Harry and Ron returned to classes the following Monday after the match, but Ginny’s anger about Dean’s insensitivity remained. After getting the cold shoulder for a couple of days, Dean made multiple attempts to make up–he wrote her a letter, made her a card, and even crashed her lunch with Luna to get her attention.
After almost two weeks of being angry at Dean, Ginny decided to relent. It was exhausting carrying around her anger, and if she were honest with herself, even Ron had taken Harry’s injury lightly. To be fair, Ron had never mocked Harry, but she was beginning to wonder if she’d been a bit harsh on Dean. After all, he’d only mocked Harry after she’d confirmed he was going to recover.
There had even been a few jokes thrown around at Quidditch practice about the incident that Harry had found funny. He certainly wasn’t encouraging them, but if Harry could muster a chuckle at his own expense, then Ginny could find it in herself to let it go.
Despite the roller coaster of emotions she’d felt over the past three weeks, there were two positive outcomes from Ron’s poisoning and Harry’s attack. The first was that Ron and Hermione seemed to be speaking to each other again.
Ginny liked to think that it was because she’d finally told Ron that Hermione had never been dating that awful McLaggen prat, but she suspected that it was his near-death experience that had made them both see that their friendship was more important than a petty argument.
The second was that Professor McGonagall had decided to postpone her third week of detentions until April. She’d summoned Ginny to her office shortly after Ron had returned to classes to let her know that she understood Ron’s poisoning had understandably caused a significant distraction for her, and rather than put her through a week of detentions that would pull her way from her homework, she would give her a reprieve until April.
“However, this now means you’ll be serving detention with Professor Snape instead of Professor Flitwick,” Professor McGonagall had added after Ginny had thanked her for the postponement.
Ginny kicked herself for accepting so quickly. It was too late to beg off and insist that she didn’t need the extra time to get caught up with her studies now. She wasn’t looking forward to detention with Snape, but it would be a month away and she would be ready for his mind games.
To Ginny’s dismay, March flew by in a blur of homework and Quidditch practice. April had greeted her with a solid two weeks of rain and a curt note from Snape scheduling her detentions for mid-April.
Before she knew it, the day had come for her first detention with Snape.
Ginny nearly slipped as she rushed into the Entrance Hall from the Hogwarts grounds. Soaked to the bone from playing Quidditch in the rain, she really wished she could shower in Gryffindor Tower before heading to her first detention with Snape, but there was no time. She suspected that Snape had deliberately chosen this time, so that Harry would have to hold Quidditch practice earlier.
She leaned against the wall next to the dungeon entrance, taking a deep breath. Breathe in, breathe out, she told herself. Once her heart rate had slowed, she closed her eyes, imagining riding on her broom on a clear, spring day. She could feel the cool breeze caressing her hair, the sun warmly kissing her skin, and a pleasant weightlessness as she smoothly descended, her toes brushing the grass.
She felt her tension and worries melt away. There would be time to deal with everything, but that time wasn’t right now. All that mattered right now was how it felt to soar through the air on this beautiful day.
Taking another deep breath, she opened her eyes and entered the dungeons. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled as she descended the stairs, the cold dungeon air washing over her. But she did not care; in her mind, she was flying in the sun.
With a serene smile, she pushed open the heavy door to the potions classroom. It creaked loudly, echoing off of the cold stone walls.
Snape was standing at the opposite end of the classroom with his back to her. “Sit,” he said quietly.
All of the tables had been cleared away and replaced with a small wooden table with two chairs. A few feet away, there were dozens of cauldrons piled against the wall and caked with grime. She took another deep breath, noticing the putrid stench of the dirty cauldrons and letting it roll over her. She did not care because she was still flying.
She took a seat and waited for Snape to address her. After a moment, he swept across the room, stopping in front of her. She looked into his face, and he glared back, his black eyes boring into her.
“You’re lucky to still have your place here at Hogwarts after breaking the underage magic restrictions,” he said quietly with the usual silkiness in his tone.
“Indeed,” she replied calmly.
“It would be so unfortunate if someone let slip that it was actually Potter you saved…” he added slowly, not breaking eye contact with her.
“Yes, it would,” she said, nodding earnestly. But it would not matter because she was flying right now...
“A lie like that could mean expulsion, especially given your history with Dark Magic,” he continued, his voice losing some of its silkiness.
