Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 13 of 60

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Being in the hospital wing was boring; Hermione had known that since second year. Her chest ached constantly and everything was in such chaos that most of the time she only had Crookshanks for company. She also had a great deal to think about; so much had happened in the last week or so that her head was still spinning.

Taking it in chronological order, the first major upheaval had been the peculiar shift in her strange association with Snape. Their Occlumency fight had apparently been a catalyst for something she didn't understand. Before that, she would have said that anyone who stood up to Snape and implied however subtly that he had been wrong would have been verbally disembowelled – possibly even literally – and generally made to pay for it until they were old and grey, but for some reason he had seemed oddly impressed, almost as if he respected her for doing it. His attitude since then hadn't seemed any different, but there had been a thoughtful quality to the silence between them each morning.

After some thought, she had cautiously decided that it had simply been a very long time since anyone had dared argue back. Suicidal students might protest, and she was sure some of the other teachers would have criticised some of his actions over the years, but someone joining in and using his own methods against him must be very rare and perhaps the sheer novelty value had saved her. It also seemed that, bizarrely, he had actually felt ashamed of himself after saying it to her last year. It was nice to know he did sometimes regret his actions, but it would be nicer if he could refrain from doing it in the first place. The incident also helped her clarify that the times she saw him outside lessons didn't count as part of normal life; she could get away with some things privately that would draw the wrath of Hell down on her in front of witnesses. Snape on his own seemed a very different person from Snape in public view, which was worth bearing in mind.

The next major incident had been the Weasley twins leaving. Outwardly Hermione had been appalled by Fred and George turning their back on their education, but secretly a small part of her had admired their courage. She knew she could never have done anything like that, not even in protest against Umbridge. She always told herself she wanted to make a difference, wanted to make her mark on the world and stand out, but she also wondered if she would ever be brave enough to do so.

The school had been thrown into anarchy in the wake of their leaving, highlighted by McGonagall being attacked so shamefully when Hagrid had fled the school. That had scared Hermione. Snape had warned her, obliquely, that Umbridge unopposed was capable of anything, but... she found it hard to grasp the notion that the government, the rulers of wizarding society, could act like that without repercussion. Britain wasn't supposed to work like that. They weren't supposed to live in a dictatorship. Voldemort had been bad enough without her realising that she couldn't trust the Ministry either; she'd always known they were pretty useless, but not that they were potentially hostile. And the school officials had done nothing. She'd heard from Snape that the teachers couldn't stop what was happening, and obviously nor could the Order. There were too many enemies.

And, speaking of enemies... she closed her eyes and shuddered. Voldemort walked in her nightmares now, no longer a faceless shadow but a creature of horror in his own right. The battle at the Ministry had truly terrified her. It had been completely outside her experience and so much worse than she could ever have dreamed of, and only drove home to her just how unprepared she and her friends were. The only reason they were still alive was that the Death Eaters had wanted the prophecy more than they wanted to kill children. She didn't know how the others felt about it – they hadn't discussed it – but she personally felt hopelessly out of her depth and so scared she couldn't sleep. Despite all their best efforts, they simply didn't know enough, and there were so few people they could really trust.

Umbridge was gone now, anyway, and at least the Ministry now believed that Voldemort was back and the war was under way, but she wasn't sure it would help. Dumbledore would be back, and she remembered seeing the Headmaster facing Voldemort, the first time she'd seen a real fight between powerful adult wizards. Hogwarts would be safe again with him in charge once more, but they couldn't hide here for ever. The summer was going to be frightening, and God alone knew what they'd end up with as a Defence teacher next year but she no longer had faith that the school would help them. The prophecy was obviously about Harry and was obviously important, but he wasn't ready to talk about it.

Harry was scaring her too at the moment, truthfully. All this year he had been so angry, so withdrawn from everyone – even her and Ron – and she had truly had no idea he was ignoring everything she'd tried to pass on about Occlumency. Now she seldom saw him, and when she did he was silent and distant, obviously blaming himself for what had happened – not entirely without justification, but he couldn't have known what would happen – and just as obviously torn apart inside about Sirius' death. Hermione wasn't sure how she felt about that, either – it was the first time she had seen someone die, and regardless of her confused cynicism about her friend's godfather she had genuinely liked him, and she had grieved a bit, but it was all very mixed up and she suspected she was in shock still.

All in all, she felt very fragile at the moment, scared and uncertain and not at all sure she trusted anyone to fix it. If Dumbledore was so strong, why had he allowed the Ministry to push him around? Why hadn't he done more to oppose the Death Eaters – he'd taken out half a dozen of them without even trying and had chased off Voldemort himself, and many of the other Order members were nearly as good. Why hadn't this been sorted, why had they spent a year in stalemate? Could the school protect them or not? And if not, how were they to learn how to protect themselves? They had been trying, but a real fight was very different from a practice duel in the Room of Requirement, and they needed a teacher who knew more.

