Jinkies, I think I've solved the mystery. This isn't an original Rowling manuscript at all. It's a knockoff written by some nobody that didn't even get paid to write it. Not even in Scooby Snacks!

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Chapter 40 – Caught in the Storm

To call the days following Aberforth Dumbledore's aborted funeral hectic would be like calling Grindelwald merely mistaken. In other words, grossly understated.

First and foremost, the injuries and casualties needed dealt with. The most notable of the latter, at least in Harry's mind, being his 'personal' nurse, Madam Pomfrey. Unfortunately, hers wasn't the only life lost that day.

True, without their eyes inside the enemy's camp the Order didn't know if any Death Eaters had perished, but based on eye-witness accounts and a couple overly large pools of blood at least one might have. The body count definitely included the funeral director and the two cowards who tried to surrender themselves; one had been killed on the spot, the second had succumbed to his injuries at St. Mungo's. Harry never even learned their names.

Of the rest, Hagrid's shoulder injury proved the most resistant to healing. The mangled muscles and twisted tendons were rebuilt but he was told they would never work exactly the same, leaving his arm permanently stiff. Most of the remaining injuries were minor – magically speaking – and fixed on the spot, including Finster Fletchley's reversed knees, a nasty burn on Rosmerta's leg, and Charlie's missing teeth (despite his insistence he whistled better without them). Minerva's hand was likewise fixed with a quick trip to St. Mungo's, along with Molly's Poison-Ivy-on-the-Inside Curse. Her missing clumps of hair, they assured the Weasley Mum, would grow back naturally.

Harry's shattered elbow, being not so minor, required special care in the school's infirmary. He'd been forced to stay the night, but at least he'd had company. Ginny, who'd already been healed head to toe, insisted she felt light-headed and dizzy – she even managed to faint twice – until finally she'd been shoved into the bed next to Harry's "for observation".

On his other side was Snape, who by rights should have been sent to St. Mungo's so all the various curses, jinxes, and hexes could be sorted out. In hind sight, Harry was surprised the man had still been standing at the end of the battle, let alone stayed lucid enough to finish off several shots of whiskey and still correctly floo to the school. But if there was anyone more stubborn than Harry, it was Severus Snape. When they'd finally arrived from Grimmauld Place, he'd stalked his way to the infirmary in his dirt-covered, blood-encrusted clothes, dragging the bloody Harry along, and when he arrived he planted himself on a bed and refused to be moved. His recovery would take longer than if he'd gone to the hospital, but at least at Hogwarts he could still terrorize some students and after all, it's important the patient keep in good spirits.

Harry escaped the infirmary the next day and, as was his way, spent large amounts of time feeling guilty over Poppy's death. Many of his friends offered the usual clichés … "it wasn't your fault" … "she wouldn't want you to blame yourself" … "she was getting up there, she was probably about ready to go anyway" (that one, of course, was from a well-intentioned Ron). It was words from his emergency visit to Dr. Tony that helped the most – "In any war people are going to die, Harry. Remember the dead. Honor the dead. But go out and live."

Publicly, news of Voldemort's attack at Headmaster Dumbledore's brother's funeral spread like Fiendfyre and the outrage over violence at such a sacred affair was everything Albus had predicted and then some.

It began with articles and letters from outraged individuals appearing in the Daily Prophet and the Quibbler – the latter also running a three-part series on the dangers of angering the Penumbra Cryptids , the guardians of the cemeteries. Then speeches were being made on the floor of the Wizengamot and the steps of a heavily guarded Gringotts and eventually the street corners of Hogsmeade – all denouncing You Know Who and his barbaric ways. The fact that elderly Bathilda Bagshot suffered a fatal heart attack in her sleep two nights after the battle only added magic to the fire.

Outrage reached a new high on that Saturday, when Lester Stebbins' family publicly named him as a marked supporter, all but demanding the Aurors come and arrest the boy. That same evening, a Knockturn Alley business well known for its owners' Voldemort sympathies was nearly destroyed in a riot.

Unfortunately, Albus' other prediction also proved true. The more the public cried out against the dark lord, the more vicious his Death Eaters became in their attacks. Minister Bluestreak had to implement a no-wand policy for Levels Five through Eight of the Ministry and all other levels were closed to visitors without official business in that area. Privately, he'd hidden his family home using the Fidelius Charm and he urged his department heads to do the same. While no national curfew was set, most took it upon themselves to be inside their protected homes before dark. Many businesses, even the Three Broomsticks, actually closed their doors half an hour before nightfall.

In the little world known as Hogwarts, emotions echoed those outside the gates.

Each of the four Houses banded together, finally resembling the families they were supposed to be all along, with the older students looking after the youngest. In the halls and at meal times, groups of friends openly embraced each other, often leading to embarrassing public displays. Even the manlier men – the Quidditch stars and deadly creature aficionados – could be heard (with liberal use of eavesdropping charms) confessing "I … er … loveyoutoo" to their friends.

