"Hi, Madame Pom-pom-pomferee. My name is Harry and I have an excellent smile. See?"
Harry smiled at the school nurse who promptly laughed and smiled back. It helped to ease a lot of his anxiety about this visit. Maybe she wouldn't hurt him like the doctors he had to see before Hogwarts. He didn't much care for them.
The first time he went to a doctor was when Aunt Petunia needed to enroll him in school. He was three. He had not enjoyed that at all, not one bit. They poked and prodded and gripped and shot him up with needles that made him cry and start "acting out" as Aunt Petunia liked to call it. He had hoped it would have been the only doctor he had to visit in his life, especially since Uncle Vernon had swore at him for causing them so much trouble and costing so much, but it wasn't very long into the school year until he was made to visit a different series of doctors. Psychiatrists and psychologists and therapists and so many types of "ists" that he stopped trying to keep them straight in his head. These doctors confirmed what his aunt and uncle had been telling him for as long as he remembered: that he was different ("That means you're a freak, Harry.") and needed special attention ("Forcing us to spend our hard earned money teaching you to speak properly, boy.") Harry hoped this school nurse wouldn't let his aunt and uncle know how much trouble he'd gotten into today. No matter what Professor Snape said, Harry knew Uncle Vernon would find him to be a sissy boy.
"I'm glad Professor Snape found you, Mr. Potter. We were all quite concerned."
"I am safe now, Madame Pom-I don't like your name because it is hard to say."
"Mr. Potter," said Professor Snape in a quiet tone that made Harry's arm hairs stand up. "That was quite rude. Apologize this instant."
Oh. Right. It was rude to say you didn't like things even if he did sound like a total berk stuttering. Or maybe it was rude because she didn't realize how difficult it was to pronounce her name.
"I'm sorry for bring rude, Madame Pom-pomperfee. Did you know that name is hard to say?"
Professor Snape sighed and covered his face with his hand, the one not holding on Harry's hand. Harry was quite pleased that his professor hadn't let go as he enjoyed that small feeling of protection. He was sure Professor Snape would not hold hands with anyone else, just Harry. No one else had ever done that before.
"Harry, you may call me Miss Poppy. Is that easier?"
Harry tried it out.
"Miss Poppy. Yes, much easier. That is a better name. Thank you. You can call me Harry. I like that better than 'boy.'"
He felt Professor Snape's hand tighten around his own. Probably that meant that Professor Snape didn't like something he had just said, but he wasn't sure what was wrong with any of it. Harry noticed Miss Poppy and Professor Snape exchange A Look. Adults gave Looks when they wanted to communicate without speaking. Looks usually meant something was wrong and no one wanted to tell him.
Harry's anxiety increased and he started rocking on his toes.
"I would love to call you Harry, Mr. Potter. Thank you. Now, come this way please."
He was led into a small brightly lit room and found himself lifted onto the table. Harry shivered slightly as his sweats and shoes were gently pulled off, leaving him in just his pants and socks. He had been hoping that Professor Snape was just fibbing when he said they were going there, but Professor Snape never fibbed about things like other people did; if Professor Snape said something was true, then it was true, and if Professor Snape said he needed to visit Miss Poppy to feel better, then he probably did. So now he sat on an exam table more than a little apprehensive about what would happen next. Miss Poppy hadn't hurt him yet, but he knew that even if people didn't mean to hurt him that they usually did.
He watched his Professor fold his shirt
"Sir, is Miss Poppy going to shoot me?" he asked, unable to control his anxiety any longer.
The hands folding his shirt paused.
"Harry Potter, why on earth would you think I would do such a thing?"
Harry startled and nearly fell off the table. He hadn't heard Miss Poppy come back into the room. Strong hands helped him find his balance, and then settled over his own, effectively keeping him still.
Harry grimaced. He supposed it was a stupid question. Why would wizards need shots when they had wands?
He focused on Miss Poppy's voice.
"Harry, what did you mean by that?"
"I always get shot at the doctor's office."
It was true. Harry didn't know why he always needed to get shot at the doctor's office, but it always happened.
