Having finished his evening routine, Severus made his way into the bedroom and turned back the covers to his bed. He paused before getting in. Hermione needed to be contacted as soon as possible in order to get the replacement blood, probably tomorrow night. And presumably Wormtail would be paying him a visit soon to help him with the potion. Perhaps he should contact Hermione now…? No. Maybe his decision was foolish, but he knew she still had to be tired from last night, and he was currently dead on his feet. And he knew from experience that lack of sleep caused sloppiness, so asking Hermione to get a sample of Potter's blood right now was potentially a very bad idea. Potter could end up losing a limb.
Severus let out a whoof of air, a sort of pseudo-laugh, as he climbed into bed. He really did need sleep if he thought that was funny. He got comfortable after lying down, and after a few minutes felt himself drifting off. As he fell asleep, one last stray thought passed through his head. When had he started referring to the girl as Hermione, anyway...?
Chapter Seven: Ignorance Is Not Bliss
Hermione made her way quickly through the deserted halls of Hogwarts. She had been summoned by Snape, which was a relief, for once. She had spent the day worried about how his meeting with Voldemort went, and, consequently, if her once-professor was still alive and in one piece. So the familiar sting of the Mensavoco charm going off in her head had actually been a comfort.
Even so, on Hermione's way out of 12 Grimmauld Place, it had briefly occurred to her that she might be walking into a trap. After all, Snape could have been found out.
But how could she not go? After acknowledging that, Hermione pushed the fear away, knowing it was absolutely useless to dwell. Besides, she'd prefer to leave as much of the paranoid thinking to Snape as she could.
As Hermione walked, her thoughts turned to the conversation with Moody. How would Snape react when she told him about it? She was rather eager to fill him in, actually, feeling a little proud at having successfully moved forward on his plan to eventually include Moody. But this was Snape, and seeing the negative in things was something he excelled at.
She smirked to herself. Well...perhaps he'd acknowledge, at least, that she hadn't screwed anything up.
Reaching a suitable classroom, Hermione went through the ritual of locking the door, blocking sound, and making it habitable by supplying light and chairs (in this case there were plenty available). In a few moments she was ready to summon Snape, and did so.
Hermione had just sat down when he arrived. She automatically stood back up.
There was a moment of silence as memories from their last meeting rose up between them. Had it really been the night before last that they'd retrieved a horcrux? That she had nearly died- and Snape had saved her life?
The news about Moody temporarily fell by the wayside as Hermione watched Snape choose a chair facing her, and they both sat.
Hermione was struck by how comfortable she felt in his presence right now. The need she usually felt to immediately fill the silence was...gone. After worrying about Snape all day, she supposed just seeing him whole was very soothing.
Snape was leaning back, hands folded on his stomach, which was an unusually relaxed posture for him. Actually, everything about him was more relaxed than usual. His face was less guarded, and his eyes shone more brightly. All in all, he appeared, well…comfortable. It was strangely flattering to think that perhaps her own feelings were being mirrored by him.
Of course, without Dumbledore, Hermione knew she was the only person Snape could drop the façade with. The only member of the Order of the Phoenix left...who wouldn't attack him on sight.
Hermione let out a soft sigh, and asked the question that had been on her mind all day.
"So, how did things go?"
Severus Snape's voice was quiet yet clear. "It went as well as could be expected. He suspects nothing, and even told me about the horcruxes. Nothing we don't already know, however. I may uncover another location soon if he chooses to move another horcrux, since he said it would require my help." He gave a slight shrug. "There are many things he could have me do, however, that wouldn't require disclosing the present or future location of that horcrux to me. So it remains to be seen how much further he will take me into his confidences. I can say that he trusts me, however- as much as he trusts anyone."
Hermione blinked in surprise when Snape smirked slightly. Despite the topic, he seemed to be in a rather good mood. She smiled.
"That's wonderful. Do you have any idea how long he will take to decide about moving it?"
