Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 26 of 60

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By now Hermione could have followed the route down to the dungeons through the hidden and little-used passages blindfolded. Phineas was waiting for her in the frame opposite Snape's office door, and she regarded him tiredly, trying to hide her reluctant curiosity. "I'm not going to play games tonight, sir. What, exactly, do you want me to see this time?"

He gave her an amused look, with almost no trace of the sneer that usually graced his pointed features. Over the past year and a half they had come to a truce of sorts and understood one another by now. "So impatient, Miss Granger. I thought you might like the chance to appreciate some art tonight."

She looked blankly at him for a moment before understanding dawned; her eyes widened and she shook her head emphatically. "No. Absolutely not."

"Oh? Why not?"

"Because he'll kill me, for a start," she pointed out, staring at the portrait. "Because I don't want to snoop that far into his life and because I promised him last year that I would never look at anything too personal."

He rolled his eyes, surprisingly eloquently for a painting. "Relax, girl. He won't care. He's left them unwarded since the first time you looked around his rooms. Everything else has had its protection increased, in some cases to a level that would stop a charging giant, and he's actually destroyed some of his private notes, but for some reason his sketchbooks have been left untouched, and recently he has been drawing a lot more frequently. Don't tell me you're not curious."

"Of course I am, but that doesn't mean I have to look. I'm not Harry. I'll survive not knowing."

"If he minded, he would have protected them," Phineas said patiently. "It will give you a little insight. His art is very personal, as I have told you before. It's all very abstract, and frankly I don't recognise half of it, but everything there is important to him."

"All the more reason for me not to snoop."

"I repeat, they aren't protected. I think you need to see this. And if you don't, I may just tell him that you did."

"You bastard." She sighed unhappily. "Do you honestly think it's important, or are you just bored?"

"I think it's important," he said gravely, and Hermione gave in. She couldn't deny that she was curious, and it was perfectly logical that if Snape had wanted them kept private he would have guarded them somehow.

"Fine, but if he kills me I'm going to haunt your portrait for all eternity. What's his password at the moment?"


"Latin? That's new. What does it mean? It can't be a spell if he's using it as a password."

"I don't know. I'll see you inside."

Letting herself in through his office, Hermione looked around his living room quickly. There were a few changes; his desk was much neater and tidier, with far fewer books and papers scattered over it, and the liquor cabinet doors hung open to show that it was empty, and the sofa looked like it had been slept on quite frequently since she was last here. Padding through to the hallway beyond, she entered his bedroom and looked around. The screen in front of the piano had been pushed back, and the instrument was less dusty; the notebook and the bottle were missing from his bedside table; the bed looked as though it hadn't been slept in. Apart from that it was the same as before, and she cautiously approached this desk.

"The book with the green cover is his practice book, I think. He doodles in it, trying out techniques. It all looks like scribbles to me," Phineas explained from the wall. "The one with the blue cover is his standard sketchbook, if you like. He hasn't touched it very often since the war started, except to move it out of the way, but it has normal drawings in it of people and things around him. The one with the brown cover is the one he uses most, with his strange abstract art."

She glanced quickly through the green book first. Most of it was meaningless lines that presumably translated to actual shapes as part of some of the drawings in the other books. There were pencil shavings caught between a few of the pages, and the marks made by someone cleaning the nib of a quill on the edge of a page, and a few smudges of what looked like charcoal. The only thing of substance she found was an attempt at drawing the alphabet in calligraphic letters, not particularly successfully, and she laid the book back where she had found it before opening the blue one.

The first page held quite a good drawing of Professor McGonagall in a state of disapproval, and she stifled a giggle as she looked at her Transfiguration professor's stern eyes and pinched nostrils. It was slightly a caricature, but it was pretty lifelike. "He's very good."

"Only with things that are important to him. He couldn't draw a portrait of a stranger, for example. He almost goes into a trance when he draws, I've seen him do it plenty of times. It's not art as anyone else would understand it."

Hermione flicked through the rest of the book; most of the pages were blank and there were only half a dozen other drawings. One was an incredibly lifelike drawing of Madam Pomfrey, one was of a gargoyle she thought might be the one outside the Charms classroom, one was an insubstantial and less than half-finished drawing of the roof of the Great Hall, one was an equally incomplete sketch of a set of swings in a Muggle playground, and the final picture was a Thestral with a rather unsettling expression on its face. Those were followed by a gap where a page had been ripped out rather messily, but there wasn't enough left of the missing page to show what might have been drawn on it.

