Don't own it. Donation of the rights would be gleefully accepted. Or not. Again, what a hassle.
I keep getting overwhelming responses from you and we greatly appreciate it. For those interested, Mom is... reading Nora Robert's Hidden Star. Not much to report since yesterday, really.
Added note: I had prepped this chapter for posting and saved it to review later. A standard practice for me. I went to relax for a bit, and got a call from my husband. His doctor called him with additional test results. It seems that he had an extremely high blood sugar and was told to go straight to the ER. They have admitted him overnight to get it under control. Diabetes runs in his family, so we aren't really staggered by this even though we didn't know he had it. We're just... startled.
The next morning, Harry was enjoying his breakfast while listening to Hermione read excerpts from their Charms book. She was under the impression that it helped them prepare for tests. He didn't argue, as he was fairly certain that she was right. He remembered an old lecture about types of students from when he was in SOLDIER. And, Ron certainly seemed to be doing better.
His own grades didn't count, as a very accurate recall had been part of the enhancements he'd received as a SOLDIER. There was some debate as to whether or not SOLDIER memories were eidetic. Looking back at some of his men and, were he honest, himself... He was fairly certain that it wasn't.
He was just biting into a piece of bacon when an owl landed next to his plate and stole the slice right from his hand. He eyed the tiny beast. It hooted smugly and held out a letter. He frowned at it for a few more seconds, then realized that he was trying to stare down an owl. He sheepishly untied the missive.
It was short, but he'd come to expect Snape's abrupt style:
My office after dinner.
Harry looked up at the Head Table, and met the black eyes of his teacher. He gave a nod to convey understanding and acceptance, then returned to his meal.
The rest of the day passed swiftly. Most of the classes were reviews for the mid-term practice OWLs later in the week. Umbridge was seen stomping through the school, screeching about croaking doors and hooligans. Ron managed to somehow turn himself blue in Charms, but Flitwick fixed it rather quickly. Lunch and dinner were delicious, as usual, and he was delighted to find treacle tart in the selection of desserts.
All in all, it was a rather good day.
After dinner, he headed for Snape's office. A tap on the door had him invited in and he was soon settled in the surprisingly comfy leather chair. He did have to raise an eyebrow as the professor ordered tea from a House Elf. He certainly hadn't expected to be offered anything. Was he going to be here that long?
Snape, meanwhile, poured out and then settled back in his chair to take a sip. Harry picked his up, recognizing the taste of gunpowder tea from his memories. Not something he'd would have anticipated finding in Hogwarts. Deciding he'd waited long enough, he spoke. "Was there a reason I was summoned, Professor?"
Snape let out a sigh. "Well, Mister Potter. The Headmaster wants me to teach you Occlumency."
He cocked his head. "What is Occlumency?"
"When a wizard wants to learn the thoughts of another, he employs a discipline called 'Legilimency.' To counter that, the victim – as it were – uses Occlumency to protect his thoughts." Snape sipped his tea again. "Professor Dumbledore believes that it would be a good skill for you to have."
Sephiroth frowned. "And you do not?"
Snape chuckled. "Oh, I find it a very useful tool. However, I don't believe that I need to teach it to you. I've been trying to enter your mind for the last several minutes and – while you haven't noticed my assault – your shields are impressive. They haven't buckled at all."
"There is no need for lessons then."
"Yes, and no." Snape set his tea down and eyed him. "I do hope you will forgive my concern, but there is another issue we need to discuss."
Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. This didn't sound good. "I am listening."
Snape nodded. "Very well. It has come to my attention that you were a soldier in your past life?"
"I was." He felt blankness settle over his features. It wasn't deliberate, but the result of a lifetime maintaining privacy and reserve in front of nosy Shin-Ra executives. He'd only relaxed around his friends and – for all that they were now on cordial terms – Snape was not one of his close friends.
"Have you heard the term 'Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?'"
