Title: Stronger Than Hope
Summary: AU after OotP, a few HBP details. An obsessed, grieving Harry has decided on a dangerous way to defeat Voldemort. Snape is paying closer attention than before, but his contempt for Harry blinds him. Eventual Snape as Harry's guardian story.
Disclaimer: All characters involved belong to J. K. Rowling and her associates. I write this story solely out of admiration and with no intent to profit.
Rated For: Suicidal thoughts and discussions of suicide attempts, violence, adult language, and Snape being a bastard. (I mean it; he's really not nice in this story at first, and won't be for a long time.) No sex, as there are no pairings.
Notes: Hi. This is a story I thought I'd write. It takes place after OOtP and is mostly AU, but some details from HBP show up, mostly smaller ones (such as Snape's background and the character of Rufus Scrimgeour). If you haven't read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, this story will spoil it for you, but it doesn't follow that book's plot.
I hope to update this regularly-irregularly- I'll try to make it frequent, but it won't follow an exact schedule. I have about an hour to write each day, and while I plan to take full advantage of that, longer chapters will require more time and more extensive editing. I will let it be known if I'm abandoning the story, though. I don't plan to.
Finally, the title comes from a Ted Hughes poem called "Examination at the Womb-Door"—"Who is stronger than hope? Death."
Stronger Than Hope
Chapter 1: The Benefits of a Clear Mind
No human voice spoke to Harry Potter that summer.
That didn't mean he never heard them, of course. He'd hear Dudley whinging every time Aunt Petunia tried to coax him into some stricter variation of his diet, and Uncle Vernon waffling on about something in the paper that displeased him, and voices on the telly when they all watched it together in the evening. But he was never invited to intrude, and none of the Dursleys tried to talk to him anymore. Aunt Petunia gave him meals and narrow-eyed glances of distaste in utter silence. Uncle Vernon scowled, and Dudley just turned away, probably to hide the look of fear on his face.
The Order's warning had done its work. The Dursleys didn't mistreat Harry. But they seemed to have decided they'd get revenge by not speaking to him.
So Harry lay on his bed and listened to the voices of his thoughts.
They all spiraled and turned around a single center: Sirius's death. And the conclusions they whispered to him became more and more reasonable. Harry tried to argue against them at first, but he only had an occasional letter from Ron and Hermione, short and cryptic, or one from Dumbledore, announcing that it was too dangerous for Harry to leave his relatives' home and he'd have to stay there the whole summer, to make a difference.
Well. The more he thought about it, the more he could see that it had been his fault.
He'd tried to shift the blame onto other people, onto Snape and Dumbledore and Bellatrix Lestrange and even Sirius himself, but that was what a child would do. Snape was only being a git. He'd probably wanted Sirius dead, but he hadn't helped it along that much. He could have killed Sirius a long time ago if he'd really wanted him dead, and probably done it with some untraceable potion.
Dumbledore… Harry still wished Dumbledore had talked to him, but he could understand why the Headmaster hadn't. There was just too much at stake. And he had come in the end and rescued Harry from Voldemort, hadn't he, and dueled Voldemort? He'd made mistakes, but none of them had led directly to Sirius's death.
Bellatrix Lestrange was crazy. She'd killed Sirius. But she wasn't the one who'd brought him to the Department of Mysteries in the first place. If Harry hadn't gone, then she would have had to go and find someone else to kill.
It wasn't Sirius's fault. Harry was even surer about that now than he was about it not being Dumbledore's fault. The conviction burned inside him with the force of a flame. Sirius had been reckless, but he'd loved life, and he'd loved Harry. He'd made the offer for Harry to come and live with him. He was just trying to help, and he'd had enough of being cooped up in that awful house with only Buckbeak and Kreacher and the portrait of his mother for company. He'd died because he was trying to help.
Meanwhile, Harry hadn't thought clearly enough about the visions and the fact that it was Voldemort peering into his head, or what he was doing. He'd had the chance of Occlumency lessons to stop the dreams, and bollocksed them up. He'd charged off into danger, taking a bunch of half-trained friends with him. No, none of the rest of them had been killed, but they'd been hurt.
