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Harry Potter and the Ritual of Love's Memory
By Forge2

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Category: Post-HBP
Genres: Action/Adventure, General, Romance
Warnings: Death, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Violence
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 247
Summary: After the horcrux hunt implodes leaving most of those Harry loves dead, he starts a new life with a few fellow survivors far away from wizarding Britain. But the discovery of an ancient ritual that promises to send a single memory back in time sparks hope that maybe things can change. Dark ending to DH followed by a tweaked retelling of GoF through DH. Harry/Ginny. Friday updates.

Original Timeline

Voldemort's Victory - Chapter 1-5 (Feel free to skip if you don't like major character deaths)

Tenochtitlán - Chapter 6-9

New Timeline

Harry's 4th Year - Chapter 10-28

Harry's 5th Year - Chapter 29-68

Harry's 6th Year - Chapter 69-Current
Hitcount: Story Total: 68070; Chapter Total: 1349
Awards: View Trophy Room


The first session with his four friends and the three instructors would go down in Harry's mind as one of his favorite lessons ever at Hogwarts. McGonagall, Flitwick, and Moody had contrived an array of challenging scenarios for them to fight through. Harry had been paired with each student at least twice, leading to a bevy of interesting combinations. Harry's team had come out on top a few times, but he found that he learned just as much when he lost. He was especially proud of winning a run in which he and Ginny were together against Ron and Hermione, with Cedric acting on his own.

The older boy was clearly the most skilled of the bunch, but Harry felt hopeful that he wasn't far behind. Cedric knew more spells than any of the others. He was skilled at casting some of the trickier jinxes that were harder for the younger students, plus he was the most athletic of the bunch. Still, Harry thought that his own experience with numerous dangerous situations gave him an edge when it came to thinking on his feet.

Ginny, Ron, and Hermione each had strengths and weaknesses that became more apparent as the matches went on. Harry thought Ginny was the best natural fighter of the three, using her speed and agility to make up for knowing fewer spells than the others. Her competitive spirit also made her a dangerous foe to be up against. Hermione had the greatest knowledge of different spells and charms to use, but she was less adept at using that knowledge in the midst of a chaotic battle. Ron's ability to adapt his strategy to different scenarios was keen, and Harry thought that his hours spent pummeling all chess opponents had significantly honed his skills. Out of the five, he was the most likely to give in to frustration, especially if he had made any sort of blunder.

While Harry still felt a bit of pride thinking back on the praise they'd garnered from the three adults, it was the criticism that had affected him most. He found that the constructive advice from all three of the instructors was helpful and made sense. It was exactly the kind of thing he'd been most hoping for when Dumbledore suggested the lessons.

Moody had continued to harp on Harry's propensity for treating the training exercises as more of a game than a life-or-death simulation, pushing him to take things more seriously to build the kind of habits and muscle memory that could come in handy during a real battle. McGonagall challenged him to use the transfiguration he'd picked up the previous term as means of defending himself, giving him high praise when he caused a desk to ram into Cedric, forcing him into Hermione's line of fire for a stunner. Flitwick's focus on offensive casting pushed him to keep a steady volley of low-level jinxes trained on his opponents, to ensure that they didn't have the time to muster their forces or carefully think through a strategy.

Quidditch practice was challenging for Harry, Ginny, and Ron after exerting so much energy and effort in their Defense exercises. Harry didn't perform as well as usual, and Ginny's passes weren't nearly as crisp as they'd been during their other team workouts.

Ron, on the other hand, was riding high after receiving praise from multiple professors and proving himself capable throughout the challenges. He may not have been at the same level as Cedric during the training session, but it was clear to Harry that his friend's confidence was overflowing. He made several excellent saves that had the rest of the team cheering, with the exception of Alicia and Katie, whom he'd denied near-certain goals. Frobisher was decent enough defending her hoops and stayed mostly consistent, but it was Ron who looked the part of the starting Keeper.

The team raucously swarmed into the Great Hall without bothering to shower or change since Angelina had extended the practice until dinner had already started. Their excitement and optimism bled into the rest of the Gryffindor table, leading many of Harry's housemates to begin predicting rollicking success in their upcoming match against Slytherin.

