Disclaimer: I own nothing except the plot. All characters, spells and anything else recognisable are the property of J.K. Rowling.
It wasn't a well known fact, indeed most considered it just another fable passed on to each successive generation of Hogwarts students. But there was some truth to it - well barely any - but some nonetheless. No it wasn't the ghost of a dead student killed on the first day of Hogwarts, which was why he always haunted the school that time. No it wasn't Peeves in his "true form", a complete antithesis to his regular self as he offered assistance to the newly arrived first years, only to return to terrorising them the next day. And no, it was not some conspiracy by the professors to extract information about the new students.
All these different theories had one Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of the most Prestigious Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry terribly amused, as he heard the legends associated with himself. He couldn't help but wonder, as he drifted down another corridor, what would happen should the students realise that the mysterious figure of their gossiping was none other than him.
It had been a habit started back in his days as Transfigurations Professor when he had stumbled across a homesick first year in the corridor leading to the Ravenclaw Tower. He had meant to offer her nothing but comfort and perhaps a not quite allowed floo call home to her parents. But instead the poor child had been most terrified of him, some older student having filled her head with nonsense about being expelled for getting caught outside out of curfew. The poor dear did not even consider that none would be mad at her for getting lost after having a good cry in the Astronomy Tower. Not that she was supposed to be there anyway, but that was a different matter entirely.
It was that night that the now headmaster had come up with an alternative appearance, putting his magical prowess to test by constructing an elaborate glamour on himself that altered his appearance so that he looked no older than sixteen at most. Staring in the mirror he had been pleased with himself. His then brown beard was gone, his hair now waving past his collar. His eyes remained the same though, their twinkling blue gaze unchangeable, but overall, he was quite certain that his resemblance to his older self was not as obvious.
The next time he had adopted the glamour was the following year and while on a patrol one night, he found that it was useful. The lost boy quite willingly confided in whom he believed was a prefect, telling him all of the bullying his dorm mates were already subjecting him to even though it was only the third day. Albus had taken careful note of it and had nipped the matter in the bud shortly after that. The rumours towards his altered form generated over the years as more than once students he had aided tried to seek him out for thanks only to realise that there was no person who matched the description they provided of him. In those days, he was seen as a friendly helper, but now it seemed that the modern generation considered him more fiend than friend. It bothered him not in the least. As long as he could continue to patrol the halls and give any melancholy student reassurance, he was fine with the rumours, no matter how outlandish.
Albus, disguised once again, was taking one last walk through the castle before he retired for the night. It was nearing one in the morning and he had not encountered any student, troubled or otherwise for the last hour. Most of them had paid him little heed, only one seemingly matched him with the rumours of the school but she had done little other than gape when he waved to her and in a friendly tone informed her that the headmaster was patrolling and she would probably not want to lose points in the first week. As the third year scampered off, he had little doubt that at breakfast, he would be the talk of discussion once again. Well, he thought with a grimace, at least that would take the attention away from Harry Potter.
The poor boy had been plagued since his arrival at the school less than five days before. The child was painfully shy, that much had been obvious to Albus from the moment the tiny first years followed his deputy in a procession through the Great Hall on September 1st. The boy had been all but hiding behind a redheaded boy (the last Weasley son, he idly noted) and unlike the rest did not look around with awe filled eyes but instead focussed solely on his feet, moving only once to push the bridge of rather hideous glasses further up his nose.
He was a far-cry from his parents, Albus noted, remembering the smirking James Potter and the radiant Lily Evans, both of whom seemed to draw all eyes towards them, even in their first year. Was it any wonder that when they finally overcame the animosity between them that they became not only the best Head Boy and Head Girl the school had ever had but more importantly the couple who had borne the child that had brought peace to the world, even at the cost of their own lives?
He, like all others, had been curious when the boy's name was called from the role and he hesitantly stepped forward, almost tripping over himself as he climbed the steps to the platform, the hat flopping down to cover his head almost to his nose when it rested on him. His sorting had been one of the longest to date, Albus had noted as it had taken almost five minutes for the hat to declare him Gryffindor. The roar from the red and gold house was tremendous, startling the boy immensely. But then it had to be hard for a shy child like him, having grown up in the comfort of the muggle world to be bombarded by people who had been raised speaking highly of his name.
