Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 3 of 60

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She couldn't return to her reading until Saturday night, only managing to shake the boys off by telling them it was that time of the month and she wanted to go to bed early. As expected, they hadn't asked for more details; she'd been using it as a method of getting some peace and quiet for years, and they hadn't even noticed that she used the excuse around every ten days on average, which if true would have indicated a serious health problem. Curling up comfortably behind her warded curtains once more, she withdrew the folder from her pocket and restored it to its proper size, leafing through it to find September 1975.

Snape's fifth year seemed exactly the same as the previous years; underweight and injured at the start of term, he proceeded to get into trouble at least once every few weeks, and frequently on those occasions Madam Pomfrey noted older injuries that he had evidently treated himself. Exam stress had started to affect him during the summer term; the number of incidents was reduced but their severity increased. Hermione turned the page, expecting to see the beginning of the sixth year, and found one final incident report for the summer term.

Notes: Not sure what happened. Diagnostic has found that he was apparently forced to ingest soap, and there seems to be considerable and extensive bruising (most notably in a ring around one ankle; restraints?) and other minor hurts that he has healed himself. Evidence suggests that a lot of students were involved somehow – many students trying to avoid being noticed by staff, always sign of trouble. Severus himself refused to comment but he seems very upset, rather than angry, which is unusual. I attempted to speak to Miss Evans; she avoided my eyes and said she didn't know anything. I suspect they had some sort of fight. Hopefully it will resolve itself over the summer – she seems a good influence on him.

Thoughtful, Hermione turned the page again and scanned the September 1976 health check record, expecting to see more of the same; she was wrong. Notes: No significant weight loss this time and no evidence of injury – evident change in circumstances at home. Hormone levels have altered, especially testosterone – possible recent loss of virginity? Hermione stopped reading in order to shift uncomfortably – she really, really didn't need to know anything about Snape's sex life, and it was a little troubling that the Healers could tell this sort of thing. Fidgeting, she kept reading, prepared to slam the book shut if it continued speculating along those lines, although to her relief there was no further mention of the topic. Overall impression is not favourable despite this. Severus is as withdrawn as ever but he seems very angry and defensive; there is a new hardness in him. I asked him how his summer went and he barely responded; I asked him how Miss Evans was and he replied that he did not know. Clearly they have not been reconciled, which is a shame, and he is clearly upset about it still. I suspect this will be a troubling year.

That had proved to be an understatement. The first incident occurred a week later; according to witnesses, there had been an argument between Snape and the Marauders which had led to Snape hexing Lupin, whereupon he had been set upon by both Sirius and James. Hermione read through half a dozen accounts of similar occurrences; Snape was evidently no longer in conflict with his own House, and seemed to be focusing all his energy on his feud with the Marauders, which was starting to grow dangerous. Some of the spells being used were quite dark – there were several references to a slicing hex that Madam Pomfrey hadn't seen before that proved difficult to treat – and their confrontations were growing more aggressive.

At the end of November Hermione found a page very densely filled with the nurse's writing – what on earth had happened? She investigated and found that the record of this single incident went on for three pages. It had obviously been something serious. Abruptly she remembered the Shrieking Shack – this must have been when Snape encountered the transformed Lupin for the first time. She had only heard biased accounts of what happened; the general consensus was that it had been a prank gone wrong, but Snape's absolute and slightly insane fury suggested that he felt otherwise. And there had been something about James Potter saving him, too, hadn't there?

Taking a quick break from her reading, she changed into her pyjamas and cleaned her teeth before curling up behind her spelled bed curtains once more and making sure she was comfortable. This was a long account, she would need to be comfortable and settled; she suspected she would need to concentrate. Madam Pomfrey had abandoned her usual note-taking style and had written this more as a journal entry.

I was woken tonight by a panic-stricken James Potter. Disaster; Severus has learned about Remus Lupin's lycanthropy, in the worst possible circumstances. James admitted to me that he, Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew have known about their friend's condition for years, but have never told anyone else. It seems that Severus discovered that they had a secret and has been spending some time attempting to discover what. James didn't want to tell me the truth, but he eventually confessed that Sirius told Severus how to bypass the Whomping Willow – without telling him what would be at the other end. James went after Severus as soon as he found out, but he was too late. He arrived just in time to drag Severus out of the way of the werewolf.