More than anything, Hermione wanted to talk to someone about it, but she wasn't sure who. The Headmaster would understand, but frankly she was a bit too intimidated by what she had seen to feel comfortable talking to him; she'd never been close to him as Harry had been and had barely spoken to him in almost six years. Professor McGonagall was still in St Mungo's, although Dilys said she was almost fully recovered and chafing to return to the school. Madam Pomfrey wasn't involved with the war except for occasionally patching people up and wouldn't know any of the answers. The portraits were forbidden to talk about anything they had heard from Dumbledore, Ron was as confused as she was, Harry wasn't talking to anyone. Crookshanks was a wonderful listener and she'd caught herself talking to him several times, but he wasn't much for giving advice, really. She'd be seeing her parents soon but she didn't intend telling them anything that had happened; she didn't want to worry them and they couldn't understand.

Under different circumstances, she would have tried to talk to Snape about it. Of everyone involved, he seemed to be the only one she thought might understand what she was thinking and might be able to tell her what she needed to hear – which probably wouldn't be what she wanted to hear, but she appreciated his honesty. He wouldn't treat her like a child. But she'd barely seen him; he'd shown up once or twice to deliver some of the endless potions she had to drink every day, but he hadn't stayed more than a few moments, talking briefly to Poppy. Once he'd glanced at her and nodded as he'd left, but that was the extent of their contact; he evidently had enough problems of his own right now, and she could hardly go looking for him when she was confined to a sick bed.

It seemed she would have to wait and see what happened, which she absolutely hated, and concentrate on recovering both physically and emotionally, because she didn't want to feel like this for any longer than necessary.

After that little bit of excitement, the actual end of the year had been rather anticlimactic as far as Severus was concerned. Dumbledore was back, the toad was gone, Minerva was back and apparently recovered just in time to once again snatch the House Cup away from him – as if he still cared – and the Ministry had finally woken up, far too late. Fudge would probably be sacked within a month, but he really didn't care any more, just wanting to stumble back to his dark and depressing house and sleep until September.

That was a fool's dream; the summer promised to be complicated. The Dark Lord was beyond furious, and with both Bellatrix and Lucius in disgrace Severus was somewhat startled to find himself at his master's right hand simply because he was moderately competent and not insane. That was very useful, yes, but he really didn't have time for it – he had his own plans for this summer and really needed to be unobserved for a little while, especially since he was coldly sure that he was making a big mistake. He shouldn't be taking such a risk. It was jeopardising everything, and it was making an already messy situation much worse. But at the same time, he knew he couldn't sit back and do nothing; he'd done that before, and it had cost him dearly, and he wasn't capable of doing it again.

Shaking his head, Severus stared down at the scrap of parchment he'd scribbled the address on, running over his hastily concocted plan once more, and bit his lip – a habit he'd picked up over the last year, much to his extreme irritation and slight embarrassment. This was a mistake, he knew it, but he also knew he couldn't sit back and do nothing, not and live with himself afterwards.

Hermione was extremely confused to be woken in the middle of the night by something rattling against her bedroom window. It didn't sound like an owl, and anyway even Ron wouldn't be daft enough to write at – she squinted at the glowing numbers of her alarm clock – gone half past three in the morning. Slipping out of bed, she padded barefoot across the carpet to the window, cautiously parting her curtains a crack and peering out across the front garden into the quiet street.

A dark, hooded figure stood by the gate, under the street light, and seemed to be looking straight at her; she stepped back from the window and continued to watch. The figure bent, then straightened and threw something at the window. Ducking back reflexively, she recognised the rattle of gravel or bits of tarmac or something of the sort and stifled a nervous laugh at her reaction as she considered what to do; it was hard to imagine a less likely Death Eater attack, but there was surely something suspicious about this.

Looking around her bedroom, inspiration struck. Hastily pulling on her dressing gown and making sure she had her wand, she picked up Crookshanks from the end of the bed where he had been watching her intently and carried him downstairs, thankful that her parents were sound sleepers.

"Crooks, go see who's outside the house?" she asked the cat softly, stroking his ears as she put him down. "But be careful, okay?" He purred reassuringly at her and trotted into the kitchen, and she heard his cat flap click and swing.

Standing at the living room window, she watched nervously as her familiar came around the side of the house and wandered nonchalantly around the garden, before sauntering over to the gate and hopping onto the garden wall. The hooded figure moved closer and reached out to stroke him, and Hermione relaxed, hurrying into the kitchen and letting herself out of the back door before going to see who her mysterious visitor was.