He blinked at the teacher. That was unexpected. "We called it Combat Syndrome, I believe. The SOLDIER's experiences on the battlefield manifested a variety of symptoms. Some were conducive to continued survival. Others were more anti-social and usually resulted in imprisonment or execution if their actions were violent enough."
Snape's eyebrows flew towards his hairline. "Execu..." He picked his tea up and took a fortifying swallow. "Well, I assume that no one suggested some form of therapy."
"There were drugs that could be prescribed." Sephiroth sipped his tea. "As they tended to make one suggestible and incapable of self-defense, most of us avoided them."
He wasn't sure what caused the look on Snape's face. There was no pity, he would have recognized that emotion and rejected it immediately. There was anger, sympathy, and a healthy dose of consternation. He watched all of that fade into resignation.
Snape forcibly unclenched his hand from around his tea cup. "How old were you when you were recruited?"
"The minimum age was normally fourteen, as it was the legal age of adulthood in most locations. I was 'permitted' to enlist earlier, as I was a project of the Science Department. I trained in warfare my entire life, but my first battle as a squad leader was when I was twelve. My first battle – at all – was against a pair of Ark Dragons when I was nine."
The cup shattered in Snape's hand. The teacher swiftly drew his wand, banished the spilled tea and glass, then mended the resultant cuts on his palm and fingers. "You are aware, I assume, of how most of the modern, civilized world views the conscription of children?"
"Yes, sir. That is why I haven't gone out of my way to broadcast the information." He allowed himself a bitter smile. He was starting to see where the professor was going with this conversation. "Though, it seems that I enlisted at birth in this life, as well."
"I am aware of," he grimaced, "our society's expectations of you. I find them unreasonable and foolish in the extreme. I am sorry to say that I believe Dumbledore has the same – or similar – expectations."
Sephiroth nodded. "Placing hope on the shoulders of one child is something that is doomed to failure – if the child doesn't buckle under the weight then he or she will likely be insufficiently experienced to complete the required tasks."
Snape paused in preparing a fresh cup of tea. "Did you buckle?"
Memories of screams, fire and blood raced through him. He didn't know that his already pale face whitened further. He didn't notice the way his hand was shaking, threatening to spill the tea in his cup. "Yes."
Snape's expression was unrelenting. He would have this conversation, and he would have it now. "Do you believe you will again?"
Faces of his victims, splattered with blood spilled by his sword. Images of Hogwarts painted macabre red. Umbridge's head sitting on a plate in the middle of the Head Table, an apple firmly wedged between her teeth. "It is likely."
"Will you permit me to help? Modern techniques tend to stress conversation over drugs or potions."
Sephiroth considered him for a few moments. There was concern lurking behind those eyes. He could see it clearly now that he knew to look. But could he trust him? Could he afford not to? No one else was offering to assist him, and he couldn't ask Genesis or Angeal. They were just as messed up as he was. "...Yes."
When he got back to the common room, Hermione was waiting for him. She was sitting in their customary area by the fire, flipping idly through a book of household spells. On one hand, the conversation with Snape left him feeling exposed and he wanted to hide somewhere to lick his wounds. On the other, she was usually a soothing presence these days. Since the hug on the floor at Grimmauld Place, he'd felt more comfortable with her than ever.
He settled next to her, glancing at the page over her shoulder. "Dishes?"
"Mmmm." She flipped to the next page. 'On Drawer Organization,' he noted. "There seem to be a dozen different spells for them and all of them are more complicated than picking up a rag and some soap."
He laughed. "Well, that's magic for you."
Hermione chuckled. "True. So, where have you been?"
"Professor Snape wanted to talk to me." He watched relief go through her expression and her shoulders relax. "Was therapy your idea?"
Hermione nodded, tucking a strand behind her ear.
"Why?" He knew there was a dozen ways she could interpret that question, but he meant all of them. So, whatever answer she came up with first would determine the thread of their conversation.
"I was afraid.." He felt a sharp hurt knife though him. He wouldn't harm her! "for you."
"Oh." The clenching in his chest eased. "Explain?"
