Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 23 of 60

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It was February before Snape arranged another fighting lesson for the three of them; he seemed to have less free time than ever and was also being Summoned more often, although mercifully he didn't seem to be punished any more frequently, at least not seriously enough to need outside help. The three of them had been practising as much as they could, magically and physically, although admittedly any attempt at non-magical fighting usually ended in helpless laughter. Hermione felt that was doing them as much good as actual combat training would have done; sometimes it was nice to remember that they were still young and could still play. At least, they could after a long conversation where she had grimly and creatively threatened her best friends with a variety of punishments if they deliberately or inadvertently caused anyone to find out... anything they shouldn't. She'd really made Harry grovel and beg for forgiveness over telling Ron anything. At least now the initial shock had worn off they were all back to behaving as normally as possible.

Snape was a few minutes late; when he entered the Room of Requirement, Ron and Hermione were mock-duelling while Harry watched. His black eyes studied them for a moment before he briskly crossed the room, seizing Harry's arm as he passed and towing him to a corner where a heavy leather sack appeared, hanging from the ceiling on a chain. "You're doing better with your temper," he said without ceremony, "but this will help give you an outlet, rather than repressing everything."

"A punch-bag?" Harry said quizzically, blinking at their teacher before suddenly grinning. "I didn't figure you for a boxer, sir."

He snorted. "Mind your tongue. Get started; wearing yourself out will do you good. You haven't been exercising enough. Nor have you, Weasley," he added, turning to the other two. "Let's see what progress you have made, then."

Hermione enjoyed the lesson; she could tell that she was quite a bit better than she had been last time they had had one of these lessons, which was definitely reassuring, but it also meant she could spend some of the time sitting back and watching Snape drilling the boys. Watching him fight had always been wonderful because of the unconscious easy skill and lack of effort he showed, but with her new awareness of him she found herself enjoying watching the grace and balance of his movements as well. He was paying attention to what he was doing, rather than to her, and she was supposed to be watching anyway, so she didn't have to worry about betraying herself as long as she kept her expression clear.

Actually facing him when it was her turn was less fun, but luckily for her he seemed to have accepted a while ago that she didn't want to try and hurt him and he didn't seem to find her attitude particularly unusual. Besides, once she got into the rhythm of it, it was easier to focus on the duel and not on her silly emotions, especially since it took all her concentration to maintain any sort of defence. She was getting better at spotting openings, Snape told her; her attacks weren't getting through yet, but she was definitely better at finding opportunities to attack, and she wasn't being quite so squeamish about it, hesitating less.

Harry and Snape were fighting now, which was always a little tense; the three of them were always constantly waiting for Snape's temper to snap and for him to start trying to hurt Harry, or at least to do something petty and spiteful. Hermione had no idea why he was suddenly making such an effort to behave this year, when he never had before, but she wasn't going to complain even if she was always on tenterhooks waiting for the inevitable crash.

Harry was sweating with the effort of concentration, frantically trying to block everything Snape sent at him, physically dodging the ones he missed and trying to find chances to cast his own offensive spells. He was doing much better this time simply because he wasn't angry, Hermione noted, glancing briefly at him; she was about to look back at Snape for another bit of guilty staring when Harry licked his lips breathlessly and gasped, "Sectumsempra!"

Hermione stared at Snape and saw his dark eyes widen in shock before he jumped to one side as red light streaked past him. Everything seemed to freeze for a long moment, before he stalked forward with a look of absolute fury on his face and slapped Harry. Not hard, but hard enough to make his point, and from the way his hands were trembling he wanted to repeat it more forcefully.

His voice was a low hiss of anger and that nerve jumped under his eye as he said coldly, "You have been warned against that spell, or any spell from that book, Potter. Don't you dare even think of using any of them against me." Hermione winced, wondering quietly when the Marauders had taken the book off him; she already knew they had used Levicorpus on him before.

Harry looked honestly confused, blinking at the older wizard with wide eyes. "How do you know where that spell's from? What does it do, anyway?"

Snape froze, suddenly looking a bit off balance, and turned to stare at Hermione. "You didn't tell them?" he asked in a slightly odd tone of voice.

Offended, she gave him an annoyed look. "Of course I didn't. You asked me not to, and I wouldn't have done anyway even if you hadn't."

