As Harry trudged home from school he considered his predicament. The note his teacher had written to his Dad was certainly not good news. However, Harry had only lived with his Dad for a few months and had no idea what to expect. He had only been in trouble once before since he came to live with his Dad and his consequence had been extremely minor.
His Dad had been required to attend a conference with his teacher, Ms. Gurley. Harry had not been turning in any work, none at all, not class work, not homework, nothing. Harry's Dad, Greg, had been surprised and explained to Ms. Gurley that he had observed Harry working quite diligently. Harry had been called in from the hallway and required to produce his notebooks. They were filled with writing.. Harry had watched as his Dad and Ms. Gurley flipped the pages, quickly scanning each one. His reading notebook was filled with his stories, observations, interesting words, and reflections about his reading. His math notebook had problems that Harry had found on the Internet. Each problem was neatly pasted onto the page. Beneath the problems were Harry's meticulous attempts to solve them. The work was clearly above grade level. His Dad had leaned down to rub his leg and then looked at Harry appraisingly. Ms. Gurley shrilly demanded to know if this was Harry's own work. Harry had just shrugged. Harry would never forget his Dad's words to Ms. Gurley, "It's obvious that my son finds second grade to be beneath him. It's also obvious that you really haven't been paying attention to his progress. I would be angry with you, but I hadn't noticed either." Then with a gruff, "C'mon Harry," he had limped out of the room.
Harry hadn't been sure what to think as they silently walked to the car. They were about halfway home when his father had stated his philosophy, "Everybody lies." Harry had answered with a brilliant, "Huh?" That's when Dr. House had explained his theory that nobody was completely honest. "I've even been known to provide misinformation," had been the statement that had most surprised Harry. As they pulled into the driveway Dr. House said quietly, "However, that doesn't mean that it is acceptable for you to lie to me." Harry had nodded dumbly and followed his Dad to the house. His dad had opened the door for him and as Harry passed by had given him a light swat on his rear end and that had been it.
Things did change after that. Harry no longer attended second grade. Instead he went with his Dad to the hospital and spent the day writing in his notebooks. Harry also had taken several tests. At the beginning of this school year, three weeks prior, he had begun at a new school. It was a private school for the highly gifted and Harry loved everything about it, except for his strict teacher. Most of the day he was allowed to do what interested him as long as he was quiet and that was not a problem for Harry. At certain points his teacher would work with the class or a small group teaching them short lessons that applied to their individual work. Harry usually didn't mind that too much, but today was different.
Mr. Snape had briefly explained that Harry needed work on his use of commas and then given Harry a work packet about comma usage with instructions to read it carefully and to write answers for every other question. Then Harry would be required to review his recent writing and correct his commas. Harry didn't like criticism and he thought that Mr. Snape was picking on him. Besides, Harry was at an important point in his writing and he didn't want to stop.
After briefly glancing at the packet Harry had thrown it on the floor while fiercely shaking his head. Mr. Snape had looked up calmly and sent him to the corner. "No," yelled Harry, "you won't treat me like a freaking baby."
"Language, Mr. Potter," Mr. Snape had stated with infuriating calmness.
However, Harry had lost his temper and began having a tantrum, like any other seven-year old might have. He picked up the comma packet, ripped it in half, and stomped on it all the while yelling, "NO, NO, NO."
"Are you quite finished, Potter?" Harry hadn't answered, but had stomped off to the corner where he had stayed until lunchtime. Mr. Snape sent the other students to lunch and called Harry out of the corner. "You will sit at your desk and eat, then you will repair that packet and complete it. You must bring this letter back tomorrow and it must be signed by your father." Harry had spent the rest of the day studying commas while his classmates participated in recess, art class, and a math contest.
Harry didn't know why he had flown off the handle, but it only made him angrier that Mr. Snape seemed unperturbed. "What a git!" Harry thought as he arrived home. Although Harry usually spent the afternoons with a neighbor, he noticed that his Dad's car was in the driveway so he headed for the front door. He was kind of glad he wouldn't have to wait to confess his crimes, but he was also afraid of what might happen. Harry knew what his mother would have done. She would have screamed at him and then sent him to his room to wait for her latest boyfriend to whip him. All of her boyfriends seemed to take pleasure in removing their belts and letting Harry have it.
Dr. House was sitting on the couch, smoking a cigar, and watching football. Harry trudged over and handed him the envelope. "What's this about?"
"I got in trouble at school," Harry mumbled. "I have to take that back tomorrow, signed by you." Harry was staring at his shoes.
Dr. House opened the envelope and read what seemed to be a very long missive from Mr. Snape. "Hmm. It seems you need to work on controlling your temper. Do you have anything to say for yourself?"
"I just wanted to write," Harry whined. "I was at a turning point in my story."
"And did you get to write?"
"What would have happened if you had asked your teacher to let you write for a few more minutes before you began your assignment?"
"He would have said no…I think."
"Next time, ask. Now, go do your homework."
Harry was shocked. Was that the whole lecture: "Next time, ask?" There had to be more to it. Maybe his Dad was just waiting for the right moment. Harry did his homework and then walked back into the living room. "Dad," he whispered. Dr. House turned his head. "I finished my homework."
"What should I do now?"
"Harry, I believe that you are perfectly capable of entertaining yourself until dinner."
