Summary of Chapter Ten – A Damp Squib
Severus takes Hermione into the Forbidden Forest to collect potion ingredients, and both get drenched by a sudden onset of rain. When trying to warm up again in his office, Hermione’s hair and clothes suffer an embarrassing accident with a drying spell.
In her next potion lesson, Hermione behaves a bit unorthodoxly. She has learned that Severus has followed up on her advice to talk to Harry in order to mend their relationship. Severus keeps her back after class and tells her about this conversation, which, to his surprise, has gone reasonably well. They share another moment of emotional closeness in which Hermione once more expresses her fundamental belief in the goodness of his heart.
A/N: Just a fair warning for this chapter: Severus and Hermione might have gotten a little carried away with their philosophical discussion about pureblood ideology, though I did throw in Shrivelfigs for some juicy bits...
The Prying Potion and Pureblood Pride
“With your permission, I would like to try something different today,” Severus said, when Hermione had expectantly taken seat in her chair for their third Occlumency lesson. “Something that might help heighten your awareness to what’s going on in your mind.” He reached into the drawer of his desk and handed her a small flask that was filled with a translucent potion. “I would like you to drink this.”
She reached for the vial and looked at it with interest. “What is it?”
“A potion that brings down your mental shields.”
The look she gave him was full of questions, but devoid of apprehension. “I didn’t know that a potion existed that could do that...”
“Officially, it doesn’t. I developed this a long time ago as a gift for the Dark Lord.”
His expression was controlled as ever and didn’t reveal what he was thinking. But it seemed to her that he was waiting for a specific reaction. “Why would you develop something that made it easier for him to legilimise people?” she posed the question that was begging to be asked – immediately followed by an understanding “Oh!” when the answer became clear almost instantly.
“I was a true Death Eater at some point, Miss Granger,” Severus said darkly. “Creating this potion was my way to prove my worth to him – and to thank him for his support in gaining my mastery.
“It was probably of little consequence, anyway,” Hermione played down his contribution to the Dark Lord’s advent to power. “A strong Legilimens like him would have gotten into people’s minds no matter what. At least with the potion, he didn’t have to torture them first.”
“The Dark Lord didn’t need to resort to physical violence to break someone’s defences. He just tore in, not caring what he damaged in the process. Unfortunately, it left people incapacitated who proved innocent or didn’t know anything. This potion made it possible to dive into people’s minds without them being aware of it. At the time, I was rather proud of my invention, so I can’t claim having developed it purely for the greater good. But it proved to be a blessing in disguise after his return, as it saved key people from being abducted for questioning and from having their brains irrevocably damaged in the process All you needed in order to explore their minds was an accomplished Legilimens with an opportunity to slip this into someone’s drink. A lot of times, I was the one sent out to pick people’s brains, which was most fortunate, as it allowed me to keep their most dangerous secrets from the Dark Lord and to even obliviate incriminating evidence from their minds.”
“I take it Dumbledore knew about the potion?”
He threw her a curious glance. “What makes you think that?”
“Oh, I believe I just figured out the mystery of his lemon sherbets and think that I was right to be wary of them.”
“Very astute, Miss Granger!” he congratulated her, once more impressed with the quick workings of her mind. No one apart from him had known that Dumbledore’s obsession with sweets had been more than just a funny quirk and that the benign headmaster had found nothing amiss with a little snooping with the help of innocent looking lemon drops. After all, he never meant to harm anyone with the knowledge he gained and was, as always, convinced that the intent justified the methods. “I told him about the Prying Potion after my defection. He made me work on an antidote to protect the minds of key people and order members. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? I made the first potion to prove my loyalty to the Dark Lord, and the antidote to prove my loyalty to Dumbledore.”
“Did Voldemort ever make you take the potion as well?”
“Me, and all his Death Eaters. He was very distrustful after his return. He slipped it into my drink a couple of times to see what he’d find if he caught me unaware. He had no idea that it didn’t make a difference to me. I was trained to recognise someone’s presence in my mind, and since my protections were no longer based on sustaining walls, I was still fully able to occlude my thoughts.”
“Why do you want me to take it?” she inquired, her voice curious, not concerned. “You can get into my mind easily enough.”
“Yes, but attacking your barrier requires eye contact, costs both of us unnecessary energy, and alerts you to my presence in your mind the moment I manage to breach your defences. Without shields, I can enter your mind wandlessly and non-verbally, any time.” Besides, attacking her mental barriers was not something he enjoyed. Sooner or later, she would find a way to make them strong enough to require brutal force. He could only hope that she would figure out how to consciously lower them soon.
