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Occlumency, Day 1:

"This isn't working!" cried Harry irritably, frustrated.

"Try again," Snape ordered in that implacable tone.  "Take a deep breath and clear your mind."

Snape had been attempting to teach Harry the beginnings of Occlumency for almost two hours now, but so far all Harry had learned was how to become so frustrated he developed a headache.  Despite the professor's encouragement, he had failed to clear his mind or block out Snape's mental probes, and now every time Snape uttered the word "Legilimens!" he cringed mentally.

So far Snape had managed to see some of his earliest memories-of himself standing in the corner, watching while a three-year-old Dudley  opened twenty presents and ate birthday cake, and another time, watching Dudley ride his new bike while he was told to weed the garden, and the last time, when Marge's bulldog Ripper chased him up a tree. 

"Don't you see? I am trying.  It . . .just . . .isn't . . . working!" Harry bit out, his breath coming in ragged gasps.

"Stop.  You are getting overexcited.  You need to be calm when you Occlude."

"It's impossible!" the boy grumbled.  "Maybe you're doing it wrong."

Severus gritted his teeth.  It didn't help that deep down, he feared Harry's assessment was right.  He was in the dark here, trying to teach something that was as instinctive as breathing for him. He didn't need to think about how to Occlude, he just did it.  But hearing Harry criticize him that way, especially when he was trying his best, sparked his temper. 

"Get up," he ordered, restraining the impulse to yank the boy out of the chair.

Harry stood up.  "Now what?"

Severus took the chair and set it in the corner. "Sit there."

"What? You're . . .putting me in a corner? Severus, I'm not five, for Merlin's sake!"

Severus put his hands on his hips.  "Remember the Mentor Articles, young man? You agreed to abide by my instructions.  Now go and sit there."

Jaw clenched, Harry marched over to the chair facing the wall and practically threw himself down in it.  This was just . . .bloody embarrassing! How was punishing him like a little kid teaching him Occlumency?

Snape came up and put his hands upon his shoulders gently.  "Now, Mr. Potter.  Take a deep breath and stare at the wall. Think of nothing but the wall. Let the wall fill your mind.  Breathe . . .in and out . . .Look at the bricks in the wall. . .Become the wall, Harry. . . Nothing exists save the wall . . ."

Harry tried to do as Severus ordered, staring at the wall until he memorized the pattern of stones in it and then he felt himself start to drift, Severus's voice was so soft . . .almost hypnotic . . .it drew him down a misty tunnel . . .

"Breathe . . .one, two, three . . ."

Harry breathed . . .and the wall grew in his mind . . .then he felt a stab of pain in his left temple and he jerked up.

"Bloody damn hell!" he swore.

"You almost had it that time.  What happened?" Severus demanded, feeling exasperated by the half-progress they were making.

Harry rubbed his temple absently.  "Nothing.  My head hurts."

"Where? Do you need a Headache Remedy?"

"No.  They make me fuzzy."

"A common side effect." Severus sighed.  "Where does it hurt?"

"Left side.  Why?"

Severus set his hands on Harry's temples.

"Hey, what are you doing?" he yelped as Snape began to massage.

"Sit still, please.  Put your head back and try and relax.  You're too tense, no wonder you can't clear your mind."

Unaccustomed to an adult male touching him that way, Harry stiffened.  But Severus kept on massaging, and gradually the repetitive gentle yet firm motion caused Harry to relax in spite of himself. 

Severus continued massaging for another five or six minutes, then asked, "How do you feel now?"

"Good.  It's gone now."

The hands returned to settle on his shoulders.  "Now, let's start over.  Look at the wall."

Harry tried again, focusing on the wall, but for some reason he couldn't concentrate, and the wall slipped from his consciousness when Severus cast the Legilimency spell on him. 

Within two minutes, Severus was inside his head and seeing the memory of Dudley shoving him head-first into the toilet at primary school.

No! Not that memory! Get out of my head!

He thrust hard against the white mist that was Severus and suddenly the mist retreated and Harry blinked, gasping, and rubbed his eyes. 

"Not bad.  You knocked me out after a few moments, but you shouldn't have allowed me access in the first place.  What happened to the wall, Harry?"

"How the bloody hell should I know?" the teen asked sulkily.

"Mind your mouth, young man," reproved Snape, and there was an edge to his tone now.  "I will not tolerate being spoken to like that.  Swear at me again and I have a bar of soap for you to wash out your mouth."

"You . . .wouldn't!"

"Try me and find out."

Harry turned his head to look the other in the eye, and blanched when he saw the expression on his mentor's face.  "All right. I believe you now," he muttered.  "Sorry. It won't happen again." The last time he could recall getting his mouth washed out he'd been six, and had called Dudley a "bloody buggering whale from hell".  Petunia had not been amused.

Severus heaved a sigh, now he was developing a headache.  "Let us try this again, Mr. Potter."

But the more Harry tried, the worse it went, until he felt like banging his head into the wall and he was almost certain Severus wished to also.  "I don't understand why I can't do this!"

"Perhaps that's your problem.  You are trying too hard.  Why don't you take a break? Go and take a walk?"

"Can I go flying? As Freedom, I mean? Please?" Harry wheedled.  "That'll relax me better than anything, Sev."

