Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 19 of 60

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Hermione didn't see much of Snape for two days after that, since she didn't have Defence the next day; he seemed all right when she saw him at meals, as far as she could tell, but given that he was such a good actor that didn't really say much. The following morning she showed up at the dungeons as usual and found him waiting for her as though nothing had happened, but he wasn't running as fast as he usually did and some of his normal grace was missing; he was moving less fluidly, holding himself a little stiffly, and although it wasn't really possible to run with a limp he was pretty close to it.

"Are you all right, sir?" she asked afterwards as they headed back inside.

He gave her a sharp glance before nodding slowly. "Recovering." After a pause he added somewhat awkwardly, "You did well."

"Thank you, sir, but that's not why I was asking," she replied with a shrug. "The charms are simple enough, although I wish they worked better."

"So do I, believe me," he muttered. "They were more effective once. They don't work as well these days."

"How can you develop a resistance to that sort of charm?" she asked interestedly.

"It's not a resistance, really, simply that my nerves do not heal as well as they used to." He gave her a sarcastic smile. "I'm getting old."

"Of course, sir," she replied dryly. "Thirty six is pretty ancient."

He snorted and leaned against the wall by the entrance to the passage. "It is the same with any type of healing; you can only Heal the same ailment so many times before it stops working. The body isn't strong enough to endure repeated strain in the same area without time between each injury to recover and regenerate. My nerves are being damaged too often and too quickly, that's all."

'All', he says. "Who developed the charms?"

"They aren't specific charms. There is no treatment for long-term Cruciatus exposure, simply because nobody is supposed to be repeatedly cursed with it. Usually, someone is tortured, then they are either released – or escape – or they die. Only the Death Eaters are ever regularly exposed to it."

"Are you cursed more than the others, sir?"

"I don't know. Among the inner circle, most punishments aren't public. I believe I am punished through the Cruciatus rather than through... other means... more than the others, for a variety of reasons."

His expression warned her not to push further, not that she'd needed the warning. "I see, sir. Sir?"

Snape sighed a little theatrically and made a show of rubbing his eyes. "Must we really play Twenty Questions, Miss Granger?"

"Sorry, sir. I only meant to ask if you were all right. Then you mentioned that the charms didn't work so well any more, and I got sidetracked. I promise, only one more question." At least for this morning.

"Yes, and somewhere in St Mungo's there's a crazy anorexic purple-eyed dwarf who thinks she's my twin sister," he retorted sarcastically, although he didn't seem terribly annoyed. "Go on, then."

"What does the Cruciatus feel like?" He gave her a blank look, and she elaborated. "Not the actual curse, sir. I'm pretty sure I can guess what that feels like."

"I'm pretty sure you can't," he muttered.

"Well, maybe not, but anyway, that's not what I meant. I meant the after-effects."

He scratched his jaw, his dark eyes turning distant as he thought about it. "For the first few hours afterwards, it just hurts," he said finally. "Nowhere near as acutely as during the actual curse, of course, but it's the same sort of pain. That lasts for a varying length of time, depending on the severity of the curse. Usually by the time I wake up the next day, the pain has changed, and it feels something like pins and needles, only not concentrated in any one area. It still hurts, but it isn't as painful. The day after that... it's more of an ache than anything, as though I've spent all day digging in the sun or something, and a deep fatigue. It wears off gradually after that, although I might have a lingering ache in my back and joints for anything up to a week, as I imagine I will this time."

"All that from one curse?" she asked a little sadly.

"Most of the aches come from damage done while thrashing around during the curse, rather than the curse itself," he said distantly. "It's not exactly well studied. As I said, very few people are ever exposed to it more than once or twice."

"What will it do to you in the long term, sir?"

"I thought there was only going to be one more question," he replied mockingly.

"Sir," Hermione protested.

He snorted. "I don't know. It's as simple as that. Now be off with you before you think of anything else to pester me about."

She sighed, trying not to smile. "Yes, sir."

That evening Hermione warded her bed curtains to prevent her dorm mates overhearing anything and settled in to talk to Dilys; she was tired and it was getting cold and she simply couldn't be bothered to go all the way to the hospital wing just for a chat when she had a picture frame over her bed.

"What's on your mind, my dear?" the portrait asked cheerfully.

"Lots of things, as usual," she admitted wryly. "Has Professor Snape been Summoned this evening, by the way?"

"No. He's fine, as far as I know; Phineas usually watches him in the evenings if there isn't anything interesting going on in the Headmaster's office. He's probably just working. Was he what you wanted to talk about?"

"Well, partly, I suppose. I asked him this morning about the treatments we use for his nerves and he said there was no specific treatment for the Cruciatus, but... well, he must have known for a long time that this would happen to him when You-Know-Who finally came back. Why hasn't he tried to work something out before? He had what, fifteen years between wars?"

"Hmm." The older witch looked thoughtful. "I don't think he imagined it would be this bad, mostly. Whatever he says, he is going through far more this time than he did before. You-Know-Who is very different, I believe, although naturally Severus won't say anything about it. Besides," she added dryly, "he has done other things between wars. It hasn't all just been sitting waiting for it to start up again, you know. And I know you know, because you've read some of his research before. As ever with Severus, personal matters don't rank as highly as other things. Still, I think if he had known what it would be like this time he would have worked on it."

