Summary of Chapter Seven – Nightmares
Hermione has another nightmare of being tortured at Malfoy Manor, of being attacked by Nagini at Godric’s Hollow and of Severus dying in the Shrieking Shack. Too wrought up to go back to sleep, she heads for the kitchen, but runs into Severus on her way. He accompanies her, and Hermione tells him part of her dream, hoping that he will absolve her from the guilt she still feels. More than that, Severus realises that it was Hermione who had cast a non-verbal healing spell at him to stop his bleeding at the time, which probably kept him alive until Draco found him and saved him.
When escorting her back to her room, he gives her his robe, seeing that she is freezing in her thin dressing gown. Hermione instantly loves it, not because of its warmth and softness but because it smells like him. She is determined to not part with it any time soon.
Occlumency the Second
Hermione and her professor met again for another lesson in Occlumency the next evening. Neither of them mentioned their midnight encounter. Hermione didn’t bring it up for fear that he would ask about his robe, which he didn’t. He obviously had forgotten all about it.
The only reference he made to the fact that they had both slept very little the night before was to ask her if she felt rested enough for him to use Legilimency on her again. Obviously, he really was concerned about draining her reserves too much, which Hermione thought exaggerated. It hadn’t been as exhausting as he made it out to be, and she told him so.
“You didn’t even suffer a headache?” he inquired sceptically.
“No, I’m fine,” she reassured him. “I didn’t feel any discomfort at all, neither while you were Legilimising me, nor afterwards. In fact, apart from the strangeness of feeling another person’s presence in my mind, it felt rather nice.”
To say that Severus was astonished by her revelation was putting it mildly. Never had he heard someone describe the invasion of his mind as ‘feeling rather nice’. He had only ever had the Dark Lord and Dumbledore rummage around in his head, and though Dumbledore had clearly been the more considerate of the two, neither experience had been painless.
“Well, I chose not to try and overcome your barrier with brute force,” he tried in explanation. “Believe me, you’d feel differently if I had. But as firm as your wall of ice looked at first glance, it was easy to circumvent, even if it required an unusual approach. Furthermore, I didn’t go in very deep or start digging for a particular memory. I just slipped behind your shields and let them come at me. Do you remember what those memories were that you freely offered to me – and why?”
She nodded. “To pass my shield, you projected warmth, which made the wall melt. The feelings you projected called similar emotions to the forefront of my mind.”
“Very good, Miss Granger. An ‘O’ for your understanding of the theory. Yes, that’s the easiest method for a Legilimens to use – projecting a thought or an emotion or pushing an image at you and waiting to see what comes up. Of course, the idea is to not answer such a request for information.”
“So I’m not to use the ice wall again?”
“It’s rather useless now that I know how to melt it, isn’t it? Don’t forget, Miss Granger, this is not primarily about keeping me out of your mind – you can’t – it’s about not letting me see what you don’t wish me to see.”
Hermione pondered that for a moment. What else to use as a shield? She knew that brick walls didn’t work, and everything else she came up with spontaneously seemed equally easy to blast. He had told Harry repeatedly to empty his mind... it shouldn’t show anything, and whatever information he asked for, it should come up blank. But how can something blank serve as a shield? Not keeping him out, but hindering him to see?
The picture of an empty canvas suddenly came to her mind and she clung to that. It probably wasn’t the answer either, but she couldn’t think of anything better right now. “Okay, I’ll try something else, then.”
“As ready as I can hope to be.”
“Very well, then...” He lowered the tip of his wand to her temple and softly said: “Legilimens!”
This time, he found himself standing in front of a wide, blank surface. It wasn’t a wall, and it wasn’t ice, either. It almost looked like an endless clothesline full of pristine linen sheets. Interesting. He conjured up a mental wind, just a breeze to start with, to see what would happen. The cloth started flapping and bulged, but otherwise stayed in place, firmly held on all sides. So this was more like standing in front of a huge screen. The cloth was firm, but certainly not resistant to tearing. However, he found himself reluctant to tear or cut his way in. He examined the fabric closely, looking at each individual thread to find a weak spot or a hole he could pick at. In the end, it was surprisingly easy – with just a little tugging and prodding, a thread came loose, and he only had to pull for the fabric to come undone. The material fell apart, allowing him to slip behind the sheet.
