Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 2 of 60

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Severus wasn't expecting anything unusual from the start-of-term feast, but the Sorting Hat showed an unusual flair for the dramatic as it launched into its yearly song; it certainly caught people's attention. He regarded the hat somewhat sourly as it babbled about the problems with encouraging division between the Houses and the need for unity in these troubled times, and tried not to feel bitter; it's only a few dozen years too late for that. As with most social problems, they should have started trying to find a solution long before now; they couldn't possibly affect enough changes to do any good now. Scowling, he glanced along the High Table and found Dumbledore giving him a slightly sad look; responding with a glare, he turned his attention to the Sorting.

Dolores Umbridge continued establishing her appalling lack of subtlety and diplomatic skills by standing up and making a speech. Severus listened with half an ear, more interested in the reactions of everyone else; his fellow staff members were all trying to look politely interested, with varying degrees of success – Minerva in particular had gone rather tight-lipped and her nostrils were flaring slightly, a well-known danger sign. Somewhat amused, he turned his gaze on the students.

As he had expected, most of them were too busy ridiculing the newest staff member to pay any attention to what she was saying, sniggering to one another and whispering. He'd been right, he reflected; they were going to eat her alive.

About half the Ravenclaw table, mostly the older students, appeared to be listening; there was a smattering of furrowed brows and narrowed eyes as they appeared to grasp what was actually being said.

One or two Hufflepuffs seemed to be listening, but most of them weren't paying any attention at all; he noted distantly that they had left a space about half way down the table. He couldn't remember, but he was reasonably sure that was where Diggory had used to sit.

To his displeasure, Slytherin didn't seem to be listening either; he knew he was going to have a lot of problems with them this year. Not even Draco was paying attention. He ran his eyes along the table; too many sons and daughters of Death Eaters. A full quarter of his House at the moment had a father who wore the Dark Mark, and most of the rest were closely related to followers of the Dark Lord. He hoped that they would be more inclined to listen to their Head of House in these uncertain times, but somehow he doubted it.

That just left the Gryffindors. He wasn't remotely surprised to see that none of them seemed to be listening either, except for one. Miss Granger had her chin propped on her hand and was staring at Umbridge through narrowed eyes with a rather grim expression that indicated that, once again, she was apparently the only student in the whole damned school capable of actually using what lay between her ears. He grimaced faintly, reminded again that she would shortly be plaguing him out of hours as well. At least if she knew what was going on she might be able to keep her thick-skulled friends under control, but he wasn't very hopeful. She had never seemed to be able to manage it before.

The term didn't get off to a very good start as far as Hermione was concerned. Her new prefect's duties took up far more time than she had realised, and she was worrying about what Professor Umbridge was up to, and Harry's temper was getting ridiculous now, and she and Ron were already starting to fight – which usually didn't happen until slightly later in the year.

The school at war didn't seem much different from the school in peacetime, as far as she could tell. A couple of teachers perhaps looked a little more tired or stressed, but only if you were really looking. By and large the students seemed unchanged, which she supposed made sense since most of them didn't really believe what had happened. And she noticed that Snape too was the same as ever, which disappointed her a little; she'd been hoping for some sort of sign of what he was doing, but if anything he was even more spiteful than usual and had failed Harry in their very first Potions lesson for no reason at all. That didn't bode well for her Healing work when it began; she added it to her list of things to worry about.

Their first Defence lesson was a complete fiasco. She'd realised the Ministry's plan as soon as she'd seen the course aims written out; that would have been bad enough, but the woman seemed to insist on treating them like toddlers at the same time as ruining their education. Hermione was seething within twenty minutes, and it usually took a great deal to turn her against a teacher without giving them a fair chance – it had taken months before she'd started to suspect Snape the way her friends did, after all, and she hadn't even really hated him until last year – so it wasn't surprising that Harry lost his temper completely. Unsurprising, but worrying. It was obvious that Umbridge had been sent to discredit him, and he was making it remarkably easy for her so far.

As ever, word travelled fast, and the whole school was buzzing with what he'd said inside about an hour. At dinner, Hermione looked around, trying to gauge the general reactions; most of the students didn't believe him, but she was sure that was mostly because they didn't want to. More than a few people were too loud in their denials, too quick, and their eyes were tight and scared under the bravado. After all, people had tried to discredit Harry before, and he was usually proved right in the end. She ignored her suspicions for the moment, finding it easier to tell the boys that everyone believed the Daily Prophet's summer slander campaign – she was frightened enough without discussing it, frankly.

