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Getting the Best of the Gloomilows by zaubernuss [Reviews - 3]

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Summary of Chapter Eight – Occlumency the Second

In her second Occlumency lesson, Severus tracks the most predominant emotion he finds in Hermione’s mind: anxiety. He takes a closer look at all her fears and discovers that Hermione’s fear of loss partly has to do with her parents. He is surprised to learn that Hermione managed to obliviate them and give them false memories with the unknowing help of Gilderoy Lockhart. She now feels a tremendous amount of guilt for not being able to return their memories. Severus also realises and confronts Hermione about the fact that her self-esteem is hugely built on her knowledge and her competence and is thus easily shattered by perceived failure. Regarding her parents, Severus encourages her not to despair about the situation, but to find a different way to make them part of her life again.

A/N: The upcoming chapter has a lot on the theory of Legilimency, which in the Harry Potter books sadly was never explained in detail. It should have been though, because without an explanation similar to the one I came up with, there is a major flaw in the logic of HP: Why would Voldemort send Snape to spy on Dumbledore, a known Legilimens – unless he also knows that Snape is an Occlumens? And if he does – why would he ever trust him?

The Subtle Art of Legilimency

“Good evening, Professor Snape,” Hermione greeted him politely when she entered his office the next afternoon. She was supposed to start brewing for the hospital wing today and he needed to give her a briefing about the procedures.

Severus narrowed his eyes when he saw that she had come with nothing but her wand. “Miss Granger?”

“Yes, Sir?” she asked innocently.

“When will I get my robe back?” He had politely refrained from asking her yesterday, thinking that she had simply forgotten about it. But upon seeing her turn up without it again, the suspicion began to form that her forgetfulness was rather a matter of convenience. After all, his robe was sensible and warm, while her shiny, silky Kimono was certainly an eye-catcher, but entirely useless for its original purpose.

“Um... yes, of course. In a little while...”

“And why not now, pray tell?”

She uncomfortably shifted her weight. “Well, the thing is... it was covered with spores.”

“Excuse me?” Perplexed, he looked at the girl who was blushing slightly, but seemed determined to defend her point.

“Well, Luna discovered that it was glowing purple... a fact that really surprised her...” If Luna had also been surprised to see the professor’s robe sticking out from under Hermione’s cushion in the first place, she had hidden it expertly. She had not even seemed to notice Hermione’s embarrassment, or the fact that her mind had gone into overdrive trying to come up with a believable explanation, although it was pretty clear that there was none. Luna hadn’t asked any questions at all – she had just been excited to discover that the cloak carried Professor Snape’s aura and had immediately started developing theories about the phenomenon.

“You see,” Hermione launched into an explanation, “Gloomilows themselves don’t have a colour, so Luna figured it must either be their waste products or the spores that make the robe glow. She thinks the latter is more likely, and I like that explanation better, too. After all, it’s kind of disgusting to think one is wandering about in robes that are covered with Gloomilow excrement, which can be seen by everybody who has never had a Common Whotnit infection. True, those people seem to be an insignificant minority, but still... I figured it’s better to make sure that the robe is clean before I give it back to you.”

“I’m afraid I can’t follow you, Miss Granger. Do you meant to tell me that you gave my robe to the house elves for cleaning as it was covered in excrement?”

“No, of course not. As I said – Luna didn’t really believe it was excrement. She tried to wash it from a sleeve, which didn’t work. This strongly suggests that it’s the spores that are making it glow. Obviously, they can’t be cleaned away from fabric by washing, however, which is why Luna suggested that I keep your robe for a while. My own astral glow should kill them off the spores in no time.”

As a matter of fact, Hermione had been most grateful to Luna for offering such a plausible explanation to justify postponing the return of what was his.

“So am I to understand that you’re intend on wearing my robe until it’s cleaned of Gloomilow spores?”

Well, that was the basic idea. To keep it until his scent had worn off and clinging to it while sleeping no longer made sense. “If you don’t mind...”, she said politely.