She glanced at him, then let her arm brush his as a reassurance. "You were a soldier, Harry. You have nightmares and I've seen how you tense when people are behind you. You had to stop yourself from hurting Ron the other day, when he grabbed your shoulder and you weren't expecting it. I know how guilty you would have felt if you hadn't stopped in time.
"Most of all..." She wilted, but forced herself to speak: "Most of all, I don't know the exact statistics, but I know that the suicide rates are fairly high in war veterans."
He blinked at her, then sighed. "Hermione, I can honestly say that the last thing that would have occurred to me would be to kill myself." Everyone else, on the other hand... "Thank you, though. You were right in this case. Still, next time, talk to me about it? I don't like it when people do things for 'my own good.'"
She looked at him, uncertain. "Promise to at least listen when I do? And we can talk it out, instead of dismissing it out of hand?" He nodded, remembering the incident with the Firebolt and understanding why she hadn't expected him to listen. She smiled. "I will, then."
"So, what's so fascinating about drawer organization? Just move things around a bit and you'll find what you're looking for."
"Harry...!" He fought down the grin at her exasperation.
It was the end of the fourth year Potions class when his desk was approached by Luna Lovegood. He'd heard the other professors alternately rant and crow about her in their meetings, but she had – until this point – never given him reason to single her out. Now, she was waiting patiently with her hair tucked behind those radish earrings. Her bag was slung over her shoulder and he could see what looked like a Gurdyroot sticking out of one pocket.
He set down his quill. "Yes, Miss Lovegood?"
"Professor, you know that there are quite a few animals that next in hair. I can help you ward them off if you like."
He blinked. "Nest in... hair?"
"Oh, yes. The Trisbit is attracted to scalp oils because their skin is so dry, and the Drozzles eat the Trisbits." She nodded earnestly throughout her speech, radishes swinging.
Severus blinked at her and surreptitiously pinched his leg. Not dreaming. "I.. see. And how does one ward off these... pests?" He pinched his lips together, wondering if this was some childish prank. They would have never dared before. "Bathing, I presume?"
"Well, that's part of it, of course. But, my mother used..." She plopped her pack on the desk and opened it to start pulling things out. The gurdyroot, a half dozen quills, what looked like a feather from a Thestral, two curly straws and a trio of purplish marbles were deposited on the surface as she tried to find what she was looking for. He ignored the strange glow from the marbles.
Severus glanced over her shoulder to see half the Ravenclaws in her year. Their gazes were locked on the two of them, wide with abject terror. No doubt, they were anticipating the point deduction... Or a homicide.
She finally pulled out an amulet. "Here we are. Keeps critters away and even makes it so that potions, poisons and fumes have no effect when they hit the skin."
He blinked at her, then the amulet she held out to him. He took it, examining the worn lines. It was a small, gold oval – barely an inch across. Etched into the worn surface was an intricate runic array. He blinked. These hadn't been made in years, as the method had been lost. Potions masters fought for them, paid exorbitant amounts of money, so that they wouldn't have to use the potions he currently had slathered on his skin and hair. "I cannot accept this."
She gave a little smile and mischief sparkled in her eye. He was suddenly convinced, with absolute certainty, that she knew exactly what she was offering. "Well, you could borrow it. Just until you can make your own."
He started to refuse again, then remembered Harry's – Potter's, dammit, Potter's – ability to see magic. And, arts and crafts were supposed to be part of therapy. He thought he remembered that from somewhere. If the boy could learn to reproduce them, he'd also have a valuable skill that would keep him in money if he ever needed it.
Severus nodded. "Just borrowing. I shall return it as quickly as possible, Miss Lovegood."
She gave him a dazzling smile, gathered the assorted detritus from her bag and left the room. His glare sent the rest of the class scurrying after her.
Until the next scandal hit and the event was forgotten, the Ravenclaws treated Luna with a mix of shock, awe and fear. That girl was insane!
