Summary of Chapter Two The Soothing Quality of Potions
Hermione is inattentive in Potion class and nearly injures herself. Severus talks to her after class and admonishes her to be more careful. Though Hermione is making an effort, she falls asleep in his next lesson, which makes Severus so angry that he assigns her three detentions and throws her out.
The Ball Room Incident
About half an hour after Hermione had left the classroom, Severus' anger slowly dissipated and turned into a nagging feeling of concern. Of course she hadn't fallen asleep in his class on purpose. He could only imagine how exhausted she must have been to drift away in the middle of his lecture. Something was not right with her, and he could no longer pretend that it didn't concern him. He wanted needed to know what was wrong with the girl.
He had first seen the subtle changes in her appearance the evening she had come to see him in his office. Before, he hadn't paid much attention to her, but now that he did, he couldn't help but notice that the changes went much deeper than he had thought.
She seemed more frail, more delicate and had lost every trace of childishness. Her body was that of a young woman, but she was far too thin, and her eyes belonged to a much older soul. Even her unruly hair had lost some of its wildness and lustre. Severus had always thought with an internal smirk that her own hair seemed to defy her, as if it was resisting her obsessive need to keep everything neat and in order. No matter what hairstyle she came up with to tame it, in no time, strands came loose to fly in all directions, rebelling against her efforts to put it under control.
Now, this vibrance was gone, even her hair seemed subdued and lacklustre. The softer look suited her, but it added to the overall impression of delicacy and fragility. He wondered if such a drastic change in the make-up of a person's hair could be ascribed to hormonal changes, to stress or malnutrition, or if the change could possibly be caused by a change in her magic. The latter gave added reason for concern.
While his first reaction to her repeated disruption of classroom discipline had been to make true on his threat and send her to Filch, he now realised that sending her away wasn't a solution for any of their issues. He couldn't avoid her forever.
So when Hermione knocked on his office door punctually that evening, he was determined to get to the heart of the matter and see that she got help.
"Please will you allow me to apologise now?" she began right on entering. "I'm really, really sorry, I... "
"Apologies are superfluous," he interrupted right away, gesturing to the chair in front of his desk and wordlessly beckoning her to sit down. "I realise that you didn't fall asleep in the middle of my class just to upset me."
Hermione closed her mouth and gave him a surprised look. Apparently, he was no longer angry with her. He almost sounded understanding?
"However, I cannot leave it at that," he added, after she had taken a seat and looked at him with relief. "I talked to your other teachers, and while they also noticed that you are less eager to participate, which, under different circumstances, I might find commendable, you don't seem to have any problems staying focused in their classes. Are my lectures boring you?"
She blushed. "Of course not! You are a good teacher..."
"That wasn't my question," he said calmly. "I am not doubting my teaching abilities or the quality of my lessons, Miss Granger. But knowing you, it wouldn't surprise me if at least the theory of the potions we're discussing was not entirely new to you. I expect an honest answer."
"Well, yes," she admitted. "I tried to keep up with the syllabus as much as possible while we were away from Hogwarts." She might even have put a little bit of extra effort into Potions in particular.
It had been her way of expressing her continued respect for him, even as so many had shunned him, believing him a traitor - as if her unspoken loyalty could make his isolation somehow less real.
"I see. So it is as I thought. Potions class is boring you."
"But that's not really the reason that I fell asleep," she protested, afraid he might make good on his threat and ban her from his class. That couldn't happen.
"Then what is?"
"It's just that... your classroom nowadays is the only place I really feel safe."
He arched his eyebrows at her in what she had come to interpret as surprise or even bewilderment.
"It's stupid, I know that, intellectually," she rushed to explain. "You told me that I need to relax, and you're right about that, too, but I don't know how to do it. I still feel like I can never entirely let my guard down. I don't like being in crowds, but I don't like being all by myself either. I always feel tense, except when I'm in Potions."
