A/N; I don't do this 'serious' stuff! Just silly Snupins normally so this was an experiment. Let me know what you think! Any thing not in keeping with canon or for anyone being too ooc, I apologise now if you don't like that!
This follows "5am", where the mirrors are explained a little, but it makes sense alone I hope.
Finally, I DO love McGonagall! Don't shout at me for her snarky ness! That accent just does short snarky comments so well!
Here goes, argh!!!!!
The Headmaster strode along his corridors, and the doors, sensing his urgency, opened themselves without the usual squeaking and fuss. Not breaking stride he continued down the steps and along the long drive. The ward placed on his Potions Master had alerted him to his awakening at half past twelve that night, and so, Dumbledore had sat secretly watching through the pair of mirrors sneakily employed for the occasion, feeling utterly useless and unable to help, as Snape hurried around his room, removed those robes from his wardrobe and dressed, repeatedly falling to his knees as the burning on his arm grew too deep knocking the strength out of him. Finally the Headmaster returned to bed as Snape left his rooms, entrusting Fawkes with following him until he apperated outside the school grounds as Dumbledore knew he must.He had managed to return to an uncomfortable sleep when Fawkes reappeared. Snape was back. The uselessness of earlier cast aside, he now could do something that he hoped, no, prayed to any and Deities which were listening, would help a little. Something he should have done along time ago.
He made a sharp turn and approached the Forbidden Forest, Fawkes leading the way.
He could hear a quiet, strangled screaming. Could feel the entire length of his body exactly where it touched the cold wet mud which seemed to sting. And somewhere in his mind he was aware that this was not normal. As he also realised the screaming was coming from him it stopped, and was replaced with a low moaning as his abused nerve endings fought to regain some sort of function.
He could still hear screaming, but now it was only inside his head, that was ok, that never got him in trouble. He forced himself to relax, he knew by now that that the sooner he did the sooner the worst of the muscle spasms would stop, and allow him to crawl back to his dungeons. As a small luxury, he allowed himself his private tears to fall down his cheeks, mingling with the mud. A little wallow in self pity.
'Why not' he thought. Snape seldom cried, learning the hard way as both an adult and a child that if screaming got you in trouble, tears made it far worse.
Sometime passed and still they gently rolled down his face to the earth, by now he was merely trembling and felt he had enough control over his limbs to move. Stopping the tears on demand, a practised skill, he attempted to sit up. As the pain floated through his mind in a searing white flame, he thought, 'Maybe not' and collapsed again, allowing the mud to reclaim his broken body. His mind, which he thankfully decided, was mercifully not broken, rationalised, 'I'll stay here awhile then. Until the world seems more… friendly.'
And so he lay, still except for the waves of tremors which travelled the length of his body along traumatised nerves, feeling himself settling deeper into the forest floor, wandering absent mindedly if it would eventually swallow him whole should he allow it some day. Every breath causing a pulse of pain and touch of nausea, quelled by screwing his eyes shut.
Waiting, alone, not scared, he had been here too many times to be scared, just resigned to the fact that this was his life, the plaything of an evil man, when he realised that he had drifted near to sleep.
Keeping his eyes firmly shut to keep the pain away, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Unsure as to whose it was, Death Eater come looking for him, or worse, he attempted pitifully to struggle free, certain that it was only a matter of seconds before that gentle tough began to cut or burn.
"Open your eyes. You are safe." A familiar voice, slowly breaking into his consciousness. "You are safe." Almost believing him, he slit his eyes slightly and the face of Albus Dumbledore swam groggily into view as the hand spread a numbing charm along his body.
"You are safe." he repeated. Unsure what to say in response, half his mind furious at being caught in such a weak, helpless state, but the other half, oh so glad to have been finally caught, he allowed himself to be levitated toward the lights of the castle and when a calloused old hand searched for his he grabbed hold, certain in his partially muddled mind that if he let go he would be alone again.
24 hours had passed.
