Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 29 of 60

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Hermione had no idea what time it was now. She vaguely remembered Madam Pomfrey suggesting she go to breakfast and try to behave normally, and she had flatly refused. She had gone to find Harry and Ron very briefly once they had got Snape into the hospital wing, telling them he had been hurt and she would be absent until things were sorted and asking them to cover for her if anyone noticed, but since then she hadn't left the bedside.

They had cleaned him up a bit, at least, but in some ways that made it worse. Without the smears of dried blood and the remains of most of his clothing as camouflage, the horrific extent of his injuries could be seen. The shock had been bad enough to render both witches – and the portraits – speechless for a moment; they didn't have words for what had been done to him. Every form of torture Hermione had ever heard of was laid out in front of them, along with a lot that she hadn't heard of, and on top of all the physical injuries his damaged nerves were on fire from the worst Cruciatus damage Madam Pomfrey had ever seen.

"What's next, Madam Pomfrey?" she asked the nurse hoarsely, wiping her forehead on her sleeve. They had closed the worst of the open wounds and dealt with some of the internal injuries, and she had gone totally numb, with no idea of which of the remaining injuries was most serious.

"For a start, Hermione, call me Poppy. We don't have time for formality," the mediwitch said wearily, trying to smile. "Besides, you've earned it."

She tried to smile back. "Okay. Thank you. What's next?"

"I don't know. Broken bones, I think."

The older witch's voice sounded strange, and Hermione looked at her sharply. "What aren't you telling me?"

After a long silence, Dilys said quietly from the wall, "The organ damage is killing him, but... he's not strong enough to survive the shock of any attempt to heal it. If we can't bolster his reserves, he's going to die with the next healing spell."

Biting her bloody lip, Hermione nodded slowly, thinking through the tired haze. "The ways you've taught me, of giving strength... the shock of that will kill him too, won't it?"


"So we need a potion, or something." She licked the sore spot of the bite absently, forcing her brain into gear. Strengthening Solution wasn't strong enough to be of any use. Strength Potion would wear off, and the downer when it did would kill him, and they didn't have any in the castle anyway. What else...

"I think we need to contact the Headmaster," Poppy said finally. They had told Dumbledore that Snape was back, but nothing else yet; given their recent estrangement, Dumbledore wouldn't be expecting a report unless there was something to report.

"Why?" Hermione asked.

"I think we need Fawkes. Phoenix tears might be the only hope. And even then, he is so weak..."

Hermione and Dilys exchanged glances; she had the feeling Snape would probably rather die. It was just as well he was in no state to object, really. "Wait," she said suddenly. "I know something that might work. There's a potion in his lab that he told me about once, a healing potion he invented for desperate measures. We should try it – he won't want the Headmaster involved unless there really is no other choice."

"I know they've fought recently, although I don't know why..."

"Dilys will fill you in. I'll be back soon." Hermione took off, with Phineas keeping pace through the endless picture frames and warning her when people were coming; it let her move through most of the castle at a dead run, slowing to a walk only when other people could see her.

"I know nothing about healing," the wizard's portrait told her. "He's dying, isn't he?"

"Yes. But he's not dead yet." She glared at him from the corner of her eye. "I'm not giving up."

"I wouldn't expect anything else. This is as close as I can get – he hasn't replaced any of the pictures in his rooms yet, and the one in that lab is still blocked. Hurry, Hermione."

The fact that Phineas had used her first name made it obvious how worried he was; Hermione nodded and jogged swiftly down the passage, thankful that she hadn't encountered any of the Slytherins down here. She had leaped down the short flight of stairs to the archway before it occurred to her that she didn't know how this door worked; there was no password. Snape had told her nobody could get in unless he personally took them inside... oh, how she hoped that was only necessary the first time.

She laid her hand on the door, reaching for the handle with her other hand, and prayed. Come on, come on... please don't let him have been too paranoid... A ripple of cold ran over the wood under her palm as his magic flared to life, and she held still as it flowed across her skin, shivering at the sensation. Time seemed to stop for an endless moment, before there was a click and the handle turned and she nearly sobbed in relief.

The lab was still as impressive as it had been the only other time she had seen it; evidently his destructive episode hadn't reached this far down. She ignored it this time, searching frantically along the shelves of potions before realising what an idiot she was being and sternly telling herself not to panic, scrabbling for her wand again. "Accio Last Chance potion," she gasped breathlessly, and snatched the jar of thick dark grainy-looking potion out of the air. After a moment she added hopefully, "Accio phoenix tears," but she wasn't surprised when nothing happened. It was worth a try, she told herself, heading for the door.

A gleam of gold caught her eye and she paused, blinking at a small rack on one of the benches; it held half a dozen single-dose vials filled with the distinctive glittering gold of Felix Felicis potion. No time to wonder why he had it; it certainly couldn't hurt. Snatching one of them, she closed the door behind her and started the long run back to the Infirmary.

