Ars memoriae, or The Art of Memory
Anti-Litigation Charm: I make no money off of this. None at all. If you recognise it, it's JKR's.
Author's Notes: Dear readers, sorry for the posting delay - I've had an bad brush with some health issues. (Ugh.) Anyway, here you go! I hope you enjoy! Please feel free to let me know what you think - good, bad, and otherwise. I'm sure it's still painfully obvious that this is my first story, but please feel free to offer up constructive criticism as well... I learn a great deal from your reactions to things.
When she returned to Grimmauld Place, she was relieved to find that Harry and Ginny were busy with the children's bedtime ritual. She meandered through the house and up the stairs, knowing that the sounds of Ginny cajoling the boys to brush their teeth and Harry singing lullabies to Lily would cover her footsteps as she headed to her room.
Her thoughts were an agitated jumble as she tried to wind down for the night. Thoughts of the old Hogwarts she had known as a child – Severus hadn't realised it or hadn't known what it would have meant to her at the time, but they walked right passed Susan in his memory – Susan, her year's Susan, Ron's Susan, who looked no more than eleven or twelve at the time. And he himself looked so young and so unhappy, just as she remembered him from her first year. Not that he would ever be a happy man, she thought, but it was clear that he had found some measure of contentment in his life with the Malfoys as his friends.
Then there were the possibilities she could see years down the road if she could only exploit a Pensieve for all its peripheral capabilities: a blind parent being able to see their child, an injured wife having the chance to look upon her husband's face again.
There were more thoughts of the past, of medical school and her late-night study sessions at the local chip shop she and Severus had passed as the followed her younger self through her old neighbourhood.
And there were thoughts of Severus' unexpected words to her in the midst of it all: "I wouldn't wish it on anyone."
Although she was tired, the busyness of her mind kept her from sleep, and she kept hearing his voice saying over and over again: "I wouldn't wish it on anyone. On anyone." And more than the words, it was the unusual timbre of his voice, the hollowness and sadness that slipped through his usually stoic façade and leeched its way into her bones. It was an almost physical ache, and she knew as he spoke that he had something specific in mind. But what? What was it he had touched and felt and tasted, and what had been taken away?
A dozen easy answers came to her mind as she thought through what little she knew of his life. Lily, of course. Once a dear friend, then lost to him forever. A friend, or at least a mentor in Dumbledore? Severus had seemed particularly bitter at the mention of the elderly wizard earlier. Perhaps what he was missing wasn't a person or a relationship at all. Recognition, maybe? Appproval? In the years since the war, he'd never received the accolades like the others of the Order, despite the fact that the tasks handed down to him were easily the most miserable of the lot.
She had long thought that just to have survived that last year alone at Hogwarts with nobody to support him was tremendous. But to have done it while all your old colleagues – people like McGonagall and Flitwick, who you thought trusted you – believed you to be a traitor and a murderer? It was a price she couldn't imagine anyone paying. She still wasn't quite sure what he had used to hold onto his own sanity during those months.
"I wouldn't wish it on anyone."
It was a while before she eventually drifted off to sleep.
Hermione was grateful she was sitting down. Grateful also for Severus' choice of the two Queen Anne chairs in one of the library alcoves rather than a desk or one of the center tables. It was unnerving to watch moments of her past fly by in her mind's eye under someone else's control rather than her own, and she was grateful for the creature comfort of a soft seat under her and a heavy woolen blanket on her lap. And although they had discussed the parameters of Severus' first venture into her memories ('Keep it simple for my first time,' she had requested. 'Rifle through boring days at work.'), she was oddly discomfited by gentle prodding and pulling she was feeling as he entered her mind.
When he cast the spell, she was swallowed up in a kind of moving light. Images emerged rapidly, and suddenly she was thrust into the old teaching hospital at Melbourne where she had held her first rotation. She walked down the narrow hallway to the nurses' station for a glass of water with a few of her fellow interns.
"I'm changing days now," he stated perfunctorily, his voice ringing out above her like an announcement over the hospital loudspeakers. "Keep alert."
