A Promise to be Better 1

Author: Raven Dancer

disclaimer: All characters belong to J.K. Rowling except for the Drs. Barnes and Beryl. I receive no monetary compensation for these works.

Summary: After returning to the Death Eaters Snape's behavior worsens in class and Dumbledore must help him deal with growing anger.

It was, by all accounts, the worst argument he'd ever had with the Headmaster. Both had lost their temper. Both had yelled, screamed, threatened. Snape was ashamed. He'd never lost it so totally with his mentor.

In the end Snape had backed down. He'd had no choice; either he make some drastic changes in his discipline policy with all students or he leave. Period. In addition, he would treat all students with equal respect. No cruel put-downs. Students that were behind or failing would receive support in the class and tutoring in a stress-free environment.

"That leaves out the dungeons," Snape grumbled. He sat, shoulders hunched as though all the will had been beaten out of him. Exhausted with the struggle. Dumbledore loomed over him keeping as professionally stern a demeanor as he could. He hated to treat Snape like this, but with the stress of returning to the death eaters that summer had caused the man to become absolutely tyrannical. Within the first week over a dozen students had been in the hospital wing nervous wrecks.

Finally the Headmaster broke, stepping behind Snape he placed his hands gently on shoulders too tense to soothe, but he tried, running a gentle warmth through his taut frame.

"Severus, it's not like I'm asking for you to do this all yourself. Let me sit with you and plan out some new tactics. You can even practice on me, if you like," he worked on calming Snape.

"Can I do a before and after? I so want to do a before on you," the Potions Master groused. Dumbledore chuckled.

"No, sorry. No reinforcing bad behavior," he upped the flow of warm energy and began to knead in earnest. After a moment he felt the younger man relax a bit, muscles beginning to unclench as he worked over the back.

"I think some tea and those little sandwiches the house elves so enjoy making would do nicely just about now," he spoke gently. Snape only grunted as he leaned slightly into the rub. It had been an excruciating month. The students were just the icing on an already large, seven-layer cake.

The Headmaster continued working until Snape was nearly limp, letting him lean back into the cushion. He pushed hair from eyes.

"Maybe a trim?" he smiled.

"You're pushing it, Dumbledore," Snape snarled; but the anger was gone and the tone was nearly playful.

"Manicure? Facial?" the older man moved to the bell and rang it quickly. The only response from Snape was a snort. Beryl appeared and listened with a growing smile to the Headmaster.

"Very goods sir! Little sandwiches and tea. Does the Headmaster be wanting some sweets with that?" the elf was nearly dancing in place. At times Beryl made Dobby seem sedate.

"Well, yes, that would be nice. Something lemony, perhaps?" he agreed amicably. The elf hurried out.

Keeping the Potions Master relaxed for the better part of an hour was relatively simple. Plied with tea (laced with brandy) and sandwiches, the stressful part of the ordeal was over. Neither liked arguing, especially Snape when he knew he was wrong and Dumbledore wouldn't give him a graceful way out.

The Headmaster was very generous with the fortification in Snape's tea. Snape never got roaring drunk, but became quiet and sleepy. Whether he was happy or melancholy depended on circumstance. Tonight he was subdued but at least not depressed. As he began to nod, Dumbledore stretched him out on the couch with a warm cover and pillow. A slight transfiguring charm and the somnolent man was comfortably tucked in for the night.

Monday morning, armed with the warmth of Dumbledore's energy and his own personal misgivings, Snape attempted to teach potions without his normal angry reactions. The students were very confused, starting with a group of first year Hufflepuffs and Slytherins he'd nearly destroyed the week before. Fortunately, they only had only had one exposure to him and by the end of the period most weren't shaking anymore.

Next was the other first year group, Gryffindor and Ravenclaws. This also went well once the initial fear had been overcome. Snape supposed it might be better teaching without having the entire class dissolve into tears. At least the potions wouldn't get watered down.