The office was dark, lit only by a lamp on the large wooden desk. The Prime Minister himself, John Major, was fuming behind it. He sent a request to speak with the Other Minister weeks ago, only to be ignored until he was getting ready to go home for the day today. Then, to add insult to injury, the man was late. It was nearly midnight!
When the rotund form of Minister Fudge finally stepped into his office, the PM was ready to throttle him. Even more so when he started acting like it was a friendly visit for tea. "Ah! Prime Minister. I hope all is well with you."
Major frowned. "Not at all, sir."
Fudge blinked, decided he must have misunderstood and carried on. "I understand that there is something your office needed? I certainly hope we can be of assistance. There are limits, of course, but I'm always happy to help another Minister."
Another Minister? Major took a deep breath to calm himself and straightened his glasses. He pulled several photographs of the unknown wizard from a folder on his desk. "You can explain this, for starters."
Fudge accepted the images with an air of joviality, perused them for a moment and flashed a smile. "I see. It must be some of your muggle fo-maturated pictures. I'm sure there's nothing to worry about."
Major's eyebrows raised. Fo-mat... "Do you mean photographic manipulation, by any chance?"
Fudge beamed. "Yes, that's it. Dashed clever you people are. The things you can do without magic are fascinating."
Major passed him another picture. This one of the corpses he'd left behind in the eatery. "I assure you, these are not manipulated. They are images captured from video which I have reviewed. It has been authenticated by two separate departments."
Fudge's smile slowly slipped from his face. "I see... Could I have the names of the people who witnessed this? For our records, of course."
"Of course." Major was not a fool. He'd seen enough in those images and in his previous dealings with Fudge to be wary of magic. "I actually have it right here. In the meantime, an explanation would be welcome."
"I'll have to look into it, of course. Might be all sorts of things, you know." Fudge took the list and pocketed it.
"Right." Major frowned at him.
Fudge moved to the fireplace, threw some powder in and said something. Moments later, his office was flooded with wizards.
The Prime Minister was tired. He'd been working late on a dozen different initiatives that he hoped to have in place shortly. The most important, of course, being a program for unwed mothers. He rolled his shoulders and leaned back in his chair.
Moments later, a group of MI-6 agents entered the room. "Prime Minister, please come with us."
He eyed them for a moment, then stood. Twenty minutes later, he was in a secure location. An hour later he was cursing vigorously as he watched his memories be wiped on the surveillance video from his office.
The MI-6 agent, she hadn't identified herself though he knew her as M, took a deep breath. "As we suspected. Every person whose name you gave to Fudge has lost their memories of the footage. Also, the memories of everyone in your office. They were force-fed an unknown drug to force them to recite their knowledge on the topic prior to the alteration."
An junior agent nearby snorted, gaining both their attention. He shifted sheepishly. "Sorry. I just still find it hard to believe that they are this stupid. How can they not know we're monitoring you just as closely – if not more – than that restaurant?"
Major shook his head. M coughed. "Well, logic doesn't seem to be their strong point."
Major nodded. "I want this handled, M. They're hiding something – something large – and I want to know what it is and how we stop it."
"Yes, Prime Minister."
Harry would never have thought of it, had he not regained his memories. He could freely admit that. Sephiroth had been trained to never, ever ignore a resource. The best resource in Hogwarts was ignored by everyone – staff and students alike. So, when he needed a place for 'his' students to meet, his first stop was the kitchens.
Ten minutes, a mug of chocolate and a dozen cookies later, he had instructions on how to find the Come and Go Room.
Now, watching the various students enter, he wondered if this was really the best idea any of them had ever had. These children would be targets for Umbridge, the Ministry and – eventually – Voldemort. A few deep breaths cleared his head and he reminded himself that many were already targets. Most of the students here were not pure-bloods. They had muggles in their immediate ancestry and were therefore on the hit list.
He glanced at Ron and Hermione, then looked over to where Genesis and Angeal were lounging on seats in the far corner. He let his gaze skip across the students and wondered how much of himself – the current self – he was losing as he relied more and more upon his memories. Was it worth it? To save them? Yes.
