Spoilers for Book 6. In choosing his side in the war, Prof. Snape is taking risks that no one - not the Order, not the Death Eaters - can guess.
The room wasn't his. It was too sterile, too white, and hurt his eyes. He blinked for a moment, his mind trying to conjure the dark stone walls and deep green bed hangings that were supposed to be there, the down and velvet that normally wrapped around his body. The room stayed white, the sheets and blanket flimsy. His head hurt. He turned it, gingerly, looking for something other than that painful white to look at.
"Good morning, Severus." The non-white he sought sat next to him, smiling almost sadly, dark eyes misted. She was dressed in her customary black, high collared dress, her hair up in an elegant twist. Her hat sat next to her on the bedside along with a pot of ridiculously bright black-eyed-Susans that most certainly didn't go with the rest of the room or the woman sitting next to them. They'd probably been brought in by some orderly or another.
"Seren?" He blinked, trying to make sense of her presence in this sterile whiteness that his mind had finally labeled St. Mungo's. "What are you doing here?"
One fine, manicured hand reached out and brushed a few stray locks of extremely greasy hair off of his forehead. "Waiting for you to wake up. You've been asleep for a month now."
"A month?" He winced. He desperately wanted a bath, but his body felt too sluggish, aching slightly in the joints the way it always did when he was bed ridden for any length of time. "Who's been teaching potions?" The question was secondary, especially since the post hadn't been his in over a year, but it came to his mouth more quickly than, "Is the school even open? What happened?"
She paused, looking down at her hands which were now folded primly in her lap. She played with the little silver ring wound around her left ring finger, a delicately sculpted Lover's Knot formed from two twining snakes. "Hogwarts is open, although it's half refugee camp by this point. Classes are being taught by whoever's available at the time. Minerva is running the school for now, to the best of her ability, but she's not in the best of shape either. It's...interesting. Some of us are better than others." She smiled weakly. "Fortunately Trelawny doesn't teach often."
The thought of the addle brained Divinations professor teaching his class made him wince and rather wish he were still unconscious.
"As for what happened..." She hesitated and looked back down. "That's a rather interesting question. No one knows for certain." She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment, leaving him with the violet frosted backing of her lids. "You were found unconscious, in critical condition. Broken bones, lungs not working properly, bled white. Who knows what other damage, the nurses wouldn't tell me all of it." Her voice tightened. He reached out one hand which shook obnoxiously and laid it over hers, potion stained fingers stroking smooth white. She smiled gratefully and stroked back. "Lupin is here too. He's still in critical condition. No one knows what happened to him either, except Harry Potter and...he's not said much since he woke up." She grimaced slightly, her expression sympathetic. "He's in bad shape. The nurses say he'll never walk again, he lost one eye, an ear, half of his nose. He's lucky he made it."
Severus snorted rather uncharitably. "The boy has more luck than he deserves, although from the sounds of it, this time he might have been better off if it left him."
"Severus." The skin around her eyes tightened slightly, pained.
He winced, grimaced, and looked away. "I'm sorry."
Her hand tightened over his and she sighed. "It's...okay." She paused and continued. "Hermoine Granger is with him most of the time. Ron Weasley didn't make it...Lucius Malfoy killed him while he was trying to protect Granger."
"Leaving the Malfoys in prison again, I assume?" He asked despondently, staring up at the too white ceiling.
"Narcissa and Draco are, yes. Lucius is dead. Ginny Weasley killed him right after he killed her brother."
That rather surprised him. Admittedly, the youngest Weasley had been no slouch when it came to Defense Against the Dark Arts and had certainly inherited the family temper, but for some reason he never envisioned Lucius Malfoy being taken out by a girl less than half his age. The blond aristocrat had, despite his flaws, seemed quite invincible. Then again, so had Lord Voldemort.
"And the Dark Lord?"
He couldn't bring himself to even hope it was true, but he asked anyway. "Confirmed?"
"Confirmed." She assured him. "Every Aurorer in the Ministry had a look at the body and pictures were all over the Daily Prophet, the Quibbler...everywhere."
