This is a non-profit tribute to the works of JK Rowling who, together with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and situations elaborated herein.

Thanks to my previewers, Bellegeste and Cecelle.

WARNING This fic contains HBP Spoilers. Enter at own risk if you haven't read HBP.

If Hermione had been dismayed that Snape called their training sessions "detentions", she was shortly even more distressed to find she had no occasion to use the excuse he'd provided because no one cared enough to ask where she was going. Nothing could have brought home more sharply the isolation she'd been battling since the quarrel with Ron.

Harry didn't want to take sides so he divided his time between them. Ginny was pre-occupied with Dean and never came near Hermione except to alternately rave about his sweet helpfulness and grumble at his cloying over-protectiveness – the difference apparently lying in Ginny's mood at the time. And Ron, well, better not to think about Ron or roommates or anything, really, but her studies. School, Snape and Apparition, between those three she had plenty enough to fill her thoughts.

She'd made allowances for Apparition lessons in her study timetable for the year, having recorded in previous years the date the flier had appeared on the common-room noticeboard. She'd been looking forward to learning Apparition ever since first reading about it in Maddie is a Witch; Introduction to Wizardry for Muggle-borns, the first book she picked out at Flourish and Blotts on her first trip to Diagon Alley. Her dad had been excited too, but then he was a closet Star Trek fan.

"Beam me up, Scotty, without the beam," he'd marvelled when she showed him the page. He'd stared at the pink-cloaked witch that was disappearing from one page to appear on the facing page, then blinking rapidly in and out from top to bottom, side to side and in kitty-corner style diagonals, for so long she'd had to pick up another book to read in the meantime.

She hoped Apparition was better than other forms of magical transport. Flying on a broom left her backside sore and her nose chapped with cold; thestrals were more cushioned but no more comfortable; and the soot from Floo-travel made her sneeze, fortunately after exiting, not upon entry, or who knew where she could end up? Harry had landed in Knockturn Alley once!

Fitting in twice-weekly sessions with Snape – she refused to call them detentions – had been more of a squeeze. After fiddling around with her timetable for the better half of the evening while her roommates caught up on how each other had spent the holidays, she'd glumly pencilled in a later bedtime four nights a week. She would study an extra hour in bed, with the curtains drawn so she wouldn't disturb anyone. It was a nuisance, but not as much as missing something that might turn up in exams.

Eight p.m. had been a good choice of time, she reflected on her way to the first lesson. She had met few students on the way and no Slytherins on the dungeon level. She raised her hand and knocked twice on the door of Snape's office, then entered and stood just inside. The shadowy room was ringed by shelves full of pickled parts and other potions ingredients.

Snape didn't glance up from his marking.

"Close it and sit down, Miss Granger."

She scrambled across the room and into the chair, her heart suddenly racing.

"How did you know it was me, sir?" Especially since she was a minute early.

His scowling eyes continued travelling down the paper, his long fingers holding a quill with which he was scratching out and scribbling comments. He didn't look up till he'd scrawled the mark at the top and underlined it. Judging by the hand movements, it was a P or a D.

"I can hear you," he said shortly.

"With your mind? I thought you needed -"

He gave an exasperated sigh.

"Your footsteps. I recognise the walk of most of the students in the school. Don't interrupt."

She clamped her lips shut. He was the one interrupting but she knew better than to tell him so.

"I must say, I'm surprised," he drawled. "I'd have thought you knew Legilimency usually requires eye-contact."

She flushed and bit her lip. She did know. Trust him to rub it in. He'd probably never let her forget it.

"Nothing to say?" His eyes glittered in malicious triumph. "Very well, we'll begin. What do you know about Occlumency and Legilimemcy?"

"Occlumency is the magical defense of the mind against external penetration. Legilimency is the ability to extract feelings and memories from another person's mind."

"You've been reading Murchison's Mind-Mastery Manual. As usual, your memory of the textbook is word perfect." His lips curled at that word. "But what do you understand from those definitions?"

"I'm not sure I understand it properly, sir," Hermione began. She hadn't got very far as she'd only found the book yesterday. Annoyingly, it sealed itself shut for the day every timeshe turned the page. "It's not like mind-reading, I think. More like archaeology – That's the study of -"

"I'm not a complete illiterate in Muggle studies."

"Sorry, sir. Anyhow, I thought it looked like that; examining the fossil record and trying to draw conclusions. You can look at my memories and my thoughts and feelings, but you have to interpret them yourself."

He traced his mouth with his finger, watching her till she squirmed.

"Does this suggest to you any ways of blocking me?"

"I suppose you would either bury it deeper or disconnect the fragments, but I can't imagine how."

