Mind games

Dark Lord lures Golden Boy into a trap?

Rumours continue to circulate about the events that took place at the Ministry of Magic just a week ago. During recent disturbances at the Department of Mysteries He Who Must Not Be Named was seen once again, proving Harry Potter's claim that the Dark Lord is still alive to be correct after all.

Sources confirm that there was a fight in the fabled Hall of Prophecy between several students of Hogwarts – amongst them famous Harry Potter - and the Dark Lord's followers, the Death Eaters. It is said that You-Know-Who himself tricked Potter into going to the Department of Mysteries, because Potter believed someone he cared about to be in danger – information that later proved to be faulty. We recently received information of a connection between the Dark Lord's and Potter's mind, which apparently made it possible for the Dark Lord to plant random images in Potter's head.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves if it is advisable to put our trust in a boy that has a direct link into You-Know-Who's thoughts, and vice versa. One life was already lost at the Department of Mysteries. How many more victims will this shared connection between the Chosen One and the Dark Lord make? It is a question worth pondering about.

Rita Skeeter, for the Daily Prophet


Monday evening, five o'clock.

Time for my weekly Occlumency lessons with Snape. After the fiasco at the Ministry, Dumbledore had understandably insisted that I learned Occlumency, to help protect my mind against intrusion. I knew it was necessary of course, yet I couldn't help dreading these Monday evenings. Professor Snape was sure to be a great Legilimens, but he could hardly be called my favorite teacher. He criticized me whenever he had the chance. Already three weeks now he made me feel like an utter moron for not being able to shield my thoughts properly. The fact was that Snape always made me so nervous about making mistakes that I did blow it most of the time. Last time was a disaster, and if I'd had any doubts about my performance, Snape had made sure I knew it had been lousy.

"Potter," he'd said, "you're supposed to block your thoughts from me, not scream them out loud. Are you deliberately making these lessons more difficult or are you really that pathetic at it?"

It had been like that ever since we started the lessons a good month ago. I had the slightly depressing feeling that I wasn't making any progress at all and by the way things were going I never would. I dragged my feet once again towards the dungeons, where Snape's office was. Outside the door I drew in a deep, desperate breath and knocked softly.

"Enter", came the familiar drawling voice. I opened the door and stepped inside. As usual Snape didn't look up from his paperwork but chose to ignore me for a while.

"Late yet again, Potter", he finally said and with a last single scribble from his pen he looked up. I glanced at the clock to see that it was only two minutes past five. I just barely refrained from rolling my eyes. Better not to comment and give him an incentive to offend me. Snape invited me to take a seat and went on: "If you have lost interest in these Occlumency lessons, please do tell. I am more than willing to put an end to them, Mister Potter."

I gritted my teeth and again bit back a comment.

"No Sir," I answered instead, "I don't think Dumbledore would let us anyway."

Snape grimaced and replied: "So it seems. Enough chitchat, Potter. I sincerely hope you will perform better tonight than during your latest attempts. Remember, Occlumency is a matter of willpower and concentration. Are you ready?"

I nodded hastily. Snape drew his wand out of the pocket of his robe and made sure to look me in the eye before he counted down: "Three, two, one… Legilimens."

I felt Snape's presence inside my head and reacted instinctively. My thoughts seemed to draw back to a place where Snape couldn't reach them, seemed to shrivel to the back of my mind.

"Block, Potter. Don't hide", Snape muttered coldly and the next moment I felt him draw closer still. I was sick of Snape poking around in my thoughts and ridiculing them. He had seen me being bullied by my cousin Dudley, seen how scared I was when I had to fight Voldemort all by myself after the Triwizard Tournament. He'd seen how devastated I was when I lost Sirius, seen me kiss Cho… And afterwards I had to look at the offending smirk on his face as he drawled: "Interesting…"

"Enough", I thought fiercely. And suddenly the shield was there. Snape huffed in surprise and drew back. He stared at me and finally conceded: "That was a start, Mister Potter. I knew it was in there somewhere."

I was struck silent. Snape had never paid me a compliment before. I felt oddly embarrassed.

"Keep that in mind", Snape said, "We shall try again. Brace yourself…"

And again Snape was there on the outskirts of my mind and again I succeeded in keeping him at bay. It looked like I suddenly got the hang of it. I was a little surprised about it to be honest. We kept practicing for more than an hour and in the end Snape actually seemed to become excited about my progress. I on the other hand, felt like a wreck.