After a brief discussion, they divided the Felix Felicis between herself, Poppy and Snape, to increase the chances of their treatments working as effectively as possible. Now she held up the jar of Last Chance potion and they all regarded it dubiously.

"What does this potion do?" the nurse asked.

"I don't know," Hermione replied helplessly, still catching her breath from her sprint through the castle. "He said it was a last-chance healing potion. Kill or cure. I know it's a risk, but the Felix will help a bit, I hope. I don't even know what dose you're supposed to take."

"This is dangerous."

"He's dying anyway," Phineas said brutally from the edge of Dilys' portrait. "Phoenix tears won't even work on someone with the Dark Mark; a substance of pure Light against that much dark magic? You have no idea what will happen. It will try to purge the Mark from him, to heal him from it – it is a wound from a curse, after all – and that will kill him. You either try this potion, or you watch him die."

Hermione blinked away tears, too numb to feel much. "Well, when you put it like that..."

"Do it, then," the mediwitch said quietly. "Slowly. I'll be monitoring his vital signs. If he reacts badly, we might have time to do something... we need all the luck in that potion now."

Please, let this work... Chewing her bloody lip again, she gently eased Snape's mouth open, carefully trickling a small amount of the thick, gluey potion between his cracked and dry lips, less than a mouthful, and stroked his throat until he swallowed it. Realising she was holding her breath, she exhaled and watched his face. "Is anything happening?"

"His heart is beating faster. A lot faster. His blood pressure hasn't changed but it was already far too high. His adrenaline levels are increasing and his temperature is rising..."

"He's starting to sweat," Dilys called from the wall. "He's too dehydrated for it. Get some water into him. Use the distilled water so it won't react with whatever was in that potion." Hermione did so, carefully administering regular sips of water as the nurse reported that his heartbeat was almost double what it should be and his already high blood pressure was climbing.

For a very tense few minutes Snape hovered on the verge of a heart attack, a stroke or both, but finally his racing pulse began to slow down. His blood pressure plummeted, then climbed again, before finally stabilising – still higher than it should be, but not by much. When his heartbeat reached something approaching normal, it was steadier than it had been before, and he seemed to be breathing a little more easily, although he was running a feverishly high temperature.

"All right," Poppy said quietly at last. "He seems a little stronger, and we can't afford to wait any longer. Start on the bones, Hermione, and I'll work on the organ damage. Keep checking his vitals, and tell me the instant something changes. If you get too tired, for Merlin's sake tell me – carelessness now could kill him. Let's get to work."

Noon came and went, and the afternoon slowly dragged on into evening, and then night. Snape was now lying on his stomach so Poppy could work on his back; his spine and spinal cord were still intact, but most of the skin was gone, the long muscles had been sliced in several places, half the flesh was missing down to the bone – it looked like he had been flayed, beyond a mere whipping, and there were a few burned patches as well – and underneath all that one shoulder blade was virtually shattered and a few ribs were cracked.

Hermione was too tired for anything that big now. She had just finished mending his right knee – by the look of things, the joint had been forced the wrong way until it had snapped, then worked back and forth to increase the damage before being left out of place until the inflammation was too serious to reset it easily. As she worked, she had found a deep bite scar on his calf and had nearly gone into a fit of hysterical laughter, realising that it was from when Fluffy had bitten him in the first year. Having stopped briefly for some coffee and a few mouthfuls of food, she returned to work.

Now she was tending to his hands, re-growing the missing fingernails and mending bones that hadn't been broken so much as disjointed. The work was delicate enough that she had to work slowly, which was just as well, because she was exhausted now. Working wandlessly, one hand rested on his wrist to measure his erratic pulse as the fingers of the other slowly travelled over each injury; she was using the chance to hold his hand, although she doubted he could sense it now.

Snape had almost regained consciousness once; his eyes had half-opened, he had made a few choked and incoherent sounds of agony and tried to flinch away from them, before passing out again with another faint whimper. Apart from that, he hadn't so much as twitched, and made no sound except for his laboured breathing. Working on autopilot now, numb from shock and weariness, she watched his face; his skin was so pale now that everything stood out. The deep shadows beneath his eyes – his eye, rather; the other was hidden behind bandages at the moment where they had nearly blinded him – the extensive bruising mottling one cheek, the dark patchy stubble covering his jaw, his surprisingly long eyelashes. He was so thin, so hurt that he looked almost fragile; unconscious, he didn't show that forceful vitality and strength.

It's going to be all right, she told herself again, trying to make herself believe it. His pulse beat more steadily under her fingertips than it had done earlier; he was still alive, and there wasn't much left to do. The internal bleeding and organ damage had been fixed, and so had almost all the broken bones. They had dealt with a cracked skull and the slight swelling of the brain; he'd been lucky not to have more damage. Most of the deeper flesh and muscle injuries had been cleaned and closed; once his back was patched up, there should only be the severe nerve damage to deal with, and then tomorrow they could deal with the smaller things. Hopefully he would be awake by then.