"I considered trying to find something new myself, but I wouldn't even know where to start," Hermione said helplessly. "We've never been taught to create anything original from scratch."

"It's not really something that can be taught," Dilys said gently. "You either have a knack for it, or you don't. Severus does, but I'm not sure if you do. You are still very young, Hermione, of age or not. Don't feel ashamed of not being able to do everything. You do ask far too much of yourself sometimes, and you've spent enough time with Severus by now to know how badly that can turn out. You are helping him, far more than you realise. That's going to have to be good enough, at least for now. If you think of something else to do, then that's wonderful, but don't beat yourself up if you can't."

"I'm not sure I should be trusting your advice," she retorted, smiling a little. "Everything you made me try before hasn't exactly done much."

"Oh, really. You're going to tell me it's made no difference at all, are you?"

"Well, all right, my hair does seem to be getting a little bit easier to manage," Hermione conceded. "But I don't think the rest has really done anything. Nobody's noticed."

"That wasn't the point," Dilys rebuked her gently. "I told you at the time that most people wouldn't – and do bear in mind that you are surrounded by self-obsessed teenagers who don't notice anything except their own reflections most of the time. It has made a difference to you, Hermione, even if you don't think so. Your attitude is changing, you know; you are becoming more confident, which was the whole point. And some people have noticed; it was mentioned in the staff room only last week, actually."

"Really?" she asked, startled. "Er... why?"

Dilys grinned at her. "Because, my dear, teachers love to gossip. You would be absolutely horrified if you knew how few secrets you or any of your fellow students actually have. Several of your teachers have noticed that you seem to be handling yourself in a more relaxed manner and not trying so hard – no, that's not how I mean it. They've noticed that you're not so fixated on whether or not you're getting it right; you're not checking up on yourself so often."

Hermione thought about this, pensively biting her lip. "Really?"

"Yes. And Severus has noticed a change, too – well, of course he has, nothing gets past that one. He was very curious to find out what I'd done to help you with your confidence."

"Oh, God. You didn't tell him, did you?" She was pretty sure Snape didn't know; he would have mocked her for it by now if he had, surely.

"No. It's good for him to be kept in the dark occasionally; he's as much of a know-it-all as he's always said you were, you know," the portrait said airily. "Besides, it's a woman's secret and he doesn't need to know."

"I bet he loved hearing that," Hermione said mischievously.

"I've known him for a long time, my dear, and I'm quite used to his sulking by now. Besides, he has a lot of other things on his mind."

"That was one of the other things I wanted to ask about, actually. He seems – not distracted, but I don't really know how to describe it. As though he has something preying on his mind. More than usual, I mean."

"Many things, believe me. Some of them are entirely of his own invention and the man is being almost adorably blind and stubborn about it, but that's a conversation for another day. I do know what you're referring to." Dilys looked awkward. "I can't tell you, Hermione."

"Why? Is it personal?"

"No. I would tell you if I could, trust me, because I really think someone else needs to know, but I can't. The portraits of Hogwarts are bound by certain restrictions and one of those is that we are forbidden to reveal anything said by the Headmaster. All I can tell you is that Professor Dumbledore has given Severus a very, very difficult task and he is struggling with it. I'm not physically able to tell you anything more than that. I can't even give you a hint."

Biting her lip again, Hermione thought about this for a while. "What could possibly be more difficult than everything people ask of him already?" she asked finally.

Dilys shook her head; she wasn't smiling now. "I can't say anything else, Hermione. Nor can Phineas, before you ask him. I wish we could."

"Who else knows?"

"Nobody. Just Severus and Albus, and the portraits who witnessed it."

"Why does everything have to be kept so secret all the time?" Hermione asked exasperatedly. The war would probably have been over quite a bit sooner if the people on either side were willing to talk to their own allies, instead of everyone keeping secrets from everyone else. There weren't two sides, more like two dozen. At least.

She had never seen Dilys look angry before, but she saw it now, as the elderly witch said quietly, "This shouldn't be kept so secret. That's half the problem. Believe me, Hermione, I wish it was otherwise. Severus should not be going through this alone, but my hands are tied."

Taken aback by the unusual reaction, she stared up at the portrait, thinking hard. "Would Professor Snape tell me, if I asked?"

"Of course he wouldn't. He's as stubborn as a mule, you know that. And he'd be very angry if he knew I'd told you even this much."

"You haven't told me anything," she protested.

"Everything I am allowed to tell you."

"No, I understand that. I don't blame you. But it's all just so – unfair!" Hermione wasn't aware that she was shouting, her voice rising as something snapped. "Everything he does and everything he goes through, and nobody knows about it! I hear people talking about him behind his back every day, and it's so hard not to yell at them or – or hex them! I hate remembering that I used to be like that! And even the Order treat him like dirt, and surely they know at least a bit about what he really does? I know he insists on keeping all the details private, and that's really, really stupid, but it shouldn't be like this!"