He frowned and kept looking at her with a blank expression. "And why is that?"
Hermione lowered her gaze and her voice. "Because of you," she said softly. "Nobody can easily get past you. You have always kept an eye on us, watched our backs, kept us safe all these years. You risked your life for us, and you would have sacrificed your life for Harry, probably for each and every one of your students. And you still make me feel safe, like nothing can harm us when you're there. Of course, all our other teachers would protect us, too, but... I can't explain, really. I only know that I feel safe in the dungeons, in your classroom. So whenever I'm there, some of my tension drains away, and I can relax a bit, and then my mind starts drifting. I try to listen, really, I do but your voice isn't helping things... and last night, I didn't sleep well and I was tired..."
Severus felt like he'd been hit on the head. She always managed to do that completely throw him with something unexpected she said. Like that she basically trusted him with her life and that she felt safe in his presence. He was used to evoking the opposite feelings and found that easier to understand. Her declaration stirred something deep within him, a craving, an almost painful yearning... something dark and dangerous, but exhilarating and intoxicating at the same time. His own feelings were confusing and unsettling, but analysing them would have to wait for later.
For now, he focused on the other stunning part of her revelation: the fact that the apparent ease he had seen her display in his class was not her normal state of mind, but the exception. It wasn't an explanation he had even considered after the incident with his Slytherin.
Again, he felt a strange tugging inside of him. To think that she found his presence soothing, that it put her at ease when she was generally as tense and nervous as she obviously was... It was flattering, heart-warming and evoked unfamiliar feelings that he couldn't immediately identify. That, in itself, was a reason for concern.
He sighed and rubbed his eyes in mild frustration. "I guess we can add this to the growing list of complications," he said, more to himself than to her. Would there ever be a time when his life wouldn't seem such a mess? "I don't know what to do about this, Miss Granger," he finally admitted. "But I can't have you falling asleep in my classroom. I suggest you take a sleeping potion for now and see that you get some rest." It was hardly a long-term solution, as sleeping potions were addictive in the long run. But it would buy them time. Buy him time to sort things out and hopefully come up with an idea about how to help her.
"Well, the thing is... Madam Pomfrey has forbidden me from taking any more Dreamless Sleep Potion..."
"You've made use of it before?"
"Pretty much every night during the first months of the school year. Ginny and I kept waking each other up with our nightmares."
"So you're having troubles with nightmares, too..." Of course she did. Again, it was hardly surprising.
"Who doesn't?" she asked. "I'm certainly not the only one."
He sighed again. "Miss Granger... this can't continue. I'm really at a loss here. I think you need counselling."
She snorted. "Yes, I guess I do. But what do you suggest? Go to a muggle psychiatrist, as wizards don't have any? Tell him that ever since I hunted and destroyed dark objects containing soul fragments of an evil wizard, I'm scared of being attacked by a giant snake or mask-wearing Death Eaters? That I have reoccurring nightmares in which I hear the cackling laughter of a mad woman who's engraving the letters 'Mudblood' into my arm with a cursed knife? Or that I'm almost fainting dead on the spot, hearing a werewolf whisper into my ear what he will do with me once she is finished? Tell him that I'm sleeping with a wand in my hand in case there are Snatchers sneaking around? I'm sure he'd have a field day! I might never leave the closed ward again."
His stomach felt like lead hearing her describe the monsters under her bed that were keeping her up at night. Monsters that were all too real. Monsters she should never have encountered. But she had, and he wished he could kill them all with his bare hands once again... Voldemort, Greyback and mostly Bellatrix. He wished he knew how to make her world feel like a safe place again.
"I was suggesting you talk to a wizard or witch. The Headmistress has not set up counselling hours for nothing."
"And who should I go to? Professor Trelawney, who's officially the Head of my house?"
"I was thinking of Professor Lupin, who's unofficially Head of your house and an Order member. You always got on well with him. As much as it pains me to say it, he is patient, understanding and trustworthy."
