Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 16 of 60

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The first Defence lesson could have gone better, Hermione concluded afterwards rather wryly. Considering it had been Harry's first lesson in any subject of the new school year, it didn't bode well that he had already landed a detention. Despite the way he complained, he had deserved it, both for his rudeness and for – technically – attacking the teacher; even Hermione admitted freely that Snape had obviously been about to hex Harry, but he hadn't actually done it yet. Harry had struck first, and frankly he had been lucky to just get a detention for it; by Snape's usual standards, a single detention for such an offense had been startlingly lenient.

Overlooking her friend's natural talent for causing trouble, though, she thought the lesson could also have been a lot worse. Snape had been rather more sarcastic to her than usual, but he hadn't actually insulted her and she didn't take offence at it. She was also thrilled to have successfully performed a non-verbal Shield Charm for the first time; Snape had ignored it, naturally, but she hadn't expected anything else, and the faintest glitter in his eyes as he had walked past that proved he had noticed it was enough for her to feel proud of herself.

It was a tremendous relief to discover that for once they seemed to have a Defence teacher who knew what he was talking about and intended to teach them something useful. Quirrell had been a nervous wreck who had taught them a couple of bits of theory that were worth knowing and a lot about vampires that they were highly unlikely to ever encounter. Lockhart... well, looking back now, she could admit that he'd been a moron, and she felt ashamed of herself that her first crush had been such an unworthy target. Lupin had been smart and had known his subject, but really, learning about Japanese water demons wasn't going to do them a lot of good unless they planned to go to Japan and skulk around in lakes. Moody – well, Crouch – had also known his subject, but she wasn't inclined to trust anything he had taught them. And the less said about Umbridge, the better. It seemed as though Snape, uniquely among their teachers so far, was actually going to teach them to defend themselves.

Hitherto all her decent Defence knowledge had come from Harry and from books; having a competent teacher was definitely going to help her feel a bit better about things. Besides, what she had told her friend was true; if you looked past the superficial impression created by Snape's words, the two of them had been saying basically the same thing – that knowledge wasn't going to help in the long run unless you knew how to use it and that you couldn't always rely on magical skill to get you through. She was looking forward to the next lesson – provided that she could persuade Harry to keep his mouth shut.

She approached her first Potions lesson after lunch with just as much curiosity. She had gained the vague impression that Snape didn't like Slughorn very much, but since in her experience Snape didn't like any of the other teachers very much that didn't tell her anything about their new Potions teacher. During the early part of the lesson she decided that Slughorn certainly knew his subject and that he was going to be rather easier to work for than Snape had been, but despite that she didn't think she liked the change; perversely, she almost missed Snape's presence. It seemed wrong to be in a Potions lesson where people were chatting to one another as they worked.

Hermione understood what Snape had meant when he had said that their attitudes were different, too. As soon as he had heard her name, the new Potions teacher had asked about her ancestry; once her happiness over hearing the compliment Harry had given her had faded, she had found the question somewhat offensive, remembering what her friend had told her of the meeting on the train and of his conversation with Slughorn before term had started. Obviously their new teacher was interested in students with potential to do him favours later, and almost blatant in his selfishness about it, which she didn't like.

Despite that flaw, though, he was apparently a good teacher, she mused as she continued to study the method for brewing the Draught of Living Death. His style was very different from Snape's, but once she had got used to it she was confident of enjoying Potions as much this year as she had in previous years – in fact, she admitted to herself honestly, probably more. It would be nice to actually be praised for knowing what she was doing for once. She had gained more points for Gryffindor in this one lesson than she had earned in Potions in the last five years.

Her concentration was broken for what seemed like the dozenth time by Harry muttering nastily not quite under his breath about his textbook, and she gave him an impatient look. "Harry, you're my best friend, but if you don't shut up, I am going to have to stab you with a lionfish spine."

Ron snickered, bent over his own potion, which didn't seem to be going very well. Harry gave her an exasperated look. "It's not my fault. I can't read half of this. Look at it," he added helplessly, waving the battered book Slughorn had given him around.

Hermione looked at the page and conceded that it really was a bit of a mess. "Fair enough, I suppose. Is the whole book like that?"

"It's worse," he said in disgust. "Look. On some of the pages pretty much all the print has been scribbled over, and it's such horrible handwriting I can't read most of it. How am I supposed to do any of these potions? It was bad enough trying to read Snape's scrawl on the blackboards with my glasses fogging up half the time, but this is impossible."

"Oh, give it here, then," she sighed, pushing her own textbook over to him.

"Are you sure?" he asked, snapping out of complaining mode instantly and looking guilty.

