Who Will You Be
"There can be no reproach to pain unless we assume human dignity, there is no reason for restraints on pleasure unless we assume human worth, there is no legitimacy to monotony unless we assume a greater purpose to life, there is no purpose to life unless we assume design, death has no significance unless we seek what is everlasting."
Standing on his own two feet, in his own power, Severus had resigned himself to his fate when the Dark Lord declared his life forfeit. And he almost welcomed his end. He hadn't, however, counted on this...diminishing, this oncoming tide of fear, sorrow and regret for not having finished his task. His occlumency shields were draining away just as surely as the life blood that flowed to the floor in iron scented rivulets, leaving him to fade from this world naked and alone, a mere shell of his former self.
Once his true pride, infallible strength and steadfast companions, those shields now abandoned him to a horde of specters and a swamp of emotions that had, for so long, been subdued beneath a construct of unfeeling calm. The venom-induced paralysis that weighted his limbs did nothing to stem panic as he struggled for life with every laborious breath. Feeling himself a fool, he succumbed in short order to self-pity, and the need for someone, anyone, to care.
Words assaulted him, dealt their mocking, accusing blows, and tore all that was left of him to shreds.
He didn't know how long he lay bleeding to death on the floor like so much refuse. And why did it have to happen in the place he hated above almost all others? It could have been a handful of minutes, it could have been a handful of days; impossible to tell when the pain distorted and prolonged every moment.
When the trio came, Severus couldn't even summon loathing for the boy. He wept out his memories and actually took some measure of comfort from the unexpected look of sorrow and compassion on Harry's face. Would Lily have felt anything at his ignominious end? He could almost imagine it in the boy's eyes, could almost read Lily's forgiveness and absolution in the gaze of her son. And why not cling to this hope? It was all that was left to him.
To his horror, the darkness that followed was not the kind Severus longed for. It was not the soft, gentle night that dampened reality, soothed with a soft touch of magic in the air and hid you away in a blanket of shadows. No. This was the evil-hearted abyss that devoured with the torment of cold flame. This place reeked of the dark seductress that lured with promises in life...to fulfill your desires, to gift you with power...only to turn on you, defile you and swallow you whole.
Severus supposed his past entanglement with this realm had consigned him to its depths. He despaired. All his efforts to make amends, all his struggle for redemption was for naught. Pain, despair, and torment were the only things that existed here. If he had known this is what awaited him, Severus would never have been resigned and eager for death. If he had known his fascination with the denizens of the abyss would imprison him to this hellish abode, Severus would never have succumbed to their lure for even a second.
It was far too late now. His entire being was consumed by writhing flames as if fiendfyre coursed through his veins. It was as if he was tied to it - the unending pain. Fated to feel it, unable to scream, unable to move. Separated eternally from hope and love and light.
And then he felt himself swimming toward oblivion. If he could, Severus would have wept like a blubbering first-year Neville Longbottom with relief. Better not to be than to be here. Better to never have existed at all than to come back to this place ever again. He welcomed nothingness and prayed it would never end.
Hermione let her mind wander back through the years as she took care of her hook-nosed, dark-haired patient. It was odd to see him so vulnerable, and it saddened her, especially when she remembered her part in how they had made life so much harder for him – not that he made it easy on himself. It was especially hard to recall her early years at Hogwarts, back when she had taken his nastiness and anger at face value. She had been frantic in her desperation to please and it made her cringe to think of it now.
Professor Snape had been the first of her teachers to thwart her in this regard. He wounded her pride and denigrated her first and only friends - frequently. In response, frustration and anger had taken charge, led her from her usual path of logic, and kept her from seeing that there was more to him than the brilliance and nastiness he projected. Professor Snape's earliest impressions of her had been formed when she was but one of the dunderheaded crowd who failed to see beyond their assumptions. No wonder he had never taken her for more than a walking, regurgitating encyclopedia. Hermione sighed. Everyone had their own foibles of youth to overcome, and that was hers, she supposed.
