Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns everything.
Whatever I've done
This twisted, tortured mess
this bed of sinfulness
who's longing for some rest
and feeling numb
an unbearable pain
a beating in my brain
that leaves the mark of cain
right here inside
Is there something you need from me
are you having your fun
I never agreed to be
your holy one
Whatever I've done
I've been staring down the barrel of a gun
"Professor Dumbledore... I had... I had another dream, sir."
The old wizard surveyed the boy who was standing before his desk and concealed his dread.
"Yes, Harry... Take a few deep breaths, and go on. Was it like the one you had about Voldemort killing Frank Bryce?"
Harry shuddered at the memory. That awful snake, curled by the fireplace... Wormtail inviting the doomed man inside the room at Voldemort's request... The horrified look on the man's face when he saw what was seated in the armchair... A flash of green light, and death.
As ghastly as that had been, the nightmare that had woken him moments earlier was much worse. Dawn had just begun to warm the horizon when he'd run to Dumbledore's office, not even bothering to get dressed.
"Yes, professor. But the man I saw wasn't dead, sir."
Dumbledore leaned forward and stared at Harry over his moon-shaped spectacles. "Did you recognize him?"
"It was... Professor Snape."
"Tell me exactly what you saw."
"He was in a dark room, lying on the floor. He was..." The boy's face grew red.
"Take your time, Harry."
"He... he wasn't wearing any clothes, sir. He had these big iron manacles around his ankles, his wrists and his neck, and his face was all pale, I mean, more than usual, and he was so skinny, and there was... blood everywhere. Sir."
Dumbledore sighed and shook his head. "I fear Professor Snape's attempt to convince Voldemort of his continued loyalty was not successful." He glanced at Harry. "There is nothing we can do now, except hope," he said, his expression grim. "You can go back to bed now. And come to me straight away if you have another dream."
Harry nodded and returned to his dormitory in Gryffindor Tower, although he felt certain he wouldn't be able to fall asleep again.
The Boy Who Lived yawned, pushed his eggs and bacon away, and leaned his head upon his arms. He didn't want to shut his eyes, because every time he did, he could see blood dripping from Snape's battered limbs, from the cuts on his face, from the wounds on his body. Harry's stomach churned.
Then, someone poked him in the ribs and he jumped.
"Wake up, Harry! We're going to Hogsmeade today, aren't you excited?" Ron said. He sat down next to Harry and piled food on his plate. "Honeydukes, here I come."
"Oh, yeah, Hogsmeade... I'd forgotten." Harry slipped his fingers behind his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
"Forgotten? It's the last outing of the year before the summer holidays! After all that's happened, everybody's been looking forward to a bit of fun." Ron stuffed his mouth with ham and beans and reached for a freshly baked bread roll; Harry couldn't make out the mumbled sentence that followed.
Harry lowered his head upon his arms again. "Swallow your bloody food before trying to talk, will you?"
There was an audible gulp. "I said, most of the teachers are coming with us to make sure we're safe, but I reckon we can still have a good time, eh Harry?"
Ron snorted and buttered another bread roll. "At least, Snape won't be there. I wonder where the greasy git could be? Not that I mind, the last two weeks in Potions have been a breeze. I bet he's been rubbing elbows with You Know Who."
"Snape." Harry's eyelids drooped and the sounds in the Great Hall faded away.
"Ah, Harry... Back again so soon?"
The disembodied voice echoing inside Harry's head made his heart lurch. It was a sound like melting ice. Voldemort.
He was having another nightmare, standing in the same terrible room. Flickering torches were casting distorted shadows upon the stone walls; the air was heavy with the smell of blood, sweat, and mouldering humidity.
Iron chains scraped the floor, and a long, ragged moan escaped the lone figure sprawled on the ground.
"Look, Harry. The man you hate most, besides me."
Harry wanted to press his hands against his ears, but couldn't move.
"Oh, come now. I know you've ground beetles to a fine powder, imagining they were Professor Snape. What could be better than seeing him shackled and in agony? You're enjoying this as much as I am."
"No, no, that's... that's not true," Harry said, desperately willing himself to awaken. He was unable to avert his gaze from the unbearable suffering that lined Snape's emaciated features.