Thank the Fates, Severus is not physically harmed – he was not bitten, although apparently it was a very close thing. I cannot get a coherent account out of Severus – the boy is terrified. I have never seen him so afraid, and he is clearly in shock. I have decided to sedate him and allow him to sleep off the worst of it. In the morning the Headmaster will be speaking with Sirius, James and Remus, although it is doubtful the latter will remember anything – he will be horrified when he realises he came close to attacking someone. After we have some idea of what happened, I will bring Severus round and see how he is. I have a bad feeling about this.

I was right to feel uneasy, it seems. Today is one of the worst days of my career, and I thought I had seen it all by now. I have never felt so angry with the Headmaster.

At dawn I went to the Whomping Willow to collect Remus, and gently explained something of the story to him – that a student had bypassed the tree and seen him, transformed. I reassured him that he hadn't hurt anyone, and tended his usual scratches and small wounds, before leaving the Headmaster to tell him the full story and interview James and Sirius. It turns out that Sirius deliberately goaded Severus and told him that if he went into the tunnel under the Willow last night – he specified last night, the full moon night; there can be no mistake – then he would find out what the Marauders had been hiding. Severus believed him, unfortunately; I wish he had mistrusted what he was told, as he so often did.

James seems in shock from what has happened. He told us that Sirius had seemed pleased with himself and had admitted casually that he'd come up with a way to scare Severus off; when James eventually got the truth out of him, he realised instantly that Remus would kill Severus without knowing what he was doing, and went after him. He caught up with Severus at the far end of the tunnel; they argued, and the noise attracted the werewolf. I don't know how the two of them got away.

The Headmaster spoke to the three Gryffindors at some length before asking me to bring Severus round and get his side of the story. I did so. Severus was still very badly shaken; I do not know what he had expected to find, but a werewolf clearly wasn't it. He was still scared, although trying very hard not to show it. It is when boys try so hard to be men that they betray their true age; it is rare to see him so vulnerable. His memory is patchy and he is still not quite his usual coherent self, but he confirms that Sirius told him not only how to bypass the Willow but when to do it, and he very clearly recalls the werewolf. I told the Headmaster this, and stayed with him as he went to speak to Severus.

Here the mediwitch's handwriting grew a little shakier, which was probably a bad sign, Hermione considered as she read on with a queasy feeling in her stomach.

His first words were, "Mr. Snape, I must ask you to swear to me that you will not allow anyone else to find out what has happened." Then he went on to explain that if people learned what Remus was, then he would be expelled, which would be unfair because it was not Remus' fault, and that the security measures in place were sufficient to prevent accidents – the werewolf could not get out, and nobody could get in by accident. He did not ask how Severus was feeling, or if he was all right, or show any concern for him at all. As he was talking, I watched Severus' face; it took him a few moments to work out what was happening, since he was still groggy from the sedation and still partly in shock, but I saw very clearly the moment he realised what this meant. His expression was absolutely terrible; I have never seen that look of pure betrayal on anyone's face before and I hope never to see it again.

When the Headmaster finished his explanation, Severus asked politely (too politely) what was going to happen to Sirius. The Headmaster looked puzzled and replied that, naturally, Sirius would receive a detention for such a misguided prank, but having spoken to the boys he believed that the intention had only been to frighten Severus, and that as there had been no real harm done, that would be the end of the matter.

I cannot believe he is treating this so lightly, so it is not surprising that Severus did not seem willing to accept it either. He started getting upset and responded that Sirius had been trying to get him killed. The Headmaster told him bluntly not to be so dramatic, that he was mistaken, that Sirius had not intended him to be harmed. Severus grew more upset and asked what would happen if he did tell someone, and – this is the part I find hardest to believe – the Headmaster told him that if he did, he would be expelled, then added that unless Severus swore to him that he would tell nobody, his memory would be forcibly modified before he left the Infirmary.

I cannot think of a way to describe what happened next without sounding melodramatic, but I saw something die in Severus' eyes. He has unusual eyes and they have always been difficult to read. I was watching him very closely, and he looked terribly wounded, stunned almost, and hurt in a way I don't fully understand – but he didn't seem surprised, which is the worst thing. I saw something break in him, and the defiant anger I have grown used to seeing faded away, as if he had somehow lost heart. He looked almost defeated as he promised the Headmaster that he would keep quiet.