Severus considered.  The boy really had been trying, he reflected.  Which was why it was so frustrating for both of them when he could not seem to grasp the concepts Snape knew intuitively.  Perhaps it had been a mistake to try and teach the boy this lost art? The Potions Master huffed.  No, Harry needed to learn this.  And Severus was the only one who could teach him, since the Headmaster was absent. 

"All right.  But only for an hour, mind.  Hunt, fly, and then return to me when I whistle.  Agreed?"

"Agreed.  Thank you, Professor!"

 Harry shot off the chair so fast one would have thought his backside had been set afire. 

In two blinks of an eye he had shimmered into his Animagus form, and flown up onto Snape's shoulder.  He was careful to grip the fabric gently so as not to hurt the Potions Master.

Severus started to walk out of his office and down the corridor, Freedom happily bobbing his head in time to Severus's footfalls.  The professor slipped out the secret passage and walked across the lawn, before pausing and letting Freedom launch himself from his shoulder into the air.

Severus watched as the red-tail spiraled up and up, until Freedom was just a speck in the twilight sky.  There was a wistful longing in the wizard's eyes as the hawk soared away upon an updraft.  What would it be like to fly, not upon a broom, but with wings? A true master of the air? What would it be like to become a hawk?

I never had time to seek my Animagus form before this . . .I have even less time now, but perhaps one day . . .I can study on it.  Of course, there is no guarantee that my Animagus form will be a bird.  You don't get to choose.  Your form is something that your magic chooses for you and no one knows why or how it decides upon the form.  Perhaps it has something to do with your inner spirit or your soul or whatever.  Severus mused as he walked about the grounds.  The fresh air and exercise helped his headache dissipate and he stretched his legs, walking rapidly down the familiar cobblestone way to Hagrid's thatched cottage, where he spotted Crabbe trying to give Fang a bath.

"Hold still, ya big idjit!" drawled the boy, struggling to keep the huge hound in the tub of soapy water. 

Fang barked and whined, trying to heave himself out, and the boy, despite his bulk, was hard pressed to keep the dog in the tub.

"Ah, be a good dog now, won't you?" Crabbe groaned, tugging Fang back down.  "Stay, ya big lump!"

Fang slurped the boy across the mouth and Crabbe choked.

"Aww! You're such a stupid . . .yuck . . .hound! Ya know that, dontcha?" He scolded, but he was grinning at the big dog, even though Fang was covered in soapsuds and drooling all over his shoes.

Severus suppressed a smile, it was rare he saw one of his Slytherins so content and well, happy.  Most of them put intense pressure upon themselves to succeed, and hardly ever took time to relax.  Clearly, Minerva's mentor program had been a good thing for all concerned.

"Hey, Vince, you almost done out there? I got tea on!" Hagrid bellowed, sticking his head out the window.

"Almost, sir! Jus' gotta rinse him off!" Crabbe yelled back, then turned to the dog and said, "Now, you behave, lad, an' stay!" He held a palm out upright in front of the dog's face.  "Fang, stay! Or else I'll Stick you to the tub, hear?"

The dog barked, wagging his tail.

Then Crabbe pointed his wand and a stream of water flowed out and rinsed the soap off the big hound neatly.  Fang shook and Crabbe threw an arm up to protect his face.  "Whoa! Take it easy! I'm not the one needin' a bath here!"

"Problems, Crabbe?" sneered Malfoy, coming upon the dog and the Slytherin from the direction of the Quidditch pitch. 

"Naw, he's just trying to get dry, is all," Crabbe explained, wiping his eyes.

"Is this what your so-called apprenticeship means? You're a . . .dog groomer, Crabbe?" Malfoy sniggered.  "Now that's a step up in the world."

Fang barked again, but this time he didn't sound so friendly. 

Crabbe banished the water and whistled.  The boarhound came over to him, and the boy spoke a Drying Charm.  Fang shook once more, than ambled over to the porch and lay down, giving Malfoy an unfriendly curl of his lip.

"What do you want, Draco?" Crabbe asked shortly.  "I'm kinda busy, in case you haven't noticed."

Malfoy laughed.  "Oh, I noticed, all right.  Must be a lot of work, giving a stupid dog a bath.  What else do you do, Vince? Curse off ticks? Clean out the thestral pen? Feed the chickens?   You know, Vince, when I was forced to work here, I imagined it was like working on a Muggle farm.  My estate bordered a farm and sometimes I would see the Muggle up at dawn, shoveling manure.  Do you do that too, Vince?"

"And if I do? So what? Animals need to be kept clean, same as people."

Draco rolled his eyes.  "You're so dense! I can't believe you want to do this.  It's so boring and useless."

"Not to me.  See you later, Malfoy." Crabbe said sharply, then he turned and walked into the cottage, leaving Malfoy gaping after him.

As Malfoy turned to go back towards the castle, Severus stepped into his path.  "Mr. Malfoy, a word with you."

Malfoy started.  "Professor! I didn't see you!"

"No, since you were too busy sneering at your Housemate," began the Potions Master.

The blond boy went pale, realizing that Snape had overheard everything.  "Umm . . .well, sir , I was just . . .giving Vince some pointers . . ."

