Chapter Two: Brats, Old and New
Snape was boiling Neville Longbottom in his own cauldron. He was following a recipe in an open book beside him and happily added some nicely aged brandy to the pot, stirring occasionally. When Snape looked up, however, much to his annoyance, not only was Neville not boiled but he was also asking for instructions as to what he should do with his left over Wolfsbane. Snape heard muffled voices behind him and suddenly wondered if maybe he shouldn't be cooking students.
With a start, he opened his eyes and sat bolt upright in bed.
A strong hand pushed him back down and he tried to struggle. A firm but friendly voice, still muffled, told him that he was safe and to try and relax. Snape forced himself to focus on the face hovering over him, his breathing ragged and quick.
Albus Dumbledore's face finally clarified before him and Snape felt the tension and fear immediately abandon his body. He slumped back onto the bed and sighed. "Head Master," he whispered. "I'm so glad to see you."
Dumbledore gave him a kindly smile and nodded. "I can imagine, Severus. You've been through quite an ordeal."
As though suddenly remembering something, Snape brought his left hand up sharply and looked at it. It was empty. "Where . . .?"
Dumbledore put a reassuring hand on Snape's shoulder and smiled warmly. "Back in its box. No need to worry."
Snape tried to sit up, his eyes searching Dumbledore's face earnestly, "But I... I released it. I..."
Dumbledore nodded gently and pushed him back down again. "I know, Severus. And it's a good thing you did. I cannot even begin to imagine what would have happened had Voldemort managed to perform the Releasing Incantation himself. We are all in your debt. Again. Your days as spy, however, would seem to be over."
Snape tried to put his thoughts into order and suddenly looked around at his surroundings. He was back at Hogwarts. How had he gotten here?
As if reading his thoughts, Dumbledore looked at him over top of his half-moon glasses, "Several members of the Order, who were in attendance at the World Cup, saw a strange green light emanating from the forest and went to investigate. They found you just before the Death Eaters regrouped and came back. They put up quite a fight for you, apparently. I dare say Voldemort is a few Death Eaters short today."
Snape furrowed his brow. Members of the Order had taken on the Death Eaters to save him? But who . . .? Snape put his head back on his pillow and moaned just as Harry Potter's head popped around the corner of the partition. Of course. Who else?
"Is he alright, Professor?" he asked Dumbledore.
Dumbledore looked back at Harry and smiled warmly. He turned back to Snape while answering him, a twinkle in his eye. "He'll be fine. He owes you his life, it seems, Harry." His last words had been spoken while looking his Potions Master directly in the eye. Snape's eyes narrowed in response, not only at the realization that he owed his life to Harry Potter but also at the great pleasure his Head Master seemed to be taking in telling him.
Behind Dumbledore, Snape saw Harry give a dismissive little wave of his hand and mutter, "Nah," with a self-conscious and lopsided grin. Snape suddenly wanted to strangle him.
As if actually attempting to rub in his debt to him even further, Harry happily reached into his robes and pulled out Snape's wand. He smiled and watched the other man's expression expectantly. "I found it near where we found you, Professor."
Snape sat up abruptly, reached out and smartly snatched the wand from Harry's hand. His lips moved as though he was trying to say something, but no words seemed willing to come out.
Harry nodded and said, "You're welcome."
Snape slowly lowered himself back onto the bed, his wand still in his hand and looked away from Harry. "What happened to Malfoy?" he asked Dumbledore.
By way of an answer, Dumbledore looked over his shoulder at Harry, his eyebrow raised.
Harry's smile faded, "He got away. Apparated as soon as he saw us." He looked down at his feet and mumbled, "Sorry, Professor."
For a moment, Snape wasn't sure which one of them he was addressing but responded anyway. "Unless you've suddenly developed skills previously unknown to your teachers and discovered a way to create a personal dampening field, Potter, I hardly see how you could have stopped him, despite your legendary Gryffindor courage."
Harry looked up in surprise. Though most would have regarded Snape's comment as a blatant insult, Harry obviously knew his Potions Master well enough to see it for the reassurance it was intended to be. Harry nodded, the smile returning to his face.
