Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 58 of 60

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It turned out that Severus' idea of 'getting there early' meant 'almost immediately'. Less than fifteen minutes after Lucius Malfoy's owl had left, Hermione was sitting on a stack of crates in a corner of the warehouse with Harry and Ron while Severus prowled around outside looking for potential trouble.

"This is going to be a trap," Harry said flatly. "I don't know why he seems to think it might not be."

"Harry, relax," Ron told him. "Snape's as paranoid as they come. If he's not worried, why should we be?"

"Because it's Malfoy."

"...Good point."

Hermione shook her head. "They've been friends a long time. I assume he knows Mr Malfoy better than we do. We've only seen him maybe four or five times."

"Yes, and he's tried to kill me on most of those occasions," Harry pointed out fairly.

"True. Still. I trust Severus. He wouldn't be doing this if he thought it really would be a trap. And even if it is, they haven't had time to set anything up in advance, and we're armed and ready to run."

They sat quietly for a few minutes, listening to the distant sounds of traffic from outside. "Oh, by the way, Harry, can I borrow Hedwig later?" she asked.

"Of course. Why? Are you going to contact your parents now things are nearly over?"

She shook her head. "No, not yet, not until everything's finished for certain. Better safe than sorry. No, I actually want to write a quick note to Lupin. I think I should apologise for slapping him."

"Why? He deserved it," Ron said blankly. "Even my mum admitted it."

"He deserved something, and I really am still furious with him, but I shouldn't have hit him. He would never hit me back, so it wasn't really fair."

"You didn't feel guilty about punching Draco in third year," Harry reminded her, grinning.

"He certainly wouldn't have hesitated to hit me back if he wasn't such a wimp," she pointed out, smiling a little sheepishly. "Besides, he's a jerk about everything. Lupin isn't. He's mostly a nice man, except where Severus is concerned."

"He never used to be. He seemed to be trying to get along with him when he was teaching."

"You think so? You don't think the stunt with the Boggart was a bit of a nasty trick? Severus had no way of retaliating without getting into trouble. It wasn't exactly professional to get us all laughing at him behind his back, was it? And Lupin must have known we'd tell everyone else. I know it was partly to try and make Neville feel better, and Severus was being spiteful, but it was still too far. You can't blame his friends pressuring him either." She shrugged. "So I'm a little bit sorry for hitting him, but certainly not for anything else, and he still owes both of us an apology, but I don't want to make a big fuss about it."

"I guess that's fair enough," Harry conceded before grinning again. "Speaking of Neville, he's going to wet himself when he hears about you and Snape. He's not going to be the only one, either."

"I know," she agreed ruefully. "I'm trying not to think about it. At the moment we're planning to keep it all very quiet until I've finished my NEWTs; once I've graduated, we'll get married, and then run away and hide somewhere nice and sunny until the newspapers have got bored of the scandal and everyone's more or less stopped freaking out."

"Good plan," Ron approved. "It might take a long while, though."

She grinned. "What a shame."

Severus came in a few minutes later and held up a hand as the three of them started to get up. "Relax. This is no time to get jittery. It's all clear out there, and I laid a couple of detection wards to tell us when anyone carrying a wand gets close. I also spelled this place – we can Apparate out, but nobody can Apparate in." He climbed part way up another stack of crates and settled down, pulling his cigarettes out of his pocket and making himself comfortable as he lit up. "Now we wait."

Apparently Lucius Malfoy believed in being fashionably late; it was quarter to five before the door to the warehouse quietly clicked open and he crossed to the centre of the floor, his cane clicking on the concrete with every step. Leaning on it, he looked around as Severus stood and stepped off the crates, moving forward to meet him with his wand held loosely in one hand. Hermione held the Elder Wand; no matter her faith in Severus, she didn't trust any Malfoy as far as she could throw them, and if things went bad she wanted every possible advantage. Even now, she still occasionally had bad dreams about the Ministry, and Lucius' cool grey eyes often featured.

The two men stood a little way apart, staring at one another through narrowed eyes. Lucius didn't seem to be armed, but his hand was gripping his cane carefully and she knew that was where he kept his wand. Trying to be objective, she studied the older man; on the surface he looked the same as ever, immaculately groomed and faintly bored, his long blond hair neatly tied back and his robe professionally tailored – evidently he would never lower himself to wearing Muggle clothes. Looking past that, he seemed tired, faint shadows under his eyes, and he hadn't shaved very carefully that morning.

