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The Syntax of Things

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Severus had come to the frightening conclusion that the book on the boy’s lap was Sybill’s rubbish. He decided to ignore it for the time being, and poured himself a cup of hot tea, offering one to Potter as well.

Taking his usual seat, Severus appreciated the sweet silence. At last, Potter was beginning to learn to enjoy it too. Or so it seemed. 

Until Potter cleared his throat hesitantly.

"I'm going to need your help with something. I think.” He looked up at Severus, expecting to be turned down. He was right to be expecting it. 

“What is it?” Severus spat and silently damned himself. He was supposed to turn him down.

“Professor Trelawney has asked for an assignment, you know, her usual stuff. I need a partner for it, it could even be a Muggle, it says here. The other person doesn't even need to know what I'm doing.”

What could it be this time? It was a wonder they let that woman teach – her rare as hen’s teeth real prophecies were the only reason Dumbledore was still protecting her. That, and his preposterous choice of friends.

“A partner in what?”

“Well, it says I need to, you know, read someone's palm, so…” he trailed of so quickly that it was obvious that he believed he didn’t stand a chance. And he didn’t. Or he wouldn’t, under normal circumstances.

But Merlin help him, he was intrigued. This would make it hilariously easy to prove to Potter what a scam Divination was. 

“Very well.”

He moved to the sofa and sat next to Potter, offering his hand. Potter took it, his expression completely dumb while doing so. As though afraid that Severus might change his mind at any moment, Potter quickly browsed through the pages and stopped.

He read something, underlined it, and stared at his palm, keeping it steeled with a grip on the wrist. After a minute of inspecting it as though he was faced with Yorick’s skull, his eyes darted again to the book and his index finger brushed the length of his palm.

Severus waited. And after a minute of deep thinking and eyebrow furrowing, Potter confidently stated, “You’re male.”

Severus arched a brow. “Your abilities leave me speechless.”

“Shut up.” Potter shrugged his shoulders and dragged Severus’ palm on his lap as he turned another page.

“I didn’t make it up, just wait.” Severus waited. “Now, see that line over here? It says so. That you’re male.”

Fascinating. All his life he was just waiting for Trelawney to let him know. Thank gods that he had finally found out the hidden truth that had been controlling his life. 

“I'm male."

"Yes. This is step one," Potter mumbled, but didn't continue to whatever step two was.

"Is that all?"

"No, wait. I'm just making sure."

"That I'm male? What do you want? Proof?”

A blush crossed Potter’s cheeks as he continued reading. “Maybe.”

Before he could think that through, Potter scribbled down his discovery and opened Severus’ fist again. His fingers were warm. He really hoped that it’d occur to Potter to demonstrate his assignment under a fake name instead of Severus’.

Blowing their summer secret so stupidly would be tremendous. He was about to tell him so when Potter talked again.

“You're going to be lucky this week, also.”

This week? “And how, pray tell, are the lines of my palm going to change themselves once this week is over?”

“Oh. Right. Then I guess you’re a lucky person in general.”

Very. "Finally, someone noticed."

“And this…” he pressed from Severus’ thumb downwards until he reached the middle of his palm, “shows that you will fall in love and that you will experience an unspeakable passion.”

Potter’s eyes urged him to check for himself, as though the said unspeakable passion was hovering over his palm. Severus looked at his hand, which was as it had always been, except that it wasn’t getting any younger. He spread his fingers. 

“And here I thought that that was a scratch,” he responded wryly.

Potter chuckled, then wrote it all down. It occurred to him that perhaps Potter was putting some unnecessary faith in Dumbledore’s plans and Sibyll’s nonsense.     

“You shouldn’t believe in fate, Potter." The words slipped from his tongue before he could help it, and he watched as they slowly sank into Potter. Once registered, he also realised that Potter wasn’t thinking about palm reading anymore.

“The prophecy says –”

“It doesn’t matter what the prophecy says. No one can force you to sacrifice yourself for the sake of a seer’s prediction. You have no proof that the prophecy must be fulfilled.”

“If I don’t kill him he will kill me, and –”

“The Dark Lord tested his fate when he decided to look out for you – because he knew about the prophecy. If he hadn’t known, he wouldn’t have made it come true.”

“That doesn’t mean –”

“He made it happen. It didn’t exist before he decided to make it real.”

“You can’t know that,” he spat.

“What I know, is that people have the power to bring to life whatever they believe in if they're obsessed enough. It was his own fear that led the Dark Lord to his downfall, and it is the people’s fear that still keeps him alive." 

Their hands were still clasped together, and he carefully untangled his fingers from Potter’s grasp. Potter let go after resisting for a moment.

