, why not? The only people left who don't know are some of the Weasleys, Lupin and Tonks. Not hiding it any more and letting them work it out is a lot less embarrassing than trying to say it. I don't want to make a huge production of it." Besides, it would probably be quite funny. From the gleam in her partner's eyes, he felt the same.

His lips twitched as he fought off a smirk, glancing at the mirror once more. "Why not? It should liven things up a bit. I doubt anything productive is going to happen in this meeting anyway."

Severus had to admit this was childish, and also probably a bad idea. There was no way it was going to end well, and his stomach was tight with the unease he always felt when allowing anyone to see anything of his life whatsoever.

That said, it also promised to be funny. There was also a very good chance that Lupin was going to say or do something to justify Severus kicking his arse; all right, magically speaking he was still pretty drained, but he wouldn't need magic to face the last of the Marauders. Anticipation set his lips curving into a smirk as he and Hermione reached the kitchen door and she glanced back at him, her brown eyes dancing impishly; he nodded to her and she slipped through, cheerfully returning greetings.

Severus waited, listening, until one or two people – the twins, inevitably – had noticed her slightly dishevelled and sleepy state; the moment he heard the first comment he nudged the door wider and sauntered in. With his hands in his pockets and the top button of his shirt undone to show the bruise on his throat, this was more casual than any of them had ever seen him, even without the lazily hooded eyes and faintly smug smile that he couldn't have kept off his face had he wanted to.

"Good morning," he drawled into the startled silence, continuing his relaxed saunter across the room to drop into the vacant chair beside Hermione, who bestowed a dazzling smile and a cup of coffee on him.

He heard Minerva sigh. "Really, Severus," she scolded wearily. "Was this necessary?"

To his private amusement, Potter remarked without looking up from his tea, "At least they're both fully dressed this time," and that was enough to break the mood. Ronald started to laugh, and a moment later several of his brothers echoed him, as did Hermione. Minerva gave him a glare – not that he had said anything – but her lips were twitching.

Slowly, Severus allowed his gaze to sweep around the table. Arthur was grinning at him, obviously not surprised; Molly was trying to look disapproving, and failing. The older Weasley boys were gaping at him, the Delacoeur girl, Bill's fiancée, was looking thoughtful, and the twins were now in fully-fledged hysterics, joined by their sister. Tonks had her hand over her mouth and was struggling between looking appalled and fighting her own laughter, by the look of things, and Lupin... Severus felt his smile widen. The werewolf looked absolutely horrified.

He took a nonchalant sip of his coffee and arched an eyebrow. "Did I miss something amusing?" he inquired mildly.

"Don't tease," Hermione told him, swallowing laughter and picking up her tea before turning to face Minerva. "So what are we discussing this morning?" she asked brightly in the chirpy voice Severus recognised as the one she had used to annoy him on those early-morning runs last year.

"Oh, okay, we're just pretending this hasn't happened, are we?" one of the twins – George; Severus had been the only teacher who had never once got them confused – asked cheerfully. "Gotcha."

"Why, did you have something you wished to say, Weasley?" he asked quietly, turning his head slowly to look at the pair of them.

Both boys exchanged glances and gulped theatrically. "No sir," they chorused.


"Hermione, can't you get him to stop bullying people?" Potter asked good-naturedly.

She giggled. "No."

"Harry, you knew about this?" Lupin asked; the laughter around the table died away. The werewolf did not sound happy. Severus smirked to himself and took another sip of coffee as Potter looked up.


"How long has it been going on?"

"Oh, I dunno. Sometime in the summer. Near my birthday." The boy was trying hard to sound casual, but he was one of the few in the room who could imagine just how bad this could get.

"Why didn't you tell me before?"

"What?" Potter gave him a confused look. "Um, why would I?"

Good question, Severus mused calmly. So far, Lupin was reacting exactly as he had hoped he would. He shifted casually in his chair, carefully flexing and relaxing his muscles, getting ready for trouble as the atmosphere began to change.

