The Loss of the Order of Merlin
Severus sat nursing the strong spirit in the tumbler before him. His nerves were frayed and his fingers trembling, and despite his tight grip on the vessel, he was lucky not to wear more of the beverage than he had already sloshed over the edge of the glass.
A large sip soothed him momentarily, before he realized that nothing was going to give him the permanent effect he was seeking.
"Shit!" he cursed to himself at a little more than a whisper.
Relinquishing his desperate grip on the tumbler, he reached his shaking hand to his aching head wishing the sharp pains would desist. Inching his fingers higher, he found the injury beneath his hair that contributed the pain. It was sticky with blood and as his fingers explored it gently he discovered the wound was a little bigger than he had first thought.
"You ought to let Poppy take a look at that for you," a solemn voice interrupted his probing. Severus immediately dropped his hand back to the table.
"I am fine," he insisted.
"Severus," the voice intoned with stern exasperation, "as your employer and friend I can say with complete confidence that you are most decidedly not fine!"
Severus couldn't stifle the scoff that followed this remark. "Forgive me, Headmaster, but I have never once deceived myself into thinking you have ever been my friend."
Dumbledore looked a little saddened and disappointed by Severus' reply. Across the wide desk, he caught Severus' eye. "Severus… we both are acutely aware that there has always been another agenda to our relationship, we each have our own roles to play in upcoming events… but please, know once and for all that for a long time now I have most definitely considered you my friend, first and foremost. Do not ever doubt that."
The sincerity in Dumbledore's eyes and words pierced Severus' heart, and he knew no other response but to nod in acknowledgement.
"Now, I expect that Poppy will send me a report of your condition immediately after you have consulted her," Dumbledore said with a meaningful look.
Severus nodded resignedly. He truly was in no condition to argue or resist the Headmaster's interference. "Fine," he acquiesced, lowering his gaze back to the table top with an exhausted sigh.
"Before you go though," Dumbledore began, "I must address your gauche little performance in front of Cornelius."
Severus' demeanor immediately shifted from fatigue to incense and he raised his chin in defiance. "My little performance?" he questioned sardonically.
"Yes…" the elderly man drawled. "He left here somewhat under the impression that you are bitterly disappointed that you were stripped of the Order of Merlin he unfortunately awarded preemptively." At this, Dumbledore allowed his gaze to rove Severus' face for several questioning moments. "Please feel free to correct my assumption that he is… embarrassingly mistaken."
Severus swallowed. "Of course he is mistaken. What need would I have for an Order of Merlin," he added sourly.
Dumbledore rose from his chair and made his way around the desk separating the two men and leaned his hip against it in front of the chair Severus occupied, causing the dark haired man the need to lean back in his seat to look up at him.
"You did exceptionally well protecting Harry tonight. You need no medallion to say so, Severus."
Severus, feeling particularly vulnerable in the submissive position Dumbledore's move had placed him, deposited his drink onto the table and stood from his chair. A dizzying sensation assaulted him and he grabbed for the desk as subtly as he could, closing his eyes briefly and turning to lean against the furniture in a similar way to the old man; taking a deep breath in an attempt to clear his head.
"And yet, you still insist that the boy needed no protection from the beginning. After all, as Black's account seems always to be the preferred, according to him my actions only interfered." Severus' retort was thick with bitterness.
Dumbledore stiffened slightly as he recognized Severus' struggle with his balance when he stood, but refrained from actually reaching out to the young man, seeing that he managed to stabilize himself on his own. He knew Severus detested feeling at all submissive given the past need to humiliate and humble himself in front of his other Master. Albus rebuked himself silently for putting Severus in that position inadvertently, especially in his current condition.
"And in addition, despite brushing off my earlier claim, I hold no illusions that you were not, in part, along with Potter, responsible for Black's escape and are harboring the criminal somewhere."
"Severus, I can assure you Sirius' account was not necessarily preferred to yours, but you must admit, you were compromised for a significant part of the evening. Both Harry and Miss Granger's version of events corrobora-"
"I see you will not deny it, then," he accused, seething.
Dumbledore sighed despairingly, "Severus-"
"No, don't bother. After all, who am I to question your decisions," he interrupted once again, his tone still bitter but now also resentful.
After a short period of silence, where both men eyed one another, Severus glaring with bitterness and Albus frowning with regret, Severus broke the contact by looking away. He was tired… exhausted, in fact, and did not have the stamina to remain angry at the old man who, Severus ultimately knew, was, despite appearances, trying to remain objective.
Fair, on the other hand, well… that was another matter entirely, a completely pointless and unnecessary detail that had bypassed Severus nearly his whole life. But who was he to complain… after what he'd done in his past.
'Oh Merlin… Lily!'
His tired mind was taking him to places he'd rather not go right now.
"Was there anything further you needed, Headmaster?" he asked, in an effort to excuse himself from the man's presence, rubbing his hand over his eyes and aching head.
Dumbledore finally reached the arm toward the younger man, laying his hand on his upper arm. "It will wait," he said succinctly, giving the limb a reassuring squeeze. "I think I had better accompany you to the hospital wing now."
Severus took in a breath to argue, but Albus held up one warning hand to prevent the tirade.
"No, I will not have you passing out somewhere in the hallway; doing more damage to yourself. And heaven help you if you were to be discovered there unconscious by one of the Weasley twins," he added, snickering, "revenge and retribution would, no doubt, be sweet."
Severus sneered at the bad joke, but then conceded with a resigned huff and allowed Dumbledore to guide him to the door and down the spiraling staircase.
