It was almost midnight. Poppy had been up late in the Hospital Wing, checking her stores and arranging the order for new vials and ingredients, when a soft knock disturbed her work and Severus Snape entered without a greeting, as it was his habit.
He sat down on the bed next to the door, watching her intently. Leaving her desk and coming closer to talk to him she took a quick inventory of his appearance, and was shocked. He was always painfully pale, but now he looked simply exhausted. She wasn't sure if he still had enough strength to keep the usual appearance charms that he had woven around his person up, but she was nearly certain that he couldn't, and had simply let them fall away. It wasn't term time, so no students were around, and the faculty was well aware of his obligations towards the order - although most knew nothing about the price he paid for them. The circles beneath his eyes were so dark they had almost the exact same colour of his irises and the extreme thinness of his face made his cheekbones stand out almost unnaturally. But what scared her most was the slight tremor running through his body, still visible underneath his many layers of black robes, and the soft shaking of his hands, both symptoms he had hidden for so long now. That she could see them was a bad sign - it meant that he had either giving up masking them or that he was simply too tired to do so any longer. They were all close to edge these days, but Severus looked like he was already on the way down.
"Tell me, what can I do for you?"
Instead of replying he rubbed his eyes, and sighed softly. Then he watched her closely.
"Do you have Consopio in your stores?"
Poppy was taken aback. "No, for obvious reasons. I don't have to explain to a potions master how powerful a narcotic Consopio is, and how dangerous. It's only used in the most hopeless circumstances, when healing seems nearly impossible, and it's only about easing intolerable pain. Of course I wouldn't have it in stock here! Technically only St. Mungo's is using it, and I'd immediately transfer any patient needing it - why are you asking?"
He smiled softly, closed his eyes for a second, and looked at her again.
"But you know how to work with it?"
In the back of her mind fear started to grow and she took another good look at him. Why was he asking such questions? "I was trained in the Trauma and First Urgent Care Unit at St. Mungo's, and Merlin knows how often some poor being was only inches away from death and just needed something to give relief from the intense pain they were in. Or when accident victims came in, or during the first Voldemort wars. So yes, I've had my share of injecting Consopio, or rather the extract of it."
He crooked his head, produced a small vial with a white shimmering liquid and handed it to her.
"Then I don't have to tell how to do it."
Her eyes widened in shock. "Merlin's bones - how did you get your hands on this? Even as with all your goddamn degrees and academic titles you have no right to buy this legally."
"I got my ways to get my hands on things I want and need. Don't forget what I'm doing. Don't forget what I am."
Of course she knew. She knew he kept a tightly woven net of contacts into the darkest corners of the magical world, and how he was able to pull strings and arrange things she didn't even dare to think of, things that even the most powerful members of the Order wouldn't be able to set in motion. And she also knew about his suffering, had patched him back together so many times. She knew what Voldemort-the-bitch did to his followers, and she always felt the urgent need to kill that bastard of a dark wizard very slowly when she once again washed bloodied sheets, stitched up wounds, cleaned bandages. Albus and she were the ones keeping Severus alive, again and again, but Poppy knew how close he really was to completely breaking down, how far they had already pushed him.
She took the vial and stared at the liquid. It looked exactly like Consopio, but she had never seen so much of it. And not handed around easily like that.
"This is probably enough to kill a whole battalion of men."
He nodded. "Which is why I'm here. It would not be a good idea to take it on my own."
Then she finally understood what exactly he wanted from her, and why he had asked the questions.
"Oh, no, no. I can't do that. I can't - how bad is your pain? How much Pitanjuice have you taken today? Why, for Merlin's sake, didn't you come earlier?"
He rubbed is temples, averted his eyes, and softly sighed again. "2 mg Pitanextract, every day, since five days. It doesn't help. Nothing helps anymore. I need a night of sleep without pain, Poppy, just once."
Poppy did the math, and felt her heart beat faster. "2 mg Pitanextract every day - since five days? You should be dead by now. Or you got a really high tolerance for that stuff. Did you eat anything? Probably not." Without asking for his consent she produced her wand and started to take his vitals. He sat silently, not moving, hiding his shaking hands in his robes. He could not hide the fact that his whole body was still trembling.