I intervened then and told the Headmaster to stop upsetting my patient – as he left, he at least had the decency to look ashamed of what he had done. I kept Severus under observation for the rest of the day, not that there was much to see; he didn't move at all, except to use the bathroom, just sat on his bed hugging his knees and stared at the wall. His expression was blank. I have no idea what he was thinking or feeling, only my own imaginings, which I suspect are not accurate in this case. This is not an ordinary boy and it is not an ordinary incident. His sleep was very disturbed through the early part of the night, and he was clearly having nightmares; when I next checked on him, he was awake and had returned to his previous attitude, save that he was no longer looking at the wall but was instead watching the moon out of the window.

I need sleep myself now. In the morning I will check him over once more, and then I must release him to return to class.

Severus has just left to go down to breakfast, not that I expect he will eat much; he ate nothing yesterday. He no longer seems in shock, but he is certainly far from recovered; he is all but mute and will not look at me, hiding behind his hair in a way I haven't seen from him in years. He is very pale and withdrawn and I do not like his eyes – his expression is still blank, he is hiding whatever he is feeling.

I think that in two years' time there will be another Death Eater with a grudge in the ranks of You-Know-Who, and the worst part is that I do not think I can blame him.

Hermione very slowly put the book down and fumbled under her pillow for her handkerchief, suddenly aware that she was crying. It seemed that Snape's account in their third year had been the true one, although he had been so frighteningly angry and unstable that it was small wonder none of them had believed him. Sirius really had tried to kill him, and not only had there been no attempt at punishing him, Snape had been threatened with expulsion and memory modification. In essence, Dumbledore had told Snape that his life wasn't worth defending, that his death wouldn't be much more than a mild inconvenience.

"My God," she whispered to Crookshanks, shivering with the horror of what she had just read. "It's no wonder he hates the Marauders so much." It was no wonder that he had revealed Lupin's secret to the school, either – yet again, he had been attacked by a werewolf, and this time while he was trying to defend students, and yet again Sirius had been allowed to get away with assaulting him. The circumstances had been very different, naturally, but still, it was no wonder Snape had been so... demented.

Wiping her eyes, she blew her nose and knew she didn't want to read any more. She had a feeling it was only going to get worse. "Then again, I'm not going to be able to sleep tonight, so I suppose I might as well. If I get this finished, then tomorrow I can go and see Madam Pomfrey – I need to be able to talk about this or I'll go mad, and I need to calm down before I see Snape again," she told the catShe tried to imagine what would happen if she started crying for him during Potions, and failed.

Slowly she reached for the folder again, with more reluctance than she had ever felt when faced with something new to read, and turned the page to the next incident, dated December.

Notes: Severus brought in unconscious in the middle of the night by Professor McGonagall; found in third-floor corridor, bleeding badly. Several deep incisive cuts to both wrists, deeper dexter than sinister; no trace of magic – not slicing hex. Muggle penknife was found beside him. All evidence points to self-inflicted, but cannot be sure until he regains consciousness.

No need to ask Severus what happened; he looked disappointed when he woke up, before losing all expression. Clear suicide attempt. Could possibly be attention seeking but cuts were deep and precise, and he was in side corridor seldom patrolled – sheer luck that Minerva found him. Odd choice of method but seems to be sincere attempted suicide. I would speak to the Headmaster if I thought it would do any good. Seems nothing I can do for Severus except try to keep an eye on him and hope he does not try again – I suspect if he does, he will succeed.

"Oh, God," Hermione whispered yet again. Madam Pomfrey had said that the attempt was years ago, when Snape had been younger, but she hadn't realised she meant that young. She herself would be turning sixteen next week – she couldn't imagine trying to kill herself, for any reason. Then again, her life hadn't been like his.

Closing her eyes, she tried to imagine the scenario; being abused and neglected at home, then being bullied at school, always ending up getting into trouble no matter who started it and usually facing three or four opponents at once. Falling out with what seemed to be his only friend, and then someone attempting to get him killed and being allowed to get away with it, finding out that his life didn't matter even to the people who were supposed to be looking after him. No... she could start to see why he might have felt like that was the best option remaining to him.