As dinner wound down, Ginny squeezed Harry's hand and whispered, "You still wanna get out of here and talk?"

In all honesty, Harry felt rather content basking in the thrill of the day's adventures, but his girlfriend's eager expression was all he needed to decide. "For sure," he whispered back, his eyes darting to and fro conspiratorially. "How about a spot out on the grounds? I know of a place I'd like to take you."

"Sounds fun! Lead the way!"

The two skirted around the hall before leaving via the same doors they snuck out during the Yule Ball. This time they didn't encounter Hagrid as they walked hand in hand toward the Black Lake. A lone tree jutted out of a small hill overlooking the water. He had spent some time considering how best to tell Ginny about his rogue memory, but he hadn't thought about where to tell her at all. The idea to tell her on the spot that the memory occurred had come to him out of the blue, and he felt a bit more confident about the whole situation with that detail sorted out.

When they reached the tree, both of them flopped onto the ground before propping themselves against its trunk. Harry interlaced his fingers with hers as he prepared to explain the story, but found himself nervous as he tried to think through the ways she could react. He shook his head to clear his thoughts, looked over his shoulder to ensure nobody had followed them, and took a deep breath.

"Okay. There's something I've been meaning to tell you for a while, but I just haven't been able to find the best time or come up with the right words. Not exactly sure how you'll react, but I wanted to tell you first." Harry grimaced a bit. "Okay, technically not first, because it's stuff I told Dumbledore and he had me tell Sirius, McGonagall, and Kingsley in a meeting. But other than that, you're the first person I'm telling about some of this stuff."

Ginny's face shone with anticipation. "Wait, you get to tell me about what the group has been working on?"

"Well, not exactly… Y'see, it's about the memory that made Dumbledore decide to form the group in the first place. The memory that lodged itself in my head…"

"After the first task! The rogue memory?!"

"Yep," said Harry with a chuckle. "That's the one. I haven't told you or Ron and Hermione many details about what was in the memory. Some of that's because I was sworn to ultra-super Dumbledore secrecy, but another reason is because it's… Well… It's pretty personal."

Ginny nodded along as Harry fumbled over his words, squeezing his hand in hers encouragingly. Harry could feel her eager eyes boring into his reddening cheeks as he looked up at the leaves overhead.

"Did I tell you that this is the same tree from that memory? An older version of me was sitting in this exact spot." He glanced back down at her. There were flecks of gold in her bright brown eyes as she smiled back at him. "And you're right where the older version of you was sitting."

His admission hung in the air for a few long moments. Harry tried to read the various emotions that sprang to Ginny's face, but she cycled through them too quickly for him.

"Wait a minute," she whispered. "I was the other person in your weird future memory?"

"Yeah, you are. It's really wild how vivid the memory is. We're holding hands, just like we are right now. Your hair is a bit longer and the breeze blows it so that it tickles my nose." Harry smiled as his thoughts drifted back through other pleasant parts of the memory. "I can't see myself, since I'm viewing the memory from my older self's eyes, but that version of you appears to have been kissing someone very recently…"

Ginny let out a short burst of a laugh, though Harry could sense something else in it. Possibly discomfort or uncertainty.

"Anyway, the older version of you asks what the older version of me is thinking." Harry felt like it was clunky to keep referring to the memory versions of them like that, but he'd had a lot longer to process them actually being Harry and Ginny than the Ginny sitting beside him.

"How'd he answer?" she asked a bit quietly.

"That's the thing. He talked about being really happy. Wait, wait, let me remember the exact wording…" Harry closed his eyes and let his mind drift into that version of events. "It was like this: 'I dunno, Gin. Just how happy I feel right now. And how much I wish I'd started to get to know you sooner. Especially after your first year, all of us should have done a better job of supporting you. Me, Ron, Hermione… Even the twins.'

"Then I say, 'It woulda been great to realize you were this amazing sooner.'" Harry had to hold back a wince when he realized he'd accidentally referred to his future version as "I" in the explanation.

