Chapter 20: Lessons Learnt
"Focus, Potter," Knight said. "Go!"
Harry concentrated, flicked his wand and the butcher knife lying on Knight's desk flew into the air, hurtled across the room and impaled a large piece of corkboard that Knight had hung on the wall to serve as target practice.
"Well done!" Knight flashed Harry a grin as she pulled the knife from the board which already had a number of gashes in it. "That was your fastest time, yet."
Harry grinned back. "Thanks! I think I finally have the hang of these non-verbal spells."
"I'd say you're right. Which means it's time to try your hand at some wandless magic."
Harry's smile faltered. "What?"
"Just as there will be times when it will be to your advantage to cast a spell non-verbally, there will also be times when the ability to cast a spell without your wand may save your life. Now that you've learnt to cast non-verbal spells, wandless ones shouldn't be beyond you. Put down your wand and give it a try."
Harry stuffed his wand in his pocket and Knight laid the knife on the desk once more.
"What do I do?"
"This time you can use the incantation, but the focus must come from your mind alone."
Harry nodded and stared at the knife. He concentrated on the vision of it flying across the room. "Mobiliquendam!!"
The knife didn't even twitch. Harry stared at it in disappointment.
"Don't worry about it, Potter;" Knight said easily. "You'll learn. I didn't expect success on your first go. Come on, it's time for dinner."
Knight led the way out of her office, continuing to talk as they headed downstairs. "Whereas non-verbal spells require focusing on your intent, wandless magic requires you to focus on projection."
Harry nodded in understanding. "I have to use my mind to focus my power instead of relying on my wand."
"Exactly. Of the two, wandless magic is harder to learn. Normally, I wouldn't try to teach the technique to anyone younger than twenty, but you have uncommonly good concentration for your age."
Harry smiled at the praise. "Thanks, Professor."
They had arrived in the entrance hall and Knight stopped to clap him on the shoulder and favor him with a smile. "You're going to make a hell of an Auror, Potter."
Knight turned away and headed for the staff entrance to the Great Hall while Harry, grinning broadly, raced to find his friends at the Gryffindor table.
"Guess what?" Harry said, as he sat down next to Ginny. "Knight's going to start teaching me wandless magic."
"Really?" Hermione said with interest. "That's much more advanced than non-verbal spells."
"I think all those Legilimency lessons I had with Snape must have helped. She said that I have really good concentration."
Ron looked up from his dinner. "Good, then how about focusing some of it on Quidditch? Our match against Slytherin is a week from tomorrow and our Beaters still need more practice."
"Oh Ron, honestly!" Hermione scolded. "Can't you think about anything besides Quidditch?"
"I think about lots of things besides Quidditch. It just happens to be the most important thing I have to think about right now."
"Aren't you the one who complained about Katie being obsessed last year? You're acting exactly the same way and you're not even captain."
"Well, someone has to prod this lot along."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Harry said, bristling slightly.
"Exactly what I said. Someone has to make sure we're at our best against Slytherin."
"And I'm not doing the job. Is that it?"
"You spend half your time in lessons with Dumbledore and Knight. You've barely spared a thought for Quidditch all term."
"I have a few more important things to worry about. We're in the middle of a war, remember?"
"You don't say?"
"Then you ought to understand –"
"I do. Perfectly. You're the Chosen One –"
"Don't call me that!"
"Why not? It's the truth. You're the one who's going to defeat Voldemort. You said so yourself!"
"I'm not going to do it alone."
"You're going to have to, mate. You've got to get inside his mind and there's no way the rest of us can follow you there. You're on your own."
Ron threw down his napkin and stalked away. Hermione jumped up and hurried after him and Harry stared after them in shock.
"Don't mind Ron," Ginny said softly, reaching out to squeeze Harry's hand. "He doesn't mean it. I think your lessons with Knight just make him feel a bit useless, that's all."
"He's the one who decided he didn't want to be an Auror."
"I know, but that was before Mum died. I still don't think he'd really want to be an Auror, but he's almost desperate to fight back against the Death Eaters. The fact that he can't makes him a bit stupid sometimes. Bill and Charlie are in the thick of it. So are Fred and George. Then there's you. He just doesn't think he's doing his share."