Wiping her eyes again, she looked back at the book. Had it been a cry for help? By the sound of it he had tried quite hard to make sure he wouldn't be found, but there were more reliable ways to kill yourself. Even in the students' stores, there were plenty of toxic Potions ingredients, or the slicing hex that had been mentioned before would be better than a knife, or he could simply have thrown himself off the Astronomy Tower. Or just waited a few days and picked suicide by werewolf, which would have been ironic, poetic justice in a macabre sort of way.

She felt a little sick at treating this so lightly, but it was that or go into hysterics. If this was what his life had truly been like... then, under the circumstances, he was actually a comparatively nice and reasonable man. Surely anyone else would have become a permanent sociopath, instead of only an occasional one. Swallowing, she read on.

The next incidents were noted only because Snape had been the instigator; he wasn't injured again for some time. The Marauders had presumably been in disarray after what had happened, which left them vulnerable. Just before Christmas, Sirius was found unconscious in a corridor, having been comprehensively beaten up; Snape made no attempt to deny responsibility and had the remains of recently-healed cuts on his knuckles, and although it seemed unlikely he could have managed it alone he refused to say whether anyone else had been involved. Two days later, Peter Pettigrew fell down the stairs as the result of a well-timed Trip Jinx, taking Lupin with him. It wasn't until March that the Marauders seemed to rally; an argument during a Charms lesson dissolved into a brawl that resulted in all four Gryffindors and their Slytherin victim needing medical assistance.

From that point on it seemed that war had been declared. The feuding students seemed to be more careful about being caught, but when the summer health check came around Snape had quite a lot of minor injuries in various stages of healing and the anger almost radiated off him.

At the start of the seventh year there was an incident report before the first health check; according to witnesses, Sirius and Pettigrew had started taunting Snape on Platform 9¾ before the train had even left the station, and had provoked him until he'd attacked them both in full view of most of the school. James and Lupin had promptly come to their friends' defence, as had half of Gryffindor by the sound of it, and that had stirred several of Slytherin to wade in and help. The fight had been broken up by the interference of the station staff and the crew of the train, and by all accounts Snape had needed to be physically restrained.

There had been several nasty incidents after that, all involving Snape and Sirius and occasionally Pettigrew, but after Christmas it seemed to have stopped. Snape seemed to have gone underground. There was no doubt that the conflict was still going on, but there were no further entries until the Easter term's check-up, when Madam Pomfrey rather dolefully noted that Snape had some nasty scars and had clearly been looking after his own injuries, far more competently than a teenage boy should be capable of – should need to be capable of. Whatever had been happening was now being kept private; there were no records of further incidents.

Finally, in the summer of 1978, there was one last entry. Final notes: Severus Snape will graduate top of the year, and it seems inevitable that he will follow his housemates to join You-Know-Who. He was a withdrawn, neglected and unhappy boy, and he has become a withdrawn, neglected and angry young man. Hogwarts has failed him. I do not expect to see him again.

Hermione had eventually cried herself to sleep once she had finished reading the dismal account. Not willing to face anyone the next morning, she applied more of Snape's ointment to her hand, noting that the bruising was much better now, and dressed hurriedly before heading for the Infirmary rather than going to breakfast. Madam Pomfrey didn't seem remotely surprised to see her, and ushered her into her office and gave her a cup of tea as she gently took the book away and put it back in the cabinet before sitting opposite her. "I am sorry, my dear. It is harrowing reading, isn't it?"

"It's horrible," Hermione said quietly, staring into her tea and shivering. "I – nobody should have to go through... that."

"Yes," the nurse agreed equally quietly. "In many ways, Professor Snape was one of Hogwarts' greatest failures. However, you must understand, Miss Granger, this is still not the full story. There were many more incidents that I knew nothing about, and often there was no proof of what had actually happened."

"But the Shrieking Shack... what the Headmaster did." She swallowed. "Professor Snape said that was what had happened, in the third year. None of us believed him – he was so angry, it was scary. It was like he'd lost his mind. I've never seen so much rage." It had been seriously frightening to discover that their cold, aloof, distant teacher held that much raw and volatile emotion bottled up inside him.