He found, to his dismay, that he was glad of his unwanted chaperone in the end.
Severus had gradually become more and more dizzy, sweat beading thickly upon his forehead as he made the steps through the hallways and down the staircases. The headache was reaching an unbearable level and causing him to feel physically ill and now alarmingly faint. He paused with his hand on the balustrade; he found he did not feel up to proceeding to the hospital wing anymore.
"I think perhaps I will just head to my quarters and lie down for a while. Thank you, Albus, I shall meet with Madam Pomfrey tomorrow."
"Oh no, I don't think so," countered the Headmaster, swiftly assessing his Potion's Master with a critical eye and sliding a supportive arm around the man's waist. But it was too late.
With an unpreventable gasp, Severus was brought to his knees and proceeded to vomit onto the stone floor with the Headmaster's calming hand squeezing his shoulder. Every retch made his head feel as though it were about to explode, but he had no control over the spasms and could only endure each one until his stomach was empty and passive. He whimpered weakly with every throb of his head, hissing out, "What's wrong with me?"
"Easy, my boy… it's possible you may have a concussion."
"Yes, from what young Mr Weasley told me earlier, you were apparently out cold for some time. It must have been quite a knock to the head."
With a gasp, Severus lifted his hand to his head wound once more. It was still wet with blood, evidently split too wide to properly clot or begin to heal.
"Come along, Severus… let's get you to Poppy as soon as we can," Dumbledore said soothingly, taking his hand away from the injury. Then he assisted the dark haired man to stand, proceeding in the direction of the hospital wing, only turning back briefly to vanish the mess that had pooled on the flagstone floor.
They arrived in a short time to the hospital door, Dumbledore waving his wand with a flourish and the doors burst open before them.
Poppy gasped at the violent reaction of the doors, but rapidly sprang into action when she saw the Headmaster lead an obviously under the weather Potion's Master into the room. Severus was pale with a thin sheen of perspiration over his face, dark circles under his eyes and a grimace of pain; his appearance was quite startling.
"Severus!" Poppy exclaimed. "What has happened, Albus?"
"It's okay… he's just become progressively worse over the previous hour or so, Poppy, I suspect a concussion. He was physically ill a moment ago. Perhaps you should look him over," Dumbledore suggested to the matron.
"Oh, you silly boy," Poppy admonished gently, taking Severus by the forearm; beginning to lead him to the closest bed. "You should have let me take a look at you when you first brought the others in."
The matron then addressed the Headmaster directly, "He wouldn't even let me clean and dress the nasty cut," she complained, with a roll of her eyes.
Albus huffed and sent the dark haired man an admonishing look. "You really can be quite irritatingly stubborn, Severus, you know that?"
He assisted the young man onto the nearest bed Poppy was ushering them to and stepped back out of the way allowing the matron to begin her examination and assessment, then turning and noticing the curious observer, he drew a privacy petition around the young Professor's bed.
"Can I help you with anything, Mr Weasley?"
The young Gryffindor student stuttered a quick apology. "Oh, uh… no, Sir, sorry… umm… is he okay?"
"Professor Snape will be just fine under Madam Pomfrey's care, Mr Weasley. Have no fear. Please return to sleep, young man."
Albus returned to the inner side of the screen just in time to hear Poppy declare that Severus did indeed have a concussion.
"Here, finally let me do something about that cut, Severus," she demanded in her crisp, no nonsense voice.
Conjuring a bowl full of warm water, Poppy added an antiseptic potion and proceeded to cleanse the wound with soaked cotton wool.
Severus hissed as the concoction stung the open wound.
Poppy's tender ministrations were welcomed by the dark haired man when she rubbed one hand soothingly along his arm whilst appropriating the next soaked clump of wool to continue cleansing.
Once she was satisfied, Poppy retrieved her wand from the depths of her apron and spelled the edges of the cut to close on each other – much as stitches in the Muggle world would act – so that the wound might heal without further hindrance.
Severus had remained resting with his eyes closed the entire time, only prevented from falling asleep by the occasional tapping on his hand by Poppy to maintain his alertness.
"You can sleep soon, Severus… just a few more minutes," she informed him, tapping him once more. He peeled his eyes open to look at the older matron, huffing with annoyance.
"What now?" he asked in irritation.
"Let me see your eyes," she requested, using her illuminated wand to track the reactions of his pupils to light. "Good… you're going to be just fine."
"Now, just take a dose of this, please, then I'll leave you alone," Poppy announced, handing Severus a small vial of a potion she had just summoned.
"Albus, if you would help him to sit upright a little, just to swallow that…"
Dumbledore complied instantly, easily aiding his Potion's Master to rise a little.
Severus was lowered back to the pillow straight after swallowing the potion with a grimace. He sighed heavily, relieved to finally be left alone to sleep. Before he did though, he heard the matron announcing to the Headmaster that his Potion's Master would be fine by the morning, and a quiet, "Goodnight, Severus," from the man himself, followed by a gentle pat on the arm.
His thoughts just before falling into a restful sleep comprised of a particularly scathing consideration of the trio of Gryffindor students who had delivered the blow to his head by way of combined and overzealous Expelliarmus spells, and what Severus may do to them in revenge. And also a furious contemplation of Potter, in particular, for costing him the Order of Merlin, second class - possibly first class, Fudge had hinted.
He really was disappointed he had it stripped from his grasp. It would have done nicely to look at it on his stone mantle on a daily basis and remind himself that all was not necessarily lost. He could still contribute some good to this world, after all.