The witch looked up to him with a seemingly innocent expression. Having taught her for six years, however, Severus was familiar with it. She only ever wore it if she was hiding something - in this case probably ulterior motives for not handing his robe back. But, for the love of Merlin, he had no idea what those could be. Maybe she didn’t have the funds to buy herself a decent dressing gown? Did she have any financial means at all, now that she practically had no parents any longer? Another concern to add to his ever-growing list.

Severus pinched his nose between his fingers. “I hope you don’t expect me to wear your clothes in return in order to kill off adherent spores with my own astral radiation?” he asked, still trying to decide whether he should let her get away with this ridiculous explanation and spare her the humility of having to admit financial problems.

Hermione had a hard time to keep her face straight when imagining this. “No, Sir, of course not,” she said earnestly. “Even Luna thought that wouldn’t be appropriate.”

“Thank Merlin!” He shook his head, feeling that he was jumping through a loop for her, like some toothless tiger. But given the circumstances, he really had no choice but to let her keep his coat until it got warmer. “Can I trust that you will keep the wearing of my robes within the confines of your quarter?” he asked, just to make sure. “I daresay neither Minerva nor Filch will find your explanation convincing should they catch you out in the hallways in them...” He’d rather not ponder what they would most likely suspect instead.

“I won’t let that happen, Sir,” Hermione promised. Unless the caretaker or the headmistress chose to inspect what she kept under her pillow, the status of her relationship with her teacher remained above suspicion.

“Well then – thank you so much for your effort on my behalf, Miss Granger,” Severus said ironically. “Whatever would I do without your generous help?”

“You’re welcome, Sir. I’m always glad of be of assistance,” she assured eagerly. Severus growled. “Your assistance is about to start right now. Madam Promfrey needs a batch of Anti-Flu-Potion. You should have no problems brewing it.”

“Yes, Sir.” Hermione turned towards the potion lab, but instead of opening the familiar arch that connected it to his office, her professor waved his wand at the shelf that held all those jars full of atrocities on the wall left of his desk. To her surprise, it slipped aside and revealed another, much smaller walk-through. He beckoned her to follow him into the adjoining room. “This is my private lab. I usually do all the brewing for Madam Pomfrey in here.”

“Oh, it’s very impressive!” Hermione exclaimed, taking in the free-standing, marble-top worktable, the countless gleaming cauldrons in different sizes and materials and the shelves full of finished potions, empty flasks and vials waiting to be filled and jars of ingredients that lined the walls. The containers were smaller than in the Potions lab, but Hermione’s sharp eyes detected ingredients that were especially rare and expensive.

“After my stores were plundered in your second and again in your fourth year, I’ve started to store the more expensive potion ingredients such as Boomslang Skin and Lacewing Flies in here,” he told her, putting emphasis on the ingredients Hermione had once urgently needed to brew Polyjuice.

She had the decency to look slightly embarrassed. “That’s probably wise, Sir,” she said with a small voice. “I hope you have them heavily warded now?”

“No one but me can open the hidden door, Miss Granger, and only very few people know of its existence.”

Hermione approached the spacious work table in the middle of the room. It looked very much like the square group table in the potion lab – big enough to keep three or four cauldrons going and still offering enough workspace for ingredient preparation.

“You may use everything in here for your hospital brewing. But I expect your workplace to be left exactly as you found it, which means in a pristine state of cleanliness. We don’t want any contamination. With healing potions, hygiene is of utmost importance.”

“Of course. You don’t need to tell me that. My parents were dentists. I know all there is to know about hygiene. Actually, I’m glad to know that Madam Pomfrey’s supply of potions is not being brewed in the student lab. It always struck me as rather – unhygienic.”

He snorted. “Indeed. Well then, Miss Granger, you may begin. I’ll be brewing the Blood-Replenishing Potion, so I’ll be here in case you have need of assistance.”

For the Anti-Flu-Potion? Hardly. It was an easy, but labour-intensive potion, as it required many different ingredients that needed to be peeled, sliced, chopped and measured. The right preparation of thistles, snake fangs, Pomegranate seeds and ginger roots was second nature to her by now and required no concentration. The same was true for the Potions Master, who started brewing his much more complex potion with enough ease to casually start a conversation.

