Chapter 14 : Occlumency
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The lessons always started out the same. Ron would enter the office to find Snape sitting behind the desk. They would settle in next to the fire and Ron would practice defensive Occlumency. He could detect Snape easier now, but it still wasn't instantaneous. After some time of this (it was hard for Ron to tell how long, usually, because it relaxed him so much that he lost track of time), they would both stand and Snape would train his wand on Ron like he had the first day, when he had tested Ron's loyalty.
"Use the same strategies," Snape told him, as he raised his wand. "Focus and clear your mind. Hang onto it when I enter. Legillimens!"
And then it was chaos: thoughts and memories surfacing quickly, nauseatingly–Snape sifted through quickly, which left Ron with little time to adjust and think of anything other than the memory he was currently viewing. It made it very difficult to attempt to push Snape out.
To his initial surprise, Snape focused on memories of Ron’s childhood. He assumed this was because none of his early memories involved Harry and Hermione, and Snape had advised him to push them both out of his mind.
He realized later that the early memories had only been a warm up.
They had been practicing every night for a week since Ron had destroyed the diadem, and Ron now had some semblance of control over Snape when he tried to enter his mind in an offensive attack. He was feeling rather confident, then, when Snape tried to sit in on a particularly excruciating dinner with Aunt Muriel. Ron forced himself out easily and braced himself for the next memory.
He suddenly found himself in the Great Hall at dinner. It looked as if there had been a feast, and there were more people than usual; they were all crammed onto the benches. At the top table, Dumbledore was standing before a large, wooden cup that suddenly filled itself with red flames.
Ron spotted himself at the Gryffindor table, but didn’t spare too much time following the events of the hall. He immediately recalled the calmness of the fire and put up a shield, creating a haze around the memory. But Snape was pushing harder, and words were getting through.
“Harry Potter! Harry! Up here, if you please!” (1)
He didn’t want to see his own face. He didn’t want Snape to see it, either. But somehow Snape had created a hole in his shield, and Ron was staring right at his fourteen year old self.
“Ron, what’s wrong with you?” Hermione was hissing. “This isn’t good, this isn’t good at all!”
“I dunno, it looks pretty good for Harry,” memory-Ron said, shrugging.
Merlin, he had been so stupid back then! He turned around and called the shield back. He imagined drawing the memory into himself, keeping it private.
When he opened his eyes, he was crouched on the floor of Snape’s office, his arms wound tightly around his knees.
“That took too long,” Snape growled. “You cannot choke every time I find a sensitive memory. I have obtained all the necessary information from that memory just from the small amount you allowed me to see. The Dark Lord can infer your secrets from body language and whispers!”
“You-Know-Who’s not gonna learn my secrets,” Ron said staunchly, standing up. “Let’s go again.”
“The Dark Lord.”
“The Dark Lord. Call him by his title.”
Ron couldn’t help it; he flinched. Snape frowned even further.
“The D-Dark Lord’s not gonna learn my secrets,” Ron whispered.
“Say it again.”
“The Dark Lord,” Ron said firmly. Snape nodded.
He was thrust into the crowded Gryffindor common room, right in front of himself and Lavender Brown snogging unashamedly on the couch. No, you don’t need to see that! he thought, drawing the room into himself and leaving only a white haze. He imagined un unbreakable wall surrounding himself, made of stone. Its borders grew as he pushed Snape further and further away, until he couldn’t feel his presence anymore.
“Good,” Snape said, “good.” He leaned slightly against the desk behind him, and Ron instantly felt uncomfortable; he knew that the Occlumency sessions were physically difficult for Snape. He had said he had at most two months to train Ron. It had already been a week, and Ron was nowhere near ready to fool Voldemort. “You must be ready like that every time. He will try to catch you off guard.”
“I don’t get it,” Ron said. “If I’m forcibly pushing him out like that, won’t he realize I have something to hide?”
“We’ll get there,” Snape said. “Don’t dwell on any of the memories from tonight. Get a good night’s sleep. We’ll meet tomorrow during your free period.”
Ron nodded. “Thanks, sir. Goodnight.”