"The last book is nothing like that one," Phineas told her unconcernedly.

She hesitated before reaching for the final book, opening it at random and almost dropping it with a shocked gasp. The art in the blue book had been traditional pencil sketches, very well done and realistic; this art leaped off the page in stark black lines, jagged and abstract. Blinking, she cautiously turned a few pages, trying to make sense of the chaotic patterns; there didn't seem to be actual drawings in here, only impressions of things. Patterns reminiscent of chains were common, and others that called to mind barbed wire or stylised flames, and the occasional Greek letter that made no sense whatsoever.

Across one page was a winding series of lines that vaguely reminded her of a snake despite not looking remotely reptilian. Jagged and apparently random slashes and scratches filled odd corners, sometimes hinting at things – she found one that looked like the curve of a wing, and a couple that taken together almost looked like a segment of a clock face, and more than a few that looked like drawings of wounds. Smudges here and there made it seem as if the paper was bruised, and there was a smear of dried blood on one page, although probably by accident more than design

There were some concrete shapes in the insanity, though; mostly eyes. There were no other features, so it was all but impossible to identify whose they might be, and considering they were only lines in ink or charcoal without shading they were frighteningly expressive. One pair stared out of the page at her, so cold and hostile that she shivered reflexively; others seemed to be laughing, opened far too wide, or blazing with anger, although she couldn't really say how she knew. One set of eyes had slit pupils, and she recognised Voldemort's semi-reptilian stare with a shudder; those were opposite the cold eyes, and both were surrounded by jagged flames. Two pages later there were several sets of animal eyes, one pair recognisable as a cat and another that she thought might belong to Lupin's werewolf form, although she couldn't be sure. A bizarrely realistic drawing of a human skull took up most of another page, and the next few pages had been torn out haphazardly, leaving only a few marks on the scrap of paper remaining at the spine of the book.

Not everything in there was hostile; one or two of the sets of eyes seemed rather sad, somehow, and some of the patterns seemed to be benign even if she couldn't tell what they were, tending towards curves and curls rather than jagged points and spikes. The ink was smudged in a couple of places, and a few pages near the back had the odd brittle texture of paper that had been soaked in a spill and dried out, sticking together slightly at the edges.

"This looks like it belongs to a different man," she murmured, carefully closing the book and setting it down exactly in its former place. "An insane one."

"Severus has not had the luxury of being entirely sane in years," Phineas told her, only partly sarcastic. "Does any of that make more sense to you than it does to me?"

"Not really, to be honest." She drew her wand from her belt and began carefully trying to remove as much residue as possible, trying to make it less obvious that she had been here. Unprotected or not, Snape surely wouldn't be happy.

"It was worth a try."

"You're really worried about him, aren't you? Is there no way you can tell me what's burdening him so much now?" The former Headmaster was a Slytherin; maybe he had found a loophole...

Phineas shook his head. "None. But by all means, continue to try and persuade him to tell you. He insists that he can cope alone, but he is fraying at the edges and I don't know how long he'll last without help."

"I'll try, but we all know he won't listen."

Whatever sedative Snape had taken, it wore off in time for him to meet her outside the dungeons as usual the next morning. His odd mood the previous evening seemed to have eased; he looked his usual self, tired and uncommunicative but reasonably all right. Hermione watched him out of the corner of her eye as they began to make their way around the circuit; she had noticed recently that it was less of a challenge to keep up with him, and although she would like to think she was getting fitter she was certain they had slowed down. Snape was clearly finding their previous pace too much effort now and didn't seem to have the energy for it any more.

Approaching the half way mark, she cleared her throat. "Sir, I've been thinking. Maybe we shouldn't keep doing this." The fact that she could speak so clearly proved her point, really; six months ago she would have been slightly breathless.

By contrast, Snape sounded a bit out of breath as he replied, "Oh? Why?"

"I think it's doing your health more harm than good now, sir, to be frank," she told him, meeting his eyes as he turned to look at her, both of them slowing to a halt.

"You think so, do you?" he asked with an edge to his voice.

She shrugged apologetically, no longer cowed by the first signs of temper. At this time of the morning she would have plenty of warning before he turned dangerous. "I have eyes, sir."

"I'm not in my grave yet, you know." He was trying to sound offended, but mostly he just sounded like he should be in bed.

"I know, but this isn't helping. I'm sorry if I'm speaking out of turn, sir, but physically you're not doing as well as you were earlier this year."

