"Hello?" Harry said nervously, leaning against the wall in the corridor, the public phone for the patients' use in his hand. His heart was beating fast. The front desk had called him down to tell him he had a call. There was only one person he'd given this number too.
"Hi Harry," said Hermione. Her voice was trembling.
"Hey, Hermione," he said, not sure what else to say.
"Thanks for telling me what's been going on. I'm glad you told me."
They were silent a second. Harry got the feeling Hermione was searching for words just as much as he was.
"Figured you had to know," muttered Harry at last. "I've missed you guys. Wasn't sure I could keep up the whole summer pretending I was ... at the Dursleys'."
"Have you heard back from Ron yet? You said in your letter you'd written him."
"Nah. I didn't give him the number here. You know, he could use a little instructions on how to use a phone."
Hermione gave a small laugh.
"Yeah, he could. I'll give him a few tips if you want to hear from him. I'm dropping by the Burrow in a few days for a quick visit. They've connected my house to the floo network now. Dumbledore thought it was safer for me to go to the Burrow that way."
"Sure. You can give Ron this number when you see him," said Harry after a moment. "Might be quicker than letters sometimes. Especially given the whole passing method ... can't guarantee anyone from our crowd will be able to take and deliver letters."
"I wanted to hear from you in person, that's why I called," Hermione said. "So, Harry, how are you?"
Harry couldn't think of anything to say to that, and he felt his stomach clench. He wanted to tell Hermione he was okay, but what could he say?
"You don't have to say fine," said Hermione, and her voice was filled with understanding. He knew she didn't really understand what he was going through, or at least he hoped she didn't. But that was okay. She understood enough what he'd been through to share his pain in some way, and that was enough in his opinion.
"Hermione ... things just suck lately," he said honestly, feeling some of the pressure in his chest leave. "I mean really suck."
"Is it bad there?"
"Well, the place is okay, actually," Harry admitted, sinking down into the chair in front of the phone, some of the tingling in his limbs fading away now. "Bit strange, but not bad. I made a friend. He's cool. Never went to Hogwarts though, so you wouldn't know him. I'd tell you more but I think I'm not allowed to mention names."
"That's fine," said Hermione. "I'm glad you have someone to hang out with there."
"Yeah, but I still miss you," Harry said, "and Ron."
Hermione sniffled a little on the other line.
"Harry, if there was a spell I could do, or a potion I could make, I'd spend every second finding a way to do it so you could feel better. I just ... I feel so powerless. I don't know what to do to h-help you!"
"Aw, Hermione, don't cry, I'm fine," Harry said, and he could tell she was trying really hard to be strong so as not to make him feel worse. "Well, not exactly fine, but I will be. Things have gotten a little better. Really. It's just a slow process, is all."
"It's just ... I can't believe I never noticed it. I should have -"
"Don't feel guilty. I was trying not to be noticed. It wasn't your fault."
"I guess, but I just wish there was more I could do."
"You're doing fine, Hermione," Harry said quietly, tracing a figure eight across the white institutional tiles with the end of his trainer.
"C-Can I visit you sometime?"
Harry smiled. "Yeah. Tell Ron when you see him too. I'd love it if you guys visited. Sorry it took me so long to tell you what was going on. It's just ... I was ... worried about how you would react. I didn't want to hurt you. I know you care a lot about me ... and ... I guess that was why I was afraid to say anything. Guess I was scared you would be angry, or disappointed in me."
"Harry," Hermione said, her voice trembling, "it's okay. I'm just glad you told me. Besides, we all have problems. Well ... look at me. I study myself sick."
"Yeah, yeah you do," muttered Harry, surprised that she would admit it.
"And it isn't that I like to study all the time ... I'm just well, terrified I'll fail. You've just never seen me alone near finals. I get panic attacks and everything. Why do you think I hide in the library when I study? So ... so I guess I'm saying Harry ... don't feel guilty that you've got issues. We all have them. I do too."
"You ... you never told me that," Harry said, shocked.
Hermione was silent a second, and he could her gentle breathing on the other line. "No."
"Huh. I thought that I was the only one with, I dunno, problems like that, or something."
"You're not alone, Harry. It's hard to remember that sometimes. If you need reminding, just give me a call, okay?"
"I will," Harry said, feeling relieved.
"I have to go now," said Hermione apologetically. "My mother wants me to go book shopping with her. I promised her ages ago, and I think she's really looking forward to it. I'm sorry."
"That's okay. Thanks for calling."
"You're welcome. I'll call again soon. And when I go over to Ron's in two days I'll see if I can talk to Mrs Weasley about arranging a time for me and Ron to come say hi. I miss you."
"Yeah, I miss you too."
"Bye, Harry. Take care."
"I will. You too, okay?"
She said she would, and then they hung up. Harry leaned against the back of the rickety chair by the phone, and closed his eyes.