"I've got better eyesight than you do," she pointed out gently, adding tartly, "Especially if you don't use the Impervious charm I taught you to stop your glasses fogging up."

"Um. Oops?" he offered sheepishly as Ron snickered again.

"Shut up and get on with your potion, Harry," she recommended, bending over the textbook and peering at the tiny, spiky scribbles. The method had been quite heavily amended, she noticed doubtfully, and without explanation of any of the changes. Already half way through her potion, she resolved to ignore the additional instructions and turned her attention to her Sopophorous Bean. Struggling to cut through the stupid thing, she looked back at the book and noticed the scribble at that step suggesting that crushing the bean released the juice better; that made sense, she supposed, and wouldn't do any harm even if it didn't work.

That instruction proved to be right, but she wasn't brave enough to follow the scribbled advice about changing the stirring rhythm. If the former owner of the book had made a mistake, an alteration like that could well cause the whole thing to blow up. Tips that made sense were one thing, but suggestions that had no explanation were too risky to attempt unless she knew what was likely to happen.

She didn't need it, anyway; her potion wasn't quite perfect – she reminded herself sternly that it was much more advanced than last year's work had been and she hadn't brewed anything for a couple of months – but it was still the best in the class. That was good, since she'd had her own reasons for wanting to win the prize; pocketing the golden potion for later, she began to clear up, feeling quite cheerful. Idly she flicked through a few pages of the book; it wasn't going to be easy to work with it until she could get another one, but with so many notes, some of them – like the tip about the Sopophorous Bean – might prove useful.

Curiously, she turned to the inside of the front cover, wondering who had mangled a textbook so badly, and looked at the scribbled legend. This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince.

Something went 'click'almost audibly in her brain and she blinked, confused for a moment. This writing was bigger, not so squashed and cramped but still a little spiky and narrow and... oddly familiar. "Half-Blood Prince," she murmured under her breath, puzzled, before it clicked again and she bit her lip to stifle a gasp, picturing a page in an Infirmary record that she had seen last year. Next of Kin: Tobias Snape, Muggle; Eileen Prince Snape, pureblood.

"Half-blood," she repeated softly to herself. "Prince." Staring down at the book again, she flicked through the pages, studying the writing more closely. Yes... it could well have developed into the much more familiar handwriting she had seen on essays for years. Maybe she was wrong, but she didn't think so. If this really was Snape's old textbook... well, for a start, it made her wish she'd followed the advice about adding extra stirs.

Hastily shutting the book, she shrank it and tucked it safely into a pocket, rather than simply tossing it in her bag; this was too important to risk it getting lost. Making a mental note to start reading it later, she packed the rest of her things and hurried out to catch up with her friends.

"Harry, wait a moment," she called, catching his elbow and tugging him back.

"What's up, 'Mione?" he asked quizzically.

"I want you to have this," she told him quietly, holding out the small vial of Felix Felicis to him.

"Hermione, no, I can't take it," Harry protested. "You won it fair and square."

She gave her friend an exasperated look. "Harry, you're much more likely to need good luck than I am. Call it an early Christmas present if it makes you feel better; just take it."


"All right, I'll tell you what. If you take it without arguing, I won't ask you why you had such a soppy look on your face when you were sniffing the Amortentia earlier."

He went red. "That's not fair. You looked pretty soppy yourself, you know."

"Probably," she agreed airily; it had smelled lovely, after all, even if she hadn't puzzled out all the scents yet. "But, you see, Harry, you have no chance of getting an explanation out of me, whereas we both know that if I try I can get the truth out of you quite easily." Especially since she was reasonably sure that she already knew the answer.

"This is blackmail," he protested.

"Blackmail is an ugly word. Now will you take the potion, or not?"

Harry sighed. "Fine, you win again. Bully."

"Yep," she agreed cheerfully, handing him the tiny vial.

Severus quietly let himself into the Potions classroom after dinner, looking around and curling his lip in disgust as he studied the changes Slughorn had made. It had only been a week, but already this wasn't his room any more, which actually caused a faint pang somewhere; regardless of how he felt about his job, he'd been teaching Potions for well over a decade and the various classrooms, labs and store rooms had been his territory. Now even the atmosphere had changed, and he didn't much like it. Then again, he had never liked any sort of change.

It was also very weird being Horace Slughorn's colleague instead of his student, too. He had never really got on with his Head of House; Slughorn wanted an easy life, and that wasn't really possible when one student ended up in trouble at least once a week. Besides, despite his undeniable talent in Potions, Severus had been a half-blood from a poor family and at the time had possessed all the charisma of something that lived under a damp rock; he was therefore unlikely to achieve anything that would help Slughorn later, so he had largely been ignored. Even looking past all that, though, Severus was a little surprised to find that he actually resented someone else taking over the job he'd been honing for years, even though he had never liked that job; still, he did have a possessive streak, and there were so few things he could legitimately call his that maybe it was understandable.