Snape sighed inwardly, wondering what had possessed him to let the brat off the hook. He knew, of course, that Harry could not have stopped Malfoy, but he could of at least enjoyed watching him despair for a bit longer. He was clearly getting soft in his old age.
Dumbledore suddenly rose and looked down at Snape, his eyes still twinkling. "Well, when you're feeling better, Severus, I'd like to see you in my office for a full debriefing."
Snape nodded curtly as the Head Master turned away from him. As he passed by Harry, Dumbledore said pleasantly, "You too, please."
Harry nodded enthusiastically, still smiling. The smile faltered somewhat, however, when he looked down at Snape's murderous expression. Swallowing once, Harry made his excuses and left the hospital wing behind Dumbledore.
Once alone, Snape sighed deeply and put his head back on his pillow. He knew it would not be long before Poppy Pomfrey would be in to check on her patient and he tried to use the few quiet moments he knew he had to organize his thoughts.
Alright then, he thought. Best just to deal with the cold hard facts. Keep emotion out of it. So, he had released the spirit of Salazar Slytherin into the forest beside the Quidditch World Cup where it was now free to roam the country. Said quickly and lightly, it didn't actually sound that bad, he reflected. Others, surely, had done worse than that. Surely.
It had been a decision made in haste and panic. He had known that he was about to die and that Malfoy would return Slytherin's spirit to Voldemort. Better to release it into the unknown than to allow it to share occupancy in the Dark Lord's body. Right? He sighed. Well, at least Dumbledore seemed to agree with his reasoning. He had said that he was grateful for the decision he had made. Right?
Snape shook his head. Indecision and second-guessing were not attributes usually associated with the Potions Master of Hogwarts and he found himself worrying about why he was second-guessing himself. Circular thinking, Severus, he chastised. Not helpful.
He had not had second thoughts when he had first realized what Voldemort had in his possession, however. How, he wondered not for the first time, had the Dark Lord found one of the Pendants of the Founders? Wizards had searched for almost a thousand years and had never found so much as a clue to their whereabouts. Some had even begun to doubt whether the Pendants even truly existed. He himself had always believed them to be a myth. The idea that the Four Founders of Hogwarts had left imprints of their spirits imbedded in four pendants just seemed . . . odd. What would be the purpose? If their intention had been to allow their spirits to be available to offer advice in later years, why not just leave behind portraits? They certainly weren't shy about offering their opinions after all.
Snape sighed and rolled over again, his mind churning. He realized with some surprise that he had never actually seen any portraits of the Founders. Considering how immensely powerful and important they had been, it struck him as very odd indeed.
He was just wondering about the other three Pendants and where they might be when Madam Pomfrey made her entrance as expected and bustled over to Snape. "Well, I'm glad to see they're finally letting you rest, Severus. Nasty injuries these. You'll be here a few days, I dare say." She snatched the wand unceremoniously out of his hand and put it on the table beside the bed. She then busied herself with pulling up his covers and checking the wound on his face, talking all the while about having to care for patients in the middle of a freeway.
Many years of having injuries treated by Poppy Pomfrey had taught Snape that a sarcastic retort of any sort would be rewarded with an additional day in the hospital and several nasty tasting (and probably unnecessary) medicines. As she fussed about, Snape wondered idly what he'd have to do to repay Potter for saving his life. The notion of owing the brat a life debt was intolerable to him. It smacked of James Potter, a thought that churned Snape's stomach.
Snape was suddenly feeling very sleepy and was only dimly aware that Madam Pomfrey's voice had just ended in a question. He refocused on her face, "Pardon?" he said.
Madam Pomfrey smiled warmly and folded her hands in front of her. "I was just asking you what you think of our young Mr. Potter now, Severus. I hear he saved your life."
Snape snorted and yawned, his eyes beginning to close. "You don't want to know what I think. He could save my life a thousand times and I'd still think Godric Gryffindor was an arrogant brat."
Snape was asleep before he could register Madam Pomfrey's confused expression.
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