"I swear, sometimes I think I've seen everything and then I remember that I go to school where we've got a giant squid for a pet living in the lake and see something like that every other day. Not sure if that makes this place endearing or just straight up cracked." -Dean Thomas to Seamus Finnegan as they both watched something disturbing and anatomically impossible get carted off to the Hospital wing due to yet another magical mishap by one, Neville Longbottom. December, 1995.
In their little spot by the lake, three students stood, all appearing relatively calm as Harry's words cleared his lips, though that certainly couldn't be further from the truth. Slytherin students spent every waking moment mastering themselves among their peers and so were usually fairly difficult to openly startle or otherwise force emotions to break through in their body language. The sole Gryffindor of the small group had also been working extremely hard to gain decent control over his emotions for the last six months of his life and was further along to emulating a Slytherin persona than one would think. Still, that didn't change the fact that the boy was currently experiencing something close to a mild, albeit silent, panic attack. After all, he had just impulsively asked out a girl for the very first time in his life.
He barely even knew the raven haired girl standing before him. But no, what he could only refer to as the idiotic Gryffindor part of his brain had hijacked his body and taken things all the way to asking the girl out. God dammit.
Meanwhile, Daphne was blinking, face blank. "Excuse me?"
Harry's eyes flitted around between the girls rapidly for a second. Tracey was watching him with her mouth parted slightly in a small 'o,' also looking like she wasn't entirely trusting of her ears at that moment. Maybe it hadn't fully registered and he could play it off as a joke or something similar. "I, uhh, asked if you'd be interested in going out with me… You know, like to Hogsmeade, once term starts up again," he said.
Great, Harry, way to not follow the plan at all.
"You want… to date me?" Daphne said slowly, as if still not sure this was really happening.
Harry just coughed lightly and cleared his throat again. "Um… yes?" he said carefully.
She was looking off into space, eyes slightly unfocused. Wait, was she really thinking about it?
A giggle escaped her lips, causing her to quickly cover her mouth with her hand. Harry and Tracey watched as Daphne let out a few more muffled giggles. Looking between the two somewhat anxiously, Tracey let out a noticeable cough, causing Daphne to look back at Harry.
"I'm sorry, just the image of us dating…" she said, still chuckling a bit, sounding much more like her usual self. "I'll admit, the reactions from the school would be absolutely priceless. At least before everything went to hell."
Harry opened his mouth to say something but nothing happened. His voice had hitched in the back of his throat. He met her eyes only for a fraction of a second before looking away. Silence stretched on for a few seconds in which the remainder of the girl's amusement faded away entirely. She was now staring at him, completely baffled.
"Wait, you like me?" she said incredulously.
Tracey winced a bit at the bluntness her words carried.
Harry crossed his arms, still avoiding her gaze. "I don't know, I guess?" he mumbled to himself.
Now, as they stood there, Daphne was now becoming frustrated of all things. She was actually fidgeting a bit, snow crunching under her boots as she dug them in further. "What about Chang? You like her!" she demanded. "We had a whole conversation about it for crying out loud!"
"What about her?"
"What about—You're supposed to be dating her, Potter, that's what! Not asking a Slytherin out after the fact!"
"Yeah, well, things didn't work out, alright?"
Daphne flushed in anger, switching gears immediately. "So what am I then? Your back up plan?!"
Harry actually took a half a step back as if she had struck him. Worse was that now he thought about it, no matter how he looked at the situation, that was the most obvious conclusion anyone would arrive at. Wasn't he supposed to think about these things before he did stupid stuff? But still he wasn't—
"Of course not! You know I don't think of you like that!"
Daphne clenched her fists tightly, voice frosty. "Well, what the hell am I supposed to think? We barely know anything about each other to begin with." Harry made to say something but she cut him off swiftly. "Look, I don't really know what's going through your head but you're not supposed to like someone like me. You're a Gryffindor. I'm a Slytherin. People like you get together with people like her. No politics, no complicated stuff. Happily ever after and all that crap. Just go back to Chang and fix whatever broke."
Harry scowled. "What are you getting so angry about, anyway? I should be the one who's pissed. You laughed."
"Maybe if you took a second to think about what you just did, you'd see why."
Harry just gave Daphne the coldest glare he could.
"Yeah, I'm gone." He promptly turned on his heels and walked back toward the entrance to the castle. Perhaps slamming his head into a wall a number of times would make him feel better?
As Harry finally walked out of earshot, Tracey was the first to find her voice.
"Wow. Never saw that coming," she said blankly as she watched the Gryffindor's back disappear into the distance. "You know, if I'd known he was going to ask a Slytherin out, I'd have guessed me. To be honest, I'm a little disappointed. Might have even said yes…" she mused, humoring her imagination with the idea. She gave a small sigh before turning back to her best friend. One step forward, two steps back.
"That damned-" Daphne was burning with so much frustration that she couldn't even get the words out. She took a deep breath before letting it out in a huff. "Why the bloody hell does he have to go and do stuff like that?! Did making sense go out of style while I wasn't looking?"
"Daph-" Tracey's voice was eaten up by the stream of words flowing from her friend.
"...and he asks me out like I'm runner up on the list, too. I wonder who's lucky third-"
The ranting Slytherin jumped slightly and looked at her friend quickly in surprise, completely taken aback. It had been years since Tracey had needed to snap at the girl like that.
"W-what?" she said defensively.
"I never thought I'd see you acting so foolish, especially after everything you say about others," said Tracey, frowning heavily at the girl.
"Were you paying attention to what just happened at all?" asked Daphne.
"Of course I was, but were you?" she countered. "You laughed at him! Not to mention the other stuff. He didn't deserve that."
"I'm sorry, should I have been more considerate before or after he asked me out as his second choice. It hasn't even been two full weeks. Does he really want a girlfriend that badly?"
