Severus Snape stormed through the empty corridors of Hogwarts, glad in the back of his mind that the students were primarily in class at this time of day, but regretful even so that they were, as he could not intimidate and terrorize them as he passed by on his way to the headmaster’s office.
At length he arrived at the gargoyle guarding the entrance and snarled the password, waiting impatiently for the second it took for it to leap out of the way and allow him access. He stepped onto the staircase, snarling until it began to twist upward, and wondered what it was this time that the old fool wanted of him. That strange feeling in his gut was hardly reassuring, as it had always before been a signal to him that Albus was ‘up to something’.
He rapped sharply on the door to the office and whipped it open without bothering to wait. Striding through, he kicked it shut with his heel and stomped over to a chair and sat down heavily. When he looked up he saw the genially smiling face of Albus, and groaned internally at the infuriating twinkle in the old man’s eyes. Yes, indeed, he was in for it again.
“Ah, Severus. So glad to see you looking so well. Sherbet lemon?”
Severus snarled and shook his head in negation, crossing his arms over his chest as though to ward off whatever was coming.
“No?” asked Albus, looking a touch sad. “Well then, on to business! I have,” he said, pausing dramatically, “a task for you.”
“I figured as much. What is it now?” Severus snapped out ungraciously.
“It’s about Harry,” said Albus cheerfully, then continued after seeing Snape’s scowl deepen. “This is, I’m afraid, a very serious matter. Harry must be trained. Occlumency is now, even more so than in the past, a necessity. We cannot allow his mind to stay unprotected any longer.”
“And I suppose you expect me to be the one to achieve this miracle,” Severus replied flatly.
“I have complete faith in you, Severus.”
“Albus, the boy is a menace. He’s uncontrollable! I don’t see how you expect me to get it through his thick skull that he needs to set aside his silly whims and actually work at something for once in his life.”
“Now, now, Severus. I realize that the two of you have problems relating to one another, but I think if you simply took the time to know Harry, and not the image, you’d feel a bit differently about things.”
“I cannot for the life of me imagine how. The brat thinks only of himself, and has no problems whatsoever in leading others to danger or death. I highly doubt there is anything in that excuse for a brain I could possibly find interesting.”
“That’s part of the problem, Severus. You have never seen anything other than what you wished to. But again, I will insist. You must train him in Occlumency.”
“The little brat will only come crying to you if I train him properly, claiming Merlin knows what,” Severus shot back.
“He did not do so last year. I doubt he will this year. However, this year you must not and will not allow the lessons to stop. You will use any means necessary to get him trained. I don’t care what you have to do, so long as he isn’t harmed, or broken. He must be ready.”
“Anything, Albus?” Severus asked.
“You know I trust you, Severus. Use whatever method or methods it takes. Negative reinforcement, so long as it’s not harmful. Positive reinforcement, if you think it will motivate him. Though, I do think you should back off a little in public with your treatment of him. If he could come to trust you even a little it would make things easier. And naturally, I will not allow you to use anything you might see in his memories against him . . . such as past deeds or adventures.”
Severus snorted, loudly. “Is that all, Albus?”
“Almost. Here is a copy of Harry’s schedule this year, along with his practices filled in. Pick at least two times a week to meet with you for at least an hour or two each time. More sessions if you think it’s best. Just be sure to leave him time for his matches and homework and studies. Oh, and of course, you’ll want to send him a message with the days and times once you’ve decided.”
“Fine,” Severus said as he took the parchment Albus held out to him. “I’ll just be off, then, to contemplate my doom.” He stood as Albus laughed merrily and left with a low growl.
His return to the dungeons was much like his earlier walk. His robes billowed out behind him, snapping as he turned corners quickly. When he reached his office he threw himself into the chair behind his desk and spread the parchment out in front of him.
He had thought that with the failure of Potter to get into his NEWT level Potions class he’d seen most of the last of the insufferable brat. So naturally, Albus had interfered in order to assure that was not the case after all. He’d had three blessed weeks without having to deal with Potter, only seeing him at meals and occasionally in the halls. Three blessed weeks now shot to hell by the interfering menace of a headmaster.
He pushed his hair back roughly and focused on the schedule on his desk, eyes flicking across the empty spots to see when he could best fit in the Occlumency lessons. Not that he cared if the boy objected to what he chose; he was being forced, so the boy could hardly complain if he felt the same.
