Disclaimer: These aren't my characters, Duh!

Where Do I Go From Here?

Chap. 18 No Other Choice

Harry lay curled up under the blanket and pointedly ignored the activity around him as Madam Pomfrey gathered her things together and started tucking them back into her black medical bag that was still sitting on the foot of the bed. Harry wasn't looking in his professor's direction, but he knew from the sounds of rustling parchment, that the man was most probably looking over the notes that the mediwitch had taken while examining Harry. It took mere moments for Madam Pomfrey to get her things organized, and as she slipped out of the curtained area, Professor Snape rose to follow her. On his way out, he stopped at the side of the bed.

"I'll be back in a few minutes. Madam Pomfrey and I need to discuss a few things regarding the results of her testing. I want you to stay here, understood?"

Snape waited until Harry gave a small, quick nod of his head in affirmation, before disappearing from view as he too stepped out of the curtained area.

It wasn't until he was sure he was alone that Harry dared to turn over and view the space at the side of the bed that the professor had just occupied. On one hand, he was glad that both Madam Pomfrey and Professor Snape left, because Harry needed a few minutes to let his embarrassment die down from having grabbed Snape's hand minutes before. But on the other hand, he knew they only left so that they could discuss him and whatever it was that Madam Pomfrey had written on that bit of parchment that Snape had been reading over. Just the thought of them talking about him, even if it was for his own good, was enough to get him a little angry.

Why must everything happen to me? Why am I such a freak?

Harry scrubbed his hands over his face, noticing the slight dampness of his eyes as he did so. He took a couple of deep breaths, feeling slightly overwhelmed with the turns his life had taken recently. It seemed as if everything he did was under scrutiny now, and all he really wanted was be just like any other student. Oh, how he wished he were still allowed to cut; at least then, Harry reckoned, he would be better able to deal with all the emotions that seemed to be battling within him for dominance at that moment.

Before he could sink any further into self-pity, Harry heard the click of Pomfrey's office door opening, and the sound of a single set of footsteps briskly making their way towards his bed. Quickly rubbing at his eyes to make sure there were no lingering signs of his previous tears, Harry took a few more deep breaths and did his best to hide the evidence of the fight he'd been having with his emotions.

Snape stepped back into the curtained area and paused when he saw Harry's reddened eyes, but decided not to comment on it, and Harry was relieved to be able to escape any questioning about it. A second later, the man paced back to the chair he had occupied earlier and sat down.

"Harry…," Severus began, and Harry immediately thought it must be bad news if his professor was calling him by his first name again. "Madam Pomfrey and I have reviewed the results of her examination, and although we were unable to deduce anything conclusive about the cause of your illness, we were both in agreement that something must be done beyond the mere simplicity of using anti-nausea potions. You have-"

"Hold on a second…," Harry interrupted. "What are you talking about? What's wrong with me?"

Snape gave a thin-lipped look of disapproval at being interrupted; however, he did choose to re-phrase things so that Harry could better understand.

"We don't know why you continue to experience such severe nausea, but we do both agree that we need to consider something more aggressive than simply using more potions to try to stop the vomiting."

"What do you mean 'more aggressive'?" Harry asked, still confused, but now also somewhat scared. "Why can't we just try a new potion or something?"

Severus seemed exasperated to Harry, like perhaps he was as upset about all of this as Harry was.

"The fact of the matter is, Harry, that you have lost more weight. Not much, granted, but considering how little you weighted the last time you were checked, it is of great concern. We have decided that we can't rely on potions alone anymore. The results of the testing Madam Pomfrey did to measure your magic reserves shows that they are extremely low, and we are not sure how much longer you magic can hold out before it expends itself totally. "

"Wait," Harry interrupted again, fear wrapped around each word "Are you telling me I'll lose my magic?"

Severus was quick to reassure him before the obvious panic could get any worse.

"No, Harry. You won't lose your magic. However, your situation is still quite serious. Let me explain it to you…" Severus took a moment to think about how he wanted to go about explaining it in such a way that Harry would understand, then with a sigh, he continued.

