Questions/Fears Concerning:

Voldemort being a special kind of wizard: Mage/Warlock/Sorcerer — Yes, though I did not explicitly say so, he is a Mage; however, unlike Harry, he was born as a 'Mage', which means he had access to all of his magic the moment he had been born-which is why he had such control when Dumbledore first met him.


Part 28: Gain

Professor Sprout was not ashamed to admit that she was grateful that the Halloween festivities had finally come to an end and that it was time to call it a night. It was well past midnight and Minerva had informed her a few minutes prior that the Headmaster was away from Hogwarts on Ministry business and would return by the morning. This was hardly unusual, so, after checking on her Hufflepuffs, she began getting ready for bed.

Unfortunately, right when she was about to retrieve her comfy bed robes, urgent pounding began rattling her door.

Hurrying to the door, she opened it to find a wide-eyed Ernie Macmillan.

"Professor, come quick, there's something wrong with Harry!" he said, clearly beside himself as he waved his arms about.

Immediately following him, they hurried to the second year boys' dormitory.

Entering the room, she found all but one of the boys out of bed.

Zachariah Smith and Justin were standing at the foot of their beds, staring at the bed across from Ernie's, and it was easy to see why.

Neville was leaning over Harry who was, frankly, hysterical.

Pomona Sprout had no other word to describe it.

He was covered in sweat and shivering violently. With Neville's help, he was barely sitting up and his hands were shaking uncontrollably as he pressed them against his forehead. However, that was not the worst of it. Tears were on his cheeks and his breathing was hitched and being further interrupted by fitful, uneven giggles. He appeared utterly mad, and it understandably frightened Sprout.

"What's wrong with him?" Smith asked, in a tone that would be used to ask about a bug rather than a person.

Professor Sprout chose to ignore him and hurried beside Neville, as Harry was closer to that side of the bed.

"Mr. Potter, can you hear me?" she asked, placing a steadying hand on his shoulder as Neville backed away.

Harry nodded uneasily, gritting his teeth as a strangled chuckle bubbled in his throat.

"Let's get you to the infirmary," Sprout decided, already pulling the blankets away as she sighed. "Too many sweets, I'm afraid. Too much sugar can sometimes do this." Of course, she didn't believe this was the case and was merely saying this for the benefit of the other boys.

Harry clumsily slid his legs off the bed, his entire frame still trembling, so much so that Sprout had to support him.

"Sorry," he managed as Coral slithered off his pillow and went around his wrist.

"It's alright, Harry, you're not feeling well," Sprout assured.

Sprout helped guide Harry out of the room as she turned to speak to Neville and the others. "Try to get back to sleep, and don't worry, Madam Pomfrey will tend to Mr. Potter."

The boys hesitantly returned to their beds, Neville the last to do so.

Sprout guided Harry through the halls, his heavy breathing calming slightly step by step. Finally, she felt it time to speak.

"Harry, what happened? Despite what I had said, I know this has nothing to do with too much sweet intake."

"It's Voldemort," he answered, clenching his teeth as another wave of . . . something assaulted him.

Professor Sprout of course knew of Harry's connection to the Dark Lord, but seeing further proof of it was still unnerving.

"Right now, he's angry," Harry began before pausing. His expression shifted into one of grim satisfaction. "Actually, he's beyond furious."

"Do you know why?" Sprout asked as they neared the infirmary, slightly concerned by his expression, which only became more alarming as he actually smirked.

"He was betrayed," Harry whispered, before grimacing from another sensation in his scar.

O o O o O

Dennis woke up, finding himself still in the bed that the lady calling herself Pomfrey had guided him into hours before. She had seemed nice enough, giving him something to eat and telling him he was safe before having him take a potion to help him sleep — but then, they had been nice at first too.

He had no idea where he was and only knew he was there because of the watch the man had placed on his wrist, so, for now, he would do what he knew worked.

Obey.

It was the safest option, he knew this from experience, but he also knew it brought little to no comfort. Thus, to his undying shame, he soon found himself pulling up his knees and fighting back tears.

Where was he? Where were the other children? What was going to happen to him here? Would he ever actually see his family again? Was he finally going to die?

Suddenly, he heard a soft hissing noise coming from the bed beside his own.

He froze.

The last time he had heard any hissing. . . .

Dennis immediately closed his eyes and held his breath, hoping the darkness of the room would cloak him.

"Are you alright?"

Dennis didn't dare move, even though he was surprised by the young voice and its nearness.

"You don't need to be afraid. No one will hurt you here. My name's Harry, what's yours?"

The honesty in the voice was the only thing that prompted him to open his eyes and glance at the bed beside him. There he found a boy a few years older than himself, looking at him with gentle eyes.

"I'm Dennis," he answered.

"Hello, Dennis."

"Um, where are we?" he asked, easing his knees back down.

"We're in the infirmary of Hogwarts, a magic school. I'm a student here, second year."

