Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 21 of 60

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Christmas morning was about as bleak as she had expected, with gifts only from Harry and Mrs Weasley, although she did have a couple of Christmas cards. One was from Madam Pomfrey, and the other was a Muggle card, a surprisingly tasteful one showing a forest in winter with no glittery snowmen or twee robins or suspiciously grinning reindeer anywhere to be seen; the envelope was blank and there was nothing written inside. Hermione stared blankly at it for some time before starting to smile a little; she could only think of one person who might have sent it. That's actually almost sweet. And he's insane. Shaking her head, she put it by her bed and got dressed; this year's Weasley jumper was a dark blue-green.

Breakfast in the Great Hall wasn't exactly lively either; the students had fled the school in droves, it seemed, and they were once again reduced to a single table. She managed to get a seat next to Madam Pomfrey and almost directly opposite a very tired and grumpy-looking Snape; his face was free of blood or bruises this morning but his eyes were bloodshot and sunken and he was pointedly ignoring everyone as he apparently tried to drink his own bodyweight in black coffee, refusing any food.

Hermione remembered her rather bleak morning in the empty dormitory; no friends, no family, virtually no gifts. Glancing uncertainly at Snape, she wondered if his had been any better; she doubted it. He was the only person at the table not smiling. Christmas was depressing if you were on your own, and although it was true that at least some of his isolation was self-inflicted, not all of it was. Trying to focus on her breakfast, she thought of fog, knowing he wouldn't appreciate her sympathy, and winced at the suicidal bravery of his colleagues trying to cajole him into some seasonal goodwill.

"Come now, Severus," Dumbledore chided the surly Head of Slytherin cheerfully. "It's Christmas, after all. Show a little festive spirit."

Snape gave his employer a sullen and unimpressed look; he might well be hung over again, going by his appearance at the moment. "Humbug," he responded sourly.

"Christmas a humbug? You don't mean that, I am sure," Hermione replied automatically before she could think about what she was doing. She couldn't have stopped herself for a thousand Galleons. Everyone at the table stared at her, and she felt herself starting to blush in mortified embarrassment; she was about to attempt to stammer an apology, until she noticed that Snape's black eyes had started to glitter.

"I do," he told her deliberately and scornfully. "Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough."

Desperately fighting back sudden delighted laughter, and ignoring the baffled looks everyone else was giving the two of them, she turned in her chair to face him directly and retorted, "Come then. What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough."

"Bah. Humbug." His eyes had crinkled at the corners in his silent laugh again, and Hermione was aware that she was smiling broadly as well as trying not to giggle.

"Don't be cross." She couldn't believe that he had even got the reference in the first place, let alone that he was actually playing along. This was utterly surreal, and utterly brilliant.

"What else can I be, when I live in such a world of fools as this?" he snapped at her, his eyes alight. "Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas. What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in 'em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!" Taking a breath, Snape very nearly smiled, his lips twitching. "Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine."

"Keep it! But you don't keep it," she countered.

"Let me leave it alone, then. Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!"

Hermione floundered for a moment and bit her lip before shaking her head, half-laughing ruefully. "I'm sorry, sir. I can't remember the rest. I haven't read it in quite a while."

"Nonetheless, impressive," he observed mildly. "Master Dickens would be proud." He lifted his coffee mug to her in a silent toast before turning his attention to his food once more, apparently in a better mood now. Hermione looked around and found that everyone else in the room was still staring blankly at the two of them; even the Headmaster looked confused. She considered trying to explain A Christmas Carol to a room full of purebloods – Harry at least would have heard of Scrooge, but she doubted he'd ever read the book, if he even knew it was a book, so it was probably just as well that he wasn't here – and decided that it wasn't worth the effort; giving them an annoyingly bright smile instead, she returned her focus to her own meal and tried not to laugh, avoiding Snape's eyes.

Afterwards, she caught up with him just outside the hall, fighting back a grin as he gave her an amused look and nodded to her. "Ready for your close up?" he asked dryly; he truly didn't seem to be angry with her any more, at least.

She smiled at him. "You were a lot better than I was," she replied admiringly.

He snorted. "Really, Miss Granger, surely you have realised by now that of necessity, I am a very good actor?"

"Yes, obviously, but it's not the same," she protested, smiling again. "I mean, you don't often need voice tricks, do you?"

"You'd be surprised," he replied thoughtfully, tilting his head fractionally to one side, before shrugging slightly as he looked back at her. "I use everything at my disposal."