As she approached the gate, the figure turned towards her and lowered its hood, and she stopped dead in the middle of the lawn and stared in utter shock at the familiar gaunt features and dark eyes of Professor Snape – a Snape, moreover, who was wearing loose jeans and a hooded sweater and the manky old trainers that he went jogging in. "Miss Granger," he greeted her softly. It had only been a week or two since she had last seen him, but he had visibly aged years in that time, his eyes sunken and hooded over and his face thinner than ever.

"Sir," she replied weakly, trying not to gape at him – what on earth was he doing here? A moment later she started to panic as she thought of several possible reasons why a member of the Order of the Phoenix would be showing up at her house in the middle of the night. "Is something wrong? An – an attack, or –"

He shook his head. "Everyone is fine, as far as I know. This is something different," he replied cryptically, before hesitating. "May I come in? This is the sort of neighbourhood where people notice suspicious figures skulking around."

Hermione hesitated in turn, watching him narrowly as a few other possible reasons for his appearance presented themselves. She glanced at Crookshanks, who was now washing himself with supreme unconcern, then looked back at Snape, gripping her wand more tightly.

He gave her an irritated look. "Your caution is commendable, but I do not have time for it tonight, Miss Granger," he hissed at her, sounding annoyed. "I assure you, I am not here to kidnap you for some nefarious purpose. Now may I come in before one of your neighbours calls the police?"

"Sorry, sir," she replied sheepishly, as he followed her around the house and into the kitchen. "I just... wasn't expecting you," she added lamely. He looked incredibly weird in Muggle clothing, although at least he seemed to know what was normal and what was utterly outlandish, and it was all too big for him by the look of things.

"As I said, your caution does you credit." Snape gave her a sardonic look. "Do you require proof that I am in fact the real Professor Snape?" he asked sarcastically. "Offhand I cannot think of any personal question you would actually know the answer to, but I am sure I can come up with some reminder of your past misdeeds that is not widely known."

"I trust my cat's judgement," she muttered, trying to salvage some sort of dignity by changing the subject. "Can I get you anything, sir?"

The polite offer had mostly been reflex, and she was surprised when he nodded. "Strong black coffee would be welcome."

"Long night, sir?" she dared to ask, switching on the kettle.

"Long week," he corrected her wearily, sitting down at the table. "Do not tell anyone of my visit, Miss Granger," he continued crisply in a more businesslike tone, "not even your little friends. A great many people on both sides would be extremely displeased to learn that I was here."

Now seriously bewildered, she nodded. "Yes, sir."

He said nothing else until she put his coffee in front of him and sat down opposite him, still a little shaken by the sudden appearance of her Potions master in her parents' kitchen in the middle of the night. Sipping at the coffee, he nodded in acknowledgement, before sitting back in his chair as his gaze sharpened. Giving her a very direct and penetrating stare, he asked bluntly, "How quickly could your parents leave the country?"

Hermione stared at him and reflexively opened her mouth to ask why; he scowled darkly at her, his brows furrowing, and she shut it again hastily as she thought fast. "I don't know," she answered finally, trying not to let her voice shake. If he was asking, then there was a good reason for her parents to leave the country quickly, which meant... Oh, God.

Snape nodded as though he had expected this answer. "They will have money and a Portkey provided; and electrical communication such as emails, fax machines or the telephone is safe, for them to sort out work matters and so on."

She thought about it some more, part of her noting absently that he knew how to pronounce telephone and knew what emails and fax machines were. "I'm still not sure, sir. A week, maybe?"

He shook his head, and her stomach tightened as he said quietly, "Make it sooner."

Swallowing, she made herself ask, "Are – are they targeting me specifically, sir, or all Muggleborns?"

"They aren't doing anything, yet," he replied softly, "but it will be the latter, although they will naturally be paying more attention to you." Taking another drink of coffee, he leaned forward and fixed her with an intent stare. "I will need to speak to your parents tonight; they must start making the necessary arrangements immediately. In... let us say three nights... I will return with money and I will teach you how to make a Portkey. I will not do it myself – not only do I not wish to know where they are going, it is imperative that I do not know. Do you understand?"

She nodded slowly. What he didn't know, he couldn't be tempted to betray. "Yes, sir," she replied faintly. "Why is it you who is doing this, sir?"

He ignored the question, which she had expected. "How much do your parents know of what is happening?"

