Summary of Chapter 3 - The Ballroom Incident
When Hermione shows up for detention, Severus decides to not send her to Filch as originally intended, but makes her talk to him instead. He learns that she is suffering from nightmares and hardly sleeps because of them, and that she still has war-related issues that she feels she can't discuss with anybody. He agrees to teach her Occlumency to keep her nightmares at bay.
Before they get to that, however, Severus has to take over the DADA class in Lupin's absence. He decides to have a practical lesson in one of the less frequently used rooms of the castle, where Hermione suffers a panic attack.
When she shows up for her second detention, Severus examines Hermione's magically enhanced purse and finds out that she still carries around extensive survival equipment, which further drains her magical energies. He transforms her necklace into an emergency portkey to his office to make her feel safe.
Occlumency the First
"I suppose you have read every book about Occlumency you could get your hands on during the last week and thus consider yourself adequately prepared?"
Hermione shrugged. "There wasn't much to find in the library on the subject." She had re-read the couple of books she had already studied in her fifth year, when Dumbledore had made Harry take Occlumency lessons. At the time, she had been slightly envious and had felt that Harry was being ungrateful for not appreciating the opportunity he'd been given. She had immediately immersed herself in private studies, questioning him in detail about his lessons, but Harry hadn't been very forthcoming.
At least the books had proved enlightening. They had covered the theory of mental shields and explained how to best erect them. Hermione had dutifully done the suggested exercises, which seemed to be a mixture of different visualisation techniques paired with yoga. As there had been little else she could do, she really did consider herself adequately prepared.
"I tried to tell you before, Miss Granger not all knowledge can be found in books. Some things have to be learned the hard way. And a hard way it will be, have not doubt."
A tiny trace of uncertainty crept into her gaze. Apparently, she had doubted it.
Harry's horrifying descriptions of his lessons came to her mind and made her frown. She hadn't really given much weight to them. Harry, at that time, had hated Snape with a vengeance, and everything to do with him couldn't be less than agonizing. Hermione knew Harry hadn't truly wanted to learn how to close his mind and had done his exercises half-heartedly at best. Quite contrary to her, who wanted to learn and was prepared. How difficult could it truly be?
"Having second thoughts, Miss Granger?" he enquired with a hint of mockery.
Admittedly, his warning had made her a little nervous. It was horrible to think that her lessons might turn into a similar disaster to Harry's or that she'd turn out to be incompetent or inadvertently do something to offend him.
"Would you rather blow it off?" He gestured to the door connecting his office to the potions lab. "If so, I have plenty of cauldrons waiting to be cleaned..."
Strangely, she had the impression that he would readily consent if she indeed chose to back out that he'd even be secretly relieved if she did. It made her decide not to.
She straightened her back. No, she desperately wanted to learn Occlumency not only because she really hoped that it would help keep the nightmares at bay, but also because she was always keen on learning something new and unusual, and because it was a skill he had mastered. And maybe a little bit in order to prove that it wasn't as impossible to learn as Harry had claimed.
"No, Professor, I'd rather proceed, if you don't mind. I admit to being nervous, but that's probably to be expected. And as you always like to point out: I'm a Gryffindor. It once made me ask an unapproachable, rather scary teacher for a kiss. Having survived that, I believe I'll survive anything else."
She thought she saw the corner of his mouth twitch in amusement, but she couldn't be sure.
"Yes, foolish Gryffindors..." he said, shaking his head. "Always rushing headfirst into danger with barely more than a fleeting thought to the possible outcome... I find them resistant to well-meant advice. Very well, then, Miss Granger, let us begin. I trust you know what to do?"
"Look you in the eyes so you can try to look inside my mind, while trying to keep you from doing so?"
"That's the basic idea."
"Okay then..." Hermione briefly closed her eyes and concentrated with all her might on the wall she had envisioned around her mind, before raising her gaze again to meet his.
He raised his wand to her temple, barely touching her skin, and softly said: "Legilimens!"
Much to his surprise, Severus found himself immediately blocked by a shield. That in itself wasn't totally unexpected, as even people who weren't trained in Occlumency often had some sort of protection. Strong-minded and disciplined witches and wizards, in particular, were known to instinctively build minor defensive walls around their mind. Mostly, those were visualisations of brick walls which were easy to crack. Hers, however, seemed to be made of thick, obtuse glass at least at first glance.