“Hah – so you could read the minds of pupils in your class, if you wanted to!”
“Only if I slipped Prying Potion into their pumpkin juice right beforehand. It’s efficient only for one or two hours, depending on the dosage. And apart from the fact that it’s difficult and time-intensive to brew, the ingredients are also expensive. Nothing to idly waste for listening in on the mindless babbling of teenagers.”
“What’s so bad about me knowing the exact moment you’re entering my mind? Wouldn’t that be rather helpful?”
“When trying to fend off an outside attack, yes. But that’s not what this is all about. I want to heighten your awareness, so you get a feel for the difference between your natural thought process and thoughts that seem to appear randomly because they are triggered by something – or rather in this case, by someone.”
“I see. It’s another way to make me aware of how my mind works?”
“Hopefully, yes. But I don’t know how successful this approach is. Apart from our mutual friend, you’re the first person I’ve tried to teach Occlumency.”
“You didn’t use the potion with Harry?”
He snorted. “Do you think he would have drunk anything I offered him before an Occlumency lesson? I doubt he would have accepted a glass of pumpkin juice from me if he was short of dying from thirst.”
“Probably because you threatened to put Veritaserum into it in our fourth year,” Hermione mused.
“Probably,” he agreed, then raised a questioning brow at her. “Now, are you going to take the potion or are you trying to keep me talking until you’ve figured out how to shuffle out of the situation without actually telling me ‘no’?”
In truth, he had expected her to simply refuse him outright. Not that he would blame her. When he had taken the potion, he had at least been safe in the knowledge that his mind wasn’t entirely defenceless. She has no such reassurance and must feel uncomfortable and rather nervous at the prospect.
But she merely rolled her eyes, took the vial out of his hands and emptied it in one gulp. “Wow,” she muttered in mild surprise, “such a potentially evil potion, and it’s the first I ever took that tastes tolerable.”
He gave her another bewildered look. Would she ever act as he expected? It was almost as if she did everything in her power to throw him off balance. And then, as if to prove this theory right, Hermione looked up with a thoughtful expression and said lightly: “You do realise that, in the light of your latest theory on Legilimency, you just gave me the magic equivalent of a date-rape drug?”
“Excuse me?” Severus froze in shock.
She seemed unfazed. “Well, if entering another person’s mind by force is rape, then a potion that makes you oblivious to such an act is exactly that.”
Dear Merlin, she was right. He had never looked at Legilimency in a sexual context before. It had merely been a weapon. Yes, it was unethical to skim people’s minds and look for their secrets, he’d always been aware of that. But he’d still done it, understanding that it was necessary at the time. But with his new understanding about the true intimacy of Legilimency... the nagging suspicion that under different circumstances it could be something incredible, amazing, something sacrosanct... it made using the potion on her blasphemy. He didn’t even wish to think too closely about everything that was wrong about it.
“Then why, by Merlin’s beard, did you take it?” It cost him tremendous effort not to shout at her.
She still failed to see what was amiss. “Because I know you won’t take advantage,” she simply said, oblivious of his turmoil.
Severus fell into his chair, feeling as if he had an iron band around his chest that restricted his breathing. She didn’t understand. How could she?
“We will stop this,” he said firmly. “If you go to your room now and stay there for the next two hours, you’ll be fine.”
“What? Why?” She looked at him intently now, searching his face for an explanation and finally realising that her remark had shaken him. She instantly became apologetic. “I shouldn’t have said that about the potion. It was just a thing that popped into my mind – it was totally uncalled for. I really didn’t mean to insinuate...”
“Will you please stop apologising all the time?” he said, slightly exasperated. “It’s not your fault. You were right.”
“No! I wasn’t. It was stupid. You won’t do anything different than you did before, right? You promised you won’t go looking for anything private. It doesn’t make a difference if you go into my mind after circumventing my miserable attempt at a shield, or if you go in with no shields in place to begin with. I’m fully aware of what’s happening, and you have my consent, so my comparison sucks, anyway. There’s nothing to worry about. Please – I want to do this!”
Her face, as usual, was open as a book. He saw none of the emotions that should be there: discomfort, unease, fright. There wasn’t even nervousness, just honesty, trust and concern for his feelings. He could either accept it or send her away without an explanation.
