Summary of Chapter Nine The Subtle Art of Legilimency
Hermione and Severus are brewing in his private lab. Severus inquires about the whereabouts of his robe and is given a surprising explanation as to why it can't be returned just yet. While working, they discuss their last Occlumency lesson and wonder about the fact that Hermione still hasn't experienced any pain or discomfort. Severus forms a stunning theory about Legilimency. To test it and also to give her a better understanding of it, Severus lets Hermione perform Legilimency on him and is quite rattled by the results. When talking about Harry, Hermione subtly suggests that Severus should talk to him and finally tell him the entire truth about his past.
A Damp Squib (and a Damp Witch)
Unwarding his office with a flick of his wand, Severus threw the door open and ushered the shivering mess of a girl inside. He had thought it a great idea to take his brewing assistant out into the Forbidden Forest to collect Snowthornbush Seeds this evening, figuring that a harvesting trip would be a welcome change of routine. She had spent most evenings in his lab or his office, correcting essays and assisting him with the brewing of a more complex healing potion he made for St. Mungos. To his surprise, working with her had been quite agreeable if he were so inclined, he would even go as far as to say 'delightful'.
When he suggested the field trip, she had seemed outright excited at the prospect of heading into the forest with him, Merlin knew why. Whatever she had expected to happen, it probably wasn't the heavy, icy rain that had come as a nasty surprise after days and days of light snowfall. It had started just as they had made it halfway to the clearing he had meant to take her to, and within minutes, they had both been drenched to the skin she worse than him, as she didn't seem to possess a decent, water repelling winter coat, either.
With a muttered 'Incendio' Severus quickly re-ignited the fire. As soon as she had peeled her useless, thoroughly soaked coat off her, he turned one of his handkerchiefs into a thick blanket which he threw over her shoulders. It was the only reason he carried handkerchiefs in his pocket at all times it always gave him something that was easy enough to transfigure.
Hermione gratefully pulled the blanket around her and put her wand underneath it to spell her clothes dry. She was so numb with cold that she was almost completely unfeeling.
Severus quickly headed into his private quarters to change into a dry set of clothes as well. When he re-emerged, he carried a tea tray and a bottle of Odgen's Finest. He hadn't intended to share firewhiskey with her again before she had graduated, but this seemed like a medical emergency.
He found the petite witch still huddled close to the fire, looking very much like a wet cat. Her hair seemed to have soaked up an enormous amount of water, given that the tresses had almost doubled in length. It would take forever to dry like that.
Hermione turned when she heard his footsteps approach, but the smile vanished from her lips before it had fully formed when she saw him raising his wand at her.
"No, please! Don't!" she cried out, but the spell had left his lips before her panic could fully register with him, and he was left to wonder what the hell she thought he was throwing at her.
The reason for her fear, however, became clear as soon as his well intended spell hit its target. Her hair instantly blew up as if electrocuted, almost as if every single strand had been transformed into thin wire. It was sticking out from her scalp in all directions, defying gravity.
"Why did you do that?" she wailed, her hands going into the mop on her head, trying in vain to smooth it down. Just as unsuccessfully, Severus tried to keep his expression straight when looking at the embarrassed, irritated and despaired witch. Seeing her frown in indignation with her Medusa-like hair puffing around her small face was just too much. He felt a smile twitching in the corners of his mouth it widened, stretching facial muscles he didn't use all that often, and his diaphragm began to vibrate. He barely managed to set the tray safely on his desk before he failed to contain the rumbling sounds that rose from his chest. He laughed.
Hermione stared at him, her anger turning into astonishment, then awe. Severus Snape was laughing. And what a beautiful sound it was rich and deep and hearty. It completely transformed his rather severe, perpetually frowning face, made the wrinkles on his forehead disappear and gave him the appearance of a man ten years younger. For the first time ever, he looked happy. If that was what it took to put that expression on his face, she'd gladly dry spell her hair every day from now on.
"I... I apologise, Granger..." he finally breathed between his chuckles. "I really had no idea..."
"Well, I'm glad it amuses you so much," she huffed, trying to hide the truth of her statement behind annoyance. "I've always had this troublesome hair. It's horrid."
"No, it's not," he assuaged, trying to get his features under control again. He hadn't meant to be mean. And her hair wasn't all that horrible. "It's just ... there is so much of it. It's enough for three people. Honestly, it's fine as long as you don't use drying spells on it."
"Thank you so much for telling me!" she said sarcastically. "It only took me a couple of years to figure it out."
