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The Syntax of Things

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Harry delved into his trunk and pulled out his copy of Advanced Potion-Making before getting into bed. There, he turned its pages, reading random paragraphs, until he finally found an angular note of the Prince. It was written in a handwriting that wasn’t as delicate as the rest of his notes, and Harry wondered if he had been in a hurry to write it down as not to forget it.

Where the book said, Alchemy is the art of perfecting, but historically is typically known for the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone, the Prince had added, Wrong. The original definition of alchemy is to use "magick" to make cheap metals into gold. 

At the mention of the Philosopher’s stone Harry’s blood ran cold; he couldn’t help but wonder if this book had anything to do with Voldemort. What if this was an implanted thought too? Perhaps he didn’t even like the book, but he thought he did because someone wanted him to carry it with him all the time. He closed it and held it to his chest.

It was confusing, but this book had somehow been a friend to him. The thought of dark magic being involved was just unnerving. Aware that what intrigued him most about it was this very mystery, he wondered again about its origin. It looked so old his owner could have easily been his grandfather. His illusions for a beautiful prince hiding behind the book weren’t affected in the slightest by the realisation.

Harry placed the book on the night table, turned off the lamp, and rolled over.

It would be interesting to try and force a thought of his own in Snape’s mind, he thought as he covered himself with the blanket. A happy one, to increase the difficulty level. Something fresh and colourful, if only to gauge the man’s reaction. His lips would curl in disgust, granted. He was probably the only living person that would be disgusted by being happy.

There was no point in denying that Harry cared, one way or another. He had all the time to deal with it and accept it. Only Snape wasn’t accepting it just as well. Maybe mind control could fix that. Like me back. Like me back. Like me back. He’d have to try. And if he failed… well. Chances had it likely that Harry wouldn’t live to see the end of the year. His stomach tightened at the reminder and he clutched at the worn pillow to keep himself from falling apart. His name is Severus, an untamed part of his mind insisted, refusing to follow the stream of consciousness to the upcoming war. Was anyone else calling him Severus except Dumbledore or Voldemort?

It was a nice name. Rare. Not that Sirius or Remus were common, but this was different. It felt different.

“Severus,” he tried it out and his voice was muffled into the pillow. He chuckled at his own misery.

His eyes slowly closing, he let his demons take him in another restless, alerted sleep.

Sometimes, surrender was right.

Harry woke up by a strong hand grabbing his ear and twisting it. He shouted, kicking at the covers in panic as he reached for his wand and glasses. The wand wasn’t there. It occurred to him that it was Snape who was twisting his ear; he wore his glasses quickly then yanked at the man’s hand.


Snape’s upper lip trembled, his eyes wide in wrath as he bared his teeth and almost covered Harry’s body with his own. “Explain. Now.”

“What are you doing?” He tried to pull Snape’s index finger backwards to get him off him but Snape’s hand was curled in a tight fist around his ear. “You’re hurting me!”

“Explain yourself, Potter!”

“Explain what? Stop it!”

Snape pushed him and Harry shifted away frightened. He rubbed his ear to bring the circulation back. His fear was quickly replaced by anger. “What the fuck was that?” he shouted.

Snape pursed his lips and towered over the bed with the Advanced Potion-Making book in his hand. He threw it on Harry’s lap with force. “Congratulations. You are a true Gryffindor, after all.”

Harry gaped, snatching the book and hugging it protectively. Fully awake now, he jumped up. “You had no right!”

“I had no right? I had no right, Potter? I’ve got to hand it to you, this was beyond suspicion. Well done. On second thought, this isn’t even about Houses. You are a disgrace to Hogwarts itself.”

“And this comes from a Slytherin who was befriending murderers at my age!”

Snape half-raised a hand to slap him and then clutched it, willing it back down. “Hold your tongue, you reckless little sod.”

“Or what?”

“Where did you find this?” Snape asked. “Is this how you managed to impress Slughorn? Oh, let me guess, Dumbledore gave it to you, and of course he doesn’t mind you having it. You even have a note from him explaining it all and clarifying that I’m  not to object. Is that right?”

“Dumbledore had nothing to do with it. What’s your problem? I never cheated!” Harry glanced at his wand on the floor and slowly stepped towards it.

“Don’t even think of it,” drawled Snape. “Explain.”

Snape’s pale face and deranged expression could only mean one thing: the Prince didn’t exist. He was probably just another cursed object, as Harry feared. He could only imagine in what kind of trouble he had dragged himself into this time. And now Snape was going to take the book away from him.

Not important, he reminded himself. Just a book of a class he didn’t even particularly like.

Harry handed the book over. Snape took it, but Harry didn’t let go. “Slughorn loaned it to me for the first week of the year because I hadn’t bought a copy of mine yet. When I got a new book I swapped the front covers and returned to him the new one instead of this. The instructions in it helped me succeed in Potions like never before. I decided to keep it.”

Snape tugged at the book. Harry kept holding it. “You improved your grades with impudent methods and abused the school’s property. Then you cursed Draco and almost killed him. He could have bled to his death because of your arrogance and yet you kept the book all the same.”

Snape looked like he had swallowed the sourest lemon on earth; Harry felt his cheeks burn. Feeling the need to defend the himself, he quickly objected, “I didn't know what it did. The spell. I didn't think it’d be dangerous. I wanted to tell someone but I… didn’t.”

