Summary of Chapter 15 – What Dreams May Come
Hermione has another nightmare of being tortured in Malfoy Manor. This time, however, Severus appears in her dream and saves her by leading her out of it. When Hermione tells him about her dream, she is surprised to learn that it was Severus who sent Dobby to their rescue when they were held at Malfoy Manor. For the first time, she fully realises that she loves him, but does not tell him, thinking that he isn’t ready to accept it yet. Severus accepts Harry invitation to Grimmauld Place for Christmas. Before they leave for the holidays, he gives Hermione a hair-cleaning potion that he has developed especially for her ‘trouble hair’, which makes her very happy. He also spontaneously gifts her with his robe when Hermione finally wants to return it, which makes her even happier. She thanks him, and they both part looking forward to seeing each other for Christmas.
The holidays had passed quickly. The rather unusual Christmas gathering at Grimmauld Place had been a full success. Any awkwardness had been chased away quickly by the holiday spirit, which, in its more physical form, had consisted of mulled wine, butterbeer and firewhiskey.
Hermione thought she must have gained a pound or two with all the cookies, cakes and chocolates they had eaten, not to speak of the delicious Christmas fare Kreacher, Harry’s reformed house-elf, had prepared for them. The fact that she had revelled in the rich meals just like everybody else had earned her a few teasing remarks from those who remembered her S.P.E.W campaign from fourth year. She had learned from experience though, and had showered Kreacher with compliments and praise instead of bemoaning his status. The fact that he had downright gleamed with pleasure and gone out of his way to serve her even better had helped to appease her guilty conscience.
All things considered, everybody had gotten along surprisingly well. Having Teddy around had served as ice breaker and dispelled any tension within the unlikely group that had found themselves together at Grimmauld Place. A bit dumbfounded, Draco had realised that he was blood-related to little Theodore Lupin. His family had not entertained any contact with Andromeda Black, Teddy’s grandmother and Draco’s aunt. Due to her marriage with a Muggle, she had been considered a blood-traitor by his parents. Much to Remus’ surprise, Draco had no such reservations anymore, and been eager to point out that he was in fact Teddy’s great-cousin. He had spent quite a lot of time on the floor, playing with the toddler. Just like anyone else, the toddler had him firmly wrapped around his chubby baby fingers.
Although her holidays at Grimmauld Place had been relaxing, Hermione was glad to be at Hogwarts again. She had only seen Severus for Christmas, and the remaining week until New Year’s Eve had seemed surprisingly long. For New Year's Eve, she, Luna, Harry and Draco had gone out ‘clubbing’ – another thing Hermione would never have envisioned in her wildest dreams before the war. A lot of things had changed for the better. Despite her scars and the horrors that were etched forever into her skin and her mind, she slowly started regaining a sense of something she thought to have lost forever: her optimism.
For the first time in a long while, Hermione felt good. All of the measures Severus had initiated were showing effect: The nutrient potion had stabilised her weight and restored her appetite. The fare she was now served for lunch and dinner was lighter and didn’t upset her stomach anymore, so she was slowly but continuously gaining back the weight she had lost.
Her sleep pattern had much improved, too. Seeing Luna sleeping next to her when she woke from a nightmare anchored her in reality and helped her go back to sleep.
Well, that, and Severus’ coat. She still didn’t think that her occlumentic skills were progressed far enough to have an influence on her dreams. But her subconscious was more at peace now than it had been weeks ago. She still had nightmares – of being a child again, feeling lost and full of fear, running after her parents, only to find them staring at her with cold eyes and telling her that they didn’t have a daughter; of Severus dying in the Shrieking Shack, claiming that she didn’t need him and would be better off without him; of Nagini, who descended on Harry while she stood by helplessly watching, because she simply didn’t know what to do. But her worst nightmare – that of Malfoy Manor – hadn’t returned as of yet.
Her magic had become much more stable and powerful, too. Only after Hermione had stopped carrying around her emergency equipment had she realised how much it had drawn on her strength. Having made peace with her new wand had also helped to stabilise her magic – it no longer felt alien in her hands and performed without trouble.