Running out of air, and now realising just how loudly she had been talking, she shut up hastily. Dilys was laughing, but the look in her eyes wasn't entirely humour.

"Welcome to the problems faced by anyone who foolishly tries to be friends with Severus Snape," the portrait said quietly. "Be glad that he has us, at least, Hermione. It could be even worse, terrible as the thought is."

A couple of nights later, Hermione was visiting the hospital wing on an errand of her own and nearly walked in on an argument; pausing to listen, she realised that Madam Pomfrey was once again scolding Snape about his drinking, and promptly leaned against the wall and strained to listen. Much as she disapproved of eavesdropping, she had to admit it was sometimes useful. Besides, this was an interesting subject; Snape was the first man she'd ever witnessed with a hangover, no matter how good he was at pretending otherwise, and it did seem to be happening more often – or she was just getting better at spotting it.

"You should know better by now," the nurse was saying.

She heard Snape sigh heavily. "I keep telling you, Poppy, this is none of your business. You don't understand. You think I drink to get drunk, to forget for a while, yes? That's nonsense. I have Occlumency for that, and nobody who survives on their wits as much as I do likes the feeling of something clouding their thoughts. I don't take anything to get intoxicated but for the other effects."

"So what other effects does alcohol give you, then?" she asked angrily. "It's a poison, Severus. I know it's not because you like the taste, not the stuff you drink. Alcohol dehydrates you, it makes you even colder than you usually are, and the toxins in it are slowly killing your liver. What benefit could you possibly be getting from doing this to yourself, if you're not trying to get drunk?"

"Illusion," Snape replied shortly.

"What are you talking about? What illusion?"

"You wouldn't understand."

Hermione thought about this as the argument continued; amusing though it was to hear the feared Professor Snape rapidly being reduced to a defensive and sulky boy, this was more important than listening to him squirming. Her experience of alcohol was somewhat limited; since she was quite young she had been allowed small sips of whatever her parents were drinking, mostly wine, and had never been particularly keen, and the only thing she really drank herself was Butterbeer. It wasn't about the sweetness of the drink, since she had learned that Snape tended to drink raw spirits, usually whiskey in one form or another. What other feelings did alcohol create? She thought for a moment longer and understood; warmth.

The feeling of warmth created by alcohol was certainly an illusion, but there was a certain comforting quality to the warmth that seemed to fill your whole body. For someone like Snape, alone and cold so much of the time... she could understand why he might grow dependent on that feeling. If he had tried to synthesise it, he had obviously failed, but she doubted he had bothered. She had wondered over the summer about the chai tea with alcohol in it; that was presumably the same basic impulse, comfort and warmth.

Given her reason for being here tonight, this was wonderfully ironic, she reflected cheerfully as she tapped at the door and walked in. "I'm sorry for interrupting."

"Hermione? We don't have a lesson tonight. Is everything all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine, thanks. I just wanted to try something. Actually, Professor, if you have time, could you wait a few minutes? It's sort of about you, you see. I won't be long."

She went into Madam Pomfrey's office and raided the store cupboard for what she wanted, before starting to heat the kettle and digging through the nurse's tea things. She could hear Snape asking somewhat accusingly what was going on, and the mediwitch's baffled response, and grinned to herself.

Dilys appeared in the frame over the desk. "Hermione, what are you up to?"

"Problem solving," she replied cheerfully. "I hadn't put it together until just now, but I think I've just guessed one of the reasons why he drinks so much, and I wanted to try this anyway."

"Would you care to enlighten me?"

"No, actually." Carefully twisting to keep herself between the portrait and what she was doing, she carefully broke the stuff into small pieces and put them at the bottom of the mug before adding hot water and studying the results, sniffing the steam critically. He might take his coffee black, but this was going to need milk in it, she decided, carefully adding a little from the nurse's tea supplies; she would have added sugar as well, but he didn't seem to like sweet things much, chai tea notwithstanding. "Could you persuade Madam Pomfrey to leave for a few minutes? I don't think Professor Snape wants her to know what he meant by 'illusion' or he would have explained it."

"Hermione, what's going on?" Dilys sounded frustrated, and Hermione grinned, stirring the thick liquid one last time before deciding that it was as good as it was going to get.

"I'm allowed to be cryptic too, you know." And I've had some very good teachers.

Snape gave her a look that was part suspicion and part impatience when she emerged from the office, mug in hand. "Miss Granger, what are you doing?"

Ignoring the question, she walked over to the bed where he sat and held out the mug to him. "I'd like you to try this, sir. I think it might help." He was shivering again, she noticed, hardening her resolve. I hope this works.

"Help with what, precisely?" he asked crisply, with a faint edge of annoyance in his voice that was definitely a warning.

Taking a deep breath, Hermione met his eyes. "Replacing the illusion with something real, I hope, sir."

He blinked first, a little blankness creeping into his eyes as he reflexively shielded, and his brows furrowed slightly in the forerunner of a scowl. "Miss Granger..." he said warningly.