She felt another soft push as the scene before her dissolved into another day at the same hospital. Very little had changed – the building was the same, the scrubs were the same, the clipboard on her arm was the same, the nurses—
Something was off.
Not off, just different. She was angry in this flashback, and she felt the itch of resentment just under her skin, the heavy pulse of her heartbeat. None of her emotions showed in her actions - she went about her rounds with a calm and professional demeanor - but she felt them all just under the surface. It wasn't until she began writing corrections on an older patient's chart that she remembered why she was so upset that day: the elderly gentleman had been misdiagnosed by the person who admitted him hours earlier and hadn't been as effectively been treated as a result of the mistake, and it wasn't until she had double checked something on his medication that she had caught the error. He had been fine in the end, but it bothered her to know that something could have gone terrible wrong. Still, understanding her emotions in the memory didn't explain the violent strength of them, for although she was justified in her anger, she was almost physically overwhelmed by her feelings.
"Changing years now," she heard him say, his voice echoing vaguely in the both the hospital lounge of her memory and now also the library they were presently in. Was she supposed to be aware of Malfoy library? She wasn't sure, but she felt torn between her mind and her body, the past and the present.
And the scene changed again to another day in another hospital altogether. Actually, the dissolve itself also changed, as it took about three or four times as long to shift to the next reflection. She was older in this memory, and quite happy to be in a revamped clinic with the green and grey checkerboard floors. This was early on in her residency, and an eagerness for her work swept over her. A supernatural enthusiasm quickly replaced the negative feelings from the previous scene almost instantaneously. Severus stayed in this place and time for a few more minutes, but nothing out of the ordinary happened.
"I'll focus on one type of experience now," he interjected again. "Something you would have done repeatedly over the years. Is there one kind of task you'd like me to follow, or one co-worker? The consumption of dreadful hospital coffee?"
"How did you know it was so foul?" she asked, now flashing back and forth between the clinic and the library. "Wait – which hospital?"
"Hospital coffee is always foul," he insisted sharply. "One of life's great universal truths."
"Agreed," she said, idly wondering how much time he would have had to experience the over-roasted, mildly burnt-tasting sludge at St. Mungo's. It seemed that he avoided the place at all costs, but if Draco was working—
"Granger," he called a bit more loudly. "Focus."
"You felt that? Er… Heard that?" she asked, startled at finding herself caught woolgathering.
"Yes." He then wordlessly dissolved the spell, withdrawing completely from her mind. Breaking off a piece of the chocolate he had procured, he pushed the plate towards her. "Eat."
She snapped off a large hunk of dark chocolate as she reconsidered the man before her. He was exceptionally efficient in his instruction, sparing few words for anything other than the essentials she needed. She felt exposed and raw, knowing that her own emotions were laid before this man with his unnerving ability to remain cool and detached. As she took a bite, a shock of warmth spread through her fingertips and up her arms. She hadn't even realised she had grown cold.
"You're right, you know," she said calmly, thinking over their meeting together in a few days earlier. "The sensations are quite similar with the Pensieve. I'm not sure I would have the same kind of awareness of you in my mind without having gone through that earlier."
He didn't actually affirm her statement, not that she was expecting him to, but he simply stated, "Your first advantage is awareness."
"How does that help me?"
"One could say it always helps, Archibald." He broke off another piece of chocolate for himself. "The unexamined life and all that rot."
"Yes, yes, hilarious, Severus," she retorted, patronising him a bit. "And 'Archibald'? Must you?"
"Here I thought I had permission to use it each time you asked a stupid question."
She glared at him. "If we're accepting 'stupid' according to your standards, I'll never hear my name again."
He smirked in return.
It was hard to tell at times, but he was either being a complete arse tonight or this was him in a good mood. She didn't want to discourage him in case this was the playful side of Severus Snape, so she let it go. "How does awareness specifically help with Legilimency?"
"Demanding, aren't we?"
"I like to think of it as being thorough." She smiled up at him, imploring him, beseeching him. "Please? How does it work?"