Ginny knew he was trying to rattle her by mentioning the Chamber. Taking another deep breath, she shrugged, “It’s possible.”
Suddenly, the dungeon door swung open, slamming against the stone wall with a loud bang. Jolted from her thoughts, Ginny stood up abruptly, drawing her wand.
To her surprise, Harry stumbled into the room. He was still in his Quidditch robes and soaking wet. Her eyes roved over him as she noticed how his sleeves stuck to his arms, exposing the contours of his muscles. His usually messy black hair stuck to his head, hiding his scar. He scrambled to his feet.
Ginny felt a rush of blood to her head as she slowly sank back into her chair, lowering her wand. What was he doing here? He hadn’t said anything at practice about having detention with her...
“You’re late, Potter,” spat Snape. “Perhaps another detention tomorrow will teach you to be on time.”
“Sorry, Professor,” he muttered, taking a seat next to Ginny. He shot her a lopsided grin and mouthed, “Hi.”
Ginny’s pulse quickened as his eyes met hers. She tried to take another deep breath to regain her composure, but her breath caught in her throat. Looking down, she tried to return her mind to her blissful flying, but all she could think about was the way Harry was looking at her. Unbidden, the warm light of hope flooded her body again.
“As I was saying, Weasley…” Snape stopped abruptly, his lip curling into an ugly smile as Ginny looked at him.
She could feel him boring into her mind with no hope of driving him out now. She was overcome with embarrassment.
“Ah,” he breathed. “Some things never change…”
He turned to Harry, who returned his gaze with a glare. “Still the world’s worst Occlumens, I see. Even Weasley was able to keep me out until you got here.”
“She’s a great witch,” Harry replied stiffly, his face unreadable.
“I can see that she’s more than that to you,” sneered Snape.
Harry looked away from them both. Ginny felt the hope in her heart erupt again. She didn’t dare believe it, but it was staring her right in the face.
“You will have one hour to clean these cauldrons without magic,” said Snape, walking toward Slughorn’s office. “Potter, you’ve already earned yourself another detention tomorrow for being late. If I return and the cauldrons are not done, then you will finish them tomorrow and join us here for a third detention on Wednesday.”
Without waiting for them to respond, Snape went in his office and shut the door.
Harry took out his wand and muttered, “Muffliato.”
“What’s that?” Ginny whispered, afraid Snape would come back if he heard them talking.
“It muffles our voices, so he can’t hear us talking,” said Harry.
“Clever,” she said, impressed. Harry smiled, his cheeks turning slightly pink.
There was a bucket of soapy water and a stack of rags next to the cauldrons. Ginny dropped a couple of rags into the bucket and set it on the table while Harry stacked a few cauldrons next to it. Standing next to the table, they each grabbed a wet rag from the bucket and started to scrub a cauldron.
After a few minutes, Ginny decided to break the silence. “So how’d you get detention this time?”
Harry looked uncomfortable. “Oh, er–I set off a Dungbomb in Charms. I tried being late to class, but that just made me lose house points.”
Ginny giggled and gave him a friendly bump with her hip. “I’m sure he was so shocked by your brazenness that he had no choice but to give you detention.”
“That was the idea,” chuckled Harry. He was silent for a moment, and then asked, “So where did you learn Occlumency?”
Ginny was startled by the question. She’d never told anyone she practiced it, but she supposed Snape must have known for years.
“Bill got me a book about it...after first year,” she said cautiously. “I wanted to be able to defend myself in case anyone tried to enter my mind again.”
Even though Tom was gone and the diary had been destroyed, Ginny had been terrified that he’d enter her mind again. She was willing to do anything to keep him out, so when Bill gave her the book, she threw all of her energy into learning it.
“You must be really good if you could keep Snape out, even if it’s only for a few minutes,” he said, looking at her with admiration.
“No, I just like to practice on him,” she said dismissively. “I do it every time we have class or detention together. I think he enjoys breaking me.”
“How do you do it?” he asked.
Ginny didn’t understand. “Didn’t Snape teach you how?”
“I’ve never been able to do it,” he said, shrugging.
Ginny pursed her lips, careful not to give away her surprise. Harry was such a natural at Defense that she’d just assumed he’d be a great Occlumens, too.
“I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” she said thoughtfully. “I think you have to be severely repressed emotionally to be a great Occlumens.”
“So you’re saying you’re emotionally repressed?” he asked, teasing.