Eventually he opened a drawer and pulled out a fresh sheet of parchment, slapping it onto the desk and reaching to uncap his inkwell and grab a quill. He dashed off a short note to inform Potter that he was expected each Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday evening at 7 pm for a resumption of his Occlumency lessons by order of the headmaster, in the Potion Master’s office.
After scribbling his name at the bottom, he dried the ink, folded the note and placed it in an envelope, finishing it off by scrawling Potter’s name on the outside. Severus whistled sharply and gave the envelope to his raven, instructing him to deliver it immediately. When the bird was gone he slumped back in his chair and sighed.
Potter arrived a few minutes early on the following Wednesday, and sidled into the room uncomfortably after Severus opened the door at his knock. Severus closed and warded the door against use, then cast an imperturbable charm on it, finishing up by casting a silencing charm on the room. Turning, he looked coldly at the boy.
“Sit,” he snapped, pointing at the chair and desk he’d placed in front of his own. As Potter obeyed he strode to his desk and picked up a thick book, then turned and slammed it onto the desk the boy sat at.
“For the next two hours you will read. Take any notes you feel are necessary, because you will be tested on this next session. There will be no questions. Do you understand, Mr Potter?”
Severus could tell from the mulish expression on the boy’s face that he was holding back a retort. He could only assume the boy had gone to Albus and pleaded for a way to get out of this, and been denied. Severus could just imagine the things Albus had had to say, and sneered at the idea of Potter not getting his way like usual.
“Good,” he said. “Now begin. I will inform you when time is up.” Severus walked around his own desk and sat down, leaning back in his chair for a moment. He cast a subtle charm to let him know when he could send Potter back to his own territory, then sat forward and began marking papers from his class.
Scarlet ink bled across the students’ papers as he worked his way through them, cursing under his breath at the stupidity of children. So many of them, and yet so few who had any real knack for potions. Even so, his mind kept wandering to the boy before him, head bowed over the book he read, or turned slightly to the side as he scratched out lines on parchment.
A pretty child, but that was all Severus could say for him. Far too much like his wretched father, and no doubt the boy knew it, what with everyone constantly telling him how much they looked alike. Foolish people praising the boy for his stupidity, his rashness, his recklessness, his arrogance, and his utter lack of regard for the safety and well-being of others.
Severus wanted to snort, but held it in so as not to alert the boy, and went back to marking the current paper. But then, his mind wandered again a few minutes later, sizing the boy up mentally and idly thinking of ways to put him in his place once and for all. He still didn’t know what the prophecy was about, but he’d be damned if he agreed with anyone that Potter was the answer to their troubles.
Eventually, after many papers were slashed through with scarlet, his alarm went off and he lifted his head in relief. He uncast the charms on the door and room quietly.
“Potter, desist.” When the boy had looked up he said, “Leave the book exactly as it is and gather your things and be gone. You’ve wasted enough of my time for one evening.”
He watched as the boy carefully rolled up his notes and stuffed them in his bag, then stiltedly left the room. Only then did Severus stand up and check to see where Potter had been interrupted in his reading. He sneered; the boy read not fast enough for his tastes. It would take a number of evenings before he would be finished with the text.
He carefully marked the place and closed the book, returning it to his own desk before vanishing the furniture he’d made for Potter.
Lessons from then on, until Potter finished the text, went much the same. Each session started with a test on the chapters the boy had finished, checking retention and comprehension, while Potter continued reading. Though Severus would never admit it, he tempered his normally vicious remarks when grading the boy’s tests.
Potter was actually doing quite well, though it remained to be seen if that held true in practice. As much as Severus might wish to take out his anger on the boy, he also wanted to get these lessons over with as quickly as possible and once again have the brat out of his hair. On the day of his final test he let the boy go when he’d completed it, warning him that the next lesson would begin his practicals.
Potter sidled in again, sideways like a crab, much to Severus’s disgust. When the protections were set, and after a last glance to make sure the cupboard containing his pensieve was locked, he turned toward his charge.
“I trust that in anticipation of this lesson you have been practicing the clearing of your mind whenever possible, especially at night before you attempt to sleep,” he stated, eyeing the boy carefully, “and have been doing the other mental exercises you studied in the text.”