The anger in his dark eyes gave way to something like chagrin as he clearly realised he'd just backed himself into a corner; his expression looked like it should be captioned Oh bugger, and for a moment Hermione had to bite her lip until the urge to laugh had subsided.

"Didn't tell us what?" Harry asked uncertainly, looking between them in innocent bewilderment.

Grimacing, Snape backed off, looking seriously annoyed with himself as he stalked over to the little cluster of chairs that stood in one corner of their usual training area, picking up his robe and wrapping it around himself before sitting down. "I know where that spell is from because it's written in my old textbook," he admitted in a gruff voice, so obviously angry and embarrassed that for a moment Hermione wanted to ruffle his hair; she could understand why Dilys liked making him sulk now. It was cute.

The boys gaped at him until Hermione nudged them forward and the three came to sit down opposite him.

"You?" Harry asked faintly. "You're the Half-Blood Prince?"

"You're a half-blood?" Ron asked blankly.

Snape gave the redhead a withering look, although it lacked some of its usual venom. "You at least should already have known that, Weasley. Your family is unconventional but you're still a pureblood and were educated as such; have you ever heard of a wizarding family called Snape?" he asked, sneering.

"Prince?" Harry said into the ensuing silence; she hoped he wouldn't grin. Any hint of laughter would only result in his lingering and messy death. Confusion was a lot safer.

Snape looked away with the closed expression that Hermione could recognise as complete embarrassment. "It was my mother's maiden name," he muttered defensively.

"You knew, Hermione?" Harry asked, obviously glad to look away from their teacher.

"Yes. Professor Snape's parents' names and blood status are in his medical records."

There was another awkward silence before Ron asked, "You made up all those spells? Muffliato and Levicorpus and the rest?"

"Yes," Snape replied shortly, keeping his eyes on the wall and clearly wishing he was somewhere else.

"Cool." He sounded genuinely impressed, and Hermione bit her lip to hide another smile. Boys.

That earned him a long and expressionless stare, and she didn't need Legilimency to guess that Snape was trying to work out if Ron was being sincere and if he ought to be pleased or not. He wasn't fidgeting, but by the look of things only because he was making a conscious effort not to; he looked extremely uncomfortable, at least to her eyes.

"So what does Sectumsempra actually do?" Harry asked cautiously.

"Nothing pleasant," he replied curtly.

"Well, we knew that much," Hermione offered, trying to ease some of the awkwardness. A thought occurred to her. "It's not your cutting curse, is it?"

Snape gave her an angry look, but dropped his eyes almost immediately. "Yes. But that isn't precisely what it is supposed to do. Don't ever use it against someone unless you're in a real duel. It's too dangerous for practices."

"Yes, sir," they chorused immediately.

"I don't even remember what else is written in there," he said after another pause, and Hermione heard the unasked question in his voice.

"I don't remember any more mystery spells in there, sir. The rest was all Potions information, I think. Oh, except for Langlock and that toenail hex without a name." Ron and Harry both tried to choke back laughter, and Snape looked marginally more embarrassed before his face shut down and turned to the blank mask of Occlumency.

"Fine," he said shortly.

The silence stretched out for a few minutes, but it was slightly less tense than it had been, and gradually everyone relaxed. Snape stopped looking so annoyed and self-conscious and his expression turned more speculative as he studied each of them through hooded eyes for a little while, before speaking again with a very obvious change of subject.

"Potter, I have a question for you. Who is truly to blame for the death of Sirius Black?"

As always, the reference made Harry flinch, but this time he answered quietly, "I am, sir."

To his obvious surprise, Snape shook his head. "No. I did not press you further last time because that answer was useful at that point in your training, but it is not the truth. Who was to blame?"

Harry thought about it for some time, wheels spinning almost visibly in his head. Hermione knew the answer, or thought she did, but she held her tongue and watched, willing him to work it out. Ron watched silently as well, his eyes narrowed in thought.

Finally, very slowly, Harry said, "He was."

"Yes." Snape leaned forward in his chair, his eyes intent. "Black was an adult. He made his choices of his own free will. Everyone who went to the Ministry that night knew that they might not survive. Every Order member knows that their next mission might be their last. It was not your fault."

Harry sighed. "Thank you."