Snape continued to look at her for a long moment before to her surprise he almost smiled, an odd light entering his eyes. "Is that so?" he asked, sounding more like his usual self. Before she could reply, he continued, "In that case, Miss Granger... you should find it easy to beat me back to the castle." Without further ado, he took off, breaking into a flat out sprint, faster than she had ever seen him run.

Reacting automatically, Hermione ran after him, fighting a sudden urge to laugh at the sheer unexpectedness of this new development. She hadn't raced anyone since she was ten, at her primary school's Sports Day. That had been a form of torture by another name, frankly, and sadistic enough to rival anything Snape had ever come up with in class, but... well, running was fun, in the right circumstances. Nobody is ever going to believe this, she decided, grinning as the wind whipped her hair back from her face.

She lost, which wasn't too surprising given his unfair start, but it was close enough for her not to feel too disheartened. In any case, her point still stood, since although they were both seriously out of breath by the time they reached the school Snape sounded almost asthmatic and had started to cough. "You cheated," she told him breathlessly, leaning against the wall. "That doesn't count."

Sinking into a crouch and trying to stop coughing, he ignored her, sucking air through his open mouth as he panted harshly. When his breathing had begun to ease a bit, he straightened up and leaned against the wall beside her, closing his eyes. "Of course I cheated," he rasped, drawing his wand and using a non-verbal Aguamenti to direct cold water into his mouth before leaning forward to spit it out, evidently too hot to actually drink yet without being sick.

"You are all right, aren't you, sir? If you give yourself a heart attack trying to win a race against me, you're never going to live it down, you know." That would probably earn him the magical equivalent of a Darwin award, actually, if there was such a thing.

"Don't flatter yourself," he retorted, beginning to sound a little better. He was trembling, though, and had obviously overtaxed himself; he knew it, and she knew it, but she let it go, soaking the sleeve of her thin sweater with her own charm and using the damp cloth to wipe her face while he regained his breath. Once both of them had warmed down and had a drink, he looked and sounded better, but the lines of strain on his face were still all too noticeable, and both portraits and Madam Pomfrey had commented yesterday.

"Sir?" she began cautiously.

"Whatever you did last night, I don't want to know," he told her wearily, closing his eyes and leaning against the wall once more.

"That's not what I was going to say, sir." Phineas had told her to try and find out what this mysterious task was that he had to do, but she knew that wouldn't work. He wasn't going to tell her, and he would only grow more stubborn if she pushed, until he finally lost his temper. "I wanted to ask... I know you can't, or won't, tell me what's really going on, but is there anything I can do to help?"

When he didn't answer, she turned to look at him and found him staring at her with a faintly troubled expression. "You've changed your tune since your first year," he noted finally in a rather distant voice, before slowly shaking his head. "No, there isn't, although I... am grateful for the offer," he added a little stiffly.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

He snorted softly, relaxing and giving her an amused look. "You're not my therapist, Granger."

"Now there's an idea," she replied. "Maybe that's what I'll do when I finish school, become the wizarding world's first psychotherapist."

"God knows we need one," he agreed, his lips twitching. "Now, if you have quite finished doubting my physical and mental health, be off with you."

Since Harry had found out the full memory from Slughorn and confirmed that he had told Voldemort about Horcruxes, Hermione had been doing a lot of thinking. Dumbledore said the only books about such things in Hogwarts were in his possession and perfectly safe, and it was true that she hadn't found anything in the Restricted Section, but she'd bet her wand that there was someone else in the castle who would know about them.

She couldn't understand why Snape wasn't involved in any of this. He was their resident expert on the Dark Arts, and he probably knew more about Voldemort than anyone else on their side except for Dumbledore himself. The official reason was that there was too much risk of Voldemort finding out, she knew that, but when you looked at it that didn't make sense. Snape was too good at keeping secrets for that or he would have been caught long ago, and he had told her himself that if the Dark Lord managed to get through all his defences he would find more than enough to take down the entire Order, at which point it wouldn't matter if he then understood how vulnerable the Horcruxes made him because there would be nobody left who knew about them.

Snape himself seemed to believe that Dumbledore simply didn't trust him, which was looking increasingly likely, but that too didn't make much sense. He'd had more than enough opportunities to betray them all by now if that was what he wanted. Hermione had known him for six years, and only really known him properly for a little over one year; if she could see from that short acquaintance that he would do absolutely anything to see Voldemort dead, then surely Dumbledore – who had known him for far longer – could see it too.