"I know. I told you he was being stupid. I think Quidditch is his way of compensating, or at least taking his mind off things."
Harry ran a hand through his hair in frustration and looked down at the dinner he'd hardly touched. He shoved his plate away. "I'd better go and talk to him."
Ron was lying on his bed and glanced up from the issue of Quidditch Quarterly he was reading as Harry came in. He looked away again without a word.
Harry sat down on his own bed. "Do you honestly think I'm not going to need any help to defeat Voldemort?"
Ron sighed and looked up. "No. I know you will and there're all sorts of people who are trying to help."
"You're one of them."
Ron snorted. "Right."
"It's true. Or have you forgotten that you saved my life and Hermione's when we were attacked by those weird Dementors of Lawrence's."
"All I did was drag you back to the Shrieking Shack."
"So what? It doesn't count because you didn't get to curse someone?"
Ron sat up and tossed his magazine aside. "Of course it does. It's just that I want to be out fighting."
"Ron, before this is over I'm sure we'll all have had our fill of fighting. You don't need to wish for any more."
Ron sighed. "I know. You're right. But I can't stand sitting here day after day with nothing better to do than worry about homework and exams." He looked away dejectedly.
"Listen," Harry said. "I've been thinking. I'm going to step down as Quidditch captain."
Ron's head jerked up. "What? You can't!"
"I want you to take over."
"Harry, you don't need to do that for me."
"Good, because I'm doing it for the team, not you. We both know that you're better suited to the job."
"Don't be daft. You've been on the team years longer than I have been."
"What difference does that make? You know everything there is to know about Quidditch. You've been playing your whole life. Besides, you already do most of the work. You're right, Ron. The team needs someone who can fire them up, who really wants to kick Slytherin's arse. I'm not that person. I don't care anymore."
"And I care too much. Hermione's right. I'm being stupid."
"No you're not! Somebody has to care about the normal, everyday things in life. That's what it's all about. If we lose that then Voldemort's already won. And more than ever, I need someone to help me remember that. So how about it?"
Ron looked down at the floor for a moment and then nodded slowly. "All right, but on one condition. I'm counting on you to catch that Snitch next Saturday."
Harry grinned. "Deal."
Harry made the announcement that Ron was to be the new captain the next morning on the Quidditch pitch as Gryffindor prepared for practice before breakfast. He hoped fervently that the team wouldn't be disappointed in the change. Ron didn't need any blows to his confidence.
The students were silent for a moment as they digested the news then Gloria asked, "We aren't doing anything differently, are we? The game plans are all the same?"
"That's right, nothing's going to change," Harry assured her.
"Well, it don't matter to us, then," a burly fourth-year boy named Gadson said. "Weasley's led us in practice half the time anyway." The rest of the team nodded agreement and looked at Ron, clearly awaiting instructions from their new captain.
Ron and Harry looked at each other and Harry smiled.
"Right then," Ron said, mounting his broom. "Let's get cracking! You know the drill. Chasers, I want you to practice your close-quarters handoff. Beaters, bat that Bludger between you and put some muscle into it."
It was their best practice of the year. Ron was in his element, directing the play and Harry, freed from the responsibility of watching his teammates, flew better than he had all year. The team was exultant as they headed back to the castle for breakfast, all excitedly talking at once.
"Slytherin haven't got a chance... We'll trounce them for sure... The Quidditch Cup is as good as ours…"
They all fell silent however as they stepped into the entrance hall. There were scores of students gathered there, but what immediately struck Harry was how quiet they all were.
"What's going on," he asked Dean and Seamus who were standing nearby.
"Haven't you heard, yet?" Dean replied. "Therese Gains's father was killed last night. He was an Auror and got caught in an ambush."
As Dean was still speaking Dumbledore appeared from the staff lounge. Professor Sprout was behind him and had her arm around a fourth-year girl who had clearly been crying. They started across the entrance hall and the waiting students moved forward, taking turns hugging their classmate or offering a word of sympathy.
Dumbledore and Sprout led Therese through the crowd and outside where a carriage had just arrived. The girl climbed in and the carriage pulled away while Dumbledore and Sprout stood watching it go.
