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The Syntax of Things

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June 1996

"I didn't see you yesterday," said Dumbledore when Severus placed the pile of marked O.W.L.S. on the Headmaster's desk. Severus scrunched his face and reached into his pocket to take out a folded piece of paper. The last thing he needed was to attend a staff meeting in Black's honour, and witness pitiful people wallow all over a dog's death.

"I was busy. This is a list of the students who failed to pass their examinations in Potions this year. Miss Johnson has been defiantly ignoring my warnings about her poor progress since the beginning of the year, and I have yet to receive a decent excuse for her consecutive absences. I owled her parents an hour ago."

Dumbledore opened a drawer and revealed a closed envelope with the name Severus Snape on it. At last, thought Severus.

Dumbledore wrote the date on the envelope and signed it. "Sirius was a kind man and a loyal friend, Severus. Don't let an old hatred poison your heart over his death."

Severus extended his hand waiting for the envelope.

He knew he looked impatient, but he'd been waiting for this particular summer break with obsessive longing; dealing with uninterested students, suspicious colleagues, and a Potter who was picking into his past while refusing to learn the basics in order to protect his own flesh, hadn't been exactly a pleasure. Still, on the other hand, this school year had brought along some enjoyable surprises as well. Black got what he deserved, the Minister eventually showed some dim traces of intelligence, and Dumbledore seemed to be on the right path searching for what he believed to be an essential weapon against the Dark Lord. 

Severus had offered many times to help him, but Dumbledore had insisted that this was a job he had to do alone. Severus wasn't fooled; Dumbledore trusted him to spy on Voldemort and risk his own life for the greater good, but wouldn't share with him any crucial information when it came to it.

Dumbledore handed him over the envelope. "Here you are, Severus. In Muggle money, as you required."

Severus nodded politely and thanked the Headmaster, who smiled back and raised his hand.

"Ah, not so fast, Severus. There is something else I wanted to discuss with you. You'd better sit."

And when Dumbledore began a conversation with these words, Severus knew he was going to go berserk, and probably be forced into something he wouldn't like in the slightest. He seated himself nevertheless, and gritted his teeth with a tension which he felt would soon be very much justified.

Dumbledore toyed with his wand for a few seconds, as if seeing it for the first time in his life.

"Harry isn't safe anymore, not after what happened," he said. "Sirius was planning to take custody of him once the misunderstanding with the Ministry was resolved, but fate played a mean card on the boy, as you know."

Severus said nothing.

"The protection his blood relatives provide... is strong, and that is because of Lily's sacrifice. I believe Voldemort would not attempt to attack him in Surrey, but it is not his physical safety I am worried about. Voldemort has discovered their mental connection, and since he's already used it once to lure Harry to the Ministry, we have no reason to believe he will not attempt it again. The boy has been having visions, Severus. You are aware of it. In his dreams, he can see through Voldemort's eyes."

Severus felt a chill running down his spine. "I am aware of it. It's... phenomenal."

"And that is why he needs to learn how to build solid walls around his mind. You do understand that, should a small leak of where your true devotion lies made its way to the other end of this thread, Voldemort would want you out of the way, right?"

Of course he knew. The idea of death wasn't strange to him; there was a limit in how much pain and despair one can witness and cause, and how much fear then can experience upon it. These limits had been broken long ago for him, and the constant awareness of the dangers around him was as familiar as waking up in the morning.

He only wished that when the time came, he would leave the world having offered his best, and having done all he could to protect Lily's child. 

As though reading his mind, Dumbledore continued. "This is why it is so important for Harry learn Occlumency - it is a necessity that simply cannot be ignored anymore. I do need you alive, as you understand."

"What?" 

"I know this is too much of me to ask, Severus, but – "

"Wasn't the first fiasco more than enough?" He had sinned. Many times. But he didn't deserve this.

"It's the only way, I am afraid. We'll have to take advantage of the summer." Dumbledore said calmly.

"What is your plan this time, then? You want me to travel to Surrey daily to enjoy Potter's and Petunia's insufferable company, for how long, exactly? How many hours per day do you want me to sacrifice for this farce, pray tell?"

"Ah. Well, the good news now."

And Severus was ready to give a leg and a kidney if the news were actually good.

"No magic can be done in his home, since the Ministry would happily report it as underage magic, which would cause an unnecessary fuss. That's why I thought it might be best for Harry to stay with you for a while."

Severus felt the blood drain from his body and go straight up to a vein above his eye. A spasm followed, and his heart jumped before giving him the impression that it was being split in two. His lungs compressed in a way he had only seen described in health magazines. His mind whispered: heart attack. 

"You - Albus, no. I can't."

"Now, now, Severus. You've worked with children half your life; I'm sure both of you will manage to get along for a couple of months."

"Two months," Severus repeated sharply. Dumbledore opened his mouth but was stopped.

"Has it crossed your brilliant mind, that I do not wish his pity – or even worse, his curiosity – burdening me? My privacy has already been disrespected and completely ignored. Potter has a wonderful home of his own to stay, and I am sure he will manage to survive until September as always. I am not his guardian, nor his friend, and I will NOT have him in my house!"

"I would teach him myself, Severus, but you know the priorities."

The weapon. So Dumbledore was going on an adventure and in the meantime Severus would have to babysit James Potter's spitting image of a son.

Severus sat back down and rubbed away an upcoming migraine. It was one of those times he did not really have a choice, and yet he was being expected to agree before his doom came. He wanted to say no, to decline and run away as fast as he could, pointing his middle finger to Dumbledore, to Potter, and to Voldemort too.

The problem was that all of them would follow him around like puppies until he did as commanded. And if he didn't, the puppies would transform to three – headed dogs. With venomous fangs. And a dragon tail.

"Are you aware of what kind of people visit my home usually? Death Eaters. Madmen. Ministry workers, all of whom happen to be both Death Eaters and madmen."

"I'm sure you will find a way, Severus. He won't be a problem to you, I can guarantee that."

"He will be asking questions, Dumbledore. Questions I do not wish to answer. What have I ever done that gave you the impression that I enjoy the company of children?"

Dumbledore's eyes sparkled. "This little cooperation of yours could turn out for the best. Do try and see him for who he really is, my boy. You might be surprised."

Fuck you.

Severus nodded in defeat as he strode towards the door. "I'm not doing this for you, Dumbledore."

Dumbledore chuckled. "Thank Merlin you're not, my boy."