She had never been so frightened in her life, but it was going to be okay, she repeated to herself. He was alive and he was healing. Whatever had happened, he had survived it. He couldn't have been found out; had the Death Eaters known he was a spy he would never have been returned alive, no matter how badly hurt. But what about next time? His reserves were gone now, physical, mental, magical and emotional. He wouldn't survive anything else major. He had been right on the edge as it was.

Don't you dare die on me, she told him silently as another joint realigned under her hand and she gently moved and flexed his long fingers to test it. I'm not brave enough to do this without you. Absently moving a lock of his lank black hair away from his face, she glanced at his back to see how the mediwitch was getting on, and found the older woman watching her.

"What is it? Is something wrong?"

The nurse shook her head slowly, half smiling. "You're too tired to keep your emotions off your face now, Hermione."

She froze for a moment, her heart starting to pound. Of course she'd betrayed herself over the past few hours... Oh, bloody hellfire. Swallowing, she said uncertainly, "Madam Pomfrey... Poppy, I..."

"Relax, Hermione. I didn't mean to scare you." Poppy turned her attention back to Snape's back, running her wand slowly along one of the half-closed wounds. "I'm not daft, my dear, and I've come to know you over the past two years, and I do know Severus better than he thinks I do. If I had a problem, I would have said something, either to you or to him."

Swallowing again, she followed the older witch's lead and returned to work, smoothing the swelling from one of his knuckles so she could nudge it back into place. "Shouldn't you have said something anyway?" she asked uneasily.

"Probably," Poppy agreed quietly. "If it had been anyone else, I would have done. But Severus would never take advantage of his position, and I have yet to meet a student more capable of knowing their own mind and thinking before they act than you. And nothing has happened yet, has it?"

"No," Dilys and Phineas chorused mockingly from the wall.

Hermione was tired enough to respond with one of the additions to her obscene vocabulary that she had learned from Snape, and too tired to fight her blush when it earned her a round of laughter.

Poppy smiled a little and cleaned some more blood from his pale skin. "Then I haven't seen or heard anything to say something about. For what it's worth, you couldn't have chosen better. You know how difficult he can be, but once you learn how to see past that spiky shell he projects, he's a good man – better than he believes he is – and he doesn't commit lightly. And you know most of what he's been through; you're a good girl and I think you're patient enough to give him the time he needs." She added before Hermione could respond, "I am so relieved you already knew about Lily before Albus told you all. I could kill him for that. It's almost the worst thing he's ever done to Severus."

She nodded. "I still can't believe he did it. I mean, it was aimed at Harry, not me, because he doesn't know... anything... but still, it was horrible. I'm glad I already knew too, or God knows how I'd be feeling right now."

"Poor Severus must be very confused at the moment," the nurse noted quietly as she began to close another gash. "But he's alive, thanks to you, and he'll pick himself up. It's going to be all right."

"I hope so, but is it? We still don't know what's going to happen at the end of the year."

"It can't be worse than what we've seen him go through already, can it?" Poppy asked, glancing up at the picture frame.

Dilys and Phineas looked at each other before the witch's portrait shrugged. "Wait and see how he is when he wakes up from this and works out what happened. I have a feeling this will change things for him, and I don't think any of us can be sure how."

Everything hurt.

He tried to move, reflexively reaching for his wand with a stiff and not very responsive arm, and reached mentally for wandless magic at the same time as he realised someone else was there. Something was draped over him, restricting his movements; he tried to struggle, to push the weight off, and the world became a thing of red, screaming agony.

"Severus, calm down! You're safe! Severus, stop it, it's all right..."

He dragged in a breath that hurt the whole way down, dimly aware that he recognised the voice, and experimentally stopped thrashing around for a moment. The pain lessened, and he shivered, sinking back and trying to work out what was going on. He was lying on a bed, which was certainly an improvement over the dirty stone floor he seemed to remember, and the air smelled of clean cotton and healing potions rather than blood, sweat, shit, urine, vomit and burned meat.

Gingerly he attempted to open his eyes, somewhat dismayed to find that only one seemed to be responding until he felt bandaging holding the lids of the other one closed. Blinking against the dim lamplight, he focused on the figure standing by the bed, and Poppy Pomfrey's face swam into wavering focus.

He wasn't entirely sure what he had been expecting to see, but this wasn't it. Severus searched his immediate memories, disturbed by the flashes of sensation. "What... happened?" he asked, startled by how bad his voice sounded and how much it hurt to speak; he didn't recall ever sounding quite this bad.

"You scared the hell out of us, is what happened," she told him sharply, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at him with an expression that took him right back to being eleven years old; he barely restrained the impulse to whine that it hadn't been his fault. "You were Summoned on Friday during dinner – do you remember that much?"

"Yes," he croaked a bit hesitantly after a moment's thought, giving her a grateful look when she held a glass of water to his lips.