"I know how exhausting it can be, Potter", Snape said, "But surely you see this is definitely an improvement."

I nodded and rubbed my aching forehead.

"One more try? Then I will release you", Snape asked, without the sarcastic undertone this time.

I sighed, rubbed my forehead even harder and shrugged. I felt tempted to put down my head on the desk and sleep for a very long time.

But Snape muttered 'Legilimens" and all of a sudden he was in my head again. I was on the kitchen floor at the Dursley's place. Uncle Vernon was towering over me and beating me up with his belt, again and again, leaving angry red welts on my arms and legs. I was too shocked to pull my shield back up, but it wasn't necessary because Snape tumbled out of my thoughts mere moments later. He looked at me, mouth open. I immediately looked away, feeling embarrassed. The silence stretched on until Snape muttered: "What was that?"

I thought that was a rather stupid question so I chose not to answer it.

"Potter, have you told anyone about this?" Snape asked. My hands started to shake and I swore under my breath. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Snape walk around his desk. His voice sounded far away.

"Harry, have you talked to Dumbledore?" he pressed urgently. I couldn't answer him. All I knew was that nobody must find out how bad it could get sometimes. I wouldn't be able to bear the looks of pity I was sure I would get if anyone knew. And now, someone knew. Worse, Snape knew. I was already halfway to the door when Snape flicked his wand and slammed the door shut in my face. I harshly pulled at the doorknob, but it wouldn't budge. He'd shut me in.

"Harry," he began again, walking towards me. I spun around with my wand in my hand and I was sure I would have done something terrible if Snape hadn't halted in his tracks. We stood there for a while, Snape with his hands in front of him in a surrendering gesture. After a while Snape spoke: "Harry, you'll feel better when you talk about this. Trust me."

I very much doubted that. And trust Snape? Not likely.

Snape seemed to resolve on something and he shook back his sleeve. I was puzzled for a moment because I thought he was going to show me his Dark Mark. But then I saw the bite marks on his wrist.

"These", Snape explained, "are from a dog bite. My father once set the dog on me when I was five minutes late." He pulled back his sleeve even further to show me his upper arm, which was covered in scars.

"This was because I contradicted him when he said Dumbledore was senile. I was eighteen then." I stared at him in disbelief.

"So you see, Potter, that I know a thing or two about abuse. It's not something you should tuck away in your mind. If you do, it will be your uncle who wins in the end."

Snape walked back to his chair then and sat. I hesitated. Part of me still wanted to bolt for the door. But what if Snape wasn't lying? What if the person I ought to talk to was in fact the person I least wanted to talk to? I sat back in the chair opposite Snape uncertainly. It was silent for a while. Snape at least had the decency to let me regain my composure, if that were even possible.

Finally Snape asked: "How often?"

I bit my lip and looked down at my hands in my lap. Snape waited patiently for my answer. I felt I had to say something; otherwise what was the point in sitting there?

"During the summer holidays almost every day", I muttered, sighing. Feeling that wasn't enough of an explanation for why I had behaved like a trapped animal a few minutes earlier, I added: "They hardly give me any food. Seem to think that by starving me, my magic will somehow cease to exist… And last summer, when I was caught stealing a sandwich from the kitchen, uncle Vernon actually broke a rib, kicking me in the stomach. They usually stop two weeks before school starts again, to make sure I'm fully healed."

Snape had turned a bit white around the nose and had actually clenched his hand into a fist. I instantly regretted everything I'd said. Anytime now Snape would be giving me that pitying look. If there was one person I couldn't bear to think of having pity on me, it was sure to be Snape. He shook his head as if to shake himself awake.

"No wizard should be treated like a dog", he said fiercely, "That sick bastard needs to be punished."

I threw him a doubtful look. Snape nodded and proceeded: "Yes. And you need to do it, Harry. If you feel like your uncle is physically stronger than you, then you will have to be cleverer than him. That will be your homework for next week."

I blinked and Snape actually cracked a smile.

"Indeed Potter", he said, 'I want you to come up with ways of how you will deal with your uncle when you live there again this summer. The more brutal, the better."

"Why?" I blurted out.

"I told you, Harry. We are wizards, and we should take pride in that. I want you to be prepared when you return next summer. And I'm going to help you with that."