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The Syntax of Things

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Snape folded his arms. “This has gone on long enough. What is wrong?”



Harry sighed and looked up. “What? Nothing’s wrong.” A lot of things were, but it wouldn’t help to discuss them. He was tired; talking about things that would remain unsolved and would just cause another fight was not something he looked forward to.

“If nothing is wrong, then why are you being continuously distracted since morning? It might surprise you but I do have better things to do. If you can’t practice today I can’t see why I am here at all.”

“Because you want to.” The words slipped out of Harry’s mouth before he could help it. “To teach me,” he added quickly. He couldn’t deal with this now. He was sick of pretending. Sick of hiding behind words. 

“I can’t teach if you don’t want to be taught. And I certainly can’t teach if you look out the goddamn window when I’m talking to you!”

Harry turned to see Snape furrowing his brow and sensed the anger he was trying to avoid since Snape’s arrival coming for him. “I don't want to practice today so you can leave if you want,” he said quickly before disappearing to the kitchen. Snape stormed behind him.

“Potter. Have you been having visions?”

“Potter,” repeated Harry as he poured himself a glass of juice he wasn't going not drink. “You still manage to call me Potter. Even after a year of spending every single day and night with me. No one calls me Potter in Hogwarts except McGonagall, and I haven’t been in her office more than six or seven times in my life.”

Harry passed a hand through his hair to push back his fringe. Snape stared. “Is that what has been bothering you?” he said calmly after a moment. “The war awaits and you –”

“And I’m selfish, arrogant, and stupid. Yes. I’ve learnt that lesson, sir, there’s no reason to repeat it.”

A cruel sneer formed on Snape’s face and he leaned forward, eyes bearing straight into Harry’s. “However clever you think this little game is, I assure you it is not. Intimacy with students is -” 

“Then why the fuck do you sleep here?!” shouted Harry. The moment the words escaped his mouth he knew he had gone too far. He glared hard. Acknowledging it would make it real. Saying it out loud would make Snape stop. Harry had already lost what little happiness he had with him anyway. He didn’t feel like shutting up now. “Tell me why I'm getting up every morning to find you looking at me and tell me why you come here every night behind Dumbledore’s back to sleep in the same bed with me! You are not being obligated to do any of that. I never asked you to.”

“Stunning though your assumptions may be you will be disappointed to know –”

“Last night,” Harry shouted, “last night, I woke up to find you sleeping half naked next to me and you hadn’t even told me you’d visit!”

“Another word and you’ll regret it,” Snape hissed. 

“Like I did last time?” It was fun how talking about things would make him regret it but Snape never had to explain why he did them. Even if Harry wanted to get away from him, ignore him, forget him, Snape wouldn’t let him go. Snape was stuck with Harry as much as Harry was with Snape. The difference was that Snape couldn’t see it.

Snape bared his teeth. “I will not apologise for sleeping with as many clothes I feel comfortable on. I will apologise, however, for doing so in the same bed with an imbecile student of mine. I am sorry for being utterly horrified of what Dumbledore might do to me should you commit suicide during your lonely and restless nights. I assume you must make do alone from now on.”

“Fine! I'm better off alone than being with someone who doesn’t even know what he wants!” Harry’s hands twitched and he felt thankful for not carrying his wand with him at the moment.

“It might surprise you but I know far too well what I want. And what I do not.”

“Then why are you sleeping here? The truth. Tell me the truth. Because Dumbledore has nothing to do with it and that’s fucking obvious even to an imbecile like me!”

The silence that fell upon them had suddenly said too much. Harry’s glare softened as Snape said nothing, and they stood there looking at each other, the answer to Harry’s question lost somewhere between them. Harry realised that one could listen to silence and learn from it. It had a quality and a dimension of its own.

He needed to be alone. He need to ponder his shame and his despair in seclusion; to lock himself in the bathroom without this conversation having happened, face to face with himself, with only his own stupidity for company.

