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The Syntax of Things

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“Suddenly impatient for school to start, aren’t we?”

Harry turned around and rolled his eyes before tugging at his Gryffindor sweater to pull it off. “I was just trying it on. It doesn't fit me anymore. I need a new one.”

He did most likely not. Once the Dark Lord conquered Hogwarts, Harry wouldn’t have a chance continuing his education there. He’d be captured and killed the very moment he’d be seen.

Ah. But that was the plan anyway.

“Lose weight.”

“Kidding me?” Harry crawled on the bed searching for his glasses. Severus sat on his chair. “It’s too short, my stomach’s out. I need a new one.”

“Then buy one.”

“I’m locked up. Will you buy it for me?” Harry sneered. It occurred to Severus that he was trying to mimic his voice. And failing.

Severus folded his arms. “Happily. Nothing more ordinary than the Slytherin Head of House buying Gryffindor sweaters, isn’t it?”

“I can’t wait to get out of here,” Harry said. “Hermione says they almost burned the burrow down. The Death Eaters.” He looked at Severus. “Do you think Hogwarts is going to be safe?”

Certainly. As safe as always, come to think of it. Taking into account all the murderers and frauds that occasionally taught at it.

Or the werewolves.

“I trust the Headmaster.” As close to the truth as he could get. Once Dumbledore was gone, Severus would have no one. He would be lost. As much as he wanted to think about Harry’s future from then on, his own misery overtook him. Without Dumbledore, he wouldn’t know where to start from. What to do. Not a single living person would ever believe again that Severus wasn’t a traitor. And Dumbledore was blindly willing to sacrifice Severus’ soul so he could depart from the world with style. Nothing new now, was there?

“Well I don’t.” Inwardly, Severus nodded in awe at Harry’s wisdom. Outwardly... well. He drank his tea. “Why would I? He doesn’t tell me anything. I don’t know what’s happening out there and I can tell that he’s making plans for me again.”

Exquisite plans. Marvellous ones. But Harry knew more than Severus, even if he wasn’t aware of it. A fact of which Severus could take slight advantage of. “What has he told you?”

Harry sat on the bed across Severus. His eyes were focused on the floor. “Well, I was the one who brought him Slughorn’s memory, so I know about the Horcruxes. I think Dumbledore suspected it all along though, didn’t he? He just didn’t know they were seven.”

Severus was trained to deal with this kind of emergency. Facing the unbelievable, and nodding his head calmly at it. Being unable to comprehend the shock, but tucking it away for future examination. He clutched his fingers around the mug. His brain failed to come up with a satisfying response. Seven Horcruxes. Seven parts of the same soul. Seven murders under the ritual of ripping apart one’s own psyche and shoving it to random objects for future use. Had any piece of soul remained inside him or was he now an empty shell? This was why Dumbledore insisted that the Dark Lord had no capacity of comprehending emotions.

The invisible grip that had got hold of Severus’ throat tightened dangerously and he gulped another mouthful of tea to hide his astonishment. “He’d been suspecting it, yes,” he said stiffly, keeping his frustration in check. He didn’t want to hear anything else about it. Watching a brat half his age inform him of what he should already know wasn't exactly flattering. He toyed with the idea of exposing Harry by opening a casual discussion about Horcruxes with Dumbledore. For all the new information he’d get. None at all, really.

He was loyal to Dumbledore. He respected him. He respected alcohol too. “I'd left a bottle of whiskey here,” he recalled suddenly.

Harry looked up in awkwardness. "Um. Oh. Yes. You had.”

“Fetch it.” The blush that spread over the boy’s face wasn’t at all satisfying. Severus creased a brow. Harry stared.

“Why?”

What kind of question was that? “Because I want it back, you prat!”

Harry snorted and an apologetic look shadowed his features. Momentarily. Then the cheeky grin was back. “Um. I don’t have it anymore. I thought you’d forgotten about it. I’m sorry?”

That didn’t make sense. “You’ve drunk a bottle of whiskey by yourself? When?” Walking over, he grasped Harry’s chin and tilted his head back to check on him. He was sober. Harry pulled free.

“Not today! You know, all these days. Since you left it here. I didn’t drink it all at once.”

“I left it here two weeks ago. Have you been drinking daily?”

“No. And not much.”

“H – Potter.” Damn. Too close.

Harry sighed. “Look, it’s nothing bad, okay? It was just making me relax when I needed to and I haven’t been drinking daily anyway. You’re drinking regularly too. It’s not bad.”

Thank gods the boy had a proper role model to look up to. Becoming cynical and starting to drink. Severus had made a bitter bastard out of him. It served him right.

Or perhaps not.

“Not that this matters to you at all, but we are not the same age, Potter.” Severus glared. Harry took the message.