“No! Not anymore, at least,” she said, suddenly feeling self-conscious. “I’m not as good at Occlumency as I used to be.”
“I suppose that’s a good thing,” said Harry, grunting a little as he scrubbed a particularly stubborn chunk of grime in his cauldron. “But I still don’t see how repressing feelings helps with Occlumency.”
“It’s easy to hide your thoughts and feelings from others when you’re hiding them from yourself,” she replied.
Harry gave her a confused look.
Ginny thought back to what she’d read in the book. She’d been practicing it for so long that she didn’t quite remember how she got into the right state of mind.
“You have to be able to compartmentalize your feelings,” she said.
Harry raised his eyebrows. “Compartmentalize?”
“You just...shut down the feelings you want to hide. You set them aside, as if they don’t exist in that moment,” she explained, hoping that made sense to him.
“I don’t think I could just stop feeling,” said Harry, dipping his rag back into the bucket. “I can pretend I’m not feeling it, but it would still be there in my mind for Snape to find.”
“You just turn it off by thinking about something else,” she replied.
“What do you think about?”
“I think about Quidditch or flying,” she said. Her arm ached as she scrubbed her cauldron harder. “That’s why I always carry around my Quidditch diagrams. I’m always thinking about different strategies or how I can be better. It’s how I distract myself from negative feelings.”
“Nothing’s better than flying,” said Harry with smile. “It was the first happy memory that came to my mind the first time I tried to cast a Patronus. It wasn’t enough though…”
He trailed off as he set down his now-clean cauldron and replaced it with a dirty one. Ginny could conjure a Patronus, but she’d never tried against a dementor.
“It’s the happy memory I used when you taught us the Patronus in the DA,” she said. “But I’ve never tried it with a dementor around. Maybe mine wouldn’t be enough either.”
“I don’t know what’s enough,” said Harry thoughtfully. “I couldn’t conjure it around dementors until I saw my future self already doing it.”
Ginny knew he was referring to his experience with the Time Turner three years ago. Hermione had told her all about it.
“So you just think of that now?” she asked, curious to know if there was a trick to conjuring it under pressure.
“No, that only worked once,” he said. “Last time, I conjured it after realizing I might never see Ron and Hermione again.”
Ginny nodded. “That makes sense. A love for flying could never be as strong as the love for friends and family.”
“That doesn’t mean flying might not work for you,” said Harry quickly. He paused as if he were considering his next words carefully and then added tentatively, “Maybe your happy memory is flying with someone special.”
Ginny felt a lurch in her stomach. Was she referring to the time they had flown together at the Burrow, just before Harry had fallen into the lake? Or maybe he was referring to Dean? After all, Dean is her boyfriend, she reminded herself sternly.
Harry must have noticed her discomfort and changed the subject.
“So if you’re thinking about Quidditch and flying all the time, does that mean you go around trying to keep your mind closed all day?”
Ginny was grateful for the change of subject. She did not want to examine her feelings about Dean and Harry right now.
“No! That would be exhausting!” she laughed. “At first, it wasn’t about closing my mind to others. It was about closing my mind to myself. If I’m not aware of the feeling, someone reading my mind won’t be either.”
Harry shook his head. “That makes no sense.”
Ginny paused, not sure if she wanted to share anymore. Harry seemed to sense her reluctance.
“I didn’t mean to pry. We can talk about something else if you’d like,” he said hastily, picking up both of their cauldrons. He set his down next to the other clean cauldrons, but kept hers.
He started to scrub vigorously. “You missed a spot…”
Ginny considered Harry for a moment, weighing whether she wanted to share more with him. She’d always felt like nobody could ever understand what she’d gone through with Tom and how she processed the pain. She’d never known anyone who had a similar experience...except Harry.
Having faced Voldemort and shared thoughts with Voldemort, Harry might be the only one who could ever truly understand.
But could she trust him? What if he didn’t identify with her? What if he thought she was weak?
She watched him scrub her cauldron. This is Harry, she thought. Harry had always been kind to her. He’d never told anyone about the Chamber, even though it had been all her fault. He hadn’t told anyone her secrets from the poker game. He hadn’t told anyone about how she’d nearly thrown herself at him while under the influence of Firewhisky and lucky potion. She had no reason to believe he’d betray her now.
