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Professor Snape looked with satisfaction on the small dark head bent industrious

ly over the parchment, scribbling busily. There was always such pleasure in awar
ding the first Gryffindor detention of the school year, but this year, being abl
e to award it to the Brat-Who-Lived was especially sweet. Knowing he was respons
ible for the little monster's very first punishment at Hogwarts would keep him h
appy for days.
McGonagall had, predictably, protested that awarding detention in the first clas
s of the first year was harsh, especially when she had heard from the tattling l
ittle lions that Harry hadn't actually done anything, but Dumbledore, with an un
readable look at Severus, had gently said, "I'm sure Severus would never abuse t
he awarding of detentions." Minerva had shut up at that point, though Severus ha
d correctly interpreted the vague words as the warning they had been.
It was typical of the old coot. Favoring the Potter brat. Taking his side over S
everus'. It was going to be a long seven years with the Headmaster obviously out
to favor the boy – even when it meant blatantly taking the side of a student ov
er a professor. Of course, Snape gritted his teeth, there was nothing new in Dum
bledore's siding with a Potter over a Snape. Severus supposed he was lucky this
Potter had yet to try to kill him. Well, maybe if he terrified the little brat r
ight from the start, Potter would give him a wide berth from here on out. Just b
ecause Severus was sworn to protect the little creep didn't mean he had to be ni
ce to him or – perish the thought! – like him.
Snape turned his attention to the pile of homework in front of him. Let's see ho
w the boy did. With any luck he might have inherited his scholastic ability from
his mother.
Harry shifted uncomfortably on the hard wooden chair and stifled a sigh. Could t
he professor have put a charm on these stools to make them particularly uncomfor
table? No, to be fair, Harry had been unable to sit comfortably ever since Uncle
Vernon's "going away" thrashing. Interwoven with plenty of threats about what h
appened to freaks who were ungrateful to their families, the whipping had left h
is backside raw, and this detention was taking place at the end of a long day, d
uring most of which Harry had been forced to sit on his increasingly painful bum
.
At least some of the classes – like Potions – had the students out of their seat
s for part of the time, as the teachers had them gather round to watch a demonst
ration or try some practical magic themselves. But for this detention, Professor
Snape had simply pointed to a desk with waiting parchment and quill and coldly
ordered him to start copying the lines on the blackboard. If Harry didn't get to
400 before the end of the detention, he would have another one, Snape threatene
d, so Harry had hastily seated himself – ouch! – and got started. Now, about two
hours into the punishment, the pain in his bottom was getting hard to ignore. H
arry shifted his weight from one cheek to the other and tried not to wince.
He still wasn't quite sure why Ron had been so incensed on his behalf. After all
, Snape hadn't done anything that unusual. Harry was accustomed to being picked
on in school – after Aunt Petunia had her parent-teacher conference and informed
the teachers about Harry's troublemaking tendencies, his slyness, and his decei
t, the teachers were universally wary of him. Add in Dudley's delight in framing
him for all manner of crimes, and by the second month of school, Harry was alwa
ys the teacher's least favorite student, catching all manner of unfair criticism
and undeserved punishments. By this time, he was quite used to it and barely no
ticed. He had actually been rather surprised that Snape was the only teacher – s
o far – who was acting normally.
Snape slammed down the homework with a silent curse. A house elf could have done
a better job on the assignment than the Potter whelp had, and Weasley's deforme
d rat would have better handwriting. No one was this inept – clearly the brat wa
s deliberately handing in appalling work just to demonstrate his contempt for th
e class… and his teacher.
Snape forced himself to calm down. Just because the brat looked like James Potte
r and acted like James Potter didn't mean… oh, the hell with it. Of course it di
d. The boy was a clone of his father and would do everything in his power to tor
ment Snape. The only difference was that Snape was now – at last – well able to
protect himself. He was no longer a friendless loner who could be easily picked
on and bullied. This generation of Potter would find out just how sweet vengeanc
e could be for a patient Slytherin. There was a limit as to how much Dumbledore
could protect the boy, especially if he wanted Snape to keep playing the spy. Af
ter all, he was supposed to loathe The Boy Who Lived, wasn't he? If Dumbledore p
rotested, Snape could always plead that he was merely playing his role a little
too well.
Snape glared at the boy and wondered what he was thinking. His father or godfath
er would have been plotting dark revenge by this point. As he watched, the boy f
idgeted for the millionth time and his expression twisted slightly. Aha. Potter
was obviously planning some mischief instead of being focused on the lines in fr
ont of him. Considering that he was being punished for talking during lecture an
d not paying attention – he'd squirmed and fidgeted his way through class as wel
l – he was obviously a stubborn little monster who refused to learn from his mis
takes.
