Summary of Chapter 16 – In the Flesh
Severus agrees to pick up the Occlumency lessons again, and Hermione tries to find a shield that will not only hold up against a strong Legilimens, but will also allow her to use it as a weapon against herself if she should ever find herself threatened with torture again. Although Severus tries hard to conquer it this time, her walls holds. When Hermione voluntarily lowers them to let him in, Severus comes close to touching her fantasies, but manages to follow her musings of his own person instead. Fascinated, bemused and captivated by what he finds, he realises too late that he is crossing into forbidden territory once again, and this time, he loses control and gets entrapped in her most private thoughts and feelings. Both of them are deeply shocked by what happens, and when Severus finally manages to break free, Hermione, deeply embarrassed, flees from his office.
After Hermione had left his office, Severus locked himself into his quarters and downed a vial of calming draught, and, for good measure, a glass of firewhisky right after it. He usually didn’t imbibe – at least never to the point of threatening his composure – but right now, he needed every bit of help he could get to soothe his turmoil.
Even with the tranquillisers, however, it took him a long while to compose himself. Doubtlessly, Hermione was feeling horribly embarrassed and ashamed right now, for having had her most intimate thoughts laid bare in such a manner, but his own feelings were a lot more complicated.
He cursed his own negligence which had caused this inexcusable transgression. He had promised her not to search her mind for anything private or compromising, but had found her most hidden secrets nevertheless. The disconcerting, unfamiliar yielding of her mind had made him careless.
Usually, a Legilimens had to keep up a constant pressure on the mind that he was invading. It was like swimming against a current and required similar effort. Hermione, however, hadn’t offered that kind of unconscious resistance. On the contrary: Once her barrier had – in a most shocking way – subsided, Severus had been sucked right into it. Discounting her two half-hearted attempts to interfere with what he was doing, she had presented all her memories and her corresponding thoughts and emotions on a silver platter.
Now he felt like he had taken advantage, violated her, even if it hadn’t been his intention. He was shaken, feeling guilty and ashamed. Not only because he had failed to stop the flood of images, but also because they had shown exactly that: him, taking advantage, making her submit to his will. What he had seen in her mind had thrown him into utter turmoil.
While his conscience rebelled against his traitorous body’s response, all the insecurities buried deeply within his soul rose with a vengeance, questioning everything he had come to believe about her and about himself. His fears, his doubts and his reservations were mocking the naive hope he had nurtured somewhere deep inside of him that his negative perception about relationships might be wrong, that things could be different, that neither love nor intimacy had to be as his experience had taught him.
He admittedly didn’t know much about relationships at all, given that he had never been in one. His only experience came from observing and analysing others, starting with the sick and twisted relationship between his parents. Severus figured that they must have loved each other – at least his mother had cared for his father and had always tried to please him, even though he was an uncouth, overbearing, later in life even violent man. She always found excuses for his behaviour, and his apologies and assurances that he loved her and would treat her better in future were always enough to make her forgive him.
He had seen a similar pattern with Lily and James. True, James was much more refined than his father and hadn’t been physically abusive – at least not towards her. But he’d been just as bossy and domineering, and Severus knew that he could be just as mean. Once, when Lily had tried to make James back off from his preferred victim – namely Severus himself – he had threatened her with a hex. He hadn’t shied away from attempting emotional blackmail to get her to go out with him, either. Severus also knew that James had also lied to her and gone behind her back for at least an entire school-year. Somehow, none of it had seemed to faze Lily.
Quite the contrary: Severus had always suspected that Lily had been secretly impressed with James for being masterful and dominant. How else could she have fallen for a man who was so cocksure of himself, a show-off and a bully?