And smiled. “Alright. I’m not going to drink again. Just so you know, since I’m an adult now and it’s not prohibited, every time you do this you just prove you care.”

Or I could have simply wanted the whiskey for myself, he silently protested. He dismissed his impulse to say it out loud when he realised that he wasn’t fooling anyone.


“What classes do I have to take to be an auror?” Harry asked. Severus’s breath was calm. His lungs, however, were burning. He rolled on his back.

“Defence, Potions, Transfiguration... You should apply to the Ministry’s courses too. Concealment, Disguise, Stealth and Tracking. You won’t be learning anything useful until they accept you to the Office, but Dumbledore makes an effort to provide preparatory courses and I’m also being paid extra to teach them.”

It occurred to him that explaining this while lying in bed with a student wasn’t exactly his idea of proper career assistance. Especially for the early morning. At the focused look on Harry’s face Severus wondered how long he’d been thinking about this. His mind intervened that he probably didn’t want to know. He was dismayed that Harry’s familiarity seeking methods were far more effective than Severus’ determination to assert himself.

“Oh. But they’re optional, right? They’re not necessary.” Harry propped himself up on one elbow. His other hand was occupied with playing with Severus’ upper arm. With his index finger, he lazily drew invisible patterns on his skin and scratched them.

“They are, if you don’t want to fail later on due to lack of basic knowledge. The classes you’ll take will be mentioned in your report as well. It’d be careless to dismiss the possibility of better future opportunities.”

The heaviness of the conversation throbbed and kicked at his insides. All this was rubbish. A consolation. A mockery. Harry would be dead long before he stepped foot in the Auror Office. Severus felt blessed for having this moving knowledge all to himself to enjoy. May as well throw a party behind Harry’s back and invite no one but Albus fucking Dumbledore to share this utter thrill. And end the party with an unforgivable. And even then Dumbledore’s corpse would laugh at him for having done everything exactly as ordered.

“My grades are not bad. I just don’t know how many classes to take. If I take too many I might get confused. I don’t want to have to drop a class because I won’t be able to cope.”

“And this concerns you at…” he looked at the clock, “seven in the morning.”

“Yes. It’s my future.”

He had no future. And death showed no pity to the dreaming youth. Dying was the easy part, and the path to it was in Severus’ hands to create. Yet again. The irony was too much. The pain…

Nowhere to be seen. Through the ringing in his ears, Severus sealed the hideous sentiment of attachment and promised himself to destroy it later when alone. Death shouldn’t be scheduled. Death was supposed to come and go in his own terms. This death, was the period in the end of a sentence. He was vaguely aware of the impatient brat next to him waiting for an answer. Blasted boy.

What advice to give?

He was caught by the admittedly right impulse to spill the truth and not give a damn about the consequences. He silently applauded himself for still having the self-control to bite back his yearning for the sake of deception. Encouraging Harry would only harm Severus. He was struck by the reassurance that he had no reason to be harmed by the boy’s upcoming murder.

“Your grades are average, and this only occurs because you are the Chosen one. Should you be any other student you would shockingly discover that you are not nearly as good as you should for the career you wish to follow. You have to exceed expectations in all your classes.”

Harry wrinkled his nose. Then frowned. “That’s impossible. Especially with you teaching Defence.”

Wait to see how you’ll do with me being headmaster, a voice in his head mused. Severus mentally punched it unconscious. “With me teaching Defence, you’ll get what you deserve. Try harder and you’ll be rewarded.” It occurred to Severus that this had come out wrong. Harry grinned. Severus scowled.

“Wear your glasses you stupid brat. You’re squinting.” Severus rolled his eyes as Harry reached to the nightstand. When he rolled back to where he was and crushed on Severus, Severus did not complain. Harry rested his cheek on Severus’ shoulder and placed a hand on his sternum.

You see, he had absolutely nowhere else to go. And the rest is rust and stardust.

“How about more private lessons then?”

Severus glared. Harry chuckled. “No, I mean it. And anyway I won’t have much to do in my free time, so. Hermione will be studying her brains off and she’ll be forcing Ron to do the same, I suspect.”

“And the possibility of studying with your friends instead of studying with me isn’t exactly exciting, is it?”

Harry blushed. “You know more than them. And it’s going to be in my report too.” With no warning, Harry bit Severus’ arm, his mouth still forming a smile while doing so.

Severus bit back a grunt as he grabbed his hair in order to pull him off. “Idiot. Behave yourself.”

Harry laughed, and as always, Severus gave up. The boy rested his head back on his shoulder and Severus found himself lazily stroking his nape with a finger.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you. Hermione and Ron almost know they fancy each other now.”

“And how is that supposed to concern me or even make sense?”