"You got the memory right before you asked me to the Yule Ball." It wasn't a question, but Harry slowly nodded anyway. Ginny's voice was still softer than normal, but it had definitely grown in volume. Her hand slipped out of his as she began to nervously rub her shoulder."Some weird memory from the future attacks you in the middle of the night and plants the idea that we end up dating, then you rush off to ask me to the dance immediately afterward?"

"Err… Not exactly." The conversation wasn't going as well as Harry had hoped. Not by a long shot. "I wasn't exactly sure who to ask to the ball before the memory, but afterward I kept dwelling on how happy that version of me seemed. He just looked really earnest about wishing he'd known that Ginny better. I kinda figured that, since the memory was giving me a chance at it, I should probably see where it led."

"And there it is," said Ginny with pain in her voice. "You asked me because you thought you 'should.'"

Harry drew a sharp breath in as her words sank in. "Wait, Gin, that's not what I meant…"

"Then what did you mean?" she cut across him. Her eyes held unshed tears, but Harry could see a dangerous fire there, too. "'Cause it sounds a lot like the only reason you're with me is out of some sort of obligation to a future version of you!" She let out a small gasp and cupped her hands over her mouth and nose. "Is that why you waited so long when everyone was sure you were going to ask me out sooner?"

It was as if sirens in Harry's mind were blaring as he tried to think of how to respond to the bevy of insecurities Ginny had laid bare before him.

"Gin, that's not it! Please, let me explain and I promise it'll make sense." He looked at her imploringly as a single tear rolled down her cheek. Harry had to fight the urge to wipe it with his thumb but didn't dare make any move toward her until he was sure she wasn't going to run away and vow never to be around him again.

She let out a small sniffle but looked resolute. "Alright, then. Explain."

Harry drew a deep breath in, thinking that at least she was willing to hear him out. "Before I asked you to the Yule Ball, I did think a lot about that memory. About how happy both of those versions of us looked and about what they said.

"He was right about how we all should've been better at seeking you out after the Chamber. That stuck with me," Ginny started to interject, but Harry quickly followed up. "Not in an obligation sort of way, but that's just what people should do for each other. It's what you and Ron and Hermione did for me after the third task, but so did Luna, Cedric, and the twins. That meant a lot to me and helped me deal with everything. I wish we'd done that when you were going through something similar."

Ginny's face was still stony, but she gave a small nod that Harry took as her conceding the point.

"When I decided to ask you, it wasn't because I thought I had to. I was genuinely curious about you since I didn't feel like I knew you very well. The memory definitely sparked some of that curiosity, but I knew I didn't want to just rush in and ask you to be my girlfriend out of the blue based on some weird mental thing I didn't understand. That's why I asked you to go as friends. I figured that if I spent some more time with you, it would sorta test out the idea behind the memory. Plus, I really did believe that you'd be a lot more fun to go with than anyone else I could've asked.

"If things went well, I thought I could keep getting to know you and see where things led. If I mucked it all up, at least I would've tried to chase after that happiness I'd seen in the memory, plus it meant you'd get to go to the dance. It felt like it was the right call." Harry's frantic thoughts slowed slightly when Ginny's gaze moved from her feet back to his eyes.

"You know how the spring term went: we hung out a lot more, spent time training for the tasks, and generally became friends. Y'know, real friends." He smiled a bit sheepishly as the corner of Ginny's mouth almost turned upward. "I'd promised myself that I wasn't going to focus too much on the memory that term, since I'd been thrust into a tournament where someone was likely trying to off me, but after I went back to Privet Drive I had time to think.

"I realized that I liked you a lot. Liked you liked you. And I knew that I wanted to ask you out, not because of the memory, but because…" Harry tried to find the right words. "You make me really, really happy. And I was hoping that I might make you happy, too."

He watched as a genuine smile graced Ginny's face. "You promise you're not with me for some stupid, noble reason?"

"Absolutely," answered Harry, and he meant it.

A small hand slipped back into his as Ginny tentatively rested her head on his shoulder. "Then why the hell did you wait so long to ask me this summer?" she asked with a bit of a soft giggle.