"Don't lie, Harry. Your blood flows within me. We share a connection that goes beyond the limitations of time, space, and matter."
"Yes. And you will not wake from this dream until I allow it, Harry. You will watch. See how I reward traitors."
A low complaint emanated from Snape. "Head... master..."
"Dumbledore cannot save you now, unworthy servant."
A figure cloaked in black materialized near Snape. Beneath the hood, two red eyes were glinting. Voldemort's wand was already trained on the chained man at his feet.
"Stop," Harry said. "Stop it, you bastard!"
Voldemort pointed his wand at one of Snape's bound hands. "Mobiliappendis."
Snape gasped as his hand was raised from the floor and his arm was stretched, rivulets of blood running down the length of it.
"Crucio skeletus appendis."
Harry's gut turned to lead when he saw what happened next: the phalanges in each of Snape's fingers snapped, the popping sounds like gun pellets fired simultaneously.
Snape howled and lost consciousness.
"Enervate sustanem," Voldemort said.
Snape's eyes fluttered open, his face contorted and he screamed again. Voldemort waved his wand. The force that had been holding Snape's hand up vanished, and the shackle circling his wrist hit the stone floor with a loud clang.
"Professor," Harry said, his voice tight. I have to wake up. Have to stop this somehow.
"He does not know you are here, foolish child." Voldemort glanced at Snape. "Pity. Imagine how thrilled he would be. Shall we continue, then?"
The Potions Master tried to drag himself away from Voldemort, but he was too weak to do much more than close his uninjured fingers around one of the chains and pull once.
"There is no escape, Severus," Voldemort said, and repeated the curse on Snape's left hand.
Snape's body convulsed and sweat streamed down his bruised face, long strands of hair matted against his jutting cheekbones.
Voldemort pointed his wand at one of Snape's wrists. "Crucio skeletus articulis." The bones shattered with a muffled crack.
Snape's agonized shriek resounded across the room.
Voldemort aimed the wand at his victim's other wrist, then at his knuckles."Crucio skeletus articulis."
Voldemort laughed and pursued a relentless path down Snape's body, striking his elbows, knees, and ankles, until the Potions Master's breathless howls had given way to rasping wails.
"Headmaster... help me..."
"You are an even greater fool than I thought, Severus, if you believe that the old wizard is the least concerned about your fate. After all, he sent you to me, didn't he? Do you think he didn't know what I would to do you?"
"I swear you'll pay for this, Voldemort," Harry said.
Voldemort got down on one knee. "Oh, Severus... to think you can still be my favorite plaything." He cradled Snape's head against his thigh, holding it fast, and pointed his wand at Snape's back. "Crucio skeletus vertebrum."
A succession of jolts rocked Snape's body as five of his vertebrae split in half. A terrible gurgling sound bubbled from his throat.
After laying Snape's head down with exaggerated care, Voldemort stood up and dusted his hands. "I believe I shall save the internal organs for later, Harry." He threw a glance at the Potions Master. "Enervate finite."
Snape's chest heaved, blood trickled from the corner of his mouth, his black eyes clouded over, and his eyelids mercifully drifted shut.
Harry's anguished scream rang across the hall as his eyes snapped open. He fell off the bench, his face ghostly white.
"Harry! Harry! What's the matter?" Ron and Hermione asked, rushing to his side.
"The professor... I have to get to Dumbledore before it's too late."
Hermione put a hand on his arm. "What's wrong, Harry? Did you have another dream? Which professor? Is someone in danger? It's... it's Professor Snape, isn't it?"
"I have to get to Dumbledore," Harry said. He scampered to his feet. "We've got to do something..."
He sprinted from the Great Hall with Ron and Hermione at his heels.
"Something about what?" Ron said.
"Voldemort is trying to kill Professor Snape."
"What are you talking about?" Ron said, panting.
They skidded to a halt in front of the gargoyle that guarded the secret staircase to Dumbledore's office.
Harry took a big gulp of air. "Sugar Bombs."
The three Gryffindors ran up the stairs and Harry banged on the door, which swung back to let them in.
"Headmaster!" Harry said. He crashed into the old wizard and clung to his robes. "Professor Snape... Voldemort... He..."
