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Getting the Best of the Gloomilows by zaubernuss [Reviews - 6]

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Summary of Chapter Six – Wands, Whotnits and Weapknats

The Headmistress agrees to Severus’ proposal that Hermione become his brewing assistant. When Hermione sees him to discuss the details of this partnership, she shows him an article Luna has written for the Quibbler. Luna is convinced that a mysterious illness has broken out in Hogwarts, brought about by invisible fungi which make people depressed. As a cure, infected people should have close contact to people with ‘matching auras’, which she believes applies to Severus and Hermione as well as to Draco and Harry.

Severus finds out that Hermione has trouble with her new wand because of the added core of Thestral Hair. She believes it to be a sign of the fact that she is damaged to some degree after the war. Severus disagrees and tells her that the wand is just giving her options.

He gives her a self-correcting quill which shall help her correct essays for him, as it imitates his hand-writing and style. Hermione leaves his office, giving him the experimental note she wrote with it, telling him in his own words how she feels about him.




Nightmares

That night, Hermione dreamed again. Her nightmare was familiar by now, which didn’t lessen its impact on her. All her fears, the horrible things she had experienced, even the pain – they were all as tangible and real as they had been when they had first happened.

As so often occurred, it began at Malfoy Manor. Hermione found herself lying on the floor again, her entire body on fire. There wasn’t a single cell in her body that wasn’t consumed by raw, agonising, excruciating pain. All her muscles and sinews were screaming and contracting in protest, twisting her body into near-impossible positions on the floor, and stretching the bones of her limbs to their breaking point. Surely she would pass out any minute now.

But the relief of blackout never came. Just when she felt herself slipping away, the witch who was torturing her stopped the curse and started screaming at her again.

“I’m going to ask you one more time! Where did you get this sword? Where?”

“We found it – we found it – PLEASE!” Hermione could barely breathe. Yet she still had enough air to scream when Bellatrix yelled ‘Crucio’ for the third time. Or was it the fourth? Hermione had lost count. It was madness. The shrieking witch seemed out of her mind with rage, while the werewolf was watching her with barely concealed lust as she lay writhing and arching her back off the floor as if she was in ecstasy, not agony. How much longer before she gave away all their secrets, just to make the pain stop? How much longer before she went insane?

“You are lying, filthy Mudblood, and I know it! Tell me the truth, tell me the truth!”

Once more, the dark curse was lifted to give her a chance to answer. She briefly opened her eyes and was blinded by sunlight that was reflected from the chandelier above her. The crystal ornaments looked like icicles. Hermione was lying in puddle of liquid, she wasn’t sure if it was blood. If she concentrated enough, the burning sensation in her body almost felt like cold. If only she could go numb from it. Ice, ice, ice... Hermione tried to concentrate on the wall she had erected around her mind as soon as she had been brought into the room. If only she could retreat behind it and find shelter from the fire...

But the pain started again, the flames consumed her and made her scream. And then, all of a sudden, Hermione felt herself rise from her own body. This was it. She must be dying now. Curious, she noticed that the writhing had stopped, and so had the screams. Everything was silent, the body on the floor lay motionless now.

For a moment, she only felt relief. At least she wasn’t in pain anymore. But strangely, the feeling of profound peace that she had expected with death didn’t come, either. Instead, she felt dread, helplessness, and horror. Harry and Ron were at her side now, both frantic. Had they also died? And why was she still staring at her body, which was lying in a heap in front of her, a body she clearly no longer inhabited?

And although it was obviously soulless now, the body suddenly started twitching. Hermione watched herself get up awkwardly, moving stiffly into an upright position, yet with her entire figure remaining hunched and her head held low. Harry and Ron were calling her name, they were concerned for her and reached out to her. ‘No no no’ Hermione screamed. ‘Don’t go any closer – it isn’t me! It’s an Inferi!’ But neither of them listened, they didn’t even flinch when her curls turned black and her eyes wild. For a brief moment, before hair and features morphed back into her own, Hermione looked into her tormentor’s face.

Horrified, Hermione could only stand and watch as Harry followed the beckoning Hermione-Inferi into another room. Ron stayed behind – his leg was suddenly broken, and he couldn’t move.