"They always stick a needle in my arm and tell me it won't hurt, but they are liars. It always hurts. It's called 'getting shot' and I don't like it."
The hands let go of him as Professor Snape made a peculiar sounding noise, almost like a cough and a laugh mixed together. Perhaps he had made joke and didn't realize it. Having Professor Snape laugh was okay, he decided. Harry grinned. It didn't make him feel stupid like when other people did it, like Uncle Vernon. Uncle Vernon was the worst at making him feel like an idiot. Or would that make it the best?
"No shots today, young man," said Miss Poppy. "We'll just fix up these scrapes and bruises up, and run a few tests."
Harry tensed. Tests were almost as bad as getting shot. Tests meant lots of questions and rough hands in cold gloves.
"Mr. Potter," said Professor Snape. "Calm down. If something will hurt, rest assured that either Madam Pompfrey or myself will let you know before surprising you. Do you understand?"
"Excellent. I will be sitting right over there, on the chair in the corner. Do you see it?"
"I will not leave this room without telling you first. I will sit there and watch Madam Pompfrey cluck over you like a mother hen. It will be a nauseating display of affection and care, but somehow I will find the strength inside me to survive it, as will you."
Harry giggled. Miss Poppy wasn't a hen! But she was a witch, so maybe. After all, Professor McGonagall turned into a tabby cat. Perhaps Professor Snape turned into an animal, too. He would ask later.
Miss Poppy came back into the room and handed him a vial of blue liquid.
"It's a calming draught and a bit of a painkiller. It should start working immediately."
It didn't taste nearly as good as it looked, but it was better than when Dudley tricked him into thinking the lemon-scented toilet cleaner would actually taste like lemons.
"I'm going to rub some ointment on your bruises, Harry. It will feel a bit cold and it will probably hurt a little, but I will try to be careful."
Whatever was in the ointment smelled of wintergreen and cotton. It was cold and he couldn't help but flinch when Miss Poppy's fingers touched him. He was surprised that she was rubbing it on parts of his back, but he didn't really mind it.
Content and at ease, Harry lost himself in the patterns the sun was making on the wall as it streamed through the windows. He heard voices talking around him, probably Miss Poppy and Professor Snape discussing his bruised elbows and scraped knees. The light danced on the walls and he smiled. Even though he knew it was completely illogical, he thought that maybe Hogwarts made the sunlight magical as well. The windows at the Dursley's never made such entertaining patterns. He reached his hand out. Maybe if it was magic light he could grab it and keep some for himself. No, not even magic could tame light. He smiled as the light danced across his hand and tried to catch the light again. And again.
A shadow fell across the wall and interrupted the game. It was Miss Poppy and she needed his attention now. She was going to clean his knees and it was going to sting, was that okay? Yes, it was okay. He glanced over at Professor Snape and saw him looking at parchments, his parchments from his dorm. His drawings and notes and squares. He recognized the one his professor was looking at. It was the angry one that he drew after a bad week of teasing, the one where he was hugging his knees and wishing he was invisible or somewhere else. Harry knew he wasn't any of those things he had written down, but it was sometimes hard to remember that at nighttime when the castle was asleep.
He yelped and kicked out reflexively. That didn't sting, it burned. A lot. He started squirming, trying to get away from the pain, but Miss Poppy had him stuck to the table somehow. What? How?
"It's a sticking charm, Harry, and I'll let you go once I've cleaned your knees out. It will only be a few more minutes. I don't want you hurt yourself. Or me. You've got quite a kick, young man."
Magic. Of course there would be a spell so you couldn't move. He started rocking to ease the panic and discomfort. He watched Miss Poppy debride, disinfect, and cover his knees in soft white bandages. Uh oh, that just would not do.
"No, not white. I always have Batman bandaids. They have pictures of Batman on them. Can you make them Batman bandages?"
"Mr. Potter," said Professor Snape. "Mind your manners. Say 'please' and 'thank you.' You are a wizard, not a heathen."
"Please and thank you, Miss Poppy. Now can you make them Batman?"