It didn't make sense for Snape not to be involved. He knew so much; his help was likely to prove useful, and in any case... she felt he should know what he was fighting for. It was his life on the line, after all, and he should know why. Rather guardedly, she raised the subject with Harry and Ron. Harry agreed with her, but reminded her with a shrug that Dumbledore had sworn them all to secrecy. Ron was less sure, but he hadn't had much time to come to terms with the notion of Snape and Hermione being friends and the proof that their teacher really was on their side after all, let alone the truth of Hermione's feelings on the matter; he didn't want anything to do with it.

Part of her still thought like a good girl, and she did briefly consider approaching Dumbledore and asking him to tell Snape what was really going on, before reluctantly deciding against it. She wasn't close to Dumbledore the way Harry was and had only spoken to him privately on a handful of occasions; she certainly wasn't confident enough to argue with him, and it probably would be an argument. So that meant she had to find a way around the promise she had made.

Next morning she prudently asked Snape to stop about half way around their jogging circuit so they could talk without risk of being overheard; Hagrid wasn't up yet and nobody else was out here.

He wiped his face, apparently glad of the rest; he still wouldn't admit it, but their morning runs really seemed to be becoming more of an effort for him these days, as his strength continued to wane. "What's bothering you this time, Granger?" he asked, trying not to sound too breathless.

Heartened by the relatively informal address, she shrugged and half-smiled. "I had a question, sir, as surprising as that sounds." He arched an eyebrow and gave her a mocking sneer, but didn't say anything, and she continued a little apprehensively, "I was wondering about a form of Dark magic I heard of recently... what do you know about Horcruxes, sir?"

He hissed sharply, confirming that yes, he did know about them. "Where did you hear that term?"

Hermione gave him an innocent look. "Would you believe the Restricted Section?"

"No." He took a step closer, his black eyes hard. "Don't play games, Miss Granger. Where did you hear about such things?"

"I promised I wouldn't say anything about it to anyone, sir."

His expression hardened still further, and his voice turned dangerous. "Miss Granger..."

Taking a breath, Hermione held her hands up apologetically and repeated with careful emphasis, "I promised I wouldn't say anything."

Snape got the point instantly, his eyes widening slightly; not for the first time, she was very happy that he was this intelligent. Frowning a little, he cocked his head to one side and gave her a measuring look, his eyes narrowing as he thought about things. "I see," he said slowly. "Is this perhaps related to whatever the Headmaster has been doing with Potter?"

"I couldn't possibly say, sir." Trying not to smile, she added in a monotone, "No, please, I promised not to say anything. Please stop."

He rolled his eyes, his lips twitching. "Don't overdo it. Are you ready?" She nodded, meeting his eyes confidently, and he murmured quietly, "Legilimens."

Concentrating first on her fog, Hermione was pleased at how quickly the defences formed. Once she was settled, she thought back to the first memory, when Harry had talked about Dumbledore giving him extra lessons, and began carefully working her way through each of the occasions when he had described the memories the Headmaster had shown him. About the Gaunt family, and the orphanage, and Riddle, and the doctored memory from Slughorn, and later the real one they had learned about the other day, and finally about everything Dumbledore knew or hypothesised about the Horcruxes. She could feel Snape watching intently and curiously, and was pleased that he made no effort to go digging for the memories but allowed her to show them to him at her own pace.

When the connection broke at last, she blinked rapidly a few times and focused on his face once more; he was staring pensively into the distance, frowning and obviously deep in thought. Finally he sighed slowly and blinked, turning to look at her. "Well," he said reflectively, "that makes a great deal of sense."

"You don't even seem all that surprised, sir," she ventured.

"Oh, some things were certainly a surprise, but I had my suspicions about his past... you are of course familiar with the phrase 'it takes one to know one'? I was fairly sure that he didn't have a pleasant childhood, and there were times when he seemed strangely unfamiliar with certain pureblood customs that I didn't understand either – I had wondered about his blood status before Potter witnessed his resurrection with his father's bone, although naturally I never dared say anything or try to find out on my own." He grimaced faintly. "I quite liked the notion that he was perhaps a half-blood like me. I wasn't particularly smart as a teenager, obviously."

Shrugging, he continued, "Naturally, I have known since your second year that he was Salazar Slytherin's heir, too. As for the Horcruxes, well, that business with the diary had me wondering if that was how he had extended his life so unnaturally. I didn't know you could make more than one, though, so when he returned I assumed I had been mistaken. I wonder how Slughorn knew of such things," he mused thoughtfully, before looking back at her. "Why did you allow me to see that, when you had promised to keep it secret?"

