Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 10 of 60

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With her head full of Occlumency, Hermione went to the infirmary a couple of evenings later at Dilys' request and settled in Madam Pomfrey's office with a cup of tea as the mediwitch stacked a couple of books and folders on the desk beside them. "Well, Hermione, I think it's time you saw the whole truth," she said quietly. "This information does not leave this room, do you understand?"

"Of course."

"All right, then. This is the standard staff record sheet, just so you can see what I do – it's far less detailed than the student one, as you can see. I only normally do a full health check once, when the new staff member first starts work, and that might well be the only time I see them professionally. Most of the records are near enough empty, except perhaps for the occasional note about Pepper-Up potion during the season for colds and sniffles. Some subjects are more complicated – the Care of Magical Creatures teacher usually ends up here every so often, although Hagrid is capable of treating himself most of the time, and Professor Snape's predecessor occasionally showed up with a mild burn or a rash from some ingredient or other, and obviously I tend to see the annual Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher at the end of the year after whichever strange accident ends their career with us. Are you with me so far?"

She nodded. "I assume Professor Snape doesn't come to you for Potions accidents?" she asked, trying to keep the sarcasm out of her voice and failing.

"Actually, he did once," Dilys told her from the wall. "A student a few years ago was even worse than young Mr Longbottom seems to be and caused a rather spectacular meltdown. Severus only came up here because both hands were too badly burned to allow him to administer the treatment himself, admittedly, but he did."

Madam Pomfrey nodded with a faint smile and picked up a slim folder from the stack on the desk. "So, this is Professor Snape's official staff record."

Hermione glanced at it. That initial health check was very similar to the ones from his student days – unsurprisingly, since he'd still been very young; he was underweight and stressed and withdrawn. "Weren't there more signs?" she asked.

"Yes, but I missed them. You've seen my usual health scans, Hermione; I don't perform detailed in-depth examinations unless I think they're necessary. Besides, much as I hate to admit it now, I simply didn't want to know. We all knew or at least strongly suspected that Professor Snape was a Death Eater; the Headmaster insisted calmly that he could be trusted near the children, but we didn't really believe it. I was very disappointed in Professor Snape at the time and wanted to see as little of him as possible, partly because I was disgusted by what he had become and partly because I felt guilty that we had driven him to it."

Nodding slowly, Hermione looked back at the record. There were a couple of requests for Dreamless Sleep; presumably he had run out of his own supply, since he was more than capable of brewing it himself. A brief note when he had obtained his Mastery that he would now be supplying most of the hospital stores. One or two accidents that he had helped with treating – including her Polyjuice mishap, she noted uncomfortably, as well as the Petrification. The single incident Dilys had mentioned. And that was it.

Madam Pomfrey tugged a considerably thicker book from the stack and let it thump down onto the desk. "And this is the unofficial record," she said grimly, "up until a few months after the end of the first war."

Hermione stared at it. "I see..."

"No, you don't," the nurse said softly. "Not yet. That's why you're here today. This isn't a record so much as a diary of my observations; you won't find many strictly medical findings except in places where I had to make a note of blood pressure or something. Nobody has ever seen this. And it's not the full story. Professor Snape never told me any more than he absolutely had to, and I'm sure I don't know the worst of it, and some things I didn't dare write down. I advise you to just skim-read, Hermione... you don't want to read every single detail. Remember before you start that this all happened many years ago and ended not long after you were born."

Swallowing, she pulled the book towards her and started to read.

The account had never been intended for anyone else to read, and really was more of a diary of the nurse's thoughts and conclusions; it dealt with her feelings at the time as much as it covered what had happened to Snape. The first entry in it was from shortly before Christmas of Snape's first term as a teacher; Dumbledore had woken Madam Pomfrey and called her down to the Potions master's quarters in the dungeons. There were no details on what had been wrong, but Snape had been covered in blood and in too much pain to speak, although that didn't stop him from twisting away from her hands and trying to avoid her touching him and he had refused to look at her or Dumbledore. That incident had been followed by a long talk with the Headmaster about Snape's having changed sides.

Over the next few months Madam Pomfrey had learned more than she had ever wanted to know about the Cruciatus curse, as well as various nasty little spells that were used quite frequently. Snape had apparently undergone pretty much every punishment anyone could imagine, from being whipped bloody to being burned to having bones broken or simply being beaten up. He had accumulated internal injuries at a quite frightening rate and the long-term effects of stress had started to show as he continued to lose weight, began to have trouble sleeping and started to develop the first stomach ulcer. His nerves, his circulation and his joints began to suffer from the continual exposure to the Cruciatus and his immune system weakened quickly, leaving him more or less constantly ill.