"It's now Monday night – no, it's after midnight. It's Tuesday morning."

He spilled most of the water. "What?"

"Stop trying to talk," the nurse scolded. "Can't you tell your throat's in ribbons?" Flicking her wand to dry the mess, she refilled the glass and held it for him again. "You were dumped outside the gates about half past five on Sunday morning. We don't know who brought you back, but they didn't stay long, just left you by the gate and Disapparated." Her hands were shaking as she took the glass away.

Licking his lips, Severus thought about this for a while. "Who..." he asked finally, already certain of the answer.

"Hermione, of course. She was waiting for you by the gates. Probably not for the first time, either," the mediwitch added sharply.

"Told her not to," he rasped.

"Well, on this occasion it's a very good thing she didn't listen. She sent her Patronus to me and managed to stabilise you so that by the time I got there we could get you up here without being seen. She's asleep next door now; the poor girl's absolutely exhausted and almost totally drained. We've spent almost forty eight hours trying to save your sorry carcass, Severus Snape, and neither of us managed to sleep for worrying."

"Not my fault," he protested weakly, his mind racing – well, as much as that was possible in his condition. Limping, perhaps, rather than racing. Still, things were adding up. He wasn't sure he much liked the answers he was coming up with, but nothing was really sinking in yet.

"What happened, Severus? I – we were worried you had been exposed... Well, Phineas insisted that you wouldn't have been brought back alive if that was the case, but..."

"He's right." He pushed weakly at the blanket that practically tied him to the bed. "Get this off me. I can't breathe."

Grumbling, she loosened the bedding, enough to let him squirm painfully and slowly into a sitting position. It hurt. A lot. Gritting his teeth, he panted shallowly, pushing through the pain until his mind calmed, and leaned back against the pillows.

"I wasn't caught," he said finally, his voice hoarse and rough. "It was a test. Someone insisted I was a traitor, and he wanted proof. Wanted to push me as far as possible. He thinks I would have confessed had I had anything to confess." Because Voldemort had never understood him any more than anyone else had. Physical pain had never been the way through his armour; it didn't mean enough to him. "Then he was called away, and someone else took over."

"Who was it?"

"I don't know." He had his suspicions, though. Bellatrix made a nice choice of suspect, but he didn't remember a female voice, or her terrifying laughter. It didn't really matter at the moment anyway. Pushing at the blankets again, he looked up at her. "I need to get up."

"Don't be stupid."

"I'm not. I need to piss."

"Tough luck, and you know your bad language won't shock me into giving in. You're not going anywhere, Severus, and if you try I'm going to hex you for your own good."

He attempted a mirthless smile, his dry lips cracking. "You won't be the first." Shaking his head, Severus gingerly reached up to touch the bandaging around his face. "Take this off. I need to see how bad it looks. I've got a full day's teaching tomorrow."

"Severus, don't be stupid. I told you, you're not going anywhere."

"You're wrong." Finding the knot that held the bandaging, he began to pick at it, wincing at the stiffness in his tender fingers. By the feel of it, he'd lost a couple of fingernails and had needed to have them regrown, and the fingers themselves felt as though they had been rather badly broken. "I need to get back to work as soon as possible." He coughed painfully; the cracked ribs had knit, but still ached, and his throat was raw. "You forget, half my House are spying on me for their relatives by now," he said bitterly. "I can't afford to show weakness, now more than ever." He pulled the bandaging free, smelling the ointment that had been smeared on it, and sighed in relief when his eye opened and the world came back into focus.

"Severus, please, don't do this." Poppy's voice was suddenly very quiet. He looked at her and she stared back at him. "You're hurt. You were... worse than anything I have ever seen." She started blinking rapidly, and he realised to his shock that she was near to tears; he had never seen her cry before, and frankly it was terrifying. "You almost died on us. Please, just rest. Let yourself have time to heal."

"I can't, Poppy," he said as gently as he could manage. "There's no time left. It's all coming to a head. He wouldn't have risked possibly accidentally killing me if he didn't think that soon he wouldn't need me here any more. I don't have time to rest now."

"Damnit, Severus, you don't know how badly you were hurt!"

"Yes, I do," he replied softly. "Probably better than you do." He had been far closer to death than anyone could suspect; he remembered again the dark silence pulling at him and realised that something had changed. He wasn't afraid any more. Working loose the bedding on one side, he gingerly slid his legs out of bed, wincing as his body protested, riding the pain until it settled to something he could live with. He had been stripped to his underwear, which was still stiff with dried blood and other things in a couple of places despite the obvious effort, but at least the rest of him was clean now. "What have you told the Headmaster?"

"Nothing, damn your stubborn hide, only that it was worse than usual," she snapped angrily at him, tears gleaming in her eyes. "But it was close. At one point we almost had to call Fawkes in, because it looked like phoenix tears were the only way we could save you."

He only nodded, gathering his strength for the effort that would be needed to stand up. "And what have you told everyone else?"