Each class became a little more difficult. Of course, Tuesday afternoon's 5th year class just about broke him. He'd been the worst to Longbottom and Potter. He didn't expect any great change, but gods, there must be a way to get through without devolving into chaos. Any perception of him easing up caused the students to take advantage, passing notes, daydreaming, tormenting one another. He sat at his desk sipping a potion for a headache that had been growing for days, staring at the back wall.

Play to the strengths of the class, Dumbledore had said. Concentrate on the most positive aspects. Well, the definite strength was Granger. She was brilliant. It was easy today to give points to her for correctly saving Longbottom's near failure. (Poor kid had shook from head to toe when Snape tried to work with him.) He actually preferred rewarding good performances (once he put aside the fact she was a Gryffindor!)

What if he solicited Granger's assistance. Help Longbottom calm down and try to get the potions correct. He would in turn have to give her something. Not points. Think.

Ah, simple. Tutoring. Maybe she'd like some advanced work in potions? If he appealed to her curiosity it might just work. Hell, he had to tutor Longbottom, that was a given. Might as well bring her in at the same time and work on something more interesting.

Looking about the classroom he decided he should post his discipline. Dumbledore had suggested it and now, after struggling two days, it seemed like a good idea. Shuffling for a clean parchment, he listed:

Late homework: -10 (1 class period late)

-20 (2 class periods late)

detention (3 class periods late)

Disrespect: -5 points

Homework turned in on time: +2 points

Correctly Craft Potion in class: +2 points per team

Well, it seemed rather silly, now didn't it? He sneered at the parchment, hoping it would disintegrate. It didn't. With a groan he flung it towards the wall where it stuck under a variety of announcements and assignments. He peered at the notice for nearly 10 minutes before he stood and left for his rooms. And for a cooling pack for his headache.

One little sign made a great deal of difference the very next day. Third year students noticed it immediately. They knew through hard experience Snape would penalize students constantly. But here, in writing, were the actual penalties and rewards. Rewards? Snape was not known for giving out many points except to his own house. It was a struggle, but most students managed to listen and brew the potion of the day. Nearly everyone !had been successful, the exceptions the couple students who had dozed off. No points off for that. It was very confusing to the students.

After class most of the class raced to lunch, checking out the house points. Both Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were up modestly. One bold student tapped softly on the Ravenclaw glass and requested the last 20 points added. All from Snape. He hadn't lied.

Word spread quickly. Snape was still tough, but he was handing out points for good work. The rest of Wednesday went well for both Snape and his classes.

Thursday was a repeat of Tuesday. Except Snape sent a note to Hermione Granger to meet him 15 minutes prior to class. She came, full of trepidation, but curious none the less. He managed to ask civilly for her help with Longbottom. He was even surprised she was pleased with the offer of advanced lessons. He rubbed at his temples as he directed her to a cauldron near the front.

"Are you feeling all right, Professor Snape?" Granger asked, still feeling bold. He muttered something about a slight headache and went to the board, putting up notes for the afternoon's preparations.

Although Longbottom was still gun-shy, the lesson went well. Snape had even made sure everyone would be successful in preparing the cold potion (good for sprains, keeping food cold). After the last student left Snape sank into his chair. Being fair wasn't so bad. Having to control his temper was the difficult part. It was so much easier just to snap and yell at the students than trying to make things more understandable.

Leaning against his desk he began to rub his neck. Nothing was easing his headache. He felt a movement behind him, hands running against his back as warmth began to sink into the tight muscles. He nearly jumped out of his chair.

"Tired, Severus?" a mellow voice in his ear.

"Oh, not now," he grumbled, heart beating loudly. Dumbledore continued to soothe his back.

"Tight," he commented.

"Headache. Just can't seem to shake it," Snape confessed.

"Well, it's been a rough week. Change is difficult," the older man allowed.

"Mmmmhm," the younger man allowed as one particularly tight shoulder muscle began to loosen.

