Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 59 of 60

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Deep moral questions weren't really something Hermione had ever needed to struggle with before. The closest she had come to anything like this was wondering if she should tell someone about whatever stupidity Harry and Ron had done now; she had certainly never had to contemplate murder before. Now, with only one more day to go before they faced Voldemort one final time, she lay in the darkness of their bedroom listening absently to Severus' breathing and thought it over again. Her lover was awake, judging by the lack of quiet snoring, but only just, and didn't seem inclined to move or speak yet.

Murder. It wasn't easy to contemplate. Jokes and the odd fit of temper aside, she wasn't a violent person, and certainly not a fighter, not unless she really had to be. Voldemort was a monster, but even so... No, she acknowledged finally. She couldn't do this. Not coldly, not the way she would need to. She knew she would hesitate, and that would endanger everyone else with her. So that was the big question out of the way; now she just had to decide what she was going to do instead, because she certainly wasn't going to stand aside completely.

In an ideal world, she wanted to go in with Severus and watch his back. But realistically, he didn't need her there; for the past two days the four of them had been practicing in a variety of remote locations, learning to cast spells while still dizzy from Side-Along Apparition – including the Killing Curse, although since according to Severus they were all too soft-hearted to kill animals, they hadn't had any targets to aim at – and learning to simply move more quickly, and Severus' reflexes were like nothing any of them had ever seen. He didn't need anyone to watch his back, not for something as quick as this, and her presence was more likely to distract him and give him something else to worry about. He knew how to look after himself. She just had to trust that and try not to worry just for the sake of worrying.

"You're unnaturally tense for this time of the morning," Severus murmured behind her, tightening his arm around her waist. "Stop thinking so hard."

"And you're unusually coherent for this time of the morning," she retorted affectionately, cuddling back against him. "Complete sentences and everything."

"Very funny." She heard him gently blow some hair away from his face, a very familiar gesture by now. "Have you made your decision, then?" he asked.

"I have." Wriggling until he loosened his arm, she rolled over and settled down facing him. "I'm not going in." He nodded, not looking remotely surprised, and she smiled ruefully. "And you already knew I was going to say that."

Severus shook his head, smiling a little in return. "Suspected, not knew. You're not a murderer, Hermione. You'd kill in a heartbeat to protect others, but I didn't think you could do it deliberately. What do you plan to do instead?"

"I think I'd be best sticking with Poppy outside in case people get hurt," she decided quietly, thinking aloud. "I'll be nearby if I'm needed, but I think we have enough fighters, and she's our only Healer." She eyed him warily for a moment. "Don't you dare look relieved."

His smile broadened a little. "I wouldn't dare."

Hermione snorted softly and settled closer. "So it'll just be the three of you, then, I suppose."

He shook his head. "Weasley talked to me last night before I came to bed. He wants to go in afterwards with his family."

"Why didn't he tell all of us?" she asked curiously.

"He wasn't sure how Potter would take the news. Since first year you've all subconsciously had this plan that the three of you would stick together and he didn't want to be the one to break the unofficial pact." Severus stretched and settled down again. "Frankly I think of the three of you he's the best equipped to cope with what we're going to do, but it's his decision, and I admit I want to see the full Weasley family together. I want to see how many of them match their parents, and they do work very well as a unit."

She nodded agreement, automatically snuggling closer against him. "I can't see Harry deciding to hang back, though. You don't want him to go in, do you?"

"Not really, but not because I don't think he can do it. Rather the opposite, in fact; I think he'll find it easy, once he's made his mind up. And in a day or two, the first time he's alone for long enough to think about what he's done and how it felt, it's going to hit him very hard. He is the least stable of us. Still, as with Weasley, it is his decision, and really he deserves to be there. He'll recover in time."

"And you?" she asked softly.

"I don't know how this is going to affect me," he told her honestly. "I won't know until it's done. But I'll be all right. It won't be the death itself that bothers me, but... he was important to me once. I hate him now, but once I didn't. That conflict is going to feel rather strange afterwards, I think, as it did with Dumbledore."

Hermione nodded against his chest, trailing her fingers down his back absently as she thought things over again. "Of course, technically, we've all been committing murder by slow degrees since Harry stabbed the diary and destroyed the first Horcrux," she observed after a few minutes. "How many fragments of a soul do you need to destroy before it counts as murder?"

"Now there's an interesting legal and ethical debate," he replied, sounding amused. "It's a very good point, but one I think you should probably keep between the two of us."

