The portrait door swung open wildly and Harry stormed in with a murderous look on his face. Hermione and Ron looked up from where they had found a quiet corner of the Gryffindor common room.
"That doesn't look good." Ron muttered as Harry spotted them and made his way over.
"I take it your lesson with Snape didn't go very well…again?" Hermione asked as Harry slumped down into an armchair next to Ron.
"I'm never gonna learn anything with that greasy git!" Harry huffed. "He doesn't even help! Just keeps telling me that I'm not trying hard enough."
Hermione frowned in concern. Getting Snape to teach Harry Occlumency really hadn't been Dumbledore's best idea. He might be a brilliant Occlumens, and admittedly he could be a decent teacher when he wanted to be, unfortunately, he appeared to have a blind spot of rational thought when it came to Harry Potter. Hermione had often noted that Severus Snape couldn't look past his own big nose in order to see Harry clearly.
"Hermione…" Harry's voice pulled her out of her reverie. "Do you think you could teach me some of your Occlumency techniques."
"Sure, Harry. Though I'm not sure how far they'll get you."
"I was thinking that, perhaps, as there's two of us, we could practice against each other? Just like we do with other attack and defence spells in DA."
"Oh. Um sure, I guess we could try it." Hermione nodded her assent.
"Ron, you could learn too." Harry said, making sure that his friend didn't feel left out.
"Umm…er…that's alright, I don't really fancy having anyone shifting around in my head and reading my thoughts." A slight blush rose on his cheeks. "Besides I can use the time to do some Quidditch practise. I'm sure Fred and George wouldn't mind helping me."
"Right, it's settled then. Hermione, if you're free we could start tomorrow morning before your detention with Snape?" Harry said, looking much calmer than when he had first walked into the common room.
"Sure." Hermione agreed.
"Legilimens!" Hermione saw Harry playing Wizard's Chess with Ron. She started to shift through the memories, trying to remain on the surface without pushing to deeply. She saw Harry flying on a broom and felt his exhilaration. She looked on as he walked down Diagon Alley with Hagrid on what must have been his first trip there. She saw herself with Ron and Harry, just laughing together like normal kids their age. She saw a DA meeting, where Harry was successfully teaching them the patronus charm. She watched as Harry leaned forward and kissed Cho Chang. Suddenly Hermione felt the barriers come down and she was pushed out of Harry's head.
"Harry, you did it!" She shrieked, jumping up and down. Harry was panting slightly with the effort of his achievement but his face was plastered with a wide smile.
"Yeah…I guess I did."
"Harry, that was brilliant, you finally managed to block me out. Next time I'll push a little harder. That way we can train you up."
"Sounds good." Harry responded, feeling proud. "Ok, let's swap again. Ready?"
"Sure." Hermione took a deep breath and emptied her mind, just as she had done 3 times previously this morning as they had taken turns to penetrate each other's minds. Her mental barriers took the form of a room where all the walls are one-way mirrors, like those of a police interview room. In her head the mirrors formed a solid obstruction that an attacker could not pass; she could look at them from the other side of the mirrors, but they could not see her. She made sure her defense was safely in place before Harry cast the spell.
Hermione saw Harry standing in her room of mirrors. She could feel him pushing the barriers, more so than he had done in their practice so far. He continued to try and find a weakness in her walls and only when she started to tire did she make the effort to push him out of her head completely.
"Wow, Hermione. How do you do that?" Harry asked once his consciousness was again in his own head.
"It's just a case of practise I suppose, you'll get there. Besides you were a lot closer to breaking in that time; I could feel you pushing the boundaries."
"Really? I did push a lot harder that time, but I wasn't sure if I was getting anywhere."
"No, you really were. It was good. You ready to go again?" Hermione asked.
"Ok. Just let me clear my mind." Hermione watched as Harry closed his eyes and took deep breaths.
"Ready?" At Harry's nod of assent Hermione lifted her wand. "Legilimens."
