Suddenly burn so cold.
He lay awake, listening to the rain slamming into the hospital wing's windows. By his calculations it should be somewhere around 2am. He had grown annoyingly used to Madam Pomfrey's routine over the days he had unwillingly occupied this bed, (third on the right, in ward two he had decided), and her last check on her patients had been at midnight.
Brief chats with any still awake, though there were mercifully few- only several students too ill to travel and a couple of people from Hogsmeade who were making use of the quiet school to avoid St Mungos. A healing charm applied here, a safe sleep one there and then the barely discernable rustle of the curtains affording him a little privacy as she approached him.
Every night the same.
He'd close his eyes, pretending to be asleep, anything to avoid the endless prattle and gentle, careful pity, Merlin! how he hated that pity! Hated being stuck here like this! As he began the slippery path into self pity, he pulled himself to order, rational, potion brewing mind angrily chastising himself. And so a plan was formed. A stupid, childish plan which like as not would fail… But at least he would be trying. So, here he lay at 2 am, a noisy storm outside the window, 'which may just work to my advantage' he thought, waiting for the quiet footsteps of the nurse doing the night watch. Pomfrey would be asleep, and if any of the other patients were awake he was counting on a soft chastisement from the nurse and sleep charm to take care of it.
Here she came, slippered feet padding. He closed his eyes, relaxed his head slightly to one side and waited. The rustle of a tweaked curtain. Aware now of eyes watching him, an awareness honed years ago, prior warning being helpful at the hands of the Marauders, and one which he was now very glad of.
And then it was gone, he was alone again.
The feet padded away. He waited, heart gently thumping, feeling unexpectedly nervous, like he was a child about to do something naughty. The feeling annoyed him. Judging the timing was right; he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Aside from embarrassingly supervised trips to the bathroom he had not left this bed in four long irritating days. His mind became alive again as he slowly began his plan.
Corner of the bed, yes, four steps forward, and then the curtain. He slipped through, waiting for a whispered voice to catch him, but none came. Releasing a breath he didn't know he was holding, he took six steps forward, smaller than his normal steps, roughly the same, he hoped, as the nurse's…
Now in the middle of the corridor he turned a quarter right and counted 1, 2 ….17, 18, 19, hand reached out, 20, 21, door. Its cool wood felt wonderful under his finger tips. He paused for a moment, a headache screaming in protest at the movement, physical weakness something he'd forgotten to account for. He pried the door open just enough to slip through, closing it gently and forced himself to focus on the task in hand. He silently thanked the founders for deciding to put the hospital wing relatively near the Dungeons in case of emergencies.
Getting the layout of the halls in his mind he pushed off, and hand brushing the walls gently, negotiated his first set of twisting stairs. Encouraged, and feeling on more familiar ground the deeper he went, he let his stride become his own, almost feeling he was on another of his night time 'patrols', hoping to catch miscreants in what ever acts they were up to…
Before he knew it he was at his own doors, muttering the charms he entered; glad he was not one for clutter like Dumbledore. He silently congratulated himself on a successful 'escape'. He wandlessly (they had taken it off him, he planned to change THAT very soon.) flicked an 'incendio' at the hearth and feeling the warmth slowly flood his quarters he padded in his stockings to his bedroom. At the edge of his bed he reached under his pillow, where, as a habit from his childhood, he kept his night shirt. Swapping it with the uncomfortable hospital gown he slid beneath his sheets and fell, for the first time in a long while, truly asleep.
Albus Dumbledore watched the sleeping man, a slight worried frown on his otherwise calm face. He had gently taken his place on a convenient chair at the side of the bed and, relaxing, began to pull at his beard. He had a feeling he may be in for a long wait. After Madam Pomfrey's irate;-
"He's gone! Taken himself off! Must have sneaked out! Here at two, gone at 4. In those damp Dungeons no doubt, not in any fit state either… I won't have patients deciding when they leave! I will not Albus! That pig headed man can come straight back! I…"
"Poppy, my dear, it is not a surprise. As there has been no hysteria about finding him roaming the halls, I assume he is safely in his rooms."
