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Getting the Best of the Gloomilows by zaubernuss [Reviews - 6]

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Summary of Chapter 15 – Holiday Aftermath

During the holidays, Hermione, Harry and Severus agree to address each other by their first name when in private. Due to a strategically placed Mistletoe and other circumstances, Hermione and Severus kiss again. When Severus tries to distance himself again from her when back in Hogwarts and doesn’t want to resume her Occlumency lessons, Hermione thinks it’s because of the kiss and feels guilty for having pushed him too far. Severus, with all the tools at his disposal, tries to make her understand the reason for his need of distance. However, he unintentionally leads Hermione to believe that he’s afraid to loose control of himself and might be tempted to cross the line he has drawn.

She, on the other hand, is not trembling in fear at this possibility, but is rather worried that she might not protest too much. Severus misunderstands and wants to reassure her – it’s not his physical reaction he is concerned about, but his emotional issues. Rather than explain those in more detail, he agrees to pick up her Occlumency lessons again.

A/N: Talking about 'awkward'.... Severus will wish he had not given in... Both our heros are in for rollercoaster ride of emotions in the chapters to come. I'm especially curious to hear your opinion on the following two, if you're of a mind to discuss the conclusion of my character analysis... :)

In the Flesh

The slightly terse manner in which Severus had given in to her request and subsequently sent her off had not fazed Hermione in the slightest. She was just happy that he had relented at all. If gruffness was what he needed to establish his distance, it was fine with her. She found it rather entertaining by now.

Nevertheless, she had taken up on his ‘advice’ and had spent the remainder of the day mulling over her shield. When she had first come up with it, she had been more than a little proud of her wall of ice, as it didn’t have the weak spots of a classical brick wall. Until Severus had proven to her that it had other weaknesses instead...

She still remembered how the touch of his mind had felt against it – a featherlight caress, a warm breeze – it had instantly made her want to surrender. Her wall had simply melted beneath his touch, and before she knew what was happening, he had been inside her mind. If today’s demonstration was any indication, she strongly suspected that if he were to touch her with his hands instead of his mind, her surrender would be just as fast and complete...

Realising where her thoughts were drifting, Hermione firmly told herself to get a grip and get back to the topic at hand. Indulging in fantasies now certainly wouldn’t help with her task: Finding a new way to shield.

The canvas screens had been a spontaneous idea, and she had known right away that they wouldn’t keep anybody out. She needed something different, something stronger. Hermione had come across an interesting piece of information when studying all those otherwise unhelpful books on Occlumency, and she had carefully filed it away for later pondering: A rather subtextual theory whereby shields might have a use other than keeping a Legilimens out. But to serve her in such a way, her shield needed to be incredibly strong – strong enough to absorb a great amount of power without collapsing under the pressure. Inspiration hit her when staring at her cauldron during her potions class, and she finally came up with an idea.

Hermione was eager to put her new shield to the test when she entered her professor’s office that evening. He didn’t seem so share her thrill of anticipation, but judging from his expression he was still determined to pull through with it.

“Remember,” he told her in his lecturing voice, “the purpose of Occlumency is to protect your mind against Legilimency. You have become fairly good at spotting my intrusions when we use the Prying Potion. The next step will be for you to try and prevent me from actually seeing a memory.”

He was sitting opposite from her with the desk between them, and obviously intended to stay there. Hermione moved forward on her own chair so she could put her elbows on the table and support her chin with her hands when looking at him. “I know,” she replied and smiled. “This time, however, you’ll have to get in first.”

He quirked an eyebrow. “My, my, aren’t we full of ourselves tonight...”

“I believe I’ve found a good shield.”

“Did you now? If that’s indeed the case – do you also realise that I shall have to try all the harder to conquer it?” The tone of his voice was doubtlessly meant to convey a threat and a warning, but there was also a considerable amount of reluctance in it.

“Yes,” Hermione replied firmly and held his gaze. “Please don’t hold back. I want to know – I need to know that my barriers will hold.” She could see that he was wondering about her motives and failing to understand why this was so important to her. Voldemort was gone, and she had managed to withstand Bellatrix with her ice wall well enough.