Even back then, barely out of his teens, Snape had hated needing help. There was nothing of the slightly awkward, almost shy politeness he had shown towards the mediwitch as a student; he ignored her as much as possible, spoke in monosyllables, flinched whenever she touched him and did his best to avoid eye contact at all times. Every time she saw him, there were signs of other injuries he was treating himself. By the time she discovered the evidence of sexual assault, it had apparently already become almost routine and Snape had refused to talk about it with horrifying indifference.

"There's nothing in here about the Dark Mark," Hermione noted quietly at one point in a slightly distant voice.

"I wasn't particularly eager to study it. He kept it hidden as much as possible."

"But doesn't it have any physical side effects? I don't know much about how it works, but I know You-Know-Who makes it hurt to Summon them. That's got to have some sort of long-term effect, having the same place constantly hurting."

The mediwitch looked somewhat ashamed. "I've truthfully never thought about it."

Nodding distractedly, Hermione kept reading. There weren't any dates recorded most of the time and it was hard to work out a time frame for this dismal story; reaching the end of the war was something of a surprise. The only reason she knew they had reached that point was that Madam Pomfrey had noted that Snape didn't seem happy; in fact, he seemed to have gone into shock, becoming even more remote and more or less robotic. The next entry had her staring at the page.

"He was arrested?" she asked incredulously.

Madam Pomfrey nodded grimly. "At breakfast in the Great Hall, in front of everyone. It was in late November after the end of the war. In hindsight we should have expected it, because they were rounding up everyone who was ever suspected of being a Death Eater, but I think we all thought Professor Snape would be safe. Several people in the Ministry were Order members and knew his true allegiance." Her lips thinned. "I've never quite forgiven Alastor for it. He led the team who came for him."

"Didn't the Headmaster try and stop it?"

"No," Dilys said flatly. "He said that justice needed to be seen to be done, that we couldn't afford to make an exception for Severus, that there was no way he would be sentenced so we should let the Ministry have their trial."

"It went to trial?"

"Eventually," the portrait said darkly. "After standard procedures had been followed – which means that after everything you've just read, Severus was held in Azkaban for a week and then turned over to Moody's team for several days of interrogation, before being dragged in front of the war tribunal."

"God," Hermione whispered, horrified.

The mediwitch nodded, her face shadowed. "I went to his trial. He looked very young, and very frightened, and obviously thought we were going to throw him to the Dementors now that we didn't need him any more. His reprieve was at the last possible moment, and he wasn't given any time to recover; he had to come straight back to school and get on with his job. It was the best thing for him, in hindsight – he needs to keep busy, not to be allowed to brood about things – but it did seem very cruel at the time." She tapped the book, and Hermione obediently – if reluctantly – returned to her reading.

It was obvious to her that Snape was suffering from shell shock and post-traumatic stress disorder, but she didn't think the wizarding world knew about those things. He complained of being cold all the time, although Madam Pomfrey couldn't find a physiological cause. He didn't sleep much, if at all, and came dangerously close to poisoning himself by overdosing on sleeping potions until he finally managed to stop taking Dreamless Sleep; apparently it could be highly addictive if you used it for too long, which explained why he didn't use it now. The mediwitch had asked him once what the Dementors made him experience, and the look on his face had made her very glad that he had refused to answer. He had been very nervous and jumpy and made no attempt to hide his savage resentment of everyone else for in essence abandoning him, showing no interest in closing the gap that had always existed between him and the other staff members. In addition, the Aurors had not been gentle when 'questioning' him, and that combined with all the older damage had left him shaky and constantly exhausted; he had also been drinking far too much, and using potions to sober up before classes.

Snape had been a complete physical and psychological wreck when the school year had finally ended and had promptly gone into hiding all summer. When he had returned in September, he had been much as he was now, cold and distant and emotionless. He had got on with his job efficiently and grimly, indifferent to the way it made both his colleagues and his students dislike him, settling into isolation and apparently trying to make sure everyone forgot what he had done for them as quickly as possible.

Hermione very slowly closed the book and sat back, shivering as she stared at it. "Does the wizarding world have psychiatrists?" she asked quietly.

"No," the nurse confirmed equally softly. "I've picked up some over the years just through observation, but back then I didn't know what was happening. In hindsight none of us who were involved were quite right for a while after the war, but people didn't think about it then – we just got on with things and learned to live with it. Severus suffered far more than the rest of us, but I don't think he would have let anyone help him even if we had known how."

"How did he get through it, on his own like that?" Hermione asked helplessly, and the older woman shrugged.

"I truly don't know, Hermione. I'm certain that most of it was Occlumency, but I know nothing of how it works. And the rest of it was simply his will to survive; I think he just wouldn't allow it to beat him. You've seen yourself how strong he is and how much he can endure; he's always been that way, even when he was a boy. I think in some ways, that was the worst thing about all this," she added slowly.

