Summary of Chapter 18 – Hermione
Hermione finally seeks out Severus to discuss what happened during their last Occlumency lesson. She feels guilty for pushing him into resuming her lessons despite his reluctance, and is also terribly embarrassed about him seeing her fantasies. Severus, who has given up the notion that they can keep their relationship strictly professional, takes her into his quarters, where they have a long talk about their wants, their needs and their desires. Hermione realises a few things about herself, and they both see just how perfectly well they are suited for each other.
Sea of Serenity
Hermione sat with her legs pulled up in the comfortable chair by the fireplace in Severus’ office, chapter thirteen of “Advanced Transfiguration” opened in her lap. Her eyes were on the page, but her thoughts clearly were elsewhere.
Severus, who after years of overseeing students' brewing volatile potions, was trained to unconsciously pick up on even seemingly innocuous details, had noticed that she hadn’t turned a page in the last five minutes. It was unusual, as she was usually a fast reader. He knew, because she often came down here nowadays to study for her NEWTs.
She had meticulously pointed out the benefits, and there was no denying her arguments: It was quiet in the dungeons – its one and only advantage over any other place in the castle. Added to that, he was usually able to answer the rather sophisticated questions that inevitably came up when Hermione became engrossed in the material she was revising. If not, he had the books at hand one could consult on the matter, some of which couldn’t even be found in library. Aside from these practical aspects, Hermione insisted that she enjoyed his company.
Lost in thought, she was playing with a tendril of her hair that had escaped again from her messy bun. He doubted that she was going over transfiguration spells and wand movements in her mind.
“Woolgathering, Miss Granger?” he taunted, jolting her out of her day-dream. “If we were in class right now, I’d deduct at least ten points for inattentiveness.”
Someone less adept at hearing subtle nuances in his tone probably wouldn’t have known he was teasing. Hermione, however, had become quite proficient at reading his moods and looked up, smiling. “In that case, I’d rather be given detention, Professor,” she said cheekily. “But since this is not a potentially hazardous environment like the lab, my daydreaming is harmless and warrants no punishment.”
Severus knew a couple of students who definitely considered his office a hazardous environment. And he had doubts about the other half of her claim, too. “Harmless? I guess that depends on what said day-dreams were about...”
“They were totally innocuous, I assure you. I was thinking of my last Occlumency lesson.”
His eyebrows rose. “Your last Occlumency lesson was anything but ‘innocuous’, if I may remind you...”
Hermione blushed. Yes, if you looked at it from that angle, it was certainly true. The ensuing conversation had been pretty intimate, too. It had proved to be another defining moment in their relationship. In a strange way, it had changed nothing and yet everything between them. She felt as if she could now see clearly what had been only hazy before; as if she now understood on a conscious level what she had known in her heart all along. And for Hermione who always wanted to get to the bottom of things, it made all the difference.
It didn’t even matter whether she liked what she had found or not. There was no use in judging – this was how things were, this was how she was. And everything she had understood about herself had also confirmed that Severus was exactly the person she wanted and needed by her side: Someone knowledgeable and experienced, capable of taking responsibility, someone she could look up to and bounce thoughts off. He would stand up to her and not let her trample all over him, he would constantly challenge her and was strong enough to give her support when she couldn’t summon her own strength. There was no ‘if’ anymore about their relationship, but only a ‘when’.
For the first time in weeks, Hermione felt as if she was on truly on the mend - not only physically, but mentally as well. She was beginning to see the figurative light at the end of the tunnel. There were things to look forward to, and she was confident that she would find aim and purpose again.
One of the first things she re-discovered in terms of drive and determination was her desire to learn. Her focus, however, wasn’t entirely on her NEWTs. She wanted to master Occlumency.
As far as her lessons were concerned, she knew she had reached the point she had needed to go. She had seen the entire picture of the tapestry that showed Hermione in all her colours. And though nothing had come as a revelation – after all, she had been aware of all of it before – the long process of making her aware of her own mind, of her ‘make-up’, of who she was – this journey of discovery which had begun with their Occlumency lessons had reached its destination.
There was no further he could go inside her mind, no more hidden things to discover, no more secrets to reveal. If knowing your own mind was the key to successfully occluding, she held it in her hand, but had yet to figure out how to use it. And this was what she had been pondering just a moment ago.
