A/N: Of course, all the characters (except mine) belong to JKR. This story kinda sorta sticks to canon when it's convenient. Also, it would help to be a little familiar with The University of Mississippi, as it makes up a large part of my character's history. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. This story is not beta-read, so all mistakes are my own. Please leave me some feedback.

The Awakening

Snape awoke two days after the fall of Voldemort in the hospital wing at Hogwarts. For a brief moment he was disoriented and felt the sting of Nagini's bite on his neck. Touching the painful place with the tips of his long, pale fingers, he felt a loosely taped, bulky square bandage covering the bite wounds. He tried to speak, but only air escaped from his throat, void of sound. Dropping his head back to his pillow, he painfully opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling.

He was relieved, realizing he was alive, and found even greater comfort in seeing Harry sleeping in the chair next to the bed. His lips were dry and cracked and he tried to moisten them with his tongue. Positioning his mouth to speak, he strained with every vein in his neck protruding, his face flushed hot, but no sound came.

Harry woke when he heard the bed springs popping underneath Snape, who was attempting to get up. Leaping from the chair to the bedside, Harry's voice echoed again and again in the room, "Professor! Lie still! You're alright!" Nervously placing his hands on Snape's shoulders to keep him from moving, he called to Madam Pomfrey, "He's awake! Come quickly!"

Madam Pomfrey scurried across the room, her full, floor-length skirt flowing as she moved. As she approached Snape's bedside, she immediately began taking his pulse. His vision cleared and he saw that her usually sweet face looked tired and concerned. He assumed the dark circles under her eyes and all the prominent lines streaking her skin were from the stress of having tended to the wounded from the war. The young moans of agony echoing through the room supported his theory. Her once bright blue eyes were saddened and heartbroken, but realized her failed attempt to remain indifferent the longer she held his wrist.

Satisfied with his pulse, she was filled with relief and turned her back to him, wiping her eyes with her apron before pouring cold water for him. Playfully scolding him with a relieved tone, "You had me worried sick, Severus."

He tried to raise his head to speak. There was one thing he desperately needed to know.

Gently placing a steady hand on his shoulder to restrain him, she snapped into her professional, demanding self, "Don't you even think of moving from this bed! Your blood needs another twenty-four hours for the potion to cleanse the poison completely out, but you'll be fine." She lifted his head and held the cup to his parched lips. Nodding at Harry, she instructed, "Ok, Mr. Potter, time to go clean up and have yourself a rest." After lowering Snape's head, she tugged at his blanket to straighten the bedding, and padded away to tend to the other patients.

Harry tried hard not to let the tears fall that were welling up in his eyes. So many years of hate and resentment had healed the moment he viewed Snape's memory. He still found it hard to believe that the one person in the world he hated the most had been the one looking out for him all along. Harry was more grateful than he had ever been to anyone in his life, and now respected Snape for his bravery and protection. There were so many things he wanted to say at this moment that he had no idea where to begin. However, he thought it better to have more time to prepare for that particular conversation now that he knew his protector was going to live.

Frustrated, trying once more to lift his head, Snape was restrained by Harry's hand pushing back on his shoulder. Snape grabbed Harry's wrist, squeezing hard. Startled, Harry did not make an attempt to pull his hand away, as he saw that Snape was frantically trying to speak.

"Is he...dead?" Snape managed to whisper. His black eyes burned into Harry's face and his last bit of energy went into tightening his grip, almost torturing Harry into answering him. He felt the increasing pain from Nagini's bite marks burning into his neck the more he strained.

"Yes! Voldemort is dead!" Harry cried out, emoting cries of victory from other patients rallying at the Dark Wizard's demise. Little did Snape know, he was quickly becoming a celebrity among the Hogwarts students.

Snape softened his glare into a look of sincerity, his body trembling from rage, relief, and weakness. Releasing Harry's hand, flopping onto his pillow, he exhaled all his air upon landing. Raising his arm, he saw that the Dark Mark was gone and nothing remained but a blank canvass of pale, white skin. The corners of his mouth turned into a grin, which was normally hard for him because it was an activity in which he almost never engaged.

Madam Pomfrey strolled over, motioning for Harry to leave as she stuck a thermometer in Snape's upturned mouth.