"Imagination has never been one of your strong points. You had lessons on Imperio in fourth year. Were you ever able to fight it off? The skills involved are similar."

"No, sir, Harry was the only one who could." Inwardly she was fuming at the gratuitous insult.

"Pity. Stand up and take out your wand. I will attempt to penetrate your mind and you may attempt to defend yourself in any way you can, with or without it."

"But, sir, you haven't explained –"

"Silence! We are establishing a baseline of your natural ability to repel an invader. Brace yourself now. Legilimens."

The man and the desk between them vanished into a swirl of bright images. Her dad was lifting her onto a stool to brush her teeth with grown-up toothpaste… she was ripping a page out of a Hogwarts library book… a hefty girl yelped and dropped the hot potato that had been a cupcake in Hermione's lunchbox before she snatched it… she was waiting for the ski-lift with her dad… she was staring, with tears drying on her cheeks, at a troll in the toilets… her mother was spanking her for sneaking out of her birthday party to read her new encyclopedia… her baby sister's coffin was being lowered into the ground…

Tears blinded her as the room came back into focus. She groped for her handkerchief and blew her nose. He waited till she was finished.

"Poor. As I expected."

She seethed but said nothing. Silence was always a safer option.

"Now, close your eyes."

She obeyed.

"Clear your mind and let your emotions go," Snape continued.

Her eyes flew open, shining with sudden understanding.

"Oh! Is that how to disconnect the fragments?" She knew she'd been right about that or he would have mocked her again but it was good to have it confirmed. "You disconnect your emotions from your memories."

He scowled at her.

"Indeed. The first step in Occlumency is to detach memories from their emotional content. Why?"

"You don't normally ask me so many questions, Professor," she stalled.

"I'm trying to teach you to think, Miss Granger. You're all too ready to parrot from your books, but if you are to be of any use you'll need to learn to question what you're told, examine it from all sides and analyse the likely consequences. Well?"

"B-because you can't always interpret accurately without it?"

"Is that an answer or a guess? Highly charged memories are easier to find and more likely to be important, either in themselves or as a weakness to be exploited. If I sense anger, I know how to manipulate you; if I sense love, I know whom to threaten. If I sense guilt, I know what to blackmail you with; if I sense fear, I know how to break you."

She gulped. His calm cool voice left no doubt that he was speaking from experience.

"Your emotions are a beacon. They tell me what I'm seeing and how to use it against you," he went on. "We'll try again. Eyes closed! Clear your mind."

She squeezed her eyes shut. Her hands fisted as she sought for control. Was he going to use it against her? Was this why Harry hadn't been able to learn?

"Not like that! You're giving in to your feelings. Let them go. Relax your face, relax your hands, relax your mind." He waited until her breathing steadied and the tension went out of her stance. "Are you ready? Open your eyes. One, two, three -Legilimens."

This time she saw a haggard bearded convict in the Shrieking Shack… herself at age four, hiding a very dead mouse in her pocket… Her father twirling her around the room in her mother's arms… a beefeater dropping his pike as it turned into a pitchfork… her grandmother finding the missing crystals from her chandelier in Hermione's dollhouse… Viktor leaning in for a kiss as she put her hands on his chest to push him…

She clapped her hands over her eyes and wrenched herself away. He watched her shoulders heave as she struggled to slow her breathing and her pulse.

"Why the mouse?" he asked.

She blushed.

"Mum said I was too young for a pet. The neighbour's cat left it in our garden."

"Your habit of lavishing attention on useless objects is of long-standing then. Perhaps one day you'll learn from your mistakes. Again. One, two, three -Legi-"

"Professor!" She didn't dare finish that sentence.

"I won't tolerate these incessant interruptions. Are you a five-year-old, afraid you'll forget what you wanted to know unless you ask immediately? Store up your questions until the end of the lesson."

"Sorry, sir."

After another half-hour, her head felt as if someone had been rolling bowling balls through it. She rubbed her forehead ruefully. Then Snape sat down so she followed suit.

"Practise clearing your mind whenever you have a few minutes undisturbed. In between classes, for instance, and every night before you sleep," he told her. "You may have fifteen minutes for your questions now."

Fifteen minutes of information on a topic of her choice; she hardly knew where to start. She could ask him about Potions, of course - the flaws and omissions in their textbook that allowed Harry to beat her every lesson were really getting her down – but it would be difficult to raise that topic without letting slip how Harry had been cheating all year. Eyes half-closed, she chewed on her lower lip. What would it be like to be a master Occlumens like Professor Snape?