To Dumbledore, Ron and Hermione's shock, Harry burst into tears.
"Harry, take a moment, catch your breath," Dumbledore said.
Harry wrestled against Dumbledore's grasp. "No, no! You don't understand! Voldemort was killing Professor Snape! I saw it... We have to stop him!"
"Harry, we're doing everything in our power to locate the Professor-"
"That's not enough! There's no way anyone can get to him in time! You didn't see... Voldemort was breaking every bone in his body." His voice quivered. "I could see him doing it."
Hermione clamped her hands over her mouth.
"I'm sorry, Harry," Dumbledore said, his eyes filled with sadness. "If there was anything more I could do, I would."
Harry was about to retort when he was overcome by a wave of drowsiness. A wide yawn stretched his mouth, and he swayed.
Dumbledore gripped him by the shoulders. "Harry, what is it?"
"I'm... I'm falling asleep again." Harry blinked and shook his head, but it was no use. "Professor... he's going to force me to dream."
"Ron, hand me the small blue vial on the shelf over there, quickly," Dumbledore said.
Harry's knees buckled; Dumbledore caught him beneath the arms, steered him towards the couch, and lay him down upon it.
"Professor, please... don't let me fall asleep," Harry said.
"Open your mouth, and I shall give you a potion for dreamless sleep," Dumbledore said, and tipped the vial against Harry's lips.
Harry swallowed. "Don't want to sleep..."
"I will be right by your side."
Harry sighed and then was silent.
Dumbledore turned to Ron and Hermione. "Don't worry about your friend. He will be fine with me. You two go and join your classmates, everyone will be leaving for Hogsmeade shortly."
"Yes, sir," Ron and Hermione said.
"You truly must despise Professor Snape, Harry," Voldermort said. "You can't seem to stay away for very long, can you?"
"This is impossible," Harry said. "The potion..."
"My power is too great for a mere potion to interfere with my wishes. Just look at what I've done to your Potions Master." He gestured towards Snape, contempt dripping from his voice.
Everywhere bones had been shattered, dark purple bruises had formed on Snape's flesh. The professor's face was a mask of pain, and each time he drew a breath, it was to plead for release. "Let... let me die... let me..."
"I'm the one you want, Voldemort," Harry said.
The Dark Lord gave a malevolent chuckle. "I regret to inform you that I am otherwise occupied at the moment." His wand hovered above Snape's twisted body.
Harry's eyes widened and his fists shook.
"Crucio skeletus thoraxiam," Voldemort said.
A strangled cry was wrenched from Snape's throat. Thin streams of blood flowed from his mouth; ribs splintered by Voldemort's curse had torn into the Potion Master's lungs.
The magnitude of Snape's ordeal left Harry numb with horror. Professor Snape, a man whom the majority of students at Hogwarts had so often dreamed would perish, was dying before his very eyes.
Then Voldemort said, "Begone from my sight, wretch," and Snape Disapparated along with his heavy iron fetters. "Right. Time to move on to other things. Can't stand about waiting until he snuffs it, can we, Harry?"
"Professor," Harry said. He stared at the pool of blood where the Potions Master had lain. "No... Noo-"
Harry awoke, his scream cut short by the realization that Dumbledore was sitting next to him and shaking him by the shoulders.
"Merlin's beard, Harry, I couldn't wake you. "I cannot believe that Voldemort was able to reach you through the potion and my spells... What did you see? Is Severus..."
"Voldemort sent him someplace. He doesn't have much time, headmaster-"
"I want you to stay here. I will find Professor Snape."
"How do you know where-"
"Stay here, Harry," Dumbledore said, his voice stern. "Voldemort appears to have made his point."
The old wizard strode out of the office and placed a charm on the door, leaving Harry alone with the indelible image of Snape gasping for air.
"Two butterbeers, please," Hermione told Madam Rosmerta.
Rosmerta filled the tankards to the brim and set them down on the bar."Here you go, dear."
"Thank you." Hermione tried to smile, but her heart wasn't up to the challenge. She brought the tankards back to the small table where Ron was waiting, his eyebrows furrowed in a worried frown.