Another way Hogwarts echoed the general public was in politics. The same night of the Knockturn Alley riot, an explosion nearly destroyed the potions classroom. The Dark Mark was found burned into its wooden door. Harry raged for hours when he heard about it … things like "How can they not see – he doesn't care what the cost … what the evil …," and "Don't they realize he'd kill every last one of his own followers if it assured him power and victory?" … disgusted that there were still students stupid enough to follow the crazed man. Hermione secretly recorded his words, thinking it a rather impassioned speech.

So yes, there were still Dumb-arse Eaters (as Seamus took to loudly if not foolishly calling them) in the castle, but they'd been driven to hiding in the dark and shadows and were clearly outnumbered. The DA was as strong as ever, and students that didn't belong looked to those that did for protection and guidance. Over twenty students had already approached Harry's friends about joining the DA, and Hermione's newest loyalty pledge helped insure their sincerity. Ron had wanted Unbreakable Vows from all members stating they were not now, nor would they ever become, followers of Voldemort, but Hermione had talked him out of it. Although, Harry noticed, she was awfully slow to do so.

There was no way Harry could deny it; the war was rapidly coming to a head.

On Sunday, the school held a closed memorial service for their fallen nurse, Pollyanna "Poppy" Pomfrey. Her death – senseless and heroic as it was – hit many students in a strange way that even Cedric Diggory's hadn't. She, after all, hadn't volunteered for deadly adventures.

Harry decided to skip the memorial, instead spending the hour in the Room of Requirement beating the stuffing out of three dark-robed dummies that were standing in for their living counterparts. After one particularly powerful spell sent one figure's hand ricocheting toward his head, he laughed hysterically as he reminded himself there was no Nurse Pomfrey to patch him up if he got hurt.

True, he knew that Aide Merriweather, the gentle grandmotherly nurse that had helped when he'd suffered from Boiling Blood the year before, was overseeing the infirmary until a new matron was contracted. And he vaguely remembered liking the sweet old lady. But it wouldn't be the same. She wouldn't tease him about getting injured just to see her or tell him stories about his father's and godfather's antics.

Those thoughts made him particularly aggressive and soon the dummies were nothing more than a pile of rubble. He flexed his repaired arm and gave a nod of satisfaction before turning his attention to a new group. With every hit he began taunting his lifeless targets – shouting the things at them that he wished he could shout at Voldemort.

"That's for Hagrid," he shouted as he separated an arm from a short and plump stand-in looking vaguely like Amycus Carrow.

With another flick of his wand, the dummy's legs were yanked out from under it, causing it to topple and slam its head into the hard floor. "And that's for Charlie, you bastard!"

"I hardly think such a title can be applied to a manmade object, Potter."

Swirling around, Harry aimed his wand without thought, so he was almost surprised to find Snape standing straight and calm, his arms crossed over his chest as if he was bored. "Sorry," he offered as he lowered his wand.

"For your incompetence? I should think so. You didn't even hear me enter," the Professor scolded. "Sloppy, Potter. Very sloppy."

"I wasn't expecting … how did you get in here anyway? This room is supposed to be inaccessible."

"Obviously, you required me," Snape replied with an air of superiority. "Or more accurately, my assistance."

It was said with a sneer, but Harry got the feeling there wasn't any real hate in it. In fact, if he had to guess, he would say the tone was almost … almost … sincere. Biting back a snarky comment of his own, Harry said (in the politest voice he could muster), "Is that an offer, Professor?"

Instead of responding, Snape slowly circled the area, studying the Death Eater mannequins.

"Death Eaters attack in packs … but they seldom stay together," he finally said. "You have them grouped too closely. One should be over there," he pointed several yards away, "and another hidden somewhere … behind that cabinet should suffice." With a lazy swing of his wand, all three dummies were repaired and two were sent to their new locations."

Turning to Harry with a sadistic grin, he added, "and of course, they would fight back."

The words had barely left Snape's mouth when a grape-sized pellet came barreling at Harry, who responded as if it was the deadliest of curses. He dodged and fought, avoiding or reflecting nearly all incoming faux-spells as he scored hit after hit until these dummies, too, were decimated.

"Acceptable, Potter … if you don't mind being childless … which is actually a pleasing scenario … so perhaps we shall call that Exceeds Expectations."

"Wha …" Harry began before looking down to see the white chalky stains that indicated hits by the attackers – one of which was just left of a very delicate area. "Alright," he began again, "how do you know what spell it was?"

"Our first clue is it's target – and I find myself strangely sorry for Miss Weasley that you don't understand its significance. A curse aimed toward that specific area would most likely be a particularly vicious sterility jinx which, if not tended quickly, becomes permanent. It happens to be a favorite of both Carrow and Yaxley, who think of it as an insurance policy should their victims escape. I think we can assume you will have one or two tossed your way when next your paths shall cross."

