Chapter 20

"I trust you have been practicing occlumency?" Snape asked him tersely.

"Yes, sir."

"We will concentrate on that tonight."

Harry swallowed nervously. They hadn't had an occlumency lessons for ages. Not since Snape had found him out, and he did not relish the thought of the Potions Master delving into his thoughts again in the least. He was afraid he wouldn't be strong enough to keep him out… to hide what he needed to hide. He had not thought Snape would try finding out like this. He snapped back to attention as the man gesture for him to stand. Tensely he did so, pulling out his wand and moving behind his chair.

"On three, Potter. One. Two. Legilimens."

Expecting three counts, Harry was thrown off by the spell, barely managing to throw his mental shield up in time as Snape's magic crashed against it. He felt it start buckling and, panicking, he tried frantically to maintain it…

The magic withdrew suddenly before his barrier crumpled. Snape looked at him broodingly.

"You cannot lose control like that Potter. You must remain calm or you will not stand a chance."

Harry merely stared in disbelief, his stomach twisting unpleasantly. Never before had the man refrained from entering into his mind. Last year he would have gone as far as to say the man thoroughly enjoyed it.

"Again. Do not panic this time. Legilimens."

Harry was more prepared when the spell hit him. It tore at the barrier, seeking cracks, weaknesses, anywhere that might not hold. It felt horribly like trying to stand still in a flood. He could feel the torrent pushing on his shield, trying to make it cave… Again it began to slowly falter despite his frantic attempts to keep it up and again the magic withdrew. He took a deep breath, trying to quell his nerves.

"You have improved." Snape said coolly.

"T-thank you, sir."

"Again."

/\/\/\/\

Severus repeated the attack over and over. He expected the attempts to improve- after all he had not practiced with the boy for some time. However, each time was the same: at first Potter was fine but as soon as he started to overcome the shield, the boy would panic and it would fall apart.

"Potter, you are doing the same thing over and over." He said, trying to keep the irritation from his voice.

"S-sorry, si-"

"Do not apologize," He said, cutting the boy off. "Learn from your mistakes. What are you doing wrong?"

"I can't keep my shield up th-"

"No. That is the result of the mistake. What are you doing wrong?"

Potter looked at him uncertainly, eyes anxious and wide. "I-I-I don't know."

"Panicking, Potter. You are panicking."

"Sor-" His glare cut off the boy's words. Potter shifted his weight back uneasily.

"Calm yourself. Do not lose control if you feel your barrier being overcome. Again."

/\/\/\/\

Harry was trying to stay calm. He wanted to stay calm. He wanted not to feel the fear that creeping into him as soon as his shield started to give. But he couldn't stop the emotions. He tried to push the thought of what would happen if Snape did break into his thoughts at bay. So far the man hadn't but it didn't mean he wouldn't. He didn't understand what Snape was playing at; did the man want him to let his guard down? Or was there some other purpose? It made him even more unsure. How could he trust the man? He wanted to stop now, but that wasn't going to be an option. He tried desperately to focus as the Potions Master readied himself for the next onslaught.

"Legilimens."

The spell crashed into his shield again, probing, pushing. Harry pushed back as hard as he could, afraid that this time Snape would succeed. Then it started to happen again: the slow faltering, the feeling of the other man's magic slowly overwhelming his resistance. He tried to force down the panic that was building up… He wasn't going to be able to hold it…

/\/\/\/\/

Severus hadn't anticipated it, which was rather short sighted. But Potter had seemed to be coping well enough. It all happened in an instant. Potter's shield simply vanished, leaving him to tumble gracelessly into the boy's memories- something he had intended not to do. But before he could gather himself and withdraw, he felt himself being flung roughly back, into his own mind…

/\/\/\/\

It was too much. Harry pushed as hard as he could against the intruding mind. He didn't wait to see what the man would do- he simply turned and ran blindly, knocking over his chair. He heard the professor's chair scrape back as he flew into the door, his hand fumbling desperately on the handle.

Locked.

/\/\/\/\

Severus stood, but then stayed his first impulse to chase after Potter. It would make him panic more. The boy turned back from the door, looking around wildly. He backed up against it as soon as he realised Severus had stood. Severus took a deep breath.

"Come sit down, Potter."

"O-open the d-door." Potter stammered.

"Potter," He repeated, more commandingly. But the boy just shook his head, one hand still on the handle.

