Hermione spent the next days buried in her books, barely speaking, and no one, not even Severus or Harry, questioned her about it. There was not much she really had to do for school right now, but every minute she spent studying was one minute she did not spend thinking about Severus or the fact that he did not like her the way she liked him.
Whenever he visited her in her dorm now, he shared new insights on lucid dreaming. It was the thing he seemed to spend most of his free time researching, usually returning to the Room of Requirement after only thirty minutes of visiting her. He was always kind, always seemed relaxed in her presence, but he never stayed long and Hermione got the impression that there was now an invisible wall separating them, keeping them apart. And she hated it. But at the same time, she felt ungrateful for thinking so. Having Severus as a friend was so much more than she could have ever hoped for. His intellect was stimulating and challenging her in a way that Ron and Harry never could. Severus understood her in a way that nobody else ever had and she was grateful, but she could not help but yearn for more.
Gosh, it wasn't so long ago that she had sworn not to ruin their friendship by doing something stupid, like kissing him, and even though she had , Severus had been forgiving and not made a fuss about it, even though he was her Professor and she had probably endangered his job by doing so. Merlin, why was she so unhappy about the situation? Because she had no right to be.
Most of their time was spent with Severus talking about the new knowledge he had acquired and even though they had not made any progress in the area of lucid dreaming so far, they had not shared another dream either. And Hermione did not know if she was relieved or disappointed about it.
Then, almost two weeks later, her evening routine was suddenly interrupted by a squeaky voice: “Headmaster Dumbledore asks Miss Granger to join him in his office, please,” a young, so far to her unknown house-elf said. He must have appeared on her bed, while she had been absorbed by her book on privacy wards. “He has left Sparkly a scroll for young Miss and said that he would be happy to see her for tea tomorrow.”
“Alright, thank you Sparkly,” Hermione mumbled, a thankful smile on her lips. And before she could say anything more, the little servant bowed and disapparated again. Hermione stared at the spot where he had just disappeared for a while longer, before she unrolled the scroll containing a polite but vague invitation as well as the password to the Headmaster’s office. She wondered what Professor Dumbledore wanted from her but she guessed she would find out – tomorrow afternoon.
“Ah, Miss Granger! Do come in!” Albus invited the girl standing hesitantly in his office door. Ever since she had saved Severus with white magic, he had not spoken to her, as he wanted to give things time to settle down a bit. Apart from that Miss Granger and Severus seemed to be doing well enough on their own, for now.
Miss Granger slowly sat down on the chair he had prepared for her. He had decided to offer her the big, cushioned one as he wanted her to feel comfortable and welcomed for this conversation. “Thank you for accepting my invitation. How are you, my dear? You look a bit tired...”
The girl smiled weakly. “I am well enough, thank you, Sir. May I ask why you invited me here?“
“Ah, you want to get right to the point, I see,” he said, watching her in amusement. The girl had changed since their first interaction this summer. She behaved less awe-struck in his presence and instead stared at him with a careful, calculating expression, one he had seen so often on Severus. The man had changed her, and Albus did not only mean that Miss Granger held herself much more confidently and maturely now. “Some weeks ago I talked about the possibility of you joining the Order, my dear. Now that your birthday has passed, I wanted to inquire if you have given this possibility some thought.”
“I have,” she replied, while her eyes remained fixed on his midnight-blue coloured robe. “But I have not reached a conclusion yet. I think it would depend on what you wanted me to do, Sir. Is there anything you would want my help with?”
“Not at this moment, my dear. But you see, you joining the Order would make it possible for me to give you special training. For example, I think it will be necessary for you to learn Occlumency. You are aware of the unfortunate mental connection Harry has to Voldemort, are you not?”
“I know that they seem to be mentally connected in some way,” the girl admitted carefully. “Which is why I am unable to tell Harry certain things. I thought this was why he had to learn Occlumency – to protect his mind. Why do I need to learn it, too? I was not aware that the other members of the Order were schooled in it.”
Albus smiled. Of course, the clever girl had quickly found the weak point of his argument. “Most of them are not, Miss Granger. But most of them are also not friends with Harry or have access to Kindred Magic. We do not know if Lord Voldemort could use his connection to your friend to control him, or invade your thoughts, but I think it possible. Therefore I find it strongly advisable for you to learn to protect your secrets and if things go well, you could also help Harry to improve his Occlumency skills as well. What do you say?”
