Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 20 of 60

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Hermione approached the dungeons next morning in some trepidation. She had no idea what had happened between Snape and Harry last night; it had been a long time before her friend had come back to the by-then deserted common room, and he had obviously been crying – hard – and seemed very shaken and scared, but he wouldn't tell her anything. All he had said was that Snape hadn't hurt him, but he'd been acting so strangely that she honestly wasn't sure she believed him.

Snape looked all right, as far as she could judge, although it was so often hard to tell with him. He didn't seem to be hung over, although he looked like he hadn't slept – that was depressingly quite normal for him. "Good morning, sir," she ventured cautiously, and he responded with his usual grunt of acknowledgement and a vaguely unfocused look.

About half way around their circuit, he asked mildly, "Would you care to tell me what happened last night?"


"Last night," he repeated, apparently missing the chance to tell her not to sound like an idiot again; he sounded tired, too, but it didn't hide his amusement when he looked at her. "What on earth did Weasley do to deserve that?"

Despite herself, she flushed a little. She hadn't seen Ron since he had left the Room of Requirement and she wasn't looking forward to the first time she did encounter him. He was going to be furious, and although that wasn't exactly unusual – their friendship had never been particularly stable – for once she actually deserved it. She also really didn't want to talk to Snape about Lavender. He was a surprisingly good confidante in many ways, but she knew she would feel really stupid prattling about teenage jealousy and she doubted he would be impressed. She'd worked hard to get him to see her as more than just another annoying student.

"Nothing, sir."

"You kicked him for no reason?" he inquired, arching an eyebrow and smirking as he looked around at her again – it was difficult to have a conversation whilst jogging side by side, but they were getting better at it. "I can understand people being tempted, but it seems rather unlike you, given how much you have accepted from him over the years."

"Don't any of my teachers have anything else to do except gossip?" she asked irritably.

He snorted. "In all honesty, no, most of them do not. However, it hardly takes a genius to spot when a normally inseparable little gang have fallen out with one another."

It was definitely time to change the subject, she decided. Snape would know what she was doing, obviously, but hopefully he would let it drop. "Does it really hurt that much, for a man to be kicked... there?"

His dark eyes crinkled at the corners in a rather wry smile. "Yes, it really does. If questioned about this, I will deny what I am about to say, but should you ever find yourself in a serious fight, do not hesitate to do that again. There isn't a man alive who can continue fighting after that, not if it's done properly. Your ignorant friend is going to be walking rather oddly for the next day or two. Does he have Quidditch practice today?" he asked innocently.

Hermione felt herself blush again. "Um, I think so, actually..."

"I may have to try and watch," he mused, chuckling darkly.

"Can we please not talk about it, sir?" she asked pleadingly.

"You have spent far too much time with Dilys and Madam Pomfrey," he told her dryly. "You are being taught how to deny me any pleasure in life." Snorting softly, he relented. "As you wish. I am satisfied that he deserved it, since you would hardly act in such a fashion without due provocation, so if I were you I wouldn't feel too guilty."

They jogged along in companionable silence for a few minutes before she said hesitantly, "Professor?"

"What now, Granger?" he asked in mocking exasperation. "I do recall telling you last year not to speak to me in the mornings, you know."

"You started it," she retorted, biting her lip for a moment and gathering her courage. "What – what happened between you and Harry after I left, last night?"

"What did he say?" Snape asked neutrally, not looking at her this time and apparently absorbed in staring ahead of them at the muddy trail through the snow in the pre-dawn dimness.

"He couldn't really talk very clearly," Hermione said slowly, watching his face more than her footing. "He'd obviously been crying. All he said was that you hadn't hurt him."

There was a short pause before Snape answered in a rather odd tone of voice. "Do you believe him?"

"Yes and no, sir," she replied honestly. "I don't believe you'd hurt him without a very good reason, no matter what he said or did, not after all this time. But obviously something unpleasant happened, because he really looked upset, and – scared, almost. I don't think I've ever seen him quite like that, although I can't imagine what you would have done to him. I really don't know, sir."

Peculiarly, he relaxed a little at her answer, finally turning his head and meeting her eyes with an unreadable expression. "I did not harm him," he told her quietly and emphatically, before returning his gaze to the path and continuing in something approaching his normal scornful voice. "Although perhaps I should have taken the opportunity. I merely gave him another lesson in the importance of keeping his temper. Hopefully, the lesson will have sunk in this time; I do not intend repeating it."

"I see, sir."

"Answer a question for me, Miss Granger," Snape said distantly after another long pause, as their run drew to a close and they stopped, beginning to slowly warm down and stretch.

"If I can, sir."

"Why, exactly, is Potter suddenly being hailed as a Potions prodigy? Professor Slughorn has been singing his praises for weeks now. You and I both know that Potter is mostly next to useless at Potions and shows no interest in the subject. Even if he could be bothered to pay attention, he would never be top of the class. So I find myself asking why he is suddenly such a shining star."

Hermione tried not to squirm; Snape clearly already knew the answer, so she didn't see why he was forcing her to admit it. "I've been letting him look at your book during lessons."