"I don't understand..."

Madam Pomfrey looked at her grimly. "Even as a child, Severus never cried that I saw, or made any sounds of pain no matter what had happened to him. He choked them back, because he had clearly learned when he was very young that showing pain or fear made matters worse. I never did find proof that he was abused at home, but I'll wager the whole of Gringotts that he was; he has what I call 'the shadow', certain signs that abused children have. It's nothing physical, just a faint darkness in the eyes, a peculiar sort of resignation and acceptance and a complete inability to trust anyone, as well as a certain emotional detachment and a dislike of any physical contact. He tolerates everything that happens to him as though it's a normal part of life; he doesn't fight against it. And he will never ask for help. Most people think that it's pride, I'm sure, but it isn't; he simply doesn't believe that anyone will help him if he asks and he's afraid to show weakness. He buries all his emotions, both good and bad, and keeps himself deliberately isolated. I've seen similar cases more times than I care to remember, but Severus Snape is the most damaged I've seen, and the only one who has never shown any signs of improving or healing."

Biting her lip, Hermione asked quietly, "Does Harry have this 'shadow'?" She had wondered for years about her best friend's upbringing; he refused to say much about it.

"Not in the same way. I'm certain he didn't have a happy childhood, and he wasn't looked after terribly well, but I don't think he was abused. He's emotionally stunted, but not too badly damaged; he hasn't been frightened in the same way. He has the same acceptance and some of the same trust issues, but the scars don't go deep enough to isolate him or he would never have made any friends at all, and he isn't frightened of physical contact or emotionally detached. None of the students you know have a history of serious abuse."

She nodded slowly, her head spinning a little; there was so much to think about.

The nurse touched the last book on the pile. "This is the strictly unofficial record of this war so far. Are you up to finishing it tonight, or would you prefer to deal with it another time?"

She swallowed thickly and shook her head. "No. Let's get it over with."

"There isn't much, to be honest. It's nothing that hasn't happened before."

That turned out to be true, but it certainly didn't make it less depressing or horrible. Madam Pomfrey had noted that Snape was if anything harder than ever, and even more distant. He was less resistant to treatment, arguing less, but mostly because he was more apathetic. His body was coping well so far with the damage being inflicted, but she was worried about the long-term effects on his nervous system and about the deterioration of his psychological health.

Once she had finished reading and handed the book back, Hermione sat back in her chair and stared numbly at the wall for a while, trying to take it in. A few things had fallen into place with almost audible clicks and made a lot more sense now, but mostly she simply couldn't focus long enough to absorb the rest. A small part of her wanted to cry, but what good would that do? Finally she sighed. "It's late. I'd better be getting back to Gryffindor Tower."

"Take this with you," the nurse said firmly, handing her a small vial of a clear potion with a faint blue tinge. "It's a single small dose of Dreamless Sleep. You won't need it again tomorrow, but for tonight you need to take it."

"I don't need a sleeping potion," she protested.

Dilys said from her frame, "You wouldn't say that if you could see your face right now, Hermione. You're white as a sheet and your eyes are huge. What you've read tonight is terrible and shocking and painful and you need time to come to terms with it, even if you don't realise that. Go to bed and take the potion. I'll speak to Severus tomorrow morning and tell him you're not feeling well; you shouldn't be alone with him until you've cleared your head. It would be too painful otherwise."

Hermione thought about this for a moment, biting her lip, before slowly shaking her head. "No. Don't tell him I'm ill. Tell him the truth."

The portrait and the older witch exchanged glances. "Are you sure?" Dilys asked her. "He's not going to be happy."

"He probably thinks I've already read it all," she pointed out, then shrugged helplessly and tried to smile. "I've never been able to lie to him. There's no point trying to keep this hidden. He'll find out sooner or later; if you tell him now then by the time I see him again, he'll have come to terms with the idea as well – I don't have Potions tomorrow. Besides, he's got a right to know I've learned about it. And you can make sure he knows I haven't been told everything." If nothing else, Snape would see it in an Occlumency lesson, but she was keeping that to herself because she had absolutely no idea who knew what and it was easier just not to say anything to anyone.

"Good point," the portrait agreed after a short pause. "All right, I'll tell him."

"Are you all right, dear?" Madam Pomfrey asked carefully.

"I don't know. I think so. It's a lot to take in... I'll have to think about it." She sighed. "Isn't there anything else we can do to make it easier?"

"I don't know. We're doing what we can, what he'll let us do. It's not ideal but it's all we can do."

