Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers apply. I don't own Harry Potter or the Harry Potter universe, of course.

Chapter 14 – Occlumency Overtime

March 18, 1996.

Monday night Occlumency. Two hours in a room with Snape. Never much fun for Harry Potter.

Although he didn't mind so much now.

Having Snape trying to assault his mind for two hours, trying to find a way into his thoughts, trying to sift through his memories, was usually painful and frustrating for Harry. It was still painful, but Harry was finally able to keep Snape out of his thoughts for the full "Remedial Potions" lesson. None of Snape's tricks – insulting him, distracting him, pushing him – worked this time. Harry's mind was blissfully free of intrusion.

Harry had hoped to see a look of frustration on Snape's face at Harry successful repulsion of his attempts at Legilimency.

Unfortunately for Harry, Snape's only reaction as he put his wand away was a simple, toneless, "You're learning."

The Potions Master then looked piercingly at Harry. "I wouldn't be so smug if I were you, Potter. You have to be able repel a Legilimens at any point, and as I have told you before, any failure at Occlumency may be your last failure at anything. It will almost never be as easy as it has been for you."

"You think this was easy?" Harry said, incredulous.

Snape gave him a cruel smile. "In a classroom setting, with an instructor who you know is attempting Legilimency, and who is behaving far more gently towards your than any potential foe? Yes, I think you have had it tremendously easy. The next phase will not be so easy for you."

Harry would not have described Snape's lessons in the last two-and-a-half months as "gentle" by any means, but was more worried by his last comment. "What is the next phase?"

Snape shook his head. "You truly thought this was the limit of my instruction. That you had mastered Occlumency? Always so arrogant, aren't you? No, we have only just begun. The next phase is more subtle. A Legilimens could strike at any time, Potter, not just when you are ready. I will be testing to see whether you are truly learning Occlumency, or whether today was a lucky fluke. I suspect the latter," he said, dismissing Harry with wave of his hand.

His thoughts were clouded as he returned to the common room that night. Harry had hoped that this would be the end of his Occlumency lessons, and was quite proud of his progress over the last month. But it looked like things were going to get more intense for him with Snape, rather than less.


March 19, 1996.

Harry was eating bangers and mash for breakfast when he felt it – a slight throbbing in his head. Thinking it was just a headache, he ignored it until he felt his thoughts being flipped through like pages in a book. Legilimency! He concentrated on expelling the intruder, but being caught off-guard made it a more difficult task than it was during his lessons with Snape. Making an effort to take control of his thoughts, with some difficulty he was able to focus his memory on when he captured the "egg" during the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, and the triumph he felt at that. He resisted any attempts to move his mind off of that image. Once he was able to control his own mind, he was able to expel the unwanted "guest" with only a little further effort.

"You all right, Harry?" asked Ron through a mouth full of fried potatoes.

"Yeah. Just a headache," Harry said, waving off his friend's concern.

"Too much studying, I'll bet," Ron said with a laugh.

Harry looked at the head table. Snape looked the same as always – impassive, neutral, and slightly sneering – and didn't look Harry's way at all. But his point was made, and Harry knew it.

He glanced over at Luna, who was looking at him with a look of concern on her face. He smiled and tried to signal with his expression that he was fine, and that the look of pain on his face was nothing. She looked sceptical, but gave him a warm smile.

They weren't going to be able to spend much time together before the holiday. Harry had his studying, and now had to spend even more time on Occlumency than before. Luna was excited to try and work out her summertime ice skate idea, and was going to be consulting with Professor Flitwick and trying to work out the details of her project. And Harry knew he had to tell Ron, Hermione and Sirius about Umbridge's offer. He would see her at the D.A., and they promised one another to try and get together at least once before Easter, but it was going to be a lonely two weeks for Harry.


Defence Against the Dark Arts was never any fun lately for Luna, but Professor Umbridge was still ignoring her rather than targeting her, so while the class dragged on interminably, it wasn't hazardous for her. For the moment. She learned nothing of note, however, and spent her time trying to work out the specifics of the water-freezing ice skates she thought of on the weekend. Professor Flitwick had liked the idea, and made some suggestions on avenues Luna should try. This contemplation made the class move much quicker than normal for her. Eventually it ended, much to Luna's relief.