Feeling the cold emanating from it, he soon realised it was a wall of ice, which surprised him even more. If he had expected her to have solid shields at all, he would have thought them to be of a different kind: warmer, more alive. Walls of fire, perhaps, or a hedge of thorn-bearing bushes. Ice didn't seem to fit the temperament of a fierce and fiery Gryffindor like her. Or at least it wouldn't have fitted the old Miss Granger. It disturbed him to realise that maybe it suited the woman whom she had become.
Preoccupied, he retreated from her mind and lowered his wand. Hermione blinked.
"You taught yourself how to shield?" he asked.
She looked slightly smug, though she tried not to be obvious about it. "When Harry had those lessons with you, I did some research by myself, and tried to apply the little I found. The books suggested that a simple brick wall was fallible, so I tried to visualise something different. Was it any good?"
"Adequate," he said, but immediately crushed the hopeful look she had on her face when she thought she might already be halfway there, "if you were trying to learn how to block people from entering your mind which you are not."
That changed her look of pride to one of confusion. "I am not? But I thought... that is what you tried to teach Harry in all those Occlumency lessons ..."
"Wrong, Miss Granger. Occlumency is not about blocking somebody from entering your mind, although the useless books you can find on the topic tell you so. Which is why they are useless."
She looked slightly affronted at that, as if saying that a book was useless was close to blasphemy in her eyes.
"Use your brains, girl! What do you think the Dark Lord would have done if I had tried to erect walls to keep him out?"
"He would have tried to get in by force..."
"Indeed. Every shield can be broken if the Legilimens is willing to put enough force behind his attacks and doesn't care whether the mind he rapes remains intact. If need be, he can always resort to physical torture to break someone's mental hold on his shields. Occlumency is the skill to empty your mind of incriminating thoughts and emotions. If done successfully, the Legilimens is never even aware of the fact that you're withholding information from him."
"But Harry didn't need to deceive Voldemort," Hermione pointed out. "It would have been sufficient to keep him from entering."
"Because of the Horcrux, the Dark Lord was already inside Potters mind, just like the memories that are causing your nightmares are already in yours. They attack from within. The only way to stop them is to gain control over the workings of your mind or to put it differently: You have to learn to control your thoughts and emotions. Which is what I tried to teach Potter. Unfortunately, to no avail."
"So my shield is entirely useless?"
"Quite obviously not. You managed to keep the truth about the sword of Gryffindor from Bellatrix, did you not?"
"You think Bellatrix used Legilimency on me?"
Severus struggled to keep his emotions from showing. She wouldn't even have to ask if the sadistic witch hadn't also Crucioed her. But the pain from the curse had most likely drowned out all other sensations, even the painful attack on her shield. It was a wonder she had been able to erect one in the first place, even more that she had managed to hold it up under torture.
"She most certainly did. Bellatrix was a Legilimens, though not a particularly strong one. Which is why she had to resort to torture. Eventually, she would have cracked you. Physical pain is a very effective means of breaking through someone's defences, as shielding requires energy and concentration. But you held out long enough. Without your shield, she probably would have caught your lie immediately. But in order to teach you how to compartmentalise, how to separate harmless thoughts from dangerous ones and keep them hidden, I'll have to breach these defences and get inside your mind."
Her previous enthusiasm had faded, giving way to a feeling of impending doom. Maybe this had not been such a good idea after all...
His eyebrows rose. "You really thought it was all about putting a nice fancy shield in front of my nose, didn't you?" he asked, albeit without his usual sneer. "If it was as simple as that, Occlumens wouldn't be so rare."
"But what will I do when you're in?" Hermione asked, feeling worried now.
"You'll try to prevent me from seeing what I want to see."
"So simple, yes? But how do I do that?"
"That I can't tell you. You'll have to find a way to occlude your thoughts. It's different for everyone. Shutting them away is the most commonly used method, though I find it's the least effective one for the reasons I mentioned. You're giving away the fact that you hold secrets and you make plain where exactly those secrets are. Once a Legilimens knows where to find what he's looking for, he can break the protections you placed around it in the same way he broke your walls.
Hiding a particularly compromising memory in the open is another option think of the crowded Room of Hidden Things and how difficult it is to find a certain object among the clutter. You can try to confuse an invader with trivial memories he'll have to sort through in order to find the one he's looking for. Another approach is to send the invader on a wild goose hunt by laying out false leads. Once you know what he's looking for, you can try to offer inconspicuous, related thoughts instead, which will only lead him to something similar in feeling or context. Or you can disguise a memory in such way that it appears to be something else entirely."
Hermione frowned. "How do you disguise a memory?"