Hermione nodded, then gathered her things quietly and left. Once shielded by the privacy of the curtains around her bed, she cuddled Crookshanks as the tears started pricking the back of her eyes, allowing herself a few moments to appreciate the awfulness and the tragedy of it all before drinking the potion she had been given and sinking into blissful unconsciousness. Her last clear thought was that Snape would be furious if he knew how sorry she felt for him.

Somewhat to his own surprise, Severus had been largely unmoved by Dilys informing him that Granger had finally seen his more recent records. He had thought she had already been shown them all, but even so, he was slightly surprised by his own indifference; it genuinely didn't much bother him to be given solid proof of his suspicions. The uncharacteristic apathy obviously worried Poppy and the portraits – and that sounded oddly like a bad seventies rock band to him, now he thought about it – but recently he had found it difficult to get wound up about anything much. Potter could still push all his buttons, of course, especially after the Pensieve incident – he was still fighting not to strangle the boy every time he had Potions with the fifth year Gryffindor-Slytherin class – and Umbridge could usually irritate him, and sometimes the Death Eaters, but he had stopped caring much about anything else. It was probably a symptom of increased depression or something, but he didn't much care about that, either.

And he had never really hated Granger as much as he had pretended to; after so many years of frustrated teaching, having a student with a brain was a gift, even if she was almost unbearably annoying at times. She was genuinely on his side – which apparently put him on an equal footing with an oppressed house-elf – and he did at least believe that she wouldn't gossip. It wasn't worth expending the energy to get angry, not when it wouldn't change anything and when he had so much else on his mind.

A few days later, they started Occlumency in earnest; she'd studied the theory and now it was time to put it into practice. When she arrived at the dungeons after curfew, he had shown her how to use a Pensieve, and now he asked her if there was anything she wanted to put in there before he started accessing her memories properly. He wasn't using it himself tonight; his memories were actually safer inside his head and he wasn't going to underestimate her as he had foolishly done with Potter. All his defences were very firmly in place.

She bit her lip thoughtfully and considered for a few minutes before somewhat surprisingly shaking her head. "I don't think so, sir. There's nothing really bad, and to be honest I think you know most of the embarrassing parts, or the things I've done wrong over the years."

His lips twitched. True. Most of them he hadn't discovered until some time afterwards, when it was legitimately too late to see her punished, but in all honesty he wasn't sure he would have done anyway, not unless he could have hung Potter out to dry with her. There had never been any malicious intent; her heart had been in the right place.

"As you wish, then. Understand, Miss Granger, we are starting work in earnest now. I am going to be looking for memories that will hurt or frighten you, for emotional weapons, and I am not going to stop if you get upset. Your task tonight is to try and stop me from finding such memories in the first place, and once I do, to try and divert me to more benign memories. Later on, you will be trying to push me out. I don't know if you will be strong enough to do so, but you will at least learn the theory."

"Do I have any hope of success at all, sir?" she asked. Her eyes were dark, and his lips twitched for a moment; she never did like failing at anything.

"Certainly not this early in your training. And against me, probably not; I am not a particularly powerful Legilimens, but I do have an advantage here, Miss Granger, because I am a very good study of people and I have known you for five years. I know a lot about how you think and about your strengths and weaknesses. Another Death Eater attempting to use Legilimency will not have that knowledge, so you will have more of a chance if that ever happens."

"And against You-Know-Who, sir?"

He hesitated for a moment. The honest answer was no, she stood as much chance as a snowball did in the fires of Hell, but he suspected she was scared enough already. "No," he admitted finally, softly. "He doesn't waste time looking for weaknesses and finding a way in through your defences. He simply applies brute force and smashes his way in. Against him, Occlumency does nothing except allow you to survive the attack; it cannot stop him."

"You manage to lie to him, sir."

"Only because he does not know it. Were he more subtle, he would long ago have discovered that I have deeper defences that he has never seen; once he knew they were there, he would be able to break through. He thinks he has seen all that I am capable of, so he trusts that were I to betray him, he would know. With captives who are not his followers, he is even more brutal than he is with his Death Eaters and he will leave nothing behind. However, that is not the situation. You are learning so that you can teach Potter enough to allow him to mute a remote connection that the Dark Lord is not even aware of; the idea is to avoid any of you getting captured, after all," he added sarcastically, and for a moment she almost seemed about to smile.

"I haven't found a visualisation that works for me yet, sir. How do I try and defend myself without it? Should I try one of the other methods you told me about, like distraction?"

"You can, although I wouldn't try anything complicated at the moment. Sheer strength of will is the first part of keeping someone out, and you have always had that," he remarked rather wryly with a thin shade of mockery in his voice that almost earned him a glare, hidden behind the image of respectful attention. Amused, he continued, "Once I am in your mind, your best hope is to try and divert me each time I find a suitably damaging memory. It's easier if you choose a similar memory, one linked to the original. Bear in mind that failure here is not necessarily a true failure, and that as you grow more affected by what I am doing you will find it far more difficult."

