A/N: Written for the Quidditch League Fanfiction Competition Season 3 Round 9.
Prompt: Shakespeare - Hamlet
Optional Prompts: 6. (word) feather, 14. (word) burning
"Why, let the stricken deer go weep,
The hard ungalled play.
For some must watch, while some must sleep:
Thus runs the world away."
-Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2
Harry was clutching his forehead, panting hard as he made his way slowly, laboriously, back to the Gryffindor common room after his latest Occlumency lesson with Snape. His scar was burning. It felt worse than usual, and all he wanted was to lie down.
He had, apparently, made no progress. Snape was still breaking into the memories and thoughts Harry most wanted to keep private.
Finally, he managed to get past the Fat Lady's portrait and into the common room. He was sure she hadn't actually heard him gasp the password, but was grateful, at least, that he apparently looked horrible enough that she had let him in anyway. "Harry!" Hermione cried, as she and Ron both rushed over to hover about him.
"Nngh," he replied, dropping heavily onto the nearest sofa.
"Snape's killing you!" Ron said, making a face.
"Yeah, probably," he agreed.
"You need to keep practicing," Hermione told him.
"Well, if it hasn't worked yet, I doubt it'll suddenly start working, Hermione," he said, too tired to be properly cross with her. She gave him a sympathetic look and said nothing.
"Hang on," Ron said, "Maybe he's right. What if we're going about this the wrong way?"
"What do you mean?" Hermione said, "This is the way he's supposed to be practicing. Professor Snape wouldn't have told Harry to do it if it hadn't worked for other people."
Harry privately doubted that, but again, he was too tired to argue.
"Well, just because it worked for some people, doesn't mean it'll work for Harry," Ron said, "There are plenty of ways to remember something, so there have to be plenty of ways to not remember."
When Hermione didn't respond, he pressed on, "So Harry's been told to clear his mind, right? What if he does the opposite, instead? Fill his mind with something that's not what Snape's looking for."
Hermione jumped up, jostling Harry on the other side of the sofa. "Ron!" she said, "You're brilliant!"
"I am!" he said, proudly, before he considered the matter, and said again, disbelievingly, "I am?"
"Yes!" Hermione said, "In World War II-"
"In what now?" asked Ron.
"World. War. Two," Hermione repeated. "It was a terrible war, and soldiers on both sides were taken hostage and tortured for information. So, they trained the soldiers to withstand torture, which is just what Professor Snape is doing for Harry. Only they would be taught to repeat names, or numbers, or historical figures, which would prevent them from giving anything away."
"Exactly!" Ron agreed.
"Of course," Hermione said, "This is a little bit different. You-Know-Who isn't going after any particular information, and neither is Professor Snape. I suspect he gets to the private thoughts because they're what you want to protect, so you think about them. So perhaps something that mimics the memories. Something like a story, or a scene from a book…"
"A false memory!" cried Ron, startling even Harry awake, "If you start with something you already have, the false memory will be stronger."
"That could work," Hermione agreed. "What do you think, Harry?"
Harry forced himself to truly think about this new method of keeping Snape out of his head. "Yeah," he said, weakly giving his friends a thumbs-up.
"Brilliant," Hermione said, "Then it's settled. Now, Harry, I think you should go to bed."
"Yeah, mate, you look terrible," Ron told him. Harry took a good-natured swing at his best friend, who dodged him deftly. He noticed that Ron was following him very closely up the stairs, as if he were about to fall down, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
As tired as he was, though, Harry couldn't sleep. Even the softness of the feather pillow didn't seem to be enough to stop his scar from aching, and as he lay awake, he began to actually consider what his friends had suggested. He began to think of memories that he could modify for Snape's benefit, but whatever he thought of was either too terrible or too private to use. Besides, he didn't know what he could add or modify in them.
At an ungodly hour of the night, Harry had a realization. Snape had mentioned his repelling of the Imperius Curse as indicating he was strong enough to withstand Occlumency. That had been a case of telling himself to do something else. Perhaps the problem was that he was focusing on repelling Snape. What if he averted the invading presence with a purpose?But what? What kind of purpose could he have in showing Snape even a modified memory?
Harry's mind kept returning, as it often did without his bidding, to the graveyard last June, and felt a familiar pang of anger. He couldn't bring himself to believe that Snape was really devoted to the Order. Even the Occlumency lessons, which were supposed to be helping him, were instead a form of torture. What if his purpose was to get Snape to confess that he really was still a Death Eater? He knew that when someone was faced with their own misdeeds, they could go mad. In a way, that was the purpose of the dementors, wasn't it? And he didn't even have to drive Snape mad, though that would serve his purpose as well. All he had to do was find a way to prove that Snape was still working for Voldemort, and he was sure he could convince Ron and Hermione once and for all.
Harry's dreams that night were fitful, and he woke unrested but determined to implement this new course of action.
"Are you ready, Harry?" Hermione asked him as they walked back to the common room from dinner on the night of Harry's next Occlumency lesson.
Harry nodded, feeling almost jovial. After coaching himself for a week, he was ready to see if his plan would work—would make Snape confess, or give himself away. If all went well, he would finally be sure that Snape was his enemy, as he suspected, and he might even be able to make Dumbledore see the same thing.
If Snape noticed that Harry seemed almost to smile when he prepared his first attack, he did not let it show on his face. "On the count of three, Potter. One…two…three—Legilimens!"
Harry concentrated harder than he thought he ever had, picturing the memory he'd chosen.
He was back in the graveyard. Peter Pettigrew had just sacrificed his arm, and the cauldron was bubbling.
The memory continued to play what had really happened, until Voldemort was standing in front of his followers. That was when an unfamiliar Death Eater detached from the crowd.
"Severus!" Voldemort hissed, and indeed, the Death Eater removed his mask, revealing his distinctive nose and supercilious sneer.
"How may I serve you, Master?" Snape asked, bowing low before Voldemort.
Suddenly, Harry found himself sitting on the stone floor of Snape's office, the Potions professor standing over him with a scowl on his face. "Get out," he spat.
"What?" Harry asked, feeling bold and still hopeful that Snape would give himself away, "Was that scene too familiar to you, Professor?"
Severus Snape flicked his wand, lighting a candle on his desk. "Out," he said, in a voice that brooked no argument. Harry complied.
Harry was in a sour mood the next morning at breakfast. No matter how guilty Snape had looked, Harry was no closer to proving that he was still in league with Voldemort. He picked at his food morosely as Ron and Hermione talked around him.
"The point is that it worked," Hermione said.
"Yeah, but I think anything that makes Snape even more horrible than usual is to be avoided," Ron said around a mouthful.
"Professor Snape might very well have had something else happen last night, even before the Occlumency lesson. I think Harry should try again."
"But what if it was the modified memory that got him?" Ron pressed.
"Well, it doesn't matter, if Harry's right and Professor Snape is going to stop the lessons. They've fulfilled their purpose, no matter how Professor Snape feels—"
"Hang on!" Ron hissed, "Here he comes!"
Ron and Hermione made an effort to look like they'd been chewing since before Snape swept into the Great Hall. Harry's eyes snapped up to the approaching flurry of black robes.
"Mr. Potter," Snape's growled. Harry grudgingly scowled up at him, "I am here to inform you that your last essay was below even your usual standard of mediocrity. I have made a report of it here." He handed Harry a small, pink piece of parchment. "You will deliver this to professor Umbridge, and she will recommend a course of action which I have no doubt will involve detention with her. I shall see you again next Monday at six, and I expect you to be able to repel the curse without the use of emotional attacks. They will only get you so far."
Harry scowled down at the note in his hand. This was low, even for Snape.