Her eyes went briefly to the staff table; Umbridge was sitting between McGonagall and Snape, both of whom were ignoring her. The toad looked smug and pleased with herself in a very irritating self-righteous fashion; McGonagall was talking to Dumbledore in a low voice, her lips pinched tightly together. Snape was ignoring everyone by the look of things, staring at his food as though it had personally offended him, and he'd moved his chair over away from Umbridge as much as possible. Obviously she was no more popular with the staff than she was with the students.

Hermione stared briefly at the Headmaster, shaking her head. How could he let this happen? He was supposed to be so powerful, and yet the Ministry had managed to get the drop on him and force him into this stupidity. It was so important for them to be taught how to defend themselves now, and instead they had a total farce. Angry, she abandoned her food and stormed out of the hall with her friends.

A house elf hauled Hermione out of bed at half past one in the morning only a few days later with a summons to the hospital wing. Yawning, bleary-eyed and extremely nervous, she made her way through the deserted castle as quickly as possible, and had only gone a little way before Dilys' portrait appeared, keeping pace with her through the frames.

"It begins," the portrait told her quietly. "I need to warn you, Hermione, this is going to be bad."

She swallowed. "How bad?"

"Well, there's no blood this time," Dilys said in a detached tone, "so it could be worse. You're about to see the Cruciatus curse first-hand, however. Severus was cursed at some length tonight; we don't know why, so don't ask. Never ask; it's not our place. He makes his reports to others; our purpose is to repair the damage afterwards, nothing more. You should be aware that he can't speak at the moment. He may or may not know you're there; Poppy and I have both known him since he was eleven years old but we still don't quite know what he is capable of or what his limits are."

She swallowed again and increased her pace. "What do I need to do?"

"On this occasion, nothing. You're here to observe; someday if Poppy isn't available you may need to do this yourself. There is a charm that helps to stabilise the nerves and reduce the overstimulation caused by the curse, and another for the pain, and he is likely to be sweating a lot so gentle cooling and cleansing charms can help. Beyond that, there is little that anyone can do until it eases. Just watch, and take in as much as you can; tomorrow Poppy and I will discuss it with you and teach you the charms."

"All right."

"Incidentally, you might want to look into getting a portrait frame from somewhere – Minerva can probably tell you where the spare ones are kept – and put it over your bed or something. That way I can call you directly when you're needed, rather than using the house elves."

Hermione nodded absently, more preoccupied with wondering nervously what she was likely to see. When she got to the hospital wing, her wide eyes took in the scene; Snape was lying on one of the beds, minus his robes, his boots and his coat and with his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows. His eyes were closed, but he was conscious; even as she watched his back arched for a moment and he made a low sound in the back of his throat, shuddering as his expression twisted briefly. Madam Pomfrey was beside him, moving her wand back and forth in a series of brisk motions; she glanced up just long enough to nod briefly and indicate a spot out of the way before turning back to what she was doing.

"Did you ask him what number?" Dilys asked clinically.

Madam Pomfrey nodded distractedly. "He claims seven. I would guess seven and a half, perhaps eight."

Baffled by this, Hermione watched silently as the nurse bustled efficiently around the figure writhing silently on the bed; Madam Pomfrey had the air of having done this many times before. It was weirdly reminiscent of a scene from Casualty, but something was off – well, beyond the obvious lack of electricity and the use of magic, anyway.

Eventually she worked out what it was, when she chided herself for trying to ignore the patient only to realise that the older woman was also more or less ignoring him. She was moving around him, casting charms and trying to stabilise his nervous system, but never spoke to him or touched him. Not that she could blame her for that – this was Snape, after all – but in a Healer it seemed odd.

She asked Dilys' portrait; the former Headmistress and Healer gave her a surprised look that faded into something more thoughtful and somehow assessing. "He doesn't need it. Professor Snape has been doing this since before you were born, and he is almost insanely independent."

"But it would help, wouldn't it? Psychology is important in medicine..." As with everything else she had ever done, she had been devouring every book on Healing and on Muggle medicine she could lay her hands on as soon as the idea had occurred to her, long before Madam Pomfrey had agreed.

The earned her another thoughtful, assessing look. "Yes, it would help," Dilys said finally, "if you can get him to accept it. The man could teach stubbornness to rocks."