"Um... not much," she admitted. "They know about You-Know-Who, and they know there is a war going on, and a bit about Harry, and they sort of know that I'm on the fringe of things, learning Healing and stuff. They know there was a fight at the Ministry but they don't know I was there." He raised an eyebrow, his eyes dropping from her face to where he knew the half-healed scar lay, and she reflexively held the neck of her dressing gown closed even though she knew her pyjama top covered it.

"Will they agree to this, to simply abandon everything and leave the country?"

Hermione bit her lip. "Leaving work is going to be hard. But they'll still be able to stay in touch with friends through email and the phone, won't they, sir?" He nodded, his eyes narrowing slightly, and she continued before he spoke. "Not with me. I know that, sir." He nodded again and sat back, and she thought about it. "I think so, sir, with you here to explain how urgent it is, that this isn't an overreaction. But they'll want me to go with them."

"I will deal with that."

"They won't like not being able to contact me, not knowing if I'm all right, not once they know that I'm involved more than they realised. They'll worry about me."

Snape nodded. "Quite understandable, and I have thought of that."

"How long will this be for?" she asked hesitantly, already knowing the answer even before he looked at her.

"Until we win the war, Miss Granger. They will continue to be a target until then. It could be years, perhaps even decades – although that is not likely."

Hesitating, Hermione gathered her courage and finally voiced the question she had never dared ask any of the Order members. "Do you think we will win, sir?" she asked him in a small voice.

"Do you wish me to lie to you and tell you that everything will be all right?" he asked in return, his voice surprisingly soft.

She shook her head slowly. "I want your honest opinion, please, even if it's not the answer I would like to hear."

He sighed, meeting her eyes solemnly. "I really don't know one way or the other any more, Miss Granger. We... may do. There is still a little room for hope."

After a moment she nodded. "Thank you, sir." She pushed back her chair. "I'll go speak to Mum and Dad while you finish your coffee. We'll be down in a while."

Severus sat back and drank his coffee slowly as he listened to the distant murmur of voices overhead. He didn't even taste the drink; he virtually lived on strong black coffee now, despite what it did to his ulcers, and the caffeine barely touched him these days. Glancing idly around the kitchen, which screamed happy middle-class family home to his cynical gaze, he found himself the focus of a pair of calm, penetrating yellow eyes, and raised an eyebrow sardonically at the cat. "Yes? Was there something you wanted?"

Crookshanks – he'd always thought it was a bloody stupid name for a cat, but nobody had asked him – continued to stare at him for a long moment before blinking slowly and starting to purr, standing and walking along the table to head-butt him imperiously in the shoulder. Checking the doorway to make sure he wasn't being watched, Severus relented and started to stroke him, sighing. "Well, at least you don't seem to think I'm making a terrible mistake," he muttered, rubbing behind the cat's ears. "I shouldn't be here, you know."

Never mind what Voldemort would think; the snake-faced, twisted bastard could go and do something very painful and anatomically improbable to himself for all Severus cared these days. But Dumbledore was going to be absolutely furious if he found out, and to be honest Severus couldn't say that the Headmaster would be wrong. This was a horrific risk; he was jeopardising the whole plan for the sake of one girl, and he didn't want to think about the reason why because it made his stomach twist and his head ache. Sighing, he finished the last of his coffee and wished vainly that he could get some sleep. He hadn't slept in two days, and he wasn't likely to get much rest over the next week. At least.

There were footsteps on the stairs, and he snorted mockingly to himself as he felt himself unconsciously tense up. Granger's parents were hardly likely to be a threat to him – although when he saw the expression on the face of the woman who entered the kitchen, Severus was almost inclined to change his mind on that score. She looked... well, he could see where the girl had got her temper from. Remembering his manners, he stood up and inclined his head politely, aware that he was cutting a less than stellar professional image at the moment. He didn't have much Muggle clothing; his usual attire was too formal for skulking around a Muggle neighbourhood even if he left out the robe and his coat.

"Good morning, Doctor Granger," he said quietly, privately congratulating himself on remembering that dentists were classed as doctors in the Muggle world – he didn't have much experience with either. "My apologies for wakening you at such an early hour. I assure you, it is important." He looked past her to the tall man who had followed her in, repeating his polite nod and noting idly that Granger resembled both her parents fairly evenly rather than favouring one or the other – much as he himself did, actually, although she had been luckier than he had in that regard. Focus, Severus, for fuck's sake, he chided himself.

"Has your daughter told you –?" he began, before she cut him off.

"Hermione has told us a lot of nonsense, Professor. She's told us a few things about you, for a start."

Suppressing a wince, Severus leaned slightly sideways and looked past the angry pyjama-clad dentists to their daughter, who gave him a guilty look and stared at the floor. He sighed. "No doubt she has. I am sure everything she said was the absolute truth, too. However, that changes nothing. I would not be here at four in the morning unless it was important. You are both in danger."