Hermione blinked at that, wondering briefly how other Death Eaters might be affected by that quiet silky voice that could hold a class spellbound for hours or terrify them all into fits of hysteria. Caught up in the mental images the thought provoked, she said absently, "I'd love to hear you read Shakespeare or something someday."

He gave her an unreadable stare in response, causing her to blush when she realised she had said it aloud. Way to be subtle, Hermione. Why not paint a sign on your forehead while you're at it? Evidently Snape elected to ignore what she had said, merely nodding to her and turning away towards the dungeons. Clearing her throat, she called softly after him, "Merry Christmas, sir."

"If you say so," he replied dryly, glancing back at her with a faint hint of a smile in his eyes.

When she heard the bells ringing at midnight on New Year's Eve, Hermione was hard pressed to control her laughter; there weren't enough students left at Hogwarts for much of a celebration, although by the sound of it there was a hell of a party going on at the Three Broomsticks tonight, but she was prepared to admit she was seeing in the New Year in the weirdest way imaginable. After all, nobody else was daft enough to be huddled under a tree down by the school gates, alone in the darkness. She didn't even have the smart defence of Harry's Invisibility Cloak, since he'd taken it with him. It was a miracle she'd made it out of the castle without being caught.

It had been a very busy evening, though, starting with her Eureka! moment during dinner – she regretted leaving the Great Hall so quickly now; she had only had a few mouthfuls and she was getting rather hungry, but she still had a few Christmas snacks in her room. From dinner she had, inevitably, gone to the library, and then to her room and her own books – specifically, one of the volumes of her collection of the complete Encyclopaedia Britannica. Her friends would be amazed to know how often she used those; some of the volumes were in danger of falling apart.

And the result of all that frantic activity was the parchment scroll in her pocket, covered with her notes. Impatiently she fidgeted, stamping some feeling back into her feet, and hoped she wouldn't be out here much longer. Warming Charms and excitement could only do so much to defeat cold and weariness.

Finally she heard the sharp crack that she had been waiting to hear – inevitably, it scared the living daylights out of her – and she drew in a breath at the sight of the figure that had appeared beyond the gates. That flowing black robe didn't belong in a classroom, and the moonlight – mercifully, it wasn't actually snowing – caught the polished face of the featureless mask that sometimes showed up in her nightmares still.

It was a very powerful and intimidating image, and one that was utterly ruined when the tall dark figure collapsed to his knees in the snow, clawed his mask off, hunched over and threw up.

So much for the big bad Death Eater, Hermione told herself, watching Snape sympathetically and making a mental note not to be in any rush to read the Daily Prophet tomorrow. She'd be happier not knowing the details of whatever he'd been made to do tonight that had put him in this state. It was surely too much to hope for that he was simply drunk from seeing in the New Year at a party somewhere – now that was an image to make her head hurt; Voldemort and Mr Malfoy and the others standing around a punchbowl with party squeakers singing Auld Lang Syne.

After some time Snape straightened up and sat back on his heels, wiping his mouth before eating a handful of snow. Standing up stiffly – she winced with him when something clicked audibly, possibly his knee – he kicked snow over the vomit and stretched, rolling his shoulders before shrugging the robe off. Wrapping it around his mask, he drew his wand and shrank the bundle, putting it in the pocket of his coat before pulling another bundle out of a different pocket and expanding it to reveal his normal teaching robe, which he wrapped around himself with a shiver; only then did he turn and open the gate.

He clearly wasn't feeling well; he had closed the gate behind him before he spotted her and stiffened. His voice was soft and dangerous as he said quietly, "I'm not in the mood for this, girl. Do not presume to try my patience tonight."

Oh, it really must have been bad. I'm definitely not reading the paper tomorrow. Hermione licked her lips and replied carefully, "It's freezing out here, Professor, and I'm breaking curfew, and it's so late at night that it's early in the morning. I wouldn't be out here if I didn't think it was important." All right, she did worry about him every time he was Summoned, but she couldn't risk waiting for him each time, and there really was another reason this time.

Snape's expression was even harder to read by moonlight, but his scowl was easy to see. "I don't see flames or hear screams and you don't seem to have been crying. This had better be good, or you are going to be extremely sorry."

Growing less and less confident by the second, Hermione fished her notes out of her pocket and handed them to him mutely; she hadn't expected this mood. Taking the scroll from her with a glare, he unrolled it, lighting his wand tip with a curt, "Lumos," and promptly screwing his eyes almost shut against the light, squinting down at her handwriting. She watched him anxiously and saw him freeze into utter stillness, his whole body tensing.

"Capsaicin," he said finally in little more than a whisper, staring down at the parchment in his hand; he almost seemed to have forgotten that she was there. "Of course..."