"I know you have," he said coolly. "Even though I told you not to use it."

"You told me not to use it, sir; you didn't mention Harry," she replied bravely.

He raised an eyebrow and gave her a rather cold look. "Such petty word games are beneath you, Miss Granger. Answer me, if you please. Why?"

This was awkward. Fidgeting, she took a breath and met his eyes. "It's important that Professor Slughorn likes Harry, sir. It's part of what the Headmaster is working on. I – I can't tell you why..."

She had expected Snape to look annoyed, perhaps to press her on what she wasn't telling him, or to say something scornful and dismiss her. Instead, though, he looked thoughtful for a moment before something in his eyes changed and he somehow looked a little sad. "Ah. I suppose that explains it, then," he said quietly, looking away from her. "I had wondered why I was given this job now, of all times. The Headmaster needed Professor Slughorn to come back... I see."

"I'm sure that wasn't it, sir," she protested instantly, and he barked a rough and mirthless laugh.

"Look me in the eyes and say that." She didn't even try, her stomach twisting a little, and he shook his head wearily. "I always knew it wasn't for me. I simply didn't know the full reason. It is quite clear now." Hermione felt horrible, both for having had to be the one to tell him and for his sake; it was almost impossible to tell, given his usual impassive demeanour and expert lack of expression, but she thought he was actually quite hurt.

"I'm sorry, sir."

He shook his head again, still not looking at her. "Don't be. It is hardly your fault. And it doesn't really matter anyway." She was pretty sure this was the first time he had directly lied to her.

Things became rather uncomfortable for Hermione over the next few days. Ron was truly furious with her, as angry as he had been in third year when he was convinced that Crookshanks had eaten Scabbers, and he was avoiding her so aggressively that it was really hurting now. More than that, he'd told Lavender – at least, Hermione assumed that was why her two dorm-mates had suddenly become even more bitchy than usual. Resigning herself to not being allowed near the girl's bathroom in the tower any time soon, and feeling thankful that there were so many others in the castle, she made sure all her possessions were carefully warded and tried to ignore their behaviour.

She thought at first that Harry wasn't speaking to her either, but in fact he wasn't speaking to anyone. He spent three days virtually mute, lost in his own thoughts, before finally snapping out of it and talking to her again on the way back to the castle from Herbology. "Hey, Hermione."

"Hey, yourself. Are you back on this planet now?"

He gave her a sheepish grin that was so much like the old Harry she remembered from before the war that she could have hugged him. "Um, about as much as I ever am, I guess. I've been a bit weird recently, haven't I?"

"Recently?" she retorted tartly, unable to stop herself smiling. "But yes, you have. I've been worried about you."

"I know. I'm sorry. I did say I was okay though."

"No, you didn't. All you'd say was that Professor Snape hadn't hurt you. Which would have been slightly more comforting if you hadn't been in tears when you said it."

"Uh, yeah. Sorry again." He shrugged uncomfortably.

"Harry, relax. I'm not going to ask. It's none of my business. Whatever happened between you was obviously something he felt was necessary, and I know you don't understand why but I do trust him. You look all right now, so you don't have to tell me anything you're not comfortable with."

They walked a bit further. Months of hanging around Snape had given Hermione the knack of reading silences, and there was less tension around Harry than she could remember in years. He looked very tired and had obviously had a few sleepless nights, but he also looked calm and cheerful and had clearly sorted a few things out in his head, which had presumably been the idea.

"I don't want to tell you how he did it," Harry said finally, "but Snape – he – well, he made me see why I need to keep my temper. I know he's told me and told me and told me, and so have you, and Ron a bit, but this was different. I... still can't quite believe it really happened," he added slowly, looking a little bewildered, "but... he showed me just how out of control I was." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I've not really been quite right since Voldemort returned."

"Of course you haven't, Harry," she said gently. "You've heard of post-traumatic stress, right?"

He blinked at her. "Uh, yes, but I thought that was – soldiers and so on."

"And what do you think we are?"

Harry's eyes widened for a moment, before he nodded slowly. "I hadn't thought of it like that."

"No reason you would," she answered. "The wizarding world doesn't know anything about psychology. I've thought that for well over a year now. Think about it... you were kidnapped by monsters from the only place you've ever really felt safe, and saw a friend murdered in front of you, not to mention your parents' ghosts, plus Voldemort being reborn using your own blood. And once term had ended, you were packed off back home as though nothing had happened, and kept totally in the dark and isolated from everyone. Then you spent another year here being tortured by that foul woman while everyone around you failed to protect you, and the closest person you had to family was murdered in front of you, you were told a terrifying prophecy, and then you were sent off home again. This is the first year when anyone's actually tried to talk to you about anything and let you know what's going on. Frankly, Harry, I'm amazed you haven't done anything worse than lose your temper occasionally."

Her friend looked rather startled, before finally nodding slowly. "I think that might be some of the reason why it all made me so angry, you know? Maybe if someone had just been willing to talk to me, and let me talk to them..."