I will never be a memory...
He got them to attention and called them to order. "It has been suggested that we need a name for our study group. Are there any suggestions?"
Ideas flew back and forth and it was finally decided. They were the Defense Association. There was a call to vote for a leader, then. He had to fight the urge to point out that it was his job as teacher. At least the vote agreed with him.
He nodded to himself. It was time to address the troops. "Now, some of you are aware that I had a previous life. This has been certified by the Ministry, as much as we may hate to take their word on anything at the moment." He waited out the quiet laughs. "The one aspect of that which hasn't been mentioned to many, is that I was a General. This means that combat is my field of expertise."
Sephiroth ignored the surprised looks from the children. He needed to get through this introduction. "I have with me two – other than Ron and Hermione – that are going to help us learn. I know they aren't familiar to you, but I guarantee that you can trust them to help. They will not betray us.
"The dark haired man is Angeal Hewley. His specialty is physical combat. The gentleman in red is Genesis Rhapsodos. I'm sure you'll enjoy his..." Sephiroth let his lips twitch into a smirk. "...unique training methods."
He gestured to draw their gazes around the room. "Now, I'm sure you've noticed this strange oval. This, ladies and gentlemen, is called a track. It's used to practice running and increase endurance. The machines by the wall over there are used to train strength. Using both will train your bodies. The training of your bodies will make it so that you can cast longer without fatigue. You will be more able to survive a fight or escape one."
He watched, with amusement, several mouths snap closed. Questions answered, then. "Now, when running, you should have comfortable shoes with good support. If you don't know what this means, then ask a muggleborn later. We'll start that training next time. Today, we're going to start with a discussion of basic tactics."
He settled in a chair the room had provided and waited for them to find seats on the floor. "The first thing to do is assess your opponent's strength. You do not want to enter a fight that you cannot win. If he is stronger, or you are equal, then you need to escape. There is no honor in dying."
The Gryffindors balked, but he shook his head. "I know. But, if you are attacked by a Nundu, sticking around will only make you look like an idiot. Wouldn't you agree?"
At their reluctant nods, he continued. "If you are able to defeat him or unable to escape, your next question is whether or not you have to kill him. I know we live in a society that says killing is wrong. In most cases, that is correct. If you are, however, in unwilling fear of your life or willingly on a battlefield, then the rules change."
"If you can win without killing, then your first order of the day is to disarm your opponent. This can, for our purposes, be done with an Expelliarmus, literally with the use of a slicing hex or similar, or – finally – through physically overpowering them.
"Next is neutralization. We do not want that opponent to get back up until they are properly contained. For a single opponent, a stunner or conjured ropes will generally suffice. For multiple opponents, you may be forced to injure, as your opponent's allies can easily counter most of the standard containment spells."
He eyed them, noting the scandalized expressions on a few. "I'm sure you can see this is not for school-yard altercations. This is only if you are about to die. I cannot stress that enough. This isn't about getting one over on the local bully. This is to protect you and your families."
He waited for understanding to settle over their faces. "Now, here is the hardest part of what I'm going to tell you. When you have no choice, you are outnumbered and you are not sure you can win, it is better to kill than contain."
He held up a hand to stop the argument that was about to break out. "It takes added time to disarm and bind an opponent. If you are outmatched, it means that you are taking added care – expending energy – that you cannot afford to lose. You are hesitating, choosing spells that will not cause serious damage. They are not hesitating. They do not care if you die. In fact, they prefer that you do. This will give them the advantage."
He sighed. "It is at that point that you take the gloves off and make sure the other man dies first."
Susan Bones, frowning, spoke up as she tucked a strand of red hair behind an ear. "I hate to admit it, but what you just said sounds an awful lot like what my aunt told me."
Sephiroth nodded. "It's a sad reality. If you are in a life or death situation, you either have to choose to give up your life so that your attacker can win or you have to choose to live – by sacrificing his life for yours."