Harry paused to count the lines he'd completed. Barely 150. It was the quill – e
ven with Ron's clumsy coaching, he couldn't figure out how to use it. If only he
could have a pencil or a ballpoint, or even a fountain pen! But no, it was quil
ls and parchment here, and Muggleborns (or Muggle-raiseds) just had to cope. Har
ry sighed again and tried to support himself on his outstretched forearms, lifti
ng the weight off his backside. If he could just stand up – maybe, if he asked,
the professor would let him finish the work standing at the desk? But then he'd
want to know why, and that was a question Harry wasn't about to answer. So he wa
ited another moment, holding himself off the chair to give his welts a chance to
stop stinging quite so badly.
"Why aren't you writing?" a furious voice snapped in his ear, and with a yelp of
utter surprise, Harry flinched. His seat dropped back to the chair and he barel
y bit back another yelp, this one of pain.
Snape loomed over the boy, delighted at his success in sneaking up behind him. H
e had thought the boy was off in dreamland, but he'd never expected to be able t
o startle him so much. Huge green eyes stared fearfully into his own for a momen
t, then dropped.
Just as well. The last thing Snape wanted was a reminder that this boy was Lily'
s as well. Much better that he kept up his annoying, disrespectful habit of star
ing at the floor as if he had no interest in anyone else – that way he looked al
most exactly like James and was much easier to despise.
"What do you call this?" Snape demanded icily, extending the boy's homework betw
een two fingers, as if disdaining to touch such a contaminated item.
"It – it's my homework, sir," Harry managed to keep his voice steady. It made hi
m very nervous when people snuck up behind him. Uncle Vernon wasn't able to do t
hat very often, thanks to his size, but Dudley, despite his heft, was surprising
ly stealthy. He tried not to tremble as the professor reached over his shoulder
and dangled his parchment in front of him. It was liberally covered with scrawls
of red ink.
"Do you imagine that I can actually read this atrocious handwriting?" Snape snee
red.
"You made comments," Harry pointed out uncertainly, then jumped when Snape slamm
ed the parchment down on the desktop.
"I will not tolerate insolence, Potter!" Snape's voice was a menacing hiss and H
arry cowered back. When Uncle Vernon got quiet like that, it invariably meant so
mething very bad and very painful was about to happen.
Snape forced himself to take a deep breath. He had dreaded this day for years, k
nowing that eventually he would have James Potter's son in his class. Knowing th
at he would have to teach the little monster. Knowing that the boy would be ever
y inch his father's son. And here he was, proving every one of Snape's predictio
ns true.
No apologies for his behavior. No regret for his illegible scrawl. Just impertin
ent backtalk and a fastidious withdrawal lest the nasty Slytherin get too close.
Snape felt the last threads of his self-control start to unravel and he distrac
ted himself by looking at the boy's punishment.
That was nearly enough to make him strangle the brat then and there.
He had clearly written "I shall behave myself in the classroom setting." on the
blackboard for Potter to copy. The insufferable horror had written, "I should be
more careful in class when sitting." Not once, which might have been overlooked
, but 150 times. He had deliberately and defiantly refused to do the assignment.
Never before in his teaching career had Snape been treated with such overt disob
edience. Potter wasn't even trying to hide his contempt. What's more, the lines
were every bit as splotched and splattered as the homework assignment. The brat
was liberally splashed with ink as well – was this his idea of humor? No one cou
ld get this bespattered by accident, though Snape was certain that if he called
the boy on it, Potter would innocently protest that it was simply the fault of a
n inferior quill.
At least he could prevent that claim. Snape spun on his heel and stalked to the
front of the room. Somewhere in the storage area under the demonstration desk he
had a leak-proof quill that a Muggleborn had left behind some time ago. Now, wh
ere was it…?
Harry watched the professor stride away, his heart pounding. Why had Snape sudde
nly left? What had he forgotten? What was he going to get? He was obviously disp
leased with both Harry's homework assignment and his punishment lines, but he wa
sn't sure what he could or should do about either.
He had done the best he could. From this seat at the back of the room, the chalk
board was little more than a blur; the spectacles that Aunt Petunia had gotten f
or him at the charity bin were better than nothing, but they weren't strong enou
gh for him to see the front of the room. Could he have miscopied the assigned se
ntence? Normally in class, Ron would be sure to whisper any corrections to him,
but here in detention, Harry hadn't thought it was appropriate to ask. Snape cer
tainly hadn't seemed in a chatty mood, and Harry had thought it better to get st
raight to work rather than risk further invective by asking permission to sit cl
oser to the front.
Harry wished he had thought to ask Ron if teachers were allowed to hit the stude
nts at Hogwarts. Ron would know, with all his older brothers having gone here be
fore him. The teachers back home didn't hit, but maybe that was just because the
y knew that as soon as they sent home a note or complaint of any kind, the Dursl
eys would make sure Harry was too sore to repeat the offense. In actual fact, mo
st of the time the real culprit was Dudley, but at least his fat cousin wasn't h
ere at Hogwarts. Of course, that made little difference in this case: Harry had
managed to get into trouble all on his own, though he still wasn't sure why the
Potions Master seemed to despise him so much. It was true that he couldn't answe
r the man's questions, but no one else – except Hermione – could either.