Hermione screamed louder, she grabbed Harry by his sleeves, begging him not to go, not to follow that imposter who had stolen her body. But he didn’t listen. He never did. The Inferi suddenly lifted her eyes, and Hermione froze with shock seeing that they had a reddish glint in them now, and more than a touch of madness. Every hair on her body stood on end. The impostor was going to kill Harry! But before Hermione had a chance to shout another warning, her body – or rather that of the other Hermione – suddenly cracked and split and was torn apart from inside. Something monstrous burst out of her ripped flesh, shedding what had been her body like dead skin.

Hermione’s stomach churned at the sight and she could feel bile rise in he throat, which prevented her from screaming a warning even now. Transfixed, Harry stared at the gigantic snake that was coming at him, jaws unhinged, its maw wide open, baring two fangs sharp as daggers. But before the monster could swallow him whole, another person suddenly appeared in the Shrieking Shack, stepping protectively in front of Harry and shoving him out of harm's way.

Hermione rushed to Harry’s side, digging her nails into his arm as the snake now attacked their Potions Professor. Again and again the dagger-like teeth tore into his throat until it was in shreds, bloods gushing from the wounds like a fountain, and he fell. Now it was his body that lay on the hardwood floor in a pool of blood. There was so much of it, soaking into the layer of dust that covered the old planks.

Hermione moved closer and found herself looking down at their professor, the one who’d belittled them and treated them with nothing but disdain, but who had always protected them. He had given everything, his life and his soul to the cause and nobody had ever known of his sacrifices. He, who had always stood alone, who everybody falsely called a traitor, now lay dying in a pool of his own blood, staring up at her with silvery tears leaking from his eyes. Blood was still gushing from the horrid wound in his neck. Instinctively, she cast a wordless skin healing spell. She had gotten pretty good at them – they'd had no one else to help them in the last couple of months. But using it now was ridiculous. Like trying to catch deluge in a paper cup. The spell efficiently knitted minor wounds and scratches, but it couldn’t hold together what was left of his throat. And he had already lost so much blood. Besides, the thin layer of skin that stilled the blood flow also locked the deadly poison in his veins. He was already as pale as death. There was nothing she could do for him.

Her friends kept tugging on her arm, and she turned her back on the dying man. “Please,” she heard him beg almost tonelessly; it was more a scratchy, rasping sound than a voice. And he used to have such a beautiful voice. She looked at him. His eyes were full of horror and fright, imploring her to do something, anything. All this time he had helped them, saved their lives, and now there wasn’t anything she could do for him. She should at least sit down and stay with him until he was dead... Nobody should die alone, and he had been alone for far too long. But there wasn’t enough time. She had more important things to do. Not able to deal with this, she averted her gaze.

“Please, help me! Don’t leave me!” he pleaded, sounding broken and despairing. She threw her hand over her ears to block out his voice. Ignoring his tears, his pleas and his reproachful eyes she turned to leave once more.

Harry – she had to help Harry. She had to keep him alive and Ron, and her parents – if she rushed, maybe she could save Fred... or Lavender... or Tonks. She couldn’t save everybody. There were so many dead and maimed and hurt, and there was nothing she could do. She didn’t know enough about healing spells to cast anything efficient, she had no idea what to do about Nagini’s venom. Tears were streaming over her own face now as she started running, trying to get away from it all – the terror, the devastation, the carnage. If only she had studied some more, read books on more advanced healing techniques, maybe then she would know what to do... But she hadn’t read enough. It was never enough. She was still helpless, still had to watch people die because she didn’t know how to save them, still had to disappoint people who counted on her. No matter how hard she tried, in the end, she would fail them...

Crying, Hermione woke up and quickly turned her head into her cushion to stifle her sobs so as not to wake Luna. It always took her a while to truly find her way out of these nightmares and to separate real memories from the torturous imaginations of her overly active mind. This time, most parts of the dream had been real events, like what had happened in Godric's Hollow. In truth, Hermione had never seen Nagini come out of Bathilda Bagshot’s resurrected body, but Harry had, and a few days after it had happened, he had shared the horrific moment with her. She hadn’t been able to chase away the pictures ever since. Nagini had become a reoccurring feature in her nightmares, just as her professor’s presumed death in the Shrieking Shack had.

It was also true that Hermione had left the dying man behind, although she truly had believed him dead at the time. He hadn’t pleaded with her, though. He hadn’t been able to. In reality, he hadn’t bled quite as excessively as in her dream. As if that made it any better. She still hadn’t done anything substantial to help him, except casting that minor skin knitting spell which had been nothing more than a well-meaning gesture.