Shaking his head, he put it to the back of his mind and returned to what he was supposed to be doing, crossing the room to the cauldrons lined up along one bench. Slughorn always liked to put on a show for the first lesson of each year; it was hard to throw stones, given his own occasional indulgence in the theatrical, but still, it wasn't too much to ask to expect the new Potions teacher to brew his own damned potions, given that Severus had so little free time and no longer had unlimited access to all the school stores. He had to admit he had quite enjoyed it, though. It had been a long time since he had brewed anything just for fun, and some of these potions were good fun to brew, challenging without being dangerous or vitally important.

The first cauldron was the Veritaserum, which he had actually had in stock anyway since it was part of one of his Ministry contracts. Unofficially, Severus brewed for a couple of different departments of the Ministry, as well as for St Mungo's and one or two international clients. He was glad of it at the moment, since he was rapidly running out of funds, what with one thing and another. Whistling tunelessly between his crooked teeth, he checked for contamination before deftly decanting the Veritaserum into the neatly labelled flasks he had brought with him and paused for a moment, eyeing it. Maybe he should render it inert before he sent it. The Death Eaters were getting closer to seriously infiltrating the Ministry, and it probably wouldn't be too many months before they managed it; he didn't want to give them any weapons.

After a few minutes' thought, he shook his head. It wasn't up to him to make that decision. He had done so with Umbridge because he knew for certain what she had wanted it for, but he had no such certainty here. Besides, Veritaserum really wasn't very effective; there were quite a few ways of blocking it or getting around it, and his natural Occlumency was only one of them. He stacked the flasks carefully in the small crate, shrank it and put it in his pocket; later tonight he'd address it and send it.

The next potion was Polyjuice, which he regarded with a certain wry amusement for a moment, recalling almost fondly the night he'd been called to the hospital wing and been confronted with Hermione Granger impersonating Catwoman. He hadn't laughed so hard in years; Poppy had almost strangled him by the time he'd managed to get himself under control. It was still one of his best memories, although somewhat tainted now by the more recent memory of using it to start their very weird Occlumency 'duel' last year. Even that wasn't exactly a bad memory, though; he had been grudgingly impressed with the way she had fought back. Shaking his head wryly, he decanted the Polyjuice into flasks as well; there was always a market for such things somewhere and it would be a welcome addition to his now very strained finances. If he didn't sell it, Slughorn would, and the older wizard wasn't constantly tithing to Voldemort.

Severus turned his attention to the Felix Felicis – minus a single dose – and regarded it rather sourly; he didn't have much faith in its effects, frankly, or he'd have been swigging it morning, noon and night. He could certainly do with some luck. This potion was tightly controlled, and he knew he ought to render it useless and then Vanish it. But... well, you never knew. It might prove useful. He doubted luck alone would get any of them through what lay ahead, but it certainly couldn't hurt. There might be a time when it would be needed – probably not by him, though, luck wasn't going to do him much good now; it was far too late for luck alone to save him... but Potter and the others might need it someday. It wouldn't do any harm to keep it. Carefully decanting the bright gold liquid into a reinforced unbreakable bottle, he sealed it with equal care and tucked it into an inside pocket.

That just left the Amortentia; Severus gave the cauldron an annoyed look. He had removed it from the syllabus as soon as he became a teacher; there was absolutely no reason to justify teaching the students about it, except that it looked and smelled pretty. It was highly illegal, and so were most of the ingredients, and children – particularly hormonal teenagers – had no business knowing it even existed, but it had always been one of Slughorn's favourites.

Frankly, Severus objected to the whole concept of love potions on principle. He doubted anyone would consider him an authority on the matter, but he did know quite a bit about love, at least in the abstract, and he had a very clear idea of what it was, and it could not be artificially created or induced. Even Amortentia, powerful as it was, wasn't a love potion; it created infatuation and lust by playing on existing loves, nothing more, and it wasn't infallible. Besides, he always found the smell of it rather sad, possibly because most of the scents represented things far out of his reach.

Giving in to temptation, and hating himself for it, he leaned over the cauldron and took a slow, deep breath. There had been a lot of extremely unfunny and usually openly malicious jokes made about his nose over the years, but he actually did have a keen and well developed sense of smell, which was an asset in his work even if it did nothing for his appearance. In this case, however, it wasn't a blessing; his senses reeled under the onslaught, and the first breath almost choked him before he was able to register the actual scent.