Hermione saw a flash of memory but this time Harry's mental barrier came down much quicker. Harry's barriers were much different from Hermione's. Where Hermione created mirrors, Harry had formed a big steel shutter that, while less elegant, was just as imposing. This time Hermione didn't back down. Instead she pushed against Harry's steel shields. After a few moments she felt his blockade weakening and with an extra shove with her magical power managed to break through.
Now she saw Harry standing in front of what must have been the Mirror of Erised, his parents standing next to him in the reflection. Hermione, feeling that this was too personal to intrude on, tried to move on. Next she saw Harry younger than she had ever seen him. He was being beaten up by another much larger boy and though Hermione could see that Harry's uncle and aunt were nearby they did nothing. Hermione saw a young Ginny lying cold and pale on a stone floor with a black, leather-bound book nearby and Harry shaking her limp form to no avail. And then memories were hitting Hermione faster than she could control.
Harry facing Quirrel possessed by Voldemort when he was just 11. Harry running down to the lake to save Sirius from the Dementors' kiss only to be attacked himself. Harry being thrown in a cupboard when he was only 5 or 6. Harry watching Cedric Diggory die at the hands of Voldemort. Hermione heard a woman's piercing scream and finally wrenched herself from Harry's mind.
"Shit, Harry, I'm so sorry." Hermione panted trying to catch her breath. "I didn't mean to push that hard. Those memories just came flying at me."
She looked at Harry whose shoulders were rising and falling heavily as he audibly sucked in air. His face was ashen and Hermione noticed his hands shaking slightly. She too was shaking. All of the memories she saw were things that she had known happened but had never seen before with her own eyes. Then to have them all thrown at her in one go was a major shock to her system. Worst of all had been that she could feel Harry's own emotions that were attached to every memory as she viewed them.
"It's okay. I know you didn't mean to." Harry said quietly. "Wasn't your fault."
For a minute or so there was only silence. Neither said anything and all that could be heard were their trembling breaths.
"Harry, are you okay?" Hermione finally asked.
"Yeah." Harry nodded. "You?"
Hermione nodded even though she didn't feel okay.
"I guess we should do you again. Then we can go find Ron and go to lunch." Harry offered.
"Sure. Sounds good."
Hermione desperately tried to calm down enough to clear her mind, which wasn't easy in her shaken state. After all she had seen, she was feeling vulnerable instead of calm and collected. She barely had her mirrors in place before Harry spoke.
This time Harry pushed hard. Hermione could sense that her walls, in their already weakened state, would not be able to take the pressure of this attack. Suddenly, her mirrors smashed and Hermione felt Harry's presence shifting through her mind.
Hermione started to panic, and, as a result, all the memories that she least wanted Harry to see came to the forefront of her mind; playing like movies on a cinema screen to their enraptured audience.
Hermione saw herself staying alone in muggle London for the last few weeks of holiday when she had told Harry that she had been on a trip with her parents. Then as if her life was playing in reverse she saw herself on the Knight Bus with her trunk and then her dragging her trunk out of her own front door and down the garden path. As she watched, Hermione felt every emotion she had felt when the memories were made; loneliness, hurt, despair, anger. And with these emotions came an uncomfortable feeling that someone who shouldn't be there was watching everything unfold.
Hermione saw herself in the attic looking through her mother's diary and the realisation that her secret would soon be revealed had her gathering all the strength she needed to force Harry out of her mind. Harry was thrown back into his own body with so much force that he stumbled backwards into the wall of the Room of Requirement where they were practicing.
His eyes were wide as he spluttered, "What the bloody hell was that?"
Hermione couldn't answer. She didn't have the words to answer him and the adrenaline pumping around her body was making her dizzy. Hermione's eyes filled with tears as she remembered the time when she had run away from home.