Professor Umbridge dismissed the class, but as she did so, she said, "Miss Drake, Miss Marquand, Miss Venders. Please see me after supper in my office."

Luna didn't think her three tormentors were being punished by her least favourite professor. The smug look on Jocasta's face confirmed it.


March 20, 1996

Snape had been called out of his office. So Harry waited, idly looking around at the potions ingredients on the walls and the books in his bookcase. There were the expected books – various treatises on potion-making and defence, and copies of the current textbooks Harry himself used in his other classes. Harry was amused but unsurprised to see no copy of Defensive Magical Theory by Wilbert Slinkhard. No matter what Harry thought of Professor Snape, he knew was a serious man. Not having a copy of that, despite its endorsement by Umbridge, raised Snape in his estimation. Slightly.

There were a few interesting titles. Snape didn't have a copy of either of Arminius Esterhazy's books, but there were some tantalizing titles – Brew Your Future by Clement St. Just, The Best Defence and Strike First, Strike Hard by Philomena Lessard, The Mysteries of the Spheres by Traicho Yordanov, and Potions of Influence: A Theoretical Treatise by Horace Slughorn. One thin volume truly caught his eye, though – The Subtle Science: Practical Observations by one Severus Snape.

Harry had to take a look.

He was no potions expert, certainly not according to Snape, but this book of his was clear and concise. Flipping through it, Harry saw it was full of notes on how subtle changes in potion-making could have very real effects. Harry knew from experience how easy it was to ruin a potion, whether by accident or inattention, but this book of Snape's spoke about how important it was for brewers of potions who had any interest in expanding their options to try new ingredients, modify the stirring instructions, and generally experiment to see what the results would be. Snape pointed out in his introduction that this was for the advanced brewer, and that a firm theoretical understanding of the science and art of potions was required to be able to experiment without the danger of the brewer blowing himself up, or melting his face off, or meet his end in a variety of unpleasant ways.

"Find something interesting, have you?"

Snape had returned. He marched over to Harry and snatched his book from Harry's hands.

"Ten points from Gryffindor for being an insufferable snoop. Keep your hands off other people's possessions, Potter."

"That looked really interesting," Harry said, ignoring the point deduction.

"Thank you so much for your approval, Potter. It is heartening to know that I, a Potions Master of sixteen years experience, have the support of an barely competent adolescent," Snape said with a sneer.

"Why don't we learn things like that in class?" Harry asked.

"The principles within are for advanced students, among which you are unlikely to ever find yourself."

A frown briefly crossing his face at the insult, Harry said, "But that would make learning potions so much more interesting."

"I am not here to make your time 'interesting', Potter. I am here to teach. You fancy yourself a Quidditch player. Or at least you used to," Snape said with a gloating expression on his face. "Would you teach a novice player the Wronski Feint?"

"No, I'd teach him the basics of flying, first."

"Then you're not as foolish as I thought."

"But we've been simply following instructions for five years," Harry protested.

"And have you noticed what happens when you do not successfully follow those instructions? Perhaps you are aware of the regularity with which Longbottom injures himself, or Weasley's cauldron explodes, or your own laughable attempts at potion-making fail. Do you think I would risk teaching you advanced methods if you can't follow the basics?"

"But you never even try to teach us the theory!"

"Five more points from Gryffindor. Why would I waste my time teaching theory to incompetents who cannot follow simple instructions? If you cannot brew a simple potion, if you cannot handle the unpredictability and potential calamity inherent in potion-making, you cannot hope to understand, let alone survive, advanced experimental techniques. I will not have you questioning my teaching methods, Potter, when you have shown yourself so incapable of learning."

Harry was unconvinced. "But if we learned theory along with following instructions, wouldn't we understand potions better?"

"Five more points from Gryffindor. Enough of this. You are here for Occlumency, despite what we tell anyone else. And you reacted far too slowly at breakfast yesterday."

"I wasn't expecting it," Harry said, regretting the words instantly.