Hermione swallowed and moved closer to the bed, staring down at the semi-conscious figure of the Potions master. His sallow skin was paler than ever and slick with sweat, his oily hair clinging to his thin face; his jaw was clenched so tightly that a muscle twitched in his cheek and his eyes were squeezed tightly shut. His whole body was shaking with the pain as his over stimulated nerves twitched and fired, racking him with muscle spasms as he clawed at the sheets on either side of him.

I don't care, she told herself defiantly. She had never particularly liked Snape, never trusted him on a personal level, and never respected him as much as her other teachers, but she had never really hated him either, not the way Harry and Ron did – until last year. The cruel way he had humiliated her in front of everyone after Malfoy had hexed her had really hurt her. She had always been sensitive about her oversized teeth; the comment alone would have been bad enough, but the casual, unfeeling malice and amusement in her teacher's face had only made it worse. And really, it wasn't as if he was in a position to laugh at anyone else's teeth, she told herself nastily, not for the first time and probably not for the last.

She hated him, as much as she hated anyone. But staring down at him now, she knew she couldn't just leave him like this either, alone and writhing in silent agony and occasionally hissing through his horrible teeth as he fought to keep quiet – anyone else would have been screaming, she was certain. Very gingerly, certain this was a mistake and certain that he didn't deserve her help, she reached out and took hold of his left hand.

She hadn't expected his reaction. His whole body tensed, and she had a moment to try and decide whether he would attack her or simply yank away and yell at her; he did neither. Instead, his hand tightened on hers in a crushing grip that was almost painful, and then he turned his head slowly and opened his eyes to look at her.

When Hermione was seven or eight years old, she had been out walking with her parents when they had come across a fox that had just been hit by a car. Its injuries had been horrific; there had been blood everywhere, one hind leg had been almost torn off and its lower jaw had been smashed, but despite that it hadn't been quite dead, and the mute suffering in its eyes in the endless seconds before it had died had given her nightmares for months.

Once the faint surprise on seeing just who was touching him had faded, the look in Professor Snape's black eyes was the same as that of the dying fox.

She had thought that he was keeping silent out of sheer obstinacy and a reluctance to show any form of weakness; but looking at him now, she realised that he was simply in too much pain to even scream – that he had in some way gone beyond that.

Then his eyes squeezed shut again, and his grip on her hand tightened to the point of pain as his shaking grew worse. She could feel the tremors racking him now and reflexively squeezed his hand, trying to distract him and offer comfort as well as to stop him crushing her fingers. Even as she did so, she faltered; this was Snape, and she hated him, and he was still a Death Eater, no matter whose side he claimed to be on.

Caught in this strange dilemma, she watched his face uncertainly, seeing him as though for the first time. He had a small scar through his left eyebrow, and a very faint, almost invisible white line of another scar across his cheek. Deep lines were etched between his mouth and his hooked nose, and at the corners of his eyes, which had dark rings beneath them, and his jaw was dark with a day of stubble. She had never seen him like this before, or at least never paid attention. When the spasms eased a little, he breathed out shakily and opened his eyes, giving her a look of desperate and almost pathetic gratitude, and Hermione realised somewhat dismally that she couldn't hate him any more – he'd even taken that away from her. Whatever else he might be, he was a human being and he was in a lot of pain. She looked away from him, unwilling to see what else might be in his eyes.

Thoughts of the Death Eaters drew her eyes, inevitably, to his arm, while his grip tightened painfully and he started to crush her hand again as the shaking grew worse once more. The Dark Mark stood out clear and black against his pale skin, the first time she had seen it etched into someone's flesh; the grinning skull and the serpent made her shiver in fascinated revulsion as she wondered – not for the first time – why he had chosen to become what he was. What had led him to kneel to Voldemort?

Tearing her eyes away from Voldemort's brand, she looked at the rest of his arm, still determined to avoid meeting his eyes again. She was surprised at how thin he was; she could almost have joined her finger and thumb in a circle around his bony wrist, yet the fierce and painful hold he had on her hand proved that he was physically stronger than he looked. His grip was really starting to hurt now.

He had a lot of scars, she noted. Small nicks and calluses on his hands, from potions – those, she expected to see. It even made sense that he would have other scars, given that he was, after all, a Death Eater – but the small marks at the bend of his elbow below his rolled-up sleeves and the faded ones on his wrist were decidedly unexpected.