"Are we alone?"

It was an important thing to know, at least to Dennis.

"For now. It's really late."

"Um, so why are you here? Are you sick?"

"I had a pretty bad headache," Harry said with a half shrug. "I get them ever so often."

Dennis got the feeling that wasn't the whole truth, but he didn't feel it important enough to wonder about it further.

"How are you? Madam Pomfrey said you arrived here through Professor Snape's emergency portkey," Harry continued.

Dennis blinked, not sure how to reply to that.

"I'm okay."

"Are you? It is okay not to be, you know. I could help you if you want."

Dennis frowned, sensing there was a bit more behind those words than idle kindness — that there was an actual desire and ability to provide genuine assistance. It was strange, because he found himself actually believing Harry could help him.

But he didn't deserve to be helped.

Dennis slowly moved his left hand to his right forearm, his fingers brushing across an ugly scar obscured by shadows. His hand stilled, the risen scar tissue feeling oddly cold as he clenched his jaw even as he wished he could accept Harry's help, whatever it involved.

But he knew he couldn't.

It wouldn't be right.

He was a monster.

"You can't help me."

Dennis' tone was strong and unwavering, the opposite of how he was really feeling inside, knowing he could not show weakness, especially in this. No one could help him, and no one should. He was dangerous. The fact that the evil within him only surfaced once a month was immaterial and changed nothing.

Help was beyond him, and that was the way it should be for creatures like him.

"I don't believe that."

Dennis couldn't help but jump by the older boy's sudden response. Despite the quiet volume, it held an unparalleled power, an undeniable force that was both fierce and compassionate. He locked eyes with Harry, not sure of what he would find in the luminous green.

Harry slowly got off the bed and approached him, before coming to a stop just a foot away.

Dennis didn't move, didn't breathe.

This Harry, this 'second year', was unlike anyone he had ever met before, he could feel it, and part of him was frightened.

What was he going to do?

"Please let me help you, Dennis. I know you have no reason to, but trust me."

"How can you help me?"

Harry didn't answer right away, but finally replied, "I know what's inside you. You were probably told it is permanent, but it isn't. I can destroy it, if you want me to."

Dennis was astonished, his eyes widening as he tightened his hand over the hideous old bite mark. "How do you know?"

"I can use something called parselmagic. It has made me more sensitive to certain things and allows me to heal and cure."

"And you can really destroy it?" he asked, refusing to even hope just yet, especially as all of this was happening rather quickly and was a bit unbelievable.

"Yes, and it only takes a second now. I've had a lot of practice."

"Practice?"

"I've healed sixteen people, most of whom had Lycanthropy for many-many years."

Dennis couldn't believe what he was hearing. It went against everything he had been told for months, defied the words of his captors and filled him with an odd sense of . . . nothingness.

It was beyond comprehension, beyond understanding.

If what Harry said was true, that this . . . internal beast could be eradicated, did that mean he was separate from it? Was it possible that he was still himself — that he was not this revolting monster?

"Dennis?" Harry asked.

Dennis suddenly realized he had been silent for too long.

"Sorry, it's just. . . ." He trailed off, unable to think of any adequate words.

Harry held out his hand, his pajama sleeve going slightly beyond his wrist.

"It doesn't hurt, and it'll be over in a flash," Harry said.

"And you just need to hold my hand?" Dennis asked, feeling a little foolish by asking such an odd sounding question.

"Hmm, I suppose I could. I've never tried it that way, but I don't see why it wouldn't work," Harry said.

Dennis tentatively took Harry's offered hand, deciding he had nothing to lose. "Okay."

And with that, something happened Dennis would never forget.

Harry smiled and his hand tightened around Dennis' smaller one as white light overtook the bright green of his eyes in a brilliant flash. And in that moment Dennis felt thick warm power surge through him, like an ocean wave, engulfing his very center in a blanket of righteous but tender fury before something dispersed like gentle dust.

And then it was over.

He felt lighter and in his heart he knew that Harry had done just what he said he could do.

The monster had been slain, and he, Dennis Creevey, was free.

O o O o O

Severus and Dumbledore finally departed from the Ministry and flooed to Hogwarts, entering Albus' office.

It had taken several hours to get everything sorted at the Ministry, including the care of the children. Severus inwardly seethed. It was obvious that the children had been traumatized. He really wished he had been able to dish out more lethal spells. . . .

But concerning the children, the Ministry was now in the process of contacting the parents and arranging their transportation. They had already carried out physicals and had learned all of the children had been bitten. Fortunately, they were able to give them the cure soon after the Lycanthropy tests came back positive. Dumbledore assured them that Madam Pomfrey would provide the cure to Dennis Creevey soon (who would remain at Hogwarts for the moment as there was no point in relocating him elsewhere until his parents had been contacted).

Stepping to the side to allow his mentor to pass and move behind the desk, Severus looked up and couldn't help but give Dumbledore a questioning look.