"A stomach virus. And Hermione developed a bad rash all down both arms that needed close observation for some hours."

From a leftover Skiving Snackbox, no doubt. "How is she?"

"Utterly exhausted and almost completely drained. She worked incredibly hard." The nurse smiled proudly. "She wouldn't stop until she collapsed. She's almost as stubborn as you are."

Severus was saved from having to respond to that by choosing that moment to force himself to his feet. The world was suddenly filled with flashing red and black lights, and he hissed a string of vivid and colourful obscenities as every cell of his body screamed in protest. Swaying, he caught himself against the wall, gasping as sweat broke out all over his body and dizziness gripped him, and panted through gritted teeth until it eased off a little.

"Clothes?" he asked weakly, wondering how the hell he was going to teach tomorrow. If he had still been teaching Potions it would have been impossible; he couldn't possibly spend all day pacing around a room that was constantly changing temperature and filled with fumes. Sitting or standing and delivering lectures would be bad, but hopefully not impossible, if he was careful, and he could probably get away with just ordering most of the classes to study quietly since the exams were coming up. He'd have to find out who had taught Defence today and what the hell they had tried to teach his students, too; hopefully it would just have been revision sessions...

"We burned what was left of the rags you were wearing. Once we'd soaked them off your raw, burned and bleeding flesh." She sounded justifiably angry, but Severus was paying more attention to the ringing in his ears. "I'll have a nightshirt for you when you crawl out of the bathroom, but you're staying here at least until the morning. You need to sleep. And you can't take any more medicine of any kind for at least a few more hours."

Grudgingly, he gave in, mostly because he was pretty sure he would pass out and fall down the stairs if he tried to make it back to his own rooms. Even his hair ached. The room spun a little as he limped very slowly and very shakily to the bathroom, but he started to feel better once he had emptied his aching bladder; after all, most healing potions were just that – potions – and all that liquid had to go somewhere. Once he was finished, he began surveying the damage, or as much of it as he could see with the aid of the small mirror.

He had a hell of a lot of new scars. By the look of things, most of the skin on his back had gone; the patchy scar tissue was in different patterns now. All that remained of the injuries to his face was a split in his left eyebrow, but he knew he had almost lost the eye. A short and thick scar on his side suggested makeshift surgery had been needed, and the various aches stabbing into his abdomen at different points indicated a lot of internal injuries to go with it; he felt the fatigue dragging at him, knowing his own magic was draining in an effort to put himself back together. He was running a fever, and he was bloody starving; he'd lost more weight even in just two days as what little spare flesh he had left was burned up to fuel the healing.

That was what Last Chance did; Hermione must have brought it from the lab. It was probably the only thing that had saved him, but he was glad she hadn't known how dangerous it was. If he hadn't had enough strength and enough reserves for the potion to draw on, it would have killed him trying to save him. Just standing here leaning on the sink was making him feel nauseous and dizzy; he would have to be very, very careful now, and he'd have to try and rebuild his strength as quickly as possible – and not through artificial means; he wasn't out of danger yet, and a mistake could kill him. In an ideal world, he would be able to rest for weeks while he recovered, but he didn't have weeks, or even days. He barely had hours before he had to get back to work.

No rest for the wicked. Severus washed his hands and face gingerly before straightening up and staring soberly at his reflection. He should be dead. He remembered feeling death waiting to drag him down, but he had survived. Only it hadn't been his doing. Golden sunlight... He shook his head slowly and looked down at his right arm, gently laying his fingers on his forearm. "Finite," he whispered, and stared at the bloody wound ringing his arm and confirming his suspicions.

Biting back muffled curses, he dug his fingers into the wound, ignoring the blood that welled up and the stabs of pain as he found a burned bit. Patiently working his way around the injury, he prised out the twisted and bent metal embedded into his forearm, until finally the corroded and battered strip of copper slid down his bloody skin to his wrist. Washing out the wound – the last thing he needed right now was copper poisoning on top of everything else – Severus murmured a snatch of healing spell to close it and gently worked the remains of the bracelet back up over the new scar before concealing it again. Even that much effort left his head spinning, but it had needed to be done.

He didn't quite crawl out of the bathroom, but it was certainly close, and he had to accept Poppy's help to get the nightshirt over his head before he collapsed onto the bed and suffered himself to be tucked in like a child, barely able to mutter a slurred attempt at a thank you before sinking into thick unconsciousness to the vague sensation of her smoothing his hair back from his face gently.

When he opened his eyes only a couple of hours later, he found that he wasn't alone. The infirmary was silent, and Poppy had obviously gone to bed, but Hermione had come to check on him and had fallen asleep again in a chair beside his bed, her hand resting palm-up on the blankets. Just enough moonlight came through the window to let him see her face, and Severus watched her silently for a while, wondering if she had any idea of what she had done, if she realised what had happened and why she was so completely drained.