"So, Ron," Fred began hastily. "How does it feel..."

"...knowing you lost to Professor Snape?" his brother finished.

The youngest male Weasley grinned self-consciously and shook his head. "I didn't lose, it wasn't a contest. Me and Hermione were never... we're just friends. We talked about it ages ago, last Christmas actually, and realised it was never going to work out. This hasn't got anything to do with me."

At some point, Severus reflected, he really ought to apologise for breaking the boy's nose. Weasley could be immensely irritating, but he probably shouldn't have beaten him up – at least not quite so thoroughly. Definitely not my finest hour.

"Severus, do you have anything to say for yourself?" Lupin asked coolly.

"Usually, yes," he replied calmly. "To you? No, not really."

"Let's keep this civil, shall we, gentlemen," Minerva said crisply, giving them both a disapproving look. Severus took a moment to remember the sound of her raised voice echoing through the Floo as she finally took a Marauder to task for their past sins, and made no attempt to suppress his smirk as Lupin gave her a shocked look.

"You don't seem surprised, Minerva – you knew too?"

"I was made aware of the situation some time ago, yes. Remus, do calm down. I have spoken to both Severus and Hermione and I have no objections."

"He's her teacher!"

"No, I'm not," Severus pointed out mildly. "My teaching career finally came to a long-overdue halt in June, if you recall. No doubt the students will be celebrating, once they finish cowering in fear for their lives. Which brings us neatly back to the original point of this meeting, since last I checked, the war against the Dark Lord was a little more important than my personal life," he added with deliberate sarcasm. Go on, wolf. I dare you.

Ignoring him – probably quite wisely, under the circumstances – Lupin turned to Hermione, adopting an expression of wide-eyed sincerity. "Hermione, whatever's happened, whatever he's told you to get you to do this..."

"Oh, dear," Weasley murmured, prudently sliding his chair over a little. Severus felt a slow smile crossing his face as the hair on his arms stood on end in response to a subtle shift in the air, and he watched with pleasure as his lover's brown eyes began to burn with quiet anger. Her hair had started to frizz – well, it had already been quite bad, but it was getting worse.

"Excuse me?" she asked in a very polite voice. The rest of the younger Weasleys began inching away from the line of fire, suppressing grins once they were out of danger. Hermione continued in a far too calm voice, "I'm a little confused here. Why do you assume Severus started it at all, for one thing, let alone used coercion?"

"Remus," Tonks said quietly. The two of them appeared to have settled their differences from last time, as if Severus cared. The Metamorphagus stretched out a hand and gripped his arm. "Come on. We've both known Hermione and Severus for a long time. Do you honestly think anything bad would happen?"

"You don't know him like I do," the werewolf told her. "He's never cared about anyone but himself. Which didn't stop him mooning after Lily Evans, once James showed an interest in her," he added, somewhat spitefully and completely inaccurately.

Severus snorted a laugh, somewhat to his own surprise. God, you're such a fucking moron sometimes. And you should know better than to give me a straight line like that. "Me?" he retorted. "I'm not the one who sent her anonymous Valentines for three years in a row." Although to be fair, most of their year had done just that.

Lupin went dead white, and Severus smiled coldly, vaguely aware of Potter making a choked sound somewhere to one side. His vision had narrowed as he focused on the threat, and he was ignoring everyone else in the room.

"Well, Lupin? Cat got your tongue?" he drawled. "Run out of clever things to say?" The Marauders never had been able to win a war of words with him. That was why Potter Senior and his sidekick had usually fallen back on beating him up.

"You sick bastard. What, you can't get your kicks with defenceless women as a Death Eater any more, so you thought you'd seduce an innocent girl for fun? Or is it just that she's Harry's friend?"