"Just like you do with emotions. People do it all the time. Cloaking disdain behind pity, passing obsession for love, claiming to feel love when its actually jealousy or masking insecurity behind arrogance or hatred. You can do so with memories by giving the situation a superficial, alternate meaning. Your goal is to hinder, to slow, to lead astray."
"What method do you use?"
"A mixture of all of these and some more. I had time and opportunity to perfect all kinds of techniques over the years, depending on what was working best under the circumstances."
"It all sounds so abstract. I don't know how to disguise a memory or how to lay a false trail," she said, beginning to feel out of her depth.
"If you did, you'd be an Occlumens already. This is not Arithmancy, Miss Granger, where you put numbers into a formula and get a specific result. There is no recipe, like in Potions, that gives you step by step instructions. Occlumency is more about intuition and following your instincts."
"Then I'm surely going to be miserable at it," she said, even more disheartened now. "I don't believe in intuition. I believe in logic and order, and I like having instructions."
He smirked. As if that hadn't become perfectly clear. "Then this will be, for once, a totally different kind of challenge for you. If it's any comfort, you can't be much worse than Potter."
She snorted at that, but continued to look miserable and nervous. He was right, the prospect of not getting it right didn't sit well with her. She was used to excelling at everything she did. Flying was the only art she had never really mastered. Well, that and Divination. But the latter wasn't worth fretting about. Failing at this was.
"What are you so concerned about?" he inquired. "That you might not get it at first try? You won't. I guarantee that I will see a lot of things in your mind before you even get close to being successful."
Hermione looked at him, aghast. To think that he might get to spend a lot of time roaming through her thoughts and memories was even more perturbing than the possibility of her being clumsy at this. She had indeed thought that her aim was to improve her shielding technique, and she had felt confident that she would master this skill relatively quickly. She had no idea what he was expecting her to do instead, how she was supposed to keep him from seeing things he mustn't see, and she dreaded to think what would happen if he did.
Severus had been studying her expressive face carefully. She looked pained now, ready to give up on this whole idea and flee. The rosy colour in her cheeks gave him a good idea where her concerns lay. Hopefully, once she knew how to successfully occlude her thoughts, she would also be cured of that particular tell. Why even go into her mind, if every emotion was written all over her face?
"I have no intention of looking at more intimate thoughts, if that's what you're concerned about", he told her, clearing his throat. Quite the contrary he intended to stay away from those as far as possible. "You have my word that I won't go looking into anything of a decidedly private nature."
God, the man was far too perceptive. But she trusted him to respect these boundaries. After all, he was the one who insisted on keeping their distance. He wouldn't like what he found, if he broke his promise. Some things were better left private.
"Thank you," she said, embarrassed, but obviously relieved. However, some amount of trepidation remained etched on her face. When she dared look at him again she timidly added: "Actually, there are other things I really wouldn't want you to see either..."
"Naturally," he said. "But keeping me from seeing them is the point of this exercise, isn't?"
"Well, yes, but could you also try not to look too closely at other... potentially incriminating evidence?"
"Incriminating evidence?" He raised an eyebrow. What other thoughts than those linked to sexual fantasies would she consider incriminating? Surely he wouldn't find evidence of a murder she planned on committing. "Like what?"
"Like who set your robes on fire in my first year...?" she said in a small voice.
His eyebrow rose a little higher. "Well, well, Miss Granger, now you have me truly intrigued... I assume this special incident will come up quickly, given that it is so on the forefront of your mind."
"You have to promise there will be no repercussions for transgressions that have lapsed!" she hastily added.
The eyebrow almost disappeared into his hairline. "Getting all the more curious by the minute..." he said with emphasised intonation. "You're digging yourself deeper and deeper, Miss Granger! Is there anything else you wish to confess?"
"No," she sighed. "I guess I'll have to try to keep you from finding out."
"Very well, then. Prepare yourself." He raised his wand to her temple again and muttered the incantation.
Once more, he found himself standing in front of her shield of ice. Simple, brick-and-mortar constructions were easy enough to overcome there were always cracks he could attack. But this wall was seamless and slick, much more difficult to penetrate, though he knew he could. It was just a question of how much force he was willing to put into it.
For a moment, he lingered on the icy, outer edge of her mind, unsure of how to proceed. He was reluctant to use any force at all. What he had explained to her about the weightless charm applied here as well: There was no difference between magical power and physical power. Although the wall wasn't real, the magical force he would have to use in order to breach it was real enough. She would feel it like a literal blow. And he didn't wish to hurt her.