"If you didn't hide your memories when you went back to Volde – I mean, You-Know-Who," she corrected herself as his glare grew blacker, "at the end of my fourth year, how did you persuade him of your loyalty?"

"I didn't have many that needed hiding," he said. "He's always known that I'm Professor Dumbledore's spy, just as Professor Dumbledore has always known that I'm the Dark Lord's."

Her mouth gaped open and she shrank back a little in her chair.

"But – But – They know? Both of them?" She'd have thought Voldemort would have killed any who betrayed him, with long lingering torture.

"Of course. I know better than to try to hide such a large secret from either of my masters. The Dark Lord sent me here to infiltrate the Order as his spy and I have served him faithfully in that capacity for many years." His eyes mocked her.

"But – Oh! You mean, that's what he thinks you're doing. But you aren't really, are you, sir?"

Eyebrow raised, he stared her out of countenance before answering with a grim smile.

"And therein lies your other lesson for tonight. People hear what they want to hear."

She puzzled over that. Did he mean that she was only hearing what she wanted to hear? But he wouldn't tell her he was faithful to Voldemort if it was true, would he? Or was it a bluff? Yet he'd told her he was trying to teach her to think.

"What are you trying to make me ask?"

He leaned forward, smirking.

"How do you know whose side I'm really on?"

She gulped. She didn't, did she? But these lessons were Professor Dumbledore's idea.

"I've always trusted you because the headmaster does."

He snorted.

"Does a thought never enter your head unless you read it in a book, Miss Granger? The headmaster has trusted many untrustworthy people. The succession of your DADA teachers before myself should have taught you that, Quirrell, Lockhart, Lupin -"

"Professor Lupin's not untrustworthy! Just because you don't like him -"

"Silence!" His hand slammed on the desk. She flinched and rubbed her forehead again. "Have I found a blank spot in your memory? Less than three years ago, I watched him tell you that for an entire year he'd hidden Black's ability to sneak undetected into the school as a dog or through secret passages they'd mapped as students."

"But Sirius was innocent -" Her brows knit and she bit her lip as he glared down his large nose at her. She suddenly understood what he was going to say. He would take inordinate pleasure in saying it, she knew, and there was no way she, a mere student, could stop him.

"Lupin believed him to be guilty as thoroughly as did the rest of us. For all intents and purposes, he placed the interests of one he thought a murderer above those of every student here because he was ashamed to confess to having betrayed the headmaster's confidence, as a student no less than as a teacher. Do you still call him trustworthy? What do you think his price might be?"

She stared very hard at the floor by her feet.

"I trust him," she muttered.

"Indeed? And do you trust me as unquestioningly?"

Her hands clasped and twisted in her lap. She wanted to say yes.

"Why did you tell me all this, sir? It feels as if you're trying to make me distrust you."

He didn't answer immediately. A shy glance showed him tracing the outline of his mouth with one long finger.

"Answering that question will be the rest of your homework from this session, Miss Granger. On Thursday evening, I'll expect you to have formulated an argument on the subject and to be prepared to defend it." He watched her massaging her forehead again. "Do you wish a potion for that headache?"

Her head jerked up, mouth slightly open.

"You never gave Harry a potion," she blurted out.

"Learning to function while in discomfort, or even pain, is a valuable lesson. If he was too spoiled to lower himself to asking, it wasn't my responsibility to anticipate his wishes."

"He isn't spoiled! You know – you must know, if you looked at his memories, that his family never gave him even what he needed, much less what he wanted!"

"Five points from Gryffindor for impertinence, Miss Granger. If you require a week's worth of detentions to remind you of your manners, I shall be delighted to oblige."

"Sorry, sir."

His mouth curved into a predatory smirk as he added, "In any case, surely the fault lies with yourself? A simple headache potion should have been an easy task after Polyjuice. Or was Myrtle too mournful even for you?"

Her heart plugged her throat closed.

"You knew."

"Of course."

"I thought you'd have had me expelled if you found out."

"Indeed? If your two cohorts could escape expulsion after breaking both the national and international codes of wizarding secrecy, why should you expect harsher treatment? Theft of a few ingredients, even illegally brewing restricted substances, hardly compares with stealing an illegally charmed Muggle artefact and displaying it to the entire countryside."

"Yes, sir."

As she closed the door behind her a few minutes later, she breathed a sigh of relief. She must have been mad to agree to this, stark, staring, raving, nutters, loony, as Ron – as somebody might say. After this, even Apparition classes would seem easy.

A/N This chapter owes some of the details, including Hermione's definitions, to the chapters containing Occlumency in OotP. The "baby sister's coffin" vision is a nod to JK's comment in an interview that originally she'd planned a sister for Hermione.