“I was merely thinking about technicalities,” she clarified, “not about... you know what. I think I managed to stop you from looking into specific memories twice – or at least made it harder for you look into them.”
He thought of the door to the toilet stall she had all but smashed into his face. “Indeed,” he commented dryly. “It would seem that you are finally getting the idea.” Before, she had only managed to block him when he had tried to a find a specific piece of information by implementing pictures or thoughts of his own making. It was totally different from searching her mind by pulling on her emotions.
“I’m not so sure,” Hermione said doubtfully. “Most of the time, I didn’t really know what I was doing.” It was a bit frustrating... she had the feeling that she was almost there – like she knew all the letters, but didn’t quite know how to connect them to read the word. “Preventing you from seeing a particular memory last minute is not the same as hiding them in the first place. When you enter my mind, everything it right there.”
“That’s because your emotions are so tangible. I only have to follow a particular thread and it takes me right to the connected memory. You have to learn how to conceal them.”
“Yes, I understand – that’s what you do when you turn your mind into an arid plain. But how do you create such an expanse of nothingness?” It sounded as if she was supposed to stop thinking and feeling – but how was she supposed to do that? Even when her mind was wandering, like just now, it was still pretty busy, running in circles, taking her this way and that. Not like Severus’ mind, which had been calm and almost completely empty.
He shrugged. “It’s a visualisation, just like your barrier.”
Hermione frowned. “That can’t be all. If you had advised Harry to imagine a steel wall around his mind, do you think it would have prevented you from penetrating it?”
“No, of course not. If it was that easy, everybody would have strong walls. There’s more to it than that, just like magic is more than foolish wand waving and saying an incantation. The key to magic and the Mind Arts is intent. It was your will that put up that wall.”
“But you chose the image consciously,” she argued. “The maze of threads was just there.”
“Well, your visualisation is a bit haphazard in appearance. While I tripped or got entangled in some of your thoughts when I first entered it, the last time I got caught up in your emotions, it was like drowning in a whirlpool. Giving it more structure might help. A maze could be a good visualisation, if you make it consistent. But like any mind-image, it can only help you to sort and clear your thoughts and emotions. To successfully occlude, you must figure out how to do what Harry never managed: How to empty your mind.”
In order to practice what Severus had suggested, Hermione had put on her coat, her scarf and her knit cap and had sought out the place she often visited when wanting solitude and quiet – the Black Lake. While the small beach in the woods beneath the castle was often frequented by students in summer, it was usually deserted around this time of the year. After having cast an additional warming charm on herself, she sat down on a boulder close to the frozen edges of the water and gazed across the water.
Letting her thoughts drift across the quiet surface of the lake and feeling her body relax with the quiet and peacefulness, Hermione knew she had just found her perfect visualisation. If anything helped her clear her mind of emotions, it was that: Just looking at the water and seeing the sky reflected in it when the lake was calm like mirror, watching flecks of light dance on its surface when a mild breeze was rippling the water, or listening to the waves crushing at the shore when a strong wind stirred up the water.
Water would make for a perfect visualisation. Like her state of mind, it could be calm or turbulent, cold and closed-off or warm and welcoming. If she could make her mind resemble water, it should easily accommodate whatever was thrown into it without being hurt or damaged by the intrusion; it would allow her thoughts and memories to either surface or to sink to the deepest point where no light ever touched them. Ideally, her mindscape would be calm and serene, a smooth mirror that only reflected what was on the outside.
Determined and eager as always when tackling a new task, Hermione consciously tried to quiet her mind whenever circumstances allowed it. She practiced every evening when she went to bed, visualising the lake and imagining how the waves smoothed out until the troubled water came to rest, and found out that doing so let her fall asleep more easily and made for more restful sleep.
Spacing out in the middle of lunch or in class, however, proved unadvisable, as it caused frowns among friends and teachers alike. Yet despite the worried inquiries and the rebuff, Hermione was proud that she had managed to tune out noises and people around her to reach an inner state of utter calm.
A week later, Hermione felt confident that she had the knack, and was eager to put her visualisation skills to the test. She had no idea, though, how Severus felt about delving into her mind again. This time, she swore to herself, she wouldn’t nag him about it. If he was reluctant, this would have to wait, even if it meant taking another lesson in patience instead of Occlumency.