"Remus has enough problems of his own. He's still trying to deal with the death of Tonks and the loss of two of his limbs. He only agreed to second as Head of House because Professor Trelawney's nomination shocked most Gryffindors into demanding a re-sorting. To tell the truth, I don't even think he's fit enough to teach Defence right now."
True enough. Lupin wasn't Moody. He had yet to get used to walking with a prosthesis. Not to mention the lack of one arm. But doubtlessly, the loss of his wife had crippled him even more than the giants he had run into.
"I can't talk to anyone about what happened during the last year," Hermione whispered. "Nobody knows. Nobody understands. Nobody but you."
"What about your friends?" he asked, feeling just as much out of his depth at he had in the hospital wing on seeing her so distraught, not knowing how to help. He had never offered comfort to anybody in his entire life. And yet she seemed to have expectations in him that he was sure to disappoint. Where were her friends when she needed them?
"Every one of us is burdened with their own problems. Ron is extremely volatile and easily upset about little things. But it's no use talking to him about it, because he's pretending that everything is alright, and I'm waiting for the moment he'll suddenly realise it's not and have a complete mental breakdown.
Ginny is having nightmares about the last school year and breaks into tears every time someone mentions her brother. Laughing too loud, telling jokes or mentioning wizard pranks has the same effect.
The only sane one seems to be Harry. That's probably because for him, the last year has not been that much worse than all his previous years. I suppose you get used to being in mortal peril after a while, and he's faced Voldemort in one form or another pretty much every school year since he started Hogwarts. Or maybe because he's too busy sorting out his other issue if we want to call it an issue. But realising that he loves Ginny, just not like that, was a little bit of a shock to him. Things are awkward between him and Ron because of it, and, of course between him and Ginny, too. I'm glad that he doesn't have to deal with war trauma on top of it, so I'm not going to start bringing it back. You are the only person I can talk to." Harry and Ron didn't even know the full extent of the things that were bothering her. And she wouldn't tell them.
"I'm hardly the person to offer counselling or advice, considering the choices I've made", he said, sounding more brusque than he meant to be. Which just proved his point. He was really bad at this.
"I don't need advice," she replied softly. "Just someone to talk to." She hesitated a brief moment and raised an uncertain gaze. "I understand that there can be nothing between us right now... But can't you just be my friend?"
"Your friend?" he echoed, not sure if her notion should amaze him, please him, annoy him or bemuse him. "Like Potter or Weasley? Someone you can boss around, call in line, tease or give hugs to?"
"I wouldn't mind giving hugs to you," the impossible girl said. "But I understand if that has to wait. You can be just me my non-huggable friend then one I don't have to remind to do his homework or change his socks after three days. It'd be a nice change... "
"I don't know how to be a friend," he told her honestly, testing the word on his tongue like an exotic fruit he'd never tasted before. He hadn't really, not since his youth. And look how that had ended. "If such a friendship was theoretically possible which I doubt the rest of the world wouldn't perceive it as such. People would always assume that something more was going on." Which, in his opinion, proved that this theory was right. Why would people automatically assume such a thing, otherwise?
"This is all so unfair," Hermione lamented. "Yet another thing Voldemort has taken from me."
"What?" he asked, not quite following her apparently random train of thought.
"You. The chance to really get to know you, to see you whenever I want. I'm of age! I shouldn't even be here, technically your student again! Without him, I would have graduated last year, like all your Slytherins, and we'd be free to do whatever we wished, no matter what people said. It's just another thing he's to blame for. I hate him!"
Severus was startled at her outburst. He had never looked at it that way. But she was right. If it hadn't been for Voldemort, she would have left Hogwarts half a year ago. But then, if Voldemort hadn't existed, they would never have found themselves in the situation they were in now. This complicated, perturbing, confusing mess. No. Severus still hated the Dark Lord for many things, but for this, he could not.