“I mean, Ron was with Lavender, and Hermione was a bit annoyed at first but then she was just angry, okay? So, she dated this other guy and I was supposed to tell Ron but she didn’t really date anyone else and Ron broke up with his girlfriend because she suspected he liked Hermione more, then —”

“You’re raving, Potter. In case you have failed to notice, I don’t care.” The fact that he’d have to face in class a boy he had slept on the same bed with was already difficult enough. To regain authority over more students whose hormones he’d been aware of was at least horrifying.

“And Ginny doesn’t mind anymore. That I’m gay.”

I do.

“Congratulations.”

“Honestly, I think she knew before I even told her. She was trying to… do things. And I couldn’t. I let her do something to me once but… it just didn’t work.”

Exciting piece of information for the early morning. Severus couldn’t have asked for more. He was grateful. Blessed, even. “Have you read any of the books I gave you?” he said in an attempt to lead the conversation somewhere better. Anywhere else, really.

“Yes. Transfiguration is a bit difficult. And Potions have ingredients I didn’t know that even existed.”

Severus rubbed his eyes and took a reasoning breath. “Give me your Potions book.”

Harry crouched across the bed and delved into his trunk. Severus was given a few moments to change his mind and he heedlessly let them pass in vain. He found himself rushing to do this out of the same fear that he’d regret it. Harry gave him the book and Severus shifted to sit back against the pillows. He went through the pages quickly.

These chapters were known to him as much as his reflection was in the mirror; he'd taught and repeated these passages for the best part of the last seventeen years. There was nothing in there he couldn’t teach by memory. He folded various corners of pages as he flipped through the book and did not bother to check twice. He closed it and handed it back.

“Slughorn pays attention to these chapters usually. They are objectively easier than the ones I choose to give N.E.W.T students, but you will sadly have to endure a less capable professor. Make sure to know perfectly well everything what’s in there and you’ll most likely pass.” And I would have never done this were you to actually be there for your N.E.W.T examinations, he inwardly added to give his conscience a pat on the back.

Harry looked at the book dumbstruck. Then at Severus. Then at the book again. “Oh. Right. Okay.” He luckily knew better than thank Severus for it. “I just can’t imagine this going on forever. Voldemort. It must end and I know I must be the one to do it but I don’t even know how. Should I just wait for him to come and get me or should I go search for him? I don’t know. But I’m not afraid. At least I don’t think I am.”

Severus flinched as he pushed away the nightmare he was being part of. Distancing himself from it unfortunately only made it more clear. He clung to the hope that they’d never have to leave this room. He wasn’t Severus Snape here. 

A not so dim aspect of himself objected that he couldn’t recall a time where he was Severus Snape more than now. But that part had to be wrong. 

“You kill him or he kills you. All possibilities come down to the collapse of our world as we know it. The fact that you delude yourself over your supposed victory only proves how immature you are.” Severus stood up, impatient to get out of there.

“What’s wrong now? Where are you going?” Harry’s complaints were muffled by Severus’ inner arguments of how low he himself had fallen for the sake of this little heaven that provided nothing but pointless hope. He was quite sure he didn’t want to know where this hope was leading. The last time ruined him. Lily’s death had ruined him. He had to get out of here.

“Severus!”

A hand grabbed his arm to stop him and Severus turned and smacked the boy hard across the face before he could stop himself. The regret came even before the smack. He was aware of the boy’s stare burning his neck but he didn’t turn to look back at what he had done as he dressed.  “You will not see me again until you learn to call me ‘sir,’ he said stupidly as he stepped into the hearth.

The castle’s corridors were too cold for this time of the year. It occurred to Severus that even the ghosts were missing. As he quickened his pace, the sound of his own shoes against the stone floor was the only thing he could hear. It covered the noise of his thoughts successfully. He couldn’t recall noticing the moss clinging onto the walls like this before. The air wrapped around him like a heavy coat as he ascended the tight spiral of stairs. In the absence of flaming torches the dimness gave the impression of a winter twilight despite being only August.

He slammed the door open and was not surprised to see Dumbledore sitting on his chair. The man didn’t have anything better to do than pretend to run the school even during summer. Or he simply knew Severus was coming.

“You can’t do this,” Severus said.

Dumbledore smiled, but his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Severus?”

“You can’t. He doesn’t deserve it. You can’t let him die like that. Not so pointlessly. Not now.”

Dumbledore stood and Severs drew his wand.

“Are you going to curse me, Severus? In here?”

Severus shook his head.

“Severus…”

“Please!” He dropped his arm; his wand slipped from his fingers, fell on the carpet, it didn’t matter, nothing did — “Please.”

