Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter! I'm just playing with the characters.

I apologize for the beginning of this chapter- I'm not quite sure I got the characterization of Cho Chang correct or not, but I really don't like her (I think she's shallow and annoying) so I wanted to get her out of the way. So if you believe her actions are a little over the top, just cast it aside and trust me when I say that I will avoid writing her dramatic character as much as possible. With that said, enjoy the new chapter and don't forget to review!

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Chapter 4

This day was just going from bad to worse, and it wasn't even noon yet.

I decided to go back to Gryffindor Tower to exchange books before History of Magic so that I wouldn't have to double back after lunch, when I was intercepted in the Charms corridor by Cho Chang. Normally this would have been a good thing, given the fact that she'd kissed me before the Christmas Holidays and I'd had a crush on her for over a year, but I unfortunately happen to be a bit dense when it comes to interpreting the inner workings of the female mind. So I guess it was only to be expected that when she hinted about wanting me to ask her to Hogsmeade I accidentally said no.

"Harry!" She'd cried delightedly and rushed towards me. "I didn't see you this morning at breakfast!"

Her Charms class had just been dismissed so the corridor was streaming with students. I had to dodge around a burly sixth year Ravenclaw to have a clear view of her. My stomach fluttered uncomfortably when I realized that she must have been looking for me earlier in the Great Hall.

"Oh! Well, my friend Ron- d'you know Ron?- he-"

"Oh yeah, the Tornado hater, right?" she interrupted coolly and I immediately wished I hadn't brought him up. She flipped her long hair over her shoulder dramatically before smiling sweetly at me.

"So did you have a nice holiday?" she said.

"Yeah, it was- it was pretty nice," I stammered. My tongue always managed to tie itself up into knots when I spoke to her. "Did you?"

"Oh yes!" said Cho excitedly and began to prattle on about how she'd gone to visit her grandmother in China. At first I listened raptly, fascinated with the information about foreign wizarding countries, but then a flash of pink out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. My eyes jumped down the corridor and landed on Dolores Umbridge. She had exited a door farther down the hallway and there was a box filled with what appeared to be papers levitating in front of her. She strode purposefully down the stairs, her pink heals clipping on the stone floor and the box floating along after her.

My insides burned with dislike at the sight of her and curiosity at what was in the box, and I momentarily forget who I was supposed to be listening to. I paid for it dearly a moment later.

"-would you like to?" Cho finished and looked at me expectedly. My eyes snapped back to her and I pretended that I hadn't been distracted, but it was difficult with my curiosity so freshly stoked. I tried to beat it down.

"Er- sorry Cho, not now, I have to get to my next class." I said. It was too late to go back to Gryffindor Tower now.

She stared at me in surprise.

"Oh- But I thought…" she trailed off, thinking, and then her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "I suppose you're already going with Hermione Granger, is that it?" she said coldly.

"What?" I said, confused at why she was asking me whether Hermione was walking me to my next class. "No… I'm just meeting her there…."

The rest of my words were drowned out by the sharp slap across my face. Stunned, I cupped my stinging cheek as Cho glared at me.

"I knew it. I knew you were a liar. I should have believed Marietta!" Tears of anger and hurt glistened in her eyes as I gaped at her.

"Cho?" I choked out, hesitant to say anything more in case she decided to slap me again. So I settled for merely staring at her and before I knew it tears began sliding down her cheeks at an alarming rate.

"Cho!" Abandoning my useless silent front I weakly reached out my hand in an attempt to comfort her.

"Don't touch m-me!" she cried. Several students in the corridor looked around to see what the commotion was. I could feel my face growing hot as I stared helplessly at her. It seemed like all I ever managed to do was make her cry.

"Cho- What- Don't be-"

"L-leave me alone, Harry!" she spat and then stormed off, leaving me sputtering behind.

Ten minutes later I threw myself into a chair beside Hermione in History of Magic. "Cho just slapped me and I don't know why," I said.

Hermione looked at me, her eyes round. "What?" she gasped. "Harry, what did you say to her?"

"Why do you automatically assume it was something I said?" I retorted, glaring.

"Well she wouldn't have slapped you without reason, would she!"

Our argument caught the attention of Ron, who had been rummaging in his bag for a quill and demanded to know what was going on, so I confessed the whole story in a whisper as Professor Bins lectured about Goblin wars. As I spoke I noticed Hermione's expression growing more and more exasperated.

"Harry!" she hissed, and Ron and I had to shush her as many heads in the sleepy class turned towards us. "She was probably trying to get you to ask her to Hogsmeade!"

I gaped at her. "What?"

"There's a Hogsmeade trip on Valentine's Day! And now she thinks you're taking me instead!"