Most of her nightmare had mirrored the real events. Sometimes, that wasn’t the case. Sometimes, worse things happened in her dreams, when her fears and her imagination were running wild, torturing her with ‘might have beens’ and illustrating a fate she had narrowly escaped.

But no, it wouldn’t do to think of that now... she’d only cause herself to have another panic attack. Instead, she took a few deep breaths, willing herself to calm down and stop crying. She was relatively successful with stopping her sobbing – those months in the tent had taught her to cry pretty much silently. But as if to compensate for the forced lack of sound, it always took a long while for her tears to stop flowing.

Hermione sat up and slipped into her thick, furry slippers. She would sneak into the kitchen and ask a house-elf for a cup of hot milk and honey. It was what her mother had always prepared for her when she had woken from a nightmare as a child, and Hermione still found the ritual comforting.

It was pointless to try and go back to sleep now, anyway. She’d be restless for hours to come. Careful to move as noiselessly as possible, she put on her Kimono-style morning robe and slipped her wand into its pocket. The dressing gown had been a gift from her parents. They hadn’t known that it was a little inadequate for a place like Hogwarts. Wool would have been much more serviceable than the beautiful silk, but Hermione cherished it nonetheless.

Quietly she closed the door behind her. It was a long walk from her new room to the kitchen, especially since Hermione avoided the dark, inner corridors which were lined with portraits. They gave her the creeps – she could always feel invisible eyes watching her, and it took all her willpower not to draw her wand and throw random hexes. She tried to stick to the hallways that had windows as much as possible, even if it meant taking a detour. With the moonlight falling in through them and painting everything in a glowing, silvery light those could have been quite atmospheric. But the incoming light also cast long shadows, and combined with the silence in the deserted corridors, the overall effect was somewhat eery.

She wasn’t particularly at ease walking around alone by night, but the prospect of a warm fire in the kitchen, where some of the house-elves – the ones Hermione had come to think about as the ‘night shift’ – were still hustling about was too alluring. She wanted some company right now, and the house-elves would do just fine.

Focussing her thoughts on the prospect of comfort, she silently hurried through the corridors. She stiffened when she suddenly heard footsteps approaching. Freezing, she turned her back to the wall, her hand going to her wand in her pocket. Her heart was hammering in her chest, even though she knew it was probably just Filch, who was an insomniac. But it didn’t sound like Filch’s rather shuffling gate. This person’s footsteps were lighter, yet more determined, and the light that was nearing the corner was not the yellowish tint of Filches oil lamp, but the bluish tinted light that came from the tip of a wand. And much sooner than Filch’s feet would have carried him over to where she stood frozen at the wall, the light was on her, blinding her.

“Miss Granger?”

Hermione squinted. The breath she had held escaped from her throat with a sigh of relief. “Professor Snape!”

He lowered the tip of his wand a bit so it was no longer shining straight in her face.

“What are you doing out in the hallways at such an hour?” he inquired, sounding very much like Professor Snape sounded when catching a student out after curfew. Until his eyes widened slightly and a frown appeared on his forehead. Not the angry frown, but the one that he showed when he felt surprise or concern. “Have you been crying?”

Hermione self-consciously wiped her eyes, remembering her dream, and how she had left him to die on the floor of the Shrieking Shack, covered in his own blood, helpless, in agony and all alone. Much to her embarrassment, she felt her tears flowing again.

“I’m sorry...” she said, now knowing what exactly she was apologising for. For being caught out after curfew, for crying like a girl in front of him again or for not helping him when he had needed her.

He was confused about that as well. “What exactly for?”

She pulled her shoulders up in a gesture of uncertainty and discomfort. “I.. I had a nightmare.”

Understanding dawned on his face. “I see.”

“I was on my way to the kitchen for a cup of hot milk and... some company.”

He pondered that for a second, than determinedly gestured her to follow him. “Well then, move along. I’ll accompany you there. Students are not supposed to prowl the hallways at night. It’s a rule, Miss Granger. And though you have a hard time accepting this fact, they apply even to you.”

She found it quite fascinating how he managed to sound so stern and forbidding even when doing something kind. Was that why people never noticed? Did they pay attention only to his words and not his actions? Did they just see his frown and never bother to find out what it meant? How easy they were to deceive...

Hermione instantly felt safe and much more at ease now that he was around. Just seeing him move and breathe softened the horror of her dream, offering visible proof of the fact hat he was alive, that his gruesome death hadn’t been real.