24 hours in which time Professor Albus Dumbledore had slept twice, arranged a temporary potions master, applied skin salves and healing charms, bottled and used tears from Fawkes, drunk more tea and worried more than he would have thought humanly possible, administered fourteen guarded sleep charms, dissipated eight hexes, summoned the man conscious four times to force feed water, and, with the help of Dobby and levitation, changed the bedding once, at which point he was very thankful for the unconscious state of Snape, whose reaction would have been quite spectacular if he knew what Dumbledore's forced drinks had achieved. The Head allowed himself a small smile. He'd always secretly enjoyed the younger Wizards temper, knowing as he did that it hid (well) an unusually powerful yet compassionate man. The smile disappeared and the worried frown re-appeared. The last sleep charm should have worn off by now. The twitching muscles had re-awakened and kept sending various limbs on jerky travels beneath the bed clothes, but the mind remained asleep Or hidden, he wasn't sure which but had his suspicions. In desperation and aware of the view Snape would take to sharing his predicament, he had called on Minevra, a firm believer in a problem shared. He would deal with Snape probably seeing it as a betrayal of trust when the man was strong enough to complain.
Professor McGonagall was dreaming of cat nip stuffed mice and little fluffy balls on strings. She had almost managed to catch one when she awoke, certain she had heard the Headmaster calling to her. After a moment's confusion as to how to operate with only half as many legs as her brain thought she should have, she mentally noted to limit her transfigurations this month. She was well aware of the greatest fear of all sane Animagi, losing the will to change back. And the night air was so sweet lately. She shuddered and pressed the thought to the back of her mind. If she thought Albus had called her then he had. Although Leglimency was not her strongest skill, she had a better than average ability. She pulled a thick maroon robe over her nightgown and donned a pair of boots. A cursory check in the mirror and a well honed twist of her hair into a bun and she headed toward the Headmasters chambers, mind ticking as to the reason for the early morning call.
As his doors admitted McGonagall he summoned another chair to the bedside and called "I'm in here". He waited for her reaction and began to explain.
"I see". She knitted her brow into a stern frown well known amongst the students. "You have, I presume, attempted to call him from your mind?"
"Minevra, Severus is the most talented Occulmans I have ever come across."
"Yes, well I suppose he would have to be." Scowl. The contempt obvious.
"Please, my old friend," Dumbledore suddenly sounded so weary that McGonagall was shocked and took his hand, "I have sat now for three weeks now watching him slowly fall apart. Nightmares, summonings, hexes, he functions solely due to his ability to brew Living Death…"
"Living Death!" Gasped McGonagall,
"Yes, and its counter potions. He has lost so much weight he has taken to wearing double robes to hide it. If you watch at meals he does not eat. All this without a murmur. And now he lies here in my school, my bed, having been cursed and goodness knows what else, because of something I asked him to do. Now I am finally here for him, as I should have been long ago, I can not help him! So please, my friend, help me." He paused and placed a hand on the twitching head above tightly closed eyes. When he continued it was barely a whisper , "I am scared he is dying."
A silent moment passed as the witch thought this through, broken by her curtly saying;
"Cursed, you say…"
"So, the tremors need to be stopped and the mind quieted."
"Yes. Only I don't know how and can not go to Poppy. Involving you has already broken one promise… I know this is not the first time recently he has had the Cruciatus applied, I am assuming that he has a potion ready in his rooms, knowing him neatly bottled and stored. But the Dungeons are sealed and warded and I can not get around them I have tried, he has permanently stopped floo entry, even warded against apparition should I de-activate the schools anti-apparition ward! But." He looked at her, " Dobby tells me he can get in. And where a Dobby can fit…"
"So can a cat" finished McGonagall. "Very well Albus. If it is your wish". He smiled at her. As she left the room with a glare at the sleeping form, she tried very hard not to think about the sweet, clear air.
