Continuing Tales

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 9 of 60

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The world started spinning backwards in April, or that was what it felt like. Severus had been out for the evening; there had been a Death Eater meeting, and afterwards he'd gone home to see if his house was still standing and had a drink or several in front of his cheap and unreliable television just to gain a little distance from the wizarding world and its problems for a while. He came back to Hogwarts slightly less than half drunk and feeling almost content, his thoughts pleasantly remote and distant without being fuzzy.

He found Hermione Granger waiting for him, not even hidden by Potter's toy, and glared at her as a little of the pleasant numbness wore off. About to ask what the hell she thought she was doing, he paused and frowned, noticing her expression; unless he was very much mistaken, she'd been crying. "Miss Granger, you had better have a good reason for this," he told her quietly, leaning against the gate.

She looked at him rather blankly for a moment. "Professor Umbridge is Headmistress."

Severus stared at her, trying to make sense of this. He was sure he hadn't drunk that much; he'd only had a couple of pints, and although the beer he favoured was quite strong it certainly wasn't that strong. And it was early April, but the first had been last week, and in any case the wizarding world didn't know about April Fool's Day. "Where is Professor Dumbledore?" he asked after too long a pause, blinking slowly.

"I don't know, sir."

He continued to stare at her for a moment before sighing and drawing his wand to conjure a couple of chairs. "You'd better tell me before we go back to the castle. This sounds like it's going to be a long story."

The girl nodded and sank into one of the chairs, worrying her lower lip between her teeth the way she did when she was either nervous or thinking too hard about something. "Well, sir, you know about – about the DA...?"

"Yes," he replied simply, sitting down and absently fishing his cigarettes out of his pocket. Another time he might have smirked, might have mocked her a little – of course he knew about it – but not now, with so much at stake.

"Someone – one of the girls talked to Umbridge, I mean, Professor Umbridge –"

"Don't waste your breath giving her titles, and don't waste time calling me 'sir' every other sentence. Just tell me what happened," he ordered bluntly, lighting his cigarette and taking a long drag and trying not to shiver.

She bit her lip again and did as he asked. "Someone talked to Umbridge and she called the Minister into school. A house elf warned us while we were practising and we all ran for it, but her squad were after us and Malfoy caught Harry. Fudge questioned him and – Harry wasn't very clear, but the Headmaster managed to confuse everything, and Umbridge lost her temper... Kingsley was there, and he modified the memory of the person who spoke up so that she would say only one meeting had happened, and then – then Professor Dumbledore took responsibility for the whole thing, he wouldn't let Harry take the blame, and the Minister tried to arrest him but he escaped... and now they've made Umbridge Headmistress."

Granger was trying not to cry again by the time she'd finished, and she'd barely paused for breath during the somewhat incoherent anecdote, but Severus had absorbed enough of the story to have sobered up far too quickly for his liking. "What a bloody mess," he muttered, pushing his hair back from his face and trying to think.

"I'm so sorry, sir..."

"It was hardly your fault, was it?" he asked, a touch incredulously. He was certainly no stranger to guilt, but really, there were limits. Besides, blaming Umbridge was much more fun.

"Well, I – I suggested the DA in the first place, and I... I tried to make sure nobody could betray us, but I couldn't make it so they wouldn't be able to, only so they'd be punished if they did. I..."

"Enough, Miss Granger. Stop sniffling; this wasn't your fault. Now let me think a moment. And stop biting your lip like that," he added absently, pinching the bridge of his nose and thinking. "All right. Did the Headmaster manage to say anything to Potter?"

"Only that he had to pay attention to his Occlumency lessons," she replied. "Professor McGonagall was there and she asked him where he was going to go, but he didn't say."

"He went alone?"

"Yes, sir."

Nodding slowly, he gestured to her to stand up and Vanished their chairs, starting to lead the way up the drive. "How has Umbridge reacted to all this?"

"I don't know, sir." For a moment she almost smiled, her brown eyes blazing fiercely. "Professor Dumbledore Stunned her. And the Minister. And Percy Weasley, and the Aurors. Professor McGonagall got Harry out before they woke up."

"Ha," he muttered, cheered by the thought; he wished he'd been there, if only so he could write PRICK on Fudge's forehead before the man woke up, or shave his moustache off, and as for what he could have done to the toad... "When did they announce that she was Headmistress?"

"They haven't yet, sir, but the latest Educational Decree has gone up about it already."

"And I assume that the whole school knows what has happened by now?"

"Probably, sir."

"Why are you out here?"