One eyebrow rose.  "Lying does not become you, Mr. Malfoy."

Draco gulped. "I-I . . .wasn't, sir.  Not really.  I just think Vince is . . .wasting his time and his talent serving that oaf, Hagrid.  I mean, all he knows is animals and hunting and what good's that going to do Vince when he finishes school?"

"I was not aware, Malfoy, that it was any of your business what Mr. Crabbe did after he finished Hogwarts.  Nor should you be putting down another student, especially not a member of your own House.  What is the first rule of Slytherin House?"

Malfoy squirmed.  "To . . .present a united front, sir."

"Correct.  And would you call what you just did presenting a united front?"

"No, sir."

"And furthermore, you shall not speak disrespectfully about a teacher, Malfoy.  I don't care what you think of him personally or his teaching methods in general, you will keep a civil tongue in your head, Malfoy, or else you will be back scrubbing the House dormitory on your hands and knees until next year." Snape hissed, his eyes flashing.  "Am I clear?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good.  Get back to your common room, Malfoy, and I want an essay-two feet of parchment, on respecting your teachers and your fellow students. To be handed in tonight."

"But . . .but . . .sir . . .!"

"Now, young man, or shall I make it four?" threatened Snape silkily.

Malfoy shook his head and fled up the path.

Severus sighed.  He had hoped his detention would have knocked some of the arrogance out of the blond boy, but apparently not.

Guess you told him, huh, Severus?

The professor looked up at the soft cry and saw Freedom circling above him lazily.

Snape checked his watch and found that Freedom still had about fifteen minutes left and waved the hawk away.

Freedom gave a quiet screech and then spun on a wingtip and headed off to the left of the lake.  Sometimes ducks nested there and he was hungry again.  Flying often worked up an appetite. 

As he glided above the Black Lake, his raptor sight fixed upon the rushes, Freedom thought about how much he loved flying this way, soaring high above the world, upon the breeze.  He had missed being able to fly, as a hawk he was one with the wind and nothing, not even riding a broom, could match it. 

He hovered and then his eyes caught a flicker of movement.

Instantly, he was alert, all the muscles in his body trembling with eagerness.

There! An unwary wood duck had just emerged from the rushes and was waddling down towards the water, oblivious to the red-tail above.

Freedom circled, then waited until the duck was just to the waterline before he stooped.

The duck attempted to fly, but had barely spread its wings before Freedom was on it, breaking its neck in one neat swoop.

The hawk gave a quiet kree-eauk! of triumph before bending his head to eat. 

At first, Freedom wasn't sure if he could eat the duck, but then instinct took over and he found he was able to enjoy his quarry as much now as he ever had before regaining his identity.  To a hawk, food was food, and duck was delicious.

Severus had seen Freedom stoop and catch the duck, and he allowed the Animagus to finish his snack before whistling him back in. 

To his surprise, the hawk returned immediately, sitting on his shoulder and daring to nibble on his hair! "Stop that! Before I summon a brush and take it to that awful disgrace you call hair."

Freedom squawked indignantly.   Ah, now that's below the belt, Severus!

But he quickly stopped nibbling, instead sitting up proudly like Osiris the Falcon God in an Egyptian relief. 

Snape waited till they were inside the school before ordering Freedom to transform back.

Harry stood in front of him, a questioning look on his face.  "Are we going to continue lessons now?"

"No.  I think it best if you practice some more breathing techniques and wait till next Monday to resume lessons.  For now, why don't you finish your homework and then study some more for your OWLS?"

Harry groaned, it seemed like all he did lately was homework and studying.  But Severus had made up a schedule where he studied for one to two hours and did homework as well for at least an hour in the evenings before bedtime.

"Homework obsessed bat," he muttered under his breath.

Or he thought he did, until he felt Snape's hand descend upon his shoulder.  "Excuse me? Did I just hear a certain apprentice volunteer to scrub the obsessed bat's bathroom with a toothbrush before going to bed tonight?"

"No . . .sorry, Professor Snape."

"I didn't think so.  Homework, Mr. Potter."

Harry went inside the Potion Master's quarters, wondering if the other apprentices had the same problems with their mentors?

* * * * * *

Occlumency, day 2:

Harry entered Snape's office that night feeling flush and happy.  Gryffindor had won their unofficial match against Slytherin and Harry had finally wiped that gloating smirk off of Malfoy's face.  He had also had a wonderful lesson with McGonagall yesterday morning, and had been allowed to become Freedom for almost the whole hour and a half.  McGonagall had also told him that she was pleased with how well he was able to transform between hawk and human shape and that eventually, when he learned to summon the hawk side of his nature while in human form, he might also develop the ability to understand and speak with avians. 

Harry had been delighted.  It would be like having a permanent Hawk Speak potion, only better.  He had just come from the Owlery, stroking Hedwig and telling her about his day and feeding her treats.  His snowy had gently preened his hair and didn't nip his ear too hard for not visiting her in three days.  She seemed delighted that he was getting proper instruction in Animagus form, and had given him a love nip in farewell when he left.

He tapped on the door of Snape's office before being bidden to enter.

