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The Syntax of Things

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There was no problem in this world so serious that couldn’t be cured with a glass of firewhiskey.

The flames in the hearth bowed and arched as they burned the woods away. So eager they seemed, that if ran rampant, they would destroy the very things they were meant to illuminate. Embryonic bonfires, they would become, each bearing a seed of destruction so potent it could tumble cities and dash kings to their knees.

Words and phrases salved in Severus’ mind made their appearance in demand as the first bottle was emptied. Nonsense like “I will not reveal my secret keeper, but you have to trust me, Severus; your floo network shall transfer you - and only you - back and forth; it will take you to the safe house” and “be careful, my boy. You need to remain near Voldemort until the end.”

His sudden urge to sneak inτο the Tower and abduct Potter for good was replaced by the reasonable substitute of summoning another bottle. Which was a complete failure, for his eye focus failed to direct the bottle towards him, having it crash against the wall instead.

Here it was, the last day of classes, and modesty be damned. Why wait another day so he could drink at home when he could also drink here? The little bastard would have to die. He would never become an Auror, thank God for that. He would never see adulthood. Not that adulthood was ever promised to be a bright experience for Potter.

Well. He’d never take it up the arse, then. It occurred to Severus that two out of the three men that dominated his life were bent, and silently prayed for the Dark Lord to differ. It wouldn’t do to kill Potter and then dance around his corpse in a pink petticoat and tights. Although it would be a reasonable excuse for Severus to quit being a Death Eater. Lucius would understand.

Downing another glass filled of something that he couldn’t recall summoning, he thought of Potter’s decision to abandon effort just when he'd started improving. He was probably determined to prove Severus rubbish at teaching, no matter what.

The boy deserved to be sodomised for his audacity.

On second thought, no.

Better no.

Severus shook his head.

Was he bitter?

Absolutely.

Hurt?

Well. Everybody felt a part of their heart break at rejection. It was natural. To him, rejection triggered so much more. And what would happen if the Dark Lord insisted for Severus to kill Dumbledore? Dumbledore would flee. For how long? Who would guard the school? Another glass. Fuck the glass. Bottle. 

Dumbledore wouldn’t flee. There would be no excuse for Severus not to do it. Damn. He was a dead man.

Playing in a three-bullet Russian roulette.

Somehow, he had the assuredness that all of them would wound him.

He sighed heavily. Dumbledore’s ideals for love and gratitude were not helping. 

Love was making the world go round? Not at all.

Whiskey made it go round twice as fast.

He drank generously, fearing the moment it might stop.


The blissful silence of the room was interrupted by a continuous thudding against wood. Severus closed his eyes and prayed for it to go away, crossing his fingers for it to be caused by ghosts. At the reminder that ghosts didn’t knock on doors, it occurred to him that to get pissed and be left alone was apparently a vain wish. He put an effort to steady himself before unlocking the door, and shook his head into sobriety.

Potter stormed in in excitement. “I thought you were asleep.”

“What do you want?”

“Last day of classes. We’ve had a party in the common room. Everyone’s dropped asleep by now.”

Severus searched between Potter’s words to find an actual explanation of why Potter was there and failed. “And?” Be sharper. You’re failing.

“So, you know. I figured Dumbledore wouldn’t mind. Since we’re going to be together the whole summer anyway.”

This was exactly the misery Severus had been trying to forget. Alcohol worked better than Obliviation, and had proved itself much safer too. Coming to terms with himself had been going great. The process now seemed to drift away and into a mystical puddle made of all of his abandoned intentions and promises. “Has it occurred to you that I might mind?”

Potter smiled cheekily as he sat on his usual spot on the couch. “You don’t. Is that firewhiskey?” He poured himself a glass and tasted it. Severus sat back down, reminding himself that if he was to endure this again he’d have to at least make the rules. He snatched the bottle away and gave Potter a warning look. “If you want me to let you stay you will behave. This time, I mean it.”

He'd meant it all the past times too, but he'd been ignored, just as he imagined that he was going to be ignored tonight. What did it matter? The last Potter alive would soon be dead.

“You should have seen Ron. He wanted to talk to me but he was too embarrassed to do it alone. He told Hermione to tell me to go and talk to him.” Potter shook his head, an honest smile on his face as he took the bottle back from Severus.

“Fascinating, I think.”

“It is. I thought he was never going to talk to me again. Ginny told me she forgives me too. I suppose they didn’t know what to say to their family for not talking to me anyway. Things have calmed down a lot now. God, this thing sucks.”