"For the life of me, I don't know!" replied Harry with exasperation at himself. "I almost asked you probably a dozen times before it happened. I was nervous you'd say no or laugh at me, and I kept thinking and then rethinking how I should say it all. It's not like I had a good track record of being smooth when trying to ask you out. I still blush when I think of inviting you to the Yule Ball…"

"You're kind of an idiot sometimes, y'know?" she said with a mischievous grin.

"I know!" laughed Harry, finally feeling some of his nervous energy dissipate.

"How did you not realize I would say yes? I sat next to you as much as I could without climbing into your lap, I tried to touch your arm or bump my knee against yours multiple times a day… The only way I could've been more obvious was if I agreed to let Fred and George go ahead with their plan to convince the paintings in Grimmauld to shout 'Oi Potter! Snog Ginny!' every time you walked by!"

Harry let out a snort at the image of the three most devious Weasleys accosting Walburga Black's portrait until she agreed to their plan.

"What can I say? You're dating someone who doesn't always know what's happening emotionally." Harry felt mostly confident that things between them were back in a good place but squeezed her hand anyway. "Speaking of, we are still dating, right? I'm really hoping we're still together, even though I wouldn't blame you if…"

Harry's questions were interrupted and answered by Ginny's lips on his.


In the days that followed, none of them was sure how word of the five students' defense session made it into the Hogwarts rumor mill, but Harry heard multiple groups of students relaying ever-more fanciful tales of how the lesson had gone. Hermione shrewdly used the rumors to drum up interest in the Defense Club, which was scheduled to begin meeting early in October. The inclusion of all five of those allegedly being tutored by "Dumbledore and a crack team of hit wizards" as Seamus had put it, had made the list of interested students much longer than originally anticipated.

Ron let out a low whistle as he surveyed the five parchments that had been collected, one from each Common Room and one in the Great Hall. The Gryffindor and Hufflepuff lists spilled onto the back of the page, and the Ravenclaw list would have done the same, except a number of them had signed up in the Great Hall, instead. The Slytherin list returned unmarked, but Harry was pleased to see a few names from their house written on the list from the Great Hall.

"Not a bad haul," said Cedric as he surveyed the many names. "But it's way too many to cram into one of the classrooms, even if we used a big one like Charms or Transfiguration."

"A lot of younger students signed up," added Hermione. "I'm really glad we kept it at Fourth Years and up. It'll be a challenge to put together any sort of cohesive curriculum with such a wide range of ages and abilities, but I think we'll be able to manage."

"It's still going to be a huge task to figure out how to get dozens of people working on everything all at once," said Ron. "Any ideas on how we're going to make it work?"

Cedric and Hermione smiled knowingly at each other. She inclined her head in his direction, but he insisted that she'd come up with the idea, so she should present it.

"Okay, hear me out on this," Hermione explained. "We have a meeting once a month with the whole group. Maybe we set up here in the Great Hall so that we've got enough space. We can all help teach the club members about that month's topic, but then each year meets on their own to go over the material in more depth."

Harry and the Weasleys nodded along as Hermione explained. Ginny seemed the most enthusiastic about the idea. "That's smart… We've got most of the years covered between the five of us. Were you thinking that one of you three would help out with the Sixth Years?" She indicated Harry, Hermione, and Ron.

Hermione grinned mischievously. "Well, that's the thing. It'd be nice to have a Sixth Year who knows everyone well to lead that group, and Cedric has a lead on someone who would fit the bill."

Cedric flashed his winning smile. "I have it on good authority that Cho would be up for joining our training sessions and did a lot of the recruiting for the Ravenclaws who signed up. Plus, she's been giving me such a hard time about getting special lessons from Flitwick when he's her Head of House."

Ginny's eyes lit up as she began to laugh. "Oh, we've got to get her onboard, Hermione! Then we can have an even three-on-three Battle of the Sexes!"

Hermione's face turned thoughtful. "Ooh, I hadn't thought of that. Adding Cho would give the professors lots more options for setting up a challenge… What do you two think?"

"If she's half as good at Defense as she is on a broom, I'm in," said Harry. "I always enjoy competing against her in quidditch."

"No objections from my end," added Ron.