The attention had been nerve wrecking on the boy, Albus recalled. He had cast several glances to him during the meal and noticed that the boy ate sparingly and had not even glanced at the dessert trays that circulated. Surely he would gorge himself on sweets like the rest? But no, he had sat quietly until the meal was through before following the prefect responsible for leading them to Gryffindor Tower.
The gossip surrounding the boy had started the next day when it became obvious to all that the hero they had expected was little more than a fantasy. Harry Potter was, quite frankly, a disappointment. Not only did he not remember anything surrounding his defeat of Voldemort, he was shy. What hero was shy to the point that he retreated when approached? What saviour refused to socialise, instead hiding away in a corner with his text book (even though it was only to prevent a repeat of his humiliation in Potions class)? No, a true hero would have put Snape in his place, at least that was the opinions of the students.
The staff was more generous. The gossip around the teachers lounge was that the boy was painfully polite but terribly timid. By the third day of school, the first years had already divided themselves into different groups and it was clearly obvious that the hero was not included among any. Was it because the students thought he was above them or wanted nothing to do with the disappointment of a saviour was beyond them, but if one thing was clear, Harry James Potter certainly in no way lived up to what his parents had been. His magic seemed average at best, he being one of the last to perfect whatever was being practiced in the classroom. His writing was little more than chicken scratch and he never seemed to be able to give a straight answer (the last was ignored because of its source. It was quite clear to all that Snape had transferred his hate for James Potter forward to his son).
The poor child, Albus sighed. Hopefully the novelty of his presence would wear of soon and the child would have a normal Hogwarts experience alongside his peers.
Albus was just about ready to head to bed when he heard it, a soft sound that a second later became recognisable as a whimper. Ah, he thought, just when one believed their job to be done, something else occurred.
He placed a gentle smile on his face and made himself seem as inviting as possible as he rounded the corner where the sound had originated, fully expecting to find a student curled against a wall, probably with their knees drawn up and face hidden in it as they sobbed softly. Yes, it was a scene he had stumbled unto numerous times and he already had the words he had repeated so many times over the years on his lips. But the sound died as his eyes fell on the disturbing scene before him.
The whimpering he had heard was not of a child in the midst of a bout of weeping. Instead the sound generated from a crawling child, whimpering softly but clearly as he frantically patted the ground around him, obviously searching for something. Startled, Albus froze, watching the scene. Was that blood on the child's hand? And the darkness on his face, those were not shadows, those were bruises discolouring the child's fair skin. Albus had no doubt at that moment that there were more injuries hidden beneath the torn robe the child wore.
Not being able to stand the sight any longer he strove forward. His feet made a clacking sound against the tiles and the child froze before dropping completely to the floor, curling up into a defensive ball.
"P-p-lease n-no mo-re!" the boy begged, curling himself up tighter. "P-p-l-ease!"
The headmaster's heart clenched as he realised that whoever had done this to the boy had returned no doubt to inflict further torture on the first year. Obviously the child believed that he was the perpetrator returning to add to his misery.
He strove for the calmest tone he could manage despite his anger that something like this could have occurred within his school and while he had been patrolling too. The fact that he had been strolling on the opposite side of the school and could not possibly have known, escaped him.
"I'm not going to harm you," he said in a reassuring tone. "I mean no harm. I heard you and I want to help."
The boy froze and his begging tapered off. Apparently his voice had convinced him that he was not the attacker. However the boy's next words shocked him.
"G-g-o. D-on-t let him f-find y-you helping m-me."
So he had been threatened as well? Albus thought darkly as he carefully knelt besides the boy.
"He cannot harm me," he said, letting conviction enter his tone to reassure the cringing student. "I am no ordinary student. You need help. I will not harm you, but you can't stay here. Please, uncurl yourself and let me see how badly you are hurt."