"Think of your magic like a muscle. Some people have stronger muscles than other people, and it is the same way with magic; some people have stronger magic than others. And you know that if you use a certain muscle too much, after a while, you will lose energy and that muscle will feel week. But after a long enough rest, that muscle will feel better and be strong again."

Harry gave a nod of understanding, and Severus continued on. "In a healthy wizard, if they were to use up too much of their magic at once, then they would feel weak, and would have trouble summoning enough of their magic to perform any spells. All they would have to do is rest their magic, avoid doing any spells, and after a few days, their magic levels will be restored."

"But I've not been doing any spells," Harry complained, "I haven't been able to cast a proper spell for days now."

Severus gave him a guarded look. "Do you not remember what I told you before? You've not been able to do any spells because the entirety of your magic is being spent on keeping you going, Harry. If it weren't for your magic, there is a very good chance you wouldn't even be alive right now."

Harry's eyes grew wide with understanding, and he asked, "So, what do I do? How do I fix it?"

With a sigh, Severus answered. "There is no easy fix, Harry. We don't even know what's causing it. All we do know is that the potions aren't helping, or at least not helping enough to make a difference. As I said before, we will have to treat this a bit more aggressively; and that means treating the root of the problem."

Harry gulped down the fear and panic that tried to make itself known, and asked, "And what is the 'root of the problem'?"

"Your low weight." Severus gave his answer very matter-of-factly, and after a pause, he went on. "Since we are unable to find any medical reason for your vomiting, Madam Pomfrey is convinced that it must be occurring due to a non-medical reason."

"Huh?…" Harry's face scrunched up in confusion. "What does that even mean?"

"Harry, I've asked once before, and I have to ask you again. And I want you to be honest with me…Are you making yourself throw up?"

"What?!" Harry could feel the sharp spike of disbelief and anger stab at him. "Of course not! I already told you that, and I wasn't lying!"

Severus held up his hand, palm out, as if calming a wild animal. "Alright, Harry. I believe you. But I want you to calm down so we can continue our talk."

Harry stared at the man's hand for a second, so mad he felt like biting it, but then he forcibly calmed himself down, and sat back on the bed, not having realized when he had stood up.

Once Severus was satisfied that Harry had calmed, he continued, "Regardless of the 'why' behind it, you are still not getting enough food into your system to sustain you. And if something is not done, then it is only a matter of time before your magic is stretched to its limit and simply gives out, at which point, you would likely die."

Harry's breath escaped him in a rush of air as the seriousness of the situation fully hit him, and he stared down at his hands, where they were resting in his lap. "So, what happens now?"

"Well," and again Severus sighed, which Harry decided did not bode well for him, "We have to get your weight up by any means possible."

Harry's eyes shot back to his professor's as he asked, "And what exactly does that mean?"

"Madam Pomfrey has decided that the best course of action is to monitor you while you eat to see if she can spot something I may be missing as to the cause of the nausea. "

Harry let out a deep breath of air. "Well, that doesn't sound so bad. You had me worried, you know."

When the professor didn't immediately respond, Harry dolefully asked, "there's more to it than that, isn't there?"

"Yes, there is. If you fail to keep your food down, it has been decided that a feeding tube might be in your best interest."

"What?!" Harry was standing again in the blink of an eye, and Severus discretely pulled out his wand, ready to spell the doors to the infirmary closed in case the child decided to run.

"You can't do that!" Harry's voice continued to rise alongside his mounting panic. "What gives you the right to make those kinds of decisions? I'm not doing it!"

Harry could tell that Professor Snape was upset by the thin line of the man's mouth and the way his jaw muscle clenched as he ground his teeth together in his attempt to control his anger. Harry knew he shouldn't have yelled at him like that, especially not after everything the man had done for him, but the truth of the matter was that he was scared, and with everything that had been happening the past week, his emotions were hard to control.

Apparently, Professor Snape thought the same thing about Harry and his emotional outburst, because Harry could tell that the man was making a concentrated effort to restrain himself from saying something scathing in return.