Lowering his voice, Harry insisted, "We'll talk about everything when you get better. For now you have to try to not move at all. I'll be back in the morning to check on you, Professor." Harry made sure his back was turned before he wiped his eyes

"Poor boy," Madam Pomfrey said in a soft, calm voice, tugging at the sheets. "He's been sitting in that chair for two days straight. He hasn't left your side since he brought you in. Risked his life for you, he did. I've been making him eat." She was dabbing a cold rag on Snape's forehead. "We're going to get you patched up in no time and you can go back to scaring the dickens out of the students," she said reassuringly.

A charge of humility streamed through him. 'Scaring the dickens out of the students,' he thought. 'Alive!' He grinned and laughed quietly.

She checked her bifocals as she saw him smile, "That's something you don't see everyday!" After pulling the thermometer out of his mouth, she held it to the light. "Perfectly normal."

Snape felt a bizarre urge to laugh. He brought his right hand up to his forehead and smiled toothily. At that moment he was simply happy to be alive, despite the fact that he knew he was the most loathed teacher in the history of Hogwarts, and absolutely no one cared for him.

"Glad to have you back, Professor," Madam Pomfrey chuckled as she walked away to tend to the other patients.

He was exhausted and welcomed the sleepiness he felt. As he relaxed, he saw the moon illuminating a stained glass window with a single white flower. 'Lily,' he thought, as his worst memory played in his mind. 'Why did I call you that horrible name? Mudblood! Why did I make the choices I did? Why? Then you fell in love with Potter and not me. I never told you. I should have told you. I'm alone and will be forever. I should be dead.' Admitting regret gave him inner peace and he drifted into the best sleep of his life.

Snape awoke early the next morning with the sun radiating in his eyes. Madam Pomfrey noticed his grimace immediately as she was pushing the breakfast trolley. Without looking in the direction of the windows, she threw a spell with her wand that drew the curtains closed, not missing a stride.

She lifted the lid and presented the main dish. "Bacon, eggs, and toast! I expect you to eat every bite and drink all of your Pumpkin Juice." She shook open the napkin and tied it around his neck. "How are you feeling this beautiful morning, love?"

He pursed his lips and managed a very raspy and unemotional, "Fabulous." Without looking up, he doused his teabag up and down in his cup. The first sip of hot tea soothed and coated his aching throat. He hardly swallowed the second when a small, gray owl dropped the most recent edition of The Daily Prophet onto his bed and flew away. Madam Pomfrey tried to grab it, but Snape snatched it first. He held it up and snapped it open with a pop.

In big, bold letters across the top of the front page was the headline, 'Severus Snape Reinstated as Hogwarts Headmaster'. He peered at the words and sighed with relief as his eyes moved back and forth, quickly scanning the article. The front page articles also included details surrounding the death of Voldemort, as well as Harry's brilliant incantation that saved his life. Flipping the page, he saw the obituaries spanning an overwhelming two pages. He recognized a lot of names, but reading the names of Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks sent a wave of cold chills throughout his fiber. He folded the paper and placed it on the night stand, thinking of the baby they left behind.

Madam Pomfrey had not yet moved from her place. Her eyes were wide open, awaiting his reaction. Too much agitation at this point could cause a serious setback in his recovery. She was also afraid the Daily Prophet had done its usual job of sacrificing its integrity for sensationalism by misrepresenting him as an evil Death Eater.

"When may I leave this hospital?" He rasped wryly, looking straight ahead at nothing. Fighting his emotions, he snapped his head to look at her, awaiting her response.

"Well, your color looks good, your wounds are healing nicely, and you're back in a bad mood. Hmm. I would say you are almost back to normal. At this rate, I think you may be able leave this evening after I've seen you eat a healthy dinner," she replied.

That evening, Madam Pomfrey arranged for Harry to be served with Snape and he arrived just as their dinner was being wheeled in. Harry carefully approached Snape and timidly handed him a festive gift bag stuffed with Chocolate Frogs. Snape looked at it with no emotion and accepted the bag only with his thumb and forefinger.

"These have always made me feel better whenever I've had to spend time in here, Professor. Sorry…Er… I didn't know your preferences," Harry exhaled, with a nervous smile.