Once again, he found himself standing on the threshold of her mind, which now stretched before him like endless rows of further white screens. He was fairly impressed with her visualisation. Potter hadn’t even come close to emptying his mind like this. But as effective as she was in keeping it clear of images, she wasn’t equally successful in keeping it clear of emotions. They were as tangible as last time, and just as suffocating.
The predominant emotion was one of unease and anxiety, which, at first, he attributed to their current situation of him invading her mind. But then he realised that the opposite was true: The anxiety had been there before – his presence, quite to the contrary, was perceived as a source of calm and comfort. It confused him momentarily and almost threw him off track. Her fear was too thick and tangible, however, to completely lose hold of it.
The strongest unease seemed to originate from recent experiences and a lingering sense of danger. He latched on to that, as it seemed the most dominant and thus easiest to follow emotion, and immediately came upon memories that clearly were war-related. She still feared finding herself in the hands of Death Eaters again, being captured and tortured, being helpless. He caught brief glimpses of Bellatrix and Greywolf in her memories and quickly turned away from them to pursue a different stream of consciousness. Those were memories neither he nor she would want to revisit. He was sure that they often featured in her nightmares, just like the events in the Shrieking Shack, and he didn’t wish to see those either.
This time, he concentrated on the less sharp-edged kind of anxiety which he was able to identify as her fear of making decisions – something he wouldn’t have expected to find in an always reasonable, resolute girl like her. He saw images and memories of the last year flicker by, when she and both her friends had been out hunting Horcruxes, trying to fulfil the almost impossible mission the headmaster had given them. And he found confirmed what he had always suspected: For the longest time, she had been the one holding everything together. As Dumbledore had once put it, she had been the voice of reason, the brain of the Golden Trio, whom her dunderhead friends always expected to have all the answers. They had come up with the half-baked ideas, but it had been her job to turn them into executable plans, to decide how to proceed best, to somehow make their crazy schemes work. She had carried a large part of the responsibility, as her friends relied on her good sense and her vast knowledge. And all the while, she had staggered under the burden, had constantly questioned herself and doubted her own counsel, feared that she had been wrong and would lead them all into doom.
And there, entwined in those memories of weeks spent in a tent, always hungry, cold and depressed, he found another aspect of her fear, something that ran deeper even than the fears brought on by the war. When he tried to examine it more closely, he could sense her trying to fight him off. Hastily erected screens momentarily obscured the images connected to specific memories, but he was still able to follow the emotion and navigate around the obstacles.
Her most fundamental fear, the one he was following now, was losing people she cared about. Considering that they had just been through a war, this was hardly surprising, but to his utter astonishment her fear was not only for her loved ones’ safety. She was afraid of being left alone, of people turning away from her as she was incapable of connecting to them and holding on to them.
More memories flashed by in quick succession. He saw her as a young girl in a muggle school, always by herself or with grown-ups, as she never fit in with other kids. When she came to Hogwarts, eager to prove that this was the world where she belonged, other students found her weird and were put off by her precocious manner. Until the troll incident, which had somehow formed a bond between her, Potter and Weasley, she hadn’t been able to make any friends. In fact, her relationship with the boys was her first friendship ever, and it meant the world to her. But when her feelings grew beyond friendship for the red-head, he never even seemed to notice her, making her feel rejected once again.
He was struck by the similarities between her and his own past. He had been the odd one out, too, his friendship with Lily the only relationship he had managed to maintain, at least for a while. Until unreturned growing feelings had made things complicated. He had been rejected and left alone – for the longest time, she had been afraid it would happen to her, too.