She hadn’t had another panic attack since the one in the Ball Room, though Hermione didn’t let it lull her into a false sense of security. She knew that there were triggers that could send her into a state of mindless fright without warning any time – like looking into a mirror and suddenly seeing Bellatrix staring back at her. But whenever anxiety had risen within her, just clutching the port-key and knowing that it would transport her to Severus immediately if need be had been enough to calm her.
Hermione was fully aware of just how much he’d been helping her – he was behind everything that had changed for the better. Talking to him about her issues had helped considerably, but his presence alone was soothing and relaxing.
Still, it was a torturous manoeuvring that they were doing around each other, and the holidays had only made it more obvious. Firstly, there had been the awkwardness of not knowing what to call the other. It would have been odd for Harry and Hermione to continue calling him Professor Snape, while they addressed Lupin as Remus and while Severus was on a first-name basis with Draco.
So they had agreed on using each other’s first name when in private, which hadn’t come easy to Severus and Harry. Severus had still called his godson ‘Potter’ on more than one occasion, and Harry, who was perfectly okay with this, had simply dropped the ‘Professor’ when addressing his godfather in return, settling on calling him ‘Snape’. It was informal with just a hint of grudging familiarity, and allowed them to keep up the pretence of still disliking each other. Probably for the same reason, Draco often called Hermione ‘Granger’. Or maybe it was a guy thing.
Hermione was happy that she was finally allowed to call the man she deeply cared about by his given name when in private. Although she didn’t mind calling him ‘sir’ – it was, after all, an expression of esteem. But calling him by his title had felt more and more ridiculous lately. For one thing, she didn’t want to draw unwelcome attention to the fact that he was her professor, for another, he’d been Severus in her mind for a long time now. They had kissed, for God’s sake – even twice, by now. Although the second kiss had been forced on them by a charmed and strategically placed bunch of mistletoe hanging from a doorway. Fortunately, they had run into each other beneath it and had been held stuck until they had kissed. Well, she had considered it fortunate, she wasn’t so sure about him. Not that she thought he had minded kissing her. Quite the contrary. She had every reason to suspect that it had affected him as much as it had affected her. But there had been a noticeable reluctance on his part she found hard to describe. As if he was holding back.
He was always so carefully controlled around her. It was part of what attracted her to him. Ron had sometimes frightened her a bit with his volatile temper and his impulsiveness. Not because he could get furious easily – after all, the same was true for their Potions professor. But Ron’s reactions were often over the top and out of the blue, especially after the war. It was hard to anticipate how he would react in a given situation, and if stressed, he was likely to fly off the handle.
It was strange, now that she thought about it. Ron was moody, while Severus was in a bad mood by default. But he was predictable because of it. Yes, general grumpiness could turn into anger or even fury, but it never happened without ample warning. You always knew what you were in for: Do this, or say that and you risk the Potion Professor's wrath coming upon you. Yet even when he was furious, he rarely ever shouted. He usually got all the more quiet the angrier he felt, which Hermione appreciated, because in a potentially volatile situation, a calm voice at least evoked a semblance of reason, no matter how menacing it sounded.
Severus’ unwavering control made her feel safe and sound, but it also stirred in her the thrill of imagining maybe one day seeing this buttoned-up man come undone. Sometimes, it seemed to her as if the tight hold he had on his emotions was already coming apart at the seams.
He had warned her before that he saw difficulties in keeping up a platonic friendship between them. It probably would have been easier if she had remained ‘Miss Granger’. But now she was the woman – at least she hoped he thought of her as a woman and not as a girl – he had kissed twice. If it had been difficult to pretend nothing had changed after their first kiss, it had become outright impossible after their second.
Hermione knew that distancing himself from her, like he had noticeably been doing after the holidays, was his attempt to find safe ground again. He hadn’t even mentioned resuming her Occlumency lessons. She understood that going into her mind was like skating on very thin ice, but she had no intention of giving up on her lessons, now that she had come this far. Not as far as being close to mastering the skill, of course, but far enough to have grasped the concept.