She was distracted from her thoughts when he said something indistinctly under his breath, the first time he'd spoken since answering Madam Pomfrey's question about numbers, whatever that had meant. Raising his voice, he rasped, "Poppy..."

The mediwitch looked up, stopping what she was doing, and hurried to his side. The two of them exchanged a glance laden with meaning, before she nodded. "All right. Let go, Severus. I'm ready."

Hermione watched blankly as Snape nodded shakily and closed his eyes, shivering uncontrollably now – she could hear his teeth chattering. After a moment he groaned in agony and his back arched, before a convulsion racked his body, and she realised he was having some sort of seizure. Madam Pomfrey bent over him, and she scooted back a little to try and keep out of the way, hampered by the fact that he refused to slacken his desperate grip on her hand even as he went into full convulsions.

On the television, seizures never looked so bad. There was a lot of flailing, and lots of running around making sure the patient didn't bite his tongue in half or something, but then it seemed to ease off. Over the next few minutes, Hermione learned that in reality, seizures were nothing so benign or dignified. He was convulsing wildly, his limbs jerking spasmodically and his body contorting so much he looked at risk of breaking bones; he was soaked in sweat and making incoherent sounds of pain. Then, worse, he started to lose control of his sphincters, coughing and choking on his own vomit before his bladder gave out as saliva flecked his lips and tears ran down his face, mingling with blood and mucus as his nose started bleeding.

It was horrible to watch, simply because of the sheer degradation. Self control couldn't save him from this, and nor could stubbornness. The smell of vomit, blood and urine faded as Madam Pomfrey cast cleansing charms, but whatever she had been doing to calm his nervous system had stopped. "Isn't there anything else you can do?" Hermione asked shakily, and the nurse shook her head sadly.

"Not until he stops seizing. He needs to ride this out. You can leave if you wish, Miss Granger – you haven't been apprenticing long enough to do this yet."

Hermione shook her head; if he had to go through it, the least she could do was be brave enough to watch. Besides, she wasn't sure she could leave – most of his body was clearly not under Snape's control, but he still had a crushing death grip on her hand, now unpleasantly slick with sweat. "Does this happen every time?" she asked, mostly for something to occupy her mind apart from staring in sickened fascination.

"No. Normally it's just what you have already seen. It is very rare for it to be severe enough to trigger a seizure." Madam Pomfrey hesitated. "At the same time, there are often other injuries. What you are seeing now is purely the aftermath of the Cruciatus curse."

"What was all that with the numbers, earlier?"

"Ah." The nurse almost smiled. "That is Professor Snape's private pain scale; his assessment of how much pain he is in, on a scale from one to ten." The near-smile faded. "Generally, he comes to the Infirmary for anything over six. Between seven and eight is the average, very rarely higher than that. Once the pain drops to four or less, he can function enough to teach – or so he claims," she added, giving the convulsing figure a disapproving glance that he was clearly in no condition to appreciate. "It's better if we can get it down to at least two."

"Not stop it entirely?"

She snorted tiredly. "We don't have that sort of time, Miss Granger," she said bluntly. "What you saw before the seizure started will continue for a very long time yet. It will be more than a day before the nervous impulses stop and let him start to recover; it will be Monday at least before he is pain free. If he isn't Summoned again before then."

Hermione thought about this, unhappily. "How often does this happen?" she asked.

"It's only been a couple of months," the nurse pointed out gently. "He isn't Summoned as often during term time – You-Know-Who knows that it isn't always easy for him to get away. Over the summer he was called every two or three days. If this follows the same pattern as the first war, it will be about once a week on average."

"And he goes through this every time?"

"No. Even Professor Snape couldn't survive that. He isn't punished every time – he is punished less frequently this time than he was at the height of the previous war, at least so far – and when he is, it is often mild enough for him to treat it himself. Serious punishments such as tonight will probably happen once in every four or five Summons, and as I said, they aren't often as severe as this. You've been thrown in at the deep end, Miss Granger – it very seldom gets worse than tonight."

"Harry's been cursed before... he never mentioned anything like this."

Dilys laughed shortly. "He's never been cursed like this, or he would probably be dead. This isn't a single curse, or even a few bouts; this is the aftermath of prolonged, focused, deliberate torture. By the severity of his reaction tonight and the fact that it led to a seizure, he has probably been cursed for at least half an hour, more or less continuously."

"Why?" she asked, horrified.