Severus began to move toward him. The boy flinched back, a small, choked sound escaping his throat. Severus stopped. The child before him wasn't being wilful or defiant. Potter was afraid.

Severus moved back behind his desk and seated himself. The boy's eyes followed his every move.

"Come sit down." Still, the boy just looked at him with wide, green eyes. "I will not ask again, Potter." He said, a hard edge in his voice.

However reluctantly, the boy slowly walked back to the desk. Severus saw the hopeless resignation in his face.

/\/\/\/\

How could he have been so stupid? He knew he wasn't going to get out of it, and yet he panicked anyway. Still, he had been expecting Snape to catch him rather than the door being locked. Like it had been almost every lesson since Snape found out. But his anger towards himself was nothing compared to his fear. The Potions Master was watching him keenly, lips pursed. Harry tried to brace himself, to still the trembling. His cowardice had brought this on himself. Despite this thought, he couldn't stop the dread sending cold chills down his stomach. He pulled his chair upright and sat, waiting. The silence lengthened uncomfortably.

"Running out doesn't solve anything, Potter." The man said, regarding him steadily. Harry didn't know what to say, so he just kept quiet, looking at his hands. "It is not unusual to try to escape physically when you cannot do so mentally." The man continued calmly, eyes still boring into him. "But you did manage to deflect me, once you were desperate enough. However you must let go of the fear that I will break your shield, or you will never be able to keep your shield in the first place."

Harry sat tensely, waiting for the rebuke, but Snape merely carried on explaining, ignoring that he'd tried to run out. His nerves felt stretched, waiting for the punishment that had to be coming. But still the man didn't say anymore on it. Perhaps Snape's cruelty lay in making him wonder what would come.

"Again, Potter."

/\/\/\/\/

Potter looked up, anxiety creasing his face. Severus stood, moving to take out his wand. The boy remained seated, worry and dread emanating from him. A moment longer and the boy seemed to steel himself, standing carefully, and not looking at him. Severus could see that the fear hadn't dissipated. His guess was that Potter didn't know how to react.

Severus raised his wand slowly, wondering if it was wise to try make the boy do it again, but he kept his face impassive. He waited a moment longer.

"Be ready, Potter."

/\/\/\/\/

Harry stood, desperately trying to scrape his shield back together. Snape raised his wand, and still, he couldn't get together his thoughts. He couldn't do it, he couldn't get his shield up, he couldn't get out. Snape was going to see. He was going to see and realise and then Harry would be exposed. Harry saw, almost in slow motion, Snape's lips forming the spell, and his wand making the complicated flick. He flung himself sideways, as the spell shot past where he had just been standing, rolling into a ball where he landed, trembling, waiting…

/\/\/\/\/\

Severus stood, watching. The boy was not coping. To say the least.

"Get up, Potter."

The teen slowly uncurled, standing up, ashamed and scared.

"What, Potter, were you trying to achieve with that?"

"I'm sorry." He mumbled, looking down.

"You panicked, again." It was a statement. The boy said nothing, just continued staring down.

"Potter," Severus said quietly, as he waited until the boy looked up – not at him, never at him – but up. "If you feel you cannot cope, then you must tell me. It does no good to go on when you cannot."

Still the boy said nothing. Severus could see how his hands were shaking, despite the clenched fists. Clearly Potter thought he was in trouble.

"I think it would be wise to leave the occlumency for tonight." The boy looked up, relief not clearing the fear from his eyes. He began to take out his amulet. "No Potter, the lesson is not over." He said sharply. "Practice your movements for half an hour, then you may go." He turned and walked through to his office, leaving the boy unsure, standing in the middle of the classroom.

/\/\/\/\/

Harry stood, confused, as the man walked into his office, the door closing behind him. He had thought… Surely Snape would punish him. He had directly disobeyed him. Not only that, but the man hadn't tried to humiliate him: no acid comments, no angry outbursts. He didn't like this. He couldn't predict Snape. Nothing about the man was conforming to his knowledge of the Potion's Master. He looked longingly at the door. He took a shaky breath, slipping his robe off his shoulders. He was not going to chance making the man angrier, no matter how much he wanted to get out. At least Snape wasn't watching him. The thought helped calm him.