Miss Poppy smiled and tapped her wand on each knee. Oh. Not Batman, but something better. They were bats that moved. He had flying bats on his knees. Oh, magic was wicked cool. He flapped his hands in excitement and laughed out loud, the pain from earlier completely forgotten. He was disappointed when he found himself released from the sticking spell and helped into his sweats again. They hid his knees from view. He couldn't wait to show Ron and Neville and Hermione. He bet not even Hermione knew how to make bats fly around on bandages, and she knew lots of things.
Harry carefully pulled his pant legs up over his knees to admire his bat bandages as he swung his feet under the table.
"You look ridiculous like that, Mr. Potter," said Professor Snape as he grabbed one of Harry's swinging feet to help put his shoes on. "You look as though you are wearing knickers. Shall I get you some suspenders? Come on now, pull them down."
But Harry didn't want to pull them down, he wanted to see his bats.
"Are you able to tear your eyes away from your knees to put your shirt on, or do I need to help you with that?"
Harry took the proffered shirt from Professor Snape and pulled it on. He could get dressed himself, thank you very much. He was ushered out of the exam room, pulled-up sweats and all, and told to make himself comfortable in the rocking chair outside Miss Poppy's office while lunch was brought up and Professor Snape went to inform the headmaster of Harry's whereabouts. Harry was not too keen on waiting in the infirmary, but a tray with a bowl of hot soup and two cheese sandwiches served to keep him occupied and distracted while Snape slipped away. He loved the rocking chair; it was charmed to rock on its own, and he dozed off after he finished his lunch, waking only when Miss Poppy had him swallow some more of that blue potion and coaxed him to allow her to fix his sweat pants.
"But my bats, Miss Poppy," he said, weakly protesting the covering of the bandaged knees he was so pleased with.
"Your bats will be there when you wake up, Harry. Now sleep. You're safe waiting here until Professor Snape comes back to collect you."
Harry did just that, a small smile on his face. The last thing he remembered was the sound Miss Poppy made when she draped a light blanket over his shoulders. It was a clucking sound, just like Professor Snape said.
Snape stalked towards the headmaster's office. To say he was displeased with the extent of Harry's injuries was an understatement: he was furious, and a bit worried. Harry was vulnerable, and it seemed that the school staff had let him down. The approach the headmaster took with the situation would set the tone for the remaining seven years that Harry attended Hogwarts. If he was too lenient, Severus knew from experience that those years would be miserable. If the right punishment wasn't meted out, and if appropriate strictures on bullying weren't put in place, there didn't seem to be a way of preventing this from occurring in the future. Well, short of ensuring the boy had an escort everywhere he went, which was an absurd requirement in an institution of learning. It was a school, not a war zone.
Severus knew those boys were up to no good, had known since laying eyes on the Malfoy boy particularly that he would be trouble. He learned the lessons his father taught, and it seemed the three other Slytherins were only too happy to follow in their fathers' footsteps as well. Like fathers like sons, it seemed. Perhaps if they were made painfully aware of the cost of bullying they would refrain from the despicable behavior in the future. There weren't enough cauldrons in the dungeons to get that point across, though, in his opinion. He would be having a stern talk with his house this evening to publicly condemn the first years' behavior and to praise the rest of his students for their acceptance of Harry.
He muttered the password and walked into the room, inclining his head in greeting to both the headmaster and McGonagall. The six boys were nowhere to be seen. He assumed they were in their dormitories.
"Ah, Severus," said Albus, "I assume that young Harry is no longer lost and in distress?"
Severus sat in one of the free chairs across from the headmaster's desk before responding.
"Harry is safely esconced in a rocking chair in the infirmary, having successfully and completely unintentionally wrapped Madam Pompfrey about his little finger. He managed to kick her during the examination, and she rewarded him by animating some pictures on his bandages."
"He kicked Poppy, Severus?" asked McGonagall.
"He did, though it wasn't his fault. His knees were quite a mess and were painful to clean up. Harry was simply acting out of reflex."