It was dark. And warm. And there was no pain. Blissfully dark and warm and painless. He was aware that there had been pain, and equally aware that it would return. But maybe, just maybe, if he stayed completely still he could stay in the dark warmth. His mind was aware at one point of being probed. But gently, asking permission first, not like the rough assaults of his Dark Lord. He had allowed it for a moment, enjoying the company, let them see the Cruciatus, if that's what they wanted, and the white pain. Then panic. What if this was a new ploy. Gently gently to get the information they were certain he hid. So he slammed up his blocks, felt the other mind fight for a minute but futiley. Then he was alone again. And so he lay, where, he did not know, shielded from the pain and the bright light, but also shielding. Safe. Safe and dark. And warm. All the things he had secretly ever wanted to be. Then,
"You are safe".
That voice again.
"Open your eyes. You are safe".
Familiar. It felt safe. He knew he could, should, trust that voice. As he contemplated opening his eyes;- "You are safe" ;-he became aware of his body. Aware of the flashes of pain and spasming muscles. Aware of;- "Open your eyes" ;-himself. Who he was, what he was. Why he was currently hiding in his mind in… he opened his eyes… the Headmasters bed!?! With Dumbledore sat over him, hand on his forehead?!?
Acutely aware of his Potion Masters extreme pride and need for personal space the Head backed off. As Snape made sense of his surroundings Dumbledore noticed the constant battle against the pain which was obviously, sadly, second nature. For a moment he watched him in silence, before reaching out a hand and touching a particularly violently spasming arm. As the younger man flinched away, Dumbledore spoke in a quiet but also his most authoritative Headmaster-ing voice, "Quiet now. This will help." As a numbing charm spread along the limb, lessoning the spasming and dulling the pain, Snape relaxed. "Does it not?"
"Yes." Croaked Snape.
"Shh, my boy. Here," hands on other parts of the twitching body. "Until Minevra returns." He spread the charms over the man. I t took a second for the words to sink in, and when they did Snape was not happy.
"McGonagall," he hissed, " What has McGonagall got to do with this . Apart from the fact that she would probably enjoy it. She should not be involved. Neither should you Headmaster. I thank you for your help, but I should be in my rooms." He attempted to raise himself off the bed, but a lightly placed hand on his chest was enough to ensure he stayed put. His body was weakening, he thought. A fleeting worry about how many more Crutiatus's he could endure was pushed aside when Dumbledore held his chin and tipped the angry black eyes up to meet his.
"Severus", a moment searching the depths of each others eyes, black and blue connecting. Then, with a slight sad chuckle, "Severus, you are going nowhere. There have been many times I have known what has been done to you, and many times I have seen the result. I should have been there before. I am here now and hope you forgive me. This time you need help. Let me. You are safe here, but you have to let me." And with that, Snape knew he was beaten. He allowed himself to be pushed fully back into the bed and closed his eyes. He even allowed Dumbledore to again grasp a hand, even returning the squeeze. After a moment of thinking about this contact, which was so alien yet felt good, he opened his eyes and once again sought those blue orbs which bored straight into him. Completely silent and still, and figuring he had nothing left to lose, he allowed the tears that were welling to tentatively, fall, watching for a reaction. Tears hidden since a particularly…memorable, 'boys don't cry' lesson at the hands of his father when he was seven. Seeing no such response from the old wizard , he closed his eyes.
"Damn" he muttered, and thought 'I'll have to remember to be very angry about this later.' Slowly he slipped back asleep.
The door cautiously opened revealing McGonagall and Dobby returning from their breaking and entering. McGonagall was not completely successful in hiding her shock at seeing the Headmaster holding the sleeping Snape's hand and stroking his hair as one would a child. He was muttering safe sleep charms with his eyes closed and was a million miles away when an "Albus," woke him from his thoughts. As Dumbledore registered the puzzled look on his colleagues face he offered ;
"He was having nightmares" by way of an explanation. McGonagall's face darkened and she whispered angrily
"I am sure he has plenty to have nightmares about. So, he has woken?"
"Yes, an hour past. He cried, Minevra" he said softly. At the unchanged sour look on her face he went on, "When have you ever seen any emotion from this man? Thought all that you know he has endured as both your pupil and college. I certainly never have."