Once, the predominant smell had been some kind of designer perfume, some seventies brand that almost certainly didn't exist any more. Somehow, Severus wasn't really surprised to note its absence now; instead the first scent that hit the receptors in his brain was something far more subtle, a fresh, sweet note that reminded him of apricots. It was a scent he had presumably been subconsciously aware of for years, without ever consciously recognising its source. Under the apricots were even fainter, more subtle notes; bay leaves and flowers. If he could have managed to synthesise it, he probably would have made a fortune, but it wasn't a single scent, just a combination of skin and hair and various soaps and lotions.

He exhaled slowly and shook his head, more resigned than anything else; it wasn't as if he hadn't expected it. Almost as an afterthought, he noticed that the deeper notes underneath that dominant scent were still the same; parchment and old books, the complex herbal smoky fumes of any half decent Potions lab, the crisp fresh smells of snow and winter air and salt breezes, the scent of woodsmoke and melting scented candle wax.

Feeling seriously annoyed with himself, he drew back and took a bottle out of his pocket, pouring a measure steadily into the cauldron and critically watching the colour change, taking care to stand out of the way of the fumes now – these ones wouldn't smell so nice. Once he was satisfied that the potion was thoroughly ruined beyond rescue, he drew his wand and Vanished it, before rather childishly electing to leave all the dirty cauldrons piled up in one of the sinks for Slughorn to deal with. It offended some inner part of his soul to leave equipment in that state, but not as much as it would have done to stand around cleaning up after his former teacher as though he was serving detention again. Besides, he was in a bad mood now and wanted to spread it around. Gathering his potions, both legal and illegal, he stalked out of the classroom that was no longer his and left.

All three of them were somewhat surprised to find See me written on the corner of their first piece of Defence homework when it was handed back to them a few days after Harry's first mysterious meeting with Professor Dumbledore. Cautiously approaching Snape's desk at the end of the lesson, it was Hermione who cleared her throat and said uneasily, "You wanted to see us, sir?" while Harry and Ron unashamedly hid behind her, as much as possible.

He was looking at them with his eyes at their most unreadable, his expression utterly blank even by his usual standards. "Come to the Room of Requirement tonight after dinner, all three of you," he said flatly.


"You heard. Be off with you or you'll be late to your next lesson."

"What was that about?" Ron whispered as they left the classroom.

"Dunno," Harry replied. "I guess maybe he's giving us lessons, like Dumbledore's doing with me?" He grimaced. "I hope not."

"Well, we'll find out tonight," Hermione said briskly. "Right now, I've got an Arithmancy lesson to get to. I'll see you later." She had no idea what Snape was up to either, which was annoying. He'd seemed the same as ever this morning.

The Room of Requirement let the three of them in after dinner and they found it almost empty. Snape stood beside a small table with his arms folded across his chest, watching them expressionlessly, and there were three chairs in front of him, but that was all. Settling into their seats, they looked at him expectantly.

"What is this about, sir?" Hermione asked.

"Training, of a sort," Snape replied quietly. "The Headmaster intended private Defence lessons, I believe, since you three are the most likely to get into trouble, but I have more or less talked him out of that. Mostly because I simply don't have the time, but also because I don't think it will help you. I won't have time for these sessions very often, but when I do, I expect you to attend and I expect you to listen. I trust you have learned what happens when you don't by now," he added with a certain amount of spite in his voice, although he didn't look at Harry. "I will be setting each of you tasks sometimes, and I expect you to complete them promptly and to the best of your ability."

"Is this a formal class, sir?" Harry asked, apparently not liking the indirect reference to his failure to master Occlumency.

Snape's lip curled. "No. I won't be taking House points or giving detentions if you fail to do something I ask. However," he added more sharply as Harry and Ron exchanged grins, "that also means I don't have to behave as a teacher. I can quite easily get away with giving you a thick ear if you don't listen. Bear that in mind and try not to annoy me any more than you usually do. Apart from anything else, I am going to be teaching you things that may help to keep you alive, and you would do well to listen.

"I am here to teach you several different things," Snape said after a pause, looking from one to the other. "One of those things will have to be fighting. No doubt you would perceive that as the most important thing I must teach you, but in fact it is the least of your lessons. You already know much about fighting, in theory, but playing with your friends does not prepare you for real combat, so I will be teaching you that. This is not a Duelling Club –" The sneer in his voice made them all grin. " – and nor is it a Defence lesson. There are no rules here. You will be fighting, really fighting, both with and without magic; primarily against me, when I have time, but also against one another. All three of you will get hurt. Possibly, if you are lucky enough or good enough, so will I. I will not allow Healing unless the wound is either truly serious, or too visible to explain away. Pain is often the best way to awaken your instincts. However, that won't be for a while yet."