Lifting one corner of his mouth, Snape eyed Harry and replied dryly, "Well, we'll have to work on that, won't we, Potter?" Peering into the bag, his long, pale fingers pulled out a small box, and opened the packaging. The collectible card did not have anyone in the picture at the moment, but he saw the words 'Headmaster Severus Snape' and then his picture appeared. "Ah. It is me." He said plainly, and blissflully raised the chocolate frog to his mouth and bit off its head, closing his eyes to savor the delicacy.

Dinner was quiet with few words spoken. The silence between them was comforting and the food was delectable. The two agreed, however, that the House Elves had obviously out done themselves by straightening the kitchens in such a short time since the war and they were grateful for the comfort of the familiar magical cuisine.

Harry broke the silence by clearing his throat before he spoke, "The House Elves have been working overtime to restore the Hogwarts way of life. There is extensive damage all over the castle and grounds, but they are giving it everything they've got to make it right again."

"Hm," Snape grunted in agreement without looking up from his pot roast.

Harry wanted to thank the brave wizard sitting before him, but neither one knew how to begin the conversation they needed to have. However, there was a silent mutual understanding that they both graciously accepted.

After they finished eating, Snape wiped his mouth with the cloth napkin, and tossed it across his plate as a formal indicator that his meal was completed. Swinging his legs over the bed, he tried to stand and Harry moved the rolling tray just in time to steady the Professor.

Snape stood to his full height and glared at Harry's hand clamped onto his arm. Raising an eyebrow, he dryly said, "If you would kindly remove your grrrip on my arm I promise to not hex you when my wand is returned."

Harry quickly let go of Snape's arm and looked at the floor, smiling as he realized the lack of acid in the older wizard's voice. Was that a joke? Snape was joking? Covering his mouth to hide his grin, he enjoyed the Professor's sense of humor.

Madam Pomfrey arrived to give Snape a final examination before releasing him from the hospital. Finding his health acceptable, she tearfully returned his wand before bidding him good night.

Harry helped Snape on with his cloak and walked him to his tower.

Standing at the entrance, Harry shoved his hands in his pockets and asked, "Is there anything you need before I go, Professor?"

Snape pursed his lips and considered the young man for a moment before answering. "Actually, Mister Potter," Snape rasped, "I would like to say…that I am proud of you. You have done well. My debt to you will never be resolved in any lifetime." His voice broke and could feel his lifetime of darkness fading to light.

Harry removed his right hand from the safety of his pocket and offered it to the former Bat of the Dungeons. Timidly, he offered, "Thank you, sir. I would have to say the same about you."

Snape took Harry's hand in his right, accepting the truce.

The young wizard exhaled and added, in earnest, "You are. Without a doubt. The bravest man I ever knew.

Snape clasped his free hand over Harry's and shook one firm time, seeing Lily in his eyes. For the first time in almost twenty years he was able to find some type of absolution from the mistakes of his past. He felt the life debt that he owed to her was finally forgiven by speaking to him through her son's eyes.

Snape closed the door behind him and leaned against it, taking a long, appreciative look around. The elves had straightened the mess and prepared it for his arrival. It was a welcoming sight after all he had endured during the week. He noticed that he wasn't as tired as he was when he left the hospital just minutes before and took a moment to collect himself. Although he was rapidly feeling his strength return, he was becoming overwrought with emotions.

Fighting the urge to weep, he forcefully removed his wand from his robes and pointed it at the fireplace, commanding, "Incendio!"

Pouring a shot of Firewhisky, he slouched down on his chair behind the heavy, ancient Headmaster's desk and watched the dancing flames of the fire. Enjoying his first time back in his chambers since his trip to the Shrieking Shack a few days prior, he welcomed its comforting tranquility of familiarity.

The flames of the fire flickered in his eyes as he reflected on recent events. Gliding his hand across the smooth top of the desk, he thought that Dumbledore should be sitting there instead of him. Suddenly, he was overwhelmed at his realization that several of his colleagues would never again gather at meetings of The Order. He was still not sure of everyone who was killed, but he leaned his head on the back of the chair, closed his eyes, and privately allowed the inevitable tears to flow.