"Don't pretend that the change of subject has confused you," he told her tartly, "because I won't believe it for a second. I have told you before not to wait for me."

"I thought you should know what had happened before you got back, sir. It's all a bit mad up there at the moment. Phineas and Dilys saw everything and they told me to wait for you."

Typical. He nodded slowly. "It looks as though I had better go and see what's happening, then. And you should get yourself to bed before anyone catches you; I think you and your friends have caused enough havoc for one night, don't you?" he added dryly, finishing his cigarette and Vanishing the butt.

The rebuke earned him another lip-bite, but she nodded, apparently recognising that he wasn't actually angry. "What's going to happen, sir?"

"Probably nothing pleasant," he told her, "but it will only be for another few months."

"You think so, sir? She's not the Defence teacher any more..."

"Oh, yes, she is. Her contract was for one year." He gave her an unpleasant smile. "I make it a point to never underestimate the capacity of students to cause mayhem for any teacher they dislike, Miss Granger. I'm sure your fellow pupils can persuade her that education is not her calling soon enough. And if you lot aren't in fact as annoying as I think you are, I'll assassinate her myself come the summer if I have to. We'll survive. Dumbledore irritates me a lot, but he's no fool; the day he can't outwit the Ministry is the day I take holy orders and become a monk. Now you should get to bed, while I go and speak to Professor McGonagall. And I mean it, Miss Granger – in future, don't wait at the gates for me like some loyal Labrador. I don't care if the castle has exploded or if you think I'm being disembowelled; stay where you're supposed to be for once in your life. Understand?"

"Yes, sir."

He went straight to Minerva's office once Granger had scampered off, and found his colleague wide awake and working. "Honestly, woman, I was gone for three hours. I come back and there's been a coup d'état? What the hell have you been doing?" he asked lightly.

"You know what's happened, I take it?" she asked tensely, apparently not in the mood for banter.

"A little bird told me. Where's he gone?"

"I don't know. I haven't heard from him yet." She scowled. "Why did he do it?"

"Did you hit your head and become stupid all of a sudden? You know why he did it. Because the alternative was to let Potter be expelled, and whilst when that day comes I'll dance a bloody jig, it's his death if it happens now. Away from Hogwarts, he'll be killed within days. Besides, this way will cause far more problems for the Ministry, because they're going to massively cock this up and look unbelievably stupid doing so and will therefore not have enough power to get in our way again." And because of Potter's sodding Occlumency lessons, for all the good those are doing. "It also sounds like it was quite funny," he added thoughtfully. "I'm a little sorry I missed it, but I'm sure Phineas and Dilys will give me a full report later. Complete with re-enactments and sound effects. What has she done so far to begin her reign of terror?"

Looking a little better, Minerva snorted. "Nailed her Educational Decrees to every single wall, and thrown a tantrum when she couldn't get back into Albus' office afterwards."

"He's not hiding in there, is he?" Severus asked in some amusement. "That really would be funny."

"I wish he was, Severus. You're right that she's going to make a complete mess of it –"

"That's not what I said," he interrupted mockingly.

"I was brought up better than you," she told him primly.

"True, although that's not difficult."

"Anyway, you're right that she's going to make a complete mess of it, but she can do a lot of damage between now and June and I'm not going to be able to stop it."

"Then don't. The students are more than capable of holding their own; they haven't even started yet. Pretend that you're not Deputy Headmistress, Minerva. Sit back and let them run riot for a while." He grinned viciously, already having several interesting ideas in mind. "I for one can't wait for the first staff meeting where she tries to tell us what to do. She's in for a lot of nasty shocks over the next few days; it's not going to be a learning curve so much as Dead Man's Bend. Focus on the really important things and let the rest happen; we can clean up later."

"Easy for you to say. I'm deputy leader of the Order as well, you know."

He snorted. "Dumbledore can still get to Headquarters without anyone knowing. He's still running the Order. The Hogwarts chapter of the Order pretty much just consists of you and me at the moment, and I assure you, I don't need another master – or mistress. Two is quite enough." Particularly as both of them were crushing disappointments to him.

"You're the most cynical person I've ever met, Severus. Why are you suddenly being so optimistic?"

He gave her a look. "Earlier this evening I was on my knees in front of the Dark Lord, wondering if this would be the night he killed me. Compared to what's really going on, Minerva... Dolores Umbridge is just a pouchy bag of wind. Who cares? The children are doing a pretty good job of looking after themselves – Hell, they're even educating themselves, and doing surprisingly well at it, much as I hate to admit it. The toad's won over a small handful of the few truly stupid Slytherins, but the rest of the school despise her and they are going to run rings around her. I intend to sit back and enjoy watching it, frankly."