"It's not acceptable Albus!"
"Yes it is, Poppy. More than. It is both acceptable and a good thing, better than we could ever had hoped for. I will go to him and keep you informed. Thank you Poppy, you have done a wonderful job." he placated.
"Well, really…" and off she had stormed.
He had made his way to the Dungeons, counter charmed the doors to admit him and silenced any wards before they could activate. There were, he mused, bonuses to being Headmaster, and the ability to enter any room he needed to was one of them. He gently called out "Professor?" No answer. A little louder, still nothing. He noticed the glowing embers in the hearth and realised the futility in removing the wand from one of the few Wizards able to do wandless magic. He made his way to the door and stopped when he saw the recumbent form in the bed, still deeply asleep. He had called once more, out of politeness, not really wanting to wake him, and taken this seat. He sighed. A cup of tea would be good about now, then remembered there were no house elves in Snape's quarters. They were an annoyance, the younger man thought, and generally too scared of him to function. Oh well. Never mind. As he sat and watched, his mind set to wandering…
Dumbledore had sat watching his Potions Master breathing. In, out. In, out. Regular, slowly, hypnotic. He dragged a hand, callused from years of magic, over his face, trying to wipe away the tired ache in his eyes. He just couldn't help but watch him breathe. He squeezed his eyes shut, but every time he did he saw the room again, the room he had been in earlier, square, empty, stone floor and walls. A single candle burnt itself out supported by it own pool of wax in the middle of the floor. Sat against the wall in one corner had been the man they were all looking for. Severus Snape. His man. They had sent a note, the Death Eaters, un-signed, but no doubt who it was from. It stated, quite simply, 'What good is a spy who can't.' Not a question, a statement. It had taken them a day to find him, finally it had been Remus Lupin, purely by accident as he attempted to arrange a meeting with the Werewolves. He had smelt him.
He had sat against the wall in one corner, not a mark on him. Dark hair tangled and un-kempt, but nothing else out of place. Robes immaculate. The only things to give away that anything were wrong was his hands, one pushed against each wall, as if holding himself up-right, or pushing himself further into the corner. And his eyes. The whites of his eyes were brilliant red, burst blood vessels standing out sharply against his black irises.
When he found him, Lupin had tried to approach him but, scared of alerting the wrong people to his presence, had decided to wait for his signal to reach the Order and back up to arrive. When back up finally came, in the form of Dumbledore, Shaklebolt and Moody, the ensuing battle had been loud enough to cover Lupins silent approach to Snape, though still not wanting to talk, he found himself uselessly sitting and waiting again looking into the red eyes which seemingly looked straight through him, as any attempt he made to touch Snape was met with the man jerking away violently.
Lupin watched him.
Frowning as he tried to pin point what it was about him that had changed. He watched the dark eyes, jumping from side to side as the sounds of wand fight went on over head. He watched as Snape paused, mouth slightly open, head on one side, listening to the approaching footsteps of (Lupin hoped) his rescuers. Finally, he watched the momentary terror that passed over those eyes in the split moment between the door opening and Dumbledore crying out in relief at finding his man.
Dumbledore had rushed toward the younger wizard with all intentions of carrying him back to Hogwarts if he needed to, when the young Werewolf to his side grabbed at his arm.
"Headmaster," Lupin had spoken quietly, he had realised what was wrong. "slowly. I, I don't think he can see us…"
Snape's head had snapped toward him, his lips soundlessly forming he word 'Lupin'. Dumbldore had slowly crouched down. As he spoke the cornered mans name, the head snapped back again. Scowling. Dumbledore raised a hand to the cold pale cheek in front of him, and drew a thumb under an eye, wiping away a thin line of blood which had seeped like a tear from the corner. He had just leant forward to catch the barely whispered "Albus," when the eyes flickered shut and the exhausted body collapsed forward onto him. He had scooped him up and brought him home.