Other than answering countless questions, peeling off children gripping his robes, and enduring much scrutiny from people who were not so quick to believe that he was in fact a spy for the Light, Severus had noticed something peculiar during the whole escapade.

Several people had appeared a bit leery of Dumbledore, nervous and, yes, even afraid. The Minister especially. What was even stranger was the amused glint in a few people's eyes, including Madam Bones and Kingsley Shacklebolt's. What in Merlin's name had he missed?

"Is there something the matter, Severus?" Albus asked as he sat down and took a moment to straighten his bowl of lemon drops.

"Headmaster, I couldn't help but notice that a few people, including the Minister, seemed to be . . . subdued in your presence," Severus said, his voice holding a questioning tone to it.

"Ah, yes . . . about that. . . ." The old wizard actually looked a tiny bit embarrassed, though it quickly shifted to resigned determination. "Cornelius was being, well, difficult prior to our arrival to Rookwood's Manor. He was not convinced 'the intelligence' was genuine, as I refused to reveal you as the source. I believe he was also put out about being kept out of the loop for so long about the plan."

"I had wondered what was keeping you. If you had been any later, I'm not sure what would have happened," Severus said. "I gather you convinced Fudge to let you all go, and that that is the cause of some people's sudden unease?"

"Yes," he admitted before retelling the events.

.

.

.

"I will not allow it, Albus! To use Ministry resources in such a manner is irresponsible. I cannot allow anyone, no matter their status, to dictate where and when Auror forces go, especially when it is being directed by an unknown source of 'intelligence'!" the Minister huffed, straightening in his new office chair.

"Cornelius, time is of the essence, we must leave now," Dumbledore argued. "Trust me; my source is correct in this. If we want to rescue the kidnapped children, we must go."

"Minister, I don't see why we cannot just go and take a look," Madam Bones put in. "What harm would there be in that? At least this way we can be sure. Besides, I think it is worth checking, for the sake of the children."

"We have no evidence they are there or, sadly, even still alive," Madam Umbridge interjected, her sickeningly sweet voice grating on everyone with sense in the room.

"They are alive, all nine of them, at least for the moment. Cornelius, I will go with or without Ministry support," Dumbledore stated.

"Really, Albus, I cannot allow you to trespass on private property, inhabited or not. We all must follow the law, after all, even you."

"Even at the expense of innocent lives that are at this very moment being held captive by ruthless criminals?" Dumbledore asked, his eyes flashing. His patience was running thin. "The purpose of law is to protect citizens, not keep favor with political allies."

"Now see here, Dumbledore, to cause such a stir at this time of night, and on this night in particular . . . are you quite well?" Cornelius asked as Madam Umbridge leaned forward, as if to get a better look at Dumbledore.

"He does seem a bit peaky," Umbridge said, her voice dripping with fake motherly concern.

The Headmaster stepped forward, at this point beyond caring who was watching or what they might think.

"I am quite well, thank you, just a bit disgusted by the lack of sense from certain government officials," Dumbledore said, his voice not rising in pitch or volume, but power. "Are you going to continue acting like an ignoramus?" The candles in the room flared. "You may be Minister, but I am the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, Supreme Mugwump of the ICW, and Vanquisher of the last Dark Lord. Who would the public support if word came out about your failure to act?"

Fudge sputtered.

"How dare you insult and threaten the Minister!" Umbridge hissed, her previous sweetness vaporizing.

Dumbledore didn't even bother to respond to her, which just infuriated her further.

"How do we know you are in your right mind and did not simply imagine this 'source'? After all, we have your age and injury to consider," she went on, actually taking a step toward him and getting in his face, as if to intimidate.

Dumbledore continued to ignore her (and her cloying perfume), staring right at Fudge over her toad head. Umbridge fumed.

"Well, Minister? I am normally a patient man, but when it comes to the lives of children, I fear I am unable to rein in my rage at such displays of blatant lack of concern or care," Albus stated.

The curtains behind the Minister's desk caught fire and the candles around the room flickered violently. Umbridge gave a shriek as the others in the room gaped. Dumbledore paid none of it any mind.

"In my many years, I have been informed of the passing of many children, personally witnessed several deaths, and endured the worst of all — finding the young bodies of those I was too late to save. So, Minister, act as you see fit, and I . . . I will act as I see fit. I refuse to allow a petty man to take up any more of my time. Try to stop me and you will personally discover why it is said I am the only wizard Voldemort fears."

With that, he rotated on his heel and headed toward the door, even as the curtains crumbled to ash around the Minister. Fortunately, the fire did not spread and slowly went out as wax dripped onto the floor from the candleholders all over the room.

"W-wait, Du-Dumbledore!" Fudge cried.

Dumbledore paused at the door and glanced back.

"Take Madam Bones and some Aurors with you," Fudge relented, his voice wavering as he put his hand up to his temple with a frown.

