Chapter 26 - Midnight in the Kitchen

so much fun. Tomorrow we're driving out to the carnival. Tuney told Daddy she doesn't want to go, but I know she's only pretending. She's as excited as I am to ride the Ferris wheel. I think it might be better than flying! (Don't let Carter know I said that. Merlin forbid I tarnish the name of Quidditch.) Tuney's been absolutely awful this summer. I think she's still upset that Mum and Daddy wouldn't get her a wand last year. I told her it wouldn't work for a Muggle, and now she won't even speak to me. Honestly. I love her, but sometimes I wouldn't mind being an only child like you.

At least I'll be home soon and we'll have two whole weeks to go over our assignments! Third year! Can you believe it? I hope Professor McGonagall meant what she said about teaching us about Animagi this year. I was more excited for Charms and Potions before she said that, but the topic sounds fascinating! (And don't you give me a hard time. You know you love school as much as I do.)

Maybe next time your papa will let you come with us. Since you can't be here, I'm sending a bit of "here" back to you. It washed right up to my feet this morning. Isn't it pretty? Now you can pretend you've been to the beach too. Maybe we can even charm it to sound like the waves. You'll love it, I promise. It will be the next best thing to being here in person.

Got to go. Mum is calling us to dinner. I'll be home before you can say Hogwarts Express!

Your friend,


"It's from my mum, see?" said Harry after he'd finished reading the letter aloud. "It's her handwriting. She actually wrote on this very page, when she was thirteen, I think. Snape gave it to me. Snape! Where do you reckon he found it? He told me not to ask, and after everything, I figure I won't…not yet, anyway. But I wish I knew who the letter was written to, at least."

There was no reply, not that Harry had been expecting one.

He reached over to touch Ron's pale wrist where it lay against the bedsheets, just to reassure himself that his friend's skin was still warm. He could feel a faint pulse under his fingertips, and Ron's chest rose and fell so slightly that Harry had to watch carefully just to make sure he really was breathing.

Heaving a sigh, he leaned back into his chair at Ron's bedside and looked over the letter again. It was such an ordinary letter, but he loved that about it. It was more real that way…a window into a day in his mother's life. He'd read and re-read it at least a dozen times since that afternoon, imagining his mother as a young schoolgirl writing on the very page he held in his hands. He wondered again who it was written to. Who were her friends? What was she like when she was at Hogwarts?

He knew a few things, of course, but he'd only really met friends of his dad. He knew lots of things about James Potter - about how he'd played Quidditch and become an Animagus and gotten into trouble a lot along with Sirius. He knew he'd been brave and funny, also a flirt with his mum, and at one time at least, somewhat of a bully.

He hadn't met any friends of his mother. Nobody had really told him much about her except generalities, like that she was brave and pretty and smart. One would suppose that he would know at least a little more than that after being raised by Lily's side of the family, but Petunia Dursley refused to speak about her sister except to mention that she had gone off and gotten herself killed and left her brat behind for them to take care of. He didn't even know if Lily and Petunia had ever been close, like real sisters.

Now he knew that she liked Ferris wheels and school, and he knew what some of her favorite subjects were and that she went on at least one summer vacation to the beach with her family. Also that she had a friend she did homework with during holiday, and that she and her sister didn't get on, at least sometimes. It wasn't much, but it was so much more than the nothing that Harry had had before.

"D'you think she wrote a lot to her friends? Maybe I could find out who her friends were and…" he trailed off, imagining how Ron would respond. "No. No, you're right. That would be weird. What would I even ask them? 'Hi, I'm Harry Potter. You went to school with my mum. How was she at Herbology?'" he rolled his eyes.

He fell silent again, the only sound in the room that of the ticking clock in the corner. It was starting to annoy Harry, actually. He nearly smothered it with a blanket in case Ron was annoyed by the ticking too…but the thought that Ron might be able to hear enough in his comatose state to be annoyed by it gave Harry hope, so he left it alone.

