Chapter 24 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Occlumency
Kreacher reappears from the attic; it seems he was in Mrs. Black's old room. Harry is wary; Kreacher seems happier and Harry has caught him avidly staring at him a few times. Sirius, meanwhile, grows depressed as everyone's stay at Grimmauld Place nears its end.
Professor Snape arrives to announce that Dumbledore wants Harry to study Occlumency, the art of closing one's mind to another's intrusion. Harry agrees, but then discovers that Snape is to be teaching him. A verbal battle between Snape and Sirius erupts, escalating to the point of wands drawn and Harry in between trying to prevent a duel. Fortunately, Mr. Weasley, the entire Weasley family, and Hermione enter. Mr. Weasley is fully recovered and has been discharged from St. Mungo's. Snape leaves, saying he expects Harry in his office at 6 o'clock Monday evening. Harry discusses the Occlumency lessons with Ron and Hermione. Hermione says it will stop the nightmares, though Ron says he would prefer the nightmares.
Lupin and Tonks arrive the next day to escort them back to Hogwarts. Before Harry leaves, Sirius gives him a package, saying Harry can contact him with it. Harry privately resolves never to use it, not wanting to risk exposing Sirius. Lupin summons the Knight Bus, and they are greeted by Stan Shunpike. Arriving at Hogwarts, Lupin and Tonks leave separately.
Harry's first day back is unpleasant, partly because he dreads his evening Occlumency lesson with Snape and partly because Dumbledore's Army members keep asking him when the next meeting is. When Cho Chang mentions that the next Hogsmeade weekend is February 14th, he is initially mystified, then suddenly understands and invites her to go to Hogsmeade with him on Valentine's Day weekend. Cho, delighted, accepts.
Still distrusting Snape, Harry begins his first Occlumency lesson. Snape tells Harry that Voldemort is skilled in Legilimency, the ability to read others' thoughts and memories. Occlumency will help Harry block his mind. Snape removes some of his own memories and deposits them into Dumbledore's Pensieve. Harry must try and prevent Snape from penetrating his mind, but Harry's first attempts fail miserably. However, Harry recognizes the hallway he has dreamt about so frequently: it is inside the Ministry of Magic leading to the Department of Mysteries. He and Mr. Weasley raced down it last summer to his hearing, and it is the same hallway where Mr. Weasley was attacked. Snape dismisses him, telling him to come back Wednesday. As Harry leaves, he sees Snape reinserting memories from the Pensieve into his head.
Harry discusses this latest revelation with Ron and Hermione in the library. They conclude that the weapon Voldemort seeks must be hidden in the Department of Mysteries. They retreat to the common room, expecting it to be quieter, but Fred and George are demonstrating the latest Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes product, Headless Hats, that make the wearer's head invisible. Harry gives up and heads to bed. Inside the dormitory, Harry is felled by intense pain and hears wild, almost insane laughter. As he returns to awareness, his scar is burning. Harry tells Ron he saw Voldemort's thoughts again, but this time he did not feel Voldemort's anger—the Dark Lord is ecstatic. Harry questions if Occlumency is weakening his defences rather than strengthening them, and wonders what made Voldemort so happy.
The rift between Sirius and Snape can never be mended; their mutual hatred is too deeply embedded, though they realize they must try to put aside their personal feelings for the Order's sake. Unfortunately, this ongoing feud, combined with the animosity and distrust Harry already has for Snape, will likely make Harry's Occlumency lessons even more unpleasant. Harry's confusion about why he must study this subject only makes it more difficult. He is further frustrated that it is Snape, rather than Dumbledore, who is teaching him. Although Harry's progress is slow, mostly due to his resistance to having to study something he does not fully understand, the lessons are, probably accidentally, resulting in Harry seeing clearer images. Harry recognizes the hallway as the one leading to the Department of Mysteries within the Ministry of Magic, leading him to conclude that that is where the weapon Voldemort is seeking is hidden.
Harry's budding relationship with Cho Chang is also progressing slowly. Her needing to drop such a strong hint about Valentine's Day shows Harry has little idea regarding how romance actually works, though he is more clueless than thoughtless. He, unlike Ron, learns quickly.
Kreacher's behavior, meanwhile, is highly suspicious. His devotion to the Black family is nearly fanatical, as is his hatred for Sirius, as well as Harry and anyone he considers a "blood traitor." He has been carefully observing Harry for a reason, though just why is unknown, but it is likely significant. Though as he is magically bound to serve only Sirius and to protect his secrets, Kreacher may be searching for some loophole through which he can convey information about Harry to Voldemort.
Snape removing his memories just before his lesson with Harry is interesting. He obviously fears that Harry might glimpse something should Harry successfully penetrate his thoughts. Which memories he is hiding is unknown; they could be something incriminating or merely personal. Harry, we note in passing, identifies the Pensieve as being Dumbledore's, but we have only Harry's identification to work with; Snape may have a Pensieve of his own.
- What is Occlumency? What is Legilimency?
- Why does Snape order Harry to say that their sessions are for "remedial" Potions?
- Why do Snape and Sirius nearly curse one another? What stops them?
- Why doesn't Harry want to use Sirius' gift? Is he right, or being overly cautious?
- Why would Dumbledore want Harry to study Occlumency? Why doesn't Dumbledore instruct him rather than Snape?
- Why does Snape remove his memories and place them in the Pensieve just before Harry's lesson? What memories might they be?
- Why might Voldemort be feeling ecstatic?
- What might suddenly be making Kreacher happy, and why is he watching Harry so closely?