Now he sat, watching the raspy in and out, the shallow rise and fall of the too thin chest. The occasional twitch of a hand as the Dreamless Sleep was fought. Poppy had assured him that keeping him under was the right thing to do. That the body needed time to heal what it could before the mind was awake. Keeping him under had proved harder than it should have been. Poppy had discovered a built up tolerance to many of the healing potions, along with traces of a lot that she wouldn't prescribe at all. Their first attempt, witnessed by Lupin as he came to check up on the sleeping man, had been quite horrific;
Snape had sat up, screamed once, or attempted to scream, his vocal cords battered by whatever had befallen him. Then he had taken to clawing at his eyes, wiry strength besting Lupins attempts to quell him. He had drawn blood, finger nails digging into skin, leaving long gashes down his cheeks and around his sockets. It had been several minutes before Dumbledore had managed to hit him with a Stupefy, much to everyone's horror. Poppy had cleaned him up, and then started to modify a Dreamless Sleep.
And Lupin had stayed.
The new potion seemed to be working, and the plan was to let him wake out of it any time now, twenty four hours after finding him.
Dumbledore stood ready, wand drawn, in case of the need to stun him again. Poppy doubted it, the pain at least controlled by potions. As the younger man started to stir, Dumbledore began to softly chatter away, a soothing litany of nonsense, intending to give the waking man a sense of place. Finally, the dark eyes opened. They shot around the room a few times, desperately searching for something to focus on, then, as his memory kicked in, they closed again.
"Albus?" he said quietly.
"Here my child. How are you feeling?" A stupid question, he knew. He placed a hand on the mans arm.
"I am blind, Albus. Aren't I?"
Dumbledore felt a tear slip down his cheek;
"I thought so. It felt so. Must I stay here?"
Poppy stepped forward, placing a hand on his other arm;
"For now. Until I am sure there is nothing else going on."
"There isn't. I would know. A concentrated Cruciatus, that's all. He is terribly good at it. My head aches, but I suppose that's a side affect."
"Maybe, I would like you to stay here 'till I am sure."
"Fine. May I sleep?"
"With Dreamless? I have no wish to see my last sight again just yet."
"This is the last vial, I had to alter it. You have quite a developed resistance."
"But not a dependency…" he said, almost proudly.
And with that he had drifted off.
Snape's sleep had taken a rather turbulent turn when the wonderful deep void of nothing it had been was replaced with the same feeling of being watched which was, annoyingly, becoming the norm. As he swam ever closer to consciousness the feeling grew until he was certain of two things. One, he was awake, and two, he was defiantly not alone. At this, a sharp trickle of fear seeped across his mind. He opened his eyes, momentarily causing the trickle to become a flood at the nothingness before him. Then the familiar smell of potions from a past life gave him a sense of place and he relaxed. Slightly. Assuming there was only one person able to enter his rooms uninvited, he asked in a slightly annoyed voice;
"How long have you been sat there, headmaster?"
"Ah! Severus!" voice bright and sunny, possibly a little too so for the potion master's taste, "Good morning! Not long, really, not long at all. Very comfortable chair you have here. Could murder some tea though. I'll go and rustle up an elf, get breakfast going for us. Then we'll have a nice chat."
Not one for early morning company, the reply was less than enthusiastic; "Wonderful." Dumbledore left the room, allowing a little privacy for Snape's second challenge in 24 hours. Clothes. 'At least', he thought grimly, 'everything matches.'
Dumbledore had managed to coerce an elf into fetching a breakfast, a little of every thing, not knowing what Snape would fancy, and a large pot of tea. He sat awaiting his Potions Master, the occasional noise from the bedroom assuring him that he was at least on his way. Thinking over how to breach the subjects that he needed to, he decided on the direct approach when the adjoining door opened and with the briefest of pauses, the tall man crossed to his table with nearly all his normal grace, silence and poise. The scowl, however, a long established trademark of the man, was gone, replaced with a look of utter concentration.