“Remember when I told you that, after the Chamber, I felt like I had to pretend nothing had happened, so that everyone else around me would feel better?” she said abruptly, her shoulders tensing at the thought of the Chamber. There was no going back now.
Harry looked surprised, but nodded.
“Learning Occlumency is just like that,” she explained, hoping Harry would follow. “I just pretended like it never happened when others were around. But when I was alone, I didn’t want to let the pain back in, so I started ignoring this entire side of myself. I became obsessed with Quidditch to distract myself. I would go flying for hours every day, practicing new moves.”
Harry nodded again, his eyes on the dirty cauldron in his hands. “When I’m flying, it’s like Voldemort doesn’t even exist.”
Ginny felt some of the tension in her shoulder recede. Harry understood. She swallowed hard, feeling emboldened.
“At some point, I just stopped thinking about the Chamber entirely,” she continued. “It was like it had never happened. I just shut all those feelings down and left them in a box. I was really good at Occlumency back then because I had repressed so much.”
“And the feelings never came back?” asked Harry, looking up hopefully.
Ginny laughed hollowly. “Oh, no. They came back at the worst possible times. I used to have nightmares all the time, but I couldn’t recall them. I’d wake up sobbing, but I didn’t know why. In class, I would suddenly feel really bad about myself if I couldn’t get a spell right on the first try. Other times, I would just feel impossibly sad for no reason at all.”
A shadow of sadness fell across Harry’s face. For a moment, Ginny thought Harry felt sorry for her. She hated when others tried to cheer her up–she didn’t want anyone’s pity.
Instead, Harry asked, “How did you stop it?”
Ginny let out a sigh of relief. “I took my feelings out of the box. I caught a boggart at the Burrow, and I used it to practice. It helped me grieve about what happened in the Chamber by facing my fears.”
Harry smiled. “That’s a brilliant idea.”
“Stop trying to flatter me,” she laughed, swatting at his arm. “It just helped me learn how to process my feelings.”
“If that’s the secret to Occlumency, then it’s probably a good thing I gave up on it,” said Harry.
Ginny looked down at her cauldron. Her rag had snagged on a particularly disgusting piece of crust. She pushed a bit harder, but her hand slipped across the jagged edge, sending a searing pain across her palm.
“Ouch!” she yelped, withdrawing her hand. There was a deep cut that ran from the base of her pinky finger to her thumb, stinging like a dozen tiny needles. Within seconds, her palm was covered in bright red blood.
Ginny slipped her uninjured hand into her damp robes, groping clumsily for her wand. She’d cut her wand hand, so it would be difficult to mend.
“Here, let me help,” said Harry gently, holding out his hand.
“No, I’ve got it,” insisted Ginny, drawing her wand.
“Don’t be silly, you can’t mend it with your left hand,” said Harry, grabbing her injured hand and turning it face up in his open palm. His touch sent goosebumps up her arms.
“Episkey,” he muttered, waving his wand along her cut.
Her hand felt cool as the stinging subsided and the cut closed. With his wand still in his hand, Harry grabbed the corner of his damp Quidditch robes and wiped the blood off of her palm. The cut was completely gone.
“Thank you,” she said softly, her hand still in his.
Harry slowly looked up at her, saying nothing. Ginny met his eyes with hers, frozen by the strange intensity in his brilliant green eyes. After what seemed like an eternity, he slowly closed his hand around hers and gently circled his thumb on her palm.
With a stab of guilt, Ginny suddenly withdrew her hand as if she’d be burned. “We should get back to work.”
“Right, sorry,” said Harry, turning back to his cauldron, his ears red.
Ginny returned to her scrubbing, her heart thumping hard in her chest. She was with Dean, but all she could think about was Harry. This was wrong. She pushed Harry out of her mind–she would deal with it later.
A/N: My take on Occlumency was inspired by the following quote from JKR: “I think Draco would be very gifted in Occlumency, unlike Harry. Harry’s problem with it was always that his emotions were too near the surface and that he is in some ways too damaged. But he's also very in touch with his feelings about what's happened to him. He's not repressed, he's quite honest about facing them, and he couldn't suppress them, he couldn't suppress these memories. But I thought of Draco as someone who is very capable of compartmentalizing his life and his emotions, and always has done. So he's shut down his pity, enabling him to bully effectively. He's shut down compassion – how else would you become a Death Eater? So he suppresses virtually all of the good side of himself.”