Magic rippled across Severus' senses, and he remained motionless as a chair scraped back, pushing his anger down. Hermione stood up and walked slowly around the table to where Lupin sat, her face expressionless. She looked at him quite calmly as he cleared his throat. "Hermione –"

She slapped him, a backhand blow across the face, turning her body to put as much force behind the blow as possible. It had been her left hand, and the setting of the gems on her engagement ring drew blood in a long scratch across the werewolf's cheek. Severus felt a jolt of pleasure at the sight of her defending them both that was almost sexual, a shiver running down his back, and he relaxed back into his chair to enjoy himself.

Hermione's expression was still surprisingly calm, but her eyes were furious and her hair was beginning to stir and crackle with static. "Because obviously that's the only reason he would want me. Just because I happened to be the only woman around, or because it would hurt Harry."

"Hermione, that's not what I meant," Lupin protested weakly, touching his cheek gingerly.

"That was a foul thing to say about anyone, least of all Severus, and you really don't know what you're talking about," she told him coldly, glaring at him before turning and calmly returning to her chair, picking up her tea as though nothing had happened.

Molly stood up decisively, absently cuffing the closest twin to stop him sniggering. "I'm sorry, Remus, but you deserved that," she said briskly. "Time to get to work while I get started with breakfast for everyone. Minerva?"

"Yes, thank you, Molly. Remus, don't say another word. I'm not Albus, I'm not going to sigh in disappointment because you and Severus can't get along; I can and will hex the first one of you to cause trouble, and right now it looks like it's going to be you. You are on very thin ice as it is."

Tonks cleared her throat uncomfortably. "Hermione, Severus, I'm sorry. Don't be too hard on Remus. It was full moon a couple of days ago, and without the Wolfsbane, it's pretty rough on him."

Forgive me if I don't break down sobbing for him, Severus thought darkly. The transformation probably was very painful, but so was the Cruciatus curse. He shrugged in response and turned away, focusing on Minerva, who was in the process of Transfiguring an actual honest-to-God blackboard next to the sink.

Amidst the chaos of a full Weasley breakfast – enough to put anyone off food for life, frankly – the atmosphere in the kitchen eased off. That was probably helped by Tonks having spotted Hermione's ring; the two women were now deep in whispered conversation that seemed to involve a lot of giggling, and Severus was quite sure he didn't want to know what they were talking about. He had also elected to turn a prudently deaf ear to the little knot consisting of the three youngest male Weasleys, Potter and his girlfriend; better not to know. Lupin was sulking, which wasn't very surprising but at least he was being quiet about it. And he'd forgotten how good Molly's cooking was – not many people could stay in a bad mood with their mouths full.

Once everyone had finished eating and settled down again, Minerva took over, writing lists on the blackboard as she began to work out the numbers, calculating the number of Order members who were fit for combat and the number of non-combatants who could be designated as healers, or guards, or something else. She was also trying to work out how many Death Eaters they could potentially be facing, and trying to concoct strategies for getting Potter close to the Dark Lord. Everyone was getting quite involved; Severus sat back and watched, waiting patiently for someone to realise the significant flaw in this plan.

Finally Minerva spread her hands. "We have no more information to go on. Severus, can you add any intelligence from what you know about the Death Eaters and You-Know-Who?"

He shook his head, but before he could actually say anything Lupin said sullenly, "Of course he can't."

Oh, for fuck's sake, I've had enough of this. Severus gave the werewolf a long stare. "Do you recall the day Dumbledore died, Lupin? I told you that if you ever touched me again, I would kill you. Allow me to elaborate – don't speak to me again, or I will put you in hospital. Just shut the hell up. All I have ever wanted from you was to be left alone; do so."

Lupin then did something very, very stupid – he drew his wand.

Severus was out of his chair and half way across the room before anyone had time to react. Dragging the werewolf out of his chair, he threw him against the wall, holding his own wand with the tip about an inch from Lupin's eye. The Marauder was taller than he was, but he'd been targeted by bigger boys all his life and he was itching for a fight.