He closed his eyes and smiled. It was still too much to believe. Still...he knew the prophecy. If Potter was still alive, then the Dark Lord must be dead. "I want to see the boy."
She frowned, delicately painted lips turning down at the edges. At times it amazed him that such a strong mouth could be handled so...femininely. "Severus, you aren't strong enough."
"I have to see him, Seren." He sighed, weary. He honestly wanted nothing more than to curl up and go back to sleep under the watchful gaze of the lovely woman next to him, but if he was going to believe, well and truly, that Voldemort was gone, he had to see the Boy Who Lived. "Ask one of the nurses if you must, but I have to."
She hesitated, but in the end seemed to understand. With a nod, she stood and left the room. It was too quiet without her there, too clean, too still. Unreal. He could easily close his eyes and tell himself that he'd dreamed the entire thing, or convince himself that he hadn't survived.
A moment later she was back with an overly bustling nurse who reminded him of a bad cross between Madame Pomfrey and Molly Weasley. He tried to shrink back into the mattress as she fussed over him.
"Now really, Professor Snape, Professor Sinistra says you want to get up, but I don't think you should, after all you've been through, after all, you did nearly die, I've never even seen some of the curses you'd been hit with!, Mr. Potter will be there in the morning, he's not scheduled to check out for another week at the earliest, surely you can wait that long..."
"I can not wait that long!" He cut through her chatter. Honestly, didn't the woman need to breathe? "I have to see him now or I won't be able to rest. Rest is one of the key factors to recovering, isn't it?" He glared up at the too kindly face as balefully as he could.
The nurse blinked. "Well now! No need to take that tone!" The woman sniffed indignantly. "If you want to get up, I suppose you may, but I shall have to fetch a cane first and you're not to go any further than Mr. Potter's room, do you hear?"
"I hear, I hear." He waved her off. He'd never been the world's best patient. "Just get me the cane. Fifteen minutes is all I'll need, if that."
"Right then. He's just at the end of the hall, Professor Sinistra can show you the way." The nurse bustled out of the room and Severus breathed a sigh of relief. Much as he wanted to get this visit over and done with, he wished the woman would just stay gone. As it was, she was bustling back in a moment later with a purely functional cane, already scolding instructions like a squirrel. "Now, Professor Sinistra has to go with you. I do wish you'd wait, you're not strong enough yet, but since you insist, but if anything goes wrong, if you feel dizzy or start to black out, I want you to sit down right where you are and send Professor Sinistra to fetch us right away, you understand?"
"For Merlin sake woman, I am not five!" Snarling, he pushed himself into a sitting position and swung his legs over the side of the bed. The world swum a little as his blood re-accustomed itself to flowing vertically instead of horizontally. The spell passed soon enough and he reached for the cane.
The nurse sniffed again, as if she were the most put upon woman in the world. "Indeed. Well then, enjoy your chat with Mr. Potter and I will see that food is here when you get back." With that, the woman finally bustled quite firmly out of the room. Until that moment, Severus hadn't know in was possible to bustle firmly. Then again, he hadn't seen anyone bustle quite so much as that woman.
"If she's going to tend me for the rest of my stay, I think I wish I hadn't made it." He grumbled, pushing himself out of bed, leaning heavily on the cane. He moved slowly to minimize the dizziness, but the world still swayed slightly. The air was cold and he shivered through his entirely too flimsy and stupidly blue hospital gown. He didn't know who had invented the damn things, but he was certain they must have had Muggle blood in them someplace.
"Severus." Professor Sinistra chided, although her lips twitched upward at the corners. "At least she let you up. Here," she offered her arm. "Fortunately he's right down the hall."
"Thank you." Leaning heavily on both the cane and the woman next to him, who fortunately was only a couple inches shorter than he, he rather painfully made his way into the hallway. He winced and hissed as the impossible whiteness of his room gave way to even more impossible whiteness, made all the brighter by windows set every few feet along the wall. At least in his room the window had been small and the curtains half drawn.