Harry watched from the doorway along with Ron and Ginny, both of whom looked rather pale. As the students began to head into the Great Hall for breakfast, Harry laid a hand on Ron's shoulder. "Let's go."
Ron nodded and the three of them went in to breakfast and sat down at the Gryffindor table where Seamus already had both the Quibbler and the Daily Prophet open, comparing the news of the ambush in the two papers.
"It was a bad one," he said as Harry peered over his shoulder. "Looks like three Aurors wound up in St. Mungos in addition to Therese's dad who died. And listen to this," he added, brandishing the Quibbler.
"Lucius Malfoy, one of the most wanted criminals in Britain, is rumored to have headed the attack…"
"No wonder Malfoy looks so smug this morning," Dean commented. Harry and his housemates followed Dean's gaze to the Slytherin table. Sure enough, Malfoy was smirking, clearly delighted with the news.
Harry opened his own copy of the Quibbler. He'd been reading it regularly for nearly two weeks and had to agree with Seamus that they had much better coverage of the war than the Daily Prophet. Harry knew that he needed to keep abreast of the latest Death Eater activity. If he was going to fight Voldemort, he needed a sense of what his enemy was up to and the empty reassurances from 'Ministry officials' that filled the Prophet these days were no help. The Quibbler gave the kind of details that Harry wanted and that the Prophet had done the previous year, but rarely did any more: details of the actual battles being fought and of who had died or gone missing on both sides. The only drawback to this was the coverage of the Death Eater Vigilante.
Harry had tried very hard to forget about the Death Eater murders and especially about Snape's likely role in them, but that was impossible now that he was reading the Quibbler. Every Death Eater supposedly killed by the Vigilante made the front page and the back page had a special section devoted to keeping a running total of the Vigilante's victims along with names and brief descriptions of how each had met his or her demise.
Then there were the editorials. Harry had only read a few of those before becoming so disturbed that he gave up. He was appalled at how many people seemed to support the Vigilante's increasingly brazen and bloody campaign. Judging from the last couple of reported deaths, he was hardly bothering to disguise the murders as accidents anymore. The Quibbler now counted twelve victims and still the Ministry was turning a blind eye.
Raised voices from the entrance hall drew Harry's attention.
"Sounds like trouble," Dean said.
Ron nudged Harry. "Come on, let's have a look."
Harry didn't fancy ending up in the middle of a fight, but most of his classmates were going, so he followed Ron and the rest of the seventh-years to see what the trouble was. They arrived just in time to see Ernie Macmillan hurl himself at Draco Malfoy in a rage. There were a dozen students already watching, but none seemed to want to intervene as the two boys tussled on the floor.
"Macmillan! Malfoy!" Professor McGonagall shouted as she came hurrying across the entrance hall. "Stop this brawling at once!"
The boys didn't stop or even pause in their fight, but then Harry doubted either of them had heard the Deputy Headmistress. Ernie was too busy repeatedly slamming his fist into Malfoy's face and Malfoy was too busy being beaten senseless.
Fortunately, Snape was right behind McGonagall. He stepped forward, seized Ernie and practically lifted him off of the floor as he pulled him away from Malfoy.
Ernie flailed at Snape, but the man blocked his wild swing and shook him violently. "Macmillan!" This at last brought Ernie back to himself.
"That will be twenty points from Hufflepuff," Snape said evenly. "And I believe that detention is in order."
"Go ahead," Ernie replied defiantly, flushed and panting. "I'm not sorry."
"Mr. Macmillan!" McGonagall said, sounding appalled. "This is not how Hogwarts students – seventh year students – comport themselves."
Ernie rounded on McGonagall. "What about him?" he demanded, stabbing a finger at Malfoy who was still lying disheveled and bloody on the floor. "He said that he was happy, happy Therese's dad died!" Ernie looked back at Malfoy. "Well, I hope that whoever's killing all those Death Eaters gets your father next!"
Ernie stormed away leaving behind a stunned silence. Everyone's shocked gazes turned to Malfoy who tried to glare back defiantly, but didn't look particularly convincing. Snape shook his head in disgust then grabbed the boy and dragged him to his feet, ignoring Malfoy's gasp of pain.