Hermione sat next to him. They sipped at their butterbeers without a word and glanced out the window by their table. Then Ron said, "Do you suppose Harry is all right?"
"Of course, he's all right," Hermione said, betraying slight hesitation. "He's with Professor Dumbledore."
Ron stared at his glass. "Yeah."
"I hope Professor Snape..."
Hermione and Ron exchanged a bleak look.
"I never really, you know... wished anything that bad would happen to the greasy gi-"
Ron's confession was interrupted by a high pitched scream that came from outside the inn, and which was soon followed by several others, and shouting voices.
There was a rumble as the people inside the Three Broomsticks abruptly got to their feet, and more clattering noises as chairs were knocked over in the rush to find out what was going on. All the color drained from Hermione's face when she glimpsed her teacher sprawled in the middle of the street.
The Potions Master was lying amidst a cruel nest of tangled chains and shackles. He'd been stripped. His skin was glistening with blood and sweat; every inch of his body was covered with lacerations and bruises. But the worst was his face, which was distorted by agony, half-veiled by hair that was soaking with perspiration.
Pandemonium had irrupted both inside and outside the Three Broomsticks, and waves of students, witches and wizards poured from the inn. The Dark Mark was spreading overhead like an ominous black cloud. Most were running away from the scene, while others swarmed around the fallen Potions Master. Hermione saw the sixth-year Slytherin prefect remove his cloak and drape it over his Head of House with trembling hands. Then he yelled at the crowd. "Stand back! Keep away from the Professor!" He motioned three other Slytherins to stand between the dismayed onlookers and Snape. "Find Professor McGonagall!" he told a fourth Slytherin, who took off.
"Ron," Hermione said, "the Professor's turning blue."
Professor Snape's eyes, which had been screwed shut, were now wide open and panic-stricken. The Slytherin prefect knelt next to him and bent closer to his ear, chilled by the harsh sound of Snape's whistling breath.
"Professor, can you hear me, sir?"
Snape wheezed in response; he struggled to get air in lungs that were already filling with fluid.
"Vitae sustanem... Vitae sustanem! Oh, come on, professor..."
Filaments of blood ran over Snape's blue lips and down the sides of his chin.
"Please, hang on, sir... Professor McGonagall will be here any second..."
The crowd parted to make way for Professor McGonagall who was racing to Snape's side.
"Help him, professor, he can't breathe," the prefect said through his tears.
She dropped to her knees.
"Severus, I knew this would happen, oh Severus..." She waved her wand in front of Snape's face. "Oxygenus sustanem..."
A brilliant ribbon of light snaked from the tip of her wand and slipped past Snape's lips.
Snape began to regain his natural color and his facial muscles relaxed slightly. His eyes locked with Professor McGonagall's. He mouthed her name.
"Severus, don't try to talk. Dolorosa reducio. Alohamora totalis."
All of his manacles fell asunder, exposing raw bands of swollen flesh, and he groaned.
"I am taking Professor Snape to St Mungo's," Professor McGonagall told the Slytherin prefect. "Go to Professor Dumbledore and tell him to meet me there."
Professor McGonagall placed her hand on Snape's forehead and they Disapparated.
Dumbledore stared out of one of the windows that lined the wall in Hogwarts's hospital wing. "Hogsmeade. Of all places... I was certain that I would find Severus on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, or at the front gates."
Professor McGonagall was sitting by the Potions Master's bedside and dabbing her eyes with a large handkerchief. "Albus, do you think... Will Severus recover?"
"Only time will tell."
McGonagall pressed the handkerchief against her lips, muffling a small sob. She then reached out and touched the back of Snape's hand, her fingers skimming the bandages that wrapped it, as if she were afraid of hurting him. "I knew it, Albus. I knew it would come to this sooner or later."
"I honestly believed it wouldn't. But I was... wrong," he said, choking on the last word.
As soon as Snape had been stable enough, Dumbledore and McGonagall had brought him back to Hogwarts, where he would be safer than at St Mungo's. The stretcher carrying Snape's motionless body floating between them, they had made their way down the school's vast corridors. Clusters of students watched as Professor Snape drifted by, and many of them could hardly restrain their sorrow at the gruesome sight.