It took everything she had not to squeal aloud in sheer girly joy at his reaction, or to do a victory dance in the snow. Sometimes being a complete and utter nerd was so damned useful! She hadn't been thinking beyond creating warmth when she'd first thought of chillies, but once she'd looked them up to confirm that she had remembered right and they could be used externally to create warmth for treating muscular or joint pain, she had discovered that the capsaicin in the chilli would if taken orally potentially act as a painkiller, actually numbing the nerves, and increase the heat produced by the body. Snape was certainly a skilled enough chemist to work out how best to harness those all-important properties while minimising any side effects – it damaged the nerves in the long term because of something to do with neurotransmitters, although it wasn't as if his nervous system could get much worse, and there had been something about insulin that she hadn't been able to follow very well.

He was still staring at her notes, and she thought for a few moments that he really had forgotten her presence until he seemed to mentally shake himself and looked around at her. "How did you think of this?" he asked softly; his voice sounded a bit odd, but she couldn't work out why.

Hermione grinned at him. "There was curried lamb for dinner. It was that simple." No wonder Snape hadn't thought of it himself; his stomach ulcer meant he couldn't have touched spicy food in at least a year, not without seriously regretting it for days afterwards.

He snorted softly, shaking his head and apparently appreciating the simplicity, before giving her another odd look. "This could have waited..."

"I'm still on holiday, so I wouldn't see you except at mealtimes," she pointed out. "I'd be spotted if I tried to go down to your rooms during the day, and this was too important to wait for the start of term." Besides, she'd never have been able to sleep for thinking about his reaction, although she certainly wasn't going to admit to that.

Snape looked back down at the parchment in his hand, his expression totally unreadable now; his lank hair fell forward to hide his face as he said quietly, "Thank you." Without giving her a chance to respond, he added acidly, "Now get to bed before I am forced to take action."

Trying as hard as she could to sound meek instead of triumphant, Hermione nodded earnestly. "Yes, sir."

Given that they were both going in the same direction, she ended up walking beside him the whole way up the drive, and detouring with him to the far less exposed entrance into the dungeons so she was less likely to be caught. The atmosphere between them was really strangely tense, but it didn't bother her, since Snape wasn't really capable of his usual shields tonight and it took her less than five minutes to realise that he was somewhat embarrassed; he really could be almost adorably awkward sometimes, since his social skills were pretty lacking, and she had obviously seriously shocked him. As far as Hermione was concerned, that meant she should feel proud of herself, and when she wished him a good night in the dungeons and headed back to Gryffindor Tower she was almost skipping.

It was nice to see the boys again, Hermione supposed. It would have been nicer if she'd actually been at the Burrow with them over Christmas, but in the end it was just as well that she'd been at Hogwarts under the circumstances, and in any case Mrs Weasley had been very nice and very apologetic about the sheer lack of space since Fleur had been on the spare bed in Ginny's room this time and all the boys had been home at once – well, apart from Percy, obviously. Besides, she was still angry with Ron, which wasn't helped by the fact that Lavender had jumped on him as soon as they got into the common room. Furious with herself for caring even slightly, when Harry said he had something to tell her she dragged him outside into the snow to talk.

He told her what had happened at the stupid party – she'd made herself scarce once Snape had stormed off in a temper and had been avoiding McLaggen ever since – and she pushed her feelings away and made herself listen. "Oh, Harry. Not Draco again?" She had never dared ask Snape about this theory. If it was true, he would be dealing with it, and he wouldn't tell her anything about it anyway; if it was false, he'd never let any of them hear the end of it.

"Come off it, even you can't deny this." He gave her a frustrated look. "Look, Hermione, I know you've been doing this Healing thing and seen Snape a few times before our weird 'training' started, and I know you seem to be getting on with him a bit, and I'm sure you don't want to believe he's up to something... but you can't deny the facts. You know Snape's a Death Eater, and Malfoy is definitely up to something, and now this thing with Greyback... and their master, what else could that possibly mean?"

Hermione regarded her best friend pensively. She knew he still blamed Snape for Sirius' death, at least in part, and although he was getting much better at dealing with his anger the feud between them was never going to heal, but... "I know how it looks, Harry. I know there's something going on and I agree that it looks suspicious. But Professor Snape is definitely on our side. I'm willing to bet my life, and yours, on it."

"How can you be so sure? I mean, I'll admit that lesson helped me clear my head, a bit – don't look at me like that, I'm still not going to tell you what happened, it was private. But I still can't really bring myself to trust him."