"I only worked that one out about ten minutes ago, sir; I wasn't eavesdropping deliberately. I planned to try this anyway, the next time I saw you here."

"What is it?" he asked suspiciously.

"It's poison, obviously. I've finally decided to fulfil the fantasies of hundreds of students over the years," she told him tartly. "Can you stop acting like – like you for five seconds, please, and just try it? Um... sir," she added, blushing slightly as she realised she'd just started scolding him the way she would one of her friends.

To her relief, if also to her surprise, Snape looked more amused by her attitude than anything else as he reached out and took the mug from her, sniffing it cautiously. Blinking, he looked at her. "Hot chocolate? That's supposed to help?" he asked bitingly. "I'm not six years old, you know."

"It's medical chocolate, sir," she corrected him quietly. It made sense; one of the sensations the Dementors caused was extreme cold, and the enhanced chocolate used as a Healing remedy worked better than the everyday foodstuff because it had been designed to create warmth. It might help, and even if it didn't, it wasn't going to do him any harm.

Snape's contemptuous expression faded to something rather more thoughtful as he looked back at the mug and sniffed it again, before he wrapped his hands around it and sat forward a little, taking a cautious sip. Hermione stood back and watched him expectantly as he swallowed; he had closed his eyes, which wasn't helpful, but she wouldn't have been able to read his expression anyway. Secretive bastard, she thought idly, the insult tinged with an odd sort of fondness. She was rewarded when he took another sip, and then a larger mouthful, and sternly resisted the urge to grin as he started drinking it. Ha!

By the time he was half way through the mug, he had almost stopped shivering, at least from this distance. He might still be shaky if she was closer to him, but it was a visible improvement, at least. It probably wouldn't last very long, but it was more genuine than the false sensation of warmth generated by alcohol, and this wouldn't damage his health at all – his teeth were already pretty terrible, after all, and he could use all the calories they could force down his throat, and it wouldn't aggravate his stomach ulcer as much as whatever he had been drinking before.

He tilted the mug and drained the last of it, licking his lips, and Hermione gave him a polite smile, trying very hard to keep her voice even and professional. "Was there any improvement, sir?" she inquired.

The question earned her a level look that warned her not to be cheeky, before his black eyes flicked quickly around the room to make sure nobody was eavesdropping and he replied almost too quietly to be heard, "Yes."

Relieved, she smiled at him. "I'm glad."

Snape gave her an odd look that seemed almost troubled, studying her pensively before looking back at the mug. "Thank you," he said uncomfortably in little more than a whisper.

She shrugged. "It's not much, sir. I know it's not actually going to fix the problem. It's just a different illusion, really, but at least Madam Pomfrey won't tell you off for this one." A psychological remedy was a good start, even if it wasn't going to touch the physical issues at the root of the problem.

He snorted into the mug, his eyes glittering for a moment with brief amusement, which was also a good sign, and Hermione allowed herself to feel briefly smug. Not bad.

Around Halloween, Hermione found herself with nothing to do on a rainy weekend. She spent some of the morning curled up with the Half-Blood Prince's textbook, trying to see past the scrawled notes to catch a glimpse of what the boy who had written them had been like, but except for more potions and spells there simply wasn't much there. This book was from Snape's sixth year, and by that time he seemed not to have had any friends left.

And some of the things written in here were pretty cryptic, on closer examination. The notes had obviously been written for himself, not for anyone else, so most of the time there was no explanation. The amendments to the Potions methods in the text weren't too bad; she didn't need to understand why he had elected to change parts, and she did feel very pleased with herself each time she did manage to guess. It was the spells that bothered her, especially since he had warned her that some of them were dangerous.

One in particular had caught her attention weeks ago. The incantation was Sectumsempra and the only notation with it was 'for enemies', which really didn't bode well. She did have a Latin dictionary... at home, or rather in the storage unit on the industrial estate near her home, where it was doing no good whatsoever. Infuriatingly, the Hogwarts library didn't have one, which seemed shockingly lax given that most spells seemed to be at least derived from Latin. Whatever this spell was, though, it was obviously dangerous and clearly one of the ones he had been thinking of when he had told her not to try anything without asking him.

It was troubling that he had created spells that probably belonged to the Dark Arts, but it didn't bother her as much as she thought it would have done, say, last year. His lecture on learning to think had struck home, and she didn't know what this spell did but even as a moody, lonely, angry teenager she doubted he had created it just for the hell of it. He must have had a reason, and the darkness of the spell surely depended on how and why it was used, more than on what it did...

That was what was most annoying, she decided with a huff of frustration. Every question she had about Snape spawned at least a dozen others, and she still didn't know enough to puzzle out most of the answers despite all her best efforts. It was absolutely infuriating, and only increased her desire to learn more about him. One thing she was slowly becoming increasingly certain of, however, was that he had been in love with Lily Evans – she had been thinking about it on and off since first discovering who Snape's mysterious Gryffindor friend was.