She decided to take it slowly and address the matter casually instead of forcing it upon him. Fortunately, something came up that put her in a really good mood and gave her an excellent excuse for an out-of-schedule visit to the dungeon lab.
Silently, she slipped in, so as not to break the Potion Master’s concentration in case he was counting stirs. But he was just preparing potion ingredients for tomorrow’s classes, and immediately looked up when he heard her enter. “What are you looking so happy about?” he asked, seeing her smiling face.
Well, there was seeing him, of course, which always lighted her heart and often made it beat faster, too. But this time, she had added reason for happiness. “My mother has answered my letter – the one I sent them for Christmas.”
Severus knew she had been nervous about writing them – not as their case agent, but privately, as Harmony Miller. “That’s great, Hermione,” he said, feeling happy for her. “What does she say?”
“That they were thrilled to hear from me and that they would love to stay in contact, even if I was no longer working on their case. I have told them that I no longer work for the government at all, but am kind of in-between-jobs at the moment.
“So they really have taken a liking to you. Interesting, in deed.”
“Yes. I believe some very deep parts of their memories must still be intact.” Hermione’s voice carried a hint of wistful sadness when she added: “They said they felt as if they had known me for ages, something about me seemed so familiar.”
“Don’t fret – it’s a good thing. You obviously cannot obliviate feelings. They still love you. They just don’t know it right now.”
“They asked me if I could look after the house for them. They are still not sure if they should keep it or sell it. They’re thinking about renting it out.”
He lifted his eyes from the cutting board and gave her a scrutinising glance. “Does the thought bother you?”
“Not as much as it did a couple of months ago,” she answered, and picked up a cutting board and a knife herself to help him with the tedious task of slicing Erumpent tendons. “It’s not so much different with them being in Australia than it was with me being at Hogwarts. I only saw them for the holidays. In my everyday life, it doesn’t make a difference whether they’re down under or here. They sound happy. My dad took up fishing. Oh, and my mum is thinking about writing a book! A fantasy novel, can you imagine?”
“A fairy tale?”
“Fantastical stories – like those she always read to me when I was a child: Lord of the Rings, the Never-ending Story, the Chronicles of Narnia... I would have preferred non-fiction, but she loved books on magic and secret worlds. Even then she thought about writing. But she stopped reading fantasy books when it turned out that I was witch.”
“Why?” Severus asked, finding this to be a rather paradoxical reaction.
“It sounds strange, I know. I suppose that for her all magical beings – the unicorns, the vampires, the ghosts and the giants – were unthreatening while they all just existed in stories, fairy-tales and in fantasy. She found magic enchanting and exciting, but after she found out that it was all real... it turned her world upside down. She was a very rational, scientific person, and to find that her distinction between fantasy and reality didn’t really exist put everything she had believed in into question. She didn’t want it to be real. It made her uncomfortable. Sometimes I wonder if I didn’t do a good thing for her by obliviating all of that from her mind... It's as if by taking me – and witchcraft – out of her life, I somehow gave her the magic back. It looks like it’s giving her joy and inspiration again, not fear.”
“I’m almost afraid to ask – but what is this story going to be about?”
Hermione looked slightly abashed. “Well, it lends proof to your theory about deeply hidden memories...” she said, grimacing. “It’s a story about magicians who live undetected in Britain, forming secret society. The heroine is a little girl, who, after finding out that she is gifted, sets out on a mission to save the world from an evil sorceress. She hasn’t worked out the details yet.”
Severus’ eyebrows disappeared into his hairline, conveying astonishment, bemusement and a bit of wariness. Hermione herself hadn’t been sure if she should laugh or cry when she had first read it in her mum’s letter. But then she had begun to see the humour in it... and – oh! – the possibilities...
“I think I’m going to encourage her and maybe give her some ideas...” she said casually.
Severus gave her an distrustful look. “Like what?”