Harry nearly shuddered, though whether it was from remembering Ron's fate or from what he was about to do, he couldn't say. "Can you … teach me how to recognize that one, Professor? And what to do if I spot it."

"As tempting as a Potterless future is … I suppose I owe you for making the bastard bleed. You've no idea how I've wished to do that over the years. Pay attention."

Taken by surprise at Snape's easy agreement, Harry could only nod dumbly. Without commenting on Harry's lack of vocal skills, Snape launched into a description of the curse so detailed he wondered if it was another of the Half Blood Prince's creations. Wisely, he didn't ask.

"Now keep in mind," Snape concluded, "the spell needs to hit near the appropriate area to be effective, meaning if it hits an extremity it will cause nothing more than mild stinging. I trust you understand the implications."

"Yeah, if I can't get out of the way, let it hit my hand and not my … er … "

"Yes, yes, let us leave it unnamed. Your late godfather was rather fond of calling his Vlad the Impaler … he even wrote a poem about it … which, if memory serves, was somehow switched for a homework assignment and turned in to Professor McGonagall." Something about the man's smirk told Harry he knew exactly how. "Suffice it to say, you are better off not emulating the man in this regard. Now, shall I test you?"

It took Harry barely a second to reply. "No … but thanks." No way was he going to let Snape aim a curse there, no matter how helpful the man was suddenly being. In an odd way, he feared Snape's wand more than he did Carrow or Yaxley, which wasn't all that surprising given his knowledge of the Prince's spells. As far as he knew, neither Carrow nor Yaxley were that inventive.

"It is just as well," Snape sighed, "the Headmaster was expecting you ten minutes ago."

"Ten minutes! Why didn't you tell me?"

"It was you who did not think to question my appearance," Snape smirked back, and Harry knew it was futile to argue the point. "Come then, Potter. I shall escort you."

Feeling he had little choice, Harry straightened his clothes and pocketed his wand before following Snape from the room. As the door melted away he followed behind his professor in a quiet that wasn't exactly uncomfortable, yet almost was. 'Uncomfortably comfortable … that's how Remus always described time spent with Sna–'

"Potter," a voice barked, snapping Harry from his verbal thoughts. "Are you paying any attention whatsoever to what I am saying?"

"Sorry Professor … would you mind repeating?"

Giving Harry a nasty look – the one often used for stupid questions during class – he obliged. "I was complimenting your overall performance at the funeral. Given the situation, your unwillingness to allow the innocents to be sacrificed was commendable; although now I'm wondering if it was more lack of common sense than bravery."

"I've always thought the two went hand in hand," Harry said without thinking.

"Given your past actions, I would agree with your assessment. But I do wonder …you have faced the dark lord several times now, and survived certainly, but never could I say you have been the victor. Do you really think you can ever hope to defeat him?"

Harry stopped walking and waited until Snape did the same. "I will vanquish him," he said, careful in his phrasing so Snape would truly understand what he was saying. It was said with the certainty one normally used to say things like 'I'm a wizard' or 'you are an idiot', and Snape was suddenly very glad in the choice he'd made years ago.

"And stop calling him dark lord," Harry added as an after thought. "You're not playing Death Eater anymore and you don't have to pretend to like him so stop showing him that respect. His name is Voldemort … er, well really it isn't, it's Tom." With a slowly forming grin he continued, "yeah … Tom Riddle the Second … or Tommy if you'd rather, and really, Professor, you've always been one to call people by their proper name."

With a matching grin (a sight that sent a passing student stumbling into a wall) Snape replied, "Very well. I wish you luck in your endeavor to defeat Mister Riddle."

"Tommy."

"Tom," Snape conceded, although as he did so his grin gave way to a genuine smile. Harry smiled back, pushing aside the thought that Snape's nose looked slightly more sinister when he showed that many teeth. The man was, after all, a master Legilimens.

"Stop that," Harry finally chided, "you're scaring your students."

If possible, Snape's smile got larger. A strange whining noise drew Harry's attention to the Hufflepuff who's stumbled into the wall. He and his friend were now standing completely still, their mouths hanging open in disbelief. Snape acknowledged them with a roll of his eyes before he turned and continued his trek to Albus' office. After an apologetic shrug in the students' direction, Harry quickly fell in step beside him.

They walked in silence for a time, but there was something Harry wanted to ask, so with a sideways glance he decided to take advantage of Snape's good mood. He casually cast "Muffliato" so he could speak freely – and catching Snape's quirked eyebrow, he added, "oh please … we both know you know that I know your old spells."

When Snape didn't get snippy in reply, Harry decided to plunge right in. "What happens to you now, Professor?"

"I shan't be packed away in some forgotten cupboard, if that is what you are implying. I am certain I still retain some value to the cause. It's rumored I am rather handy with potions and my skill with a wand it nothing to curse at."