“Since you didn’t mention it nor asked for a potion... Am I right to assume that you suffered no headache after yesterday’s Occlumency session, either?” he inquired, seeing that Hermione had started on her task with vigour and seemed to be well at ease.

“Not at all – I’m fine,” she replied. “Why do you keep asking that?”

“Because a person’s mind is not meant to be invaded. It usually reacts with severe headaches or migraines to someone else rummaging around in it.”

Hermione frowned. “Does that mean that Voldemort left you in pain each time he entered your mind?”

His expression was confirmation enough. “How horrible!” Hermione exclaimed, looking up from the snake fangs she was crushing in the mortar. “No wonder you were so moody. I imagine Voldemort wasn’t even half as careful when attacking your shields as you were when you took down mine...”

No, careful was certainly not a word that could be ascribed to the Dark Lord’s invasions of his mind. The man who considered himself the greatest Legilimens of all time had had no patience for the subtle art of Legilimency. He had simply recklessly burst through his shields and torn at the delicate threads of his mind’s fabric until he found what he was looking for – or rather, what Severus intended him to find. It had always been a painful procedure that had left him with blinding migraines the next day.

The first time he’d legilimised Hermione, he had merely brushed her mind, which might have explained why she hadn’t been in discomfort. But yesterday, his exploration had been deep and thorough, and he had touched on delicate and sensitive memories. So it had been sensible to assume that she had felt the repercussions afterwards. Even Dumbledore had left him with headaches every time they had worked on Severus’ Occlumency.

“The Dark Lord didn’t have to use force to break in forcefully, as I have never armed my defences against him,” he clarified. “After all, I was trying to give the impression of willingness. Strong shields would have done me no good, anyway. The better someone’s shields are, the more violent the attack has to be. It’s not purely mental, Miss Granger. There are physical repercussions. They do not call it mind rape for nothing.”

“I’ve never heard anyone call it that.”

“Well, that explains your eagerness to subject yourself to the process.”

Hermione frowned. “It didn’t feel like that at all,” she objected disapprovingly. She strongly disliked that he spoke about it as if he was doing something morally reprehensible, especially since it seemed to be the only efficient method of her teaching Occlumency. It was like he was bent on painting his every action in a bad light. “There was nothing violent about what you did, and I was a willing participant. So don’t compare it to what Voldemort did to you! This is totally different.”

Severus looked at her thoughtfully. The idea was audacious, but maybe she had a point there... If one was inclined to see similarities between Legilimency and physical intimacy – and the idea suggested itself, if only because the terms to describe either act were similar – it probably wasn’t surprising that a more considerate approach and a certain level of willingness and trust between the parties involved made a difference in how the penetrations of one’s mind was perceived. By purpose and design, Legilimency was usually forced; it sole purpose being extracting information from the unwilling mind of another person.

It made him wonder if there might be a whole different aspect to Legilimency that he had never considered before... one that lovestruck, romantic fools wrote epics about: a merging of souls and minds, becoming one with another person in a spiritual way. He shook his head to prevent such ridiculous ideas from taking hold. Thinking of a merging of souls certainly wasn’t helpful in their particular situation.

Hermione set the snake fang powder aside and started chopping the onions. “I always thought you skimmed people’s minds all the time – without them ever noticing.”

Yes, he had been aware of those silly rumours, and he had done everything he could to support the theory. But of course, it was utter rubbish. “Why would I want to explore the minds of the teenage dunderheads I’m teaching?” he asked her. “The edited thoughts that make it out of their mouths are bad enough. I have no desire view the unreflected raw material inside their thick skulls.”

“But you always seemed to have a sixth sense... especially in situations that hinted at mischief. All Gryffindors are convinced that you are able to read their minds.”

He snorted. They never understood that his aptitude at reading body language and his keen observation skills were all he ever needed to read them like books. “I hardly need to look into the minds of my Gryffindor students to know what they are up to. They have all the subtlety of hippogriffs in heat, and are just as talented at hiding their emotions. It’s basically a matter of being observant. Faces, eyes, skin and body movements tell the entire story.”