“It’s alcohol. Therefore is good.” To make his point more obvious, he emptied his glass and let the warm liquid burn his throat. Oblivion wouldn’t come tonight, after all. If ever.

“Why don’t you arrange Slytherin parties too? You know, try and have fun, or something. All the other Houses do it.” Potter shrugged and Severus tried to remember when was the last time the boy was babbling this much. Or grinning so wildly. 

“We have parties. We don’t prance about it. Slytherins, unlike you, have dignity.” It hadn’t been so long since the last time Potter had been in this room anyway. It seemed insignificant now. Severus adjusted to what he had become used to. Company, he almost called it.

“Is this your way of partying?” Potter pointed at the bottle and Severus had to suppress a sudden urge to hug it protectively. “Getting pissed in the dark every time you hate your life or something? Severus Snape. The party animal.”

Potter snorted and Severus fixed his jaw. “I don’t suppose your Gryffindor party contained alcohol, did it?”

Potter’s flushed face suggested that it did. “That would be prohibited, Professor,” he said innocently.

Severus scoffed. “Idiot." Taking points would only embarrass him further when Minerva would give them back in dozens. He admired the darkness of his chambers. If Potter was bothered by it, Potter was free to go.

“Just idiot? Where did the insolent little wrench go? You’re losing your touch, Snape. You need to see me more often, I think.”

More often? The only place in Severus’ life Potter didn’t occupy anymore was his dreams. Then again…

Stop.

“Shut up, Potter. I keep thinking you can only embarrass yourself so much, yet you never peak.”

Potter laughed. “That’s what I meant.”

“Don’t you have things to do before we lock you up in paradise?” Severus asked after a long moment. It was a hot night, but he didn’t feel like soothing the hearth. The sparks stuck on the wood before burning out, tiny acclamations that died over and over again to be greeted by stronger ones. 

“Not much. I still have to see Luna tomorrow, she wants to give me an issue of the magazine her father publishes, but there’s no rush. Besides, I thought you’d be lonely.”

Severus snorted around a satisfying gulp. He had never been lonely. He had been in a room – he had felt suicidal. He had been depressed. He had felt awful – awful beyond all – but he never felt that one other person could enter that room and cure what was bothering him, or that any number of people could enter that room.

“Speak for yourself,” he spat and immediately regretted the bluntness of his impulse to defend himself.

Potter didn’t respond.

Loneliness was something Severus had never been bothered by, because he'd always had this terrible itch for solitude. He'd never thought to go out and have the widely suggested fun. It wouldn’t help. He mentally watched the typical crowd, getting excited about it being Friday night, asking each other “what are you going to do? Where are you going to go?” and Severus felt nauseated at their lack of purpose. There was nothing out there. It was stupidity.

Stupid people mingling with stupid people. Satisfying themselves with stupidity. And that was all. He had never been lonely. He liked himself. He was the best form of entertainment he had.

“Cheers,” Severus drawled.

Their glasses clunk and Potter casted a Lumos. “If you were more unhappy I think you’d become a ghost.” His face scrunched up.

“Boo, then.”

Potter’s face lit up mischievously and he let his drink on the table. “You know what, I’m not going to silently sit in the dark because you’re being weird. I’m not going to smell fresh air again for the next three months or so and who knows, I might die soon anyway. We’re going out.”

The astonishment of the truth Potter had unwittingly blurted out hit Severus first and he was unable to comprehend the rest of the sentence. Giving himself a second chance by replaying it inside his head, “You’ve lost your mind now, haven’t you?”

“Don’t start grumbling now. Come on, get up.” Potter wore his cloak, excited about his plan. As it usually happened, Severus despised plans. A bodiless head floated around the room as Potter grabbed Severus’ hand and Severus found himself being pulled up. “If you think I’m going to agree to this idiocy you’re a fool.”

“Fools win.”

“I’ve agreed with the Headmaster that this lunacy will stop. I only let you in tonight because it’s the last day and –”

“Exactly. So it doesn’t matter what you do.”

It did matter. The hand that tugged on his sleeve was suddenly too strong. Severus shook it away. “If you wish to stay, stay. I’m not going anywhere.” Why did he have to apologise for the simplest things? Why was his dominance constantly ridiculed?

“Right. Now stop yammering and be quiet. I know how to get out.”

Harry Potter. Ruthless. Unprincipled. Determined to get them both killed.

“They’ll see us, you moron! Do you forget my position or do you confuse me for your mindless rule breaking friends? Have you forgot that the castle is not inhabited by your astonishing person only?” May I drink alone please?

“No. Bent down.”