“Your silence is not going to protect you,” Harry said at last. He let his anger dissolve and took a deep breath. Snape’s dumbstruck look was what Harry loved; he couldn’t help but snort. It was a rare view to catch Snape off guard. To actually see him scared or shocked or panicked. Harry looked up at him and Snape sighed. “Severus.” At Snape’s disapproving glare Harry stopped him. “Just explain it to me. Because you’re confusing me way too much.”

He wanted to call him Severus. He wanted to get used to thinking of him as Severus. He wanted for once to be called Harry regularly.

“I can’t explain it,” Snape muttered under his breath, and it occurred to Harry that this was probably the only honest thing Snape had said today. “It will stop.”

“I don’t want you to stop it. I want you to admit that you’re thinking about me more than you let out. You don’t even call me by my name and yet you like to spend your nights here. You chose it. Who do you think you’re kidding?”

Snape pressed his lips together and Harry steeled himself for whatever blow of random nastiness was about to come. Not that insults would make what he had said less real. But to Snape, they probably would.

Leaning against the wall, Snape rested his head back. “Masks can be dangerous,” he said.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“I am who I pretend to be.”

Harry licked his lips in frustration. “I don’t understand.”

Snape laughed soundlessly. He shook his head. “You weren’t meant to.”

“Just explain it to me. Because you’re confusing me way too much.”

Explaining would take a dreadful amount of time and describe nothing of the situation. Life did not offer explanations. It offered moments that were absolutely, utterly, inexplicably odd.

“I can’t explain it,” Severus heard himself saying and was appalled by his own nerve to continue this conversation instead of fleeing into the safety of his masks. A professor. An adult. A Death Eater, if necessary. “It will stop,” he said instead, and the pathetic lack of vocabulary only proved that he didn’t mean it. It wouldn’t stop. He didn’t want it to stop.

“I don’t want you to stop it. I want you to admit that you’re thinking about me more than you let out. You don’t even call me by my name and yet you like to spend your nights here. You chose it. Who do you think you’re kidding?”

His storytelling conscience. His past. His present. There was nothing riskier than pretending not to care, but exposing one’s caring when it didn’t have to. There was a great deal of power in pretending. He slept here because he wanted to. Because for once in his life he took the risk of doing what he desired without thinking about it, without searching inside him for the reason he wanted it or for the meaning of it. He followed his urges. The freedom of it was ill advised and evanescent.

He was now being interrogated about it.

He rested his head back against the wall and folded his arms. Receiving kindness was an extraordinary experience. Harry caused him a silliness of sentiments he hadn’t felt since adolescence. The illusion of not having to be independent all the time had been new to him. The certainty that no matter what he did or how badly he behaved he was still desirable and as much as before. He was wanted here.

It was unspeakable that this could mean anything to Severus.

“Masks can be dangerous.” Dangerous to keep, dangerous to destroy, dangerous to trust or to distrust. They held a soul of their own. Severus couldn’t remember of a time where he didn’t have to wear one. Even with Lily, he was trying too much. He was struggling to impress her with the simplest things. It occurred to him that he hated his younger self. If he could go back, he would kill that brainless loser that he’d been. Having overflowing emotions about a girl who would talk to him about the boys she liked. Hilarious. Sickening.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

That Harry Potter didn’t stand a chance of listening to the truth. Severus didn’t know the truth. “I am who I pretend to be,” and right now I’m pretending to be your enemy.

“I don’t understand,” Harry said, his features scrunched in confusion.

Laughter escaped him as he thought of what he could become were he to pretend to be a friend. “You weren’t meant to.”

Severus was awoken by a suffocating pressure against his lungs. He opened an eye to see Harry hugging him tightly. Against his own bare chest, Harry’s torso felt sticky with sweat. The body which he had grown accustomed to finding draped all over him now breathed hard. Severus rolled on his side. “What happened?”

“Promise me you’re not going to die.” Even in the deep darkness of the night, the green eyes glimmered in intensity.

Severus grunted. “Nightmare?”

“Promise me!” In the silence of the room, Harry’s voice echoed desperately.

Wartime outlawed hope. Dreaming of surviving could only concern the next day. Severus didn’t approve of hope. It never concerned him, for it was the opium of emotions: it hooked fast and killed hard. It was bad news. The worst. When hope showed up, it was only a matter of time until someone was destroyed.  