Silently praying that it wouldn’t be necessary, she approached him about it after she had finished testing the potions the first and second years had brewed that day and written down the results for him to mark their work later. “If you wouldn’t mind doing so, I would like you try to legilimise me again,” she informed him quietly. “I believe I have found a good visualisation and would really like to see if I’m able to successfully occlude with it.”
Severus arched his eyebrows. It was an atypically hesitant request. “How confident are you that you will successfully prevent me from venturing into minefields again?” he asked, as if weighing the risks involved. Catching another glimpse into her fantasies was indeed something he wished to avoid at all costs – at least until their situation allowed them to let themselves be carried away by them. He felt warmth spread all over his body whenever he thought about it, which he tried not to do frequently.
Still, he wasn’t concerned about it happening again – he wouldn’t be caught unaware a second time. But if she lacked confidence in her ability, the attempt was foredoomed to fail.
“Very confident,” she replied, without hesitance this time. “I know how to empty my mind now.”
“After only working with your visualisation for a week?” he asked, arching an eyebrow at her. “Always the overachiever, Miss Granger, aren’t we?”
“It’ll only count as overachieving if it works,” she countered his good-natured taunting.
Severus was confident that it would. She had proved an extremely apt, studious and diligent student, eager to learn, willing to listen and to take advice, stubborn and determined. He was glad that she had re-discovered her drive, if only in her endeavour to learn Occlumency. Hopefully, she would soon find the same purpose and ambition when it came to her planning her future.
“I take it you do not want me to try and overcome your wall first?”
“No, thank you!” Hermione repudiated the idea. “I can do without the headache it gave me last time.” Unfortunately, since she had run like hell from his office, she had not asked for a potion. “I know that my shields are strong. I want to know if my visualisation is good enough to help hide my feelings once you’re inside my mind.”
“Very well,” he said and beckoned her into his office, where she immediately sat down in her armchair. Lately, he often forgot to change it back into the hard chair after she had left, which had already earned him a few surprised glances from other students, who expected his office to be an altogether uncomfortable place.
Hermione seemed a bit surprised that he had agreed to legilimising her so easily. Quite obviously, she had expected him to raise objections. But there was no need to do so, not anymore. His reticence had been rooted in the difficulty of their situation, in his discomfort with any form of nearness and his suspicion that she might be infatuated with some dream image of him that he would never live up to in reality. Now that he understood how well they complemented each other, most of these concerns had disappeared into thin air.
If he was still careful to keep up his guard around her, it was only because she certainly wouldn’t do so. She had this incomprehensible urge to express affection, happiness and gratefulness through touch, and he had come dangerously close to finding himself hugged again more than once. His own desire to touch her had grown rapidly, too, but he was obviously more in control of his emotions. They hadn’t set foot into his private quarters again after that one evening, hoping that staying in his office would help them to keep within their agreed boundaries.
“Then you’ll certainly allow me to do a little experiment of my own...” he said, hiding his amusement at her expression when he approached her and positioned himself right in front of her chair.
“What kind of experiment?” she asked warily.
“I’m going to do it wandlessly.”
“Oh... But didn’t you say that without a wand, the force was not as concentrated and thus more difficult to control?” she asked, looking a bit concerned.
“Yes, but I’m not going to use any force since you’re not putting up shields. It shouldn’t matter if I used my wand or not.” If his theory was correct, he should be able to slip into her mind with ease, even wandlessly. Ever since her Occlumency lessons had brought up these rather daring ideas about Legilimency, he had wished to explore them more deeply. One question in particular had aroused his curiosity, though further research would have to wait for at least another three months: He wondered what Legilimency might possibly add to the experience if invoked in an intimate situation. Judging by what they had discovered, it promised to be mind-blowing. In any case, wandless Legilimency would come in handy, as his hands were likely to be occupied elsewhere when he finally got to test his theory.
Right now, he rested them on the armrests of her chair, supporting his upper body on his arms as he leaned down. It brought their faces near and allowed for close eye contact, which made his task easier, but it had her cornered in the chair with him towering over her.
Although Severus made sure that people never got too close to him, invading the personal space of his students was a means of intimidation he used frequently and without even thinking about it. He truly hadn’t thought about it now. If he had, he would have realised that the position which would make every other student cower in fear certainly did no such thing to Hermione. His unexpected nearness just made her very flustered and caused her heart to beat faster. Blast! He realised, ruefully, that it wouldn’t make Occluding any easier.
