a/n: Thanks for the reviews, as always. The next chapter will be the final one.

chapter 13: memories

The next morning Harry awoke to an empty bed and a cold, grey light piercing the small bedroom. Eerie shadows danced across the walls; a lone figure stood against the windowsill, arms folded and head tilted to the side.

"Hermione," Harry croaked in a hoarse morning-like voice. She jumped and peered at him from her spot by the window before returning her gaze to the horizon. He crawled out of bed and stretched his back as he staggered to her side; his eyes took in her tired appearance as he stole a glance before turning his attention to the window and what lay outside. There was no sun in sight, only clouds, but there was something mystifying and beautiful about the dark morning all the same. "Did you sleep all right?" he asked, already knowing the answer; he had felt her shift many times throughout the night and even leave the bed altogether once or twice.

"No; I had trouble falling asleep…and staying asleep," she replied in a quiet voice without taking her eyes off of the landscape. Harry took a closer look at her and noticed the bluish-purple half-circles under her eyes and the way she leaned against the window, almost as though it was supporting her exhausted frame. He moved to stand behind her and gently pulled her against him, assuring her with a quick tightening of his arms that he would keep her standing. She let go of the windowsill and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, letting out a long yawn that ended with a sigh as she did so.

"Nightmares?" he inquired, wondering what else would keep a person awake and fretful for most of the night; he had experienced more than enough nightmares in his time to know how a sleepless night felt and the effects on the body when morning came around.

Hermione lowered her hands from her eyes and nodded as she answered, "In a sense, yes, I had nightmares." It was then apparent to Harry that she did not want to speak about the night, at least not now, and he accepted her answer with a nod of his head and a sigh of his own. They remained that way for awhile, simply standing together and watching the non-existent sunrise. Hermione suggested they separate and clean up for the day before meeting for a much-needed breakfast in the kitchen; Harry agreed to the idea and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before she left his embrace and the bedroom in a few short strides. He stood staring at the door for a moment and then turned towards his trunk to find some clothes to wear after a brief shower; he found what he was looking for, took one last lingering look out of the window, and then went straight to the bathroom.

He emerged feeling refreshed and ready for both breakfast and the entire day, and the scrumptious smell of eggs floated in the air of the corridor and stairway. Harry arrived in the kitchen and immediately noticed a rather flustered Hermione attempting to prepare breakfast by the stove. Her hair was still wet and messily piled on top of her head, there were obvious egg stains on her shorts where she had apparently wiped her hands, and the sleeves of her hoodie were rolled up to her elbows as she tried in vain to flip an egg that was nearly burning in a frying pan.

"Er – Hermione?" Harry questioned with a hint of a smirk, "D'you need some help there?"

"I can't-" she was interrupted by a violent hissing noise from the rebellious egg in the pan, "I can't cook breakfast! I can manage everything else just fine, but breakfast has always been impossible for me," she finished quickly while removing the pan from the stove entirely. Hermione took one look at the deformed egg before tossing it right into the rubbish bin with a noise of disgust.

"I can make breakfast if you'd like," Harry offered as he peered at the discarded egg in interest.

Hermione scoffed before answering, "I know you can, but I just wanted to do something nice for you; it seemed like – er – something a girlfriend would do."

"Honestly, Hermione, I wouldn't know," Harry said earnestly, "But I am very hungry, and - no offence meant - that egg in the bin doesn't really look too appetizing…"

She gave him a death glare before rolling her eyes and saying, "All right then, you can make breakfast, but I'm going to help." Harry grinned at her and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, ready to cook up a satisfying and normal-looking meal.

It took half an hour in total to make breakfast, including the impromptu snogging session that Harry wasn't sure who started. They sat at the kitchen table eating their bacon, eggs, and toast when Harry was reminded of something important.

"Hermione, I just remembered what Professor Lupin said at training – about Occlumency - and maybe we should start with that today. I could try to teach you the basics, although I don't know how successful that'll be." Harry vividly recalled his first lesson in Occlumency with Snape and felt that perhaps that method of teaching was not the best way to go about it all, however Snape's limited explanation was the best thing he had. He knew he was no expert at Legilimency by any means, but maybe the fact that Hermione had no experience with Occlumency whatsoever would allow him to break into her mind.

"Yes, Occlumency sounds like a good idea, but doesn't it require magic? Are we even allowed to use our wands in here?" Hermione asked with a definite note of anxiety in her voice - the same tone she used whenever she was worried about breaking rules or causing trouble at Hogwarts. Harry hadn't thought of this prior to Hermione's query, but surely they'd be allowed to use magic to learn something as important as this; Lupin wouldn't have suggested it otherwise.

"Well, if we weren't allowed to do magic here, why would Lupin have instructed us to practice Occlumency?" asked Harry in a logical voice that made him sound much more like Hermione than himself. Hermione seemed to consider this for a moment before she nodded her consent and returned to the food in front of her; satisfied, Harry followed suit and the two of them finished their meal in silence. They quickly cleaned up the mess Hermione had created prior to Harry's arrival and soon found themselves standing in the middle of the living room.

"I guess I'll just explain what Snape told me during my first lesson; I'm pretty sure you'll understand it more than I do, you're much more clever," Harry said with a small smile.

Hermione blushed and answered, "Thank you, Harry, but from what I've heard it can be extremely difficult."

"I couldn't keep Snape out of my head during the first lesson, but then again he didn't really help much," Harry said in a spiteful tone. "Well, here goes nothing. A wizard – or witch – who's skilled in Legilimency has the ability to read minds, more or less," Harry paused as he remembered how Snape had repeatedly reminded him that Legilimency was much more complex than mind reading, but he didn't care – it had always sounded like that to him. He shook his head and continued, "Those who know or have mastered Occlumency have the ability to close their minds to outside forces; they shut down their feelings and emotions so no one using Legilimency is able to retrieve any of them."