"Sit down." Although Severus had said it quite firmly, Harry knew the response to his behavior could have been much worse, and he reluctantly took his seat on the edge of the bed, his nervous energy keeping him from relaxing any further than that as he waited to see what else the man would say.

"I'm sorry, Harry, but you really have no choice in the matter." And Harry could detect a hint of something in Severus' voice that told him the man felt bad about it, too.

"But I don't understand," Harry argued, "How will a feeding tube be any different than just eating the regular way. If I'm throwing up, won't I just throw up the feeding tube stuff, too?"

"No," Severus answered. "The nutrients you would receive with a feeding tube are easier to digest, and can be delivered into your system at a consistent, slow rate that should be easier for you to keep down. And it has the advantage of us being able to control what nutrients you get, along with how many."

Severus paused, giving Harry a chance to voice any questions, but when the teen continued his new found silence, he continued.

"I know you don't like this decision, but we really didn't see that we had a choice in the matter. We tried doing things the easy way, and your condition has continued to worsen. "

"But what about school?" Harry was desperately trying to come up with something, anything, to convince them that a feeding tube was a bad idea. "It'll make me miss classes. "

"No, it won't. We can schedule the feedings around your classes. And if you're uncomfortable with others seeing the tube in place, we can spell your glamour to include the tubing so that no one else can see it."

"Wait…" Harry tried to puzzle out that last bit to himself. "What glamour? What are you talking about? I didn't put up a glamour. I can't do any spells, remember?"

And now Harry was sure he saw the corner of the man's mouth twitch up as if fighting a smile. "Surely you noticed that none of the other students have commented on your appearance since you came into my care."

Now that he thought about it, Harry realized that nobody had said anything to him about how he looked, not even his friends. In fact, even the things Ron and Hermione occasionally brought up were directly related to the information he had shared with them of his own volition. But even then, they really only knew about the things Harry directly told them about.

"Sir, who cast the glamour charm on me?" Even as he said it, he knew what the answer would be, so he was almost prepared for it when the man told him.

"I did. Was I incorrect for assuming you didn't want anyone else to find out how your summer went?"

"Oh, no Sir." Harry answered. "I'm glad you did it. But why did you do it? We haven't exactly been chums these last five years."

"I decided you had enough to be going on with, without having to worry about the other students harassing or ridiculing you."

"Oh…" Harry thought about it for a few seconds, and then asked, "If no one else can see it, then who else knows about what happened?"

"If you'll remember, Harry, you were never fully forthcoming when you were questioned on the events that took place, however, concerning the bits you have told us, only Madam Pomfrey, myself, and the Headmaster knows. Your Head of House has been informed of a few of the details of course, but only just enough that she won't question why one of her little lions is missing from his dormitory."

Well, that certainly cleared up a few things in Harry's opinion, and he felt a strong burst of warmth inside when he thought of how much his professor had done for him.

"Thank you, Sir"

Harry received a nod in return, and then his feeling of warmth changed to one of guilt, and he mumbled out an apology.

"I'm sorry for shouting at you earlier. I was just really upset and-"

But then Severus cut him off, "I know you were upset, and you have every right to be. Just remember that, in future, anger is no excuse for disrespect."

"Yes, Sir."

With that matter taken care of, Severus resumed his earlier discussion.

"Madam Pomfrey is currently setting up a room in the back, next to her office. She thought you would prefer a little more privacy than what would be afforded you here in the main section of the hospital wing. In a few moments, we will be going into the back room, where she will order you a plate of food from the kitchens since you didn't keep down your breakfast this morning, nor did you eat dinner last night. "

He waited for Harry to nod in affirmation before he continued.

"We will skip on the usual potions that have been accompanying your meals; however, I will have a new one set aside that is stronger than the typical stomach soothing potion. If you feel that you are about to vomit, I want you tell me so that I can dose you. Understood?"

Harry was trying hard not to let the anxiety concerning it all overwhelm him, so he merely nodded his head again and watched as his professor slipped past the curtains to see if the room was ready for him yet.