"Why, thank you, Cornelius," Albus said, before continuing on as if he had just had a calm and normal conversation with the Minister.

.

.

.

"Well, that certainly explains a few things," Severus stated as Dumbledore sighed.

"I lost my temper."

"Any sane man would have, besides, if you hadn't, things may not have gone so well," Severus said, knowing Dumbledore was worrying that his head injury was partly to blame for his rather flamboyant reaction.

After a moment, Dumbledore nodded, deciding to just move on as he stilled and his eyes settled on Severus.

"You saw it, didn't you?" Severus asked after a long moment.

"Riddle's failed curse? Yes, though I admit I am having trouble believing what I saw. Are you truly alright?"

Severus nodded. "I believe so, though I don't understand how. There was barely any pain, and what little there was was more a mild irritation than anything else."

"No idea at all?"

"Part of me wants to say it may be his magic weakening, but there was still plenty of power behind his spell. I felt his magic surging through me, just under my skin, but it didn't hurt, and it certainly should have."

"Very strange. Well, just to be on the safe side, let's have Madam Pomfrey examine you."

"Of course," he said before Dumbledore called a house elf and asked them to notify Madam Pomfrey to come to his office.

A few minutes later, she arrived with a case of healing supplies.

"Madam Pomfrey, I am not injured," Severus stated, a little amused by her preparedness.

"I'll be the judge of that," she said, taking out her wand and waving it over him.

She paused.

"What is it, Poppy?" Dumbledore asked.

Pomfrey shook her head. "I'm not sure, but would you mind telling me exactly why you called me to examine Severus?"

"Forgive me. We wanted to make sure he is suffering no ill effects from Voldemort's failed spell," Dumbledore calmly explained.

"And that spell was . . .?" Pomfrey prompted.

" 'Crucio Maxima'," Dumbledore replied, though his voice no longer held complete calmness.

"Good Merlin!" Pomfrey exclaimed, immediately waving her wand again, this time casting a more precise and powerful diagnostic charm.

She stilled, frowning at her findings.

"Madam Pomfrey, would you care to share?" Severus asked after several seconds had ticked by.

"Oh, yes of course. I'm sorry; I'm just trying to make sense of this," she said. "There is evidence of the curse, a great deal, actually, but the nerve damage that I should be finding along with it isn't there, and that makes no sense considering how much curse residue is present."

"So something was preventing the curse from reaching the nerves? That would explain why there was very little pain," Severus mused.

"Here, let me see something," she said, motioning Severus to hold out his hand so she could do a more in depth scan.

Dumbledore and Severus watched her work, eager for her to explain what was going on.

"That's odd," she said.

"Your informative information is mindboggling," Severus nearly sneered, fatigue making him even more impatient.

Pomfrey ignored his sarcasm and looked up at them. "I'm detecting Harry's magical signature, and there's some kind of magical . . . coating covering all of your nerves. That must be what has stopped the curse from harming you. You are internally shielded."

Severus blinked, while Dumbledore's eyebrows rose.

"This protection blocked the Unforgivable? How is that possible?" Severus asked.

"I think the more important question to ask is how this protection got there," Albus stated.

O o O o O

Harry had not been too surprised when Madam Pomfrey told him soon after he woke that he was to go to Dumbledore's office to answer some questions. And so, entering the Headmaster's office, he felt ready for whatever the meeting entailed.

"Ah, Harry, good morning. Lemon Drop?" Dumbledore asked.

"Thank you, sir," Harry said, taking the sweet and sitting in the offered chair.

"The others will be with us shortly," the Headmaster said.

Madam Pomfrey was currently with the Creeveys in the infirmary but would come as soon as she could, but Professors Snape and Sprout were already on their way.

Dennis' family had arrived when Harry was leaving the infirmary, escorted by Professor McGonagall. It was a scene that would remain with Harry forever. The looks on their faces . . . it was indescribable. Harry knew it would be a blessed reunion, especially now that they knew Dennis had already been cured of Lycanthropy.

"How are your lessons going with Professor Sprout?" Dumbledore asked, deciding not to begin the discussion concerning the previous night just yet.

"Very good, sir. The Modus Cube has been very helpful; thanks again for it. I don't overpower my spells as much anymore and Professor Sprout says my control has improved a lot," Harry answered, understandably proud. "I think I might begin the protective aspect of Parselmagic soon."

"I'm glad you're finding it helpful, and I'm sure you'll grasp Protection, just as you have Healing, soon enough," Dumbledore assured before moving on. "How about your time assisting Madam Pomfrey? She briefly mentioned you are trying different things but didn't say much beyond that."

"Well, a few people have asked me if I can remove scars, so I've decided to shift my attention there. I can make fresh scars fade and sometimes completely disappear, like ones that are only a week or so old, but ones that are older, which I've tried to heal. . . . It doesn't work." Harry shrugged, a little frustrated.

"Hmm, why do you think that is?" Dumbledore asked.