He turned to the table and picked up three pencils and three scraps of parchment, as the three of them exchanged uneasy glances. Hermione wasn't worried about herself – whatever Snape said, she found it hard to believe he would truly hurt her. She didn't think he cared about Ron one way or the other. But against Harry... Well, Snape had already been on the verge of jinxing him in their first Defence lesson only a few days ago. Oh dear.

Snape spoke again as he handed them each a pencil and a piece of parchment. "I want to see how well you know yourselves and one another," he said quietly. "From what I understand, the overall plan is mainly concerned with Potter, and Potter alone, but it is no coincidence that all three of you have been involved in this right from the start and all three of you will have important roles to play. It is vital that you each know yourselves individually, that you know exactly what each of you is capable of. This exercise will tell me what you know already; I wish you to write down your greatest strength and your biggest flaw, and that of your two friends. To test your powers of observation, I also wish you to do the same for me," he added, looking almost amused. "And be honest. On this occasion I will not punish you for it."

That wasn't terribly reassuring, Hermione mused as she stared at the paper in front of her and thought hard. The flaws were easy, hers and Harry's and Ron's, and even Snape's, but their strengths were much more difficult to pin down. She managed Snape's first, and then Harry. Ron took a while, and she really had no idea what to put for her own.

Finally Snape collected the scraps of parchment from them and studied what they had written, raising one eyebrow and smiling rather mirthlessly at the results. "Hmm," he murmured thoughtfully. "As I thought. You know one another fairly well, but you do not really know yourselves – or me, mostly," he added as an afterthought. "Nonetheless, I agree with most of your choices. Weasley, let us begin with you."

Ron swallowed and looked uneasy, which earned him a withering look. "Your friends unanimously declared that your greatest flaw is your emotions, and I agree with them. You overreact too easily, you take everything too personally and concern yourself too much with your hurt feelings." There was no malice in Snape's voice, somewhat surprisingly; he wasn't trying to be insulting for once, merely stating facts. "It leads you to turn on your friends for the stupidest of reasons and you find it nearly impossible to acknowledge that you are in the wrong, even to yourself."

Snape moved to stand directly in front of Ron, and then backed up a couple of paces so that he wasn't looming over him, his voice quieter now. "There is no shame in being second, Mr Weasley. This war has its front runners already – Potter, the Headmaster, the Dark Lord. The rest of us will always be in the background; it is pointless to wish for that to change and there is no glory to be found in this war for anyone. It does not mean that we aren't important. I will speak with you more about this later."

He glanced down at the paper again. "They were less certain of your strength, I notice." Ron flushed to the tips of his ears, and Snape glared at him. "What did I just say, Weasley? That is not an insult. They each chose strengths; they simply could not identify the most important. If you wish to have a tantrum like a child, I will spank you like a child." It was clear that he meant it, and Ron subsided again, looking rather embarrassed.

"Someone's greatest strength is largely dependent on context, of course," Snape continued, turning away and beginning to pace slowly back and forth, the way he did in lessons when he was lecturing. "In this particular situation we are focused on the war, and I believe you have two strengths that will serve us best. One, I will speak to you of in private. The other..." He paused and almost smiled. "Your skill at chess."

All three of them stared at him blankly. He looked back at them with one eyebrow raised, apparently enjoying their confusion, before he elaborated. "More specifically, your grasp of strategy. Professor McGonagall's choice of a chess game in your first year was not a coincidence or simply a pretty metaphor. Chess is about seeking advantages, finding weaknesses in your opponent's defence, long-range planning and prioritising. About choosing sacrifices. So is war."

He shifted his weight, returning his gaze to the redhead. "So, Mr Weasley, I have two assignments for you this time. The first is that you try to refrain from indulging your hurt feelings during every petty squabble; I expect your friends to tell you when you are doing so, and I expect you to listen to them. The second..." He almost smiled again. "The second is for you to start playing chess against as many people as possible, preferably people who are better than you. Some of the staff play and will be willing to indulge you. You learn nothing by only playing against your friends, especially when you know you can beat them. I play, myself; before you leave today we will arrange a time to meet and play."

He turned his attention to Hermione, and she tried not to squirm under the weight of that measuring black-eyed stare, feeling acutely self-conscious as she wondered a little wildly what her friends had said – and, more importantly, what Snape thought of her. "Miss Granger, your friends know you very well indeed," he said softly, almost smiling once more. "Your greatest strength is your intelligence."