It took a minute more of coaxing before the curled boy unfurled himself, whimpering in pain as Albus gently turned him unto his back. The headmaster inhaled sharply as a stray beam of moonlight hit the bruised face, illuminating it. The child was none other than the very boy on whom he had been contemplating.
"Harry!" he gasped.
Unfortunately it was the wrong thing to do for the boy started squirming and yelping, his movements undoubtedly aggravating an injury but the pain was not enough deterrent to stop his frantic movements.
"Child I mean you no harm!" he grated out, wrapping his hands tightly around the boy's forearms, effectively stilling him. "Look at me. Do I seem capable of harming you?"
Immediately afterwards the man found himself regretting his words for the child wore no glasses from which to peruse him. However, his words seemed to strike a cord with the child and at once, all the tension seeped away from the boy's frame and pained emerald eyes rose to study him.
"P-promise?" he all but whispered after seemingly gleaning the sincerity in his eyes.
"I promise child. No harm shall befall you. Now will you let me help you?"
"Good boy," Albus praised.
Luckily for him, with age came greater power and he had no need to reach for his wand to cast a sleeping spell on the child. He could have done so the minute he had realised the boy was injured but that could have induced panic from him once he awaked. No, it was better to do it this way where he actively had the child's permission to offer assistance.
Carefully he cradled the damaged body to his before rising. It startled him briefly at the slight weight in his arms. He was certain that if need be he could easily toss the boy in the air. Were all the first years this tiny or was it just this one in particular? That thought was still plaguing him he walked as briskly as possible without jolting the precious burden he bore. Until he knew the extent of the boy's injuries, he would treat him as tenderly as possible.
The headmaster surprised himself when he reached the pair of gargoyle statues that stepped aside immediately on recognising his magical signature. Why had he brought the child here? Surely Poppy was a better alternative. The medi-witch was quite renowned in her field, and yet, he had brought Harry to his own personal quarters – even now the moving staircase was carrying them past the door to his office, up further to deposit him into his personal living quarters, the fireplace roaring to life as he passed, into the guest bedroom where he placed the sleeping boy on the expansive bed.
Dropping the glamour, the headmaster set to work ridding him of his robe and as carefully as possible divesting him of his shirt, hissing at the battered chest revealed to him. What had they done, walked over his small frame? Across the room, a vase shattered as the wizard's magic reacted to his anger. Taking a shuddering breath Albus forced himself to calm. Currently Harry was his priority.
Summoning a house-elf, he sent for Poppy, knowing that the lateness of the hour mattered little to one who had dedicated her life to caring for the sick and injured.
"In here Poppy," he directed when he heard the Poppy's worried called.
"Albus," she began as she entered, eyes roving his frame. "What is wrong with you? Please don't tell me you've overdone it again and..."
"Not me Poppy," he interrupted, moving aside so she could see the student whose pants he had almost off. "Him."
"By Merlin," she breathed almost dropping her medical bag as she saw his shape. "Please tell me he was on the grounds Albus. Don't tell me students did this to him."
The man's expression hardened and a grim line formed on his face. "From what I've seen so far Poppy, students are indeed at fault at this."
"What have you done to him so far," she inquired, focussing on helping the boy.
"I cast a mild sleeping spell so he wouldn't fight me when I moved him."
"Easily removable," the medi-witch muttered as she did just so.
Magical medicine could be a finicky thing and spells sometimes subverted or in some cases completely negated the magical properties of potions or healing charms. It was best to remove them before attempting to heal the boy in any way.
"You best get a quill and parchment Albus," she ordered shortly as she started a scan on him. "If this goes to the governors, we will need to account for all of his injuries."
"Accio!" the headmaster enunciated clearly and momentarily he was seated on the edge of the bed, writing out what the witch said in clipped tones. Many times he inhaled sharply as the medi-witch hypothesised on what had caused a particular injury.
"One broken rib, two fractured," she finished. "Most likely from being kicked. The marks on his torso reflect shoe prints so we have confirmation. Do you have all of that Albus?"
"Yes," he breathed out, grasping the quill tightly to contain his anger.