"I think it's because I actually dissolve the scar tissue and use it to help the surrounding healthy tissue to 'fill in' the void. However, for older scars, the flesh around the scar has 'set'. I'm not sure how else to describe it. Anyway, because of that, I can't heal old scars, because as soon as I begin breaking down the scar tissue, there's nothing to take its place, so I stop. I doubt people want a hole in place of their scar."

The Headmaster nodded in agreement. "I see how that can be a problem."

"Do you . . . do you have any ideas that could help?" Harry asked.

Dumbledore scratched his chin. "The problem seems to lie in the fact that the healthy flesh surrounding the old scar has 'set' and is not longer malleable, correct?"

"Malleable?" Harry asked, not completely sure of the word.

"Flexible or able to be shaped."

Harry nodded. "Yeah. It's as if the healthy tissue has set a new boundary of where it should exist."

"Well, my only suggestion would be to remove the 'border', although that would likely entail some rather . . . unpleasant work," Dumbledore suggested.

Harry was quiet for a moment, thinking it over.

:His idea does have promise: Coral said. :In a way, it would be like working on a new scar if you did that.:

:But I would be cutting good tissue: Harry argued, before processing it further and nodding. :However, I would be able to heal the damage I have to do, and numbing the area is no problem. So it would be like you said — healing a new scar, which is easy once I get to that point. I would need to warn the person I'm healing what I'll have to do though:

Dumbledore listened but said nothing, letting Harry think it through on his own. It was then that Severus and Pomona entered.

"Good morning, Headmaster, Mr. Potter," Snape said, giving them an acknowledging nod before Sprout wished them good morning as well. The professors politely refused the lemon drops Albus offered.

"And how are you, Harry? Do you still have a headache?" Professor Sprout asked once they had all gotten settled.

"It's not too bad now," Harry said with a shrug, not sure of how to react to her concern.

"If it gets to become too much, let us know," Sprout said seriously.

Harry nodded, glancing at Professor Snape and the Headmaster, who both obviously shared her sentiment.

"Well, Harry," the Headmaster began, his tone alone telling Harry mild chitchat was over. "Am I right in assuming you experienced a vision last night, like you had this summer?"

"Yes, sir," he said, glancing at Professor Snape while recalling what he had witnessed.

"Could you tell us what you saw?" Dumbledore asked.

"Sure," he said, not quite understanding why they wanted to know, but figuring there had to be a reason. Perhaps they were concerned about how he was feeling about it? "The first thing I saw was Dennis being moved into the circle. I think the vision started there because of how excited Voldemort was just then."

Dumbledore and Snape nodded, agreeing with Harry's assessment.

Harry then continued, telling them how angry Voldemort had become when Professor Snape killed Nagini and the two people by the ward. Professor Sprout looked particularly sad while hearing Harry retell that part — as she did not like that Harry had been forced to witness it. He, however, frankly wasn't all that upset about it. From Greyback, he had accepted the harsh reality that sometimes mercy couldn't always be practiced.

Of course, seeing such a thing done was not the same as personally carrying it out.

Harry wondered if he would have been able to do what Professor Snape had if he had been in that situation. It was not exactly a pleasant thing to ponder on, but it was unavoidable.

A sudden knock at the door interrupted Harry's thoughts, prompting the Headmaster to beckon Madam Pomfrey in.

"I apologize for being late, but I felt the Creeveys needed some reassurance before I gave them some privacy," she said, coming in.

"No problem at all, Poppy. I trust all is well?" Dumbledore asked.

"Yes. Considering everything that boy has gone through, he is doing quite well, and now that his family is with him, I'm sure he'll be able to move past what's happened in time," Poppy said as she conjured a chair and took a seat. "Well now, what have I missed?"

Poppy of course knew what had happened at the ritual (she had been told the previous night), but didn't know the extent of its effect on Harry.

"Harry was telling us what he saw last night," Sprout supplied.

Dumbledore then gave a rough summation of Harry's dream thus far before giving him a nod to continue. With that, Harry went on and got to the part where Voldemort cast the powerful Cruciatus Curse on Professor Snape.

Harry understandably paused there, unable to stop himself from staring at the Potions Master.

"Voldemort was actually afraid when the spell didn't seem to do anything, sir," Harry said finally.

"He was afraid?" Professor Sprout asked, astonished (although she was already quite stunned about the crucio maxima).

Harry nodded. "It's the only time I've ever felt complete fear from him."

"Severus' resistance to the curse no doubt unnerved Voldemort, which should be of no surprise," Dumbledore pointed out before focusing on Harry. "But I think we all want to understand what caused this mysterious defense. If it could be harnessed. . . ."

Harry blinked as Coral shifted around his wrist.

:Do you think . . .?: she hissed very quietly.

"Harry, Madam Pomfrey examined Professor Snape soon after we arrived from answering questions at the Ministry last night, and she found traces of your magical signature coating his nerves," Dumbledore explained. "Do you know how that came to be?"