Professor Snape returned moments later. "She's ready for you."

"Alright." Harry answered, looking around for the clothes he had come in with so he could change out of the hospital gown he was still wearing.

As soon as Severus understood what the child was looking for, he spoke up, "Your clothes are awaiting you in the new room; however, Madam Pomfrey would like you to wear the gown for now. That way, if you get sick again, you won't have to worry about soiling your clothes."

"Oh." Harry felt his cheeks heat as he realized he would have to walk down the entire wing with nothing on but the short, thin gown. Even though there were no other students lurking about, the idea of it still made him feel uncomfortable.

Snatching the blanket off the bed, he threw it over his shoulders and wrapped the sides of it over his form.

"Alright. I'm ready now" Harry announced. And in a show of bravado, he shuffled past Severus, and went around the curtains that had been hiding his bed from view. Even without looking, he could feel the man's eyes on him as Severus followed him to the back corner of the wing. And there he stopped, not sure of what to do next.

Severus reached out to the grasp the handle of a door that Harry had always assumed was a storage room. But when the door swung open, Harry could see it was indeed a small private room. Harry decided that it must be there for the professors to use. But after he stepped inside, he changed his mind about what the room was used for; because once inside, he could see that there wasn't much in the room at all.

There was a bed placed almost in the center of the room, and against one of the walls was a small wooden table with two chairs placed at either end of it. There was also a small window on one wall that let in plenty of light but was set too high for anyone to actually be able to look out of. Lastly, there was a large mirror, opposite the window, that happened to be hanging on the same wall that was shared by Madam Pomfrey's office. Harry had the sinking feeling that if he were in her office right now, he would find a window that looked into this very room.

Seeing all of this, he couldn't force his feet to carry him the rest of the way into the room. Severus had to grasp his arm and gently pull him the rest of the way before shutting the door. His professor led him all the way to the table, and upon seeing that Harry just continued to stand there, he removed the blanket from Harry's shoulders, and motioned for him to take a seat. As soon as the boy had sat down, he cast a warming charm on the blanket and then re-arranged the fabric to better drape around the thin shoulders. Harry hadn't quite realized how cold he had gotten until the heat soaked into his body, and his previously unknown shivering melted away.

He looked up with a smile of gratitude, but he noticed that his professor wasn't even looking his way. The man had turned his attention over to the door, which had just opened to admit Madam Pomfrey carrying a tray with a plate of food and a glass of pumpkin juice on it.

She briskly set it on the table, and then gave Harry's arm a reassuring pat. "Just eat what you can, dear. If your stomach begins to cramp, or if you feel nauseous in any way, I want you to alert Professor Snape immediately."

All Harry could do was nod his head at her. He already felt so anxious that he wasn't sure he would be able to eat anything, but he decided he should at least try. With no small amount of trepidation, he reached for the piece of toast. Experience over the years had told him that it would be the safest choice to start with. As he nibbled at the corner of the bread, Professor Snape took the chair opposite his and pulled out a rolled up copy of The Daily Prophet from within his robe pocket. As he flicked the paper open and started to read, Harry felt a little of his anxiety leave him now that he knew he wouldn't be stared at while he ate.

Harry managed the toast alright, even though his stomach was aching the entire time. But dry toast was hard to choke down, even at the best of times, and Harry grabbed up his pumpkin juice to wash it all down. And therein lay his mistake. After a few refreshing gulps of the cold liquid, his stomach seemed to cramp up all at once, and he jerked up out of his seat, frantically looking for a garbage bin or something that he could use for what he knew was coming.

Severus was out of his seat just as quickly though, and stepping over the blanket that had fallen from Harry's shoulders, he stooped down to where the boy had bent down to the floor, his eyes and mouth watering, and his throat working in an effort of delaying the inevitable.

Severus used one arm to hoist the thin body up some, enough so that with his free hand he could prop the lip of a potions vial to the boy's lips.

"Harry, I need you to take this potion."