Looking down at book lying open in her lap, Hermione thought about what she knew of the two of them. They had apparently been quite close friends right from the start, somehow, bizarre as it seemed, but had fallen out around the end of fifth year and apparently never been reconciled... She blinked slowly, remembering what Harry had eventually told her about the memory he had seen in Snape's Pensieve during that disastrous Occlumency lesson. Most of Harry's focus had been on what James and Sirius were doing, but he had told her how Lily had stepped in to try and defend Snape, who had then yelled at her and called her a Mudblood. Obviously she couldn't prove it, but Hermione would wager everything she possessed that that had been the exact moment when their friendship had ended for good.

Absently biting her lip, she thought about it some more. Her first impulse was to agree with Lily; Mudblood really was a foul name, and it would hurt all the more coming from a friend. It was also a sign that Snape had been well on the way to the Death Eaters, if he had used it. But on the other hand, Harry's description of what the Marauders had been doing to Snape at the time had been quite disturbingly vivid – really, it had actually been a form of sexual assault, now that she seriously thought about it; all right, Harry hadn't seen whether or not they actually had stripped him, but she was dismally certain that they had. Teenage boys did have fragile egos at the best of times; he certainly wouldn't have wanted a girl trying to protect him, even under less extreme circumstances, and by the sound of it he certainly hadn't been in control of what he was saying. She wondered how he had acted afterwards; by all accounts Lily had been his only friend, and he had been young enough that he possibly hadn't been quite such a stubborn bastard. Had he tried to make amends?

Finally she decided that speculation was pointless; she didn't know the full story and it was very, very unlikely that she ever would. Besides, it was none of her business; this was Snape's private life, and he had apparently gone to some lengths to conceal it. Poppy had suspected, but even the nurse didn't know for certain. There was something horribly tragic about it, though; clearly Snape's feelings had been one-sided and hopeless, because if Lily had returned his feelings at all she would have forgiven him eventually no matter what he called her – after all, Hermione reflected sourly, how often had she forgiven Ron for being a bastard? Come to that, how often had she begun to forgive Snape for it, more recently?

She looked down at the book in her lap again before closing it, feeling a little ashamed of herself for digging this far. It was deeply personal and very private, and absolutely none of her business. Laying it aside, she bit her lip again, thoughtfully; this did explain so much, though. The feud with James, the fact that Snape couldn't bear the very sight of Harry half the time – she had often thought that there must be more to the story, and now she had the missing piece of the puzzle.

The big question, of course, was how deep those feelings went. Lily had been dead for fifteen years, which seemed like a very long time to carry a torch for someone who didn't want you, but Snape's emotions regarding Harry seemed very raw. And his life did seem lonely; whether by conscious choice or not, it seemed likely that there had never really been anyone else.

"Well," she whispered quietly at last, shrugging and trying to smile at herself, "I always knew I didn't have much of a chance anyway."

Certainly there was no way she could hope to compete with a dead woman for Snape's apparently very discerning friendship; after all these years her memory would probably have attained a completely unrealistic image of perfection, and Hermione was well aware of all her own flaws. And yet, a nagging voice reminded her, Harry and Ron both seemed to have noticed that something had changed in Snape's attitude towards her – although admittedly both of them were about as perceptive and knowledgeable when it came to emotions as the average goldfish was about cycling.

She shivered as another thought struck her; she was a clever Gryffindor Muggleborn just like Lily had been. Admittedly they looked nothing alike physically, but she suspected that for a man like Snape the physical was probably the least important factor – although it was worth noting that Lily really had been very pretty. It was a little disturbing to find herself wondering whether they had perhaps been alike in other ways; obviously part of her really hoped not, since that was creepy, but another part of her pointed out treacherously that it might increase her chances of befriending him if she was.

God, this had been a bad idea. All it had given her was more questions. Besides, it was Halloween tonight, the anniversary of Lily's death – abruptly Hermione's thoughts ground to a screeching halt. Was that it? Did the reason that Snape had changed sides have something to do with Lily? Okay, it was a bit of a stretch, but in a year of digging into his past as best she could, Lily was the only thing she had discovered that Snape had ever really seemed to care about. Maybe... maybe she had contacted him, somehow talked him out of it? Or... she shook her head and sighed, rubbing her eyes; more questions with no answers. All she had gained for her prying had been a headache.

Curiosity killed the cat. It might well do the same to the Gryffindor.

November promised to be an unpleasant month, Hermione decided grimly. For one, the weather had turned truly horrible; usually by now it was snowing, but the month had started with freezing rain and every day was grey and depressing. Despite Slughorn's best efforts, the dungeons were painfully cold, and Potions lessons were torturous; Hermione didn't want to think about how Snape coped, actually living down there all year. She wouldn't be surprised to see ice forming on the walls.

Snape himself seemed relatively all right, as far as she could judge; he was clearly suffering in the cold – Madam Pomfrey had been quite annoyed when he had unceremoniously raided her stores and helped himself to every last scrap of chocolate without explanation, but Hermione had nearly choked trying not to laugh – but apart from that he seemed in reasonable health. The past couple of Summons had apparently ended without incident, and he had finally found time to start teaching her, Harry and Ron a little about fighting.