For no reason that she could discern, Severus abruptly relaxed, apparently having judged that there was no threat. Keeping his wand loosely by his side, he closed the distance between them and he and Lucius traded rough forearm grips in a surprisingly friendly gesture; more than that, Severus was almost smiling. Hermione watched with growing interest; she hadn't seen him interacting with a male friend before. She hadn't really realised he had any.

"You look terrible," he told Lucius quietly, sounding faintly amused.

"And you do not," Lucius observed, raising an eyebrow as he stepped back and looked Severus up and down. "In fact, you look better than I believe I have ever seen you. How interesting." He looked over at the three of them and his lip curled. "Particularly if this is the company you have been keeping."

Harry promptly started forward with a scowl. "Nice to see you again too."

"Zip it, Potter," Severus said without looking around, as Hermione and Ron wordlessly moved to either side, forming a half-circle facing Lucius. "How are Draco and Narcissa?" he asked. Lucius didn't answer, and he abruptly tensed. "They're not..."

"No," the other Slytherin answered wearily. "But it has come close, once or twice. Draco..." He sighed, then looked up, and his grey eyes were ice. "You walked away from him, Severus."

"I know," he answered quietly. "I did what I could. It wasn't enough, and I don't expect him to understand."

"We have tried to explain to him, as much as we could. But frankly I didn't understand either, at first."

Severus shrugged, a small smile touching one corner of his mouth, although it didn't reach his eyes. "Well, you are sometimes rather slow on the uptake."

"Clearly," Lucius drawled, his features relaxing into his usual faint sneer. "So. Your allies leave something to be desired..." Severus' smile increased slightly, his dark eyes beginning to glitter, although he didn't reply. Lucius frowned, then abruptly turned his head and stared at Hermione before making a disgusted sound. "Oh, you cannot be serious. Her? Really?"

The glitter and the smile both faded, and Severus raised one eyebrow slightly. "Who did you think I meant?" he asked quietly. Hermione recognised his tone; it wasn't a warning, but it could become one very quickly.

Lucius blinked at him, frowning again, and gave her a second, more measuring look. "Hmm," he murmured after quite a long pause, very slowly looking her up and down. Shaking his head, he looked back at Severus. "In hindsight, I suppose that would explain it. Narcissa is going to be very disappointed in you."

"No doubt," he replied dryly. Cocking his head to one side, he studied his friend with a faintly pensive expression for a moment, before suddenly grinning, a startlingly boyish expression that Hermione very rarely saw from him. "Has everyone been missing me?"

Lucius actually grinned back at him; for a moment the two of them looked oddly alike despite the differences in colouring and features. "You would have been deeply touched, Severus. He was heartbroken to learn that you didn't love him any more. And my dear sister in law has been pining."

"Good. Be sure to give her my affections."

"This is really, really weird," Ron murmured in an undertone.

Hermione smiled ruefully at him. "It is, a bit. I suppose it's probably not a trap, then. I wish they weren't speaking in code, though. I've barely understood half of what they're saying. Except for the part about me," she added, her smile fading. It had been a long time since she'd encountered the typical Slytherin attitude to Muggleborns.

Harry cleared his throat pointedly. "I hate to interrupt this touching moment, but can we get to the reason for this meeting? What do you want, Malfoy?"

Lucius didn't even look at him, drawling, "Really, Severus, haven't you taught these boys any manners yet?"

"Given what I had to work with?" Severus responded, sounding amused. "I admit it's rather hard to tell, but they have improved – marginally – since leaving school."

"It would be difficult for them to get any worse," he noted.

"Look who's talking!" Ron snapped at him.

Severus sighed. "Really, Weasley, after six years of Draco baiting you, I would think even you could recognise when someone is trying to provoke you. Lucius, do stop winding them up. I'm the one who will have to endure the sulking tonight."

"That is what happens when you adopt children," the other Slytherin told him mockingly.

"You're not funny," Harry said, sounding frustrated. "What do you want?"

"I would have thought it was rather obvious. Do you make Severus spell everything out for you, Potter? I'm surprised he hasn't gone insane from the tedium of ratcheting his IQ down that far."

Visibly gritting his teeth, Harry forced back his anger and tried for sarcasm – rather misguidedly, in Hermione's opinion, given that he was up against two clear experts in the art. "It's obvious you want to be on the winning side, yes. I was hoping for specifics."

Lucius looked at him, his sneer fading as his eyes turned cool and distant once more. "I didn't come here to bandy words with you, boy." His hand moved on his cane.