"That, Potter, is the point! You must always be ready. The Dark Lord will not schedule his attacks on your mind with you. They could happen at any time. Legilimens!"

Harry reacted instantly, struggling to keep Snape out of his mind. It was difficult, but after a few minutes of struggle, Snape broke off the spell.

"So you can still resist Legilimency when you see it coming. I've told you before, though, you need to be prepared at any time. Whether eating, studying, sleeping, or during an assignation with your girlfriend. You must always be prepared, if you want to protect yourself. To protect her from your complete incompetence.

"I will continue to attempt Legilimency on you, when you least expect it. You had better improve at resisting it."

Harry was doing better. He knew he was. Snape was no longer able to break into his mind when Harry was prepared. But as his teacher raised his wand to try again, Harry knew he had to do even better if he wanted to keep the Dark Lord out of his mind, and keep him from using his fears against him.


March 21, 1996.

Learning the Patronus Charm always brought everyone to a D.A. meeting. Today was no exception. At the start of the class, four students could cast a corporeal Patronus – Harry had a stag Patronus, Cho Chang had a swan, Hermione had an otter, and Luna had a hare. Harry repeated the basic instructions for the charm from last time, and had the three girls help him with the others. Cho spent much of her time helping her best friend Marietta Edgecombe, who had actually bothered to show up today, Harry noted. Hermione concentrated on assisting the four Weasleys. Luna was working mainly Lavender Brown and the Patil sisters.

Harry himself tried to assist everybody. Neville's was close to full corporeality, but frustratingly for the young man, he wasn't quite able to cast it completely. His shoulders sagged. "Sorry, Harry," he said.

Harry clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't be sorry, Neville. You're doing great. Remember, very few wizards can cast this at all, even ones who've been graduates of Hogwarts for years. You're not there yet, but you will be. Just take a few minutes to relax."

Harry spoke loudly to the whole room. "Did everyone hear that? This is one of the most difficult spells you will ever attempt. You are each doing better than most wizards and witches who ever attempt this. Try to relax. You'll all get there."

Harry went over to assist Zacharias Smith and Ernie Macmillan. "Are you sure you're teaching this right?" Zacharias asked as his Patronus failed to coalesce.

Irritated, he answered, "Yes. It worked for Cho, Hermione and Luna. Look, you're doing well, you just have to focus – "

"I am focusing," Zacharias said.

" – and think of a happy thought. Like when you scored in the game against Gryffindor a few weeks ago. Something that really makes you glad. Then do this," Harry said, as he demonstrated his stag Patronus.

Zacharias tried again, and was only able to produce wisps of vapour. "Damn it!" he cursed.

"You can't get frustrated, Zacharias. Take a moment, and try again."

As Harry said that, Ernie Macmillan produced a full corporeal boar Patronus, which snorted and charged around the room.

"Excellent! That's how you do it. Ernie, maybe you can give Zacharias some help. Susan? Hannah? Come over here and practice with Ernie," Harry said, waving the two Hufflepuff girls over. He could see Ernie's chest puff up as the Hufflepuff proceeded to show off his Patronus once again to his housemates.

Shortly thereafter, a dove Patronus flew past Harry. He turned to look around, and saw Marietta Edgecombe smiling as Cho clapped her hands at her friend. "Great, Marietta! What did you think of?" Harry said as he went over.

Marietta said, "How I felt when Mum got promoted at the Ministry. I was so proud of her."

"Wonderful!" Harry said. "Good work. You too, Cho, for helping," he said, which made his former crush smile warmly at him.

Harry continued to make the rounds. He went over to Hermione and the Weasleys, and with Hermione demonstrated their Patronuses for the four siblings. While each of the of the Weasleys was able to create an impressive non-corporeal display, none of them were yet able to cast a full Patronus. Harry grabbed Fred, and said, "Here, like this. I know you have some happy memories, Fred. Think of some of your best pranks. Or starting your business."

"Or the time you turned Percy's skin purple back in first year," George piped up.

Fred grinned and tried again. Harry watched as the vapour tried to form, but didn't quite do so.

"You'll get there. You've got loads of time. Ginny, you try."