At the time, it had him led to believe that women admired strength and distinctive dominance in a man. None of which he had possessed, back then. He had been rather insecure, socially unskilled and clumsy, unable show emotion and express his feelings. Lily had been his first and only friend, and he had felt such deep gratitude for her kindness and acceptance that he had put her on a pedestal. And he’d always been indulgent with her, fearing that standing up to her might cost him her affection. At some point he had started wondering if it had been all wrong – if his compliance was read as a weakness, if she thought he was basically a doormat. Wanting Lily to see him as commanding and imposing – just like James and Sirius – had been one of the reasons why he had dabbled into the Dark Arts and kept company with those who later became Death Eaters.
A lot of what he had witnessed in his new circle of friends had served to confirm his suspicion that women preferred men who were basically bullies. Lucius, from what he knew, had never raised his hand against Narcissa, but it had been clear who held the power in their relationship. And Narcissa had never questioned that, but behaved like it was expected of a dutiful wife in a pureblood family. Bellatrix was madly in love with a wizard who was the incarnation of evil and was happy to be treated like the willing servant the Dark Lord saw in her.
Joining the Death Eaters had served his aim to gain respect better than expected. His success in the field of potions had given him confidence in his abilities and secured him a high standing in the circle of the Dark Lord’s followers. And by finding his self-confidence, he also found his theory about what women wanted in a man confirmed: All of a sudden, women had become interested in him. The fact that he was sarcastic, snarky and rather forbidding only seemed to encourage them. The more hostile or abrasive he was, the more enticing he became in their eyes, and the greater was the challenge he presented. Ultimately, it had led him into the kind of relationships he later came to abhor.
He no longer had an issue with being authoritative. He had really polished this trait when he became a teacher. Appearing intimidating and threatening now came easy to him, it had become second nature. But no matter how domineering he was and how much he relished in having power and control - he had always despised physical violence. His childhood had made sure of that. In his opinion, violence was the last resort of someone who was at the end of his wits, it was a concession of defeat. Inflicting pain or seeing others torture their victims and derive sadistic pleasures from it like Bellatrix and her husband had – it had sickened him. It was one of the things that had driven him away from the Dark Lord.
But even though he had never abused or hurt any of the women he had bedded, his deeply-ingrained dominance was one of the reasons why his sexual relations had always seemed tainted to him. It didn’t matter that everything he did had been asked for and that his one-night companions clearly enjoyed playing power games with him. Despite the fact that he enjoyed them to a point as well, he couldn’t shake the feeling that it was wrong, and he couldn’t imagine that Lily, as much as she had been impressed with James’ bravado, his audacity, his disregard for other people’s opinions or feelings, would have put up with that kind of bedroom behaviour.
It had taken him years to figure out that what he had observed in teenage Lily, in his mother and in the women he had had brief affairs with was not typical for all women. Most of them did appreciate men who showed kindness, gentleness and respect. The problem was that he didn’t know how to be that man, either. Kind and strong, intimidating and gentle, authoritative and yet respectful. It seemed like an antagonism. Besides, he had become far too comfortable in his voluntary seclusion. He still didn’t know how to express emotions, and he felt it was wiser to hide them, anyway. They were only weaknesses to be exploited.
Ever since Lily, he had managed perfectly well keeping people at arm’s length. Until Hermione had appeared – or rather had forced herself – onto his radar. And after all he had learned, she saw in him exactly the kind of man he thought he could never be. She found comfort and felt safe in his presence. She respected him and shared is particular sense of humour. She believed him to be a good man, to be trustworthy, honourable.
It had been flabbergasting, to say the least. He had liked this image, even if it didn’t correlate with his self-perception. But it had also scared him. He had felt tainted compared to her, with her innocence and her purity of heart. How could she not shy away from him in the long run? Eventually, he had feared, she’d see this other side of him, too.
After what he had witnessed in her mind today, he knew she had already seen it, and had even drawn the right conclusions. When she had confessed to him so long ago that her attraction to him was in part due to his rather intimidating, commanding and clearly dominating Death Eater persona, he hadn’t really taken it seriously – after all, it was a kind of cliché. But now that he had found confirmed in her fantasies that she was dead serious about it, he didn’t know what to think anymore.