"The man is always scowling Albus.Always snarky and cruel."
"Emotions Minevra! Not, masks, to keep people away. Have you ever seen him smile? Or become frustrated? Or show the slightest hint that he may hurt?" She countered,
"Or show any sort of compassion, understanding, or empathy? No. I have not. I do not believe he is capable."
"Oh it is there my friend. Buried under years of neglect and very well hidden. But it is there." Changing the subject suddenly, still talking in hushed tones, "Did you manage to get in? What did you find?"
"We got in well enough. And just s you thought, he is prepared, a rather large stock ready made and labelled." Dobby held a long box out to Dumbledore who took it. On one side was written "Property of S.Snape, DO NOT USE." Undoubtedly as a warning to any prying students, and on the other, in the recognizable script lettering that was almost neat but not quite, was "Anti Crucio Serum. DO NOT MIX." 'Potent stuff then,' thought Dumbledore. He opened it and his eyes narrowed at the sight of 12 vials, neatly lined up, each held in place with a silver clip, all unmarked. Along with this were two pipettes, and two small glass beakers. There were no instructions anywhere, no clue as to the contents of the bottles. Dumbldore sighed and looked at McGonagall over his glasses.
"We shall have to wake him. I would not like to even hazard a guess at the contents of some of these. My friend, I thank you for getting this. I am wandering, however, if it would be better for you to await me in my study. I have the impression that Severus may think you are enjoying his discomfort a little…" McGonagall bridled a little at this, " …Maybe arrange some breakfast for us… I, for one, could eat an entire Hippogriff."
"Certainly Albus. And be assured that I do not enjoy any person's discomfort. I am merely glad that he knows what these curses and nightmares feel like. I am certain he has caused many." With a glare at the sleeping man she left, taking Dobby with her. Dumbledore sighed and resumed his hair stroking, placing the box on the foot of the bed. He was not sure if Snape was soothed by his actions, but it certainly worked for him! Lost in thought for a moment he jumped when a gruff voice from the bed said;
"She really doesn't like me, does she."
"Oh you're awake…"
"So it seems. When your charming stopped a particularly nasty monster of mine appeared and awake was the best option." A twitching finger pointed at the box " how do you have that?"
"Minevra transfigured to get in."
"Hmm. Through the house Elf entrance I presume. I had thought of blocking it off, but never to keep an animagus professor out. I knew Black wouldn't fit… I shall miss the Elves service then" His face tensed as a wave of pain hit him, and he gasped " Take the beaker. Mix, one drop from the first vial, two from the second, three from the third…. You understand?" Dumbledore nodded, steady hands removing apparatus " Start from the left. When you reach vile seven, add another one drop from the first. Then continue. Do not stop half way through or pause to ask anything. And I must drink it within thirty second of the last drop being added and the empty beaker put in the fire."
"Thirty seconds. I understand."
"Good" said Snape,. "or bang." He added flatly. His dark eyes followed the Heads every move, counting the drops and nodding as the potion changed colour. When the last drop was added Dumbledore held it to Snapes lips and he swallowed, grimacing at the sour taste. Almost immediately the tremors lessoned and the pained look on the wizards face softened. He slumped into the bed, looking utterly exhausted. Dumbledore moved the now closed box, put the beaker into the fire as instructed and retook his seat, fingers beginning their rhythmic stroking. As Snapes eyes shut, Dumbledore told him
"Sleep. I will keep you safe."
'That word again' thought Snape on the edge of consciousness. And the strange thing was, he thought he believed him.
Dumbledore sat for maybe ten minutes, quietly chanting, all the time watching the sleeping man for signs of dreaming. Finally, satisfied the charm was securely in place, he rose, stretched stiff limbs and joined McGonagall in his study where a fine breakfast had been laid out. The witch watched him silently as he loaded his plate before pointing a half eaten slice of toast at him in an accusational manner.
"You feel responsible."