"Right," Harry snorted, "but that's not what I meant. What happens to you? Voldemort –"

"I thought we'd agreed to call him Tom?" Snape interrupted.

"Yeah, Tommy … he's not too happy with you right now. He's put quite the price on your head. Whoever brings you to him has been promised treasure beyond treasure, whatever that is."

Snape looked curiously at Harry, who tapped his head to explain how he knew. 'Dang pain potions that don't mix with Muggle pills.'

"Treasure beyond treasure is one of th—Tom's greatest inventions. By giving it such a grandiose name, he has captured the greed in all men. Yet never once has he indicated what it encompasses and only a simpleton or a fool would dare ask for such details. But to address your concerns, I shall carry on much as I always have: lecturing nitwits, grading mindless drivel, and trying to keep Gryffindors with delusions of grandeur alive. I assure you, I have always been in far greater danger of blasting a bothersome student to dust than being killed by a Death Eater."

Harry found himself nodding in agreement. "What do you think he'll do next?"

"It is not too hard to guess. The attack at the funeral could not have been part of his latest master plan. I presume he felt it was simply too good an opportunity to pass by, so he took a chance. No; aside from capturing you, he has had something else in the works – something I was expected to partake in but which, unfortunately, I had not yet been appraised of. As it has not been compromised, he will likely proceed with his plot once he has healed."

"So … Hogwarts or the Ministry?"

"Quite so." Cancelling Harry's spell, Snape then turned to the impatiently waiting stone guardian and spit out, "Fudge Flies."

Finally arriving in the Headmaster's office Harry wasn't much surprised when Snape was invited to remain. As tea was handed out and Albus shared pleasantries with Snape ("you've grown all your fingernails back, I see"), Harry looked over to Fawkes' perch, where Hedwig seemed to be standing guard over the infant phoenix. She caught his eye and ruffled her feathers proudly, causing Harry to laugh and nearly spill his cup.

A chuckle from behind brought his attention back to the humans in the room. Snape was glaring at his tea while Albus was watching him with that infuriating happy sparkle in his eyes. Taking his seat, Harry opened the conversation. "How badly do you think Voldemort—"

"Tom," Snape snapped.

"Right. How badly was Tom hurt …ah, Headmaster?"

"It is hard to say," Albus answered after a moment of thought. "I believe the wound was certainly survivable, but it is encouraging that he was so easily wounded at all. Not to belittle your attempt, Harry, but normally he is able to dodge or deflect spells when he has such warning. I find myself wondering if the ritual we preformed has done more than simply make him mortal."

Harry was surprised to hear Albus mention the ritual which was, after all, a closely guarded secret.

"You are certain he is mortal, yes?" Snape pressed.

"Did I not tell you as much?" Albus replied in a teasing voice – well, as teasing as one can be discussing such a serious matter.

"You also once told me that no one on this earth could remove the Philosopher's Stone from the Mirror of Erised, so you will understand that I take everything from your mouth with a grain of salt."

Wanting to avoid discussions of his past adventures, Harry blurted out the first thing he could think to say. "What about the rest? The Death Eaters, I mean. Do you think any of them were injured?"

"Aside from minor injuries, I presume you mean? It is known Dolohov took a rather nasty scalping curse which looked survivable," Albus explained, "and Fenrir Greyback will think twice before attacking anyone with red hair, I should think. I believe it was Mister Gamp, was it not Severus …"

"Grus Gamp, Headmaster … runs that second-hand shop in Cardiff … a distant Black relative as I recall … couldn't even stand up to a simple barmaid, the dolt. I tell you, the quality of Death Eaters today is sorely lacking."

"You best hope I don't share your opinion with Madam Rosmerta, Severus, or you may well find yourself drinking watered-down whiskey for a long time to come. But yes, Mister Gamp was certainly put in his place by her muggle methods. The worst of their injuries, I think, can be ascribed to Goyle Senior, whom I believe was the source of the blood pool and, of course, our friend Amycus Carrow, whom I had to remind to respect his elders. I believe they've yet to find a way to adequately re-grow the human tongue."

"I placed a subtle inquiry to an acquaintance in Knockturn Alley," Snape offered, "but have heard nothing back. Either none died from their injuries or the threat of reprisal for helping a known traitor has kept her from responding."

"So in all likelihood our side was the only side to suffer a loss," Harry reasoned, "but Tom still lost the battle, don't you think, because it's turned the public against him?"

"For now," Albus qualified, leading the trio each take a sip of their drink in silence.

"Speaking of the Alley," Harry artfully segued, "has Professor McGonagall been able to replace her wand?"

"We were able to match her to one of the wands hidden in Ollivander's shop. Not perfectly, mind you, but well enough that she can teach unhindered. It is fortunate you were able to find them last summer. I will have to see he receives payment when the shop reopens," Albus rather optimistically added, considering it had been nearly two years since the wand maker's disappearance. Whether he'd gone to ground or been captured, there hadn't been so much as a whisper of his whereabouts since.