But Hermione wanted the comfort of knowing that her shield would serve her as a means of escape in the way the books suggested. It was simple but effective: If the magic and the intent poured into the shield were strong and steady enough to withstand a great amount of pressure, the Occlumens could – if worst came to worse – collapse his walls onto himself and efficiently bury himself and his secrets beneath them. It was mentally committed suicide, and it resulted in the physical death of the Occlumens.

It was a rather drastic last resort, but while Hermione knew that she was able to withstand a lesser Legilimens’ attack on her mind, she wasn’t sure if she could withstand torture again. Just thinking about finding herself in such a helpless situation again made her break out in a cold sweat. Knowing that her fate lay in her own hands if it ever came to that would give her power. If she ever endured such horror again, it would be because she chose to do so, not because she had to.

Severus gave her a thoughtful look. Did he suspect something? Surely he must have had is own exist strategy all those times he went back to face and betray the greatest known Legilimens of all times...

“I know that it will hurt,” she said when he still seemed doubtful, and looked at him with calm determination. “I’m prepared for that. But I need to know.”

He nodded almost imperceptibly, and she was sure that he understood after all. He leaned forward a little, too, locked his gaze with hers and raised his wand. “Very well, then..” His hand was steady when he pointed it at her, and his voice calm. “Legilimens!”

Hermione could tell he was impressed when he found himself standing in front of the result of her brainstorming: A wall of steel – seamless, smooth, unyielding. She could also feel his hesitance when examining it closer, prodding it and trying to find a weakness. They were none, she was sure of it. This shield was strong and powerful. It left him no other option but to try and break it with force. Hermione braced herself for his attack.

His first blast came surprisingly quick and was fierce. He was probably hoping to take her by storm. But Hermione let the force of his magic wash over her and tried to absorb as much of it as she could. There was a dull droning sound in her head when the echoes resonated through her mind. After his initial attack, he rained a series of blows against her wall, gradually augmenting intensity and frequency. He obviously was still expecting her to cave in. Hermione countered by augmenting the power she poured into her shield, holding it steady.

Severus increased his efforts, pushing harder and exerting more constant pressure. But although the brunt of his assault made her wince, she felt a rush of pride when he still didn’t get in. She was starting to sweat with the exertion, though, and the strain on her shield was becoming slightly painful. Hermione realised that although she was forcing him to waste his energy, upholding these walls exhausted her, too. She’d have the mother of headaches if they continued like this.

His next blow felt like battering ram was propelled against her steel wall. Everything within her was shaking from the momentum of the impact, but her wall held. Yes! She had finally found a protection that withstood mental attacks. It all came down now to who would tire or give up first – unless he resorted to other measures, which, of course Severus wouldn’t do. Proving her that everybody’s mind could be broken eventually was not the point of this exercise. Neither was keeping him out until she fell unconscious. To successfully occlude, she had to learn how to deceive, to hinder and lead astray once he was inside. Hermione knew now that her new walls were efficient – or at least as efficient as they could be. He might crack them eventually if he kept this up with unabated force, but breaking into her mind like this would doubtlessly hurt badly, and she’d rather not experience first hand why they called it mind rape, when having him inside her mind had felt so good before. Time to stop fighting. She would simply let him in.

As soon as the idea was born, she felt her walls change.

When Severus thrust against them this time, he gasped with shock. He didn’t meet any resistance, which meant that his shove had been much too forceful. He could see and feel her cringe with pain when instead of battering cold steel, he found himself pushing hard against walls that now felt warm and alive. For a moment, they tensed against his violent intrusion, but when he instantly stopped and took off the pressure, he felt them yield and soften, almost as if they were welcoming him.

It must have been the way the had talked about Legilimency before... the realisation that the intrusion in someone’s mind, if performed without consent, was uncomfortable at best, painful and traumatising at worst. The analogy was blatant – of course it had evoked images that were sexual in nature. It explained why the moment she had decided to open her mind to him, her shields had turned into flesh.

It still sent his mind spinning. If he had been able to dwell on the fact that he was literally mind-fucking her right now, he would have withdrawn immediately. But he was too caught up in the overwhelming feeling to form a coherent thought. He had never been welcomed to anybody’s mind before; he hadn’t known that it could feel like this... warm and inviting, and too closely resembling a physical union for his comfort. To his mortification, he felt his body react. He desperately tried to get a grip, reminding himself that she was his student – becoming aroused while teaching her Occlumency was totally unacceptable; he mustn’t think about her like this!