"So she said," Hermione's father replied evenly. He didn't look quite as angry as his wife, but he was clearly no happier than she was, and just as sceptical. "However, she wasn't able to tell us why."

Severus gave the girl another stare and she fidgeted without looking up, her hair – even more tangled than it usually was – falling forward to hide her face. "I see," he said flatly. He could understand her reluctance, but he didn't have time for her to be squeamish now. "In the interests of expediency – Miss Granger, kindly return to your room and allow me to address your parents alone, if you please." That earned him a wide-eyed pleading look that almost hurt, but he didn't have time for that, either. "Now, Miss Granger," he snapped in the voice he had honed over fifteen years of dealing with impossible teenagers, and she all but fled. With anyone else, he would have warned her not to even think of eavesdropping, but he knew she wouldn't.

Returning his gaze to her parents, he gestured to the table. "Please, sit down. I have much to tell you, and very little time to do it." As they settled into chairs and assumed some pretence of civility, Severus said a silent prayer to any deity with so little to do that they might bother themselves with his grubby, tattered soul; please don't let me be Summoned until this is done. He cleared his throat and leaned forward with his elbows resting on the table, steepling his fingers and regarding the couple who sat opposite him.

"My name is Severus Snape," he said quietly. "I am your daughter's teacher. I am a member of the Order of the Phoenix. I am also a Death Eater. And there are a number of very powerful and extremely dangerous witches and wizards who want you dead because of your daughter."

"Because of Hermione? But... why? She – she's just a girl."

Severus almost smiled, although the expression would have held no humour. "No," he corrected softly. "She is far more than that. She is one of the most gifted witches of her generation. She is powerful, she is clever, and she is Muggleborn. She is a threat to everything that the Death Eaters believe and everything they stand for, because she is living proof that they are wrong. She is also Harry Potter's best friend. They will come for you, soon, because they want to destroy her. Please believe me – I am not insane, or lying. Your lives are in danger and you must flee if you want to live."

The anger had gone; at least they seemed to believe him. They looked frightened, which was reassuring; they had sense enough to be scared. "How deeply is she involved?" Mr Granger asked hesitantly.

"Far more deeply than she should be," Severus replied with feeling. "Far more deeply than you wish to know."

They exchanged one of those long looks that couples sometimes shared; he sometimes thought that such moments were almost a form of Legilimency, a heightened awareness and instinctual connection that was almost telepathic. He envied that level of intimacy. Leaning back in his chair, he watched them silently, and almost disgraced himself when Crookshanks oozed off the table into his lap; barely choking back a sudden yell of shock, and barely refraining from reflexively incinerating the stupid animal, he gave the cat a glare that was totally ignored as the impossible beast started purring at him.

"Hermione said that we needed to leave the country, but she made no mention of herself," Mrs Granger said at last; her voice was a little slow and distant, indicating that she was deep in thought. "She seems to think that she will be staying here and fighting."

Severus did smile then. She is a Gryffindor to her bones; of course she does. "I would expect no less of her," he replied dryly. "Your daughter has never lacked courage." Common sense, on occasion, certainly; but not courage.

"You agree with her." It wasn't a question, but even if it had been, she gave him no chance to answer. "You seriously believe that you are going to drag my daughter into your stupid war? She is sixteen! She's a child by even your standards!"

"She is almost of age in our world, and she is already involved," he replied as gently as possible. "There is nothing I can do that will change that. And she cannot flee with you. They want her too badly. If they cannot find you, they will eventually give up and pursue other prey; if she is with you, they will never stop hunting you. Her presence would endanger you too much, and you cannot protect her."

He took a breath and let it out slowly, trying to keep his voice gentle – it wasn't something he was particularly practiced at. "Your daughter does not live in your world any longer, Doctor Granger. She and I walk different roads, because of our magic. I understand how you feel, but you cannot be a part of this aspect of her life. The best thing you can do for her is to ensure that she knows you are both safe."

"But who will keep her safe?" her father asked quietly.

"I will." Severus heard himself say the words with a kind of detached surprise. You're an idiot, Snape. You can't save everyone. Hell, you can't even save yourself. You should have learned by now not to make promises you can't keep. He met the man's hazel eyes, then his wife's brown ones – the ones her daughter had inherited. "I swear it."

Hermione wasn't sure what Snape had said to her parents. All she knew was that they had finally called her back downstairs after more than an hour – an hour she had spent pacing and biting her lip and listening tensely for the shouting to start – to a rather tense atmosphere; her mother had clearly been crying, and her father had his arm around her as they spoke in whispers at the table, while Snape was standing by the back door and staring out into the garden. He had seemed rather uncomfortable, and she desperately wanted to know what had been said, but her parents refused to tell her.