“Fine,” he finally decided. “But here’s what we’ll do: I will only look for very specific, inconspicuous memories we agree upon beforehand, so you’ll know exactly what I am looking for.”
“Fine with me.”
“I will not follow your emotions or dig into your subconscious at all. I’ll just try to send thoughts at you so as to direct yours in a specific direction.”
“When you realise that your thoughts suddenly seem to drift towards the memory I’m trying to find, you will tell me so and I will stop the attempt immediately.”
“Yes. I understand.”
Her willingness to comply with his instructions seemed to relax him a bit. “So, what shall I be searching for?” he asked. “It should be something inconsequential, like... what you ate for dinner?”
Hermione nodded, feigning casualness. If she hesitated now, he’d blow the whole thing off.
“And how about your last conversation with Harry?”
Of course he had to choose that! She wondered if it was a good idea to let him see it or not. But then again, it was probably better if he was warned. Tentatively, she nodded again.
He felt the need to reassure her again. “My promise still stands. You have nothing to worry about.”
“Now then – let’s do some brewing.”
At that, she looked confused. “We’re going to brew?”
“Yes, of course. Sitting at my desk and staring deeply into each others’ eyes for the next two hours kind of negates the idea of my invasion being subtle and out of the blue.”
“I thought you still needed eye contact to perform Legilimency...”
“Under normal circumstances, it is impossible to overcome someone’s natural defences without eye contact, unless the person is exceptionally weak-minded or the Legilimens exceptionally strong. But due to the potion, you have no shields right now.” He sent a brief stray thought at her, the image of a barn door, wide open.
She didn’t react. Obviously, the image was too related to her own thought process to strike her as odd and alien. He sent the picture of a monkey, wearing a pink tutu.
For a brief moment, she looked confused, then she raised a questioning gaze. “Did you just...?”
He smirked. “That, and the barn door. Just to give you an idea what it feels like. I’ll be trying to make you think about dinner and your latest discussion with Harry.”
“Don’t keep saying that!” Hermione complained. “Otherwise, the game is over before it's begun, as it makes me think about it immediately.”
Severus chuckled. “Then let’s get you distracted... Come on!”
He opened the hidden door to his private lab and led the way to the work table. Putting a stasis charm on the potion he had left to simmer earlier, he began clearing the table to make room for her.
“What have you been brewing?” she inquired, always interested in his work.
“Oh – that... It’s nothing.”
“Nothing? How can you be brewing nothing?”
“Nothing of importance.” He moved the cauldron aside, brought the utensils that needed cleaning to the sink and put the multiple jars of ingredients, one after the other, back onto the shelve. Hermione wondered why he looked slightly embarrassed. What could the mysterious potion be that he didn’t want to talk about?
She grabbed one of the remaining jars to help him put them away. Daisy roots – they went to the top shelf. Standing in front of it, Hermione had to stretch to reach it. Sometimes it was really a bother being small. She had almost managed to push the jar onto the board, when she caught a glimpse of the Shrivelfigs in the jar right next to it and got distracted. They looked delectable: purple, juicy and sweet. A picture of the treacle tarts Ron loved so much came to her mind. They were often served as dessert, but tonight....
Realising where her trail of thoughts was leading to, Hermione sharply turned her head to look at her professor. The movement unbalanced her. The jar wobbled precariously, threatening to come toppling down any moment, but before it could happen, he had quickly stepped behind her and raised his arm. Effortlessly, he pushed the jar back onto the shelf.
Hermione turned fully around, and all her senses went into overdrive. She was standing beneath his outstretched arm, with his body only inches from hers, so close that she thought she cold feel the warmth emanating from him. She noticed how incredibly tall he was compared to her. Her eyes were just level with his collar bone and she fit under his chin comfortably. Even physically, the man was slightly overwhelming, a fact she found strangely attractive. He seemed so firm and steadfast, someone to lean on. They had stood like this once before, and then he had pulled her close to him and had kissed her... Her heart picked up a beat at the sweet memory she had tried so hard to keep buried. The urge to lean into him, to breathe in his scent and feel his warmth again was great. When she made an unconscious movement towards him, however, he hastened to take his arm down and step aside. As quickly as the moment had come, it had passed.
“Careful, Miss Granger,” he warned softly, “you had better keep your wits about you...”
She wasn’t sure whether he was referring to her reacting to his nearness, her almost dropping the jar because she had let herself be distracted, or his almost-success in drawing the desired information out of her. She decided on the latter, if only to dispel the slight tension that had arisen with her emotional upheaval.