"I did no such thing, and you are a terrible man for forcing it out of me," she replied briskly, smiling a little.

Snape rolled his eyes again. "Of course." He thought for a few minutes before giving her a hard look. "I want in on this. I'll be speaking to the Headmaster today; he will no doubt be outraged that I would forcibly use Legilimency against a student," he added extremely dryly, "but somehow I'll work through the pain. He will do his best to keep me out of it, which is where you come in. Potter is going to be involved when they track down another Horcrux, yes?"

"That's what Professor Dumbledore said, yes."

"When that happens, you and Weasley insist on going with him. Get one of the portraits to tell me, if I'm in the castle at the time. I want to see this happening, if I can – I want to watch the plan working while I have the chance."

Since that was one of the reasons why she had let him find out anyway, Hermione nodded happily to this. "I suppose you're not going to repay me by finally sharing your knowledge of what your mysterious plot with the Headmaster is, sir?" she asked hopefully. It wouldn't work, of course, but there were still a few approaches she hadn't tried.

He gave her a dark look. "No."

"Typical. We already know some of it," she added ingenuously.

"Do you?"

"Draco Malfoy is a Death Eater." All right, they didn't know that for certain, but there was a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest it...

"Is he?"

"And you've made some sort of vow..."

"Have I?"

Staring at his utterly blank and inscrutable expression, she gave in. "Oh, fine, sir. Be that way."

His quick smile made his dark eyes glitter. "I intend to. Come on, we're running late now. Try and stay out of the Headmaster's way for a day or two; he's not going to be happy."

It wasn't until after dinner that Severus really had a chance to sit and think about what he had learned. He would need to go and speak to Dumbledore tonight – that was going to be so much fun; the old man was going to be pissed – but first he wanted to get his thoughts in order. It was a hell of a lot of information to take in, after all; none of the Death Eaters had ever known anything about their master, not really, although as he had said to Hermione he had had his suspicions and possibly so had a couple of the others.

Horcruxes, hmm? It made sense, now he considered it. He had wondered. It wasn't a subject he knew much about. He did have books that dealt with such things, but not here – he knew better than to have anything that dark in school, especially given that his two immediate predecessors in this job had searched his rooms more than once. That was a problem; he wasn't going to have time to nip home for some research, so he was going to have to rely on what he could remember and what he could reason out. Hell would freeze over before Dumbledore gave him any more information, after all, and Slughorn would be very definitely on his guard now.

I wish I'd seen Potter getting him drunk, he thought whimsically, smirking to himself. The boy was learning. That had been almost Slytherin – although it didn't take a genius to realise that Slughorn liked his booze. Emotional blackmail was a cruel thing to do to a drunk, but he wasn't inclined to be very sympathetic to anyone who had somehow failed to realise that Tom Riddle was mentally disturbed.

Severus had written down everything Hermione had showed him, and now he sat back and read over his notes pensively; he'd been thinking about his master's life since this morning, and truthfully it disturbed him to realise the similarities. No stable family environment, no social ties, poverty and neglect, a talent for the Dark Arts and a lot of seething resentment... and a tendency towards melodramatic nicknames. That perhaps explained why the great Lord Voldemort had been prepared to give him a chance all those years ago. It also meant there might be a slight advantage, since he could understand how his master thought, at least in some ways.

He had to admit Potter shared some of the same traits; he'd already noted the similarities between himself and the boy. Adding Voldemort to the picture... idly he scrawled a triangle on the edge of his notes. It was quite interesting, actually, that the three of them should be in this situation. He stood between the other two, the edge of the coin holding the two faces together. Perhaps that was why Dumbledore had been struck down, to get him out of the way because he wasn't one of them?

Dear God. I sound like Trelawney. Stifling a laugh, he stretched and leaned back in his chair, resting his boots on the edge of his desk and crossing his ankles casually, half closing his eyes as he re-read his notes. At least there was some comfort in knowing that he wasn't a total psychopath. Severus was well aware he did have some bullying tendencies, and if he'd been part of a gang instead of the gang's victim at school that would have been made so very much worse, but he did have limits. There were a lot of similarities between himself and Tom Riddle, but there were also a lot of differences, which was reassuring.