"I planned to." Closing her eyes, she smiled ruefully to herself, musing on how weird her life had become as Severus fell into his usual absent-minded habit of playing with her hair, working some of the night's tangles out carefully with his fingers. Sometimes it was still jarring to confront just how different the Muggle and wizarding worlds really were, and how much her life had changed in the past couple of years. "You know, Severus, when all this is done, you really should paint something for Phineas and Dilys."

He snorted a soft laugh. "What on earth for?"

"Well, I know they drove you mad doing it, but without them interfering shamelessly so often, I doubt we'd be here now."

"Hmm. I suppose you're right, at that," he agreed wryly. "I shall think about it."

"Would you ever have made a move on your own?" Hermione asked him curiously.

"In all honesty, no," he replied quietly, abandoning her hair to slide his arms around her. "Well, I'm not sure whether the Fiendfyre would still have pushed me far enough off balance to kiss you or not; I know you worked out I certainly didn't plan to do it. But failing that, no, I doubt that I would have said or done anything. Would you?"

"...I don't know," she admitted. "It would depend how this year worked out, I suppose, whether or not you'd gone through with killing Dumbledore when you were supposed to and whether we were staying here with you or not. I think it would have taken something unusual, but I'd like to think I would have found the courage once the war was done." She grinned. "Or just got you drunk."

That made him laugh. "You're a wicked woman," he chided lightly, snuggling closer and relaxing once more. After a few minutes he observed, "You've tensed up again. Stop fretting about tomorrow."

"Severus, you've known me for over six years. That's more than long enough for you to realise I'm not going to stop worrying just because you tell me not to," she retorted.

"Point taken." He sighed. "I can't promise you everything's going to be all right. In an ideal world all our people will come out without a scratch, but life doesn't work like that. I can promise you we're as well prepared as we could possibly be and that all risks have been minimised. It's not likely that anyone will be seriously hurt."

She had to smile; he really was absolutely useless at being reassuring, since he flatly refused to lie or to say anything that could be proved wrong later. As quirks went, she supposed this was relatively harmless, and it was oddly rather sweet actually. "It doesn't make any difference, you know that. I'd be worrying no matter how safe or unsafe it was going to be. I always do." After a moment she lifted her head to look at him. "Severus, I want you to promise me something."

"Name it," he said promptly, somewhat to her surprise.

Keeping eye contact, she said quietly, "I want you to promise me you'll be careful. I know you, and I know how careless you can be with your own safety sometimes. I know your life has never mattered all that much to you and I know you won't hesitate to risk death if you think it will help achieve your goals. Please promise me you'll try to stay safe."

Several different emotions flickered rapidly through his dark eyes as he propped himself up on his elbow, returning her gaze without blinking. After a short pause he replied softly, "I promise."

Hermione blinked at him. "That was easy. I expected you to argue more."

He half-smiled, his eyes softening. "You're right that my life doesn't matter to me, but I know it matters to you. I can imagine how I would feel if you were to get yourself killed stupidly; I do not intend to do that to you. I promise I will be careful."

Tangling a hand in his hair, she leaned in and kissed him. When their lips parted, she smiled at him. "That was a good answer."

"Yes?" he asked, his lips twitching as he fought back a smirk.

"A very good answer," she told him, kissing him again. "You're getting the hang of this."

"Thanks very much," he mumbled against her mouth as his arm snaked around her waist, pulling her closer as he deepened the kiss.

Halloween was always a tense time for any Death Eater. The Dark Lord liked the symbolism of the night of Samhain and somehow used it as an excuse to indulge himself. It hadn't been so bad in this war, when he'd been trying to keep his return more or less a secret, but in the first war... Horror beyond most people's imaginings, frankly. And then, of course, in 1981, everything had gone wrong rather spectacularly for both sides.

Severus didn't like thinking about that night. He didn't remember much of it very clearly, but what he did remember still occasionally haunted his dreams. He really had lost everything, in the space of an hour, and it had taken years for him to recover from the trauma. Most of his memories didn't really hurt much any more, but those ones still had very sharp edges, and he took care to keep them deeply buried now. It was a distraction he couldn't afford.

He looked around. Most of the higher-ranking Order members stood around in small groups, all pretending quite hard that they were relaxed and calm; it was odd to see so many people in the Shrieking Shack, but the meeting place hadn't been his idea. There actually weren't that many present, although it was quite hard to tell because of all the Weasleys; many of the Order and most of their unranked allies were at the Ministry or at the homes of other targets, all carefully getting into position and all armed with golden Galleons – they were using Hermione's DA coin idea to co-ordinate this.