Snape snorted. "Don't be a fool; I'm not saying this to make you feel better. This is merely another lesson. I told you before that you were not ready to understand your greatest weakness, but now I think you might be. Your arrogance, Potter. I have been telling you for years that you are an arrogant fool, and you never understood what I meant by that. You blame yourself for this entire war."

Ron made a noise of understanding; Hermione looked at him and nodded before turning back to Harry, who looked confused.

Snape continued quietly, "You blame yourself every time someone gets hurt or killed. You think it is solely your responsibility to end the war, that in the end it will just be you and the Dark Lord."

"Won't it?" he asked in a small voice.

"Of course not. The Order of the Phoenix was re-formed after the Grindelwald conflict to oppose him and his Death Eaters when I was still a very young child, long before your parents had even met, long before you were born. You are an important piece of this war, but you were not the cause and you are not the only person involved. I don't know what will happen at the end, but it will not be solely up to you. You aren't our leader or our general, Potter. You are a soldier, just like the rest of us. The world does not rest on your shoulders alone."

"But... the prophecy..."

"What, you're going to base your entire life on something Sybill Trelawney said?" Snape asked contemptuously, rolling his eyes. "Bugger the prophecy, Potter. Divination is a load of rubbish anyway, and even if it weren't... Nothing is set in stone. The smallest actions can change the course of the future. What was prophesied then might have been the most likely outcome then, but that was almost twenty years ago. Things have changed." He paused and then added more quietly, "You won't be alone at the end, Potter. Your friends would never leave you."

"And you, sir?" Harry dared to ask.

Those black eyes were expressionless once more. "I doubt I will still be in the picture, but I will be there if I can. I have a score to settle."

He paused for a moment, studying Harry through narrowed eyes. "It always comes down to trust," he murmured, almost more to himself than to them, before continuing more loudly, "Your trust issues will need to be addressed as well, Potter. Half the reason for your attitude is that you simply don't trust anyone else to do what is necessary. You didn't trust the Headmaster when he told you to trust me, or when he assured you that nobody could get at the Philosopher's Stone. Your first impulse when you thought the Stone was at risk wasn't to send word to him, or even to tell another member of staff, but to go charging in yourself. You didn't trust Professor McGonagall or Hagrid when they told you the same things. You didn't trust the staff to deal with Slytherin's heir and the monster. You didn't trust me to get word to the Order and find out if Black was truly in danger. No, it always had to be you, didn't it, because nobody else could be relied upon."

"But I was right," Harry protested. "Quirrell did get at the Stone, and the staff couldn't stop what happened in the Chamber of Secrets."

"That's not the point, Potter. You were a child. It should never have occurred to you that we weren't in control; it should never have occurred to you that you could step in and act." He shook his head wearily and gave Harry a crooked and not very pleasant smile. "As for your never trusting me, despite all the evidence to the contrary, well... There is more than one reason I stopped your Occlumency lessons, not merely your actions. You never will trust me. If I didn't know that such a thing was impossible I might almost think you inherited that from your parents; neither of them ever had any particular faith in me either." Shadows crept through his dark eyes as he shrugged. "I'm no psychologist. I have too many trust issues of my own to be able to fix yours. Just... be aware of it. Try not to let it destroy you."

After a thoughtful pause, Ron raised a hand. "Sir, can I ask a question?"

"If you promise to stop channelling Miss Granger like that," Snape murmured somewhat mockingly, raising an eyebrow and smirking as Hermione huffed in annoyance. "Ask."

"Why have you been teaching us all this stuff, instead of spending more time teaching us fighting or something?"

"Ah. I wondered who would finally ask that." He shrugged and looked around at the three of them. "Let me be blunt; if it comes down to nothing but a fight, you're dead, all of you. It is simply not possible to teach you everything you would need to know in the time we have. Learning to think clearly is more important in the long term. If you do find yourselves in the middle of a battle again, I strongly recommend that you run. Use what I have taught you to cover your escape, and get out of it as quickly as possible. I know you are all impossible Gryffindors, but there is no shame in avoiding trouble, you know," he added dryly.

