Up to this point, Snape has given Harry a lot of information about the lessons he is about to teach him, but as they are ready to begin, Snape starts by first removing three memories from his mind and placing them in Dumbledore's Pensieve (which, just as an aside, because I've been re-reading Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis, is a neat anagram for Pevensie--the name of the children who venture to Narnia).
Harry has no idea what memories Snape has placed there, but that really is the least of his worries, as Snape faces Harry with his own wand, and tells Harry to stand and take out his wand. Snape tells Harry that he may use his wand to disarm him or to defend himself in any way he can think of. When Harry asks what Snape is going to do, Snape tells him:
"I am about to attempt to break into your mind," said Snape softly. "We are going to see how well you resist. I have been told that you have already shown aptitude at resisting the Imperius Curse. . . . You will find that similar powers are needed for this. . . . Brace yourself, now. . . . Legilimens!" (US, Chapter 24, p. 534)
Fascinating, but just who told Snape all of that about Harry being able to resist the Imperius Curse? Did that information come from Barty Crouch, Jr, when he was the fake Moody? Doesn't seem likely, as the two of them were barely civil to one another. Did Dumbledore know that? Maybe. Or did one of the Death Eaters who were in the graveyard mention it to Snape--possibly Lucius Malfoy or Peter Pettigrew? That seems more likely than the information coming from Barty Jr, who had no use for Snape, and no reason to share classroom antecdotes as they sat around the staff room. Of course, the other explanation is that Dumbledore who seems to somehow know about a lot of things that are happening around Hogwarts learned that information from one of the students who saw Harry resist the Imperius Curse in fake Moody's class, and I rather hope that is the explanation for Snape's knowledge of Harry's abilities.
Harry didn't feel ready for the mental attack, even though Snape did give him warning. He was plunged into his own memories--humiliations at the hands of Dudley and the Dursleys and Aunt Marge's stupid dog, Ripper, his memory of the Sorting Hat telling him he would do well in Slytherin (I wonder if Snape knew that before), Hermione in hospital with evidence of Polyjuice gone bad, a hundred dementors closing in by the lake. Finally, Cho floats into his mind under the mistletoe, and Harry fights back, feeling that that particular memory is private and he won't allow Snape to see it.
He finds himself on the floor, after he stopped Snape with a Stinging Hex, unknowingly. These lessons, while they could have been so useful to Harry, seem doomed from the beginning. Rather than encouraging Harry, Snape criticizes with "You let me get in too far. You lost control." (US, p. 535)
Harry, as would anyone, wants to know just what Snape saw of those memories. Snape saw flashes of them and asks about the dog, a subtle way to focus on something he knew was humiliating for Harry.
But then Snape gives Harry an almost-compliment:
"Well, for a first attempt that was not as poor as it might have been," said Snape, raising his wand once more. "You managed to stop me eventually, though you wasted time and energy shouting. You must remain focused. Repel me with your brain and you will not need to resort to your wand." (US., p. 535)
This is probably the most instruction Snape gives about how to do Occlumency. But Harry isn't listening, he's frustrated by the process, and that it's Snape who is breaking into his mind. This really is the first time that Harry is presented with the idea of non-verbal and wandless magic, which are crucial in Half-Blood Prince. It's a new concept for Harry, and it might have helped had Snape taken the time to explain it in a calmer, friendlier manner. Yes, well, not likely, considering that it's Snape and Harry, eh?
These lessons are so different than the Patronus ones that Harry had with Lupin, who was kind, encouraging, and supportive. But then, we often see that teaching styles reflect the teacher; Lupin is kind and supportive, and his gentleness shows in his teaching style, making the students want to learn. Snape, on the other hand, has never been nice to anyone, except his favored Slytherins. I've always wondered whether he is as nice to them when no one else is around. My guess is that he can turn on them, just as easily, if they step out of line or fail to meet his high expectations.
It's just hard to know whether this really indicates that Snape is an all round nasty git, going out of his way to torment Harry, or whether he doesn't have the ability to impart his considerable knowledge to students, which isn't likely, in that most of the 5th years do fairly well on their Potions O.W.L.s, so they must have learned something from him, as Slughorn says later. I don't think we can even consider that the problem at the beginning of the Occlumency lessons is due to Snape's hatred of James and Sirius, not yet anyway--Snape is just as nasty to other students as well, and had the reputation for being so before Harry and company arrived at Hogwarts. There are teachers who seem to think that by being harsh they will force the students to toughen up, to learn the subject matter, and for some I suppose that does work. For most people, however, a little kindness goes a long way towards a student working harder in order to please a teacher. Hermione is probably the only one who works hard at Potions in spite of Snape being mean to her. The main problem at the beginning of the Occlumency lessons is really Harry's attitude.