"You will come with me," Snape hissed. He gave Malfoy a shove towards the dungeons and followed his student through the door and out of sight.
"All right, break it up, now!" Professor Knight, who had also arrived, said loudly. "Everyone back to breakfast!"
Harry and his friends went back to their table. "Ernie's right," Ron said as they resumed their seats. "If there's anyone that Death Eater Vigilante ought to go after it's the Malfoys. In fact, I'd sign up to help him." He looked nearly as angry as Ernie had been.
"Ron, don't say that!" Hermione said. "Not even as a joke!"
"I'm not joking. They're rotten to the core, all of them."
"And you're just as bad if you're going to start talking about killing them."
"Hermione's right." Harry spoke up before a full-fledged row could erupt between his two best friends. "Stooping to their level isn't the answer."
"You have to admit that Malfoy's asking for it, Harry," Dean said.
"Yeah, he is, which just proves that he's stupid. But vigilantism isn't the answer." Harry looked at Ron. "Believe me. I know what it's like to kill someone and none of you would want to do it."
"Maybe not," Ron said, "But we can dream, can't we?"
"I just can't believe Malfoy actually said that about Therese's dad," Parvati said.
"I can," Ron replied.
"Well, if he keeps swaggering around school openly supporting Voldemort, today won't be the last time he gets beaten to a pulp," Seamus said.
"That's true," Hermione said. "Snape's not going to protect him anymore and he ought to know that without that protection he's going to be targeted."
"I suppose it was really only a matter of time, though, before this happened," Neville said thoughtfully.
"How do you reckon that?" Ginny asked.
"Well, the whole world's at war. It's not as it Hogwarts can keep out of it forever. There are all the same divisions here, after all."
"The only difference is we're not killing each other," Dean said. "Not yet, anyway."
On the day of the Gryffindor versus Slytherin match the weather was clear but especially windy. The house pennants were snapping in the stiff breeze which also whipped the tiny red and gold flags that most of the students were carrying, threatening to rip them out of the hands of the inattentive.
"Remember our strategy and we'll be fine," Ron was saying as the Gryffindors huddled together preparing to take the pitch. He leaned over to Harry and spoke more quietly. "The wind is going to play havoc with the Snitch."
Harry shrugged. "I'll manage."
Madam Hooch's whistle sounded and the teams took off. It was even windier up in the air than it had been on the ground and both teams had to fight to keep from being blown off course as play began. Scoring was low during the first hour as the wind made it difficult to get the Quaffle through the goal at anything but point blank range, but in the second hour the Gryffindors began to pull ahead as Ron's strategy of flying the ball rather than passing it started to pay off in the blustery conditions. Gryffindor was up 240 to 110 when Harry finally spotted the Snitch struggling against the wind close to the Slytherin goal. Malfoy, who had been shadowing Harry, spotted it, too, and they both gave chase. Harry pulled ahead of the Slytherin, but Malfoy bumped Harry's broom hard, sending Harry off course to the left then shot ahead. Harry corrected and raced after Malfoy. He drew up alongside the Slytherin once more and this time as Malfoy jerked his broom to the left to ram him, Harry was ready. He rolled to the left, dropping beneath Malfoy who flew past him as Harry completed his roll and came up on Malfoy's right. The Slytherin pulled his broom back to the right, but Harry was now between him and the Snitch. Harry reached out with his right hand and plucked the little ball out of the air as Malfoy shot past him.
A deafening cheer went up from the crowd as Harry raised his arm, grinning triumphantly, the Snitch clutched tightly in his fist. But Harry's victory was interrupted by a loud clang. Harry looked towards the Slytherin goal in time to see Malfoy, who had apparently just run into the left goalpost, slump unconscious and slide off his broom.
Astonished, Harry watched the Slytherin fall as if in slow motion, but his reflexes took over in the next moment. Harry dived sharply, putting on as much speed as he could as he raced towards the other Seeker. Harry reached Malfoy and grabbed him, pulling up hard on his broom. He slowed to a halt and lowered the still unconscious boy to the ground as the teachers came running across the pitch towards them.