Well, this would be testing under duress, then – he would not back away now. “Prepare yourself,” he said softly, and it was all the waring she got. Without saying the incantation aloud, he just let himself fall into her eyes.
Immediately, he found himself on the threshold of her mind – quite literally in fact, as he seemed to be standing in a sort of open archway. It looked as if might lead to one of Hogwarts’ numerous courtyards, except it was set rather high above ground – without there actually being a ground. Beneath him stretched the Black Lake – or a body of water in a deep, saturated blue which reminded him of it. Sunlight was dancing on the gently rolling surface, beckoning invitingly, as if Hermione wanted him to dive in. For a brief moment, he was overcome once again by unfathomable emotions. It was the trust that she so guilelessly offered – it threw him every time, filling him with awe, bewilderment and elation.
Different from his last attempt to legilimise her, when the sudden yielding of her walls had made is penetration almost seem like a sexual act, there was nothing sexual about it now. He rather felt as if he was about to perform a sacramental rite – although the thought seemed utterly ridiculous even to himself. He was not a religious man.
Still – he couldn’t really explain why he did it... maybe it was the visualisation of water that demanded it, or maybe it was his need to reciprocate and offer something in return for her trust. But in this strange, metaphysical world, he felt compelled to undo all of his buttons and shed his protective layers, laying himself bare as he mentally prepared to dive into the lake of her mind. Piece after piece disappeared into the ether as soon as he let go of it, until finally, he found himself naked. Not ‘in the nude’ like physically disrobed, because he didn’t have even have a visible, physical body inside her mind, but bare of the concealing and constricting shell that he always wore.
He swallowed the lump in his throat, took a deep breath and closed his eyes. And then he jumped headfirst into the beckoning water.
Hermione, who had been a bit unsettled by his unexpected nearness, had immediately focused all her thoughts on her visualisation of her lake in an attempt to calm herself. It’s surface, rippled and patterned with brighter and darker hues of blue, reflected her slight agitation. By forgoing the erection of a wall this time, she had somehow created a sort of vestibule to her mind instead. She could feel him there, a dark shadow lingering just the edge of her awareness, not fully in, not fully out. She also felt his moment of hesitation, probably owed to his reservations about the shared intimacy. Although she had nothing left to hide, she’d rather not have a repeat performance herself.
Still, his palatable unease helped to calm hers. She felt the surface of her lake smooth out as the ripples moved towards the shore and disappeared, leaving it serene and quiet like the Hogwarts Lake on a particularly windless day. But there was an expectancy in the air, a heightened awareness, which made her particularly sensitive to his presence. Something about it had changed.
It was difficult to put into words. Had she been asked to describe it, she would have said that it felt as if the person who was about to dive into her mind was not Professor Snape, teacher and Head of Slytherin House, not Master Snape, the renowned Potioneer, and not the reformed Death Eater, Order member and spy. Not even the man Severus Snape, to whom she felt attracted and who stirred all kinds of new and exciting feelings in her. No, this was just – Severus. A human being, vulnerable, with faults and flaws and insecurities of his own, honest and raw. And instinctively, she understood what he had done. This guarded, private and proud man was letting her see what he so carefully hid from anybody else. Her heart swelled at the realisation.
When he plunged into her awaiting mind, the feeling was more comprehensive, more intense than ever before – as if, instead of tentatively touching something inside her like he had before, he was now fully immersed in her. Although his intrusion was expected, even welcomed, it created a momentary disturbance that resonated everywhere within her mind, like a stone thrown into a lake sent a circle of waves even to the furthest shore and kicked up things from the bottom.
Severus felt a brief moment of disorientation, when bubbles were rising from the darkness below him from the turbulence he had caused. He half expected to be caught in a wave and thrown back to shore, out of her mind, but instead, the troubled water slowly settled around him when Hermione willed herself to relax again and let it be. His presence was familiar. Tentatively, she reached out and touched him.
He could feel the soft movement of the water almost like a caress, but still in a totally nonsexual way. It felt comforting and soothing – a strange feeling he had never experienced before. Despite the fact that he was an intruding element that clearly didn’t belong here, he was made part of this environment, and he found himself floating in the calmness and serenity that was Hermione’s mind.