It was almost midnight. He'd waited until late to visit Ron so he could see him alone, but Mrs. Weasley had been curled up in a chair next to the bed. He had tried to sneak back out, but she'd heard him and told him in a teary voice to "sit down, Harry dear, sit. Ron will enjoy the company," and left the room.

He studied Ron's pale face and watched for the rise and fall of his chest again. There it was, slow but steady.

He took the heart-shaped stone back out of the envelope and turned it over and over in his fingers. It was amazing how one little piece of worthless rock could instantly become priceless, after knowing that his mother had once held it. She had hand-picked it because she thought it was special, and she'd gifted it to a friend. And somewhere along the way, it had found its way to Harry. He smiled wistfully. He could almost pretend she'd gifted it directly to him.

"Not much to look at, is it?" Harry said, but silently he thought that it was beautiful. He didn't know where Snape had come across it or what had prompted him to give it to Harry, but he wasn't going to make the man regret it by asking questions he'd been warned not to ask. For now, he was just grateful to hold in his hands this small piece of his mother's life.

He carefully re-folded the letter and put it and the stone back in the envelope. He'd need to find a safe place to keep them when he returned to his room. There weren't any loose floorboards here, he thought, studying the old walls and dark furniture.

"Ever wonder what secrets this house has that Sirius never told us about?" he wondered aloud. "I know he hated being here, but maybe he just didn't appreciate the good things about it because of his family. It's an old wizarding house. It's got to have secrets. When you're better, we should look around to see if there are any secret passageways."

He refused to consider aloud the possibility that Ron might not get better soon…or at all. He'd already considered all of the worst possibilities inside his mind. Voicing them out loud would make them too real, too possible…too inevitable. Plus, Ron might hear. If there was even a remote possibility that Ron was aware somehow, that he could hear anything that happened around him, Harry needed him to know that he had no doubts that they'd figure out how to save him.

Harry turned the envelope over and over in his hands. He studied it again. No name on the envelope, not even a clue.

He heaved a sigh and got to his feet, suddenly too tired to consider any more mysteries. Mysteries be hanged, he just wanted his best friend back and for Voldemort to stop messing with the lives of the people he loved.

If he were of age, he'd seek out Voldemort himself and…and…

And what?

There was a prophecy, sure, but what actual weapons did Harry have against the most powerful evil wizard in the world? Dumbledore seemed to think that love was a pretty potent weapon in his arsenal, but what did that even mean? How could Harry wield love as a weapon? Voldemort, expert Legilimens as he was, might tear apart Harry's mind before he even figured out how to work the love-as-weapon angle. Harry was learning a ton more about Occlumency since he started studying in earnest, but he was barely making progress with the application of the confusing mental art.

He rubbed the tiredness from his eyes and touched a hand to Ron's wrist again. Skin warm. Heart beating. Chest moving.

"I'll be back, mate. Sleep well," he said and turned away. He didn't look back at his still, pale friend as he left the room.

Mrs. Weasley wasn't in the hallway, so he made his way to the kitchen. If she was still up, she'd appreciate knowing that she could resume her vigil at her youngest son's bedside. He certainly wasn't expecting to open the door to find Snape sitting alone at the kitchen table, books and parchment spread out before him. Harry stopped mid-step as the professor looked up from his work. Didn't the man ever sleep?

"Sorry," he said automatically and backed up a step.

Before he could make a graceful exit, Snape stopped him with a raised eyebrow. "A bit late for a snack, isn't it, Mr. Potter?"

Harry kept hold of the door with one hand, only half in the kitchen. "I was looking for Mrs. Weasley." He frowned as a thought came to him. "You're not…um, are you still in charge of me?" Snape narrowed his eyes, and realizing how impertinent that sounded, Harry rushed on to explain, "I only meant, you told me not to leave my room at night…and I wasn't trying to break rules, not this morning either, I just kind of forgot about that, with everything. You know…since, well…" He figured Snape got the point and shut his mouth against further rambling.

Snape's eyes took in Harry's pajamas and worn socks and lingered on the familiar envelope that Harry still held in his hand.