"I suppose you're right..."

"I'm sorry, what was that? Did I hear you correctly?"

"Shut up, Severus."

"Be careful, or I might just draw up a Ministry decree of my own making it an offense for you to speak to me like that. She still likes me at the moment." He smiled unpleasantly. "That won't last."

She was starting to smile now, and it was as nasty as his own. "From now until the end of the year, what say we increase the money in the pot? We'll be able to be more creative now..."

"I'm game if you are. The others will be, as well." He smirked. "I haven't truly enjoyed my job in a very long time. This is going to be fun."

Dilys called him to the infirmary before he had gone three paces; she filled in most of the gaps in Granger's story as he climbed the endless flights of stairs to the hospital wing, imitating the people involved so brilliantly that he was trying not to laugh as he entered. "Welcome to the new world, Poppy," he said rather whimsically. "What's your opinion?"

"It's a disaster waiting to happen, but it's also not my problem, except for the hordes of students deliberately poisoning themselves courtesy of the Weasley twins in order to get out of Defence lessons," she told him irritably. "Even you never drove them to that extreme. Are you all right, before anything else?"

"Oh, yes, I'm fine. He ignored me completely tonight, which is always nice. And then I come back and find my boss has run away and it's now toad-hunting season. I'm having a wonderful time, actually."

"Typical. You're the only one. Anyway, I need your help with a student, Miss Edgecombe of Ravenclaw."

As soon as Severus saw the girl, who had mercifully been sedated, he started laughing. "Oh, that's brilliant. Ten points to Gryffindor."


"I mean it. That's wonderful, it really is. It's almost as funny as the day Miss Granger turned herself into a cat, although that's still one of my best ever memories."

"You're in a really spiteful mood tonight, aren't you? Can you do anything for the poor girl?"

He shrugged. "Probably, although it would take a bit of working out, since that looks like one of Granger's own spells to me. But I'm not going to."

"What? Why not?"

He wasn't laughing now. "I don't have a lot of use for anyone who rats out their friends," he replied coolly. "Let her stay branded a sneak. It's really the least she deserves; without her big mouth we wouldn't be in this mess. Granger's too soft-hearted to have made it permanent – it'll wear off eventually."


"Don't you dare," he chided her softly. "Look me in the eyes and tell me you don't feel the same."

After a long moment the nurse scowled at him. "Shut up, Severus."

"I've been hearing that a lot tonight," he noted wryly. "I'm off to bed, assuming nothing else happens before I get down there. Tomorrow the fun begins."

The fun did indeed begin the very next day, at lunchtime, and very dramatically. Severus was used to explosions, working with incompetent students all day, but even by his standards this was impressive. It took a lot of force to shake the castle. He and Minerva joined the crowd fighting their way out of the hall to see what was going on, noting that Umbridge was conspicuously absent, and for a moment stopped and stared at the fireworks filling the corridors and bouncing around. It was quite pretty, he observed, fighting to keep his face impassive; he liked fireworks.

"I do believe you owe me ten Galleons, Minerva," he commented.

"You've no proof the Weasleys were behind this," she protested half-heartedly.

"Apart from the fact that I can see them sniggering over there behind that tapestry?"

Sighing, she reached into a pocket of her robe. "I've only got three Galleons and a couple of Sickles on me. I'll have to owe you the rest."

"I'll be sure to remind you," he replied dryly, pocketing the coins as the rest of the staff gathered around them, making absolutely no attempt to subdue the excited students. "What on earth have you been teaching your sixth years, Filius?" he added with a smirk, glancing down at the little Charms teacher.

"I gave up teaching those boys anything years ago," Flitwick answered, trying not to grin. "They teach themselves anything that looks interesting, and get through everything else on guesswork. But this is very impressive, oh yes... in fact," he added in an undertone, "ten points to Gryffindor."

"That will replace some of the ones your Slytherins have been taking," Minerva hissed pointedly, stepping on Severus' foot and glaring at him. "You do know what Mr Malfoy has been doing, don't you?"

He sighed. "Fining Muggleborns for being Muggleborn. Yes, I know. If he does it in my hearing I can stop him, but until then there's not much I can do." If Draco dared to use that word in his hearing he was going to give the boy a thick ear. "I don't think anyone much cares about the House Cup right now, anyway."