"Lucius," Severus said quietly. The two men looked at one another, less friendly now, before the blond looked away as he continued, "Potter, shut up. Go home if you can't hold your tongue. Lucius wants to be on the side that will keep his family alive, which even you cannot blame him for. You have no idea what's been happening among the Death Eaters since the Dark Lord realised what we had done."

"I don't care, either," Harry retorted.

"I do." Severus' black eyes had hardened as he stared Harry down. After a long moment he turned back to his friend and nodded towards the cane. "Spasms in the fingers?"

"Yes," Lucius replied in a clipped voice.

Severus took a breath. "Hermione knows the spells to help with that."

"Oh, hell no." She shook her head. "Severus, last time I saw this man he was trying to kill me. The time before that, he was trying to kill me."

He met her eyes. "Please," he asked quietly.

Biting her lip hard enough to hurt, Hermione looked at Lucius, who stared back at her impassively. She looked down at his hand, finally noticing the minute tremors of the Cruciatus curse and the slight stiffness in his stance that suggested he didn't want to move any more than necessary, before looking at his face once more; his grey eyes were slightly bloodshot and utterly devoid of expression in a manner that was all too familiar.

Finally she looked back at Severus; his expression was just as neutral, except for his eyes. He had dropped his Occlumency shields, and she could see he understood why she didn't want to do this. Biting her lip again, she hesitated; Lucius was his friend, but he was also technically their enemy.

Sighing, she drew her vine wand from her belt, replacing it with the Elder Wand, and stepped forward, giving her fiancé a glare. You owe me for this. Transferring the glare to Lucius, she said curtly, "Even think of calling me a Mudblood and I will do something to your nervous system that will make you cry like a little girl."

To her surprise, he looked amused. "Oh, I can see why he likes you. Relax, Miss Granger. As Potter so astutely pointed out, I wish to be on the winning side, and I see no benefit in jeopardising that by insulting you. Besides, Severus would react rather abruptly – he does that from time to time – and I have practiced duelling against him often enough not to wish to try it for real."

I don't want to be your friend. Ignoring him, she quietly began to cast the neural suppression charms she had learned so long ago, and heard his breath hitch as he shivered in reaction; it occurred to her that he might well not have had anyone to treat the aftermath of his punishments before, since Severus had implied he didn't know this spell.

"Shame on you, Hermione," Ron told her in a scandalised tone; he sounded as though he was trying to pretend he was joking so Severus wouldn't hurt him.

"I'm still considering formally training to become a Healer," she told him between casts. "We can't refuse to treat someone just because they happen to be elitist pureblood murderers." Lucius laughed at that, softly, flexing his hand around his cane as the tremors eased a little. Deciding that was good enough, she drew away, pointedly wiping her hand on her jeans as she retreated to stand beside Severus.

"Thank you, love," he murmured without moving his lips, so quietly that she barely heard him. It was only the second time he had ever said it, and the first time he had done so while maintaining eye contact, which promptly dissolved her irritation and left her swallowing and having to look away. She knew what it must have cost him to say it so publicly, even if he had made sure nobody else could hear it.

Severus gave his friend a pointed look, and after a moment Lucius cleared his throat uncomfortably. "My thanks," he said stiffly.

"I didn't do it for you," she snapped. "Harry's right, can we get a move on?"

Severus pulled his cigarettes out of his pocket and lit up. It looked casual, but Hermione knew it was rare for him to smoke this much; he was uneasy, even if he didn't show it. Exhaling smoke, he nodded. "Time is pressing. Can you vouch for any of the others, Lucius?"

He shook his head. "None. It's worse than even you can think, Severus. I hope you realise the trust I am placing in you. If this doesn't work, I will be made to watch my wife and son die screaming before enduring the same fate, if I'm lucky. Nobody else will dare."


"What does that mean?" Harry asked, sounding really frustrated now.

"It means we can't bring the Order in easily," Severus told him, frowning. He moved over to the stack of crates, flicking his wand briefly to arrange a few of them in a rough circle and motioning them all to sit down. "Originally I hoped some would be willing to change sides once the Dark Lord went insane and that they could give us the location of his hideout so we could arrange an ambush. Understand, you three, the only way to get into a Death Eater meeting or location is to have the Dark Mark or to be brought in by someone who has it. With enough Death Eaters willing to risk it, the Order could have attacked. As it is, either we hope the combined strength of the Order is enough to break the wards before the Dark Lord flees, or we come up with another plan."

"And you want us to trust Lucius Malfoy?" Harry asked levelly. He was holding his temper now, but his tone wasn't friendly.