Snape tells him to clear his mind, and he can see that Harry is not doing it. Harry's anger is front and center, blocking any chance of his understanding how rare magic works. Snape has another go, and this time memories of the dragon, his father and mother waving at him from the Mirror of Erised, and Cedric lying dead flash through his mind. It's at that point that he yells NO! and stops the process.
The use of Legilimency is really disturbing, when I think about it. It is forcing Harry to relive the worst memories of his life, or the saddest ones, the ones that cause him sorrow and regret. Yet instead of giving him a break, as Lupin might have done, Snape allows his own frustration to enter in:
"Get up!" said Snape sharply. "Get up! You are not trying, you are making no effort, you are allowing me access to memories you fear, handing me weapons!"
Harry stood up again, his heart thumping wildly as though he had really just seen Cedric dead in the graveyard. Snape looked paler than usual, and angrier, though not nearly as angry as Harry was.
"I --am --making --an --effort," he said through clenched teeth.
"I told you to empty yourself of emotion.!"
"Yeah? Well, I'm finding that hard at the moment," Harry snarled.
"Then you will find yourself easy prey for the Dark Lord!" said Snape savagely. "Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked this easily--weak people, in other words-- they stand no chance against his powers! He will penetrate your mind with absurd ease, Potter!"
"I am not weak," said Harry in a low voice, fury now pumping through him so that he thought he might attack Snape in a moment.
"Then prove it! Master yourself!" spat Snape, "Control your anger, discipline your mind! We shall try again! Get ready, now! Legilimens!" (US, p. 536)
Snape was paler than usual. Why? Because he is reliving these memories, right along with Harry. If Harry weren't so blinded by his anger, it might occur to him to wonder just how Snape knows all that about Voldemort using a person's saddest memories against them. It doesn't seem likely that Snape would be so passionate about this particular reason for learning Occlumency if it were only an academic lesson he himself had learned. It seems entirely possible that he was the victim of Voldemort penetrating his mind, seeing sad memories and his emotions, regrets over past choices and mistakes. When Snape talks about weak people who allow themselves to be easily provoked, I'm reminded that that's a very appropriate description of Snape at the end of Harry's third year when he learns that Black had escaped and he wouldn't have his revenge after all. It turns out Snape isn't as good at hiding his own emotions either. But in this particular instruction, he is giving Harry the reason to learn Occlumency, just not the proper incentive.
The third attempt proves even more interesting. Harry still isn't able to block Snape at the beginning, and they both see Uncle Vernon hammering the letter box shut, the dementors approaching across the lake (should have been quite a revelation to Snape, as he was still knocked out at the time and missed all that), and then Harry is back in the passageway with Arthur, who leads him down a flight of stone steps before Harry can go through the plain black door. Snape has actually, it turns out, stopped the memory. But now Harry's scar is prickling.
So what was going on there? Harry now knows where that door is--but is it because Harry found his way into Voldemort's mind, or did Voldemort find his way into Harry's at that moment. The fact that Harry is with Arthur and they detour down the steps seems more likely that Harry is making the connection be intruding into Voldemort's memories.
Rather than answering Snape's question about what happened in that memory, Harry asks one of his own--"What's in the Department of Mysteries?" Not at all what Snape expected.
"And why," said Snape slowly, "would you ask such a thing?"
"Because," said Harry, watching Snape's face closely, "that corridor I've just seen --I've been dreaming about it for months --I've just recognized it --it leads to the Department of Mysteries. . . and I think Voldemort wants something from --"
"I have told you not to say the Dark Lord's name!" (US, p. 537)
Does Snape suspect that the "Dark Lord" might be watching the exchange betweent the two of them or that he might see this scene later in Harry's mind? By stopping Harry, Snape ensures that Voldemort will only see that Snape stopped Potter from saying his name, and that he, Snape, showed the proper reverence.