"It's said that any Legilimens should be able to enter and exit a mind undetected, but that's simply untrue. Stepping into the mind is like stepping into a still lake, Granger. No matter how careful you are, you will still cause small ripples along the surface. The alert mind will see the ripples and want an explanation." He then reached for the corner of her blanket, fingering a loose edge before dropping it. "You really should..." he offered awkwardly, gesturing at her still shivering arms. He then abruptly turned away from her. "As I said, the alert mind will want an explanation. Those who are unaware, those who don't expect it—"
"Those who are Muggles, like my parents?" she interrupted.
"Yes, of course," he continued. "They would be the easiest targets for any kind of mental magic."
"Then the fact that they're Muggles is probably the only reason I was able to perform those spells in the first place."
"Most likely," he agreed. "Unless they're both terribly weak-minded people, but if they raised you as their child..." His voice trailed off, allowing her to fill in the blanks. She decided to interpret it as a compliment to her own fortitude rather than another slight against Gryffindor stubbornness. "What else did you notice?" he asked, now pouring himself a glass of water.
"Memories are physically linked somehow, aren't they?" she asked tentatively. "Closely related memories are easier to shift between than those removed by space or time. It was easy for you to move between days that were closer together."
"Correct." He observed her thoughtfully. "And?"
"And... this is an extremely subjective process, Legilimency. What I mean is..." Her eyes darted around the room as she recalled her feelings and attempted to explain. "I had a heightened awareness of my emotions as each event was recalled. I know you tend to think all Gryffindors are emotionally overwrought, Severus, but I don't think it's possible that I was actually quite that happy over a new building or quite that upset over a minor mixup with a patient. My emotions were magnified in the visions you saw."
"That's perfectly normal. You now see how this differs from the use of the Pensieve, which is, essentially, an objective process. You're transmitting basically the same information, but the Pensieve offers a clinical distance from the remembered event where Legilimency doesn't."
"And," she added, "you get to walk around in your own body when you use a Pensieve, but I didn't see you anywhere just now."
"Obviously not. During Legilimency, you watch the memory just like you would the cinema or a play."
The pair continued their discussion a while longer over chocolate and tea and water. When he was satisfied that she fully understood the basics, it was time for Hermione to finally put her skills into practise.
"I can't believe I'm letting you do this," he said darkly, shaking his head. He flipped moods completely, now quite serious. "If at any point, you become uncertain of what you are doing, Granger, pull out."
"Of course, Severus."
"If you ever overstep what I want you to see, pull out."
"If I ever tell you to pull out—"
"I'll pull out," Hermione finished for him. He quirked an eyebrow, as if asking if he should trust her with this task. "Severus, I don't want to pry. I'm already rather nervous, knowing there's a chance I could be invading your privacy, but couldn't you just block me if I began to uncover something I shouldn't?"
"If you leave of your own will, you can't hurt either of us. If I forcibly expel you from my mind, I could do damage to yours." He turned his chair to face hers head on, taking the delicate china cup from her hands. He made no effort to conceal his scowl. "You don't actually have to question every single thing I say or do, Granger."
"And you don't have to assume that my questions are motivated by mistrust," she insisted defensively, pointing a finger at his chest. "That's not up for debate. I trust you, Severus, whether you believe me or not. I just wanted to know why you were so unrelenting on this when you're clearly powerful enough as an Occlumens to prevent me from going too far."
"Well," he sputtered out, "Well... Now you know."
"Yes, now I understand why,' she said, pointedly emphasizing the difference. "Although I'd rather you Occlude me if push comes to shove."
"Are you planning ignoring my instructions?"
"Of course I'm not! I just want you to know that I want you to protect yourself first if I do something incorrectly."
He didn't answer. Didn't look away, either.
She wondered if she was supposed to get started.
"Well?" he asked impatiently, prompting her into action as he sat back in his chair.
"I just..." She waved her wand aimlessly and looked up at him for confirmation.
"Get on with it, Granger."
"What would you like me to search for?" she asked, hesitation in her voice.
He replied quickly, as though it was obvious that he'd thought this through earlier in the day. "Look for days where I'm teaching at Hogwarts, giving lessons to students."