He seemed satisfied with them learning magical combat by themselves, after a few more mock-duels to let him find out how much they knew; all they really needed on that score was practice, he had said. Physical fighting was apparently going to be more complicated; he had been surprised to find out how little they knew, particularly the boys, and was now not very patiently attempting to talk them through a series of slow-motion fights with a rather unimpressed expression.

Hermione had to admit she wasn't paying much attention. She did know a bit about fighting, but it was girl fighting – you went for the hair first, and then any bit of skin your fingernails could reach. In her experience, boys didn't hit girls, and it seemed the others shared this opinion – somewhat bizarrely including Snape himself – so it was always going to be a bit awkward. At first Snape had paired her off with Harry, but it hadn't worked because they had both started laughing. Snape seemed reluctant to use her as a demonstration, and it was obviously a very bad idea for him and Harry to face one another, so after attempting to use Ron as an example he had admitted defeat and paired her with him to try and get his point across.

It was one of the few times Snape had made a serious mistake, Hermione considered somewhat dispassionately as she faced the redhead. It wasn't their teacher's fault, of course. He couldn't have known about the other day, and bloody Quidditch, and bloody Lavender Brown. She was well aware that she must have looked dreadful this morning, but it wasn't as if he would have been paying attention, and the rain would have made it almost impossible to tell that she had been crying half the night anyway.

It wasn't even the fact that Ron had a girlfriend, not really, although she had to admit that both hurt and left her wanting to hit someone. It was the fact that both of them were apparently determined to rub her nose in it at every opportunity. By now, after this many years, she was used to Ron being an insensitive prat with absolutely no idea of anyone else's feelings, especially hers, and she was also used to him being spiteful for quite often no reason that she could puzzle out, but even by his standards he was being... well, without her exposure to some of Snape's pithier vocabulary over the past couple of years she wouldn't have been able to describe it. And as if that wasn't hurtful and infuriating enough, Lavender had been acting like a complete cow in the dormitory ever since, smug and patronising and far, far too willing to very loudly share the details. Even Parvati had found it a little uncomfortable.

All things considered, Hermione felt she was quite justified in finally losing her temper. Squirming to one side – Snape had commented earlier that the first reaction of any male attempting to win a fight with a female would be to try and use superior weight and strength to win by sheer force, and Ron was proving that now – she glared up at him and jerked her knee up between his legs with as much power as she could manage.

Part of her took a tremendous amount of pleasure in watching his face lose all colour as he made a very odd high pitched sound before collapsing sideways and curling up into a whimpering ball. Harry exclaimed in a shocked voice, "Hermione!" and even Snape winced in male sympathy, although his black eyes were glittering with suppressed laughter as he moved into her field of vision and she sat up.

"Five points from Gryffindor, Miss Granger. Much as I enjoy the sight of Weasley writhing in pain, you don't do that to any man unless you're fighting for your life or your virtue. I don't care how angry you are, or why; there are some things you just don't do. Needless to say, if any of you attempt it on me, you will regret it for the rest of your lives." There was suppressed laughter in his voice as well, and he was smirking as he looked down at Ron.

"Get up, Weasley. You're not dying. Yes, I know it hurts, but believe me, it could have been a lot harder. You're excused for this evening. Go and soak in a cold bath and stop making such a fuss; you probably deserved that."

"You just said it was unjustified," Harry protested from where he knelt by his friend. Hermione wrapped her arms around herself and glared at the wall; she was trying to feel ashamed of herself, but she was a bit too angry at the moment.

"If Miss Granger was going to kick either of you on a whim, and I personally would have applauded her if she ever had, it would have happened five years ago," Snape responded tartly. "I imagine she had a reason for doing so tonight. I don't particularly care what that reason is; whatever your problems, you leave them outside during these lessons. I have to deal with far too much teenage angst every day and I find it immensely annoying. How many times must I tell you that your emotions are distractions before you will listen? Weasley, if I were you, I would go and find that cold bath now before it swells too much; walking is only going to become more painful the longer you leave it."

Ron gave them all a furious look – his face had turned an interestingly blotchy mix of red and white – and painfully dragged himself out of the room, hobbling rather dramatically.

"Does it really hurt that much?" Hermione asked distantly, still looking at the wall as she tried to fill her mind with fog and calm down a bit.

"Yes," Snape said frankly, "although he is also being a drama queen. Again."

"Been kicked by a girl before?" Harry muttered, not quite quietly enough. "That's a surprise."

There was a pause while the temperature dropped noticeably. "Would you care to repeat that, Mr Potter?" Snape asked in the cold, silken voice that was a very definite warning.

"Not really, sir," Harry retorted.

Hermione warily looked around. Snape and Harry were facing one another; Harry looked furious, as he so often did these days – he was getting a little better, but not much, and evidently he wasn't even trying to control his temper right now – and Snape looked... oddly thoughtful, actually, if she was any judge. Oh, he looked annoyed, but behind those cold black eyes, wheels had begun to spin.

"Miss Granger, you are also excused for this evening," Snape said distantly, not looking away from Harry and not blinking. "I will discuss tonight with you at another time."