Severus shrugged and leaned back, focusing on his cigarette. Lucius looked around at them. "He almost blinded Draco last week. I had to stand and watch my son screaming under torture," he said coldly. "I won't repeat what I had to endure to prevent my wife being assaulted. I originally joined the Dark Lord to give them the best possible life – yes, by gaining wealth and power, as if I am alone in that desire. Now the best thing I can do for them is to bring him down before he kills them. You four offer a chance of that. I don't know what you've done, not for certain... Severus?"

"The snake was a Horcrux," Severus told him laconically. "There were others. We have now destroyed them all. He's mortal and we can kill him."

Lucius blinked slowly again, raising his eyebrows slightly. "My, you have been busy," he said finally. "I suppose that explains his reaction." He shrugged. "Does Dumbledore know you're here, by the way?"


The single monosyllable was evidently enough for a Slytherin; Lucius' eyes widened slightly. "I see. Tragic. And now you have walked away from the rather melodramatically named Order of the Phoenix..."

"Melodramatic? This, from someone calling themselves a Death Eater?" Hermione said before she could stop herself, and Severus snorted in quiet amusement.

Lucius looked faintly irritated, but nodded, conceding the point. "Touché."

"We haven't quite abandoned the Order," Severus provided. "There has certainly been a separation, and the four of us have been working alone for the most part, but I suppose we can't leave them out of all the fun. They would make excellent human shields, after all."

"Severus," Hermione rebuked him softly, and he gave her an amused look before turning back to his friend.

"To business, then. Who is still alive?"

"Sadly, almost everyone. Your noble friends were curiously reluctant to act on the advantage you gave them..."

Severus rolled his eyes and nodded. "Yes."

"We're not murderers," Harry snapped.

"That's enough, Potter. You can be self-righteous later. A few more murderers in the Order could have shortened this war by years; only an idiot gets into this sort of fight when they aren't prepared to kill. You three were dragged in; the rest of the Order made a choice," Severus told him crisply. "So who did we lose, Lucius?"

"He killed Rabastan. I'm honestly not sure why. Goyle got himself killed. Avery tried to run. Needless to say, he failed. A few from the lower circles died, one way or another, but only those three from higher up."

Severus nodded thoughtfully. "So that means Bella and Rodolphus... Macnair, Rookwood, Crabbe, Greyback, the Carrows... Have there been any full meetings since the battle at Hogwarts?"

"Only one, a few days afterwards. He won't hold any more."

"That makes things easier, then. And we can count on yourself, Narcissa and Draco?"

"If I like your plan," Lucius told him honestly. "I haven't told Narcissa or Draco anything specific yet, only that I was meeting with you to see what you could come up with. If I think you've got a chance, I'll bring them in. I don't want them involved initially, though. They'll act when you do."

He nodded. "I can work with that, I think..."

"Is there any point asking what they're talking about?" Ron asked Hermione quietly.

She gave him a rueful smile. "None whatsoever, not while they're both being Slytherins. I'm just glad Severus isn't always this cryptic about everything or I think I might have killed him by now."

"Subtlety is wasted on you three," Lucius drawled mockingly, and she gave him her sweetest smile, even batting her eyelashes at him.

"I've always admired the way you carry around that huge phallic symbol so subtly, Mr Malfoy," she told him innocently, nodding towards the snake-topped cane. "You're not compensating for something, are you?"

He looked furious, but Severus had started laughing. "Don't sulk, Lucius, I've been telling you for years the stick makes you look like an idiot," he told his friend. "Stop teasing her. She'll give back as good as she gets. And fun though it is to watch you playing, we do have work to do."

"Then you're going to have to translate," Ron said.

Severus gave him a mocking look, but nodded. "The basic plan is fairly simple. Once we're all ready to move, Lucius will come to join us, and the next time he's Summoned as many of us as possible will tag along to get through the wards. We kill the Dark Lord and we get the hell out of there. Lucius and his family will drop any defences that survive his death and will kill or restrain the ones who won't give up, the ones who went to Azkaban rather than renounce him, the rabid ones. We'll give the location to whoever didn't get to go in with us and they can wade in to continue that and to arrest the ones who are smart enough or cowardly enough to listen to the Malfoys and surrender. We will have two major advantages; one is surprise, and the other is that the Dark Mark is going to hurt like nothing you can imagine when the Dark Lord dies. The Malfoys will be expecting it and there are potions that will numb it and allow them to keep functioning; the others are going to be taken off guard and will be in agony, which makes it rather difficult to concentrate on fighting."