Insomnia was bloody annoying, Hermione decided tiredly. She had no reason to be awake. She was sleepy, and she didn't have any outstanding work on her mind, and it wasn't a Summons night, and the dormitory was quiet. There was no reason for her to be unable to sleep, but she couldn't shut her mind down, not that she was thinking about anything important. Finally admitting defeat, she fished her wand out from under her pillow and found a book.

"Can't sleep?"

"Don't do that!" she snapped when she could breathe again, twisting around to glare up at Dilys. The portrait grinned unrepentantly at her. "No, I can't sleep. What gave it away?" she added sarcastically.

"Temper, temper. Are you fretting over Severus again?"

"No," she lied flatly, refusing to let herself blush and once again thanking God for Silencing charms.

Dilys gave her a thoughtful look, her smile fading. "You really have been winding yourself up, haven't you?" she said more softly. "I'm sorry, my dear. Sometimes I forget how young you are. I promise, you're worrying over nothing. I told you before. I didn't realise you didn't believe me."

"I really, really do not want to have this conversation."

"I'll try not to tease you so much, but really, Hermione, relax. He likes you. You can tell by the way you're still alive. No other student would ever have made it this far into his life and survived to tell the tale. He trusts you, too, and you know him well enough to know how rare that is."

"I suppose so," she agreed guardedly, trying not to feel too hopeful. She didn't want to get hurt, and she couldn't see a way this was going to end well. "It's not just him, anyway. I don't know why I can't sleep. I'm worrying about... well, just about everything, to be honest. The war, and my parents, and Harry..."

"That's certainly understandable. Why not talk to someone about it? You're not the only insomniac in the castle, you know."

Despite herself, she smiled. "Stop that."

Dilys laughed softly. "It's still a valid point, Hermione. Severus understands being kept awake by problems. He's wandering around at the moment, hunting errant students, so you certainly won't disturb him."

"Good to know he hasn't lost interest in all his hobbies," she said mischievously, tempted by the portrait's suggestion. Confusion aside, Snape could be easy to talk to when he was in the right mood; he was a good listener, and he knew what she was worrying about. "I'll get caught."

"By whom? Your teachers have better things to do with their nights than stalk the corridors, you know. Severus does it because he wants to, because he likes walking around the castle at night and because he can't sleep. There are very seldom official patrols taking place. I suggest you do not tell your friends this, but Argus Filch never goes beyond the second floor after dark without a good reason, so as long as you know where Severus is you are highly unlikely to be caught out of bed in most of the castle."

Hermione hadn't known that, but it made sense. Snape and Filch were the only ones who regularly caught students breaking curfew – in fact she couldn't remember anyone from Gryffindor being caught by any other staff member since her first year. "I still shouldn't..." she said, wavering.

"Why not? You should talk to someone who understands what you're going through, you can't sleep right now, and nobody else is awake for you to speak to. If he's out and about then he's in a fairly reasonable mood, and although he'd stick needles in his eyes before he'd admit it I don't think he'd object to the company, misanthrope though he is. You're likely to find him not too far from here, actually; he tends to stick to the higher places, the walltops and towers. Go on."

"Fine, but if I get into trouble I'm telling him it was all your idea."

She eventually found Snape shortly before midnight, standing at a window on the fourth floor and staring thoughtfully out into the snow. He turned as she approached, raising an eyebrow when he saw who it was, and said nothing as he watched her walk closer.

"Good evening, sir," she greeted him softly.

"Miss Granger. You are becoming terribly Gryffindorish again; it is quite disheartening to see such a relapse," he responded dryly in a soft voice, and she smiled a little, reassured by the lack of apparent anger.

"Sorry to disappoint, sir. I couldn't sleep, and someone told me you were around."

"Imagine my surprise," he murmured, his eyes glittering for a moment. "I am immensely thankful that Dilys died so long ago. If she was still alive she would be ruling the world by now."

"Do you think she could beat the Dark Lord, sir?" she asked whimsically.

"I would pay all the gold in Gringotts twice over to see that particular fight," he told her, his lips twitching; she could hear the humour in his voice. "And I'd bet it on her, too. Why can't you sleep? Nightmares again?"

"No, just general stress, I think. It's one of those nights where I can't seem to stop thinking."

"That is not a problem that I suspect plagues many people in this castle," he observed. "Unfortunately for you, I am out of chai tea," he added, and she smiled at the memory, a little surprised that he had mentioned it.