And Sirius was dead.
Harry kept trying to spin excuses, for a while, but when he stopped blaming other people, he saw that he had none left. The truth was bright and clear before him, and he couldn't stop thinking about it.
Sirius was dead. It was his fault.
Other truths came out and joined that one, the longer he lay there and thought about it, thinking about nothing else, while the sunlight stared in through the window, or rain and darkness hammered down.
If he kept acting as though he could save the world without proper training, he wouldn't save it.
If he charged into danger and took other people with him, those other people would get hurt and killed. That was going to happen.
The whole responsibility for defeating Voldemort was on his shoulders. He knew that because of the prophecy. Maybe other people could help train him, but they wouldn't be able to help him in the actual battle.
The prophecy echoed in his head, until he saw it written in blood-red letters across the back of his eyelids whenever he closed them.
"And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives."
That seemed clear enough to Harry. Death was coming for one or the other of them. He would have to face it.
But he had no idea how to face it until July thirty-first came, and with it his birthday.
And, with that, a book from Hermione.
Harry flipped listlessly through his gifts: yet another rock cake from Hagrid, a Quidditch poster from Ron, a can of broom polish from Ginny. Hermione's was a book, of course. He knew that even before he looked at the package or hefted it.
But he paused when he saw the title. The Dark Ways of the Mind: Occlumency for the Average Practitioner.
That fiery conviction that burned inside him now told him this was it, that he'd find the answer, whatever it was that he needed, inside this book.
Harry ripped Hermione's letter open and read it quickly.
Happy birthday! I'm sorry that I can't write much, but, well, I'm sure you understand. I can't wait until I see you at school in September!
I got you this book because I don't know if Professor Snape will ever let you practice with him again. Oh, Harry, I wish you'd gone to him and asked—
Harry skipped the rest of that paragraph, knowing it would only consist of scoldings. The fact was, the dreams about Voldemort had stopped soon after he'd come home for the summer. Voldemort seemed to have decided that, if he could learn about Harry from the connection, Harry could also learn about his plans, and so it was too dangerous to leave open.
So I thought this might help. I know that Professor Snape's teaching method leaves—something to be desired, sometimes, so maybe you can learn on your own.
Did you get your O.W.L. results yet?
Harry turned to the book, flipping feverishly to the table of contents in the front. Chapter titles leaped to his eye, glowing as brightly as the letters of the prophecy seemed to when he went to sleep at night.
Clearing The Mind…Opening the Hidden Doors…Envisioning the Paths of Truth…
And then, there it was, as if whoever had laid out the book had known he would look at the end, and had chosen just the chapter title that would attract his attention.
Occlumency as a Weapon of Offense.
Harry closed his eyes for a moment. He still had a month of summer left, and no other chance of training until he returned to Hogwarts. His hands trembled a bit, but, when he opened his eyes, they were calm.
He wouldn't waste that month.
He lay back and began to read.
He had a new focus, now, and so the days flew past more quickly. Harry was calmer than he could ever remember being, and also more focused. Yes, he was studying, which had never interested him that much before, but this studying was a matter of life and death. It mattered, just like Defense Against the Dark Arts did.
His life was so simple now, so deep, so clear, with the ideas he'd developed lighting up the center of it like fire burning under the sea. Everything that could help him defeat Voldemort was important. Everything that couldn't help him with that was unimportant.
He read, and he practiced, and he ate, sometimes, when he remembered to. Aunt Petunia didn't insist on it, because that would have meant speaking to him. Harry didn't mind. He had the voice of the book in his head now, speaking to him in words that made a lot more sense than anything Snape might have used to instruct him.
He knew he wasn't ready to practice what lay in that last chapter yet, and wouldn't be for a long time. But he'd read that chapter already, to decide what would be the most effective technique to use in the defeat of Voldemort, and what he should be working towards.
And he'd seen the right words immediately. A deep peace had washed over him as he studied the page.