Harry bit his bottom lip, suddenly recalling the conversation he had had with his favorite professor after discovering White Magic without informing anyone. He was afraid to even look at Professor Snape just then, certain he would see disappointment.

He couldn't believe he had made the mistake again!

"Harry?" Professor Sprout asked, noticing his nervousness.

:Might as well just tell them: Coral advised. :They probably already have a theory that's pretty close to the truth anyway:

"It was last year, on Halloween," Harry finally spoke.

Dumbledore and the other adults' eyes widened, putting a few pieces to the puzzle together.

"When I was treating the Professor," he said with glance toward Snape, "I found curse residue and a thin magical . . . membrane covering his nerves, although there were tears and some of the nerves had been exposed and damaged," Harry explained. "I used my parselmagic to repair and strengthen the membrane."

"Extraordinary," Dumbledore whispered, thinking.

"The membrane was already there?" Snape asked, unable to keep all the surprise from his voice.

Harry frowned. "Yeah, shouldn't it have been?"

"No, Harry. From the cases I've studied from the Ministry, every patient they've extensively examined who has suffered from the Cruciatus has had nothing remotely like what you've described," Pomfrey explained.

"But what about the professor?" Harry asked, wondering why she hadn't discovered Snape's protection last year when he had come to the infirmary.

"The diagnostic charm I used last year wasn't powerful enough to detect it, and I had no reason to cast the more powerful spell," Pomfrey replied.

"Alright, but how did it get there in the first place?" Severus asked, wanting to move things along.

"If I'm not mistaken, it is due to how many times you have been exposed to the curse over the years," Dumbledore theorized solemnly.

"That would explain it," Pomfrey softly agreed.

"It does, but I am still astounded anything would be able to combat Voldemort's crucio, let alone one coupled with maxima," Sprout put in.

"It is rather astonishing," Dumbledore agreed.

"Um, sorry, but how much does a 'maxima' affect a spell?" Harry asked after a moment. "I mean, does it double the effects or what?"

Pomfrey and the other professors glanced at each other before looking to the Headmaster. How should they answer that? It was a valid question after all, and Harry, no matter how dark the truth, deserved to be told.

Dumbledore held back a sigh, knowing it was his responsibility to answer this question.

"Though I have reservations about informing you of this, I feel your question deserves a very precise answer . . . considering everything. I also admit this information may be beneficial in other ways," he said softly, his steely blue eyes meeting Harry's green.

Harry nodded slowly, now wondering if he wanted to be answered.

"The Longbottoms," Dumbledore began, "You know, were subjected to the Unforgivable, but what you do not know is that their current conditions were not brought about exactly the same way."

Pomfrey opened her mouth, no doubt about to question the wisdom of discussing the Longbottoms, but then decided against it.

"Alice Longbottom was subjected to the curse multiple times by four individuals for nearly half an hour, nonstop." Dumbledore's voice was void of any emotion, but the pain of stating the truth was evident in his eyes. "Frank Longbottom, however, was not. He received a single 'Crucio Maxima', held for nearly fifteen seconds."

Harry tried to stifle the sudden lump that rose in his throat, recalling how frail Mr. Longbottom had appeared in the bed, essentially comatose, while his wife aimlessly wandered the room.

"Wh—" Words failed him at first, but Harry managed after a heavy swallow. "Why did they do this?"

Dumbledore's eyes grew dark. "Soon after Voldemort fell, a number of Death Eaters went searching for answers. These four, Bartemius Crouch Jr. and the Lestranges, believed the Longbottoms knew what had happened to their master because they were greatly involved in the war."

Harry's eyes grew wide and couldn't help but ask, "Did they know?"

"Yes — but they didn't reveal anything. We know this because the Wizengamot questioned one of the Lestranges under Veritaserum. Even at the very end of their strength, the Longbottoms refused to even utter a sliver of any of their knowledge."

Harry bit his lip, trying to comprehend the sacrifice the Longbottoms had made, and all for a secret that was no longer a secret — The cause of Voldemort's fall.

Him.

Releasing a shuddering breath, Harry felt Professor Sprout's hand come to rest on his shoulder.

"They had more secrets that needed to be kept than your part in Voldemort's fall, Harry," Dumbledore stated, correctly assuming where Harry's thoughts had headed. "Their unwavering defiance in the face of such cruel pain protected and saved many people, not just you. Don't allow ill-placed guilt mar their sacrifice."

Harry grew still, knowing the Headmaster was right. It hadn't been his fault, but it was hard not to think, 'if it hadn't been for me, maybe they would still be here for Neville.' But then, even without Dumbledore's words, he knew such a thought was frankly idiotic. If not for him (or what had happened with him) Voldemort may have still been around for the past ten or so years, killing and hurting countless others. Also, how could he allow himself to be distracted by pointless guilt? He should be focusing on what to do. He should be doing everything he could to honor their sacrifice. Everything he could do to prevent what had happened to the Longbottoms from ever occurring again.