"I don't know why you're telling me this," Potter said. “It doesn’t mean I'll forgive you,” he added quickly. "I'm never going to."

Forgiveness. Every time he almost forgave himself, the truth got a tighter hold of his throat and squeezed. It didn't matter. Potter's forgiveness would be useless. For some vain and idiotic reason, people had to forgive. It benefited the spirit, dug through the fanfare of the poor epiphany and blowed new life into a dying soul. It was a sign of emotional maturity, most times. And some other times, accepting that what had been done could not be forgiven, was just as mature.

“I couldn't care less. I'm assisting you because I'm instructed to. Never forget this.”

Potter looked up, uncertain. “Did you – know that – did you know that he’d kill me anyway?”


“But you didn’t care. You wanted to protect my mother only.”


“You were happy my father died.”

God yes. “No. I – didn’t have time for it.”

“Right." Potter pushed his fringe aside. "I don’t think respect is an honest thing, not in the way you expect me to show it," he said suddenly. "If I feel like saying something and then I have to cover it up and say it in another way, then I’m dishonest to you. How is that respect?”

“You must learn to express yourself properly.” 

“But what you call respect is just hypocrisy, can’t you see that? People use respect so they can keep themselves from becoming familiar with each other. It’s like someone who’s filling an empty space with something just to not leave it empty. That doesn’t mean that this is the only thing that can fill the space though.”

Severus had a strange déjà vu. “Have you been reading Tolstoy?” He asked, inwardly panicked.  

Potter blinked, distracted. “What’s that?”

Of course not. “Never mind.”

“What’s that?”

“Never mind, Potter. My palm reading is waiting.”

Potter eagerly reopened the book. It occurred to Severus that the pain, if anything happened to the boy, was supposed to be only for Lily’s sake.

Lily, who was gone – gone- while Harry Potter was still here. Alive. Drowning into deep thinking that was too much for his age, and too hard to bear. And still doing so in complete silence.

Potter didn’t want to die. Yet he was ready to do it, if he must. And that was making all the difference.

Severus landed his hand on Potter’s lap again, startling him. “Go on. I can’t wait to know the wonders that'll occur in my fascinating life. Tell me my fate.”

Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be. He choked. Pathetic. Utterly pathetic. Fuck fate. And fuck Tolstoy too.

Potter climbed down the stairs, his feet almost hopping as he landed on the floor with a loud thud.


Why was he grinning now? Severus tossed him the biscuit box that was awaiting for him on the table. He caught it with reflexes only a seeker could have, and sat cross legged on the floor to open it. His hair had gone wild over the last month – it was impossible to imagine that it would ever manage to get even worse, but nevertheless it had. Severus looked at it repelled. A haircut would do.

Then again, a haircut had never helped his father’s hair. It occurred to him that Potter was studying him with the corner of his eye. Something was going on, and it wasn’t important in an actual important way. If Potter was grinning about it, it meant that he wasn’t in danger, and so it didn’t matter. To Potter though, it did.

And it shouldn’t matter either that Potter was expecting him to guess what that damn thing was. He certainly wasn’t going to fall into that childish trap and play his games. He was a grown man, and Potter eyeing him every few seconds instead of reading his homework was just not something he wanted to occupy himself with.

But it was distracting him.

“Dammit Potter, what is it?” 

“Sweet sixteen, Harry, happy birthday!” 

Severus chocked and allowed himself a grunt. It occurred to him that for some traitorous reason it sounded more like a laugh.

“Congratulations. If you expect me to bake you a birthday cake, I suggest you forget about it.”

Sixteen years already. It was fascinating, how quickly time flew. Looking back, he could only find sparse strands of life in these years. 

“Could've just said happy birthday,” Potter said, before he smiled again. “Besides, I’ve biscuits.”

Sixteen years of sacrifice that had led up to this: an ignorant orphaned boy sitting before his feet and happily eating chocolate biscuits. Years of mistakes, of crimes, of lying and regret, all of them devoted to this particular boy, who had already turned sixteen and was soon to be a man.

A man who’d hate Severus as much as his father did, as much as Lily hated him when she befriended Potter, and as much as everyone else in the world probably still did.

None of this mattered. Potter would go back to Hogwarts and he’d forget how hard Severus had tried to protect his arse. He’d never understand the full extents of his offering, nor his pain as he had to go through looking at those eyes and dealing with that face daily into his own private space.

“Are you alright?”

He suddenly wasn’t. And what should he expect, anyway. Potter didn’t even acknowledge that he should respect him. He’d never recognise – never appreciate any of this. To him, Severus was nothing but a bitter bastard who was just making his life difficult.


And for everybody alive except Dumbledore, he was scum too. And perhaps he was. He stood.

“I’m going out,” he spat, and grabbed his coat.