"Not very long, I expect. But finding and preparing a new location will take some time."
"So...and he probably will move it, don't you think?"
Snape sighed. "The Dark Lord, as you've deduced by now, I hope," he raised an eyebrow and gave her a pointed look, "is paranoid. And even putting that aside, he doesn't know how the goblet's location was determined, and therefore shouldn't trust any of the remaining locations to be safe. If basic common sense prevails, he'll move the rest."
"The remaining two."
Snape gave her a strange look, shifting slightly. "Yes. Although…he gave me the distinct impression there might be only one left. To relocate, in any case."
Hermione raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Then...he's already carrying one with him?"
"Possibly." Snape narrowed his eyes, expression impenetrable. Hermione got the impression he didn't think so.
But where else could it be if not…
"Do you think it's been destroyed? That would be convenient," she added.
Snape shrugged in a dismissive way, and she got the impression he might have a hunch, but clearly wasn't willing to divulge it just yet. "Only time will tell, Miss Granger. There's no point in discussing it further right now."
Well, his answer rankled just a bit. But the subject was clearly closed.
"So now it's a waiting game."
"For the most part." Snape looked like he might go on to say something else, but paused and glanced to the side for a moment. It was a curiously hesitant gesture for him.
Hermione looked away as well, starting to feel hesitant herself. She needed to tell Snape about Moody, but how should she broach that subject...?
Hermione glanced up, startled. Snape's eyes were on her again.
"You seem rather…distracted." His tone was mildly curious. "Out with it." With whatever it was he had been about to say temporarily forgotten, his good mood seemed to return. Hermione crossed her fingers, and decided it was best to be blunt.
"I made contact with Moody." She continued on before Snape had a chance to react, but he was already sitting up, face serious. "I followed the plan, as far as we had laid it out, and...gave him the horcrux as proof. He's promised not to say anything. He's...checking it for authenticity."
"I see." Snape's mouth was suddenly tight, and his eyes flashed in anger.
Good-bye good mood.
Snape repeated himself."I see. So you just decided this seemed like a good time to include him? You couldn't wait a few days to ask my opinion?" His voice was still deceptively quiet, but she knew he was getting angry. "But naturally, you had the horcrux; the perfect proof of where my loyalties lie, sitting in your lap. Why wait? And I assume you were feeling particularly confident in your Occlumency skills after your near death experience?" He snorted, his face dangerously close to a sneer.
"I…I wasn't going to tell him anything, but I had t…"
Hermione nodded quickly. "Harry's invisibility cloak. Moody saw...," Snape's face darkened more, "that...I was hiding it from Harry. I had to explain why to Moody, later. And I didn't think I could outright lie." She frowned, looking down at her feet. "Not convincingly...yet." She pushed on, wanting to clarify that she wasn't being the rash Gryffindor, as he had suggested. "I didn't know what else to do given the situation, so I told him the truth. The horcrux was probably the only thing that guaranteed his serious attention, actually."
She looked up again and caught Snape's narrowed eyes. "Your identity is safe, though. He doesn't know if my contact is a Death Eater, or…or a man, or anything, really. Except that you have access to high level information, obviously."
He frowned at her. "So you didn't use Occlumency?"
Hermione flushed. "Well, yes. So he knows that you, that is, my contact, has been teaching me. But beyond that…"
Snape interrupted again, voice low and hard. "Let me enlighten you, Miss Granger: you don't know what he knows. You aren't skilled enough yet." He paused to let that sink in, and then continued. "Allow me to set you straight about a few things that certainly have gone through Moody's head, however. He suspects that whoever you are in touch with is most likely a highly placed Death Eater, of which there aren't many. He knows this person is dangerous, and not to be trusted. Working against the Dark Lord isn't equivalent to working with the Order, Miss Granger. He's undoubtedly concerned that I could turn on you as soon as my goals are achieved, whatever they are. He may hypothesize that those goals include using you to gain entrance into the Order, so that after defeating the Dark Lord I can make quick work of his enemies as well." Hermione clenched her hands together, horrified. She hadn't thought of any of this!