A clatter from the front of the room caught his attention and he squinted to see
what Snape was doing. There he was, taking something out from his desk – Harry'
s breath caught in his throat.
It was a cane.
Harry's heart plummeted. Oh no, he was getting the cane! But what had he done? I
f they caned you for poor handwriting here, what did they do for real misbehavio
r?
Abruptly Harry found himself on his feet, backing away from his desk, little whi
mpers escaping his lips. He couldn't take a thrashing, not with a cane, not so s
oon after Uncle Vernon's belt. There was no way he would be able to keep from ye
lling, and yelling was almost as bad as back talk or sniveling. No sniveling, th
at was the rule, along with holding still and saying thank you afterwards and… D
isobey the rules, and the punishment got worse, but Harry knew that he would nev
er be able to keep still, no matter how hard he tried.
"Please, please…" he whispered, barely aware that he was speaking. He was so con
sumed with terror that he was actually at the door, tugging on it, before his mi
nd realized what he was doing.
Snape looked up at the noise from the brat. So far all he had found was his char
med cauldron stirrer. The polished wood was attractive, but really, pewter was a
much more utilitarian choice. No wonder he had tucked the cedar stirrer down he
re for safekeeping, lest he inadvertently use it in a corrosive potion and ruin
it forever. He would have sworn that the quill was in here too, but obviously th
e Gryffintwit wasn't going to give him the time to look. What was the little fie
nd up to now?
Aha. Trying to sneak out of detention early, by the looks of it. He had abandone
d his lines and was frantically tugging at the door. Stupid child, did he really
imagine Snape didn't lock and ward his classroom during detentions? Obviously P
otter was as bad as those Weasley twins – well, if it took a sticking charm to g
et him to stay put in his chair and stop squirming, then the professor was all t
oo happy to oblige.
"No, no, please, please don't. Please, no," Harry whimpered, panic rising as the
saturnine professor loomed closer. "Please, I'll be good. Please…" he broke off
as the man's hand fell roughly on his shoulder and squeezed.
The pain actually helped snap him out of it. It gave him a focus and the mindles
s terror receded somewhat. The waiting was always the worst; once the hitting be
gan, Harry knew what to expect.
Snape smirked down at him. Obviously Potter had ignored or forgotten the rules a
s laid down by Dumbledore and his own Head of House. Students only left detentio
n when they were dismissed. Disobedience earned another detention. "Forgot the r
ules, boy?" he sneered.
Harry flinched. Uncle Vernon liked to have the rules recited back to him too. An
d Harry had just given a terrific demonstration of what not to do. Could he have
whined any more pitifully? Sniveling only made them angrier, like crying. It su
ggested that you didn't think you deserved your punishment, and usually guarante
ed additional whacks or at least another day without food. Harry was pretty sure
he knew what was coming, but he also knew there wasn't a damn thing he could do
about it, so he took a deep breath and started his recitation. "No snivel-" WHA
CK!
"Forgot the rules, boy?" Snape looked down at the boy in disgust. Potter had aba
ndoned his futile attempts to leave and was simply standing there, staring at hi
s toes, obviously pondering his next act of disrespect. Snape moved to drag him
back to his desk and stick him in place, when the brat's defiant streak reassert
ed itself. "No, Snivell-"
The sound of the hated nickname, devised by the little fiend's father, had the i
nstant effect of overwhelming Snape's reason in a red haze of rage. How dare he!
How dare the arrogant brat, this egotistical, spoiled monster, think he could e
mploy the same jeering taunt that his father had used to make Snape's school yea
rs a misery? The word hadn't even made it past the boy's lips when Snape's hand,
acting entirely of its own volition, lashed out.
It struck the small boy square on the cheek with enough force to lift him off hi
s feet. He bounced, head first, off the stone wall and fell to his knees, dazed.
The frame of his glasses had been caught between the boy's skull and the unyiel
ding wall, and the broken remains now hung crazily from one ear, while a cut ove
r the child's temple began to pour blood.
Snape froze.
Dead. He was dead. To hell with Voldemort. Suddenly the threat of the Dark Lord
paled by comparison to what Dumbledore was going to do to him. The ugly spy had
just struck the Golden Gryffindor. Dumbledore would kill him.
No, he corrected himself numbly. Dumbledore would fire him and – quite possibly
– kick him out of the Order. Minerva would kill him.
All his fury had fled the instant Potter's head connected with the wall. No, to
be fair, it was gone as soon as his hand had connected with a loud crack against
the boy's jaw and Snape caught sight of the wide, shocked eyes – Lily's eyes –
staring at him.
Pow! Harry saw stars. It was a few moments before his vision cleared enough for
him to clamber painfully back to his feet. He dropped the remains of his glasses
on the nearest desk and dabbed at the blood streaming down his chin. His cheek
and jaw throbbed where Snape had hit him, and he tasted blood from where the ins
ide of his cheek had been cut against his teeth. He could feel a goose egg alrea
dy rising on the other side of his head, where he had collided with the wall.