Smart man. He already knew her too well. Hermione grinned. “Well, I would tell her that the story definitely needed a dark hero. Someone who was misjudged by everyone and thought to be evil, but who turned out to be a Prince in the end. Of course, he would get the girl, too.”
He snorted. “Make sure to tell her that he’s young and attractive.”
Hermione vehemently shook her head. “Oh no! I’ll tell her that he’s old and grumpy. Well, not white-beard-old, but grown-up and mature. And sort of mean. That’s the charm of it, don’t you see?
“I’m afraid I don’t. But then, I’m probably not the target audience.”
“I know she’ll love it,” Hermione said, her voice full of conviction. “After all, she fell in love with an older man herself. I think I should tell her to name the girl Harriet.”
“And use Miller as a family name,” he suggested sarcastically. “So as not to make it too obvious.”
“Good idea!” Hermione praised, unconsciously or knowingly ignoring his irony. “Can you imagine? ‘Harriet Miller and the Stone of Wisdom’. We’d better not call it ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ or the ministry would be alarmed.”
“Most likely. And the evil sorcerer?”
“Oh, there are plenty of options: Snakeface, Voldilord, Moldywart...”
He shook his head. “You’re totally insane.”
“Hey, I’m not the one who invented the story. I’m going to write back to her again. Oh, this is going to be fun! Underhandedly, I get to tell her everything I never dared to tell her before... It’s probably therapeutic as well.”
“Speaking about therapeutic...” Hermione ventured, wondering if this qualified as ‘subtle’ and ‘hinting’. Probably not. “When are we going to pick up my Occlumency lessons again?”
He paused, then carefully put the knife aside. “I’m not really sure if it's wise to continue them...” he said reluctantly.
Oh no. She had feared that answer. “Why not?” she still had to ask.
He heaved a sigh. “Hermione...” he started, struggling for the words to explain, while reluctant to give too much away. He tried for a reasonable, convincing tone. “I told you before why I felt that me teaching you Occlumency is not really a smart idea given our situation...”
“You’re distancing yourself again,” she remarked, feeling sadness and disappointment wash over her. He didn’t deny it. His face was impassive, not giving anything away.
“You’re even wearing your mask again. Why? I thought we had passed beyond this.”
This time, her hurt was almost palatable. Severus felt guilty. But she didn’t understand. And he didn’t know how to explain. “Yes, we have passed beyond it. And that is exactly why: It’s going too fast.”
She quirked an eyebrow at him. “Isn’t that my line?”
“You’re the one who keeps pushing the boundaries.”
She had known it: It had been the kiss. She had driven him away with that second kiss. So it had been reluctance she had felt. Inadvertently she had done the same thing to him again as before. She had forced him into a situation he hadn’t wanted to be in. Well, emotionally and physically he clearly had wanted it, but not mentally. She had acted like a typical Gryffindor, following her heart, not her mind. Once again, she had failed to consider his feelings. “I’m sorry about forcing you into kissing me again,” she said, stricken. “I shouldn’t have...”
Severus saw shame and guilt flash on her face and was appalled at himself for having made her draw such a ridiculous conclusion. “Don’t ever dare apologise for that!” he admonished her. God, to think that she would berate herself for wanting to kiss him! “Besides, it wasn’t your fault. It was the Mistletoe.”
“But it was my fault,” she objected with a small voice. “Who do you think gave Harry the idea of putting it up in the first place?”
It had been easy to convince him of the mistletoe’s merit. It was charmed to only work for potential lovers – in the widest sense of the word ‘potential’. It wouldn’t have done anything had Severus and Remus met beneath it. But it had held Draco and Harry spell-locked, just as Harry had hoped it would.
“Even so,” Severus said, granting her absolution. “It’s not as if I couldn’t have blasted the damn thing.” Or he could have contented himself with a mere peck on her cheeks, like Lupin had. He probably would have – if it hadn’t been for the fact that Draco had been caught under it with Hermione just a few hours before, and that he had all but shoved his tongue down her throat when kissing her. True, the explanation he had smirkingly given to a very flustered Hermione and the equally flabbergasted audience had smoothed all ruffled feathers. But after seeing Draco kiss her, he had felt the primitive urge to stake his claim on her, like some caveman. The truth was, he had wanted to kiss her again. The Mistletoe had given him just the excuse he had needed to defend his actions to himself.