Snape was the first to arrive. He knelt down to examine Malfoy whose face was covered with blood. The rest of the Quidditch players had landed and gathered around, too.
"Everyone back up and give him some room," Professor Knight said as she pushed her way past the students. Snape murmured a spell and Malfoy stirred, moaning softly. Knight looked down at the boy then at Snape who glanced up to meet her eyes.
"Out of the way! Let me through." The spectators parted once more to let Madam Pomfrey pass. She knelt down next to Snape. "I've said for ages that these brooms were too fast. It was just a matter of time before something like this happened."
Madam Pomfrey conjured a stretcher and soon had Malfoy ready to transport up to the castle. Snape went with her as the rest of the onlookers began to disperse.
"You reckon he's going to be all right?" Ron asked, coming up to Harry.
"Yeah, I'm sure he'll be fine."
They started back towards the castle and after a minute Ron spoke up again. "You know, I reckon you were right, Harry."
"About wanting someone dead. Fantasizing about it isn't the same as the real thing. I don't know how many times I've imagined Malfoy dying, but just now… I'm really glad you caught him. I suppose I wouldn't make much of a vigilante after all."
Harry smiled. "I never thought you would do. Now come on. It's time to celebrate our first Quidditch victory with our new captain."
Malfoy's pride seemed to have been the thing most seriously injured in his collision with the goalpost. More than once on Monday, Harry passed the Slytherin in the halls only to hear someone call out, "Careful there, Malfoy. You don't want to run into anything." This was inevitably followed by snickering from most everyone within earshot. Harry said nothing, though. Malfoy was ignoring him which suited Harry just fine and he had no interest in baiting a fight. He had more important things on his mind.
Harry's lessons with Dumbledore had become almost routine by now. Over the last three months he had encountered virtually every sort of creature or plant that might prove dangerous and had learnt to defeat each in turn in Dumbledore's garden. Then during their previous lesson Dumbledore had said that Harry would be starting a new phase of training, though he had refused to elaborate on what that might be. He had promised to explain it to Harry at their next meeting. Consequently, Harry was particularly anxious to see Dumbledore that evening and arrived early at the headmaster's office. Dumbledore was seated at his desk rather than by the fire and no tea had been set out.
"Good evening, Harry," Dumbledore said, smiling in welcome. "We will be forgoing our usual session this evening. There is something else that I have planned instead. Please, sit down."
Harry sat down and listened attentively as Dumbledore continued. "You have made excellent progress in learning to navigate and manipulate the landscape of my mind, so I believe it is time for you to branch out a bit."
Harry nodded in anticipation. "Yes, sir."
"As I'm sure you realize, Harry, every mind is unique and it will surely come as no surprise if I tell you that Voldemort's mind is probably nothing like mine. In order to prepare you to fight him, you need to experience… a less inviting landscape, shall we say. To that end, I have asked Professor Snape to begin working with you in my place."
Harry's excitement flagged considerably. "Professor Snape?"
"That is correct. I will, of course, wish to meet with you in order to monitor your progress and to lend any assistance you may need. But while I have not personally ventured into Professor Snape's mind, I believe it will provide the best training ground for you at this juncture."
Harry nodded noncommittally.
"There are, however, several things that you will need to keep in mind," Dumbledore continued. "To begin with, Professor Snape will remember nothing that transpires in his mind. Nevertheless – or rather most especially because of this – your behavior must be exemplary. Do not let yourself be tempted to take advantage of his ignorance by saying or doing that which you would not normally say or do simply because he will not recall it."
Harry shook his head. "I wouldn't."
Dumbledore nodded, satisfied. "Good. Also you need to understand the purpose of this training. You will not be dueling with Professor Snape as you have been with me. Rather, you will be attempting to interpret the symbols in Professor Snape's mind. Understanding your opponent is key in any battle. You will need to interpret Voldemort's mind eventually and hopefully, Professor Snape will provide you with some insight into doing so."
"Go then, Harry. He is expecting you."
"There is no time like the present. But before you go, there is one other thing that you need to keep in mind. Professor Snape has had no training in this form of Legilimency. That means that tonight, you will be the teacher and he the student."