"That's interesting," Pomona Sprout interrupted, pointing across the hall. "Our esteemed Headmistress has just discovered that if you try to Stun them, they explode."

"Why would you try to Stun a firework?" Severus asked somewhat incredulously. "That's a very weird reaction." Mind you, she's a very weird woman...

"I wonder what happens if you try other charms on them..." Filius mused, as Umbridge started to fight her way over towards them.

"I only actually have one class this afternoon, then I'm free for the rest of the day," he replied smugly. "I'll do some experimenting. It's going to take days to get rid of this lot."

"Try and pick up a few of the spent ones, if you can," his colleague requested. "I'd like to take a closer look at them."

"Why are you all just standing here watching?" Umbridge fumed as she reached them. "Do something! Get rid of them, get the children back to classes!"

The staff exchanged glances, all of them trying not to smile, before Minerva said calmly, "I don't think I can tell the children to ignore the fireworks, Dolores. Fireworks aren't related to Transfiguration, and I wouldn't want to go against one of your many Educational Decrees. Besides, my lunch is getting cold. Come on, everyone; we'll sort this mess out later."

That afternoon was one of the best of Severus' life, as he gleefully wandered around the castle and basked in the chaos. None of the fireworks had made it down to the dungeons, so his single class had been uninterrupted, and now he was really enjoying himself. His colleagues had formed a united front and were all now apparently incompetent; the toad was nearly killing herself running all over the school doing battle with the fireworks, which were proving to be astonishingly resilient and were putting up quite a fight.

The sparklers were rather childish, in his view – obviously the Weasleys had been brought up too nicely by their formidable mother and didn't really know how to swear properly – but the others really were wonderful. Finding a nice empty corridor with only one firecracker in it, Severus drew his wand and began very cautiously experimenting; Petrifying them had the same effect as Stunning them. Vanishing them made them multiply, he discovered happily, and promptly cast more Vanishing spells at all the new firecrackers until the corridor was so filled with them that he had to back off and find a new one to play with.

He eventually discovered that Stasis charms would stop the fireworks, and slow Cooling charms would then extinguish them; which was far less painful than whatever the toad was doing – he caught sight of her once and she looked like she was training to be a fire-fighter, dishevelled and sweating and soot-stained, and he had to duck into an empty classroom with his sleeve in his mouth so nobody would hear him snickering.

Taking advantage of her absence, he went to her quarters, and found that someone else had had the same idea; he didn't need to open the door, he could hear the crackles and hisses through the wood, and wondered in some amusement how many fireworks were merrily setting her things on fire at the moment. Whistling 'Disco Inferno' rather tunelessly between his teeth, he ambled off towards her office instead, collecting a large Catherine wheel on the way and attaching it carefully to her office door with a Permanent Sticking Charm, deliberately positioning it so close to the door handle that it would have to be extinguished and removed before the office could be entered. Stepping back, he admired his handiwork idly through half-closed eyes and smirked before making himself scarce and going in search of new toys.

It was after he had amused himself 'slaying' one of the huge dragon fireworks that he almost ran into Granger, emerging from a bathroom on the fourth floor; she caught him pocketing the downed firework, and he was immensely relieved that she hadn't seen him trying to imitate St George just moments earlier. She gave him a surprisingly evil conspiratorial smile that set her brown eyes dancing with sheer mischief, obviously enjoying this almost as much as he was, and practically bounced off back to class; he saw her draw her wand and cast a Vanishing spell at a Roman candle as she passed it and couldn't stop his grin. Ten points to Gryffindor, damnit. Even the knowledge that he had Occlumency with Potter later couldn't dampen his mood right now.

Muttering to himself, Severus stalked back towards his office. He had no idea what had happened to Montague, but the boy was a mess and was likely to need professional help to unscramble his wits – what there were of them; he'd never been the brightest – and he would be absent for probably the rest of the term. His family were not going to be impressed. And now he had to go back and continue this farce with Potter... He had no wish to see any more teenage angst, and it was all a waste of time. And the day had been going so well earlier; Flitwick had beamed brighter than the sun when Severus had presented him with half a dozen assorted spent fireworks to play with.

When he opened the door, he froze for a moment, staring at the little tableau awaiting him as his breath caught in his throat. His eyes were fixed on his Pensieve... his stupidly unguarded Pensieve... with all those memories in it...

The world turned red and black as something snapped, and desperate rage flooded through him.