Seeing how upset she was, Harry approached her and put his arms around her in comfort. They stayed like that for a while as Hermione calmed down and composed herself enough to leave Harry's embrace. At that point Harry felt confident enough to speak. "Hermione, I'm not sure what exactly I just saw." He started cautiously. Hermione sent him a pleading look that begged for him to leave it alone, but he couldn't. "It was this summer wasn't it?" Hermione nodded silently. "You said you were in London with your parents, but you weren't. You were on your own." Again Hermione nodded. "You ran away from home?"
Hermione shook her head slightly. "I can't tell you."
"What? Hermione!" Harry's concern mounted. "What could possibly have happened that you would run away from your parents?"
"I found something." She paused. "Discovered something that my parents had kept from me. – Something big." She looked at Harry seriously. "I can't tell you what it was; I just want to forget about it. I wish I'd never found out, but at the time I was so angry with my parents for hiding it from me that I just packed my stuff and legged it."
"Why didn't you tell us? You could've gone to The Burrow or to Headquarters once you knew we were there. Why didn't you come to us?"
"I knew that as soon as my parents found I had gone they would get in touch with Dumbledore, and the first place he would check would be with you and Ron. Besides I didn't want anyone to know. Didn't want any questions."
"Dumbledore never asked us." Harry said.
"No. I imagine that after he had established that I wasn't with you at Grimmauld Place, he assumed that you either didn't know where I was or else wouldn't tell him anyway out of loyalty to me."
"Has Dumbledore spoken to you about it since school started?" Harry asked.
"Oh yes. That first night when Snape said I had to go see Dumbledore was like the Spanish Inquisition; Dumbledore, McGonagall and Snape. He was surprised I'd turned up at all; thought I'd done a bunk for good. Mostly, he just kept badgering me to go and speak with my parents. Kept that up all term. Though I told him if he forced me to speak with them, I'd leave and get a place at Beauxbatons."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "You wouldn't really?"
Hermione shrugged. "I knew he wouldn't risk it."
"So…have you made up with your parents yet?"
"Sort of." Hermione answered. "We are talking now…or sending letters at least. It's difficult though. They keep wanting to know why I left and I just want to forget the whole thing happened."
"So your parents don't even know that you know the big thing they were hiding from you?" Harry asked.
Hermione shook her head. "Nope. No-one knows and that's exactly how I want to keep it. Also, Harry, you can't tell anyone what I've told you today. Not even Ron."
"But-" Harry started.
"Please Harry?" Hermione begged.
"Fine. But can you promise me something?"
"Promise me that you'll try to make things up properly with your parents. I don't want to sound patronising, but I'd give anything to have my parents back. You have yours and it kills me that you're wasting time that you could have with them. I'm sure your parents love you and I know you love them, so don't waste it."
"You're right." Hermione nodded solemnly. "I promise."
After a quick and quiet lunch with Harry and Ron, where Ron wondered why the others were so subdued, Hermione made her way to Snape's classroom. Looking in her pocket mirror she knew she looked bad. Her eyes were still puffy and tired from crying and her whole face was drawn from the emotional exhaustion of the morning. The last thing she needed now was 3 hours with Snape on her back.
Hermione knocked on the door and it swung open of its own accord. As usual she went and stood in front of his desk to await instructions, while Snape continued to scribble on parchment.
As Severus came to the end of an essay, he looked up and was mildly shocked by Granger's appearance. She looked awful. Her face was so pale and her eyes tired that Snape could only assume she was not well.
Looking at her in scrutiny, Snape asked with narrowed eyes, "Miss Granger, are you ill?"
Taken aback by his blunt questioning, Hermione answered rather rudely. "No."
"Then perhaps you did not sleep well last night?" The professor questioned.
Irritated by his questioning and obvious scrutiny of her appearance, Hermione answered through gritted teeth. "I'm fine." Then, at Snape's raised eyebrow, added in a false sweet tone, "Sir."
"Watch your attitude, Granger." Snape glared at her. "You'll be cleaning cauldrons for today's detention. Get to work."
Hermione sighed. It was going to be a long afternoon.