She found some comfort in the fact she'd begun to make changes at a fairly early age. At the end of their first year, it had come to light that Professor Snape had actually been acting, despite his obvious hatred for Harry, to save Harry's life throughout the year. This had been the turning point, the thing that caused Hermione to stop and reconsider. It was true that Harry, by that point, hated Professor Snape as much as Professor Snape had ever hated Harry, but it hadn't always been so. Once upon a time, Harry had merely been curious about the man and eager to learn from him. Professor Snape was the one who initiated their enmity-laden relationship with a wholly unreasonable opening salvo. Upon considering this, Hermione was forced to conclude that Professor Snape's hatred of Harry had more to do with Professor Snape than it had to do with Harry.
There was a conversation from North and South that always came to mind when Hermione thought about Professor Snape's behavior. The brother, seeing tall, dark Mr. Thornton exclaims, "What a scowl that man has! A most disagreeable fellow I'm sure." And Margaret answers, "As with most men, something has happened to make him scowl. Don't judge him too harshly, Fred."
There were definitely parallels to be drawn there. As early as their second year, Hermione considered that Professor Snape either had some past hurt coming into play, which if that were the case likely had to do with Harry's parents given their similar age, or there was some other motivation that she didn't fully understand, but given the events of the last year, likely had to do with Voldemort. It wasn't until now, at the end of it all, with all that they'd learned through the years and the explanation given by Professor Snape's memories, that she finally understood how correct her deductions had been. It made her glad that she hadn't jumped onto the Snape-is-evil bandwagon with Ron and Harry after that first year, that she had taken pains to be respectful and had tried to see beneath the cloak of anger that Professor Snape wore. He still managed to anger her plenty, but she had tried, and the more she brought consideration to bear, the easier it became to overcome and see beyond.
Not that her efforts made much difference with regards to the man himself. Hermione had the sense that most of the time she was lumped in with the indignant, disrespectful, and, therefore, hated-all-the-more Ron and Harry as far as he was concerned. The times she did manage to stand apart with overtures of friendly respect, Professor Snape either glowered at her or gazed at her with an unreadable expression which could have meant 'What game are you playing?' or 'You bore me, go away,' for all she knew. Once, Hermione thought she'd detected confusion in his expression. Through it all, whether she was well meaning at the time or not, whether guilty or not, his intense onyx gaze never failed to startle and unsettle her.
Even had she never progressed in her opinion of Professor Snape during those years at school, her blindness would have been cured irrevocably by all that they had seen and learned of him in the night. It had been a horrible thing to watch, Riddle's attempt to execute him. Her heart went out to him, and though she felt the debt of all they owed him, Hermione found she admired him and genuinely wished for his happiness. She certainly bore him no ill will now. Though it was, she conceded, easier to say that as he lay in a comatose state than it would be when confronted by his anger. She adopted a start-as-you-mean-to-go-on attitude as she cared for him and could only hope that when he woke up, he would be more accepting of them. She would do her well-meaning best; the rest would be up to him. It would be wonderful if he reciprocated in kind, or even if he managed tolerance, but if he didn't, dreadful and harrowing as the prospect was, she would carry on all the same.
Hermione's reverie was interrupted by the sound of Harry's voice.
"Hermione, have you slept at all? You look done in," he said.
'Well, I feel rather done in,' was on the tip of her tongue to answer, but Hermione espied Madame Pomfrey's sharp gaze upon her as the formidable Medi-Witch entered the room with Harry. "Um. Yes, I got a few hours and set an alarm so I could check on him and give him fluids and potions every few hours. I had to learn to spell fluids into his stomach. He started running a high fever a few hours ago."
Madame Pomfrey humphed, but her critical gaze slid from Hermione to Severus. She began running diagnostics and working over him. After a while, she turned her attention back to Hermione.
"You've done well, Miss Granger. The high fever is due to the venom. Rather potent venom that snake had. We're all glad Mr. Longbottom put an end to that particular menace."
Madame Pomfrey withdrew a vial from her bag. "I raided his personal stores and found this. One last vial of the antivenin. I presume you found one to administer already? Else I doubt he'd still be with us."
