Warnings: Sentimentality. Blatant use of adverbs.
A/N: This is a quickly scribbled piece of nonsense. Thank you for your patience. I know, I have to update Darkest before dawn... Forgive me. I have been at work on my latest book, The flawed master: lessons Professor Snape taught me, which is almost halfway done, and I have been a little frazzled.
Additional note: A loved one pointed out that Snape was teaching DADA during the year in which this fic is set, and I stuck him in potions again... Oops! This is what happens when you start a fic with no clear plan (as I usually do), and then write the rest in the middle of the night. Ah, well! I suppose that he will always be the Potions Master to me ;-)
Something was wrong with Professor Snape.
Well, something had always been wrong with him, most of the students and staff at Hogwarts would have agreed. But lately, the difficult Potions Master was both much more irritable than usual, and almost apathetic.
Like this morning, for instance.
Snape marched to the desk where Ron Weasley was hunched over a simmering cauldron, and slammed his fist on the wooden surface.
The boy jumped and looked up, then at his cauldron and its pale green contents, then at his opened book, then at his (he thought) adequately prepared potions ingredients, then at Snape again. If he had done something incorrectly, he could not figure out what it was.
"As usual, you have no idea what you are doing, do you, Weasley? Do you know at all why you are here?"
The others students glanced surreptitiously in their direction, while trying not to botch their own concoctions; the Slytherins snickered, the mocking sounds barely audible yet quite discernable, especially to the Gryffindors.
"Sir, he... He added every ingredient in the correct order..." Hermione said, unable to prevent herself from coming to her friend's aid.
"WOULD YOU KEEP QUIET, YOU INFERNAL, MEDDLING GIRL!" Snape roared.
Ron's face reddened with anger, and Hermione's eyes filled with tears. The room came to a sudden standstill.
Snape took a breath, seemingly intent on resuming his tirade, but his face paled abruptly and a small groan, rather than insults, escaped his lips; he gripped his stomach and spun on his heel, stumbling once as he hurried toward his desk. He dropped onto his seat, his robes twisted around his body, and he rummaged inside a drawer, beads of sweat shining upon his forehead. His fingers closed around a bottle containing an opaque, white liquid, which he gulped down. He could not repress another soft groan. Still clutching his abdomen, he leaned forward and his face was concealed by his hair.
No one dared to speak.
After a few minutes, the Potions Master's breathing slowed. Without raising his head, he said in a pained, halting voice, "Finish your potions, then leave a vial of the result on your desks and get out."
"Professor... Are you all right?" Hermione said.
To their surprise, he stood and simply left the room, not even bothering to close the door behind him.
"Severus? May I come in, my boy?"
Dumbledore stared at the door. Eventually, he knocked again.
"Severus, I am going to come in now."
He waved his hand, and the door creaked upon its hinges.
The sight that greeted the Headmaster took him aback. He had never seen Snape's quarters in such a state of disarray. Snape's robes had been flung carelessly over a couch. There were half-corrected scrolls of parchment everywhere, along with many empty glasses; the latter were stained by a milky white substance that looked remarkably similar to the potion Hermione told him Professor Snape had drunk when he became indisposed during his class.
Judging by the number of empty vials that also littered Snape's desk, the white potion was but one of many magical substances he had recently been consuming.
Dumbledore made his way to Snape's bedroom.
The curtains were drawn, but a small crack between them allowed enough light in the room so that its occupant was not entirely concealed by the gloom. A frown creasing his brow, Dumbledore approached the bed.
Snape was lying upon the covers. He was still partly dressed, though he had managed to undo some of the buttons that tied his coat. His face was haggard and sallow, his eyes shut.
"Can you hear me, lad?" Dumbledore asked, bending over Snape.
"Leave me alone," Snape said without opening his eyes. Then he gasped and clenched his teeth.
Dumbledore pulled a chair next to the bed and sat down.
"Severus, I think Poppy should take a look at you."
"I noticed that you have been taking a lot of potions these days."
"What concern is that of yours? Am I not fulfilling my obligations?"