"I can see a lot of holes in that plan," Harry objected. "It's not very definite."

"That's why we're all here, Potter," Severus told him with an air of exaggerated patience. "To iron out the details and make sure this is going to work."

"When can you be ready to move?" Lucius asked him.

"I'm not sure. We only have three former Ministry workers left in the Order now, and only one of those was an Auror. We'll need time to get as much support as possible. I don't want to have to spend the next year or so helping track down the ones who managed to run for it."

"That raises an interesting point," his friend noted. "You managed to remove your Mark?"

Severus nodded, undoing the cuff of his coat and shirt and pulling the sleeves back to show the scar on his left arm. "It worked just as I told you it should."

"He wasn't pleased that he couldn't find you."

"What a shame."

"What about the people at the Ministry?" Ron asked. "Like Umbridge? She's not a Death Eater, she won't be at this meeting or anything, but she can't be left loose to run. You said there were loads of people working for You-Know-Who who didn't have the Dark Mark."

"It depends how many people the Order can rally. We'll get as many of them as we can. We won't get them all, not by any means, but we should be able to get most. A lot of them aren't bad people, just trying to do their jobs, and many of them have families being held hostage. We'll do what we can at the Ministry, but our primary concern must be the Dark Lord and his immediate followers. Cleaning up the rest will take years, probably. You and Potter still want to be Aurors, don't you? The early years of your career will mostly consist of chasing down everyone we miss, I would imagine."

"I've thought of a problem," Hermione said. "You said we're going to be arresting the Death Eaters who surrender. Why would any of them surrender? All the inner circle are Slytherins, aren't they? They must realise they won't have anything left to lose. Nobody's going to be able to lie or bribe their way out of trouble this time. It's Azkaban, execution or the Dementor's Kiss – wouldn't they rather go down fighting?"

"A lot of them will, but hope springs eternal," Severus replied. "There will be some who want to stay alive as long as possible in the hope of wriggling out of it. And some in lower ranks who were genuinely coerced one way or another."

"Not the Malfoys," Harry said flatly, turning to stare at Lucius. "Your money won't help you this time. You don't have anything to lose either."

"Use your head, boy. I'm here to make a deal, not to offer you a helping hand. I'm doing nothing without a guarantee of immunity for myself and my wife and son."

"I can't guarantee you complete immunity," Severus told him. "I have no idea who's going to end up in charge of things or what's actually going to happen. I can promise that a few Order members will testify in your favour, and I can promise a quick end if it doesn't work out, and I think I can promise to get at least Draco out, but I can't give more than that."

"Who can you get to speak?" Lucius asked, leaning forward, his grey eyes growing intent.

Severus looked around at the three of them silently. His eyes were neutral now and he obviously wasn't going to ask the question; he simply looked at them and waited for them to respond.

Hermione thought about it for a few minutes, biting her lip. This man had done some truly terrible things. But then, so had Severus; if she didn't blame him for what he had been made to do, it seemed unfair to blame his friends in the same situation. Lucius was selfish, cold, ruthless and arrogant, but he was trying to protect his family and didn't seem to be interested in ruling the world for the sake of it but rather for them.

"If you help us, if this works out, I'll speak for you," she said finally, "although I don't know what good it would do and I'm sure you'll find it unbearably humiliating to be defended by a Muggleborn."

"Hermione," Harry protested.

"If he helps us win, it's worth it," she told him. "He'd probably find some way out of it anyway. And Draco doesn't deserve to be punished; he never had a choice."

Ron was grinning at Lucius now. "Say please."


"You heard me, Malfoy. Say please. Ask me to do it, and I'll say you shouldn't be killed or sent to Azkaban. But you have to ask. And when this is done you have to ask my family."

The older wizard's lip curled, his eyes hardening. "Severus really has taught you well, hasn't he..."

"It's not an unreasonable request," Hermione pointed out calmly. "At some point I want an apology from Draco for all the foul things he's said about me, too."

"So how about it?" Ron asked cheerfully. His attitude was perfectly understandable, she reflected, recalling all the snide little comments and belittling remarks the Malfoys had directed at the Weasleys over the years.

"I am risking my life and the lives of my family for you, boy."

"No, you're not. You're risking your life and their lives for you."