Three days later, she heard the soft crack of nearby Apparition and hurried to the door to let Snape in. He looked even more tired than he had done before, although he was better dressed and wearing his familiar frock coat. He nodded to her and glanced briefly around the kitchen. "Are you ready?"

"We are."

He undid the first few buttons of his coat and reached inside, pulling out a shabby plain white envelope, which he handed to Hermione's father. "There is almost three hundred pounds there. It is all I could get on such short notice. You may freely access your own money once you are settled, of course; very few wizards have any idea of how Muggle finance works and have never heard of debit or credit cards, or traveller's cheques, or cash machines. You know where you are going?"

"Yes. Hermione says we can still communicate with work and friends?"

"Yes. We don't know about email, either," he said dryly. "Or phone tapping. But you cannot risk writing to her."

"This is... harsh, Professor. You have told us that she is a target in a war she shouldn't be involved in, and you want us to sit and twiddle our thumbs in another country – possibly for years – with no way of knowing what's happening to our only child?"

To Hermione's surprise, Snape's black eyes softened slightly in what passed for a smile, with him. "I have thought of that. Miss Granger, come here, please." He pulled his coat aside to dig into his trouser pocket and produced a small cloudy-looking grey crystal and a knife – a rather old and vicious-looking Muggle switchblade.

"What is that, sir?" she asked interestedly, looking at the crystal. It seemed to be filled with smoke; she could faintly see it moving, swirling around inside.

"A bloodstone," he replied.

"But bloodstone is green, with red flecks in it," she objected, and he raised an eyebrow.

"Not bloodstone, Miss Granger. bloodstone. It is a thing of magic, not a gem." He handed her the knife. "The blade has been sterilised. Make a small cut in the centre of your left palm – a small cut, please; no need to be dramatic – and place the bloodstone onto the wound."

She took the knife and placed the tip against her hand, rather doubtfully. "What will this do, sir?" She trusted him, but she didn't really want to hurt herself.

He looked a little impatient, but explained anyway, rather than simply snapping at her to do as she was told as she had half-expected him to do; possibly because her parents were watching, or because he was simply too tired to lose his temper. "I do not have time for a more detailed explanation of the technicalities. Let us say that the crystal will absorb a little of your essence – your blood, your magic. It will change colour. I cannot say what colour it will turn. That colour will vary a little with your emotions, rather like a mood stone, and will also reflect physical pain to some extent. A bloodstone cannot be damaged once it has been created; this crystal will last your entire lifetime, and will turn black and crack into pieces on your death."

"So we'll know if something bad happens to her," her father said softly, swallowing. "I see."

"You will also know if something good happens," Snape offered; Hermione wasn't sure she had ever heard him trying to be reassuring before. "I felt that you needed some degree of certainty. This was the best I could manage without more time."

"Thank you, sir," she told him quietly to forestall any further discussion. Taking a breath, she tightened her grip on the knife, before hesitating and giving him a sheepish look. "Um... can you do it for me, please?"

Snape blinked at her, before snorting and looking amused as he fought not to smirk. "You cannot possibly be squeamish, Miss Granger." She supposed he had good reason to be sceptical, given that she had seen him half naked and soaked in blood a dozen times by now.

"I'm not," she protested, embarrassed. "I just... I've never deliberately tried to hurt myself."

Abruptly all traces of amusement vanished from his expression, and Hermione regretted saying it instantly. She hadn't meant it nastily, and she was reasonably sure that he wasn't aware that she knew of his history with self harm, but... Her self-castigation stopped when he took the knife from her grip and gently grasped her hand. "Hold still, then," he murmured softly, pressing down; there was a moment's sharp pain, and she watched a small spot of crimson welling up in her palm.

Picking up the crystal in her other hand, she looked at it curiously; it was vibrating slightly in her fingers, almost expectantly. Hermione placed it onto the tiny cut, and she and her parents watched the small dot of blood flatten and smear before the smoke swirling inside the crystal turned red as though the stone had drawn her blood into it.

"Does it hurt?" her mother asked.

"No," she reported, watching in fascination as the red smoke filled the gem. "It tingles a little, that's all."

The red smoke swirled faster, slowly beginning to change colour; it grew lighter, then warmer, gradually becoming something pale and almost golden that was much like candlelight. "Does the colour mean anything, sir?" she asked, looking up.

Snape's black eyes were watching the gem. "Nobody knows what the colour means. It is different for each witch or wizard who creates one and presumably represents them in some way, but nobody is sure what causes it."