Her memories of her and Weasley transported him right back into the forest, where he witnessed him turning his back on her, leaving her standing in front of a tent, pale and disheartened. The emotions connected with this memory were saturated with loss and anger, but also the feeling of inadequacy he had noted before and which continued to surprise him. What reason could she possibly have to feel inadequate? But there was no doubt – Hermione Granger, deep down, felt unsure about herself. She feared that people might leave her because what she had to offer was not enough to make them stay. He couldn’t help but realise that these fears were also strongly linked to her sexuality. As she had already confided in him, none of the people she had cared about – however briefly – had been able to satisfy any of her needs, no one had given her the closeness, the sense of belonging or at least the acceptance she craved.
Stricken, he realised that he was one of those people. He couldn’t avoid seeing fragments of memories of himself, dressing her down in Potions for giving a text-book answer, for writing a far too long essay, for brewing an uninspired potion. He also caught a glimpse of himself ridiculing her in Defence and turning her down that fateful night in his office. Her feeling of failure, her disappointment and her sadness made him stumble. He managed to disentangle himself from those threads he’d briefly gotten caught in, wondering briefly if it had been a conscious effort on her part to throw him off balance. He didn’t want to get caught in other memories that showed himself in her mind, so he quickly grabbed on to the thread of emotion he had been tracking before – her fear of loss.
The memories being pulled forward now were confusing. He saw a woman who felt like Hermione in her mind, but clearly wasn’t her. Or was she? She seemed much older. There was she and a man who looked like a clerk or a solicitor, but she couldn’t have memories belonging to other people. The vision didn’t seem particularly dreadful – just a woman doing business, probably in a bank. Why this overwhelming feeling of loss in this context?
Before he could examine it further, he was assaulted by other images; this time it was Hermione talking to the same woman he had just seen. Only now, she was sitting next to a man on a white leather sofa. Seeing all three together he immediately knew that it was the Grangers. But something seemed wrong with that memory, too. Hermione seemed strangely detached, acting cool and business-like, and the Grangers seemed – confused. They were talking about their relocation, and while the conversation was unemotional and very matter of fact, the feelings surrounding them were anything but. Once again, a feeling of loss, the fear of losing loved ones and an overwhelming feeling of loneliness clouded everything, but he could also detect a strong, underlying feeling of guilt.
In fact, the guilt was overpowering. He could feel it swell as he was pondering it, starting to envelop him from all sides and making it difficult to see through it. Again, it would have been a marvellous method to obscure his vision, had it been intentional. He was sure, however, that it wasn’t. He had just inadvertently touched on something that was consuming her. Afraid to inflict damage to the fabric of her mind if he tried to unravel the loops and knots of these particular thoughts, memories and emotions, he gently disentangled herself from them and retreated from her mind.
With his awareness back in his physical body, he saw that she was crying. Small wonder – he had just made her relive all her fears and her losses. He wordlessly handed her a handkerchief and considered moving away to give her space to compose herself. But somehow he felt that distance was not what she needed right now. So he sat with her, watching and waiting quietly for her crying to lessen. Once more he wished he was better at this – or at least free to follow this strange urge that made him want to clasp her in his arms and hold her together while she fell apart.
Instead, he settled on the Englishman’s cure-all for all dire situations and made tea. He patiently waited until she got herself back under control, blew her nose, wiped her eyes and accepted the cup he offered her. Only then he calmly asked: “What happened to your parents, Miss Granger?”
She stiffened, then her shoulders slumped and her head fell forward, hiding her face behind her hair. Her voice, when she finally answered, was so low he could hardly hear her. “I sent them away.”
“I figured as much. Where did you send them to?”
“Australia. I wanted them to be safe, and I thought that was far away enough for Voldemort not to bother.”
That surely was sound thinking, and he told her so. “I know that your parents were high on the list of targets, and I repeatedly warned Dumbledore about it. So what happened? Were they found?” He could hardly imagine that the Dark Lord had gone after them on the other side of the world. They hadn’t been that important. But what else could explain this drowning guilt, the intense sorrow and profound feeling of loss that she felt, other than them being dead?
To his astonishment, she shook her head. “No. They’re still alive. But – they don’t remember having a daughter. I obliviated them.”