Hermione herself was off to one side with Poppy, apparently deep in discussion. He watched her for a moment, admiring how calm she seemed; even he found it hard to spot how nervous she was. Neither of them had slept much last night, or talked much this morning, which he was privately quite thankful for – no tearful farewells; they would be separated for twenty minutes at the most and he refused to make a dramatic production out of things. He refused to consider the possibility of anything going wrong; he was determined to get out of this more or less intact and keep his promise.

His dark eyes wandered around the room. The younger Weasleys didn't seem to be taking this seriously, indulging in their usual horseplay and jokes, but he'd taught them all for years and knew they weren't stupid. They knew what was at stake. So did a lot of their friends; most of the squads of Order members working elsewhere had a few former students helping them. Inevitably most were from Gryffindor, and a lot of those were ex-DA members, but there were plenty of Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs too. Severus had suggested a few former Slytherins who would be willing to help, but he'd been outvoted unanimously, and since he was no longer Head of House and it was no longer his problem if nobody trusted the Snakes, he hadn't argued.

Skipping over the lower-ranked Order members that he didn't really know personally, he focused on the other large clump of people, which consisted of Molly, Arthur, Minerva, Tonks and Lupin. They were talking quietly, probably going over the plan yet again and rehearsing the locations and targets of all the little groups, and despite the outward calm he could see the gleam in the eyes of the older three. Today had been a long time coming.

Finally Severus glanced aside at Potter, standing near him with a rather distant expression on his face. They looked at one another silently for a moment before the boy grinned. "I've been waiting my whole life for this."

"No, you haven't," Severus corrected him automatically. "You've been waiting six years. You possess the maturity of a six year old, admittedly, but that is not your entire life."

Potter continued grinning, no longer bothered by the mild insult. "Yeah, yeah." The two of them were never going to be friends, but they had reached a decent understanding, and Severus wasn't worried about having the younger wizard with him today. There was a lovely poetic symmetry in having the two of them be the ones to do this, and on this day of all days. The grin faded and those green eyes looked more serious, turning inwards again, and Severus turned away once more, leaving the boy to his introspection. Glancing again at Hermione, he turned his attention to the Elder Wand in his hand, absently turning it over in his fingers; it was a shame the Dark Lord wasn't going to get enough time to recognise it, really. This too was nicely ironic.

The sharp crack of Apparition outside caused instant total silence as everyone stopped talking and looked at him. Severus held up a hand for quiet and listened until a series of sharp taps sounded as someone hit the door with a stick of some kind; he counted the beats, reasonably certain that even Hermione wasn't very likely to recognise the Imperial March from Star Wars and wondering idly what Lucius would think if he ever found out what this signal was. When the taps stopped, he stuck his fingers in his mouth and whistled the next line piercingly, somewhat relieved that he could still do it, and Lucius opened the door and sauntered in. He was wearing his Death Eater robe but had foregone the mask, which was probably for the best.

"Good afternoon, everyone," he drawled, looking around. "My, don't we all look... heroic... today."

Everyone stared back at him in stony-faced silence; nobody was happy with their only choice of ally. Lucius smirked, completely unruffled, and walked over to Severus, his cane tapping on the floor; Severus saw instantly that his old friend was nervous and smirked back at him as they traded brief forearm grips.

"So, just you and our young hero here?" Lucius asked, glancing briefly at Potter. "I thought everyone would want to come along..." Including your young woman, was the unspoken qualification. Severus shrugged.

"Don't complain. You should be thankful you don't have to tow half of us in with you. Did you get the numbing agent for your Dark Mark?"

"Yes, and as you instructed Narcissa and Draco have already used it enough to mostly deaden sensation. We tested it yesterday and worked out how much was needed to allow us to feel a Summons without pain, and we have warned Draco how much it is likely to hurt." He looked thoughtful. "Will it hurt as much as last time, do you suppose?"

"I really have no idea. Best to assume it will." Severus repressed a shiver, remembering how badly it had hurt last time. Worse than the Cruciatus, for certain, and all concentrated in one spot; his arm had been virtually unusable for two days afterwards, as far as he recalled, although his memories of that time were a little sketchy now.

"What time do you think you'll be Summoned?" Potter asked in a very carefully polite voice.

Lucius made a show of checking his pocket watch, although since he'd been on time getting here he knew what time it was already. "Not for a couple of hours yet, Potter. Sometime after sundown," he replied in the same carefully polite tone, so careful that it was its own form of mockery.

