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The Syntax of Things

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One of the most unexpected things Harry had discovered during his stay at Spinner's End, was that Snape was drinking. Regularly. He’d drink late at nights, when he’d assume Harry wasn’t likely to show up and attempt a conversation with him. Reading a book, or scribbling down potion recipes and other stuff he’d hide away right after, he more often than not had a glass of something with him. It was relaxing him, Harry had decided, and he usually respected the man's need to forget that they were now living together.

The single time Harry had gone downstairs late at night, to get a glass of water and eat some biscuits, Snape had glared warningly at hom and told him to get lost. Harry was more than happy to do so, and after dully wishing him a good night he got out of sight.

Once or twice he attempted to spy on Snape; he never caught him do anything exciting though, and Harry had gone to bed skeptical about his professor’s life. What did the man do in his life apart from reading and writing? What did he do when he fancied to just have some fun? On the other hand, Harry doubted Snape was having fun, ever.

And when these thoughts occurred, it wasn’t strange for his mind to wander back to the memories he had seen in the Pensieve. The crying, pale face in Dumbledore’s office, stained with an ongoing pain which was unlike anything Harry had ever known. The affliction which was making his black eyes shine, the trembling hands, the pleas for forgiveness, were all crowding into his mind, leaving him wondering for the billionth time about Snape knowing his mum. 

Snape was one of the many people that had known Harry’s parents. And since Harry had never had the chance to meet them, hearing about them always made his heart kick faster into his chest. He still didn’t know if it would do him any good to ask Snape about them though.

Learning more about what they were like was precious, and yet what he had seen about his father in Snape's memories was not what he had imagined him to be at all – and now that Sirius was gone and couldn’t defend his best friend’s memory anymore, Harry was afraid of what else he might find out.

What he had seen in those memories, was an arrogant teenager, who’d bully and humiliate a classmate just to get the girls’ attention. As for his mother, Harry really had the impression that if he mentioned her to Snape he would most likely regret it.

So, he really tried not to ask him anything. Harry would stay in his room after dinner, and let Snape have his way with sinking into his heavy books and loneliness. Harry would roll around in his bed for hours, trying to sleep, or simply looking out the window, checking for street cats fighting with each other as he killed flies and mosquitos with his wand.

Tonight, though, it seemed that his insomnia had finally won over, and as he was walking around the old bed to brush off the tension, he grew incredibly bored.

Sensing already that he was making a mistake, but too proud to go back to his room, he descended and poured himself a glass of cold water from the fridge. Snape was sitting on his armchair in the living room, reading a book. Silently, Harry chose a random book from a shelf too and sat on the sofa.

The front cover said, The Encyclopedia of Bat Eyes. Harry sighed disappointedly. Well, it wasn’t the best of choices, but then again Snape wasn’t likely to have any comic books nearby.

“What do you think you’re doing now?” Snape had drawn his eyes from his book and was now prying on Harry.

Harry shrugged. “I couldn’t sleep. I… it just becomes impossible sometimes. I’ve been trying for the last three hours and I’m going a little crazy when I try so hard to sleep and can’t. It never happened so intensely before. So, I thought of sitting here for a while, read a book or something. I won’t bother you, promise.”

Snape seemed to consider it. “Very well.”

They both returned to their books, but Harry didn’t find anything interesting to read in his own. It was a potions record, as it turned out, and a very boring one too. He tried to make himself grow sleepy over it but failed miserably.  He counted the letters of the words and the paragraphs of each page. Then he browsed it from the beginning to the end, hoping to find more notes for Dumbledore. He didn’t. His fingers brushed his scar as he rubbed his forehead, and he wondered if Snape’s Dark Mark was making him feel as miserable as Harry’s scar did most of the times. 

Harry looked up at him, his face barely illuminated by the dim light of some candles and an old lamp behind him. His lips were pressed into a thin line, and his eyes were focused on his text. Whatever he was reading was surely far more interesting than bat eyes.

“I don’t understand Dumbledore,” Harry admitted bitterly, his voice barely above a whisper. “I don’t even trust you – for all I know you’re still a Death Eater and you deceived Dumbledore into trusting you – he didn’t even ask me if I want to be here.” He didn’t think, to be honest, that Dumbledore would abandon him alone with Snape if he suspected him to be a traitor, but then again Dumbledore could be wrong about that too.

Snape glared back at him, and his face was a blank mask.

“Only a big headed fool would question Dumbledore’s intentions.” he sneered lowly. “Of course, what could we expect from a Potter? You take pleasure from defying your superiors, there is no doubt.”

Harry scrunched his face. “He’s been wrong before. What if you are the one who questions his intentions? Have you told Voldemort I’m here?” 

Snape turned a page and his lip quirked slightly upwards. “Don’t tempt me, Potter.”

Harry snorted. He turned a page too, to give the impression that he had comprehended his reading too. He couldn’t talk with Snape about his parents, but there was certainly another matter that was demanding to be discussed.