Ginny was no more successful than she had been before. Harry stood behind her and guided her arm. "Like this, Ginny. Think of when you caught the snitch. Or the last really good hex you got off at Ron for annoying you."

"Hey!" his friend protested, as Ginny grinned. Harry stepped back, and watched her as she cast the spell and created a majestic horse which galloped around the room, past Luna who clapped in delight, and then charged her brothers.

"Awesome! I knew you could do it. So, boys? Are you going to let your sister outshine you? Be the only Weasley who can cast this?" Harry said with a grin at the three brothers.

"I guess we know who the best in the family is," Ginny said as she cast her horse again, taunting them.

With everyone else, Harry tried cajoling and encouraging. With the Weasleys, he figured sibling rivalry was the way to go. He felt vindicated a few moments later as he was walking away, when a ghostly terrier bounded past him and he heard Ron's voice saying to his brothers, "Well, what about you too? Not as good as the two youngest, eh?"

"Ronald!" Hermione said, although Harry heard a touch of pride for her friend in her admonition.

Harry went back to Neville, who was now practicing with the Creevey brothers. The two brothers were nowhere near as successful at Neville as creating even a non-corporeal Patronus, but they were enthusiastic, and were encouraging each other and the older Gryffindor.

"Wow!" Dennis said at his brother's display. "That's even better than before, Colin. You try now, Neville. I'll bet you get a full Patronus this time."

Harry stood back and watched his friend try one more time. With a determined look and a forceful shout of "Expecto Patronum!" a fully corporeal Patronus emerged from Neville's wand an skittered about the room.

"What the hell was that?" asked Ernie as Harry and the Creeveys congratulated Neville.

"I don't really know," said Neville, his pride in his accomplishment outweighing his uncertainly.

"That was a mongoose," Parvati said loudly.

"Huh. Wow," Neville said.

"Told you you'd do it," Harry said, as Neville went back to help the Creeveys.

Harry went over to Luna, and slipped his arm around her waist. Luna smiled at him as Lavender sighed theatrically, which made the Patil sisters roll their eyes simultaneously, and then giggle at each other. "How are you all doing?"

"Oh, I think I've got the charm mastered, Harry, but I thought you knew that," Luna said dreamily.

Harry laughed, and said, "I know. I meant the rest of you."

"Not quite there yet," Padma said. "But I'm close, I can feel it."

"Same here," said Parvati and Lavender at the same time.

Harry nodded, and then spoke loudly at everyone. "All right, I think that should be it today. Leave by ones and twos, and we'll try to get in one more meeting next week before the Easter hols. Check your coins regularly. We'll be trying the Patronus Charm one more time, then do a little duelling. You're all doing great."

The Room of Requirement emptied quickly, with most of the couples leaving together. Lavender looked at Ron like he was Merlin as Ron described his Patronus to her as they left the Room. Ginny was ecstatic that she was the first of her family to cast it successfully, but Michael looked less happy for her than Harry thought he probably should.

Eventually it was just Harry and Luna left.

"I've missed you," he said after giving her a kiss.

"Me too," she said. "But we'll have lots of time at Easter together."

"I know. How's the project?"

Her face lit up. "It's very challenging. Professor Flitwick pointed out that it might be considered a misuse of a Muggle artefact when I first brought him the idea."

"I wouldn't tell Mr. Weasley then," Harry said.

"Oh, I don't think it will be a problem. It's not a misuse so much as an improved use, don't you think? I'm not making the ice skate do anything other than what it's supposed to do. I'm just making it do it better."

Harry said, "I think it's a brilliant idea, but I don't think ice skates are supposed to freeze open water."

Luna shrugged. "I've changed my focus. I'm trying to make sure the ice skates freeze the surrounding area enough that the wearer wouldn't fall through thin ice. Professor Flitwick thought that would be okay."

"But you told us all you wanted them to freeze open water," Harry said.

"Oh, no. That might not be allowed by the Ministry, if that were their purpose, Harry. But if it were a side effect, well, you can't help side effects, can you?" she said innocently.

Harry laughed. "I love it. You are as devious as a Slytherin, love."