Harry flushed and moved it behind his back. He wasn't sure why he was embarrassed that the man should see how much it meant to him, but he was. He was also right tired of facing the man in his pajamas. It made him feel…unprotected. Vulnerable. "Right. Well. I'll, uh…leave you then-"

"You've had a nightmare?" Snape interrupted, his eyes studying Harry.

He shook his head automatically. "Just awake," he said, and figuring that Snape wouldn't accept so short an answer, added, "I was with Ron."

Snape nodded and looked back at the parchment in front of him. Harry took that as his permission to leave and began to back out of the kitchen, but Snape stopped him again, saying almost conversationally, "Arthur Weasley tells me that you've been spending an inordinate amount of time in the attic of late."

Harry paused, caught off guard. Is this how things were going to be between them now? Casual conversation at midnight in the kitchen? As if it wasn't strange that they were both there, and Harry in his pajamas? As if it wasn't insanely weird that earlier that day, they'd both confessed their wrongdoings and each barely gotten a response from the other?

Apparently it was, as Snape was calmly waiting for Harry to answer.

"I wanted to be alone," he said simply.

"Ah," Snape replied. "That must have been the case, considering that half of the teenage residents of this household joined you up there for the entire day yesterday."

Harry narrowed his eyes, not sure why Snape was digging around for information, but not wanting to upset their truce by snapping at him about it. "We were studying," he said honestly. He supposed he could have confessed about the Occlumency. Merlin knows, Snape would be glad to hear Harry was finally taking it seriously. But then he'd have to confess his continuing ineptitude.

"Studying. In the attic." Snape's raised eyebrows showed what he thought of the likelihood of that excuse.

"Yes, in the attic," Harry insisted. "I was trying to concentrate, away from people at first. But then Hermione offered to help me, and then Ginny too."

"You needed two tutors, did you?" Snape scoffed, not giving up. "I've seen your OWL results. While not the best indicator of your abilities, they're not that bad."

"We were studying!" He said, his temper starting to get the better of him. "Not that it's any of your business!" He huffed and added a quick, "sir." So much for trying to be polite. Maybe they'd come to some sort of understanding about the past, but Snape was still Snape and Harry was still Harry. He wasn't sure they'd ever be able to overcome the very real hurdle of their personalities - even for the sake of the future.

Snape's eyes flashed at Harry's outburst, but he leaned back in his chair, arms crossed. He slowly nodded at the chair opposite him and said, "Why don't you take a seat, Mr. Potter? You see, as the adult left in charge of your care - a charge that Professor Dumbledore did not, in fact, revoke after the Weasleys took up residence - it appears that you require a familiarization as to what is or isn't 'my business.'"

Harry hesitated only long enough to see no way out of it before plodding reluctantly to the indicated chair. He put his envelope carefully on the chair next to his and waited for the inevitable vocabulary-fueled lecture to begin.


"I was studying Occlumency," Harry blurted out.

Snape looked at him, taken aback, which Harry supposed was his goal. Snape was bound to get the information he wanted eventually, and until then Harry would be unpleasantly subjected to lecturing and questions. Might as well skip the lecture and get straight to the inevitable. Hopefully Harry could downplay the humiliating fact of his lack of progress.

"You were right," he went on. "I wasn't focusing before. I thought it was boring and hard and I didn't want to put in the effort. But…I have to now. Even if it is boring and hard. So I've been reading the book and practicing some of the exercises, and Hermione and then Ginny offered to help when they saw what I was up to. That's all, professor, I swear."

For once, Snape didn't appear to know what to say. After a long moment of silence, he said quietly, "You've been holed up in the attic for four days."

Harry nodded.

"All so that you could read the Occlumency book that just last week was the bane of your existence?" His face showed his skepticism.

Harry nodded again and looked down, tracing the wood grain of the table with his finger. He felt properly ashamed at not having put in the proper amount of effort before.

"And what have you learned?"

Harry glanced up. "I…uh, I learned that there are a lot of ways to clear your mind…and that most of them require focus rather than just…nothingness in the brain."

"Nothingness in the brain?" Snape asked incredulously. "This has been your understanding of Occlumency thus far?"