"There were reasons," Madam Pomfrey told her gently but firmly. "I still do not agree with Professor Dumbledore's decision, but there were reasons. He was trying to protect the Gryffindors; he was right that Remus did not deserve to be exposed, and he was always very proud that a member of the notorious House of Black had escaped Slytherin, and he was terribly fond of the so-called Marauders. It was not intended as an attack on Professor Snape, although it is not surprising that he took it as such."

"He tried to kill himself because of it."

"Possibly, yes," the mediwitch agreed, "but that was not the only reason, I suspect. Nor was it a completely serious attempt – even at only sixteen, had Professor Snape truly intended to die, he would have done so. I spoke with him some years later about that particular incident."

"And what did he say?" she half-whispered, looking up.

"That he had elected to leave it to luck. He truly did not care whether he lived or died at that point, so he says, so he chose an attempt that had about even odds of succeeding. If someone found him in time, he would live; if they did not, he would die. He claims not to have cared what the final outcome was."

"You don't believe him?"

"I honestly don't know, Miss Granger. Professor Snape does not see the world in the same way that most people do; at the same time, sixteen year old boys are capable of a great deal of angst and melodrama, as you will no doubt soon be discovering. I believe he actually cared very much and that he did not wish to die; I believe he did not feel that he could make that choice, so he left it up to Fate."

Hermione sat and drank her tea in silence for a while, thinking. "Why are you telling me all this, Madam Pomfrey?" she asked finally. "Why did you give that to me to read? Those records are supposed to be confidential, and I don't need to know any of that to help you with Healing."

The nurse sat back and glanced up at the picture frame on the wall, where Dilys once again stood watching them. "Truthfully, I am not sure, Hermione," she said finally. "Certainly I should not have done so, and I would not wish to burden anyone with the full truth of that file. But something tells me that this situation is different, and..." She half-smiled. "To be brutally honest, my dear, I want Professor Snape to have someone else on his side, and I would like someone else to share my knowledge. You are likely to have a great deal of contact with him if you continue with Healing, particularly if you choose to join the Order once you are of age, as you no doubt will. The two of you are not as dissimilar as you might think; I believe you could potentially be friends at some stage. Since Hell will freeze over before Professor Snape will make any move in that direction, the first step must lie with you."

"I don't want to be his friend!" she exclaimed, alarmed by the idea.

"Why not?"

"He's my teacher."

"There is no rule prohibiting friendship between staff and students. You spend time with Professor McGonagall. And with me – we are clearly no longer merely pupil and teacher, are we?"

"That's different," she protested weakly.

"It isn't, but you can relax," Madam Pomfrey told her gently. "I'm not going to try and force you together. I never planned on this, but when I saw you trying to help him I thought you could be good for him. He needs an ally, Hermione, now more than he ever has."

"Maybe," she conceded, thinking back over her reading. "But not me. He hates me, for a start, but even if he didn't, I'm a student. It might not be against the rules, but he won't see it like that."

"I'm not convinced that he hates you at all," Dilys interjected from the wall. "I have very seldom seen Severus accept any form of comfort whatsoever, and certainly not with so little resistance."

"He needed someone and I was just there, that's all. He's certainly not pleased now it's over." She thought of the little jar of bruise ointment uncomfortably; she'd thought it was just an apology for hurting her and an acknowledgement. She hoped there wasn't anything more to it than that.

Dilys snorted. "He didn't need anyone at all, girl. He has endured far worse. Severus doesn't need any help, not of that sort. He can endure more than you can even imagine, completely alone, and will do many times before this is over. What he needs is someone to remind him that he's human, someone to be on his side. Poppy tries, but the pattern is too well established – he sees her only when he is injured, so he has come to associate her with pain. He knows this, too, or he would never have let you touch him."

"I only held his hand," she muttered uncomfortably. "It wasn't a big deal."

"Yes, it was," Madam Pomfrey replied gently. "Professor Snape is a very isolated person. I do not know the last time that someone did something so benign as hold his hand when he was in pain. He won't accept that level of contact from me except in real extremis. For him to allow even that much of a liberty from you... it means something, Hermione. I don't know what, yet, but I think we need to find out. Hence my decision to let you find out more about him."

"It's not a bad thing," Dilys added. "One of a Healer's most important tasks is to help comfort her patients and improve their quality of life. In addition, you are within Hogwarts – nothing untoward is going to happen. Not that it would anyway – Merlin, girl, what do you think this is?" she added more sharply, looking amused.