Harry's scar "seared again", and Snape composes himself before continuing. If Voldemort is indeed able to see any of these lessons, then Snape, as a spy, must be extremely cautious; it's all right for him to appear to teach Harry per the instructions from Dumbledore and Voldemort would understand that, but it's never all right for a loyal follower to show any sign of irrevernce or to allow it from anyone else.
If Snape actually tells Harry what is there, then Voldemort would have access to that revelation as well, more likely through Harry's mind than Snape's. So Snape tells him nothing. Rather than being seen as secretive, this might well be meant to protect Harry.
"There are many things in the Department of Mysteries, Potter, few of which you would understand and none of which concern you, do I make myself plain?" (US, p. 538)
Harry's scar is still prickling as Snape tells him to return on Wednesday, and to rid his mind of emotion every night--empty it, make it blank and calm. . . And be warned, Potter. . . I shall know if you have not practiced. . ."(US, p. 538)
Harry rushes off to find Ron and Hermione in the library. (As an aside, we once again have mention of Madam Pince in close proximity in the book to Snape--is that a connection that we are to make? Another subject, entirely.)
With this new information about where that corridor and door are located, Hermione figures out that was the reason Podmore was there, though they don't yet know that he was trying to prevent Voldemort's entrance.
Typical of Hermione she asks again if he is all right, and he admits that he doesn't much like Occlumency. Well, who would really. It's an invasion of one's private thoughts, memories that might be so painful a person hasn't thought of them for years, or of memories that are so private one would not even write them in a journal for fear that someone else might find them. And here Harry has to stand, in front of the one man he resents and hates the most, letting him have access to those very thoughts. Hermione describes it as having one's mind attacked over and over again. A mental attack is presented as being much more invading and cruel than a physical attack would be.
After going back to the common room and seeing Fred and George with their headless hats, Harry decides he's had enough and goes to his dormitory for some much needed sleep. But he immediately is plunged into a waking vision, with his scar feeling like it is splitting. This one however, isn't something frightening, but one in which Voldemort is jubilant. Now, has Voldemort planted this in Harry's mind? I don't think so. I think in Harry's heightened state of mind after the session with Snape, Harry has once again entered Voldemort's mind by using Legilimency, something he doesn't even know that he can do.
Ron has come to check on him because Hermione was worried about him. "She says your defenses will be low at the moment, after Snape's been fiddling around with your mind. . ." (US, p. 542)
Evidently, in usual Hermione fashion, she has reserched Occlumency, and this isn't a result of Snape doing something that he shouldn't, but a normal, and even, expected result of learning the process.
Harry, however, feels that his mind has been weakened rather than strengthened, as he wonders what it is that has made Voldemort happier than he has been in fourteen years.
It's a good question, but I wonder if Harry would have the same concern if he were being taught by Dumbledore, whom he trusts, rather than by Snape. The connection that Harry has to Voldemort's mind has been opened even more, as this happened while he was awake. It never occurs to Harry, because it was Snape doing the teaching, that the lessons were Dumbledore's in the first place and that Dumbledore must think the benefits of learning Occlumency outweigh the risks.
One very good thing did come out of that first lesson, well several, actually. Harry was able to block Snape part of the time; Snape now knows that Harry is gaining access to Voldemort's thoughts and knows where those thoughts are focused. We learn later that he had passed that information along to Dumbledore. If Snape weren't loyal to Dumbledore, wouldn't he just keep that information to himself? Knowing that Voldemort is intent on gaining access to the Department of Mysteries confirms what Dumbledore suspects--Snape could easily have left that out, or could have changed it to some other place, had he wanted to misdirect Dumbledore.
If it really is Legilimency on Harry's part that is opening the mental door between him and Voldemort, then Dumbledore and Snape are approaching it from the wrong direction, it would seem. Yes, Harry should learn to block Voldemort from entering his mind, but they should also be teaching Harry how to stop himself from entering Voldemort's mind, or how to recognize what he is doing.
* * * * * * *
As the Occlumency lesson continue--at least two times a week, it seems, Harry thinks they are getting worse rather than better. His scar prickles all the time, he senses Voldemort's emotions of annoyance or cheerfulness. Harry traces this increased connection back to the first Occlumency lesson. That could be the reason, but we have so much experience with Harry jumping to the wrong conclusion, that I always think there must be something going on that is just under our radar. The first lesson Harry had with Snape was shortly after the time that Harry saw Arthur being attacked--it could be that's the reason the mental connection is stronger and more evident. Hermione encourages Harry to work harder. Ron, however, thinks that Snape isn't really trying to help Harry.