"Who knows," the portrait replied quietly. "He may have had to disobey You-Know-Who in favour of Dumbledore, he may have failed to do something You-Know-Who asked of him, he may not have known the answer to a question or You-Know-Who may simply have been in a vindictive mood. From what little Severus has said, You-Know-Who is different now to the way he was in the previous war, more aggressive and unreasonable."

After what seemed like hours, Snape finally and somewhat suddenly passed out, which evidently marked the end of the crisis, and his grip slackened at last. Hermione slowly let go of him and thoroughly wiped her hand on her robes, flexing her fingers and wincing. Backing away from the bed, she watched the woman tidying up.

"Well," the nurse said quietly after a few minutes, "this is the reality of the war, Miss Granger, and this is what a Healer in the Order has to do. What did you think of your baptism of fire?"

"It's barbaric," she replied flatly. Snape had been reduced to something less than human. Nobody deserved that kind of treatment, and she couldn't understand the kind of mind that could inflict such suffering on another. Rubbing her hand, she hesitated, before looking up at the mediwitch. "When did Professor Snape try to kill himself?" she asked quietly.

Madam Pomfrey froze. "I don't know what you mean, Miss Granger," she said finally after far too long a pause, and Hermione smiled unhappily and shook her head.

"I did say I watched a lot of medical-based television shows at home. I recognised the scar patterns on his wrist. They're too deep to be self harm, and too precise to be an accident. It was a suicide attempt, wasn't it?" Realising what she was saying, she swallowed. "I'm sorry. It – it's none of my business." She was just glad Snape was unconscious. At least, she sincerely hoped he was – if he was faking, she was in deep trouble.

After a thoughtful pause, the older woman nodded slowly. "It was a very long time ago, when he was young." There was another pause, and Hermione found herself yet again on the receiving end of a measuring stare; the nurse seemed to be thinking very hard about something. "What else can you tell me about his scars?"

"Well... the marks on his elbow," she began uneasily.

Madam Pomfrey's gaze sharpened in sudden interest. "Yes?"

"They're – what Muggles call track marks. They're made by needles, from regular injections of drugs through a syringe. Is Professor Snape diabetic, or something like that?"

"No. He's not on any medication of that sort."

"Then..." She hesitated.

"Go on."

"Well, track marks are often a sign of drug addiction," she said uncertainly. "Usually heroin."

Unexpectedly, the nurse sighed and looked suddenly tired. "Oh, Severus," she murmured sadly, looking down at the unconscious man. "Yes. He used to use heroin and other drugs, sometimes. I believe he has been clean for a number of years now, though the scars remain; if he has started using again, it can only be within the past couple of weeks, since his last health check with me. I'll have to ask him later." Hermione stared at her incredulously. Snape was a heroin addict? She continued, "Don't look at me like that. He knows what he's doing, more or less."

After a moment the mediwitch gave her a penetrating look. "Why do you care, Miss Granger?" she asked softly – not aggressively, not as an accusation, but rather with an air that suggested that the question was a lot more important than it seemed. "Don't you hate Professor Snape, as so many of the students do?"

"Sort of, yes," she admitted reluctantly, shifting uneasily. "But... well... nobody should have to go through – this." She gestured helplessly towards the bed, remembering the animal pain in his eyes and that desperate look of gratitude. "I don't think I can hate him any more. Not now."

"I told you," Dilys murmured from her frame, and nurse and portrait exchanged a long and troubled look as Hermione watched them both blankly. Told her what? That I'm not enough of a bitch to keep hating someone in that much pain? she wondered. Finally Madam Pomfrey sighed, looking almost resigned, and nodded before turning back to her.

"I have an assignment for you, Hermione," she said quietly, dropping any pretence of formality. "In fact, I have several instructions. The first is that you do not allow anyone to find out what I am asking of you – and I mean nobody. Not your parents, not your friends, not the other staff members. Don't even tell Professor McGonagall that there is anything to this beyond your studying Healing. Not the Headmaster, not Harry or Ron. Do I make myself clear?"

The insistence in her voice was unmistakeable; whatever was going on, it was obviously important. Mystified, Hermione nodded slowly. "I promise."

The mediwitch held her gaze for a moment, then nodded and continued in a different tone. "On a similar note, don't mention tonight or any other of these nights to Professor Snape. Here, he was hurt and he needed help. Outside this room, he is not a patient, but your teacher. Do you understand?"