“But could you use Legilimency on us without us noticing, if you wanted to? You used your wand and spoke the incantation with me, but can you do it without?”

“Legilimency can be performed wandlessly and nonverbally. However, like all magic, it will be less exact, and attacking someone’s mental barrier without a wand to focus the power is probably much more hurtful and damaging. But no matter if it’s done with a wand or without, verbally or non-verbally: People will always notice if someone is trying to breach their defences. Even untrained minds have some basic protection. A Legilimens can’t undo it without the person taking notice.” He briefly paused, rethinking this assertion. “Well, unless said person was Harry Potter...” he added.

Hermione looked confused. “What are you saying?”

“I performed wandless and nonverbal Legilimency on him once. In Umbridges’s office, when she had caught you bunch of troublemakers breaking in. Potter was clearly distraught, and was mentally shouting at me, willing me to see what was on his mind.

Hermione remembered. Harry had been convinced that Voldemort had Sirius in his grip, in the Department of Mysteries. “You saw exactly what was going on in his mind?”

“At least as clear as those images were in Potter’s mind. Who do you think alerted the Order? I just didn’t understand why you decided to rush off to the Ministry despite the fact that Potter had successfully alerted me to what he thought was happening. Either he didn’t trust me – which begs the question why he had chosen to pass me his obscure verbal message in the first place – or he never noticed me enter his mind. Maybe his state of panic made him less aware of what was going on, or... ” He paused again and pondered another possibility he had never considered before. Up until now, he had thought that Legilimency was always painful to a certain degree, and would never go unnoticed. But Hermione – Miss Ganger! – had said that his first attempt at overcoming her walls by projecting positive emotions had even felt good. Would nonverbal and wandless Legilimency, if performed on a welcoming mind in a non-forceful way still be painful? Could it be that Potter hadn’t been aware of his invasion, as he had subconsciously wished for him to see what he was thinking that moment – had even welcomed him into his mind?

Severus had no experience with consensual Legilimency. Although he had left his natural defences unarmed when facing the Dark Lord, his state of mind could hardly have been described as ‘welcoming’. And although he had grudgingly and out of necessity put up with Dumbledore’s invasion in the process of learning Occlumency, he had never again allowed him in once he had successfully learned to occlude, but had given him his memories to view in a Pensieve, if necessary. Severus strongly suspected that the willingness to let anyone enter one’s mind had to be an emotional openness rather than the conscious decision not to fight back.

“Or...?” Hermione prompted, urging him to finish his sentence.

“Or – and this is just an educated guess – Legilimency becomes less invasive if the Legilimens is welcome in the receptive mind.”

He looked at her as if he had just voiced a daring new theory and was expecting her to cry ‘outrageous’.

But Hermione didn’t think the idea sounded particularly revolutionary. “Well, it certainly makes sense,” she just said and shrugged. She hadn’t been as averse to having her teacher invade her mind as Harry had been. This would explain why he had always complained about headaches while she hadn’t experienced any. Of course, another explanation might be that her professor was being much more considerate with her than he had been with Harry.

Hermione started heating her cauldron and added the ingredients, leaving them to simmer while she ground the thistle.

“Well, as intriguing as this theory might be,” her teacher said, stirring his potion with precise and practised movement, “let’s stick to the practical application. Tell me what you’ve learned from your last Occlumency lesson.”

“Oh, a lot, I think!” Hermione exclaimed delightedly. “I now understand what this is all about – what you’re doing.”

“Really?” he asked, sceptical. “And what might that be?”

“You’re mapping my mind.”

Scepticism turned into astonishment. “Please, do continue!”

“Well, I guess in an abstract way, my mind is like a piece of fabric. I tried to keep it blank, as you suggested, but I wasn’t really successful, as you found threads of emotions, which you picked up and used like a trail. By following them, you were able to find different thoughts and memories that were intertwined, made of the same material. Or differently put: You find memories by following the emotion that went into their making. Often, there is more than one thread connecting particular places in my mind; the threads are interwoven. Viewed from above, I suppose a mind looks like a colourful tapestry... By mapping it out, seeing which parts are made of what colour and understanding the pattern, you’re getting the general picture – my state of mind. Basically: Me.”