"Damn. No brandy either, I suppose?"

"Ha. No. Incidentally, Miss Granger, what made you assume that I wouldn't take points from Gryffindor, order you back to bed and arrange an appointment for you with Mr Filch tomorrow night?"

Pushing her luck, she gave him her best wide-eyed innocent look. "My faith in human nature and your famously generous disposition, Professor."

He snorted a laugh and shook his head. "Don't be impertinent. You shouldn't be up, and we both know it."

"I know, sir, but nor should you, in all fairness."

"I, however, am not breaking any school rules." He shrugged. "I was planning to try and get some work done in the labs tonight. I don't need any help, but you can watch for a while if you're really that bored, provided you agree to avoid getting in the way and to go to bed when I tell you."

"Yes, sir," she agreed instantly; she missed watching him brewing potions, as sad as that sounded. Slughorn just wasn't the same. She followed him through the dark, deserted and silent castle, amused to find that she could keep pace with his longer strides even when they weren't running; Hogwarts at night was quite eerie, but it was nice to be walking around semi-legitimately without worrying about being caught.

Snape led her through passages she had never seen before, and ones she was pretty sure weren't on the Marauders' Map; that made sense. She had always thought the teachers must have their own passages that none of the students would be able to find, although if this route was warded she couldn't feel anything. Once in the dungeons he led her by the light of his wand tip past the door to the laboratory she had seen when Mr Weasley had been attacked in fifth year, down a short flight of steps into an area she hadn't even known existed, stopping outside a door set in a heavy stone archway.

"Where are we, sir?" she asked curiously, wondering again just how extensive the dungeons were. She knew of three classrooms, at least two store rooms, the lab she had seen before, Snape's quarters, the Slytherin common room and dormitories and a couple of smaller work rooms used by final-year students for their projects, as well as a couple of empty rooms and rumours of an extensive wine cellar. Apparently there were other places and passages here and there in Snape's territory, possibly all the way under the lake, and right now they were on a level below anything she knew of. This place is a maze.

He turned and smirked at her, his eyes glittering. "This, Miss Granger, is my real private laboratory, not the one most people think is mine. Nobody can get in unless I personally guide them through the door, not even the Headmaster – and that wasn't easy to set up, I might add; which is just as well," he added dryly, "given your previous record. Allow me to state before I let you in that if you ever steal anything from here, I will not be as lenient as I have been in the past. Everything in here is rare, expensive, and devilishly difficult to replace." Arching an eyebrow, his lips twitched as he took in her expression. "Do try to control yourself," he told her, opening the door with something of a flourish; several oil lamps inside sprang to life and filled the place with light.

Hermione actually squeaked when she saw the room beyond. Horrified by her reaction, she clapped a hand over her mouth, but she couldn't stop staring at the most fantastic Potions lab she had ever seen. It was no bigger than the classroom, but that held dozens of students at a time; this room had clearly been moulded and shaped around one person. She could see something of Snape's personality in the arrangement of benches and shelves around the room; he'd taught her long enough for her to be familiar with his working methods. There was a huge marble sink in one corner complete with heavy cast iron water pump, and a pair of big Welsh dressers nearby that held dozens upon dozens of glass bottles in all shapes, sizes and colours, and a solid stone bench piled with cauldrons made from a wide variety of metals. Two entire walls held nothing but shelves full of jars of ingredients, all carefully labelled in his familiar spiky hand. There was a butcher's block in another corner, and a long sideboard covered in a fantastic array of blown glass and exquisitely shaped metal alchemical equipment, and a pile of notebooks stuffed with loose sheets of paper that made her fingers twitch, and a bookshelf that dwarfed any of those found in his personal quarters...

Realising that she was horribly close to drooling, she turned to stare at Snape, blushing despite her best efforts. He wasn't mocking her, though; he actually looked pleased by her reaction, something like pride in his face, and there was a hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his lips, that almost awkward expression she had only seen once before that she might have called shy had it been anyone else. "It's not bad, is it?" he commented softly, and she understood that this was closer to home for him than his living room or his bedroom or wherever he lived in the summer holidays.