A white sheet concealed him up to his breastbone, and his arms were folded across his chest. Wounds that had refused to heal properly had reopened during the journey; fresh blood stained the bandages that covered him all the way to his neck. No sneer marred the perfect stillness of his face now. It was like looking at someone whom they'd never before seen. His lips were slightly parted, and despite the dark circles that ringed his eyes, the exhaustion that had carved hollows in his cheeks, a deep tranquility permeated his features. It was as though he somehow knew he'd been liberated from a burden he was no longer capable of enduring.
When the somber procession was nearing the hospital wing, a first year Slytherin came closer and whispered, "Professor..."
"He will be fine," Dumbledore told the woeful girl. "You will all be able to see Professor Snape very soon."
The girl had sniffed and gazed at the Potions Master in shock. When she'd started shaking, she was quickly yanked back by a group of Slytherins.
Madam Pomfrey approached her unconscious patient, interrupting Dumbledore's gloomy reflections.
"He seems to be resting peacefully, Poppy," he said.
"Well, he's in good hands now. It's better for him to be at Hogwarts than with a bunch of strangers who-" She swallowed and blinked away the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. "Who wouldn't understand all that he's been through."
Dumbledore was aware she wasn't just referring to his latest encounter with Voldemort.
The mediwitch ran her wand over Snape's battered figure and muttered another string of spells. "There. When he wakes up, I'll be able to give him some potions... for the pain."
"Things will have to be different from now on, Albus," McGonagall said.
"Don't worry, Minerva. He will no longer have to suffer alone."
There was a soft, shuffling noise. Dumbledore, McGonagall and Pomfrey turned around and saw Harry, Hermione and Ron hovering at the edge of the room. Behind them, a crowd of students were massed in the doorway. They hissed at the Gryffindors.
"Go on, go on! Dumbledore won't send you three away!"
A few Slytherins shoved them forward.
Dumbledore curved his finger and beckoned the three Gryffindors. McGonagall's lips thinned.
The pack of students at the door stopped whispering. Harry, Hermione and Ron walked towards Professor Snape's bedside, careful not to make any noise.
"We've... we've brought a card for the professor," Hermione said softly, and held it out to Professor McGonagall. It shook in her hand.
"Thank you, Hermione," McGonagall said. She put it on the bedside table. "I'm sure he'll appreciate it."
Harry was staring at Snape. "It's all my fault, Headmaster."
"Of course not. There is nothing you could have done. But Professor Snape is safe now, and his spying days are over."
"What if Voldemort summons him? Won't the Dark Mark burn his arm?"
"I don't think the Dark Lord has any more use for Severus, Harry. What we need to worry about is helping Professor Snape to get well again."
"Will he?" Hermione said. She stared at his bandaged hands.
"We don't know yet, dear," Pomfrey said.
"It's too early to say, Hermione," Dumbledore said. "When the professor awakes, it will be easier to determine how the curses are affecting him."
Hermione's eyes grew bright and she chewed on her lip to stop herself from crying.
"Why didn't Voldemort just kill the Professor?" Harry said. "I thought he wanted me to see him die."
"I think Voldemort would prefer that we all see him suffer, Harry," Dumbledore said.
Ron shuffled his feet.
"There were very few at Hogwarts who knew of the danger he faced on a daily basis," Professor McGonagall said. She patted Snape's forehead with a damp cloth. "Even when Voldemort was defeated, the Death Eaters remained a threat."
"Long ago, Professor Snape chose to take on a role that was as dangerous as it was crucial to our efforts. Each of you saw in Professor Snape exactly what he intended you to see," Dumbledore said.
"So, he made everyone hate him on purpose?" Hermione said. "Oh... He must have been... very lonely."
Harry and Ron exchanged guilty looks.
"He was," Dumbledore replied. "Yes, he was." The Headmaster sighed. "I daresay it had a rather negative impact on his disposition."
A small, sad smile curved McGonagall's mouth. "Severus was never what I would have called pleasant... But some of us know what he kept hidden-"
"He moved!" Hermione said.
"Severus?" Minerva said. She peered at him, and a slight frown creased her brow. She touched his forehead with her palm and her frown deepened. "Poppy, his fever is rising again."