"All right, that's enough. Both of you," Severus added. He flicked a hand and gave his friend a meaningful look, and Lucius sighed, standing up and walking across the floor to the shadows of the far wall, leaning on his cane with a bored expression. Hermione felt the faint buzz of Muffliato in her ears a moment later before Severus leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

"Don't push him, Weasley. I know what he's like, and your family do have a lot of compelling reasons to dislike him, but you have no idea how frightening it is for any Death Eater to even contemplate betrayal. You haven't seen what happens to the ones that get caught. It has taken tremendous courage for Lucius to be standing here. There's no need to humiliate him over it. No matter how much you're enjoying it," he added as an afterthought, shaking his head as one side of his mouth twitched into an almost-smile. "Lucius is... well, he's not a good man, but he isn't a bad man either. And we need him."

"Are any of your scars because of him?" Hermione asked quietly.

He stared at her for a long moment before nodding. "One or two. He has received scars from me as well. It was a complicated situation and I'd prefer not to think about it. I won't answer questions about it, either. They are my friends and I'm going to do what I can to protect them. They would do the same for me. I won't ask it of any of you, but don't make this worse."

Ron scowled. "He at least owes my parents an apology. And he owes Ginny a lot more than that, after the thing with the diary."

"I'm sure he does, but let's save it until we're sure we've all survived this, if you please." He glanced at Hermione. "And you'll get your apology from Draco. I'll see to that. He is very fortunate he never said it within earshot of me. Other Slytherins have used that word in my hearing before, and regretted it."

She nodded, wondering briefly what his relationship with her was going to do to his friendship with the Malfoys. Oddly, Lucius didn't seem too bothered, but Draco had always despised her. She didn't want to be the reason for Severus losing any of his very few friendships. "Harry, you've been quiet. Are you going to speak up for them if we get through this?"

"I don't know yet," he replied quietly, before looking at Severus. "What's to stop V – uh, You-Know-Who reading this from their minds?"

"Narcissa is a decent Occlumens. Nowhere near as strong as I am, but strong enough. She's lied to him before to keep the location of my house a secret, if you recall my telling you that. Lucius and Draco both know enough Occlumency to keep him from being suspicious. If he has a reason to fully probe any of them, he'll eventually find out, so we must hope he doesn't."

"That's very comforting. We've got to move quickly, then, haven't we? Give him less time to find out?"

"What's on your mind, Potter? We have to give Tonks enough time to find some Aurors with shiny toys who want to come and play with us, for a start. And allow enough time for the rest of the Order to get through the inevitable bickering and disagreeing."

"I was just thinking... there's a date coming up when we know there will be a Death Eater meeting."

Severus gave him a sharp look, then smiled suddenly, a mostly sincere expression that held a hint of viciousness. "There may be hope for you yet, Potter. I like it. Very poetic."

"You're talking about Halloween," Hermione realised. "That's only four days away. Is that enough time?"

"I hope so. I want this to happen then. But if we're not ready in time, then we're not, and we'll just have to wait until we are. All right, do we all agree with the plan in principle?"

"I suppose so, once we sort out the details," Harry sighed. "But if he's setting us up and we get killed, I'm haunting you."

"Being annoyed by a Potter who won't go away. However will I adjust," Severus told him sarcastically. "Weasley?"

"Yeah, I guess. He's still a slimy git, though."

"Believe me, he knows that. Hermione?"

"If you trust him and think this will work, that's good enough."

His eyes softened before he cancelled the Muffliato and stood up. "I'll speak to him and we can start planning in earnest."

Crossing the warehouse to where Lucius stood, Severus fished his cigarettes out of his pocket again. He was smoking too much today, but it gave him something to do with his hands. "If we win, they'll speak up for you."

His fellow Slytherin nodded, watching the three of them pensively. "The Granger girl, Severus? Really?" he asked finally, turning to him with a raised eyebrow.

He shrugged ruefully. "Strange but true," he replied quietly, watching Lucius. He wasn't sure how his friend was going to react; Lucius was harder to read than either his wife or his son.

"I would ask if you have lost your mind, but I think that happened a long time ago." He shook his head fractionally and accepted the cigarette he was offered with a faint grimace of distaste. "I did see a ring, didn't I?"

"You did, yes."

"Unbelievable." They stood and smoked for a few moments before he drawled quietly, "Narcissa is going to be absolutely furious. You turned down all of her choices, and ended up with..." He trailed off, not stupid enough to dare say the word Mudblood, and Severus almost smiled.

"She'll survive. You saw some of the women she picked out, anyway – can you blame me?"

"No, I suppose not." Lucius paused. "I've never seen you look at anyone the way you look at her. Not even that Evans girl. But are you truly sure about this?"

Severus met his eyes calmly. "I've never been more certain of anything."