"Would you stop talking like that already? Think about what you're actually saying, you know Harry isn't like that!"
Daphne frowned at her friend's words. "'Harry' again, is it?"
"Yes, Harry again. He's my friend," said Tracey sternly. "And if you took a second to think about it you'd realize he's yours too."
"Wha- no he isn't, we're just learning from him at the D.A."
"Actually, ironically enough I'd say he's the second closest friend you've got in this entire school," continued Tracey, now quite smug at the flabbergasted expression Daphne was wearing.
"Alright," said Daphne, her voice falling to a monotone. "You've got my attention. Speak." It often worked this way between the two. Stop and analyze, think and conclude. It also usually kept them from getting into huge fights.
"He's the only other person at this school you talk to other than me, and you've talked to him almost every other day at least since starting the D.A. Even when you get into crazy arguments and want to kill one another."
Daphne crossed her arms with a frown. "What are you saying, I talk to other people all the time, and more frequently too."
"No you don't," argued the blonde, shaking her head. "You, how did you put it before... you trade words like they're goods. You never actually talked to anyone other than me until Harry. I know you say he drives you crazy at times and I believe you, trust me," she added, before Daphne could interrupt. "But for every time he's pissed you off there's a time he's made you laugh, whether you decide to show it or not. You enjoy talking to him."
Daphne let her eyes drift to the lake, feeling disgruntled. "And you know this because...?"
"I'm your best friend. I'm supposed to know you better than you do," she said with a wide smile, chest puffed out in pride. Daphne let out a sigh, her bad mood dissipating rapidly. It was hard to get worked up when she had such an idiotically cheerful friend. Especially when she cared so much.
"So what was I supposed to do, say yes?" she finally said, not willing to argue with her friend. She knew from experience that the more she did the more likely she was to lose horribly. Tracey had this annoying habit of always being right whenever Daphne didn't want her to be.
Tracey just let out a tired breath. "No, I never said that. Just that you handled that about as badly as you probably could."
"It was just so out of nowhere... ugh, nothing ever goes right at this school, I swear."
"And Chang? Care to explain that one?"
Tracey just threw up her arms. "No idea. I was more sure about them getting together than you ever were, remember?"
The two fell into silence. Tracey kept one eye on her friend, who was just frowning at her feet. It was a good minute before the girl spoke again.
"Damn, I need to apologize."
"Padfoot, have you ever done something so stupid without really meaning to and it literally just happened even though you practically told yourself not to do anything of the sort to begin with?"
Harry's somewhat anxious expression faded into distinct annoyance as Sirius suddenly broke down laughing on the other side of the compact mirror.
"I'm sorry, Harry," he said, wiping an eye. "It's just that was almost word for word the exact thing your father said to me the very first time he asked your mother out. Course, he was a few years younger than you are now, but still…"
"I—really?" said Harry in surprise. "I thought he was supposed to be, I don't know…"
"More comfortable around girls than you ever think you'll be?" supplied Sirius with a grin. Ignoring the look Harry was giving him, he continued, "Trust me, James had a way with women, but the very first time he asked a girl out, he was a mess. Of course, that changed pretty quickly once he got more practice."
"… Practice? Exactly how many times did my mother shoot him down?"
"That number is probably somewhere up there with the number of points that James has ever lost Gryffindor for being a troublemaker. It was just a regular part of life for the rest of us. Him too, I suppose."
"I don't know whether that's impressive or pathetic…" Harry muttered, rolling his eyes.
"Your father aside, I take it you asked a girl out and got shot down less than gently."
"It's not like it had any chance of working, but I guess it was still worth a shot at the time."
"You guess?" he repeated.
"Despite failing spectacularly, I can't really find a bad reason for doing what I just did."
Sirius frowned for a second before posing another question. "Blonde or the black?"
"The girl, Harry, did you ask out the blonde or the black haired one?"
Feeling slightly agitated at the fact that Sirius had managed to zero in on the group of girls he had just been with when he could have literally asked anyone out, he gave his answer. "Black."
"You sure?" Harry threw his godfather a miffed look, at which he continued, "It's nothing, I just lost a pretty large bet."
Harry couldn't help but let out an amused snort, even though the bet had clearly been about himself. "Who did you bet?"
"After that date you had with the blonde, Tonks bet me a hundred galleons that you'd ask out her friend. Seemed like fun, so I took it," he explained.
"A hundred? Isn't that a bit... excessive?" he said, raising his eyebrows at the number.
"Not when you come from old money like I do." The man shrugged and scratched his chin. "Besides, Tonks seemed pretty sure."
There was a long pause before Harry spoke again. "Well, so did Daphne so that's the end of that."
"Since when did you become so mature about this kind of stuff?" The undercurrent of sarcasm was not missed on the boy.
"Shit happens and you move on," said Harry bluntly. His voice was bordering on uncaring.
Sirius narrowed his eyes with a frown. "In a perfect world sure, but you're just as human as the rest of us, Harry."
"Would make my life a whole lot easier if I weren't."
"That's bull and you know it," said Sirius sternly. "You think I don't know you?"
"What's so hard to believe that I don't know how to accept things and move on?"
"Could be the fact that you're lying through your teeth, but hey, I might be wrong."
Harry bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from snapping at the man. Sirius was only worried for him, and he usually prescribed to the tough love way of thinking. "Look, whether I care or not, my life is the way it is, and there's nothing I can do to change that," said Harry patiently. "All I can do is change what I do now. In a way, I'm glad I was so impulsive back there. I've been feeling restless since that night with Cho. Now I don't have anything else distracting me from what I should be doing."
Sirius raised an eyebrow. "And that is?"
"Getting ready." He didn't elaborate. He didn't need to.