"You and I know that things are not always fair and certainly not always how we want them. It can't be helped. We'll have to deal with the cards we were dealt, even though it's difficult, as this situation doubtlessly is. How am I, of all people, supposed to help you? I'm certainly more damaged than you are!"
"Then how come you still are so strong?" Hermione asked back. "How do you sleep at night? You must be tortured by memories, too..."
By all rights, he should be. Sometimes he thought he deserved to be. But... "No. I haven't suffered from nightmares since I left my teenage years behind me." He'd probably have turned mad if all he had experienced had come back to haunt him in his sleep.
"You don't have bad dreams at all?" she asked, surprised. "How's that possible?"
It was hard to put into words. "My guess is that my subconscious recognises a nightmare right when it starts and either wakes me up or tricks it into becoming something harmless."
"Really?" She was intrigued. "How do you do that?"
He shrugged. "I honestly don't know. I think it has to do with my ability to Occlude. At least, I started having control over my dreams when I mastered Occlumency. I don't know how I'd have stayed sane otherwise."
"But I thought Occlumency was a skill permitting you to keep others from reading your mind..."
Severus scowled. "I've told Potter again and again that this explanation is rudimentary and simplistic at best. Occlumency is a highly complex art, the mastering of mental and emotional control. It's a means to deeply know, understand and organise the workings of your mind."
Her eyes lit up with barely concealed interest. His own eyes went to the ceiling in exasperation. Of course. He had just uttered the magical words 'organise', 'control' and 'mind' in front of Hermione Granger. It was the equivalent of waving a juicy bone in front of a starving dog. Correction. An eager puppy, looking at him now with impossibly large, brown eyes and a hopeful expression. At least she wasn't drooling.
"Can you teach me?" she begged.
He sighed. He probably could. There was no doubt that teaching her would prove much more successful than teaching Potter had been. For one thing, there was no hatred and distrust between them, which basically made every mind to mind contact a doomed endeavour right from the start. She also was willing and studious, and organising and compartmentalising her mind should come easily to her after all, she did it in every other aspect of her life. Her colour-coded study schedules were legendary, even among staff. No, wasting time was not what he was concerned about.
"I could," he answered reluctantly. "However, I'm not sure if I should."
"Why ever not?"
"Because delving into your mind is quite the opposite of keeping my distance, Miss Granger."
"But surely you could... lend me a book?" she asked timidly.
"As surprising as this might come for you, some things cannot be learned from a book."
Her gaze was doubtful. Clearly, she didn't believe that.
"Not everything comes with easy and simple to follow instructions like potions recipes," he affirmed. "There is no incantation for Occlumency, no explanation of how to do it."
"How did you learn, then?"
"By having my mind attacked again and again, until one day, I managed to block it."
"Please I need to do something." She was giving him the puppy eyes again. "If this could help with my nightmares, I'd finally get some sleep at night and feel less on edge during the daytime. I might even start feeling normal again."
He knew that what he was considering was morally highly questionable, probably unethical, but he pushed that thought aside. He couldn't let her continue suffering just to avoid tempting his self-control. If Occlumency was indeed the thing that could help her, it was for the greater good. And as he had learned from Dumbledore over the years, the 'greater good' was all that mattered. His intentions were honourable. He needed to put this young Gryffindor back together.
"Very well, Miss Granger," he said, forcefully reminding himself that no matter his motives for wanting to help her, she was still his student, and he had to treat her as such. "I will see you for detention next Wednesday after dinner, anyway. That'll give you ample time to read through all the books on the matter you are not yet able to recitate. Provided there are any..."
She grinned, but he could still see the relief in her features. "Thank you, Sir."
If the fact that she had fallen asleep in the middle of his class had not sufficiently convinced him that she needed help, an incident in the 'Defence against the Dark Arts' class he took over for Lupin a week after their discussion definitely did.