But the boy's eyes were closed, and he shook his head in refusal.

By now, Madam Pomfrey had made it back into the room carrying a small waste bin.

"You must, Harry. Take the potion. It will help."

Harry struggled out an answer. "No, it wo-"

But before the sentence could be completed, the small amount he had eaten came rushing out, even before madam Pomfrey could get the bin under him all the way, and vomit splattered on the floor and onto his arms as he frantically grabbed at the bin to bring it close enough to catch the rest as he heaved and heaved.

Madam Pomfrey looked on with a grimace of regret for the boy, as Professor Snape took a few steps back to avoid the small puddle of sick that had almost hit his shoes a moment before. The two shared a look, unbeknownst to Harry, and with a nod, Madam Pomfrey left the room to make the necessary arrangements.

When the cramps finally stopped, and Harry's stomach stopped feeling as if it was trying to turn inside out, he feebly tried to get up from his stooped over position on the floor. Seeing the boy struggle to rise, Professor Snape reached down, grabbed the boy near his elbow and helped to lift him up and then led him over to the bed.

Harry tried to sink down onto the soft bedding, his body weakened by this latest ordeal, but his professor stopped his decent with the still present hand on his elbow.

"Just a moment more, and you can rest."

Confused, Harry looked up, only to see the man pull his wand and aim it at Harry's chest. Before he had time to worry about what the man was doing, Severus had already murmured a spell, and Harry watched as the bits of vomit clinging to his clothes seemed to evaporate into thin air.

With a sigh of relief, Harry thanked the man and then laid down.


Harry must not have realized how tired he was, because the next thing he knew, he was awakened by the sound of men's voices softly discussing something from the other side of the closed door. Taking a look around, Harry could tell that at least a few hours had passed, according to how the stream of light was now coming through the window at a completely new angle. As his eyes took in his surroundings, he noticed that the mess he had made on the floor had been completely cleaned up, and the tray that had been sitting on the table was gone as well. Lastly, he glanced down at himself, and noticed that someone had tucked him into bed properly, and a testing wiggle of his toes proved that they had removed his shoes as well.

And as odd as all of that was, Harry couldn't help but to think it was even odder that it was probably Professor Snape who had done it.

Glancing around, Harry noticed his glasses on the small table where his breakfast tray had originally sat, but felt too comfortable and warm to bother getting up to retrieve them. It suddenly occurred to him that the voices that had first awakened him had now stopped, and he turned his head in the direction of the door as he heard it start to open.

He had expected Professor Snape, but the man who entered was someone different. The stranger noticed Harry squinting his eyes at him, and after a quick scan of the room, he located Harry's glasses and handed them to him with a, "Here you go, lad."

Harry slid his glasses into place and was finally able to get a good look at the newcomer. This man seemed much older than Snape, judging by his grey hair, and Harry could see that he had kind looking blue eyes behind his brown framed glasses. He was carrying a very non-magical looking medical bag, but what struck Harry as odd was the fact that the man didn't wear wizarding robes over his clothes, but rather, he was wearing what looked like a white lab coat.

It was at this point that Severus and Madam Pomfrey made their way into the room as well; and as they closed the door behind them, Harry felt a jolt of nervousness rush through him. The mediwitch decided she should be the one to make the introductions.

"Harry, I would like you to meet a friend of mine. His name is Dr. Stiner and I've asked him here to help today because, well, frankly, dear, the procedure we'll be doing is much more common among muggles, and that is his expertise." And with a smile, she allowed Dr. Stiner to speak at last.

"Hello, Harry." The man was smiling and held out his hand for Harry to shake, and Harry almost refused to do so, knowing why the man was there and already resenting him for it. But Harry shook his hand regardless.

"As Madam Pomfrey has said, I am a friend of hers. And she says my expertise is muggle medicine, but that is because I am a squib, so I have a medical practice that treats muggles. Therefore, I know all about magic, but you won't see me doing any. Alright?"

The man didn't really seem to be expecting a response because a second later, he was talking again.