“Then how am I pushing your boundaries, if not by my forcing you into this second kiss?” Hermione asked, at a loss.
He shook his head. As if it wasn’t plainly obvious; even Minerva had noticed. “You made me talk to Draco again and be nice to Luna Lovegood,” he started to enumerate. “You made me take an assistant. For heaven’s sake – you made me spend Christmas with Harry Potter and Lupin! At one point, I even ended up with a drooling toddler on my lap, though I still don’t know how the hell that happened. I’m an unfriendly misanthrope, and yet there I was, spending time in the company of people I used to despise, playing nice with them! You also made me visit Prince House during the holidays and talk to my aunt. Within just a few weeks, you’ve pretty much turned my life upside down. Yes, this is going too fast.”
“You spoke to your aunt?” Hermine asked, surprised.
He rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Yes. But that’s beside the point right now. Or rather – that’s exactly the point – you ask, and I end up telling you in detail what she said, and what I said, and how I felt about the entire thing.”
She frowned. “I fail to see why that’s a bad thing. It’s what friends do – talking to each other and sharing their thoughts and feelings...”
He gave another, resigned sigh. Was she really that naive? He knew that students tended to regard their teachers as basically sexless beings, as they well should. But he also knew that she didn’t harbour any such delusion about him. He seriously doubted that being friends with a female – – especially a smart and beautiful one – was at all possible, if the man was completely honest with himself. What man wouldn’t entertain certain thoughts about a woman he deeply cared for? She’d have to be ugly in the extreme not to appeal to his baser instincts, and Hermione certainly didn’t fall in that category. She knew how he felt about her. Or at least he thought he had made that abundantly clear.
“It’s not like I want us to hop into bed or anything...” Hermione added to her own trail of thought. “I’m not ready for that anyway.”
She wasn’t a virgin anymore, but her first attempts at sex with Ron had not exactly made her crave that kind of intimacy. She wasn’t so naive as to assume that sex had a chance of being great without some practice and learning about each others bodies first, and certainly not without being comfortable enough with your partner to actually be able to talk about it. But neither she nor Ron had been that knowledgeable or comfortable even with their own bodies, and not even remotely comfortable enough to discuss their findings with each other. So the whole thing had been somewhat disappointing, and hadn’t even come close to her expectations. And Severus was not an inexperienced, clueless boy like Ron. In that regard, his age and the fact that he was a mature man did make a difference – and it made thinking of sex with him more than a little bit intimidating.
“No, you’re not,” he promptly agreed, feeling alarmed at the thought. “And neither am I.” No matter what liberties he had taken already – this was a line he wouldn’t cross with a girl or even a woman who was obviously inexperienced and least partly his student – no matter if she was of age, mature beyond her years, willing, enticing and altogether lovable.
“But if we are agreed on that, which boundaries do you insist on keeping?”
He groaned. Didn’t she realise that with the undeniable sexual tension between them, going into her mind was the last thing he needed? Didn’t she know that it was difficult enough to keep his wits about and their relationship platonic when she was around him?
“I do not wish to delve into your mind, because this,” he gestured at an invisible line between them, “it’s complicated enough as it is. We spent the holidays together at your friend’s house. We kissed – twice! You’re now calling me Severus in private. You talk about friendship and see me as a confidant... it’s blurring the lines to the point of them becoming non-existent. How am I supposed to maintain my professional demeanour around you?”
She looked at him with a frown that told him she hadn’t gotten the point. “Professor Lupin is a friend to us even though he is a teacher. We call him by his first name whenever we meet in private. We visit him at home and play with Teddy...”
Severus decided to forgo Slytherin subtlety for once and be blunt with her. “Do you ever feel Lupin’s gaze lingering on you longer than it should?” he asked in his most silky voice, leaning forward and pinning her with his gaze. He could see how her breath caught and her eyes widened in surprise.