Sirius was watching him in some concern now. "Harry, I know I encouraged you before, but don't you think you've become a bit obsessed with training? You act like you're being sent to the front lines in a week from now."
"It's necessary, Padfoot." Harry let out a small breath before fixing his godfather with a firm look. "A necessary obsession."
"Just don't run yourself ragged," conceded the man, accepting that Harry wouldn't budge on the matter. He had become so stubborn lately. Even more so than usual. "Speaking of training though, we never got the chance to test you while you were here. When you get back tonight we should have a round."
Harry, however, was shaking his head. "Sorry, I'm going to be staying. I've got other things I need to do here now before classes start. I could use the assessment though. Can you get Tonks to meet me in Hogsmeade during our first weekend there?"
"Yeah, that'll do," agreed Sirius. "She mentioned visiting you again earlier, so that would work out."
"Cool. I'll talk to you later then. Stuff to do."
"Alright, just take care of yourself. Don't forget to eat or sleep."
Harry closed the mirror and looked around. He was still out on the grounds, now somewhere along the main path to the front doors of the castle. Not that he had originally been planning on having that conversation in the cold, but something had come up mid-conversation that ended up giving him pause. Namely the castle.
It was fucking terrifying.
The almost sixth sense to feel magic that had been slowly developing in him over the year had finally reached a point where the school wasn't just a magical fog. Perhaps being away from it really had made the difference. Every step closer he took to the building was like getting closer to a massive generator. A mass of heavy, oppressive, magical static.
How had he ever not been aware of this?
The moment he had crossed the boundaries of the grounds he'd felt the weight of the school's outer wards. It was a mix of things he could only begin to imagine, the familiar anti-apparition ward just one layer of many. That was nothing compared to the inner wards, the ones that protected the castle itself.
"Come on, Harry," he muttered to himself, staring up at the large front doors. They were open and inviting, the warm glow of the castle reaching out to him. He took a deep breath before crossing the threshold, immediately feeling like he'd been submerged in something thick. It was kind of like dropping into ice cold water.
He took a couple of minutes to allow his mind to become accustomed to the new feeling before he continued slowly through the Entrance Hall, making his way up the staircase. It was a while before he reached his destination, that blank stretch of wall on the seventh floor. He leaned against the opposite wall in silence as he thought hard about what he wanted. What he needed.
Well, that wasn't really that difficult to answer.
I need help.
He turned sharply around.
I need help.
Once more he turned around.
I need help.
He knew the Room better than anyone, and it had warned against abstract requests. Who knew exactly how the Room would interpret his needs? However, he had a very specific problem, and the only way to describe it all was to let the Room figure it out itself. Maybe when the Room was first created it might not work well, but after all this time… There was only one way to find out.
The room he entered was a small one, but very comfortable looking. There was a small hearth against one wall, a pleasant fire filling the room with warmth and light. A few bookcases lined the walls, along with a magnificent painting of Hogwarts. Resting in the center of the plush rug that filled the room from wall to wall sat a small low table with a woman seated behind it, sipping on a cup of tea. The far wall even had a glass door which led onto what looked like a balcony, if that was even possible. Wait, what the—?
His eyes locked back on the woman who was now watching him over her cup, blue eyes visible even at this distance.
"Won't you sit with me?" she asked after a moment of silence, her voice almost making him shiver with some unknown feeling. His senses were clamoring that she was not normal.
Quietly, Harry approached and sat across from her, crossing his legs. He looked down at the lightly steaming cup of tea before him.
"It's real," said the woman, not looking up from her cup. "I had it provided by the kitchens, not the Room itself."
Already alarm bells were ringing in his head. The Room was aware of itself? That was certainly something he had never experienced before. Still, he didn't feel like he was in danger, but if his life had taught him anything, it was to be wary of everything. "Ah, thank you," said Harry, picking up the cup and taking a small sip. It was very good. "Um..." In all honesty there were far too many questions on his mind. Forget about the tea, the woman had referred to the Room while being created by the Room itself, but in a dominant manner, as if she controlled it. Was that even possible? "Are you the master of the Room?"
"No, that would be you."
"Who am I?" she asked, tilting her head slightly to one side. "Or maybe what?"
"That's not so important in the end, I think. I'm here, and that is what counts. After all, we're not here for me."
Harry was suddenly reminded of what he had asked of the room.
"Please relax," she added as he looked into his teacup. "Nothing will disturb us here. You are completely safe with me."
"… Am I?"
"I'm sorry, but I've honestly never felt truly safe with anyone," he said bluntly.
"I see," she said, her eyes meeting his own. "Not even here, in the castle?"
"Especially here," he continued dryly. "The number of times I've nearly died here is ridiculous. This is supposed to be a school for crying out loud." Her features didn't change much, but Harry could tell that he'd said the wrong thing. "Wait, don't get me wrong though. Hogwarts is my home," he added. "This is the first place I've ever felt like I belonged to."
A small smile graced the woman's lips, and she sipped her tea once more. "I'm glad to hear that," she said. "Now please tell me what is bothering you, and we'll see what we can do to solve it."
Harry just scoffed. Solve it? She wanted to solve his problems? "I've been marked for death by the greatest dark wizard of the century since before I was born, and he'd be more than happy to have another go at killing me given the chance. He's got decades of magical growth and experience on me, and it seems inevitable that we'll come face to face again. Not to mention there's a prophesy that says that one of us has to kill the other in the end." He crossed his arms. "That's the most pressing problem I've got, but it sure as hell isn't the only one on the list, nor the most depressing. You don't even exist outside this Room do you?" he asked.
The woman considered the question before shrugging. "Yes and no, I suppose."
"Then what do you really think you can do?"
The woman put her teacup down gently, a frown on her face.