He flexed his arm wearily, feeling the slight resistance of the now rather battle-scarred copper bracelet, and smiled crookedly. Protego, indeed. She had meant it to be a protective talisman, and it definitely had been. Somehow, there had been some sort of connection, maybe when she had made the thing or maybe when she had given it to him and he had put it on, or maybe something else. Whatever had happened, when he had truly needed it, when he had been dying and desperate, he had drawn on her magic. Not consciously, or even unconsciously because he didn't think it had originated with him at all, but somehow her magic had flowed into him and saved his life.

But that made no sense at all, because magic simply didn't work like that. There were some forms of magic that could travel vast distances, but healing magic couldn't; you had to be touching the person you were trying to heal. And you had to know they needed healing; he had never heard of accidental healing before. And no talisman he knew of could function like that. Yet it had happened; he wouldn't be here now if it hadn't. He remembered the gentle warmth of her magic; even a scant inch from death, he had recognised it, although he hadn't been able to place it at the time.

And if he needed any more proof at all, if he concentrated, he could feel the subtle presence of a new life debt at the back of his mind. He had lived with the debt he had owed James for fifteen years before being able to discharge it to Potter Junior; he certainly knew what it felt like, although this one didn't feel anywhere near as intrusive. And that, too, was interesting, because although she had undoubtedly saved his life, it shouldn't have formed a debt. Poppy had saved his life countless times, and he didn't owe her, not in a magically binding sense; she was a Healer and that was what they did. Admittedly Hermione was only an apprentice, and an unofficial one at that, but that didn't change the fact that he shouldn't owe her anything. What she had done clearly didn't come under the scope of a Healer's duty.

If he'd had the energy, he might have laughed; he had wanted some sort of concrete proof of her feelings before he would let himself believe what he had been told, but he hadn't needed something quite this dramatic. Apparently Dilys had been right – and Potter, apparently; Jesus Christ, the world really must be ending. That was quite a nice feeling, he supposed, but he felt so ill right now that he wasn't really in a position to appreciate it. Something to think about later, when he was sure he was still alive.

Severus watched the young woman sleeping for a while longer, for once allowing himself to stare as long as he wished; his eyes drank in every detail, memorising her features even though they were already etched into his mind. Everything had changed, this weekend; his whole world had shifted into a new alignment. Before this had happened, Severus had been resigned to death, prepared to give what remained of his empty and unwanted life to the plan, frightened and rather desperately giving Dumbledore what few pitiful scraps of trust he had left despite the old man's most recent betrayal.

Now, though... now everything was different. Now, Severus had no intention of dying until he had pursued this thing between him and the girl sleeping by his bed and found out just what there was between them. There was undeniably something there, and it clearly went deeper than he had ever thought possible, and he was determined to find out what. This might just be the chance he had never had, and he'd be damned if he was going to waste it. Come hell or high water, he was going to find another way.

The drugs they had given him were wearing off, and he was in a slowly increasing amount of pain that threatened to be really, really bad soon. Ignoring it as best he could, Severus moved, very slowly and gingerly; it took a very long time for him to lever himself stiffly and painfully onto his side, and when he reached out his arm barely responded. He felt horrifyingly weak, but he kept going, struggling to focus bleary eyes, until he managed to lay his hand over hers, his fingers trembling for a moment. Her hand twitched, and he looked at her face in some alarm, but she didn't wake even as her fingers loosely curled over his. Relaxing, he closed his eyes and stopped fighting, sinking into unconsciousness once more.

Hermione wasn't expecting to see Snape at all the following day, but to her utter astonishment he walked into the Great Hall the next morning for breakfast as though nothing had changed. He was limping a little, but she doubted anybody else would really notice, and he didn't even wince slightly when he sat in his usual seat. She turned slightly to look at Madam Pomfrey, who caught her eye and shrugged helplessly before giving him a disapproving look that he completely ignored.

"I thought you said he was hurt?" Ron mumbled through a mouthful of bacon.

"He was. He is." Hermione shook her head and returned her attention to her toast, almost too tired to think.

She knew for a fact that half the skin on Snape's back was very new and very fragile; he was limping because his smashed knee hadn't had enough time to knit completely; if she was close enough she would be able to see his hands shaking as his nerves continued to react in the aftermath of the Cruciatus curse; and he had enough internal injuries still that she wasn't surprised to see that he was being very, very careful about what he ate. And yet, if she didn't know all that from having been there fighting to keep him alive long enough to heal him, she doubted that she would have guessed anything was wrong.

He was so strong that sometimes it frightened her. He had to be in absolute agony right now; drugs or no drugs, he was on so much medication that he couldn't take anything stronger without making himself violently ill. But it was almost as if he didn't consider it worth acknowledging; Dilys and Madam Pomfrey had both talked to her about Snape's response to pain at some length over the past two years. He knew he was in pain, and would even grudgingly admit it if you pressed him hard enough, but he didn't seem to think that it mattered and somehow managed to ignore it as though it simply wasn't relevant.