"Do you see any other negatives from the battle, Headmaster?" Snape asked when Albus failed to continue speaking.

"You mean aside from me freezing up and nearly getting captured?" Harry spit out.

"That was unfortunate, Harry," Albus gently told him, "but I do not see it as an alarming trend. In this particular case, I feel the extenuating circumstances were as much to blame as anything. To begin with, I believe I gave you a false sense of security, for I did indeed think we were safe at such a solemn event. The protections I placed were more out of habit than any perceived need; though I am immensely glad to have done so. Then too, you were emotionally vulnerable in a way that is out of your norm. And do not forget, despite your small lapse, you performed quite admirably and managed something hereto considered impossible by most ordinary wizards – you drew Voldemort's blood."

Harry took a moment to consider Albus' words, finally deciding they rang true. "About that … you said something earlier about the ritual doing more than we thought," he glanced sideways but saw nothing beyond Snape's normal calm façade. "What did you mean?"

"The ritual was designed to reconnect the sawol (the splintered piece, Severus) to the main soul, the assumption being that there were only those two pieces." Albus began. "Voldemort – or Tom, as the two of you seem to now prefer – divided his soul more than once and as you both are aware, several of the resulting pieces have already been destroyed. As separate entities, the sawols were not dependant upon each other, but united … I suspect they are able to recognize that they are not whole."

"And …" Snape coaxed when Albus didn't appear to be continuing.

"It's like his soul is ill," Harry reasoned. "When I'm sick, I can't perform magic as well as when I'm healthy."

"Precisely, Harry," Albus said with a nod and a smile in the boy's direction. "Tom's soul, for the first time in decades, knows it is unwell. It is not much … perhaps the equivalent of a nasty head cold … but in a situation such as ours, where every advantage counts, it could literally mean the difference between life and death. Had his response been even a second slower, your spell may well have finished him off for good."

"What of Potter's response, Headmaster?" When he received a confused look in reply, Snape elaborated. "The pain in his scar. Correct me if I am wrong, but it was more debilitating than usual."

"Define usual," Harry said. "When I was taken to the graveyard it hurt so much I dropped my wand and fell to my knees. I think I even sicked-up."

"You were also fourteen and not quite as experienced as you are now," Snape countered.

"Severus is correct, Harry. You didn't feel such excruciating pain at the Ministry until he possessed you. Until that moment, the pain was manageable bordering on negligible. How would you rate the pain this time?"

Thinking about it, Harry answered, "The pain was worse than it was in the graveyard, I think, but it's like I'm somewhat immune to it now so I'm able to work through it. Still not as bad as being possessed, though."

"Then we shall be thankful for that small favor. I wonder …" and then Albus jumped form his seat to search his bookshelf for a specific – and apparently quite well hidden – book.

"Use the Untwixilator, Dumbledore," called out a helpful portrait.

"Yes, thank you for the suggestion Dexter," Albus offhandedly said as he bent down to continue his search, "but it was damaged some time ago and has not worked the same since."

A red-faced Harry could feel the eyes of the past masters and mistresses glaring at him.

"Just try it, my boy," the portrait urged. "I should think she has a bit of life left in her."

Rising to inspect a dented silver instrument with a crooked tube sticking from the top that was sitting next to a very tiny bird cage, Albus muttered, "Perhaps … with the right touch." Thus decided, he took the fragile instrument from its safe place and carefully moved it to his desk.

He gave it a gentle tap with his wand, earning him some clanking noises but no puffs of smoke appeared. "Come now," he coaxed it, but it stubbornly remained smoke-less.

"Have Potter give it a go," called out former Headmaster Dilys Derwent from another portrait. "I suspect it's tuned to him now."

"Makes sense," Dexter Fortescue's painted self reasoned, "given it was his emotional outburst that damaged her in the first place."

What Harry really wanted to do at that moment was sink into his seat, but instead he followed Albus' instructions and gently tapped the side of the devise as he concentrated on his memory of the attack at the funeral. The clanking noises grew louder and suddenly, with the whistle of a tea kettle, little puffs of thick smoke, deep blue in color, erupted from the tube. Unlike the last time, as soon as the smoke became a steady stream it immediately split in two. The first stream took the expected shape of a snake but the other was rather indistinct. It certainly seemed snake-like, but that might have been due to its elongated shape. Below its head it had what could have been stubby arms or maybe flimsy wings – Harry really couldn't decide.

He watched, fascinated, as the smoke-snake turned on the other being and attacked. The other dodged and swerved as it used it's stubby appendages to strike back. As they fought the snake darkened to midnight blue bordering on black while the other became a calming sky blue, and as they twisted and weaved the two smokes would occasionally mingle, creating a sort of fog around them. They might have fought forever had the device not reached its limits. With what sounded like a series of hacking coughs the crooked tube on the top shot out a plume of rainbow colored smoke that obliterated the fighting creatures.