Filled with a new sense of resolve, Harry nodded his head, agreeing with Dumbledore as Sprout gave his shoulder a supportive squeeze.

"So, what shall we do now?" Madam Pomfrey asked once the poignant moment had passed.

"If I know Mr. Potter at all, I believe he may know," Professor Snape stated, causing Harry to look up and lock eyes with him.

Harry bit his lip for a second before giving a small nod and pulling up his sleeve to expose Coral. Dumbledore and the others looked on expectantly as Professor Snape stood held out his hand for Harry to take.

With Coral around his wrist, Harry's hand clasped Snape's and his parselmagic responded to his intent.

Harry stretched out his magic, images instantly coming to his mind's eye.

The membrane of protective magic blanketed the Professor's nerves and pockets of black curse residue lay scattered. The color of the residue caught Harry's attention, making him recall the residue he had seen the previous year had not been nearly as dark or dense, but his attention was quickly drawn elsewhere.

The layer of protection was barely damaged, bearing faint cracks here and there, but this was not the most astonishing thing. It was repairing itself. Slowly, extremely slowly, the defensive film was recovering.

It was remarkable.

"Harry?" Professor Sprout asked, making him pull back and blink up at the Potion Master's face.

"It's repairing itself," Harry managed.

"How much damage is there?" Pomfrey asked, her eyes widening at his words.

"Not a whole lot, but then, it's had a bit of time to recover," Harry answered.

"Albus, if this could be harnessed and, I don't know, turned into a vaccine of sorts . . ." Pomfrey said after collecting herself. This was huge, after all.

"Unfortunately, I honestly doubt this can be as easily bottled and distributed as White Magic," Severus stated. "However, there may be another way. Muggles can take living tissue from one individual and place it in another."

"Organ transplants," Pomfrey said with a nod, though a little unnerved by the seemingly random reference.

"Where are you going with this, Severus?" Dumbledore asked, confused but intrigued.

"I think 'transplanting' this membrane would be possible and could be comparable to bone marrow transplants in the muggle world."

Pomfrey and Harry slowly nodded, following Severus a bit more than Albus and Pomona were due to the research they had been doing to improve Harry's parselmagic and overall medical knowledge.

"Bone marrow transplants?" Dumbledore asked. He knew what bone marrow was, but had no idea what was unique to that sort of transplant.

"To put it simply, for a patient who needs healthy bone marrow (usually after undergoing an intense type of therapy), a healer or doctor will remove some healthy marrow from a donor and transplant it into the patient, whose body will move it into their bones where it will then promote and facilitate healthy growth of blood cells once again," Severus explained.

"Severus, I'm trying to follow you, but this is a bit beyond me," Pomona said apologetically.

"Forgive me. What I am saying is that I believe this membrane could be 'transplanted' and the result would be similar to how a bone marrow transplant works, as in, only a small donation would be needed for a 'patient' to eventually obtain the protection on their own."

"Because the transplanted membrane would 'take hold' and enable the patient's own body to finish constructing it?" Dumbledore asked.

Severus nodded. "Granted, this is just what I think."

"It certainly sounds possible," Pomfrey agreed as the others nodded in at least mild agreement.

"Mr. Potter, do you think you could copy this membrane and apply it to someone else, say . . . yourself?" Snape asked after a moment.

"I think so, Professor," Harry said.

"Severus, I'm not so sure that's a good idea. We've only just learned about its existence. What if it's unique to you because of your experiences?" Sprout questioned. "We have no idea of its full capabilities or if it would have any negative side effects if Harry placed it in himself, let alone anyone else."

"But it has some of my magic in it, professor," Harry softly argued.

"Yes, but tailored specifically to repair and strengthen Professor Snape's existing protection," Sprout said.

"I honestly see no reason why Mr. Potter could not tailor it to himself," Severus replied. "However, perhaps your caution is wise, though I do not think we should put off taking advantage of this."

"I'm simply saying we should not rush into anything," Sprout said gently.

"With the Dark Lord, we may not have the luxury of time. We must develop every advantage we have at our disposal as quickly and as best we can."

Dumbledore gave a thoughtful hum. "I agree . . . with Severus."

Harry, who had been looking back and forth between Snape and Sprout as they politely argued, glanced down at Coral, hoping for some advice.

:I'm in agreement with Professor Snape and the Headmaster: Coral said quietly. :Can never be too prepared:

Harry nodded, not about to refute that logic as Pomfrey and the others turned their attention back to him.

"I'd like to try," Harry said, mentally noting it was Sunday, so today may be the best time to attempt to apply the protection.

"Very well then, Harry. If Madam Pomfrey okay's it, you may try — here, if that's agreeable?" Dumbledore said, glancing at the mediwitch, though he spared a look at Sprout as well, who gave an accepting nod.