Was it possible that he had been mistaken about her? What he had seen made him wonder if Hermione, like Lily or his mother, secretly felt attracted to men that were like James, Lucius or even his father. Men who believed themselves to be law to themselves, who always did as they pleased and never gave a damn about the consequences.
He wasn’t that different from them. He certainly couldn’t pride himself on never doing anything that was morally questionable. Nor could he claim to always act in a mindful way with regard to other people’s feelings, so as not to be the cause of hurt. If he was honest with himself, he'd often showed the same kind of behaviour as James and Sirius, who he had always hated for it when he was on the receiving end. While he had been insecure and awkward back then, he must now appear to Hermione just like those two had appeared to Lily: Confident, proud, masterful, unyielding. A man who asserted his authority and didn’t accept ‘no’ for an answer. A man who took liberties with little or no regard for the will or the feeling of others. And just like Lily, Hermione seemed disposed to excuse and explain away abrasive and assertive behaviour and humiliating treatment – as proven by her attraction to him.
He couldn’t blame her for what she had made him be in her fantasies. She had just unconsciously picked up on the not so subtle signals he gave and had rightfully incorporated them into her picture of him. She really had him pegged.
He closed his eyes and used his Occlumency to shove it all to the back of his mind again – the things he had seen and his own reaction to them, his confusion. He’d have to ponder it later, when he was less agitated and able to re-watch everything with more detachment. Sighing, he buried his face in his hands. What now? He hated the idea of her feeling miserable and horribly embarrassed for having had her innermost secrets laid bare. Doubtlessly, she was also hurt by what she must perceive as betrayal. Part of him wanted to talk to her, to apologise and reassure her somehow. But right now, he couldn’t face her. He’d have to sort out his own mind first. But he couldn’t let things remain like this, either. Gathering his courage, he took a piece of parchment and decided to write her a note. The least she deserved was an acknowledgement of his guilt and an expression of regret.
Staring at the parchment helplessly for a while, he searched for words, but his mind was numb. He knew how to dress people down with his tongue, how make them shiver and how to provoke them. He knew how to taunt, how to ridicule and how to punish. But had no idea how to express his feelings and properly apologize. He didn’t have much experience with any of it.
Hoping that being honest and straightforward would be the best course to sail, he picked up his quill and began to write:
I sincerely apologise for trespassing where I shouldn’t have. Please believe me that it was in no way intentional. You trusted me with your mind, and I failed you, which is inexcusable. For this indiscretion, I dare not even hope for your forgiveness. The embarrassment I suspect you feel right now is nothing compared to my own shame and guilt. Please just know how deeply sorry I am, and that you have nothing to feel ashamed about.
He signed the letter with his initials, faced once again the sheer impossibility of their situation. He’d seen her fantasies, he’d starred in them and reached a level of intimacy with her that was unprecedented. And yet he hardly even dared to sign a note to her with his first name, because it felt inappropriate? This would be so much easier without the restrictions that were placed on their interactions by moral considerations and conventions. He didn’t even know how to label the relationship that he now wanted to save and repair. Whenever had his life gotten so confusing again?
He called a house-elf and instructed him to deliver the letter to Miss Granger’s room. It’d be less conspicuous than sending a school owl. Then, with another deep sigh, he took out his Pensieve, extracted his memories of the last hour and followed them into the silvery basin.
He emerged about an hour later with the bedazzling feeling of having had another epiphany. He finally understood. No, he hadn’t been wrong about Hermione, but he had been wrong about basically everything else.
Leaning back in his chair and staring into the fire, he tried to settle and sort his excited and still giddy thoughts that were running all over the place after their roller-coaster ride. After he had involuntarily seen her fantasies not two hours ago, he had feared that Hermione, contrary to what she had made herself believe – might feel drawn to his darker side after all. It had left him wondering if the young, inexperienced witch, just like Lily or his mother, was ignorant of the warning signs he doubtlessly gave in plenty, or if she, like most other women who had ever sought his attention, was looking for the thrill and excitement that playing with danger entailed. But after reviewing the memories, he realised that in fact the opposite was true.