Before anyone could speak, Severus cleared his throat, his whole body tense and trembling as he fought not to reduce his hated enemy to a greasy stain on the floor. "Go ahead, Marauder," he whispered. "Try it. I will turn you inside out and leave you screaming. You'll wish Greyback had you again by the time I'm done with you. Just – give – me – a – reason."

He cleared his throat again and swallowed hard, trying to blink back the red mist. More conversationally, he added, "You should actually be very grateful that I am with Hermione. Nobody in this room has any chance of physically stopping me killing you, and she is the only one with a hope in Hell of talking me out of it. Keep pushing, Lupin, let's see if she wants to stop me ripping you apart after your earlier attitude."

"Not particularly, no," Hermione said calmly from her chair; he could hear the note of worry in her voice, but he doubted anyone else could pick it up. "But I do quite like Tonks, and she would miss him."

Severus met Lupin's eyes, staring him down, finally seeing the Marauder's awareness of how much danger he was in. He knew the werewolf had never truly believed he'd do it before now. "No more chances, not even for her," he said very softly. "Next time you challenge me, you're dead. No threats, no posing, no insults. I'll kill you. Do you understand me?"

All that time spent researching werewolves had paid off; he saw the werewolf back down and look away without having to make him say it. Letting go, he turned away, sliding his wand back into his sleeve and trying to relax the knotted tension in his shoulders, swallowing back the anger and forcing himself to calm down. He took his seat again, and Hermione wordlessly reached under the table and rested her hand on his thigh; he laid his hand over hers, twining their fingers together as Lupin meekly sat down again.

"Severus, you've used up what leeway you had earned," Minerva told him quietly. "No more trouble." He nodded, and she gestured to the board. "All right, then. What else can you add?"

He stared at the neat lists and notes and shook his head, absently stroking Hermione's knuckles with his thumb before looking around. Hermione looked worried, which he had expected – even without the near-duel that had just threatened to erupt, she would be fretting about the fight to come, about people getting hurt. She'd make the logical next step as soon as she stopped biting her lip and worrying enough to think. Potter and Weasley both wore identical frowns and he didn't think they were far from working it out either; nobody else in the room seemed to have a clue.

Sighing, he reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose with his free hand. "What, exactly, are you trying to do, Minerva? What is the point of this meeting?"

She stared at him. "...To plan the final battle," she said finally, in a wary tone that suggested she was looking for a trap.

"And where is it going to take place?"

There was yet another long silence. Severus sighed again. "You don't know where he is, and you have no means of finding him. He knows what the four of us have been doing; you've seen the Wanted posters in the papers. He knows we've made him mortal. Vulnerable. Why the hell should he risk his neck to challenge a lot of self-righteous Gryffindors? He won't come to face you in some glorious fight straight out of a medieval saga. Why should he?"

He continued quietly, "And you're still putting too much faith in the prophecy, and in what Dumbledore said should happen. Look at Potter." The boy promptly blushed as everyone turned to stare at him. Severus kept talking softly. "He's not a hero. He's not our saviour. He's not the Chosen One. He's a seventeen year old boy. Granted, he has survived many things that really should have killed him, but there is absolutely no reason why he should have faced any of them in the first place. Why, in a room full of more powerful, more knowledgeable, more experienced, more skilled and arguably more intelligent witches and wizards, should we stake the fate of our world on him?"

"He's got a point, Harry," one of the twins said solemnly after a short pause.

"Yeah, we'd never live down the shame of being saved by a scrawny git in glasses," his brother agreed.

"Fine by me," Potter said cheerfully. "It's definitely someone else's turn to save the world."

"You think Albus was wrong then, Severus?" Arthur asked.

Severus nodded. "I do. The Dark Lord is now fully mortal. He can be killed by the first person to find him. And all glorious battles ever do is get innocent people killed." He waved a hand at the blackboard. "This is something from a story. Life doesn't work like this. I'm not willing to risk my life to go down in a blaze of Gryffindor glory. Make all the jokes you like about the Slytherin point of view, but we know how to survive. Your plan will get at least half the Order killed and military honours don't mean a thing to the dead, or to their grieving relatives. We cannot win a fair fight. They outnumber us and they're far more willing to kill than any of you are. If you somehow do manage to find him, you will lose and you will die."