But all too obviously, she had thought about him in such way. The thoughts and feelings that were on the forefront of her mind – probably called forward by his mental association and his arousal – hit him like a wave. Horrified, he slammed down his own shields before the fleeting glimpses and vague impressions could form into solid pictures. Just barely, he managed to clear his mind again. He had promised her not to go there, and he intended to keep his word.

Faced with two entwined threads of thought and emotion - himself and her intimate fantasies - he had no choice but to quickly reach for the one he had also painstakingly avoided all the other times he’d delved into her mind: Her musings of his own person. Right now, everything seemed better than being pulled into the dangerous abyss of her passions - even looking into a mirror and seeing himself as he appeared in the eyes of his students.

Fortunately, the scene that now unfolded before his eyes was innocent and harmless, and Severus let out a sigh of relief. He found himself in the back of his classroom where the rather formidable Potions Professor of Hermione’s earliest memory was giving lecture. The students were sitting with their backs to him, not taking notice of his invisible twin that was witnessing the scene. All but one. A bushy haired head turned around and he looked into the face of an eleven year old Hermione. She smiled at him.

Severus was impressed. That she was able to acknowledge his presence within the memory was a mile stone. She was really starting to gain control of the on-goings in her mind.

She turned around again to listen to what his memory-self was saying, and Severus moved to the front of the class to be able to see her better.. ‘I don't expect that many of you shall appreciate the subtle science that is Potion Making...’ he heard himself intone slowly and deliberately, punctuating his speech with pregnant pauses. ‘However, for those select few who possess the predisposition, I can teach you how to ensnare the mind and bewitch the senses, I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory and even put a stopper in death...’

It was the memory of her first Potion lesson. Severus hadn’t paid any attention to her back then, as his entire focus had been on Potter. Now, he watched in fascination as she was hanging on every word of his little introductory speech. She was enraptured. And instead of realising that here was a girl with incredible potential in his class, he had dressed her down. Not totally undeserved – her over-enthusiasm had been irritating and off-putting, especially since she found all the wrong ways to express it: the extra long essays regurgitating fact from the numerous books she had devoured, the finger she so persistently waved in the air and the incessant meddling with his teaching methods. Despite his many rebukes, she had continuously instructed and corrected Longbottom in his class, as if it was her job, not his, to supervise his work.

But regardless of the antagonism he had demonstrated towards her – for her behaviour, for being a Gryffindor and Potter’s friend, and for no other reason than the fact that he was snarky, mean and disagreeable – she had only seen in him a strict, unfriendly, but incredibly knowledgeable teacher. Yes, she had often been furious with him, mostly for his treatment of Longbottom, who seemed to view him as incarnation of the devil himself. Not even she had realised that Longbottom was the real menace. Trying to get him through his OWLS with all his limbs still attached had been a challenge that had often made him break out in sweat. He had given early warning that the boy shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a cauldron, but nobody had cared for his assessment.

He watched with bemusement how Hermione’s perception of him had changed over the years. The growing suspicion that he might not be what he pretended to be made her pay attention to him in a way she hadn’t before. The respect she had always had for his intellect had turned into respect for his character as she became more convinced that he was a decent man who was playing everybody for a fool. She had felt sadness on his behalf, even concern for his well-being, and a deep gratitude for what she suspected him of doing. It all had come tumbling down the night he killed Dumbledore.

Shock, disbelief and confusion had quickly turned into anger, mostly directed at herself for having been so stupid as to trust him. It was followed by a feeling of disappointment so profound that the sheer weight was making it hard to press forward. It had taken her a few days to digest what had happened, to gather additional information and to try and make sense of everything, especially the inconsistencies in his behaviour. She wasn’t particularly successful – the confusion remained, but it was joined by the firm conviction that there must be another explanation apart from the obvious; that she hadn’t been mistaken in her judgement of his character. Just like she had told him a couple of months ago – she hadn’t lost her faith in him. While everyone else had feared him, she had only feared for him.

The insecurity and anxiousness that saturated so many places within her mind was nowhere connected to him. Whatever memory of himself he looked into: The only thing she had ever feared was his disapproval. What had made her behave like the insufferable know-it-all in his class all those past years had been her deep need to be acknowledged, especially by him. She had wanted his respect, his approval – she had wanted him to like her. Why, he wondered, confused at the revelation. Why had she cared so much what the greasy git, the bat of the dungeons thought of her?

