After Molly's run-in with the boggart, the trio headed back to Hogwarts, with Ron and Hermione, newly appointed prefects, riding in a separate car from Harry, for the first time since Harry and Ron first met. Harry ends up with Neville and Ginny in a car with Luna Lovegood. Luna, sometimes called Loony by other students, is a bit, well, odd. It's obvious, and Luna seems to know and accept that she is different.
Luna seems like nothing more than comic relief, and she does make us laugh, and Harry as well. But Luna is so much more. She is sometimes the one person who is able to calm Harry's fears and sooth his grief. When they arrive at Hogwarts, Harry sees the thestrals that have always pulled the "horseless" carriages--something he could not see before because he had not seen death.
Chapter Twenty-Four: "Occlumency"
This chapter begins with a note that it turns out that Kreacher had been lurking in the attic, where Sirius had found him:
no doubt looking for more relics of the Black family to hide in his cupboard. Though Sirius seemed satisfied with this story, it made Harry uneasy. Kreacher seemed to be in a better mood on his reappearance, his bitter muttering had subsided somewhat, and he submitted to orders more docilely than usual, though once or twice Harry caught the house-elf staring avidly at him, always looking quickly away when he saw that Harry had noticed. (US, Chap. 24, p. 516)
This is one of those brilliant misdirections from Rowling. We are, by this time, fairly used to Harry not being right about what he sees, but he's dead on with this one. Kreacher may have been found in the attic, but he certainly, it turns out, wasn't there the whole time. Instead, he'd been off to visit another Black family member--one that he respected, which may be why he was able to disobey Sirius--or at least not to stick to the strict letter of the law regarding house-elves and their masters.
After Harry's foray into Voldemort's mind, when he sees the snake attacking Arthur at the Ministy, and feels that he WAS the snake, some of Harry's fears are calmed by talks with Sirius and with Ron, Hermione and Ginny. And then comes the big blow, shortly before they return to school--Snape arrives at twelve, Grimmauld Place and tells Harry that he will be taking Occlumency lessons when he returns to Hogwarts--and his teacher for these private lessons will be none other than himself, Professor Snape.
We haven't heard about Occlumency before this, but I think we have seen it used. Snape makes a lot of eye contact with Harry, and Harry usually stares right back, feeling that it's like making and maintaining eye contact with a hippogryff. Harry has the feeling several times with Snape and with Dumbledore that they know what he is thinking. Just how much they are getting by using Occlumency and how much they get because Harry isn't good at masking his emotions, isn't clear, even by the end of the sixth book.
Here's what we learn from Snape as he tells Harry about his upcoming Occlumency lessons, all the while observed by a glowering Sirius:
1. Dumbledore has ordered that Harry study Occlumency this term.
2. It is "the magical defense of the mind against external penetration. An obscure branch of magic, but a highly useful one." (Snape, US, p. 519)
3. Why? Because Dumbledore thinks it's a good idea.
4. Snape: "You will receive private lessons once a week, but you will not tell anybody what you are doing, least of all Dolores Umbridge." (US, p. 519)
5. Sirius voices what Harry is thinking--why can't Dumbledore teach him? Snape replies:
"I suppose because it is a headmaster's privilege to delegate less enjoyable tasks," said Snape silkily. "I assure you I did not bet for the job." (US, p. 519)
This scene then disintigrates into Snape goading Sirius, and the two of them squaring off, ready to end their feud, and only prevented from doing so by Harry's intevention and the entrance of the Weasley family.
We learn later that Dumbledore does have a different reason for not giving Harry the lessons, but Snape just couldn't pass up the chance to take more pot shots at Sirius. I have to wonder if the explanation might have been delivered and received better had Sirius left the two of them alone.
Harry, of course, does tell Ron and Hermione about the lessons, even though Snape told him to tell no one. Once back at school, though, Harry does obey and tells the rest of the students that he has to take extra potions lessons--Remedial Potions, as Zacharias Smith points out, adding:
"Good Lord, you must be terrible, Snape doesn't usually give extra lessons, does he?" (US, p. 527)And Harry realizes that that's what everyone is going to think, that he's really stupid.