I know I said I was going to stop helping you guys, but I just found out something really important. Zabini and them are upset about the new DA recruits. They know the younger kids’ schedules and they’re going to corner some of them on Thursday after second period. I know they definitely want to get Esther Woodward. They’re after Weasley, too–she’s doing the recruiting, apparently–but it’s the kids who’ll really get it.
Tell your sister–anything you guys can do.
I’ll keep listening but they don’t trust me that much anymore.
He rolled up the parchment and shoved it under the couch like they used to, hoping it would be enough.
Sandwiched between Crabbe and Nott the next morning at breakfast, Ron was finding it near impossible to catch Kenny’s eye. He supposed he was lucky, after all, that he was allowed to still sit with his year, but Zabini seemed to be giving him a second chance; he had not put up an argument when Ron had begun to start acting like a real Slytherin again. If he was in this for the long haul, he’d have to do it the right way. And that meant getting Zabini to trust him again.
He was taking a risk telling Kenny about the seventh years’ latest plan, but he was sure they weren’t aware that Ron knew. He’d been approaching the dorm yesterday, before stopping short in the corridor as he’d caught a few words of the conversation inside.
“The Woodward girl’s following in her parents’ footsteps, the first years told me,” Nott was saying eagerly. “They said the Gryffindors are all rallying around her.”
“I heard Weasley’s doing all the recruiting for the DA,” Tracey said. “They don’t usually let in the younger years, do they? They must be desperate!” she said gleefully.
“We’ll put a stop to it,” Zabini said, almost lazily–it reminded Ron of Malfoy.
“The first years let me copy their schedules,” Nott said. “We’ll have to time it right. Nowhere near the Transfiguration wing.” There was a shuffling of parchment, and Ron felt a shot of pride–apparently McGonagall still stood her ground when it came to the Slytherins. The group had decided on the place and time soon after that, and Ron backed away from the door and planted himself on one of the couches in the common room, where he would remain until the majority of the Slytherins began to go to bed.
He felt excited to be passing on the information to Kenny and Margaret. He was sure Zabini wouldn’t know it was him who’d told–maybe even he would blame someone from his own group. That would be good, that would weaken them…
Suddenly he dropped his fork to his plate in alarm. He was sure he had just felt the jarring, instant feeling that meant someone was using Legillimency on him. He looked up to the Head Table. Snape held his gaze for less than a second before turning away.
“That scared me,” Ron told Snape later, during their lesson. “I wasn’t expecting it.”
“That’s how it will be with the Dark Lord,” Snape said. “You must learn to conceal your knowledge of his presence.”
“How long did it take that time?” Ron asked dismally. It was hard not to doubt that he would be ready by the time Snape couldn’t spy anymore. But he just had to be. The Order was counting on him.
“One minute precisely.”
“Really?” Ron said incredulously. Snape frowned.
“Such does not warrant congratulations,” he said. “You would be–“
“Dead, I know,” Ron said shortly. “Let’s practice, yeah?”
Ron paid for that bit of nerve. Before he could draw another breath, Snape had growled “Legillimens” and entered his mind, but with the previous night’s lesson still fresh in his mind, Ron was ready.
“Better,” Snape said. “I didn’t get more than a glimpse. Were you attacked?”
“Splinched,” Ron said. “It was in August or September, I think.”
“Did it scar?”
Ron snorted. “Yeah. A lot.”
Snape was staring, eyes narrowed, at Ron’s arm, as if imagining the scars under the sleeve.
“Yeah, I think so,” Ron said. “Hermione healed it. I was–er–pretty out of it.”
Snape didn’t say anything more about Ron’s arm, but at the next lesson, provided him with an extra strength scar salve, which Ron applied liberally to both his arms, hoping that when he finally removed the glamour charms, all of his scars from both his escapades at the bloody Ministry would be a little less ugly.
I need to stop going to the library, Ron thought to himself as he spotted Margaret striding down an aisle toward the corner table he had taken over that afternoon. He hurriedly shifted some parchment over the book he was reading–Occlumency as a Dark Art (from deep in the Restricted Section). She looked angry.
“What is this?” she hissed, shoving a piece of parchment at him as soon as she’d reached the table. It was his letter to Kenny.
“Oh, good, you got it,” he said. “That’s all I know, sorry it’s not much to go on.”