It took him a moment to fully comprehend what she was saying. It was impossible. She couldn’t have managed such a feat by herself. Targeted memory charms were incredibly complex. Of course, one could always try and wipe an entire mind, but that was not advisable. You could never tell the outcome. The strangest things had happened to wizards who’d been subject to an attempt of comprehensive obliviation. She wouldn’t have done it to her Muggle parents. But targeted obliviation wasn’t on the syllabus at Hogwarts. Those spells were taught to Aurors, ministry workers in the Department for Magical Security or the Bureau of Covert Vigilance & Obliviation. Of course, that didn’t mean that only those people knew how to cast them. He was reasonably adept at them himself – the fact that he was a decent Legilimens helped. The only other person he had known who excelled at memory charms had been Dumbledore.
“You mean you asked Dumbledore to manipulate their memories?” he inquired, sure that this was what had occurred. “And your parents agreed to that?”
She shook her head, albeit without looking him in the eyes. “I did ask Dumbledore, but he refused to help me without my parents’ consent. But how would I ever get them to consent to wiping me from their minds?”
“You – you wanted to obliviate their minds against their will?” He kept his voice neutral, but inside, he was dumbfounded that Hermione Granger, upholder of rules and moral standards, would even consider such an ethically disputable thing.
“I had no choice...” she said in a voice that reflected the despair she had felt. “I had told them about what was going on in the wizarding world. But I guess to them, it sounded like a bizarre fairy tale. An evil wizard, surrounding himself with mask-wearing minions who called themselves Death Eaters, striving to rule the world... They didn’t really take it seriously, and wouldn’t believe that they could really pose a threat in their reality.”
“In their reality?” he echoed. As if there was another one. “They had a witch daughter. Surely they knew that everything about the wizard world was quite real.”
“No, not really. For them, it always remained abstract. They’ve never been to Hogwarts. They’ve not even been able to step onto platform 9 3/4 and see the Hogwarts Express. For the longest time, I wasn’t allowed to use my wand at home because of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, so they hardly ever saw evidence of magic, either. The Weasleys were the only wizarding family they ever met and talked to, and that was only once, in Diagon Alley. Otherwise, they had no contact with the wizarding world. It wasn’t even a world to them. It was just this one street and a school they had never set foot into. How could I expect them to take it for real?”
She paused and sipped on her tea, while Severus was once again flabbergasted. She was right. Why had he never seen it? Why had nobody ever paid a fleeting thought to how muggle parents viewed their world? The Statute of Secrecy demanded that even parents of muggleborn witches and wizards were basically cut off from their children’s lives. Apart from that one obligatory visit of the headmaster or deputy headmaster when a muggleborn received their Hogwarts letter, muggleborn parents had no contact whatsoever with the wizarding world. There were no open school days or parent conferences, no festivities to which parents were invited. It was amazing that they could be persuaded at all to give their children into the care of people who must seem so strange to them, and to send them off to a place they could never even see. What kind of strain did that put on Muggleborns and their families? They couldn’t really share and remain part of their loved one’s lives. How many other students had been in her position all these years?
“But you told them about Hogwarts and things you experienced, surely?” he asked.
She scoffed. “Like getting petrified by a basilisk? Turning myself into a cat accidentally? Almost being attacked by a werewolf? Flying on Thestrals to London to save a fugitive murderer from a snake-faced megalomaniac? You have to understand that my parents are logical, scientific people. They kept regarding the whole wizard thing as a sort of a cult-like movement of rather eccentric people who had strange and rare talents. Have you ever heard about LARP?”
He shook his head.
“It’s short for Live-Action-Role-Playing. There are quite a few enthusiasts all over the world who regularly engage in this. LARPs are played in a public or private area and can last for hours or days. There is usually no audience. People pretend to be characters in an often medieval fantasy world, like knights, witches, magicians or even dwarfs. They dress like them and carry appropriate equipment, and the setting is decorated accordingly. That one day in Diagon Alley, it must have felt to them as if they had stepped into the set of an elaborate movie production – a fancy fantasy world some people have created for themselves. To think it was more than that would have threatened their fundamental beliefs in how the world worked.”