"Well don't! He chose his own path, we all do. No one made him take that mark Albus. By all means look after the man if you feel you must, but do not forget that he chose this."
"No, Minevra, He did not." She looked confused. "What HE chose was to leave them. To stop doing what he knew was wrong. He would have gladly died if that had been the only way. I sent him back to them. Sent him along this path. And I feel that plenty of people made him take that mark. The then Faculty. His parents, peers… We all knew what was happening, where it was heading, but none of us stopped it. He found a group of people who welcomed him, accepted him and wanted what he could offer, his abilities."
"Hogswash" McGonagall tutted.
"Severus is not a bad person, Minevra. There is no evil in him. A lot of pain, fear, wanting. And," he chuckled, "an awful lot of stupid pride. But no bad. Try to see that." At her disbelieving look he added, "Try to see the scared little eleven year old who first entered this school." At the look on her face he broke into a grin. "Alright, a rather large, stubborn, opinionated eleven year old…"
"With greasy hair…"
"And bad breath…" A smile broke through. "Oh I suppose I can try. But don't for one minute think I like the man. I admit you are not often wrong about people, here though you may have made a mistake." At his frown she said "I hope you are wrong."
Professor McGonagall was flustered.
Professor McGonagall was never flustered. And it irked her greatly.
"Fiddlesticks" she muttered under her breath. "Bother. Blast." Dumbledore had left her several hours before, the replacement Potions Master unable to arrive until lunch time and she had happened to have a free morning. Had planned a walk into Hogsmeade, but no. A glorified babysitter. It had been going well, Dumbledore's sleep charm had done just that and she had been enjoying his library and a pot of tea. Then she had heard a noise in the bedroom. Upon investigation she had found Professor Snape quite beside himself, eyes clenched firmly shut, hands clawing at his arms, a low, strangled moan coming from his throat. The normal rousing charms had not worked, neither had the slap to the face she had administered. Now, as she stood over him, muttering under her breath and unable to believe what she was about to do, she had the sudden thought that the other option was to just leave him. Leave him clawing at his arms, slowly drawing blood. That she had even thought it made her shudder.
"Oh for the love of Gryffindor" she sat in the chair Albus had previously vacated. "Shh now." Grimacing, her hand hovered over the dark, sweat soaked hair "Shh". There. She touched it. Began to stroke. Her other hand tried to still an angry arm. "Shh. You are safe. Wake up." The clawing slowed a little, the moaning dropping off to half sobs. She pressed on, "There now. Its ok. Profess…" a sigh "…Severus. You are safe. Wake up." Remembering Albus earlier, "Open your eyes," she enticed. She laid a hand on his clammy frown lined forehead and gritted her teeth. 'Utterly pathetic' she thought. Still not awake, she hesitated a moment, and then gently sent her mind towards his, expecting a solid barricade…
He heard those words again. And again. His dark, warm place where he could curl up and hide had turned bad, and now those words, teasing him. He did not want to see what was in front of his closed eyes, did not trust that it would not just disappear. Then a mind. Asking again. Not a friendly mind. But not un so. Just asking, inquiring as to where he was. He allowed it in because with it came warmth and light and he was cold. Showing it flashes of what he thought it wanted to see.
'Look' he thought at it
'Why?' it answered, familiar,
'To know. To see'
'To see what?'