During their Defence lesson that afternoon, though, Hermione realised that in fact something had changed, on a deep and fundamental level. As Snape paced slowly around the room and lectured them on what they would be expected to know for their approaching end of year exam, she watched him covertly from the corner of her eye while taking notes; his whole attitude seemed subtly different. When he whirled to berate Seamus for not paying attention, she realised what it was and ducked her head to hide a grin of sheer delight; the old Snape was back with a vengeance.

This was the Professor Snape they all remembered with dread, the confident, powerful, temperamental man who had every student in the school cowed by the end of their first lesson. The force of his personality once again filled the room; even the way he moved was different, centred and sure, and his black eyes glittered with something of their old fire. He had taken up the fight again, she decided as she scribbled to his swift crisp dictation; there was none of the dead, resigned apathy he had been showing recently. It seemed that Snape had decided not to give up after all, and part of her thrilled to see it even as the rest of her concentrated on keeping her head down and not attracting his temper. After all, he was still a total bastard, she reminded herself with a small and almost fond smile. It was so good to see him back to 'normal' that she didn't even mind the fact that he hadn't so much as glanced at her all lesson.

It wasn't until two days later when Phineas caught Hermione's attention as she headed back towards Gryffindor Tower after dinner, preoccupied with her Arithmancy revision and a training session with Harry and Ron later. "What's wrong?"

He raised an eyebrow, disregarding the scowl he was getting from the elderly wizard whose portrait he had hijacked. "Is it always an emergency when I speak to you?"

"Not always, but most of the time," she retorted idly, relaxing – if something had been wrong, he would have said so. "So what did you want? I doubt it's the pleasure of my company."

"How well you know me," he replied mockingly. "He wants to see you."

"Really?" She couldn't quite keep the smile from her face, and Phineas snickered, although there was almost no malice in his obvious amusement.

"No, I made it up for my own entertainment. Yes, really. Go on with you. It cost him a lot to ask me to find you, you know. Be nice to him. He's really, really bad at this sort of thing."

"Oh, please. You're talking as if you're expecting him to go down on one knee," she replied airily, stifling a laugh at that rather odd mental image. "What does he want?"

"I don't actually know, but he's likely to make a mess of it. Apart from anything else, he's still recovering, and I am under orders from Dilys to tell you not to wear him out." The portrait gave her a truly disturbing leer, and she sputtered with laughter.

"You need help, you know that?"

"I need a hobby," he corrected her in a bored-sounding drawl. "Go and see him already. We've been forbidden to eavesdrop so Dilys will want a full report later."

"Tough luck."

As ever, it was wonderfully quiet down in the dungeons, and pleasantly cool at this time of year. Hermione tapped at the door of Snape's office, amused for a moment to remember that less than two years ago she'd been petrified of coming anywhere near here; it was almost routine now.


She let herself in and closed the door behind her, trying to restrain herself from beaming at him – given everything he had been through, he looked surprisingly well. "Good evening, sir. How are you?"

He looked very much the impatient, stern, distant and unapproachable professor, marking essays at his desk, until he snorted softly and glanced up with his black eyes glittering. "As if you need to ask. Do you imagine I don't know that I've been watched constantly for the past two days? And Poppy Pomfrey has been down here every two or three hours to make sure I am still alive. I am sure you have had regular reports."

Suppressing a smile, she approached the desk and took the chair he waved her towards. "No, actually... but I'm sure I would have heard about any problems. You didn't actually answer the question, though."

To her surprise, Snape answered honestly, instead of merely growling that he was fine. "I am as well as can be expected – better than I should be, in fact. I am still in pain, I am exhausted, and I'm eating my own bodyweight in absolute rubbish every few hours to replace the strength I burned off. Given that I should be dead or permanently crippled, I do not plan to complain." His voice was a little husky still, but nothing that anyone else would have noticed.

"I've been told not to monopolise your time."

He snorted again and returned his attention to his marking. "No doubt. Tell her to stop interfering."

"You haven't told her yourself?"

"At some length, and in fact in several languages, but it is hardly surprising that she hasn't listened."

Trying without much success to suppress another smile, Hermione nodded agreement. "What did you want to see me for, sir?"

He didn't answer straight away, scrawling something on the bottom of the essay and moving it onto another pile before pulling another one in front of him and starting to scan the opening paragraph. Without looking at her, he said quietly, "I wished to thank you. Without your actions this weekend, I would not be here now."

That caught her off guard. Snape didn't do apologies or gratitude; his voice was stiffly formal, but he sounded as though he actually meant it. "I think you're exaggerating..."

"No, I'm not. I don't remember much very clearly, but I know how close I came to death. I survived because of you."

"I just did what anyone else would have done..."

He started to laugh, and cut off almost immediately with a wince, laying a hand on his side for a moment before giving her a look of genuine amusement. "Most people would have left me to die, and we both know it." Coughing lightly into his hand, he looked back at his marking, making a note in the margin. "Why were you waiting at the gates?" he asked without looking up.