Susan's friend, Hannah Abbott, swallowed heavily. "But, killing? And, how? I mean, we don't know anything fatal."
Sephiroth cocked his head. "You don't? You haven't learned a cutting hex? You can't levitate a heavy object over someone's head? You can't banish sharp objects into someone? Killing is easy. It's when you realize that you are still alive that things become more difficult."
He let them sit in thoughtful silence for a few moments, then stood up and dusted his hands on his pants. "For today, now that I have sufficiently soured everyone's mood and hopefully given you food for thought, we're going to learn to disarm. So, let's pair up and practice our Expelliarmus."
Omake By Akasha Drake
We have a reviewer's Omake. For those who don't know, it's a story extra that is not considered an actual event. Think bloopers or outtakes. I asked to share this, as I know most reviewers don't read the other comments on FFN and I don't expect the people on AO3 to go gallivanting over there just to read them. Anyway, here it is.
I can see it now:
Susan Bones looked up at Severus Snape, and frowned. There was no reason for his hair to be so oily. And the style was all wrong for his face. With the lessened anger he showed to everyone, surely someone would...then she realized. Maybe everyone thought the same. So she carefully, slowly stepped up to the almost empty Head table in the Great Hall. "Professor Snape?"
Professor Snape looked warily at the slightly chubby Hufflepuff. After the events of today, he was unsure if he should be worried about this. "Yes, Miss Bones?" he asked softly, fingering his wand carefully.
"I was wondering if you'd like me to see if I can do something with your hair," Susan offered softly.
And in Dumbledore's office, the instruments that normally monitored Harry Potter, and the wards of Hogwarts, instead of cheerfully whistling began to harmonize a single song. "It's the End Of Te World As We Know It"
And where he was sitting with Hermione in the library, Sephiroth had the sudden impulse to sing softly, "And I feel fine" causing trepidation to fill the hearts of every Muggleborn in the room to recognize the song.
Again, not mine. Unedited. I just copied and pasted. All credit goes to Akasha Drake. I now return you to your regularly scheduled notes.
Of today's chapter, I'd say half of it – or more – came straight out of ideas inspired by my conversations with Gill. I think we all owe a big round of applause, yes?
That was a rather serious chapter, wasn't it? I'll try to bring some more humor in on the next one.
Conversation with Snape – Still rather reserved. I imagine that will fade with future discussion. But, at least he's accepted help. He sees it as a logical step if he doesn't want to commit homicide.
Conversation with Hermione – She didn't try to hide what she'd done. That, was the biggest thing that let him listen to her. She didn't back down or make excuses, just admitted it. (She did learn from their conversation at Grimmauld.) This made it easier for him to remain calm and actually listen. Equivocation is not something that he has any patience with.
Luna not only has her marbles, but they glow – Three guesses what they are and the first two don't count. The Lovegood family researches weird, strange and wonderful things while traveling the world in search of odd creatures. Is is any surprise that she might have Support Materia? Might not know what they are, but she has them.
Fudge, you idiot.- I didn't intend for that scene to play out that way. But, I was thinking about the Statute of Secrecy. Then, I asked myself: if I were as big an idiot as Fudge and I saw a massive breach of the Statute, what would I do?
Arguments over how easy Expelliarmus is – Well, at that point, our students were just glad he wasn't asking them to learn the AK. They were too distracted to think about how simple that spell is. And, he'd already given them incentive to learn it.
John Major – UK Prime Minister from 1990-1997. I don't know him. I know a name and a pic off of Wikipedia. No disrespect is intended in any way, shape or form.
Combat Syndrome – There have been quite a few euphemisms/names for PTSD over the years. I didn't find this on the list, so hopefully I made it up. Seriously, though, I needed something for them to call it in Midgar and I didn't want to go with Combat Fatigue or Shell Shock. If you want the full rundown on symptoms, you can Google PTSD and hit whatever website you wish. The NIMH site is decent for layman's reference, but the Wikipedia article is also pretty good and covers the evolution of diagnosis.