She nodded in understanding.
"And don't look for any with yourself as a student. Keep it impersonal," he demanded quietly.
She nodded again.
Hermione was swept up into darkness as the spell took over. She wasn't walking exactly, but then again, it couldn't quite be said that she even possessed a body. And yet she felt herself moving through space as flashes of light and colour swirled past her at incredible speeds. It was incredibly disorienting, as she suddenly felt herself simultaneously hurtling through a nondescript sea of memories and curling up in her own chair in the Malfoy library.
"Control, Granger," she heard echoing around her. "Slow down." His voice was soothing, calming in this foreign place. Where was she? she wondered. In his mind, perhaps? She must be. "Slow down," he repeated in a soft voice, smooth and deliberate. She felt her racing heart relax, heard her erratic breathing begin to pace itself, and watched the flickers of light as they morphed into distinctive images. "Slow, Granger, slow yourself down. Breathe."
Something clicked for Hermione in that moment, and an unnatural kind of peace washed over her. The images themselves slowed down. They hovered around her, not quite still, but silent. She could walk among them as though she were walking through the National Gallery looking at paintings.
"Remember what you're looking for," his voice reminded her. "My teaching years, Granger. Nothing more."
And she walked around a series of memories from Severus' teenage years, she felt a floor beginning to materialise under her feet. Cold stone pavers, large slabs of rock as far as the eye could see. It felt natural, somehow, but she hadn't been told what she was supposed to be experiencing. Was this right? "Severus, am I supposed to be walking on a road or a path of some kind?"
"It looks like a road to you?" he inquired, not actually answering her question about the path.
"Well... it's stone. Not cobblestone, so I don't think it's exactly a road, but... I'm not sure."
"What do the walls look like?"
"What walls?" she asked.
No sooner had the words left her mouth than a hazy presence of what must surely be walls began to appear around her and around the floating memories.
"Oh," she said in a hushed voice. "I think I see... I see..."
But whatever had begun to appear flickered and failed.
"So where are you, Hermione?" Severus asked.
"I... I..." she stuttered in embarrassment, floundering in disappointment. "They're... That is, the walls are... They're gone."
"Focus, Granger." It was a mantra with him. Hermione considered herself to be a fairly focussed and motivated woman, but when she was with Severus, he was continually demanding that she focus on the task at hand.
"Focus on... what? Walls? Or your memories?" she asked aloud. When he didn't reply, she concentrated on what she already knew with certainty: the floor beneath her feet, Severus' mementos all around her. When she began to walk the halls, walls made of smaller stone slabs came into view. With each length she walked, she uncovered the walls that were there all along, walls upon which Severus' thoughts and experiences were hanging. The building she was in was now almost solid around her. Familiar. As she turned a corner, discovering a long gallery of armour, she put the last of the pieces together.
"It's Hogwarts," she said, astonished and shocked to be walking around his mental model of the third floor Charms corridor.
At first he didn't respond.
She momentarily wondered if she had gone too far in and lost the connection with him, and was working her way towards a fully fledged panic attack when she heard him again a few moments later.
His voice, low and sure, rang out like a loudspeaker echoing through the halls of the castle. "Your first mistake, Granger, is in assuming that it's Hogwarts. It's not exactly like it, although it is similar. Most do resemble a building or a place of some kind."
It was incredible, Hermione reflected, this whole process of Legilimency. She understood the reality of things, a reality in which she and Severus were sitting calmly in a tucked away alcove in the Malfoy library. She knew it, and yet here she was, walking through the castle that had been her home for six years. Walking through a kind of Hogwarts, at least. A kind of Hogwarts of Severus' making, filled with a lifetime of remembrances. Good and bad, young and old, she watched little snippets of his life on the walls of the castle. And yet... His memories were here, she was speaking with him, and yet he was nowhere to be found.
No one was anywhere to be found.
She walked alone in his Hogwarts, accompanied only by the sound of his voice.
"But why Hogwarts?"
"It possesses a structure upon which I can superimpose any of my life's experiences."