"Yes sir," Harry went to his room and worked on the story he had been so anxious to continue at school. He was careful to use commas correctly. It felt like 10 minutes but had probably been at least an hour when Harry heard his Dad calling. Nervously (maybe this was when he would be punished) he jumped up and presented himself to his Dad.
"Wash up and set the table. Dinner's almost ready." Again, Harry was surprised, but he guessed that the punishment would come at bedtime. Greg didn't usually say much at dinner and today was no exception. The two ate in silence and then cleaned up together. "Bedtime, I'll come and check on you in a few minutes." Harry analyzed what his Dad had said. Those were the same words he used every night, but had his Dad emphasized the check more than usual?
Harry brushed his teeth, put on his pajamas, and climbed into bed. Once there, he waited anxiously. When he heard his Dad limping down the hall, his stomach twisted, but his Dad merely poked his head in and said, "All set?"
"Then good night," his Dad said as he turned and went back into the living room. Harry tossed and turned, but he couldn't get to sleep. After what seemed like hours he decided he just needed to go ask his Dad when and what his punishment would be.
As he softly padded down the hall he could see his Dad drinking a beer and reading something, probably one of his medical journals. Nervously Harry approached his unpredictable father. "Dad?" Greg, who had been thinking about his latest patient, was startled to see his son out of bed. Harry had never gotten out of bed at night before. Of course Harry hadn't been with him for long. Greg was still considering whether or not he could actually raise Harry. He hadn't even known that Harry existed until an ex-girlfriend of his died in a car accident.
"What are you doing out of bed?" Harry's mouth opened and closed. "C'mon, spit it out." Harry shook his head and started to back down the hall. "Harry," Greg called sternly, "What do you need?"
"Um, when are you going to punish me?" Harry finally blurted out.
"Punish you?" Greg was confused by Harry's question.
"Yeah, for getting in trouble at school."
"I thought that we'd already discussed that."
"But, aren't you going to whip me or something?" Harry questioned timidly.
"Come here, Harry."
Harry obliged and stood near his father who patted the couch next to him. Harry climbed up. "How did you mother punish you when you misbehaved?" Greg asked. Harry sighed and explained about his mother's boyfriends.
"I'm sorry, Harry. That was unacceptable. Your mother and her boyfriends were cruel, that was abuse. I have a different opinion about how to raise children than your mother did."
"Do you mean you won't punish me?"
"I didn't say that, Harry. Look, today you were already punished by Mr. Snape. You stood in the corner, right?" Harry nodded. "I hope that you will learn from this experience and not repeat the same or similar behaviors. If you get in trouble at school again, I'll have to punish you, but I won't whip you."
Harry was afraid to ask, but he did, "What will you do?"
"Harry, I just really haven't considered it. I can tell you some things that I won't do. I would never whip you with a belt, put you in a tub of ice cold water, or make you sleep in the yard. However, I might spank you," Greg paused and Harry swallowed, "but I will never beat you. Understand?" Harry shrugged his shoulders and nodded. "Okay then, back to bed. I'll check on you in a few minutes."
Greg was concerned about his son. Harry used the word "sir" in almost every sentence and he expected a whipping for what Greg believed to be a fairly minor school offense. Greg was an impatient, curmudgeonly grouch who had never wanted children. He hardly paid any attention to the boy at all, but when he did, Harry seemed frightened. Greg knew that he should give the child more of his time. He was uncomfortable with the conversation he and Harry had just had about punishments. Since Harry had come to live with him, Greg had thought a lot about his own childhood. Greg's father had been almost sadistic in his punishments and Greg didn't want to do anything similar to Harry. However, he didn't want to commit to never using corporal punishment, as it seemed quick and easy. Greg figured that if Harry ever did anything horrible, he could give him a quick spanking and be done with it; however he wasn't sure that he wanted to continue to parent Harry. Perhaps he should call social services and have them find another place for the child.
Meanwhile, Harry was in bed considering his Dad. Dr. House was a bit grumpy and didn't seem very interested in Harry, but he had always been reasonable. Harry was confused though. He hadn't really been punished the whole time he had been here. Was it because his Dad didn't care what he did? Harry was pretty sure that his father did care, at least a little. Was it possible that Dr. House was right and his mother had been cruel? That didn't make sense. Harry had loved his mother. She had hugged him every night (well almost every night) at bedtime and taught him how to read, but she had also screamed at him just about every day. Dr. House never hugged, but he didn't raise his voice either. Harry nodded off considering his parents and was sound asleep by the time Dr. House came in to check on him.
The next morning, Harry turned in his note and apologized to Mr. Snape. His teacher had nodded and said, "No more tantrums, understood?" Harry had swallowed hard and agreed. Then Mr. Snape had sent him off to get to work. When school started and the room had the pleasant buzz of busy students, Mr. Snape had asked Harry to conference with him about his use of commas and had almost praised him for the improvements he had made to his writing. Mr. Snape wasn't the type to praise students. He just said things like, "See, I knew you weren't a dunderhead." or "That's acceptable." Honestly, Snape reminded Harry of his Dad and he wondered if they would get along or clash. This reminded Harry that he wasn't even sure how his Dad felt about him. How could he expect to predict what his Dad would think of Snape.
During recess that afternoon a boy from Harry's class asked him what had happened when he got his note signed. When Harry had explained, Ron had whistled through his teeth saying, "You are one lucky kid. My Mom would have used her wooden spoon on my rear end and I'd probably be standing today." This had made Harry thoughtful. What would most other parents have done about his misbehavior?