"Perhaps a little too well," Dumbledore said.
He took Snape's hand in his. The younger man's lips tightened, but he did not remove his hand from Dumbledore's grasp; the Headmaster could not tell whether it was because Snape was too exhausted, or believed it would be useless to try.
"There is no pleasing you," Snape whispered, turning his head to the side, away from Dumbledore.
"I'm sorry, Severus. It appears I did not realize how overburdened you have been."
"You have your own worries," Snape said, his voice laced with a combination of bitterness and resignation. Then he sighed and said, "I just need... to sleep. Please leave me alone for a while, and I'll be fine..."
"Come to the hospital wing with me."
"I'm tired, damn it, I'm just tired."
"Can you get up? I'll help you."
"Do you ever listen to anything I say?" Snape said, red blotches marring his pallid features. He pushed himself from the bed and got to his feet. "If you won't give me any peace, then I'll... I'll find another bloody hole to hide in," he muttered, swaying and holding his face in one hand.
Dumbledore caught him before he fell.
Snape's eyelids fluttered. Everything around him was white... White walls, white curtains, white sheets. It at last occurred to him that he was in the hospital wing. Again.
Then it occurred to him that he didn't care where he was, as long as it involved a bed and him lying on it. Poppy must have administered a potion or three, because he was feeling very relaxed, to put it mildly. He felt like he was floating, and it was most pleasant. Most pleasant indeed.
Dumbledore came into view and Snape was not even annoyed. The man's blue eyes were not twinkling behind his moon shaped glasses, but his lips were curved in a smile.
"Dear boy, I hope Poppy and I did not wake you."
"Headmaster," Snape mumbled. "I trust you are satisfied now."
The elderly wizard shook his head. After a moment, he patted Snape's shoulder.
"You've become so adept at hiding your thoughts, Severus, that you have fooled me."
Snape blinked, startled, and stared at Dumbledore. Finally, he closed his eyes. He was too worn out to keep them open, and he was having trouble remembering precisely what it was Dumbledore had told him that was so unexpected.
"Good," Dumbledore said, watching Snape's features slacken. "Rest a little. Even you need rest, you know."
"So do you," Snape whispered.
"I daresay we all do. I hope it won't be much longer before we can begin a new chapter, as it were."
"Not you. Or me."
Pomfrey, who had been sitting nearby, methodically placing vials upon a tray, cleared her throat and glared at Dumbledore.
"Enough talk for now," the Headmaster said. "You have been under great pressure, Severus. Forgive me. I know I have asked a lot."
Snape did not reply; his breathing had deepened. He was asleep.
Dumbledore turned to Pomfrey. "How he is?"
"What do you think? He may be young, but he isn't indestructible, for pity's sake. He's drained. He has an ulcer, and he's..." Pomfrey hesitated. "There's a darkness clinging to him. I saw it right away when I performed the diagnostic spells."
Dumbledore sighed. "I'll assign his classes to someone else for a couple of weeks. He will need his strength in the times to come."
"I'll have to tie him to the bed."
"No... I don't think so, Poppy. Not this time."
They both glanced at Snape, concern etched upon their faces.
"Well... Things have been fairly quiet, at least these past few weeks," Pomfrey said.
"It's fortunate, in a sense, that this happened when it did." Dumbledore stroked Snape's hair. He remained silent for a minute and then said, "Poppy, would you leave me alone with him for a bit?"
"Of course, Albus. I'll be in my office," Poppy said. She drew the curtains around the bed and retreated from the main ward.
Dumbledore continued gently caressing Snape's black locks. "My latest request was too much, wasn't it. Oh, Severus... Have I made yet another mistake? How I wish there were another way. Only you can protect Hogwarts from Voldemort and his Death Eaters. I shall be gone soon."
Finally, he rose. "Rest, dear lad."
A few hours later, the sound of Snape groaning alerted Pomfrey that he had woken. She hastened to his side.
"Severus? How are you feeling?"
"My stomach hurts," he said without preamble, taking her by surprise.
"I have a potion for you, but I warn you, it'll have to be followed by some sort of meal, for once."