I shook my head in denial. "No way. She knows that we're just friends."

"Maybe she's jealous," Ron unexpectedly pointed out. "You spend so much time around me and Hermione…."

"I think you're right," said Hermione and Ron grinned, obviously pleased with himself. "And when you told her 'no' she probably jumped to conclusions. But now you've just confirmed her suspicions, even if they aren't actually true."

I allowed my head to fall to the table with a loud thud. Sometimes I could be a real daft prat.

"So what do I do now?" I asked desperately, my voice muffled.

"You approach her and tell her that it was all just a misunderstanding," said Hermione. "And then you ask her to Hogsmeade."

"But what if Harry doesn't really want to go to Hogsmeade with her?" said Ron. "I mean, I always thought she was a bit snotty and-" But he cut himself off at Hermione's reproachful glare.

Ron's words got me thinking, however. Did I actually want to go into Hogsmeade with Cho after this? I didn't know her very well and it was bound to be uncomfortable, especially after such a bad misunderstanding. And it was true that whenever she was in my presence she started crying…. But it would be worth it if I liked her, wouldn't it?

I liked her before she slapped me and called me a liar, an unbidden voice in the back of my mind said. But now….

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I didn't see Cho again that day and was somewhat relieved. She wasn't in the Great Hall for lunch, and she was absent again at dinner. Usually I would have taken the time to feel guilty about this, if not for the fact that my stomach was already writhing with nerves over my impending Occlumency lesson.

I went down to an early dinner with Ron and Hermione and managed to force a few bites of chicken down my throat before I felt too queasy to eat anymore. I therefore settled for pushing the rest of my food around my plate as my friends tried their best to keep my mind off Snape.

"We should probably start our History of Magic essay tonight," Hermione was saying earnestly after taking a sip of pumpkin juice. "I know that goblin wars are just a review but we should still do a bit more research in the library. I don't know why but I keep mixing up Emeric the Evil and Euric the Oddball-"

"It's the first day of classes, Hermione," Ron interrupted through a mouthful of potatoes. "Relax! We'll have all weekend to do homework, right Harry?"

"Our O.W.L's are coming up! Do you want to fail every subject? Because that's what's going to happen when you don't take the time to study!" said Hermione angrily.

"You wouldn't let us fail," said Ron simply. He began shoveling peas into his mouth. "And besides, we have ages. I don't want to spend six solid months in the library, I'd prefer to limit that to June only."

Hermione huffed but for once didn't press the subject.

"Blimey!" Ron suddenly exclaimed. "I've just remembered- you never told us what McGonagall wanted, Harry."

They both looked at me expectantly.

I hesitated for a moment and sighed, realizing I shouldn't keep this from them. "Sirius told Dumbledore about the scars on my hand," I confessed.

Hermione gasped and Ron just gaped at me.

"You told Sirius?" asked Ron, dumbfounded.

"What's Dumbledore going to do about it?" Hermione whispered. "They can't possibly let Umbridge continue teaching here if they know what she's doing."

"I didn't tell Sirius, exactly… He sort of saw them the last night we were at headquarters. He wasn't very happy," I explained grimly. "And McGonagall said that she and Dumbledore would handle it. I'm not sure what that means, really, but she made it pretty clear that she doesn't want Umbridge teaching here anymore."

"I should think not!" said Hermione. "That's got to be some form of child abuse, using a quill like that on a student. I'll be very surprised if they don't take this to court."

Hermione's words reminded me of something McGonagall said in her office. "Did you know that quill was an illegal object?" I asked, glancing from one friend to the other.

Hermione shook her head and Ron frowned. "I think I might've heard something about a quill like that from Dad once," Ron said, frowning. "Maybe something about how wizards used to use them on criminals in the dark ages."

"Oh Ron, don't be silly, that quill can't possibly be that old," said Hermione impishly.

"I'm just saying what I thought Dad said!" Ron snapped back. "Jeez, Hermione, I say one thing-"

I glanced at my watch and felt my stomach jolt. It was five minutes to six o'clock. I leapt up from my seat and grabbed my bag.

"I'll see you guys later," I said hurriedly. They abandoned their argument to wish me good luck as I turned and walked briskly out of the Great Hall and towards the dungeons for the second time that day. My breath rose in puffs as I hurried down the stone steps. Even in the summer, the dungeons were bitterly cold. Like a cave, I thought, and I had to suppress a snigger as a mental picture formed of Snape clinging to the ceiling of his dungeon with his feet, like an overgrown bat.

I reached Snape's office door and warily raised my hand to knock hollowly on the dark wood. There was a slight pause and then-

"Enter."