"That's great news, cause I accidentally let it slip to her that Hermione and I were going to suggest it to you lot, and if you'd said 'No,' I woulda been in a heap of trouble for not fighting hard enough for her to be included." Cedric blushed slightly at his slip, but none of the Gryffindors made a big deal of it.

"It'll probably be a lot of work to run one of the groups on your own," mused Hermione. "Since the Fifth Year group can split the workload between the three of us, maybe we should each help out some with another year's group?"

Without saying a word, Harry took a small step toward Ginny. Then another. Then another. Before he could fully close the distance between them, Hermione rolled her eyes and said, "Yes Harry, you can help Ginny with the Fourth Years…" Ginny gave him a high-five while Ron shook his head as Hermione continued. "What do you think about having a helping hand, Cedric? And would Cho want some help?"

"Sounds good to me, and I'm sure Cho would love to have extra help. She's better at practical defense than theory and logistics, so pairing you and her might be a great combo. Plus, that'd let me partner up with the only other quidditch fan with a lick of sense in this whole school." Cedric bumped his fist against Ron's and they both extended their fingers to mimic an explosion while making "Pishoo!" sound effects.

"Cannons for life," said Ron with much more gravitas than the situation required.


Harry was unsurprised when Snape held him back after another frustrating Potions class on Monday. Once the last of the other students exited, he had been informed that their first Occlumency lesson would be Thursday evening after dinner. Harry didn't press the subject, even though his heart sank at having to miss quidditch when he could have had an excuse to skip Defense.

On the positive side of things, Harry was now spending the class periods with Umbridge thinking through potential topics to cover in Defense Club. He scrawled notes on a parchment with his open-but-unread book on his desk. Even when the professor began the class with a syrupy-sweet screed against the Daily Prophet or those opposed to the embattled Minister Fudge, Harry tuned her out with the knowledge that he was already undermining her by learning and would soon be doing the same by teaching.

When Thursday evening came, Harry felt none of the eager anticipation which had flooded through him before meeting with Dumbledore. The knowledge that McGonagall would be a part of the lesson kept him from despairing at the thought of additional time spent with Snape every fortnight.

The door to the Potions classroom was ajar when he reached it, but he waited outside and knocked at the open door. Snape's bored voice called out from the room for him to enter. Loathe as he was to take a front-row seat, it felt ridiculous to sit at his normal desk in the back of the room. He begrudgingly sat down and looked at Professor McGonagall, who was walking from the back of the room to stand next to Snape. She nodded at the Potions Master before he proceeded.

"The headmaster believes it crucial for you to learn Occlumency, an obscure and exceedingly difficult branch of magic that you are unlikely to be capable of mastering. He has insisted that we attempt to train you in the art, despite my warnings of how unsuitable your temperament is to such an endeavor."

Harry could see McGonagall's lips growing thinner as she stood next to Snape, but she did not interrupt.

"As I understand it, the Dark Lord performed some basic Legilimency on you while you were in the graveyard when he determined how best to provoke you by killing Krum." Snape's expression didn't change a bit as he recounted some of the most painful moments of Harry's life. "He is likely the most accomplished Legilimens alive today, so guarding your mind against his probing will be nigh impossible. Yet that is the task set before us."

"Wait a minute…" A flash of panic gripped Harry's chest. "Could Voldemort be reading my mind right now?"

Snape scoffed. "Only Muggles speak in terms of 'mind reading,' Potter. The mind is not a book that can be opened and perused at another's leisure. Legilimency allows a person to delve deep within another's mind to experience thoughts, feelings, and memories. It takes considerable skill to interpret one's findings correctly. The Dark Lord specializes in his ability to know when someone is lying by searching their mind for indicators of a hidden truth. There are many miles between you and the Dark Lord, and Hogwarts itself is brimming with protections that diminish the power and effectiveness of Legilimency. The skill also almost always requires eye contact."

Harry didn't enjoy being spoken to as if he were the thickest toddler Snape had ever come across, but the reassurance that Voldemort wasn't reading his mind was quite comforting. Before he could breathe out a sigh of relief, Snape continued.

"Unfortunately, the usual rules of Legilimency do not apply to you. When the Dark Lord struck you with the killing curse, he seems to have forged some sort of connection between the two of you through your scar. We do not yet understand the connection, but the headmaster is concerned that, if your mind remains unprotected, you may become easy prey."