'Me. Where I am. I thought you wanted to know…'
Curiosity got the better of Minevra, and tentatively she answered;
He flooded it with images and sounds, memories which he thought could not harm him if this was a bad mind. He felt it recoil slightly as he surrounded it, allowing his terror to be felt. The application of the Cruciatus on oyhers. Applying it. The terror of Vetriserum, a fist from his Father, taunts of children, taunts of adults, colleagues. The application of a burning iron to his arm, he flashed them one after the other for it to see. Lying in your own waste and blood, waiting in certainty for the next kick, or curse, or command. The look in the eyes of an innocent victim as they lock onto and into yours, pleading, as you utter THOSE words. Your wand in your own hand, pointing at your own head as you think them again and again, lacking the courage to say them through. Then hearing them directed at you, praying you can spit the syllables out faster, praying it will be the other person who falls, Aveda Kevar…
"Enough!" McGonagall cried, jerking the contact away, repelled by the chaos and anger, appalled by the cruelty and horror. Hands slightly shaking and breathing uneven, she noticed calm black eyes burning into her. Slowly she considered what she had seen and the man before her. Looking into those eyes for what seemed an eternity she reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder, causing his eyes to widen considerably. She sent a single thought to him. 'I see now. I know.' He nodded slightly, lips in a tight line. He broke the eye contact and she felt the mental blocks go up. He whispered "Enough." And allowed her to take his arms, summon a bowl of warm water and cloth and clean them, before gently applying salve as he stared fixedly at the wall. Concentrating on keeping the tears in until she had finished, he would be damned if he allowed her to see that as well.
It was with some trepidation that the Headmaster returned to his rooms, half expecting to see a duel in progress or Minevra climbing the walls. He could understand why she disliked the man, but at the same time believed she had never given him a chance. And Dumbledore was a strong believer in second chances. She had shown only a slight concern at his behaviour when he had been a pupil, and now he was an adult she seemed unwilling to entertain the idea that he was a valuable member of staff in more ways than most knew, although for Severus's sake he wished he could tell them all.
It was therefore with some amazement that he found her not only in the same room as him voluntarily, but actually in full Albus mode, rhythmically stroking hair and calming the occasional spasm which found its way through the potion. With a twinkle he woke her from her revere.
"It's quite soothing, isn't it?"
She looked sheepishly at him, hands returning to her lap.
"Hmm. Like a giant puppy. Not as greasy as I thought, either."
Dumbledore chuckled, "I am very relieved he is asleep, I doubt whether being described as a puppy would do anything for his mood."
"I am not asleep" They both jumped, "and I agree, my mood could be better."
"We have been warned Albus!"
"Yes, it seems the puppy bites."
Snape groaned. "Oh really. Ridiculous." Dumbledore turned to McGonagall,
"So how is our patient?"
"The spasms are all but stopped. Definitely more aware and awake than before, had an enjoyable complaint and moan session, so returning to normal." The head noticed the smile playing around her lips and smiled.
"I feel like an experiment." Complained Snape.
"Yes, sounds like the Severus we know and love." Chuckled Dumbledore. At McGonagall's "tsk", he ventured, "Like?" An incredulous look crossed her face.
"Tolerate, Albus. Do not mind, maybe, but like?!? He is Slytherin!"
Dumbledore watched Snape's reaction, expecting him to hide away behind his snarky façade at the words, which, he felt, were slightly harsh to say to an ill man. His actual reaction shocked him a little.
"Spoken like a true Gryffindor." With a half smile. Interesting. He'd have to ask about what had happened between these two later.
"I have lessons to prepare. I will see you later Albus. Severus, I shall be back to check on you. Good day." With a final nod of her head she left the room, and a very bemused Dumbledore.
"Nice to see you two getting along a little better…"
"Had a chat, did you…?"
"Not a chat, no."
"Oh…none of my business?"
Oh well. A spot of lunch then. You must be starving. What do you fancy?" At the mention off eating the younger wizards face darkened a little.
"I don't think…" but Dumbledore cut him off
"Nonsense, you have to eat something, skin and bone, look at you!"
Snape quietly defended himself, slightly awkwardly,
"A side effect of prolonged Cruciatus exposure is an inability to actually keep any food down…" It was the first time he had actually outright told anyone that he was regularly cursed and the fact was not wasted on Dumbledore who changed tact, speaking softly,
"Well a little something light then. We shall try. Now," jollier again "how are those legs doing? Functioning yet? Lets see."
With mutterings off embarrassment and defiance, Snape allowed Dumbledore to pull him to his feet. He shock off the older mans hand and using the wall to steady himself, moved toward the door. "Bathroom?" he asked.
"Second on the left. With the rubber ducks on the door."