Cho, the great distraction in Harry's life in Order of the Phoenix, shows up, and after a bit of stammering, Harry manages to ask her out--Hogsmeade on Valentine's Day.
Harry goes to Snape's office at 6 o'clock. It's the same except for Dumbledore's Pensieve on the desk. Now, it seems to me that a Pensieve would be a very personal item, and I think seeing it there for Snape to use, is one more clue that Dumbledore trusts him. And does this mean that Dumbledore takes all his thoughts out of the Pensieve so that Snape doesn't have access to any of Dumbledore's memories?
There are a number of things I thought about with this particular Occlumency lesson. I think it's simpler to just go through them. Snape indicates that Harry should sit down in a chair across from his desk, and when he does so:
so did Snape, his cold black eyes fixed unblinkingly upon Harry, dislike etched in every line of his face. (US, p. 529)
This is the first opportunity that Snape has to harm Harry. They are alone, and the lessons, it turns out, are quite disturbing and invasive, yet Harry does come out of them, albeit not without being mentally shaken. Harry sees dislike on Snape's face, but is it dislike for Harry or for the task that Dumbledore has set him? Is Snape even able to see Harry as anyone other than James? I think so much of the time that Snape automatically sees James that Harry just gets lost to him. It's also possible, that if Snape and Lily were friends, that every time he looks into those eyes that everyone says are Lily's, that Snape is once again painfully reminded that she is dead and Harry survived, all at the hands of Voldemort, and all because of some involvement on Snape's part. I think we still only know a portion of this, even after Half-Blood Prince.
The lesson begins with Snape telling Harry what Occlumency involves, but only because Harry keeps asking questions, after Snape establishes that Harry is still to afford him the respect that is his due as Harry's teacher.
"And why does Professor Dumbledore think I need it, sir?" said Harry, looking directly into Snape's dark, cold eyes and wondering whether he would answer.
Snape looked back at him for a moment and then said contemptuously, "Surely even you could have worked that out by now, Potter? The Dark Lord is highly skilled at Legilimency-"
"What's that? Sir?"
"It is the ability to extract feelings and memories from another person's mind--" (US, p. 530)
Dark Lord? Hmmm, why does it take Harry so long before he finally asks Snape about the use of this term? Distracted, I suppose, by all the new information he's finally getting. So it turns out that the "Dark Lord" is adept at Legilimency, but what's easy to miss is that Harry is also. He has been unintentionally doing Legilimency for a very long time--every time, in fact, that his scar hurt. He just hasn't known what was happening.
Harry likens it to mind reading, and Snape says it's not the same at all. Even with all his barbs aimed at Harry, Snape does give him a lot of information. But it's often hard to hear information when it's delivered with sarcasm and insults, which is exactly what Snape does.
There might be something else going on, but this is definitely a guess. I can't quite get to the Scar-Horcrux idea, but tend to think that Harry has a distinctly unique mental connection to Voldemort as a result of the rebounded curse--that it is a mental connection and not a soul connection. Part of the reason for my thinking that is that Rowling, as I said before, makes a clear distinction between the soul and the mind; they are not the same and interchangeable. She makes that differentiation with what happens to a person on the receiving end of a Dementor's Kiss, and in HBP with what has happened to Voldemort--even though he has mutilated his soul beyond repair, and even if Harry destroys all the Horcruxes, Voldemort's body and magical abilities will live on. That, to me, points to Harry's scar not needing to be a Horcrux for there to be a connection forged between Voldemort and Harry at the time of the rebounded Avada Kedavra curse. (This may very well be one of those ideas that will need adjustment once we read Deathly Hallows, but until then, I'm following the line that it's all mental and not some sort of joining of Harry's and Voldemort's souls.)