By the time the red mist receded, Severus was alone in what remained of his office, exhausted and shaking in the aftermath. Panting for breath, he leaned against the wall and slid down it as his knees buckled, sinking down to sit on the floor and leaning back against the cool stone, closing his eyes as his head began to pound. Damn Harry bloody Potter and his complete inability to leave things alone! Damn James Potter's genes, and damn Lily for choosing James, and damn Dumbledore for putting him through this. Damn Petunia for not teaching the brat not to touch other people's property. And damn him too, for not thinking to put a ward around the fucking thing.

His shaking grew worse as he drew his legs up to his chest and hugged his knees, trembling. He'd been very, very lucky. He'd got to Potter just in time; the boy had seen the moment when everything had fallen apart, but hadn't understood what he was seeing. The memories that followed that one would have made it all too dangerously clear; it had been a very narrow escape, although that was very small consolation right now.

He had also been very lucky that he hadn't killed the brat. He hadn't felt anger like that in a very long time... not since the last time Black had got away scot-free, in fact, although Severus was in no state to appreciate the irony right now. His rage was always at its most dangerous when it was fed by fear and pain; it had been all he could do to make sure he aimed to miss when he started throwing things at the boy, and he had absolutely no idea what his magic had been doing, although he remembered losing control of it. Hell, he was lucky he hadn't accidentally manifested Fiendfyre and burned half the bloody castle down.

Still shaking, he wiped his face on his sleeve, focusing on the rhythm of his breathing and slowly calming himself down. Running his fingers into his hair, he sighed and looked around him at the devastation as his pounding heart began to slow at last, shaking his head. His throat ached, but he ignored it; he'd cried over this memory too many times for it to affect him now. It still hurt, and always would, but there wasn't much emotion left.

Well, that was that. Occlumency lessons were now officially over. Potter should consider himself lucky that he was still alive; every Potions lesson was going to be a battle for a while until Severus managed to control his temper once more. He'd known it was going to be a fiasco, but he hadn't expected a disaster on this level. Sighing again, he braced himself against the wall and hauled himself to his feet. There was nothing to be done about it now, short of Obliviating the boy, and that wasn't really necessary, fortunately. It might even do him some good to see what a pair of bastards his father and godfather had been, he told himself vindictively, but the thought brought no pleasure. Served the brat right for sticking his nose where it didn't belong, violating his privacy like that. You never knew, Potter might even feel guilty about it... miracles had been known to happen, although usually not to him.

Aware that he was still dangerously angry and on edge, he drew his wand and started methodically clearing up the mess and repairing everything he'd smashed. By the time he'd sorted his office out, his Occlumency shields would have pushed his anger back down where it belonged and he would have calmed down; then, he supposed, he ought to go and tell Dumbledore – no, wait, that wasn't necessary any more, because the old man wasn't here. That was something, at least. Hard to believe there was a good side to any of this... he started laughing, a little hysterically. He was the last person to find a silver lining anywhere. And the day had been so pleasant earlier... he should have known it couldn't last.

Hermione strongly suspected that something had gone very wrong when Harry came back early from his latest Occlumency lesson, looking rather pale and shaken – that in itself wasn't too unusual, but he avoided meeting either her or Ron's eyes as he told them that Snape had said he had got the hang of the basics and could continue by himself. Obviously Harry was lying; when Snape wasn't there the next morning for their usual run, it confirmed her suspicion that something had happened. The man was present at breakfast, with bloodshot eyes and an almost visible aura of rage that meant even the other staff members were treading carefully around him, but except for one venomous glare he avoided even looking at the Gryffindor table.

After breakfast, she collected a rather reluctant Ron and forced Harry into a corner in the corridor. "What really happened yesterday, Harry?"

"I told you –"

"Yes, I know what you told us. Harry, we've known you for five years. You've always been a terrible liar, and it's obvious you and Professor Snape have had a row of some kind. What happened?"

"A row." Harry laughed rather hollowly. "I guess you could say that, yeah." He sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair. "I... I saw a memory he didn't want me to see. About something my dad and Sirius did to him when they were kids."

Hermione's breath caught for a moment. The Shack? No, Harry didn't look anywhere near upset enough to have found out about that. "What did you see?"

He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. It wasn't very nice. They were just... picking on him, I guess. Anyway, Snape blew up after I'd seen it and chucked me out. I thought he was going to curse me actually. I dunno if I've ever seen him that pissed off." He shrugged. "I think lessons are over now. I definitely don't want to go back anyway."

"But Occlumency is important," Ron said rather anxiously. "You need to keep You-Know-Who out of your head. Has Snape told you enough yet?"