'Should have known' thought Snape as he shakily made his way in.
"If you need any help, shout" risked Dumbledore and got the glare he expected. "Pride can be a danger sometimes Severus…"
"Lesson noted" came the reply, a little too sharply, and he added in a softer tone, " I shall bear that in mind. A quick shower and I will feel much more civilised, I'm sure."
A worried look crossed Dumbledore's face. "Leave the door ajar."
"Headmaster, I assure you,"
"Humour me. Minevra will not be back for some hours and every one else is teaching."
"As you wish." He cautiously crept his way through the door and closed it behind him, leaving it just off the latch. Soon, steam was piling out and Dumbledore smiled a sad smile.
When he emerged from the pummelling water, he was definitely feeling much more 'with it'. Although still shaky, he no longer smelt of leaves and his hair, much to his annoyance, was fluffy and smelt of lavender. He noticed the pile of clothes on the toilet, and on top was a jar of the gel he applied to his hair daily to protect it from the hours spent in various fumes or splattered in students potions. There was a reason most potion brewers were bald, and Snape did not like the look, having got used to being able to hide behind his shield of hair as a child. That it was in keeping with his image as an 'greasy git' was a bonus. Oh well. One secret out. Deciding that they were in fact normal teaching robes, (he was unsure what Dumbledore had done with his others, couldn't very well send Death Eater robes through the school laundry,) he fought the rising feelings of horror and anger that some one had come in whilst he was showering, and in the same moment told himself to not be so stupid. If he could cope with hair stroking from that witch, not to mention the 'giant puppy' incident, he could cope with a little invasion of privacy. Towelling himself off roughly, he applied the gel to his damp hair and scooped up the towels into a tidy pile next to the bath for the house elf to collect. He stepped out of the bathroom into the scrutinising gaze of Dumbledore, knowing somehow that his 'performance' would decide where he spent the night.
"Ah! Severus! Come, sit with me. How are the tremors? I Must say, that potion of yours is a marvel. I bet the Ministry were pleased to get their hands on that one, yes?" Definitely non rhetorical.
"Good, good. Now, lunch! The elves had laid on a fine spread!" Snape felt the rising panic as he looked at the food before him and his stomach rolled un mercifully. Dumbledore noticed, chastising himself for the slip
"I really don't think…" Snape muttered,
"Severus, you must eat something. A little rice maybe, or some toast." At the continuing panicked look from Snape he softened still further. " If you really feel its best not to, that is fine. But promise me you will eat more later on." Snape felt terrible, seeing the disappointment in Dumbledore's eyes, and taking it to be directed at him, not how it was meant at all. So he forced a small smile to one corner of his lips and selected a dry piece of toast to pacify his mentor.
"Maybe a little." Forcing the feeling of impending doom to one side he nibbled his way through the slice, pausing only to drink half a glass of water. As soon as he had finished he knew it was a mistake and hoping his legs would not give up on him he scuttled to the bathroom. Emerging, feeling embarrassed and a fool, he retook his seat.
"Sorry Albus." Eyes downcast
"No, I am sorry. You know best. I have a hard time remembering that you have experienced this more times than I care to think of. I must say I thought this particular side effect only affected children though…" Snape met his eyes and evenly, without a trace off emotion said
"Prolonged exposure as a child can cause permanent damage." He realised what Dumbledore was doing and whilst he felt a little awkward he also felt he owed the Head a little information after all the times he had stuck up for him.
"Severus…" Dumbledore tried not to let any pity come through to his voice and failed. He had had his suspicions when Snape was a child, but this was the first time the man had allowed any discussion on the matter. Still holding his gaze he gently asked "Who?"
Snape contemplated answering, but the feeling of laying his deepest secrets before the Head was not pleasant. He finally dropped his eyes and at the rounding of his shoulders Dumbledore quickly changed the subject. An admission of that magnitude was huge, and at least opened the door for further discussion. He rapidly changed the subject to general chit chat and idle gossip. And so they spent the rest of the afternoon in this way. Dumbledore talking and Snape listening. Or not listening. Or dozing. Dumbledore not minding, just happy to let the teacher be somewhere with warm sunlight coming in the windows and company.