He blinked hard, holding back tears. No crying. That was another rule.
He shouldn't have been caught by surprise like that. Just because Uncle Vernon l
et you finish speaking didn't mean everyone did. Aunt Petunia would sometimes do
the same thing – ask you a question then let fly just as you were trying to ans
wer. He should have seen the blow coming. Even though he couldn't have dodged it
– that would have led to TRULY dire consequences – he could have braced himself
solidly enough to avoid going airborne. At least this time he didn't think he h
ad a concussion, just a goose egg.
Snape had moved back to the front of the room, presumably to retrieve the cane.
Harry followed him, a trifle unsteadily. Between the blow to his head and his st
iff gait, it was surprisingly hard to walk a straight line, but somehow he manag
ed. He halted at the first row of desks and started to take off his robe. Maybe,
just maybe, if he got into position quickly and showed how good he could be, Sn
ape wouldn't be too hard on him.
Snape practically staggered back to his desk at the front of the room. How could
he have done that? In a single rash, unthinking move, he had just destroyed wha
t little life he had managed to reclaim for himself. There was no exculpation th
at he could offer Albus.
Snape was the icy Potions master, the man who never lost control. For years he h
ad been able to hold his temper with students, even the Weasley twins, despite f
ormidable provocation; no one would believe that Potter had, in his very first d
etention ever, done anything to excuse, let alone merit, a physical assault of t
his nature. It would be obvious even to a Hufflepuff that Snape had simply chose
n to batter the boy. In other words, he had acted exactly like the Potter-hating
Death Eater everyone suspected he still was, and given his choice of victim, he
could be quite certain that Albus Dumbledore's lengthy protection of him was ab
out to come to an abrupt end.
Maybe, just maybe, if he had only given the boy a swat on the rear, he might hav
e talked his way out of it. But to leave a livid handprint on Potter's face, to
say nothing of slamming his head against the dungeon wall, was something Dumbled
ore would never excuse. Frankly, neither could Snape.
However much he might have loathed, despised, hated, and abhorred James Potter,
the two of them were contemporaries. They had insulted, attacked, cursed, and he
xed one another for years, but they were always more or less evenly matched. Pot
ter hadn't even enlisted the other Marauders very often; he preferred to fight o
ne on one. But when Snape had slapped Harry Potter, the disparity in their size
was incontrovertible. In that instant, it had been indelibly brought home to Sna
pe: Harry was not his father – he was a little boy who had just been unforgivabl
y assaulted by an adult twice his size.
It didn't matter what the little brat had said – he was the adult. He was the on
e who was supposed to remain in control despite the tantrums exploding around hi
s ears. Yet all it had taken was a single word from the boy and Snape had comple
tely and irretrievably lost control of himself.
Where had Potter even learned the insult? Still reeling from the cataclysmic eve
nts of the past few minutes, Snape's brain wasn't really working very well, but
it finally identified the problem: surely everyone who might have shared the sto
ry of the Marauder/Snape rivalry was dead or imprisoned long before the boy was
old enough to retain any details of the tale? Well, he would at least get the an
swer to that question before releasing the brat to run screaming to Dumbledore.
He turned to confront the boy and stumbled backwards, his surprise at the sight
before him literally taking him aback.
Potter had removed his robes and was now bent over a chair, in perfect position
for a thrashing.
"What? What?" Snape quacked, his heart nearly leaping from his chest. If Voldemo
rt had popped out of the nearest cauldron and started singing love songs, he cou
ldn't have been more astonished. What on earth was Potter doing? How did the Boy
Who Lived, the Golden Child, even know such a position, let alone assume it wit
h the ease of long practice?
The child was muttering something to himself. Snape tentatively stepped closer.
"What is it, Potter?" he asked with unaccustomed hesitancy.
"The rules," Harry answered obediently, hoping – sort of – that the professor wo
uld finally be willing to get the punishment over with. He stayed in position, w
ondering if the first blow would fall while he was still speaking. "No sniveling
, no crying, no running, no yelling, no flinching." He paused. No wallops so far
. Was that a good sign? Maybe he could sneak in a quick apology in case it helpe
d? "I'm very sorry. I won't do it again. I don't know why I tried to get away. I
just wasn't expecting the cane. I'm sorry. I'll be good. I promise."
Harry waited again, surprised that Snape hadn't yet started the beating. What ha
d he done wrong now?
Snape stared around in confusion. What cane? What was the boy blithering about?
Where – oh. The stirrer. Yes, it resembled a school cane, vaguely. But that stil
l didn't explain why the boy would actually think such an object would be used.
Let alone used on him, of all people.
The professor also realized, with a rush of shame, that he had put words in the
boy's mouth. Harry hadn't been using his hated nickname, he was trying to recite
some appalling rules. And where did they come from, anyway?
"Who taught you these rules?" he demanded, an awful suspicion as well as a great
deal of guilt making his voice even angrier than usual.