"I trust that his injuries were taken care of?" the headmaster asked. "Did he have anything to say about what happened? We got most of the story from the other boys, of course, but Harry's side deserves to be heard as well."
Severus scowled and pulled out the parchment detailing the extend of Harry's physical injuries that Madame Pompfrey had given him.
"Yes. He had extensive bruising on his torso, specifically around his left side and back, as though he had been curled up in an attempt to protect himself from what were obviously several kicks. His elbows, too, were bruised. He informed me this happened as he was tripped trying to get away. His knees were shredded. The castle floors are most unforgiving, Harry will need to visit the infirmary twice a day for the next few days to get the bandages on his knees changed. I am sure we will be introduced to a new flying mammal each time this occurs, as Harry adamantly refuses to keep them on if they remain in their white, unadorned state.
He originally insisted that they be turned into Batman bandages. Thankfully, he was convinced that flying bats were an acceptable substitute since Madame Pompfrey had no idea who 'Batman' is, and I was not about to explain. Harry then refused to pull his trousers down to his feet, preferring instead to keep them bunched up above his knees so as to admire his animated bandages. I did not press the issue, but I assure you, he looked ridiculous."
He paused. Both the headmaster and Professor McGonagall were sporting fond smiles. Not that Severus could blame them. He had fought to hide a similar smile at Harry's enthusiasm.
"Yes, it was probably more nauseatingly cute than you are imagining it to have been," he continued. "I found Harry asleep in the Come and Go Room. His robes and trousers were ruined. I believe the school should provide new robes rather than attempt to mend them, if his attackers are unable to afford to do so themselves. The latter is, I think, the more appropriate response as they were responsible for their destruction in the first place."
He looked pointedly at the headmaster, who nodded in agreement. Severus felt himself relax a bit.
"After Harry woke up, he shut down while I questioned him about the events of the afternoon. This state of nonresponsiveness escalated into a violent meltdown, after which he and I had a frank discussion about how this was not his fault and he was not in trouble."
Severus started pacing, his agitation returning full force.
"He wanted-" Severus paused to clear his throat from an unexpected swell of emotion.
"He wanted to know if he was safe here, if something like this would happen again. I-I could not promise him any such thing but told him I would do everything in my power to prevent it. And I shall. Albus, this was not a silly prank or duel, it was a vicious attack on a helpless little boy by children who knew better."
He stopped, realizing he had practically shouted that last bit. Well, no matter. This incident upset him more than he cared to admit. If he was to be judged, than there were worse things in his past than his worry over a child.
"Minerva, he may have difficulty sleeping in the dorm for the next while, especially in the presence of Finnigan and Thomas. If this occurs, he has been prescribed a sleeping aid to take before bed, but his roommates and prefects will probably want to be made aware of the possibility of distress."
He coughed. What he was going to say next would result in unacceptably saccharine responses from his colleagues, but so be it.
"As you are both aware, Harry has become quite attached to me."
He glanced up and inwardly cringed. Yes, there was the unmistakable twinkle in the headmaster's eyes and Minerva was smirking. He sneered.
"Because of this, if he ever becomes inconsolable after curfew or a night terror, you must not hesitate to get me. He may not be able to articulate his need, but it exists and I will be able to calm him down. That duty is too much to thrust onto the shoulders of his housemates or prefects."
He would have said "any time," but both Minvera and Albus knew that most of Harry's free time was spent with Severus to begin with, and the times he was not he spent in the company of Granger, Weasley, and Longbottom who together acted as a buffer between the bullies and Harry.
"Albus, I am concerened about the boy's mental health. I found a disturbing drawing of his this afternoon."
He placed the parchment in question on the headmaster's desk before continuing.
"I haven't had a chance to talk to him about this, though he knows I have it in my possession. He saw me looking at it while in the infirmary. I was hoping that one of you might know of someone he could talk to. I do not feel comfortable being his only source of support, especially in matters such as this. I believe we have let Harry down by assuming the decrease in disruptive behavior meant he was finally settling in. I also think that having someone other than myself to talk to about today's attack would be beneficial."
