Disclaimers: Obviously, credit for any recognizable characters in the HP realm belongs to J.K. Rowling. No money is being made from the writing of this story.
Author's Note: This is my first HP fanfic and my third fanfic overall (I usually write for Stargate-SG1). Reviews are greatly appreciated as is literary critique and advice. I reserve the right to owl flames to Gringott's where they may be stored indefinitely in one of the deepest, darkest, dankest vaults available. This story is in response to the Angstier than Thou challenge issued at WIKTT by Josie421.
Summary: Professor Snape has been discovered to be a spy for the Light and is now considered to be one of the top three most wanted on Voldemort's hit list (Next to Harry and Dumbledore, of course). When Snape sees his usefulness in life at an end, can Hermione step in and convince him that living is always enough?
When Living Is No Longer Enough…
"I found 'im Headmaster," Hagrid shouted worriedly as he burst through the large double doors to the Castle. "He was lyin' just on the outskirts of the Forbidden Forest but he don't look too good there professor Dumbledore sir."
"Take him to the infirmary Hagrid," the old wizard said sadly as he looked at the battered and bloodied form of his potions master and long time friend. "Tell Poppy that I'll be there shortly."
"How much more of this can he take Albus?" Minerva McGonagall asked quietly as she watched Hagrid's retreating form.
"I don't know Minerva" the Headmaster answered quietly, the twinkle that one could always count on finding in the old man's eyes now replaced with concern and sadness. "I told him not to answer Voldemort's summons tonight but as usual he insisted. I fear Voldemort may have discovered where Severus' true loyalties lie."
"But if that's the case Albus, then why didn't they kill him? Why leave him alive outside of Hogwarts?" the deputy headmistress asked in confusion.
"To serve as a warning Minerva," Albus Dumbledore answered as he removed his glasses and tiredly rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"A warning?" she questioned. "But to whom?"
"To me. I doubt very much that Voldemort planned for Severus to survive for any great length of time after he was returned to us. It is a bad sign indeed as it means Voldemort and his Death Eaters are growing bolder and wish for us to know that they do not consider Hogwarts to be as much of a threat. We will need to strengthen the wards around the castle in the morning and perhaps we should consider canceling the upcoming student trip to Hogsmeade" he said as he ran through a mental checklist of the security measures that would have to be implemented as a result of the night's events. Looking at the concerned face of his deputy he smiled and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Do not worry Minerva, everything will be alright. It is always better to be prepared for the worst on the slight chance that it happens then to be caught with one's robes blowing in the wind, so to speak. I will be in the infirmary should you need me. In the meantime, please ask Professor Granger if she wouldn't mind taking over Severus' classes tomorrow."
"Yes Albus" the transfiguration professor said as they both departed the entryway to their separate destinations.
The scene that greeted Albus Dumbledore as he entered the infirmary was becoming a painfully familiar one. Madam Pomfrey was busily fussing over the unconscious potions master and murmuring various healing charms as she shook her head in disgust at the inhumanity of the Death Eaters actions.
"How is he Poppy?" the Headmaster asked quietly as he walked over to the hospital bed and observed the unmoving form of Severus Snape.
"He's lucky to be alive at all," the medi-witch answered sharply as she discovered yet another bundle of bruises and lacerations just below the left side of his ribcage. "From what I've been able to discern so far, I'd say he was trampled by a herd of hippogriffs. He has several broken ribs, a broken wrist, a punctured lung, numerous cuts and abrasions and minute swelling to the cranial cavity. He is also experiencing small seizures which I would guess to be the after-effects of the Cruciatus. I'll know more in a little while and I'll need to observe him for a few days to make certain that there isn't anything more serious than what I've already found but I'll tell you one thing Albus. It's a good thing that Hagrid found him when he did or else we may very well have lost him this time. I don't think his body can take much more of this type of abuse."
"I know Poppy" Dumbledore answered wearily as he turned to look out the large window by the hospital bed. 'Everything seems so tranquil and peaceful' he thought to himself as he stared over the grounds of the castle that were bathed in the warm glow of the moonlit sky. 'And yet, the pure simplicity and beauty would lull one into thinking that the dangers of the dark were no more…'
The wizened wizard was shaken out of his reverie when he heard the medi-witch mutter "enervate" to bring her patient back to consciousness. As Snape's eyelids began to flutter open she once again began passing her wand over him taking readings and assuring herself that there weren't any additional injuries or complications than those already identified.
The first thing Severus noticed as his eyes began to focus on his surroundings was the dull light emitted from the flickering candles placed on the bedside table. The second thing he noticed was the concerned face of the headmaster and the final thing that snapped him back to full alertness was the small medi-witch hovering over him. "Stop that foolish wand waving woman!" Severus exclaimed impatiently as he attempted to pull himself into a sitting position.
"Well" Madam Pomfrey huffed, "the least you could do is say thank you and if that's too hard for you to manage in your weakened state then silence would do just as well."
"Poppy" Albus interrupted raising his hand calmly in a placating gesture. "I'm sure Severus is still a little disoriented by the events of this evening. Give him a few moments and I'm sure he'll be back to his usual charming self," the headmaster said which elicited a sardonic "Hmmf" from both medic and patient alike.