"Yeah, yeah, don't worry. It'll be fine. I'm just glad I don't have to go back, to be honest. I don't want Snape poking around in my head again. Do you reckon he'll have calmed down before our next Potions lesson?"

"Is that really the most important question right now?" Hermione asked acidly.

Ron grinned at her. "Actually, yeah, because when Snape's mad at Harry, we both catch it in the neck as well, if you remember. I don't want to be ripped apart because of the Chosen One's way with people."

Severus wasn't having a good time at the moment. It was taking everything he had to resist the urge to strangle Potter every time he saw the boy; he hadn't felt such anger in a long time, such outrage at the violation of his life. It didn't occur to him that Granger had ventured far deeper into his past without incurring his wrath; he was too busy fuming silently as he argued with himself about what to do now. He knew he should go back to the boy, order him to resume Occlumency lessons, and he didn't need anyone from the Order prodding and interfering and trying to shove him into doing that. He understood why it was so important, probably better than anyone else did except perhaps Dumbledore.

The problem was that if he did, he'd end up seriously hurting the brat. He knew his temper and he knew his limits and he knew he could no longer trust himself. Besides, it hadn't been working anyway. He had tried to see past his emotions, he really had, but he knew he was making a complete hash of the 'lessons' and Potter's attitude wasn't helping even before the Pensieve incident. No, he couldn't continue to teach him. But he couldn't stand by and do nothing, either; nobody else knew Occlumency as well as he did, the Headmaster had been right about that much.

So, that meant he had to try and find another way...

Over the start of the Easter holidays, the situation did not improve. Ron had reported worriedly to Hermione that Harry was still having weird dreams and muttering in his sleep; clearly what little he'd managed to pick up about Occlumency wasn't enough. Snape continued to exist in a state of poorly-restrained rage, all but vibrating with it every time he saw Harry. Even when she saw him alone during their morning runs, he was silent and tense and even less inclined to talk than he usually was.

One morning after their warm-down stretches, Hermione was heading inside, preoccupied with thoughts of a shower, when Snape finally broke his silence. "Miss Granger."

She turned to look at him curiously; he usually never said a word to her during this time, although occasionally she managed to coax a 'good morning' out of him. "Yes, sir?"

It was still odd seeing Snape like this, slightly flushed and sweating and still a little breathless, especially since he usually didn't shave before they went running. Odd or not, though, she could still tell that he wasn't particularly happy about whatever he was going to say. "How much does Potter still listen to you?"

Hermione blinked at him. "I don't understand the question, sir."

"When you were younger he accepted that you know more than he does and relied on you for advice. Has his pride taken him beyond that point unless he wants help with his homework?"

She frowned, thinking about it. He occasionally asked her for advice about girls, but somehow she didn't think that was what Snape meant. "I suppose he still listens to me, sir, but it depends on what the subject is, really..."

Snape sighed, wiping his face on his sleeve before looking directly at her for the first time. Not that it helped, since his black eyes were as unreadable as always. "If I were to teach you Occlumency," he said slowly, "could you nag Potter into letting you teach him, if you claimed that you had learned it on your own to help him?"

That made her stare at him, at least until he scowled at her. Looking away, she thought about it, trying not to wonder why he was even asking and just thinking about the question. "If I approached him in the right way, yes, I think I could," she said finally. "But I'm sure I won't be as good a teacher as you, sir – can't you –"

"No," he said curtly, cutting her off as his eyes hardened. "I will not teach him again. Did he tell you what happened?"

"...Sort of, sir. He said he had seen a memory you didn't want him to see, involving you, his father and Sirius, and that you threw him out afterwards."

Snape's thin lips twisted into a cold and unpleasant crooked smile that held no humour whatsoever, confirming her suspicions that Harry hadn't told her everything; his eyes were hard and angry. "'Sort of', indeed... It is close enough to the truth that it will do as an explanation. In any case, it wasn't working even before that. I cannot teach him what he needs to know, and he cannot learn it from me. Cannot, not will not, in both instances. Are you willing to act as an intermediary?"

"Yes, sir." She hesitated, before admitting, "...I was considering trying to learn anyway."

He snorted. "I'm not even surprised. What have you read on the subject so far?"

"Nothing. There's nothing about it in the library. I was going to ask at Flourish & Blott's on the next Hogsmeade weekend."

"Don't bother. I will give you what you need."

"You didn't give Harry anything to read," she said before she could stop herself.

He arched an eyebrow at her. "Would he have bothered to read it if I had?"

Hermione bit her lip, before sighing and replying honestly, "Well, he'd have skimmed it in case you asked him for a summary."