Absently she realised that this was the first time in a while that she had seen him in proper light; it was dark in the mornings when they ran, and the Defence classroom was perpetually gloomy, and the light in the Room of Requirement was a bit strange in a way she couldn't define. He actually looked a bit better than he usually did, she noted with some surprise, fractionally less tired and gaunt and his hair looked slightly cleaner. Something to think about later, perhaps, but right now this room took up all her attention.

"It's wonderful," she whispered, turning slowly to scan the room again with something like awe. "I almost want to apologise for intruding."

He snorted a laugh at that and shook his head. "As if any Gryffindor would ever apologise for intruding," he told her mockingly, the softer expression yielding to his usual crooked smirk. "I'm not letting you touch anything in here, but I don't object to you looking around – carefully."

"I've never seen half this equipment before," she marvelled softly, wandering around between the benches, fascinated.

"Nor would you have. This lab is far beyond even NEWT level; it has taken the best part of a decade to set up. And much of this equipment is based more on Alchemy than Potions; we don't teach Alchemy at Hogwarts, and haven't done since long before my time. It's seen as too medieval, at least until you graduate and realise how much was missing from your education," he added wryly, moving to a bench nearby and starting to sort through the jars lined up there.

"What are you working on, sir?" she asked interestedly, wandering over to his work area. "Something new?"

He shook his head slowly. "No. I haven't had time for new research in the past couple of years. This is one of my potions, though, but not one you'll have seen before. I never published this one."

Hermione peered past his shoulder at the thick, cloudy blue-grey liquid simmering at the bottom of the black iron cauldron; about the texture of molten tar, it seemed to shimmer oddly with a near-metallic gleam, and it took her a moment to realise it was bubbling without heat. "What is it?"

"It doesn't have an official name. I call it Last Chance, because that's what it is. It's a healing potion, of sorts, but not one that anyone would want to take." Selecting a jar, he unscrewed the lid and began carefully measuring a sulphurous-looking yellow powder into a crucible; he was apparently working from memory, since she couldn't see anything written down anywhere.

"Last Chance," she repeated slowly. "Kill or cure?"

"Yes," he agreed, adding something grainy and wet-looking to the yellow powder and beginning to grind the resulting mess together with the back of a spoon. "Before you ask, I don't anticipate needing it any time soon, and I sincerely hope I won't need it at all, since taking it is extremely unpleasant, but it takes quite a long time to mature and it's better to be safe than sorry. Go and look at something for a few minutes; I need to concentrate for this part."

Nodding, she wandered off to browse, nearly laughing aloud when she passed a large jar half filled with dried chillies on one bench next to a tin of what looked very much like powdered chocolate. She could have lost herself in here for hours quite happily, but she made an effort to stay vaguely in the real world as she examined some of the more interesting equipment before being sidetracked by a painting on the wall. Aside from the picture of Hogwarts, all the paintings in his rooms were natural landscapes, remote and wild and untouched, but this one showed a church on a city street. It was set at night, and the street was dark and empty of life, only parked cars visible under a street lamp. It seemed out of place and didn't match what seemed to be his usual taste in art.

"Not very wizardly, is it?" Snape commented sardonically from behind her, almost scaring her to death as she spun around.

"Don't do that," she said weakly, wondering why half the castle's inhabitants seemed to love sneaking up on her, and he smirked at her.

"I would apologise, but it would be a lie."

Trying to ignore that, she looked back at the painting. "Why do you have a picture down here, sir? I can't see you letting Dilys or Phineas hound you in here..."

He snorted, amused. "True. But in a sense, it's here because of them. The frame is warded to stop them getting in, but if I need to summon one of them to it, I can."

"Why a church?" she asked curiously.

Snape shrugged. "This church is St Anne's, in Manchester. It's where my parents got married, and it's where their funerals took place..."

"I didn't know they were dead," she said softly. She had known his mother was dead, after his use of the past tense on the one occasion when he had spoken about her during their conversation about elemental magic over the summer, but not his father.

He shrugged again with a slightly chillingly indifferent expression. "Nonetheless, they are, and they are buried in the churchyard behind the building. I doubt there will be enough left of me to fill a grave, or I would probably be joining them."

"Don't say that!"

He blinked and seemed to remember who he was talking to, giving her something that approached an apologetic look and shrugging uneasily. "If you're asking whether I am religious, no, I'm not. I would like to be, I think. I would like to believe in something better. But I've seen too much. No god could allow some of the things I've seen, or done. This world doesn't fulfil any sort of plan."