"We aren't explaining this to frighten you, Mr. Potter," added Professor McGonagall. "There is too much at stake, for you and for all of us, for you to fail to take these lessons seriously."

With a long breath out and eyes almost closed with worry, Harry nodded his head. He wasn't sure if Voldemort would be able to access the rogue memory from his future self, but he had sat in on enough meetings about horcruxes with Dumbledore to fear a mental attack.

"Yes, Professor," answered Harry quietly. "You have my word that I'll give it my best shot."

"Very well," drawled Snape. "Stand up with your wand at the ready. You are free to use any sort of spell to disarm me or prevent my attack."

"Oh, okay… But what are you going to do?" asked Harry with a nervous glance at the professor's wand. There was a glint in Snape's dark eyes.

"I am going to attempt to break into your mind," responded Snape with the beginnings of a sneer. "It will be helpful to see how you respond naturally before we instruct you in the ways of Occlumency. We have been informed that you showed some degree of aptitude at resisting the Imperius Curse, and similar concentration and power will be required for this task."

Snape looked to his left where McGonagall stood. She gave him a curt nod.

"Brace yourself… Legilimens!"

Despite the warning, Harry was woefully unprepared as the classroom blurred until it was completely beyond his sight. Suddenly, he was staring at a grainy vision of himself as a child of no more than six. The bright flickering memory showed Petunia shoving him into the cupboard under the stairs and locking the door while Dudley jeered… It flashed to a nine-year-old Harry crying while scrambling up a tree away from Vernon's sister's bulldog, which was barking with both of its front paws against the tree trunk... A scene of Harry with the Sorting Hat on his head whispering, "Not Slytherin…" Ginny walking alongside Harry toward the Common Room in her Yule Ball dress, her shoes hanging loosely from one hand…

NO! A voice in the back of Harry's mind seemed to be shouting. That's private! You can't see that!

A wave of anger overcame Harry until he felt a sharp pain in his knee. His vision became less blurry and he found himself on the cold, stone floor clutching his leg. He shook his head and tried to gather himself.

"Did you mean to produce that Stinging Hex?" asked an impatient-sounding Snape as he rubbed a red mark on his wrist and flexed his injured hand.

"No, I didn't even realize I'd done it," answered Harry as he stood back up. "I was just… Trying to push back, I guess."

"As I suspected. Though you allowed me too far into your mind, your response was better than I would have expected."

"Could you see what I was seeing? When my memories were flashing forward?"

"Only briefly. As I said before, I am not 'reading your mind' as if it were a book. I am catching glimpses of moments associated with strong feelings, and interpreting them."

"I have full confidence in Professor Snape's abilities and intentions, Mr. Potter," said McGonagall seriously. "But feel free to tell me if you feel the training comes too close to the kind of information that the headmaster deems sensitive."

"No, nothing like that," replied Harry. "It's just that… Everything that I saw was pretty personal."

"Which makes sense. As Professor Snape explained, the memories most accessible will be those connected to strong emotions."

Harry grit his teeth and gave a resolute nod. "Alright. How can I defend my mind better?"

"You were too slow when I initially attacked," said Snape, slowly pacing between the blackboard and the closet full of potion ingredients. "You allowed me to delve deep quickly, increasing the difficulty of removing my presence from your mind. Your frustration grew until you instinctively fired a hex, but such a defense will not be enough in the face of a real attack."

"You are not guaranteed to have a wand in your possession while fending off a Legilimens, Mr. Potter," said Professor McGonagall with a touch of sadness in her eyes. "Your experience in the graveyard is a reminder of that. You must learn to empty your mind of the emotional footholds that can be used by an attacker to gain access to your thoughts."

"Okay, but what does any of that actually mean?" asked Harry, a little frustrated. "How am I supposed to empty my mind?"

"In my experience, it helps to close my eyes and focus as much of my attention as I can on nothingness," said McGonagall, closing her eyes as she spoke. "When confronted by a thought or emotion, I visualize it as a book that I close and put away on a shelf, then let the image of the bookcase fade into nothingness."