Minerva had arranged for Aurors in training to take over the werewolf's classes once a month, when he was incapacitated due to his condition. But this time, his indisposition was not related to the moon phase. Lupin had suffered worse damage during the final battle than most of the staff and the students were aware of the loss of his one leg and arm was just a minor problem compared to the rest. He had almost been crushed by a giant, and his liver was irrevocably damaged. The potions he was taking only served to stabilise the organ and to prolong his life. If he was lucky, he had another five years, but even that was not guaranteed. In any case, he wouldn't be able to teach full-time for much longer.
Minerva was thinking about offering an apprentice position for Defence, which would also take some of the load off Lupin. Until she had found somebody suitable, they somehow had to make do, which meant that he had to take over the seventh year class today.
Being an advocate of a practical rather than theoretical approach, he surprised the waiting seventh graders with the announcement that they were going to have a duelling session and that they were to pack their things and follow him into the Ballroom. The classroom gave them little room for the kind of exercise he had in mind.
Most of the students were thrilled at the idea, but there were a few faces that showed concern, among them that of a special Gryffindor. He was fully aware of the fact that duelling was a touchy subject for students who had, a couple of months ago, fought for their lives. But in the long run, it wouldn't do to pamper them like Lupin did, who as Severus suspected had a bit of a problem with duelling himself. A wizard needed to be capable of defending himself, and a suffered trauma wouldn't go away if they simply did not raise their wands against a person ever again. In his opinion, you had to face your fears to overcome them. He just had to make sure to take it slowly.
On their way to the Ballroom he pondered the daring idea of taking a leaf out of Lupin's book and actually letting them try something humorous first... see who came up with the most ridiculous and funniest hexes, like the legendary Bat-Bogey hex Miss Weasley so frequently used. Or maybe he could demonstrate an offensive transfiguration hex and turn Longbottom's hair into a vulture hat...
Severus never got to the intended highlight of his lesson, however. Not in the beginning, because his lesson was again disrupted by a certain Gryffindor before it had even started, and not later, because he wasn't in the mood for doing anything remotely funny anymore.
Hermione's face, which had lit up on seeing who was replacing Remus, fell as soon as she learned what her favourite professor had planned for today's lesson. She had never liked duelling much, and she had never been particularly good at it. But ever since the war, she didn't like using her wand for anything combative at all. Having a wand pointed at herself was frightening enough, but after the incident with Malcolm she was also worried that she might involuntarily inflict serious damage on her opponent. Comforting herself with the thought that Professor Snape surely knew what he was doing and would ensure that no one came to harm, she reluctantly followed her fellow students to the Ballroom.
The last time she had seen it had been in fourth year, when Professor McGonagall had used it for dancing practice. She'd rather be using the room for dancing lessons again right now. She wouldn't even mind being singled out to demonstrate the steps with her teacher, as Ron had been with Professor McGonagall. She felt herself smiling at the memory of the shocked face he had made. At the time, she had revelled in it with a certain amount of glee, which was probably excusable if one considered what a git he'd been to her that year.
Hermione was the last to enter the large room. It was a shame that it was used so rarely. It had huge windows on either side, which gave it an airy feel that you couldn't find anywhere else inside the castle. Beautiful crystal chandeliers were hanging from the ceiling, catching the rays of the afternoon sun that fell through the glass panes.
Despite the friendly atmosphere, she felt her anxiety building the moment she set her foot in the room. It started with a feeling of icy cold in her stomach that quickly seeped into the rest of her body, and rapidly led to sweaty palms and trembling limbs. As soon as she realised that she was about to have another panic attack, all the symptoms increased by a hundredfold: Her heart started beating like crazy and her chest tightened painfully, restricting her breathing. Her legs were too numb to obey her brain's frantic command to just run and take her out of here, so she just stood there, stiff as a board, unable to do anything but clutch her wand and her purse tightly, while feeling her vision narrow.
Draco, who happened to be right next to her in the back of the room, was the first to notice, and immediately drew the right conclusion. Before anyone else could react, he took her arm and dragged her out of the room.