She bit her lip, considering how much to tell him. He wouldn't believe everything, and a lot of it was none of his business – Hell would freeze over before she told him about his mother and Snape – and some of it would violate confidentiality, but she had to say something. "Well, partly, it's 'this Healing thing'. You've no idea what he goes through, Harry, you really don't. Nobody would endure that for just an act."

"That doesn't prove anything except that Voldemort's a psycho, and we already knew that."

Hermione sighed. "I wish you could just trust me on this."

"I do trust you," he said immediately, before shoving a hand through his messy hair. "But you always try to see the good in people, Hermione. I think you trust Snape because you want to, because you don't want to think that you might be wrong."

"That's not it, Harry. I didn't trust him either when this first started, not really – I know I said I did, but I was playing Devil's Advocate, trying to keep you and Ron from – well, being you and Ron, I suppose," she added with another sigh. "But there's so much we didn't know about things he does for the Order. And..." She hesitated and bit her lip again. "Look, if I tell you one of the reasons why I trust Professor Snape, will you swear to me that you'll never breathe a word to anyone? Not even Ron, or even Dumbledore. Nobody else must know. Promise me."

Harry looked startled, but nodded earnestly. "I promise."

"Okay, then. You remember last summer, when I told everyone that I'd persuaded my parents to leave the country in case something happened to them, and came to stay in Grimmauld Place?"


"It wasn't my idea," she told him softly. "Professor Snape came to warn us that the Death Eaters were about to start going after the families of Muggleborns, and that I was their main target because I'm known as your friend. He helped with the arrangements and he helped convince my parents."

He gaped at her with a stunned expression. "...Really?" he asked faintly.

"Really. And he didn't have to, Harry. Nobody in the Order knew about it until some of the others were attacked, nobody knew that he had known about the plan in advance, because it's not the sort of thing he's usually involved in. There was absolutely no reason for him to warn me, and even less reason for him to help – he even gave my parents money to help sort things out quickly; I thought at the time that it was from the Order, I only found out after they'd gone that the Order didn't know anything about it. He took an unbelievable risk to warn me, and he didn't have to."

Harry was still staring at her, utterly shocked. This didn't fit with his image of Snape at all, and he was clearly struggling to match it up with how he viewed their teacher. "Then... why did he do it?"

"I'm still not completely sure," she admitted with a rueful smile. "I'd like to think it's because he likes me – I've been seeing him more often than I told you. He goes jogging every morning just like I do. I think we're sort of almost friends, outside lessons. But I really don't know. I assume it's partly because of some sort of obligation over this Healing business, and I think the rest of it is because he could get away with warning me. It's not outside the realms of possibility that I could have thought of it by myself – you all believed I had." She shrugged. "So that's why I trust him, anyway. And come off it, Harry. How many times has he tried to save your life by now? We've got plenty of evidence that he's on our side, and nothing solid to prove that he isn't. And you know it, even if you won't admit it."

They walked in silence for a little while; ironically, Hermione noticed, her wandering feet had led them to the path by the lake, and they were walking along the jogging circuit. She could still see Snape's footprints in the snow – she'd given herself the rest of the holidays off, under the circumstances. Glancing sideways, she found Harry obviously very deep in thought, until finally he asked abruptly, "You say you're friends with him?"

"Well, that's probably exaggerating a little bit, I suppose, but we're not enemies any more."

"But in lessons..."

"Professional spy, Harry, remember? He's a good actor. Besides, he doesn't enjoy teaching, and I do know that I can be annoying in class."

"Nobody's that good an actor. I don't care what anyone says. He's still a total git, Hermione. He hates everyone."

She giggled and nodded. "I know that. Believe me, he's still a git in private, too. But... oh, it's hard to explain. There's more to him than that. When he wants to be, he can be quite good company, weird as it sounds. He's pretty funny when he's being nasty about someone else... you should have heard some of the conversations we had about Umbridge last year. And he's unbelievably smart."

"Last year? How long has this been going on?"

"Well, you know that's when the Healing started. I started jogging with him, um, just before Christmas last year, I think. And... well... my parents' escape wasn't the only idea of his that I took the credit for..." At Harry's blank look, she said very quietly, "Occlumency."

"What?" he exclaimed.

"He was teaching me so that I could teach you. He did know how important it was, Harry. That was the only way. The two of you in a room together – well, it was always going to be a disaster. Working through me... it could have worked. It didn't, obviously, but he was trying to find a way. Anyway, we spent a bit of time together then, too."

"And nobody else knows?"