"As she said, my name is Dr. Stiner, but many of my patients just call me Dr. Will, so you just call me whatever you're comfortable with."

Even though the man was smiling brightly at him, Harry still couldn't bring himself to say anything, so he remained silent. Harry watched as the man looked over his shoulder at Madam Pomfrey and gave her a little nod, and with that she left the room. Harry thought it odd, but before he could ask what was going on, Dr. Stiner pulled one of the wooden chairs over to the side of Harry's bed and had sat down, placing his medical bag on the floor at his feet before addressing Harry again.

"I understand that Professor Snape has already spoken to you about what we'll be doing?"

At this, Harry looked over the man's shoulder to where Snape was standing, and the professor must have read the need in Harry's eyes, because a second later, the man paced over to the opposite side of the bed from the doctor, bringing the only other empty chair along with him, and he sat down near the head of the bed. Feeling a little reassured, Harry finally answered the man.

"Yes, Sir. He told me I had to have a feeding tube if I threw up again."

"Alright," the doctor answered, "well, first-"

"But I don't want one," Harry blurted out. It somehow felt important to him that the man know how he felt about this situation.

"I understand how you feel son, but it needs to be done."

Starting to get upset and even more nervous now, Harry rudely mumbled out, "I'm not your son."

Professor Snape had opened his mouth to chastise Harry for his rudeness, but the doctor held his hand up to halt him before he could say anything, and then turned his focus back to Harry.

"Alright, Harry." The man tried to pat Harry's leg in what he assumed would be a calming gesture, but Harry jerked his leg to the side so that the man's hand only landed on the rumpled blanket. He slowly slid his hand back into his lap and addressed Harry again.

"Harry, I know you're scared-"

"I'm not scared!" Harry couldn't help but raise his voice. His emotions were starting to get the better of him again.

"Alright, you're not scared. But I'm sure you must be feeling at least a little nervous; I know I would be if I were in your shoes."

Harry didn't protest again, so the man went one.

"It's alright to be nervous. You can even be scared if you want to be. No one here will think any less of you for it, I assure you. I know you've had a rough time of things lately, but I am hopeful that this will be the first step in your recovery."

Harry couldn't help but scowl a little. The way the man talked, he was making it all sound like the things that had happened to him was a big deal, like something terrible had happened to him if he needed to 'recover'. But as far as Harry was concerned, it was just more of the same old crap he'd always had to deal with, only this time, he didn't hide it well enough, and people found out.

Harry was suddenly shocked out of his depressing thoughts when the half of the bed his upper body was laying on began to move upward until the mattress was bent in the middle at an angle that made it just right for Harry to lean against, almost as if the bed had turned into a large comfortable chair. He looked around for the cause and turned just in time to see Severus slide his wand back into his sleeve.

"Thank you, Professor," Dr. Stiner said. "Would you mind letting Poppy know I'm ready?"

Severus stood to make his way to the door, but as Harry realized what was soon to happen, he had to confess to himself that he was more than scared; he was terrified. And he didn't want to be left alone with Dr. Stiner. He started to leap out of bed to follow, but Snape stopped him before he could get more than a single leg out of the bed.

"Harry, I'll be back in just a moment. I want you to wait here for me. Will you do that?"

After a few seconds pause, Harry reluctantly nodded and slowly pulled his leg back under the covers as Severus left the room.

"Your professor and Madam Pomfrey will be bringing in the supplies we'll need in order to place the feeding tube, Harry. I raised the bed to make it a little easier to do, and we'll need to keep it raised until your stomach empties of the nutrient mix we'll be using."

Dr. Stiner rummaged about in his medical bag before pulling out a silver colored can with a very plain looking label on it. Showing it to Harry, he said, "This is what will go into the feeding tube. It is a thin liquid, so it shouldn't sit too heavy in your stomach, but it is full of the vitamins, minerals, and calories you'll need to start putting some weight back on."