I slid the door open and peered inside. The office was dark and there were several dead slimy creatures floating in jars along the walls. They seemed to be illuminated by the lone burning lamp on the desk. Snape was sitting behind his desk grading papers. He didn't look up at me, nor did he speak until I had taken a seat in the chair across from him.

"You're late, Potter. When I tell you to be here at six o'clock, I do not mean six-o-five. Ten points from Gryffindor." He scrawled a spiky letter D at the top of the unfortunate student's paper that he was grading, then grabbed the entire pile of essays and shoved them into a desk drawer.

I noticed then that there was a large stone basin sitting on the desk- a Pensieve. I wondered whether it was Dumbledore's or if Snape had his own… What was it doing here?

Snape leaned back in his chair and glared at me. I stared back. "Occlumency is not a subject that can be mastered by anyone who lacks focus or… dedication. It is difficult for the average wizard to learn, so we can only hope that you will be more… adept at it than you happen to be in Potions."

I frowned slightly at that, but remained silent. Snape regarded me for a moment before continuing.

"Occlumency is the study of concealing the mind against the invasion of an outside force-"

"What sort of outside force?" I asked worriedly. This didn't sound good to me.

"As these lessons will be taking place in my office, under my supervision, and consuming my own personal time, you are to call me 'Professor' or 'sir' at all times," spat Snape. "And you will not interrupt me again, do you understand me, Potter?"

I swallowed and nodded. "Yes… sir," I added quickly.

Snape glared pointedly at me again before continuing as though he hadn't been interrupted. "The Dark Lord is sufficiently skilled at Legilimency- the ability to penetrate the minds of his victims to implant false images or extract valuable information at will. The headmaster wishes me to teach you to close your mind to such attacks, as it seems you are vulnerable to invasion during the times when your mind is at rest. When you are sleeping," Snape elaborated at my look of confusion.

"You mean, Voldemort has been entering my mind?" I asked. This really did not sound good to me.

"Do not say the Dark Lord's name!" Snape hissed angrily. "The attack on Arthur Weasley over Christmas provides evidence-"

"But I saw that vision through the snake's eyes, not his!" I said, panicking. If Voldemort really could enter my mind, then who knew what he could make me do? What if he sent me against Ron, or Hermione, or the other boys in my dorm next? Or Sirius, the next time we were at Grimmauld Place? It would be like being possessed-

"I thought I just told you not to interrupt me, Potter?"

I wasn't listening, however. "How come I saw the vision from the snake's perspective, then? Sir?" I asked desperately. "If Voldemort's the one-"

"You saw the vision through the eyes of the snake because the Dark Lord was at that moment possessing the snake," Snape said dangerously. "Do not interrupt me again."

There was a silence as we glared at each other across the desk.

"As I was saying, the vision you experienced at Christmas provides evidence that you and the Dark Lord share a connection between your minds. This connection has enabled you to experience some of his thoughts and emotions... The headmaster believes that the Dark Lord has previously been unaware of such a connection, and therefore hasn't been able to manipulate it… yet. However, the attack at Christmas pulled you so deeply into the Dark Lord's mind that we believe he may have sensed your presence."

I pulled myself forward so that I was perched right upon the edge of my seat. "So… so that means… that Vol- he- might try and make me do things now that he knows about the connection? Sir?"

"As you so eloquently stated Potter, yes, that is what the Headmaster and I have concluded," Snape replied in a bored voice.

I stared hard at the Pensieve, my mind swirling with this new information. "And I'm learning Occlumency in order to block him out?" I said incredulously. "Can that even be done?"

Snape heaved an exasperated sigh and said, "As I stated before, the Dark Lord is highly skilled in Legilimency... however, we would not be wasting time here if I believed it could not be done." He pushed out his chair and strode around the desk. "Take out your wand and stand across from me."

I hastened to obey, stumbling slightly on my robes as I rose. I saw Snape draw his own wand and couldn't suppress a nervous swoop in my stomach. But rather than cursing me into oblivion, Snape merely held the wand against his temple and as he withdrew it, I could see a long silver strand of memory clinging to the tip. He slowly lowered it into the Pensieve and repeated this action several more times. Once he was done he turned back to me, wand held at the ready.

"I am going to attempt to penetrate your mind," said Snape. "You may use your wand to defend yourself or otherwise attempt to disarm me."

I stared at him nervously. "What- what exactly am I supposed to do?" I asked.

"Expelling someone from your mind is similar to battling the Imperious Curse. Try to focus on forcing me out rather than the memories you will see."

I nodded and raised my wand, preparing myself- for what, I didn't know. My heart began to beat fast and irregularly.

"Get ready now… Three, two, one- Legilimens!"