Severus was more than impressed with her interpretation. “Quite exceptional, Miss Granger. It seems there is more creativity in you than I had presumed, because I’m pretty sure that this is a description you never came across in a book.”

“No, surprisingly not,” she said, frowning in obvious irritation. “Though I don’t understand why it wasn’t explained that way. It would have helped immensely.” She added the thistles to the cauldron, then a dash of Flubberworm Mucus, and stirred vigorously for a minute.

“You seem to labour under the misinterpretation that every mind is the same,” Severus pointed out. “That’s not the case. Everybody’s intellectual world is built differently, and it’s not even an irrevocable, solid structure. You already know that visualisation is one aspect of Occlumency – it is a tool to give your mind a specific appearance – the means to control what it looks like to others and to control what’s happening in it. What seems like a tapestry with colourful threads in your mind, resembles buildings or rooms in others – be it the clutter of the Room of Hidden Things or a library. With you, frankly, I had expected the latter.”

“I thought that a library wouldn’t be a good mind-image,” Hermione replied, extracting the pomegranate seeds. “It’s highly structured and easily accessible, with all content neatly sorted.” Still, Hermione had been toying with the idea of a mind library. It had been a fascinating concept.

“True. Had you made your mind to appear like a library, your memories would most likely have been sorted into categories like ‘horror’, ‘romance’, or ‘fantasy’ or into according scientific shelves, probably all in alphabetical order. No doubt it would have featured a ‘Forbidden Section’. For the purpose of Occlumency that is rather unhelpful. Besides, only a trained Occlumens would accomplish such a thing – it is not at all easy to label and sort out one’s own feelings, memories and thoughts.”

Hermione reduced the heat under her cauldron so she could throw in a spoon full of Porcupine Quills. After five stirs, she reheated the cauldron and continued to stir gently.

The Potion Master’s brew was nearing the end of its first brewing stage, after which it had to sit for a couple of hours. He came over and helped her with the remaining seeds, which, once added, made the potion take on a deep red colour and indicated that all ingredients had combined successfully. Severus lowered the heat again to let the brew simmer for a few more minutes, while they started cleaning up the work table.

“How do you find your way around as a Legilimens, if each mind is so different?” Hermione asked, once more realising that Legilimency was much more complex than she had suspected.

Her teacher shrugged. “The basics are always the same. You can always find memories and thoughts by following emotions. An experienced Legilimens quickly finds out how a mind works.”

“I’d love to see what your mind looks like,” Hermione mused, spontaneously voicing the thought aloud. The look on his face immediately alerted her of her blunder. She had not forgotten Harry’s confession about their professor’s reaction when he had secretly taken a sneak peak into his Pensive. It had been a grave violation of privacy, even more so since he was such a guarded man, and Hermione was almost sure that it would never be forgiven. “I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to pry...” she hastened to assure. “I was just thinking out loud, wondering what you made up your mind to be... how it looks from a Legilimens perspective. It must have been highly effective to fool Voldemort for so long.”

Hermione’s voice trailed off into silence. She was sure he would tell her off for her cheek, for disrespecting the rules he had set for their relationship and for challenging his boundaries again. But instead he said with a thoughtful expression: “I think that’s not a bad idea. It might give you a better understanding of the whole concept.”

In truth, he found the experiment intriguing. If he allowed her to enter his mind – would it feel as invasive as he had always suspected Legilimency simply felt? Or would his willingness make all the difference?

“Really? Are you serious?” Hermione made no effort to hide her excitement at the prospect.

“Don’t look so eager, Miss Granger. I guarantee you won’t find anything I don’t intend you to see, so there’s not danger of you trespassing. If you manage to find anything at all.” He cancelled the heat spell under his cauldron and sat the finished potion aside to cool. “Let’s go back into my office and see how far you get.”