Potter nodded, then spoke up when Severus arched his brow. “Yes, sir.”
“We shall see just how well you’ve succeeded. Clear your mind now and nod when you’re ready.”
After several moments the boy nodded, and Severus hissed out, “Legilimens!”
He felt at first the boy’s resistance, like a mental wall from which he hoped to hide behind. But it was badly constructed, with crumbling mortar and split bricks which allowed him the opportunity to slide his way through cracks and holes. Once inside the protections he sought after memories of things he knew the boy would never answer on if questioned about.
He waited as a series of memories flashed by, then latched on to one in particular; Potter was sitting on the floor of what looked like a bathroom with his two friends talking as the girl added lacewings to a cauldron. He was just beginning to focus on what the trio were saying when he felt the boy finally reacting, rudely pushing him out of his mind.
Severus took a step back and straightened. “Potter, while I can see that you have been putting at least a modicum of effort into your preparations and defenses, they are without a doubt horribly weak. It took far too long for you to even start resisting the penetration.”
He paused long enough to note the boy’s clenched fists. “I should not have gotten so far. Shall I tell you the physical analogue of your defenses, Potter?”
The boy hesitated for a moment, then said, “Yes, sir,” in a low voice.
“An extremely shoddy brick wall. Cracks, chinks and holes, letting in anyone persistent enough to try. Merlin forbid you decide on a career as a bricklayer, lest we all see stories in the Daily Prophet on the frequent collapse of your creations.”
Potter flushed slightly and he continued. “Again! Prepare yourself and nod when you are ready.”
The remainder of the session went not much better. While Severus could see that Potter’s mental wall improved fractionally each time they repeated the exercise, it was clear to him that it would never withstand the attack of someone determined. Or at least, not without a great deal of time.
He dismissed the boy with relief and headed to his quarters to collapse on his couch with a glass of firewhiskey.
When Potter returned for his next lesson, Severus had already decided to try something different. “Sit!” he barked, then waited for the boy to obey. “You and I will be having a little fun today, Potter,” he said, watching as green eyes widened in apprehension or alarm.
“You are going to prepare your defenses, and then I will be asking you a series of questions. Call it a game, if you will. You can answer however you like; some of the questions are intended to throw you off guard. I will determine whether or not you are lying, and you will tell me if I’m correct. Clear so far?”
“Yes, sir,” was the boy’s quiet reply.
“As I’m sure you well remember, a Legilimens can tell if a person is lying, so the stronger your defenses are, the better chance you have to fool me. So, prepare!” he barked, “and nod when you feel ready.”
Then began a series of questions, lasting the entire length of the lesson. Severus kept his eyes locked onto the boy’s, resolving only to blink when it mattered not.
“Are you Harry James Potter?” A standard enough question, even under veritaserum questioning.
Severus nodded, as did Potter.
“Did you steal boomslang skin from my office in your second year?” Something he’d always wanted proof of.
Severus considered for a moment, his gaze intent, then said, “Truth.”
The boy nodded, though Severus had expected nothing less. He was, however, annoyed that the boy was not only being honest, but that he’d been able to see it to begin with. So much for the defenses of the mind. Still, it was a memory he could attempt to examine at leisure later on, to see the whole truth of the matter.
“Are you in love with Miss Chang?”
A slight hesitation, then, “False.”
The questioning continued for another five minutes, mundane and outrageous mixed, before Severus paused with a vexed sigh. “Potter, rest quietly for a few minutes and concentrate on your defenses. They are currently useless for this exercise! Shore them up for Merlin’s sake.”
As he waited, he thought. Perhaps the questions he was asking were not enough to trigger a marked response. Perhaps the questions he was asking were not things that discomfited the boy, things that he did not care enough about to want to protect.
“Potter,” he said, and continued when the boy’s eyes lifted. “Do you consider your home life normal?”
A strange expression flitted across the boy’s face before he said, “No, sir.”
“Truth.” The boy nodded, though with this type of questioning, Severus could not tell how to interpret the response. Never mind that he guessed on the answer that time; it was simple logic to assume the boy wouldn’t consider things normal.
“Is your favorite subject Charms?”
He paused again, trying to push aside the obvious answer sitting in his head and concentrating solely on the boy’s eyes and what was behind them. “Truth.” Potter nodded again.