Whatever Dumbledore and Snape think is going on, it's clear that this mental connection isn't behaving normally. Legilimency usually requires eye contact, but with Harry and Voldemort, it happens over great distances. They are in uncharted waters with this one, but they can no longer ignore it after Harry's incursion into Voldemort's mind before Christmas; now Voldemort is aware that Harry has access to his thoughts, which means that Voldemort might chose to intrude into Harry's mind.
Caution is required to ensure that what Harry sees and thinks does not give away any secrets of the Order of the Phoenix. Much later, Harry learns that was precisely the reason that Dumbledore didn't teach Harry Occlumency, or spend much time with him, or even make eye contact with him most of the year--it would have given Voldemort too much possible access to Dumbledore's mind.
So Snape is tapped for the job instead. As a spy, however, he is now walking a tight rope. One misstep, one show of any friendship to Harry would destroy his credibility with Voldemort. That may also be the reason for the look of dislike, and certainly for the rather cryptic answers, that Snape gives about what Occlumency is. It seems that this puts Snape at great risk of having his own thoughts, thoughts he may have previously hidden from Voldemort, layed bare for the "Dark Lord" to see. Hence, the reason for the Pensieve--Snape needs a safe place for any thoughts that might show he is not as loyal to Voldemort as he'd like Voldemort to think. Nor does he want to give Voldemort any memories of his own that could be used against him later.
Snape tells Harry:
"It is true, however, that those who have mastered Legilimency are able, under certain circumstances, to delve into the minds of their victims and to interpret their findings correctly. The Dark Lord, for instance, almost always knows when somebody is lying to him. Only those skilled at Occlumency are able to shut down those feelings and memories that contradict the lie, and so utter falsehoods in his presence without detection." (US, p. 531)
Harry thinks it still sounds like mind-reading, and it does, except that it's not just seeing what a person is thinking right now; rather, it gives an accomplished Legilimens access to past actions and thoughts and emotions, in some cases things the person may have forgotten on a conscious level. But more importantly, what Snape is actually telling Harry is that he, Snape, has mastered Occlumency to the point that he is able to lie to Voldemort undetected. As a spy, that is probably the only thing that has kept Snape alive so long.
Harry wonders if Voldemort knows what they are thinking at the moment. Not under the normal rules of Legilimency, according to Snape. Hogwarts is guarded by ancient spells and charms to protect those within the school (possibly another reason for Snape to stay at Hogwarts--it's likely one of the very few places where he is safe from Voldemort).
We finally get to some of the reason Harry needs these lessons, when Snape tells Harry that "Time and space matter in magic, Potter. Eye contact is often essential to Legilimency." (This seems to foreshadow Harry's visit to the Department of Mysteries where one of the rooms is "Time" and one is "Space", but how and why those are important are some of those loose ends that still need tying.)
Snape looks at Harry, seeming to be intent on not giving him information, but it's possible that he needed to think of a way to word the information so Harry doesn't know so much that he inadvertantly tips off Voldemort to what they are doing.
"The usual rules do not seem to apply with you, Potter. The curse that failed to kill you seems to have forged some kind of connection between you and the Dark Lord. The evidence suggests that at times, when your mind is most relaxed and vulnerable--when you are asleep, for instance--you are sharing the Dark Lord's thoughts and emotions. The headmaster thinks it inadvisable for this to continue. He wishes me to teach you how to close your mind to the Dark Lord." (US, p. 531)
In case we missed it the first time, Snape has now used that particular name for Voldemort four times in just two pages.
This is where I wrote several thoughts in the margin of my book. Snape who is apparently quite accomplished at hiding his thoughts and memories from Voldemort might just be better at it than even Dumbledore. If Snape is able to close his mind to Voldemort, then why doesn't Dumbledore just do the same and teach Harry himself? Because he isn't as accomplished as Severus, or perhaps it is an issue of Dumbledore not having the time for the lessons.