“Why did Dumbledore lie to me? I mean, about the Prophecy, and everything. All these years. I deserved to know. I was relying on him to tell me everything he knew.” He didn’t expect an honest answer from Snape, but he trusted the man’s hatred to let out what tiny bits of information Harry could get.

Snape arched his eyebrows to his book as though he was appreciating a personal joke. “A very unwise decision of yours. Although we’ve all been there.”

“I think he trusts you. A lot. He’s never going to trust me that much, I guess. If I knew Voldemort’s intentions all along…” Sirius would be alive. I’d live with him instead of you. I’d have a family. “I’m not a child. I know you think I am. But I’m not. I can fight him.” Harry waited for a reaction to that, too curious to look away. What he got was only a peering gaze.

“It is foolish of you to expect a more respectful approach when you behave arrogantly and admire your fame. The Headmaster shares a surprising amount of information with you – an unnecessary risk, if you ask me. If I was Head of the Order, you wouldn’t even know its existence. Feel flattered.” Snape took his empty glass from the table and filled it again with firewhiskey. He turned another page. Harry didn’t think that Snape was actually reading either.

“Fame?” said Harry indignantly. “Do you even read the papers? They call me the next Dark Lord, propagating that I’m preparing an army along with Dumbledore to rule over England. Last year half the school thought I was paranoid and your precious Slytherins bullied me on a constant basis – and come to think of it they must have been doing it under your commands. There's nothing admirable in having people demand to know everything about you so they can spread around their stupid opinions.”

Fame was nothing. Harry had been fed up with it. 

“Fame is a vapour,” Snape drawled. “It is not to be confused with success or honour – you see, the advantage of being known by people of whom you know nothing about, and for whom you care as little, is sadly useless to you.”

Every word only fuelled the fire that burned inside of him. Harry boiling anger at the thought of hearing that from someone who didn’t even know what success or honour were. Dumbledore is wrong about you, he was about to retort stubbornly, but his throat clenched around it as he realised how childish it would sound.

Dumbledore had been wrong in the past. Multiple times. About many people. “There’s no need for you to be worrying about fame, anyway.” Harry tried to bite back his malice but it slipped out along with his words. “I’ll have to face Voldemort, at some point. And I will. I won’t surrender. Or run away. I’m ready for it, either you think I'm stupid or not.” You tell him that, he added inwardly.

“I do hope you’ll be able to tell the difference between a hero and a foolish martyr by then, at least. And don’t say his name.” 

“I don’t consider myself a hero,” Harry responded defensively. “I won’t consider myself a hero even when I’ll have already killed him.”

“Being so confident that you will indicates nothing but naivety and immaturity. The Dark Lord has skills you have not.” The words were slowly spitted out with a drawl. “The Headmaster overestimates your abilities. He tends to forget that human weakness is usually stronger than spells and magical defences. His faith to the undiluted good is far beyond me, and I insist on believing that he shouldn’t have used it on a teenage boy. Your sentiments surpassed your common sense this year – but it was to be expected.”

Harry felt his heart skip a beat. He certainly wasn’t hurt for being called a teenager. Especially by Snape, who'd called him much worse in the past. He thought of many possible answers - but all of them involved Sirius, and Harry had already decided that if he were to survive living with Snape he’d have to avoid subjects like this. Reminding himself how hateful Snape was wasn’t going to do any good.

“I don’t think I’m Dumbledore’s final plan, anyway. Maybe you are. You know much more than I do, and you’re closer to him than I am. Have you thought about it? Maybe I’m a cover, or something. Not that he'd tell me.”

“The more one knows about Albus Dumbledore, the more in danger one is. Let alone in despair. The responsibility is too heavy for your weak, young shoulders. Don’t ask for more than he already gives you. You might regret it.”

Harry chuckled.  “So, if you really know that much. What is Dumbledore doing over the summer?” Mental images of the old wizard wearing a swimsuit paraded in a row inside his mind, and he blinked them away in dread.  

Snape closed his book defeated. He tossed it on the table and rested his head back on the cushions, sliding a bit lower on his seat. He stretched his legs and raised a hand to cover his closed eyes. “He’s on an adventure, as he idiotically chooses to call it. What he really does, if you ask me, is risking too much based on theories rather than evidential facts.” He let his hand fall down on the armrest. Leaning forward, he took another sip of his forgotten drink and savoured it before swallowing. “Wasting energy and being exposed like that during the Ministry’s worst period of provocation is unthinkable, and yet he tries with all his might to be removed from Hogwarts once and for good. Just wait and see.”

Harry wondered if Snape had let too much slip out accidentally. Judging by the way Snape was eyeing his glass reprovingly, he supposed he had.

“If Dumbledore is searching for something that might help us defeat Voldemort, then I want to join him,” Harry said.