"Is that why you chose it?"
"Your second mistake, Granger, is assuming there is a conscious choice."
"If it's not a choice, then—"
"The subconscious provides the place. The palace, actually. Most texts on the subject call it a memory palace."
She accepted that, having recalled the term from some of the texts he'd asked her to read earlier on.
"Your memory palace is no more a choice than your Patronus or your Animagus form."
"Most are places, you said." She stood in place, admiring the stone walls of her school as she chatted with Severus' disembodied voice. "Is it common for most witches and wizards to use Hogwarts as well?"
"I have come across several who use the venerable old castle, yes." He paused, and she reached out to touch the wall, solid under her fingertips. "Some use their childhood home."
"Is Draco's the manor?"
"You'll find out when you Legilimise him, won't you?"
She considered him carefully, knowing that he usually told her outright when she was wrong. "I'll take that as a yes."
She could hear the grimace as he confirmed her suspicions. "Yes."
"What else do people use, if not a building?"
"Minerva used the entire village she grew up in, including several miles of footpaths in the Highlands around her home. But then, she has a tremendous breadth of mind."
Hermione smiled to herself, pleased that Severus could say such things about the older woman.
"Professor Sinistra's was, unsurprisingly, the night sky."
"All seasons, all hemispheres. Her memory palace was literally a sphere, a perfect model of the universe in minature."
"Vector's was completely abstract, the likes of which I had never seen before and have never seen since. Concentric circles layered over top of complex fractals over top of geometric puzzles."
"You Legilimised Professor Sinistra? And Vector? Why?" The unstated question hung in the air: What would they have possibly done in the war that made them interesting to the people pulling the strings?
"It was not idle curiosity. Keep in mind, Granger, that at one point or another, I entered the minds of almost every prominent witch and wizard in Britain. Not because I wanted to or because I could,' he hissed at her defensively, 'but because it was demanded of me."
She dropped the subject, although she longed to ask about Dumbledore's and Voldemort's orders. The strain in his voice was palpable, and she didn't want to push him. It was time to return to a safer topic of conversation. "Are most scholars' or professors' related to the subject they work with? Or…" Thinking about him, she corrected herself. "No, that can't be, can it? Yours isn't a laboratory. But why would Sinistra uses the constellations and Vector uses mathematical and Arithmantic models?"
"No one is entirely sure," he said. "I believe the mind gravitates to the first system it can make sense of. Aurora's mother and her grandmother were also accomplished astronomers, so I suspect she was familiar with the celestial models at an early age. Vector worked on an abstract level at almost all times, so I wasn't surprised by her memory palace, either. Who knows how young she was when she began to think like that?"
"Is Professor Sprout's a garden or a green house?"
"Hers isn't, but—"
"Are you certain?"
"Pull out now."
"Why?" she inquired, confused. Nothing about that question could possibly threaten his privacy. She removed herself from the third floor of Hogwarts, slowly adjusting to her presence in the manor once more. Once she felt her body coming under her again, she reached for a piece of chocolate to steady herself.
"Your palace, Miss Granger," he stated calmly, looking her in the eye as though anticipating some kind of outburst from her, "was – is – an English garden."
Even after hearing that he had entered the minds of so many – even all her old professors, wholly unrelated to the war – somehow she persisted in the thought she was beneath his notice during those years. She was mildly pleased at the thought of her old importance, mildly unsettled by the wonder of what he discovered, and greatly relieved that those unknown invasions were in the past.
His eyes were open slightly wider than usual, and he hadn't blinked once as she considered his words, as if bracing himself for the onslaught of some kind of explosion from her. She honestly hadn't even thought of snapping at him, and she knew he was worrying for nothing. After thirty years with her own temper, Hermione knew herself well enough from experience to realise that if she didn't instantly launch into some out-of-body tirade, she never would.
"Do you mean... Just now, when you entered my mind, you were walking through a garden? My garden?" she asked curiously.
"Unless you live in an impressive country house surrounded acres of sculpted land, I doubt it is your garden. But yes, I was walking beside a small stream. Your memories of work are primarily stored in the rotunda in the clearing."