He snorted again. "Precisely my point, Miss Granger. Come to my office after dinner this evening, and we will begin."

Hermione had to admit that she was nervous as she tapped on his office door. What little Harry had said about his lessons didn't fill her with confidence now; he had said it hurt, and she didn't really want Snape – or anyone – poking around in her head.


She let herself in and closed the door behind her, feeling an immediate faint tingle as Snape warded the room to ensure that they wouldn't be disturbed. "Good evening, sir."

"Good evening, Miss Granger." He laid aside his work and sat back, gesturing towards the chair on the other side of his desk. "Sit." He raised an eyebrow, studying her face. "And stop looking so worried. I'm not going to eat you." Smiling a little sheepishly, she sat opposite him, and he continued, "Your lessons will not be like Potter's. The situation is different. What do you know about Occlumency?"

"Not much, sir, beyond what you've told Harry. It's a way of concealing memories and emotions from a Legilimens; it lets you lie without being caught and hide secrets. Madam Pomfrey told me once that she thinks it can help block pain, as well."

Snape nodded thoughtfully. "It can, yes. We have an advantage, Miss Granger – as you are a widely read Muggleborn, I can use analogies that you will understand. Occlumency is much like meditation. It is called Occlumency because most people only use it to Occlude their minds; most people believe that is all it does. I don't like the name. It isn't accurate. What people call Occlumency is in fact a form of yoga. Put simply, it is mental discipline, and if done properly allows complete control of not only the mind and the psyche but of the body as well."

This sounded interesting. Hermione hadn't been thinking beyond keeping Voldemort out of Harry's head, but already her mind was racing through the possibilities. It must have shown on her face, because suddenly Snape smirked at her. "Do please attempt to restrain yourself, Miss Granger. There is far more to Occlumency than I can possibly teach you; we are pressed for time and it would take years. I can teach you the basics and give you the principles that may allow you to discover the rest for yourself, if you wish, but here and now we are chiefly concerned with shielding the mind. The key is visualisation and concentration; here, again, we have an advantage, since I believe that you are a visual learner?"

She nodded slowly; when she remembered things, she did so by picturing her notes, or the book, or whatever the source of the knowledge was, although how Snape knew that about her was anyone's guess. "Yes, sir."

"Good. You should pick this up fairly quickly. How you manage to teach it to Potter, since he is not, is not my concern," he added dispassionately, truly not seeming to care. "So, let us begin. There are many different ways of organising and guarding one's mind against invasion; every culture on Earth has some form of yoga. Some concentrate all their energy on imagining solid shields, usually brick or stone walls; this does work very well against casual attacks, and may well prove to be Potter's best option, but it is flawed and can be shattered if hit in the right way. Others prefer to foil attempts at examining their thoughts by practising a kind of organised chaos, thinking 'loudly' of random numbers or shoals of fish or swarms of insects or flashes of colour to distract the attacker; this requires a great deal of concentration and is very tiring, and faltering for even a fraction of a second always proves fatal. A few build very detailed, very complex mental structures and construct a kind of maze within their minds, but that requires many years of gruelling work. I prefer a different method that combines elements of all these practices and allows more flexibility, hiding some things and revealing others as I choose, giving me more options. Before I tell you anything more, I wish to show you what I mean; some things cannot be explained as well as they can be experienced. For now, use your wand, although later you will not need it. I wish you to try Legilimency on me."

"...Sir?" she asked faintly, certain that she must have misheard him. He couldn't possibly have meant that.

He snorted softly and sneered faintly at her. "You won't see anything. You will only enter my mind at all because I will allow you to – it will be days yet before you could enter even a totally unprotected mind, and I very much doubt you will ever be capable of breaching my defences. I simply wish to show you something of how I protect myself. You know the spell?"

"Yes, sir, but..."

"Then begin." He settled more comfortably in his chair and looked at her calmly. Taking a breath and swallowing further useless protests, Hermione found her wand and hesitantly met his eyes, the first time she had ever done so for more than a few seconds at a time when that black-eyed stare wasn't filled with raw unfocused agony.

"Legilimens," she whispered nervously, and the world spun around her as she fell into the dark depths of his eyes.