"If you can't control yourself I'll have to ask you to leave Albus," the nurse warned him, as she started to uncap the relevant potions. "This is going to be a painful night for him. If you can't contain yourself and help me I'll have to ask for you to send me someone else."
Albus shook his head, forcing himself to calm yet again. "I won't leave him. I'm in control Poppy. I'm sure."
The witch eyed him critically for a moment before nodding in acceptance. "Good. I want to start on his ribs. I think it best for you to restrain him. I have to realign his broken rib before I can heal it and it will not be easy at all."
"Can you not sedate him?" the headmaster inquired as he rid himself of his robe.
"No," she responded. "To risky, I need him drug free until this is over. That's why I need him held. Get behind him and wrap your arms around him just above his ribcage. Good, now hold him tight Albus. If he moves the rib might damage further or I will have to start over."
"I've got him," he said firmly, tightening his grip.
The boy was lax in his arms, but Albus knew that that would change in a few moments when the medi-witch started her treatment. And he was right. Seconds after Poppy pressed her wand over the broken rib, the boy's eyes flew open and a pained scream tore from his lips. "Don't fight it," Albus breathed into his ear, holding him firm. "We are healing you."
The boy screamed ahead, harder this time as the witch furrowed her brows and slowly moved her wand upwards, forcing the bone to move upwards and sideways to reconnect. She had to be extra careful as the bone was resting against his lung. She did not want to aggravate the scratched organ anymore than necessary.
"Breathe through it," Albus bid, his concerned voice wafting into the boy's ear. "Deep breaths. Ride it out, a little more and you'll be healed."
The boy's scream tapered off but his breathing grew erratic as the medi-witch shifted her wand to the other side, preparing to shift the other splintered edge. "Y-you li-e-ed!" he ground out before flinging his head back on a pained moan, only the headmaster's hands around him stopping him from interfering with Poppy's work.
The accusation stung the man strongly even though he was forced to admit that the pain the boy felt now was probably equal to what he had experienced at the hands of his attacker. Yet he could not help but rebuke him as Poppy removed her wand, moving down to the fracture in his shin.
"I did not lie. I do not lie. I told you I would not harm you."
"W-what do you c-call this?" he managed through clenched teeth as pain blossomed from the limb the medi-witch was now treating.
"This is necessary if you want to be healed. You don't want to remain like this do you?"
"N-no," Harry responded after a few seconds.
"Then bear with it. These are the worst of your injuries. We will feed you potions in a little bit and the pain will lessen."
A moan from the boy as Poppy fixed his ankle distracted him for a minute before panting he spoke again. "Why?"
The boy frowned and Albus resisted the urge to free an arm to dab at the sweat on his brow.
"I'm a freak. N-no-one likes m-me. Not even R-Ron anymore. Why?"
It was then that Albus realised that Harry had did not recognise who he was. Despite the fact that Poppy had been using his name freely and the fact that his beard was brushing against the child's cheek, the boy had not registered that he was currently in the arms of the headmaster. He still believed that it was a student helping him, and hence he was confused.
"No one deserves this Harry," the man told him as the medi-witch moved away to retrieve her potions. "Anyone in trouble deserves to be helped. It is my job and my duty to ensure that all students are safe here. That this happened to you disturbs me greatly."
The boy gave a brief huff and Albus could not help but wonder where the shy boy he had been observing off and on during the week had disappeared too. Was it the pain that had the boy speaking so freely despite the soft tone? Giving the gossip he had been privy to, he believed this was the case.
"Here you are Mr. Potter," Madame Pomfrey said briskly, leaning over him with an open vial. "You need to swallow this...be still!"
The moment the woman loomed over him, Harry panicked and started struggling. It was one thing when she had been an anonymous person prodding his chest and leg, but now she was above him. With his limited eyesight he only saw a blurry figure approaching him, quite like earlier when the burly student had kicked him to the ground.
"Back away Poppy!" Albus ordered sharply as he struggled to contain him. He was struggling quite fiercely and was hard to manage despite his slight weight and small size. "Harry she means no harm. Harry!"