"Professor? I've collected the feathers you needed for the Featherlight Draft," Harry announced, handing the Potions Master the small satchel full of owl feathers, which had been his main reason for going to the Owlery, besides spending time with his familiar.

"Well done.  Set them down over there," Severus waved a hand at a corner of his desk.

Harry did so, then stood there, hands in the pockets of his robes, waiting to see what Severus had planned tonight. 

His mentor came around the desk and set two chairs facing each other, fairly close together.  "Sit down, Mr. Potter."

Harry did so, noting wryly that when Severus was in his professor mode, he became "Mr. Potter" again.  He supposed that was Snape's way of maintaining a professional demeanor.

Severus sat down in the opposite chair, they were so close that their knees brushed. 

"I have decided to try something a bit different tonight.  Something that may help you focus yourself a little better, it is an old technique used in some forms of meditation and hypnosis." He had wracked his brain trying to find an alternative to help Harry learn how to clear his mind and finally had paid a visit to the nearest public library, and read and took notes on several books on meditation and hypnosis.  "We are going to try counted breaths and matched breathing. Are you ready?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good.  First, I want you to close your eyes. Think of something pleasant, a sunny day, clouds, something you find relaxing. Fix the image in your mind. Do you have it?"

Harry nodded.  Being Freedom and flying upon an updraft in the clear blue sky was the most relaxing thing he could think of.

"Good.  Now, I want you to inhale gently, through your nose, and exhale out your mouth."

Harry did so.

"That is one breath.  Now, do it again, only this time hold it for five seconds.  I will count."

Harry drew in a breath and held it as Snape counted.

"Exhale.  That is two.  We will do ten breaths like this.  Again."

By the time all ten were completed, Harry felt very relaxed, and sleepy.

"Open your eyes, Mr. Potter."

Harry reluctantly slid his eyelids up. 

"Are you calm?"

"I think so.  I feel kind of sleepy, sir."

"As you ought to. Now, put a hand on your chest, over your heart." Snape instructed.

Harry placed a hand over his heart.  "Now what?"

"Feel your heartbeat. Feel the way the heart beats . . .steady and slow . . . Now take your other hand and put it on my chest, over my heart."

Tentatively, Harry reached out and laid his hand on Snape's chest.  Severus moved his palm slightly, until he could feel the beating of his mentor's heart beneath the black robes.  Ka-thump. Ka-thump.

"Okay.  This is . . .weird."

"It will get even stranger.  Now, I am going breathe and I want you to feel the way my chest rises and falls when I do so."

The professor inhaled and exhaled, and Harry could feel the way his chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm.  Severus breathed in and out several times then instructed Harry to breathe as well.  "See if you can match my breaths.  Together.  One.  Two. Three.  Breathe."

At first it felt odd, trying to breathe in tandem.  Harry felt a strange urge to giggle hysterically, after picturing Ron's face if he ever knew that Harry spent his time with Snape learning how to breathe together.  But he managed to squelch that desire.  Don't think about that, Harry.  Just breathe.  In and out.  Breathe like Severus.

"Very good.  See how your breathing is slowing down your heart rate? That's what you want.  I want you to enter a state of calm, you should feel relaxed, even a bit sleepy, and there should be nothing on your mind except the wall you stared at yesterday.  Focus on the wall, Harry.  Become it."

Severus's voice deepened, became soft and cajoling, hypnotic in its intensity.

Harry let it wash over him and carry him away, down the misty tunnel beyond the wall.  I'm safe here.  Nothing can harm me.  No one can find me.  I'm safe.

Severus was certain the boy was tranced now and he gently touched the tip of his wand to Harry's temple. 

"Legilimens."

Snape's mind was met with a blank wall.  He probed, gently at first, and then harder.  The wall held, he could only discern surface thoughts.  Good.  This is the way the barrier should look at first.  Now, let me push a little, test for weaknesses. 

Harry could feel the other wizard testing the wall he had erected and he immediately shoved back, instead of remaining passive.  It was a mistake.  The wall bulged and Severus poked at it, and then it collapsed, and he was inside Harry's memories again.

Harry tried to reconstruct the wall, but he was too nervous and the calmness slipped from him. 

Once more he was in the graveyard in Little Hangleton, and Cedric was falling . . .landing on the ground with a thud right in front of his trainers, never to rise again in this world.

No! NO! NO-O-O! Cedric!

He screamed, or thought he did, and he could hear mocking laughter from somewhere as Wormtail grabbed him and shoved him against a headstone, binding him with magical ropes.

He struggled to no avail. 

A cauldron was set before him, smoking and bubbling with some foul brew and he writhed, desperate to get away . . .

"No! I don't want to see this again! Not again!" he screamed.  "Get out of my head, Snape! Get out! OUT!"

Suddenly he was back in the office, standing, his wand drawn, eyes wild.

Severus was shaking his hand, a slightly pained look on his face.  His wand was in his hand, but nonthreateningly.   "Mr. Potter . . .Harry . . .relax.  . ."  He reached out to touch the boy, but Harry jerked away as if Severus were the Dark Lord.

"Don't . . .don't touch me!  I don't want to learn Occlumency anymore, if this is what you see in my head . . ."