Minerva walked over to them. Her eyes were hard as she bent her head a fraction in greeting. "Lucius."

By contrast, Lucius swept a formal and elegant bow. "Professor McGonagall."

Hermione had drifted closer to listen; Severus saw her repress a smile and bit back one of his own. It took real style to make such a greeting so insulting; Lucius was an insufferable smart-arse and always would be. It was one reason the two Slytherins got along so well.

Minerva scowled at him. "How many will we be facing?"

"Most of them will listen to me, and many will be too busy clutching their arms and screaming to put up much of a fight," Lucius assured her. "You will face serious resistance from perhaps a dozen, and my family and I will do our best to subdue as many as possible while we still retain the element of surprise."

"What of Bella?" Severus asked quietly. "She is the only one who can challenge your attempt to take control of things, and I would prefer she didn't try to chase me. I'm not going to be in the mood for a duel."

"Narcissa's going to take care of it," Lucius replied quietly, and he blinked, somewhat startled. Thinking about it, he nodded slowly; it made sense, in a rather tragic sort of way.

Potter stared. "She's going to kill her own sister?" he asked blankly.

Lucius gave him a rather tired look. "Her sister died years ago, Mr Potter. Bellatrix as she is now is a rabid animal, beyond saving. And Narcissa has wanted her dead for months," he added quietly, something dark flashing through his grey eyes. "As have I."

Oh, God. Severus swallowed hard. "Draco?" he made himself ask, shivering.

His friend's expression was grim and cold. "Yes. He has nightmares now. But he wasn't hurt, really. He'll recover. Especially since he intends to help Narcissa."


Hermione was closer now, and observed quietly, "We don't want you to translate that bit, do we."

"No," Severus and Lucius said in unison, exchanging a rather bitter smile.

With unusual tact, Potter broke the strained atmosphere by observing light-heartedly, "By the way, Mr Malfoy, I'll give Dobby your regards."

Aware of Hermione smothering a giggle, Severus gave his friend an amused look, recalling listening to Lucius ranting about the trick with the sock. It was the first time he had ever been impressed by anything Potter had done.

Typically, Lucius refused to show irritation, merely observing coolly, "Even for a house elf, the creature was peculiar. You're welcome to him." He had a point there, Severus reflected; most Malfoy elves tended to be a little odd, actually.

Minerva cleared her throat pointedly. "Entertaining as this is, we have more important matters to discuss..."

"No, we don't," Severus interrupted. "Everyone knows the plan, Minerva. We're as prepared as we are ever going to be. The more you insist on repeating it, the more nervous people are going to get. Go and stop your Gryffindors winding one another up any further."

"Your allies are rather jumpy," Lucius remarked as she departed with a glare.

"I can't imagine why," Hermione told him airily, giving Severus a quick smile before retreating back across the room to continue her talk with Poppy.

The older Slytherin chuckled softly. "I'm starting to see why you like her. Narcissa knows, by the way, but we haven't informed Draco yet. He has enough to deal with at the moment."

"Fair enough," Severus conceded. "How did Narcissa react?"

"She asked me if I was drunk. After I convinced her that I wasn't, she asked me if you were."

He snorted a quiet laugh at that, well able to imagine it. He was reasonably certain that Hermione and Lucius would learn to tolerate one another quite well, in time, and he was equally sure she and Draco would never get along at all but would learn to fake it. As for her and Narcissa, though... he rather thought they would end up killing one another, actually. Or, rather more worryingly, forming a very dangerous alliance at the expense of himself and Lucius and dooming them both. "Even I would struggle to remain intoxicated for this long," he replied idly. "There was no alcohol involved on either side." A bit of a first for me, actually, he reflected in some amusement.

"And what are your thoughts on this, Potter?" Lucius inquired. "Your antagonistic relationship with Severus is virtually legend."

The boy grinned ruefully. "Well, we've sort of worked that out, more or less. As for the two of them... Hermione's been my best friend for years. I'm not daft enough to try and tell her who she can pick. She's smart enough to know what she's doing, I guess."

"A ringing endorsement if ever I heard one," he drawled. "What of young Miss Weasley and yourself, then?"

"Small talk, Lucius? Really?" Severus asked, amused.

"If I am to be stuck here for the next few hours, what else do you suggest I do? I doubt you brought a deck of cards with you." The two men exchanged swift grins, recalling a lot of late-night card games dating right back to their schooldays – poker was a game that was much more interesting when the players could use magic and were both shameless and quite skilled cheats.