"Splendid. I could not find any mugs though. And the elves seem rather reluctant to look…" Dumbledore did know where the mugs were kept, he had an unerring ability to locate tea making apparatus in any place almost by radar, it was just something to say to alert Snape to where he was. He was only slightly surprised when the man went to a cupboard, fingers whispering across the door to the handle, and removed two glass mugs, crossed the room to where the Headmaster sat and set them down before him.
"Mugs." he said, almost triumphantly. Dumbledore smiled and decided to bite the bullet.
"Thank you. So, Severus. How do you wish to continue?"
"What, no beating around several bushes while you try to work out the best way to treat me?" said Snape, only a little tersely though secretly glad of Dumbledore's abruptness, and he mused for a moment before;
"I believe that for the moment I wish to remain in my quarters. Alone. To…adjust."
"Severus we both know that beating around bushes is not your style. Alone hmm, I see." The head sounded a little hurt, "No, I can understand that. You will keep me posted on the headaches and any developing problems." That was not a request. "And, well, I hate to ask so soon, please excuse my brutality, but have you thought about teaching? Term starts in only five weeks. Rest assured that if you decide against it you will remain here in another capacity…"
"Albus, you know I prefer it this way. I do not appreciate 'mollycoddling'."
"I know. I shall attempt to quell any urges I have to 'coddle'."
"Indeed. We shall see. As for teaching…I have to admit to giving it some thought, not a lot else to do in that confounded Hospital wing nor Malfoy's dungeons, and I have concluded that I will continue. I have a few ideas we could discuss. That is, unless..." he tapered off. A flicker of uncertainty crossed his face, making Dumbledore rise and place a hand on his shoulder, ignoring the flinch.
"My dear friend. I shall be honoured to keep you as my Potions Master, Hogwarts could have no finer. Now," he sat down, "what for breakfast? Eggs, meats, cereals? I have it all here!" Snape visibly relaxed, and shot his shiny black eyes in the direction of Dumbledore, looking straight through him.
"Thank you" he said softly. Then louder, "Tea. Black, two sugars." Dumbledore began to make it as Snape sat down, and he mindlessly, but intentionally, began prattling on about whatever nonsense and school gossip he could think of.
After nearly an hour of informal, though somewhat one sided, conversation, Dumbledore made his excuses and rose to leave.
"Well Severus, thank you for your hospitality, we shall have to do this again!"
"I'm sure we shall," grimaced Snape "allow me to see you out."
"No need my boy, no need." said Dumbledore, starting toward the doors,
"I insist." That cold determination again.
'I imagine you do' thought the Headmaster, "Of course. Thank you. You are aware that the rest of the faculty are going to want to stop by…."
"To gawp, undoubtedly."
"Now Severus, they are all concerned about you."
"Oh please, spare me. I have not suddenly become an idiot Albus."
"No, I know that. Then suffice to say you shall be getting some visitors soon. Your friends appreciate you more than you know."
A twinkle was in Dumbledore's eye, but the sternness of his voice only partially hidden by it;
"Severus Snape, you will receive your visitors in good grace, provide them with tea and buns and practice your social skills. With your days as spy over, there is no need for the constant pushing away of people which you have made your habit. You may, as a member of my staff, consider that this is not a request. Besides, we had to practically set wards against Minerva and Remus or you would have had two constant guardians…" he noticed the slightly intrigued look on the other mans face, and added, "Good friends, those two. Well, I must be leaving. I will inform Madam Pomfrey as to your health, though expect her in the next couple of days too, there is a lot of other things she wants to check on you."
"Certainly. I doubted that I could be free of the women so easily."
"Take care Severus, remember, any assistance I can offer, it is no trouble. Oh! One more thing, I'm leaving you the house elf!"
"Not necessary, I assure you."
"I know, but humour me."
"As you insist."
"Good day, Severus."