The world blurred a little as the thin fabric of the cloak covered him and he was immediately frozen in astonishment. Potter’s elbow poked at his ribs. “Now, we have to be a little close. I know you don’t like that but you’ll have to bear it. Bent a little because your feet are still visible.”

Severus complied, silently damning himself for doing so. The scent of the Potter family was suddenly all around him, and he questioned his having agreed to this while Potter led him to the corridor just as he remembered that he had not actually agreed. The ludicrous contraption was all but comfortable, and Severus inwardly appreciated the many levels of irony that had brought him under this very cloak. Sweet blasphemy, he thought to himself, taking a moment to relish into the fantasy of James Potter watching them from the world of the dead with utter sorrow.

“Careful, damn you!”

“Sorry.”

“I swear, Potter, if you step on my foot one more time I’ll –”

“Shush!” Potter’s hand came up to his own mouth and covered it as Peeves floated past them.

Severus kept his breath. Peeves looked at where they stood suspiciously. Potter looked up at Severus steadily. Severus wholeheartedly hoped that his own stare communicated I’m going to kill you. Before he had enough time to make his untold threat clear, Peeves dove in the wall behind them, passing through them. The warmth of the living was something a cloak could not hide.

“STUDENTS OUT OF THEIR BEDS! STUDENTS OUT OF THEIR BEDS! THEY’RE HERE! STUDENTS OUT OF THEIR BEDS!” Peeves yelled, excitingly jumping around in the air.

This was it, then. A very sorry end for the great Potions Master Severus Snape. And not even a Potions Master anymore. He closed his eyes awaiting for his fate. Potter tugged at his shirt. “Run! Quickly!”

Unable to protest, in terms with the upcoming reality of unemployment, he followed. What was he going to tell Dumbledore? How was he going to explain this?

All I wanted was to drink.

Or, - so very typical -  I was already drunk.

Potter grunted as he pushed the Entrance Hall gate and it remained shut. He did it again, grunting furiously, and Severus had to steel himself for the task of blocking out the annoying friction and the back of Potter’s head hitting his chin again and again. “You’re a teacher, I suppose you know the spell,” whispered Potter angrily, and Severus cursed. He was about to announce that he would not reveal the staff’s locking spells for the sake of Potter’s entertainment just as Peeve’s voice seemed to be getting closer to them again.

“STUDENTS OUT OF THEIR BEDS! STUDENTS OUT OF THEIR BEDS!”

Oh for fuck’s sake. He cast the spell and recast it to lock the door just as they stepped out. Yanking the cloak off his head Severus panted hard, leaning back on the door. “You,” he said coolly, “You don’t say a word.”

“Can’t he see us now?” Potter asked, already moving further to the yard.

“He haunts the castle, he can’t get out,” Severus said, although Potter should know this. Not that it meant anything. The castle had windows. Anyone could see them. This was suicide. “Are you satisfied, now?”

“Aren’t you? Look at the sky.” Potter spread his arms and rotated around himself, his head dropped back.

“The sky,” Severus sneered. “I’m risking my position so you can take a look at the sky, as though you don’t live on a goddamn tower!” He released a sharp breath and his eyes darted around to make sure that no one was watching them.

Potter picked up his cloak from the ground and Severus watched him deranged.

“Just look at the sky.”

Severus glared at Potter hard before he gave up. He looked. 

A sudden bitter cold wind howled  across the landscape, and Severus recalled that he hated nights like this; caught between darkness and light; hovering endlessly on the brink of secret magic. The beauty Potter saw was invisible to him. A half-lit world full of half-kept promises offered him nothing but unwanted memories. Unable to protest, he kept to himself the useless arguments and watched the sky instead. Letting Potter’s foolish romanticism remind him of all the silliness of a world he had rejected.

“It’s mesmerising. It has stars. And you are following me back inside, where you will be escorted to your Head of House and tell her in detail how you and your classmates obtained and consumed alcohol during your so called party. You will apologise to her for breaking the rules made for your own safety and you will apologise to me too for your unspoken behaviour.”

Potter rolled his eyes. “No. Come on.”

They set off a low pace - Potter gambolling ahead stupidly while singing “a song Hagrid likes,” and Severus checking for enemies and following behind him. A very suspicious threat behind a tree ended up being a rabbit, but Severus hexed it unconscious anyway. Severus listened carefully in the quietness of the dark forest. An owl hooted in distance and the woods resembled dusky shadows, shifting and breathing under an observing eye. The more they kept walking, the more Severus believed that this was madness.

“Enough, Potter! And stay close!”

Potter stopped and looked back. “Don't you ever have fun?”