Severus kept up the questioning for a full hour, pausing occasionally to let the boy try and work out a suitable defense, then unleashing another barrage of queries. He asked if his family loved him, if Miss Granger was his girlfriend, if the Dark Lord was invading his dreams, and if he was practicing every moment he could, and through all of it he could usually tell immediately.
Finally he said, “The wall you’re using is not something you’re comfortable with, that much is painfully obvious. If you cannot think of a way to make it less permeable, then consider a different method.”
“What is it? Have you already forgotten the many examples given in the text?”
“No, sir. I just wonder what you mean by permeable. I keep trying to plug up the holes you were talking about, but new ones appear instead.”
“Have you considered, Mr Potter, that brick and mortar might be fairly unstable? Much like the vines of ivy which creep up the side of a house by working tendrils into the cracks and widening them, thoughts can also pass through, whether in or out.”
Potter’s face twisted slightly, his brow puckering in thought.
“I’ll give you ten minutes to think about that and prepare. Then we’ll continue.”
By the time the lesson ended, the only times Severus could get the boy to close up was when he approached certain topics, usually those dealing with family, though in a few cases he had to try very hard on questions that for the life of him Severus could not figure out why’d they’d affect the boy so.
Over the next few days Severus spent a considerable amount of his free time investigating alternate methods of handling the situation, even going beyond standard wizarding solutions.
“No!” Severus shouted in exasperation after an hour of trying to break past the boy’s barriers. Each time he’d attempted it he could feel it getting easier and easier. “You didn’t even appear to be trying that time, Potter. Sit down right now and place your wand on the desk.” If he didn’t come up with something soon, Albus would have his head at their next meeting to discuss the brat. It was time to try something only a Squib would consider, or a muggle. He paced back and forth for a minute before halting in front of the boy.
“Good. Since you appear to be incapable of finding a suitable method of defense, you will try one of my own choosing. Close your eyes,” he said in a smoother tone of voice. “That’s right. Concentrate on your breathing as you listen to me speak.”
Severus lifted himself onto his desk so he could sit facing the boy and braced himself with his arms.
“Now I want you to imagine that you can see yourself sitting there, just as if you were looking through my eyes. Now, when I ask you any questions during this I want you to respond with only a yes or a no. Understood?”
Severus kept his voice quiet and even, letting no emotion colour his words. “Good. Now as you look at yourself I want you to consider several types of materials. First, you’ll think about cloth. Cloth is a flexible material, able to take some hits without being breached, but it will not hold up against a real attack, isn’t that right?”
“That’s right. Now remember to concentrate on your breathing as you listen to me, and as you imagine looking at yourself sitting there. So cloth wouldn’t be a very good choice of defense. Now you’ll think about bricks and mortar. They are able to withstand much more pressure, but sharp hits can chip off pieces of the blocks and create cracks. A good solid blow can cause them to disintegrate, isn’t that right?”
“Very good. Now think about metal. It can be very strong, and seamless. Things can slide right off it, or bounce, but it’s a very obvious kind of material. Anyone attacking it will know immediately that they’ve hit a barrier, won’t they?”
“That’s right. So I want you to think about foam, but not ordinary foam. Really thick foam like you’d find in a bath, but I want you to imagine that the foam is made from metal. A kind of material that can let things slide off it’s surface, but can also bend without breaking, to absorb things that hit it. Can you do that?”
This time there was a decided pause before Potter said, “Yes.”
“Good, that’s perfect. I want you to imagine that metal foam is forming a sphere around your mind, encasing and protecting your thoughts from outside interference. Can you do that for me?”
“Now I want you to imagine that you see someone else in the room with you, someone you don’t know. Imagine that he’s trying to attack your mind. But when he does, it just slides away, or sinks into that foam you have around your thoughts and feelings. He can’t get at anything at all. Are you able to see that?”
“Perfect. That’s good. Now, do you think that with this image in mind, you can practice with it every day and be ready for your next lesson with me so we can see how well you’re doing?”
“Excellent. You’re going to practice this every night before you go to sleep, and whenever else you think of it. I want you to remember how relaxed you feel right now whenever you think of that foam. How you’re able to just let attacks slide right off you, or be absorbed without harming you, all right?”