"I have no arguments, especially as the Creeveys are occupying the infirmary at the moment," Pomfrey said, standing up and transfiguring her chair into a recliner. "I have no problem monitoring him here and, I assume, now?"

Dumbledore gave a nod and stood as well.

Harry got up from his chair, which Sprout promptly vanished, and went to the simple recliner between Pomfrey and Snape. Dumbledore waved his wand and moved his desk back so Harry would have a bit more space, which was appreciated.

"Whenever you're ready, Harry," Dumbledore said, standing beside his desk as Sprout moved to the other side.

"Alright," Harry said, looking at Snape as Coral lifted her head up. "It should just take a moment for me to copy it from you and go from there, professor."

Severus nodded in understanding and once again held out his hand, which Harry took.

"I think I'll focus placing the membrane only over my left hand's nerves for now," Harry said. "Just in case."

"I was just about to suggest that," Pomfrey said with a smile as Harry set to work.

Harry soon got what he needed from Severus and quickly laid back, muttering parseltongue under his breath as Coral flicked her tongue over his wrist, magic coursing through her.

It was a little strange to use parselmagic on himself, as the majority of the time he only used it on others, but he felt confident in his abilities.

Taking what he had copied from Snape as a template, he focused on converting a bit of his magic into it and allowing it to trickle out and coat his nerves like a skin. He started at his palm, hoping the membrane would spread out and go to the tips of his fingers and to his wrist. It was hard work, and preventing the raw magic forming the membrane from shifting about was especially difficult. Despite that though, it was going well, or at least until he felt an odd tremor pulse out from his hand and to his entire frame.

:Harry!: Coral cried.

And that was the last thing Harry heard before he knew . . . something was about to go horrifyingly awry.

Time seemed to freeze as words said by Professor Snape nearly a year before echoed in his mind.

'Things can go wrong. . . .'

The words seemed to reverberate for a long moment before there was an obscure twist of something entirely insubstantial but unrelenting. His hand suddenly felt as if it was getting run over by a fat lead roller before the weight stretched out, encompassing his whole being, choking him. He felt unimaginable pressure squeezing him from all around, ten times worse than apparition and much more disorienting than traveling by portkey.

He couldn't breathe; it felt as if there was a massive cinderblock on his chest with his whale of a cousin sitting on top of it. He tried shoving the weight off with his arms, but it was no use, his arms refused to work together and he was certain they just flailed about.

He tried pushing out with his magic, to stop the unbearable crushing sensation, but it was as effective as using a finger to push open a vault door.

He blacked out.

O o O o O

They immediately knew something was wrong when Coral suddenly began hissing hysterically and Harry stiffened, his face scrunching up in what they could only assume was pain.

Severus' eyes shot to Pomfrey, who immediately began waving her wand over him.

"What's happening, Poppy? !" Sprout cried as Harry suddenly appeared to be struggling to breathe.

"I-I don't know, but the protection he had managed to make has collapsed."

Sprout gasped, her eyes widening in horrified understanding. "Like a castle . . ." she breathed.

"What?" Albus asked.

"He once told me the protective aspect of Parselmagic is like building a castle. He had said, 'If you build the walls wrong, it could fall in on you. You have to place the stones correctly'," she answered.

Severus muttered a curse, recalling what he had read in 'The Art of Parsel' and concluding Sprout was right.

"But this isn't . . ." Pomfrey began, about to argue that what Harry was trying to do was 'Healing' not 'Protection', but then suddenly realized. . . .

How could they have been so dumb?

However, before she could go off on an internal rant, Harry shot up, his eyes snapping open as he heaved in several breaths of air and groped for something to grab onto, Coral still around his wrist.

Sprout hurried forward, patting his back and helping him keep his balance. "Easy there, Harry, just focus on breathing."

:Coral?: he managed, feeling her tighten around his wrist.

:You were moving the magic too fast. The protection collapsed: Coral stated. :I'm sorry. I realized it too late:

:I felt like I was being smashed: he stated, now relying on Sprout to keep him upright.

:How do you feel now?:

:Sore and tired, but okay, I think:

:Might want to let the professors know then: Coral advised.

With that, Harry opened his eyes and looked up at the professors, who had edged closer around him, but not so much to actually crowd him.

"I'm alright. I just tried it too fast," Harry managed.

"I think there's more to it than that, Harry," Pomfrey said, lowering her wand when she found no permanent damage.

"What do you mean?" Harry asked, his breathing now under control.

"I think you've just attempted Protective Parselmagic."

Harry's eyes widened at that as Coral blinked.

:You know, Harry, I think she might be right:

O o O o O

Next part, Loss, is under construction.

A/N: Sorry it took a bit more time than usual to get this part out. I admit I had some serious-serious trouble writing the office scene, but fortunately it managed to come together . . . eventually.

Thanks again for all the reviews! They really help ^^

Also, thanks for letting me know ff-net was messing up and not showing this part.