As previously mentioned, Kreacher had, in fact, manipulated Sirius' earlier order to "Get OUT!" as being given permission to leave the house, and he then visited Narcissa Malfoy, who was the only available member of the Black family that he still respected. It is quite likely that Kreacher's joy is due to Narcissa, or Lucius, promising that with Kreacher's assistance they would eliminate the "blood traitors and mudbloods" now occupying his mistress' house. How this would be done is uncertain, as the most recent attempt to retrieve the Prophecy failed — that attempt's result being Bode's spell-induced inability to speak. While the next attempt will depend on information Kreacher gives to Narcissa, it will not be formulated until after Rookwood, having escaped Azkaban, explains to Voldemort why the first plan failed. Rookwood has already escaped from prison, but there will be some delay while he, presumably, learns of the current plan and builds up his courage to approach Voldemort with bad news. We will see later that people bringing Voldemort bad news often do not survive the experience.
While it is unfortunate that Harry must spend even more time with Snape, one of his greatest enemies, in order to take Occlumency lessons, it does make sense. Occlumency allows one to close off one's mind to external penetration. Because Voldemort is skilled in the art of Legilimency, the art of reading people's thoughts and feelings, he is also very good at telling if someone is lying or not. However, readers may want to pay careful attention to Snape's phrasing, as he says "The Dark Lord almost always knows when someone is lying to him." We will find out in a later book that this phrasing comes from Snape's personal experience. Voldemort's ability at legilimency apparently extends also to feeling out Harry's thoughts at times when he may be vulnerable, such as when he is asleep or nearly so. It makes sense that Snape would be the one to teach this skill of closing his mind to Harry, considering that in a later book we find out that Snape is an extremely skilled Occlumens, playing the double agent for Dumbledore quite successfully. Evidence later in the story suggests that Snape may be second only to Dumbledore in Occlumency skill.
Elsewhere in this book, we have commented on Dumbledore's remaining aloof from Harry. At this point, Dumbledore is certain that there is some mental connection between Harry and Voldemort, and is concerned that Voldemort may be planning to use that as a weapon, either against Harry or against himself. Dumbledore is also aware of Harry's magical strength, and likely believes that if he teaches Harry Occlumency, Harry may gain access to Dumbledore's thoughts at some time during the proceedings. In fact, we will see that Harry does, at one point, gain access to Snape's memories. Knowing of the connection between Harry and Voldemort, and believing that Harry may be able to read his own thoughts, Dumbledore wisely chooses not to instruct Harry himself. In one of his few mistakes, Dumbledore believes that Snape can set aside his feud with James Potter in order to teach Harry. We believe that Snape tried but was unable to completely dismiss his biases, and as a result his teaching was largely ineffective. The episode does give us some information about Harry's pre-Hogwarts life, and affords us a glimpse of Snape's home life as well.
Much later in the book, when Snape is called away from an Occlumency lesson, Harry's curiosity compels him to peer at Snape's memories stored in the Pensieve. They reveal an event that completely changes Harry's perception regarding his father. James and Sirius were not merely wild, as mentioned earlier in this book, but, surprisingly, were rather nasty bullies.
The feud between Sirius and Snape started when they were students at Hogwarts; Sirius, James Potter, Peter Pettigrew, and Remus Lupin were in Gryffindor House then, and Snape was in Slytherin. Sirius, largely influenced by James, had been more than a bit of a bully, picking on Snape in particular, and Snape has clearly never forgiven him. Sirius' imprisonment must have been very sweet for Snape, and Dumbledore's accepting his innocence after his escape must have been galling, particularly after Snape's chances of receiving an Order of Merlin slipped away with Sirius' escape from Hogwarts in an earlier book.
Twice in this book, Harry will need to speak with Sirius, breaking into Professor Umbridge's office to do so. Later he learns that Sirius' Christmas gift is a magic mirror that can reach Sirius at any time. This mirror would have been extremely useful, but Harry believed that his using it would risk Sirius being captured, and so deliberately forgets it. One may ask why, in this case, the mirror is introduced to the story at all? It turns out that a fairly substantial plot point in the final book will hinge upon this mirror. This small detail indicates the planning and interconnectedness that characterizes this author's work in this series.
The interaction with Cho Chang in this chapter shows once more how unprepared Harry is for a romantic entanglement. He is here so wrapped up in his own troubles that he almost fails to note that Cho has something else on her mind. The Hogsmeade visit, as we might expect given this inauspicious beginning, will be a complete failure.
As mentioned above, Rookwood escapes Azkaban at the end of this chapter, as do several other Death Eaters. News of the mass escape will appear in the Daily Prophet the next morning, and Harry and Ron will conclude that this is what has made Voldemort so happy. Bode's death will appear in the paper as well, and while Harry says nothing about it at the time, it is likely that this also will have caused some small rejoicing by Voldemort.
- Sirius' gift to Harry will remain, untidily wrapped, in Harry's trunk until the end of the year. Despondent over Sirius' death, Harry will unwrap it to discover that it is one of a pair of magic mirrors that Sirius had intended Harry to use to communicate with him. Annoyed that it won't reach Sirius in the afterlife, Harry throws the mirror back into the trunk, where it shatters. He finds a piece of the mirror while clearing his trunk in the final book. He keeps the shard as a reminder of what he has lost, several times seeing a blue eye, reminiscent of Professor Dumbledore's, looking out through it. It turns out that Dumbledore's brother Aberforth has bought the matched mirror from Mundungus Fletcher, and admits to having used the mirror to watch over Harry. Harry will, at one point, call for help via the mirror, and Aberforth will send Dobby.