"Sir..." she began hesitantly, and he gave her the look she didn't dare argue with. Most of the time, she knew she was allowed to push her luck with him now, at least a little bit; when he had this expression on his face, though, it wasn't an option. Biting her lip, she nodded, glancing worriedly at Harry, who was looking a bit nervous now. "Yes, sir."

Severus sighed inwardly as the door shut behind her; he had known for some time now that it would come down to this, much as he had hoped otherwise. "Once again, Mr Potter, you seem to have a few problems with your temper," he said softly. "Whatever fight your friends have had this time, it did not involve you, so would you care to tell me why you felt the need to join in and make matters worse?"

He turned and regarded the boy. The sullen, sulky expression made it less painful to meet those bright green eyes, actually; Lily had never looked that petulant, only bloody furious. The sulkiness now was all James, and he felt his lip curling, although he said nothing. Despite popular opinion, Severus did know that Harry Potter was not his father, although he often found it difficult to behave accordingly.

It stung a little to see the nervousness in the boy's face, though. He had never raised a hand to a student in his life; idle threats and half-hearted insults – and in this case a few instances of unfair grades – surely didn't justify genuine fear. Dislike was fine, expected, even desired, but fear?

"Cat got your tongue?" he snapped irritably. "I asked you a question."

He watched the struggle – Potter's every expression was painfully transparent – and realised that the boy didn't even know the answer. Severus well remembered how it felt to be angry at everything; it only made you angrier still if there wasn't a reason for it, because then you became angry with yourself as well as everyone else around you. He had been planning this for a while; speeches and chess games weren't going to get through to this one. He had a different sort of lesson in mind.

"If you persist in this stupidity you're going to get your little friends killed," he said bluntly and unemotionally. "God help them all, but they follow you. Are you going to reward their blind faith by storming headlong into danger again? That worked so well last time, didn't it?"

The reference had been deliberate. At some point he was going to have to make the boy look at Black again, but he wasn't ready to understand it yet. Right now, the only reaction Severus wanted was the one he got, the fury that made the boy look painfully like his mother. Ignoring the sting the memory produced, he sneered, and made it as mocking as he possibly could.

"You're still acting like a child, Potter. I despair when I remember that you are supposed to be coming of age this summer. They call you the Chosen One in that rag of a newspaper; I wonder what they would think if they could see you now? A spoiled brat who never stops to think, who throws temper tantrums that would shame a toddler even after being shown what can happen? How many times have your friends trustingly followed you into danger? How many times have you got them hurt?"

"Shut up!"

Ah, there it is. Severus swallowed bile; he wasn't enjoying this. You little fool. I wish you hadn't made this necessary. How the hell can you be turning out like me? Fate is a sick-minded bitch. The irony was thick enough to choke on.

"The truth hurts, doesn't it, Potter?" he sneered. "You don't have the Order pandering to your whims and indulging you here. Your friends aren't here to hang on your every word. It's just you and me, and I'm not impressed by your scar, and your temper isn't justified or understandable. It's boring, Potter. Very, very boring. More than that, it's going to get people killed, and I for one am not willing to die for a spoiled boy's tantrums, unlike some people, who shall remain lifeless."

"I said shut up!" Potter was screaming now, his face flushed, and Severus felt the hair on the back of his neck stir as magic began to build. He regarded him judiciously and decided that it was the right time to move closer, until they stood mere inches apart, noting with distant irritation that the boy could look him in the eyes and would almost certainly end up taller than he was.

"Is this where you tell me I don't understand?" he asked contemptuously. I understand you better than you could ever dream of, boy, God help us both. "Of course, your life has been so much harder than anyone else who has ever lived. You're not the only boy to have been orphaned." Bile burned the back of his throat again. "You're not the only boy who was orphaned because of the Dark Lord. You're not the only one who has lost family and friends in this war. Nobody asked for this, but the rest of us know how to shut up, stop whining and get on with it. How can you still be such a child after everything you've seen? How can you still be this selfish? It's not all about you, and the sooner you realise it, the lower the death toll will be..."

It happened very quickly. One moment Severus was in the boy's face, using every trick of voice and expression to emphasise the malicious venom of his insults, each one carefully guided with expert precision; the next, his head snapped back with the impact of a blow high on one cheek as a burst of wild and uncontrolled magic splintered against the Shield Charm he had been maintaining for the past ten minutes. Frankly, he was surprised it had taken this long.

Ignoring the sting of a rising bruise, he made himself laugh, mentally steeling himself. "Pathetic," he sneered. "You hit like a girl. No wonder you can't protect your friends –"

The next blow hit him in the mouth; he saw it coming and made himself turn into it rather than away from it, grimacing inwardly as his lip split over his teeth. Potter couldn't throw a punch and had probably done more damage to his hand, but still, this wasn't going to be fun. He really wished he had been able to think of another way to make the boy realise what he was capable of and why he needed to know how to control himself. He turned his head and took the next punch right in his eye, stars exploding in his vision, and grimly let the next one break his nose again. That sound never got any easier to hear.