Most of Snape's explanation works well, except that Harry has had visions or experienced Voldemort's emotions while awake, specifically when he was in detention with Umbridge and he had that jolt when she touched his hand. Harry didn't recognize what it was until later, but he clearly wasn't asleep, nor was he relaxed. Apparently Snape and Dumbledore don't know the full extent of Harry's mental incursions into Voldemort's mind.
And for the moment, as Snape explains to Harry, Voldemort isn't aware of the connection either--until recently. Now that he is, Dumbledore understands the risk, but chooses not to explain it to Harry. Here is the real possibility of Voldemort using this connection to his advantage, just as it was to Harry's advantage when he was able to save Arthur's life by seeing the attack and alerting Dumbledore and the Order.
Harry once again asks a question about "Voldemort", and is severely reprimanded by Snape for using the name. When Harry points out that Dumbledore says his name, Snape's response is quite interesting, given that Dumbledore isn't the only one who uses Voldemort instead of one of the common euphemisms, though it is only other members of the Order of the Phoenix--and not all of them at that.
"Dumbledore is an extremely powerful wizard," Snape muttered. "While he may feel secure enough to use the name. . . the rest of us. . ." He rubbed his left forearm, apparently unconsciously, on the spot where Harry knew the Dark Mark was burned into his skin. (US, p. 532)
Every word that Snape utters is now in Harry's memory, and potentially available to Voldemort. Snape has to be doubly cautious about what he says, how he refers to Voldemort, which is just what he is doing here. There's no sign of disrespect towards Voldemort in what Snape says. And the gesture of rubbing his arm where the Dark Mark is could be a direct clue to just how that works. We have learned that Voldemort can touch the Dark Mark on any Death Eater's arm and it will summon the rest of them, but what happens if one of the Death Eaters dares to speak Voldemort's name? Does that somehow alert Voldemort to their actions or thoughts? It seems it is the sort of thing he would build into this system of total control that he has once someone becomes a Death Eater.
Harry still wants more definite answers, but when he persists, Snape only tells him that "we know".
"The important point is that the Dark Lord is now aware that you are gaining access to his thoughts and feelings. He has also deduced that the process is likely to work in reverse; that is to say, he has realized that he might be able to access your thoughts and feelings in return--" (US, p. 533)
Is Snape guessing? It sounds like he and Dumbledore are fairly certain of what Voldemort now knows. After Voldemort's return at the end of the Triwizard Tournament, Dumbledore sent Snape on a mission, one that was never clearly spelled out, but which Harry and we, the readers, assumed meant that he went to Voldemort to resume his status as a loyal Death Eater, at the instructions of Dumbledore. During that time, he must be having contact with Voldemort and the other Death Eaters, otherwise he would have nothing useful to report to the Order.
All of this revolves around what we believe of Snape's actions and loyalties. If Snape is a spy, working for Dumbledore, then Harry is not at risk. Snape seems intent on not giving Harry too much information, or at least not more than Harry might work out on his own. If Snape is actually loyal to Voldemort, then he could be setting him up so that his mind would be more open.
Is Dumbledore that bad at judging the character and the loyalty of someone he has known since the age of eleven? We tend to think of their relationship as teacher and headmaster, but Dumbledore first met Severus Snape when Snape came to Hogwarts as an eleven year old. He seems to know everything that goes on in the castle, but prefers not to interfer, giving the students the opportunity to work out their own problems.
It seems to me that if Dumbledore weren't 100% convinced of Snape's loyalty and trustworthiness, he would be putting Harry at great risk by having Snape teach Harry something so potentially dangerous, alone and unsupervised. I can't believe that Dumbledore would make that kind of error in judgement. It's one thing to say, and Dumbledore himself says it, that he has made mistakes, but this kind of error would make Dumbledore foolish beyond belief. That's just not something that I believe Rowling intends with the wise mentor figure.
It's now time for the actual Occlumency lessons, but I'll come back to that at a later time.