"Nope." She grinned. "I've always found that quite funny. People are so good at spreading rumours, but somehow nobody ever picked up on this. I don't think even Dumbledore knows." Phineas and Dilys almost certainly did, but they hadn't told anyone, not even Madam Pomfrey, as far as she knew. Her grin faded. "That's why I asked you not to tell anyone, Harry."

"I promised I wouldn't, and I meant it," he protested indignantly, before shaking his head. "This is crazy. He's... he's..."

"I know, Harry. He's a git and a Death Eater. And he's cold and spiteful, and the way he treats you often isn't fair, and nobody likes him or trusts him. He's still my friend, sort of, and I don't really understand why any more than you do. That's just how it is."

They continued to walk in silence for a little while. Harry was frowning in fierce concentration, lost in thought; she could practically hear the cogs whirring in his brain.

His first question, nearly ten minutes later, was a startling non sequitur that made absolutely no sense. "What's going on with you and Ron?"

"What? We were talking about Professor Snape..."

"I know. And now I'm asking about Ron." He gave her an intent look. "Humour me, okay?"

Blinking, Hermione stared at him for a long moment, before shrugging. "The same thing that always goes on with me and Ron, Harry. We've spent more time arguing than we ever have as friends, I think."

"Not like this. You're both acting really weirdly. Are you honestly jealous of Lavender?"


"Don't give me that look. Since she got together with Ron, you've been acting strangely. But..." He hesitated and gave her a serious look. "Are you really, truly jealous, or do you just – think you should be?"

She blinked at him, frowning. "What?"

"Look, let's sit a moment." He dragged her over to a fallen tree and swept the worst of the snow off it, sitting down and pulling her down next to him. "Okay. I'm not daft. You and Ron have fancied each other for ages, even I've worked that one out. But, well, nothing's ever happened between you. At the Yule Ball, you waited for him to ask you out, but that's not really like you, Hermione. I think if you were that set on it, you'd have asked him. I don't know why he didn't ask you sooner – I was thinking of asking you myself, because you wouldn't misunderstand and it would give me someone to talk to, but I didn't because I knew Ron would hate me for it. And you said you were going to ask him to Slughorn's Christmas thing, but you left it really late and I don't think that's a coincidence, and I don't think it was anything to do with Lavender either because you've never liked her."

"Harry..." she protested weakly, and he shook his head.

"No, let me finish. I've been thinking about this for a while, ever since it started to get obvious that you liked each other. And... God, I feel really bad saying this, but – well, I can't understand why. You said it yourself, you spend more time fighting than anything else. You've got absolutely nothing in common. I've thought for a while that I didn't really want you to start going out together, because I'm pretty sure it would end really badly and I don't think you'd ever be friends again. Like with me and Cho; we can't talk to each other now. Look, Ron's my best mate and he's like my brother, but... well, he can be an insensitive idiot, and you were right, he does have the emotional range of a teaspoon – nice line, by the way."

"Um. Thanks?"

"You're welcome. Anyway, I – I just can't see you and Ron being happy. And I'm really dense when it comes to this sort of thing, as you've told me frequently, so if can see it, I figure you can too, even if you won't admit it. Because you're smart, Hermione, and you do get it. I don't think you could be happy with someone like Ron. So that's why I'm asking if you really are jealous, because I don't really think there's actually any reason why you would be."

Utterly stunned, Hermione sat back and stared glassily at the snowy trees. She hadn't questioned her anger with Ron, any more than she had questioned her feelings for him over the past two years or so, but now that Harry had said it... "Have you talked to him about me?" she asked faintly as she thought.

Harry shook his head. "Guys don't do that, Hermione," he told her ruefully. "We probably should, I reckon, but we don't. I know he likes you, and he won't shut up about being a free agent and how you've got no right to be angry with him and he is still insanely jealous of Krum – what's going on there, by the way?"

She rolled her eyes, distracted for a moment. "Nothing. We went to the ball. We went out a couple of times, and yes, if you must know, we did snog a few times too. But there wasn't anything there. I like him, and I still write to him sometimes, and he liked being with someone who wasn't just a fangirl, but that's it. Don't get sidetracked."

"Right, sorry. Anyway, like I said, Ron likes you and he's jealous, of Krum and now McLaggen – which serves you right, incidentally."

"So I've been told," she muttered, before giving him an impatient look.

"Only I don't know why Ron's acting like this. It doesn't make any more sense than you acting like it. I mean, I can see why he fancies you... um..." He went red, and she grinned despite herself.

"Stop digging before you start, Harry. I know you don't fancy me. I don't fancy you either. Relax. You and me, we're brother and sister, and it would be unbelievably weird if there was anything else. You're a good looking boy, but you're not my type."