When the smoke cleared the creatures were no more and it was obvious the Untwixilator was broke beyond repair. There were large cracks in the silver sides and its top had melted away. "Oh my," Albus exclaimed in a sorrowful voice. "That was certainly enlightening – unexpected, but enlightening."

Harry shot a glance at Snape, who didn't appear any more enlightened than Harry felt. With a shrug he turned back to his guardian and asked, "How so, Sir?"

"It would seem that our interpretation of a certain portion of the prophecy has been entirely wrong."

Harry felt his skin grow cold and he gripped the arms of his chair. "Which part?" he quietly asked.

With the tiniest of glances to Snape, Albus explained. "Neither can live while the other survives. We've been proceeding on the presumption this line simply refers to the need for one of you to be free of the other in order to achieve your life's goals. But this …" he waved his hand toward the wrecked device, "seems to indicate a more literal interpretation." He stopped speaking, appearing to search for words.

"Just spit it out, old man," Snape growled.

With a reproachful glance toward Snape, Albus turned his attention to Harry. "The pain you feel, Harry, has grown worse over time, yes? Of course it has. It is more intense; it occurs more often. I suspect – based on what I've just seen – that if Tom isn't already being similarly affected, he soon will be. Eventually, you each will be unable to function – to live, in a sense – when in the presence of the other. Notice how every direct face-off you've had has strengthened the connection. I wonder, Harry, if you suffer more headaches in general than you've confessed to having?"

"Pretty much all day, every day," he admitted. "It's usually just a dull ache … I barely notice it most times."

Snape glanced between the two. "Are you suggesting that Potter will be unable to perform? That after all this we will lose the war because Potter's head hurts?"

"So overdramatic, Severus," Albus chided. "It would take years to reach such a point, and even then I highly doubt Harry would let such a little thing as pain-induced paralysis stop him from fulfilling his destiny. Stubbornness is, after all, at least according to you, a quintessential Gryffindor trait."

"If you think we've got years before we get to that point, then we've nothing to worry about," Harry said to Albus before turning his attention to Snape. "It'll be over long before then."

"Nonetheless," Albus quickly continued, "Severus makes a valid point. After all, did you not just admit to dropping your wand due to pain in Tom's presence?" He waved off Harry's attempt to respond. "There is a pain numbing potion … help me with the name, Severus … it is used by St. Mungo's during reconstructive procedures to stop pain signals from getting to the brain."

"You're speaking of Sawbohnz's Stuporous Solution, Headmaster. It is not recommended for casual use." Turning to Harry, he explained. "This is no muggle drug, Potter. When I say it stops pain I mean totally and completely, with no side effects. I could yank off your finger and you'd not notice unless you saw it happen … or happened to spot the blood dripping to the floor. I could blast a whole straight through your gut and you would only know what I'd done when you fell to the ground a useless heap."

Ignoring Snape's blunt imagery, Albus asked him, "But it could be targeted, could it not? Made so it would only block pain signals from a certain area – say above the shoulders?"

"Are there any other signals happening above his shoulders?" Snape asked before looking almost – not quite, but almost – embarrassed by his comment. "I apologize … that just slipped out. But to answer the question, yes, it can be, although I would require the help of a healer in that regard."

"I know just the man," a smiling Albus replied, "and I'll have him get in touch with you post-haste." As the two professors continued to discuss details of the potion Harry tried his best to follow along, nodding when it seemed appropriate and shrugging noncommittally when it turned too technical. He even managed to politely agree to test Snape's formula, which he instantly knew was a mistake when Albus clapped his hands and beamed.

"Splendid," Albus enthused, "I knew the two of you would come together eventually. And just in time, as Kingsley will no longer be available to work with Harry and I had worried over finding someone qualified to take his place. Rather fortuitous that Severus has recently given up his old hobby and needs something new to occupy his time, wouldn't you agree?"

Glancing at his equally dumbfounded Professor, Harry knew they'd been played by the master. He slumped back in defeat, knowing he couldn't refuse.

"Don't look so glum, child," Albus told him. "You were able to work with Severus earlier today with no ill-effect. Surely you see the value in learning the favorite tricks and spells of the Death Eaters … those tied to the dark mark, perhaps?"

Even Snape couldn't say no after that; instead he ordered Harry to be at his office directly after dinner the next night. With a curt "if that is all?", Snape excused himself.

Once alone, Albus pulled open a desk drawer and tossed a thick bundle of parchment onto the desk within Harry's easy reach. "Aberforth's will," he explained when Harry made no move to take the packet.

Slumping into his seat, Harry waved the papers off. "Just tell me."

"Aside from a few mostly broken and worthless trinkets, a magazine collection of questionable taste, and a painting of our late sister, he has left everything to you – some money in a vault, the land where the bar stood, and his most prized possession …"

"Brian," they said together, then laughed a bittersweet laugh.