"Really?" he asked curiously, handing her the steaming tea to which he had added a shot of whiskey. "The effect seemed rather instantaneous."
"Do you remember how it looked when I was a child? I thought it was normal for my hair to be so bushy. I never realised that I was unconsciously using magic to dry it. I hated the feeling of water dripping down my back after washing it, so I guess that's one of the areas where my magic first showed itself. My mum always wondered how my thick hair could dry so quickly."
That was a strange manifestation of uncontrolled magic in a child. It seemed rather controlled. But then, it was Hermione Granger they were talking about.
"I always hated my hair," she said unhappily, sitting down on the chair she had pulled to the fire and sipping from her cup. "It was always bushy or frizzy, and made me look as if I never combed it. That's why I liked it better the way it was those last couple of months."
"I don't think there's a single person alive who is really happy with their hair," he answered, levitating the books off his other chair and pulling it closer to the fire as well. "Lily hated that hers was red, mine is greasy and Draco complains his is too light and too fine. And I can't imagine that Potter is happy with the perpetual mess on his head, either. Your hair seems to be very sensitive to your magic to any magic, considering the effect of the drying spell... But obviously, it's where your excess magic automatically went when you were a child. And now that your reserves are low, the magic is no longer in it, which makes it look so tame."
"Well, I think some of my magic has been returning to it lately, as it's started to get bothersome again," she said, seemingly frustrated.
"You should be happy about that. It's a good sign. The fact that you are getting at least a little more sleep and that your reserves are not drained anymore by hauling a ton of weight behind you all the time probably is beginning to show effect." He smirked. "Now you just have to figure out what to do about that bird's nest I accidentally put on your head..."
"There's nothing to be done about it but getting it wet again," she sighed, putting her empty cup onto the tray. "I'm off to take a nice, warm shower." She peeled off the blanket and turned to fold it. He let out a strangled gasp and almost spit out his tea. "Good gracious, Granger what in Merlin's name happened to your clothes?"
Wide-eyed he stared at her attire, he couldn't help it. It looked as if it belonged to a third year her shirt and cardigan were at least two sizes too small; they didn't even cover her entire stomach and were way too tight around her chest. The skirt was a lot shorter than decent, barley reaching her mid-thigh. The only piece of clothing that still looked normal in size were her apparently stretchable tights. All in all, there was little left to imagination. She looked like a woman squeezed into a parody of a school girl's uniform for some kinky role-playing. As if he had needed a visualisation of that!
Hermione seemed to notice the state of her outfit only now. She blushed profoundly. "Sorry! That was the drying spell!" she said in dismay, trying in vain to pull the skirt down. "It looks as if its not only my hair that doesn't take kindly to it... I have no idea how the house-elves do it."
Oh God, and she had thought her hair was embarrassing! Hopefully he wouldn't think that she had done it on purpose. Being sexually aggressive was not in her DNA she was way too shy for that. And just because she had indulged in certain, rather kinky fantasies about him and herself, it didn't mean that she was at all ready to experience them. If she had known they were about to hike into the forest, she wouldn't have put on her school uniform in the first place. But she had come to the dungeons right after dinner and had merely summoned her cloak, scarf and knit hat when he had informed her about his plans.
"The house-elves have their own special drying spell for clothes," Severus muttered, still staring at her with shock, amusement and consternation, but much to his embarrassment also with a twinge of arousal. Despite her rather delicate frame, she had a lot of womanly curves, and underneath those all too tight clothes, they clearly showed.
"You can't walk through the castle like that!" he stated firmly. "Where's your coat?" Before she could notice his dilemma, he quickly got up and went for it, but the sorry excuse for a winter garment was still dripping wet.
"Don't you dare using a drying spell on that!" Hermione admonished, grabbing it from his hands before he could raise his wand. "I happen to like that one."
He sighed and took the blanket again, transfiguring it into a piece of black cloth now that loosely resembled a school robe, at least as long as no one took a closer look at it. He was no dressmaker. "Then I'm afraid this will have to do," he grunted, handing her the makeshift garment.
Obediently, she slipped into the robe and looked a bit wistfully at the one he was wearing. Too bad. There went her chance at getting a freshening up of his scent. It would have been worth the embarrassment of standing in front of him like the centrefold of some naughty schoolgirl pin-up.
Noticing her longing gaze, he firmly shook his head. "Oh no I'm not going to 'lend' you my robe again! I'm afraid I'll never see it back."
She had the audacity to grin at that. "Thank you, still. I wish we had at least managed to gather some Snowthornbush Seeds tonight."