There was nothing but blackness. It felt as if she hung suspended in space, unable to see or hear anything at all, and it was utterly terrifying. The panic that threatened to overwhelm her lasted only a few moments; there was something there, a sense of... something. Snape had been right that some things couldn't be explained; she didn't have words for this, but something was supporting her in the blackness. It took her a few moments to recognise the sensation; not space, but water. His mind was a dark, quiet ocean; she could feel currents swirling around her and the endless depths beneath her. There was sound, too, she realised slowly, a faint noise somewhere between the distant sounds of surf and the rhythm of human breathing. And sight had come back, too; there was as much light here as there would be under the sea at night, the absolute blackness becoming a very deep midnight blue.

Wow. This was... well, surreal, yes, but it was also absolutely fascinating and complex and...

Very faintly, as though from a great distance, she heard soft laughter, so quiet that she wasn't sure if she had heard it at all or simply felt it. Snape's amusement was a ripple in the water around her, and the mortified realisation that he knew that she was thinking how cool this was proved to be enough to break the connection.

Looking at him, she realised she could see the same faint amusement in his eyes now, although his face was as expressionless as ever. "Could you... sense what I was thinking, sir?" she asked uncertainly.

"Not your thoughts, no, but your emotions," he replied, one side of his mouth curving into a faint half-smile. "As disparate as you are from your fellows, Miss Granger, in some ways you are still very much a Gryffindor. You are more introspective than most of your House, it is true, but you still shout your every emotion to the world, albeit not verbally. Your feelings have always been painted across your face, and your mind all but screams everything you feel. You have no defences at all; had I looked, I could have found your conscious thoughts, and your unconscious thoughts, and anything else I chose."

Hermione could feel her face heating and knew she must be blushing, which was very annoying because it only confirmed everything he had just said about her being unable to hide her emotions. Staring at her lap, she twisted her fingers together around her wand uncomfortably.

Snape leaned forward a little, his voice softening fractionally. "Miss Granger, relax. During these first sessions, I give you my word that I will not attempt to read anything from you. When we reach that point, I will tell you in advance, and I will teach you how to use a Pensieve to remove any memories you do not wish me to see. I assure you, I do not particularly want to probe the depths of your subconscious any more than you want me to do so. I may well see things by accident, but I will not mention them to you or to anyone else."

A little tension eased away. Not much, but a little. "Thank you, sir."

In a rather different tone, Snape commented, "You do realise you don't have to call me 'sir' every single sentence? I won't bite your head off if you miss one, you know." He still sounded amused, and the half-smile was back when she looked at him.

Venturing a smile in return, she shrugged. "It's habit by now, I think. Sir," she added deliberately.

He snorted softly, the half-smile increasing fractionally. "Back to business, then. What did you sense?"

She told him about the ocean, trying to describe it as well as she could, and when she was done he nodded in what seemed to be faint approval. "Yes. I use water as my visualisation, but it doesn't have to be that. It doesn't have to be anything natural, or anything specific at all. It is different for everyone. You will need to find the method that works best for you; the simpler, the better, or certainly the easier. That will be your first task."

"Yes, sir. How does the water help you hide things?"

His mouth twisted in a faint grimace. "Words cannot express it very clearly. Later, I will show you, and you will understand more, but for now let me simply say that anything I do not wish to be seen... sinks deeper into the water when someone views it. One reason I use water is that the analogies help me to visualise; things I must keep hidden sink without trace, and things I wish to be glossed over merely go deep enough to become blurred as other things drift into view instead. You must find your own path, but there is no need to hurry. This will help protect you if you ever need it, but it won't help Potter, which is what we are here to do."

Clearing his throat, he sat back, his voice becoming brisker and more businesslike. "I realise I am asking you to stop the sun, but you need to teach him to concentrate. He is a very long way from being able to visualise any sort of shield, let alone to do so consistently and strongly, and you and Weasley are not the only people to have noticed his increasing problems with anger. The first thing I will be teaching you is meditation, and that is the first thing you must teach him. He needs to stay calm and keep his mind clear before he can learn anything else, and we do not have time to wait for him to grow up."

"Sir," she began hesitantly, "may I ask a question?"

"In your case, Miss Granger, I feel you might explode if I didn't let you ask questions," he replied sarcastically, his smile fading. "This is not a usual lesson. Ask."

Taking a deep breath, Hermione gathered her nerve. "Why... why didn't you teach Harry like this?" she asked quietly. From the way Harry had described it, Snape had simply told him to defend himself and then attacked him mentally, without any attempt at explaining what he was supposed to do.

Snape was silent for some time, no longer looking at her, before exhaling slowly. "Because he is Harry Potter," he said finally. He gave her no other explanation, and she didn't dare ask just what he meant by his answer.

Chasing the Sun

A Harry Potter Story
by Loten

Part 9 of 60

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