"Definitely not my garden, then. I grew up firmly ensconced in the upper middle class." She folded up the blanket, finding herself quite warm now. "And that, Severus, means that our garden consisted of several indoor pots. My mother's annual pass card to National Trust properties was utilised every free Saturday, though. I think she took me to the great gardens to somehow make up for the fact that she killed every plant in sight. Oh, sometimes a hardy one would hold out for several months before it succumbed to the inevitable, but none of the plants in our house were ever more than a year or two old. My father," Hermione continued, smiling and forgetting herself in the past, "teased her continually for having a black thumb. Once he gave her a plastic pot plant as a gift, telling her it would be the only green plant in the house. Another time, he..."
She stopped herself cold. Snape was graciously putting up her rambling stories, but he wasn't the sort to sit back and reminisce, and she didn't want to assume a familiarity that didn't exist between them. Or did it? He was almost friendly with her at times, and he was easily the most intriguing person she knew. It was then that she realised just how comfortable she had grown in his presence. A few months ago, she wouldn't have offered up old family stories for Severus to hear. Then again, a few months ago, she wouldn't have guessed that she would regularly read bedtime stories to Malfoy's son, or that she would regularly dine at Malfoy Manor, or that her former Potions professor would have given up so many hours to help her.
He didn't look at all put out by what she had said, but she figured he was probably relieved that she hadn't stared shouting at him for what he'd done years ago.
Still, she wanted to know.
"You... entered my mind as a child?" she asked softly.
"Not by choice." He shrugged. "Never by choice. I generally fulfilled the... shall we say 'requests' of my masters," he smoothly supplied, "through more mundane means."
"By simple observation, you mean," Hermione suggested.
"Yes," he agreed. "It's almost insulting how easy it is to learn anything about anyone. In general, people are stupid and self-involved. They think they're infallible and don't realise how clearly they're broadcasting their secrets to the world. I preferred to retrieve information the old-fashioned way."
"Even the idea of Legilimency is uncomfortably invasive for me," she replied. "I don't want to be able to root around in someone else's mind. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful to you for teaching me this, but if I could forget how it all works after setting my parents to right, I would."
"Afraid you'll be tempted to use it?"
"I just... don't even want the option. I like knowing things a bit too much for my own good, I think."
"You may discover that the act of using Legilimency increases your distaste for it, making it easy to set aside when it no longer serves a purpose in your life."
She looked at him, quite sure as she examined his eyes that he was speaking from experience. Since he wasn't one to broadcast his own secrets to the world, it was clear that he wanted her to to understand his own reluctance to use his abilities. His admission pleased her.
"Anyway," he continued, "you were no longer a child when I examined your memories."
"Was it often?" She could feel the blush spreading up her neck to her ears.
A beat of silence passed.
"During my... I suppose it must have been my sixth year?" she guessed, interpreting his words about her age. She'd come of age just a few weeks after the start of that year.
Question after question flooded her mind, and she found herself wanting at least a few answers. "What were you looking for? Did you find it?"
He jerked away from her and stood up, taking a few steps away from her.
She pressed on. "May I ask which of your masters asked you to... asked you..."
And just as suddenly, he turned back to face her. "Routine questions about Potter's plans – everyone knew who was running that particular show. Yes and no, I believe." His gaze drifted to the ceiling as he answered the final question. "Both."
So Dumbledore and Voldemort both had wanted a glimpse into what she had known, had they? What she had helped Harry plan? She fought back the petty part of herself that wanted to ask Severus if he had also Legilimised Ron at their request.
He looked at her expectantly, tension again evident in the way he subtly clenched his jaw.
She asked an innocuous question. "Has my garden changed much over the years?"
He visibly relaxed when it was clear she was choosing to drop her interrogation, and he answered simply as he returned to his chair. "It's always spring there, but..."
"But now the daffodils are finally opening."