Harry let out a ragged sigh. "Wait." He held out his hand, forestalling anything she was going to say. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to take that out on you," he apologized. "I've been a bit wrung out lately. I asked for help, and the Room gave me you. The Room has never let me down before, and I don't think it ever will. I don't think it can, honestly."
Silence stretched between them, and Harry actually took the time to get a good look at who he as sharing tea with. She looked, for lack of a better word, ageless. Whatever age she was, she certainly had a youthful appearance overall with her slim pale face that housed two very blue eyes, a small nose, and a mouth that was pursed in thought. Her soft brown hair was done up in a bun and seemed to spray out at the sides prettily. She was wearing a modest black dress that probably reached her ankles if she stood. They looked to be about the same height, but he couldn't be sure without them both being standing.
"Is there something bothering you?"
"Who are you?"
The woman said nothing but looked to the side for a moment.
Harry followed her gaze, landing on the painting on the wall. "Hogwarts?" he said dumbstruck.
She nodded serenely.
Harry slowly put his tea down as well. "Well, you don't see that every day."
"Indeed not," she agreed.
Harry stared at her for a minute before asking, "Why did they call you Hogwarts if you're a girl? That's the worst name ever."
To his surprise the woman cracked a grin and chuckled. It softened her features greatly, making her feel much more normal. "I'm not a girl, I'm a castle with so much ambient magic saturated into every brick that I've developed my own sense of self, or so I've determined. Contemplating my existence isn't something I do very often. Though I'll admit," she raised her arms and looked at her body, "this is a little new for me as well. I'm usually just aware of things. Given the situation, I must assume that the Room helped to provide this for me, and my gender was merely a reflection of what you needed. Perhaps you are more trusting of female strangers than male ones?" She shrugged unconcernedly.
"Wild. Then you've never had a human body before?" Harry asked curious.
She just shook her head.
"Well, not bad for a first shot if you ask me."
"That is quite flattering of you," thanked the woman.
"So then, what exactly should I call you?" he asked. Every time he tried to see her as "Hogwarts" it just felt so wrong.
"I suppose referring to myself as Hogwarts is a little inappropriate considering my form," she said with a small nod. "There is nothing about me even remotely reminiscent of hogs or warts. Do you have any suggestions?"
"Uh, castle in Latin is castellum…" He tapped his chin in thought. "Castellum, castellum, stellum? Stella?" he posed. It was a small stretch but nothing unreasonable in the verse of nicknaming.
"Acceptable," agreed the woman, now Stella. "Of course, in the grand scheme of things…"
"Well, I certainly feel better," said Harry.
Stella just shook her head lightly before moving on. "In any case, let's return to the main issue," she said.
"I'm not really sure how this will help me out," Harry said tiredly. A large cushion appeared behind him and he leaned back unconsciously. "I can't run away from it, even though I want to. I can't ignore it, as nice as that sounds. I still train constantly, but I think I'd go mad if I didn't. I have to keep myself busy or I'll freeze up. I just don't see any hope for me surviving this war. Funny thing is, I don't think I've even hit rock bottom yet."
Stella watched him in silence for a moment before speaking. "You wish for many things, Harry. I have observed countless people live throughout my existence, and I don't need to be able to read your desires through the powers of the Room to understand this."
"Wait, you can read my mind?"
She suddenly stood, moving in a small circle before coming to face him again, eyes piercing through him in a way that the Headmaster's had never even come close to.
"It is more appropriate to say I can read your heart. You say you wish to run, but you actually do not and will never even consider it. It is not in your nature to ignore the suffering of others, and you know that such will happen if you push aside your problems. But you are only human after all. It makes such decisions difficult."
"You make that sound like it's a bad thing," replied Harry, uncomfortable from where the conversation had turned. "Being human."
And for the second time, Stella smiled, her eyes somewhat unfocused. Only this was a fond smile. "Oh, no, you are all wonderful," she said warmly. "Especially the young. With so much potential to live, despite having such short lives." She returned her gaze to his own. "You desire so much, Harry, and it all points back to one thing. To fight. You can only go so far alone, so you desire a teacher… and an anchor. I shall be both."
"You can… do that?"
The Room could do the most incredible things, and he was sure that no matter how much he thought he saw its limits the further from the truth he was. No, teacher was fine… but anchor? Sentient castle or not, who was she to think she could do such a thing? Did she even know what she was talking about?
Walking to his side, Stella knelt and gently grabbed one of his hands, making him jump slightly. He still didn't exactly believe that she had a physical body, despite interacting with a tea cup right in front of him. "I am aware of your misgivings," she said softly.
Standing back up, she pulled him to his feet, holding his hand securely. Having gotten past his first shock, he was still somewhat caught up on how human she felt. Her hand was soft and warm. He had to shake himself mentally before he met her gaze again. Now that they were both standing, he saw that she was a little taller than he was.
"You came here seeking help, Harry Potter, and of everything that the Room could have provided you with, it gave you me. I believe that is all the reason you need. It certainly is the only one I do."
Harry couldn't help the grin that was spreading across his lips. So even a castle could have a bit of an ego. "Yeah, I suppose you're right."
She pushed him back slightly and he stumbled, though managing to keep on his feet. The moment he looked back up, however, the Room had changed entirely, now a large room that was about three or four times the size of a regular classroom. It was completely bare.
"Draw your wand. We begin now."
As the clocks struck eight around the castle, Harry was standing outside Snape's office. It was the first day of the new term. He had never willingly come here before, so to do so now was leaving him fairly apprehensive about the entire affair. No doubt this would end up being a bad idea in the end. What kind of idiot asked for something like this to begin with, anyway? Though, if he stuck around outside the office just thinking about the whole thing, he'd be late on top of it all.
Not wanting to be give Snape a reason to be annoyed with him from the get go, Harry knocked twice and waited for a response.
"Enter," came the muffled voice from within.