“Don't you ever think? The creatures of the night –”

“If the creatures of the night were dangerous in Hogwarts, Hagrid would be already dead. Lower your wand.”

Severus didn’t lower it and Potter kept disappearing as they walked. “Even Hermione has calmed down a bit. You should do it too. You can’t think of your enemies all the time, you’ll go mad.”

He had already gone mad. And if he didn’t think of his enemies, his enemies would think of him first. “I don’t see any fun in this, Potter. Perhaps you should have sneaked out with your wicked friends instead.”

“Perhaps,” agreed Potter. When the lake appeared in sight, Potter started running.

“Potter!” he shouted. And then was reminded of the absurdity of yelling Potter’s name while wanting this to remain a secret. Severus widened his steps and a sheer terror attacked him at the possibility of losing Potter out here in the night. A mental image of Dumbledore’s lips slowly mouthing “Azkaban” landed on his mind and he ran too. “Potter!”

He found him laying spread eagled by the lake, panting hard and raising a foot up to unlace a shoe. Severus panted too, his chest aching as he loomed over Potter. The boy looked ridiculous. “Do that again and I’ll Petrify you.”

Potter threw his shoes and shocks aside and chuckled, his eyes darting between Severus and the sky. “I love life,” he stated louder than necessary. Severus lacked a bitter comment so he just stared. His heart still ached from running, and he suddenly felt old.

The reflection of the moon was seen on the surface of the lake, clear as crystal, pure as a virgin blanket of snow. Dark-grey clouds loomed over the moon ominously and, suddenly, the lake was brought to despair and darkness once again.

The shrill cries of an animal broke the silence. Sharp, high-pitched sounds pierced through the night, but failed to disturb the peace. It occurred to Severus that they were part of it. On a distant tree, a night-jar made its tok-tok sound.

“I love life!” Potter shouted again, and broke into laughter as he rolled to his stomach. “Gods, I’m happy.”

Severus’s heart tightened. “You’re drunk, and you’re stupid. Don’t confuse it with happiness.”

“I’m drunk, I’m stupid, I’m happy, I love you,” Potter said cheerfully.

Touching, he meant to say. His tongue being a dry sponge did not help. “Do you know what kind of beasts inhabit these grounds at night? Anything could happen. Anything.”

“I bet you didn’t even know you could have fun,” Potter said tenaciously as he rolled back to his back.

“What makes you think I’m having fun?” Severus asked cautiously. 

Potter grunted as he struggled back to his feet. “You think the water is cold?” he pulled off his shirt and tossed it aside, beginning to unzip his jeans.

“Don’t even think of it!” spat Severus. “Unless you want your head bitten off by hungry mermaids or Merlin knows what else swims in there I suggest you wear your clothes back on and follow me back to the –”

Potter landed face-first, his splattering almost completely drown out by Severus’ curses. Potter completely disappeared from sight and Severus held his breath until Potter came up for air and gasped. He couldn’t keep that smile off his face, and his amusement definitely didn’t waver at Severus’ outrage. Potter shook the water off his hair. “It’s not even deep!” he said loudly. “Come on!”

Severus could almost feel Dumbledore’s twinkling eyes burning his nape along with Draco’s questioning ones. He dimly wondered what kind of excuse would satisfy the Dark Lord.

Severus stepped closer and the water reached his shoes. “This is dangerous!” he said, hoping against hope to be obeyed.

Potter stood up, his torso wet in the dim light of the night, wearing nothing but his muggle boxers. “Oh my god, danger behind you!” screamed Potter as he raised a hand to point at something behind Severus’ head. Severus turned around abruptly, wand in hand, and saw nothing. Potter laughed and dove in again.

“Is this how you were planning to introduce me to fun?” he yelled, even though Potter couldn’t hear him. One. Two.

Three.

Potter came up for another breath and narrowed his eyes. It occurred to Severus that he probably couldn’t see much without his glasses. Severus’ shoes had stuck into mud. “I can think of other ways,” said Potter calmly.

Severus felt his nails digging into his palms. “For the last time. Get. Out!”

He didn’t. There was a strange feeling in the pit of Severus’ stomach, and he was suddenly aware of the pitiful options remaining. It was a matter of self-respect, but Potter couldn’t defy him forever. He’d learn this lesson either he wanted it or not. Footing off his shoes, he bent down to yank his socks off and then his coat and shirt. Tossing his belt aside, he decided against taking off his trousers.

His toes curled in the soft mud; Potter picked up that annoying song again and sang it loudly. Severus stepped in the water carefully and winced at the cold. “This is unthinkable,” he muttered. The strain in his legs increased and he pushed the water in embarrassment for his sorry situation. Again.