"Harry, what happened that night in the graveyard wasn't your fault-"

"NO! I don't want to talk about it!"

"I know you don't but you need to . . .or else you will never master Occlumency. And not learning it isn't an option.  If the Dark Lord ever learns of your vulnerability-"

Again, Harry cut him off.  "I don't care! He can go screw himself! I don't need to talk about it.  I just want to forget it . . .forget this . . .just . . .leave me alone!"

Before Severus could say anything further, Harry whirled and bolted from the office.

"Potter! Come back here!"

Harry ignored him and kept running.  There was a sickening feeling in his stomach and a tightening in his chest as he recalled that awful night. . .No, he wouldn't think about it.  He wouldn't.  He needed to get away, to escape . . .

"Potter, come here!"

That was the last thing he wanted to do.

Before he thought about it, he had exchanged  feathers for flesh and soared into the air. 

Like a brown and red streak, he shot away, his wings leading him unerringly to the Owlery. 

He flew out of the casement, startling Seraphina, who was eating a shrew, and Hedwig, dozing upon her perch after a day hunting voles. 

Freedom? What has happened? Where are you going? Hedwig hooted.

Away! Leave me be, Hedwig.  I just need . . .to be left alone.

Seraphina blinked her huge copper eyes.  I would say, Hedwig, that it is not wise.  Your fledgling is very agitated.  Too much to think straight.  And the Great Iron Bird preys sometimes on the unwary youngling.

Yes, I know.  I shall see if he will speak with me, and if not, will make sure he does nothing foolish, like flying too near the Forbidden Forest at this hour.

The snowy owl took wing, and soon caught up to Freedom, who was not flying with his usual grace, but somewhat erratically. 

Freedom? Slow down.  You are flying too near the forest.

Freedom slowed and glared at the other bird.  Go back home, Hedwig.  I don't need a bloody nursemaid! I told you . . .I just need to be left alone!

Oh? Well, the state you're in, you can't be trusted alone.  Hawks don't fly at night. The owl matched him effortlessly, her wingbeats soft and utterly silent.  What is troubling you, fledgling? You are upset.

Brilliant deduction there!

Mind that tone, or I shall teach you some manners! Hedwig warned.  She hovered just above him, and she was nearly twice his size, as was often the case with raptors-the female was larger than the male. 

Please, Hedwig, just go! I don't want to talk about it with you, or Severus, or . . .anyone! Okay?

Does Severus know you're out here?

Freedom did not answer, instead flying in spirals above the forest.

Freedom! Where are you going? Hooted Hedwig in alarm.

My glade.  It's safe there.

You never answered my question.  Does the professor know where you are?

No. He began his descent below the treetops.

Freedom! You transformed without letting him know? You're not supposed to do that! It's dangerous, especially when you're upset.

I'm fine.  Don't worry about me.

You must go back.  The forest is not safe at night. Go back to the castle!

He spun on her, hissing.  No! Now bugger off! Then he dove through the trees.

Hedwig hissed furiously and followed as quickly as she could.  But she lost him among the trees, the forest was hard to navigate here, even though she was a night flier.  She pulled up and flew away at last, thinking angrily that when she next saw her wizard, she would have much to say about his behavior.  Much to say!

Harry landed on a convenient branch in the secret glade Hagrid had shown him long ago. He huddled miserably upon the branch, wishing he had never agreed to practice Occlumency, and never allowed Severus to enter his mind. 

Meanwhile, Snape was searching for his errant apprentice, growing more angry and concerned by the minute.  At last, after his locator charm indicated Harry was not in the castle, he decided to search the grounds.  And the first place that he thought of was the glen, which was where Harry, like himself, seemed to go when he was upset.

Sure enough, he found Freedom perched upon the branch of a low hanging oak tree.  For a moment he felt a sharp sense of relief, then anger at what the boy had done surged through him. 

"Running away never solved anything, you know." Snape said sharply.  "Change back, Harry. You transformed without my permission."

Freedom hunched his back and faced away from his mentor.  Piss off, Severus!

Though Snape could not understand what the hawk said, since he had not taken the Hawk Speak potion since Harry had revealed himself, the message was clear. The Potions Master put his hands on his hips and said sternly, "Mr. Potter, I will say this one more time, and then I will cast a spell to make you transform back.  Change back-now.  Using your Animagus form as an escape because you don't feel like discussing something with me is not a good idea."

He waited.

Freedom hissed, then he flew down from the tree and blurred into Harry, who glared at him defiantly. 

"What happened that night is private, Severus, and I don't want to discuss it, okay?"

"Mr. Potter, I know this has been bothering you for awhile . . ." Severus began, trying to keep his temper.  He could tell this really upset the boy and he tried to remind himself that he was no different at sixteen.  He too had refused to speak about his past to Hagrid, becoming sullen and silent when the half-giant had tried to get him to talk about what had prompted his sudden attempt to leave the world behind forever.  "I think it might help if you were to talk to me . . ."

"No! How many times do I have to say it? I don't need to talk to you, I don't need you to tell me it'll be okay, because it won't . . .it's done and if you'd stayed out of my head I wouldn't have these nightmares all over again . . .Just let it go, won't you?"

"I can't do that."