Then, an unusual idea came to him. A bit hesitantly, he leaned against her walls, projecting the idea of warmth, comfort and affection. It didn't come easily to him to do such an awkwardly sentimental thing, but the result was well worth the effort it cost him to overcome his natural resistance: he felt her defences melt beneath his mind's touch, the ice turning to water, letting him pass easily. There were no further protections behind her initial barrier, just as he had expected.
Her mind was laid bare before him, and immediately, he was overwhelmed by her emotions. He hadn't expected her mind to be a warm and sunny place the ice wall had already hinted at that. It had been clear to him as well that she had issues after the war, but he hadn't expected her dominating emotions to be so dark and desolate. They all spoke of loss and being lost, and were strongly interlaced with feelings of guilt, failure and inadequacy, and an ever present undercurrent of anxiety.
His own projection of comfort and affection had caused an echo in her mind and had brought forward memories that related to those feelings. They all were all of recent events involving her friends.
In the first, she was trying to calm a wrought-up Ginevra Weasley after being torn from sleep by her pitiful crying. Obviously, the girl had suffered another haunting nightmare of the final battle, reliving the death of her brother. This scene was followed by another memory of Hermione trying to comfort the youngest Weasley, who was in tears again, this time over the loss of her boyfriend whom she still felt very strongly about. There were more such situations with the girl, but also memories of a similar nature involving people he hadn't even counted among Hermione's friends.
He saw Hermione patiently reassure a worried and insecure Lavender Brown, telling her once again that she had absolutely no intentions of getting back together with Ron; that he loved his fiancι despite the horrible scarring inflicted on her by Fenrir Greyback, and there was no reason for jealousy just because Hermione was still trying be his friend.
He became witness to those efforts in several episodes in which she was trying to placate her ex-boyfriend, who had gotten irrationally upset over some triviality again, hoping with clenched teeth and nerves on edge that, this time, she'd be able to keep him from exploding.
She also made efforts to cheer up Harry, who felt bad for having broken Ginny's heart and involuntarily putting Ron into a position in which his loyalty towards his best friend conflicted with his loyalty towards his sister. She listened patiently when he talked about his self-doubts and his confusion about his sexual inclination, and encouraged him when he admitted to feeling attracted to someone who, in all likelihood, would never return his feelings.
This memory, to his surprise, was followed by a memory in which Hermione a bit awkwardly embraced Draco Malfoy, who seemed to be on the verge of tears, and a more recent one, where she, obviously in distress herself, granted him absolution from the guilt he felt about her being subjected to so much suffering at the hands of his relatives, in his home.
In all these episodes, Severus could feel her empathy, her sadness and her grief, but also a growing feeling of helplessness and resentment that was subtly undermining her efforts to be understanding and sympathetic, which sometimes made her want to pull her hair and scream in frustration.
It was obvious that she was desperately trying to keep it all together and to ease everybody's burden, but it was pushing her to the breaking point. What she had failed to mention in her explanation as to why she couldn't burden her friends with her problems was the fact that they didn't have similar concerns she was their sounding board. She was trying to be strong for everybody while slowly coming apart at the seams herself.
Considering her overall state of mind, he was amazed that she had managed to keep going this far. There was profound weariness in every corner of her mind. She hadn't any energy left now to work out plans for her own life. She had barely any energy to make it through the day. No wonder she had fallen asleep in his class. She was exhausted, mentally and emotionally.
Gently, he retreated from her mind.
Her face was pale and her eyes wide. She swayed a little, seemingly feeling dizzy. He quickly reached out to stabilise her and keep her on the chair. With a twitch of conscience he transfigured it into an armchair to assure that she wouldn't fall off. He had consciously neglected to do this before they had started the lesson it had seemed to intimate, too much of a reminder of things best forgotten for the time being. Now, it seemed almost petty.
"I told you it was going to be an unpleasant experience to have your mind invaded like that," he offered not an apology, but at least acknowledgment of her discomfort. "Potter surely told you that it's disconcerting, intrusive and painful."
"It wasn't painful at all," she replied, after she had regained her composure. Intrusive and disconcerting, yes. She had perceived a sudden, encompassing sensation of warmth that had totally engulfed her. It had felt like being enveloped in a warming blanket after coming in from the snow. Though full of comfort, sympathy and affection, it had also been intense, alarming and too much to handle. Surprisingly, the feelings in the memories he had viewed had mirrored those sentiments. "It was nothing like Harry described it. There was just a kind of pressure and the feeling of having something within me that doesn't belong there," she tried to sort out the strangeness of the experience and put it into words. "It was overwhelming when you first entered, as if my mind resisted, not knowing how to process your presence, but I got used to it after a while. I believe it's going to be better next time, now that I know what do expect."