Snape's office was actually deceivingly plain. Barely anything the room hinted at the man's interests at all. Not something someone would expect from a person who spent the majority of their year living at the place they worked.
"Good evening, Professor," said Harry, deciding to try for at least a minute of non-aggressive conversation.
Snape looked up from the paper he was grading with a raised eyebrow. "Potter, if you believe that manners will get you any sort of special treatment in the coming weeks, then—"
"I'm not here to be coddled, Sir," said Harry, putting a little more weight on the 'sir' than was necessary.
"As you say…" said Snape, a small smirk working its way onto his face, but there was no humor in it. "Though I am surprised that you even agreed to taking these… lessons at all."
"Occlumency would be a really useful thing to know," said Harry, crossing his arms. "Though I doubt Dumbledore really gave me as much of a choice as he made it look."
This time Snape actually did smirk. "It seems your childish view of the headmaster has finally grown up some. Albus Dumbledore spins webs an Acromantula would be envious of."
"I'm not childish," retorted Harry, keeping his voice level. God, how satisfying it would be to just hex the man.
"That remains to be seen," said Snape, clearly not agreeing with him. "Now, follow me, Potter. Normally my classroom would be adequate for any kind of extra lessons I might have to give, however, I will not risk its contents on the flimsy hold you have on your emotions."
Harry scowled at the professor's back. Fine, so he still had a short temper. That was nothing compared to Snape's seeming addiction to telling people how much they sucked at anything.
"So, where are we going then?"
Of course, Snape just ignored his question and walked out of the office, forcing Harry to follow without an answer. Half a minute later had them entering another room that looked similar to the currently used Potions classroom. One wave from Snape's wand moved all the furniture to the sides before he locked the door with another.
"By the headmaster's… request, for the next hour I will be schooling you in the use of Occlumency. I assume you've read up on the subject?"
"Yes, though I've found nothing on how it's specifically taught," said Harry, hoping that Snape would actually give him some information. "So I'm not exactly sure what to expect here. Do I need my wand?"
"No, you will not," the man replied, bringing his own wand up between his fingers. "While using a wand may certainly assist you in protecting your mind, a true Occlumens does not rely on such a handicap."
"So, what exactly do I have to do?"
"I'm getting to that, Potter," said Snape in a clipped voice. "As you've no doubt read, Occlumency is a mental defensive technique that is used to detect, prevent, and repel outside intrusion. Though there are a number of ways in which this can happen, the most common and able method for wizarding kind is through Legilimency."
"That's that mind reading—"
"Only a fool would believe something as many layered and complex as the mind to be equivalent to a book to read," drawled Snape, his voice overriding Harry's. "Legilimency is a sophisticated art that allows the user to extract memories and emotions from another person's mind. There is nothing to read. It would be more apt to liken the experience to getting random flashes from a movie."
Harry blinked, slightly taken aback.
"What is it, Potter?"
"Sorry, just didn't expect you to know what a movie was," he said honestly. It was rare that someone who'd grown up completely surrounded by magic knew about any Muggle things in general, let alone well enough to use them in comparisons.
Snape scowled at him. "Not all wizards are arrogantly ignorant of things beyond their usual lives. I'm personally still shocked by the amount of time you've been able to keep up with this discussion without it going over your head. Intelligent conversation never was one of your fortes."
Oh, good. Well, at least he still knew that Snape was a dick. The lack of cutting remarks per minute had been making Harry a little worried. Still, he didn't attack back as he was still very interested in the information Snape had been giving him.
"Anyway, so, do you think that Vold—"
"Do not say the name!" snapped Snape.
Harry took a second of silence before he began again. "Right… so, do you think He is using Legilimency on me? Even now?"
"Unlikely," replied the potions master, returning to his regular posture. "While the Dark Lord is perhaps the most advanced Legilimens in the country, he still is restricted by the same limitations of the art. Time and space matter greatly in magic. Additionally, eye contact is often essential for all but the most skilled. Attention is also critical." Snape paused for a moment before continuing. "Until you come face to face with him, Legilimency is something you will not need to worry as much over."
"If that's the case, then why would I need to learn this so badly?" Harry asked, slightly confused.
"Remember, Potter, I said Legilimency is one of the ways that the mind can be invaded. There are certainly many more, and it is more than likely that the Dark Lord is capable of at least some of them as well."
"So, what's so special about Legilimency?"
"While not what you'd need to be protecting yourself from any time soon, Legilimency is without a doubt the best skill to use to develop Occlumency quickly. Actual skill in Occlumency is not specifically required, only useful."
"Oh, I see."
"I hope you do, I will not be repeating myself. Clear your mind, Potter. For now you will have some time to prepare before each mental assault, though that will not continue past a certain point. An enemy will give you no time to defend yourself."
It should be mentioned that having Snape pointing his wand at you while you had nothing to defend with felt downright suicidal.
"Legilimens!" said Snape firmly, eyes boring into Harry's.
Not a moment later Snape and the classroom vanished. Harry was suddenly hit with a series of images, so vivid and immersing that he could barely tell if they were real or not. It was like he was actually revisiting bits of his life, skipping around randomly without cause. A night in his bedroom at the Dursley's working on a Charms assignment, dodging a bludger during Quidditch practice as Wood shouted orders to the chasers, watching his teacher read to the class from a story book, dodging a spell from Sirius during one of their practices over the summer with Remus watching from the sidelines, Tonks pressing up against him in a deserted street with snow in her hair… More and more and more and—
Harry let out a small shout, the images fading as abruptly as they came. Instead, he found himself staring at the floor which was rather close to his face. He had fallen to his knees without realizing it.
"Bloody hell…" he muttered, gripping his head.