She nodded again. "Yes." That particular warning hadn't been needed, she reflected; she had no intention of trying to discuss what she had seen. He might have needed help tonight, but by morning he would bitterly resent that fact, and by extension resent her; she had already planned to keep very quiet in her next Potions lesson and try not to attract attention.

"Speaking of Professor Snape," the nurse went on, "I would appreciate it if you could tell me should you happen to notice anything out of the ordinary – additional strange scars, for example, or other injuries."

"You want me to spy on him?" Hermione asked incredulously, and it was Dilys who laughed.

"Merlin, no, girl," the portrait told her, smiling a little. "He'd catch you and kill you. No, just if you happen to notice anything in your lessons, that's all. I can pass word to Poppy if you can't get to the Infirmary; any of the portraits can fetch me to their frames."


Madam Pomfrey nodded, casting another quick glance at the unconscious figure on the bed. "Very well. Now, for your assignment... This way." She led Hermione into her office and went to one of the rows of filing cabinets along the back wall that held all the medical records for all of Hogwarts' students past and present who were still alive. Extracting what was either a very thick folder or a substantial book, she looked down at it and sighed before turning back to Hermione.

"By rights, I shouldn't be doing this, but I tend to trust my instincts," she said somewhat cryptically, before holding the book out. "Take this with you, and keep it with you at all times; for Merlin's sake, don't lose it. Don't let anyone else know you have it; don't let anyone touch it, or even see it. Do whatever you have to do to keep it secret, and only look at it when you're alone. Read it, all of it, then bring it back to me." She hesitated. "It will not be pleasant reading," she added softly.

Thoroughly mystified now and baffled by all the secrecy, Hermione nodded slowly and took the folder, glancing at it curiously; the cover was blank. It would have to wait, curious though she was; she needed to get some sleep, and she had classes tomorrow. It appeared that a weekend's reading was in order. Shrinking the folder with her wand, she tucked it carefully into an inside pocket and looked back at the nurse, who smiled at her.

"You'll understand soon, my dear. For now, don't worry about it. Go and get some sleep; you did a good thing tonight."

"Thank you."

"Don't thank me," Madam Pomfrey replied with a slightly sad smile and a glance at Dilys' portrait. "Good night."

"Good night."

By morning, Hermione's hand was swollen and mottled with bruising, striped with the clear imprint of fingers. Luckily it was her left hand, allowing her to keep it hidden most of the time, and nobody noticed; she didn't need to use the hand until the afternoon's Potions lesson, by which time she was feeling very tired indeed. She hadn't found it easy to sleep after what she had seen.

Snape didn't look like he had spent half the night in excruciating agony. Nor did he look like a heroin addict, Hermione reflected as she watched him covertly – whatever that looked like, anyway. He looked exactly the same as he always did, and he was his usual unpleasant self as he paced around the classroom and criticised their efforts. He stood behind Hermione for some time – she suspected he was waiting for her to look at him or to make some sort of reference, silently or verbally, to the night before, and kept her head down as she cut up her ingredients – before he almost absently docked five points from Ron and Harry for no real reason and swept off into the store room, leaving the three of them exchanging puzzled and irritated glances.

"He never changes," Harry said sourly, returning his attention to the dried henbane leaves he was crushing.

"Nope," Ron agreed philosophically, stirring his potion. "One of the constants of the universe – water's wet, fire's hot, and Snape's a git." Hermione bit her lip and kept silent, although privately she agreed; it was hard to be angry when she remembered the harsh sound of his breathing as he fought not to scream.

Towards the end of the lesson she found Snape standing behind her once more, using the spot as a surveillance point as he studied Neville's work. He was evidently waiting with barely-concealed anticipation for the nervous Gryffindor to make his inevitable mistake, which happened with depressing regularity almost every lesson. It didn't take long; Neville always grew much more nervous when Snape was watching him, which was certainly why the Potions master did it. As the smoke rose, Snape pounced, with an expression of almost unholy malicious glee.

As he left her bench and approached his prey, Hermione saw him take his hand out of the pocket of his robe and heard something drop into her bag; while everyone else watched Neville being verbally eviscerated – with sympathy, laughter, or relief that it wasn't them, depending on their House – she leaned down and fished amongst her textbooks. Her hand closed on a small clay jar, and she examined it curiously. The label was written in a familiar spiky hand, one she usually saw at the bottom of essays telling her to stop showing off and simply answer the question that had been asked; this time it merely said, 'For bruises.'