Pomfrey flicked her wand. "Dolorosa reducio. Feverosem reducio."
All eyes were upon Professor Snape, and there was a collective gasp when his eyelids suddenly fluttered.
He inhaled and froze with a grunt of pain.
McGonagall placed a gentle hand upon the side of his face. "Severus, try to keep still. You're home. Everything is going to be all right."
"H -Hogwarts..." Snape said, his voice a faint rasp, his eyes darting around. His breath came in small, labored puffs.
"Yes, you are in the hospital wing," Dumbledore said. "We brought you back here after you were stabilized at St Mungo's."
Snape grimaced and sweat beaded on his forehead and upper lip. "Hurts... to breathe."
The Headmaster glanced at Pomfrey, who hurried towards the cabinet where the potions were stored. She returned almost immediately, clutching a vial filled with a pale blue liquid.
"Drink this, Severus," Pomfrey said. She slipped a hand beneath his head and raised it from the pillow. "Your lungs are still healing, dear." She slowly poured the liquid into his mouth and he swallowed reflexively.
"There. Now, just relax. It's time to rest, dear."
But Snape shook his head. "Headmaster..."
"Yes, Severus? I am here."
"Headmaster... I... I failed."
"Albus," Minerva said, seeing the anguish building in Snape's face. "I don't think Severus would want-"
"Minerva, I know we have always tried to shield the children from any knowledge of this, but... Voldemort wanted us to see exactly how cruel he can be. Perhaps the time has come to let the children witness firsthand the pain and suffering wrought by true evil."
They all watched as Snape managed to shift one leg a scant inch, then the other, his jaw tensing.
"You shouldn't try to move yet, professor," Pomfrey said.
Snape ignored her and painfully dragged one arm higher across his chest
"Severus, don't," Dumbledore said.
But it was too late. The Potions Master looked down, fear washing over his features. "Headmaster... I can't move my hands." He began to shake. He thought of his beloved cauldron, of his mortar and pestle. How could he cut the precious herbs with the delicacy potions required now? "I can't move my hands." There was a tinge of hysteria in his voice and tears ran down his cheeks.
McGonagall caressed Snape's hair and the three Gryffindors slowly backed away, fearful of being seen by their distressed Potions Master, who'd yet to notice they had been standing nearby.
"You're still healing, Severus," Dumbledore said.
The students who were gathered in the doorway listened, wide-eyed, to the mournful cry that rose from their Potions Master.
His dark locks of hair were plastered against his brow, his face and neck shining with sweat. "Killed me... He should have just..."
"Please, calm down, Severus," McGonagall said. "You've barely had time to begin to heal-"
Snape threw his head back and screamed as the pain flared.
"Poppy! Why isn't the potion working?" Dumbledore said.
"I don't understand, Headmaster." Her eyes darted toward the potions cabinet. She gripped her wand, trying to make her hand stop quivering, and whispered a number of incantations. "The curses are... it's like they've fused to his bones. I've never seen anything like this before." She hastened to fetch another potion and held the vial against Snape's lips. "Drink, Severus, open..."
He gulped the cool liquid down. Then his back arched and he screamed again.
"This can't be happening!" Pomfrey said. "I've just given him one of my strongest potions... He brewed it himself..."
Harry, Hermione and Ron, along with the other students present, were frozen with horror, and many had started to cry.
"Albus!" McGonagall said sharply.
The Headmaster nodded.
McGonagall got up from her chair and approached the stunned pupils. "Return to your Houses. The professor is very ill." Her voice caught in her throat. "You will be allowed to see him later. Come along now, come along." She herded the students, closed the door behind her and led them down the corridor.
Dumbledore gathered the Potions Master in his arms. "I should have prevented this... I never should have let him return to Voldemort..."
Snape's eyes were squeezed shut, and his teeth were clamped; he shuddered from head to toe, his bandaged hands like claws in his lap.
"Dolorosa extremis reducio," Pomfrey said.
Snape's limbs grew limp and he slumped against the Headmaster.
Pomfrey let out a shaking breath. "Thank heaven, wand magic still has an effect on him."
"But not potions," Dumbledore said. "Who could have foreseen such a thing?"