"Potter, Longbottom see to the class!" Hermione heard her Professor's crisp command, before he came rushing after Draco and her.
Draco ushered her onto a bench beneath a window, giving her a look that was almost as panicky as hers.
"Bag," Hermione wheezed, clutching her purse to her hurting chest and struggling to breathe. "Calming Draught in my bag."
"I'll get it." Professor Snape tried to take the purse from her, but her fingers remained clamped around its strings. "You have to let go," he said, but she didn't react. He had no means to know if she had even heard him, as she was unable to respond. Her eyes were staring at him in helpless panic, her breath was coming in rapid, shallow gasps, and her entire body was shaking.
"Miss Granger!" he then commanded in his most authoritative teacher's voice. "Give me that bag now!" Lifelong habit and her disposition to respond to authority finally drew a reaction from her. She let go of the purse, and he opened it in search for the bottle of Calming Draught that was supposed to be in there. What he found was not a bottle, but an entire potion kit among other things.
He finally found the right vial, pulled the stopper and assisted her in downing the contents. The Calming Draught did the trick. Hermione slowly felt her chest pain and the constrictions subside, her breath even out and her unreasonable fear melt away. She glanced at the empty vial in her hand and felt silly. Once again, he had to witness her completely losing it for no apparent reason.
"I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me," she said, when her voice returned.
"I do," Draco surprisingly said, throwing an unsure glance at his godfather, who beckoned him to continue. "It was the chandelier... it looks very much like the crystal chandelier in our drawing room."
The room where she had been tortured by Bellatrix, lying helplessly on the floor and staring up at it. The chandelier that had come crashing down on them a little bit later on. Her breath quickened again.
"Easy, there, Miss Granger," her Professor soothed, and his voice immediately grounded her again. "Just continue breathing deeply and slowly. You're safe now. I don't want you to think about it. Tell me about that bag of yours."
"My purse?" she asked, distracted by his question, just as he had intended. "What about it?"
"Undetectable Extension Charm? I suppose not Ministry approved? That's highly advanced magic..."
"It was a necessity," she simply said.
"I see." He looked at her with an inscrutable gaze, then turned to his oldest Slytherin. "Draco, accompany Miss Granger to the hospital wing and tell Madam Pomfrey what happened. She should run a full diagnostic, so we can be sure that there is no physical cause for her symptoms. You'll return immediately after Poppy has taken charge, understood? And Miss Granger unless Madam Pomfrey decides to keep you right there, this episode is no excuse to miss out your detention tonight at seven, sharp."
As expected, Madam Pomfrey didn't find anything wrong with her, so Hermione was free to go and reassure her friends, who had already inquired about her. They were relieved to hear that everything was alright again, and in silent agreement quickly turned the conversation to less perturbing matters.
Draco, however, acted strangely around her when she saw him at dinner. The returned seventh years had their own table at the end of the Slytherins' table row. It had been a practical solution to make room for the added pupils. While it might have been possible to squeeze in the additional Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws at their respective house tables, it would have been next to impossible to do so with the Gryffindors.
Most of the pupils who had formed the resistance group led by Neville had come from Gryffindor, and given that they had spent a large part of the year in hiding, they had missed most of the curriculum. Ravenclaws, who were smart enough to keep a low profile, the majority of Hufflepuffs, who tended to keep themselves out of trouble, and nearly all of Slytherin, who had fared reasonably well with Death Eaters in charge, had been able to finish their education. The latter house also had never counted muggleborn students, who hadn't been allowed to attend Hogwarts last year. Therefore, there were no returnees from Slytherin, except for one: Draco Malfoy.
Hermione knew he had come back for a reason similar to her own: He had no home to go to anymore. His parents had gone into exile, and Draco was on his own, struggling to find his way in a world that had been turned upside down. He had as little idea what to do with his life as she had. Hogwarts, at least, was familiar and offered stability.