She blushed, suddenly realizing that their descriptions were almost ambiguous as if they were talking of a different kind of intimacy altogether. "What I meant to say was..."
"No need to explain, Miss Granger," he said, fully aware of what she was thinking from just looking at her face. It couldn't be denied that there were similarities between penetrating the mind and penetrating the body, although he hadn't been aware of them in such clarity before. But then, he had only ever used Occlumency and Legilimency with male wizards, which, given his inclination, had never triggered such associations. He cleared his throat and reached for a phial he had set on his desk. "Here drink this. It's a headache relieving potion. Even if you don't feel any pain now, consider it a pre-emptive measure."
She obeyed, and he also offered her a cup of tea to chase away the lingering aftertaste. With an internal sigh, he took notice of the strange repetition of events.
"You need to get some sleep, Miss Granger," he finally said. "I understand Madam Pomfrey is concerned about the side-effects of sleeping potions, but you are at a point where your exhaustion is concerning me more than the risk of addiction. Haven't you been sleeping at all, lately?"
"Not much," she admitted. "As I said Ginny and I kept tearing each other out of sleep with our nightmares, but now that the headmistress has given us individual rooms... it's simply too quiet. I've not slept alone in a room since I was a child. I was in a dormitory for six years, and the last year, I slept in a tent with Harry and Ron. I easily fell asleep with Ginny in my room. But without hearing them breathe or mumble in their sleep, without the boys snoring, I feel like I'm cut off from the world. And I start hearing things that are not there. I just don't feel safe all alone."
"I see." He sighed again. He'd have to talk to Minerva. But for now... He flicked his wand, and one of the chairs next to the fireplace that he mainly used to store books on transformed into a sofa.
"I have some Wolfsbane to brew tonight. If you think it might help, you may try to get some rest here until I'm finished. It'll be a couple of hours."
Her eyes widened in surprise. "Really? You'd allow me to stay here for a while?"
He really shouldn't, but he considered it an emergency measure. "Officially, you're still serving detention. I can hardly let you go this early, or people will think I've gone soft. Besides, I'd rather have you sleep in my office than in my classroom. Provided you are comfortable with that?"
"I am. I always feel safe when you're around. That's why I fell asleep in your class in the first place. Your presence is... soothing."
"Now there's a scary thought..." he muttered. "It seems I'll have to refresh my intimidation skills."
She grinned. "And you're funny, too."
"That's quite enough, Miss Granger! Go to sleep before I revoke my offer."
"Yes, Sir." Hermione obediently settled on the sofa, which was surprisingly comfortable, and he made a move to the door.
"I'll be in the lab, right next door."
"Professor Snape?" How she wished she could ask him for a good-night kiss. "Could you leave the door slightly ajar, please?"
"If I must."
He let her sleep until well after midnight. His potion had brewed, cooled and been left to stand for half an hour by the time he moved to check on Hermione. But when he found her sound asleep, he hadn't the heart to wake her just yet. She finally looked relaxed and peaceful, and he resented the fact that she couldn't find such solace in sleep every night. After watching her breathe deeply and evenly for a couple of minutes, he retreated back into his lab, not meaning to act creepily by continuously staring at her.
He bottled the potion, cleaned his drawer of cutting knives, crushers and measuring utensils, rewrote the labels on some of his storage containers and wiped the already clean surfaces of his work table once again. When there finally wasn't anything left he could occupy himself with, he went back in his office to wake her.
Calling her name softly didn't cause a reaction. She was still sound asleep. He was afraid to startle her again, but he could hardly let her stay in his office all night. Making sure that she didn't hold her wand in her hand, he reached out and carefully touched her shoulder.
She opened her eye sleepily, and, still not fully awake, gave him a warm and unguarded smile, as if just seeing him made her happy. His breath caught in his throat.
"Professor Snape," she murmured, sitting up and suppressing a yawn. "I'm sorry... What time is it?"
"Almost one. High time you got back to your room. Come on, I'll escort you there in case Filch is still up and about."
She nodded and got up. "Thank you for letting me sleep so long. It was very restful."
"It was only three and a half hours."
He walked her to Gryffindor Tower in silence. She was still half asleep and wouldn't have known what to say anyway. When she opened her door, however, she turned around and thanked him again for his offer of help, for his understanding, and his patience. She could have kept going, but a look in his face told her better not to. He obviously wasn't used to receiving thanks and didn't quite know what to do with them.
"I will still see you in detention next Wednesday," he just said, turned his back on her and departed without another word of good-bye.