“Good. Now, I want you to open your eyes, gather up your things, and go back to your dorm and go to sleep. When you wake up in the morning you’ll feel refreshed.”
He watched as Potter slowly opened his eyes, rubbed them, then slipped his wand off the desk and into his robes. After a moment, Potter stood up, stooping slightly to grab his bag, then quietly left the room without another word.
Severus looked down at the floor. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. In fact, it could be quite useful for his personal agenda as well. He smirked and stood, then left his office, locking up behind him. It was strange, though, because if it worked it made little sense to him.
When Potter arrived three days later for the next lesson, Severus was very interested to see if the little exercise in creative visualization had had any effect. If it produced a marked effect, he knew exactly how he was going to conduct further lessons.
“Potter, I want you to sit down, wand on the desk.” When the boy had complied he asked, “Have you been practicing your defenses every day?”
“Lovely,” he replied with a hint of sarcasm. “Nod to me when you’re ready.”
Thirty seconds later the boy nodded, so Severus hissed, “Legilimens!”
After a few moments he could feel his attack dissipate, and knew that Potter had managed to retain the protections they’d discussed during the last lesson. The question then remained—would the boy be able to maintain it against repeated attacks of the same kind.
He continued his attempts to break into Potter’s mind for the next hour, taking careful note of the speed with which each was fended off. Every time they repeated the exercise, the boy’s defenses became weaker and weaker, and he carefully considered how to overcome that issue after having instructed Potter to rest for a few minutes.
It was important, he decided, despite his rampant dislike for the boy, that he remain calm if his ideas were going to work. Initially it would probably confuse Potter and make him distrustful, looking for the hidden catch or the surprise attack, but that wouldn’t matter after a while if Severus was successful.
“Potter, we’re going to try another visualization exercise,” he finally said. “The last time we tried it, you were able to clearly picture the kind of defenses I described. You were able to do so well enough that you could continue to do so for practice. However, over the past hour I think you’ve noticed that it’s been weakening. Correct?”
“So we’re going to go over what we did last lesson, and then discuss ways for you to keep it strong even through repeated attacks. Since you’re already sitting down, go ahead and close your eyes.” When the boy had done so, Severus continued in a calm, low tone. “Good. As you listen to my voice I want you to concentrate on your breathing. I want you to feel as the air is drawn into your lungs, and then as you exhale it back out.”
He sat down on his desk again and crossed his ankles, letting his hands rest on his lap. “Now, just like before I want you to imagine yourself in that chair, as though you’re looking at yourself through my eyes, or as though there’s a mirror in front of you so you can see your reflection. Are you able to do that?”
“Yes, sir,” the boy said after a few moments.
“Good. You may dispense with calling me sir or professor while we’re doing this. Just concentrate on how it feels to breath, and imagine how you must look sitting there with your eyes closed. As you do this you’ll probably begin to feel relaxed. That’s normal and it’s how you want to feel. Nod your head when you start to feel yourself relaxing. It will happen when you’re ready for it to happen, so do not be concerned if you don’t feel the need to nod right away.
“I want you to imagine the foam we talked about again, just like you did before. Very thick foam made from metal, slippery and absorbent. The more clearly you can see it in your mind, the more relaxed you’ll begin to feel. Nod your head when you start to feel yourself relaxing. You’ll feel relaxed because you know the foam can protect your mind from attacks, so the more clearly you can picture it, the more protective it will be for you.”
The corner of his mouth quirked up when he saw Potter’s head dip slightly, so he kept an especially close watch on the boy’s closed eyes.
“Good, that’s right. I know you’re able to picture it clearly because you’re relaxing. You feel safe because the foam is there to protect you, isn’t that right?”
Potter dipped his head again.
“You can see it very clearly, forming a sphere around your thoughts and protecting you. You can imagine how a mental attack would be absorbed right into the foam, making it stronger and helping you to maintain its strength, can’t you. Yes, that’s right. You can see how the energy someone might try to use against you is something you can use to stay strong against them. Are you able to imagine that?”
“Mmm,” mumbled Potter.
“Excellent. It makes you feel very relaxed, almost like you’re deeply asleep, doesn’t it?”
Severus was starting to notice movement beneath the boy’s closed lids and smiled to himself.
“Now while you hold that image in your mind, I want you to feel the air being drawn into your lungs, and then back out. And with every breath you feel more relaxed.”