Potter cleared his throat rather pointedly. "Yeah, we're going to be having a talk about Ginny when this is done."

"I quiver with fear," Lucius told him sarcastically, before giving Severus a puzzled look. "Why do people keep implying that I have done something to apologise for? So the diary was cursed, it's hardly my fault nobody in her family or the school spotted it, and I fail to see how it's linked to the Chamber of Secrets."

"Ah... I forgot that you don't know. The diary turned out to be a little more than merely cursed."

Lucius looked blank for a moment before his eyes widened in something akin to horror. "Tell me you're joking."

Severus shook his head, absently reaching up to brush his hair out of his eyes. "No. I myself didn't know until recently, but the diary was a Horcrux."

His friend swore under his breath in fluent Greek. Potter looked blank. "You didn't know?"

"Of course not," Lucius snapped at him. "Don't be foolish, boy. Do you think I would have knowingly kept something that dangerous in my house, near my family? Or knowingly unleashed it at the school my son attends? Or even that the Dark Lord would have told anyone how he had extended his life?" He looked a little shaken for a moment, before briskly putting his usual disdainful mask back into place and pulling himself together. "Just how many were there, Severus?"

"Seven, all told, although he only intended to create six. It's a complicated story."

"Seven?" Lucius repeated. He knew enough about the Dark Arts to be passably familiar with Horcruxes; Severus knew he was imagining what that many splits would do to someone's soul. After a long moment he said quietly, trying to sound matter of fact about it, "Well, I suppose that would explain a great deal. It explains why he has gone completely insane, too."

"Is it that bad now?" Severus asked quietly, recalling again the jarring horror of facing what his master had become when the second war had started.

Tellingly, Lucius didn't make a joke or a snide remark; he simply met his friend's eyes and replied quietly, "Yes."

Severus cocked his head to one side, regarding his fellow Slytherin pensively, before nodding. "In a week or two, when everything's calmed down, we'll meet and talk properly," he said softly. Lucius nodded and looked away, turning to scrutinise the Order members, wandering off into his own thoughts by the look of things. Doing the same, Severus half-closed his eyes and called up his Occlumency defences, slowly and patiently pushing everything down away from him and moving into the quiet, cold, dark place he went when he needed to kill. At least this would be the last time he had to act the Death Eater.

In the end, everything happened very quickly, shortly after sundown. Severus was roused from his meditation by Lucius touching his shoulder; nodding, he stood and stretched. The movement attracted the attention of the others, and everyone fell silent, looking at him. "Get ready," he said softly, rolling his shoulders and loosening his muscles. "We move in ten minutes." Long enough to ensure that Lucius was the last one there. Narcissa and Draco would be among the first in, taking their places and waiting just as anxiously.

Potter immediately went over to his girlfriend; frankly, Severus thought that was a bad idea, since it would only upset the two of them. Still, he didn't object when Hermione crossed the room to him, although she didn't try to touch him; not only did she know his stance on tearful farewells, particularly in public, but she knew him well enough to see he was Occluding strongly and needed distance to maintain his careful mental state. She looked like she was trying not to cry, if he was any judge, but she was holding herself together admirably and her voice was completely level and calm when she finally told him, "Remember your promise."

He made himself try to smile, for her sake, although it was difficult to show any emotion at all when he was like this. "As if I would forget." Probably he should be telling her he loved her, but there were a lot of people listening, and it seemed so contrived, so clichéd to say it now. Besides, it wasn't as if she didn't know. "I'll see you shortly," he said finally, looking away, and she returned to the others as a pale-faced Potter came back to join him. "You can still say no," he told the boy softly.

He shook his head stubbornly. "No. I'm going."

Severus shrugged and moved to Lucius' left, and the three of them stood quietly watching the Slytherin's pocket watch slowly ticking away the last few minutes of the Dark Lord's life. Finally Lucius put the watch away and wordlessly rolled his sleeve back; Severus gripped his friend's shoulder with one hand and closed the other firmly around the Elder Wand, vaguely aware of Potter on the other side, and Lucius touched the Dark Mark.

Following the Mark was never quite the same as normal Apparition, since someone else was indirectly in control of the destination. That made it easier, but it also made the disorientation afterwards worse, although you had to have done both quite often to really notice. As soon as they arrived Lucius wrenched away from them and jumped back; Severus had only a fraction of a second to notice a large dimly lit room as he turned, firelight blurring his vision as he scanned the faceless masks.