"Well, there's always another time." He cleared his throat. "Now don't dawdle, Miss Granger. It's the second, rather large transfiguration to be applied to the same small piece of cloth. It won't hold for long. And you don't want to be caught in the hallway wearing next to nothing with a handkerchief on your shoulder."
No, she'd rather not. She'd be the fodder of gossip for weeks.
Her professor showed her to the door. "I'll see in class on Monday. Good night, Miss Granger."
"Good night, Sir."
When the door fell shut behind her, he warded it again, fell back into his chair and, with a groan, reached for the bottle of firewhisky.
Severus paced between the work-tables, supervising the brewing of what was supposed to be the Draught of Living Death. What he found in most of his students' cauldrons though was a nasty smelling concoction that was serviceable at best to cause migraines. He could already feel the pressure building inside his head and noticed that most of the students seemed to be doing their best to avoid breathing as much as possible. They probably were longing for the class to end just as much as he did.
The only one who seemed completely unperturbed by the fetid fumes was Hermione. Whenever his gaze crossed hers, she looked at him with a serene, knowing smile that irritated him just as much as the stench in the classroom. What the hell was she thinking?
He briefly wondered if her amusement had anything to do with her clothes accident last Friday, but didn't find that likely. She had seemed too embarrassed herself to be mocking his own, natural reaction to it. Provided she had even noticed, which he still believed she hadn't. She was remarkably innocent in some areas. It was just his own sad psyche that still habitually deduced that every smile directed at him had to be a mocking one. Besides, he realised on second glance that the expression on Hermione's face wasn't an amused smirk at all, but rather a warm, affectionate smile. It still irritated him, as he had no explanation for her irrational behaviour.
"Miss Granger!" he finally berated her. "Stop grinning like an idiot and get back to work. In case you've forgotten, you're in Potions. This is not the fun class."
"Yes, Sir," she said, trying to look chastised. Her eyes continued smiling, however. She was the worst actress ever. It was fortunate that Miss Brown wasn't in his class anymore she wouldn't have been fooled for a minute.
"See me after class," he ordered Hermione, curious to find out what had put her into such appallingly good spirits.
"Oi! What for?" protested the Weasley, who'd been following their brief exchange mouth agape. "She didn't do anything but smile! Doing it here admittedly is weird, but neither forbidden nor dangerous!"
"Hush, Ron! It's okay," Hermione whispered.
"No, Hermione, it's not! Just because you're helping him brew doesn't mean you have to allow him to step all over you."
"Shut up, Ron," Harry hissed, before she had a chance to respond. "Hermione is perfectly capable of handling this herself."
Ron opened his mouth to protest again, but Severus had turned with an extra dramatic billowing of his robe and gave his signature frown. "Mr. Weasley, if you are keen on assisting Mr. Filch this evening, by all means do continue. Otherwise you'd better get back to work. And I suggest you take a good look at the ingredients on your table before you drop in the Doxy Eggs."
Confused, the intellectually challenged boy's eyes roamed his table, then widened. He had been about to precede to step five of the recipe before having added the Knotgrass, which would have quite spectacularly ruined his potion. He looked up at the Potions Professor again, not sure if he should be angry, embarrassed or grateful. Fortunately, he decided to let the matter rest, grumbled something unintelligible under his breath and hastened to correct his mistake.
Class continued without any further incident. When it was over, Hermione silently beckoned her friends to follow the rest of the students out of the student's lab. Severus could see Potter pull the Weasley boy with him, throwing a conspiratorial glance at Hermione.
"Care to tell me what that was all about, Miss Granger?" Severus asked when she approached his desk. "Why in Merlin's name are you beaming at me like that? Your classmates must think you've lost your mind."
"You spoke to Harry," she said softly, and it almost hurt to see how much it meant to her to know that he held this much power over her state of mind. He now was immensely glad that he hadn't bailed at the last moment. Talking to the-boy-with-whom-he-shared-such-history had been on his to-do-list for quite some time pretty much since the first time the obstinately well-meaning witch had brought the issue up. But he had been too much of a coward to act until now, for many reasons.
He cleared his throat. "Yes, well... I thought I'd give it a try and listen to someone else's advice for a change just to see if the concept has merit."
"And did it?"
"It has been a novel experience, for sure." Both acting on her suggestion and talking amiably to Potter. And it had been mostly amiable albeit awkward. "It went better than expected. But surely you knew that already... or am I wrong to assume that Mr. Potter has already given you all the details?"
"It's okay to call him Harry, you know," she said with mild amusement. "He's your godson, after all."