“And yet they accepted that their highly intelligent daughter got involved in this – instead of coming back to her senses and doing something – normal?”
“Well, there’s the thing: They always knew I wasn’t normal. I was always the odd one out in school. Hell, I was the odd one out at home, too. Mind you – my parents loved me, but they never really understood me. To them, it was just about having a slightly out-of-the-norm daughter who vanished for the best part of the year to some obscure school in Scotland. They supported me because, in the end, all they ever wanted for me was to be happy. And if I was happy in a quirky kind of fantasy world, they accepted that, too. I’m not saying they never tried to nudge me back into what they perceived as reality, for they did – often enough to get on my nerves. They were still hoping that I would go to University after I finished Hogwarts.”
“To study what exactly?”
She blushed. “Chemistry, most likely. I was my fault, I guess. To explain to them what I learned at Hogwarts, I used a lot of muggle references. When I told them about Potions class, I guess I made it sound a lot like chemistry – working in a lab with volatile substances and interacting ingredients, producing and researching medication... The idea was supported by the fact that they often saw me working on arithmantic formulas for Professor Vector, and in context it looked to them like some obscure, yet advanced branch of science.”
“You never told them about your other subjects?”
“Well, I mostly spoke about my favourite subjects. History of Magic became History, Defence against the Dark Art became Self-Defence, and Ancient Runes already sounded like something archeology-related. I never spoke about Transfiguration. It wasn’t to purposely mislead them – I never lied. I just spoke to them about it all in a context they could understand. And telling them everything would only have worried them, especially since they were helpless to do anything about it. And after a time, I feared that the full truth would have destroyed the idea they had made for themselves about the magical world – whimsical, but mostly harmless.”
“I suppose that your lack of clarity and the fact that you left them in the dark for so long came back to bite you...”
“With a vengeance. When I finally told them everything during the winter holiday of my sixth year – about Harry, the prophecy, the attacks on Muggles, the Order of the Phoenix... they didn’t quite believe me. They probably even feared that I had lost it completely. They just... brushed it off. Saying that if circumstances were indeed as dire as I made them sound, they wouldn’t leave without me anyway. For days I argued with them, implored them, begged them... But they wouldn’t listen. They insisted that either I go with them, or they wouldn’t go at all.
I didn’t know what else to do... I couldn’t let them stay, and I couldn’t leave Harry either. So I came up with this plan. It took me a great part of the remaining school year to research the spells, and to practise them on rats. And I spent the entire summer holidays on finalising the details – organising new identities, settling their finances and preparing their move.”
For a moment, he could only sit and stare at her speechlessly. It was only thanks to the impeccable control he had over his features that he didn’t have his mouth hanging open. “Impossible. That’s an impossible endeavour. Not just the organisation of all of that. But you were never even taught memory spells. You couldn’t have learned them from books alone!”
“No. I had – other sources for the spells.”
“So someone did help you... Who, if not Dumbledore?” No one of the order would have helped her with that. He might have, had she asked him. But why should she have turned to him for help? He had never given her a reason to trust him. And a short time later his actions had shouted loud and clear that he indeed should never have been trusted.
“Well, Dumbledore’s insistence that it was unethical to obliviate anyone without consent gave me the idea. It made me think of someone who was totally unethical and an expert on memory charms...”
“Dear Merlin, girl! Tell me you’re not talking about ...”
But she nodded, and solemnly completed his sentence: “Gilderoy Lockhart, yes. I visited him in St. Mungo’s a couple of times. Do you know what the funny thing is with his memory? He still remembers many things about his life – even in detail. You only have to nudge his memory by giving him the facts first. Of course, if you gave him false facts, like saying ‘you were a famous Quiddich player!’ he’d instantly pick up on that and tell you everything you want to know about his life as a sports star – except that it was mostly rubbish, made up of things he'd heard or read about or just imagined. But if you gave him the right hint, like ‘you were an expert on memory charms’ and ask him how he did them... well, suffice to say I got brilliant instructions. And the best part about it: His ability to move things to long term memory is irrevocably damaged. The next day, he had forgotten that I had ever been there. I didn’t have to worry about him being able to manipulate people’s memories ever again.”