"About time, Potter," said Snape impatiently. Harry looked up to see the man had his arms crossed with a frown. "It took you well over a minute to break the assault. "
"A minute?" he repeated, pushing himself to his feet. "Felt like ages to me. Did you see all of what I saw?"
"All of it," confirmed Snape, though he sounded less than pleased with the statement. "I'll admit, instead of being absolutely pathetic like I assumed, you are merely bad at the skill. With any luck, you'll pick this up quickly and I'll get to see less and less of your life."
Harry had to agree. Having Snape poke around in his head was none too pleasant a thought. It was a great motivator to learn.
"That's not so bad, I suppose."
"Do not take my words as praise, Potter. It was still remarkably easy to pull information from your mind."
"You'll have to forgive me, I'm not used to having my mind attacked," said Harry indignantly. Though Snape's words certainly got on his nerves, he pushed it all to the side. He needed to completely focus on what he was doing, else things would only get harder.
Snape just raised his wand again. "By the time we are done here, you will be."
"Well, Severus, how did it go?"
Said Severus Snape was currently standing in front of Dumbledore's desk, his expression settled somewhere between annoyed and bored. About to say something overwhelmingly negative, he was caught up by the headmaster's twinkling gaze, accompanied by that infuriating smile of his. Clearly, he knew that the session hadn't been a complete failure. It was just that the old man had some sort of sick pleasure in making him do things he absolutely abhorred. Be it giving Potter private lessons about anything or even talking about it later.
"Rejoice, Headmaster, the boy possesses the faintest modicum of ability," Snape said finally. "That being said, I was only using the spell at a fraction of my ability. I sincerely doubt that he will reach the desired level by the time he needs it."
"This is why I gave him to you to teach, instead of finding someone else," said Dumbledore, folding his hands on the desk. "I have full confidence in your abilities to raise him to such heights."
"Those heights being approximately the most skilled occlumens in all of Britain."
"Now, Severus, I sincerely doubt that anyone will ever be able to take that title away from you," chuckled the headmaster. "You should have more faith in yourself."
Snape scowled slightly but decided not to argue that matter any further. Instead, he changed course.
"On a separate note, I must ask what you've threatened him with to make him so obedient to me during the session." Indeed, Potter's willingness to do whatever he told him and lack of complaints throughout the majority of the hour had thrown him off more than a little bit.
"I did nothing of the sort, Severus," said Dumbledore with an even brighter smile. "Harry is coming along wonderfully, and I couldn't be more pleased at this point. I'm sure he'll do exceptionally well under your tutelage."
"We shall see. However, do not blame me if he breaks under the strain. He will get no special treatment from me."
"I'd expect nothing less."
"Harry, I believe you have had more than enough time to rest."
"Just let me finish this line."
"You said that ten minutes ago."
Harry looked up into Stella's piercing blue eyes, which were staring at him from over his reading. "Sorry," he apologized, standing with a stretch. While he loosened up, his eyes lingered on what he had been reading, the journal left to him by his father. Underneath it was its partner, though he had only skimmed through its contents so far. Considering exactly what he had been doing lately, the former was far more appropriate to read.
"You are quite attached to those journals," observed Stella, who was waiting for him patiently a little ways away. Their dueling room was sparse as always, with the exception of Harry's reading corner. They had yet to move onto any type of training with objects on the field, and given how rigorous everything was he doubted they'd get there any time soon. "You always read them with a fond smile. May I ask what is in them?"
"Shouldn't you already know?" asked Harry, half surprised she didn't.
Stella shook her head. "As your professor has been teaching you for the past week, the mind is not something to be read."
"Please don't remind me," said Harry, rubbing his head. He wasn't sure if it was the snide remarks about embarrassing bits of his life or just the fact that Snape was specifically targeting his worst Hogwarts memories, but regardless, one week of Occlumency sessions and he was already starting to regret it. Hopefully, he'd start to show some progress by the end of the month. "The question still stands."
Stella watched him for a moment before speaking in a softer voice. "Though I could probably find out, it would be wrong of me to violate your privacy like that."
Harry blinked, not expecting her so say that. It was amazing how much Stella had changed since he first met her, despite it being barely two weeks. Not that she was overall very different from her usual castle-like personality, but occasionally she would surprise him with something markedly human. Perhaps she was picking up things from him? Of course, the whole 'castle in a human body' thing was still a baffling mystery to him, but he'd long since accepted that there were some aspects of magic that he just likely wouldn't ever understand.
"I don't mind," he said in answer to her question, picking up the journals. "These are from my parents to me, one from each of them. I got them about a week before I met you."
"A Christmas present?" she asked, backtracking the dates quickly.
Harry smiled sadly. "Not quite. My parents have been dead for pretty much all of my life. I just found them in their old house Christmas Eve. Don't worry about it," he added, before Stella could apologize for bringing it up. "I originally thought they might be diaries, but I couldn't have been further from the truth."
Putting his mother's back on the small table, he flipped the other open to the first page. "Welcome to James Potter's complete guide on Transfiguration. Be it beetles to buttons, finding your wild side, or simply making things from air, this guide will give you everything you need to become a badass like me," read Harry with a flourish. Now grinning widely, he continued to Stella, "I'm not sure who originally came up with the idea, but they both decided to write me guides to their best subjects. Mum's is Charms and Potions, while Dad's is completely devoted to Transfiguration and dueling. I was pissed earlier at the lackluster letter they included, but this more than makes up for it."
"I see," said Stella. She was wearing a somewhat pensive expression. "That certainly does explain your changes in dueling strategy. I assume your father's book has been extremely enlightening."
"Most interesting thing I've ever read. Hell, there's even a whole chapter on animagus transformations." Seeing the look that Stella was giving him, he quickly said, "Wait, don't worry about it, I won't slack off here trying something else out. I've decided to dedicate my whole time here to dueling. I'm going to go over the animagus stuff in more detail over the summer when I can't be here. It's not like I need to turn into an animal, useful as it might be."