Potter breathed deeply and evenly, his eyelids fluttering as though he was observing something; Severus decided it was time to try something a little different.
“Now, I think it would be beneficial for us both to set aside some negative associations, don’t you?”
The boy nodded again, slowly.
“Good. To help with that, why don’t we move beyond the names we’re accustomed to, and try something different. Would you object if I called you Haze while we continue with this exercise?”
Potter shook his head lazily.
“That’s good. I’m going to call you Haze, and you won’t associate that with anything negative. Haze, in a minute I’m going to ask you to open your eyes. I know that you can open them without leaving this peaceful, relaxed state, isn’t that right?”
Potter tipped his head forward, then back.
“That’s right. Haze, I want you to open your eyes for me, and you’ll stay peaceful and relaxed.”
Slowly the boy’s eyes opened; they were bloodshot, and began tearing slightly moments later, making them glisten.
“That’s very good, Haze. Are you still able to imagine the metal foam protecting your thoughts?”
He nodded, blinking slowly.
“You feel very good right now, don’t you. Very relaxed, and very safe. I want you to tell me if you like how you feel, Haze.”
“I feel good,” was the mumbled reply.
“Excellent. Would you like to play a little game, Haze? A game that will make it easier for you to feel like this again very quickly?”
“That’s right, you would. All right. Haze, whenever you hear me, and only me, say the phrase, ‘Haze, go under,’ you’ll feel an irresistible urge to return to this safe, relaxed state. Do you think you’d like that, Haze?”
“Yes,” Potter said, hissing a little.
“Good, Haze. So when I say, and only I say, to you, ‘Haze, go under,’ you’ll feel an irresistible urge to return to this safe, relaxed state. Would you like to play more of this game, Haze?”
He dipped his head in agreement.
“Very good, Haze. The next part of the game is this. Whenever you hear me, and only me, say the phrase, ‘Haze, go deeper,’ you’re going to feel twice as relaxed and safe, aren’t you. Isn’t that right, Haze?”
“That’s right. You like feeling like this, safe and protected. So when I, and only I, say to you, ‘Haze, go deeper,’ you’ll feel twice as relaxed and safe. You’re doing very well, Haze. You should feel proud of yourself.”
Severus checked the time and realized he needed to hurry this along; it was getting much too late.
“Haze, I want you to practice visualizing your protection every night. And I want you to practice whenever you think to do it during the day if you have spare time. I want you to remember that the sphere protecting your mind can absorb the energy of attacks thrown at you, and use it to make your sphere stronger. Will you do that for me, Haze?”
“Good, that’s very good. Now, Haze, there’s one more part of the game I think you should hear. Do you want to find out what it is?”
“That’s right, of course you do. Because the game is fun. Haze, from now on whenever you hear me, and only me, say the phrase, ‘Haze, wake up,’ you’re going to come fully awake. Do you understand me, Haze?”
“Good, that’s perfect. In a minute I’m going to wake you up, Haze, and when I do you’re going to gather up your things and head to your dorm to get ready for bed. You’re going to practice visualizing your defensive sphere, and then sleep. Do you understand me, Haze?”
“All right. Haze, you know that your sleeping mind is aware of everything I’m saying, correct?” He paused for a nod. “That’s right. So when you’re fully awake you don’t need to remember any of this, because your sleeping mind already understands. It’s all there, Haze. You won’t forget anything, and you won’t forget anything you’re supposed to practice on or the parts of the game I taught you. It’s all safely behind your defensive sphere, and your waking mind doesn’t need to consciously remember any of this. All that your waking mind needs to remember is that we practiced very hard on your defenses, and that you feel proud of yourself for doing so well. Do you understand me, Haze?”
“Good, Haze. You’re doing very well, so I think you should reward yourself after you’ve gone to sleep tonight by having a pleasant dream.”
Severus stood up and walked around his desk, then sat in his own chair. After dispelling the temporary wards on the door and room he said, “Haze, wake up.”
Potter blinked rapidly a few times and started gathering his things, nodding to Severus before he slipped out the door.
Severus leaned back with a sigh, using his wand to shut the door. It was, he thought with a measure of amazement, interesting that while Potter could not be controlled with Imperius, he was highly suggestible nonetheless. He would have to give ample consideration to what possibilities that offered.