“Do you ever see him fold his arms firmly around his chest and clench his fingers into a fist to prevent himself from reaching out and touching you?” he pressed on, and felt his own heartbeat pick up in response to the reaction he had fully intended to cause in her.
Barely noticeably she shook her head, completely mesmerised.
In a husky whisper he asked the question that would hopefully drive his point home: “Do you ever see him looking at you with anything but fatherly concern in his eyes?”
“No...” she stuttered, struck by the implication of his words, the power of emotions behind them and the feelings they evoked.
“Then you can’t compare the two of us,” he murmured, still in that low, slightly dark tone, before he leaned back again, retreating from her personal space.
Hermione stared at him with her mouth slightly agape, not knowing what to say. So he clearly did feel physically attracted, and his reaction to their last kiss had not just been a natural response in the light of circumstances. Knowing that he desired her like that was more than flattering her female ego. She had never thought that she was capable of evoking such a reaction in a man. It had taken Ron years to even realise that she was a girl, and his sudden advances last year hadn’t had anything to do with finding her irresistible. She had simply been there, just as scared, stretched too thin and in need of comfort, nearness and human touch as he had been. They both had felt familiar with each other, and they had both been curious. That had been enough at the time. But Hermione had never deluded herself into thinking that she had inspired lust in him just by being herself. Had it been any other woman, the result would have been the same. She strongly doubted that the same was true for Severus.
He wanted her. A man as world-wise, controlled, and unemotional to the point of coming across as cold – and he desired her. It was exhilarating, though admittedly a bit scary, too. She had always been comfortable knowing that he wouldn’t ever compromise his honour, or hers. If he felt the need to distance himself from her now, because he felt attracted, even aroused by her, did it mean that he was afraid he might lose control and... and do what exactly? Kiss her again? Bend her over the desk and have his way with her? Merlin! Her breathing quickened. The thought was thrilling and a bit terrifying at the same time. She doubted she’d put up any resistance, although it was one thing to imagine such scenarios in the dark, in the privacy of her bed, but quite another to really face such a possibility in broad daylight. She had counted on him to keep a level head, for she probably wouldn’t, if push came to shove...
“Do you mean to say that... being around me, going into my head... that it might make you – lose control and... let yourself be carried away by the moment?” she asked a bit timidly, not exactly sure how to phrase this question. Still, Severus seemed to understand what she was getting at. Or maybe not? He seemed horrified.
“What? No!” he exclaimed, shocked to see that his drastic explanation had obviously made her fear that he might force himself on her. “That’s not at all what I meant – I would never...” He took a deep breath, not sure what he wanted to assure her that he wouldn’t ever do. Merlin, he was not some hormone driven teenager who couldn’t control himself. His physical reactions were not even the real problem. His emotional reactions were. Both taken together were wreaking havoc in his heart and mind.
The plain and simple truth was: She had gotten way too close. Distancing himself seemed like the logical countermeasure. But as he now realised, it also meant punishing Hermione for his own shortcomings and hurting her in the process. There was no reason for stopping her Occlumency lessons – only the unsettling feeling of nearness and intimacy, that was even stronger when he was inside her mind. If he truly wanted to distance himself, he would have to go back to only having professional contact with her, and he realised a bit belatedly that such an approach was totally out of the question.
“Forget what I said,” he said resolutely, making a decision. “We will pick up your lessons again tomorrow evening. And see if you can come up with a shield that’s more effective than ice or canvas.”
A/N: As to Severus' emotional reaction (being rather calm and controlled even when angry) – I went with Alan Rickman’s performance in the movies, which I found more convincing than with Ms. Rowlings descriptions in the books. A spy who is emotional (and starts ranting and spitting when angry) won’t stay a spy too long. In the movies, Severus was always wearing an impassive face, unless he chose to appear menacing, which he mostly did just with his eyes. Priceless! Snape will forever be Rickman for me!