“That was a rather blunt try!” she said, trying not to let him notice how quick her heart was beating. “They didn’t even serve treacle cake tonight.”
He merely raised his brows in a way that was fraught with meaning, but didn’t comment.
Stepping back to the worktable she nodded towards the cauldron that he had put under stasis. “So, is this a top secret potions project?” she asked in a slightly teasing tone.
“Of course not. If it was, I wouldn’t allow anyone to see it.”
How funny – he was really evading an answer! She almost wished he had taken the Prying Potion. “Are you going to tell me?”
“Curious as ever, Miss Granger, aren’t you?” he asked back, then sighed resignedly. “Well, if you must know: It’s just toothpaste.”
“Toothpaste?” Hermione furrowed her brows. “You're brewing your own toothpaste? Why not simply buy it?”
He shot her a disdainful look. “Have you ever read what Muggles put into it?”
“Well, yes, but I don’t understand half of it.”
“My point exactly. It’s disgusting.”
Hermione’s eyes went to one of the other jars he’d put back on the shelf and raised her brow. “And Flobberworm Mucus isn’t?”
“No,” he claimed firmly. “It is harmless and tasteless, and contrary to most Muggle products, it doesn’t cause cancer. The powdered seashells, the daisy roots and the Bicorn horn powder make it smooth and pasty. Beside the potential health risks, I don’t particularly care for the strong peppermint taste people seem to think obligatory in toothpaste. It’s far too strong and clings to your tastebuds forever, overpowering your sense of smell. Not a desirable effect for a potioneer.”
Hermione bent her head and sniffed at the paste. “This actually does smell rather nice...” she conceded. “Lemony. And do I detect – salvia and lavender?”
“Yes. I tried something new.” Severus saw the same look on her face that she usually wore when burning to ask a question, but feeling unsure if she was allowed to ask it. “What?” he inquired, knowing that he wouldn’t have a calm minute until she had voiced whatever was on her mind.
“It’s just that... when you said you were going to do more research I hadn’t thought it to be toothpaste,” she said, sounding slightly disappointed.
“Were you expecting something revolutionary? Like an all-heal potion to help people like the Longbottoms?”
“There are a few potion projects I’m working on that are probably more to your liking, including a potion that might help bring back lost memories. But they’re fairly complex, and still require a lot of research, time and my undivided attention.”
“You’re working on a potion that might bring back lost memories?” She looked up hopefully. Surely, she was thinking of her parents.
“Dumbledore set me to work on it. He always feared that someone with crucial knowledge might end up obliviated.” The potion was only in its first, theoretical stages. He simply hadn’t had the time to work on it alongside his teaching and spying job. And with the Dark Lord and most Death Eaters gone, he had lost his incentive. But there was no reason why he shouldn’t restart working on it.
Dumbledore... In her mind’s eye, Hermione could almost see him sitting there, at the staff table in the Great Hall, like he always had. His absence was still painfully obvious whenever her gaze wandered to the dais. Just tonight, when she had looked up from her dinner plate filled with...
Again, her eyes went wide in alarm and she looked up at him. How did he do that?
“Well done, Miss Granger,” he praised her. “You seem to be getting the idea... Now, Madam Pomfrey asked me to ensure that there’s a decent storage of Stomach Soothing Potion and Hangover Relief for the holidays. Get the Monkscaps, Bitterroots and Shrivelfigs from the cabinet, if you please, and start on the first. On second thought – no, don’t try to reach the Shrivelfigs. I’d better handle the jars on the top shelves myself... at least until I have found a ladder for you.”
“Hangover potion?” she inquired while she went for the other ingredients. “Are the students who are staying at the castle allowed to have alcohol for Christmas?”
“No, but the teachers are. And there’s New Year's Eve, too. Go ahead – you can start cutting the Bitterroots. Thin slices, please.”
Hermione suppressed the urge to roll her eyes and got the utensils for her task. As if she didn’t know after seven years in his class! Stomach Soothing Potion was on the second year syllabus. It tasted horrible, like most potions, probably due to the Bitterroot. She hadn’t taken any for quite a long while, although her stomach seemed to be constantly in knots. She wondered if it could help her, too, even if her problems were certainly not the result of over-indulgence with food. In fact, the contrary might be true. Her stomach, after the year of ever-present hunger, didn’t seem to know what to do with food anymore and often reacted with cramps to the heavy fare served at Hogwarts – like tonight’s stew. She hadn’t eaten any.