"Severus, come up to the office. We need to talk a bit and I can work on that knot in your shoulder," Dumbledore offered. He was rather surprised Snape offered no resistance. Normally he had to convince Snape to join him. But the wizard was exhausted, Dumbledore could tell by the way his body seemed to drag along. Together they walked through the halls and up several flights of stairs.

Snape wandered over to the lounge, sitting resolutely awaiting his lecture. At least he'd be comfortable. Dumbledore noted the rigid stance and ordered up some light refreshment. Snape waved off the scotch and brandy.

"A little tea, then, Severus. You're very stiff," the Headmaster observed.

"Headache, a slight headache," Snape retorted. "I've had it for days. Poppy said it was stress," he snorted mirthlessly. Dumbledore moved behind him, ignoring the flinch as he put a hand on his head and neck.

"Let me have a look, maybe I can loosen you up," he offered.

"I don't recall having any muscles up there," Snape said haughtily. It caused the older man to laugh. Stifling it quickly, he cleared his throat and then began to gently probe around looking for any apparent cause.

"You've not been sleeping well lately, have you?" Dumbledore muttered as he moved his energy and musings through Snape's head. He was fishing for some hex that could be responsible for the headache. The exhaustion was very apparent.

"Dreams, insomnia," he admitted grudgingly. He felt the warmth fill him. He sighed, slipping back against the cushions.

Not liking what he was finding, a dark patch that wouldn't budge, Dumbledore opted to push Snape over into sleep. Then he went to the computer to send a message to Jeffrey Barnes, the local healer in Hogsmeade. He wanted a professional opinion.

Snape slept deeply for over an hour. He was still down, having been comforted through a nightmare that tried to take hold, when Dr. Barnes slipped into the Headmaster's office. He hung his cloak, listening carefully to the details of the 'headache'.

"I'd best have a look," he agreed, after asking a few clarifying questions. He pulled a chair close to the sleeping man and gently began to insinuate himself into Snape's systems.

Dumbledore sat nearby watching the exam. He was bothered by the little he'd read. The healer moved slowly, lingering in spots, then brushed his hands down the long lines of Snape's body. Grunting, he sat back and simply watched the sleeping man breathe.

"Well?" the Headmaster prompted. Barnes looked over and smiled sheepishly.

"Oops, got lost in my thoughts," he said. He placed a hand on Snape's forehead and whispered a charm before he turned his attention to Dumbledore.

"A couple hexes; probably have been there awhile. There's more, but I'd like to move him to the bed to fully scan him," the healer said. The headmaster nodded, moving towards the bedroom. He left the door open while he pulled the covers back. Turning, he watched Barnes strip Snape down to his leggings. He grinned, knowing how confused the wizard would be when he woke up.

"You'll need to help me, Headmaster. Have your wand ready to terminate the curse," Barnes directed. Dumbledore complied, moving into position. Snape was lowered to the bed and the healer began his probe. Soon a thin, gray mist rose from the prone man's body, swirling malevolently above. It was quickly dispatched.

Barnes rescanned his patient's head, tugging a second hex out and leaving it for Dumbledore to terminate. Moving down he stopped at the abdomen, frowning.

"When did he eat last?" he asked, gently prodded the midriff.

"I saw him at breakfast, but I don't recall any food, just tea," Dumbledore thought a moment longer. "I can't swear I've seen him actually eat lately."

"I can vouch for that, his stomach and track is empty. And here comes the reason," Barnes deftly ejected another hex for the Headmaster's disposal.

"I swear," he ran hands over the still figure, "I should just come over twice a week and scan him. Never saw anyone get hexed as often as he is," the healer levitated Snape up and moved over to the lounge near the window. He sat down first then lowered the body into his lap.

"I'm just going to work on some energy deficiencies. Why don't you get some food up here so we can feed him?"

"You think he's going to let us feed him?" Dumbledore smirked at the idea, but the healer did not crack a smile.