Hermione promptly punched him in the arm, and he yelped. "What was that for?"

"That was for being stupid. You could have talked to me or Ron at any time, you stubborn prat."

After a moment's struggle he laughed aloud, something she hadn't heard in months. "Yeah, okay, point made. I'll try not to do that again. But you know what I meant."

She nodded. "Yes. I've seen a lot of cases recently of situations that have been made so much worse because people didn't realise what damage they were doing. I'd give my left arm for a decent assortment of psychology textbooks here."

"You don't already own half a dozen?"

"Very funny. I almost preferred you sulking." She grinned at him. "So what are you going to do now?"

He breathed out slowly. "Start my meditation again. I never did come up with anything to think about, but even just the breathing exercises helped a bit. And I'm going to try not to snap and yell so much."


He grinned. "And I'm not going to interfere next time Snape's telling you off, either. Part of me was horrified even while I was doing it. I thought he'd kill me."

"I think he might do if it happens again," she advised him warningly. "He's been inhumanly patient with you this year, given the way he normally behaves with you, but he's had enough now, I think." She had no idea why – or how – Snape was controlling himself so well with his young nemesis, but she certainly wasn't going to complain.

Harry nodded vigorously; she repressed the urge to ask just what the hell had happened. "Yeah, I kind of got that impression."

"So you're feeling better about things now?"

"Well, no. But I think if I stay calm and work things out, I might do."

"That's a good start. You know I'll listen if you need me to, although you might find it easier to talk to someone else."

"Like Ron?" Harry asked pointedly. She kept her face expressionless as she looked back at him, something she'd learned to do over the past year against a far more perceptive man, and her friend shook his head. "I know why you kicked him. To be honest, I'm kind of glad you did – he was being totally out of order, and Snape was right, you wouldn't have done it if he didn't deserve it. But one of you is going to have to apologise soon, right? And, well, it's not likely to be him..."

"I don't like fighting with him, and I do very slightly regret kicking him like that – I didn't think it actually hurt as much as it apparently does – but he's been an absolute bastard to me for weeks, Harry. And it's hardly the first time, is it? I'm sick of always having to be the one to make the first move, when it's never me who starts the fight. I'm really sick of feeling this bad because he's being spiteful. I'm not going to grovel this time. I'm sorry, I know you hate being stuck between the two of us like this, but I've had enough of him and his girlfriend."

"Is Lavender being a cow as well?" he asked awkwardly. "I kind of figured something might be going on..."

"It's fine," she said tiredly. "It's nothing I haven't been through before. No big deal, honestly – don't worry about me. But don't expect a big reconciliation in a hurry, either."

Harry gave her a long look before nodding and sighing. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to ignore you over the last few days."

"You've had a lot on your mind, Harry. We all have. Please don't start apologising for thinking!"

In mid-November, Hermione received yet another late-night call from Dilys, only this one was different. "The dungeons?" she repeated sleepily, looking at the portrait. "Why? He wasn't even Summoned yesterday, he can't be that badly hurt..."

"He's not hurt at all, and you're not going to see him. Trust me, Hermione, you'll want to get up for this; I've been waiting to show you for a long time."

The older witch looked excited, which was enough to stir Hermione's curiosity and force her out of bed. She hadn't been sleeping well; Harry was still in a strange mood following his mysterious lesson with Snape, withdrawn and quiet, although he was certainly outwardly a lot calmer and less angry, and Ron still wasn't speaking to her. That was fair enough, really, under the circumstances, but it would have been easier to deal with if he and Lavender weren't still flaunting their 'relationship' at every opportunity. With one friend furious with her and the other lost in his own thoughts, she could go for most of each day without talking to anyone, and it was stressing her out to the point where she welcomed this distraction now.

Wrapping her dressing gown around her, she crept out of Gryffindor Tower and made her way into the passages that would lead her to the dungeons without being caught, following Dilys – and Phineas; the Slytherin joined them about half way down – into a narrow passage she hadn't used before. Trying to map the dungeons in her head, Hermione realised this led alongside Snape's private quarters, and looked blankly at the portraits.

Dilys held a finger to her lips and gestured to her to go further; now utterly mystified, she did as she was told, and paused as a sound cut through the absolute silence of the dungeons. Straining her ears, she heard it again; it was very quiet, but unmistakeably music, and a few moments later she recognised the sound of a piano.

"Oh," she whispered, suddenly understanding, and eagerly moved deeper into the passageway until she found the place where the faint music was loudest, sitting and leaning back against the wall to listen with her eyes closed.

She didn't know much classical music, and the piece she could hear now wasn't one she was familiar with, but she did know a little bit about the piano and this was very good, an effortless-sounding rippling cascade of notes. She glanced around, but there weren't any frames down here; presumably Dilys and Phineas had better seats in one of the frames actually inside Snape's rooms. Settling more comfortably and tucking the edge of her dressing gown under her to stop her feet from freezing, she closed her eyes again and listened.