A ghost of a smile formed on her lips. "I don't think so, Harry. I'm just following the rules."

"You're following a loophole. Don't worry, I approve."

She cuddled into him. "I know. But there's nothing wrong with exploiting loopholes, you know. If the Ministry didn't want them to be exploited, they wouldn't have put them there, would they have?"

Harry thought of Arthur Weasley using those same loopholes to justify owning the flying Ford Anglia. "Luna my love? You are absolutely right."

She smiled again. "I know. But it's nice when you agree."

He laughed, and then his tone got more serious. "I'm going to tell Ron and Hermione about Umbridge's offer. I'm going to tell Sirius, too."

"Have you decided?" she asked.

"No. I'll decide with you. But they should know the offer's been made. I hope they aren't mad I haven't told them yet."

"It hasn't yet been two weeks."

"I know, but they may feel hurt. That's why I want to tell them now."

"I'm sure they'll understand," she said. "They're your friends."

"I hope they do. I should get you back to your common room," he said, pulling out his Invisibility Cloak.

"I do so love this," Luna said as they got under the Cloak. "Not being seen. Being close to you. Will you bring it to The Burrow at Easter?"

"Probably. Why?"

"You never know when it might be useful," she said.

Harry mulled over the possibilities as they left the Room of Requirement.


March 23, 1996.

There was a spring in the step of many of the students at supper, and not just because it was Saturday. Harry was getting smiles and waves from many people as he made his way to the Gryffindor table for supper, especially those who had cast Patronuses for the first time last night. Ernie clapped him on the back as Harry passed him, and even Marietta Edgecombe, who had no particular fondness for him, gave him a little smile, although it was clear to Harry that she credited Cho more than Harry for her Patronus. Maybe she was even right to do so.

It made Harry especially happy that Neville, Ron and Ginny could now perform the charm, and they greeted him even more warmly than usual as he sat among them. Neville was still baffled by his mongoose Patronus – Parvati had told him all about them, but he would never have guessed that to be his Patronus. He spoke about this quietly as they all ate.

"There doesn't have to be a reason for your, well, you know," Hermione said quietly, "to be any particular form."

"Harry's is a stag," Ron pointed out.

"Yes, well obviously sometimes they have meaning, but they don't have to," Hermione said. "Mine's an otter. I can't think of any reason for that."

"Maybe you like to play about in the water while you swim," Ron said with a laugh.

"You are spending your holidays on the beach," added Harry.

"It won't all be on the beach. And I don't think you can use those to predict what your Easter activities will be. Ron's not going to be chasing bones, for heaven's sake," Hermione said.

"He might be chasing something, if Lavender comes over," said Ginny.

Lavender blushed, giggled and covered her face in embarrassment as Ron shook his head and put his arm around her to comfort her. Harry laughed. Hermione did not look amused.

After Lavender finally uncovered her face she said, "I wonder if you actually could use Patronuses to predict the future. I'll have to ask Professor Trelawney." She whispered the word 'Patronus'.

"Oooh, that does sound interesting," Luna said, appearing behind Harry and carrying a bowl. "You'll have to tell me what she says. Maybe mine means I'll eat more carrots. I just ate a plateful of them. They're much nicer than peas. May I join you for dessert?"

Ginny moved over to allow Luna to sit next to Harry. As she did, Harry felt a subtle throb in his head, like the beginnings of a headache. "Snape," he thought, as he blocked the intrusion. The pain subsided after a few moments, and he knew he succeeded at keeping his professor from his thoughts.

"Are you all right?" Luna asked tenderly.

"Yeah. Just a flash of pain. But it's gone now," he said.

"Oh good. You're getting much better at it," Luna said, smiling encouragingly at him. She helped herself to a bowl of tapioca pudding. "I know Harry doesn't like tapioca," she said to the others, which made Harry think she felt the need to justify eating with the Gryffindors. "If anyone else doesn't like it, I'll have their share."

"I think there's probably enough that you don't have to worry," Ginny said to her friend with a laugh.

"That's nice. I do so love pudding."

They all exchanged anecdotes of their day. After the dessert was finished and as people got up to leave, Harry turned to Ron and Hermione and asked if they could go for a walk with him by the lake.