Before she could stop herself, she laughed hollowly at him. "I find it hard to accept that you believe that, sir," she said a little bitterly. "I've lost count of the times you've called me a know-it-all."

Snape chuckled softly, arching an eyebrow as they looked at him. "Who said I meant it as an insult?"

She stared at him, stunned into silence by the sheer cheek of what he had just said; they all knew damned well that he absolutely had meant it as an insult. His dark eyes glittered with unmistakeably mocking laughter as he changed the subject. "As to your greatest flaw, once again, your friends were right on target, although they found it difficult to put it into words – neither of them number eloquence among their strengths. You lack confidence in yourself and your abilities, Miss Granger, and quite simply do not realise that you are capable of far more than you think. To that end..." He huffed in quiet amusement. "I have put Dilys in charge of you. I do not know what she has planned, and I am quite sure that I do not want to know; she will contact you in her own time. And finally, that brings us to you, Mr Potter."

He paced slowly over to stand in front of Harry, tilting his head slightly to one side as the two of them looked at each other, still very much old enemies despite their current rather fragile alliance. Snape's eyes were utterly unreadable now and it was impossible to tell what he was thinking; Harry looked nervous and defiant, which wasn't a good combination at the best of times and certainly not when facing down Snape, who had no patience with either nerves or defiance.

"They say your greatest strength is your bravery," Snape said softly. "Perhaps it is. Certainly in the context of the war it is likely to prove so... although a little common sense to balance it might help. But your greatest weakness, Potter? That is not so easy to decide, is it? There are, after all, quite a few to choose from. Your friends disagreed here; one got it right, and one did not. One agreed with you, and one did not. Yet between the three of you, you picked out the two great flaws. One, I will discuss at a later date; you are not ready to understand it yet. So we shall move to your most immediate weakness, which is your temper."

Hermione blinked; that wasn't what she had picked. That meant that Snape thought she was right, but felt that this was the more urgent problem – which, to be fair, it was. She had considered saying his temper for a while, but he had asked for the greatest flaw, not just the one that cropped up most often.

"Yes, Potter, your temper," Snape continued softly. "You are recklessly impulsive, and that is tied to your anger. You lash out – at your friends, at your enemies, even on occasion at your teachers, which is extremely unwise. You act without thinking, and when people are hurt as a result you seek to place the blame elsewhere. You act very much the poor misunderstood teenager; nobody else can possibly understand your pain, you suffer more than anyone else around you, it's not fair. You rage at those who are trying to help you, and often you do not realise the damage you do. I have been watching the three of you for years and I doubt any of you fully realise how often you hurt one another or how deeply you feel that hurt."

Very slowly, he leaned forward, his eyes intent as he stared at Harry – it probably wasn't Legilimency, just Professor Snape being his usual intimidating self. "I have a question for you, Potter. Who is to blame for the death of Sirius Black?"

Harry flinched, and it was obvious to all of them that he would have said Snape if he had dared. That was probably why Snape had asked the question in the first place, Hermione suspected, or at least part of the reason. "Bellatrix Lestrange," he said finally, sullenly.

"No. She is an opportunist; she took the chance to kill him but it is not her fault that he was there to be killed. Who is to blame for the death of Sirius Black?"

"...Kreacher "

"No. The house elf betrayed him and lied to him, but again, he was merely taking advantage of an existing opportunity. Who is to blame for the death of Sirius Black?"

"You-Know-Who?" Harry tried, growing a bit paler.

"No." Snape's voice was as inexorable as a death knell. "Who is to blame for the death of Sirius Black?" he repeated insistently, and Harry broke.

"I am!" He choked back a sob, struggling not to cry.

Snape raised an eyebrow, looking down at him with an unreadable expression. He glanced at Hermione for a second, for some reason, before returning his gaze to Harry. "We are beginning to make progress," he said quietly. "Stop whining, Potter. Your temper has consequences; that is the lesson you need to learn. To that end, I am going to once again instruct you to practice your meditation, as you should have done a year ago. Not only will it help you to close your mind to outside influences, it will also help you to control your wayward emotions. I expect your friends to jump on you when you show signs of having a tantrum, and I expect you to listen."

A chair appeared beside the table, and Snape walked over to it and sat down. Leaning back, he stretched his long legs out in front of him and crossed them at the ankles, steepling his fingers and regarding the three of them pensively. "The other thing I will be teaching you in these training sessions is to think in different ways," he said. "You are no longer children by any definition except that of the law; you cannot afford to think as children do any longer.