"You said it will change colour with emotions..."

"Yes, but within a certain frequency; in your case, oranges, browns, yellows and ambers – it will stay more or less this colour."

"I see." Hermione crossed the kitchen to the sink and rinsed her hand; the tiny cut had already stopped bleeding. Turning, she bit her lip and held out the crystal towards her mother. "I – I suppose this is yours, then."

Her parents carefully accepted the bloodstone, with lots of rapid blinking and unsteady breathing all around as they jointly struggled to control their emotions; Snape gazed at the wall with an expression of intense interest and appeared to be trying to ignore them as much as possible in the small space.

Hermione tried to force a smile. "It's okay, Professor. We agreed not to be horribly sentimental until we get there and say goodbye. I didn't think you'd be impressed if we all started crying."

He gave her a rather ironic look and replied as sarcastically as possible, "Thank you for considering me, Miss Granger. I assure you, I have seen worse." He looked at the pile of luggage. "This is everything?"

"Almost. Just Crookshanks."

Snape raised an eyebrow, but nodded, apparently understanding why she wanted her familiar to go with them. She adored her cat; he was as much a member of her family as her parents were, and she wanted him to be safe. She couldn't guarantee what might happen to her but if she did end up leaving Hogwarts in a hurry, she might not be able to take him with her; besides, he would be company for her parents, although she would miss him.

"Crooks," she called now, and after a few moments he poked his head around the door, slinking reluctantly into the room. Hermione had sat and explained to him carefully why she wanted him to go, and he was easily intelligent enough to understand her, but he didn't like it. Picking the cat up, she hugged him, burying her face in his fur. "I'll miss you, furball. Look after yourself, and them, okay?" she whispered, blinking back tears at his reassuring purr, before gently putting him in his carrier.

Snape dipped into his other trouser pocket and pulled out a small object, which he tossed to her. It turned out to be a key ring advertising Guinness, which was surreal to say the least; Hermione stared at the grinning toucan with a pint balanced on its beak rather blankly for a moment before she understood. "The Portkey."

"Obviously," he drawled with a faintly mocking touch of acid in his voice, but the word held no real bite, and she bit her lip to stop herself smiling as she looked at him expectantly. "Creating a Portkey is not difficult, but it requires a fair amount of power, so we will be working together. I will supply the energy, and you will actually create the link."

"Sir, I have a question."

"Imagine my surprise," he replied sarcastically. "Yes?"

"Well, I know creating unapproved Portkeys is illegal anyway, but – I'm not seventeen until September. I'm still under the restriction. Won't the Ministry know if I do magic?"

"You may have noticed, Miss Granger, that the Ministry as a whole are collectively incapable of finding their own backsides using both hands and a map," he answered dryly, and she choked back a fit of the giggles as he continued, "That law, along with most things they do, is positively riddled with loopholes large enough to drive a flying Ford Anglia through, for example. In this instance, however, you are right that they will detect magic at this address, which is why we will be creating the Portkey out in the street – sadly it really is just that easy to completely flummox our government. If you have everything, let us go."

A few minutes later the odd little group gathered on the pavement outside the front gate and Snape casually drew his wand and hexed the lamp post beside them, so that they stood in a little pool of darkness, before shrinking their luggage – except for Crookshanks, who doubtless wouldn't have appreciated such treatment – just as casually and moving to stand behind Hermione. "Very well, Miss Granger. Hold the key ring in one hand and touch the tip of your wand to it. That's right. Now slide your hand further down so that I may hold the end of your wand; this way it will draw my magic, rather than yours, and your hand will guide it." His fingers cradled her left hand where she held the key ring, as his right hand held the end of her wand; she could feel the warmth of his body, although he wasn't quite touching her.

His quiet voice in her ear was the only sound in the deserted street. "Concentrate on where you wish to go. If you have been there before, picture it in your mind, but if not, you need only focus on the address. Concentrate. Do you know the spell?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then cast when you are ready. I understand that you will want time to say your farewells, and I will wait, but we still have much to do tonight. To return, simply think of here and cast again; the Portkey will reverse and bring you back here." He raised his voice slightly and spoke to her parents. "When your daughter casts the spell, the key ring will glow blue. I will get out of the way; you must both reach out and touch it at the same time, while it is still glowing. I wish you both luck."

"Thank you, Professor Snape. I hope we will see you again."

Snape made a noncommittal sound in response and shifted his stance slightly. "When you are ready, Miss Granger."

Hermione concentrated as hard as she could. "Portus."