“But I don’t even know how to perform Legilimency...” Hermione objected, suddenly feeling rather intimidated at the prospect of going into the mind of her buttoned-up Potions Professor. It seemed a much too intimate act, even more so than kissing him. Just like he had said when she had first suggested that he teach her Occlumency, she remembered... But it wasn’t the same, surely, done the other way around? She wasn’t such an unapproachable and excessively private person as he was.

“The spell itself is simple enough,” he replied, beckoning her to follow him into his office, where he sat down in his chair and motioned her to stand beside him. “You know the incantation, there’s no wand movement. The problem usually is to breach the defences. Only an accomplished Legilimens can do that, everyone else would immediately find themselves blocked. But for the purpose of this exercise, I will not raise my walls. So, come closer – you’ll need to be able to look into my eyes and reach my head.”

Hesitatingly, she stepped in front of him, coming to stand between his slightly parted legs. Even the position seemed too close. Feeling awkward, she raised her wand to his temple, locking her eyes with his. He seemed more calm about the whole thing than she was. Obviously, he was confident that she wouldn’t be able to invade his privacy.

“Legilimens!” she whispered, and immediately felt herself sucked into the dark pools of his eyes. As if she’d been whipped away by a Portkey, she found herself on a deserted path in the middle of nowhere. Surrounding her was a rather desolate landscape, slightly resembling the Scottish Highlands. In the far distance, she could make out hazy structures which might have been trees or rocks. There was no wind, no sound, no living soul to be found. Nothing that gave her a point of orientation. The sky above her was of a monotone grey which, in the distance, melted into the landscape. She decided to simply follow the nondescript path she was on and see where it lead to. But no matter how far she walked, nothing seemed to get any nearer.

As if her professor had sensed her growing frustration and meant to give her a hint, she could suddenly feel a light breeze gently coming at her from the side. She decided to take it as a push into the right direction and walk with the flow rather then against it. Had she wanted to find his secrets, she probably would have needed to do the opposite, and would probably soon have found herself facing a storm.

Hermione left the path, feeling the wind in her back, and now found herself approaching one of the structures she had vaguely seen in the distance. She was walking downhill now, and the landscape began to change. It was getting softer, warmer and had more colour. The grass was greener and dappled with wildflowers. There were trees with rustling leaves, and birds chirping in their branches. She came into a grove with a small river running through it, and as she approached it, the sun came through the clouds. Its rays were silhouetted against the sky like pillars of gold and sent flecks of light to dance on the water of the river like sparkling jewels. The wind had calmed down to a mild and warm breeze, carrying the scent of flowers. There was a small sandy beach on the bank of the river, beckoning her to lay down. She knew the sand would be warm and mould to her body just perfectly. It was such an inviting, peaceful and beautiful place...

Before she could give in to the urge to lay down and bask in the warmth of the sun or dip into the water, however, the wind picked up and began rotating around her. It became a whirlwind that gently lifted her up and spun her around, as if she was disapparating.

When her eyes could look straight again, she found herself back in the classroom, staring in her professor’s bedazzled face. She swayed, feeling slightly dizzy for a moment, and instinctively, he reached out and placed his hands on her hips to steady her. However, he let go only a moment later, realising their compromising position. Hermione leaned back against his desk, having a hard time regaining her equilibrium.

“Wow...” she said, slightly breathlessly. “That was... extraordinary!” Not only being in his mind. She could still feel her skin tingle where he had touched her.

He cleared his throat and got up, needing to reestablish his distance. So this new theory of his obviously had merit. He had felt her presence in his mind, but it had been totally different from having Dumbledore or the Dark Lord inside his head. In the unwelcoming, cold and desolate plain that was his mind, she had felt warm and alive, vibrant and colourful.

No, he was surely not going to have a headache from her invasion. In fact, he still felt a mild, tingling sensation in the places she had been, and it was far from unpleasant. Quite the contrary. He had thought it wiser to not prolong the experience, as there was no telling what might have happened if he had let her do what she obviously had intended to do – to fully immerse herself into this hidden, cherished corner of his mind and make herself at home there. He strongly suspected the experience would have been transcendental.