Snape wasn't done. "What Mad-Eye does know for certain, if you've told him anything about the retrieval of the Goblet, is that working with me puts you in mortal danger." He paused again, and then went on more slowly, voice less harsh.
"In essence, he may trust you, but that doesn't mean he trusts me. He likely sees you as young and naïve, which you are. Thankfully your trip here required you to apparate, otherwise you might've been followed, in which case he would have known who I am by now." He put weight on each word.
Hermione couldn't stop herself from visibly cringing. There was a horrible silence that she didn't know how to fill. Had she really messed up that badly? What should she have done differently? Lied? Put off the meeting somehow? She hadn't thought to do that, since she didn't want to risk Moody changing his mind about telling Harry... What should she have done?
But she was interrupted for a third time. "Under the circumstances, however, I believe you made the right decision." Snape's voice, acerbic a moment ago, was soft.
Hermione closed her mouth slowly, and leaned back. She frowned slowly. Why the brow beating, then...?
Snape raised a hand to stave off her question. "That doesn't mean it wasn't extremely sloppy of you to get caught red handed by him in the first place, especially since you weren't sufficiently prepared for a meeting." He crossed his arms and moved a hand to his chin, his forefinger on his lower lip. He spoke quietly, half to himself. His calculating eyes partly obscured by the lamp light.
"From what I can garner...it seems that my identity is probably safe- although I will be taking a look in your head in a moment to try and verify that. And truth be told...Moody's protective and distrustful nature were always going to be a hindrance even under the best of circumstances. Of course, he knows the importance of finding these horcruxes, however, and will be willing to risk your safety, to some extent, in exchange for acquiring information about them. You are a member of the Order, after all."
Hermione crossed her arms too. The way he spoke made the room seem a little chillier. And she still felt a little aggravated at his harsh tones from before. "So...even if I was extremely sloppy," to use his words, "if I didn't do anything particularly bad, was the lecture really necessary just now?" Hermione cursed herself the moment she finished.
Snape leaned back, as though her comment was relaxing. He pursed his lips. "Contrary to what you may think, it wasn't pointless at all. I needed to warn you about him, and was planning to give you that speech before you made contact. As such, it's rather overdue." He straightened up again, suddenly very serious. "You can't trust him, and you will have to watch your back twice as carefully from now on. That's something you should repeat to yourself, oh, every ten minutes." He smirked at her, but she wasn't entirely sure that was a joke.
"Constant vigilance, Professor?"
She smirked in turn as his expression went sour. He raised an eyebrow. "If that serves to remind you."
Hermione frowned thoughtfully. "You know, I can't help thinking you two have a few things in common." Judging by Snape's curdling expression, her comment rankled. She went quickly on. "He's going to give Harry Occlumency lessons, by the way. He also thinks Harry will need them in his fight against You-Know-Who."
Snape glanced to the side, his eyes narrowing. "Good." He looked back, catching her eye. "Hopefully Moody get something through that dense skull of his."
A slightly uncomfortable silence descended between them. Hermione pushed through it.
"So…I guess it's back to my Occlumency lessons, then?"
"No..." Oh. Alright then. Then Snape's eyes seemed to focus differently, as though he had been looking through her a moment ago...and now he wasn't. "Actually...yes." Hermione couldn't stop her eyes from widening. His gaze was a little too intense.
"I need to take that look, Granger." Snape stood up, and it took Hermione a moment to realize what he meant as he walked over to her. He crossed his arms, looking down at her.
"You mean, to see how the meeting with Moody...?"
"Yes. So...," he tilted his head slightly, frowning down at her, "to clarify, your goal is to let me take a look, unhindered. Just clear your mind, bring up that conversation...and don't block me."