She nodded slowly in agreement, remembering the things she had read about in his files and the stories he bore etched into his skin. No god could justify letting anyone live the sort of life this man had, even if it was supposedly for the greater good. It occurred to her that this was a very odd conversation, but that was hardly surprising, given the lateness of the hour; she'd known for years that her mind worked in very different ways late at night, and presumably so did other people's.

Turning, Snape went back to the bench and drew a couple of stools out from beneath it, and she followed him and sat beside him, peering curiously into the cauldron as he began to stir it slowly. There was no precision to the movements; clearly this stage didn't require a particular number or direction of stirs. "Were you religious before coming to Hogwarts, Miss Granger?" he asked, sounding genuinely curious.

"I've been christened, if that's what you mean, sir. Church of England. We were never really devout, or anything, and I don't know if I believe or not, but... I'd like to. It just seems... odd, now."


"I don't really know. Magic and religion just seem like antithetical concepts, or at least magic and Christianity. I think it's in Exodus..."

"'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live'."


Snape tilted his head and gave her a thoughtful look. "I've told you before, nothing is black and white. The word 'witch' in that passage is from the King James translation. In the original Hebrew, the word translates very specifically as 'caster of harmful spells'; their society differentiated between magical people based on what they did with that magic, rather than displaying the blanket condemnation of King James' day. These days we would say 'practitioner of the Dark Arts', I suppose. Or even 'Death Eater'," he added with a rather mirthless smile. "I don't know where that leaves me, but the early Christians would not have had a problem with you, at least not for that reason."

"How do you know all this, sir?"

He snorted softly. "I read, Granger. As obsessively as you do, I dare say, but I've been at it longer than you have. Most of the Bible is utter rubbish, but every now and then it does say something sensible."

"Like Corinthians?" she asked, remembering one of her favourite passages, and to her surprise he nodded.

"Yes. St Paul wasn't a complete idiot." He took a deep breath, staring at the cauldron, and spoke softly. "'If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

"Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection, as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love'."

Hermione stared at him, stunned into silence. He ignored her completely, adding a milky pinkish fluid to the cauldron and continuing to stir as though he hadn't said anything, and after a moment the mood faded as he said nonchalantly, "And the book of Proverbs has its good points, too."

"What about Revelations?" she asked, fighting a sudden urge to laugh. This had to be one of the weirdest conversations she had ever had, and she'd certainly never dreamed that Snape would be the type to memorise Bible quotes – particularly not that one. As far as she could recall, he'd been word-perfect.

"The ancients clearly discovered acid long before the hippies did," Snape replied dryly, before shrugging. "I don't know... I think the world probably will end in fire, with Death astride his pale horse watching us burn." Abruptly the potion hissed and started to produce dark, curling tendrils of steam, and he sighed, sitting back. "I don't like this part much," he muttered, turning and opening a drawer under the bench to produce a syringe before matter-of-factly starting to roll his sleeve up.

Hermione stared at him. "Is this why you have track marks?" It was an explanation that had never occurred to her, or to Madam Pomfrey or Dilys as far as she knew.

"Yes," he replied indifferently. "Poppy told you the truth, though; most of those are old marks from the days when I used drugs. I've been clean for years, despite what she thinks; the newer ones are from drawing blood samples. And this particular potion requires the blood of the drinker to be added at two separate stages during the brewing, and again just before consumption."

"How lovely," she muttered. "Still, I suppose you're not squeamish by now, are you?"

"Nobody who works with Potions stays squeamish for long," he told her. "If you continue to study past NEWT level, you'll lose any last traces of that the first time you have to prepare ingredients. You all work with blood and meat and bodily fluids and body parts from dozens of different animals, but you never stop to think about how the apothecaries harvest them."

"What's the worst ingredient you've had to prepare?" she asked idly, mostly to distract herself as he deftly began to draw blood up into the syringe from the vein at the crook of his elbow with the ease of long practice.

"Mandrakes," he replied instantly. "In your second year. When they're mature they bleed and scream as they're being cut up. It's enough to give anyone nightmares and by the end of it I was fishing chunks out of a bathtub full of... well, it wasn't really blood, but it was close enough to make no real difference, and they do look disturbingly like children."