The boy froze at the sharp intonation in his name, but after a second moaned and buried his head against the man's chest. It was only then that Albus noticed that Harry had managed to wriggle around until they were facing each other. He seemed exhausted from his struggles and so the headmaster risked freeing an arm to tilt his face upwards. Although he preferred to question the boy's reaction, he knew getting the necessary potions into his system was more important, and so he knew he had to gain the boy's obedience.
"Young man," he said in a stern yet gentle voice. "Madame Pomfrey is not going to harm you. I will not allow it."
The boy gave a small whimper and tried to lower his head but Albus held firm.
"I understand you are scared, but that still does not excuse your behaviour."
As he watched, Harry nipped at the edge of his cut lip before murmuring. "Sorry."
"Very good," he praised. "Now you will atone for your action by drinking your medicine without complaint understood?"
"Yeah," Harry responded.
At another time he would have taken the boy to task for his casual tone to him, but still, he reminded himself, Harry still believed he was in the hands of a student, a prefect at best.
"You best give them to him," the medi-witch decided after a second attempt. Although he had not struggled this time, the boy had whimpered when she pressed the glass vial to his lips and had averted his head, not even the tightening of Albus' arms around him coaxing obedience from him.
Albus sighed, and accepted the vial. "You must drink this Harry," he informed him as he twisted him sideways against him.
"And probably tastes worst," Albus agreed. "But it will help you. Now come, gulp it down. I will get you something to erase the taste."
Gradually the lips Harry had pressed firmly together when Albus placed the vial against his lips slackened and he allowed himself to be fed the potion, grimacing as it went down. The process was repeated two more times before the medi-witch was satisfied.
"Good boy," Albus praised, patting his head lightly. "I am pleased."
"I couldn't give him a sleeping draught," Poppy informed him as she packed her bag. "And the potions won't start working completely for at least an hour. But he is on the mend."
By now the boy had slipped into a semi-lethargic state and the headmaster had eased himself from the bed and was in the process of laying him to rest against the pillows. As he transfigured a pair of loose pyjamas for him, he spoke.
"How long will it take him to heal fully?"
"His ribs will be fine by morning," she mused. "However the bruising will take the longest to heal. I would say that with continuous potions they shall be mostly faded by Sunday."
"Will he be fit for classes on Monday?" Albus continued as he gently drew the covers up over the half-dozing boy.
"I will decide after another check up on Sunday. Physically he might, but mentally..."
"I understand," Albus sighed as he straightened. Almost against his will his hand reached up and started to stroke the boy's forehead, just under his bangs. The child gave a soft sigh and visibly relaxed.
"T-thanks," he murmured, before drifting of to sleep.
"At least he is at peace now."
"Indeed," Poppy seconded, moving to stand besides him. "Poor boy."
"He'll remain here," Albus decided. "I'll ask for the elves to bring up a few changes of clothes for him."
The medi-witch protested. "He can be moved to the Hospital Wing in the morning Albus. No need to burden yourself unnecessarily. I can handle him."
"No Poppy," the wizard said firmly. "It's clear from his reactions to you with the potion that he's attached himself to me. I can ensure that he takes his potions."
"But Albus...you will be quite busy this weekend."
The man gave a dry laugh. "I know, calling a staff meeting, launching an investigation, writing his family, contacting the board. It will be hectic but the boy deserves no less than my time. I found him and I am headmaster here. It is my duty to right the wrong that has befallen him."
Poppy gave him a searching look. "It seems that Mr. Potter isn't the only one forming an attachment Albus," she pointed out.
The man had no response for that.
Minutes later the medi-witch was gone, promising to return to check on him in the daylight. When she left the headmaster retired to his own rooms changing into night clothes. However, not ten minutes after he had settled into his own bed had he left it, drawing a night robe around him as he returned to his guest bedroom, standing over the bruised child sleeping.
He looked so small and innnocent, especially when contrasted to the size of the bed. Were it not for the bruises marring him, Albus would have found the sight adorable. As is, he sighed deeply for the poor little shy boy. Only a week in Hogwarts, and this was the situation he had found himself in. There and then the headmaster determined that he would set things to right for the saviour of the wizarding world.