It was quiet and peaceful, there was no need to even breathe. He felt utterly weightless as the warm water carried him effortlessly. It was easy to get lost in the feeling and forget why he even was here. For a brief moment, he thought that he would even like to lose himself in this... in this warmth and weightlessness, the seclusion that didn’t feel like solitude at all.
Slightly alarmed by this feeling of complacence, he reminded himself where he was and what he was supposed to do. Resolutely he started moving again – was he swimming? There was nothing to orient him, nothing to direct his way.
There was darkness below – probably where she kept everything hidden – and he dived into it. Vague forms of light and shadow ghosted around him – or were they just reflections from the silvery surface above? He wasn’t sure.
For a brief moment, something appeared in front of his eyes – something vibrant, colourful and lively. A thought or a memory? He reached out, but before his hand could grasp it, it was gone, disappearing into the darkness again. He now realised that he was surrounded by those ghostly shapes... they were different in colour and kept drifting in and out of his sight – some vibrant, others murky, some pale or even translucent, almost like jelly fish. But as often as he chased after them and tried to get a hold of one, they always slipped through is fingers.
He decided to ignore these fleeting thoughts and memories and get right to the bottom of it. There had to be a bottom to this lake, somewhere. But although the water was getting more sombre further down and although he had no doubt that there were darker, murkier places in the deep, he could still see the occasional beam of light falling through the darkness, as if a ray from the sun above had found its way even into the deepest depths of this lake.
He wasn’t even sure anymore if it was a lake at all. It rather felt like he was diving in the abyss of an ocean – there seemed to be no end to it. He almost had to laugh at the thought: What had he expected – Hermione was, after all, anything but shallow.
He was moving about with ease now, causing hardly a disturbance anymore. He had given up trying to catch one of those fishy shapes that were her thoughts and memories. She was successfully occluding, and he felt his chest swell with pride at her accomplishment. His mission here was accomplished. But for the moment, he was perfectly content to linger in her mind and simply enjoy the calm, the warmth and the feeling of acceptance, while he watched the colourful memories swim merrily around him in her sea of serenity.
“I did it!” Hermione exclaimed happily, when he finally rose from her mind. She was elated and filled with the heady feeling of accomplishment. She had mastered Occlumency! If it were not for her consideration for him, she might have danced around in circles out of sheer happiness.
Severus, leaning back against his desk with his arms folded in front of his chest, looked at her flushed cheeks and her bright smile and wondered if it was her success that made her so blatantly happy, or if she, too, was flying high due to the closeness, the harmony and the feeling of unity they had just shared.
He himself felt most peculiar. What had just happened had been so alien and out of his realm of experience that he didn’t quite know what to make of it. He also felt oddly refreshed – as if he had just taken a restful nap. He could only suspect that the comfort, the acceptance, the serenity he had just been bathed in had, for the first time in a long while, made him utterly relax. And ‘relaxed’ was not a state that his mind or body were familiar with.
Once more grateful for his ability to compartmentalise, he shoved the strange placidness that still filled him behind his own mental walls and slipped into the familiar teacher mode when he acknowledged her accomplishment.
“Congratulations, Miss Granger!” he said in the same voice he might have used if Longbottom had surprisingly produced a usable potion. “You may quite rightly call yourself an Occlumens.” Realising that his tone was a bit off considering who he was talking to, he ruefully added on a more teasing note and with a barely visible smirk: “And an overachiever!”
Given his indisputable authority in the field, Hermione knew that it was a compliment of the highest order. Now that she understood how this complicated man’s mind worked, his tone or his brusqueness rarely fazed her. After this incredible, wonderful, indescribable experience they had just shared, falling back into familiar tones and familiar patterns of behaviour was just another shielding technique. Nearness, especially emotional nearness, still unsettled him deeply. She blamed it on his childhood. He had probably not been held, touched and embraced enough, and didn’t know how to process the feelings it evoked. As an adult, he had always been distant, aloof, self-sufficient. Most likely, she was the first person he had ever let in.
And having him in her mind like this had been... not like sex, as he had once thought it might be, but more like the cuddling that came after. Emotional and physical nearness rolled into one. No wonder he was in a complete tizzy. He had probably never cuddled with anyone, either.