"Let's not go overboard with familiarity," he said, half jestingly, half seriously. He probably should have offered to his godson to call him by his given name, but it had seemed strange, given their history. Even more so since he still called her 'Miss Granger', which was getting stranger by the day. He found himself slipping more and more often when he thought of her. But while he felt that he had formed a kind of bond with her that would have justified calling her by her given name under different circumstances, he had no such bond with Potter, godson or not. They could always re-evaluate some five years down the road, depending on how their relationship developed.
"Harry was certainly dumbstruck after your revelation," Hermione said, without giving away how much Harry had told her about his private talk with his Potions Professor. She also hadn't told Harry that she had known for a long time what said Professor had revealed to him. It was a bit of a difficult situation for her finding her loyalty divided between two people who had always hated each other and who now both meant so much to her. It had been a heavy burden on her conscience for some time now that she had secretly been 'fraternising with the enemy', as Ron had once called her association with Viktor Krum.
"Yes," he said dryly. "His open-hanging mouth, the blank shock in his eyes and the fact that he wasn't able to form a coherent sentence after I told him had hinted at that."
"But I understand he took it rather well once the initial shock had faded?" Hermione asked, wanting to hear his side of the story as well. She wished nothing more than for Harry, whom she loved like a brother, and her professor, whom she could well imagine to love as a man, to get over their difficult and burdened past and to reach an agreement, if not a reconciliation.
"I admit, I was rather astonished." Harry had even apologised to him for misjudging him all these years as if he'd had any reason not to. He had expected accusations and reproach not only for being indirectly responsible for the death of his parents, but also for treating him rather abysmally all these years. It had been particularly painful to explain his reasons for doing so, but he figured he owed him that much. Severus was fully aware of the fact that he carried most of the blame for their abysmal relationship. Yes, Harry had been a rule-breaker displaying the typical Gryffindor bluntness and recklessness, and yes, he had often acted disrespectfully and with the aggressive rebellion of a teenager, but Severus had quite willingly mistaken it for arrogance, impertinence and conceitedness. It was what he had wanted to see. It had justified his deep dislike for the boy, which in truth had been the cloak he had put over his grief, his loss, his failure and his guilt.
Trying to explain that had been one of the hardest things he had ever done. He certainly wasn't the type to talk about his feelings. Thankfully, the boy wasn't either. And surprisingly, Potter had understood without Severus actually having to spell it out in blunt detail. 'It's not necessary to ask forgiveness', he had said, and before Severus had stood a chance to tell him that he wasn't even thinking about doing such a thing, he had continued: 'You earned it a long time ago.' Severus had been dumbfounded. He was surrounded by people who were obviously living the Christian message. They'd probably tell him 'love thy enemy' next. 'I'm not sure if I believe in forgiveness,' he had answered stiffly, a bit taken aback by the freely offered absolution he hadn't expected and wasn't sure he wanted.
The boy had just shrugged. 'I do. It's basically what Dumbledore always went on about. He called it love, but I think what he meant is forgiveness as an essential aspect of it. Like Hermione said, we can't move on if we can't grant it or receive it'. Severus had grumbled, but in truth, he had been impressed. His arch-nemesis sounded wise and mature all of a sudden. How had that happened? Hermione must have rubbed off on him.
'Miss Granger has a very special view on quite many things...' he had assented. 'Revolutionary ideas paired with intelligence and stubborn determination. She's dangerous.'
Harry had nodded solemnly. 'Yes, Ron finds her scary, too. But then, so are you. So I guess this will work out.'
At that, Severus had looked up with alarm. What had Hermione told her friend? Did Potter know? It couldn't be he wouldn't be sitting here talking to him calmly if he did. 'What exactly are you referring to?' he had asked a bit too sharply.
'You and her working together, of course,' Harry had said unsuspectingly, and Severus had let out an internal breath of relief. Potter's views on forgiveness would truly be challenged if Severus ever came to make reality of some of the other things he would love doing to his godson's friend...
"Professor?" the girl in question interrupted his musings. "Have you told Harry about your and Dumbledore's plans for Harry to become master of the Elder Wand?"
"No. His deductive skills certainly are not as honed as yours are. He still thinks it was just about granting Dumbledore a quick and painless death, me gaining a position of trust within the Dark Lord's ranks and Draco's soul being saved the consequences of murder. And I believe the last point did have considerable weight in the list of reasons for my actions. He seemed impressed that I took my obligations as Draco's godfather this seriously. And he's probably grateful that his love interest still has his soul intact."