"You can! Pretend you don't care, dammit, and leave me the hell alone! Just piss off!" he yelled, then he sprinted past the other wizard and out of the glade.

Why that . . .disrespectful little brat! Snape thought, furious.  He followed the boy, he could hear him crashing through the brush just ahead. 

Harry ran across the lawn, his breath rasping in his throat, his eyes burning with unshed tears.  Any minute now he expected Severus to grab him and shake him or whatever, but it never happened.  He slipped into the castle and up to Gryffindor Tower, everyone was asleep and he was relieved for he didn't want to speak to anyone.

He undressed and pulled on some pajamas then he curled up in his bed, utterly miserable, a single tear flowing down his face.  Now he had really done it.  He was sure that Severus was going to kill him.  He buried his face in his pillow and wished he could forget everything about that blasted night.  Why couldn't someone just Obliviate me? Why? He groaned and spent the night tossing and turning before finally falling asleep near dawn. 

And then he dreamed of Cedric.

* * * * * *

The next morning, Harry felt as if a black cloud of disgrace hung over him.  He slogged through his classes, dreading the moment when he would have to face Snape again.  For once he wished that he had longer periods, but he knew the inevitable could only be put off so long.  He didn't even know how Severus was going to punish him, but he was certain he wasn't going to like it.

Damn my temper! Damn my smart mouth! Oh Merlin, I am so dead!

He could feel himself start to sweat beneath his robes.  He ignored Hermione's call to come with her for lunch, muttering a quick, "Not hungry, I need to study," over his shoulder.

With how his stomach was churning he doubted if he could keep anything down. 

He lingered in the corridor outside Snape's classroom, which was where he'd been instructed to meet the professor on Tuesdays,  until he finally gathered up what Gryffindor courage he  had left and entered the lab.

Snape looked up from where he was chopping up some acacia roots.  "Come in, Mr. Potter," he said ominously.

Harry walked into the room, feeling like a naughty child about to receive a well-deserved punishment.  He peered up at Severus from beneath his thatch of messy hair.  "Sir? I-"

"Not another word." Snape cut him off.  He lifted his arm and pointed to the back of the room.  "Go to the cabinet in the back and take out what you find on the bottom shelf."

His apprentice obeyed, dragging his feet like a reluctant four-year-old.  He suspected what he would find there, and Snape did not disappoint him.

He carried the bar of soap back to his teacher and placed it on Snape's outstretched palm. 

"Sir, before you . . .do it can I at least say that I'm sorry?"

"For what?"

"For . . .swearing at you, and running off, and ignoring you . . .I don't know why I acted like that . . .except . . .I was just so angry, I didn't think . . ."

"Tell me something, Mr. Potter.  Do you behave that way with your other professors? Like McGonagall? Or Flitwick? Or Hagrid?"

"No, sir."

"Then can you tell me why you behave that way with me? Am I less worthy of respect than they are?"

"No . . .it's not like that . . ." Harry felt himself turn red.  "I do respect you, but . . .sometimes . . .I don't know . . .I just say things . . .I'm really sorry . . ."

"So you say.  That attitude of yours, Potter, is what will get you in trouble quicker than any hex you could cast.  I realize that you don't wish to talk to me about your dreams, and normally I would respect that privacy, but in this case, I cannot do that."

"Why, sir?"

"Because it is harming you more than helping you to keep it unspoken.  Trust me on that.  Even so, that does not excuse your unacceptable language.  I warned you what would happen if you swore at me, for whatever reason. As I am a man of my word, you shall now pay the consequences.  Afterwards, you will assist me in preparing ingredients for a cauldron of a Draught of Peace.  Once it is finished, I strongly urge you to take some of it and then discuss these dreams you've been having about Cedric Diggory."

"Do I have to, sir? I'd rather scrub your bathroom with a toothbrush ten hundred times."

Severus sighed.  "Harry, you know how I feel about personal privacy.  If it were not imperative, I would never push you to discuss something so . . .distressing.  But if you do not lay the ghosts of the past to rest, you will never be able to get on with your life.  They will haunt you forever."

"How do you know that?"

"Because I have been where you are now." Severus admitted quietly.  "We will discuss this more afterwards." He placed a hand firmly upon the younger wizard's shoulder and steered him towards the sink at the back, ignoring the pleading puppydog eyes Harry flashed at him.  He disliked punishing the youngster this way, but he knew consistency was the key, and he had spelled out the consequences beforehand.

* * * * * *

 Ten minutes later, one very repentant apprentice grimaced as he ground up lavender buds, wishing that the taste of soap did not linger quite so much on your tongue even after you had rinsed your mouth twenty times.  Or that your mentor was not quite so thorough with coating your mouth with said bar.  One thing he did know was he would never swear at Snape again.  Petunia had nothing on the Potions Master when it came to a good mouth washing.

It made Harry wonder just how many times Severus had washed out a student's mouth for him to become so . . .proficient.  Never mind. I don't think I want to know.

After he had added the syrup of hellebore and powdered moonstone, Harry stirred the draught ten times clockwise and then let it rest for two minutes before stirring it five times counterclockwise and then letting it steep-it was now a deep turquoise color-for ten minutes.