“Am I supposed to take this seriously?” she said.
“What?” he said blankly.
“You told Kenny to stay away from you. You didn’t make any effort to contact me. Then Kenny got hurt again! And he still thinks you’re some kind of hero!”
“I’m sorry,” Ron said. “I didn’t want to make another mistake and have them find out.”
“I thought they did find out,” Margaret said quietly, her eyes still angry. “I thought that’s why they hurt Kenny.”
Ron gulped. “They didn’t find out. I just did something stupid.”
“What did you do?”
“I came across Gin–Weasley in the corridor,” he said, “and she was hurt, and I helped her back to the dorm. They found out. They haven’t invited me to another meeting, and they’re only just starting to act normally around me again.” He leaned further over his book and looked her straight in the eye. “I didn’t know they were going to hurt Kenny. I’m so sorry. I would have warned you, for sure.”
She kept his gaze, considering, and he saw the beginnings of tears at the corners of her eyes.
“After that, I didn’t want it to happen again, so I tried to ignore you guys, too.”
“How do you know about this?” she said, gesturing to the letter he still held.
“By chance. They were talking about it right before I entered the dorm, and I overheard just enough.”
“If we do something to prevent this, will they know it was you? Will they come after Kenny again?”
“As soon as I heard enough, I went back to the common room so they wouldn’t know,” Ron said. “But I can’t tell you how they’ll react. Hopefully Zabini will think someone else told. But they could still hurt Kenny. Margaret, you have to send him home. It’s too dangerous for him here.”
She shook her head.
“Why not?” he asked slowly. She just shook her head again. He knew she was trying hard not to start crying. “It’s worse at home, isn’t it?”
They locked eyes and he knew it was. He remembered what Brian had said at that first meeting. You think that Astoria likes having to enjoy her sister in the corridors every day? And then that other time, when he had almost been found out, Daphne had said something curious: Astoria, please… don’t you remember what Mum said over Christmas? He had never really considered what it was like for Slytherins at home, especially if there was disagreement among generations.
“I should have kept quiet,” Margaret whispered. “I shouldn’t have started all this. Now my brother is m-miserable, and–“
“You’re doing the right thing,” Ron said firmly. “I’m sure a lot of other Slytherins are thinking the same way by now. You’re setting the right example for them.”
“But Kenny–my little brother–I can’t protect him!”
Ron thought immediately of Ginny crouched in the corridor.
“If there was a safe place for Kenny outside of Hogwarts, would you want him to go there?” Ron asked. She nodded at once.
“There’s nowhere, though,” she said. “Not home!”
“I might know a place,” Ron said.
“What do you mean?”
“We need to talk more later,” Ron said quickly. “We’ve already been too long here. But look–are you going to do anything about this?” he said, holding up the letter.
“You can get Kenny out of here?”
“I think so. I can find out tonight.”
“You get me proof of a safe place, and I’ll do what I can for them,” Margaret said. “Do it quick, because I need time to warn them.”
Ron nodded. “Deal.”
She left and he laid his head down on the Occlumency book. Maybe once Kenny was safe, he wouldn’t keep getting sidetracked like this. There was no doubt he better not let Snape realize how invested he was in the first year.
He pushed the parchment away and resumed reading.
“Mr. Brown, come in,” McGonagall said with the usual tense frown. As soon as the door was closed she was putting up privacy spells. “How are you?” she asked once she was done, her voice slightly softer.
“Fine,” Ron said simply. It was a loaded question, and perhaps she realized it, because she just nodded. “How are you?”
“About as fine as yourself, I daresay,” she said, raising her eyebrows. “Did you have something specific you wanted to discuss?”
He nodded and they took seats in front of the fire. She offered him a tart from a tin on the coffee table, but he refused.
“You’re in contact with the Order,” he stated.
“How? You can’t be owling them, and the Carrows would notice if you left the castle often.”
“I don’t dare leave the castle,” she admitted. “This fire is connected to the floo network, to one grate only–my home. It is currently one of the Order’s safehouses. Your brother Charlie is stationed there at the moment.”
“Doesn’t the Ministry regulate the floo network?” Ron asked.