“Because you wanted to keep cheating.”

“I never cheated! It did - help me. I didn’t think it’d be dark magic. I never tried that spell again. It was just help—”


“You know what, the Prince was proved to be a much better teacher than you’ll ever be. Maybe you should take a few lessons yourself.”

He expected Snape to be pissed off at this. To yell. To even grab him by the ear again and slam him back to the bed. Which on second thought wouldn’t be that bad a turn of events. What he didn’t expect, however, was the deep hoarse laughter that rushed out of Snape’s throat, raw and absolutely paranoid. Harry stared.

The book slipped from Snape’s fingers and Harry kept it to his chest, not knowing what to do. Snape’s laughter filled the room and Harry awkwardly waited for him to finish. When he did, his anger had subsided to something Harry couldn’t quite name. There was amusement in his eyes. He extended a hand.

“Give that back, Potter.”

Back? Back. Oh. Back.

“You… you.”

“Next time steal a vocabulary book. It might turn out quite useful too. Well?”

Harry felt his fingers go numb around the hardcover of the book. He gave it to Snape who looked at it briefly and shoved it into his robes.

“You,” repeated Harry, suddenly feeling helpless.

“Yes, Potter. I am the Half-Blood Prince.”

It took a moment for him to connect the puzzle pieces. When he did, he felt dizzy. He smiled in sympathy to himself and looked at the black eyes that watched him curiously right back.

This was fucked.

The levels of irony were too many to count. This was premeditated. It had to be. “You improved your grades with impudent methods and abused the school’s property,” he heard himself saying to the boy. “ Then you cursed Draco and almost killed him. He could have bled to his death because of your arrogance and yet you kept the book all the same.”

Arrogance seemed to be the only thing Gryffindor ever produced. There were no Gryffindor virtues. The whole scam about the Gryffindors’ nobility was so easy to take apart that he never even bothered anymore. Potter was the proof that manners weren’t a matter of education but a matter of personality. He was born insolent. Insolent like his father. Insolent and naughty, like Black and Lupin and Pettigrew and like all the kind and loving Gryffindors turned out to be in the end.

“I never cheated! It did - help me.” Has it, Severus thought. He was suddenly interested in Potter’s explanation, however daft.

“You know what, the Prince was proved to be a much better teacher than you’ll ever be. Maybe you should take a few lessons yourself.”

He silently swore that if Potter said one more time the word Prince with that unmistakable redness over his cheeks Severus would personally see to make that blush permanent. In the form of a bruise, perhaps. He let his laughter possess him. Was young and innocent Potter fond of a mysterious prince? What kind of twisted fate was that? Why me? He heard his conscience complain.

Harry Potter, the saviour of the Wizarding world, holy martyr, powerful since birth, humble warrior, underprivileged hero, had a crush on Severus Snape and then he had a crush on his book.

He shook his head, reviewing the situation. Potter had a crush on him and then he had a crush on him. Twice. Oh, the destiny. Damn.

“Give that back, Potter.”

And Potter hadn’t known. As cruel as it was, it was equally satisfying to see the Chosen One fall lower and lower as his emotional health revolved around his interest for a man he ought to hate.

Potter’s eyes widened, darting from him to the book and back. “You… you.”

Ah. And the boy was appreciating the plot twist too. “Next time steal a vocabulary book. It might turn out quite useful too. Well?”

“You,” Potter said again, his voice cracking.

Spare me the melodramatics, he thought of saying. But lest Potter had any remaining doubts, “Yes, Potter. I am the Half-Blood Prince.”

And Potter broke into a crooked smile too, the one people have just before they crack up. Irony. A hard lesson.

Potter slumped back on the bed and frowned. “How?”

Giving up on making sense of any of this, Severus sat beside him and flipped the book to the first page. “It used to be my mother’s book,” he explained, not knowing why he even bothered to. “Her name was Eileen Prince. She had written it here,” he patted his index finger on the page. “This book belongs to Prince. I enriched it.” He smiled at the memory; he'd never been proud of being half-blood. But the fact that Slughorn was forced to see it on his book every time he congratulated him for a Potion was making him be. It was the closest thing to rubbing the truth to Slughron’s fat face that he ever managed. Slughorn never believed purebloods to be equal to the rest of the students.

“You're half-blood,” recalled Potter, frowning. “Your father.”


Potter chuckled. “Why didn’t it cross my mind? It’s obvious. It was obvious. The handwriting. God, I’m stupid.”

“You are also short sighted and incredibly naive.”

Potter snorted. “Yeah. Thanks, I guess. You’ve invented all these spells yourself?”

“You haven't attempted any of them. Have you?”

Potter frowned. Oh joy. He had. Dumbledore would be thrilled.

“Yeah. Not all of them, though. I’ve no idea what most of them do. I — tried a few, but after Malfoy I stopped. I’m sorry, just…” His eyes were stuck on the pages, turning them slowly as he struggled to connect the content of them with Severus. He mentally applauded himself for this new crossed line. May Potter break them all.

Then again, may he not. 

“You are the Prince,” Potter mumbled after a minute. He looked up in disbelief. Then finally laughed, falling back on the pillows, his eyes on the ceiling. “Wow.”

Wow indeed.