"What about physical attacks, sir? If we're just standing here staring at one another... could I try and use magic against you?"

"What, again?" he asked dryly, and smirked as he saw her blush. That was another reason for not trying to see her punished, of course; it had been extremely embarrassing to realise that a child had got the better of him so often and he wasn't about to admit it to anyone else. It served him right for underestimating her, and he was determined not to make the same mistakes as she grew older and more formidable. Mockery aside, though, it had been a good question. "You can, certainly, since in this scenario you are free and armed, although in a true interrogation you wouldn't be. It's doubtful that you will be able to concentrate at first, as you are not used to mental invasion, but by all means make the attempt if you can." If she managed to get anything past his shields, he deserved it, even though she wasn't as strong as Potter.

"Are you ready?"

She bit her lip. He had noticed that tell in her first term, but over the five years since then he had refined the knowledge and identified several different lip-bites that could mean anything from pain to guilt to fear to anticipation; this one looked like nervous determination, the most dangerous one. "I think so, sir."

"Legilimens," he replied with no more warning, his dark eyes locking on to her brown ones. He had caught her off guard, as he had known he would; there was a brief flicker of alarm as she pushed at him, but she hadn't been prepared and he slid into her thoughts with no resistance. She had never been attacked mentally before and he could feel her fear; following the standard method, he used that fear as a bridge and looked for memories that had made her feel afraid and helpless, following the natural links in her mind.

Flashes of images poured over him, and for the moment he let them pass without trying to focus on a particular one, just watching the flickers to get a vague idea of what he was seeing. The defences around the Philosopher's Stone were no surprise; that had been her first real test, her first glimpse of what this new world really meant, and that flickered back to an image of the Sorting Hat – she had almost been a hatstall, he seemed to remember, much as he had – which was tied to her own very private insecurity. That was linked to an image of Minerva scowling in angry disappointment which must surely have been a nightmare – he very much doubted his colleague had ever looked at one of her favourite cubs like that, or ever had cause to in this case.

Hmm. Much as he had expected; he had thought for years that her obsessive need to try far too hard was rooted in a deep, almost mortal fear of getting it wrong, of failing. Curious now, he wondered what had caused that fear, and gently nudged the flow of images to go back further. She was trying to resist now, blindly struggling against the command, and the flickering pictures were harder to see – momentary flashes of a smiling man and woman who both bore enough of a resemblance to her that they must be her parents, and split-second glimpses of schoolchildren in a primary school classroom, slightly distorted sounds that to him were instantly recognisable as playground taunts and some sort of mocking rhyme – you never forgot that sound, he knew that all too well – a brief flash of her aged maybe eight with tears running down her cheeks...

Severus understood, better than anyone would have thought him capable of. He had been observing all his students for almost fifteen years, and in Miss Granger he had seen instantly a child far too smart for her surroundings, a girl who had never fitted in with her peers and so had never learned how to. He had been the same, but his upbringing had been harsher and had taught him to hide, to withdraw; Granger hadn't learned that. She had been encouraged by the adults around her, parents and teachers, taught to burn brightly, and the price for that was to have no friends, no equals. Her academic success and her intelligence had been her only comforts during her early years and that had given her a ferocious drive to continue to succeed because it was all she had. Now, with the world turning darker, she knew she wasn't prepared for the situation she found herself in and she was desperate not to show it, trying to appear confident and knowledgeable while all the while being absolutely terrified of getting it wrong.

And, too, she was scared of losing the only real friends she had ever had. Potter and Weasley showed up in the flashes of memory, accompanied by flickers of emotion. The boys drove her mad a lot of the time, she argued with them both frequently and each time she did so she was miserable and frightened until they hypocritically forgave her for whatever petty quarrel they had started, afraid of losing them no matter how infuriated they made her, because she had never been good at making friends and didn't have anyone else.

That, too, Severus could understand only too well.

He withdrew gently and broke the connection. She hadn't really made much of an effort to fight him, but he wasn't going to scold her for it this time. She would have seen those memories in their entirety and relived the feelings that went with them, and he wasn't remotely surprised to see that she was crying, nor was he surprised to see how fiercely she was trying not to. Turning away, he regarded the wall of his office thoughtfully, giving her time to pull herself together as he considered what he had just learned, fitting the new puzzle pieces into his mental picture of her. He had the keys to her mind now, if he'd wanted them; now he needed to come up with a way to teach her how to rearrange the links so that it would be much harder to follow that pathway. How, he wasn't sure yet; he hadn't been lying when he had told Dumbledore that he had no idea how to teach anyone to do what he did instinctively. Still, the two of them seemed startlingly alike in a few small ways, so if he dwelled on how he did it for a few days maybe something would come to him.