One thing here--with all that Snape saw in that first lesson, think how much more of Harry's private thoughts he has now seen after at least several weeks of lessons. Hermione reminds Ron of his track record on assessing Snape's loyalty, which is zero, and Ron brings up Snape's Death Eater past.
Several months after the start of his Occlumency lessons, Harry, once again letting his hatred of Snape and Umbridge prevent him from clearing his mind, falls into his odd dreams, ordinary at first, but then turning towards that corridor with the black door at the end. Rather than wanting to stop the vision, Harry was keen to get through that door, and was interrupted this time by Ron's loud snores.
He knew he should not have seen the door, but at the same time, felt so consumed with curiosity about what was behind it that he could not help feeling annoyed with Ron. . . . If he could have save his snore for just another minute. . . (US, p. 577)
After the interview in The Quibbler, and Umbridge's ban on it, which results, as bans often do, in everyone in the school reading it, Harry heads off for a night's sleep, wishing that his headache would subside.
He is at once plunged into Voldemort's mind, as though he is Voldemort. It's Rookwood who is kneeling at his feet. Voldemort now knows he was given faulty information from Avery that Bode would be able to remove it. Rookwood, having worked at the Ministry, knew that was not possible.
"You have done well to tell me this," said Harry (who is really Voldemort). "Very well . . . I have wasted months on fruitless schemes, it seems. . . But no matter. . . We begin again, from now. You have Lord Voldemort's gratitude, Rookwood. . ." (US, p. 585)
So, this is another time that Harry seems to have initiated the connection, rather than the other way round. Voldemort wouldn't want Harry or the Order to know that he hadn't been making proper progress on whatever his scheme is. Rookwood promises to help Voldemort, presumably with more information about how to "remove it", and Avery, the one with the faulty information, is summoned. As Harry/Voldemort waits, he turns towards a cracked mirror (there are a lot of those throughout the books), and sees "A face whiter than a skull. . . red eyes with slits for pupils. . ."
That's enough for Harry to be horrified and break the connection. Harry tells Ron "I was You-Know-Who," After explaining the rest of the vision to Ron, it's Ron who says that Harry should tell someone. Harry, though, is now completely annoyed with Dumbledore for ignoring him, and doesn't feel there is anyone else he can tell. And as he tries to go back to sleep, he know that Avery is being punished, so the vision apparently continued.
A few weeks later, Harry is once again in an Occlumency lesson with Snape, and things are not going well. By now, he should have made some progress; Harry knows that, but having Snape point it out is even more aggravating.
Harry has had to yet again relive a memory of being bullied by Dudley and his gang, when Snape asks what that last memory was. But it's not the memory of Dudley that has caught Snape's attention.
"No," said Snape softly. "I mean the one concerning a man kneeling in the middle of a darkened room. . . ."
Harry tries to avoid Snape's eyes but Snape persists:
"How do that man and that room come to be inside your head, Potter?" said Snape.
"It --" said Harry, looking everwhere but at Snape, "it was --just a dream I had."
"A dream," repeated Snape.
(Harry once again tries to avoid making eye contact with Snape.)
"You do know why we are here, don't you, Potter?" said Snape in a low, dangerous voice. "You do know why I am giving up my evenings to do this tedious job?"
"Yes," said Harry stiffly.
"Remind me why we are here, Potter."
"So I can learn Occlumency," said Harry, now glaring at a dead eel.
"Correct, Potter. And dim though you may be" --Harry looked back at Snape, hating him --"I would have thought that after over two months' worth of lessons you might have made some progress. How many other dreams about the Dark Lord have you had?"
"Just that one," lied Harry. (US, p. 590-591)
Of course Snape know that Harry is lying. And he doesn't need Occlumency for that one. But this confrontation goes from bad to worse. At this point, it's important to note that if the two of them had a better relationship, one based on trust and cooperation, Harry would probably be doing better, or might have gone to Snape earlier after the dream of Rookwood and Avery. It's also evident later that Snape did tell Dumbledore about this particular vision of Harry's.