That earned him a slightly shocked look, before he nodded slowly. "Very well, then. I will see if I can talk my family around, for your sake. Draco is going to take a lot of convincing."

"He doesn't hate her because she's Muggleborn," Severus replied mockingly. "He hates her because she's smarter than he is. And because she nearly broke his nose a few years ago, and has outwitted him on several occasions."

"That's true. I suppose I am meant to congratulate you, but I hope you'll understand if I don't. At least not yet."

"Bigot. I'm living proof that you're not the blood snob you claim to be. Don't worry, I don't plan to inflict either of you on one another often. I don't do socialising anyway and I can't see you getting along." Not for a while, anyway, although he thought they might, in time. "You're probably going to have to attend the wedding, though."

"Absolutely not."

"Lucius, you're my only male friend, as incredibly sad as that is. If not you, I'm going to be stuck with Potter, Merlin help me, and I don't think it would be a terribly good omen if I end up murdering my bride's best friend before the end of the ceremony."

"We'll discuss it later."

"We will indeed," he agreed mildly, finishing his cigarette and stubbing it out on the rough concrete underfoot. "Are you sure you want to do this? If you're caught..."

"It's been worse than you can imagine, Severus. I wasn't exaggerating for the benefit of your little playmates. I understand your complete lack of fear now. I'm not sure I care what happens to me as long as this stops. He has become something terrible. I don't have the words for it; you're the eloquent one. What he'll do to me if he catches me is the same as he'll do to me if he doesn't, except quicker. There's nothing left to lose any more. If anyone can pull this off, it's you. Frankly I've half-considered joining you for more than a year; this isn't what I wanted when we were young."

Wordlessly Severus gripped his friend's shoulder. "I know. You don't have to explain yourself to me. And you have my word I will do everything I can to keep you, Narcissa and Draco clear of reprisal."

"Because that worked out so well last time," Lucius told him sarcastically, shrugging off the sentiment briskly as his voice returned to its usual mocking drawl. "How did you break the Unbreakable Vow, anyway? And seriously, how on earth did you end up with the Granger girl? You and I have a great deal of catching up to do, I imagine."

"Hah. Yes, we certainly do. It's far too long a story to go into now, though. Buy me a drink or several when this is over and I'll tell you... certainly most of it."

"Very well. I suppose you had better return to babysitting, then, and inform the Order so they have time to be completely ineffective."

"I would hope they won't be completely ineffective... I don't really want to have to do all this by myself. Very well, then. I'll send an owl when we're ready to move. Potter's bird is too recognisable... watch for Weasley's owl. It's an insane little Scops, don't let Diogenes eat it. Let's get this over with, shall we? I don't know about you, but I've got a life waiting for me."

"Well, that was mildly entertaining," Severus observed as he drew back from the fireplace and the flames turned from green to orange once more. "A little like kicking an ant's nest. Everyone at Headquarters going to be very busy for a few days; be glad we're out of the way."

"What is actually happening there?" Harry asked, and Severus shrugged as he stood up stiffly and stretched.

"Arthur, Percy and Tonks are off visiting their old Ministry friends, especially Tonks' contacts among the Aurors. Mostly they're gathering support and finding people willing to fight, but they're also sounding out the people who are still there, working out who is going to be trouble – like Umbridge, for example. Everyone else is doing much the same, finding old friends who would be willing to help. They think we've got a good chance of being ready by Halloween. Minerva's not happy about the first part of the plan, but there really is no way to get into a Death Eater meeting without being a Death Eater or being taken in by a Death Eater and there's no way of moving large numbers in."

"So we stick to the plan, then," Hermione summarised. "Part one, people go in with Mr Malfoy and take out You-Know-Who. Then the Malfoys start taking advantage of the chaos while our people get outside and contact the Order with the location, and everyone else piles in to help."

"That's about it, yes." He crossed the room and dropped to sprawl inelegantly in his usual armchair, smiling slightly when she forsook her own seat to come and sit with him, nestling comfortably against his shoulder. "We need to discuss who is going in with Lucius," he said quietly.

"I thought all four of us were going," Harry objected, and Severus lifted a hand.

"Hear me out; this is important. I am certainly going in, and I have no objection to any of you three accompanying me if that's how we decide to play things, but I don't think you've thought this through. This isn't going to be a fair fight. It's an assassination. We won't be going in to duel him, we'll be going in to kill him. It's murder. None of you have ever tried to use a lethal spell with the intent to kill another. If you're going to hesitate, even for a second, I don't want you at my back. This is dangerous and we cannot afford to make a mistake; we will never get another chance. If he survives now, we may never be able to stop him."