He sat down again, exhausted. A cup of tea was pressed into his hand, and accepted it without thought. Now he would just wait to see how many slaps on the wrist the culprits received.
"All six of the boys involved have been suspended from school for two weeks."
Severus stiffened slightly at the headmaster's statement. Well, that was unexpected. Deserved, but unexpected. He felt a twinge of indignation but quickly told himself to grow up.
"I will address the school this evening at dinner. I've also asked Minerva to work with the heads of houses and prefects to focus on preventing future incidences of bullying. I would like for you to help make everyone on staff aware of Harry's strengths. Merlin knows some of the faculty are too focused on his difficulty learning, and their approach tends to frustrate both Harry and themselves. He has seen vast improvement in all his courses since you've taken him under your wing, and I am sure once some of the more-shall we say jaded-individuals realize they just need to alter their approach a bit, they will learn to appreciate his potential."
Severus privately disagreed. The idiot of an Astronomy professor, Sinistra, seemed hell bent on making Harry as miserable as possible in as unprofessional a way as possible, and another staff meeting and round of Get to Know Harry would probably do nothing to change her attitude. Perhaps if he were allowed to hex her in front of the school.
"I will be sure address your concerns about Professor Sinistra's behavior with her privately, Severus," said Minerva. "Her classroom manner has undoubtedly been interpreted by some students as tacit permission to treat Harry similarly."
He blinked. Were his thoughts that obvious?
"Honestly, Severus, why so surprised? We've touched on this subject several times over the past few weeks."
Apparently his thoughts were quite obvious. Suspicious, he sniffed his teacup. Oh yes, his sensitive nose caught the faint scent of a calming draught. No wonder he could be read so easily. A quick look across the desk assured him that Albus knew full well and was probably the one responsible for lacing his tea in the first place. That conniving-
"My boy, I love it when you glower at me so fiercely. Admit that you would never have taken it on your own despite clearly needing it."
He would do no such thing. Ever.
"Headmaster, as enjoyable as this conversation has become, I must take my leave. I have a House that needs attending to and four boys who probably need a reminder to stop sulking and start packing. I assume I will also suffer the displeasure of their parents?"
"I believe that, with one exception, any parental displeasure will be directed towards their sons."
One exception meant one name: Malfoy. Well, he had faced an irate Lucius Malfoy several times and could certainly handle another. No matter what drivel was spun as fact, the incontrovertible truth was Draco had viciously attacked another student without any provocation. Very well. He could assume the mantel of obsequiousness once more. It paid to be careful around the elder Malfoy. One never knew if he was...up to something.
"As their Head of House, I assume I will be escorting the miscreants to Hogsmeade this evening?"
Of course he would.
"I will be with my two students, as well, Severus," said Minerva. "Their parents will expect us at seven sharp."
With Minvera present, the meeting would not turn into a social call. Thank goodness for small favors.
"Very well then. Headmaster. Minerva."
He left the headmaster's office in a slightly better mood than when he had entered (calming draught, indeed!), and made his way back to the Infirmary to check on Harry. He had made a promise to return and so he did, although it turned out the boy was asleep in the rocking chair. Good.
He turned to leave and ran right into Madame Pompfrey who gave him a knowing look. Uncomfortable with the almost parental emotions he was feeling towards the boy, his foul temper reasserted itself and he sneered at the school matron.
"I take it you had to resort to sleeping potions to get the boy to wear his trousers properly."
A raised eyebrow and a forceful push out of the Infirmary doors were all he got for his trouble. It seemed that Madame Pompfrey, like the headmaster and the head of Gryffindor, had also grown immune to his snark.
"You don't fool me one bit, Severus Snape. Go see to your House. Harry will be fine. I'll call you if he needs you, don't worry."
And with that, the doors were closed in his face, leaving him two options: stand there and risk appearing the fool to whatever students happen to wander past, or make his way to the Slytherin common room and deal with four pre-pubescent monsters. Hmpf. Severus turned on his heel and stalked towards the dungeons.