Noting the time, Harry excused himself to relax a bit before classes started back up the next day. "Take care to be in your Tower by curfew," Albus called to his retreating back, most likely deducing Harry truly planned to sneak off somewhere cozy with Ginny.

They both knew that since the funeral battle, curfews were being stringently enforced by headcounts in the Common Rooms every evening. The unfortunate Creevey brothers had put this rule to the test its very first night, revealing the rule's unintended consequence of pushing all detentions to Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Harry had no intention of having even more of his precious free time eaten up (this new training with Snape was going to do quite enough of that, he just knew) so he assured his guardian he'd take care.

It didn't take long for life in the castle to fall into its new pattern, although it also didn't take long for the Headmaster to realize that nothing makes children want to do something more than having it be forbidden. To put it bluntly, the student populous was going a bit stir-crazy. To alleviate their sense of imprisonment, Prefects were put in charge of Saturday nights in the Common Rooms, entertaining the youngest students and keeping the older ones from causing too much damage during their 'confinement'. Ron used these times to coerce young students to test new products from the twins while Hermione used the time to openly berate Ron for such behavior. Many of the older Gryffindors learned to kick back and enjoy the weekly show, which one clever Muggleborn had dubbed "Much Ado About Weasley".

The rest of April passed quickly into May and Harry found himself growing more and more restless as the school year crawled toward its end. Battleball games had been left behind so he had more time to work with Snape, homework was beginning to slide, and even Quidditch suffered as he found it hard to concentrate on a mere game.

With every day that went by, Harry became more certain the final battle would occur while he was still a student; and that time was eroding away. The feeling began to make him paranoid – to the point that he'd begun taking a head-count of sorts at every meal just to assure himself those he cared for were present and safe.

When Tonks – or Dora, as he called her in private – was missing from dinner one Wednesday evening, he found himself growing increasingly concerned. Since Remus' disappearance (Harry still called it that despite his belief that Remus would never be returning), the pregnant woman had missed many meals in the Great Hall. His friends tried to convince him this was simply one of those times, but something in his gut screamed that this was different.

Around the time pudding was appearing on the tables he gave in to his growing panic and left to check on the missing professor. Ginny offered to come with him but he waved her off. "No sense in both of us missing out on afters just because I'm a paranoid git."

Paranoid git or not, Harry held his wand at the ready as he slyly entered the Defense classroom. It was empty. Cautiously, he stepped further into the room to look for signs of trouble when he heard a faint groan. Moving quickly up the stairs in the front of the room, he yanked open the office door and found Dora sitting in her chair, doubled over in pain. What had sounded like groans from the classroom where actually animalistic screeches.

As one such screech ended, Dora looked up and spotted Harry. "Oh thank Merlin," she called out. "I sent that blasted elf for help ages ago. But where's the nurse?" she added as she tried to look behind him.

Harry was confused. There she was asking for help, and clearly she was in pain, but Harry didn't see any signs of an attack. There wasn't even a tray of food or out-of-place goblet that could point toward poison. But then she screamed again, louder this time, and wrapped her arms around her ball-shaped stomach, and Harry dropped his wand in panic as the truth hit him like a bludger to the gut. Little Lupin was on its way.

Having absolutely no idea what to do with that, he waited out her wave of pain, which seemed to be lasting an awful long time by his estimate. At last it ended again and after taking a huge gulp of air she turned her head to glare at him. "ARE YOU JUST GOING TO STAND THERE? DO SOMETHING!"

"Er … right … do something …"

"Today, Potter," she barked out, and Harry almost jumped back in fear at the sight of her face, which had morphed into something reminiscent of the angry Veela at the World Cup, only without the beak and scales. "Unless you have something more pressing at the moment?"

"No … I mean … what should I do?" he sheepishly asked, very much out of his element. Dark Lords and deadly creatures were easy (and quite probably preferred) compared to this. "Help you to the infirmary?" he ventured.

"No time … they just started out of nowhere and I think they're already too close together … I need the nurse here. Now," she added as she began grunting.

It was another cry of pain that snapped Harry into action. He immediately summoned Dobby – who he knew would rather die than let Harry down - and ordered the elf to find the nurse and bring her here, or else! While he waited for Dobby's return, and to look busy and helpful to his scary professor, he transformed Dora's desk into a fairly comfortable-looking bed, ripping off his school robe and turning it into a soft plaid blanket of black, red, and gold.

Dobby and Merriweather appeared just as the contraction ended and the astute nurse needed no further explanation. Under her command Harry helped Dora into the bed (blushing furiously as her robe turned into a very short gown that hid nothing below the waist) and covered her with the blanket. "Gryffindor, Potter?" she growled.

Seeing as Merriweather had taken charge and was ordering Dobby to bring everything she needed, Harry decided to make a quiet retreat when the nurse – without even looked up from where she was checking something under the blanket – called out, "Stay, Harry. The poor dear's going to want someone with her for this. Don't you, Dora dear?"