Harry sank a little in his seat. "Yeah, well…we've already established that I'm pants at it, alright?"

Snape impatiently waved a hand. "What else?"

"I learned about how closely the mental arts are related, and that it's impossible to become a master of Occlumency without figuring out how to control emotions…pushing them away, using them for misdirection, all sorts of things." He didn't add that controlling his emotions had never been his strong suit. But then, Snape already knew that.

"Go on," said Snape. He steepled his fingers in front of his chin.

"Uh…" Harry wasn't sure if it was such a bright idea, but now that he had an Occlumens in front of him, he was tempted to get some of his questions answered. Even if it was Snape. Well… Harry cocked his head slightly, studying Snape for a couple of seconds. The man didn't comment on it other than to raise a questioning eyebrow. Maybe…maybe because it was Snape. He somehow knew, in a way that he hadn't in weeks past, that if he asked his questions, Snape would answer them.

"There was something that I…I mean, maybe you wouldn't mind answering a question for me, professor?"

Snape studied him from across the table and slowly nodded.

"It's about redirecting emotion," he began. "See…the book talked about redirecting emotion to a physical place, and I just…I don't understand how," he said with a question in his voice. "I mean, emotion is emotion. It doesn't have a physical presence. How can I treat it like I can touch it or move it?" he held up his hands in a frustrated gesture and waited.

Snape cocked his own head to the side. "You tried the exercises as prescribed by the book, I presume?"

"Yes," Harry sighed, "but the explanation didn't make much sense to me. Or maybe it sounds like it should make sense, but I can't figure out how to make it work inside my own mind. If that makes sense," he added and inwardly winced. He sounded like a right idiot.

Snape lay his hands on the table and absently tapped a finger on its surface. "Books are instructive and illuminating on many topics, but they cannot do justice to all endeavors. There is a reason nearly all students of Occlumency seek instruction from a flesh and blood teacher rather than from the inanimate pages of a book. Some things are better shown than explained."

Harry nodded as he looked away. They were getting dangerously close to the topic of last year's failed lessons, and Harry wasn't completely sure where they stood on that, even after his apology. It was a little bit stressful, this not knowing if he was in the clear or if he was skating on thin ice. "I suppose it's something Professor Dumbledore can help me with when school starts back up."

"Or-" Snape began but cut himself off. He drew his hands up from the table and crossed them over his chest. He was silent for so long that Harry looked up at him questioningly. Snape studied him with his carefully blank expression before he cleared his throat and looked away. "Or…I suppose I could show you."

Harry wasn't sure he'd heard right. He widened his eyes as he played the words back through his mind and looked up to find Snape's eyes back on him. He decided that he must have heard right because Snape looked really, really uncomfortable. He looked, in fact, as though he might take back the offer at any moment, so Harry made a snap decision and nodded. "I'd appreciate that, sir."

Harry wasn't surprised when Snape gave a brisk nod, then picked up a quill and turned to his books with a "Tomorrow, then. I'll expect you in my laboratory straight after breakfast, no matter how late you've decided to roam the house tonight." The jab lacked bite, and Harry sneaked a last glance at the professor as he picked up his mother's envelope and pushed in his chair. Snape was scribbling on a sheet of parchment, a black curtain of hair obscuring his face.

As Harry made his way to the door, it struck him that Snape was probably feeling just as awkward and uncertain about their new tentative truce as he was. It shouldn't have helped to see that, but it did.

For once, Snape was just…a person. Well. An intelligent, awkward, antisocial, sarcastic, and guarded person. With anger management issues.

Alright, so he wasn't an altogether admirable person.

Yet somehow, Harry wasn't wholly dreading this Occlumency lesson. He actually thought that maybe this time, with Snape willing to teach and Harry willing to learn, he might catch on rather quickly. He smiled hopefully to himself as he headed off to bed.

When Harry told Hermione on their way downstairs that he'd be working on Occlumency with Snape straight after breakfast, to say that she was glad for him was an understatement.