"My uncle, sir," Harry answered, too frightened now to lie. Had he said them wro
ng? Did the people at Hogwarts have different rules? Oh no, that must be it. Eve
rything else was different; why had he been so stupid as to assume that the rule
s around punishment would be the same as they were back home. "I'm sorry, sir,"
he gulped quickly. "I didn't know there were different rules here. If you teach
me, I won't forget them, honest." He twisted to face Snape, hoping his sincerity
would show in his expression, but he had to break off with a hiss of pain as hi
s back protested the movement.
"Potter," Snape said in a slow, almost strangled tone, "lift the back of your sh
irt and drop your trousers."
Harry squeezed his eyes shut. He'd been hoping and hoping – but no. He should ha
ve known. If you try to run, you get twice the punishment. So, it would be the c
ane on the bare. He'd had it before, but not often, and never on top of a punish
ment like the one he'd gotten just before leaving Privet Drive. But there was no
choice in the matter, and the longer he delayed, the more he'd get. So without
further fuss or any pleading looks over his shoulder at the professor, he unfast
ened his trousers and let them fall. He briefly toyed with the idea of waiting f
or the order to lower his underwear, but he decided that anything but absolute c
ompliance would just result in more whacks. He pulled down his underwear, wincin
g as the waistband dragged over the tender skin, then hiked up his shirttail and
waited for the cane to fall.
Snape stared at the bruised and welted backside and felt another wave of homicid
al fury overtake him. That, and an even more unbelievable surge of protectivenes
s for the small boy standing so forlorn and alone before him. It was obvious tha
t the boy was not only the recent recipient of a brutal thrashing, but also all-
too-familiar with such treatment. He hadn't even hesitated when told to bare his
bottom, and it was now clear why he had assumed that a cane was going to be emp
loyed during his detention. The only thing that surprised Snape was that the boy
had been able to sit down at all. Suddenly he saw the incessant fidgeting in a
new light.
A flick of the wand, and Potter was again clothed. He started, obviously surpris
ed, but he didn't get up. "Stand up, Potter!" Snape snarled. What was he suppose
d to do now? This revelation would blow the lid off the wizarding world.
Harry slowly rose, wondering what was happening. The cut on his head was no long
er bleeding, or at least no more than a slow ooze, and he bit his lip, worrying
that the professor had decided to cuff him about the head a few more times befor
e moving on to the cane.
He waited, shoulders bowed, as he could feel the tall man's angry gaze rake him.
"Sit down, Potter!" Snape ordered, then as the boy almost imperceptibly winced,
he hastily countermanded his order. "No, wait. Just stand there. Look at me. In
the eye!"
Harry wasn't sure he had heard right. Make eye contact? During a punishment? But
Snape had sounded mad enough already. Harry slowly let his eyes rise to meet th
e angry obsidian glare.
Snape thought briefly about reading the boy's mind, but Dumbledore would really
have a stroke at that idea. Besides, it wasn't as if the child had lied yet. May
be it wasn't even necessary. "I see your uncle and aunt are… strict… with you, P
otter."
Harry wasn't sure how to answer. He knew that normally he wasn't supposed to tal
k about being punished, but on the other hand, Snape was behaving an awful lot l
ike Uncle Vernon, so maybe it was okay? "Yes, sir," he finally said cautiously.
"They want to be sure that I don't take things for granted."
"Like what?"
"Like – like their taking me in after my parents were killed. Like their giving
me a home so I didn't have to go to an orphanage. That kind of stuff. So when I
don't behave – " or when freaky things happen " – they make sure I know I've don
e wrong."
"What did you do to earn the marks you currently bear?" Snape asked coldly.
Harry shuffled uncomfortably. "I talked about looking forward to coming to Hogwa
rts. It was pretty ungrateful of me. Uncle Vernon said this way I'd be sure to r
emember them and not get all caught up in new school stuff."
Bastards! Snape nearly apparated straight to Privet Drive to kill the sadistic M
uggles then and there. Only the knowledge of Hogwarts' wards and the need to see
to the child before him held him back.
"And your egregious scrawl? Is your wrist fractured as well?" Almost before the
sarcastic question was out, he wished he could bite it back. He should have done
a diagnostic spell – what if the boy really did have an injury?
"I don't think so, sir," Harry responded seriously. He wondered when the interro
gation would end and the punishment resume, but he figured that in the meantime,
he'd better answer as honestly as he could. He was completely confused now and
had no idea what the right answers were, so he decided just to be truthful and s
ee what happened. "I just don't really know how to write with a quill. I never h
ave before coming here."
"And your House has not been tutoring you?" Snape frowned. He would have verball
y eviscerated his Slytherin prefects if they hadn't provided basic tutoring of t
his sort to the new first years. Not that Slytherin attracted many Muggleborns o
r Muggle-raiseds these days, but there were always a few…
Harry just looked confused. Snape rolled his eyes – ah yes, typical Gryffindor.