He said nothing in reply, and promptly swallowed the glass of potion that she handed him.
"Seeing as you're so docile all of a sudden, I think I'll have some soup and bread brought up right away."
She was about to call for a house elf when Snape said, "Poppy... Do you trust me?"
The mediwitch frowned and sat down in the chair next to the bed.
"What kind of talk is this? Severus, you know I do."
He lowered his eyes. "That is likely to change."
"You need to eat," she said, fussing with his covers. "I won't hear any more such nonsense." She touched his forehead. "Well, no wonder. You're feverish. Chicken soup, then."
He ate it after she placed it in front of him; he did not protest or complain. Indeed for the rest of the evening, he uttered not a word.
It was around midnight when it began to rain, the wind beating against the tall windows. Pomfrey, assured that Snape was sleeping, went to change for bed. Once she had done so, she decided to check on her patient one more time... His behavior had been so uncharacteristic that she had to make certain he had not used his compliance to dupe her and secretly absconded from the hospital wing.
Lo and behold, his bed was empty. Before Pomfrey could start swearing under her breath and picturing herself dragging him back from his dungeons, however, she noticed that one of the doors leading to the stone balcony outside the hospital wing was ajar. Lightening flashed and she discerned his thin frame, soaked to the bone.
She ran to the balcony.
"What on earth do you think you're doing!" she yelled at him over the storm. "Get back inside at once!"
He did not seem to hear her. Water dripped down his face, which was deathly white, though his cheeks were flushed with fever.
She carefully gripped him by the arm and coaxed him away from the balcony. "Come on, Severus," she said, guiding him inside the hospital wing. "Let's get you back into bed."
His eyes met hers as she helped him lie down again. "I was hot," he breathed.
She took her wand and murmured a drying spell. "It's all right, Severus, just keep still." She pressed her hand against his neck. "You're burning up."
"I can't do it, Poppy..." His teeth were chattering; his whole body was racked with chills.
"I'm sorry, dear. I'll give you more potion and you won't tremble so much," she said. "It'll be all right."
"I can't do it... I can't do what he wants... I can't... I won't..."
"Shhh," she said, worry deepening the lines around her eyes. "Drink this..."
He compulsively swallowed the liquid she poured into his mouth and coughed.
"There, very good," she said, brushing strands of hair away from his fever glazed eyes.
"He... wants me to... to kill him... I can't... can't..."
"Try not to speak, dear," Pomfrey said, alarmed. She took his hand in hers and squeezed it lightly.
At last his eyelids drifted shut. Shallow breaths emerged from his slightly parted lips.
No one else knew the truth.
Not so long after Snape recovered from his illness, the horrific events that would scar Hogwarts forever took place. When Pomfrey heard of the accusation that Harry Potter leveled against Snape, the Potions Master's agonized words hit her with full force and she sank into a chair, her legs unable to support her.
He... wants me to... to kill him... I can't... can't...
She had not made much of it then. It was far from the first time he had suffered from delirium in her presence, although it was usually caused by the pain of repeated curses. Heaven only knew the terrible things he had seen and been forced to do...
Her heart had been more troubled than her mind, however.
And then Hogwarts was in Voldemort's hands. The Carrows embarked upon their reign of terror.
But Snape returned and became Headmaster.
One night, he quietly came into the Hospital Wing. There were circles around his eyes.
"Headmaster Snape," Pomfrey said, rising from behind her desk.
"Madam Pomfrey, I seem to have run out of headache potion and am not at leisure to brew more at the moment." He averted his gaze. "May I have some?"
She retrieved a vial from her stores, walked to him and placed it in his hand, which she squeezed with both of hers.
His eyes widened.
"Severus," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "You once asked me if I trusted you... I just want you to know that I do. No matter what."
He was frozen into place. A shaking breath escaped him, then his impassive mask reappeared.
"Thank you for the potion," he said, inclining his head stiffly.
He swept out the doors, paused, and looked over his shoulder. "I... shall come again, if I am unwell."
"I'll be here," she said.
He nodded, and left.