During the short silence that followed, Hermione thought about what he had said. Killing Voldemort had always been the goal, but she hadn't really paused to think about what that would actually mean; she had never imagined she would be part of the final stages, somehow, even though she was one of Harry's best friends and it had always been almost certain that he would be there at the end. Voldemort definitely deserved to die, he had to be killed, but... she tried to imagine herself doing it and bit her lip, suppressing a shiver.

Severus obviously felt it, as he slid an arm around her shoulders before speaking again. "You are the only ones who can decide. I don't know if any of you can do this the way it needs to be done. Don't answer now; we have a few days before we have to do this. We can practice casting spells immediately in the wake of Side-Along Apparition, since that is horribly disorientating under the best of circumstances. There are other things you can do if you decide you can't actually use the Killing Curse – shields, for example, or joining the Order's teams on standby. There is no shame in saying no; there is nothing wrong with not being able to commit murder without hesitation."

"I have to be there," Harry said quietly. "I don't mean the prophecy. I have to be there."

"I understand wanting revenge, Potter. But you don't fight to kill, even when you should. You're known for trying Disarming charms in the stupidest of circumstances..."

"That's a point," Hermione interrupted. "Sorry, Severus. But what about Harry's wand? It shares a core with You-Know-Who, remember. The Priori Incantatem effect?"

"Oh, bollocks. I'd forgotten all about that." Severus frowned. "Well, it shouldn't matter. The whole point of this plan is that the Dark Lord won't have time to cast anything. If you go in, Potter, and if it does happen, drop your wand and run for it before the link forms and locks you into it."

"I know, I know, don't be a hero. I'm still going in."

"I told you, don't answer yet. I don't know if you can commit deliberate murder without flinching, Potter, not even against the man who killed your parents. You aren't a sociopath. I also don't know what it will do to you afterwards; you are less psychologically stable than either of your friends, and you could be vulnerable. Killing someone will affect you. It isn't easy; you need to think it through and you need to be absolutely sure you can do it."

"Can you?" Hermione asked him softly, shifting a little to look up at him. "You've told me a little about why you joined them, what he once meant to you."

He nodded. "That's a fair question, but yes, I can. I've had practice. I have no idea how I'm going to feel afterwards – probably rather messed up, I suspect – but I can push everything away until it's over. I'll want the Elder Wand, too," he added. "Magically speaking, I am stronger than you, and closer to the Dark Arts."

"I never planned to use it for anything as big as an Unforgiveable," she assured him, more relieved than otherwise. "You should have it, anyway. It seems... right." She hesitated. "I'm not sure if I can kill someone who isn't actively trying to kill me at that moment," she admitted softly.

Severus nodded, his arm tightening around her shoulders. "That's why I'm bringing this up now, to give you all a chance to think about it. Few people can kill in cold blood. When I was your age, I couldn't do so easily. The Order gloss over the darker side of this war, they always have. They hide behind euphemisms, they spend hours justifying everything. This is murder, and you need to be aware of that before we go in. All of you have earned the right to come with me and put an end to this, but that doesn't mean you have to, or even that you should."

"What do you think we should do?" Ron asked. "I know you said you didn't know if we could do it or not, but you must have some idea."

He looked thoughtful. "I'm really not sure, Weasley. I know you're all capable of killing in self defence, and if this were a big dramatic battle I wouldn't be thinking about it at all, but this is different. If we went in now, none of you could, but with time to steel yourselves and gear yourselves up to it, perhaps. It's for you all to decide individually."

Harry grinned suddenly. "I'm a bit surprised you haven't tried to keep Hermione out of this, actually."

Severus nodded a little ruefully as Hermione sat up to look at him sharply. "I thought about it. If I thought for one moment she might actually listen, I would have done, but short of physically knocking her out and chaining her up somewhere, it's not possible."

"Severus..." she said warningly.

"Oh, stop it. You should know I don't mean it as a comment on your abilities, nor do I see you as a porcelain figurine in need of protection. I would simply feel happier if I didn't have to worry about you, that's all."

"I could say the same to you," she retorted.

"Which is precisely why I haven't tried to keep you away." He gave her an amused look as she scowled at him, and finally she relented and leaned against his shoulder again as his arm settled around her once more. "So, take the rest of today to start thinking things over, all of you. Tomorrow we start preparing, and in a few days this will all be over at last."

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 58 of 60

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