“I can’t believe that Lockhart’s instructions were at all usable!”
“Oh, he might have been a fraud and totally incompetent in every other field of magic, but he really was brilliant with memory charms! Probably better than most people at the ministry. I tried to get information out of Arthur, too, without making him suspicious, just to confirm that what Lockhart told me wasn’t complete and utter rubbish. It was far from that. Lockhart used a two-way charm to target memories very specifically: One to tie all memories concerning a certain event together, and the second to delete it. With my parents, I simply made them forget everything connected to the word ‘Hermione’.”
“So you erased a large part of their memories of 18 years? They will have gaping holes in their minds – there is no way such an extensive charm could work without them noticing that something is amiss.”
“I was aware of that. Lockhart had a solution for that as well: A combination of a Hypnosis and Confundus charm which is used to implant a suggestion. It worked like a self-healing patch that ties up those odd, loose ends. A cover story, if you will, which their minds could use as a structure to fill in between pieces that did not quite fit together.”
“I’m dreading to ask what kind of cover story you gave your parents...”
“Well, it was a bit over the top from a Muggle’s perspective, but compared to the truth, it was downright mundane. I planted the false truth that they had become targets of a criminal organisation because their dental records threatened to expose the identity of an influential gang member. An attempt was made to destroy those records, but my parents happened to walk in on the burglary of their office and were attacked, too. They both suffered head trauma and partial memory loss. Being witnesses made them even more a target, so the government gave them new identities and suggested they move abroad for a while.”
“I suppose you arranged for false identification?”
“Yes. That part was astonishingly easy to do. It was more complicated to open a bank account in their new name and transfer their funds. I used polyjuice to impersonate my mother.” That had been a very weird experience, weirder than anything else she had done with polyjuice before. Until she had been forced to turn herself physically into Bellatrix Lestrange and had seen her tormentor looking at her from the mirror. That memory still caused most of her nightmares and sent a shiver down her spine, even now. Hermione quickly caught her drifting thoughts and focused back on the discussion at hand.
Severus nodded. That must have been the memory he’d seen – Hermione impersonating her mother. “What happened after that? I saw you and your parents in your living room... I suppose that was after their obliviation?” That would explain the weird distance he had felt – and Hermione’s dread.
“Yes. I dressed in a business suit and introduced myself as government employee Harmony Miller, responsible for their case. I told them that I was to help them with their relocation. I wanted to observe their reaction to seeing me and to make sure that the fake memory had taken hold. It was like with Lockhart: I only had to ‘remind’ them of a certain fact – like the break-in into their office – and they seemed to remember. I suppose the suggestive element must have been part of the memory charm he tried to use on Ron and Harry in the Chamber of Secrets which backfired on him. It’s obviously still working perfectly well on himself nowadays.”
That was indeed an impressive piece of magic. Severus knew that it was possible to implant a specific suggestion. But to give a person just the frame of such a suggestion and encourage his mind to come up with fitting images and memories by itself was downright genius. It surely made the fake memory more believable, given that it was built on their own real memories or thoughts. Thank Merlin that such knowledge had never fallen into the Dark Lord’s hands...
“I made sure my parents were aware of the fact that they had experienced memory loss, and that the doctors had told them not to worry about it too much – it would probably all come back to them with time. I gave them their new passports, access to their accounts, their flight tickets and a hotel reservation for their first week in Australia.”
“So how did they react to seeing you, but not knowing you?” He had always been curious if a deletion of memories also nullified the connecting emotions. Knowing how minds worked, he found that hard to believe.
“It was strange. They didn’t recognise me, of course, but I had the impression that they were feeling some kind of familiarity that they explained away with having met me before and finding me instantly sympathetic and likeable.” Or they had interpreted their own reaction as empathy at Hermione’s obvious distress and the fact that she – for inexplicable reasons – had been on the verge of tears during the entire conversation.