"Good, I'd rather not have to remind you where your attention should truly lay again," agreed Stella with a nod.
Harry shuddered slightly at the seemingly plain tone her voice had. It was times like this when she truly made him fear for his safety. Though certainly not as consistently as when he first met her, Stella's voice often developed a distinctly nonhuman quality about it. Words delivered without inflection or emotion, simply spoken. Of course, his fear wasn't from nothing.
"Now, are you ready to continue?"
"Yes," he said, pulling his wand and moving into the stance his father had suggested as a base for all of his movement. It was a loose sideways stance with his left foot slightly out at an angle to provide balance, much like a fencer. Beyond that his father had said just to let it develop naturally into whatever he was most comfortable with. Though he had really only been using it for a week or so, Harry was satisfied with the change. A nice plus was that standing like this also effectively reduced the target his opponent had by about half.
Not that it really mattered here.
A dark bluish spell was rushing at his chest before he realized it, and he dodged to the side as it passed his torso by an inch. Anticipating this, Stella had already sent two more of the same spell rushing in the direction he dodged. One high, one low.
Fortunately, Harry was used to most of Stella's opening moves and already was casting a Protego with a quick wave of his wand. The spells impacted it and fizzled out, after which his wand was already moving to counter. Blasting, cutting, piercing curses, one after another, left Harry's wand as quickly as he could cast them.
Stella dodged the first and rapidly knocked aside the second and third with her wand, making Harry's eyes narrow.
So that was what his dad was talking about.
His thoughts could get no further as Stella's counter was approaching him fast, making him scramble to the side. It was almost unnerving how silent the battle was, with only their footsteps and breathing filling the room—Stella's unnaturally light and Harry's heavy. She was making him work for every single second he was up. Currently, he was at eleven.
Suddenly, Harry pulled up short to avoid a spell from hitting his head but as a consequence was clipped in the shoulder with a spell that spun him around and onto the floor. Ignoring the rising pain in his shoulder, he struggled to his feet as a red jet passed within inches of his side.
It came back to this every time: How the fuck was Stella so damn good?! It wasn't about what she was casting. Honestly, he didn't even know what a fraction of the things she threw at him were. But her skill was just unnatural. Stella was quite simply a monster. He highly doubted that even Voldemort or Dumbledore would last sixty seconds against her in the Room.
He had a feeling that it had less to do with the fact that she was a magical entity herself, and fully able to manipulate that magic, and more that she had been observing magic being performed in every discipline, from novice to master, for over a thousand years. Fact of the matter was that, as far as he could tell, Stella could do anything she wanted to, particularly within the Room. True, she'd said that without his desire for her existence she'd be stuck as the castle only, not as Stella, however, he wondered how much longer it would be before she was able to do it herself, even without the Room. In the mean time, it was just far too suited for the woman. The perfect power for the perfect wielder.
Unfortunately, Stella was fairly close-lipped about the source of her abilities, despite the number of times that, intentionally or not, Harry had openly wondered how she could be so damned good at dueling.
"Within me I have witnessed the most skilled duelists to ever grace my halls," she'd said, her dueling seemingly unaffected by her split in attention. "It stands to reason that after seeing something so much one tends to pick it up."
Which went along with what Harry thought was going on. It still took him almost a week and a half to stop being so stunned by her abilities when they always landed him on the floor in a painful heap, such as the one he was currently rising from once again.
Seeing another two curses practically on top of him without any chance to run he quickly raised his wand, panicking slightly. "Prote—"
Before he could even get the word out of his mouth he was knocked harshly to the side by what felt like a large hammer, his body crashing onto the stone floor as he rolled to a stop.
"What did I say about saying your spells aloud?"
Harry's vision was fuzzy, but he didn't need his eyes to know exactly what Stella looked like at the moment: staring down at him impassively while rolling her 'wand' between her fingers.
"Don't," he muttered, rolling onto all fours so that he could push himself up.
"You see our issue?"
"I panicked." Harry pushed himself up but ended up falling back into a sitting position. His head still swam slightly. At least his vision was back to normal. A small red potion appeared before him, which he took a swig of immediately before it vanished. Almost at once, the majority of the aches that his body had accumulated in the past half-minute began to fade, leaving only the worst as dull throbs.
"As it always is," said Stella. "Do you know why you are being caught off guard so much?"
"Uh, I might actually," he said.
Stella said nothing, silently prompting him to continue.
"I try to dodge too much."
"Indeed you do," agreed Stella. "Your thoughts?"
And such was the essence of how Stella taught him. She beat the absolute shit out of him until he determined what he needed to work on the most to up his level, after which she would beat the shit out of him again, though they would then have some direction. Rinse and repeat to create the greatest duelist of all time… right?
Yeah, there were probably some suicidal tendencies in his body after all.
"I've always been taught that you should never shield against something you can dodge to begin with, and I still agree with that," he said, rubbing his shoulder to try and alleviate the soreness. "If you can be safe without using magic, then that's definitely better than having to use magic. Still, if you take that too far, then you'll dodge things that will put you in an even worse spot than before. In that case, it would be better to shield."
Stella's lips twitched into a small smile. "So, what does your father suggest you do?"
Harry couldn't help but mimic her expression, thinking back to what he had just been reading before they'd continued their training.
"There are a lot of different types of Shield Charms. Way too many if you ask me. They vary in their shape and size, no to mention what they will protect you from. Protego is a good one for low- to mid-level curses and other spells. It's the go-to shield for most witches and wizards for a reason. It's sustainable and covers a wide area easily enough to protect whoever is directly next to you, and with the added bonus of deflecting most of what it can block if the shield is strong enough. On the down side, it's a hog on the reserves if you try and keep it up for too long and can be broken if you aren't careful. Also, it's not something you can move around with easily. Reminds me of cover-based spell fights. I'd never use it in a duel, but a fight with others might give it some use.