For all his situations that included Potter were sorry.

The water came up to just below his hips and his wet trousers stuck to his skin. Potter looked up at him suspiciously. “Is that a scowl?”

It was. And Potter was apparently blind. “No. It’s a wide smile of satisfaction.”

Potter came closer and rose. For someone graduating from adolescence, development had definitely skipped him. The boy was doomed to be short. Of course, he was doomed to be worse things too.

Severus gripped Potter’s arm but Potter resisted. “Don’t be like that, I’m having fun.”

“What you’re having,” snarled Severus, “is detention for the entire next year. Out!” he tightened his grip and Potter pushed against his chest trying to be released. The water splashed around them as they both struggled against each other. There was a moment of pure anger: Severus pulled at Potter viciously. Their feet slid together as Potter planted his own in the mud stubbornly. Severus tried to stand straight, his lips tightly closed around swears he could not address to a student. The air was knocked out of him as an elbow landed on his abdomen and a knee hit his shank.

The pain had him wince, while Potter thrashed out of his grip electrified.

“You will not get away with this, Potter!” Severus barked, and the boy was cut short by Severus’ hand wrapping itself around his middle and stilling him. His own panting was suddenly the only sound Severus could hear. He was aware of baring his teeth in rage. Potter’s breath hit his chin. He hadn’t thought of which remark to make first when he parted his mouth. A tongue attacked him before he could speak. It was warm. It tasted him gracefully in a demanding way Severus wasn’t familiar with. The kiss ended as abruptly as it started, and Potter pushed at the hand around his waist. Severus pulled away as though he had been burned.

Swimming again, Potter let his head fall back on the water and watched the sky. “I’m going to miss Hogwarts,” he said quietly. “I don’t want to be alone.”

Severus at last swallowed the bile of ash that had stuck in the back of his throat. “Perhaps you should,” he croaked as he turned around to walk off the lake.

Away from Potter's influence, he casted a drying spell on his trousers that barely managed to leave them damp and he seated himself on the grass. He looked at the goddamned horizon with the moon and the stars and the rest of the useless beauties Potter had suddenly discovered and scoffed.

His lips tasted of wetness. He forbade himself from darting his tongue out to taste it more than once. The hidden owl hooted again, loudly and sharply. Nature had never been worthy of admiration to Severus. Praising the power of the shining light and the love behind the stars was meant to be done by stupid Muggles being in love with people they barely knew. Severus had never been sentimental. He was quite the opposite; a sentimental person thought things would last – the romantic had the desperately reasoned confidence that they wouldn’t.

Potter followed him after a while, and sat on the ground next to him, hugging his knees. He dried himself off with his shirt and didn’t bother clothing himself.

“What was that?” Severus asked, his eyes still on the lake.

“What was what?”

Severus didn’t have the strength to argue. He avoided looking at Potter even as the boy jumped back to the water, and Severus laid back to the grass in the exact same spot Lily used to sit, and James used to sit, and even Lucius and Pettigrew and Tom Riddle himself had sat at some point of their lives.

He counted the stars, quite proud of himself for being able to see them without hideous devices of glass glued on his face. He listened to Potter’s woohoo’s, and to the crazy owl, and to his own breath that didn’t seem to have calmed down.

For the best part of the last century, Hogwarts had been home to countless people who didn’t stand any chance of finding home anywhere else. Hogwarts was a sanctuary. Whoever knew how to speak to it, whoever knew how to listen to it, could learn the truth. Hogwarts did not preach learning and precepts. It preached the ancient, unconditional law of life.

The war would destroy that law. And the Dark Lord would eventually destroy Hogwarts. Severus had learnt that if one had to leave a place that he had lived in and loved, it should be done in any way except a slow one. Leave it the fastest way one can. This happened to be equally true for both places and people, but Severus didn’t want to think of that. He often looked back and thought that an hour he remembered was a better hour because it was dead. Past years seemed safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lived in a cloud, dark and shaky.

Hogwarts wasn’t simply a home. And home was never a place for Severus. Home, for Severus, used to be Lily.

He had never been this close to Lily.

No.

Lily had never been this close to him.

The emptiness he felt at her memory was crushing. He searched for his wholehearted affection though, and failed to find it. He knew he loved her, but the simplicity of the truth, the fact that she was dead, hit him with no denial. It came to him as natural.

“Are you trying to catch a cold?” Potter asked as he approached him again, putting on his glasses. “The water is perfect. I’m going back in. Come.”

Ah.

At least that hadn’t changed.

To Severus, home was always a person.

End of Part Two