"Who, us? Not Luna?" Ron asked.

"Oh no, I'm very busy with my project for Charms," Luna said. "I just wanted to see Harry for pudding." She squeezed his hand and stood up. "Bye Harry, bye everyone," she said as gave a little wave to the others.

Harry and his best friends left the table shortly thereafter, with Ron promising Lavender they'd meet in the Gryffindor common room afterwards.

When they got to the lakeshore, Harry looked around to make certain there was no one else within earshot.

"So what's this all about?" asked Ron.

"Umbridge made a proposal to me and Luna," Harry said. "She's offering to transfer us to another school overseas and have the Ministry pick up the tuition costs in exchange for us shutting up and keeping our heads down for the rest of the year."

"So what did she say when you told her where to go?" Ron asked. When he got no response, he said, "You did turn her down, right?"

"She gave us until after the Easter break to decide," Harry said.

"Well, how long does it take to say 'no'?" Ron said.

"Harry, when did she make this proposal?" Hermione asked.

"Two Fridays ago."

"And you're just telling us now?" exclaimed Ron.

"I've had to think about it," Harry said, beginning to get annoyed.

"What's there to think about? You can't leave Hogwarts. You can't leave us," Ron said, gesturing to himself and Hermione.

"It's not about you. You're not the one facing all these bloody detentions with her. And I do mean 'bloody'," Harry said, raising up his scarred right hand.

"Still, to leave Hogwarts? Where would you go? Durmstrang, with all those Dark wankers there?" Ron asked.

"Durmstrang is not a Dark school," Hermione interjected.

"You would say that. But what do you call the school that gave us Grindelwald?" said Ron.

"Is the school that gave us You-Know-Who 'Dark'?" responded Hermione.

"That's different," Ron said weakly.

"I haven't even thought of where I would go if I took her up on it," Harry said.

"Good."

"But if I did, the Ministry wouldn't transfer us anywhere in Europe. So we'd likely go to the States, or Canada, or Australia."

"We'd never see you again!" Ron exclaimed. "How can you even think of this?"

"Look, you haven't had to watch your girlfriend get carved up by that cow. You're not the one facing expulsion. She hasn't threatened to send you and your girlfriend to the mental ward at St. Mungo's."

Both Ron's and Hermione's eyes widened. "She threatened that?" Hermione said.

"Yeah, so I hope you'll pardon me for not wanting to spend the rest of my life locked up with Gilderoy Lockhart."

"She can't do that! Dumbledore wouldn't let her," Ron said.

"I don't think Dumbledore's is much of a position to stop her on anything," Hermione pointed out. "And she'd probably rely on what the Prophet's been saying about Harry and Luna. And everyone calling her 'Loony' for years. I don't think it would necessarily work, mind you – "

"Of course not!" Ron said.

" – but I see where Harry's coming from."

"You're not going to take her up on it. Are you?" Ron asked seriously.

"I don't know. I don't really want to leave Hogwarts, even if I could get away from her and Snape. And I really don't want to leave you guys. But I worry about what's next. It keeps getting worse with her," Harry said.

"You haven't got any detentions for a few weeks," said Hermione.

"I think she's giving me space so I'll agree to leave."

"You can't leave, Harry. You just can't. You're our best friend. Hogwarts wouldn't be the same without you," implored Ron.

"I've still got three weeks to decide. I'd rather we ship her to Australia," said Harry.

"Me too. I don't know what the Australians have done to deserve her, though," Ron said.

"Maybe she'd get eaten by a Tasmanian tiger," Harry said.

"They're extinct," Hermione said.

"That's not what Luna thinks."

"Of course not," Hermione said, rolling her eyes at the same time as she gave a small smile.

"Seriously. Don't go, Harry. I don't want to lose my best mate," Ron said.

"Thanks," Harry said, smiling but noncommittal.

"Besides, all those foreign Quidditch teams are horrible."

"Says the man who cheers for Chudley."

Ron sputtered. "You just wait! Sure, this season's a wash, but next year they're going to win it all!"