Miss Granger furrowed her brows as she contemplated his words. He had not expected her to be this hesitant, as he had gotten the impression that the girl eagerly sought out any form of knowledge. Maybe she would agree if he sweetened up the deal for her? “You would not have to be instructed by me, if that is in any way uncomfortable for you. I am sure Professor Snape could be persuaded to assist you, if that would be preferable for you.”
“No!” the girl interjected, her eyes suddenly looking almost panicked. “He can’t...” she caught herself and Albus could see her taking a deep breath, her composure returning almost immediately. “Is there no one else that could teach me?”
He stared at her contemplatively. That wasn’t the reaction he had expected to this suggestion at all. What had his idiot of a DADA professor done now? He sighed. “There are only very few people able to do Occlumency, Miss Granger. At Hogwarts the only other person is me. I would be willing to teach you once a week, if that is what you prefer.”
The girl stared at him silently for a long while, her eyes dancing from left to right, as if she was skipping through the pages of an invisible book. “What about people outside Hogwarts? Maybe Tonks would be willing to assist me or... I don’t know...”
“Occlumency is unfortunately not part of the standard Auror training program. But I could request Alastor Moody, if you would prefer being taught by him,” Albus suggested, irritated by the girl’s resistance. But it was not long until she shook her curly head in declination of his offer.
“No, I was hoping for a female instructor,” she admitted, her cheeks growing pink. “But if there is none available...” The girl started chewing on her bottom lip. “And you think I really should try to learn it, Sir? You think that my secrets would otherwise be in danger of being discovered?”
He nodded without hesitation. “I do. It is not only because of your friendship with Harry. But one day your connection to Professor Snape might be discovered and that could make you a target, too. I do not mean to frighten you, but I want you to be prepared for the worst case. I do not know what Tom would do or would not do if he discovered that you are able to perform white magic...”
The girl swallowed nervously. “I will learn it, then. That is if you would be willing to teach me, Sir.”
He nodded, a reassuring twinkle in his eyes. “Most definitely. I was told you are a very enthusiastic student, Miss Granger. Maybe we will not need more than a few lessons and I assure you, that I will be very discreet with whatever I discover from your mind. I could also offer you my pensieve, to protect your most sensitive memories.”
Miss Granger nodded, now seeming very much reassured. Good. Persuading her had been harder than he thought. He would have to be careful not to lose that hard-gained trust from her. No, he would nourish it by tutoring her and giving her as much knowledge as she desired. Given the circumstances, he wanted Hermione Granger firmly on his side of the war, and Severus and Harry with her.
“Alright, Hermione, I will be going now,” Severus said, already moving his Animagus form towards the edge of Hermione’s mattress.
From the corner of his eyes, he saw her nod. “ Alright. Good night, then. I don’t think we will be able to see each other tomorrow, though. I do have classes with the Headmaster after dinner. ”
Severus stilled in his movements, his mind going blank. “ What kind of classes?”
Hermione shrugged, a guilty smile forming on her lips. “ Occlumency. He said I would need to learn, with Harry’s mental connection to You-Know-Who and us being... linked. ”
“ I see ,” Severus replied, but he could feel his innards turn to lava or ice – he wasn’t sure which one it was. “ I could have taught you, I still could. You don’t have to endure Dumbledore snooping through your mind. ”
But his friend just shrugged. “ It is fine, Severus. The Headmaster offered me his Pensieve, to protect my secrets. He has been very kind.”
“ I am sure he was, ” he bit out, before turning to leave. Old meddling goat! What was Albus playing at now? Severus could see this move clearly for what it was, his last discussion with the manipulative bastard still fresh in his mind. He had told Albus that before Hermione could learn about Harry’s condition, she would have to learn Occlumency. And it seemed like his friend had agreed to do just that. Fuck.
It looked like his research in the Room of Requirement would have to wait a bit longer, because it looked like a visit to the Headmaster was in order. If he found out the man was trying to manipulate Hermione in some way, he would choke him. Hermione was his and he would not allow her to become the old man’s chess piece. “ Good night, then ,” he said, his voice sounding colder than he had anticipated.
Hermione did not comment on it though. She only wished him good night, her eyes glistening with emotions he could not decipher.