But even the unfriendly monikers didn’t seem to exist in her mind – only in memories when she had berated her friends for using them. Intrigued, he searched for a thread of thought connecting thoughts of himself with feelings of disrespect, as he could hardly believe that there were none. And finally, he made a find - a single one. He could feel a stir of resistance from her. She obviously didn’t wish him to go where this trail would take him, which made him continue on with even more determination. Unfortunately for her, she still didn’t have a clue how to throw him off course, and so he found himself walking down to the Quidditch Pitch unhindered. The path did seem a bit more stony and narrow than in reality, and there weren’t any thistles growing on it in real life, either. Yet those attempts to stop him from reaching his goal compared to a child weakly pulling on the sleeves of his robe, and so he came across the memory she had hoped he wouldn’t find: The memory of herself setting his robe on fire during a Quidditch match in her first year.

Oh, the nerve of her! She had suspected him of hexing Harry’s broom, while he was in fact doing the exact opposite. Afterwards, after she had found out that he had tried to protect the Philosopher’s Stone, not steal it, she had felt terribly guilty for her mistrust and her resulting action. It had been a turning point for her assessment of him. Finding out that all of their suspicions had been wrong and that he’d been protecting Harry all along had formed the basis of trust in him that had only grown stronger over the years.

Not wishing to follow her thoughts in the direction of ‘growing feelings’ and ‘trust’, he picked up on the strand of guilt instead, which led to another memory she was now frantically trying to block: That of Hermione Granger, model student and stickler for rules, stealing from his private store room! It hadn’t been as heavily guarded then as it was now, given that he had never thought a student would have the audacity to steal from him. He had always suspected that Potter was the thief, even if Hermione, without doubt, had done the brewing.

It was easy track her guilty conscience to Myrte’s washroom, where she was leaning over a steaming cauldron that she was trying hard to shield from his view. To tell the truth, he was amused. Her brewing skills had thoroughly impressed him at the time, even if she had managed to turn herself into a half-cat by adding the wrong kind of hair to an otherwise perfect brew.

He hoped to catch a glimpse of her in cat-form in her memory, as he had only heard about her misfortune, but hadn’t had a chance to see her at the time. But when he tried to peek into the toilet stall where she was hiding after taking the potion, she slammed the door into his face. He almost chuckled. She was really getting better at this. He didn’t push back, although he probably would have succeeded.

He didn’t mean to pry into her embarrassing moments, but the feeling of shame was so thick here that he had no trouble picking up on it again. Besides, he strongly suspected that the other strong strand of emotion still within easy reach which combined thoughts of him with feelings of guilt, might lead them to the Shrieking Shack – either to her attack of him in her third year, or to his almost demise during the final battle. He didn’t wish to relive either event.

The memory that now came into focus was sharp and stinging in her mind, although his own memory of the incident was half-forgotten. She made no effort to deter him this time from watching the scene play out. It had been in her fourth year – an enlarging hex that had not even been aimed at her had made her front teeth grow until they had reached her collar. The cruel and careless remark he had made about it – ‘I see no difference!’ – had hurt her deeply. The intensity of her pain, her shame and her disappointment struck him like a knife.

Severus couldn’t understand. A comment like that – coming from him of all people, with his own crooked teeth – why had she taken it so much to heart? Even if her front teeth had been a little big for her small face at that age... Who was he to talk about anybody else’s slight imperfections? It was ridiculous. She should have found his insult outrageous, presumptuous, laughable – she should have resented him for being such an ass. That had been his intention, after all. He was known for his nastiness, for favouring Slytherins in each and every situation, and for and being a cruel and sadistic bastard towards everyone else. Especially towards Gryffindors, and most explicitly to friends of Harry Potter. He had played a role, and he had always figured that by exaggerating it, by taking it to the point of caricature, it would lessen the impact of his insults, his unfairness and his venom. No one could take any of it personally or think that the way they were being treated by him had anything to do with who they were.

But she had taken it personally, very much so. Again, he felt the full weight of her disappointment. After all, you can only be disappointed if you still have expectations from someone. And she, despite all indications to the contrary, had still believed that he was basically a decent person and had expected him to act like accordingly. Had she merely trusted that he would behave in a responsible manner because his position as a teacher and authority figure demanded it? Or had her trust in him, for inexplicable reasons, been so fundamental even back then?