"What's the worst one you use regularly?"

"Anything involving eyeballs or the secretions of a gland is usually rather unpleasant," he noted dispassionately, removing the syringe and absently pressing his sleeve down over the mark. "But most of my ingredients come ready prepared as well, unless I want to set some nasty detentions."

"Because it's more expensive to buy them ready prepared and you want to pad your budget?" she asked him sweetly.

"Have you ever heard the phrase 'you're so sharp you may cut yourself'?" he asked acidly, his eyes gleaming with humour as he looked at her before adding his blood to the cauldron with another hiss.

"Many times, sir," she said blandly in response, and he snorted, keeping his attention focused on the potion.

Propping her chin on her hand, Hermione watched, fascinated by the change in his expression as he slowly became lost in his work and seemed to forget she was there; the constant tension gradually eased, his thin frame relaxing muscle by muscle, and the deep lines etched into his face softened, the near-permanent furrow between his brows growing shallower. His eyes changed as well, the hard brittleness fading to something warmer and less forbidding, glittering with interest and concentration as he focused more intently. When he pushed his hair back from his face and tucked it behind his ears she saw that it really did seem a little cleaner, and his skin tone looked a bit less terminal as well, which was really good to see.

"You're staring," he murmured a few minutes later, startling her – he'd seemed to be off in his own world.


"It's not a problem, but at least blink or something occasionally, will you? I can feel you staring. What's so interesting, anyway? This part isn't exactly fascinating."

Hermione smiled ruefully, caught out and relieved that he wasn't looking at her. "I've missed watching you brewing, sir, as sad as that sounds," she admitted, repeating her earlier thoughts. "Professor Slughorn is good, but it's weird having someone else teaching Potions, and it's just not the same."

He looked a little surprised, as far as she could tell, although as always his expression wasn't that easy to read; possibly pleased, as well, but she was less sure of that. "Professor Slughorn is a competent and qualified teacher," he replied neutrally, and she snorted.

"Yes, sir," she agreed dryly. He also wasn't Snape. Maybe it was the Mastery, but she didn't think so; it seemed to be just natural talent. "You don't like him much, do you?"

"No, but I don't like anyone much."

Laughing softly, she settled more comfortably on the stool and watched him working, knowing better than to reply to that. He might like her, at least a bit, but she still wasn't going to push her luck too far.

They both lost track of time after that; Hermione was startled when he broke the comfortable silence, sounding rather surprised. "Miss Granger, it is almost two in the morning. You should have returned to your room hours ago."

"Is it really? I didn't realise. You should probably get some rest too, sir," she added bravely, sliding off the stool and stretching stiffly.

"True, I suppose," he agreed, mirroring her actions.

She glanced at the cauldron; the thick, viscous potion inside was still bubbling slightly, although it was much darker in colour now and seemed even more syrupy. "Is it finished?"

"No, not even close. It will be another three days before the brewing is finished, and then it needs to mature for at least two weeks, although longer is better. You see why I wished to make it ahead of actually potentially needing it." He held the door for her, closing it behind them. "I assume you can find your way to bed by yourself."

"Yes, sir. I suppose I'll see you in a few hours?"

Snape shook his head as they headed back up the stairs to the main dungeon level. "Don't you dare."


"I'm not incurring anyone's wrath by insisting you get up in three and a half hours to run through the snow in the dark. I am used to functioning on so little sleep; you are not, and if you fall asleep in class there will be hell to pay. Particularly since you have Defence tomorrow afternoon. Take a lie in until breakfast, Granger; that's an order."

"Yes, sir. Thank you for tonight. I needed the company, and I liked seeing your lab." Saying that had taken all her courage, but she was rewarded by another rare smile before he flicked a hand at her in dismissal and turned away towards his rooms.

Climbing the stairs towards Gryffindor Tower once more, Hermione reflected that tired though she was, this wasn't likely to fix her insomnia. She had a lot more to think about; when he would next let her explore that fascinating lab, how he knew so much about the Bible, why he had been making such a nasty-sounding potion, why his health seemed to be improving a little, when and how his parents had died, and the way that damned lopsided little smile of his warmed his eyes and made her realise anew just how much trouble she was in.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 23 of 60

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