“That was some really advanced magic, Miss Granger,” Severus finally said, not sure if he should feel awed or aghast. It must have cost her dearly to pull this off. Still, it was brilliant. She was certainly a force to be reckoned with if she had her mind set on something. To brush all scruples, all questions of morality, all her pain and desperation aside like that and do what she deemed necessary – it rivalled his own determination when doing what was needed of him during the war. Once again, he was stuck by how much he could relate to the workings of her mind and by how similar they were in some aspects. And he also knew that this ruthlessness, no matter how justified, came at a price, at least for someone who still had a conscience. It was apparent in the tremendous amount of guilt she felt for her own actions. He could not condemn her for them. He’d have done the same without hesitation, if he’d been in her shoes, although doubtlessly others would be shocked if they knew.
“In case you were harbouring doubts about it: I still think you did the right thing.”
“You do?” For the first time since they had started talking about her parents, she held his gaze. To see the relief in her features was heartbreaking.
“Yes, Miss Granger, I definitely do. Deceiving people to protect them is better than risking them dying.” It was, after all, what he had done all these years, and, by her own admission, she regarded him as a hero for it. “If you so easily understood, justified and forgave my actions, why can’t you forgive yourself for what you obviously conceive as betrayal of your parents?”
“Because the damage I did is irrevocable,” she said in a small voice. “I thought after the war, when everything was over, I’d give them their real memories back and ask their forgiveness. But – I can’t. I don’t know how.”
“Have you spoken to Lockhart again?”
“Yes. But he has never been interested in restoring someone’s memory in the first place and didn’t have a clue. He kept asking why anyone would want to do such a thing. It seems that the obliviation is irreversible.”
Well, that certainly made sense. Had she been a Legilimens, she could have saved her parents memories before erasing them. If there was a way to restore an obliviated memory, the healers dealing with Lockhart surely would have found it by now.
“I take it that you saw them again, after the war?”
“Yes, I went to Australia this summer, again under the guise of being their case official,” she told him about what clearly had not been a happy journey. “I told them that the trial had been a success even without their testimony, and they no longer were in danger. I told them it was safe to come back.”
“What did they say?”
“They were reluctant. They said that just thinking of their house and their lives back in England gave them a feeling of loss and sadness they ascribed to the trauma they had experienced. They didn’t feel ready yet to face it again, even thought of selling the house and making the move complete. I completely lost it then. I explained my distress with personal problems, telling them that I had recently lost my parents due to a car accident and that they reminded me a bit of them. My mum was so kind... she even gave me a hug and tried to comfort me, which of course made me cry even harder. It was a very distressing visit.” Tears welled up in her eyes again. “I lost them. For me, they might as well be dead.”
“No, Miss Granger,” Severus objected. “They are alive and well. And though you robbed yourself and them of something valuable and irreplaceable, they can still form new memories. You’ll just have to find a different way of becoming part of their lives again.”
“You said they seemed to feel a connection. Your mother obviously did. You can always build on that. Their emotional memory seems to be still intact and it might be triggered by you. Who can tell what will happen in the long run? Brains have an astounding capacity to mend themselves. Find out how much they remember on a subconscious level. You can still decide to tell them the truth – even without their memories. Or you can see how much of it you can nudge back – like it’s obviously possible to do with Lockhart.”
“Yes,” she breathed, for the first time feeling a tingle of hope when thinking of her parents, and not just the devastating, oppressive grief, the loss, and the guilt. “Thank you. That really helped. I’ve never spoken about this to anyone. I felt – ashamed.”
Ashamed of her perceived failure, and unlovable for it. Just like the dream she had described to him yesterday. Knowing what he knew about her fears now, he understood the symbolism behind it. She hadn’t recognised the danger they were in when coming upon Bathilda Bagshot and had failed to warn Potter. She thought she had also failed Severus himself, by not being able to help him and by leaving him to die. As if reading any more books on healing or on defence would have made a difference, would have enabled her to save those lives that were lost. Who’d have thought that the girl he had regarded as an insufferable know-it-all could have so many insecurities deep down? And who’d have thought that he of all people would feel the urge to reassure her?