"He knows Albus," Snape said with a resigned air of defeat. "Voldemort knows that I've been working as a spy for the Order."
"I assumed as much given the extent of your injuries and the fact that they left you just outside of Hogwart's perimeter" the Headmaster replied sadly as he shook his head in sorrow for the position in which he had to place his friend.
"It would seem that my usefulness, for lack of a better word, to you and the Order is at an end," the Potions Master stated quietly, staring unblinkingly at some unidentified point behind the Headmaster's shoulder.
"Nonsense, old friend" Dumbledore replied. "There are still many ways in which you can be of service to the Light."
"Perhaps you didn't hear what I just told you old man," Severus said in the silkiest of voices. "Voldemort knows that I betrayed him. I have no doubt that he intended my demise this evening and when he discovers that I didn't have the good grace to lay down and die like the obedient lapdog that I supposedly was then he will most definitely take action to remedy the fact. As soon as I step outside of the castle grounds then I am as good as dead."
"Which is why," the Headmaster interrupted Snape's tirade while fixing him with a gaze that clearly stated he would listen to no arguments from the younger man, "you won't be leaving the grounds any time in the near future."
"I am not an animal to be kept in a cage Albus," Severus exclaimed angrily. "I cannot stay tucked away hiding in my dungeons for the next several years waiting for that Potter brat and his friends to save the free world from Voldemort. It is unreasonable to say the least. Not to mention impractical."
"Perhaps, but at the moment it is our only option. You cannot leave the grounds. I will not allow it. It is bad enough that you are not entirely safe here at Hogwarts for I fear that several of the children have been compromised either through their loyalties to their parents who serve Voldemort or through their taking of the dark mark itself."
"Don't remind me of those children which I have failed Albus," Snape said quietly closing his eyes and remembering the initiation ceremony that took place only a few months back. Several of his seventh year Slytherins had been initiated into Voldemort's ranks of Death Eaters along with a few other students from Ravenclaw and even a few of Hogwart's recent alumni.
"You take far too much credit for that which is not your own doing Severus," the old wizard said placing a hand on his shoulder, causing the potions master to look up into the tired blue eyes of his longtime friend. "You alone are not to blame for their choices and neither is anyone else. All we can do is offer our guidance and support but in the end it is up to each student to decide what path their life must take."
"Even if that path is to lead them directly to Hell?" he replied bitterly.
"Even then my friend," the Headmaster returned solemnly. "I know that Poppy would like to keep you here in the infirmary for the next couple of days for observation" Dumbledore said changing the tone and direction of their conversation. Seeing Snape's expression and predicting the arguments that the young man was about throw out, he continued on. "However, knowing your preference for solitude, I think that it might be alright to let you recuperate in the comforts of your own chambers provided that you use that time to rest."
"That will not be possible Albus lest you forget that I have classes to teach in the morning. Merlin forbid I miss another lively and stimulating gathering of double potions class with Gryffindor and Slytherin," he drawled in his most sarcastic tone of voice.
"Professor Granger will be availing herself of the joys of your double potions class Severus and she will fill in for you over the next couple of days as well" the Headmaster replied knowing that nothing would get Snape on the road to recovery faster than the thought of Hermione stepping into his territory.
"The Professor has her own classes to attend to. Her assistance will not be necessary," the young man hissed as he attempted to stand and gather his wand and his cloak.
"Nevertheless Severus, her assistance will be required as will be your recuperation. Otherwise I will allow Poppy to order you to stay here under observation until she is certain that you are back to good health," the Headmaster answered in a tone that spoke of finality.
"Just think of it Severus," the medi-witch joined in the conversation with a mischievous glint in her eyes, "you and I will have days to spend together with nothing to do but catch up on old times."
The Headmaster nearly laughed aloud as he viewed Snape's facial expression of sheer horror at the thought of being confined to the infirmary for an indeterminable amount of time with nothing to do but reminisce on days gone by.
"Very well," Snape replied in the most scathing tone he could muster given his current physical condition, "but if that know-it-all messes with my stores or lesson plans then she will rue the day she ever received her Hogwart's letter."
"I wouldn't worry too much about that Severus. Although Hermione is our resident charms expert, don't forget that she graduated with a double degree in both charms and potions as well as a minor in arithmancy. Why, if she weren't a Gryffindor, I think you might even respect her knowledge in the potions field" he said unable to resist teasing his friend just a little over the ongoing rivalry between the Slytherin and Gryffindor houses.
"Poppy will assist you in settling into your own rooms for the evening and we will both be checking on your progress over the next few days. Don't hesitate to ask should you need anything," Dumbledore concluded as he bid his friend and the medi-witch a good evening and returned to his own quarters.
After the Headmaster had left the infirmary, Severus stood up and walked to the fireplace where he grabbed a handful of floo powder from a small brass container sitting on the mantle. Tossing a handful of the fine powder into the fireplace he stepped in and announced "Snape's chambers" and disappeared from the medical ward.