It had been an indescribable feeling. She could still felt his nearness in those untouchable places inside her mind where he had been, very much like his voice often lingered in her ear even after he had stopped talking. Or the scent of him that she could smell for a while after leaving the dungeons. She already knew that she wanted to repeat the experience, however small the likelihood of him letting it happen again was.
“Thank you!” she said, smiling softly at him. “For teaching me. I know that it wasn’t easy for you, and I appreciate all the more that you still did it.” She might save him the awkwardness of having to find words in particularly emotional moments, but she wouldn’t refrain from thanking him when thanks were due. He would just have to get used to accepting them.
“You’re welcome,” he replied after just a very brief moment of hesitation. There. He was already getting better at it.
“Can we have some tea now?” Hermione asked, taking mercy on him. If he needed normalcy to find his equilibrium again, their familiar tea ritual would probably serve to restore it. “Although, in all honesty, the occasion even merits a Firewhisky...”
“You wish!” he said, shooting her an admonishing glance.
In truth, she didn’t. It wasn’t his no-alcohol-for-students policy that gave her trouble, but the no-touching-or-kissing-the-teacher rule. She heaved a deep sigh. Oh well. Only three more months.
“Shouldn’t you rather go to bed?” Severus asked. “It’s late.” He was still monitoring her sleeping and eating patterns closely. She often forgot that fodder for thoughts didn’t nourish her body, and that relaxing with a book in the quiet of his office didn’t make up for a good night’s rest.
“I will,” Hermione assured. “After I have had a cup of tea.”
It was often like that. If he didn’t throw her out at some point, she would probably fall asleep on his sofa again. But what had been barely acceptable then was unthinkable now. The problem was, he had really gotten used to her company. Strangely, it was awfully quiet every time after she left, and it wasn’t because she chatted endlessly if given the opportunity, as he had feared. He had been pleased to find that she was usually just as focused as he when immersed in her studies. But just to hear her breathing and turning the pages was oddly soothing, and he missed it when she was gone.
Not eager to have her leave, he complied and tapped his teapot, wondering again what kind of magic she wove that made it almost impossible for him to say ‘no’ to her. It would probably be a good thing if he got to assert his authority at least in the bedroom.
“Aren’t your friends wondering by now why you spend almost all your evenings in the dungeons?” He asked, sitting down behind his desk.
Hermione shrugged. “I think Harry suspects why, but is too shy to ask. Ron still believes I’m in the library all the time. He’s too busy snogging Lavender to wonder about my whereabouts. It’s really like fourth year all over again. And Draco, although he has no means to know whether I’m in Gryffindor tower or not, knows.”
“You told him?” He was surprised that she would take her former enemy into confidence, of all people.
“No, I didn’t tell anybody anything. But it’s like Draco has a weird kind of antenna for some things, just like Luna. He figured it out around Christmas and has been making remarks laced with insinuation and innuendos ever since. I’m a bit surprised that nobody has caught on yet.”
“You’re the only one who speaks enough Slytherin to understand,” Severus smirked. “Draco probably knows that, too. He wouldn’t want for us to get into trouble.”
“He couldn’t, anyway,” Hermione sighted wistfully. “Thanks to you, I can tell anybody who asks the truth: That I’m spending my evenings with you brewing, helping you with your research, correcting essays or studying for my NEWTs. My thoughts and my heart are entirely mine. The only one who really knows that there’s more to it is Luna. But then, she probably already knows how many kids we’re going to have and what houses they’ll be in.”
Severus looked at her dumbfounded, marvelling at the outlandish idea and at how matter-of-factly Hermione contemplated it. Then he shook his head, deciding not to take it seriously. “She can’t know that,” he responded in the same dry and serious tone. “The only species that can supply reliable information about the future are the Long-nosed Whizzwurs, and they can only be found in the northern hemisphere in centuries with an even number.”
Hermione laughed. “Oh good! So they’re in Australia right now? I should try and find them when I next visit my parents.”
“Unfortunately, they only talk to sheep, but if you disguise properly... they are easily fooled.”
“I’m not going to ask how you know!” Hermione grinned, then picked up on her own prompt. “Speaking about family visits: You’ve not yet told me about your visit to Prince House last weekend.”
His first get-together with his aunt over the holidays had played out surprisingly well. Judging by his portrayal, Honoria Prince was a quite formidable woman – reserved and a bit stiff, but honest and honourable. From the way he had described her, she had actually sounded a bit like Minerva.