"Oh, Harry! That's excellent news! You finally asked him? Is he going to help you to clear your mind again? Or teach you the finer points of Occlumency? Oh, what does it matter? You'll have an Occlumency master to guide you through the process, no matter where he starts. You will tell me how he teaches you, won't you? I'm so curious, after reading all about the theory."

"He's just helping me with a question, really," Harry pointed out, though he grinned at her enthusiasm. "He offered to show me one technique, not to start up regular lessons again."

Hermione stopped on the stairs and Harry turned back around after realizing she wasn't next to him anymore.

"He offered?" she asked, still excited, eyebrows raised. "That's huge, Harry! Dumbledore had to force him to help before, didn't he? But this time he's offered? Maybe things will be different this time."

Harry gave her a skeptical look before continuing on to the kitchen to join the Weasleys and greet Remus, who had dropped in for breakfast again, but inwardly he had the same hope. Maybe things would be different this time. Of course, last year had set the bar pretty low. It wouldn't take a miracle for their lesson to at least be better than that.

But of course his plan to start off on the right foot was derailed immediately after breakfast. As soon as he pushed his chair from the table, Remus stopped him with a quiet, "Harry, might we speak for a few minutes? In the drawing room, perhaps?"

"Um," Harry looked at the clock. "Snape wanted to see me straight after breakfast."

"It will only take a few minutes." Remus looked hopeful, and Harry stifled the urge to brush him off. He didn't want to keep Snape waiting, knowing how much of a stickler he was about punctuality. Not to mention that he still wasn't quite comfortable with the concerned, quasi-parental persona that Remus had tried to adopt lately. But his manners kicked in and he found himself trailing behind Remus to the drawing room and sitting across from him on the small sofa.

Remus leaned forward, his elbows resting on the patched knees of his trousers. He watched Harry for a moment, a soft smile on his face, like he was searching for something. Harry didn't know what and felt a sudden wave of stubbornness roll over him. He crossed his arms and waited. Remus was the one who'd wanted to talk, so he could very well go first.

"How are things, Harry?" Remus asked as though reading his mind. The thought made Harry's mind run in an entirely different direction.

"Have you ever studied Occlumency or Legilimency?" he blurted out. He narrowed his eyes at the thought. He'd become more aware of the need to hide some of his more embarrassing thoughts with Snape and Dumbledore after learning that they were Legilimens, but he'd never given any thought to the possibility that other teachers possessed the skill. His eyes widened then, as he considered the implications of that. McGonagall would have way too much dirt on him by now.

Remus seemed puzzled by the question. "No. I haven't." He cocked his head to the side. "Are you in need of help? I thought that you and Professor Snape ended your lessons last term."

Harry shrugged, relaxing into the chair a bit. "We did. I mean, technically. But no," he answered Remus's question. "I wasn't asking for help. I was just…curious."

"You? Curious?" Remus teased, a warm smile lighting up his features.

Harry couldn't help a small smile. Remus, of all people, knew what trouble he could get up to due to his curious nature. He thought it was maybe time to get back on track.

"I'm…uh, doing well though. You know, all things considered. I don't suppose you know anything more about a cure for Ron?"

Lupin's smile faded a bit and he shook his head. "But I'm certain he will be fine. Just wait and see."

"You can't know that," Harry bit out. He felt a familiar rise of frustration well up inside him, and for once, he decided to let a bit of it seep out. Better with Remus than with Mrs. Weasley. "That's all any of the adults in this house will tell me. Well, everyone except Snape, anyway. 'It'll be okay. He'll be fine. It's just a matter of time.' You can't know that, Remus." At least he managed to keep himself from shouting. He couldn't forget how lousy he'd felt after the last time he'd taken all of his frustrations out on Remus. He took a deep, calming breath.

Remus reached out a hand toward Harry, and he moved out of its way.

"Sorry," he immediately said at seeing the hurt expression on Remus's face. "I didn't mean-"

"No, Harry," Remus let out a deep breath. "I am the one who is sorry."

Harry frowned, confused.