Hermione was nothing like the women he had been with. She wasn’t even like Lily. Hermione, despite the ruthlessness she could demonstrate if she thought it was needed, was empathetic, kind and gentle-hearted. She, who fought for equal rights for all species and was even gracious to people who he felt didn’t deserve it, would never accept bullying in any form, not from anyone, and she certainly wouldn’t ever allow anybody to force his will on her.
It was not so surprising that she felt drawn to him at all in the light of his new understanding of Hermione Granger. At least to him, it was all crystal clear now. They had a lot to talk about.
Hermione did not come to his lab the following day. She didn’t come to Defence against the Dark Arts the day after that either. Severus, who was filling in for Lupin again, strongly suspected she had been forewarned and had intentionally stayed away. He knew she wasn’t sick, as he had seen her at lunch in the Great Hall before, where she had avoided his gaze throughout the entire meal. Usually, he considered skipping classes inexcusable, but in this case, he was glad that he didn’t have to face her in a classroom environment just now. He really wouldn’t have known how to act and feared that attempts at being his usual, spiteful self would either have been unconvincing, or worse, interpreted as rejection.
But he couldn’t deny that he was beginning to feel concerned. Scratch that – who was he kidding? In the figurative sense, he was short of biting his nails. Had she accepted his apology? Or had he destroyed any chance he might have had with her with his slip of control? Was she still so embarrassed that she couldn’t bear looking him in the eye? How much had he added to all the other issues she had to deal with?
He was desperate to talk to her, especially after having had his epiphany, but he didn’t want to force her into it either. Grimacing, he remembered the nights he spent in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady so many years ago, asking anybody who passed through the portrait hole into Gryffindor tower to pass on yet another desperate message to Lily, begging her to come and talk to him. He felt dread at the thought of facing a similar situation again. No, he certainly was not going to hold vigil in front of her room. But he needed to let her know just how much he had been mistaken, and how much she had been mistaken about herself...
Feeling a new kind of resolution, he decided to send his Patronus to her room and instruct it to stay there until it had delivered his message. It was quite possible that Miss Lovegood would be privy to the reception, but at this point, he didn’t care. Obviously, Miss Lovegood had seen what was going on with amazing clarity long before he himself had. And oddly enough, he trusted her to respect his and Hermione’s privacy. He seemed to be getting uncharacteristically trusting with quite a lot of people, he realised with bemusement.
He reached for his wand and cast the spell, habitually focussing his thoughts on what had always been his happiest memory. Bluish mist erupted from his wand, but instead of immediately taking the form of his doe, it hovered aimlessly, stretching and shifting this way and that, as if not sure what it was supposed to be.
Horrified, Severus broke the spell, staring at the dissipating mist in shock. What had happened to his Patronus? It almost looked as if... Merlin – had it changed its form? He felt a lump in his throat, constricting his breath. What was Hermione’s Patronus? An otter? Oh, Merlin, please – let it not be an otter now! Why must his affection always become so obvious, laying his innermost soul bare for everyone to see? It was pathetic! He always avoided the Patronus charm for exactly that reason, had even wondered more than once if having all happiness sucked out of him wasn’t preferable to the embarrassment of conjuring a doe – or a cute little otter! – it in front of witnesses.
His heart pounded in his chest as yet another realization hit. A Patronus usually only changed form if a life-changing event had affected a wizard’s core – if something had fundamentally changed his state of mind. Like Nyphadora Tonks, whose Patronus had changed to reflect that of Remus Lupin, whom she had fallen in love with.
He feared his Patronus had changed to an otter. Which – without a shadow of doubt – could only mean one thing: He was in love with Hermione Granger.