"Did Lavender predict that for you?" Hermione asked.

"No."

"Bet you asked her, though," Harry said. At Ron's sheepish look, Harry teased, "She probably just was trying to spare your feelings."

"Oh, be quiet."

They began to walk back to the castle. "Say, did I tell you that Snape wrote a book? I saw it in his office." Harry said.

"Really? What was it? No, let me guess. How to be a Greasy Git?" Ron suggested.

"Nope."

"One of those bodice-rippers Lav likes? The Potion-Master's Passion?" Ron said with a smirk.

"Ugh, I don't even want to think about that," Harry said.

Hermione frowned. "Really, Ron. Was it a potions book, Harry?"

"Yeah. The Subtle Science: Practical Observations."

"Sounds boring," Ron said with a grimace.

"It actually looked interesting."

"Sure. Pull the other one."

"No, seriously!"

They walked back to the castle, arguing good-naturedly.


March 27, 1996.

It had been an interesting week so far.

Harry had contacted Sirius through the mirror right after his conversation with Ron and Hermione about Umbridge's proposal. After assuring Sirius that Snape wasn't mistreating him (well, no more so than usual), he told Sirius about Umbridge's proposal, and why he was even considering it. Unlike Ron and Hermione, Sirius didn't try and sway him either way, and just asked for Harry to let him know what his plans were when he decided. He did say that if Harry relocated abroad, he would probably try and follow.

"When I was abroad last year, there was no one really looking for me. I'm sure the heat will be less overseas," Sirius had said.

"You are accused of masterminding the Azbakan breakout," Harry said.

"It won't be a problem," Sirius said dismissively. "And do talk to me on this once or twice on your holiday. But not too much, mind you. Concentrate on your girlfriend instead! And remember what I said when we spoke before." Sirius gave a leer at that comment, and laughed at Harry's stammering response.

Dumbledore's Army was also going well. After last week's breakthrough, even more students were able to fully cast the Patronus Charm yesterday. Michael Corner, Colin Creevey, Susan Bones and Hannah Abbot were all able to cast it by the end of the session, but Harry was happiest to see the Weasley twins finally cast fully corporeal Patronuses – a badger for Fred and a raccoon for George.

He hadn't seen Luna much at all since dessert on Saturday, with her ice skate project and his preparing for O.W.L.s, but it was only one more day of classes before taking the Hogwarts Express to his Easter vacation. Easter had become his guiding star, almost the only thing keeping him going through this dismal term, other than Luna herself. He had never spent Easter away from Hogwarts before, but this year he truly needed to for the sake of his sanity.

Occlumency, at least, was progressing to Harry's satisfaction, if not to Snape's. Harry was now consistently keeping Snape from his thoughts during their thrice-weekly sessions, and was able to keep Snape's surprise probes at bay more often than not, whether they occurred at mealtime, during class, or in the hallway. The only truly successful time Snape used Legilimency on Harry recently was just after Draco had made a disparaging remark earlier in the day about muggleborns, and said "Don't worry, Pansy. They'll get theirs soon enough, you'll see," when Hermione and Harry were in hearing range. Harry was angry enough that it provided Snape a perfect opportunity to catch him unaware. Harry was certain Snape would berate him at length for that tonight, and Harry was become a successful enough Occlumens that he had berated himself already.

So Harry was surprised but not shocked that Dumbledore was there in Snape's office instead of Snape himself.

"Good evening, Harry. Chocolate egg?" the Headmaster asked, offering him a gold-foil wrapped treat.

"Thank you, sir."

"You're quite welcome, Harry, although I dare say you'll be getting more Easter chocolate at the Burrow than I will here in the castle. Do make sure you go into Ottery St. Catchpole and visit their sweet shop – it's quite well stocked for a small village."

"I will, Professor."

"Excellent. Always remember to enjoy the little things in life, Harry. Often you'll find having them available makes it easier to focus on the important things. I expect you're finding that with your Occlumency lessons."

"I am, sir. They're easier to focus on now that I have a reason to."