"I don't know how to do this, you know," Remus said abruptly, sagging into the chair. "I want to be there for you, be someone you can rely on, but I keep getting it wrong, don't I?" He looked up through defeated eyes, and Harry was taken aback. He hadn't been entirely pleased with Remus lately, but he hadn't expected the man to drop all pretense and apologize for anything. Harry felt that he ought to reassure him, tell him it was all right, but he couldn't find the words. He wasn't even sure how he felt about Remus these days. Oh, he loved him, of course. He just…felt a bit jumbled about whether…well, about whether Remus loved him.

But he couldn't say that. He was sixteen. He didn't need to sound all pathetic asking the adults in his life if the boy his family hadn't loved was worthy of being loved by anyone else. He cleared his throat uncomfortably and tried to push those thoughts out of his mind.

"Sirius was reckless, always rushing into things since our boyhood days," Remus was saying. "I thought he was reckless with you as well, but he at least knew how to reach you, didn't he? He knew what you needed, and he knew how to be an ear you could confide in. And I'm - I'm sorry that I haven't been that for you, Harry."

"Remus…" Harry said awkwardly at Remus's defeated tone. He cleared his throat again, trying to think of what to say. The man's words were true, after all. He hadn't been there for Harry like Sirius had been, and Harry resented him for it. But at the same time, Harry hadn't truly wanted the man to feel bad about it. "You…um, you know you don't have to be like Sirius was to me, right?" Remus looked as if he might argue, so Harry rushed on, "You were my dad's friend, I get that, and you were a great teacher. Thanks for giving me so much extra help, by the way," he added. "But I already had parents. And a godfather. They're gone, and I'll always miss them, but you don't have to…be them."

Remus smiled sadly at him for a minute before responding. "I suppose it is a bit egotistical of me to assume that I could fill such magnificent shoes, isn't it?"

Harry shrugged, smiling a little as he reflected, "Sirius wasn't exactly a dream mentor type, you know. He encouraged me to embrace my own reckless side more than I think a godfather is supposed to."

Remus's lips turned up at that. "I can imagine."

"He blamed me for not being enough like my dad, too," Harry said quietly.

"Oh Harry," Remus said, and this time when he reached out, Harry let him rest a hand on his knee. "You have much of your father in you. You have his bravery and determination, his loyalty to his friends…not to mention his stubbornness and penchant for smart mouthing his teachers."

Harry huffed a laugh.

"But I see much of your mother in you as well," Remus added softly. "You have her intelligence, her kind-hearted compassion for others, her great capacity for forgiveness…" He squeezed Harry's knee and let go. "Yet you are your own person. You can be proud of what your parents gave you, but you have no obligation to be anyone but yourself. Never lose sight of that."

Harry ducked his head to blink away the wet sheen over his eyes. Those words somehow meant the world to him, and he felt a heaviness lift from his heart. He knew that Remus would never be like James or Sirius to him, but he also knew from the way Remus had looked at him just then that he genuinely cared about Harry. For Harry's sake.

He felt a sudden urge to hug the man, but instead, he grinned and said, "You know…you might not be as awful at this as you think."

Remus laughed.

"But really, Remus," Harry said, "I mean it. You're a good teacher. You've been a good friend. I know I could come to you for advice or help if I need to, and I really appreciate that. But you don't have to try to stand in for my parents or Sirius or anybody else. Just be you. It's enough, I swear."

"Even if being me means that I still don't share Order business with you?" Remus gave him a lighthearted but pointed look.

Harry shrugged. "Just don't lie to me. I've had enough of lies and watered-down truths to last a lifetime."

"Deal." Remus's eyes were smiling but his mouth was serious as he held out his hand for Harry to shake.

Harry took it and smiled. "Deal."

Remus returned his smile as he relaxed back into his chair and crossed one leg over the other. "So you're getting on better with Professor Snape, then?"

Snape! Harry looked at the wall clock and shot to his feet. "I really do have to go, Remus," he said but paused his steps. "Why? He didn't say something, did he?" Harry clamped his mouth shut on a sudden urge to deny anything the Potions professor might have said about him and his behavior over the last several weeks. He still wouldn't put it past him.