He poured himself a glass of water, as his throat suddenly felt much too dry. “So, Miss Granger...” he eventually said, striving for a professional tone. “Do you have any idea what you have seen?”

“Yes,” she breathed, still under the spell of the experience. “You led me to a happy place inside your mind. Before, there was basically nothing, just vast emptiness. I guess I could have wandered around endlessly and aimlessly in it, if you hadn’t lead the way.”

“Emptiness is the key to successfully occluding,” he lectured, walking around in his office as if he were in his Potions classroom in full teacher mode. “If the Legilimens catches no hint of emotion, he doesn’t know where to go. But that’s only in theory. In reality, no one can completely rid himself of emotions. They can just be subdued, made more subtle and less easy to detect. As a Legilimens, you would eventually have picked up on something. A scent, a sound, a slight breeze. You would have gone where the terrain was more difficult, more slippery, more uninviting.”

“And I guess the wind would have been a strong gust blowing in my face, icy and chafing...” Hermione said, ever the eager student. “Or I would have found myself walking into a moor, or into fog so dense that I wouldn’t know up from down.”

“Exactly. The idea is to make it difficult for an intruder. Unless, of course, you want to give the impression that you’re not occluding at all.”

“So when Voldemort invaded your mind...”

“... I didn’t really prevent him from seeking out the dark places. I just carefully chose which place he was allowed to visit, and which I kept hidden. After a while, he thought he knew all weak spots and my darkest secrets, and where to search for a particular thought or memory.”

“But I didn’t see any memories or images at all...” Hermione said in befuddlement, realising the fact only now. “I only saw a happy place, but I have no idea what memories went into its making.”

“No,” he smirked. “And I won’t tell you. Had I allowed you to stay long enough and to look around more closely, you would eventually have found hints, provided you knew what to look for.” He returned to his desk and used an Aguamenti charm to add water to the magical tea pot. A tap of his wand transformed it into tea. In Hermione’s opinion, magically brewed tea wasn’t as full in flavour as the ‘real’ thing, but it was drinkable and so easily done.

“Legilimency and Occlumency are both really fascinating disciplines,” she said. “I would never have guessed.”

“Well, as fascinating as the theory might be – let’s not lose the focus of this exercise, which is you learning to close your mind,” he said, pouring them both a cup. “If you think back to yesterday’s Occlumency session – was there any point at which you felt you were getting near to successfully blocking me?”

“No, I don’t think so. I didn’t even know where to start.”

“Well, that’s not entirely correct. Actually, you almost managed to deter me twice. Once, by almost suffocating me with a particular emotion – or to stay in the image of a tapestry – by trying to tie me up and entangling me within it, and once by throwing me off balance, making me trip over it, if you like.”

“Really?” Hermione wondered, taking a sip of her tea. “I didn’t realise I was doing that.”

“A lot of it is instinctive. The idea is to make you aware of what’s happening so you can actively control it.”

“Yes, I understand. By walking around in my mind, by pulling threads of emotions and finding intertwined thoughts and memories, you’re showing me what they are made of, where they all come from and how everything is connected. It’s like you’re analysing my mind, and as I see what you see, you’re showing me the design. And therein lies the key to successfully occlude, isn’t it? Knowing the fabric of your mind, having a feel for its texture, seeing the pattern, and understanding its weaknesses and its strengths.”

“Spot on, Miss Granger. Yes, that’s the only way to learn Occlumency. A lot of wizards who call themselves Occlumens are just exceptionally good at shielding. But that’s just the first step. The second is being able to hide your thought even after your shields have been breached, and that can’t be taught by a book. The breaking-in of another person into your mind is an integral part of the process of learning. And it’s probably the reason why there are so few real Occlumens. Not because it can’t be learned. But because in order to learn, you have to put up with a Legilimens attacking your defences and laying your mind bare – not only to yourself, but also to that person. Not many people are willing to subject themselves to that.”

“And I bet that Voldemort never did...”

“Certainly not. But he was also extremely good a shielding and believed himself proficient in Occlumency as well.”