"I think that will do for tonight," he said without turning around once the muffled sounds of suppressed sobbing seemed to have stopped. "You understand now how a Legilimency attack works, do you not?"

Granger sniffed thickly. "Yes, sir." He turned to look at her, and she realised he was waiting for something more and drew a shaky breath. "It works by finding similarities between memories, using them like – like stepping stones to go deeper."

"Exactly." Thank God she was this smart. Even if he and Potter hadn't hated one another, the boy could never have grasped these concepts so quickly.

"Did you see everything I did, sir?" she asked in a small voice.

I did ask if you wanted to hide anything. He kept the rebuke to himself; it was a natural question, and Potter had asked the same thing, although more belligerently. "Very brief flashes of each memory, not the memories themselves. I saw just enough to get some idea of what each memory contained, and had it been a serious attack I could have focused on individual ones to see them in their entirety. So, how would you defend yourself against it?"

This lip-bite was mostly to stop the last remnants of tears, by the look of it, although she was also thinking hard; despite her recent attempts to grow up, she was still painfully transparent, at least to him. "I suppose there are two ways, sir."

"Go on."

"I could try to find different similarities, to link to different memories, so the... stepping stones lead in a different direction?" She was gesturing with her hands as she spoke, describing a kind of spiral with her fingers to emphasise her meaning.

"Yes, but that requires time to prepare in advance, really. It can be done once you know enough to identify where you are most vulnerable, but it is almost impossible to do so quickly and spontaneously when under attack."

She nodded slowly. "The only other way I can think of is by waiting until you or whoever is concentrating on a memory and then trying to break their concentration while they're distracted, but obviously it would be very difficult."

He nodded. "It is, which is why the best method is to construct defences that prevent the attack in the first place, or at least lessen the impact of it so you can still function. Self-knowledge is the key here; if you know yourself well enough to know where you are most vulnerable, you will know what to expect. You also need to find the method of visualisation that will work best for you. How is Potter getting on with the meditation?"

"He manages it most of the time when we're practising, sir, but I'm not sure how well he's doing on his own. He says he's doing it every night and that the dreams are less frequent, and I believe him, but Ron says he's still muttering in his sleep sometimes, and he doesn't seem to be much calmer."

Gloomily, Severus nodded. "I wasn't expecting anything else. We can but try, Miss Granger, that's all. Very well, you are dismissed for tonight; I shall see you tomorrow morning."

"Yes, sir. Good night."

"Good night."

Hermione had spent a long time trying to work out her visualisation. Snape had given her a lot of different examples, and she was very tempted by the notion of building a library in her mind to organise her knowledge and make it much easier to recall things, going so far as to make quite a few notes about how she would sort things out. It would be perfect as a means of organising her mind, but she couldn't really see how it could be used as a defence – it seemed horribly easy to find information in such an organised mental system. Maybe someday she'd get the time to sit and work with the idea properly, but right now she needed something else, something simpler that could be used to protect her mind.

It wasn't until a couple of weeks later that Harry finally confessed the real reason why his Occlumency lessons had stopped, shamefacedly admitting the truth to his two friends in their usual corner of the common room one evening.

Hermione could have hit him. "You did what?" she hissed furiously. "Harry, you can't go looking in other people's Pensieves! Didn't you learn anything from Dumbledore? Maybe if he'd told you off you might have listened..."

"Hermione, Hermione, please, stop it. I know, I know I was wrong, I know I shouldn't have done it, I know Snape's got every right to be furious with me, but it's too late to change it now... listen, I – I want to tell you what I saw. It was... it was horrible," he ended in a small voice, and the look on his face persuaded her to put aside her anger and listen.

She could understand his pain as he spoke, sounding so bewildered. It had started just because his father and Sirius were bored. Snape hadn't done anything, hadn't even been near them, and they'd started picking on him for absolutely no reason. She could hear in Harry's voice that most of his illusions had gone. No matter what he'd heard, he'd always clung to the notion that the feud had been Snape's fault, and now it seemed he was wrong.

Even as Harry dwelled on his own disappointed confusion, Hermione was remembering a page of the student record. Diagnostic has found that he was apparently forced to ingest soap... so this was what had happened that day. She didn't understand how anyone could do something like that. She'd known her fair share of bullying over the years, but what they'd done to Snape was just sick.

Then Harry went on to talk about his mother, and she froze, listening intently. Harry was mostly focusing on the fact that Lily had apparently not been able to stand the sight of James, but he did tell them about how Snape had reacted, and Hermione bit her lip to hold back a gasp. He'd called his friend a Mudblood? Well, no wonder they'd fallen out. If Ron had said anything like that to her, or Harry for that matter, she'd never have spoken to them again either.