"Right, right." He nodded earnestly, looking relieved. "That's my point, though. Ron fancies you, but he fancies most girls to be honest. I don't reckon he'd want to go out with you if it actually happened. You don't like the same things and I sometimes think that without my impossibly weird life as a common interest you wouldn't have much to talk about. I'm friends with you both for completely different reasons, because you're both so different. And you're like me, Hermione; I don't think you're looking for casual, are you?"

She shook her head, impressed with his reasoning so far. "No, you're right, I'm not."

"I don't know what Ron's looking for, to be honest. Like I said, boys don't talk about stuff like that. But you're looking for permanent, and I just can't see it with Ron. I think you'd kill him, actually."

That made her smile despite herself. "You're probably right. Damnit." She sighed. "I think you're right, Harry. I don't think there could be anything between us, not really. I guess that's why, as you said, I haven't actually tried to make anything happen; I suppose part of me always knew. But... it still hurts, seeing him like this. The way he keeps trying to rub my nose in it isn't helping, either – that's why I went out with Cormac."

Harry nodded. "I worked that much out. He's still being spiteful about it. And Lavender's enjoying winding you up, too, because you've never really got along with her and I don't think she's ever forgiven you about that business with her pet rabbit in third year and to be honest I don't think any of the girls in our year like that you're so much smarter than they are."

She snorted softly. "That's not it, Harry. I've shared a dormitory with Lavender and Parvati for six years and we've spent most of it driving one another mad. I don't have anything in common with either of them and they're stereotypically girly to the point of setting my teeth on edge. They don't understand me and I don't understand them, and we were never going to get along."

"Okay, fine, it's a girl thing and I won't try to understand it. Anyway, Ron's being a bit of a thoughtless git, and you and Lavender don't like each other, and that makes sense. But mostly I reckon you're jealous for the same reason I am – it's almost certainly not going to last, and she is pretty irritating sometimes, but at least he's found someone. And we haven't."

That hit home with more force than anything else he had said, and Hermione nodded ruefully. He was right. She'd been missing Viktor recently simply because it had been nice to go out with someone; she'd written and told him so, teasing him about his new girlfriend at the same time so he wouldn't misunderstand, and he'd reassured her that she'd find someone eventually. "You'll be all right, Harry. Ginny's waited a long time for you; it won't hurt you to wait for her for a little while."

"Wait, what?"

"Oh, come off it. Did you really think I wouldn't notice? You've been staring at her in the common room for months, and you've been trying so painfully hard not to act weirdly around Dean."

"You said she didn't like me like that any more."

"Because you were interested in Cho and I didn't want to distract you. If it hadn't been for Cedric, you could have been good together, I think, at least for a while. It's a shame, but she'll be okay and so will you once things sort themselves out. Ginny hasn't given up on you, Harry, but she's not going to put her whole life on hold for you either. I don't see her and Dean lasting very long; if they do break up, for God's sake, make a move before someone else does."

"It's not that simple..."

"Yes, it is. You like her. She likes you. She knows what it really means to be the Boy Who Lived; she's not a fangirl. She knows you, Harry, the real you. Most of her brothers adore you and have no doubt seen this coming for a long time; they're not as daft as they seem. Percy doesn't count any more, and Ron... he'll get over it. You're his best mate. He'd rather have you as a brother than anyone else she could pick."

"I'm not going to argue with you. I don't think I believe you, but I'm not going to argue with you, because we're supposed to be talking about you. Are you actually jealous of Ron?"

Hermione sighed. "I don't know. I don't think so, but I'll need some more time to think about it. I think you're right, which is actually unbelievably scary. You're right that there's no future for us, but I do still like him, sort of. Oh, I don't know. Maybe, is your answer."

"Okay. Now we're going to come to the really weird question. Please don't hit me."


"No, seriously. What I'm about to ask is really, really weird, and I can't quite believe I'm about to say it, and I think you're going to kill me, but part of me thinks I might be right. I hope I'm not, but I'm not that lucky."

"You're babbling nonsense, Harry. Take a moment, breathe, then talk."

He gave her a very intent look, his bright green eyes serious and confused simultaneously, then looked away uncomfortably and asked very quietly, "Hermione... how much do you really like Snape?"

She choked, staring at him incredulously, but even as she opened her mouth to answer something clicked in her brain and she reeled for a moment, consciously admitting what her behaviour meant for the first time. Her parents' letter on her birthday... the way she went to him sometimes to escape her problems for a while... his birthday present, safe in her dormitory while she put the finishing touches to it... Slughorn's Christmas party... the Amortentia... "Oh, fuck," she said helplessly, leaning forward to bury her face in her hands; she normally didn't swear, but it was justified this time.