“You haven’t eaten anything for dinner?” Her professor asked, frowning. “After you had already skipped lunch?”
“You found out...” Disgruntled, Hermione kept her gaze on her cutting board.
“It was ridiculously easy. I suspect I can plant anything on you as long as it comes wrapped in logical context and is tied with a question.”
“Looks like you found my weakness.”
“I always knew it, Miss Granger. And now I also understand why you are still so thin! You didn’t get enough to eat during your extended field trip last year?”
“We were staying out in the wilderness most of the time and had to make do with what we found on our foraging trips. In the beginning, I multiplied the food we found for us, but of course, that wasn’t a long-term solution.”
“You multiplied food?” Severus asked back, aghast. “That’s not a solution at all! Surely you are aware that multiplied food gives you exactly the amount of energy that you expended when transforming it into calories it in the first place? It may briefly relieve your hunger and give your stomach something to do, but you’re losing even more energy in the process of digesting it again.”
“Yes, I was aware of that. But the boys weren’t... not until I told them.” During their Hogwarts years, multiplying food had come in handy if one felt like sharing a snack in the Gryffindor common room. They hadn’t used it very often, as transforming magical energy into matter based on the vague memory of what it should look or taste like gave you results that were always lacking compared to the real thing. Otherwise the twins wouldn’t have sneaked into the kitchen that often. Ron and Harry had never bothered to understand Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration which said that conjuring, multiplying or even transforming anything by magical means basically translated to turning the performing wizard’s energy into matter.
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose in vexation. And here he had thought she was smart. Her readiness to self-sacrifice knew no bounds. No wonder she had gotten so thin. Not only had she been suffering from apparent food-shortage, but she had also transfigured her own energies into actual food for the boys, starving herself in the process. “I hope your dunderhead friends were at least grateful for your noble sacrifice on their behalf,” he said, irritated and distraught about the Golden Trio’s lack in common sense. “Provided they were able to grasp it.”
“You’re doing them injustice again,” Hermione said diapprovingly. “Harry and Ron were very upset with me for not telling them right away.” Needless to say that she wasn’t allowed to multiply any more food after that.
“And you’re still not eating properly because the food served here is giving you stomach problems?” It wasn’t surprising. The heavy Hogwarts fare was designed to give growing, ever-hungry teenagers the largest possible amount of carbohydrates with each meal. To make it go down smoothly and for flavour, everything was usually doused in fat.
She shrugged and continued chopping the Bitterroots. “I eat breakfast and a light lunch, but often what I eat for dinner lies like lead in my stomach and makes me sleep even worse.”
“Well, if you went hungry over an extended period of time, you’ll have to start slowly, with light, easy to digest fare. I’ll speak to Minerva. Surly the house-elves will be able to cook up something for you. Until you can manage to eat properly, you should be taking a nutrient potion.”
He walked over to the other side of the cabinets and took out a bottle, which he put in front of her. “Here, you may take this with you. Madam Pomfrey can give you more. The potion also has ingredients that are stomach-soothing. You need to get your physical reserves back, or your body will continue feeding on your magic.”
Without explanation, he then went into his office rather abruptly and used the fireplace for a floo call. Hermione couldn’t understand who he was talking to, but just shortly after he had joined her at the work table again, a sudden crack answered the question. A house-elf appeared – a slightly frightful expression on his face and a tray of sandwiches and a glass of juice in his hands. He sat it down on the table and disappeared before anyone could utter so much as a ‘thank you’. It was either a matter of house-elf work-ethic or the poor thing was as intimidated by the Potions Professor as Neville.
“Eat,” Severus ordered when he saw her slightly confused expression. “You can’t afford to skip meals. Those sandwiches should be light enough. Now – pass me those roots so I can finish slicing them while you eat.”
While Hermione obediently picked up a chicken sandwich, he started brewing both potions at once, preparing ingredients with the same practised ease and speed Hermione had seen chefs demonstrate in TV shows. He appeared not to be stressed at all, despite having two potions to oversee and to stir at regular intervals.
During the silence that came with her eating, Hermione was desperately trying to think of anything but her last conversation with Harry. “I just had an interesting discussion with Draco the other day,” she said in between bites, happy to have found an entirely different topic to think about.
“Is that so?” he asked with a hint of amusement, fully aware of her intention.