"You'd been gone too long, and... I just had a feeling that something wasn't right."

That sounded weak and stupid when she said it out loud – nobody else had asked her what she had been doing out there; there hadn't really been time to ask – but Snape seemed to consider it enough of an answer, nodding slightly as he worked. "I see. Then I am... grateful for your instincts."

He sounded almost adorably awkward, and Hermione bit her lip to hide a smile; she had to admit she sometimes liked seeing him out of his comfort zone like this and making such a fierce effort to act human. Since concern for his health gave her an excuse, she used the chance to watch his face, remembering waking up in the rather uncomfortable chair beside his bed and feeling the warmth of his hand in hers. He had been so deeply unconscious that it was almost a coma, admittedly, or he never would have done any such thing, but it was still a memory to hang on to.

Spotting the crease between his eyebrows deepening, she looked away before it annoyed him too much. "Why did it happen?" she asked softly.

It was a risky question, one she knew she wasn't supposed to ask and one he usually refused to answer. This time he only shrugged, still not looking up. "To be perfectly honest, there was no real reason. It was a combination of paranoia and carelessness, and a few people looking to settle old scores as soon as they had the opportunity." He added in an extremely dry voice, "I have to admit I am a little irritated about that."

"That seems reasonable," Hermione agreed, smiling despite herself at his tone. "Do the Order know what happened?"


She nodded, unsurprised. Typical. This time, though, she supposed it made sense; it was a bad idea to let anyone know he wasn't at his fighting best. After all, he was unpopular on both sides, and even though he was his own worst enemy a lot of the time she had to concede that more than half the Order wouldn't actually care. He should let Madam Pomfrey tell Dumbledore, but she doubted it would trouble the Headmaster's conscience. "Are you going to be all right?" she asked. "I don't know what side effects the Last Chance potion has. It was certainly... reactive."

"That is an understatement. I am lucky you got the dose more or less right; any more would have killed me. I did say it was dangerous. Happily, though, if you survive actually taking it, there are no side effects except extreme fatigue, and I am restoring my energy reserves as fast as my body can handle. I will heal." He paused as though about to say something else, then shook his head slightly and laid the essay aside, reaching for another one.

Hermione settled into the chair more comfortably – with some difficulty; Snape didn't encourage visitors and except for the furniture he used personally everything was deliberately designed to be uncomfortable. She wasn't sure if the conversation was over or not, but he didn't seem inclined to dismiss her, and she had missed the strangely peaceful quality of their shared silence. The awkwardness of his attempt to thank her hadn't disturbed that atmosphere.

After a while she made a decision and said quietly, "Sir, this is the last time I'm going to ask this, and if you won't answer now then I won't bother you about it any more..."

"Go on," he replied softly; it was obvious by the sound of his voice that he knew what she was going to say anyway.

"Will you tell me what you have to do at the end of this year, please?"

"Why do you wish to know?" he inquired softly as he underlined something and wrote a comment beside it.

Hermione bit her lip, considering possible answers. "Because I'm worried about you, and by extension everyone else," she told him finally. "It's obviously worse than anything I've been able to imagine. Will you tell me?"

Snape looked up slowly, his eyes narrowing a little as he finally looked directly at her for the first time since the conversation had started. He had a slightly odd expression on his face that she couldn't quite identify, but he didn't seem either annoyed or upset. "I had actually intended to tell you this weekend," he noted at last, much to her surprise; he half-smiled at her expression. "Yes, I know. Nonetheless, I had planned to."

"And now?" she asked with a sinking feeling. He's going to be stubborn again...

His smile grew fractionally as he once again seemed to know exactly what she was thinking, his dark eyes glittering for a moment. "No. But not for the reasons you think, so stop looking at me like that. I am not going to tell you because I intend to make sure it doesn't happen, not because I do not wish you to know."

"You're going to disobey the Headmaster? But... I thought you had made a vow..." she said hesitantly, and he shrugged a thin shoulder as though that wasn't important.

"There are almost always alternatives. I am certainly going to give it my best shot. I am going to act as I think best, for once, not as someone else has told me to." He sat back and set his quill down, lacing his fingers together and cracking his knuckles.

In all honesty, Hermione thought she would rather trust him than Dumbledore right now; she shrugged and nodded in response, which seemed to surprise him slightly. "What about the three of us? Do we play a part in your plan?"

Snape blinked slowly, raising an eyebrow and pausing for fractionally too long before replying nonchalantly, "I don't know yet."

They both looked at one another for a long moment before simultaneously looking away, breaking the quiet tension before it grew any more intense; neither of them were really ready for that yet. "I should be going," Hermione said softly after a moment. "I've got revision to do."

He snorted, giving her a wry smile and relaxing slightly. "I doubt you need it, but if you say so. Good night."

"Good night."

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 29 of 60

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