"Crap," Harry muttered. "You weren't supposed to say that. You were supposed to slap me around the back of the head and tell me I'm a moron."

"You are," she told him in a muffled voice. "Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you're wrong. Oh, fuck."

"Are you all right?"

"I doubt it, somehow. I think I'm in trouble here."

"What? Oh God. What's happened?"

"What? Oh, no, no, nothing like that. Honest. No, it's just... I hadn't admitted it to myself before now. I've literally only just realised. Hell, Harry... I really know how to pick them, don't I?"

"He's better than Lockhart, at least?"

"Shut up."

"No. Because if you start crying I'm going to freak out. You're not supposed to cry. You're supposed to sort out other people. I don't know how to handle it if you start acting human on me, Hermione. You're meant to be Wonder Woman."

"Stop trying to make me laugh. I'm busy panicking." Taking a deep breath, she lifted her head and let the cold air touch her face again. "I'm not going to cry. But God, what a mess. Snape."

"You said you liked him."

"Yes, but not like that. And he certainly doesn't like me like that."

"Are you sure?"


Harry was looking almost green, but he kept talking. "I'm trying not to freak out here, but I remember thinking at Slughorn's thing that Snape was acting really weird. The stuff with Malfoy put it out of my mind, but he was acting weird. And in our 'training' sessions, he's been... well, not nice to you, but much nicer than to me or to Ron. I've never known Snape to have a friend, at all. I'm pretty sure he's never had one, actually. But he does sort of seem to like you, now I look at it."

"Like I said, we're weirdly almost friends. But that's all it is."

He looked around and picked up a stick, leaning forward to draw a vertical line in the snow. "Let's play a game. Positive and Negative."

"Harry, wait. Are you really, seriously trying to come up with good points about my having a doomed and insane crush on Professor Snape, the man you hate above everyone else except possibly Voldemort?"

"I don't hate him quite that much. I do hate him, but not that much. He's probably my favourite Death Eater," Harry confessed, laughing softly, "not that that's saying much, but he's the only one I've met who hasn't actually tried to kill me – despite everything I've thought since first year. I absolutely do not like him, but the more I think about this, the more I think it makes a really, really twisted sort of sense. So, why do you think it's doomed?"

"I'm twenty years younger than him."

"So? You're of age. It clearly doesn't bother you, and to be honest I've always thought you'd go for older men. I'm not talking about Lockhart, we're blaming that one purely on hormones and ignoring it. Krum was older, and I don't think you'd ever settle for someone our age really. You're a lot more mature than we are, and that's why I don't think it's a negative. You're mature enough for Snape not to find you as annoying as he pretends to. If you've become 'weirdly almost friends' then you've been able to talk to each other. Besides, you're both going to live for another century or so at least, right? Twenty years isn't really the end of the world."

"I'm his student."

"Yeah, because Snape absolutely cares about the rules. He's always been so unwilling to bend them for his own reasons."

"He's still my teacher. That bothers me, no matter if he cares or not."

"He won't be your teacher for ever."

That was true, but... he'd known her since she was eleven. That was a bit creepy, wasn't it? Part of the reason for speaking to him at the Christmas party had been to try and get him to see her as an adult, but she had no idea if it had worked or not, and it was still weird. Hermione bit her lip, floundering.

Harry grinned. "I'm not sure I've ever been right this many times at once before. This is cool. Okay, we'll leave Negatives for a bit, because this is really creeping me out a bit and I want to hear some Positives to help me make sense of this. Why do you like him?"


He poked the stick into the snow on the Negative side of the grid. "He's a bastard."

"Not to me, not any more – well, most of the time, at least. And he has admitted that he's a bastard, in pretty much almost those exact words."

"He's a Death Eater."

"Not a loyal one. He's on our side."

"He's ugly as sin."


"Sorry, but he is. He's the greasy git, after all. His hair is gross, his teeth are pretty horrible, and that nose..."

"Most of that isn't his fault. I actually don't mind his nose, it suits him, in a weird way. He can't help his teeth, not really, and his hair is – well, it's complicated, but his self-neglect is a psychological thing, and I think stress has a lot to do with it as well. And he does wash regularly, because he doesn't smell bad."

"I suppose that's true, although I can't say I've really paid attention to how he smells before. I guess I'd notice if he stank, though. Okay. He's still ugly."

"He's not pretty. I don't think that's the same thing. I'm not that bothered about looks anyway... look at me."