What Severus could promise, was that even if he died soon, Harry wouldn’t be alive to see it.

“Tell me what you saw.”

“No. Promise me. I can’t lose you. I’m not going to. I just won’t let it happen. Ever. You must promise me.”

“You’re being childish.”

“FUCK YOU!” Harry kicked at the sheets trying to get up and kneed Severus’ stomach on his way. Severus got a tight grip of a random limb, then another, and pulled down. Harry shouted and almost hit him with an elbow. He kicked around furiously as he tried to get free.

“For God’s sake, calm yourself down!”

“No! Just go away! Leave, you’re not even supposed to be here! What for? So you can die and leave me alone like Sirius did? Fuck you!”

A foot kicked him on the thigh and Severus wondered why he was even trying to calm the boy down. A hand pushed hard at him in an attempt to let go. His patience lost and his kind side suddenly dismissed, Severus pinned Harry on the sheets and squeezed his wrists above his head. “Kick me again and I’ll break your legs. Understood?”

“Fuck you!” Harry spat again, still trying to break free from his grip.

“So it that it then?” Severus hissed against Harry’s throat. “You see Black in me, don’t you? Or is it deeper than that? Maybe all you really want is to stop missing your rotten daddy after all, going after men his age, is that it?”

Harry writhed around, shaking his head. “Don’t —”

“Unless you prefer me to drug you asleep, next time you will keep your outburst for the morning.”

“Severus —”

“And I don’t know if I’m going to die, nor do I think about it because I’s not going to help or make it any better. You can sulk in your boasting for all I care but do remember that I certainly have more important things to keep me from dying than you and your selfish reasons. Or did you think that I am merely alive to satisfy your need for company? Did you think my only motivation to survive would be your request to do so?” Is that worth waking me up clutching on me for dear life?

“Don’t –”

“Don’t what?!”

“Don’t move so much — friction — ah — fuck.” Harry closed his eyes and gasped, pushing his pelvis upwards. Severus stared. Then he felt it; first the pulsation, then the wetness against his own thigh. He bolted up suppressing a familiar urge to murder and he became aware of the boy muttering a series of apologies while awkwardly getting on the floor and searching around for his tracksuit.

Severus felt his muscles tense up and a reasoning voice in his head soothed him by recalling that teenage erections could occur at any moment without a relevant incentive in sight. His throat was clenching around a whole new outburst that had nowhere to go but back to himself. He turned around to give Harry a moment of privacy and only breathed again when he heard the bathroom door close shut.

He heard himself breathing with difficulty and it occurred to him that there should be no more sharing a bed for tonight. Beginning to dress, he decided to not react. He was too astonished to do so. Too embarrassed to care for the embarrassment of someone else's. He clutched at his head as though keeping it from ripping open. He remembered the flash of anger in Harry’s eyes and couldn’t bring himself to feel like leaving. Things were getting worse. Closer. He couldn’t stop it. Liar.


The simplicity of the truth never ceased to amaze him. Harry Potter did fancy him.

The fact that he was turning on the boy so much shouldn’t be new to him. It was. He'd turned a blind eye to what was happening for far too long. He was playing along. Letting a little boy make the rules. Following silently and pretending not to notice. Severus loathed himself. He truly, deeply, abhorred his very existence. 

His own mortality seemed like an easy matter to solve compared to Harry’s obsessions. He fought the urge to reach and knock on the goddamn door to inform the boy that this was over, being aware of the unimportance of such declaration when he knew that he wouldn’t keep his word. His stomach lurched and he felt completely ridiculous. Dispelling the image of the boy coming that would probably haunt him again later, he put on his shoes.

The door opened. “You’re leaving.”

Severus nodded stiffly.


“Let’s not, Harry.”

At the sound of snorting Severus managed to not look back. His jaw clenched. His stomach still burned with a form of hatred he couldn't recall being familiar with. He could feel Harry’s glare penetrating him from behind, and he silently counted the days left for this hell of a summer to end.

When he did count them, the nausea worsened.

Not nearly enough, actually.