The classical music didn't last long; she was surprised but delighted to recognise the next piece he started to play as a familiar old pop song, Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah', which was absolutely not what she would have expected from Snape but was an absolutely beautiful if rather sad piece of music and being played very well. Then, even better, he started to sing along; sadly the walls were too thick for her to make out the words, but she liked this song and her mind filled in the lyrics as she listened to his unfortunately rather muffled and indistinct voice.

He turned out to have a surprisingly extensive repertoire, playing a blend of classical and pop; all the songs she recognised were slow and slightly sad, including the Carpenters, Sarah McLachlan, Queen, Simon & Garfunkel and REM, but there were plenty she didn't know as well.

Hermione had no idea how long she sat listening – she hadn't brought her watch with her – but it must have been hours before the piano finally fell silent. She could have happily listened all night, and her only regret was that the thickness of the wall prevented her from hearing it properly; smiling, she got up and stretched, making her way back along the passage to where Dilys and Phineas were waiting in the nearest frame for her.

"Wow," she told them softly.

Oddly, it was Phineas who said, "Indeed," in agreement; Dilys only smiled.

"How often does he play?"

"He picks out a tune occasionally if he's bored or frustrated. But sitting and playing properly, the way you've just heard... not for years, as far as either of us know. I haven't heard him play like that since before he told Dumbledore that his Dark Mark was coming back, and to be honest he's very seldom played since... since young Mr Potter came to Hogwarts. He has changed a great deal since then."

"Changed, how?" she asked, although she was sure she knew some of it.

Dilys looked thoughtful; Phineas had disappeared again. "He's become... harder, and sharper. He was never the outgoing sort, but he's withdrawn further into himself and pulled away from the few good things he had in his life – like his music, for example, or his art, or his other hobbies. He focuses more on his work than anything else; sometimes it's as if that's all there is. He's become more introspective, too, and spends more time inside his head, closing off from everything around him. And he's been using Occlumency much more, I've noticed, pushing all his emotions away from him and repressing everything he's feeling. It's been very difficult for him."

Hermione nodded; that made sense. "It's not a healthy way to live," she said softly as she began to make her way back towards Gryffindor Tower.

"He's not a healthy individual," Dilys pointed out once Hermione was back in bed. "He never has been; even as a boy, he was badly damaged by... well, everything, really. I've never really known how to describe it – it was almost as if he didn't understand how life was supposed to work. Oh, he was full of anger later on, but at the same time he seemed to accept his situation, as though the anger was completely separate..." She paused and chuckled softly. "I can't explain it, Hermione. I've never known anyone else quite like Severus," she added affectionately.

She giggled. "I can believe that." Settling down, she asked thoughtfully, "Would he be angry if he'd known I was listening?"

Dilys looked thoughtful. "I don't know. With most people, I'd say yes; he's always been very private and I don't think many people even know he likes music, let alone that he can play the piano and sing. But I don't know, Hermione. You've seen a lot of things he would prefer to keep private. I honestly have no idea how he'd react... but it's probably a good idea not to tell him."

"I wasn't planning on it. I might be a Gryffindor, but I'm not daft." She smiled a little. "I wish I'd been able to hear his voice properly."

The portrait grinned wickedly. "Oh, yes. If you ever do hear him sing properly... well, you'll be ruined for life, frankly."

"That good?" she asked a little wistfully, pretty sure she'd never get the chance to hear him.


The rest of November passed without incident. Snape was too busy to arrange further lessons, and since Ron and Hermione still weren't speaking Harry spent some time trying to practice duelling with each of them when he could. There were no bad Summons, as far as Hermione knew; if anything had happened, Snape was dealing with it himself.

At the start of December, Hermione was working in the hospital wing, quietly absorbed in a paper dealing with different ways of healing the different types of fractures and breaks, when Dilys hailed her from her portrait. "So, my dear, I hear there is to be a party?"

"Hmm?" she replied absently. "Oh, yes, Professor Slughorn invited me. And Harry, and anyone else he happens to want in his club."

"Are you going?"

"I said I would. I'm not sure I want to, but..."

But when she'd heard about it, there had been a lot of other people around, including Lavender, and for once she had allowed her inner bitch to have a say. Putting her paper down, she looked up at the portrait, debating whether or not to admit that she'd asked Cormac McLaggen to go with her. That was... really, really childish, she had to admit, but oh God, it had been worth it just for the look on Ronald smug Weasley's smug face. Two could play his game. It had also earned Parvati's admiration, which would hopefully make life a bit easier in the dormitory from now on.

"Do you have a date yet?" Dilys asked, interrupting her thoughts.

"One of the seventh year boys."

"Really? You said Harry was going..."

"So is Ginny," Hermione replied dryly, smiling despite herself. "Harry's asked Luna to go with him, anyway – at least he'll have someone to talk to. It's going to be a bit of a boring evening, I think."

"Not if you make your own entertainment, dear. Have you decided what you're wearing yet?"

"It's not until the 20th. I've not given it any thought." She smiled ruefully. "You already know I'm terrible at being a girl."

"Well, you've got me now," the elderly witch told her firmly. "I'm going to think about this. Don't make any decisions without me."