He was absorbed in fitting this new knowledge into his mental picture of the war's progression and its causes, filling in some of the holes, when Dilys nearly gave him heart failure by greeting him loudly and cheerfully from the wall of his office. "So, Severus, I hear you've been extorting information from schoolgirls?"

"Bloody hell, woman, don't do that," he replied weakly, amused at having been caught off guard – he was usually paying more attention. "You know how high my blood pressure is right now. And you know I did no such thing – it was all her idea. I know you know that, because she told you. Nobody else knows yet."

"Well, she's always been a bright girl," she pointed out, and he nodded agreement. "When are you going to approach Albus?"

"Tonight. Preferably just before he goes to bed. It's about time he lost some sleep because of me for a change, instead of the other way around."

"He's going to be furious, you know."

He smirked at the portrait. "That's the icing on the cake. There is absolutely nothing he can do to me because of this. He needs me too much."

"Don't underestimate him, Severus."

"I don't intend to. Perhaps I should have said there is nothing permanent he can do to me. I'm sure he'll find a way to make me pay, but it's not going to matter in the long run." He settled back in his chair again, returning his gaze to his notes. "It serves him right for leaving me out in the first place."

Dilys burst out laughing. "You are criticising someone for being close-mouthed and secretive?"

"Oh, shut up," he replied, amused despite himself – Dilys had always been the only one who could get away with mocking him, if only because there was absolutely no way he could stop her so he'd had to learn to tolerate it. "I don't do it just because I can."

"No, you do it because you're a stubborn pessimist." She shook her head, her smile fading a little. "Severus..."

"God, not again," he groaned. "How many times do I have to say no to you and Phineas before you understand that I mean it? He's been hounding me for weeks."

"I know you mean it, but I think you're wrong," she told him matter-of-factly. "You should tell her, Severus, for several reasons."

"You're going to list those reasons no matter what I say or do, aren't you."

"Yes, so be quiet and listen. Reason one is that it's killing you to try and deal with the stress by yourself. You're scared, Severus, even though you try to pretend otherwise. I don't blame you. You're in a bad situation, but having someone else who knows what's going on really will help even if only by making you feel better."

"I'm not that selfish."


"Yes, it will make me feel better – do you really imagine I haven't realised that? But it will make her feel worse. She's scared enough as it is, Dilys. I won't be responsible for her losing what faith she has left. Let her keep trusting that our leader knows what he's doing."

"She doesn't trust him any more, Severus. Because reason two is that she knows he's making you do something that is destroying you, and she is desperately worried about you. You know her; if she knows what she's facing, she'll be less afraid, not more."

"That's true," he conceded somewhat reluctantly, shrugging. "But she still has faith that Dumbledore knows what he's doing and that I can cope, foolish girl. I won't take that away from her until I absolutely have to. If I really thought she could help, or that things would be better if I told her, I would, but as it is..."

"Fine. Reason three is that it's not fair to her. Think about it, Severus. If she doesn't find out what's going on until the moment someone tells her you've murdered Albus, what's that going to do to her? And to you? You can't let her find out like that. Tell her what to expect and give her a warning. Reason four is that you're going to need to help the three of them once Albus is gone, and you're not going to be able to do that if they think you've betrayed them all. Do you think she'll work it out on her own, when she's scared and feels betrayed and is on the run with her friends? She's smart, but she's young, and her world is going to end if you don't prepare her."

"Her world is going to end?" he repeated. "Hardly."

Dilys stared at him and slowly shook her head. "Severus Snape, you never cease to amaze me. You are without a doubt the most intelligent man I have ever known, and yet you are at the same time incredibly stupid. I can't quite believe I have to spell this out to you, but fine. Reason five for why you should tell Hermione what is going on is because she's crazy about you, you bloody fool."

Severus froze for what he knew was far too long, but for a moment he literally couldn't breathe. Finally shaking it off, he gave the portrait a venomous look. "That's not funny."

"No, it isn't," she agreed swiftly, glaring back at him with a kind of fond exasperation. "But it is true, and she's been tearing herself apart over it for quite a long time. As have you," she added pointedly. "I might be old and I might be dead but I'm not blind or stupid. I know you like her and I know you're pretending that you don't; you might be able to fool everyone else, but not me. She likes you, Severus," she continued more gently. "I know you've never been in a relationship, so I suppose I can't expect you to spot when a girl is interested in you, but..."