“There isn’t much to tell,” Severus obliged her. “We had dinner. We talked. Or rather, she grilled me mercilessly again, but was commendably subtle about it. The old lady is a Slytherin to the core.”
“And were you able to give her satisfactory answers?”
He smirked. “Well, let’s say I was very subtle about them.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “That really sounds like a pleasant evening... Both of you beating around the bush, trying to interpret ambiguous answers and figuring out hidden motives – and all that just to find out if the other fulfils the requirements of an ‘acknowledged relative’. I had hoped that this time, it would be a little less stilted.”
He scoffed. “What did you expect? Animated chatting, jesting and us pouring our hearts out?” he asked back. “We were polite and respectful to each other, and all possible regrets or apologies were delicately hinted at rather than expressed. We are Slytherins, not bloody Gryffindors.”
Hermione grinned. If he brought house unity into play and sided with his aunt against ‘bloody Gryffindors’, he must like Madam Prince rather well. “Does that mean that you’re letting yourself be adopted into the family?”
“There is no pressing need to do so while my aunt lives,” he said indifferently. “She has given me the testament of my uncle. I can present it to the ministry any time. The house will fall to me as soon as I choose to sign the papers that officially make me a Prince.”
Hermione shook her head. “Sometimes, the magical world is disappointingly profane. Signing the papers will make you a Prince? In fairy tales, you have to be thrown against a wall or at least be kissed by a beautiful girl to be turned from a frog or a beast into a prince.”
He shrugged: “Well, I wasn’t thrown against a wall and I have never been a frog, but other than that, I obviously qualify.”
Hermione needed two seconds to decipher the backhanded compliment. “Did you just admit that you were a beast at times and say that you think me beautiful?” she asked, blinking.
“No. I certainly did not say either.”
“Well, as we ascertained, I do speak a little Slytherin, and I really believe you did. Shall we get the magic quill out to test my theory?”
He eyed her warily when she got up, wondering what she was up to. “We’ll not be testing any more theories today!” he said firmly, pushing back his chair and raising as well – just in case. “But if you insist, I concede that you are definitely not a sore to the eye. There. Satisfied?”
“Far from it,” she said cheekily. “But I’m very pleased to find that your are a closet romantic... We’ll just have to work on making you a bit more Gryffindor about it. How about trying that again?”
He scowled. “Definitely not.”
“My self esteem needs it.” It wasn’t really a lie. She hadn’t gotten many compliments about her appearance. And while she didn’t consider herself a sore to the eye either, she wouldn’t call herself beautiful.
“You’re an intelligent enough witch. You don’t need compliments to know what effect you have on me.”
“I could try to find out...”
“Hermione!” He cast her a stern gaze and made a subtle move backwards when she approached him.
“Please?” Just hearing him say ‘I think you’re pretty’ would be enough. Every girl needed compliments every once in a while. Especially bookworms who only ever got praised for their brains. What did he see, when he looked at her?
“Honestly, witch, you’re the death of me!” he sighed, then locked his gaze with hers and added softly: “Of course I think you’re beautiful. That insane hair of yours has fire and spirit and radiates with the power of your magic. And yet you’re so small and petite that it makes me want to wrap you up in something soft and keep you close by so that you can never come to harm again. Your eyes have all the innocence, purity and honesty of a child and yet they hold such understanding, maturity and wisdom that I still can’t decide whether they are young or old. Your body, however, is clearly that of a woman – so strong, soft and yielding whenever I held you against me. And your smile simply lights up the room, even here in the dungeons. It’s bedazzling, and when you bestow it on me, it always takes my breath away.”
“Severus...” she breathed, utterly smitten. “That’s the sweetest thing anybody has ever said to me. You definitely don’t have to work on giving compliments. That was wonderful! I would kiss you right now if that wasn’t strictly off-limits...” Another step had her standing right in front of him, smiling up at him with eyes that looked slightly misty.
“It is!” he confirmed, scowling again. “Behave yourself!”
“Only three more months and I’ll be free to misbehave and kiss you as much as I like...” she said, rising to her toes and placing a light kiss on his cheek. “By then, I’ll have eight months to make up for – so you’d better prepare for lots of hugs and real kisses, Severus!”
And with that audacious announcement and twinkling eyes, she grabbed her bag from his desk and left his office.