i"Albus," she exclaimed suddenly, "Are you bdying/b?" The old blue eyes widened slightly before closing. Brethany bit her lip as the mighty Dumbledore seemed to hunch into himself, shoulders trembling slightly with what could just as well have signified laughter as sobs.

"Are we not all dying?" the headmaster asked slowly, staring downward. "Ah, but that's why life should be so treasured, Brethany." The old form suddenly straightened, and the young woman before him abruptly remembered why Albus was such a strong force in the Wizarding world. Icy blue eyes examined her thoughtfully. "Thank you for giving young Harry the opportunity to experience a loving family of his own. I am quite sure that you and yours can keep him safe and happy as you said." Dumbledore turned towards one of his many gadgets. "Thank you for informing me of this development." Brethany stared at the old wizard's back in shock.

"Albus-" she began, but was cut off by an imperious jerk of a hand. Stumbling slightly as she turned around, Brethany exited the office and walked down the staircase. Trembling, she leaned against the stone wall and stared down at the gargoyle guarding the entrance. "Is he disappointed in me? Is he regretting hiring me?" she asked it absently. "And…bshould/b he be?" The stone statue provided no answer. The thought of Harry's joy now brought only a dim consolation./i

And now…

Brethany was avoiding Albus. It was the week of term finals, so it wasn't very difficult to do, but she was still quite conscious of what she was doing, and why. Harry had quickly gotten over the high of knowing he would never return to the Dursleys', but now he was having some small concerns over his status as Brethany's ward. During the meals she actually dared to show up to, half the teenager's time at the table was spent darting wary glances her way, and the other half darting nervous glances at the Headmaster. The boy was rather obviously stressed out; between his new status as Brethany's ward, Dumbledore's possible anger, and it being finals week, he was surviving mostly on sheer stubborn nerves. Brethany had offered her office as a quiet place to study for all his exams, but he had not yet taken her up on it.

She had snagged a copy of his test schedule; it was rather intense, but doable. The young woman was briefly relieved that she'd been home schooled, then remembered that she had subjected herself to double-apprenticeships which consisted of almost non-stop testing, and immediately felt no sympathy for her students. Well, very little sympathy. In truth, she was just as glad for the term to be finished as the students, and almost as stressed; she had to create tests for every year, and grade literally hundreds of final papers. For the papers, she had a couple Ravenclaws to grade the younger years, but she still had to check them and do the rest herself. She was up until late hours in her quarters marking up papers and tests, trying to make sure each one was graded fairly, and criticisms were not too biting. Unlike Severus, Brethany believed in blunt truth and simple encouragement; with some students, however, it was difficult to not be utterly scathing in response to the most idiotic inaccuracies. The little bit of sympathy for stressed students quickly dwindled.

It was late at night after the first day of testing. Brethany had just finished grading the first and fourth years' tests and the fifth years' papers, and was mostly satisfied with her students' work. There were more than a few who would need extra tutoring the following term, and several who needed to go back to remedial writing classes to learn how to write a paper, but it was an overall good first day of testing. Now she was hungry. The young woman had eaten very little at supper; the rest of the teachers had started to realize something was going on between herself and Albus, and the concerned looks had stymied her appetite quite thoroughly. It was now near midnight, and Brethany's stomach was demanding nourishment, so she headed for the kitchens.

As soon as the kitchen door swung open, a wave of excited house elves rushed at her, but Brethany was distracted by the sight of half a dozen Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs gathered round one of the kitchen tables. Large mugs of coffee were scattered across the table among piles of neatly scripted class notes and books; bowls of half-eaten pudding kept stacks of parchment from flying away; quills and ink pots dotted the chaos intermittently. The students didn't even notice her presence until she stood behind Neville Longbottom, who was chewing ravenously on his quill as he tiredly pondered notes on Care of Magical Creatures.

"You all look terribly busy," she spoke almost directly into the teenager's ear, and smirked vindictively when the poor boy jerked in his seat. Harry, who was leaning his head down on the opposite end of the table, peered in annoyance at her from between two piles of parchment; Ron was beside him, barely conscious but striving to copy down one last line from someone's notes. Two seventh year Ravenclaws only cast her tiny glances, barely acknowledging her existence. Hermione and Susan Abbott looked up long enough to nod in greeting before returning to their study of Astronomy charts. Brethany patted Neville on the shoulder in apology before turning to the eager as ever house elves.

"Could I get a mug of coffee, two lumps of sugar, with a generous splash each of cream and whiskey?" She cast a careful eye on the students, who very intelligently did not comment on the last ingredient. "And a bowl of bread pudding with raisins and clotted cream?" Several studious heads popped up in interest at that, and the teacher could not help but laugh at their starved expressions. "Eat your own pudding; don't waste it. Starving children in Africa, and all that." Hermione snorted and Harry shook his head in faint amusement; the others, purebloods and halfbloods all, looked at her blankly. Brethany pulled another chair up to the table and began sipping her coffee as she awaited her pudding.

"You have your DADA final tomorrow afternoon," she observed to the seventh year Ravenclaws. The two nodded in affirmation. "Do you have any last questions before then? I won't give you this opportunity any other time before the test, so ask now." They exchanged glances before carefully perusing their study sheets.

"One o' your study terms is Levina Organa, but we couldna' find much on it in the library," the girl of the pair spoke up with a light Irish brogue. "And it's ne'er a sign o' it in our notes." The young man beside her nodded emphatically.

"That's because I taught it by the more common name, Orpheus' Arms," Brethany explained, resting her chin on her arms as she spoke. "I put the other term on the board when I taught, but not everyone caught it when I pointed it out." There were a few other questions in a similar vein, but they were Ravenclaws – their notes were quite extensive and sufficient for any last minute cramming sessions.

Brethany sat in silence, eating her pudding with weary pleasure as she watched the students mutter back and forth over potions ingredients, constellations, Arithmancy equations, and offensive maneuvers. It was rather pleasant to see a cramming session from the other side of the table, so to speak…Before she was even aware of it, Harry was beside her, smiling in tired amusement as he shook her awake.

"We're going back to our common rooms," he explained quietly, then yawned widely. "Ron and I have a CoMC test just after breakfast." Another yawn. "You'd best go to your rooms before you fall asleep walking…" They both yawned together.

"Try not to get caught," Brethany warned sleepily, then staggered off to bed. She managed it without falling asleep on her feet, but she would never be able to remember making the journey from the kitchen to her rooms. It wasn't until several days later that she realized she had to have gone up at least three flights of moving stairs in that half-asleep daze.

Such was the end of day one on the term finals week. The Christmas holidays were just around the corner…

Author's Note: I thought I would do a short chapter, since the last one was so long. I wanted to give a brief cameo of a cramming session – which surely must happen at every school – and give a little insight into Brethany's worries and cares.