"Don't be stupid. Plenty of people here fancy you. You're really pretty, Hermione; you never used to be, but you are. And don't make me say stuff like this to you again. It's weird. So why don't you think he's ugly? What do you like about him?"

"His voice," she replied instantly. "And his eyes. And his hands."

"His hands?"

"It's one of those weird girl things you won't understand."

"...Okay then. So, you don't care about his age or his looks or his personality. He is your teacher, but that won't be for ever. And even though I hate him, he is very smart, which obviously you'd like. He's apparently sort of almost a – a hero, although I still don't trust him and I don't think we know everything, but whatever. You are both pretty sarcastic, now I think about it. So even though it's bizarre, I can see why you might like him, sort of, and he's got plenty of reasons to like you."

"I can't believe you're saying this. Who are you, and what have you done with Harry Potter?"

"See, that's exactly my point. Sarcasm. Don't get me wrong, part of me wants to throw up, and part of me wants to start screaming at you. But it does make sense, in a creepy way, and... I dunno, I'm tired of fighting with everyone who disagrees with me. You're my friend, Hermione, and I don't like seeing you unhappy, and this thing with Ron is getting to me, and I'm really confused about whose side Snape's really on."

"God, you're cute when you're frustrated," she told him wryly. "If it helps, I'm as confused as you are about some of this."

"No, it doesn't help. You're supposed to be the one with the answers. You're letting me down here." He gave her a lopsided smile. "So will you try and make up with Ron?"

"If he stops being such a jerk about things, then yes, I suppose so," she conceded with a sigh. She was still angry with him, but it was a small price to pay to have Harry on her side, especially with so much to sort out. Such as what the hell she was supposed to do now. It had taken the best part of a year to reach this state of uneasy friendship; it had taken a lot of work to get to the point where Snape didn't hate her. She was pretty sure anything else was going to take more than she was capable of.

"Okay. I'll ask him to stop showing off so much. I think he'll be glad of the excuse to be honest... Lavender's all right, I suppose, but she's not much of a conversationalist," Harry said dryly, grinning at her and standing up.

Despite herself, she sniggered. "What, is Won-Won getting tired?"

He laughed with her. "I don't know how I manage to keep a straight face. You should have seen the Christmas present she got him..."

"Tell me," she said eagerly, standing and brushing the snow off her trousers as they started walking again. His description of the necklace made her laugh, and from there he moved on to telling her about the Minister's visit; she spent the rest of the afternoon with him bitching about Scrimgeour, relieved to have her best friend back properly.

That night she was sitting quietly working on Snape's birthday present when Dilys showed up. "What now?" she asked tiredly.

"Nothing," the portrait assured her. "I just wanted to see how you were doing. It doesn't always have to be a crisis to make me want to talk to you, dear, and the holidays were a bit rough for all of us."

"That's an understatement, but I think I'm okay. What's he up to this evening?"

"Sulking, mostly," Dilys said cheerfully. "He's been doing quite a lot of that since before Christmas. Don't take it personally."

"I'm trying not to. I think I might understand why he was acting like that, at least partly. I suppose it's a good thing, from some angles... I don't know, I'm a bit confused about everything right now."

"Ah... you've finally worked it out, then?"

Hermione twisted around and made a face at the portrait. "I suppose you saw it coming ages ago."

"Yes. Then again, I've had a very long time to study human nature, and I've known Severus since he was eleven; the two of you are potentially very well suited, if we can overcome your insecurity and his infuriating stubbornness and pessimism. You've chosen well."

She grimaced and turned back to what she was doing. "It's pretty to think so, but I can't see anything coming of it."

"Oh, nonsense. You've still got a lot to learn about men in general, Hermione, and this man in particular. He was hooked a long time ago, I promise you, even if he is as much in denial as you are – probably more so, actually. You'll get there eventually."

"Assuming he doesn't die before then," Hermione said moodily. The afternoon had cheered her up, but it hadn't taken long for her mood to take a downturn again. She wasn't normally so pessimistic by nature, but this really was a hopeless situation. Besides, her period was due, and that always made her miserable.

"Oh, there's no talking to either of you at the moment," the portrait said in cheerfully mocking disgust. "You're as bad as each other. If I were still alive I'd just lock the pair of you in somewhere until you sorted it out between you, but I don't think Poppy would go for that idea – don't look like that, she doesn't know, or at least I don't think she does. She won't say anything anyway; she doesn't meddle as much as I do."

"Dilys, please, go away. I've got enough to think about already without your teasing me."

"All right, all right, but you're worrying about nothing, you know."

I wish I was so certain.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 21 of 60

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