Their former enmity had morphed into a tentative companionship that might even leave room for development of something more. However, this evening, he was acting weird. He wasn't able to look her in the eye, and if Hermione wasn't mistaken, he was ashamed. She had a good idea what had brought this about, but she had no wish to discuss it. It would only bring her own memories back, and she wasn't ready to face them yet. On the other hand, she didn't want to bear responsibility for him feeling bad, either.
"Just so you know..." she finally told him firmly, just before she got up from her chair, and unconsciously pulled her sleeve down. "It wasn't your fault, and I don't blame you for what happened. So you shouldn't keep blaming yourself, either."
Relieved to have a good excuse for leaving the table early, she claimed to have to get ready for her detention and hastened out of the hall.
At seven o' clock, Hermione knocked on her Potions Professor's office door and was immediately asked in.
"Since you are here, I take it that Madam Pomfrey's diagnosis spell didn't find anything that gave reason for concern?" Professor Snape inquired, beckoning her to take a seat.
"No, Sir, I'm quite healthy, physically speaking."
"And do I assume correctly then that you have experienced panic attacks like the one you had today before?"
"A few times. But they weren't as bad. And Calming Draught always helped."
He gestured at the purse she had sat beside her. "Is that the reason you're carrying it with you all the time?" he asked.
"Yes..." she admitted, a bit hesitantly. It was definitely part of the reason. Though it probably didn't explain why she carried around an entire potions kit. He had obviously noticed that, too.
"I see," he said, leaning back in his chair and giving her that penetrating look that seemed to aim at reaching her soul. "What else are you carrying around in that bag, Miss Granger?"
"Oh, uhm... my books and... writing utensils... and other useful things..." she offered, hoping he wouldn't question her further.
He didn't. With a lazy flick of his wand, he directed a Revealing spell at the purple string bag that brought the content to light. Things came flying out one by one, the most recently used first. School books, parchment, quills, diverse sanitary items, a hairbrush, a coat, a knitted cap, gloves, rapidly followed by spare clothes, her Potions kit, a first aid box, sewing utensils, bed sheets, a fair amount of food tins... and it didn't stop there. Soon there was a pile in the corner of his office, growing higher and higher, while his eyes seemed to grow larger. Finally, the flow of objects stopped, and the bag gave an audible sigh, as if relieved to be cured of persistent congestion.
Severus looked at the pile in disbelief. "A tent, Miss Granger?"
"I'd completely forgotten that the tent was still in there," she replied, abashed.
"And the food? The pots and pans, the tea kettle, the camping cooker, the picnic basket and the cutlery?"
"Miss Granger, he sighed. Just what is this? Were you planning on taking a camping trip anytime soon?"
"No. I wasn't planning on anything."
"Just planning for everything, right?" She didn't answer. "Am I right to assume that these things kept you alive last year while on the run?"
"And I guess I don't have to tell you that there is no need to organise for disaster and rapid escape anymore, do I?"
She lowered her head. "I know. It just makes me feel safer to have those things around."
"Do you understand that carrying around so much stuff takes a toll on you? Despite the fact that you placed a weightless charm on the bag all those things still have a physical weight, and in one form or another, you have to expend energy to move them. Carried around in a magical weightless bag, they feed on your magic. You might not realise it like you would if you had to drag everything behind you physically, but it's exhausting you all the same."
She gave him a look of surprise. "I didn't know that..."
"But surely you must have noticed that your magical energy is less stable, even weaker now? I could even detect it in the potions you produce. And in your hair."
"Unless you've done something else to it that makes it so lacklustre and tame all of a sudden?"
"I rather like my hair as it is now," Hermione said a bit stiffly. "It's much more manageable."
"And you're sure that this perceived hair wonder is worth an over-expenditure of your magical energies?"
She shook her head.