"Protecting Miss Lovegood, you mean." Harry nodded, and Dumbledore continued. "If you take the time to examine things dispassionately, you'll find you always had reasons to learn Occlumency. You simply now have a more obvious reason. But it is easier to learn something when you know why you should learn it, is it not?"

"That's what I've found."

"Indeed. I suspect History of Magic grades would be higher if Professor Binns could find a way to make the subject relevant to students. I have considered replacing him, by the way, but Cuthbert's become such a fixture here that it's hard to let go. For him, too, I believe," he said with a characteristic twinkle in his eye.

"But I wanted to have a quick chat with you before you go off to enjoy a well-earned break. Professor Snape has kept me informed about your progress, and I'm quite pleased to hear how well you've done."

"I can't imagine he said that," Harry said.

"No, he's not a teacher given to praise easily. But he's been less annoyed when we discuss the subject, which is praise in itself coming from him. And I can tell you're improving, because you've resisted my Legilimency twice since we've begun speaking."

Harry was shocked. "You've tried?"

"Indeed, Harry. Just because Professor Snape isn't here tonight with you, it doesn't mean you're not still having a lesson."

"I didn't mean that, sir. It's just I can always tell when Snape – sorry, Professor Snape – casts it. I didn't sense anything from you," Harry explained.

"No doubt. Professor Snape is a master Legilimens indeed. But I have eighty years of experience on him. Also, you have almost certainly become attuned to his particular style. Every Legilimens is different, Harry. Some are forceful. Some are clumsy. Some are subtle. Some are all of these. You must learn to focus your Occlumency not only to resist intrusions into your thoughts, but to sense when they are occurring," Dumbledore said.

"I understand, sir."

"Excellent. It's a tremendous skill you're learning, Harry. I do hope you appreciate the opportunity you've been given to learn it from a master of the subject like Professor Snape.

"But I do want to talk about other things. I've assigned Auror Tonks to stay at the Burrow with you over the holidays. The improved wards should stop any problems you have, but when you go into the village, it would be safer to have someone else watching your back, I would think. She'll be disguised as a Weasley cousin, for appearances, of course.

"And you'll have to make a decision about Professor Umbridge's proposal. That is, assuming you haven't yet."

"No, I haven't, sir."

"I trust whichever decision you make will be the right one for you. And for Miss Lovegood, of course. Remus asked me to ask you to stay, of course, but I don't think there's anything I have to add to what I said last time," Dumbledore said.

"I expected him to ask. I told Sirius he could tell him. Did Sirius say anything?"

"I suspect Sirius would be happy either way. If you go abroad, he will undoubtedly follow. It would be quite a risk for him, but with Sirius that is often an attraction rather than a deterrent. I do have one request, though, Harry."

"Yes, sir," Harry said apprehensively.

"Have fun. Enjoy your holiday. Laugh with your friends. Treasure your time with Miss Lovegood. Make the most of your youth, and never forget to enjoy the little things. You won't have holidays with your friends forever. Adulthood, and adult responsibilities, come far too soon."

"I will sir," Harry said with some relief.

"And when you go into the village sweet shop? Pick up a cream egg. The Muggles do make some delightful treats."


March 29, 1996.

Dolores Umbridge watched from the battlements as students made their way to Hogsmeade Station. Most of the student body was leaving this year. Far more than usual, she understood.

No matter. A nearly empty castle would give her the time to do what she needed to.

She saw Potter and Lovegood leave the grounds surrounded by their friends. With any luck, they would agree to her transfer proposal, behave like good little children, and she could have a quiet spring, and focus on Dumbledore. If not, well, there were always contingencies.

Interviewing Jocasta Drake and her friends was very fruitful. Draco Malfoy and his associates were similarly enthusiastic, as were a few other Slytherins. Miss Drake had even suggested she talk with Deirdre Cholmondeley and Melanie Maxwell. That didn't exact bear fruit, but it showed initiative and resourcefulness on Miss Drake's part. She was overcoming Dolores' natural dislike of children, and Dolores was considering mentoring the young girl. She showed promise.

After the departing children disappeared from view, she went to her room and packed an overnight bag. She wasn't planning on spending much time at the castle over the holidays.

She was needed at the Ministry.

She had interviews.