Looking up, Hermione smiled reluctantly, feeling a bit stupid. "No, okay. I'm being daft. It's just... strange. I don't like Professor Snape, and he doesn't like me, and I don't want to feel sorry for him, and I'm sure if he knew I did he'd be furious. But Thursday night... something changed. I don't understand it."

"Nor do we," Madam Pomfrey agreed quietly.


Dilys chuckled softly. "Professor Snape's current allies, my dear. The good nurse here, myself, and the portrait of Phineas Nigellus – the only former Headmaster who was in Slytherin. We're glad to welcome you to the team, if you wish."

Hermione processed that. A Healer and two portraits of dead people; it wasn't much. She nodded slowly, before changing the subject – she still had a lot of questions. "Who was Miss Evans? You never mentioned her by her first name."

Madam Pomfrey smiled sadly and shook her head. "That secret, I will not tell. I'm not supposed to know, and Professor Snape would be devastated to find out that I do. He would also never forgive you learning of it. No doubt you could find out easily enough from other sources, but I must ask you not to try. It is far more private than anything else. All I will tell you is that she is dead."

Taken aback by that, Hermione nodded and firmly squashed down the thread of curiosity. "All right."

"Now," the nurse said more briskly, "when you are up to more harrowing reading, there is more you need to see. Professor Snape's medical history as a member of staff. However, that book does not leave this office – you will have to read it here in your spare time. I cannot risk anything else. And I don't want you alone when you read it – the account of the first war is extremely distressing. It must wait a while, though – you aren't ready to see it yet."

"It's really that bad?" she asked uncertainly.

"Worse," Dilys told her bluntly. "Whatever you are imagining, the reality is worse."

"Oh, good," she said weakly, before asking something that had been worrying her. "How do I face him now? I – I don't see how I can just sit through Potions like nothing's changed."

Both women looked somewhat alarmed. "You must," Madam Pomfrey told her urgently. "IfI didn't think you capable of doing so, I would never have begun this. You cannot allow Professor Snape to find out about this."

She frowned, taken aback by the vehemence. "Why?" she asked warily – Snape in a rage was terrifying, admittedly, but he wasn't actually allowed to hurt her. Their reactions seemed a little extreme for detention.

"Because Severus is at times a thin-skinned, overly sensitive, cynical and paranoid fool," Dilys said caustically.

Madam Pomfrey gave the portrait a look of rebuke before turning back to Hermione. "Professor Snape is rather pessimistic by nature," she said carefully. "He will never believe the possibility of an innocent explanation or benign motives; instead he will suspect some joke at his expense, if not an open attack on him. If he learns what I have permitted you to see so far, and what I intend you to learn in the future... I don't know what will happen. At the very least he will do everything in his power to get you expelled..."


"He can't," the nurse reassured her, "because you haven't done anything wrong; if there is any fault, it lies with me. But he will try. He will also make your life a living hell, Hermione; he is admittedly vindictive by nature and his past has caused him to develop an irrational hatred of being mocked that blinds him to gentler things. Most people believe that he has no sense of humour, simply because past experience has left him unable to avoid taking jokes personally. He would be terribly hurt by what we are doing; he would see it as a betrayal, and Professor Snape takes loyalty very seriously. He also responds to pain with anger, as you have seen before. For all our sakes, and his as well, you cannot let him find out."

"For his sake as well?" she asked. "Is it so important that I spare his feelings?"

Her doubtful tone earned an approving look from the nurse, and Dilys chuckled softly. "Hah. I knew I was right about you, girl. No, not for his sake alone; we're fond of Severus, but mollycoddling him has never worked terribly well." Their smiles faded, and the portrait continued more seriously, "Frankly, you – as in the Order – can't afford for him to be distracted by hurt feelings. He is barely balancing as it is, and any more strain could well send him over the edge. Lose Severus, and I think you'll lose the war. You don't know a tenth of what he actually does for the Order, but believe me, you need him. Helping him stay sane could be the most important thing you ever do."