"I'll feed him," he said flatly.

Duly chastised, Dumbledore went out and called Dobby, arranging for a hot meal. He returned to the bedroom to watch Barnes perform his magic. It was fascinating to watch as the rigid body slowly relaxed and went limp. Barnes finally smiled.

"Oh, yes, we're going to be such good friends when all this is over," he ran soothing hands over the length of Snape's back encouraging him to curl snugly against him.

"I've always thought you healers have a nasty sense of humor," Dumbledore commented as Dobby came in bearing a tray of stewed chicken and gravy with diced carrots and peas wrapped in a brown crust.

"Hand pies with extra gravy. Peaches and iced juice," Dobby dutifully reported. The rich scent filled the air. They set the table near Barnes hoping the aroma alone would wake the Potions Master, watching as he twitched in his sleep.

"I'm not the only one with a nasty streak," Barnes grinned at Dumbledore. The Headmaster snorted. But he stayed quiet as Snape slowly began to surface.

Something smelled good. Very good. Snape stretched, slowly smelling the fragrant air. He was warm, the bed seemed a bit lumpy but comfortable none the less. Moaning happily he cuddled down into the warmth. A snort of laughter clued him in that he was not alone.

Plus, the mattress moved. That was a big tip-off. He stilled and listened very carefully, but there was no apparent noises, just the sound of a heartbeat and lungs expanding and contracting. It wasn't Albus; he had that beat memorized through long years of healing. Barnes. It had to be the healer.

"Hullo, Barnes. I suppose I've been ill?" he growled softly. Hands cuddled him, sending warmth.

"Close, you were carrying a few spare hexes that I disposed of with the Headmaster's help," the healer reported.

"That was Albus's laugh, then?" he continued not too suspiciously.

"Oh, yes, it was," Dumbledore happily identified himself. They watched as the Potions Master sighed.

"Well, I do feel better," he allowed, finally opening his eyes. "I just want to know how you two manage to get me to curl up like this," he groused, eyes focusing on Dumbledore.

"Trade secret," replied Barnes, sending a stream of energy into Snape keeping him tractable. He motioned to his cohort in crime to slide the food close and picked up the fork.

Dumbledore waited for Snape's refusal. He was very surprised when the Healer got several bites in before the wizard was even aware he was being fed. By then hunger had become the overwhelming drive and Snape didn't complain, taking forkful after forkful into his woefully empty stomach. After a long drink of juice he managed to glare at the doctor.

"You're bloody well enjoying this, aren't you Barnes," he accused as withering as he could. The Healer chuckled and offered another bite. Snape accepted, leaning as he chewed.

"Of course I'm enjoying this. I always enjoy seeing a patient on the mend. Getting to tease the cranky old Potions Master of Hogwarts is an added bonus," he kept an tight arm over his charge and brought in another fork of fruit.

Dumbledore was impressed; Barnes was certainly able to keep Snape in line. He supposed Snape had been under other healers' care and trusted Barnes. Although he'd been around for most of Snape's worst injuries and illnesses. Barnes was a rather recent addition to his arsenal: a competent and fully functioning magical healer. There were few in the wizarding world to begin with and Hogsmeade boasted two, Jeffrey and his father, James, Barnes.

With the problems over the summer, Poppy was away, at home, (and to be honest, the nurse didn't much like working with Snape anyway) Dumbledore had to ask for help with an injured Snape. The younger Barnes had come immediately and seemed to easily bond with his recalcitrant friend.

Soon Snape became drowsy and slowed his attack on the chicken pie. Dumbledore helped him up and watched him stumble into the bathroom. He appeared a few minutes later looking rather sleepy.

"Where is my robe at least? I need to go back down to my rooms," Snape glanced about. Dumbledore quickly cast a cloaking spell over the stack of clothing.

"I think Dobby took them to clean, Severus. Why don't you just lie down and I'll see if I can find him," the Headmaster said in his most innocent tones. He wanted to guard the wizard's dreams for at least one night.