“Kingsley rigged this one himself,” she said. “It’s very risky, but we must have an avenue into and out of the school.”
Ron nodded. “That’s what I came about.”
Her eyes widened. “You want to leave?”
“No!” he said at once. “No, I’m on board. You don’t have to worry about that. Do you know who Kenny Willis is?”
She closed her eyes briefly. “Of course. He is in my class, and Poppy has told me…. Don’t tell me something further has happened to him?”
“No,” Ron said, “not yet, at least. I talked to his sister. She refused to consider sending him home. She said it wasn’t safe there. So I was thinking–maybe an Order safehouse….”
McGonagall was considering him challengingly.
“Ron, you should break off your relationship with the Willis’,” she said sternly. “You will take the Dark Mark in a matter of weeks. The other Death Eaters might inform their children. You have to make this believable.”
“I know!” Ron said, frustrated. “That’s what I was trying to do. I was ignoring them, but then I overheard Zabini planning to attack the Gryffindors and I just–I had to tell them! But Margaret’s worried Kenny will get hurt again if they do something about it. She’s right. There’s no way they can connect it back to me, but they’re always targeting Kenny for some reason or another. She won’t warn the Gryffindors unless she can be sure her brother will be safe. This is about as good as I could come up with.”
“If you do this, you will be disclosing your true loyalty to Margaret.”
“I already have,” Ron muttered. “But she understands we can’t talk in public. They let me get on with it because I can tell them what Zabini’s up to.”
“If we do this,” McGonagall said, still looking angry with him, “afterward, you must cease speaking to her–and the others like her. You must increase your efforts to get back in Mr. Zabini’s good graces. Your position is bigger than just Hogwarts, now. There will be worse things, Ron. You will have to stand by as huge injustices are committed before you. This is just a fraction of what you will face.”
“I know,” Ron said.
“No, you don’t,” McGonagall said, staring him in the eye. “You cannot save everyone.” There was a pause; he wondered if it would be inappropriate to try to defend himself again. “Think of Severus,” she said quietly. “Consider all that he is done. Think of how he has treated you over the years. It was an act, Ron.”
“Not all of it,” Ron immediately said, thinking of all the house points lost, but regretted it at once as McGonagall’s eyes flared.
“Consider the past few weeks, then! Compare it to the past six years. Do you see a difference?”
He did as she said. He thought of the past few lessons, of working with Snape. Come to think of it, there hadn’t been any snarky comments. Serious lectures, yes, but nothing like the Snape he used to know.
“I can send Mr. Willis through the fire tonight. Charlie will look after him.”
He looked up sharply. “Thank you. I will think about what you said, and do better from now on. But Kenny doesn’t deserve any of this.”
“He and Margaret may come to my office late tonight. They cannot be seen by anyone from your dormitory.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“But you need to stay in the dungeon so no one suspects your involvement.”
He nodded seriously. “Thank you, Professor.”
She seemed to have a quick argument with herself, before standing and walking him to the door.
“Thank you, Ron. And call me Minerva.”
The Room of Requirement became his sanctuary. He found it easier and easier to clear his mind there; the cackling fire was soothing and reminded him of Snape’s office, the only place so far where he had been able to clear his mind successfully. He had been dreaming less and less these days, but he still felt uneasy forcing himself to become so calm before bed. It was hard to distinguish clearing his mind from being on his guard.
It was a good thing Zabini hadn’t suspected him of ratting him out to Margaret and the others. As far as Ron knew, everything had gone as planned; Kenny had not appeared at breakfast the next morning, not that any of the upper years took much notice. It wasn’t until a full day after that Daphne brought up Kenny’s absence, and by then, the Gryffindor first years had begun walking from class to class in dense packs, often shielded by older students. Thursday at dinner, Zabini angrily demanded to know who had tipped them off, and didn’t get an answer.
“What about you, Brown?” he’d said, once he’d interrogated everyone else.
“What are you talking about?”
He was getting better at lying, apparently, because Zabini didn’t press him like the others.
Now as he sat in the Room of Requirement, knowing that both Kenny and the Gryffindors were safe, it was easier to relax. And the best of it was that Zabini didn’t know he was behind it all.If he had, Ron would have been too busy making sure he wouldn’t be cursed in his sleep to worry about mental shields and large, white expanses of nothing.