And then Snape makes it worse. He's not yelling at Harry, but he does lose control in that he allows himself to taunt Harry in a way that he knows will result in less effort on Harry's part. This is one of those points where Snape really needs to be the mature adult, but reverts to using school boy tactics to attack his opponent where he is most vulnerable.
"Perhaps," said Snape, his dark, cold eyes narrowing slightly, "perhaps you actually enjoy having these visions and dreams, Potter. Maybe they make you feel special --important?"
"No, they don't," said Harry, his jaw set and his fingers clenched tightly around the handle of his wand.
"That is just as well, Potter," said Snape coldly, "because you are neither special nor important, and it is not up to you to find out what the Dark Lord is saying to his Death Eaters."
"No --that's your job, isn't it?" Harry shot at him.
He had not meant to say it; it had burst out of him in temper. for a long moment they stared at each other, Harry convinced he had gone too far. But there was a curious, almost satisfied expresion on Snape's face when he answered.
"Yes, Potter," he said, his eyes glinting. "That is my job. Now, if your are ready, we will start again. . . ." (US, p. 591)
This time, the memories are of dementors coming towards him, but Harry, concentrating hard, can still see Snape's face, and manages a shield charm--"Protego!" Harry's mind is now filled with memories that are not his:
-- a hook-nosed man was shouting at a cowering woman, while a small dark-haired boy cried in a corner. . . A greasy-haired teenager sat alone in a dark bedroom, pointing his wand at the ceiling, shooting down flies. . . . A girl was laughing as a scrawny boy tried to mount a bucking broomstick--
"ENOUGH!" (US, p. 592)
Snape's reaction here is amazing to Harry. Snape has repelled him, but rather than further lashing out at Harry, he says:
"Well, Potter. . . that was certainly an improvement. . . " Panting slightly, Snape straightened the Pensieve in which he had again stored some of his thoughts before starting the lesson, almost as though checking that they were still there. "I don't remember telling you to use a Shield Charm. . . but there is no doubt that it was effective. . ."
Not at all what Harry expected, since he's fairly certain that those memories were Snape's childhood memories.
it was unnerving to think that the cring little boy who had watched his parents shouting was actually standing in front of him with such loathing in his eyes. . . (US, p. 592)
Is the loathing because Harry saw the memory or because of the memory itself? Or is it a combination of both? The last thing Snape, who admonished Harry about controlling his emotions, would want is to be reminded of a time when his own emotions might have been out of control. In one way, he's likely pleased to see that Harry has made progress--it had to be frustrating to keep working with him, knowing that nothing was happening. But now Snape, whether he controls his emotions or not, must feel that he has handed weapons to Harry--his own humiliating childhood memories that Harry could use against him. James certainly would have done; Snape thinks that Harry is just like James so he must expect him to be delighted with something he can spread to the other students.
Harry knows that he's in for retaliation, and Snape doesn't disappoint. This time Harry is immediately in the corridor, but the door opens and he's in the circular room, looking for the door he needs to take.
Snape is now irate and demands that Harry explain. Harry, finding himself unceremoniously thrown to the floor, honestly tells Snape that he has no idea what just happened. That's a vision that he has never seen before.
"You are not working hard enough!"
For some reason, Snape seemed even angrier than he had done two minutes before, when Harry had seen into his own memories.
"You are lazy and sloppy, Potter, it is small wonder that the Dark Lord --"
"Can you tell me something, sir?" said Harry, firing up again. "Why do you call Voldemort the Dark Lord, I've only ever heard Death Eaters call him that --" (US, p. 593)
Oh, how we'd like the answer to that question, but that's the unfortunate moment that Umbridge is in the process of sacking Trelawney, and Snape rushes off to see what's going on, followed by Harry.
So, why is Snape so angry over this vision? If Harry hasn't seen it before, then it means that he is sharing that mental connection with Voldemort right at that moment. It's still not clear whether it's because Voldemort is using Legilimency on Harry or whether it's Harry who is invading a mind. Snape most likely thinks that it's Voldemort's doing, and is understandabley angry with Harry. Not only is Harry's mind at risk, but so is Snape's. If it's Harry making the connection, then it's still undesirable. The point of the Occlumency lessons is for the mental connections to be blocked, so that Harry's mind is not so connected to Voldemort, and Harry is clearly not working hard enough. He wanted the door to open, and he wanted to go further, and now Snape has seen that desire first hand.