One of the most advanced forms of Occlumency is that termed The Beholder Beholds Himself, called in most texts Beholding. This lures an enemy who is a Legilimens into one's mind, and traps him within thoughts like a hall of mirrors. No matter where he looks, he beholds himself, and he cannot find the passage out of the mind of the skilled Occlumens. Masters of the art have, at times, used this skill to destroy their enemies silently and with no trace left, containing all spark of consciousness in their own minds, while the enemy's body still lives and breathes, but is less than a fungus.
It is not necessary to mention that The Beholder Beholds Himself is highly illegal, being essentially assassination, and may only be done with special dispensation from the Ministry.
One caution is also necessary for the skilled Occlumens: A Legilimens who has learned the art of dominating a victim completely may resist Beholding by the Legilimency tactic of Reversing the Vision—spreading the idea of himself out to every corner of the mind he occupies, so that, in the end, it becomes his mind. He takes the Occlumens's body, in this fashion, and lives on in him.
Harry nodded. The air seemed still around him, the world very bright.
He knew that applied to him. Voldemort could possess Harry; he'd shown that at the Department of Mysteries. That meant Harry couldn't count on just trapping Voldemort in his mind and holding him there. Voldemort would just Reverse the Vision and take him over.
The answer was clear, of course, and Harry thought he might have known what it was even without the prophecy.
Harry would have to trap Voldemort in his mind, and then kill himself, kill his own body, before Voldemort could break free.
It would work. It had to work. Harry felt content as he contemplated it, as he saw just how right everything was, and what his thoughts had been leading him to all summer: the moment when he would have the strength and resolve to face up to what needed to be done, the courage to commit suicide.
It was right, wasn't it? "And either must die at the hand of the other."
Voldemort would die at Harry's hand. But Harry would be killing himself because of Voldemort.
And then everything would be all right. Voldemort would be dead. Harry's friends wouldn't be in any more danger from being dragged into ridiculous scrapes like the battle at the Department of Mysteries. Harry wouldn't be around any more to cause trouble for people like Dumbledore, either.
And he'd pay what he owed Sirius. He'd killed him. But if he gave his own life to make up for that, that was the biggest price he could pay, wasn't it?
Of course it was.
And maybe—maybe Harry would see him again, once he was dead. Maybe he'd even see his parents.
Harry closed his eyes against tears. He had no time for tears. He hadn't cried since the second day back from Hogwarts. They couldn't help him defeat Voldemort, so they weren't important.
The owl that came fluttering up insistently to his window in the next moment wasn't important, either, though Harry let it in and gave it a few treats from Hedwig's dish. Harry took a cursory glance at the letter it carried. Just his O.W.L. results. As expected, he hadn't scored high enough to make it into N.E.W. T. Potions. Harry was doubly relieved. The last thing he needed this year was Snape looking over his shoulder. Harry thought he was already a good enough Occlumens to shield his thoughts from Snape, a little, but Potions would have been torture when he needed to concentrate on other things.
Besides, what's the good of O.W.L scores? It's not as though I'll be living to use them.
Harry smiled a little and stroked Hedwig's feathers. She'd hooted jealously when the other owl flew in, but now she calmed down and preened, nipping gently at his fingers.
"I'm finally doing the right thing, Hedwig," Harry whispered to her. He was startled to hear how hoarse his voice sounded, but then, he'd barely spoken that summer except to whisper the prophecy or the words of the book aloud. "Training to defeat Voldemort, which has to happen, and doing what I was born to do."
Hedwig hooted at him again and took a piece of his hair in her beak, nibbling it. Harry stroked her neck, and decided he'd have to make a will of some kind soon, so that he could decide who should take care of Hedwig and his few other possessions when he was gone.
He knew such thoughts would have depressed him a few months ago. But then, he didn't know what he knew now.
It was good that he'd been left alone all summer, he thought, as he stooped and took the quill and parchments from under his bed where he kept them to write his short, mechanical letters to the Order. It had definitely cleared his head.