"It doesn't seem possible. A potion would be so much better for Severus in the state he's in..."
The Headmaster eased Snape back onto the pillows and pulled the blanket over him. "Perhaps Voldemort's new body has given him powers we had not anticipated." His features became thoughtful. "I fear Harry's blood may have something to do with Severus's condition."
"What do you mean, Headmaster?"
"Harry's... dislike of the Professor may have given Voldemort the ability to take Severus's most formidable ally away from him. His potions."
"Professor Dumbledore, you cannot be serious..."
"His hands have been destroyed, and he did not react to the potions you gave him. Severus has been crippled in the worst possible way. An immeasurable loss..." Dumbledore considered the unconscious man who lay upon the bed. How did that muggle saying go? The road to hell is paved with good intentions... And when Harry had dreamt of Severus's ordeal, the boy had seemed immune to the effects of the dreamless sleep potion, as though the Potions Master had become powerless to protect him.
"Poppy, I must ask you not to speak a word of what we have just discussed with anyone."
"There are several things that must be dealt with now, but I shall return in a little while. Inform me immediately if there is any change."
In the Great Hall that evening, the atmosphere was strangely subdued. The students ate without enthusiasm and couldn't stop glancing at the head table, where Dumbledore and the other teachers sat with a grim expressions.
Finally, dinner was over and the plates were cleared, but no one moved from their seats.
At last, Dumbledore rose and all heads turned towards him. A great hush settled upon the immense room.
"Children, as you no doubt have heard, Professor Snape is in the hospital wing. He has been seriously injured by Voldemort. Many of you saw what happened in Hogsmeade."
The Slytherin sixth-year prefect stiffened and glared around the room.
"There are things about Professor Snape that only very few of you are aware of. It is now time for the truth to be told. Professor Snape was a Death Eater."
Whispers echoed across the hall. The Slytherins looked distinctly uncomfortable. Then Dumbledore resumed his speech and the room was silent once more.
"Shortly after joining the Dark Lord's minions, he became our most highly placed and valued spy. Professor Snape's life has been in constant danger ever since that fateful day. His Dark Mark told him that Voldemort had not been destroyed, and he was determined to make certain that his students would be prepared when Voldemort reappeared. This is one of the reasons why the Potions Master was... a demanding teacher. I know that many of you thought he was harsh, and difficult. You were not wrong to think so, but you must understand that Professor Snape had very good reasons to be that way."
All of the students bowed their heads, unable to meet Dumbledore's gaze.
"Professor Snape also had to maintain the pretense of someone who was in league with Voldemort and his Death Eaters in order to continue his mission. This was sometimes very hard on him. As the years went by, he..." Dumbledore faltered.
The students again stared at the Headmaster.
"He began to suffer because of the isolation required by the nature of his sworn duty. This often had, shall we say, unfortunate repercussions on his mood."
Rueful smiles tugged at the students' lips and those of the teachers, although many eyes also grew moist.
"Professor Snape has toiled alone for most of his life. The time has come for him to know that his efforts have not gone unappreciated. It is time for the professor to be told that he has not endured so much in vain. To know that he is not truly alone. When he is feeling better, those of you who would like to see him may do so. Your Heads of House will inform you when the visits will be scheduled. Slytherin, to your honored House goes the privilege of being first. Your prefect shall work with me to coordinate visitation hours. After that, those of you who belong to the other Houses will be allowed to see Professor Snape in turn."
The next morning, Snape's bandages were changed again. Pomfrey had first given him a sponge bath while he slept, then rinsed the sweat from his hair and left it to dry on its own.
"There's not so much blood," Pomfrey had told the Headmaster as she magicked long strips of cloth around Snape's arms. "The hexed wounds are healing more slowly than they should. And there's still an awful lot of bruising. Have Minerva and Filius found anything in the library?"
"No yet, I'm afraid."
"They haven't found anything at St Mungo's either," Pomfrey said.
"Was he in as much pain as yesterday when he woke?"
"I don't believe so, but he's completely exhausted from the ache in his joints. They're still rather swollen. If only I could give him a potion..."
"I know, Poppy, I know," Dumbledore said, patting her shoulder.