Time slowed. He seemed to have all the time in the world to see the Dark Lord's flat, reptilian features and gleaming red eyes, still frozen in momentary surprise. All the time in the world to raise the Deathstick and take a deep breath, his mind completely empty of all thought, all emotion, everything except the plan. That cold certainty filled his head with white noise as he took aim and said, quietly, "Avada Kedavra." Distantly he was aware of another voice, of Lily's son standing with him, but it was very distant indeed as green fire streaked through the shadows and power flared through him, brighter and fiercer and uglier than he had ever known it, making bile burn the back of his throat and making his stomach clench.

He turned away as the spell hit, and time seemed to speed up again as sound and colour returned in a rush and things began to happen around him. He Seizing Potter's arm, he saw a window, which meant a single wall between them and outside; no time to think now. Breaking into a run, he lifted his wand again and spat a word and blew half the wall away as screams began to erupt, sprinting straight out into the night without pausing.

Once he was far enough away for darkness to hide him, he stopped and turned, trying to find out where the hell they were, and found a breathless Potter beside him. Good. People might be angry if he lost the boy now. "Patronus, Potter, now," he rasped, recognising the building. "Tell Minerva, Scrimgeour's old house."

"Your Patronus?" the boy asked, closing his eyes and concentrating. He was shaking.

Severus shook his head. "I can't yet." He watched the silver stag streaking into the darkness, shivering fitfully, choosing to ignore it when Potter leaned against him afterwards; your first Killing Curse was always a little draining, and he wasn't feeling too good right now either. In fact, he was trying not to be sick. It had been a long time since he'd had to do that, and the Elder Wand really hadn't helped.

"We did it," the boy said rather numbly. "Didn't we?"

"Yes." There was a lot of screaming. Severus realised absently he was scratching the scar on his left arm where his own Dark Mark had been; it was tingling unpleasantly, but he wasn't sure if it was physical or psychological. Both, probably. Sharp cracks indicated the Order arriving in pairs, each with specific targets, and he watched them enter the building with drawn wands, making no attempt to stop Potter when he suddenly whooped and raised his wand and charged off back into the fight. He wasn't at all surprised.

The top floor of the house was on fire when Hermione arrived with Poppy. That probably wasn't a good sign, but there were already a number of robed and masked figures sitting morosely on the lawn cradling their left arms, and one or two unconscious figures stretched out beside them. Lucius Malfoy was with them; he inclined his head to her briefly in a shallow nod before returning to his conversation with one of the others. Bill was standing guard, and gave them a friendly wave.

Helping Poppy unpack the potions and other supplies they had brought with them, Hermione looked around, refusing to admit she was fretting because Harry had sent a Patronus and Severus hadn't. It wasn't as if he was likely to be in a very happy mood after murdering his former master – he hadn't been last time, after all. Tonks and Mrs Weasley emerged from the house, levitating another unconscious or dead Death Eater between them, and paused briefly to talk to Bill.

"This is the weirdest battle I've ever seen," Hermione noted distantly.

Poppy chuckled softly. "Be thankful for that. At this rate we're going to be patching up captives rather than our own people. Stop staring around like that, I'm sure he's fine," she added without missing a beat. "He's probably right in the thick of the fighting as usual."

"Actually, no, he's not," Severus' voice said quietly behind them.

Almost weak with relief, Hermione spun around to look at him. His eyes were very distant and Occluded, almost cloudy, similar to the way he had looked after Dumbledore died, and his face was expressionless, but he was obviously unhurt. She smiled at him as he moved closer, and somewhat to her surprise he pulled her into his arms and hugged her very tightly without saying anything before silently letting go and hunkering down on his heels to watch the house, absently rubbing his left arm.

Pretending not to have noticed this, Poppy nodded to him cheerfully. "Not helping the others, Severus?"

He shook his head distantly. "This isn't my fight any more. I've done enough. I've had enough," he replied softly, wrapping his arms around himself and continuing to stare at the house as Narcissa Malfoy emerged and crossed to stand beside her husband; a moment later Draco appeared and trotted over to them, followed by Fleur, who started talking to Bill.

Hermione knelt beside him and he wordlessly leaned against her, starting to shiver almost unnoticeably. "Where did Harry go?"

"Where do you think?" he retorted, trying to sound like his usual self as he gestured vaguely towards the house. "He's gone giddy. Little idiot. Disregarding everything I taught you."