Her professor tickled the pear on the portrait that lead to the kitchen. Funny, how even that gesture seemed untypical and out-of-place with him. Hermione wondered why that was – probably, she decided, because he seemed so self-aware when he did anything he wouldn’t usually be seen doing in class – which was basically everything apart from pacing, sneering, frowning and scolding.

The door slipped open and they entered the huge kitchen with the four long tables that mirrored those in the Great Hall above. The elves of the night shift briefly looked up, but once they saw the professor, all but one turned their attention back to their tasks. As Hermione knew from previous expeditions to the kitchen, those seemed to comprise polishing the silver, folding napkins, ironing table cloths or putting candles into candelabras.

She and her professor sat down at the table near the fireplace and asked the elf who obviously felt responsible for them for a cup of tea and a glass of hot milk.

“With honey, please,” Hermione added. “Thank you!”

In no time, two cups stood before them, and Severus pulled his chair aside so that he was facing her. He stretched his legs, put his elbow on the table and propped up his chin. It was the most relaxed pose she had ever seen him assume, and it somehow gave her the impression that it wasn’t all that unusual for him to be sitting in the kitchen in the middle of the night, either.

“Why are you up at this hour if it wasn’t nightmares that left you sleepless?” she inquired, not able to rein in her curiosity. Teachers did patrol the corridors to make sure students respected curfew, but only for an hour or two – not at almost three in the morning.

“It’s a full moon,” he just said, as if that was an explanation. Hermione threw him a questioning glance.

“After two incidents in which Lupin forgot to take his Wolfsbane Potion, I find myself rather incapable of finding rest until the moon sets,” he explained with a sigh. “The only thing that calms me is passing by his door and hearing him yip and yelp.”

“Oh. Yes, I can imagine why you would feel that way...” Two near-death experiences certainly justified his concerns about having a werewolf in the castle. That he made sure that it was safely in its quarters instead of locking himself away in his own was testament to his protective streak.

“Now you know what haunts my sleepless nights...” he said, watching her take a sip from her cup. “Do you want to talk about what keeps haunting yours?”

Not really. She preferred not to even think about it, but that had never stopped her dreams from coming back before. Maybe if she told him, if she voiced the terror and the guilt she had felt for failing him... He had already given her his absolution once: the night she had come to him in his office. They had only briefly spoken about what had happened in the Shrieking Shack, and when she had tried to apologise, he had immediately dismissed her guilt as unfounded. They hadn’t really discussed it. But maybe if he recognised her guilt and absolved her from it, it would spare her having to watch him die all over again tomorrow night or any night after.

“The nightmare – it was about you...” she answered before she had even consciously formed the decision to tell him at all, and when his eyebrows rose in surprise, it all came rushing out of her.

She retold her dream beginning the moment she had found herself in the Shrieking Shack. She still couldn’t deal with talking about Malfoy Manor. Even after eight months, the memory was too fresh, like the scars on her arm which she kept just as carefully covered. But the memory which haunted her almost as much as Bellatrix and Greyback was that of the snake attacking him, about the blood, her inability to deal with the situation and the silent pleas she had left unanswered. He didn’t interrupt her, just listened, but once, his eyebrow rose even higher in what seemed to be utter astonishment.

Only when she had finished and reached for her cup to moisten her suddenly dry throat, he finally spoke. “Well, Miss Granger, it seems I find myself indebted to you.”

“What?” Hermione lowered her cup in surprise. “Haven’t you listened?”

“I have. But as you said, it was a dream, and some of it didn’t happen that way. I never begged you to stay. Surely you know I wouldn’t have, not even if I had been conscious enough to do so at the end. I would have told you to hurry up and help Potter with his task. I knew I was going to die when the Dark Lord started talking about the wand. I was prepared to die. But you... not only did you have the presence and the means at hand to save my mission... you also saved me.”

“No. I walked away from you.”

“Only after you had every reason to believe that I was already dead, after you had managed to secure my memories in those phials. I would have died knowing that at least the-boy-who-had-to-sacrifice-himself would receive Dumbledore’s message, even though I had little hope that he would survive his encounter with the Dark Lord without the Elder Wand.”

“You still hadn’t realised that Draco had long since lost the mastery of the wand to Harry?”