"So what do you suggest?" Molly asked quietly.

He shrugged. "These past few months have been about finding another way. I don't have a plan yet, but I know this isn't the way. If I think of a better plan, and if there's a place in it for you, I'll let you know, but until then I think I'll be better off on my own."

"Ahem," Hermione murmured quietly, squeezing his hand, and he found himself suddenly fighting not to grin.

"I stand corrected. We will be better off on our own. What do you think, Potter? Do you still want to be a hero?"

"I think you've finally taught me not to do that," the boy replied with a rueful grin.

"You must be so proud," Arthur said dryly – when he wasn't overshadowed by his more boisterous family, he had a very good sense of humour.

"I'm all choked up," Severus told him sarcastically.

"Can I come?" Ginevra asked plaintively.




"But –"

"Ginny," Molly said firmly. "Enough. You've survived entire weeks at a time without Harry."

"So that's it?" Minerva asked quietly. "You're taking sides?"

Severus shook his head. "We're on the same side, Minerva. But I was never part of this. I was never part of the Order's plans and I don't want to die gloriously and heroically. I plan to live, and I plan to win."

"First one to kill You-Know-Who gets the book rights!" one of the twins yelled.

The meeting broke up at that point, and the four of them quietly collected their things. Severus' mind was elsewhere now, but he retained enough awareness to pause in the doorway as they left and look back at the gathered Order. Pure, childish mischief took over, and he cleared his throat politely. "Allow me to leave you with one final thought, Lupin. I could have pissed in your Wolfsbane at any time over these past years. And you're never going to know whether I did or not."

He closed the door firmly enough to set Mrs Black off, fighting back laughter.

"Did you ever do that to the Wolfsbane?" Weasley asked as they re-entered the shabby house.

Severus snorted. "Of course I didn't. But I can guarantee he now believes I did."

"You do cause trouble," Hermione told him, giving him an amused look, and he arched an eyebrow at her.

"I'm not the one who drew blood," he pointed out, trying to keep his voice neutral to hide his reaction to that. Later, he promised himself.

She blushed at that, smiling. "I do feel a little bad about that. But not very much."

"He deserved it," Potter said, somewhat surprisingly. He looked a little unhappy. "I don't know why he's acting like this. He never used to be."

"He's been fighting with Tonks a lot recently," Hermione provided. "She thinks it's partly old insecurities, partly repressed grief over Sirius, partly he's angry about not being able to win the werewolves away from You-Know-Who, and partly he's worried about what might happen if he gets free on a full moon now and in a lot more pain from his transformations than he was before. So he's taking it out on Severus because they already dislike one another so if they fall out it won't matter."

"You're getting good at this psychology stuff," Weasley told her admiringly. "Did you know this before or after you slapped him?"

"Does it matter?"

"Before, then."

"Shut up, Ron."

The four of them headed upstairs to unpack. Potter called from the bedroom the boys were sharing, "Sir, I know you don't want a big scene, but... thank you."

For once, Severus didn't know what he was talking about. "What for?"

The pair appeared in the doorway and Potter looked at him seriously. "I know you've never really believed the prophecy and stuff, but... everyone else did. You saw how they all just assumed I'd have to duel You-Know-Who. And that there would be some huge battle."

"That's how Gryffindors tend to think," he replied dryly, suppressing a smile at the three near-identical glares.

"Don't be nasty," Hermione told him.

"I would rush to apologise, but I'm paralysed with not caring very much. You've just seen a room full of Gryffindors – and Tonks – all happily planning a suicidal charge into a meat grinder even though most of them were present at Hogwarts for the fight that got Moody and Kingsley killed and several of them injured. You saw the looks they gave me. It never occurred to any of them to do anything else except nobly sacrifice themselves on the strength of something Sybil Trelawney said two decades ago. I would hope you three had at least considered there might be another option."