"I'll fall asleep," Snape complained.

"Tell you what," Barnes entered into the deception, "Lie down and let me do one more scan. By the time I'm finished I'm sure Albus will locate your clothing," he looked sincere and Snape dutifully followed him to the bed, stretching out so the healer could look him over.

"Don't forget my boots," he yawned. Barnes carefully began a slow scan, murmuring softly to his patient. The soothing tone and gentle touch caused Snape to begin to doze off, though he fought it at first. Once he was nearly under, the Healer continued to speak softly, weaving a sleeping charm. It wasn't long before the covers were brought over and tucked in. Snape was fast asleep.

"There, no extra charge for the lullaby," he smirked at the sleeping figure. He moved quietly from the bed and moved over to Dumbledore.

"Ok, now he'll be pissed at both of us for outfoxing him. Although it was not difficult at all tonight!" Barnes smiled at the Headmaster. They'd played tag-team before with the very reluctant patient and won. Together they left the sleeping wizard and moved to the study, sitting with the door open so they could just see Snape's still form in the bed. Barnes sat, legs folded neatly.

"So, I note the stress level is quite high. I thought we talked about reducing that in any way possible," Barnes began, his eyes sparking. Snape was not doing well on the stress part.

"We've just started this week on his bearing in the class room. He was so wound up last week he sent a dozen students to Poppy ill from fear. I had to stop him from hurting the students," Dumbledore said.

He then carefully outlined the argument from the previous week and all the things Snape had been trying in his classroom and in comporting with the students.

"He's actually a lot better tonight. I think the hexes were what caught up with him," the Headmaster commented.

"Well, yes, normal,ly two of the three hexes should have dissipated on their own. I think it was a combination of the changes he's trying to effect and that nasty hex that was causing the progressively worse headache that did him in. Severus will be much better tomorrow. He can even teach if he wakes up," the doctor said.

"Oh, I'll probably wake him. He's done such a good job with the younger students. 7th year classes are tomorrow. He needs to complete the week and let all the students see he's trying. Sets the precedent for the rest of the year," Dumbledore said.

"Try to get him to come back up here for at least one more night. He'll sleep better. Then he should be ok sleeping alone again. The nightmares are horrendous," Barnes referred to the broken sleep that plagued the Potions Master. Even the stronger sleeping draughts didn't keep those dreams away. The Headmaster smiled.

"Oh, I'll get him up here at least one night. He's pretty tired so he'll follow my lead for the most part," Dumbledore said.

"I know he trust you completely, just get him to sleep and eat this weekend and he'll be up to snuff on Monday," the young healer pushed himself up.

"And if you'll excuse me, I'd best be getting home. I'm sure Dad's about given up and eaten his own cooking by now," Barnes chuckled.

"That's right, the women have gone to the conference in Paris? Or was it Dublin this year?" the older man guessed.

"Right in one, Paris. Mom and her sisters were debating on where to go first. I think the conference is just a smoke screen to go look at art museums," Barnes related. He put his cloak on and moved to the door.

"And Cindy?" Dumbledore loved to tease.

"Cindy? Oh, I suppose she'll tag along with them. Try to make a good impression," he allowed, not taking the bait. He had been dating the intern witch for several months but was not ready to commit. Of course, neither was Cindy, who wanted to finish her residency before getting more serious. Bidding the Headmaster 'good night' once more, Barnes headed for home.

Dumbledore decided to eat in his rooms that night. He'd missed dinner in the hall and he was reluctant to leave Snape alone for the moment. He sat at his desk working on his correspondence and munching on a some chicken pie and vegetables. He always had more than enough mail to keep himself busy.

After a shower he turned off lights in the outer room and went into the bedroom with a book he was reading. Snape was completely curled up around pillows fast asleep. He slipped into bed and waved most of the lights off, settling down to read.