He began to move through the sequences, only half minded at first – still worrying and waiting for Snape to come back. But slowly he became more and more focussed as he progressed into the more complex moves…

/\/\/\/\/\

Severus sat at his desk, head in hands. He had a headache. Potter's emotions had been wild and vivid unless he was occluding. Even then he could still feel them, as if through water. He glanced at the door. Although he couldn't see into the classroom, the monitoring charm that was activated the moment someone opened the door, told him the boy was still there. He hadn't wanted to let the teen go just yet. He did not want him to think that panicking would help a situation. Yet conversely, Severus wanted Potter to understand that he wasn't there to hurt him. Making practice his moves had seemed like a good idea.

He reached into his desk and pulled out the list of questions he had written in the weeks before. Looking over it pensively he started to cross out the questions he had answered.

1) Where did Potter get his amulet and what are its properties?

2) How did he manage to hide the extent of his injuries from Pomfrey?

3) Who harmed him? How long as it been going on for?

4) Why doesn't the boy use magic instead of trying to run away?

5) If Potter was attacked by a gang as he claims why is he afraid to seek help at the infirmary?

6) Is Potter malnourished because he doesn't eat or is he unable to eat because he is malnourished? If the latter, why is he malnourished?

Severus looked at the unanswered questions. He was no closer to answering them then he had been when he had written it out in the first place. He rubbed his temples. Regardless, he had the boy accepting some of his help. No, accepting was too strong a word, he thought sardonically – he hadn't given any alternatives. Perhaps it was time to start pushing Potter for the answers. But Severus had the feeling from long years of experience that Potter would not tell him willingly under any circumstance. While he could force the teen – it would be exceptionally easy to do so- it would do no good. It did not help for him to have the knowledge and Potter's distrust. Well, more distrust.

He glanced up at the clock. Thirty-five minutes had passed and according to his monitoring charm, the boy was still in the classroom. He had let the door unlock before he walked out the room. He wondered if Potter had merely forgotten the time, or was too afraid to leave without express permission. Ironic to think since the boy was usually desperate to get away.

/\/\/\/\/\

Harry's concentration was complete as he slid slowly from one position to the next. He could feel his muscles pulling and stretching with each move he made, the feeling not of power, but of control. There was no concept of time, or anything else, as he shifted his body. He was so focussed, in fact, that he did not hear the door open, nor the near silent whisper of Snape's robe as he walked into the classroom. He did not even see the Potions Master, standing still against the wall, watching him contemplatively.

Not until the man cleared his throat anyway.

Harry whipped round, cold chills flooding his stomach. He nearly lost his balance, arms flailing to keep from crashing to the floor. How had he let the man get that close without noticing? How ha-

"It's been an hour, Potter." The man said calmly, despite his reaction.

"W-w-what?" He stammered nonplussed. He locked his knees to stop his legs from shaking.

"You have been practicing for over an hour." The dark man said, still calm. Harry looked up in dismay. He had directly disobeyed Snape. Again. Twice in one evening. The man was going to be angry. He was go- He shoved the thoughts away, desperately trying not to panic.

"S-sorry, sir." Strong, he told himself. It didn't stop the fear rising in his throat.

/\/\/\/\/\

Severus had quietly slipped into the room. He didn't mean to do so to avoid Potter noticing him – it was merely habit.

The first thing that hit him was the sense of calm.

Complete, encompassing calm.

He watched Potter, solely focused on moving from sequence to sequence. There was no fear or anxiety. It was the first time he had seen the boy completely relaxed. He continued to watch the teen. Potter only knew five or six patterns, which he was using in different combinations – as per Severus' instructions. Yet it seemed the idea of deliberate control had finally clicked. The boy did not yet have the grace or muscle strength, but he seemed to have the understanding.

He watched for nearly ten minutes, partly just standing in the stillness- something he seldom found- and partly in the hope that the boy would notice him. He didn't want to break Potter's equanimity.

But the boy failed to do so, too engrossed in the movement. Steeling his mental barriers, Severus quietly cleared his throat.

Almost instantaneously, the air of tranquillity shattered. Potter span round, nearly losing his balance. Dread and terror battered at Severus's shield as the boy realised he was there.

"It's been as hour, Potter." He said calmly, trying to cut off the boy before he could do something stupid.

The teen looked at him in confusion, "W-w-what?"

"You have been practicing for over an hour."

"S-sorry, sir." Severus could feel it, the boy's fear building, despite the façade he was trying to stay behind.

"It is past curfew Potter, I suggest you hurry. Your next lesson will be in two days time."

"Yes, s-sir," The boy grabbed his robe as he rushed out, pulling it over his head as he went; his amulet was on before he was out the door.