All courage and nobility but the brains of a trout. Not even ensuring that the n
ew students had the study skills and habits they needed to succeed. "And your li
nes? Explain if you will what happened there?"
"Um, did I do something wrong?" Harry asked uncertainly then bit his lip. Stupid
! Of course he had done something wrong – that's why Professor Snape was asking
the question. "Um, I'm sorry… I can't really see the board from back there and s
o…"
"What is wrong with your glasses?" Snape flushed as he realized the absurdity of
that question and with a muttered Reparo he retrieved the now mended spectacles
and handed them back to the boy.
Potter shoved them back on his nose and squinted at the board, then paled. "Oh!
I – I didn't know, sir. I'm sorry. I'll do them all over. I'll –" Snape waved an
impatient hand, cutting off the rest of the apologies.
"Why are you still making those ridiculous faces? Are you telling me that even w
ith your glasses you have difficulty seeing the blackboard from this distance?"
Harry nodded, shamefaced. "My eyes are really bad."
Good grief. At this rate they'd have to hope that Voldemort walked up to Potter
and tapped him on the shoulder. If he stood even ten feet away, Potter would nev
er be able to see him, let alone fight him. "When was the last time your prescri
ption was updated?"
"Prescription? I'm not sick, sir."
"Idiot. Your eyeglasses. When was the last time you had your prescription checke
d."
Harry shrugged. Was this some kind of wizard thing? "I don't think that's ever h
appened, sir. Maybe Muggles don't."
Snape scowled. If he hadn't known better, he would have assumed the boy was deli
berately mocking him. "Don't be ridiculous. When did you get this pair?"
"About two years ago. My old pair didn't really fit anymore, and the school comp
lained, so Aunt Petunia came home with these."
Snape's glower worsened, and Harry's dread deepened. Everything he did just seem
ed to make the man angrier. Maybe he would send Harry back to his family and not
have to deal with him any longer? But no, surely only the Headmaster could expe
l students.
As if he could read Harry's mind, Snape abruptly turned around. "Come with me, P
otter. We're going to see the Headmaster."
Harry gasped. "But sir – please, I'll be good. Please don't – " Snape only mutte
red something furious and reached back, grabbing Harry's arm and yanking him alo
ng.
"Please, sir, don't make me go back to the Dursleys. I want to stay here. Please
, please, let me stay. Don't expel me," Harry begged the entire way up to the He
admaster's office, but Snape didn't so much as look at him. He merely marched on
, dragging Harry with him and pausing only long enough to give the gargoyle the
correct password. Harry fell silent as they neared Dumbledore's door; obviously
his pleading had been in vain.
Snape fought down his own fear. The upcoming interview would likely prove exceed
ingly unpleasant, but – as usual – he had to ignore his own welfare and focus on
the greater good. Or in this case, Harry.
He spared a glance for the young boy at his side. Now that he saw Harry, and not
a mini-James, he wondered how he could have mistaken the hesitancy for arroganc
e and overlooked the signs of pain and fatigue. "Albus," he said, storming into
the office and not giving the old man the chance to offer anyone a lemon drop, "
I must insist that you contact Poppy and Minerva immediately."
Dumbledore's eyebrows rose, but he obligingly went to his floo and summoned both
women. It was only then that he properly caught sight of Harry – and the large
scarlet hand imprinted on his cheek – and the twinkle was abruptly gone from his
eye. "Harry," he said very, very gently, "what happened to you?"
Oops. It might have been a good idea to clean the boy up a bit before dragging h
im here. Snape had been so outraged at Dursley's treatment of Potter that he had
nearly forgotten about his own misdemeanors in that regard. He knew Albus would
eventually get the whole story out of him, but it would have been smarter – a l
ot smarter – to have washed the blood off the boy first.
Harry flicked an uncertain gaze at Snape, and Dumbledore's eyebrows drew togethe
r. Snape caught his breath in panic at the old wizard's expression. It was easy
to forget about the man's true nature in the face of his "doddering grandpa" act
, but abruptly that mask was dropped and a furious and immensely powerful wizard
was glaring at him.
Before the Headmaster could say anything, Pomfrey and McGonagall arrived through
the floo. "What is it, Albus?" Minerva asked, then glimpsed Harry. "Mr Potter,
it is nearly curfew, what – WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?"
Poppy was already pulling out her wand when Snape stepped between them and the b
oy. "Just a minute," he ordered, knowing he was only going to get one chance at
this. If he didn't tell it right, he'd be lucky to end up in Azkaban, the way th
e three of them were glaring at him.
"Go ahead, Severus," Dumbledore said quietly, but for once there was no hint of
geniality in his eyes. Harry had nearly stopped breathing in his attempts to be
inconspicuous.
"Mr Potter had detention with me tonight. During the course of the evening, I di
scovered certain – things – that I need to bring to your attention."
"Including how he received those injuries?" Albus asked in a purr that would hav
e done Snape proud. Minerva and Poppy had their wands clenched in their fists as
they glared at him.