"Please, Harry, " Dora called in a voice that sounded suddenly very lost and afraid – which left Harry scratching his head trying to figure out how she'd changed attitudes so quickly. Unaware of Harry's confusion, she reached for him with her hand as another contraction took hold of her.

'For Remus,' Harry thought as he stepped up and grasped her hand. "Just … ah … breathe," he encouraged as she squeezed so tight he thought his fingers might be melded together. He glanced to Merriweather, who gave him a warm nod of approval.

"Talk to her, Harry. Take her mind off the pain," she instructed him.

It wasn't as awkward Harry thought it would be. Between contractions he got Dora to talk about a variety of things that had no real value whatsoever, but it kept her mind occupied and kept him focused away from what he mentally called the 'danger zone.' Merriweather continued to do her thing and Dobby continued to hover behind the makeshift bed, ready to perform the smallest task.

Before long Merriweather was telling Dora to push; and when she did Harry learned why home delivery was never a good idea in the Wizarding world. As Dora grunted her way through push after push, objects from around the room flew into the air and began spinning around the delivery bed. A teacup forgotten on a shelf flew into the foe-glass, which cracked but thankfully didn't shatter. As the child came closer and closer to arriving, the objects – books, desk supplies, small statues, and at least one sneakoscope – got closer and closer to Harry, until finally he was being pelted from every angle.

Just as a pewter paperweight shaped like a nundu bashed into the back of his shoulder with a loud "pop" and enough force to send pain shooting down the arm, Dora gave one final screech and Merriweather shouted "here he is". The office sundry instantly stopped spinning and dropped from the air. All three thick volumes in the Defensive Techniques of Past Centuries series fell onto Harry's head in rapid succession. As a soft, sloppy being was deposited into a waiting blanket on Dora's chest, Harry slid onto the floor, where he stayed in a daze.

"Are you alright, young man?" a gentle voice asked some time later, causing Harry to look up into the concerned face of Nurse Merriweather. "That was quite a thumpin' you took. Happens sometimes when the spouse isn't here – usually the Storming is kept to a minimum. Last time I saw one that forceful was when my own great-grand daughter went into labor. Her no-account husband was there, mind you, but too drunk to be of any use. Long story short, he ended up with a mackerel jammed so far in his ear all you could see was the tail. Never did figure out where it came from. Oh – but you don't look so good – let's get off this floor and take a look."

With the nurse's help he pulled himself from the floor, catching sight of his reflection in the broken foe-glass and could only gape at what he saw. 'I've looked better after run-ins with Death Eaters!'

"Let's see if we can't get you cleaned up now, Mister Potter. Can't have you walking the halls looking like you just wrestled a troll." Taking another look in the broken glass, Harry quipped, "wish I looked that good."

He let Merriweather guide him into a chair and gently examine him. For the crisscross of parchment cuts on his forehead and cheeks she applied a pulpy paste that smelled like wood chips and burned as it sealed the skin. A second paste was brought out and applied to the large bruise on his right temple and another on his chin. His shoulder, he was surprised to discover, had a torn rotator cuff which had to be woven back together with a smelly potion and a lot of prodding by the nurse's wand.

As Harry flexed his neck in relief he caught the distinct sound of a baby crying. "Harry, come meet your Godson, Theodore Remus Lupin, or Teddy."

Harry slowly reached out his hand and caressed the baby's cheek. "He's so soft," he said in awe. He stayed, mesmerized, until Merriweather was ready to move Dora and Teddy to their rooms. Promising to visit again soon, he headed to the Tower to share the good news with his friends, trying his best to ignore the part of his mind that was imagining going through that again with Ginny.

By breakfast the next morning, everyone seemed to know that Professor Lupin's baby had arrived. Everyone also knew – and Harry would dearly like to know how – that he'd been caught in the magical Storming. "That's seven for seven, mate," Dean joked as he slapped Harry on the back. "I'm starting to think that Defense Curse has somehow been transferred to you."

Harry laughed along with everyone's kidding, for he didn't think anything could ruin the high he was still on from seeing the miracle of birth. A note delivered from a skittish female house elf proved him wrong.

** end chapter **

NOTES: "The Storming" - if magic reacts to strong emotions and thoughts … and Dora is focusing on the thought 'push' with every ounce of her being … accidental magic is bound to happen, isn't it? Lord knows it would have in my delivery rooms. Storming seemed an appropriate name.

A sarcastic 'thanks' to Rowling for taking the Grim (aka the barghest) out of the cemetery, so I had to find a different guardian to put there. Wasn't that fun research! I ended up making up my own because Luna just doesn't believe in the common, does she?

If you found the training dummies cliche, I again point out that some things are common in fanfiction because they make sense.

PLEASE MAKE NOTE: I probably won't update again before the holidays – enjoy yourselves and I'll 'see' you next year.