In fact, Zabini had latched onto Ron in a way that was similar to how it had been when Ron had first arrived at Hogwarts. Perhaps he thought Ron was in his control now, that Ron was afraid of him after Zabini had cursed him in the corridor. Ron tried to play it that way, made sure to agree with Zabini whenever possible, smirked a little wider when students from the other houses got in trouble during class. He especially made sure to avoid the younger Slytherins more than ever, and in fact tried to pretend they didn’t exist. It was working for the present. He was sure McGonagall had warned Margaret to stop talking to him. She would listen to McGonagall, so Ron would be safe from now on.
A light ringing met his ears and he jerked out of a very content meditation. The Muggle alarm clock had appeared a few sessions ago without his even asking for it. He had been sitting there for almost one hour and it would be time to join the other Slytherins in Transfiguration soon. He had been meaning to get in another dueling session with the dummy, but it would have to be another day.
Ron found himself much calmer now that Kenny was out of Hogwarts. Snape noticed in his lessons, too, and challenged him further, delving deeper into Ron’s mind, into insecurities he hadn’t fully realized he’d had.
A glimpse into a large, gilded mirror. Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi. (2) A prefect’s badge falling to the floor, unexpected, as he pulled the yearly Hogwarts letter from an envelope he hadn’t noticed was thicker than usual. Beautiful, flawless figures of Hermione and Harry blossoming out of a silver crown–
By the time he’d closed and opened his eyes, the memory had changed. But this time, he didn’t recognize it, and it took Ron a second to realize that he was in one of Snape’s memories now, that he’d been so intent on pushing Snape out that he’d reversed Snape’s own Legillimens.
He was watching Snape heal a severely weakened Dumbledore in this very office. Snape was angry, accusatory.
“That ring carried a curse of extraordinary power." (3)
Dumbledore seemed unsurprised and calm as Snape told him he would die in as little as a year.
“It is acting faster than it did for Albus. I will be lucky to last to June.”
Ron had seen enough.
“You’re cursed, aren’t you?” he asked quietly, once they were back in the office again. Snape’s arm shook as it supported his weight against the desk. "Because you killed Dumbledore? You’ve been cursed since that night, haven’t you?”
Snape looked for a moment as if he was going to take his arm away and stand on his own, but then seemed to think better of it, and nodded solemnly to Ron.
“Why? Why did it work that way?”
“I made two Unbreakable Vows,” Snape said, “one to Albus, and one to Narcissa Malfoy. To do the same thing. Narcissa’s vow must have realized that I carried the deed out on Albus’ orders, not hers. In point of fact, my heart was not in it,” he finished dryly. “Unbreakable Vows really are unbreakable. If you don’t adhere to them exactly, you suffer. The vow turned on me, gave me the curse of the one I killed.”
Ron was stunned.
“What does You-Know-Who think of this?” he asked.
“The Dark Lord,” Snape corrected him.
“Right,” said Ron, grimacing. “What does the Dark Lord think of this?”
“He doesn’t know the true reason I am cursed,” Snape said. “If he did, I would lose his trust. However,” he said, now walking slowly around the desk to sit in the chair, “he knows it is Albus’ old curse I am suffering from. I managed to convince him that the headmaster must have cast a spell as I killed him, to transfer the curse to me, as revenge for killing him so easily. He was angry at first, that I allowed myself to be subjected to such a curse, since he would lose his spy. Now that I have promised to replace myself with you, however, he finds the whole situation very funny.”
“Funny?” Ron repeated.
“He laughs at my misfortune. He regards me inadequate because I could not resist Albus’ curse even as he was on his deathbed.”
Ron stood there, his face scrunched up in some ugly face as he contemplated Voldemort–the Dark Lord–‘s evilness.
“Weasley, I am done for tonight,” Snape said. “You are progressing nicely now. Practice tonight. File the conversation we just had away in the back of your mind. You will not need to access it again, and it is dangerous to have at the forefront of your mind. I should have not have told you so much.”
“I will, sir. Goodnight.”
He left quickly, hoping that Snape wasn’t in too much pain.
(2) J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, page 207
(3) J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, page 681
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