“No. Otherwise I wouldn’t have pleaded so desperately with the Dark Lord to let me find the boy. After Voldemort had disarmed me, I was sure I had failed utterly and completely. I welcomed death at that point, Miss Granger. Surely you, of all people, understand why I felt that way.”

Yes, she did. He must have felt just like she had for being unable to save him – or any of her friends who had died that night: Filled with horror, helplessness and survivor’s guilt. Knowing him so much better now than before, she also knew that these feelings of shame and inadequacy would have been many times stronger in him. Not being able to fulfil the task he’d been given and thus being unable to safe the life of the boy whose survival had been his only motivation for years and years – he would have felt like a complete and utter failure. Who would want to live like that? How could anyone live feeling like that?

“And yet I didn’t die,” he continued. “I never really understood how I was saved.”

“You said it was Draco who saved you. And the anti-venom you had been taking for a long while...”

“Yes, but none of that would have mattered if I had bled out on the floor of the Shrieking Shack with those gaping holes in my neck, which by all reason I should have. I had already lost a fair amount of blood, but then the wounds closed somehow. I never understood – I had no wand and I was in no state to perform wandless magic, not even a minor healing charm. But now I know what saved my life – you did. You cast the skin-knit spell on me, non-verbally, at that.”

“Yes, I did. But the spell only grows a very thing layer of tissue over a wound – enough to keep out dirt while it heals. It’s not strong enough for anything as serious as those wounds on your neck. It can’t have held for more than a few minutes.”

“It didn’t. But it was enough for Draco to come and find me. He apparated me straight to St. Mungo’s and left me in the care of the one healer who he knew for sure would do everything in his power to save my life, even knowing I was a Death Eater. Just like you did. You saved me. If not for you casting that spell, I would have bled out before Draco came for me. You have nothing, absolutely nothing to feel guilty about.”

Hermione could only stare at him in silence for a moment. Her pitiful spell had in fact saved him? Had she really managed to save at least one person during the battle?

“And you’re not just saying that to make me feel better?”

He raised his eyebrow in disbelief. “In all those years you've had me as a teacher - have I ever been known for doing such a thing?”

Not really. But he hadn’t been known for being nice, for being helpful or for being sympathetic, either. And yet, here he was...

“Well, I just had to make sure it’s not just part of this new and improved you...”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Miss Granger! There is no ‘new me’.” Her professor resolutely put his cup down and got up. “Now, if you have quite finished your milk, we’d better get back to our rooms and get some sleep. We both have classes tomorrow.”

“Yes, Sir!” Hermione obediently stood up, too, and followed him out of the kitchen. The cool of the castle hit her as soon as they left the vicinity of the warming fire. It had started snowing just the day before, and Hermione’s Kimono did nothing to protect her from the moist and cold air in the draughty corridors. Severus noticed her shivering and sighed.

“If you plan on keeping up these nightly visits to the kitchen, Miss Granger, I suggest you invest in a warmer dressing gown. I can’t stand sneezing and sniffling students in my classes, even less so in my lab or in my office.”

Again, his harsh words were contrasted by the fact that he took off his own robe and wrapped it firmly around her shoulders. It carried his body heat, and Hermione was reminded of her Occlumency lesson, when he had first penetrated her mind. She was enveloped in warmth. As an added bonus, the surprisingly thick and soft material was saturated with his scent – a combination of herbs, woodsmoke and man. For someone whose hygiene had always been put into question, he smelled amazing. Well, Hermione had never believe the rumours that he was hydrophobic in the first place. The fact that she detected a lingering hint of soap when she turned her nose into her shoulder proved the theory wrong, too. If it was the soap that made him smell like this, she wanted a piece of it for herself. Or she’d have to find a way to keep the robe for a while. Surely, he had a spare one and wouldn’t miss this one too badly?

“Thank you!” she said, with a hint of a guilty conscience. He was being nice, and here she was, planning thievery.

“Don’t thank me yet again, Miss Granger, it’s getting tiresome. Besides, I’m merely trying to lower the risk of getting myself infected, and it seems that my chances improve vastly if you wear this. I have a few more ounces of warming fat on my body than you do.”

Sure! Hermione hid her smile and didn’t respond. Just to make sure that she wouldn’t catch a cold and pass it on to him, she didn’t take off his robe when she slipped back into bed a little while later.

For the remainder of the night, she slept soundly and peacefully.


Getting the Best of the Gloomilows by zaubernuss [Reviews - 6]

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