"He always reacts weirdly to adrenaline. I think it's a Quidditch thing. Or maybe just a boy thing. And don't you dare say it's a Gryffindor thing," she added, smiling a little before leaning against him slightly harder. "Are you all right?"

"...I don't really know," he replied after a pause. "I've been working for this night for longer than you've been alive, Hermione. And now – I don't know," he ended rather abruptly. After a moment he drew the Elder Wand from somewhere in his clothing and handed it to her. "For future reference... don't use this for Unforgiveables."

Suppressing a shiver, she took it from him and shoved it into her belt out of the way, pulling her shirt down over it. "I can imagine. Okay. Hang on for half an hour or so, and we should be done here, as long as nobody got seriously hurt. Then we can go home. Sound good?"

He nodded wearily and tried to summon a rather unsuccessful smile before cocking his head and glancing back at the house. "Here comes trouble."

Hermione looked up to see the twins weaving unsteadily towards her; Fred was cradling his obviously broken arm and George's face was covered in blood, but they were both grinning maniacally. "Hi Hermione, hello Madam Pomfrey. Oops, hello Professor, didn't see you there," George said cheerfully. "Um. Little help?"

"What did you do this time?" Hermione asked, gripping Fred's wrist and examining his arm.

"I don't really know," he told her brightly. "It's all moving a bit fast in there. We saw Mum fighting, though! That was awesome!"

"In a really, really scary way," his twin added, wincing as Poppy began clearing the blood from his face. "Really scary."

"Is there any point asking you two what's actually happening in there?" Severus asked acidly, sounding a lot more like his usual public persona.

"You mean who's dead and stuff? No idea, sir," George replied as Hermione repaired Fred's arm. "The fire's starting to spread and almost all the other guys are still wearing their masks. I don't think many people are dead though. It looks like it's worked. Oh, hello Professor," he added as McGonagall limped wearily over to them.

"Hello, boys, Hermione. Poppy. Severus."

"Are you all right, Minerva?" Poppy asked, straightening up. "All right, Mr Weasley, you're fine. Don't even think of going back in there. Sit over there out of the way and try to behave, both of you."

"Don't fuss, Poppy, I'm fine. I'm getting too old for this, that's all."

Severus snorted quietly. "Please. We all know what you'd do to anyone else who dared to say that. Any word from the others yet?"

She held up a couple of Galleons. "I've just been checking them. All primary targets acquired. They're going for the secondaries now but word's already starting to spread, a couple of them have already gone. Our people are getting in touch with the Prophet as we speak; the first newspapers will be reporting Voldemort's death within three hours," she said in a satisfied tone.

"What's happening inside?" Hermione asked.

"Your friends are fine, Hermione. Arthur's babysitting while Molly, Remus and Tonks deal with the last few. I have to admit, the Malfoys did well. I wasn't sure it would happen."

"Lucius will be touched," Severus muttered. "Have them bring out the bodies. We need to be sure we've got everyone. And the world will want proof that he's really dead. We didn't have a corpse last time."

Hermione strongly suspected that Severus himself wanted proof of that. If he had been following the plan, he wouldn't have waited around to see if it had worked; it made sense that he would want to see the body to make sure. "Speaking of Mr Malfoy, what's happening to the Death Eaters who surrendered?" she asked. "Are they under arrest?"

"They will be, when we get around to it. We're going to have to find someone to act as temporary Minister until things are sorted. It's going to take a while to sort out the legalities."

"Then let the Malfoys go home," she suggested. "Under guard if we can spare anyone, but I don't think they're going to run. They'll lose if they do. There's no point them staying here, and the ones who haven't co-operated aren't going to be pleased to see them. Maybe send the ones who surrendered with them, or something. It will give us less to deal with here."

Severus gave her a grateful look for that; he obviously wasn't in a talkative mood and clearly just wanted everything to be over.

Professor McGonagall nodded distractedly. "We plan to, don't worry. Tonks managed to rally most of the Aurors; as soon as their teams complete their assignments, areas of the Ministry will be available for use and we'll have guards. It will take us about an hour to get temporary arrangements in place; then we can all relax for a little while before starting to sort things out."

One by one the others emerged from the house over the course of the next half an hour. Careful investigation of the bodies by a somewhat reluctant Lucius and a withdrawn and mute Severus found that they had got hold of more or less everyone; three had escaped, none very important according to the blond Slytherin and none who would go far. Bellatrix had been killed by Narcissa, as planned; her husband had been taken down by Mr Weasley, in the end, and her brother by either Lupin or Tonks. Mrs Weasley had taken out one of the Carrow twins; the other had surrendered. Nobody else had needed to be killed, although there had been a lot of injuries, and nobody from the Order had died, although Fleur had been taken to St Mungo's by a rather worried Bill.