“Oh, that finally explains it!” Hermione exclaimed, looking as if she just had a revelation. “I always wondered why Voldemort would send a supposedly loyal follower into the enemy’s camp as a spy if he was aware that said enemy was an accomplished Legilimens, as everybody knew Dumbledore to be. So it would have been extremely risky – unless he knew that his spy was an Occlumens. But knowing that, how could he have ever trusted you?”

Severus nodded. “The Dark Lord laboured under the same misconception as you originally did: He thought that Occlumency was just about shielding and protecting your mind against invasion. I had an natural talent for that, and just like you, I had taught myself how to shield from books. The Dark Lord always knew that I was able to erect strong shields and hold them up even under pressure. In fact, he had tested them himself quite thoroughly and was satisfied when I was able to resist his efforts to forcefully breach my mind for almost 20 minutes. This occlumentic skill was what made me so valuable as his spy. Dumbledore would have been incapable of legilimising me, unless he resorted to torture to break my shields, and the Dark Lord knew that was a line Dumbledore would never cross.”

“How ironic, considering that Dumbledore was probably the person who taught you how to really occlude... I suppose before he sent you to back to Voldemort after your defection?”

He nodded.

“So no wonder Dumbledore always trusted you! Not only because of the promise you made to Harry’s parents, but also because he knew you inside out.”

Because? That was a funny way to look at it. More correctly put, Dumbledore had trusted him despite knowing him inside out. But of course she, in all her innocence, wouldn’t know that.

“Why didn’t Dumbledore teach Harry himself? He must have know that it could never have worked out with you teaching him. Harry didn’t trust you at all. You digging around inside his mind must have been agony for both of you and probably only served to cement Harry’s dislike for you.”

“I suppose he hoped that it would force us – force me – into a better understanding of young Mr. Potter.”

“Well, I guess that didn’t work out so well...”

“I admit I might have been too – unaccepting of the idea that Harry is not like is father in every respect. I chose to not analyse my feelings for Harry too closely, but to rather leave them as they were.”


He sighed. “Because hatred was what the Dark Lord expected me to feel for Potter, and that’s what he found. I had no wish to do away with it. It was one less thing I had to hide and worry about.”

“Well, you’re obviously aware of those motivations now. So I guess that’s one more step towards reconciling the image you wanted to nurture about Harry with the Harry you might possibly find if you chose to take a closer look at him now. You might be surprised... Apart from all the things you have wrong about his character, Harry has changed a lot in the last year.”

Hermione knew that this was in part due to his near-death experience, which, as Harry had confessed to her, had put things into a totally different perspective for him. ‘I’m not afraid of death anymore’, he had explained during one of those rare discussions they had about the events connected with the war. ‘Why would I, knowing that life goes on even after dying in this world? Dumbledore was right. Our deceased aren’t gone – they’ve just been called into the next room, where we can’t follow them until it’s our turn.’

“He’s been – much more tolerable this year,” Severus reluctantly conceded.

Hermione grinned. “He’s said the same about you. Even Ron admitted that, although he still calls you mean and a git.”

“Well, I’m glad I have not completely lost my touch, then,” he remarked drily. He cast a Tempus-charm and furrowed his brows on realising how late it had gotten. Funny, how time had flown. “This is enough for tonight,” he said with his authoritative teacher’s voice. “I have detentions to oversee tomorrow and the day after, with no time to spare. I’ll put out a list with potions you can brew without my supervision. Now finish your tea and get back to your room, Miss Granger. You need your sleep.”

“Yes, Sir,” she replied obediently.

I’m starting to wonder if Luna might actually be a synaesthete. For those who have not ever heard of it: it’s also called colour-hearing, and it’s a condition where the brain mixes up the senses. Some musicians and composers have a form of synesthesia that allows them to 'see' music as colours or shapes, but there are other forms of synaesthesia, like hearing sounds in response to seeing motion. Synaesthetes often say that they did not know their experiences were unusual until they found out that other people did not have them. Maybe Luna can actually see ‘scents’ and ‘feelings’ and came up with an explanation that made sense to her?

Getting the Best of the Gloomilows by zaubernuss [Reviews - 3]

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