As they continued on in their practise, Hermione entered Severus' mind again and again. She wandered around his Hogwarts, finding the way his subconscious mind ordered a lifetime of memories. The classroom memories? At first, she thought they were all located in his Potions lab. It made sense, after all, that memories of something happening in one location in Hogwarts would be placed in the corresponding location in his memory palace. She went through about a half dozen lessons from his early teaching years, sniggering quietly to herself when a young Tonks showed up in one as a second or third year.
She constantly felt the projection of his emotions during each memory, just as she had of her own when he'd walked through her memories earlier. She felt his frustration when a student didn't listen to his instructions and his annoyance when they haphazardly went about their cutting and mincing and stirring. There was the occasional moment of satisfaction when a student brewed a potion well, or when he was brewing himself, but by and large, Severus Snape was not happy teaching at Hogwarts.
Hermione realised that his insistence that she was to keep to uneventful lessons on nondescript days was a shrewd move. It protected his emotions from her scrutiny.
Then she witnessed a terrible explosion as she moved to another Potions lesson on another day, and Severus raced the poor child to the infirmary for help. When she pulled out like before, she found herself not in the Potions lab, but in the hall filled with armour. Odd, that. She looked around and found a vision of him returning from one of his missions to Grimmauld Place and another of him retrieving a family before a Death Eater attack. Apparently, Severus unknowingly placed the memories of courageous deeds there.
She hadn't meant to intrude, but he knew what she had just witnessed. He snapped at her sharply to stop poking around for the hell of it or pull out.
She did as he requested and pulled out, only to find him blushing ever so slightly as he berated her for her inability to control her curiosity. He grabbed another piece of chocolate while they regrouped.
Some rooms clearly had other associations. If a moment of bravery was to be found in the armour gallery, would she find moments of pride of in the trophy room? What would be in his Chamber of Secrets?
After another foray into Severus' mind, they both decided to call it an evening. Exhausted, Hermione realised that they'd spent six solid hours together working through all the practicalities of Legilimency. She felt much better now, more in control, and for the first time in over a decade, she thought she actually stood a real chance at bringing her parents back home.
As he walked her to the Floo room, Severus tasked Hermione with a revision plan of sorts to hone her skills. She was to set up meetings with willing participants no more than twice a week in order to gain experience and confidence using her new skills. More to the point, he told her to go after people who were parents and to stick to their memories of their children. After all, those were the types of memories she'd erased from her parents, so any amount of insight she could gain here might provide the piece of the puzzle she needed.
When they arrived, he shook her hand with a kind of solemnity. "I trust you've gathered all you needed from me?"
"Yes, Severus, I can't thank you enough." She tried to convey her appreciation with the warmth of her words, knowing anything more would make him ill at ease.
"Then this is goodbye," he replied, his expression unreadable as his eyes met hers.
"It had better not be," Hermione admonished him. "Good night, Severus."
As luck would have it, Astoria was the first person after Severus to volunteer. After a few false starts, Hermione entered her friend's mind, watching memories materialise all around. Slowly, steadily, parquet wood floors appeared below her feet and elaborately papered walls appeared to her left and right in what she could only assume was the Greengrass home. It was quite easy to find memories of Scorpius tucked away in an indoor conservatory filled with exotic ferns and other plants. Remembering how much Astoria loved the winter garden at Malfoy Manor, Hermione wondered if the young woman had filled the room she loved best with the people she loved the most. She watched Scorpius as an infant in a few memories and then as a little boy, his mother's love for him palpable at every turn.
Harry and Ginny were both eager to help, volunteering any spare time in the evenings for Hermione's project. With the two of them, Hermione had decided to view the same memories from each in order to make a comparison. Taking turns with each, she saw the first birthday parties of all three children, their first steps, their first words. Even though their memory palaces were different - Ginny's was the Burrow, whilst Harry's was, like Severus', Hogwarts - their celebratory memories of their kids were all placed on a Quidditch pitch, surrounded either by an overgrown orchard or tall wooden stands. As with Astoria, Hermione was overwhelmed by the rush of love pouring out of them for their children. It was a beautiful thing to behold, but she'd almost needed to pull out of Harry's memories during James' first birthday.