The door opened again, and Professor Snape returned, along with Madam Pomfrey, who was carrying a tray stacked with various things that Harry couldn't identify from where he sat on the bed. He watched as the Mediwitch began to organize the items on the small table across from his bed as Dr. Stiner continued to explain the process; however, Harry was only half listening. He kept turning his gaze over to the table to see what was on it. Dr. Stiner must have asked Professor Snape to talk to him instead, because a couple minutes later, Snape slid his chair directly into Harry's line of sight and took over the explanation as soon as he had captured Harry's attention.

"Harry, it is very important that when he starts to put the tube in, you stay calm and relaxed, and try not to move. When you feel the tube at the back of your throat, you'll need to start sipping the water. Just keep swallowing the water until the tube is in place. And if you feel like you need a small break and want him to stop for a few moments, I want you to raise your hand. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Good," Snape answered him pragmatically. "Now, do you have any questions?"

"Why do I have to do this," Harry began to whine. He knew he was old enough to know better, but he couldn't help the last minute plea for them to change their mind. "Please, let me try to eat something else. I'll try harder. I won't throw up again, I promise. Let me at least try!"

With a sigh of exasperation, Severus answered him as out of the corner of his eye, he could see Dr. Stiner and Madam Pomfrey start to carry the small table laden with supplies over to the side of Harry's bed.

"Harry, you know good and well that you cannot stop yourself from throwing up merely through will power."

"But-" Harry began, but Severus spoke over him.

" 'But' nothing. This is going to happen, and you're going to be brave like a proper Gryffindor and meet this challenge head on."

"But I'm not brave, and I don't want to do this. Can't we at least put it off until tomorrow, maybe?"

With a clunk, the table was positioned into place, Madam Pomfrey left the room, and Dr. Stiner started to put on some rubber gloves. Severus could see the mounting panic and, again, tried to calm him.

"Harry, I'll be here while he does it. You won't be alone."

"I won't?" Severus could hear the young child-like frailty in the voice, and against all his better judgment, found himself offering his hand to Harry, who as soon as he saw it, snatched hold of it and squeezed. All indecision on whether it was right to have offered his hand like that melted away as a noticeable amount of tension slowly bled away from Harry's body.

"Alright, then," Dr. Stiner announced, "Let's get started. Harry, here's your cup of water. I've already put a straw in it for you. It'll be your job to hold that cup, and when you feel the tube at the back of your throat, sip the water through the straw."

He held it out for Harry to take, and as soon as he did, he went about deciding which nostril to place the tube in. He came to a decision and then turned around to open the package of tubing he would use.

Severus felt Harry squeeze his hand even harder as the doctor turned back around with the tubing in hand. As Dr. Stiner brought the tubing close to Harry's face he flinched hard.

"I'm only putting a measurement on the tubing, Harry."

This time, Harry didn't flinch away as the man held the tubing to the side of Harry's face and then, again, to Harry's chest, making a measurement on the tubing with a permanent marker he had in his pocket. He then grabbed a towel that had been sitting with the rest of the supplies and spread it over Harry's chest.

The next thing he knew, the man was rearranging Harry's pillow until it was tucked under Harry's head in such a way that his chin was practically touching his chest. It was a slightly uncomfortable position, and when Harry reached for the pillow to move it, Snape grabbed his hand and lowered it.

"No Harry. He put it that way on purpose."

With trepidation, Harry strained trying to see what Dr. Stiner was doing. The man was now coating the end of the tube with some shiny looking gel. When he was done, he turned back to face Harry.

"Everything's ready. Harry, I've coated the end of the tubing with some special lubrication that will help numb you as we go so it shouldn't be too uncomfortable. Now, try to stay still for me."

But as the man's hand drew nearer to his face, Harry again flinched away.

"Harry," Dr. Stiner stated, "it's really important that you be still. If you jump around too much, it will be harder to put the tube in correctly. Understand?"

"Yeah." Harry answered in a very high pitched voice that spoke volumes to the Potions Master. The boy was well and truly terrified. He sat Harry's water in the boy's lap, in the crook of his legs where it would be least likely to spill, but still be close enough to grab when it was needed. Then he grabbed Harry's other hand in his free one and motioned with his head for Dr. Stiner to try again.