Snape swallowed hard. "I am responsible for the visible injuries," he acknowledg
ed, and hastily stepped back a pace as Minerva started for him. "I make no excus
es for myself," he blurted as Albus gestured the animagus back. "However, they a
re the least of his problems."
"You will need to explain that," Dumbledore stated flatly.
Snape turned to the boy and abruptly realized that what he was about to do was u
nlikely to be well received. He might not be the most sensitive man, but he had
had enough abused children in his House over the years to know how deep the scar
s went. Well, he wasn't a Slytherin for nothing. "Potter," he said quietly, forc
ing the frightened boy to look at him, "you know what you were asking me as we c
ame up here?" Harry nodded, not daring to hope. "If you do as I say, and answer
everyone's questions honestly and fully, then I promise I will grant your wish."
The boy's eyes – Lily's eyes, dammit – grew huge. "And I will waive the rest of
your detention."
Harry couldn't help it when a grin broke out across his face. Even though he kne
w it might be a trick, he couldn't stop beaming. Suddenly, for all his snarkines
s and yelling, Snape was his favorite professor. "You promise?" he whispered bac
k.
"I give you my Wizard's Oath," Snape said gravely. Even the other adults were si
lent, recognizing the solemn nature of Snape's offer.
"Then okay," Harry said, nodding. He still wasn't sure what was going on, but if
it meant he'd avoid expulsion and a caning, not to mention the rest of the line
s, then he was willing.
"Done." Snape waved his wand and abruptly Harry found himself clothed in a hospi
tal gown. "Turn around." With the professor's strong hand on his shoulder, Harry
had little choice in the matter, and he found himself turning his back on the a
dults in the room.
It wasn't until he heard the gasps behind him that he realized that he was cloth
ed in nothing but the hospital gown and it, like most of its species, didn't clo
se in the back. He squawked and tried to grab at the edges of the gown, but Snap
e swatted his hands away, forcing him to continue to moon the Headmaster, his He
ad of House, and the school's medi-witch. For once fury overwhelmed fear, and he
glared up at Professor Snape. "Stop it! Give me my clothes back!"
Snape looked down at him, a hint of amusement in his eye, but after a moment he
relented and a second gown appeared, tied front to back and covering Harry's exp
osed backside. "I am about to speak of you quite bluntly," Snape informed him. "
Would you rather wait outside?"
Harry frowned back at him. If he was going to be talked about, then why should h
e leave? He was tired of people talking about him behind his back. He was gettin
g pretty damn tired of a lot of things actually. "I'll stay," he replied pugnaci
ously.
Snape raised an eyebrow. "As you wish." He turned to the others. "The boy is obv
iously the victim of repeated abuse and neglect. He was whipped by his uncle for
expressing enthusiasm about attending Hogwarts. I am quite certain from his beh
avior in my classroom after my own – " he stumbled slightly over the words "- in
appropriate actions, that Potter has been frequently and undeservedly beaten by
his relatives. His eyesight is appalling, in part because he has never had an ey
e examination. His aunt apparently obtains whatever cheap spectacles can be had
and brings them back for him. The boy cannot see the blackboard from the third r
ow. Given his scrawniness, I would not be surprised if he was also denied food a
nd other basic comforts by the deranged Muggles with whom you saw fit to place h
im, Albus. I assure you that, blood wards or no, he will not be returning there
again."
The other adults simply gaped at him for long moments. Then: "Harry, is this tru
e?" Dumbledore asked quietly.
Harry didn't reply at once, his head whirling. How did Snape know? Why had he sa
id these things? Didn't he know how much trouble Harry would be in when Uncle Ve
rnon found out? But then Snape had said that he wouldn't let Harry go back to hi
s relatives, so was that okay then? But wasn't Snape just as likely to thrash hi
m as Uncle Vernon was? Was he any better off here, if Snape was just going to ta
ke up where his uncle left off? But then there was a lot of food here, and he ha
d friends for the first time ever, and his bed in Gryffindor Tower was a lot bet
ter than the cupboard under the stairs, and…
"Potter!" Snape snarled, making Harry jump. "Answer the Headmaster!"
"What? Oh, yes, sir. It's true."
"Harry, what exactly did Professor Snape do to you during detention?" Professor
McGonagall intervened, giving Snape a most unfriendly look.
Harry blinked, not sure what his Head of House was asking about. The lines? The
slap? The near-caning?
Before he could reply, Snape did. "I – I misinterpreted something Potter said an
d confused him with his father. I lost my temper and struck him. Hard enough to
send him into the wall. He hit his head, broke his glasses, and suffered a cut.
There is no excuse for my actions, and I would gladly submit to a Cruciatus if I
could undo it."
Harry looked at him curiously. He had no idea what a Crucio-thingy was, but the
other teachers now appeared a lot less angry than they had just a few moments ag
o. The twinkle in Dumbledore's eye had made a comeback, and if anything that mad
e Snape look even more sour than usual. "Headmaster, if you say 'I told you so'
–"
"Severus, my dear boy, would I ever say such a thing?"