McGonagall returned around five o'clock, to find tea being laid out and the two men engaged in a game of chess. Dumbledore occasionally moving his opponent's piece as instructed when fingers trembled a little too much.
"Ah. Minevra! Just in time and a welcome interruption. I was just about to concede defeat but have been saved!"
"This all looks very cosy. Feeling better, Professor?", only slightly starchily, a huge improvement which made Dumbledore practically beam,
"Yes thank you. I shall return to my rooms after tea. I, ah, appreciate your help earlier."
That shocked McGonagall gently, but determined not to show it she simply replied;
"You're welcome. Now before we begin tea, let me inform you that I had two students turn each other into chickens and another my cloak into a wig wam. So any attempts at humour best be forgotten."
Snape snickered quietly, amazing both the others.
"Be glad that in your class when things go wrong they transfigure things. In mine they explode."
"Oh good" said Dumbledore, " I wasn't going to mention this morning if you didn't notice the stains…" At Snape's horrified expression he chuckled, "Here, Minevra, have some soup, its wonderful!"
As the two older teachers tucked in, Dumbledore saw McGonagall notice the lack of interest in food from Snape, and he hurriedly caught her eye with a small shake of his head. Taking the hint she raised an eyebrow and returned her attentions to her plate, joining in the general chatter about classroom disasters. As pudding was served, Dumbledore pointed his spoon at Snape who feigned fear, and laid down the law about Snape no longer staying alone in his dungeons when hurt, and trying to get him to accept a little help once in a while. Snape grumbled, protested and generally 'Snape-ed' about it but agreed to keep Dumbledore more informed. As the evening drew to a close, Snape stood, still a little unsteady, and looked at them both in turn. Picking up his potion box with only a slight tremor, he made an ever so slight bow and said
" I thank you both. This has been more to me than just a physical recovery. "
A slightly shocked McGonagall stood, taking the box from his hands.
"I will walk you to your rooms."
"That is really not necessary."
"Yes. It is." Voice firm but still gentle, she laid a hand on his arm and propelled him toward the door. Albus was left alone with a bemused smile and a lot of unfinished cake. 'Oh well,' he sighed, 'it would be a shame to waste it.'
They walked in silence. The pace slow, McGonagall magicking open doors before they got to them. The air grew damp and colder as they reached the dungeon level. No windows. She couldn't help but give a small shudder
"Homely. Isn't it?" Said her companion.
"I'm sure Dumbl.."
"Not a complaint."
Continuing in silence, she lit torches as they went. More doors. More silence. Suddenly, as if it had been annoying her, she stated
"I do not dislike you. You understand?"
"Its just, that mark, " she glanced at his arm as he sub consciously rubbed it, "I have lost a lot of friends…"
"I know. As have I."
"I know." More Silence, then he spoke quietly.
"I am sorry…"
"Yes. I believe now. You really are…I know."
Back to silence, but an easier one than before, both lost in their own thoughts. At the middle of a blank wall he stopped her, laying his hand on a stone he muttered a brief un concealment charm and a door was revealed which he pushed open. Minevra floundered a little at their sudden arrival and Snape smirked. He enjoyed surprising people.
"Care to come in?" He offered, a subtle dig at her earlier entrance. He sounded genuine and she was tempted, if only to have a better look at the decor of a Potions Master she had glimpsed earlier.
"No thank you. Classes to prepare for. I will see you at breakfast?"
They surveyed each other.
"Thank you again, then…"
"Not at all. Remember what Albus said. Keep him informed. We can and will help." He noticed and was secretly pleased by the 'we'.
"I shall. Good night, Minevra."
"Good night, Severus." She turned and left, and when she glanced back, there was only a stone wall hiding its secrets again.
In the preview the spacing looks all odd, if it is I apologise!! Did try!!