The sensations caused by his magic flowing down her wand and under her hand made her shiver and almost gasp at the unexpected feeling; it was nothing like her own. His power felt very different, but she didn't have much time to think about it; the key ring flashed with blue light, and Snape let go of her and stepped away as her parents came forward and reached out, and she felt the jerk behind her navel as the Portkey activated.

It took quite a long while before Hermione and her parents managed to stop crying – she'd never seen her father cry before. Finally, sniffing inelegantly, she wiped her eyes on her sleeve and took a few deep breaths, her head aching. "God. This is stupid. I'll be okay, really I will," she assured them shakily, stroking a miserable-looking Crookshanks.

"You can't know that," her mother protested softly, likewise trying to dry her eyes.

"I will," she insisted with a bravado she didn't feel. "I'll be at Hogwarts. It's sometimes a bit interesting there, admittedly, but it's safe from V-Voldemort." At least for a little while. She still wasn't used to saying the name. "Professor Dumbledore and the other teachers who are in the Order will look after us. It's you who were in danger."

"So Professor Snape said, quite insistently," her father noted. "He wasn't what I would have expected, love. You didn't give him a particularly flattering description when you told us about him before."

Hermione grinned sheepishly despite herself. "No, I didn't, did I? It's hard to explain – he's still like that, he's still nasty and still picks on Harry and everything else, but there's more to the story that I didn't know about. And he's taken a big risk to warn us."

"Yes... why is that? It seems odd that he'd risk so much for people he's never met."

She shrugged. "I think it's because he doesn't usually get a chance to warn people. He just has to watch them being taken. What he does in the war is pretty horrible. Anyway, he's a pretty confusing man – I honestly have no idea why he does anything."

"But you trust him?"



Hermione thought about it, biting her lip. "Because he's never actually given me a reason not to. And because he's saved me and my friends several times, even if we usually didn't admit it." She smiled. "It's complicated."

Her mother said quietly after a short pause, "Hermione... you've never told us everything, have you."

Trying not to squirm, she nodded reluctantly. "No."

"How much danger are you in?"

She bit her lip again, trying to work out what to say. She didn't want to lie, but she certainly wasn't going to tell them the truth. I wish I wasn't so crap at being a Slytherin. "Some," she admitted guardedly. "More than you're going to be happy with. But not as much as you think. And I have people looking out for me."

Her parents exchanged another one of their long, almost telepathic looks before her father nodded slowly. "All right, love. It seems we've got no choice but to believe you." He came forward and hugged her, hard. "When this is all over, you're going to tell us everything, missy. Understand?"

Sniffing, she hugged him back. "Okay, Dad."

Her mother came to join the hug. "Look after yourself, all right?"

"I promise." She sniffed again, refusing to cry any more. "I love you."

"And we love you. Don't forget that."

"I won't."

The clock was just chiming five thirty in the morning when Hermione reappeared in the kitchen. Snape was sitting at the table and by the look of him had been dozing; he needed a shave and his eyes were sunken and bloodshot with fatigue, and even though it was the height of summer he was still shivering. "Any problems?" he asked quietly.

"No, sir," she replied hoarsely; her throat was sore from crying.

He gave her a long look. "You did the right thing, Miss Granger," he told her in a surprisingly gentle tone. "They will be safe now. I feel I should point out that in fact they will be considerably safer than you will be."

Hermione nodded and wiped her eyes briskly on her sleeve. "You never tried to persuade me that I should go with them, sir."

"I didn't see any point in wasting my breath," he told her tartly. "You didn't listen to your parents; you certainly weren't going to listen to me. Come. We have much to do this morning."

"You said. What are we doing?" she asked, trying not to yawn. She had no idea what was going to happen to her now, but whatever it was, she hoped it would involve a few hours of sleep first.

Unfortunately, it looked like she was going to be disappointed. Snape reached into his coat again and unearthed an odd flat package that turned out to be a lot of empty cardboard boxes that had been shrunk down, a key on a length of elastic and a small envelope. He handed the latter two items to her. "This is the key to a self-storage warehouse and the paperwork confirming that you have rented it for two years. We need to pack up everything in this house and ensure that it is secure."

"Why, sir?"

"Because when they arrive and find an empty house, they will destroy everything in it out of sheer spite," he replied quietly, "and I doubt that your parents are insured against stupid wizards throwing a violent temper tantrum. If the house is completely empty, they will assume that they were mistaken and leave with minimal damage. I will start down here if you begin with the bedrooms upstairs."

"Underage," she reminded him through another yawn.

"The owners of this house are no longer in residence. Magically, it no longer registers as your home. Come, Miss Granger – we have miles to go before we sleep."

"You read Robert Frost," she mumbled, picking up a stack of miniaturised boxes and turning for the stairs. He didn't reply.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 13 of 60

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