"If you say so," she replied absently, picking up the paper she had been reading once more.

A conversation took place in the corner of Dumbledore's office a couple of nights later, in whispers, as Dilys hauled her fellow conspirator into her frame and explained Slughorn's Christmas party to him.

"Fascinating," the Slytherin yawned. "So?"

"So, I see an opportunity here."

"An opportunity for what?"

"For gently reminding a certain man that a certain young woman is in fact a young woman and no longer a schoolgirl. If I can create the right impression, he won't know what's hit him by the time we're through, I promise you that," she assured him with a rather evil smile. Phineas snickered, and Dilys gave him a warning glare. "You had better not be thinking of warning him, Phineas Nigellus Black," she said dangerously.

The Slytherin's portrait smirked at her. "And deprive myself of the look on his face when he sees the results of your plotting and scheming? Please. It's as if you don't know me at all. The poor man is in a great deal of trouble, I suspect. I look forward to seeing it."

"You think it's a good idea, then?"

"No, to be quite honest," Phineas told her, more seriously. "I think it's going to be a disaster. But it is necessary. Even he can't keep lying to himself forever, and if we can push him far enough it's possible he might actually open up a little. Eventually, of course, after he's gone through the inevitable phase of trying to distance himself even more and trying to ruin everything. We need to get that out of the way soon, now that she knows him well enough not to take it too seriously."

"Pessimist. You're probably right, but I don't think this is going to be a disaster at all, except perhaps for his blood pressure."

"If he even shows up. Severus hates parties, and if you hint that Granger's going to be there you know he'll run."

"Albus has already told him to attend. He can't get out of it unless he's Summoned, in which case I doubt he'd object to one of his nurses looking rather different." Dilys gave him an evil smile, and Phineas chuckled softly and rather unpleasantly.

"I do feel rather sorry for him sometimes."

"I don't. This is for his own good, after all."

"Have you told her what you're planning?"

"No. She'd be too nervous, and I want her to look natural. I would also prefer that Severus didn't realise it was deliberate; no point in encouraging his tendency towards self-destruction, not when he's kept his temper so well. And he did order us not to interfere, after all."

"I can't imagine why. He must have known we wouldn't listen."

The party wasn't a success so far, Hermione reflected sourly. It wouldn't have been too bad if she'd just been able to talk to Harry, Luna and Ginny – the younger Weasley didn't know the details of why she and Ron had fallen out this time, thankfully, and Luna was always good for lightening a conversation, and it was good to see Harry more cheerful; besides, thanks to Dilys, she felt amazing at the moment. Ron's eyes had been on stalks when she'd left the common room and Lavender had looked like she was chewing broken glass.

Her plan to wind her so-called friend up had turned out to have a flaw, though. Cormac was the only one in Gryffindor who hadn't realised what was going on. He really did think she was interested in him, and after almost an hour of listening to him droning about all his incredible Quidditch moves she was surprised that her ears weren't bleeding. Worse, he'd managed to corner her under the mistletoe three times and she was running out of excuses to get away – if she'd realised Slughorn had planned this type of party she would never have asked him, she'd have asked Harry. Hermione knew she was one of the least experienced girls in her year, but she knew enough to know what she liked in a kiss and what she didn't, and Cormac was absolutely dreadful. If he kept shoving his tongue that far down her throat she was going to bite it off, if she didn't gag first, and his wandering hands were going to earn him a hex soon.

Ginny was occupied elsewhere at the moment, which meant that Harry was trying not to pout and was focused on letting Luna distract him – they were talking to one of the guests at the moment; Slughorn apparently thought his powerful friends would be impressed by an invitation to a party of schoolchildren – and she was rather desperately searching for a source of diversion when she almost literally ran into Snape, skulking in a corner and scowling.

"Good evening, Professor. I didn't realise you were here," she greeted him with some relief; even a randy teenage boy wasn't going to be single-minded enough to risk Snape's wrath. Besides, she might get some intelligent conversation this way.

"Not through choice, I assure you," he said darkly, his lip curling as he scanned the room. "There is a circle of Hell somewhere that greatly resembles this, I suspect."

Hermione took a moment to look at him; he was the only person in the room who wasn't dressed for the occasion, instead sticking to his usual teaching robes, but his hair looked cleaner than it usually was and unless she was very much mistaken, he was wearing aftershave – something much nicer and less overpowering than the stuff most people here seemed to have drowned themselves in. He had a full glass in his hand that was obviously untouched, which made sense; his drinking was very much a private thing.

Looking around the room, she shrugged and half-smiled ruefully. "You might be right. I wish I hadn't come, now."

"Not going the way you planned?" he asked in a rather cold voice, giving her a not very friendly look. It had been a while since she'd found herself on the receiving end of his public persona; it was a shame he found it necessary, since nobody was close enough to overhear them at the moment.

"You could say that, sir," she agreed with a sigh, checking that there was no sign of Cormac.

Displaying his usual ability to read minds, Snape asked acidly, "Shouldn't you be with your date?"