Staring at Snape's back as he proceeded to acidly reduce Neville to a quivering wreck, she shook her head slowly and tucked the little pot into the same pocket as the shrunken folder that she hadn't had time to look at, musing that life had suddenly become very surreal.

That evening she said something vague about homework and left Harry and Ron playing chess in the common room, escaping to the dormitory which was empty this early in the evening. Drawing the curtains around her bed, she carefully applied as many privacy spells as she could think of and settled cross-legged with the mysterious folder, smiling as Crookshanks sat next to her. Reaching to stroke him, she winced at the stiffness in her hand and remembered the small jar; Summoning it, she opened the lid and sniffed at the waxy ointment curiously.

"What do you think, Crooks?" she asked her familiar idly. "Is he trying to poison me?" Frankly she thought it was surprising that he'd noticed her hand was injured, let alone provided help. I expect my preserved Sourleaf pods weren't shaved precisely enough, she decided ruefully; no doubt he'd mark her down for the potion, regardless of the injury, and never mind that it had been his fault. Shrugging, she scooped some of the paste out of the jar and began carefully dabbing it onto the worst of the bruising, gently working it into the skin.

It felt pleasantly cool, at first, and eased the persistent throbbing ache that had been plaguing her all day. Reassured, she began to relax, before the ointment cooled further and began to feel cold. Flexing her fingers, she drew in a sharp breath as it turned icy, the cold sinking deep into her hand; her cat sniffed at the jar and meowed softly, looking as sympathetic as his squashed face could manage, but didn't show any signs of alarm. Since the end of her third year she had put a lot more trust in Crookshanks' judgement, and resisted the urge to rub the ointment off, instead letting it soak in.

After a few minutes the cold had completely numbed her hand, and it actually felt quite nice. Letting it do its work, she turned her attention to the mysterious book that Madam Pomfrey had given her, settling more comfortably against the pillows and opening it to the title page. She was a little disappointed to see that it was just a student's record sheet, no different from the ones she had already seen; this was someone's medical record. The explanation occurred to her even as she read the first line of text.

Name of Student: Severus Tobias Snape

Hermione took a deep breath and exhaled shakily, realising what she held. "Well, this explains why I'm not supposed to tell anyone," she told Crookshanks quietly. Snape's medical history as a student... God, what on earth was written in here? For a start, it was much thicker than the student records she had seen. And she really shouldn't be reading it... if Snape found out, he really would murder her, and these records were supposed to be confidential. But Madam Pomfrey had surely given this to her for a reason, and she had to admit that part of her was desperately curious. Of all her teachers, Snape was by far the most mysterious; he might well be in the Order, but she still knew nothing about him, not really – except that, as Ron had said, he was a constant git. She looked back at the page.

Gender: Male

Date of Birth: January 9th 1960

That was a surprise, too; intellectually she knew he had been at school with Sirius and Lupin and was therefore only in his mid-thirties, but... he looked a lot older than that, now. Thinking briefly back to her first year, she had to concede that he had aged rapidly in the past few years, which she supposed wasn't really all that surprising. He was under quite a bit of stress, after all.

House: Slytherin

Dates of Attendance: September 1971 – June 1978

Next of Kin: Tobias Snape, Muggle; Eileen Prince Snape, pureblood.

She nearly dropped the book. "Snape's a half-blood?" she asked nobody in particular, before realising she had spoken aloud and giving her wand a grateful look; thank God for Silencing spells. She had always assumed that he was a pureblood – although now that she thought about it, nobody had ever said so. She hadn't thought they let half-bloods into Slytherin. How bizarre... I wonder who else knows? The teachers would, obviously – but did the Slytherins know that their Head of House wasn't a pureblood?

Taking a moment to check her spells and make absolutely sure that nobody could see or hear her, she turned back to the book and turned the page. The first entry was dated early September 1971, the first health check – students underwent a brief health check at the start of every term, recording their height and weight and casting a basic diagnostic to see if there was anything wrong; she had seen her own record of those checks already. Madam Pomfrey also included a few notes on each student, and this first check recorded the nurse's first impression of the new pupils, and it was to this section that Hermione's eyes turned now.

Notes: Height in lower quartile of average range, no concern. Weight significantly below normal and overall hygiene seems poor. Evidence of old injuries, mainly bruising to arms, back and ribs; not serious but with other observations may mean possible neglect/abuse. No history of disease. He seems a quiet, solemn boy, polite and well spoken but a little withdrawn. One to watch.