Over the next few minutes he decided he had gone a little too far when he had set out to provoke Potter into losing his temper properly. The boy was well beyond hysteria and into complete madness, crying so hard that there was no way he could see what he was doing; if Severus hadn't been deliberately allowing each wild blow to land, it was doubtful any of them would have made contact at all. It turned out that on a purely instinctive level, the boy actually did know how to fight; once he really let go, he stopped following the rules, employing fists, knees, elbows, feet and any other body part to try and cause pain. He had forgotten how much it hurt when someone head-butted you squarely in a freshly broken nose.

After what felt like an eternity Severus decided he looked terrible enough to make his point. Moving swiftly, he twisted out from under the younger man and threw him onto his back, hesitating for a moment before slapping him. Once, and once only; he knew that if he did anything more he would regret it for eternity because something in him would snap and he would probably put the boy in a coma. The slap achieved the desired effect; Potter gasped and stopped struggling for a moment.

"Stop, now, or I will make you," Severus told him warningly, although speaking wasn't very easy at the moment and he was in danger of dribbling blood onto the boy's face. A moment's concentration and the temperature in the room plummeted; the shock of the cold drew another gasp as Potter snapped out of it.

"Good. Now look at me." He watched intently as the boy reluctantly did as he was told, and he studied the way those horribly familiar green eyes widened and the pupils contracted before dilating, watching the progress of the slowly dawning horror before Potter flinched and looked away.

"No. Look at me. Look," he growled thickly, keeping one hand tangled in the front of Potter's robe and grabbing the boy's chin with the other hand, forcing his head up. Staring into those bright green eyes from this close a distance hurt, hurt enough that he was glad one eye was swelling closed, but he refused to let himself be distracted. "Remember this, Potter," he rasped. "This is what you are capable of if nobody tries to stop you. Learn to stop yourself." Before it's too late.

Painfully, he let go and crawled to one side, standing up and ignoring the way the room spun around him. "I didn't offer violence, Potter. I wasn't fighting back. But you kept going. You've just beaten an unarmed man half unconscious; congratulations. Your father would be very proud."

Crying again – although for a different reason, hopefully – Potter managed something largely incoherent in reply. Making an educated guess at the response, Severus shook his head, and regretted it. "I provoked you? Of course I did. That was the idea. And you fell for it, and you behaved exactly as I wished you to. That means I won the fight, Potter, no matter whose blood is on the floor. You did what I wanted, so I won. If that had been a real fight I could have killed you a dozen times over; I wouldn't even have needed magic."

Potter hadn't tried to get up; sighing, Severus hunkered down stiffly on his heels next to him and regained eye contact. This was the only chance he would get to drive this point home; if he waited even a few hours, the boy wouldn't listen and wouldn't understand. "Anyone you meet in combat will do as I just did. They will insult you and bring up every painful topic they can, hoping to distract you and impair your thinking. The one thing everyone knows about you is that the Dark Lord killed your parents; that is the first thing they will use. And I promise you, my fellow Death Eaters know everything that happened at the Ministry, and that is the second thing they will use. By then, if you don't learn to control yourself, you'll have given them half a dozen other ways of making you so angry that you can't see straight, and then you will find yourself in a great deal of trouble."

He gestured at his face; by the feel of it, he looked a real mess, but that had rather been the point. "Look at this, Potter. This is your anger. This is your darkness. If you think I don't understand how you feel, you're an even bigger fool than I have always said you were. If you can't control your temper, there are two things that may happen. One is that you will get yourself killed, and probably a lot of us with you. But there is something worse. Do you know what that is?"

Very slowly, Potter shook his head, his eyes frightened and numb as shock overtook tears.

Severus regarded him soberly, his voice soft now. "If you can't control yourself, Potter, you will one day say or do something utterly unforgiveable and hurt someone close to you. And believe me, you will never recover from that. Do you remember the first time you accidentally made Miss Granger cry, Potter?" She does. Those Occlumency lessons had shown him that, very clearly.

The boy nodded slowly.

"You were only children then, and it was a childish thing. Imagine how much worse it could be now."

At bloody last. Finally, Potter had got the message. Severus suppressed a sigh; he was exhausted, he ached all over and his face really hurt.

"I..." the boy began weakly.

"Don't insult either of us by trying to apologise," he said quietly. "You can't, anyway. It's done, and now you have to live with it. You understand now. Your temper will get you killed, but you do not want to find out the damage you can cause to those around you before that happens. You're dismissed. If you breathe a word of this to anyone, I will skin you alive and drag you to the Dark Lord myself," he added in something approaching his usual tones. "Go. And remember this lesson, because the next one will be far harsher."

Once the boy had gone, Severus asked the Room of Requirement to provide water, a mirror, and some of his healing stores, and began to slowly and patiently repair the damage. The lesson would have been more effective if his bruises and other injuries could remain as a visible reminder, but that wasn't an option. He just hoped the boy was a faster learner than he had been.

Quietly and methodically cleaning up and healing the injuries one by one, he shook his head and asked the empty room softly, "Ah, Lily, what would you think if you'd seen this? How the hell can your son by James be turning out so much like me?" Painfully, he rasped a laugh, because it was that or cry.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 19 of 60

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