"I'd really rather not," she admitted, giving him a rueful smile and blinking when he met it with a glare.

In a poisonous tone of voice, Snape remarked, "Don't worry too much, Miss Granger. I'm sure Weasley got the message loud and clear, and McLaggen is far too self-absorbed to have realised what's going on, fortunately for you. You don't get to hide behind me, or anyone else for that matter. If you play with fire, you must expect to get burned."

Taken aback to realise just how angry he was, she stared at him; his black eyes were hard and cold in a manner she hadn't seen in a long time. "Sir?" she asked hesitantly.

His glare intensified before he turned his attention to the glass in his hand, sneering at it before lifting it and draining the contents in a single long swallow. Dumping it on a nearby shelf, he favoured her with another sneer before turning on his heel and stalking away. Hermione stared after him as he stormed off, feeling confused and slightly upset – this wasn't exactly the reaction she had been expecting. Obviously he knew why she'd asked Cormac out, and just as obviously he didn't approve; she had thought he would find it funny. Why was he so angry with her? He was acting... she floundered, looking for a way to describe it, and finally gave up. Time to go; what little enjoyment she'd had from tonight was well and truly gone.

Severus was having a very bad night. He should have been focusing on his fight with Draco, on the fact that his godson no longer trusted him and was growing increasingly desperate and unpredictable, on the fact that the boy was apparently being aided by Bellatrix – God help them all – and on the fact that he was pretty sure Potter had been following them and could have overheard anything. That should have occupied all his attention.

Instead, he was trying very hard to forget the image of Granger in her black dress, which seemed to have burned itself onto his retinas permanently. Even worse was the image of watching that troll McLaggen mauling her under the mistletoe; it was no comfort at all to see that she hadn't been enjoying it, and he had a feeling the boy would be spending the first week of the new term in detention for some spurious reason or other, if he didn't simply hex him.

It was infuriating that he cared. It was absolutely none of his business if she was using the boy to wind Weasley up and he certainly shouldn't have been paying so much attention to what she looked like that he could have drawn it perfectly from memory. He cursed softly under his breath and continued pacing restlessly back and forth; his usual calm was a distant dream tonight and he knew he wouldn't sleep. Damnit, damnit, damnit.

At this point he would actually welcome a Summons just to jolt his mind out of the dangerous place his thoughts were occupying right now; he'd spent the last – he glanced at the clock and cursed again – two hours doing nothing but pacing in circles and hating himself for his perfect recall of how she had looked and for his body's treacherous reaction. And she had looked stunning, which was the problem. He could cope with the way she normally looked, at least most of the time, but he had never really seen her dressed up before – he was vaguely aware that she had supposedly looked incredible at the Yule Ball, according to the gossip, but he had been occupied by other things at the time and couldn't remember seeing her at all.

He shook his head slowly, some of his temper giving way to something more rueful; she couldn't have done better to discomfort him if she had deliberately set out to do so, frankly. She hadn't done much with her hair, which he approved of since he quite liked it in its usual wild state, just pulled it up and left it to spill down her neck very distractingly, and the dress itself had been nicely understated and cut just low enough and just tight enough to seriously bother him a lot more than he was happy with.

Matters hadn't been helped by the glamour she'd used to hide the scar on her chest, either. He knew the scar was there, so the spell hadn't worked properly for him, and the distracting shimmer of magic had just made it much more difficult to keep his eyes away from her cleavage. It had been a very long and frustrating couple of hours before he'd finally stormed off to yell at Draco, and the rest of the night promised to be even worse. Frankly, Severus hadn't actually realised that he was healthy enough to sustain an erection for any length of time; it had been about a year since he'd last woken up aroused and he'd assumed that his libido had long since given up. Apparently not, since he was as hard as he had ever been, almost painfully so, and barely had enough blood left in his brain to think anything at all.

Furious with himself, he continued pacing back and forth, his mood growing blacker with every step. Hermione Granger was his seventeen year old student. She had been an adult for only three months – a small voice reminded him that the age of consent in Muggle Britain was sixteen and she had in fact been legal for over a year; he sternly told the voice to shut up – and he had first met her when she was eleven years old. She was absolutely off limits and he should not be feeling like this. He couldn't even blame it on the fact that he hadn't been laid in years, because to be honest he'd never been all that bothered about sex and it really wasn't a priority right now. She'd brought one boy to the stupid party to make another boy jealous and was obviously neither available nor interested, damnit. He'd been through all this before and he should have learned his lesson by now.

Finally giving up, he spun on his heel and stormed off to the bathroom for a cold shower and a great deal of alcohol, bleakly attempting to direct his thoughts elsewhere and feeling thoroughly disgusted with himself. Some people never learn.

He wished vainly yet again that this wasn't happening to him. It was a complication he emphatically did not need. The first time had been bad enough, but he had been younger then, more resilient and less set in his ways. Now, it was almost too much, on top of everything else. He didn't like feeling like this; he didn't like being in love. The poets could spout all the sugary crap they liked; love didn't feel good to him, it never had. It just hurt, and unrequited love was the most soul-destroying source of despair he had ever known.