He glanced at his mentor, expecting to receive a reprimand for his almost forgetting to add the lavender buds to the solution, but Severus gave him a nod and slight smile, which was the equivalent of a "Wonderful job!" from another professor.

Harry allowed himself a moment of pride.  The Draught of Peace was a tricky potion, OWL level, and he had done it correctly on his first solo attempt.  He had made it one other time as well, but assisting Severus, never on his own.

"When it has steeped and you have decanted all but a cupful, you may drink it, and then we shall retire to my quarters . . .or the glen if you prefer . . .and work on ridding you of your nightmares."

"Yes, sir."

* * * * * *

 One cupful of the Draught of Peace later, Harry was sitting half-curled upon Snape's leather couch, the green afghan clutched in his hands, trying to relax.  He was feeling rather calm due to the potion, but little tendrils of anxiety still quivered through his nerves. 

Severus had tea set out on the table, but it remained untouched. 

The Potions Master had removed his black robes and was seated a foot or so away in his shirtsleeves and trousers, looking attentive and yet relaxed.  In point of fact, he was anything but.  He knew this session was not going to be easy for either of them, but it was necessary.  He waited patiently for Harry to speak.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, he cleared his throat pointedly.  "Harry, delaying it won't make it go away."

"I know, but . . .can't you just . . .do what you did before?"

"No.  When I used Legilimency, you became immediately hostile and defensive, and I do not want to go through another hour of chasing you all over the grounds.  It will be more effective if you tell me in your own words about your nightmares, Harry."

The boy drew in a shaky breath.  Then he began.

"It's always night in my dream, that never changes.  Cedric and I are holding hands and touching the Triwizard Cup at the same time.  That was my idea, I thought it'd be fair if we both won, because I wasn't even supposed to be in the Tournament in the first place.  I . . .convinced him to touch the cup, we didn't know it was a Portkey until we ended up in the graveyard, where Wormtail was holding . . .You-Know-Who . . .we were surprised, we didn't know where we were or what was happening.  Cedric didn't even have time to draw his wand, or cast a Shield Charm, before he told Wormtail to "Kill the spare".   And then he said the Killing Curse and Cedric got hit by that green light and he was falling .  . .I tried to catch him but . . .I was too slow . . .He fell at my feet and I saw his face . . ."

"What did it look like?"

"Like . . .like . . .he was stunned . . .Like he couldn't believe this had happened to him . . ." Harry whispered, shaking.  "I couldn't believe it either.  I kept thinking-it's a dream, it's not real, you'll wake up soon-but I didn't . . .I didn't .  . .I tried to run, but Wormtail . . .he cast some kind of bind on me and then he gagged me and tied me to the headstone of Tom Riddle senior and then he . . .started the ritual that brought the bastard back again . . .he took a bone from the dead father, and he cut off his hand and he . . ."

"What else?"

"Do I have to say it? You know . . .you know what he did."

"Yes.  But it is best if you admit it, child." Snape prompted.

"A-all right.  He . . .cut my arm and he took my blood-the blood of the enemy-he called it-and then he used me to resurrect the filth . . ." Harry bowed his head, unable to look Snape in the eye.  "Then he called his Death Eaters with the Mark and I managed to free myself . . .we fought and our wands joined and that's when I saw them . . .all the ghosts . . .my parents and Cedric . . .Cedric said to bring his body back . . .so I did . . .I couldn't even tell his dad what happened because he was raving about his son dying and I knew . . .I knew he'd blame me for it . . ."

Harry's hands clenched to white-knuckled fists on the afghan. 

"Why? Why would Amos Diggory blame you? You were as much a victim as Cedric," Severus pointed out.  "You nearly lost your life too."

"Because it was my fault, Severus! It was! I told him to touch the cup, if I hadn't, he never would have been taken away by the Portkey.  He would have remained in the maze and been safe! Don't you see? I led him to his death! They killed him because of me!"

"No.  Cedric died because the Dark Lord enjoys killing helpless children. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Harry, and his death was . . .not something you could have predicted or prevented."

Harry shook his head stubbornly.  "I could have gone alone."

"Did you know the cup was a Portkey?"

"No."

"Did you know that sharing your victory with Cedric was going to lead you to a madman and his servant?"

"No, but-"

"Did you know that Cedric would be killed?"

"No, of course not!"

"Then how was it your fault?"

"Because I brought him there!" Harry yelled.

"No, you didn't.  He brought himself there." Severus hissed, leaning close to the boy.  "Did you force Cedric to touch the cup, Potter? Did you hold a wand on him and threaten him harm if he did not share in your triumph?"

"No."

"No.  Then why carry guilt for something that was not your fault? You were innocent.  You were caught in a clever trap like Diggory.  The only difference between you is that you survived."

"I know! And that's why I feel so awful, Sev! Because it should have been me!"

"Why would you say that?"

"Because . . .if I had died . . .then he never would have been able to return! Don't you see? I should have been the one and then everyone would have been safe!" Harry sobbed.  "Only I didn't, and the Dark Lord returned and now there's another war and . . .it's my fault! Mine!"