Harry headed for the dungeons without enthusiasm. He was not looking forward to working with Snape. They had done a remarkably good job of avoiding each other since the debacle with the mirrors and might have continued to do so indefinitely if it weren't for this latest plan of Dumbledore's. Sometimes Harry suspected Dumbledore invented reasons to shove him and Snape together, though of course that was silly. Dumbledore was fighting a war. He surely planned his strategy around more pressing issues than Harry and Snape's relationship.
And Harry could easily understand the benefit in working with Snape. The man's mind was probably as dark as any he could hope to encounter outside of Voldemort or his Death Eaters. However, that thought only made Harry more reluctant to take part in such sessions with the man. Harry knew there had to be all sorts of horrors lurking in Snape's mind. Snape had kept those memories safely hidden during their lessons the previous year and Harry had avoided thinking about the man's dark side. But Snape wouldn't be able to hide that darkness this time. Where Harry was going, he was sure it would be on prominent display and he was afraid to imagine how it might manifest. Harry knew he had to learn to face evil; but he didn't particularly want to face it in Snape.
Harry knocked at Snape's office door and pushed it open.
"Don't stand there, Potter," Snape said irritably. "Come in."
Harry shut the door behind him and took his old seat in front of Snape's desk out of habit.
"Dumbledore has explained the nature of what it is he proposes to have you do," Snape said without preamble. "I frankly see little value in it, but that is not for me to decide. However, if you think I'm going to make this easy for you –"
"I don't want you to make it easy for me. Voldemort won't." Harry deliberately used Voldemort's name. Snape's eyes narrowed, but he said nothing.
"Very well, then. You may proceed when you're ready."
Harry took a deep breath, calmed his mind and mentally reached out. He immediately met resistance, but after months of practice with Dumbledore, he didn't hesitate. He narrowed his focus, concentrated and punched through the barrier with ease. He felt Snape's surprise, but a moment later the man had refocused his defenses. He tried to deflect Harry, but Harry dodged nimbly around every obstacle. It was ridiculously easy. As sure of himself as Snape acted, his defenses against this type of mental invasion were virtually non-existent and Harry felt a surge of smug pride at his superior abilities.
He concentrated, narrowing his focus into a hard, sharp blade then plunged straight for the depths of Snape's mind.
Snape hadn't spoken, but the command reverberated in Harry's mind, cutting across his own thoughts. The word held a mixture of pain and shock, and it was so unexpected that Harry halted in his breakneck descent into the man's mind. At once he became aware of the emotions and memories swirling around him and even after months of no contact, the sensation was as familiar as the voice of an old friend. It was as if there had never been a break in this intimacy between them. But the calm control Harry was accustomed to feeling in Snape's mind was missing, replaced by confusion and something that felt alarmingly like fear.
Snape broke the connection between them and glared accusingly at Harry. "Well, Potter, you've certainly learnt a thing or two since last term."
"I'm sorry," Harry said, abashed. "I'm used to practicing with Dumbledore. I forgot that you've never done this before. Maybe it would be better if you didn't fight me this time. Just let me in so I can show you what it's like."
"What difference does it make? I clearly can't stop you either way."
"I won't force you," Harry said indignantly. "If you don't want to do this, I'll leave."
Snape regarded Harry resentfully a moment longer then relented. "I gave Dumbledore my word that I would work with you."
"Then follow me this time. I'll go slower. It's not hard," Harry added at Snape's skeptical look. "Just don't fight me and I think it'll happen naturally." Harry hoped that was true, anyway. He might know more about this form of Legilimency than Snape, but that wasn't saying a lot.
"Very well," Snape agreed, though he didn't look particularly convinced.
Harry took a deep breath and reached out to Snape's mind once more. He waited until he could sense Snape's presence around him and then started to descend, much more slowly than before. Thoughts and memories flashed by – too many to count at first, but fewer and fewer the deeper Harry went. This slow, controlled descent into Snape's mind was actually much more work than simply diving in with abandon and by the time the last remnants of Snape's consciousness had fallen away, Harry was straining to maintain control. He was relieved when his feet seemed to hit solid ground and the landscape of Snape's mind sprang up around him.