"That was uncalled-for," he growled reflexively, trying to get the rest of his brain to unfreeze and give him a clue how he was supposed to be feeling. "I may not have –"

"Shut up, idiot, you know what I meant. I said relationship, not sex. Did you truly never even suspect? She's been worrying herself sick in case she gave herself away to you. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised... she's as pessimistic as you are."

"I refuse to have this conversation."

"Severus Snape, stop where you are right now or I swear we will be having this conversation very loudly in a public corridor the first time I catch you above ground."

Reining in his temper, he stopped obediently half way to the door and turned reluctantly. "Dilys, please. I don't want to talk about this."

"Tough luck. I'm fed up with the pair of you to be honest and if I could I'd lock you both in somewhere and let Nature take its course. Now, no more evasions. You like her, don't you?"

Severus hesitated. He hated feeling off balance like this and he really didn't want to talk about his feelings... but at the same time he knew damned well that Dilys wasn't going to give up until he did, and if there was even a slim chance that Hermione did like him he wanted to find out more. Surrendering reluctantly, he looked away and muttered, "Yes."

"Well, that's progress. And I assume you've been telling yourself that there is no way she would ever like you back, because you're older, and her teacher, and a charmless antisocial unattractive streak of misery?"

"Thanks for that."

"Severus, think for a moment. Hermione's a smart girl, one of the smartest – in fact, given her youth, probably the smartest I've met. Do you really think she doesn't know what you're like by now? I'm telling you, she doesn't care. She's young enough to be unsure of herself, or I think she might well have made a move already."

He bit his lip and promptly hated himself for it, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. "Does Phineas share this theory of yours?"

"He sees the truth, yes," she retorted. "It's not a theory, and you're a fool."

"Just tell me nobody else knows."

"I really couldn't say," she responded airily. "Of the people you're worried about, though... you can relax. I strongly suspect that Poppy worked it out months ago, but she certainly hasn't said anything to me or to Hermione and I very much doubt she ever will." Dilys sighed, watching him narrowly. "I'm not expecting you to believe me right away. I'm not daft and I've known you too long. Just pay attention, Severus. She really does like you, you know. Now, will you tell her what's coming?"

Firmly squashing the tiny flicker of nervous hope, Severus tried to think, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I'll consider it," he said finally, more to shut her up than because he actually intended to. "But I won't be pushed into anything, so back off and let me think about it in my own way, please."

"I suppose that's the best I'm going to get. Fine, I'll let it go. But there is one more thing I want to say, Severus, and it's important."

He sighed. "Go on, then."

"If you wreck this, I will see you destroyed."


"I've known you since you were a little boy, Severus, and I know you've got that terrible self-destructive streak. I know what you're like. I'm warning you, if you lash out at her now, if you try and push her away or crush her feelings or do anything else stupid and spiteful, I'll find a way to make you pay for it for the rest of your probably short and painful life. No, shut up and listen, you know I'm right. We both know your first impulse will be to try and drive her away from you. It won't work, but it will hurt her, and I won't forgive you for it and nor will anyone else. Keep your temper and act like a grownup, and you just might have a chance at the happiness you deserve. Screw it up, and you'll die alone and hated just like you've always feared."

Without giving him a chance to respond, not that he would have known what to say, she walked out of the frame and vanished. Severus stared at the empty picture for a minute, then turned and stared around his deserted office before finally asking in a somewhat bewildered voice, "What the hell just happened?"

It took him twenty minutes of meditation to shut his brain down after that, but he persevered. He'd need time to acclimatise before he could hope to think rationally about what Dilys had said; in the meantime, he needed to confront Dumbledore. Pushing his tangled emotions down deep below the surface, he strolled through the darkened corridors to the Headmaster's office, looking forward to what was about to happen. Time to shake up the old man's perfect world a bit.

"Good evening, Severus," his employer greeted him, as though they hadn't fought the last time they had spoken. "It's unusual to see you here without being ordered. Is something wrong?"

"Not at all," he replied smoothly, aware of the faint rustle as the portraits came to attention; the audience was going to enjoy this. Holding back a smile, he regarded Dumbledore for a moment, drawing out the anticipation, before crossing to the chair opposite him and sitting down, stretching his legs out and crossing them at the ankles. "So... Horcruxes? That's very interesting."

Oh, how he wished he had a camera. This memory was definitely going to be one to put in the Pensieve and gleefully relive over and over again. It was the purest double-take he had ever seen, complete with bulging eyes and a dropped jaw. Dumbledore spluttered wordlessly for a moment, turning pale, before finally scrambling to recover himself. "How... Who told you?"