“About the prejudice of Purebloods against Muggle-borns,” she affirmed, not letting herself be deterred. “I asked him why he ever believed that people like me were inferior, when he saw this theory refuted in class every day.”
Severus briefly looked up from his cauldrons. “And how did he answer that question?” he asked his interest piqued.
Hermione cleared her mouth. “He rolled his eyes at me and said – I quote: ‘You still don’t get it Granger, do you? It has never been about the blood’.”
“Of course not,” her professor agreed matter-of-factly. “I don’t think even the Dark Lord himself believed that rubbish, especially since he was a half-blood himself. The only reason pureblood-supremacists called a crusade against Muggle-borns is because they regard them as a threat.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what Draco said, too,” Hermione exclaimed agitatedly. “That Muggle-borns threaten their values, their traditions and their very existence. But that’s utter rubbish! I’m not threatening anybody.”
“No?” he asked disbelievingly and, raised his eyebrows at her. “Miss Granger, you’re the epitome of a threat. Your are a prime example of Muggle values challenging wizarding ways. You’re best friends with a werewolf and a half-giant. You advocate full rights for non-human magical creatures. You tried to liberate the house-elves in your fourth year!”
“I did, but I still don’t see what’s wrong with that!” Hermione said defensively. “True, I didn’t understand at the time that most house-elves didn’t appreciate my efforts on their behalf and didn’t want to be freed. But non-human creatures are being treated unfairly by wizards, you can’t deny that!”
She thought of Dobby, who only escaped mistreatment from the Malfoys thanks to Harry, of Winky, the poor creature, who had never been the same after her owner had kicked her out, and of Kreacher, who had become a rude, prejudiced and unfriendly creature due to the horrible witch he had lived to serve. Now that Harry treated him with respect and kindness, the elf had changed beyond recognition. He had become as devoted to Harry as Dobby had been. Hermine wondered what Draco would make of that, who hadn’t seen the point in being friendly with house-elves. He might actually get a chance to witness the dynamic in that relationship, soon... Just before dinner, Harry had suggested...
Hermione looked up sharply. “Oh no, you don’t!”
He smirked. “I almost had you.”
“Almost,” she admitted, finishing the last bit of the sandwich. “But you’re playing unfair. How am I supposed to notice thoughts that are out of the ordinary if they are just a logical conclusion of my own thought process? I guess our way of thinking is much too similar for your pushed thoughts to strike me as odd.”
“I very much doubt that, as most of your thought processes are completely beyond me – not to speak of their results.”
“Well, coming from an indisputably intelligent person such a you, I guess I’ll take that as a compliment to my intellect.” Hermione put the tray aside and reached for the Shrivelfigs to start peeling them. There was no way he’d be able to prepare the fruit while attending two cauldrons, no matter how talented he was. Skinning figs was tedious and dirty work. Come to think of it, it was surprising that he didn’t delegate that to house-elves. There were a lot of unpleasant, tedious task in the preparation of potion ingredients – like extracting beetle eyes, spider legs or Bubotubler pus – and yet she hadn’t seen him order house-elves to do it for him. Or had he?
She asked, and he shook his head in denial. “House-elves use magic for the tasks they are given. But you can’t prepare ingredients for a potion by using magic. It makes for rather unexpected results.”
“But if it were possible, would you make them do it?”
“Probably not. I have enough human hands available if I need them. But practical aspects aside, I always hope it teaches students a certain respect for the resources they carelessly squander by ruining their potions.”
She remembered that he cleaned cauldrons that required soap rather than magic himself in consideration of house-elves’ tender skins. But he was not exemplary. Most wizards wouldn’t have such scruples.
“It’s not only house-elves that wizards often treat poorly,” she tried a different example. “Think of Remus and how unfairly he’s being treated by wizarding society.”
“It’s your Muggle belief in equality and fairness that makes you think the way you do,” he argued back. “Muggles only deal with fellow humans – they never had to define their relationship with other sentient, self-aware beings, especially not with species whose very existence threatens them. Vampires feed on human blood. Giants, werewolves and a lot of other creatures consider humans fair prey, too. And then there are societies of sentient beings that function very differently even from wizard society, like those of Merpeople or the Centaurs. Equality and fairness is not a commonly shared concept of values.”
“Then it’s a good thing Muggle-borns question those beliefs!” Hermione insisted, her hands now covered with sticky, purple goo. She wondered if he knew a better method to get rid of the tough skin and avoid such a mess. “Every culture needs contrarians and mavericks – people who take up contrary positions, who make people rethink beliefs that would otherwise be set in stone. The wizarding world has few enough of them. That’s probably why wizard society is so backward in many ways.”