Poppy was aghast when she was done.
"How can you stand, walk or even sit?"
He shrugged. "I do not see the option not to."
Again she eyed the white liquid. "Where is that from? Is it clean? Consopio can easily kill if it's not completely clean, even when it's administered by a professional"
"It's clean, I've run a few tests. It works. If I wanted to kill myself I would have done so yesterday."
Poppy nodded. "Undress, lie down."
He let his head hang down in relief for a second. "You're going to do it?"
She was already turning around to arrange a syringe and a few vials. "Yes, but only once. You know how dangerous it is. Unexperienced healers have killed with it unintentionally. People easily get addicted. I need to constantly observe your heart-beat - you're so damn thin I don't even know how to dose it properly. Usually I wouldn't give it to someone in your physical state, but you need sleep. Your vitals are horrific. Take off those damn robes - how can you wear that much stuff? It's been a hot summer."
When she turned around again Severus had arranged himself on the bed, boots off, in his shirt - white, surprisingly - with the cuffs rolled up. A chair next to the bed was occupied by a large pile of thick, heavy black fabric. Poppy pulled up a second chair and a small table, and gave him the first vial. "Drink that", she ordered, and without asking questions he chucked the liquid down. "It'll give you some nutrients while you're out. Are you comfortable?" He slid down a bit further, put his head onto the pillow, and nodded slightly. Taking his pulse again she observed him, and then turned around and concentrated while taking an exact amount of the white liquid into the syringe. "I'm honoured that you came to ask for help, although I don't like to be blindsided." He tried to smile. "I trust you." She nodded. "I know", she said, and injected the liquid into his veins.
Seconds later he was gone, as if someone had turned off a light. Watching people fall into a Consopio-induced sleep had always fascinated Poppy, and had made her take the special training in administering and even brewing it, something she was sure Severus could not have known. Consopio was special, different from other narcotics, not only because it was the strongest one, but because it erased a person. Other painkillers took away the pain, but Consopio took away everything - pain, feelings, mind. As if you'd say "Nox" in a room full of light, and suddenly find yourself in uttermost darkness.
A silent spell checked his heartbeat - sudden death in a Consopio-sleep was not uncommon - and she transformed the hard chair into a comfortable recliner and settled in for a long night. But she was certain that he needed a night of sleep more than she did, and although it was only a short time solution to simply knock him out, she hoped that they soon would find a better way to help him deal with the pain. Somehow. They couldn't afford to lose him, not yet, not like this, and she was prepared to fight. Silently she watched his motionless form on the bed and sighed. Somehow she had decided that saving him was her personal war effort, the one thing she couldn't back away from. His body was her battlefield, the bloodied ground on which she fought for what she believed was right. She had never thought of healing as a weapon, but now it had turned into just that. Her ability to mend what was broken, to fix things and people, stop the blood from running, had turned into one of the Order's most needed strenght. Everyone could kill, but the opposite required much more power.
She eyed the remaining liquid in the small vial. Never had she seen a Consopio so pure and perfectly brewed. This was not the work of a healer, or some drug dealer in a dark corner of Diagon Alley. The conclusion was easy, and she could have hit her hand against her face when she realized that he must have done it himself. Producing such a difficult and deadly potion with the uttermost precision was just too much like him. The image of his trembling hands came back to her mind, and she knew that he hadn't been capable of brewing since weeks, maybe much longer - so he had planed in advance. Brewing Consopio was a long and exhausting work, requiring uttermost attention and power from the wizard doing it. The finished product would last for years. How long had he kept it in stock, knowing that when he needed it he wouldn't be capable of brewing it himself, and not trusting anyone? Knowing that the moment would come when he couldn't control the pain from his broken body anymore, when healing was becoming impossible? And still calmly waiting for that moment, arranging, planning for it? That was the way his mind worked, his pure cold logic, even when his own physical demise was concerned.
Again she checked his heartbeat, and was relieved to find it soft, but steady. Maybe there was still a way. Maybe they could save him, or at least grant him some peace, just for a short while. It wasn't over just yet. She wasn't ready to back down. A softly muttered "Nox" let the lights vanish.
Darkness fell, and the room was calm.