Now, I could sit here and list shield charms all day, but that's more along the lines of something you'll find in your mother's book. You're reading a chapter on dueling after all, so we'll skip straight to the shield that duelists use. Or at least all the good ones.
Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite spells ever. Ever seen a witch or wizard seemingly knock a spell out of the air with just their wand? Deflect it to the side or something similar? Well, there you have it. Abverto is a duelist's bread and butter. In my humble opinion, it is the best shield spell there is, but there is a certain amount of bias that comes with that, probably because I can actually use the thing without dying. You'll see what I mean in a second.
To give a little history, this spell was invented by a witch hundreds of years ago who was a highly accomplished fencer and competed in very challenging tournaments. She was not particularly magically powerful at all, but had pinpoint accuracy and hand-eye coordination. The shield she developed capitalized on those strengths and was created to quite literally allow her to swat incoming spells out of the air. Highly difficult, equally risky, and without a doubt incredibly badass. I can only imagine what her first opponent must have gone through to see this twig of a woman take him out.
See, the spell focuses an immensely dense shield at the tip of the wand, maybe about half the size of your palm or a bit smaller. Due to it being so small in surface, it takes virtually nothing to cast compared to a powerful Protego, but at the same time can stop all but the most deadly curses imaginable, and most of those are unblockable to begin with. Of course, casting the spell isn't the hard part. That's saved for trying to knock spells out of the air with a foot long stick. Considering how fast spells move at, many find it all but impossible. Certainly impractical. I'll bet the poor girl was considered to be a suicidal maniac for the rest of her life.
That isn't to say that people can't do it—after all there are a number of accomplished duelists in Britain alone—but it isn't something to be scoffed at. The woman was only able to use it so well because she had the reflexes to do so.
Don't get me wrong now. Abverto has a bunch of weaknesses. First off, it can't protect you from multiple spells at the same time. Any time you're overwhelmed by spellfire, you'll have to think of something else. Even situations where you've got two curses coming in simultaneously. Your wand can't be in both places at the same time. Also, you have to cast the spell at the right time every damn time you want to use it. So it's annoying, hard to use, and overall pretty stupidly risky.
If you're having any issue with this, the more you think about how a fencer fights the better you'll get the picture.
Now go out there and practice this spell until you know it better than anything else you know. If you aren't making this look easier than a tickling charm then you aren't good enough with it yet. Seriously, when I said bread and butter I meant it."
Instead of saying anything, Harry just snapped off a curse directly at Stella's chest. If his sudden attack surprised her, then she certainly didn't show it. In a fluid motion, her wand was back up and had deflected the spell to the side, letting it impact the wall and crack it slightly.
"I need to learn how to do that better than you can. Though I feel like it'll take me more than a lifetime to be better than you at anything."
Stella was now smiling clearly. "Oh, I wouldn't say that. To reach such a level just means that we will be training harder, so don't worry about anything."
Harry did his best not to run away right there. Instead, he just devolved into a weak chuckling. "Oh, that's… that's wonderful."
Yeah, he was going to die.
"Uh, Harry? You alright, mate?"
Harry looked up from his breakfast to see Ron giving him an odd look.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he replied with a small yawn. "Sorry, do I look like something's up?"
"Honestly? You look like you've had a go with a dragon," said the redhead, spearing a sausage with his fork.
Harry couldn't help but chuckle at that. "Something like that."
"Ah, mail's here," Ron muttered, as the Great Hall filled with the sound and sight of over a hundred owls swooping into sight, dropping letters and newspapers in front of students and faculty alike. Hermione caught her Daily Prophet before it was was dropped on her breakfast unfolding it lazily before letting out a gasp, one that was being echoed all over the Hall.
"What's up?" said Harry quickly.
"Oh my god, this is terrible..." she said quietly, spreading out the paper so that those around her could read the large headline on the front page.
MASS BREAKOUT FROM AZKABAN
MINISTRY FEARS BLACK IS "RALLYING POINT"
FOR OLD DEATH EATERS
Voldemort smiled. For the first time in months a true smile spread across his face as he was once more surrounded by his full inner circle. Well, all but Severus.
"Once again, I welcome you all back. You are dismissed."
Everyone made to shuffle out of the room immediately, not wanting to stay in his presence. All but one at any rate. Bellatrix hadn't even moved from her spot in the circle by his side. She merely stood there, basking in his presence. Not something he would permit frequently, but he could humor her desires this once. She would calm down with time anyway.
"Rookwood." Voldemort's voice froze one of the retreating figures, the others passing around him as if he were a large rock.
"Yes, My Lord?"
Voldemort motioned to a nearby chair, inviting the man to sit. "Please, join me for a moment. I require, some information from you regarding your former employer."
"The Ministry?" he said, before thinking a bit deeper. "You mean the Department of Mysteries."
"Indeed." Voldemort sat across from the man, Bellatrix taking a position at his side. "I know it has been a while, however, there is something I have a great interest in at the moment, among other things. Tell me..." His smile made the ex-Unspeakable shiver slightly. "What do you know of the prophesies hidden away in the bowels of the Ministry?"
AN: Chapter complete! Only real noteworthy topic of mention here is Stella, who is a character I'd been working on from the very outset of this fic's creation (ie, it's here to stay). I think "humanizing" the castle has been done in fics about as much as the horcrux merge/absorb/whatever has been. From what I've read and seen that's not really much, though they are there to be had. In any case, I'm coming at it with a twist, like everything else I do, and as always, you find out more as you go :)
Review away if you like. Of course I love hearing from my readers. Message me if you have any questions that you need answers to.