"On a more logical, practical note," Madam Pomfrey said quietly, "nothing has changed. These events all took place many years ago. Your knowing about them now changes nothing, save perhaps your attitude towards Professor Snape; I admit he is an unpleasant and dangerous man, but he has reasons for being the way he is, and in truth his being that way may well keep us all alive."

"How does he do it?" Hermione asked softly, remembering again the mute suffering in his eyes. "How can he go through that, over and over again?"

Dilys chuckled softly. "Because he's made of steel wire and stubbornness," she replied almost affectionately. "Believe me, girl, he's a lot tougher than he seems. He might look like nothing more than skin stretched over bones and bitterness, but he's surprisingly strong."

Hermione glanced at the mediwitch for confirmation of this, and Madam Pomfrey nodded, smiling slightly. "Aptly put, Dilys. Yes, Hermione, Professor Snape is a lot stronger than he might have appeared on Thursday night. He does look rather unhealthy, I know, but he isn't as bad as he seems. You'll understand more as you read through his adult records. He is underweight, but as you have seen, he always has been; he has a high metabolism at the best of times, and it is increased under stress."

"He doesn't seem to eat anything," she volunteered.

"Ah, you noticed? Good, just don't let him catch you watching him. No, he doesn't eat in the Great Hall; he controls his diet himself, and eats more healthily than most people in this school. He exercises regularly – he goes running most mornings, I believe, or he always used to. He administers his own medication, too, and whilst I certainly don't condone everything he takes, he knows what he is doing. He knows how important his health is to the war effort; he looks after himself, most of the time. Physically, at least."

Hermione nodded slowly, surprised to find that she felt reassured on learning this. She had been worrying about him, she realised. The conversation had made her feel better, but... "How do I pretend this didn't happen?" she asked quietly. "I understand why it's important, but I don't know if I'm that good an actor. I don't know how to look at him without imagining what I've read."

"Severus himself will help you there," Dilys said dryly. "I have no doubt he will be his usual miserable self in your lessons; you will find it remarkably easy to forget that he is human. Which is one of the many reasons why he does it."

Despite herself, she started trying not to laugh. "Hearing you saying things like that isn't going to help."

The portrait smiled almost impishly at her. "Nonsense. It does Severus good to have friends tease him, even if he can't see the difference between that and spite. And you will find life much more enjoyable if you can learn to privately laugh at it. Learning to hide what you're really thinking will stand you in good stead later on."

Madam Pomfrey laid a hand on Hermione's shoulder. "You'll be just fine, dear."

After her next Potions lesson, Hermione lingered behind as everyone else filed out, making a show of clearing away her things. Once the classroom was empty, she ventured slowly up to the front of the room and hesitated in front of Snape's desk, staring at the top of his head and his greasy hair as he apparently focused all his attention on the essay in front of him. Without looking up, he snapped, "What do you want, Miss Granger?"

"To return this, sir," she said quietly, taking the small jar of bruise ointment out of her pocket and placing it on the desk beside him. "Thank you."

Still not looking up, he reached out with the hand not holding a quill and scooped the jar deftly out of sight. "Miss Granger," he said equally quietly, his voice less hostile now, "I think this... arrangement... will be more comfortable for both of us if we do not refer to it, yes?"

"Yes, sir," she agreed readily; this was awkward enough as it was.

He nodded fractionally and put his quill down. "It will also be safer, given the way rumours sprout from nothing around here," he noted, before finally looking up; his face was as expressionless as ever. "Nonetheless, you are welcome," he added stiffly, avoiding her eyes for a moment. She fidgeted uneasily, trying to think of something to say in response, but before she could come up with anything he sat back and arched an eyebrow as he looked at her. "I hear your Defence lessons are going well," he observed sardonically, his eyes glittering faintly. "You and your little friends seem to be making an impression on Professor Umbridge."

It was a very innocent comment, on the surface, but Hermione was startled at the rush of relief she felt. Snape knew what was really going on, and wasn't impressed; the other teachers were on their side. Biting her lower lip for a moment to hold back a smile, she replied as neutrally as possible, "I had a few queries about the Ministry's new teaching methods, sir, but Professor Umbridge was kind enough to explain them to me. It is all quite clear now."