"And how does one close their mind to prevent an attack?" Hermione questioned with a look of rapt attention upon her face.

"Er – you need to clear your mind of emotion," said Harry, internally cringing as he realized he sounded very much like Professor Snape.

"Is there anything else I should know before we give it a go?"

"Eye contact – it's very important for me as the one who's attempting Legilimency." Harry drew his wand from the pocket of his jeans and motioned for her to do the same. "You can use your wand to try and defend yourself against this…that's all, I think." He took a step back from Hermione and leveled his wand at her; it was eerie, Harry thought, to attempt to enter someone else's mind let alone Hermione's. "Are you ready?" he asked, hoping he wouldn't make a complete fool of himself.

"Yes, well, I hope so," she said and drew in a deep breath.

"Okay then…Legilimens!" He briefly saw a montage of blurred images and felt slightly disoriented before his vision returned to normal.

"Did I do it?" asked Hermione excitedly.

"I don't know; I just might not be able to use Legilimency properly," Harry said with a shrug.

"Try again then."

It took several more attempts, each one requiring more concentration than the last, but Harry finally managed to penetrate Hermione's weak mental block. The images were rapidly streaming in front of his eyes as if they were his own memories. A little girl with bushy brown hair sat at a table as she learned to write her own name…An excited and confused ten year old stood in a hallway while reading a letter that bore the Hogwarts crest…Thirteen year old Hermione wearing a red and gold Gryffindor scarf as she yelled and cheered during a Quidditch match…

Harry felt a jolt of pain on his left forearm and suddenly lost the images he was previously viewing with ease. He saw Hermione standing closer than she had been before, breathing hard with her wand pointed right at him.

"Did you see all of that?" she asked in between breaths; she lowered her wand and stared intently at the angry red welt that was forming on his arm.

"I think so," he began, "Pieces of it at least." She nodded and performed a quick healing charm on his arm before stepping back and facing him with her wand at the ready once again. "You want to give it another go?" Harry questioned with a raised eyebrow. He had half-expected her to be angry with him for seeing her memories as he had felt with Snape, but she didn't appear upset at all; in fact, Hermione looked more determined than he had ever seen her.

"Of course; you didn't think I would give up after one try, did you?" she challenged and closed her eyes in preparation.

"Er – no," he said as he too leveled his wand, "Legilimens!" Hermione's eyes sprang open as he uttered the incantation; there was a moment of blankness in his mind as he repeatedly tried to access her thoughts, and his efforts were rewarded as the image of a brewing cauldron in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom swam into focus. Twelve year olds Hermione, Ron, and himself sat on the floor watching the strange contents of the Polyjuice Potion…Dementors closing in upon himself, Hermione, and Sirius as they mouthed "Expecto Patronum" to no avail…A scarlet-faced Ron shouting at the top of his lungs from across the Gryffindor Common Room, still wearing his maroon dress robes…the image of himself lying face-down on the grass after emerging from the third task of the Triwizard Tournament…Dolohov making an abrupt slashing movement with his wand and emitting a purple flame that flew across the office in the Department of Mysteries…

After this image Harry left her mind without any force required on her part; he contemplated why he was seeing these negative memories after having just seen nicer, happier ones. "Are you purposely projecting these images?" he asked, wondering if perhaps this was some mechanism of defense against Legilimency that he hadn't heard of prior to this.

Hermione looked taken aback as she answered, "No; I'm not the one in control here. The memories just come without me thinking; you have to decide which particular image you want to see."

Harry breathed in deeply and shut his eyes for a moment as he attempted to regain his composure before trying again. "I'm going to try to access only good memories this time, Hermione," he said opening his eyes; he raised his wand while maintaining eye contact and cried, "Legilimens!"

A group of six students stood closely together in a large hall, facing twice their number in Death Eaters…No, Harry thought, no bad memories, nothing like that…Himself, Hermione, and Sirius flying away on Buckbeak, grinning as they did so…A present-day Hermione sitting under the tree by the creek at The Burrow as the night sky twinkled everywhere…Splashing around in the creek with himself, Ron, and Luna as they laughed madly…

Abruptly, the memories stopped and Harry saw a grinning Hermione standing right in front of him. He checked his arms for any injuries but there were none in sight. "Did you throw me out with only your mind?" he asked in surprise.

"I didn't use my wand; when the image of the creek popped up I just felt in control all of a sudden…it was strange, really," Hermione replied.

"Well, whatever happened worked; you did a brilliant job," Harry said with pride. "I think that's enough for today though; this mind-reading business is a bit tiring." He grinned and moved into the kitchen to get a drink.

She followed him in, saying, "I'm sure you know that Occlumency isn't exactly a lovely stroll in the park either; I can only imagine how horrible this must have been with Professor Snape," she shuddered as she finished the sentence. "I wouldn't want him to see my memories like that."

"Yeah, just imagine how I felt when the greasy git was probing my mind for memories; he actually saw the image of me and Cho in the Room of Requirement..." he trailed off when he saw the look on Hermione's face. "Er – sorry," he said sheepishly, "I don't suppose you want to hear about that."

"No, not really," she replied as she filled a glass with water, "but if you want to hear some Viktor stories, I'd be happy to share them." She grinned cheekily at his shocked expression and walked back into the living room chuckling to herself.

a/n2: Next chapter: The Weasleys return from Romania, questions are answered, and the story comes to an end.