It had gone dark. Fuck. Fuck. What was he going to do? Stupid. Fuck. Stupid. It must have been something he said. Was it his birthday? What had he done wrong now?

Snape had been gone all day, and now it had gone dark.

Should he owl Dumbledore? And what should he tell him? Snape disappeared, help, please? Fuck. He checked behind the window curtain again and kicked the wall. 

Snape could be in danger. He could be with Voldemort. Voldemort could have caught him – killed him – and why did that scare him so much?

“Fuck you, Snape!”

He was confused. That was all. Something was just not working well in his head. It was Snape’s own fault, probably. Legilimency had fucked up his mind for good this time – that was the only logical explanation. Damn it all. Why did Snape have to treat him like this? Why didn’t he tell him where he went? Memories of Sirius attacked him again. How he left his house. How he died because of it. 

Maybe Snape was just punishing him for having been born. Maybe this was his birthday present. Or perhaps he had figured out what was going on with Harry and had freaked out. Well, Harry was freaking out too. Whenever he thought about it. And he tried to never think about it. And he certainly wouldn’t think about it right now.

He felt sad. He waited and waited and waited, and didn’t eat anything all day long. His anxiety only increased as time went by. This time something was really wrong.

And if Snape died... he checked out the window again. He wasn’t going to die just now. He wasn’t going to die after Harry had started getting used to him. Harry didn’t deserve this. He couldn’t take another loss this soon. It wasn't fair.

He exhaled sharply, reasoning himself. He should go take a shower and sleep. Or write to Ron. Or search the rooms for hidden treasures as he used to do until now.

Snape was looking after Harry because he had to. He would murder him on the spot, if that could bring his mum back. Hell, perhaps he’d murder him anyway.

Snape was not a good man.

That’s a lie.

Harry didn’t even like him.

That’s an even worse lie. 


It was the magazine’s fault. He had to throw it away. Or better burn it.

The door cricked open. He was alive. The fucking bastard was alive.

“Where the hell have you been?!” Harry shouted before he could even see him. 

“I beg your pardon?” Snape took off his coat and hanged it, walking past Harry and towards the stairs. Harry followed.

“I asked you a question! Answer me!”

Snape didn’t look back.

“I’m fucking here, Snape, are you deaf? Where. The fuck. Have you BEEN?”

“I was experiencing an unspeakable passion. Why are you not sleeping?” His voice was outrageously calm.

“Sleeping! You were missing goddamn you! I was worried sick, you locked me inside while you know I can't use magic, and you didn't even tell me why you left! What did you expect me to do?"

His throat burned from all the screaming, but he didn’t care. He yanked Snape’s arm to stop him just outside his room and he could feel his own panting throb into his ears. Snape looked at him from head to toe, but didn’t bother any further.

“Go to sleep.”

“You didn’t tell me where you went,” spat Harry, his lungs still aching. He’d take off his own eyes before he cried in front of Snape.

“Mind your business, Potter.” He turned to his bedroom door again, and Harry yanked at his arm harder, turning him viciously.

“Don’t you think that I deserve a fucking explanation?” he yelled. Snape was about to turn around again, but Harry pulled on his arm again. “FUCKING TELL ME!”

Scowling, Snape yanked his arm away and grabbed him by the collar, pushing him against the wall with a frightening strength, forcing him still. Harry’s back crashed hard against the solid surface, and Snape’s breath tickled his face.

“First I was in a brothel, having some fun with a twenty quid whore who deserved much less for her skills. Then I went to a bar, found my allies who would happily skin you alive to please the Dark Lord and discussed the misfortune of your existence. Is your curiosity satisfied or do you want more?”

Misery; that was it. Misery spread all over his heart, and surely he must have been bleeding somewhere in his insides, otherwise this dizziness would be of no explanation.

He found himself holding his breath to steady it, afraid of the force that it would come out with should he leave it.

He stared. He stared up to the black eyes as his heart sank, kicking pathetically out of shame and something else. Then he pushed Snape away and he stumbled back with small steps, pathetic – pathetic – steps, gods, he’s enjoying your shock – and he turned away, looking everywhere but at Snape, thinking of anything but him, running to his room and closing the door, fighting the urge to drag something behind it to keep it closed forever.

He felt offended. But why would he? Why did it matter that – fuck. Shit. It mattered. He chuckled bitterly as he slid down the door and sat on the floor. Snape hated him.

He took a deep breath. And another one. And another one. I will not scream or shout, he repeated inwardly. I will not scream or shout.

He touched his chest. His heart was beating ridiculously fast, and then it almost stopped completely once Harry realised what was happening to him. No. He laughed. Hard. Oh no. 

He laughed harder.