Hermione sighed. "Well, Crooks, so far I've learned that Snape's a half-blood, that he was short, and that he's always been skinny and greasy and antisocial. This is going to be fun." Exhaling, she turned the page again.

The first documented Infirmary visit was dated less than a week later, a broken arm. Madam Pomfrey's record followed the standard format, careful notes of the injury and its treatment and then additional notes about the cause and any other observations. Explanation given as a fall. No sign of untruth but seems unlikely. Accompanied by a friend, Miss Evans of Gryffindor, who looked uncomfortable when he said he fell. Suspect hazing gone wrong – always a problem with Slytherin half-bloods. First of many visits, I believe.

She stared at the brief notes. "Snape was friends with a Gryffindor girl? That's just weird," she muttered, shaking her head. "Ah well, on we go."

Further incidents followed, all fairly minor; Madam Pomfrey judged most of them probably the results of fighting or bullying, but there was no proof of it and Snape had evidently been an accomplished liar even aged eleven. His friend Evans appeared several times, usually in the context of uncomfortably confirming the story of a fall or an accident and once or twice defending Snape when it was noted that other students had visited the Infirmary with injuries apparently caused by the young Slytherin.

By the end of his first year Snape's general health had improved a little; he was still underweight but within the acceptable range, and he had grown a little. His demeanour seemed much the same, quiet, polite and withdrawn. She read the notes for the first health check of his second year. Weight has gone down significantly, more bruising, decline in hygiene. Neglect/abuse now seems likely, have requested the Headmaster check his background.

"Madam Pomfrey did warn me it wasn't cheerful reading," Hermione muttered, turning the page.

There were more cross-student incidents this year – incidents involving other students. She wasn't remotely surprised to see the Marauders' names cropping up frequently as either Snape's victims or his assailants; regardless of the injuries on each side, these interactions usually seemed to end badly for Snape. Madam Pomfrey was chiefly concerned with recording injuries only, but she did note the rising frequency of punishments in Snape's file. Most of the recorded events seemed somewhat petty and trivial – bumps and bruises, occasionally mild hexes, but there was one that stood out.

Snape had been brought in unconscious, with an impressive tally of injuries – a broken leg, a cracked skull and several points of internal bleeding. Notes: Accident during Quidditch tryouts. Fall from broomstick, estimated twenty feet – supervisor occupied elsewhere, fall was not slowed. He refuses to say what happened – embarrassed? Angry? Not sure – very hard to read. Under that was another note, apparently added later on. Visit from Miss Evans – as she left, she said to me, 'It wasn't an accident. Sev's a good flier.' Tryouts always crowded but no witnesses have come forward. Miss Evans is probably right but there is no proof that it was anything other than an accident.

Hermione read on. The rest of the year was the same, and at the beginning of his third year Snape had once again lost weight and gained injuries – there was no reference to whether the Headmaster had investigated or not. In the brief notes Madam Pomfrey had observed, Hormone levels changing and voice shows signs of breaking. She wasn't really sure she wanted to read about her teacher entering puberty, but she kept reading anyway. The third year seemed to progress much as the second year had, save that the spells – both those used on Snape and those he used against others, chiefly James and Sirius – were growing more powerful and the encounters more aggressive. About the only deviation from the pattern was that his voice broke properly before Easter and he started to grow a little faster.

When she had finished the fourth year, which was again simply a more aggressive version of what she had already seen, Hermione realised that it was well after midnight and she had been studying the record for hours. Closing the book, she put it under her pillow to make sure nothing happened to it, and examined her hand; the coldness had worn off, but the bruising seemed slightly better. Lifting the spells on her bed curtains, she slid out of bed and went to clean her teeth and get changed before curling up with Crookshanks, thinking.

It seemed that Snape hadn't had an easy time of things. Madam Pomfrey had strongly suspected that he came from an abusive background and that he was being bullied, and he had run into the Marauders fairly frequently, usually coming off worst. The book dealt chiefly with the medical side of things, though, which made it hard to judge what had actually happened; she'd have to talk to the nurse about what she had read, once she had finished it. Deciding that tomorrow she'd get all her homework done and out of the way, so that she had the rest of the weekend to read and decide what to ask the mediwitch, Hermione closed her eyes and fell into an exhausted sleep, wondering idly who this girl Evans had been; annoyingly, the name sounded vaguely familiar.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 2 of 60

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