It took a full five minutes to walk the length of the hall to Harry Potter's room. If he'd been healthy, it would only have been one or two minute's time in his usual, ground covering swoop, so the slowness grated, but he was still in enough pain that he didn't hurry. Everything hurt, especially the joints and the soles of his feet. It felt like he was walking on manticore teeth. When they finally go there, it was Professor Sinistra who opened the door to a fairly sizable waiting room (there had been none outside of his own room. Only the best for Mr. Potter apparently) and then knocked on the interior door.
It was Hermione Granger who responded. The Muggle born witch looked like hell. Her hair, which she had actually taken to calming somewhat as she aged and discovered that she liked looking good for the boys, was back to its full frizzy wonder. Her eyes looked bruised and her skin had a translucence about it that spoke of skipped meals along with lack of sleep. Her eyes widened as she saw who was standing there. "Professor Snape! You're awake!"
"Granger." He nodded curtly. "I'm here to see Potter."
"I don't want to see him, Hermione."
Severus arched an eyebrow. The voice that came from the room bore no resemblance to the voice that had yelled, snapped, and whined at him for so many years. Instead it was gritty, as if someone had replaced the speaker's vocal chords with a bit of gravel, like Black's had been when he returned from Azkaban. With what little energy he had, he pushed himself passed Granger and looked at The Boy Who Lived. "I don't particularly want to see you either, Mr. Potter, but I want to assure myself that there's only one threat to my health and sanity left in the world instead of two."
One green eye, the brightness gone leaving it simply pale and watery, glared over at him. The Boy Who Lived sat in a wheel chair next to the window. His condition certainly hadn't been exaggerated. It looked like half of his body had been dragged over a bed of glass and nails, then bashed against the trunk of a tree several times. There were still bandages everywhere, and ointments making parts glisten. The famous scar stood out, livid red against too pale skin. If it hadn't been for the look of sheer hatred being directed at him, Severus would have felt quite sorry for the boy. As it was, he felt only contempt. "Gloat quickly." Potter croaked. "Then get out. I have enough worries without being reminded you exist, bloody traitor."
Severus might have left. He might have turned around, satisfied that the world was safe for the moment, and returned to his own room had it not been for those words. "Traitor." His lips pulled back into their accustom sneer, muscles finding their positions easily despite their weeks of disuse. "Yes, I suppose I am a traitor, leaving the Death Eaters for the Order, spying on them, leaking their movements to Dumbledore whenever I could conceivably do so. Why, if it weren't for me, you'd have been left to fight that last battle with only your usual set of side kicks for backup!" The mocking tone left his voice, replaced by pure venom. How dare he? How dare this boy, this ruined shell of a boy sit there and condemn him after he'd risked his life so many times? After Potter had risked all of their lives so many times? "People always accuse me of being bitter, Mr. Potter, but at least I'm bitter against the people who made my life a living hell for years, who, all but one, never tried to help me, at least not of their own accord, and, when they did help, actively held it over my head for years. But really, I am sorry for helping you when the time came for it, time and time again. I'm sorry I saved you your first year. I'm sorry I came after you when I found you were in the Shrieking Shack with a man everyone thought was trying to kill you and one I thought was in league with him. I'm beyond sorry that I even tried to keep that man alive later! It was one of the biggest mistakes of my life! I'm sorry for doing my job as it was assigned to me, for following Albus' orders, for condemning myself by doing as I was told!"
"You should have found a way..."
"A way to what?" He gave a short laugh. "A way to make certain Albus lived? A way to work a miracle and defeat old age? I'm sorry for being human, Potter, and for his being the same. I'm sorry, but people do die, eventually. I'm sorry that Albus was wrong in thinking that the rest of you, hell that even one of you, was intelligent enough to figure out that his sacrifice worked for the Order while mine would have achieve nothing! And I'm sorry for ever thinking you were capable of even the smallest bit of gratitude. For thinking, that first time, that maybe, after you'd learned, I might here the words 'thank you' pass your lips. Good day, Mr. Potter." Without waiting for a response, he turned, wobbling slightly on his cane, and tapped his way from the room.