"I don't think so, either. We have to find a way to make you feel secure without being constantly on alert for an emergency evacuation. What makes you feel safe, Miss Granger?"
That was easily answered. "You do," she said in a soft voice. "I feel safe when I'm around you."
Yes, after their latest discussion he had almost expected this answer. Dumbledore was gone, Lupin incapacitated and not able to protect anybody right now, and Flitwick, though a competent wizard, was hardly an intimidating enough manly presence to make a traumatised young woman feel safe. There was Minerva, of course, a force to be reckoned with, but well, wizard society was rather sexist. So he probably was the next logical choice.
"Do you usually wear a necklace?" he asked, seemingly out of the blue.
She reached into her blouse and pulled out a chain with a small portrait medallion hanging from it. "It shows pictures of my parents." She made a move as if to open it, but he stopped her. "I don't need to see it." He reached for the pendant without taking the chain off her neck, cradled it in his palm and touched it with his wand. He then muttered a series of spells she hadn't heard before, and the medallion glowed briefly. "There," he muttered, letting it go and rest against her chest again. She could still feel the warmth emanating from it through the material of her blouse.
"I made it into a password protected, unregistered Portkey. All you have to do is touch it and say 'safe place' and it will take you here."
"Into your office?"
She couldn't find words for a moment. With everything she knew about the man, she understood what an incredible gift he had just made her. He was granting her sanctuary behind his wards. He was giving her his trust. It was probably the most valuable thing he had to give.
Hermione knew instinctively that he wouldn't want her to highlight the fact or make a huge deal of it. Even her gratitude would probably be unwelcome. So she just gave him a heartfelt smile and didn't say anything on the matter. "I thought Portkeys don't work within Hogwarts..." she pondered the technicalities instead.
"Basically they don't. Only the headmaster has the power to make Portkeys that work around these restrictions. Funnily enough, I still have this power, probably because Hogwarts itself got confused about still having a living ex-headmaster around and is treating me as if I were still in command." He had noticed many little things that were peculiar. He could still access Minerva's office without even uttering the password. Staircases still turned into the right direction to ease his way, and he still had access to all the secret shortcuts that facilitated moving around in Hogwarts. He suspected that he was still able to change the ceiling in the Great Hall, as well, but hadn't tried it yet. No reason to call attention to these nifty gifts.
"And you wouldn't mind if I actually used this in the middle of a panic attack and just materialised in your office? Because chances are that I might..."
"If I minded, I wouldn't have given you a Portkey. My office is heavily warded. You'll be safe in here, even if I don't happen to be around. In which case you'll have time enough to conjure your Patronus and call for help. You can conjure a Patronus, right?"
"Yes. It's an otter."
"So it's corporeal? Very good, Miss Granger. You aren't helpless. Remember that. Now, do you think the Portkey will make you feel safer?"
"Yes. Very much so."
"Fine then." He waved his wand at the cluttered pile of her survival equipment, levitating only the books, the writing-utensils and a few sanitary items back into her purple string bag. "I'll see to it that all the clothes are returned to your room. As to the rest of the stuff..." He sent a 'Reducio' at the remaining items, shrinking them to the size of doll house equipment. "I'll store them for you."
He took a handkerchief out of his pocket, transfigured it into a box and levitated everything inside. Then he opened a drawer and hid the box away.
"Now... with that out of the way, let's move on to the purpose of this visit, shall we?"
A/N: Actually, the part about not having nightmares is not fantasy. I'm much like Severus in that regard (without the traumata and the Occlumency skills, though). I stopped having nightmares when I was still a kid like he said, I either realise that I'm dreaming while still asleep and the dream loses its power, or my dream automatically transforms into something harmless.
I believe the technique I subconsciously used when still a child gets instinctive after a while: On waking up, think of your dream as if you woke in the middle of a horror movie without yet having seen the happy end, which surely would have come, and let it play out in your head while falling asleep again. After a while, your brain learns how to do that without waking you in the first place.