He stared down at her a moment longer, then pursed his lips in irritation. "Perhaps sometime tonight, Miss Granger?"
Hermione jumped up, feeling embarrassed and very nervous. She had never not resisted before, since the whole point of Occlumency was to obscure your thoughts, not offer them up for examination.
Snape came close, startling Hermione slightly when he raised his left hand and placed his fingertips on her face, gently tilting her head up. It felt strange, and only made her more nervous.
Snape was already focused, his eyes unreadable as he stared down at her. "This will be...a little different. Just stay relaxed. If it's any consolation, the Dark Lord has done this to me many times."
With that morbid thought, he began. He didn't say the word, but as with Moody, Hermione was aware of the intrusion of a Legilimens.
His presence quickly became much more obvious than Moody's, and Hermione immediately understood what Snape meant by different.
With her own concentration on keeping him out removed, and with her mind only lightly focused on the conversation with Moody, Hermione found herself focusing on something else, something obvious:
The feel of another's mind, or...magic, touching her own.
She could feel Snape's magic! Or his...presence? Hermione tried to think back to when Moody had intruded. Had it felt the same? Or was it always unique to each individual?
It was completely...fascinating.
Hermione found herself encouraging, no...pulling, so she could get a better understanding of this strange presence...
She was vaguely aware that Snape didn't seem to mind her tugging, since his focus was on feeling out the memory of Moody's use of legilimency the night before...
Then, very suddenly, Snape wasn't important anymore, because Hermione was there. She was reliving that brief memory, when Moody had been looking inside her head. Even the emotions she had felt then were playing through her again. It was shocking, and in no way similar to the Pensieve-like memories she had experienced during her tries at Occlumency before. It was so real she could even smell her room and feel her heart beating...
This is only a memory!
As that mildly panicked thought asserted itself, Hermione's perspective shifted again: now she was struggling with two simultaneous sets of emotions and actions; those in the past, and those in the present. And Snape's presence was mixed into the whole thing...
It felt like vertigo. Hermione instinctively pushed back hard, trying to disentangle herself from everything, from the entire strange experience...
Suddenly there was nothing but pain.
It was gone in an instant, and Hermione found herself looking into Snape's eyes again. She took a gasping breath of air, her heart racing, and watched, drawn by the movement, as Snape's hands dropped to his sides. She felt a residual warmth on her cheeks, and realized that he must have been holding her face in both hands...
Snape stepped back slowly, eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
"You pushed back."
Hermione raised a hand to her temple, still trying to reorient herself, to grasp what had happened. Her mind wanted to fixate on that almost-agony...
She swallowed, pulling her thoughts together. "I...didn't mean to. The memory..."
"Your memories are more perfect than you realize. I was simply using a technique to help bring up what I was seeking...in full detail." Snape crossed his arms. He seemed to be struggling between annoyance and bemusement. "It can be rather startling, the first time. I'd forgotten."
"Did you...stop the connection?" She didn't think she had.
Snape shrugged, watching her carefully. "I didn't want to hurt you."
Hermione's eyes widened, and he went on. "When you let someone in like that, and then you resist...it can be very painful. I know from experience."
"Who...?" Please don't say You-Know-Who...
Hermione swallowed again, and looked away. "Oh." She crossed her arms too, and glanced back. "Well, thank you." Her gaze lingered, caught by something in his eyes, and she went on without thinking.
"You...feel different." It came out sounding awed. Hermione noticed, as if in slow motion, how his eyes widened slightly, and how a lump of mortification formed in her stomach. She tore her gaze to the floor. "I mean..." Her cheeks were burning.
"Than Moody? Of course." Snape's voice was clipped, faster. She couldn't help but look up. His bemused look was gone, replaced with narrowed, disdainful eyes.
Humiliation welled up. The space between them was alive with it.