Harry had half-formed ideas of the dark forbidding place he imagined Snape's mind to be, but his first impression as he looked around was that it was in fact rather dull. Harry stood on a street in what appeared to be a run-down industrial neighborhood. It wasn't pretty, but there was nothing horrifying about it.
Harry turned towards the sound of Snape's voice, but as he did so, his feet were suddenly yanked out from under him and he found himself dangling upside down in midair.
"Hey!" he yelled, trying to crane his neck around to look at Snape. "What are you doing? Put me down!"
"What's the matter, Potter? Aren't you feeling quite as brave without your friends around? Where are they, anyway?"
"What are you talking about? Have you gone mad?"
The invisible force holding Harry in the air vanished and Harry landed in a heap on the ground. He sat up, turned to glare at Snape and stared in surprise. The man staring bemusedly back at him was Snape, but he wasn't the man Harry had known for over six years. This Snape couldn't have been more than a few years older than Harry himself.
"Amazing," Snape said, staring at Harry with equal astonishment. "You look enough like Potter to be his twin. Who are you?"
That question jolted Harry who scrambled to his feet. "What?"
"Who are you?" Snape repeated slowly in a tone that might have been his usual condescending drawl if it hadn't sounded so exasperated. "Surely that's not a difficult question. You do have a name?"
Harry felt his stomach clench. "Harry Potter," he replied, searching Snape's eyes for some hint of recognition. "Don't you know me, Professor?"
Snape frowned and glanced away as if searching his memory, but when he looked back his eyes were narrowed as if he suspected that Harry was playing a trick on him. "Potter's son is named Harry, but he's just a baby. You're obviously related to him, though. Did he send you here?"
Snape stepped forward and raised his wand once more. "If he put you up to anything –"
"He didn't! I swear; I hardly even know him."
Snape scowled at Harry, clearly unconvinced and Harry felt panic rising in him. Nothing Dumbledore had taught him had prepared him for this. He searched Snape's face anxiously for some hint of the man he knew, but there was none. "Professor, please, you have to remember."
"Stop calling me, Professor! I've only been teaching at Hogwarts for two months and with luck I won't be there much longer."
Harry stared at Snape. This was madness – as mad as Alice in Wonderland. Oddly enough, that thought actually relieved Harry's fear somewhat. Hadn't Dumbledore said that anything could happen in the mind?
Harry took a deep breath. "Listen. Let's just start over, all right?" Harry suggested calmly to the young man in front of him, trying to dampen both his own anxiety and Snape's anger. "Forget about – about Potter. I'm Harry." Harry automatically stuck out his hand in introduction.
Snape looked dubiously at the outstretched hand, apparently still certain that there was some trick being played on him. But having offered his hand, Harry refused to take it back and the two of them continued to glare at one another until finally Snape gave in and shook Harry's hand.
"Severus Snape," he said with a touch of impatience. "So if Potter didn't send you then what are you doing here?"
Harry sighed and answered honestly. "I've no idea. Dumbledore told me to come."
To Harry's relief, Snape relaxed and gave him a knowing smile. "Well, that explains a lot. Not that I don't appreciate everything Dumbledore's done for me, but he's not exactly forthcoming with his information."
"Yeah, I've noticed."
"So why do you think you're here? That's Dumbledore's game, you know. He expects you to work it out for yourself."
Harry considered. "I don't know. I don't think he knew what I'd find here. What is this place, anyway?"
Snape shrugged. "My home."
"Do you mind if I look around?"
"There isn't a great deal to see," Snape demurred.
"I need to see whatever there is. I know Dumbledore expects that."
Snape hesitated, then sighed. "Come on, then. I'll show you."
Snape set off down the block with Harry at his side. "It's just houses mostly. There's a factory about a mile from here where most of the Muggles work. There's a school over there."
Harry glanced at the landmarks as Snape pointed them out, but for the most part, he watched Snape. Even though Harry knew that everything around him was simply a manifestation of Snape's mind, the young man walking next to him seemed remarkably real. It was as if Harry had stepped back in time fifteen or twenty years and was actually talking to Snape as he'd been in those days. In a way, Harry supposed he was. This incarnation of Snape clearly had no memory of anything that had taken place in at least the last seventeen years – not if he still expected 'Potter' to be stalking him.