“Tell me, Miss Granger – why is it that you feel that your worth depends so much on your accomplishments, on doing everything right?” he asked.
“What?” She looked at him with confusion in her eyes. “Why would you think that?”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it? You don’t feel guilty for having obliviated your parents against their will. You knew it was a debatable decision in terms of ethics, yet you didn’t hesitate to do it. You did what you thought was best for them. You feel guilty and ashamed for failing to bring their memory back.”
Her gaze changed to one of astonishment, then understanding. “You’re right,” she finally said. “I never realised that.”
“Even in Hogwarts, from the very first day on, you were afraid of failing. It has always been the driving force behind your eagerness to learn, to succeed. And it explains why you always give text-book answers and never dare to experiment in potions, despite your competence in the subject. Why, I wonder? Failure is a necessary part of learning.”
“It’s a bit hypocritical for you to say so, don’t you think? After all, you constantly berated us for our mistakes.”
“Yes, I did. But how does that negate my point? Failure means facing consequences, be it my scorn or an exploding cauldron. You feared my scorn more, didn’t you? Because for you, it equalled disapproval, and that made you feel rejected as a person. It made you feel unworthy. Was it because even at a young age, you felt you had to prove yourself to the likes of Draco Malfoy, who told you that you were beneath him? Do you believe that the only reason your friends keep you around is your vast knowledge that you so willingly share with them – even when it's unasked for, like with Longbottom in my potions class?”
Hermione could only look at him in awe. It was true. All of it. Her self esteem lay in her knowledge and her competence. No one had ever complimented her for being pretty or being nice. She had been an only child, raised by well-meaning and supportive, yet ambitious parents who wanted the best for her. They had helped her discover her talent, the area of interest where she could shine. It hadn’t been the ballet, nor the piano. The art classes she had taken as a seven year had also been pretty much for nothing, as she still couldn’t draw a horse. But she had excelled at reading and comprehending. Her nearly eidetic memory had set her apart from her peers and had made her parents proud, which had encouraged her to continue this path. She had become the typical, precocious child adults found endearing and other children hated. Hermione hadn’t understood why, and had always felt more at ease around grown-ups. It might well be that her predisposition to feel attraction for a man twice her age had been formed in her early childhood.
Hermione had received praise and recognition for her competence. And just like her professor had pointed out, she had somehow subconsciously concluded that she would be rejected for failing. It was a sobering revelation.
He had cut to the heart of her insecurities with surgical precision, laying her inner self open and examining what made her tick with almost scientific interest. But Hermione knew that there was no ill-intent behind his blunt words. His eyes were gentle, full of understanding.
“Nothing you could have accomplished would have changed Draco’s views of you at that time, not even if you had made it Minister of Magic at fifteen. His disdain didn’t have anything to do with you. You’re allowed to make mistakes, Miss Granger. You don’t have to be perfect to be liked, or loved.” He was not only referring to the guilt she felt regarding her parents or the guilt regarding his almost-death, which she had blamed herself for. He was also thinking about her insecurities regarding her relationships – Ronald Weasley in particular, who seemed responsible for most of them, even if unintentionally. And he himself obviously had to bear some of that responsibility as well.
“Whatever might have been the reason for your friend leaving you when you needed him most – it wasn’t about your deficiencies. It was all about his own.”
Hermione didn’t know what to say to that. She felt like she’d been hit with a board. There were far too many revelations to process, too many new ideas to ponder and too many emotions to deal with right now. He was aware of that, too.
“You should go back to your tower now and get some sleep,” he told her almost gently. “This has been exhausting, I’m sure. Take some time to think about what I said and about what we both saw in your memories today. We’ll discuss your second experience with Legilimency and your efforts to defend against it tomorrow.”
“Yes, I will. Thank you again, Professor. I really appreciate your helping me with this.”
“Think nothing of it, Miss Granger.”