He felt different. Good different. Right now, the world didn't seem so big. The ward started to seem smaller. Less important. It was as though he needed outside contact to remind him that his own world existed beyond these neutral coloured walls. For here, inside these walls, existed a different sort of world. A world of listlessness, where people wandered constantly. Some did so purposefully, but most wandered aimlessly, nomads in both their minds and in life, never sure where to stop, and unsure if rest existed anywhere. Harry knew that feeling. That feeling of never being able to just breathe, of the weeks stretching before him in a dull, colourless line that would never end and filled him with nothing but fear and guilt and pain and loss.
Harry felt for the nomads as he walked through the ward and toward the gym to meet Stephen, where they were planning of tossing a quaffle around. Patients sat still as he walked past, silent and staring out windows. Others muttered to themselves, and some looked almost normal until you looked into their eyes and realized that there was nobody present within them. Harry felt for them, felt sorry that their world right now existed only in rooms with charmed windows and no locks. Some days, these people scared him, but today they didn't. He wasn't as frightened that he was going to stay as one of them. It was true that there were times when he was one with them, but today he'd seen a glimpse of somewhere better. Of something better, and he was reminded once again that the world was still moving. That he was a part of it too.
Ron and Hermione were the tethers that held him to the outside, and he was more grateful for them today than he ever had been before. He was never going to stay as one of these people. There would be days where he would stare blankly, but those days were always numbered, limited, if he had others to remind him of the good things. The good things. Love. Friendship. With those two things, he could fight it, push against the white walls until he broke through. Every day if he had to. But he was going to fight it. Fight the scars and the pain and the fear and the guilt. He was going to fight.
As Harry entered the gym, Stephen caught his eye and tossed him a quaffle. Harry raised his hands and caught it
"Who called?" asked Stephen, shoulders stooped and looking downcast. "A friend?"
"One of them," Harry said, grinning and tossing the quaffle to Stephen.
Stephen's eyes lit up, and he smiled back, his brown eyes laughing.
Severus spent the day with notepad and paper, isolated in his and Potter's room, thinking. It was empty right now, Potter gone, and the conditions ideal. A cup of tea on the table sat in front of him and all around was pure silence. Still, he resisted his task. His mind refused to settle down and replay everything he knew about child abuse. He didn't like to think about his time as a child, or as a teenager. Nor did he like to think about the situations where he had intervened at Hogwarts during his time as a teacher. But he felt like he needed to do this, however much it pained him to do so. Therefore, it was with an agonizing sort of determination that he paced back and forth, trying to come up with signs that should be taught to the teachers at Hogwarts. Signs that would save the students who were like he had been. Joseph had been encouraging him to do this. But it still wasn't easy.
He and Joseph had already decided the structure of the abuse prevention plan at Hogwarts. They had agreed that the staff should be required to attend a yearly seminar that detailed the warning signs, and how they might look in students. Severus had suggested they make staff more familiar with the protocol in place at Hogwarts and in the Ministry for dealing with abuse. Those rules, regulations, and processes were there already, but usually staff were instructed when the time came for them to know them. Knowing all this beforehand would give them an idea of their options and help them inform children in such situations that required action. In addition to this, Joseph thought it might be a good idea that the students have a physical at the beginning of the school year. Not only would it help give a baseline for the each student's health and allow for better treatment later on if the situation arose, but it would also reveal anyone who was hiding injuries. It was strict, but Severus and Joseph agreed it would go a long way to prevent abuse at Hogwarts. Severus found it a comforting thought.
Severus sighed and sunk into the chair, taking a sip of tea. He shut his eyes, trying not to remember all those times he'd showed up at Hogwarts and set up shop with his cauldron, brewing everything he could manage to heal the bruises and cuts. He'd always had a talent for potions, but he wondered what Dumbledore would think if he knew just how much of Severus' potions skills in those early years were from the hours of illicit practise to heal himself.
"Right ... signs of physical abuse ... let's start with that ..." muttered Severus, putting his quill to the paper.
An image of a little boy being dragged forcefully by his wrist hit Severus' eyes like a tidal wave. He watched the purple and yellow bloom on the wrist, remembering the way that it crept up his arm and circled around his pale skin.
Professor McGonagall's hand on his shoulder. Fifth year. He could still see the disappointment in her eyes. "My office, Mr Snape."
Flinching when touched. Especially when unexpected.
Eleven years old. Hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey had been hovering over him. "Would you like me to contact your parents?" she'd asked. "We do allow parents to visit."
He couldn't remember how he'd managed to say no without giving himself away, but the damage was done. Feverish and terrified, he'd taken ages to fall asleep that night.
Trouble sleeping - child seems fatigued all the time.
Severus shivered slightly, remembering that feverish night in the hospital wing, half-expecting his father to show up. The morning had been worse. His hand was shaking now.
"Stop it," he muttered to himself, scrubbing roughly at his eyes, which were starting to water. He scowled at himself, pressing the quill into the paper again.
Bedwetting - especially after having been previously dry at night
He pushed the memory from his mind and kept on, writing any and all he could think of, the symptoms of other kinds of abuse bleeding into his list.
Low self esteem
Anxiety - irrational fears, etc.
Self-destructive acts - alcohol & drug abuse, cutting, suicide attempts, etc.
And the list went on.