"Your plan worked perfectly," Hermione told Severus in an undertone as the last of the Auror teams took their captives back to the Ministry to began sorting things out. They had also taken the bodies of Voldemort and the dead Death Eaters.

He nodded rather apathetically, but he looked a little better now than he had done earlier; mostly he just seemed tired and a little distant, although he hadn't left her side since Lucius and his family had departed. "So it would seem."

"What happens now?"

"Give it five minutes of quiet now everyone else has gone, and everyone's going to start going insane. It's going to be a hell of a party, I would imagine. Led by your little friends."

He was dead right; less than five minutes later George asked loudly, "So, Harry, back to Grimmauld Place for a party?"

Hermione had to laugh despite herself, exchanging an amused glance with Severus before looking at Harry, who was smiling in a way she had never seen before; he looked like an adult, suddenly, like the man he was growing into instead of the boy she had always known.

"Maybe in a while. But I want us all to go somewhere else first, if that's okay. I want to go to Godric's Hollow; I know there's some sort of memorial there that I've never seen. I'd like to be there with all of you."

The general consensus was that it was a lovely idea, but Hermione looked at Severus, remembering him saying flatly that he wasn't going to go back there. He was staring at nothing again, as he had been doing most of the evening, but he looked up when he felt her gaze and offered her a half-smile. "Don't look at me like that. It's fine."

"Severus, you don't have to do things any more, remember?" she reminded him gently. "Harry won't mind if we go home instead, and nobody's going to dare ask why."

"I know, but actually, it's all right," he said thoughtfully. "I don't especially want to go back, but... it feels right, in an odd way. This will be the last piece, if that makes sense."

"To say goodbye?"

"I wouldn't put it that sentimentally, no," he replied dryly, smiling a little more and relaxing as he seemed to fully come back to the real world. "Not literally, but... in a way, yes. They call it seeking closure, or something, don't they? Besides, my memories of the place are mildly horrifying, and I'd like something more neutral. And you should be there for Potter; this is important to him. Since I doubt you'll let me go anywhere by myself for a while..."

"I don't hear you complaining," she retorted, smiling and reaching for his hand. "If you're sure you're all right, then fair enough. Let's go."

There was an interesting atmosphere around the ruined house when they got there. Harry had been startled to see the statue of himself and his parents, and Ron and the twins had teased him a little, but then everyone had grown quiet and were mostly watching him looking at it. The older Order members were standing to one side, lost in their own memories by the look of things, sometimes quietly pointing out a particular message that had been left there.

Hermione was mostly watching Severus, who was looking at the statue with his head slightly on one side and no real expression in his eyes. She was still holding his hand and couldn't feel any particular tension in him, but she wasn't really sure what he was thinking.

Harry came over to them after a few minutes. "Thank you for being here," he said to Severus quietly. "I know you didn't want to, but... I wanted everyone to be here." He looked back at the statue. "I never realised..."

"I didn't know this was here either," Severus replied quietly. His voice was neutral, but without the brittle edge that meant he was shielding himself; he really did seem all right. "It's quite a good likeness of them, actually."

"And of me?" Harry asked a little whimsically.

"All babies look the same, Potter. Although no doubt Molly would vehemently disagree."

"What do Muggles see?" he asked. "I couldn't really focus on what was there before it changed."

"I saw a stone obelisk," Hermione offered, "but I couldn't see what it was."

"There was a war memorial here commemorating the locals who died in World War One," Severus said. "It's been Transfigured carefully and then charmed so wizards see this instead. It makes sense. That was their Great War, and this was ours."

"And now it's over," Harry said softly, and he nodded, reaching to put his arm around Hermione's shoulders and pulling her close.

"Yes. Now it's over."

Harry went back to Ginny, and the surviving members of the Order of the Phoenix stood quietly for a few minutes. It was Professor McGonagall who stepped forward finally, raising her wand in the air and lighting the tip; one by one the others joined her, forming a loose circle around the memorial. Still nestled against Severus' side, Hermione raised the Elder Wand along with her own vine wand. Severus was the last, but finally he too drew his wand with his free hand and raised it as the tip ignited and they stood in silence with lit wands as fireworks began to go off in the distance.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 59 of 60

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