Severus sometimes thought that this was the reason why he was able to endure all the brutal horrors that life could throw at him. No matter how bad the torment, it would never be as bad as the tortures he inflicted on himself.

Hermione hadn't seen much of anyone since the Christmas holidays had started. Harry and Ron had gone to the Burrow with Ginny, and mercifully Lavender and Parvati had both gone home for Christmas so she had the dormitory to herself. She hadn't seen Snape since Slughorn's party, either; since it was the holidays he wasn't obliged to attend meals and seemed to have gone into hiding – according to Phineas and Dilys, he was sulking about something – and she wasn't going jogging in the mornings either at the moment, having given herself a bit of a holiday, especially not while he was in his current mood. The peace and quiet had been nice, at first, but it was getting a bit lonely now; she missed her parents and her cat fiercely and this promised to be a very bleak Christmas. Harry had left her Christmas present before he'd left, and Mrs Weasley would probably send her the usual jumper, but Ron wasn't speaking to her and her parents wouldn't risk contacting her again so that would probably be it.

She wouldn't be giving out many gifts, either. She'd sent Harry's, and Ron's was in her trunk in case they did start talking to one another when he got back – it wasn't very likely, but you never knew – but that was really about it. She would have liked to give Madam Pomfrey something, but hadn't been able to find anything in Hogsmeade. As for Snape, she wasn't sure they'd really reached that point; he had given her a birthday present, admittedly, but it had been her coming of age and therefore it wasn't a normal occasion. She was working on something for his birthday, but she wasn't sure she'd have the courage to actually give it to him. Besides, he was clearly angry with her for some mystifying reason; the only time she'd encountered him since Slughorn's party, he'd given her a truly venomous glare and stalked off.

All in all, the run up to Christmas was pretty depressing. Since she had naturally finished all her holiday homework in the first two days, she'd spent most of her time in the library or her dormitory trying to read in between moping around. Thankfully McLaggen had also gone home for Christmas; she had a feeling he wasn't going to give up easily.

The dull monotony was broken on Christmas Eve, in fact shortly before midnight, when Phineas appeared in the frame above her bed. Unsurprisingly, he wasn't there to wish her Merry Christmas. "You're needed in the dungeons," he told her quietly.

"Not the hospital wing?"

"No. He's being stupid and stubborn and won't go."

"Where's Madam Pomfrey?"

The portrait gave her a measuring look. "Still asleep. Dilys suggested you should handle this one by yourself."


"Because if one of you doesn't make a move to fix this soon, he'll never speak to you again," he told her grimly. "Severus can carry a grudge for decades, you know that. Don't let him be an idiot. Will you go?"

"What's the problem?"

"I don't know. It's not the Cruciatus, but that's all I can tell you. What did you fight about, anyway?"

Hermione slid out of bed and pulled on her robes, shivering. "...I don't actually know."

"Hmph. That sounds like him. I'm surprised it took him this long, to be honest. His password at the moment is Iscariot, whatever that means, and Dilys and I will both be there. Get moving."

"Iscariot," she muttered ruefully, hastily tying her hair back from her face and finding her wand before slipping out into Gryffindor Tower. Pausing long enough to order a couple of third years in the common room to go to bed, she left through the portrait hole and trotted through the familiar passages and down the staircases to the dungeons. She was well aware that Snape was going to kill her for this, but it hadn't occurred to her to refuse.

She let herself into his rooms, which were in total darkness, and stood listening for a long moment before cautiously venturing across his living room. "Lumos minima," she whispered softly, and the tip of her wand began to emit a very muted grainy light that was just about enough to let her avoid walking into anything. It was a little worrying that he hadn't already detected her entry and come to throw her out; she wished Dilys had been the one to fetch her. The witch could have given her some idea of what she was facing.

She heard Dilys' voice once she reached the hallway, coming from the bathroom, where a strip of light showed under the door. "For the last time, Severus, go to the hospital wing."

Snape's voice was a hoarse rasp as he snarled, "Will you give it a rest, woman? I'm not going anywhere. Shut the hell up."

The language was a bad sign; he was obviously in a foul mood. Bracing herself, Hermione pushed the door open. Snape was standing by the sink, facing away from her; his robe lay in a discarded heap of black cloth on the floor and his white shirt seemed mostly red, in the split second she had to take in the sight before he whirled around with his wand raised. She actually felt the surge of his magic before he recognised her and presumably managed to abort whatever spell he had cast.

"What the hell are you doing in here?" he spat huskily.

"Phineas told me your password," she replied automatically, staring at him with wide eyes. It looked like he had been thoroughly beaten up; one eye was swollen shut and turning a beautiful shade of purple, there was a split in his eyebrow that was trickling blood into his other eye, his lower lip was split and puffy, his nose was bleeding and she could see marks on his neck where his shirt was half undone that looked like he'd been throttled, which explained his voice. His shirt was spattered with gore, and it looked like it was soaking its way along the cloth from somewhere on his back; red drops spotted the floor as well, and his hands looked bruised.