Severus fell into his chair and struggled for breath. Sweet Merlin! He didn’t know whether to feel elated, shocked or resigned. Up to this point, he hadn’t even admitted it to himself. Of course, he cared for her. Yes, she had gotten under his skin, and yes, he felt physically attracted to her. But obviously, the his feelings went much deeper than that. There was no denying it any longer. Dear God... He was in love. He loved Hermione Granger.
His panic lessened a bit when her face appeared in his mind, with her warm eyes and her easy smile. He loosened his cravat so he could breathe more easily. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing... At least this time chances were that his feelings were reciprocated, even if the world at large would not react kindly. But why should he care what all those dunderheads thought about him, when the brightest young witch he had ever known looked at him with fondness in her eyes? Surely an otter Patronus was a small price to pay for a chance at happiness. He might as well face the facts and look his Patronus in the eye.
This time, when he breathed the incantation, all his thoughts were on Hermione and the elation she made him feel – to the point that his head was spinning and his heart beating staccato in his breast. And this time, the silver-bluish mist that burst from his wand was brighter than ever and immediately took form. Severus looked dumbfounded as it circled his chambers. It wasn’t an otter. And it certainly wasn’t cute or shy.
The animal landed before him on the arm of his chair in a proud, regal pose, fixing his intelligent gaze on him, and Severus would have wept with utterly unfamiliar joy. He was in love! And his new Patronus was a fierce and mighty eagle!
Instinctively, he knew that this was what his Patronus was always supposed to be, the form it would have taken the first time he ever conjured it if he hadn’t been such a love-sick fool at the time. It was the shape it would have taken on after Lily’s death if he hadn’t been bound by guilt, loyalty and his promise to her. This was its true from, the animal he had an affinity with – not a representation of love or devotion, but a manifestation of his inner self.
He sat in silent awe until long after his Patronus had dissipated, sorting out his overflowing emotions. He hadn’t used the Patronus charm for a long time, so there was no telling what had brought about the change – if it was recent and related to Hermione, or if it had changed even before, right after the war, when he had realised for the first time that his servitude was over and he was finally free.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Not only did he feel liberated in every sense of the word, not only was he undeniably in love, but he had also finally understood something essential about himself. He was overcome with sudden calm and ease at the realization that he had taken an important step in finding peace with himself.
There was no need to push her – Hermione would come to him when she was ready to face not only him, but also her own issues. She was strong and courageous, and she wouldn’t turn her back on him forever, even if he had overstepped boundaries and hurt her in the process. She wasn’t Lily. He had utmost faith in her.
A/N: I have no idea how you feel about this chapter, but it's one of my own favorites. This is what I wanted Severus Snape to experience after the war – to finally find himself, a prospect of happiness and inner peace. Too bad Ms. Rowlings didn’t grant him that.
As to Severus’ theory about Lily liking the bullies... I read a lot of interesting essays (see example below) about Snape, James, Lily and the Marauders, in which a lot of small hints, clues and scenes were discussed that finally made me suspect one thing: That JKR is like the women Snape describes, because throughout the books, she wants us to like the supposedly cool kids: people who disobey rules, are arrogant and do as they please, no matter if it’s morally questionable or if it incurs the risk of severe trauma or serious injury. More often than not, she makes us empathise with the bullies more than with their victims.
I (just like Severus) see Hermione’s attraction to the ‘tall, dark and dangerous’ ‘bad guy’ type in a totally different light, as the next chapter will hopefully clarify...
If you want to check out one of the essays, here’s a link:
http: // members.madasafish.com/~cj_whitehound/Fanfic/good_or_bad_Snape.htm#contents
If it gives you trouble (or doesn’t show at all) search for ‘But Snape is just nasty, right?’ and 'madasafish' 'post-DH'.
Or check this site, I believe it's the same essay, though the order of paragraphs seems to differ:
https :// whitehound.deviantart.com/art/Snape-is-just-nasty-right-1-164459138