Hermione answered in the affirmative, and as Poppy gave Professor Snape the last dose of antivenin, she explained the potions she'd found in his robes and reported all the care that she'd given him thus far.
"For someone with no training, you've done very well," Poppy praised in her matter of fact manner. "Well, since you've been putting fluids in, they must come out. You've learned how to spell things in, have you learned how to spell them out, or have you been cleaning him up?"
Hermione caught Harry's eye. He looked as mortified as she felt. "Um, I had Kreacher clean him and help change the sheets once. I've been learning the removal spells," Hermione pointed to the Compendium, "but I was afraid to try them on him or practice them on anyone without supervision."
"Very sensible of you," Poppy said. She had Hermione show her what she'd learned and then said. "Right. Why don't you practice on Mr. Potter...Harry, dear, do you mind?"
"What?" Harry said looking alarmed.
"Oh, don't worry, boy. I'm right here, and I can fix any mishaps. It's quite all right. I wouldn't normally, but circumstances being what they are," Poppy chided.
"Um, okay," Harry said. Unsurprisingly, Madame Pomfrey's assurances did not appear to have assured him overmuch.
Poppy nodded. "Lie down on the couch, then, and be sure to be very still."
Harry complied. When he had laid down, he scrunched his eyes closed and stiffened with a pose that looked as if he'd been hit with petrification spell
Poppy nodded at Hermione to go ahead, wearing the barest hint of a smirk as she did so. While Hermione could recognize the humor of Harry's actions, she was too nervous to express amusement. Relief flooded her when she performed the spells without mishap.
Harry was a little pale when he sat up. "That felt weird," he mumbled.
Poppy smirked outright at that. "Yes, it would." She returned to her bag. "Here are more blood replenisher, pain, and fever reducing potions, nutrient potions, a healing salve that will prevent infection, and bandages. I'm afraid there aren't many potions or salves left in the aftermath...I would be asking him to brew more if he were able." Poppy nodded at Severus and sighed. "You did well to put him in a healing sleep. The fever will take a few days to abate as his body works the venom out of his system. Even with the healing sleep, fever and pain potions, it's likely he'll be experiencing pain during that time."
"In about four days or so it should be time to remove the sleep charm. He'll be an extremely difficult patient and I'd be surprised if he didn't do something to undo all your hard work to put him back together. Manage him the best you're able; knock him out and send for me if you have to. The longer the removal spells are used the more difficult it is to regain normal function, so let him up to the toilet when he asks, but until he's steady on his feet and the wounds are healed, he is not to go without assistance, either the elf apparating him there or one of you helping him walk there."
Harry and Hermione looked daunted at the prospect of getting Professor Snape to go along with his care regimen.
"I know," Poppy said. "You'll need thick skin, a stiff spine and plenty of stubborn. Don't back down from him or let him get to you. I wish for his recovery more than anyone...the things he's suffered...but I know exactly how difficult he is to take care of. Impossible man." Poppy shook her head as she looked at Severus then turned to face them again with an expression of mild glee. "At least you'll have a chance to stuff him with calories while he's unconscious. The man doesn't eat enough by half. Give him at least six nutrient potions a day...those I should be able to get a hold of...and four or so 8-ounce milkshakes with protein powder a day besides. It'll help him gain weight and heal."
"If we have the ingredients, I'm certain I could manage to brew the blood replenishers, fever and pain reducing potions he needs so we don't have to tax your stores," Hermione offered.
Poppy looked at her. "And how are you going to take care of him if you wear yourself ragged, girl? You already look done in and you've barely begun."
Hermione tried to summon defiance, but she was rather knackered. Harry stepped up. "I'll help and make sure she gets rest, Madame Pomfrey. Professor McGonagall can fill Kingsley in and send him here to debrief us or whatever it is he wanted to do."
"Very good," Poppy said. "Off to sleep with you then. At least eight hours, uninterrupted if possible. In fact, take a nutrient potion and dreamless sleep...there you go."