Snape rolled his eyes. “Of course you do. By all means, Potter, do go and do it. How gallant you two must be, solving riddles together in the wild. And for the last time, don’t speak the Dark Lord’s name.” Snape snorted. “Superhuman Dumbledore. Superhuman Potter.”

Harry bit back a chuckle. “Um. Snape. I think you’re a bit drunk.”

“Mind your business,” Snape snapped. 

“What do you mean by riddles?”

“Nothing of your concern. The Headmaster is simply searching for something that could… weaken the Dark Lord, potentially.” 

“You mean, like a weapon. Like the Prophecy.” 

Snape was sullen. “Fortunately, this has nothing to do with you. I’m sure he’ll tell you everything once he regards it necessary. Besides, your mind has been recently attacked to a point where you had completely lost the ability to tell the difference between visions and reality. What makes you think it wouldn’t be a fatal mistake for us to entrust you with crucial information?”

Harry couldn’t help but feel underprivileged, and his temper overwhelmed him. “You still kneel before Voldemort’s feet and yet you know more than I do.”

“If you ever become an Occlumens, we might have this conversation again. And don’t say his name.”

Harry was tired of hearing that. No matter how many people were being shocked by it, he wasn’t going to be a part of their hypocrisy. “What’s scaring you about his name? I see no reason hiding behind words. I’m not afraid of him.”

“There are worse things than fear, which I doubt you could ever stand to witness. Every name bears a past, and I would prefer to spare myself the memories the particular name brings along, especially when used irresponsibly by someone who does not know what he’s talking about.”

The last part was spat with a little more venom, Harry noticed. I’m sorry, he thought of saying, but it was a surrender he didn’t feel like offering. Maybe he indeed didn’t know what he was talking about. Perhaps Snape had seen some really awful things in his life, and he had connected Voldemort’s name with experiences he’d rather forget. It occurred to him that as a Death Eater, he might have done more than just witness.

“Fearing his name is like giving him power,” Harry pointed out.

“You have to grow up, Potter. This is bigger than you.” Snape sounded grim. Harry didn’t feel like a child – he didn’t know what growing up meant to Snape, but Harry had already lost too much to be considered a child. He had to prove this somehow – but words didn’t seem to work in such matters. And then again, he shouldn’t care about Snape’s opinion.

He stretched out his own legs and felt goose bumps running down his toes. He put his feet up on the sofa and sat cross – legged, ready to respond to Snape, when he looked up to find Snape staring back dangerously. “Feeling cozy, Potter?” he sneered.

“Yes, quite. Thanks,” answered Harry.

“You insolent brat, get your feet off my sofa this instant!”

Oh. Harry curled his toes as though to make a point of his shocks. “What? I’m not wearing shoes.”

Snape glared hard before closing his eyes again.

Harry had left his wand upstairs and his hands were feeling empty, as though they didn’t know what to do with themselves. Sighing, he picked up Snape's book from the table. A Midsummer Night's Dream, was the title. He opened it and read a few lines.

“What’s that? Poetry??”

“Tch.” Snape didn't open his eyes. 

Harry chuckled. “You can’t scowl when you’re sleepy, Professor. Sorry.” He found a random excerpt and read it aloud: “Thus I die. Thus, thus, thus. Now I am dead, Now I am fled, My soul is in the sky. Tongue, lose thy light. Moon take thy flight. Now die, die, die, die. Gods, Snape. You’re a creep.”

“Manners, Potter.”

“What’s this story about?”


“The book. What’s it about?”


Harry looked up from his text, only to see that Snape had slid even lower to the chair.

Harry cleared his throat. “Snape. I think you’re sleeping.”

“Am not.”

Harry didn’t know what to do with a sleepy Snape. He’d seen him angry, deranged, bitter, shouting. He’d seen him throw him out of his class, insult him, grab his arms and push him away with wrath. He'd also seen him hold on his temper, eyes dangerously shining before a hurtful comment was spitted out, or before he simply walked away. He'd never seen him sleepy, though.

It seemed like crossing a very thin line – like knowing things he wasn’t supposed to know. He couldn’t bring himself to explain how Snape being human was one of them. Still, the uneasiness was making him stare awkwardly at his professor, not knowing what to make of the image before him.

It hadn’t been so difficult to come to terms with Remus outside school. Even though he was a werewolf and could have proven himself much more dangerous than Snape, Harry would spend massive amounts of time with him at Grimmauld Place without ever being perplexed. No, sleepy Remus was a picture his mind could comprehend. Sleepy Snape wasn’t.

It was the authority, Harry decided. His attitude was making it impossible for other people to think of him as a normal person. And the sneer. Definitely the sneer. 

“What are you gawking at?” murmured Snape.

Harry blinked. “Um. Nothing. You were… Never mind. I think I should go to bed now. Goodnight. Sir.”

When he didn’t get a response, he ran.