With an effort, she pushed it aside to think about later; right now, her friend needed to talk, to try and sort out the mess this had made of his head. He'd always hero-worshipped the father he'd never known, and losing that glittering image had hit him very hard.

"I feel really bad," Harry ended finally, fidgeting. "I – I almost want to try and apologise."

"God, Harry, don't do that," she told him in some alarm. "He'll kill you."

"I thought you liked him now," Ron said blankly. She hadn't told the boys much, she certainly hadn't mentioned the jogging or his indirect inspiration for the DA and Harry's interview or gone into much detail about the healing, but she hadn't been able to keep everything from them. They knew she sometimes helped him when he was injured, and that sometimes she spoke to him outside lessons now and they occasionally managed civil conversations of sorts, and after some thought she had told them about how she'd gone to the dungeons before Christmas to ask if he had any news and he had let her stay and work to distract herself. Neither Harry nor Ron understood it, but as long as they thought it was only very occasionally and as long as Snape continued to act like a bastard to all three of them in public, they weren't going to freak out. It couldn't last, sooner or later they were going to find out everything and then they would probably never speak to her again, but for the moment things were fairly stable.

"I wouldn't go that far," she replied a little uncomfortably now, before shrugging and smiling ruefully. "And I do know what he's like."

"I still reckon I should try and make up for it somehow," Harry muttered.

"It's a bit late now," she told him exasperatedly. "Shame you didn't think like this before you went nosing about."

"Yeah, I know..."

"Give it up, mate," Ron decided. "There's no point. Snape's always hated you and he's always going to hate you. You can't punch fog."

Something went click in Hermione's mind, and to the astonishment of both her friends she flung herself at Ron and hugged him. "You're a genius."

"I am?"

"Well, you have your moments."

"Cool. Are you going to tell me what you're talking about?"


That night she once again faced the Potions master in an empty room deep in the dungeons. "I still don't see why we have to do this so late," she complained half-heartedly.

"Because I have no free time and because even the idiots who attend this school are never going to believe that you need remedial Potions," Snape replied, sounding rather irritable – possibly because he had been forced into giving her an indirect backhanded compliment, which he always hated doing. "Nor would anyone believe you had detention, since all your rule-breaking takes place outside class and without proof. What progress have you made?"

"Harry seems calmer, but apparently he's still talking in his sleep," she reported, noting the tightening of his eyes when she mentioned Harry. No wonder, really; she didn't blame him for being angry. Harry really did deserve at least half the treatment he received from Snape, although certainly not all of it. "I think I've found my visualisation," she offered now to distract him.

He raised an eyebrow. "Prepare yourself, then, and I'll take a look."

Closing her eyes for a few moments, she concentrated, breathing the way he had shown her, drawing the calm silence of the dungeons into her and focusing on the image she wanted, before opening her eyes again and meeting his gaze. "Legilimens," he said softly, and she fought to hold the image as the pressure built and vision faded to darkness.

When the connection broke and she focused on his face once more, he was watching her thoughtfully. "Fog. That's a good choice, if not quite what I was expecting from you."

"What were you expecting, sir?"

"I thought you would be more suited to the liar's palace method." He smirked suddenly. "I thought you'd jump at the chance to build yourself a library."

It was a waste of time glaring at him, but she did so anyway, and his smirk broadened. "I thought about it," she admitted grudgingly. "I think I might be suited to it, but it would take too long and be too complicated. For all I know, I could be taken tomorrow; I need something easier to use."

"I'm touched by your faith in us," he replied sarcastically.

"With all due respect, sir, I've lost count of the things that Hogwarts hasn't been able to prevent just in the last five years." Not including the things that Hogwarts had simply allowed to happen; she was still pretty suspicious about the Philosopher's Stone and maybe some of the other events as well.

"Touché," he conceded with a soft snort. "And you're right; a deep construct like the liar's palace takes years to develop."

"Do you have one, sir?"

"Yes, after a fashion, as part of the very deepest areas of my mind, but I don't use it as a defence; it's more for keeping order and organisation and structure."

She nodded. "So fog is a good choice?"

"Yes. It will work in the same way as water does for me, so it will be easier for me to teach you to refine it, and of course there are plenty of analogies and metaphors for your mind to use to process it. What was your inspiration?" he asked curiously. "I don't recall it being foggy recently."

Hermione grinned. "Actually, it was something Ron said."

"Good God. Weasley said something useful?"

"Sir!" she protested, and he smirked at her, entirely unapologetic.