"I'm sure he is. It's probably better that he didn't figure it out. It would be a shock for him to learn how far Dumbledore was willing to go for the sake of the greater good. Harry idolised him. In his opinion, he was almost omniscient and practically a saint."
Severus snorted. "Hardly. He was just more observant than most, and knew how to pull people's strings. In fact, that was a talent he shared with the Dark Lord."
Hermione gave him a disbelieving glance.
"What?" he asked. "Are you doubting that Dumbledore knew how to manipulate or that an evil man like the Dark Lord was good at finding out what his followers desired?"
"I don't doubt either, thinking about it. I just haven't realised before that 'being good with people' doesn't necessarily mean that you're 'good'. Dumbledore didn't rule with fear, but appealed to one's conscience and the greater good, which was, after all, emotional blackmail."
"They both knew how to best motivate people do their bidding. But don't think the Dark Lord ruled by fear and malevolence only. Fear only gets you so far you risk alienating people and eventually turning them against you. No, the Dark Lord used his Legilimency skills to find out what people longed for, and he tried his best to give it to them. A lot of his followers craved status and power, others worldly riches. Then there were a few who had a sadistic streak, and he gave them opportunity to satisfy those urges, too."
"What did he offer you?" It was an intimate question, and Hermione was almost sure that he would end their conversation at this point. But to her surprise, he answered: "Companionship. Respect. The opportunity to gain a mastery in potions. Looking back, it seems I sold my soul for very little." At the time, it had seemed to him that his soul had been of little worth to begin with. His lack of self-esteem as an adolescent, his pitiful appearance and his social awkwardness had made him an easy victim for the bullies. The Dark Lord had recognised his talents and had presented him not only with an opportunity to hone them to perfection, but had offered him the company of people who respected him for his competence. He became the youngest Potion Master in Britain in centuries and he was too honest to not take pride in the fact.
He was also given opportunity to study the Dark Arts, a subject he'd always been fascinated with. Not because he'd wanted to find more twisted means of inflicting torture and causing death, but because he valued every kind of knowledge, especially that which was forbidden and thus seemed all the more enticing. It promised power. And power was a means of self-defence. But even when being young and foolish he had always been intelligent enough to be aware of the dangerous allure of the Dark Arts, and had always treated them with respectful caution.
His accomplishments and the recognition he received had given him self-confidence. And the more confident he was, the more people seemed to respect, but also to fear him, as his confidence hadn't made him more sociable. He still hadn't been a pleasant man to be around, not even in the eyes of Death Eaters. But with them, his unpleasantness had been a matter of choice rather than misery.
Unaware of his musings, Hermione responded to his assumption that he had sold himself too cheap. "Since you are still in full possession of your soul, maybe you didn't sell it at all. Voldemort never really owned you."
"Didn't he?" he asked, wondering if her innocence would make it impossible for her to comprehend his darker side the motivation that had driven him to seek power in all the wrong places.
"No," she said, full of conviction. "Even when you were still with him, before you even changed sides and pledged your allegiance to Dumbledore, you promised Lily that you would protect her son in honour of your friendship and the love you once felt for her. That's not the action of a soulless man."
For a moment, he didn't know what to say. Somehow, she constantly managed to pull out his most firmly rooted beliefs, give them a good shake and turn them upside down with cheerful ease. He wasn't entirely sure how he felt about this.
"You have a gracious way of looking at people, Miss Granger," he finally said. "Although I'm not sure if agree with your views... please know they're appreciated."
Instinctively, she reached out for his hand giving it a firm squeeze. "I'm glad," she said. "And please know that what you've done what you're doing is greatly appreciated as well. Just in case you didn't already know."
He knew that she was not talking about his role in the war, but about offering the olive branch to her dearest friend, for making an effort in spite of himself and for trying to help her, even if it meant opening up in a way that didn't come easy to him. Squeezing her hand back for the duration of about three heartbeats and seeing her warm eyes fill with emotion, he felt it was worth all of his efforts.
"You'll be late for lunch," he then said, taking back his hand. "I shouldn't have kept you for so long."
"It's okay. Im not very hungry. I'll just eat a little more for dinner."
Go and eat, Miss Granger! he admonished. I'll see you for another Occlumency lesson tonight, and for that, youll need your strength."
English is an amazing language...when I looked for the translation of a failed event (which in German is something that fell into the water) and found it translated as a 'damp squib' I couldn't resist. I had no idea that the word 'squib' even existed outside Ms. Rowling's universe. :)