“It’s only slow changing compared to Muggle society. The reason for this is simple: The influence of technology forces Muggles to change much faster – new inventions continually revolutionise their every-day-lives, and consequently, their values and beliefs. And since the Muggle world is so much bigger that the small, isolated world wizards live in, there is more influence from other cultures. Muggle society is fluctuating, constantly re-inventing itself. Wizards don’t have a need for that. The same heating spells, healing spells and combative spells that worked in the middle ages still work perfectly fine today.”
“Well, it explains why wizarding society is still so Victorian – but what’s wrong with a little bit of outside influence?”
Severus shook his head, wondering how to make her understand the point. “You probably think of it as enrichment, as ‘modernising’,” he said, having long forgotten his intent to find out about the conversation with Harry in the heat of discussion. “But not only do wizards lack appreciation and real understanding of the concept, but they fear it. Look at fashion: While wizards still dress pretty much like they did 100 years ago, the fashion of Muggle-borns coming to Hogwarts changes almost every year. It was quite an uproar when, some decades ago, the first Muggle-born witch showed up in trousers. Some young wizards let themselves be influenced by muggle fashion – look at the Weasleys. Charlie clearly was inspired by the hippy-movement. But traditional families – whose kids you find mostly in Slytherin – are very much appalled by that.”
Hermione tried to imagine Draco styling his hair like Bill and wearing jeans and earrings. It made a funny picture. Draco was very sophisticated with regard to his clothes. Though she had caught him ogling Harry’s jeans with interest the other day... Unless it had been his bum that had caught his gaze?
“Fashion doesn’t really play a role here at Hogwarts anyway,” she said, as pictures of Harry and Draco began pushing into her thoughts. So he had already deduced that Draco played a role in the conversation she was supposed to hide... clever man! “We’re wearing school uniforms most of the time.” She concentrated hard on her accident with the drying spell, trying to recall everything in vivid detail. Maybe two could play this game...
Hermione thought she briefly saw his eyes widen, before he got his thoughts and features back under control. He was far too disciplined to let himself be easily distracted, no matter how alluring the diversion. Still, she had successfully blocked his efforts to steer her thoughts towards Harry again.
“It’s not just fashion,” the Potions Master countered, adding the next ingredient to the Hangover Potion while continuing to stir the other in unfaltering rhythm. He wasn’t even counting. Did he know by instinct when it was time to let the potion rest?
“Muggle-borns continuously trying to modernise our world. There have been numerous petitions to get Hogwarts connected to electricity.”
“Really?” She looked up in surprise. “I thought it wasn’t possible to get electric or electronic devices to work around magic.”
“It might be difficult. But no one ever made a serious attempt to come up with a solution for the problem. Wizards don’t need electricity.”
“But Muggle-borns would definitely appreciate it! Telephones, for instance, would make it easier to keep in contact with friends and family! Do you have any idea how hard it is to leave everything and everyone behind? ”
“Yes. I realised that when we were discussing your parents. I never had to deal with Muggle-borns in my house. But what you don’t see is that forcing them to leave that life behind is intentional. You either become a part of wizarding society or you don’t. You can’t have the best of both worlds.”
“I fail to understand why not!”
“Because for one thing, it threatens the statute of secrecy. Think of it – if communication with friends and families was easier, parents would learn much more about the goings-on at Hogwarts and in the wizarding world than when children can only write letters. It would make it much more difficult for the ministry of magic to keep things under control. You yourself have pointed out the problems which would arise if Muggle parents were more involved with the wizarding world.”
Yes, that was doubtlessly true. Her mum certainly would have called Hermione at least once a week had Hogwarts been connected to the phone network. And it would have been next to impossible to keep from her what had happened in all of her Hogwarts years. One could only imagine what might happen with further technological advances in communication.
“But there is another reason,” Severus added. “Purebloods would be sorely disadvantaged. They don’t know anything about Muggle devices, couldn’t use them and would feel left out. A person equally at home in both worlds is much more knowledgeable and powerful than a person who knows only one way to live. Thus, Muggle-borns are a potential threat.”