She had cried bitter tears about his mean comment. Witnessing it now made him feel a constricting pressure in his own chest. He wished he could take it back. He had never felt such an urge to apologise since he had called Lily a Mudblood. This transgression was worse.

And still, despite what she perceived as let-down, a betrayal of fundamental moral values, she hadn’t even given a fleeting thought to his own imperfections. The image he saw reflected in his mirror every day was not what he saw in her memories, especially not in the more recent ones. His unremarkable dark eyes were pools of blackness with endless depth in her perception. His lank hair was raven coloured and silky, and his rather big nose was proud and aquiline. He seemed almost handsome in her eyes. The dissonance was disconcerting.

But it wasn’t his physical attributes she placed much focus on. Like she had once confessed to him, it was his overall appearance that attracted her: his way of walking, which she found impressive; his voice, which in her ears was a mixture of sexy and soothing; the movements of his hands, which she considered graceful – she was even impressed with his table manners! His glowering and menacing scowl which generally sent people running did not scare her, but rather intrigued her – she enjoyed watching his face, trying to decipher what he was thinking just by the movement of his eyebrows.

Much to his surprise, she even liked his rather stiff and formal attire, which she found enticing and elegant and fitting of his personality. She seemed to have a particular fascination for the many buttons on his frock coat and had pondered on more than one occasion if he really opened and fastened them by hand every day. She couldn’t decide whether his distinctive, buttoned-up look was intended to make him seem untouchable or if it was a physical manifestation of his need to keep himself contained.

And, oh, how much she longed to unbutton him.... She wondered what he wore beneath his frock coat and how many layers of cloth one had to undo before reaching his skin... She contemplated whether his chest was smooth or covered with dark hair, and if it would be soft to the touch. She imagined how it would feel to be touched by him in return, to have his graceful fingers handle her with the same care and expertise he applied when preparing the delicate skin of Moonflower bulbs for his potions. She thought about his how his lips – so often curled in a disdain – transformed when he smiled, how warm and soft and firm they felt when they kissed, and how wonderful they would feel on other places of her body...

Sweet Merlin! Severus gasped in shock. The inexplicable feelings of attraction he had been tracking through her mind had, at some point and without him noticing, become interwoven with lust, and now he had unintentionally pulled forward her fantasies – the very thing he had wanted to avoid touching at all cost! It was as if he had pulled the stopper from a water basin filled to the bursting point. Once it started rushing out, there was no stopping the flood.

The images that assaulted him were sharp and detailed, proving that she must have looked at them frequently. They were also not at all what he had expected. Like a drowning man in troubled sea he frantically looked around for anything to cling to, a different emotion he could grab that would pull him out of this. But there was nothing even remotely innocent in the swirling flashes of pictures and emotions that were pulling him deeper under. Guilt, desire, shame, fear, longing, lust... no matter what feeling he latched on to, it spun him right back here, entrapping him in this whirlpool of emotions she had up kept carefully at bay for so long.

Worse, he felt himself affected by the power of sensations that came with them; his own emotions started running havoc, feeding hers in return. The brief arousal he had felt on entering her mind came back full force as he watched in a sort of horrid fascination her fantasies play out, feeling her reaction to them and to his actual presence in her mind. For a moment, it was as if no barrier between his mind and hers existed.

He could feel her panic, too, and was beyond grateful when she somehow managed to hastily throw up those canvas sheets in front of him. They were paper-thin, flimsy and see-through, but allowed him slam down his own shields and cut off the emotions that had leaked from him into her mind. Finally, with his walls tightly in place, he managed to regain enough control to pull himself out of this emotional vortex and escape from her mind.

Flustered and breathing heavily they both found themselves back in his office, staring at each other with eyes wide open and full of shock and other, unnamed emotions. At least, her eyes looked like that, and he could only suspect from his rapidly beating heart, the warmth he felt everywhere and from his own, unwelcome physical reaction that he had lost control over his features as well.

With a stricken expression on her blushed face, Hermione gave a barely suppressed sound of distress, jumped up form her chair and fled from his office.

Getting the Best of the Gloomilows by zaubernuss [Reviews - 6]

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