Granger watched him leave with a tight expression. Once he'd cleared the door, she shut it with a firm clip, leaving herself on the outside of the room. "How dare you?" Her voice was barely audible. "You're a hypocrite, you know that? You wouldn't be here if it weren't for him! You'd be dead along with the others! Even though he hates you, he saved your life, but I don't hear you saying thank you any more than he has! He's only been awake for a week, you expect him to get over...over that without time?" She waved a hand at the door, her voice gaining volume. "You've been bitter for years over things that left you with no scars! Give him a year at least!"
"Black's been dead for three, Granger, Albus for one," Severus cut in before the girl could gain any more momentum. "And Potter still holds me responsible despite the fact I did everything in my power to keep them both alive. Despite that Albus' death was a loss to me as well. I am the source of all evil for him, more than Voldemort ever was, and he's made sure I know it for the entire war. Give it time? Fine, I'll give it time. I'll give you time as well. You're half my age, Granger. When you've lived twice as long as you have now, most likely doting on Potter the entire time knowing the way your little group works, we'll see where your bright eyed optimism is. When the next Dark Lord rises, you go to serve him, and then, when you've seen the things I've seen, done the things I've done, see how you like having the enemy you've always helped look at you and write you off as a traitor. Maybe by then you'll have learned that not all scars can be seen." He snorted. "Yes, I am a traitor, Potter got that one right, but none of you have room to complain about it. Malfoy has reason to complain. If it weren't for me, he'd probably be free right now, with both parents still alive. However, you...you have no place. I've done things the rest of the Order wouldn't even guess at to help you, risked things you have no inkling of. Good day." He turned from the Muggle born witch as firmly as he'd turned from The Boy Who Lived, his eyes inadvertently seeking the woman who'd helped him here, silently questioning. Would she condemn him too?
She was sitting in a chair set primly in one corner of the room, hands folded in her lap, ankles delicately crossed. Her eyes, when they met his, were sad, but not scolding. There was sympathy in that expression, and he was grateful for it. He held his arm out and she stood, crossing to his side, helping him to toward the door of the waiting room, back to his own white little corner of hell.
They were almost there when Granger called him back. "Professor Snape?"
He stopped, turning only his head to look back over his shoulder. "Yes?"
Her mouth worked a couple of times before it apparently remembered it was supposed to make sound. "Thank you." There was a hint of what could be sincerity in the words, an acknowledgement that, deep down, if she thought about it she'd know she meant them and that was why she was bothering to take the time, but her voice was tight and bitter as Potters had been, as his own often was.
He snorted lightly. "Don't bother, Granger. It's not the time." There was no bitterness to his own words this time, only weariness. He was more tired than he'd ever imagined possible. He turned his head resolutely and left the girl to her self appointed charge.
There was silence all the way back to his room, somehow unbroken by the echoing sound of footsteps on the hard floor and the swish of robes as orderlies hurried too and fro. He eased himself back into his bed with some regret, although his feet certainly didn't mind the lack of weight on them. Professor Sinistra brought the covers up over him, tucked him in as she might a child, and then took up her seat again. Whether she was conscious of it or not, she her fingers once again started tracing the knot of her ring.
Severus reached out and touched the ring himself, just for a brief moment to interrupt her pattern, then took her hand in his. His eyes sought out hers. "I promised, when the war was over. I haven't changed my mind, although we should wait until the last of the Death Eaters have been dealt with."
She smiled, a slow smile but brilliant smile that made her entire face glow brighter than the room. Leaning over, she pressed those made up lips to his and whispered. "Thank you, Severus. Thank you." She straightened and smoothed his hair back. "You should rest, get well. I don't think the school can survive Hagrid teaching potions."
He chuckled slightly at the image of the Hogwarts grounds keeper squished into the potions room and closed his eyes. Sleep came quickly, but the moments before were filled with thoughts of a ring, the masculine version of the one the woman next to him wore, tucked safely away in its box in a hidden drawer next to his bed, the promise no one knew he'd made, the risk no one knew he'd taken.