"Well, no. Professor Snape is still about as eager to converse with me as he was when we were at Hogwarts." Remus smiled calmly as if it didn't bother him in the slightest. He stood and brushed the wrinkles out of his trousers. "I only wondered what you are meeting him about this morning. Is he helping you with that Potions homework you still need to complete?"

Harry took a deep breath and looked at the clock again before reluctantly admitting, "No. I'm, um, not actually taking Potions next year."

"No?" Remus asked, eyebrows raised. "Have you decided not to try for the Auror program after all?"

"It's not that," Harry hedged, then admitted, "I didn't get a high enough grade to go on next year."

"Oh," Remus said simply, and Harry tried not to show his embarrassment as they walked to the door in silence. As Remus opened the door, he put a hand on Harry's shoulder and said, "I may only be me now, but I would be happy to speak with him on your behalf, if you wanted me to."

Harry wrinkled his nose, not sure whether to laugh or be horrified at the idea.

Remus shrugged. "It is up to each professor to determine which students to admit into their classes. They set the rules, but they have the authority to grant exceptions to those rules if they wish."

"And you honestly think Professor Snape has ever once granted an exception for a Gryffindor?"

Remus smirked. "Well. There is a first time for everything."

Harry harrumphed, amused despite himself, but he shook his head. "It wouldn't work. It'd probably hurt more than it would help, to be honest. I bet he'd say no even if Dumbledore asked. And anyway, I think he's just now starting to get it through his thick skull that I don't expect favors because I'm Harry Potter. I don't want to give him some kind of proof that it's actually true."

Remus smiled and squeezed his shoulder before letting go. "I understand. The offer stands if you change your mind."

Harry gave him a small, genuine smile even though he knew he'd never take him up on it. "Thanks, Remus. I mean it," he called over his shoulder as he climbed the stairs two at a time to Snape's lab. He crossed his fingers that the professor wouldn't grill him about the exact time that breakfast had ended and why he hadn't come straight up. Hopefully the man was in a good mood today, and hopefully whatever he had in mind for their lesson wouldn't be too grueling.

And hopefully it would work and Harry would figure out Occlumency after all!

Harry knocked at Snape's door, bouncing on the balls of his feet until he heard Snape's voice say, "Enter." He pushed the door open, unable to suppress the tiny feeling of hope spreading through his chest.

Next week…Chapter 27: Found: Occlumency Tutor

Their first Occlumency lesson since the Great Pensieve Disaster of 1996! What could possibly go wrong?

Update Note: Due to a packed schedule and multi-chapter planning, I expect the next chapter will take longer than a week to post. Maybe. We'll see. Managing expectations. ;)

Kirby Notes:

If you leave a question in your signed review, I'll do my best to PM you with an answer (assuming it's not too spoilery). ;) I had more than one person ask me about Ginny and Lily, so here are some answers for everyone:

Ginny: OME isn't gearing up to include romance. I do like canon Harry/Ginny in books (movies, not so much), but here she's just being a good friend, and Harry and Hermione are being good friends by helping to distract her from the Ron situation. I like her, so I included her, and that's all there is to it. I'm not promising I won't be inspired to hint at Harry's romantic future (Other Harry already did, after all), but Harry will be too distracted by grouchy mentors, murderous dark lords, and comatose best friends to concern himself with much else within the scope of this story. Which is good, since I'd much rather focus on the mentor relationship. :)

Lily: Even though I began this story before the final books were published with the Snape/Lily reveal and the Snape/Lily/James fiasco, it has become a part of this story. (I believe Snape's backstory is the only thing from the final books to have made it into OME.) It explained him so well and grew on me so much over the years that I retconned it into my Snape's backstory. However: 1) The plot of the story itself is unchanged, and this backstory will not be taking it over. The past has bearing on the present and will be addressed, but this story at its heart is about Harry and Snape, not about Snape and Lily. 2) My imagination has filled in some blanks in the Snape/Lily friendship that are not stated or implied in canon, but the main gist is pretty much the same.

Thank you for taking such an interest in this story! I hope you are enjoying reading it as much as I am enjoying writing it!