“What do you think you’re doing, old man?” Severus sneered, while waltzing into the Headmaster’s office. Albus was sitting at his desk tinkering with one of his hundreds of inventions, that were scattered on almost every surface now. How could the man endure all this ticking and whirring all day without going mad?
“Ah, Severus,” the man said, his eyes twinkling knowingly. “I have been expecting you. Sit down, sit down.”
Severus huffed and sat down in front of the man’s desk, his black eyes staring at him calculatively. “Miss Granger said you will be teaching her Occlumency.”
“I will,” Albus said, an almost amused smile playing on his lips. “We both established the girl would have to learn, before she can learn more. But I also explained to her, that she will want to protect you, in case your connection ever becomes common knowledge. I am sure you are aware that it is only a matter of time before people will notice. This castle is full of very observant people and bored portraits.” Albus smiled, and Severus needed all his self-control not to sneer at him. That old fool really needed to learn to mind his own fucking business.
“Doesn’t mean you need to be the one teaching her. She’s mine , Albus. I should be the one allowed to do it,” he said, staring at the man with a hard expression. But at that Albus’ eyes only seemed even more amused.
“Actually I did suggest that you could be the one teaching her. I assumed she would jump at the possibility of being tutored by you. Interestingly she was most adamant that you should not be the one teaching her. Therefore I offered myself as an alternative and she accepted, if very reluctantly,” Albus explained with a twinkle in his eyes.
Severus stared at the man with a dumbfounded expression. “I don’t understand…” he said, while his mind already began to mull over the possible reasons why Hermione had rejected him as an instructor.
Albus smiled knowingly. “I imagine there is something she does not want you to find out, Severus. Has there been a recent misunderstanding between you? Has something happened?”
Severus found Albus’ blue eyes studying him with an intensity that was almost uncomfortable. “Yes. No. Maybe,” he said, their shared dream and its consequences instantly coming to his mind. Fuck. He had not thought she still had problems with that little encounter. He needed to talk to her, as soon as the chance arose. Until then he needed to work harder on his skills for lucid dreaming. Hopefully, Hermione would feel more comfortable in his presence again, as soon as she did not have to fear sharing another awkward dream with him again.
Hermione was terribly nervous when she approached the Headmaster’s office the following evening after dinner. Even though Professor Dumbledore had assured her that she would be allowed to use his Pensieve, she felt nervous about having him in her head, especially after the things Harry had told her about his own Occlumency lessons with Severus. True, Severus had never been one for coddling his students, but who said that it would not be the same with the Headmaster? She did not know his teaching methods, his motives, or, well… him. Was he really as cold-hearted and calculating as Severus described him? It was possible, which made her dread this lesson even more. But it did not matter; having Professor Dumbledore in her mind was still better than having Severus discover her feelings for him - her ungratefulness . She did not want to ruin what they had and if she could only do that by keeping her attraction to him a secret, then so be it.
“Ah, Miss Granger. Do come in,” Albus Dumbledore invited her as soon as she had reached the end of the staircase leading into his office. “You are precisely on time, as always.”
Hermione stepped into the room, noting that it was strangely devoid of all the strange objects that were usually scattered on several surfaces. Today they were all packed away, so that the room was strangely silent. “Thank you, Sir,” she said, sitting down on the comfortable chair in front of the man’s desk. “I must admit that I am a bit nervous about today, Sir. It is just that the prospect of having somebody else in my head is a bit…”
“Frightening? I can imagine,” the old man said with a kind smile. “But I can reassure you, my dear; I will not enter your mind today. First, we will make sure you have all the knowledge you need. I am sure you have already informed yourself of what will be required of you to do.”
Hermione nodded, a shy smile on her lips. “I have indeed. The theory is very fascinating, Sir, and I did try to implement it in the past. But don’t think I was very successful.”
“I am sure your talent for self-organization will have you pick up the necessary techniques in no time. We will use today’s lesson to broaden your knowledge and afterwards I will tell you about possible ways to hide your secrets and thoughts,” the Headmaster said, pushing up the half-moon-glasses on his crooked nose. “So tell me, Miss Granger. What do you think is the most important thing when one wants to occlude one's mind?”
Hermione thought for a long moment, several possible answers rushing through her mind. But finally, she said: “I think it is self-control, Sir.” And when she saw the Headmaster’s encouraging smile on his lips, she started to explain why that was.