After a while, Severus lay back on his bed. It was enough for the day. There were a lot more signs, some specific to one kind of abuse, others that overlapped. So many symptoms. So many it hurt to think of all them. It would take some time to get those down, and he'd have to research sexual abuse. Thank goodness he'd never known that one. Thank goodness. Still, though. He felt sick when he realized how many from the list he knew from personal experience.
He glanced over at Potter's bed. Severus was relieved that the boy hadn't shown yet. He wasn't ready to face anyone right now. He felt weak and shaky after having all those memories pouring back. His brain felt dead, but as he stared at Potter's bed, he had one final thought.
It was unrelated, of course.
He grabbed for the quill and jotted down one last one.
Guilt complex - feels responsible for things they cannot control
Severus frowned, staring at the paper.
Unrelated. Was it?
He glanced back at Potter's bed.
He heard Dumbledore's voice, the memory of a discussion they had had a long time ago filling his head. A request Dumbledore had spoken of. A request from Potter.
Feeling like he was crazier than he thought, Severus moved the quill to start writing in smaller letters on another sheet of paper.
Reluctance to return to family for the summer.
He paused, re-evaluated, then continued.
Poor emotional regulation (Anger, outbursts; self-harm as a side-effect.)
That could stem from all he had to go through with the Dark Lord, though, right?
Authority issues (Umbridge? Myself?)
Brat. Potter's just a brat. Come on.
Independence inappropriate for age (Never asks for help.)
Trust issues (Tries to fix every bad situation without asking adults first.)
Severus felt cold, but the room was warm.
Sleep issues? (Nightmares - possibly not all Dark Lord induced? Fatigued - falls asleep in potions.)
Trauma, of course. The Dark Lord could do that to anyone.
Family shows little interest in schooling (No hospital wing visits when injured. No attendance for Tri-Wizard tournament.)
Eating issues (Eats very little, often looks sick after a few bites at start of term feast - perhaps not from eating candy after all?)
Poor concentration (As seen in occlumency, my class, everywhere ...)
Low self-worth (Sacrifices himself, runs into danger, willing to save others at all costs but surprised when others come after him)
Severus dropped the sheet, but he had a feeling he could write more.
No. It wasn't possible.
But the suspicion was there, and there was no way Severus could forget it now.
The door opened. Potter walked in and started rummaging through one of the drawers in his wardrobe.
Severus didn't say anything, and stared blankly at Potter, who wasn't paying any attention to him. After a moment, however, Potter looked up.
"Are you alright?" said Potter, looking worried as he surveyed Severus from across the room. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"I am fine," said Severus, clearing his throat. "Must be the potions they are giving me."
He gave a weak smile, hoping Potter would buy into it. To his surprise, Potter looked amused.
"Yeah, some of those calming draughts can really hit you hard," he said, pulling a book from the drawer and leaving. "See you later."
Severus groaned and lay back on his bed, remembering all the cases he'd dealt with. It was true that in many cases he'd found enough bruises to persecute, something he doubted he'd find with Potter. But even in those you had to get the kid to admit the abuse to really make headway. To get the confession, it never did them much good to interrogate them. You had to get to know them. The plus side about Hogwarts was that he had the time to do that, as well as plenty time left to take action to get them out of the situation before the end of the school year came around.
And here was Potter. Locked up in the same mental ward for the summer. Cut arms and sleeping in the same room, probably carrying the secret Severus never would have considered before now.
The worst part was that he knew he was right. He always was. And he'd been too stupid to see it, but now the idea was there. The glass had cracked and instead of seeing the reflection of James Potter, it was clear there was someone different behind it. Someone probably just as scared and broken as he had been as a teen. It pissed Severus off royally, not only that he had been wrong, but that Potter wasn't as different from him as he thought. And on top of it, he knew very well that he had to see this through. That he had to keep rubbing his face in the fact that he'd been wrong and Potter had a damn good reason to be a delinquent. He wasn't exactly a brat after all. He just ran off into trouble without a second thought because he didn't trust others to help him so he wouldn't have to do that. Severus didn't like this thought. He really didn't. He would rather have had Potter be a regular brat. Maybe a spoiled brat, even. At least then he wouldn't be an abused brat. Nobody deserved that.
That, and half the trouble was that Severus only ever trusted himself to do the dirty work. Nobody he knew had an understanding of abuse like he did. So there was no doubt in his mind that he was in the best position at the moment to find out what Potter's home life was like. It was the best chance he had, and he'd sworn a long time ago that he would never abandon a student if he thought they needed him, no matter how much he didn't like the kid. Severus knew he didn't have to like Potter, but he knew he could never abandon him. Even now, Severus couldn't quite forget how Slughorn had treated him when he was a student. The man had always just brushed him aside. By taking no interest in him he had done nothing but remind Severus he was worthless, and in doing that Severus suffered in silence, condemned to far more years of abuse than he should have had to endure. He couldn't do that to Potter, or anyone.
The worst part of it all was that he knew all of his observation would be pointless if Potter didn't admit that it was happening. And for that to happen, Potter had to trust him first. And that was not going to be easy.