Hermione clenched her jaw, and stared at his chest instead, wishing away the dark blush on her cheeks. Even in the somewhat low light, Snape couldn't possibly miss it.
Why? Why did he have to look at her like that? Like she'd done something horribly rude?
Yet part of her understood perfectly. She had been focusing on Severus Snape. Not on her memory- the reason for the connection. Instead she had been captivated by the feel of...of him, on how this was what she had imagined a psychic connection should feel like...
Hermione had shown her full blown fascination with the experience, instead of, well, a mild academic interest. For someone like Snape, her overblown reaction was...it really had been crossing a line.
His voice broke into her thoughts.
"We aren't finished, Miss Granger." Hermione looked up, unprepared and wide eyed, just in time to catch Snape's look: it was cold, detached. He stepped forward, hand coming up to her face again. His voice had a sarcastic edge to it.
"Don't worry, you won't feel nearly as much this time..." His eyes focused in on hers, clinically, and his voice softened as he concentrated. "A surface level look, only..."
Hermione stared back, jaw clenching in panic. She didn't know how to behave, what to focus on! And she didn't want him looking into her thoughts just yet...!
This time, when she felt the push of his magic, she shied away.
Focus, focus, focus...
Hermione heard him sigh, saw him quirk an eyebrow.
She only jumped when he spoke quietly. There was an edge of aggravation to his voice. "Miss Granger. Kindly remove the water drop from your consciousness."
Hermione did a double take.
I'm such an idiot!
The visualization exercise she used for concentration...she had been focusing on that- on the bloody drop of water! She had effectively been pushing Snape back with all her might...
Hermione vehemently forced down her mortification, determined to prove she wasn't a complete dimwit and could actually concentrate on the goal...
It was infinitely harder this time, but slowly, slowly Hermione managed to let go, and gently bring forward her conversation with Moody again...
Almost as soon as she did, Snape moved- and suddenly they were watching Hermione's conversation with Moody play back.
Snape had been right. This time his presence was hardly noticeable. And the memory was straight forward; no emotions, no total immersion. It was more like watching a movie.
Before long the conversation had played out, and then Hermione was aware of Snape standing in front of her again, already turning, as she got her bearings, to walk toward his chair. After a moment she stepped back, slowly sinking down to sit too.
Hermione felt tired- as though letting someone inside her head was even more difficult than pushing them out. Or maybe all the new experiences she'd just had were fatiguing in and of themselves. Or maybe (she grimaced) it was all the emotional ups and downs.
At least she felt calmer now. The embarrassment was mostly gone. Instead, strangely, she felt a subtle happiness. Tonight, a new world of understanding had opened up for her.
She couldn't think of that...intriguing presence in her mind. Not when she sat across from said presence, who didn't appreciate the attention in the least. But even when she put that aside, Hermione knew that she had probably learned more about Occlumency tonight than in all her other lessons put together.
And it hadn't even been instructional. Snape had been focused on information- and on getting it without causing her unnecessary harm along the way.
Hermione was only now beginning to grasp just how skilled Snape was at this. There were things he'd done with her memories...she'd been lost in her own head! And he had been so careful! He had never pushed his way in. Hermione knew...she knew, if he had wanted to, he could have ripped through that silly water drop...
Hermione felt eyes on her and looked up, into Snape's glittering, inscrutable gaze. Always such a mystery! She smiled lopsidedly at the thought, inwardly laughing at her own ignorance. Tonight, she had been given a sense of perspective about her Occlumency training.
Part of her wondered if that hadn't been his goal.
Well, now she understood. She was like a toddler who, for the first time, got to see a grown-up running.
Hermione's smile turned to a smirk. "I have got a lot to learn, don't I, professor?"
Severus Snape just smirked back at her.
Author's Note: Nope, I'm not dead. Yaaaaay. I'd make promises about updating this regularly, but that might cause someone to die from laughter. If you're wondering, the exciting night at Hogwarts has not quite concluded. :)