Even Draco offered to assist, although his work schedule was the most difficult one to work around. Their first meeting didn't go particularly well, but Hermione blamed it on the weather. It was a cool April evening, and Draco's windows were open to let the air flow through his study while they worked. As a result, her hair had doubled in size in the first ten minutes alone.
She entered Draco's mind and watched a memory of him and Scorpius puttering around the manor grounds on matching broomsticks. Each time Scorpius was in danger of tipping off, his father's hand would reach out and steady the broom.
Then she heard an aristocratic, womanly voice.
"You need to brush your hair, young lady."
Hermione looked around the memory, trying to find Narcissa somewhere. When she couldn't find her (or any other woman) anywhere in sight, she dismissed it and refocussed on the father and son.
A few moments later, it spoke up again.
"I daresay some women can get away with the natural look, but you really must take care to tidy up your appearance, my dear."
Peals of Draco's laughter rang out over the memory, and Hermione pulled out of his mind quickly.
"What was that?"
He pointed to the far wall at an elaborate antique. "That, Granger, was the mirror. Likes to give advice."
"On my hair?"
"You must admit, you're looking a bit shrubby tonight."
"Shrubby?" she retorted. "It's windy, Malfoy. It happens. You and your mirror should get over it."
"A proper young lady, would have arrived prepared for all circumstances," the mirror interjected.
"And a proper mirror," Hermione snarled at the object, "would have suggested a comb – not a brush – to a young lady with curly hair."
"You can't blame her on that point, Granger. She's only ever had straight-haired blondes to advise, so she couldn't possibly know what to do with you." He grinned impishly then. "We're probably lucky, all things considered, she didn't crack at the sight of you."
Hermione smacked his arm and promised retaliation before they got back to work.
She didn't have to wait long. Retaliation came by accident a few moments later, when she was confused by a passing image of a small blond boy with shoulder-length hair. She entered the memory, only to find that the young boy she'd thought was Scorpius was, in fact, Draco.
Little Draco was dressed in a velvet periwinkle suit, complete with short pants and a frilly lace collar and shiny, buckled shoes. He sulked and pouted as he ran wild around an elaborate outdoor set with manicured hedges and white peacocks stunned into submission. As she looked around, she saw a painter seated behind her easel, barely managing her disgust while Narcissa coaxed her son to return to his posed position with a slab of Honeydukes' finest. Hermione had stayed to watch for ten seconds - fifteen at most - but it was glorious.
She died laughing.
Then she apologised, explained her initial mistake, and took the oath of silence Draco demanded she make before he allowed her to leave his home that night.
Her time with her friends kicked off a new pattern in her life. Every few days, she tackled one of the four of them, always looking for memories of their children. She became faster and more efficient with every passing week, able to find connections between memories and able to regulate her own emotions when faced with someone else's.
It was surreal, being so close to the thing she'd worked so hard for. She'd been carrying around the Wilkins' Christmas card wherever she went as a tangible reminder of what she needed to do, but soon 'Wendell and Monica Wilkins' would no longer exist, rightly replaced by John and Helen Granger. When she tried to remember the last time they had all felt like a family, it had felt more like a foggy dream than a reality. She ached to feel that again, to be a part of her family as she always should have been.
At the end of a day at the hospital, she would close her eyes and imagine them as she knew them in Australia, sitting in their kitchen with a slice of Monica's bread and a milky cup of tea. She stopped calling them by the names she'd made up for them, names she'd picked out of a book of essays she'd enjoyed, and finally called them 'Mum' and Dad'. And they answered her as their child.
The week before they were set to fly in, she and Monica talked over the telephone, setting up an afternoon together at Kew Gardens and a dinner on the town for their second day back in London. They exchanged all the particulars of their flight and hotel, and Hermione gave them an arsenal of telephone numbers in case they needed to reach her. Now all she had to do was wait a few days longer, in eager expectation to see her family returned to her at last.
It was time.
You just know that there are embarrassing portraits... or photos of Draco lurking about. In the meanwhile, the next chapter is a big one...