Madame Pomfrey bustled forward. "Don't think that you have heard the last from m
e, Severus," she said darkly as she enfolded Harry in her arms. "Come along, Mr
Potter, let's get all those bruises healed."
Harry looked over his shoulder as he was hustled out by the medi-witch. Snape wa
s watching him, and Harry gave him a little smile and wave as the witch pulled h
im away. Snape just frowned back at him, but Harry was beginning to understand t
hat that was the professor's equivalent to a smile and nod.
"Severus, how you could strike a child like that – " McGonagall began angrily.
"I agree, Minerva. It is completely inexcusable. Much like a Head of House missi
ng signs of abuse and not being aware that one of her charges is completely inca
pable of holding a quill properly and is too blind to see a blackboard," Snape s
aid evenly.
McGonagall closed her mouth, opened it, closed it again, then finally threw her
hands up with a wordless exclamation. "Severus Snape, you are utterly impossible
!" She marched up to him, and Snape tensed, waiting for the hex or slap that was
sure to come.
It was only fair. If another professor had slapped around one of his little snak
es the way he had belted Potter, he would have been a lot quicker about exacting
revenge. Minerva was just as protective of her House as he was of his or as Dum
bledore was about the entire school. Severus had already decided that whatever s
he did, he was just going to take it. He had been serious about the Crucio, and
although he couldn't undo the injury to Potter – and the concomitant blow to wha
tever sense of security Harry had been beginning to develop about Hogwarts – he
could at least endure his own punishment with as much fortitude as the boy had s
hown. Voldemort had given him plenty of practice in that regard.
To his everlasting astonishment, Minerva kissed him softly on the cheek and whis
pered, "Harry is lucky to have found a protector like you, Severus," before head
ing to the infirmary in pursuit of Poppy and Harry.
Snape was so thunderstruck, it wasn't until well after Minerva had left that he
gathered his few remaining wits and protested, "I am not that brat's protector!"
A chuckle from the side made him turn to face Albus, and Snape suddenly felt as
young and as vulnerable as Harry. He eyed the Headmaster warily, certain that he
would not be as forgiving as his Deputy. After all, Snape – the evil bat of the
dungeons, the horrible Death Eating Slytherin – had attacked a student, and not
just any student, but Harry Potter. Surely, at the very least, he was going to
receive the tongue-lashing of the decade and be assigned penance that would make
even Voldemort whimper. Acting as Gryffindor's quidditch coach, perhaps? Or ass
isting the house elves in preparing and serving meals in the Great Hall? The Dar
k Lord only used Unforgivables; Dumbledore was a lot more inventive when it came
to torturing people.
"I assume you will come up with an alternate plan for Mr Potter's care, now that
you are no longer willing to entrust him to his relatives and the safety of the
blood wards?" Dumbledore asked politely.
Snape fidgeted. "I can see that such a responsibility would not be inappropriate
," he agreed stiffly.
"And you will visit the Dursleys to explain the situation to them?"
Now that was a task Severus was going to enjoy. "Yes!" he agreed instantly, a wo
lfish grin lighting up his dour features.
"And you will continue to do your best to repair your relationship with Harry."
"I don't have a relationship with Potter!" The retort flew out automatically, be
fore he could stop it, and he quailed at the look on Dumbledore's face. "Yes, al
l right, I will," he agreed, the words falling over each other in his haste to g
et them out. And in his heart, he knew it was the right thing to do. He had, lik
e it or not, reached out to the boy. Well, actually he had lashed out at the boy
first, and only afterwards reached out, but he needed to make amends for the fi
rst and to be honest, he was finding the second not nearly as hard to do as he h
ad expected.
"Excellent, my boy. Then I suggest you return to your quarters and get some rest
. I'm sure you will want to visit Harry in the infirmary early tomorrow morning
to make your apologies."
Snape hesitated at the door. Was that really all? Dumbledore was showing amazing
restraint. Even for a wizard of the Light, his response was astonishingly lenie
nt. Snape wouldn't have been surprised to find himself stretched over a chair wh
ile a charmed cane acted out Harry's worst imaginings. But Albus had turned away
and was idly stroking Fawkes. With a bewildered shrug, Snape turned to go.
"Oh, Severus," Albus called just as he was about to close the door, "you do unde
rstand that if you ever, ever again strike a student in so brutal a fashion, you
will not survive the night, correct?" The magical aura that accompanied the wor
ds was strong enough to make Snape's robes billow about his legs and blow his ha
ir off his forehead.
Snape swallowed hard. "Yes, Headmaster."
"Then good night, dear boy." Albus smiled benignly as the door closed behind him
.
Severus Snape let out a long, slow breath as he made his way down the stairs to
his dungeon. He had been right – with Potter around, his life would never be the
same, but somehow he found he didn't really mind.
END