“You know it pains me more than anyone, yet it must be done.” Severus was shaking his head, refusing to listen, refusing to obey anymore. “I have entrusted you with the truth because I believed you would understand the importance —”

“No, no no. You entrusted me to use me, as you’ve been doing all these years — you have no remorse, no interest in his life — telling me he’d need my protection and then sending him off to die…”

“I never said it’d be easy, for any of us.”

“Harry’s all I have.” For the first time in ages, he felt his voice breaking. His eyes burned. “You owe me this. After everything I’ve done — risked my life — betrayed friends — please, please let him live.”

“Harry’s all you have?”

“Have I not pleased you enough? Have I not done anything I could to keep him safe? To keep an eye on him, always?"

“It’s impossible to avoid one’s destiny, Severus. You know this as well as I do. The boy must die. We’ve discussed this.”

His legs were too weak to support him anymore. He dropped before Dumbledore and his knees hit the floor hard. Despair consumed him. “There must be a way… please! If anyone can do something it’s you — you could save him — there must be a way! Please!” When the words stopped coming, the tears did.

Mourning for someone still alive was not supposed to feel so familiar to him. A painful déjà vu of a fate that he was doomed to relive over and over again. Mourning was supposed to be something dignified and stoic, but he cried like a child, noisily, the numbness of the loss already ripping his chest apart as hot tears ran down his face. He choked on his sobs. The pain struck him everywhere. It was doubling him over.

He squeezed at Dumbledore’s hand and kissed it. He could save Harry. He could find a way. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Harry had to live. “I know it’s sad, Severus… But there is no other way. Voldemort can’t be killed as long as Harry lives.”

“I don’t care about Voldemort!” A raw emptiness nibbled at his stomach like a hungry rat. A strong hand gripped at his shoulder. Severus flinched away. “SAVE HIM! I know you can! Save him… save… please…” Snot streaked from his flaring nostrils down his lips. His fists opened and closed on his lap; yearning for whatever solution could mend his pain. “You never cared… You never hesitated risking other people’s lives so you could reach your goals. The boy’s safety didn’t – never - concerned you. You only wanted him to live as much as you needed him to…”

He looked up to see Dumbledore’s tired blue eyes staring back at him with pity. His features betrayed his age, and Severus was suddenly talking to a very old man, a man tired of the many years on his back, weakened and exhausted from life and its fights. The powerful wizard who held the world in his hands was nowhere to be seen.

“Do you really believe that, Severus? You believe that if there was a way for him to live I wouldn’t have chosen it? You don’t see all the things I do for Harry daily?”

“Please,” Severus said again. “Better – it’s better to kill me – we can tell — Voldemort — to kill me instead of him – I’ll take his place – this is my fault, I should pay… not him, I should pay for this! Kill me… Kill me…”

Dumbledore opened a cabinet and then a small phial was shoved into Severus’ trembling hands. Severus recognised it as some sort of calming draught. He clutched at it on his lap but didn’t drink it. He remained still as his chest trembled and his fingers shook. It was hysterical crying. He couldn’t stop himself. “Don’t let him die… don’t… he can’t… not again, please… I can’t do this… it’s not fair…please…”

“It is the only way.” The hand returned to his shoulder. “Calm down, please. You’ll understand when you do. I know how much you loved Lily, but –”

“You don’t get to talk about Lily, you killed her too… Everyone I have — ever loved — this has nothing… to do with Lily… Thought… it did… not about her…”

“Calm down, Severus.”

“I’ll lose him… I can’t… I love him more than my own life… please…”

If Dumbledore was shocked, he didn’t show it. After a small silence, he offered Severus a hand. “I believe you should rest, Severus. There are many things to be done. I need you to be strong.”

Severus snorted in between sobs. He didn’t accept the hand. The phial rolled from his thighs to the floor. “Why? Why are you doing this to me?” He didn’t know who he was talking to. He didn’t know whom to blame.

“WHY?” he shouted, and all the images he had been blocking out of his mind half his life were now vivid again; Lily’s corpse on the newspapers, Lily’s funeral which he never attended, everyone saying what a perfect couple she was with James, everyone willing to take in the Boy Who Lived, the Dark Lord telling him proudly that he was going to kill Lily and James Potter. Severus crying before an Albus Dumbledore who had done nothing to protect her. Crying before her death, sensing far too well that no one could help her once the Dark Lord wanted her dead, knowing far too well that Dumbledore’s plans didn’t exactly include her safety or her life. Crying after her death and weeping as his soul shattered to a million pieces he did not think possible that could be glued back together again.

They had.

Only to be broken again.

“Please,” he croaked again, his voice hoarse and pathetic, and as he blinked his tears away he knew that this battle was lost. Lily was never his. Harry was. He endured this hell once, but one could only take so much.

This strike would finish him.