"She is correct to point out the utility of closing your eyes," added Snape. "Concentration is key. You must focus on removing any potential means for me to keep hold of your mind. Prepare yourself. Legilimens!"

Harry squeezed his eyes shut and faced the ground as an array of colors burst before his closed eyes. A vision of the Hungarian Horntail breathing fire flashed into his mind's eye. With great effort, he attempted to fold the image as McGonagall had described. It almost felt as though it might be giving way when the vision changed to Harry staring into a mirror within which his mother and father were smiling back at him. His heart ached at the sight as he focused his energy on dispelling the image, but it was replaced by Viktor's body being struck by the Cruciatus. A gasp of pain ripped through Harry as the image loomed larger and larger until he felt the world rematerializing around him.

"If you cannot keep me out of your mind, those thoughts and emotions can be used as weapons to destroy you," said Snape harshly. "Your emotions tied to Krum's death are raw. They would be an easy mark for the Dark Lord, especially because of the confluence of fear and anger. And he is likely to correctly assume that your memory of the occasion stands out in your mind."

"I almost felt like I could get your method, Professor," said Harry as he looked at McGonagall and tried to slow his ragged breathing. He winced badly as he rose to his feet again. "But it was like the image was too heavy for me to move or I just wasn't strong enough."

"Occlumency takes a great deal of practice, Mr. Potter. Just as you need to train your muscles to become stronger, you must practice defending your mind to build up the capacity to repel attacks, especially from a Legilimens as skilled as Professor Snape."

What she'd said made sense to Harry, but he still felt as though he was facing a steep learning curve. He took a few deep breaths in and out before steeling himself. He turned back to Snape and nodded, snapping his eyes closed before the word "Legilimens!" had been spoken and concentrating with all his might on nothingness.

For a few moments, Harry sensed nothing. Suddenly, the image of Vernon Dursley towering above a terrified eight-year-old Harry flickered in front of Harry's face. The man's hand was raised menacingly as the boy scrambled backward. A ringing in Harry's ears was growing louder as the scene looked almost as if it could be folded in half until the blackness around him was filled with the dark forms of dementors swooping down toward a young Harry above a collapsed Sirius. Try as he might, he couldn't stow away the memory before he watched Ginny hop onto the counter at Grimmauld Place and move a bowl of strawberries just beyond his reach.

A guttural scream emanated from Harry's throat as tears narrowly escaped his vice-like eyelids. The sound of Professor Snape's hard breathing alerted him that he was still in the classroom. Harry opened his eyes to find himself on his hands and knees, his nose inches from the floor. He groaned at the thumping headache quickly developing behind his ears.

Snape sped to the other side of the room where Professor McGonagall had been standing. When Harry looked, he saw that she was unconscious on the floor. Without hesitation, Snape uttered, "Enervate!"

A very dazed McGonagall stood up unsteadily, one hand rubbing her forehead as Professor Snape pulled her up by the other. "Well, I must say that was quite unexpected. Mr. Potter, would it be safe to assume you did not mean to cast a Stunning Spell at me?"

"No, Professor, I had no idea!" His face burned hot from embarrassment. "I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to…"

"Not to worry," interrupted McGonagall as she turned her neck to the side until it made a cracking sound that did nothing to calm Harry's nerves. "It'll take more than a stunner to put me out of commission."

"That attempt was your best so far. Your spell was not what forced me from your mind; a lapse in my concentration when your stunner struck her coincided with your strongest push," said Snape, still hovering near McGonagall despite her confidence in her own well-being. He stared at Harry appraisingly. "There is a long way to go before you would be anywhere close to proficient, but I will admit that you show far more potential than I suspected.

"The strain from defending your mind will only grow if we proceed further this evening. Practice clearing your mind each night before you go to sleep, and your attempts should be slightly less difficult at our next session." He turned to McGonagall. "Perhaps it would be wise for me to accompany you to the Hospital Wing to ensure that you are…"

Rarely did any student see Professor Snape lacking command of a situation, but Professor McGonagall gave him such a withering glare that Harry realized that she had once been Snape's professor, too.
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