The glitter in Snape's eyes intensified. "Yes, I imagine it would be," he murmured, with an odd note in his voice that might be approval. She couldn't really be sure, since Snape had never spoken to her with any emotion in his voice bar irritation before, but it was a nice thought nonetheless. "I do feel that perhaps the Ministry might have chosen a teacher with a little more experience of dealing with children," he murmured, apparently talking to himself now as he picked his quill up once more. "Not teaching them something never prevents them from discovering it for themselves, after all..." Abruptly he seemed to remember that she was standing there and gave her a sharp look. "Dismissed. And try to stay out of trouble."

Thoroughly confused, Hermione nodded wordlessly and made a hasty exit. Had she had the nerve to look back, she would have seen Snape watching her with a satisfied air and smirking, before nodding fractionally and suppressing a soft chuckle as he returned to his marking.

Severus automatically stopped behind Minerva's chair in the staff room to read the front page of the Prophet over her shoulder, and she automatically twitched it away from him. "Buy your own, cheapskate."

"I wouldn't pay for this rubbish unless there was a world shortage of toilet paper," he retorted. "Was that our esteemed and not remotely photogenic colleague I saw croaking on the front page?"

"You shouldn't say things like that," she murmured half-heartedly with no sincerity whatsoever, and grudgingly opened the paper again so they could both read the article. "High Inquisitor?" she repeated in a voice filled with faintly puzzled utter disdain. "What on earth is that supposed to mean? It's not some reference to the Spanish Inquisition, is it?"

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, Severus thought to himself, and nearly choked trying not to laugh as they read about the latest Educational Decree, still a little adrenaline-silly from the previous night. He was certainly the only person in the staff room who had ever heard of Monty Python; he was probably the only person there who had ever watched a television program at all, come to that. It was a shame, really; he didn't often get the urge to make jokes and it was a little sad that when he did, nobody else would understand. He almost got lost in a vague and mildly disturbing daydream involving Voldemort, Bellatrix and Lucius re-enacting the entire Spanish Inquisition sketch, complete with comfy chair, before forcing himself to pay attention again.

"Percy Weasley should know better," Minerva said disapprovingly. "I must write to Molly and Arthur later. That boy's going to break his mother's heart."

"He's stupid, that's all," Severus replied dismissively. "Given how many children they have, statistically there had to be one idiot – although Ronald seems determined to make it two, occasionally."

She snorted but didn't rise to the bait as they continued reading. "Albus was unable to find anyone else... yes, he said that to me, too. Didn't you apply this time?"

"Of course I did," he said tiredly. "You know he won't hire me. He'd rather have this twisted hag ruining their education than let me near his precious students without a cauldron between us." He knew all the reasons, even agreed with some of them, but it still rankled. He glared at the paper again and froze. "What does that say?"

"Inspections?" Minerva read out, her expression turning thunderous. "You have got to be joking. She gets to judge us? I don't believe this! Why didn't Albus say anything to warn us?"

"Because he's a coward," Severus growled murderously. "Let her try it. I dare her to breathe a word against me."

His colleague snorted. "Oh, you'll be fine. You hate the students almost as much as she does; she'll like you."

"What a revolting thought." He took a breath and calmed down a little. "This is nonsense. I may not like any of you, but we're all good teachers and the students mostly do well enough. They can't get rid of any of us this way. And I'm surprised that Lucius is involved; he knows it as well as I do."

"Anything that can destabilise Albus is worth trying," Minerva said grimly. "Our staff is weak in certain areas. They mention Hagrid here; she'll do anything to get rid of him, since he's only half human."

"Filius has goblin blood in him, but she's been perfectly civil to him so far," Severus pointed out. "In fact, she's been less patronising to him than to the rest of us."

"Filius isn't tied to Gryffindor and isn't high in the Order," she reminded him, as if he didn't know that. "Oh, this is an absolute nightmare."

He paused as a happy and very evil thought came to him, and smiled unpleasantly. "I don't think so..."

The older witch gave him a sharp look. "I remember that expression far too well, Severus Snape. What have you just thought of?"

"I'm just imagining the scenario, Minerva. She walks in to one of our lessons, mine or yours, and starts trying to criticise us to our faces, and the only witnesses are students who dislike her. She won't have any allies in the classroom and she'll be trying to be... sarcastic. To us. Now, isn't that rather a happy thought?"

Minerva stared blankly at him for a moment, and then started to smile.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 3 of 60

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