They exchanged glances before Hermione nodded. "We did talk about it, a little, trying to work out what would happen. None of us wanted another battle. Not after the Ministry, and then Hogwarts. And we did realise we don't know where You-Know-Who is."

"Good. Perhaps there is some hope for you after all."

"So how do you plan to find him, then?" Potter asked.

Severus shrugged. "I have no idea. We'll need to think about it."

"Okay, I really don't see any other option," Ron said quietly several days later in the middle of yet another brainstorming session that had yielded no useful ideas whatsoever. "We're going to have to try and kidnap a Death Eater and get them to tell us where You-Know-Who is hiding. You said you can get hold of Veritaserum."

"If I absolutely have to, yes, I know a few places I can illegally get some in a hurry, or there's always Legilimency. Or old-fashioned torture, if I have to. But I told you, Weasley, it's not going to be that easy. For a start, kidnapping a witch or wizard is pretty tricky in the first place."

"Also it's the same problem we already have," Hermione elaborated. "They probably don't know what's going on, but they'll know there's something strange happening. We don't know where to look to get hold of most of the Death Eaters, and the ones we can find will be holed up behind some pretty strong defences, or hiding somewhere else. There aren't enough of us to be able to manage it."

"I never thought I'd say this, but I'm almost sorry I killed Pettigrew," Severus muttered, shoving his lank hair back from his face with a hand that was trembling slightly from too much coffee and too little sleep. "The one time the rat might actually have been useful..."

"You told me last week you'd thought of a few possibilities since the summer," Hermione hinted, giving him a hopeful look, and he shook his head wearily.

"I had, but if any of them were going to come to anything, it would have happened by now. I think we're on our own." He scratched his jaw and scowled at nothing, propping his chin on his hand.

"Hypothetically, what would happen if we just walked into the Ministry?" Harry asked, and Severus gave him a disgusted look.

"You'd be killed or captured. I wouldn't be stupid enough to do it. This is no time to be stupid, Potter. You've been reading the papers, everything's quiet enough at the moment. We have time to come up with a non-kamikaze plan."

"A what?" Ron asked, and winced at the scowl it earned him. "Right, Muggle thing, I'll shut up now."

"If only that were true."

"Boys," Hermione said tiredly.

Yet another argument the following day – Ron and Harry were on the verge of starting a fight, by the look of things – was mercifully interrupted by an unholy racket coming from the garden. Severus cursed softly as the boys looked up. "Damnit, Potter. I warned you, if your owl draws attention to herself one of my neighbours is likely to shoot her."

"It's not Hedwig," Hermione reported, looking out of the kitchen window. "Not just her, anyway. She and Pig are dive-bombing another owl, one I don't recognise. It's not one of the Prophet's owls, or one from the Order."

"Hedwig wouldn't attack a post owl anyway," Harry said defensively, opening the window. "Hedwig, come in and leave it alone."

"You too, Pig," Ron said wearily, glaring at his owl as the two of them glided in and perched on the back of a chair, ruffling their feathers and looking irritated.

Severus stared out into the garden with narrowed eyes before relaxing a little. "I know that owl. Don't try to touch him, he's a vicious bastard and he will take your fingers off. Diogenes! Get in here!"

"Diogenes?" Hermione echoed as the owl came in and Severus slammed the window shut.

"I know. Ghastly, isn't it. He wanted the name of a Greek philosopher for some reason, and that's the one he picked." Severus advanced on the owl. "Remember what happened last time you tried anything?" he asked it. The bird turned its head away and extended one clawed foot with a lofty air. "That's what I thought."

"What kind of owl is this?" Ron asked interestedly. "I don't recognise it."

"Short-eared, supposedly, although I prefer to think that he's a cross between a feather duster and a rabid wolverine."