"Now that you have your visualisation, you need to work with it, think of different ways to hide things in the fog. I've shown you a few of the ways I use, but fog gives you more options. You could build some rather unpleasant defences, with time. Think about what you're likely to need and try to prioritise."

"Yes, sir. Is there any point in trying to teach Harry this yet?"

"You tell me."

She opened her mouth to lie, but his black eyes were steady and piercing and she found that she couldn't. "He's not ready," she admitted. "He says he's clearing his mind, and he does seem calmer, but I don't think he's ready for something like this yet."

He nodded. "Truthfully, Miss Granger, I'll be very surprised if he ever is. Whatever the answer to this connection with the Dark Lord, I'm not convinced that it's Occlumency. Meditating, clearing his mind, not pursuing these dreams – it will help, but it's not a complete solution. Still, it's what we have. Do your best with him; nobody's expecting a miracle. Except possibly you."

"Thank you, sir," she replied sourly. "I did have another question about Occlumency, though..."

"You don't say," he drawled, smirking briefly and shaking his head. "Go on, then."

"I was wondering about the long-term effects of using it so often."

She knew she was taking a risk with this question. In effect, she had just asked Snape if he was going crazy because of how much he suppressed his emotions all the time, and she winced inwardly when his eyes hardened and began to glitter faintly in unmistakeable anger. After far too long a pause, he exhaled slowly and asked crisply, "And why would you be wondering such a thing?"

"I was wondering if it affects everyone in the same way. If Harry did learn to use it and did so a lot, or if I work with it more often, would it affect us in the same way it does you?" she asked carefully. "I'd like to know what to look out for."

His eyes narrowed and he still looked annoyed, but slightly less so than he had done a moment ago. "In some ways," he said finally, a little curtly, "but it depends more on the personality of the Occlumens and what they use it for. One of the effects you have probably already begun to experience without realising it is your dreams..."

"Is that why you keep a dream diary?" she asked before she could stop herself, and froze. Shit!

Snape looked really angry now. "They really did show you everything, didn't they," he said very softly in a dangerous voice; his whole body had tensed fractionally, giving him the impression of being about to attack.

Frantically Hermione shook her head. "No, sir, and I didn't actually look at that, or anything else personal. Phineas just told me what it was. I promise."

He looked away from her, moving away from where he had been leaning against his desk and slowly pacing to one side. When he spoke again some minutes later, he had returned to the calm distant tones he usually lectured in, although she suspected he wasn't as in control as he seemed. "If you use Occlumency heavily, it will suppress your dreams completely for a short time as your defences evolve and adapt themselves, while your mind is in effect sorting itself out. That will affect your mood and you will find that you aren't sleeping well, but it will only be for a couple of weeks. After that, you will begin to dream again, but as though you are merely observing someone else's dream. You will no longer have lucid dreams, nor will there be any particular emotion attached to most dreams, and you will seldom remember them very clearly."

"'Most' dreams, sir?"

"Even Occlumency can't stop nightmares," he said softly. "They will be far less frequent, and only the very worst will get past your defences, but the side effect of that is that those that do get through will be much more difficult to endure by comparison."

"I see, sir."

"And, since you will no doubt wonder endlessly, yes, that is why I keep a dream diary," he added heavily, staring fixedly at the wall. "Monitoring my dreams allows me to assess which areas of my psyche are more vulnerable at a particular time. The other notes in there would have done you no good had you looked at it; it's in my own private cipher. They are chiefly psychological. And from tonight I am going to lay a ward on that book. If anyone but myself touches it, it will burn. I will also remove every single point Gryffindor possesses if you ever invade my privacy in such a way."

"Yes, sir," she replied meekly, flushing with shame before trying to change the subject a bit. "Why would you record something like that?" she dared to ask cautiously.

He shrugged. "Self knowledge is important, Miss Granger. I know the things I truly fear and the things that will cause me to lose control of my temper and the areas where I am most... damaged. Studying allows me to prepare myself so that those things cannot easily be used against me. It is not a perfect solution, but it is what I have. Know thyself, as they say."

"I see, sir. Was there anything else you wanted to teach me tonight?"

"No. Get some sleep."

"I will if you will," she retorted before she could stop herself.

"I'm going to pretend that I didn't hear that, Miss Granger. You are walking on very thin ice already. Go away."

"Yes, sir."

Severus woke from a troubled and uneasy sleep to the knowledge that the world had changed on a deep fundamental level. For a moment, as he waited for his mind to clear in the hope that he would realise that he was dreaming, he was frozen; reality seeped back after a short pause. No, he wasn't dreaming, or mistaken. He remembered this feeling only too well.

"Oh, damn," he whispered to the empty darkness of his bedroom, sighing. "Not this. Not again."

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 10 of 60

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