"The first lesson you must learn is this: there is no black and white. There are no absolutes. Nothing is as simple as it appears at first glance. You must learn this, and you must learn not to make instant judgements but to consider all sides before you act." Snape regarded the three of them for a moment. "Already you doubt me. Let us consider a few examples, then. No human being is wholly good or wholly evil." He raised an eyebrow. "Do you agree, or disagree?"

"Disagree, of course," Harry said instantly, recovering from the tears that had threatened earlier.

Snape raised the other eyebrow. "Convince me."

"Vol –" Harry started, and abruptly corrected himself at the venomous glare the syllable earned him. "You-Know-Who, then," he finished, sounding irritated. "He's pure evil."

"Is he?" Snape asked calmly. "Why?"

Harry floundered. "Well, it's obvious, isn't it?"

"What is?"

"He wants to kill us all," Ron volunteered.

Snape snorted. "Weasley, I want to kill you all on a daily basis. Your own mother probably frequently entertains fond thoughts of throttling you. You'll have to do better than that."

"He hates people based on their bloodlines," Hermione said, feeling that she should be contributing, although she wasn't convinced that her answer was right.

"And does that make him evil? Or simply mistaken?"

She nodded, accepting the point. "He tortures people for fun."

Snape nodded. "True. He likes causing pain. That makes him a deviant, but I am not convinced that it makes him evil, as such. He is mentally damaged in that respect." He shook his head. "I have made my point. You're all very certain that the Dark Lord is pure evil, but none of you can actually say why. Unless you can back up a conviction, it is likely to be wrong, and is it not rather foolish to believe something when you don't know why you believe it? Blind faith is not particularly healthy."

He stood up and paced slowly over to stand in front of them, his head slightly on one side and his dark eyes almost thoughtful. "Even the Dark Lord is not purely evil. He does have one or two good points in his nature. Not many, but some. Consider Nagini, his familiar. She is more than merely a pet, or a weapon – he genuinely cares for her, as odd as that notion might be. And he is – or was – a gifted and charismatic leader, capable in his own way of looking after his own. A being of pure evil could not have amassed the following that he has. Not all the Death Eaters are mindless sadists." He paused for a moment, his eyes narrowing as he studied them. "I didn't join him because I wanted to torture and kill innocent people," he said quietly. "Despite what I have overheard all of you saying about me over the years, I assure you, I am not pure evil either." The three of them exchanged glances; ever since finding out that Snape had once been a Death Eater, they had all wondered why. It was one of the puzzles that Hermione hadn't managed to work out yet, and one that she thought about a lot.

After a moment he breathed out slowly and continued briskly, "The being you have encountered is a shadow of what was once just a man much like any other. Tom Riddle was always flawed to some extent, but he did not start out as a monster, and even now he has the tiniest remnants of humanity in him. Not enough to vindicate him, of course, but even he is not purely evil. In the same way, nobody is purely good and noble." He watched them nodding and sneered a little. "You find that much easier to accept. How tragic to see such cynicism in the young."

Snape regarded the three of them pensively again. "Most of what you think you know is flawed. The concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, are not absolutes. Nothing is ever that simple."

Harry said grimly, "You-Know-Who told me that. He said there was no good and evil, only power."

"Clean your ears out when you next have a bath, Potter," Snape said irritably. "That isn't what I said at all. This will be much easier if you actually listen to me – although you have not demonstrably done so in six years, so why I am expecting you to start now, I do not know. Of course good and evil exist, but not as separate absolutes, only as facets of the same thing. Just as no one person is purely good or purely evil, so no deed or action is purely good or purely evil."

"There's no such thing as true altruism?" Hermione asked sceptically.

"Precisely," he confirmed crisply. "Nobody ever does anything unless it benefits them somehow, even if only by providing them with the opportunity to feel smug and self-righteous in some manner."

"The things you go through benefit you, do they?"

He gave her a warning look that advised her to tread carefully, but surprisingly answered her. "Obviously. What I endure contributes towards the final plan. I would hardly go through it all for nothing; I am not that much of a masochist."

"Some things are evil, though," Ron said slowly.

"Such as?"


"Are you asking me, or telling me?" Snape asked caustically. "Don't stammer, boy. If it's what you believe, then say so."

Ron shrugged uncomfortably. "Okay. Murder is evil."

"Define murder."

He blinked, frowning. "Killing someone, I guess."

"Killing someone is the same as murder, is it?" Snape asked. "Think of the fight at the Ministry. If one of the spells you used had caused someone's death, would that have been murder? Or self defence? Or doesn't it count if it happens during battle, during wartime?"

Ron nodded slowly. "Killing someone who's no threat to you, when you don't have a good reason?" he hazarded.

"So if you have 'a good reason' then it's acceptable to kill someone?"

"That's not what I meant," he protested.