"Get out."

She swallowed. "No, sir."

His expression darkened still further. "Get. Out."

"No, sir."

He took an unsteady step towards her. "Get out now, Granger, or I swear I will throw you out."

Hermione spotted the waver as his balance faltered, and his face was bloodlessly pale between bruises; he was in no condition to do anything at all, except possibly collapse. "Go ahead, sir," she told him calmly. "Try not to hit the sink when you faint; I've never had to treat head trauma before."

"It's too late, Severus," Dilys told him cheerfully. "She's not scared of your growling any more. Now you can either play nicely and let Hermione sort you out, or I can go and rouse Poppy to come down here and scold you, but one way or another you're going to accept help."

Snape glared at them both in helpless frustration, but he was obviously in pain; his balance wavered again and he suddenly looked too tired to fight any more, swaying for a moment before closing his eyes and coughing painfully. "Whatever," he mumbled, slowly limping past her towards his bedroom.

Hermione followed him, hoping devoutly that he was too woozy to notice her familiarity with his rooms as she knelt by the bedside table and started sorting through the potions in there to find Blood-Replenishing Potion and a painkiller. Snape seemed to be trying to remove his shirt, but it looked like there was something wrong with one of his shoulders, and the cloth seemed to be stuck to his back with blood, which was a bad sign. Finally she shook her head and stood up. "Let me, sir. Sit down, please."

Uncharacteristically, he did as she asked without so much as a scowl, breathing shallowly. She could smell a lot of blood, the thick sweetly coppery scent that made her feel faintly sick, and once she was close enough she was pretty sure his trousers as well as his shirt were soaked in it. Trying not to speculate about that, she focused on getting his shirt out of the way, wincing in sympathy when she saw his back; it looked like he'd been whipped again, and from the cuts and bruises visible on his ribs and stomach he appeared to have been on the receiving end of what had literally been a good kicking.

It would have been easier if he had been lying down, but under the circumstances she thought it best not to speak to him any more than could be avoided. Handing him the potions, she began washing out the wounds, staunching the bleeding as she went, before starting to close them in approximate order of severity. He drank the potions in silence, massaged his bruised throat briefly and then settled to ignoring her rather sullenly.

Finally unable to bear the silence any more, she commented as nonchalantly as she could manage, "He really knows how to throw a party, doesn't he."

"Ha," he muttered, stiffly leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "Everyone else enjoyed themselves."

"Oh, good," she replied sarcastically, finding the problem with his shoulder – a cracked collarbone – and carefully repairing it. "Are there many Millwall fans among the Death Eaters? It looks like you were caught in the football riots."

"That was before your time," he pointed out hoarsely. "The effect was somewhat similar, though. Amongst other things," he added darkly, suppressing a wince.

Swallowing bile, Hermione ignored that and carried on cleaning up, tending his cracked ribs. "There's an old cut here that's got badly infected, sir. I'm going to have to reopen it to drain it. Hold still, please." He growled something about meddling under his breath but obediently held still as she carefully cut along the puffy flesh, grimacing at the pus that seeped from the wound. Once it was reopened, she cleaned it out properly before closing it again; it looked like a knife wound, but it could have been anything. There was no point trying to scold him for letting it get that bad; he wouldn't listen, and whenever he finally snapped out of his odd sulky mood he'd make her pay for it.

"This is a bit odd for a punishment, sir."

"Don't be nosy," he responded tiredly.

"Don't be rude, Severus," Dilys chided from the wall. "She's right, this is odd. It looks like you've been in a brawl."

"Something like that," he replied wearily. "I'm equally popular on both sides... plenty of people want a go at me." He coughed painfully and swallowed. "Most of this happened after the meeting was over. Are you done yet?"

"With your back and ribs, yes, sir. I'm not sure what I can do about your throat, but I can fix your eye and your lip before I go. I suppose if I ask you whether there's anything else wrong, you'll deny it, won't you?"

"What would be the point of that? I will, however, tell you to mind your own business."

"Fine. I probably don't want to know anyway." Moving to stand in front of him, she carefully touched the tip of her wand to the split in his lower lip. "Your nose is still bleeding."

He grunted. "I know. It's stress. It'll stop eventually." Licking his lip thoughtfully as she took her wand away, he closed his eyes as she touched the swelling bruise; his colour had improved but he still looked utterly exhausted.

"At least tell me you won the fight," she muttered, noting the cuts on his knuckles.

He snorted, sending a fresh trickle of blood from his nose. "Naturally."

"All right, sir, I think I'm done. Just let me check for internal injuries quickly, and then I'll leave you in peace."

"If wishing made it so," he replied caustically, but it lacked his usual venom. It seemed he was too tired to continue being angry with her – or he simply didn't want to face another scolding from Dilys. Her scan picked up several points of internal bleeding, but all of them were very clearly off limits and she left him to deal with them. He ignored her when she wished him good night, which she had expected, and she made her way back to Gryffindor Tower feeling somewhat put out. Maybe Father Christmas will bring him a new personality tomorrow.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 20 of 60

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