"Who does he belong to?"

Typically, Severus ignored the question, unrolling the slip of parchment bound to the owl's leg. The others crowded around to see; Hermione frowned at the unfamiliar writing, which spelled out today's date and a time – half past four that afternoon – followed by a question mark. It wasn't signed and had no form of address.

"Well, that's helpful," she said finally. "What does it mean, Severus?"

He was scowling at the note. "I was hoping for something like this since the day we killed Nagini," he said quietly, "but it's been long enough since then to make me suspicious. This is either a trap, or it's what is going to win us the war."


About to answer, he paused and looked up at her, his dark eyes glittering with sudden humour that made a welcome change from the scowl of the past few days. "If I try and be cryptic again, you're going to lose your temper, aren't you."

Suppressing a smile, she nodded firmly. "Yes. I know how much you enjoy it, but if this is a possible trap, we need to know what's going on."

"I suppose so. All right. This owl belongs to Lucius Malfoy."

"What?" Harry exclaimed.

"You heard me," Severus told him irritably. He tapped the note with a finger. "He wants a meeting."

"You got that from the date and some numbers?" Ron asked.

"He suggests the time. If I agree, I'll reply with the place. It's standard between us," Severus responded absently, staring down at it again.

"I know you're friends with him..." Hermione said slowly.

He shrugged. "I was. But that was before I broke the vow promising to protect his son and walked away from them. I have no idea how things stand now. I had hoped that once the Dark Lord realised what was happening, he would vent it on his followers to such an extent that someone might be willing to risk turning traitor, but it's been a while since that happened. This could be a setup." Exhaling, he leaned back, absently moving his hand as Diogenes' beak clacked shut an inch from his fingers.

"You're not going to meet him, are you?" Harry asked incredulously.

"I don't see much choice, Potter. If this is sincere, it's more than worth the risk. With Lucius on our side, I know exactly how we're going to win. It's worth the gamble."

"And if it's a trap?" Hermione asked.

He smiled at her, partly amused but mostly sincere. "I'll run, obviously. I'm not going to meekly walk into a snare. You know me better than that by now."

"I'm not letting you go alone."


"Don't even think about it, Severus. We're going with you. No arguments."

His lips twitched as he took in her expression, before he glanced at Harry and Ron and rolled his eyes. "All right, all right. But you can only accompany me if you promise to do as I say. I'll give him the co-ordinates to the warehouse where Gringotts' back entrance is – the chances of a successful ambush in a busy Muggle area are fairly remote, and we'll get there early to make sure there aren't any surprises. You keep your wands out, but do not use magic unless someone attacks us. I mean it. No matter what happens, do not strike first. I will personally curse the first one to cast a spell. Even you, Hermione."

Personally, she rather doubted that, but he had made his point. "He'll be alone?"

"If he's got any sense. Lucius has known me since I was eleven; he knows that if he shows up with anyone else I'm going to curse them and get the hell out. If he arrives in company, it's a trap and we all run. Don't waste time trying spells, just Apparate straight back here. Don't try to stay together either; you're all capable of getting out by yourselves. This is non-negotiable; if you don't want to play by these rules, you stay here."

"All right," she agreed quietly, recognising from the intensity in his voice that he was actually quite worried about this. "I promise." She gave Harry and Ron a pointed look.

They exchanged glances before shrugging. "I reckon this is a trap, but okay," Harry agreed. Ron nodded.

"All right, then." Severus found a pen and scrawled a set of co-ordinates on the bottom of the slip of parchment, carefully tying it back to the owl's leg.

"Are we bothering to tell the Order?" Harry asked as he opened the window to let Diogenes leave.

"Of course we're not. All they'll do is scold us for taking such a risk. But I know Lucius, and they don't. I'm not stupid enough to assume this is sincere just because we were friends, but I think the odds are fairly good that we've just won the war, even if nobody else knows it yet."

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 57 of 60

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