"It's what you said," Snape replied. "You need to think these things through carefully. Your ethics and your moral convictions will define your life and guide your actions; you need to understand what it is that you believe in, and you need to know where you draw the line."

"Word games are all very well," Harry said sullenly, "but murder is still evil, however you define it."

"All right, Potter, let us look at things from a different angle. Let us move on and consider the Unforgiveable Curses. Are they truly unforgiveable, do you think?"

"Well... yeah."


"The Cruciatus curse exists purely to cause pain," Hermione said quietly. "It's a torture curse, and nothing else."

Snape nodded. "True. Yet it was not invented to cause pain for the sake of causing pain. Torture is a tool designed to gain information quickly when time is a luxury. Both sides have used it for that reason and will continue to do so. Sometimes the ends justify the means; you are all familiar with the concept of the lesser evil."

"The lesser evil is still evil, surely," Hermione said quickly.

He snorted softly. "Touché, Miss Granger. Yet evil done for good reasons is not purely evil. I am not trying to justify anything," he added when Harry opened his mouth. "It is still very wrong. I am merely trying to show you that it is not a simple, monochrome absolute; sometimes there are no right choices, which you will learn if you haven't already. What of the other Unforgiveables, then?"

"The Imperius curse takes away free will," Harry said. "That's a definition of evil."

"It has also been said that free will is an illusion, but this isn't a philosophy class," Snape replied dismissively. "The Imperius curse itself is harmless. Like many things, it is what you do with it that makes it good or evil. Nothing about the spell says that you have to make the victim do evil things. You could put a Death Eater under the Imperius and make him help little old ladies cross the street or knit jumpers for homeless children or feed stray kittens if you wanted to."

"Maybe we should," Ron muttered, earning another snort.

"Okay, fine," Harry said, sounding as though it was anything but fine. "But surely even you have to admit that the Killing Curse is unforgiveable."

Snape's thin lips curved into a rather odd smile that didn't touch his eyes. "Is it? Tell me, Mr Potter... what, exactly, is so unforgiveable about a quick and painless death?"

There was a very long silence. Harry opened his mouth, then frowned and slowly closed it again, glancing around uncertainly for inspiration. Ron was blinking and staring at the wall; Hermione looked back at Harry, as lost for an answer as they were.

Snape nodded slowly. "You see? Nothing is ever as simple as it seems at first glance. Given the entire spectrum of the Dark Arts, it makes no sense at all for the Killing Curse to be defined as Unforgiveable purely because it supposedly cannot be defended against. There are spells that can turn someone's mind into a prison, making them hallucinate all their greatest fears over and over again until they are hearing smells, seeing sounds and smelling colours as their brains dissolve. There are spells that can literally turn someone's skin inside out. There are spells that can boil the acid in someone's stomach, or braid together the nerves in their spinal cord, or freeze the fluid in their eyes. I know which spell I would choose to end my life, if I were to be given the choice. Avada Kedavra was never intended to be used as a weapon. It was created by Healers and used to grant a quick, merciful end to those who could not be saved from what would otherwise be a slow and painful death. Every Healing institute still has policies in place to allow a terminal patient to petition for such an end."

The long silence returned. Finally Snape broke it again, his voice softer now. "Any fool can teach you how to fight, how to follow orders, even how to kill. I want to teach you how to think. It is easy to do what you are told. It is even easy to do what you think is right. It is not easy to decide what that is. You need to understand what you are about to do before you do it, to understand the consequences of your actions. It is the reason behind a deed that makes it right or wrong, not the deed itself. Remember... the people on the other side think they're right, too."

Once the three of them had left, Severus looked down at the scraps of parchment he still held. The boys had been wildly off-course in their assessment of him, naturally, although he did feel a faint flicker of... something... to see that both of them had suggested his greatest strength was courage. That was a vindication, of sorts, especially since he had spent years with Potter Senior calling him a coward. They had both given his greatest flaw as spite, or temper, which just made him roll his eyes – that wasn't necessarily a flaw at all, in his mind. But Granger, now... He glanced down at her paper again and bit his lip.

In her neat writing she had written under his name, Greatest strength, loyalty; greatest weakness, self-hatred. With those half-dozen words, she had scared the hell out of him, because she was dead right. It was exactly the assessment he would have given of himself, but nobody else had ever known him well enough to realise it before, and the fact that she had seen straight to the heart of him frightened him. Literally, physically, scared him; his mouth was dry and his pulse was beating faster. Licking his lips, he carefully set fire to the scraps of paper, and as he watched them burn to ash he reflected that he was even deeper in trouble now than he had been last year.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 16 of 60

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