It was as if a film had begun playing in my head, only the images that flashed before my eyes were fleeting… I was eight, watching the Dursleys eat their dinner through the tiny square window of the locked back door… I was twelve and a giant serpent was rising above me, blood streaming from its punctured eyes… I was thirteen, and a hundred dementors were gliding silently across the lake towards me as I screamed the incantation, 'Expecto Patronum'….

The images continued their assault on my mind, flashing faster and faster until I began to feel sick. And then suddenly the pressure on my skull was gone, and I became aware of the fact that I was lying face-down on the stone floor of Snape's office.

"Pathetic, Potter. You didn't even try to push me out."

Snape's cold voice cut through my tortured mind like a knife and I groaned, holding the sides of my head in my hands.

"Showing weakness after the first attempt? Now there is something I would never have expected from the Boy Who Lived…" I could almost hear the sneer in his voice and forced myself to raise my head from the ground. I was shaky and felt feverish.

Snape was standing above me with his arms crossed. He was smirking. "By all means, Potter, take all the time you need," he said sarcastically. I could tell he was enjoying seeing me lying prostrate at his feet though. I struggled to my knees and had to lean on the desk in order to stand upright. I realized that my scar was burning and I rubbed it.

Something occurred to me then that made my stomach lurch unpleasantly. "Can- can you see everything that I see? Sir?" I asked.

Snape smirked. "Flashes of it," he replied nastily.

So Snape could very well witness some of my deepest, darkest secrets through these Occlumency lessons… Brilliant.

"We will try again," said Snape, taking a few steps back. "Clear your mind."

"Clear my-?"

"Close your eyes. Empty your mind of all thoughts and emotions. Focus on feeling nothing."

I closed my eyes and tried to do as he asked, but it was a lot harder than it sounded. I still felt sick, and didn't like standing in front of a wand-wielding Snape with my eyes closed.

"You're not doing it, Potter. Relax your mind."

"I'm trying!" I snapped, feeling irritated and tired. "Just give me a moment, will you?"

"I thought I told you to respect me while you are in my office," he growled, and I imagined that if my eyes were open I would see his lip curling. Instead, I kept my eyes closed and took several deep breaths. I tried to think of nothing but the blackness of the back of my eyelids. When I felt ready I nodded, keeping my eyes closed.

I heard his robes swish as he raised his wand arm. "Prepare yourself- Legilimens!"

The vivid images immediately assaulted my mind again. A towering black dragon reared before me … the Weasley twins were rescuing me from my locked bedroom on Privet Drive, an airborne Ford Anglia hovering outside the window… Hermione was lying on a hospital bed, frozen as if made of stone… a woman was screaming and pleading to be sacrificed rather than her son… the silhouette of a skeletally thin man was rising slowly from a stone cauldron…

No, I thought desperately, fighting the image of Lord Voldemort as he turned his red eyes toward me… Not this…. Please, no… NO!

With a jolt I was brought back to reality as my behind hit the floor with a thump. Snape had stumbled and was holding a hand to his wrist, where a large red welt was beginning to form.

"That was slightly better, Potter…," he panted. "Was it your intention to use a Stinging hex?"

I shook my head, out of breath. I lowered my wand, which I belatedly realized was still pointing at Snape.

He crossed the room and pulled a jar of salve off one of the shelves and began dabbing it onto his wrist. "You allowed your fear of that memory to control you," he said quietly, screwing the top back on the jar. "You defended yourself but failed to push me out. Fear of a memory will only fuel the Dark Lord's power over you; you are handing him weapons."

I rose, resisting the urge to rub the bruise I knew was forming where I had landed. I felt as if I'd been beaten repeatedly by a large stick, and my skin was clammy as though I'd just encountered a dementor.

"That's enough for tonight," Snape said. He sounded tired. "You are to practice clearing your mind every night before bed. And understand me when I say that I will know if you have not practiced."

"Yes, sir," I said.

"We will meet again on Wednesday evening at six o'clock. Do not be late."

I left the office. The walk back to Gryffindor Tower seemed to take much longer than usual. When I opened the portrait hole I immediately spotted Ron and Hermione in a corner of the common room. I walked over to the table where they'd spread out their homework and collapsed into a chair.

"Harry! How was- Oh, you look horrible!" Hermione exclaimed upon seeing my pallid face. She put a hand to my forehead before I could bat her arm away. "You feel like you might have a fever."

"I think I'm going to go to bed," I said, feeling ill.

"But it's only nine," said Ron.

I shook my head and rubbed my scar with my fist. "I'll see you tomorrow."

They watched me walk unsteadily to the stairs. "Goodnight, Harry," said Hermine softly.

A/N: So what did you think? I'm proud of the Occlumency scene but let me know what you guys think! I love hearing different perspectives :)