They came to a dead-end and stopped. "That's all there is," Snape said.
Harry looked back up the street the way they'd come. Compared to Dumbledore's garden, Snape's mind covered a very small area comprised of little more than a few dozen square blocks. Of course Snape wasn't nearly as old as Dumbledore, but it still seemed a bit cramped. Then something else occurred to him.
"Profess – er… Sir?"
Snape gave Harry an exasperated look. "You may call me either Severus or Snape. I don't care which you use, just pick one and don't stumble over it."
"Right. Where are all of the people?"
"The other people who live here. I haven't seen a soul."
Snape shrugged. "They keep to themselves and I keep to mine."
"Don't you have any friends? Anyone you talk to?"
Snape's eyes flashed angrily and Harry realized too late that he'd offended his companion.
"I prefer solitude to inane conversation," Snape said coldly. "In fact, I need to get back to the potion I'm brewing."
Harry nodded. "Right."
Snape turned away, but Harry called after him. "It was nice meeting you – Severus."
The young man stopped and looked back at Harry, frowning as if sure that Harry must be mocking him. But after a moment he seemed to accept that Harry wasn't and relaxed again. He nodded curtly. "Nice meeting you." Then he turned away and strode back up the street.
Harry watched him go then closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly and opened his eyes again. He was sitting in Snape's office and Snape was seated across from him. The man blinked, then shook his head as if to clear it.
"Well, Potter, I trust that was edifying."
"Do you remember any of it?"
"No, but given that Dumbledore said I wouldn't, I hardly find that surprising. Frankly, I couldn't care less anyway. I have enough to occupy me in the real world without delving into the realm of dreams. Now, if you're finished, I have things to do."
Harry nodded and rose from his chair. He had pressing business elsewhere, too. He left Snape's office and headed back to Dumbledore's. The headmaster didn't seem at all surprised to see him.
"Come in, Harry. How was your session with Professor Snape?"
"I don't think this is going to work."
Dumbledore looked at Harry over the top of his glasses. "I take it your foray into his mind was not what you were expecting. Harry, I told you it would likely be less welcoming than mine. That is the reason that I –"
"It's not that. His mind wasn't that bad, but he's… he's not himself."
Harry quickly relayed the encounter he'd had with Snape. Dumbledore listened attentively then leaned back in his chair and considered for a moment. "Yes, that would make sense," he said at last.
"Well, I'm glad one of us understands it."
Dumbledore looked back at Harry and smiled. "I realize it must have been quite disconcerting for you, Harry, but what you encountered was not entirely unexpected. In fact I should have foreseen the likelihood of this."
"I don't understand. Why should Professor Snape not know me? Why should he look as if he's hardly over twenty?"
"The mind is a complicated and many-layered thing that still presents far more mysteries than answers, particularly in the realm of the subconscious. On one level – the conscious level – Professor Snape functions normally. But it seems that on the subconscious level, his development has been arrested, undoubtedly due to a serious emotional trauma he suffered as a very young man. I'm certain I needn't tell you what that was."
Harry stared at Dumbledore in sudden understanding. "My parents' deaths."
"Exactly. I have no doubt that the young man you saw tonight looked exactly as Severus would have done on Halloween night in 1981. At the deepest level of his being he has never moved beyond that moment. All that has transpired in the intervening years – all of those memories – are locked away. At best they are like shadows, without substance and they mean nothing to him.
Harry turned away to pace across the floor. "Then I'll have to have to find some other way to prepare to face Voldemort."
Harry looked at Dumbledore in surprise. "I can't go rummaging around in his mind the way it is now. He doesn't even know me!"
"On the contrary, I can think of nothing more useful than for you to force Severus to look beyond the trauma that has held him prisoner all these years."
"But I don't know how!" Harry said desperately. "What if I make it worse?"
"How do you know that?"
"Because I know you, Harry, and I know how deeply you have come to care about him. Oh, I know neither of you are willing to admit it, but it is true nevertheless. I have told you before to follow your instincts. Let them guide you in this."