Trying not to burst out laughing, Severus gave him a bland and insincere half-smile. "I'm a spy, Dumbledore, if you recall. I have ways of finding out information that is concealed from me." It was tempting to leave the old man worrying about information leaks, but the Order were far too overcautious as it was; he added nonchalantly, "And teenagers can't hide the fact that they're hiding things."

The Headmaster's expression darkened, anger beginning to overtake shock. "What have you done, Severus?"

"What I had to. You shouldn't have kept me out of this, and you know it. I have a right to know what I'm giving my life for."

"If you're telling me you used Legilimency against a child..."

"Did I say that? I don't believe I did." She's not a child, and it was her idea. Firmly he dragged his thoughts away from dangerous territory. "You should have told us, Dumbledore. Not just me, but the whole Order. I'm not talking about our little arrangement, I know you don't intend telling anyone else – that's stupid, but we'll overlook it. I'm talking about this. The Horcruxes, and the information on Riddle. Minerva at least should know. She's actually rather hurt that you won't trust her with anything any more. Keep it up, and she'll start losing faith in you as well. You have to give a little sometimes."

Much as he had expected, the old man ignored this, standing up and moving around the desk to look down at him. "It's too dangerous for you to know about this."

"No, it's not," he replied in his most insultingly bored-sounding drawl, even going so far as to study his fingernails. "You know that's nonsense, Dumbledore. For years I've known enough to doom you all if he ever finds out. Adding a few more secrets will make no difference whatsoever. He won't find out anything I don't want him to know. It's in my best interests to die before letting him see it, because if he does learn any of my secrets my death will last for weeks. You will at least believe a selfish motive, regardless of any other arguments."

While he was talking, Severus had been watching the old man closely, ignoring the black and withered hand to focus on the healthy one; he'd seen the slow movement and wasn't remotely surprised to find a wand tip suddenly aimed between his eyes. "Obliviate!"

Severus yawned theatrically and settled more comfortably in his chair. "Nice try, but I'm not a frightened and traumatised sixteen year old boy any more. You cannot modify the memory of an Occlumens as strong as I am; half the reason I learned Occlumency in the first place was because you threatened to do it to me." He looked up, dropping the sneering smile and the bored tone, and added coldly, "If you ever draw a wand on me again, you'd better be prepared to use the Killing Curse, because if you use anything else I'm going to take it off you and make you eat it."

"Don't threaten me."

"Then don't threaten me." Standing, he stared Dumbledore straight in the eyes. "I'm not your dog, Headmaster, nor am I stupid. I have a brain and the ability to use it, unlike a worryingly high number of people. You know my reasons for being on your side –" Most of them, at least... "– and none of them involve you. I'll follow your plan, because I don't have a choice and because I don't have a better plan and because I want Potter to win. I'll die for him, if I really have to, but I won't die for you."

The two of them looked at one another silently for a while before the Headmaster sighed and looked away. "There is no need for this, Severus. I am trying to keep everyone as safe as possible, and sometimes that means I cannot trust everyone with all the information at my disposal. It isn't personal."

Liar. "I don't care, Dumbledore. Your motives really don't interest me any more. I wasn't even in my teens when I gave up on ever winning your trust, but right now you have no choice but to trust me, and I won't be kept in the dark any more. I have the right to know what I'm dying for. If you haven't realised by now that I won't betray the Order, then you're an idiot, but I don't care about that either. From now on, I'm going to be involved in your plan, until the end. Humour me for a couple of months. You owe me that much at least."

There was another long silence before Dumbledore looked back at him with his jaw clenched and his eyes hard. "Very well, Severus, but I won't forget this."

"And nor will I." He gave his employer a sarcastic smile and turned away without another word, letting himself out.

Once outside, Severus made his way through the corridors, heading for the front door; he wanted a cigarette. A smirk tugged at his lips as he sauntered along; right now he felt good. He couldn't remember the last time he had got one over on Dumbledore; he'd spent years coming off worse in every argument, and it felt really good to win a few points at last. He started humming Elton John's 'I'm Still Standing' under his breath, making plans for the evening; it was late enough now that he knew he wouldn't be Summoned. A cigarette, and then an early night seemed to be in order; he'd give himself a night off, curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book and relax and avoid thinking about anything. He suspected a certain Gryffindor was going to haunt his dreams again, too, but perhaps he didn't need to repress them so forcefully this time.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 26 of 60

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