“Is that why Muggle studies has such a horrible syllabus?” Hermione asked. “It paints a very weird picture of the Muggle word... Nothing is explained – the teacher just picks out bits and pieces without putting them in context and without covering the basics first.” She remembered a particularly peculiar lesson, when Professor Burbage had brought a multiple power outlet strip to class and explained that the plug of an electric device had to be put into the socket to make it run. But she had never bothered to even explain what electricity was or how it ended up in a socket in the first place, and none of the students had though it odd and had asked about it.
“Ron didn’t even know how to use a phone,” she said, shaking her head. “The information given is good for nothing, and all in all the impression of the Muggle world is one of endearing oddness at best. No wonder purebloods look down on it.”
“I’m sure that it’s fully intentional. There must be a lot of Muggle-born ex-Hogwarts students who’d be capable of giving much more comprehensive insight. We both know I could teach Muggle studies better than Professor Bartleby. But the ministry doesn’t want the Muggle world to seem too alluring for our young. The consequence of that, in the long run, would be a merging of our worlds. It would be the end of the wizarding world as we know it. It’s what all wizards fear - not only traditionalists, but also liberal wizards. Dark Lord was so successful because he played on theses fears of being exposed, of being left behind, of having wizarding values, traditions and beliefs succumb to Muggle influence.”
For the first time ever, Hermione understood what this war had really been about. She was a threat because she was viewed as embodiment of Muggle influence due to her origin and her power. And given the arguments she had just made, she had to admit that those fears were not completely unfounded. Still. It certainly didn’t justify any of the crimes Voldemort and his cronies had committed against those who didn’t share his views. In this, he wasn’t any different from any other Muggle dictator.
“Here, I’ve finished peeling the figs.” She pushed the bowl over to him with her elbow. Too bad the sweet taste of the Shrivelfigs would not be discernible anymore in the finished potion. Just like this, she thought, as she contentedly licked the sticky juice from her fingers, it tasted delicious.
“Miss Granger!” her professor growled when he noticed what she was doing. “There is a perfectly working sink and a bar of soap in this lab. Why don’t you make use of it?”
Seriously, what was the girl playing at? He’d had a hard enough time getting the images of her in her shrunken uniform out of his head, he didn’t need to see her licking her fingers in bliss on top of it. Didn’t she have any idea what kind of thoughts she called forward with it? If he didn’t know better he’d think she was purposely teasing him.
Hermione, who really hadn’t been aware of her action until this moment, blushed. She neither innocent nor ignorant – just not at all used to being perceived as a sexual being by wizards. For Harry, she was a confidant and a friend, for Ron, she had always been a source comfort, or, more sadly, a convenience. The only one who had ever seen a woman in her had been Victor Krum, and that had been a very long time ago.
And as to her professor... He was always so composed that he seemed above primitive, emotional urges. She wondered now it was just his control and his iron will that enabled him him to be nothing but a teacher or a mentor whenever he was with her. She hadn’t really dared to hope that the physical attraction she felt was mutual, or that he might find it just as difficult to suppress his yearnings as she did. That he even had yearnings, when it came to her...
But undeniably, there was something in his eyes that she hadn’t seen before. Could it really be... lust? Hermione had always thought that deep passion had to be hidden somewhere beneath that buttoned-up exterior and the image of the cold, unfeeling professor, and to think that she might be able to awaken it was quite empowering.
“Sorry,” she murmured, though in truth, she wasn’t. He was the one who had insisted on a strictly professional relationship, not her. Though coming over as seductive hadn’t been intentional – frankly, she had no idea how to be intentionally seductive, but she filed away sucking sticky juice from her fingers for future reference – she couldn’t help but congratulate herself. Why should she make it easy for him?
Still, she complied and washed the syrupy juice off at the sink. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” she inquired innocently when returning to the worktable.
“No,” he grumbled, still scowling. “The remaining ingredients can be taken straight from the storage glasses. You can take over the Hangover Relief Potion, if you like. Keep stirring until it changes colour, then add two rotten eggs and stir again for five minutes. Don’t forget to lower the heat before adding the eggs.”
“I know! I had a fairly adequate teacher.” Again, Hermione had to refrain from rolling her eyes. He probably wasn’t above taking house points from her if she ruined this potion, no matter how much he might lust for her.
He shot her a glowering glance, but didn’t respond, and Hermione saw that he was counting stirs. She waited until he had finished before she asked: “What about you? Did you join Voldemort’s ranks because you felt that Muggle-borns were a threat to the wizarding community, too?
“No. I’m a half-blood myself. The wizarding world did not play a role in my life until my Hogwarts letter arrived. I never hated Muggles. I just hated my father.”