Severus reached across the intervening space and took the boy by the shoulders, shaking him gently.  "Harry, listen to me.  You are not responsible for the choice others make.  If you had not been in the graveyard, do you think it would have stopped Wormtail from finding another person to use in his ritual? Do you? For I assure you-the Dark Lord has no shortage of enemies.  He could have kidnapped an Auror, a professor, any one of them would have done to take blood from and use in the ritual.  But His Darkness thought it fitting to use your blood, the blood of his supposed "greatest enemy", following the ravings of the false prophecy.  It was his choice, not yours.  He chose to kill Diggory and he chose to sell his soul to the forces of darkness."

"But . . ."

"Would Cedric want you to feel guilty over his death, Harry? When you saw his . . .ghost . . .did he act like he was angry with you? Or that he hated you?"

"N-no . . ."

"No, and do you know why? Because you were not to blame. Cedric knew that, he knew who the real killer was-the one holding the wand, not you.  Never you."

And suddenly the truth of what Severus was saying hit Harry all at once. 

Like a Bludger to the solar plexus.

He gasped, went pale, and then started sobbing. 

"I'm sorry . . .Cedric . . .I'm sorry . . .I wanted to save you . . .but I couldn't . . .!"

"No, and that is why you feel guilty and ashamed," Severus whispered.  "Because Dumbledore made you believe you were a savior." He reached for the boy then, and Harry fell into his arms, just as he had done in the glen. "But you aren't, child.  You're just a boy.  Shhh . . .It's all  right . . ." He began stroking Harry's hair and rubbing his back, encouraging him to release all of the pent up grief and guilt he had kept inside of him for all those months.

Severus held him wordlessly, not allowing him to draw away, recalling another night long ago, when another dark-haired boy had wept this same way for the death of a friend.  And been comforted too, by another of the Dark One's victims.

We are much alike, he and I.  You were right, old friend.

The Potions Master rocked and held his charge until the grief had spent itself and Harry rested, worn out, upon his soaking wet shirt.

Then and only then did he transfer the exhausted boy to a reclining position upon the couch and tuck the afghan about him, after first transfiguring Harry's clothes into nightwear.  He gazed down at the sleeping boy, gently running a cool flannel over his blotchy face and removing his glasses.

My poor Freedom.  You carry too much for your age. Too much.  Damn you, Albus! I wish you were here, to see what your bloody machinations for the greater good have wrought.  I wish you could see your "Savior of the Wizarding World" now, wrung out and exhausted from guilt! I'll bet your eyes wouldn't be twinkling, old man! I'd show you, all right.  And then I'd throttle you .  .  .so maybe it's better you're not here.

 Severus knelt and smoothed back the perpetually messy hair from Harry's forehead.  "I am sorry, child.  Hopefully, all of your ghosts have been laid to rest now.  Pleasant dreams."

Then he muttered a charm to alert him in case Harry chanced to have a nightmare, reheated the tea upon the table, drank it off, firecalled Minerva so she wouldn't worry about her missing lion, and went to bed.

* * * * * *

Occlumency, day 3:

Monday night rolled around again, and Harry found himself seated in Snape's office in the same chair he had been in last time.  It had only taken him a day or two to stop feeling ashamed over his outburst Tuesday evening and to realize that Severus had been right-talking about it did help immensely-and he had not had a dream about the graveyard or Cedric the rest of the week.

"Shall we begin, Mr. Potter?"

Harry nodded, then held up a hand.  "Wait, sir.  I know what to do."

"Indeed? Show me then."

And Harry did, managing to use the techniques Severus had suggested to clear his mind and erect a wall about his innermost thoughts, showing Snape only those thoughts he wished the professor to see, and blocking the others away.

Severus slipped into Harry's mind like water flowing over rocks, causing barely a ripple, and gently sifted through the memories Harry displayed. 

He poked and prodded at the wall, and Harry managed to send him more images from his day of classes. 

See? There's nothing there.  Nothing.

Severus allowed himself to be drawn away for a time . . .then he slipped back in and found a small weak spot in Harry's defenses and nudged his way in.

Harry flinched, but all Severus said was, We'll work some more on this  next time, fledgling.  You have made a very good effort.  Well done.

He withdrew, retreating back into his own mind in the flicker of an instant.

Harry opened his eyes and removed his hand from Severus's chest.  "You got in."

"But only after a concentrated effort."

"I forgot to keep thinking about the wall."

"True, but that is why you need to practice.  Rome wasn't built in a day, Harry.  And you shouldn't expect to master Occlumency in a day either.  It is a very hard discipline to learn."

"Tell me about it." Harry groaned.  Then he smiled quietly.  "It's a good thing that I have the best teacher then, isn't it?"

Professor Snape smiled.  "A very good thing, apprentice.  Now, how about a cup of tea and some scones?"

Harry's smile grew wider.  Then he called for Twixie, a warm glow of pride suffusing him.  Perhaps he had been wrong and he was not as hopeless  at Occlumency as he had thought.   And now Cedric's ghost could rest easy, and allow Harry to get some sleep.    

 



Chapter End Notes:


Thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed this fanfic!

Hope you all enjoyed the Occlumency lessons so far!

Next: Ron's attitude leads to Harry losing his temper with Severus, prompting the Potions Master to give his ward an unexpected lesson on controlling his temper
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