As the hand approached again, Harry slammed his eyes shut so he wouldn't have to watch. He even managed not to jump at the first small touch to the skin right under his nose. As he felt the weird sensation of something pushing its way in, he was glad to note that it didn't really hurt, but still, he could feel the thing sliding in, pushing its way through, and he suddenly couldn't stay still. The sensation was so foreign and wrong that he wanted desperately for it to stop. He tried to reach up to jerk a hand up to yank the invading thing out, but Snape had both of his hands clasped tightly within his own and he wouldn't let go, no matter how much Harry tugged.

"Stop! I want you to stop!" As Harry yelled, he kicked at Dr. Stiner, knocking one of the man's arms away from him, and in the process, spilling the cup of water that had been in Harry's lap all over the bed.

To Dr. Stiner's credit, the man stayed calm, and even as Harry started to thrash his head a bit, he was able to keep a hand on the tubing at all times, preventing Harry from pulling it out again.

"Harry," the doctor tried several times to get the boy's attention. "HARRY!"

Harry stilled, but his harsh panting still sounded loud in the room.

"Harry, you're halfway there. All you have left to do is swallow some water as it goes the rest of the way. Can you do that for me?"

"I spilled my water, anyways. So, that means we have to stop."

"Harry," Severus spoke gently and low to him, and Harry found himself calming just from hearing the soothing tone. "Remember when I told you that you could take a small break if you needed to and we would wait until you were ready again to finish?"

"Yes, Sir."

"This is your break Harry. We'll give you a couple minutes to get relaxed again, but then we'll need to finish, alright?"

"Yes, Sir. But I'm all wet."

"I know, Harry, I'll fix that in just a moment. But first you have to promise me that if I let go of your hands, that you won't pull out the tube."

A few seconds went by as Harry obviously struggled with the decision, but finally he muttered out, "I promise."

Severus slowly opened his hands, as if ready to snatch Harry's hands again if the boy made the move to yank out the tube.

With his hands free, Severus made quick work of drying Harry and the bed and refilling the cup of water for Harry. He helped guide Harry's slouched down body back to where he was supposed to be on the bed and then took one of Harry's hands into his own again. The other hand, he pulled over to where the cup of water was, and Harry grabbed it in a firm grip as if to steel himself for what was to come.

"Are we ready to try again?" Dr. Stiner asked.

Harry raised the cup up and placed the straw between his lips by way of an answer, and Severus felt the need to tell Harry, "Good. I'm proud of you."

Harry's eyes shot to meet Severus', and the man could instantly tell that it was something the boy had rarely, if ever, heard. Then the boy took a deep breath, mumbled out "I'm ready" from around the straw, and then closed his eyes as he started sipping the water.

Dr. Stiner started pushing the tube the rest of the way down, and despite Harry gagging a little during that part of it, moments later it was done and over with.

As soon as Severus took the cup out of Harry's hand so that the doctor could put it on the table, Harry raised that hand to swipe away the tears that had been brought about when his eyes had watered. Dr. Stiner had explained that it was a natural occurrence for that to happen when someone got a feeding tube placed; the eyes watered in response to the gagging sensation. So, Harry didn't feel too self-conscious about it.

The doctor made quick work of checking to make sure the tube was in right with his stethoscope, and then he attached the tubing to a bag filled with the nutrient mix, which was then hung on a pole that extended upright from the framing at the head of the bed.

All in all, Harry decided it wasn't as bad as he thought it would be, but it sure wasn't as easy as the doctor had implied it would be either. Harry scratched at the tape securing the tube to his cheek as he watched Professor Snape help Dr. Stiner gather his supplies. Moments later, they shook hands, and then the doctor was gone after a quick wave good bye to Harry as well. Truthfully, Harry would prefer to never see Dr. Stiner again. Yes, he had been nice, but Harry didn't think he'd ever be able to look at the man again without remembering this experience, and all in all, he would much rather pretend it had never happened.