And While the King Was Looking Down
Verse V of the J. Alfred Prufrock Arc
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face for the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time for yet a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of toast and tea. In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo."
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Control. It's such a small idea, really. The ability to foresee and manipulate the circumstances around one. It doesn't seem very large or very difficult at all, does it? Yet I rapidly seem to be losing what little control I had. Perhaps that is what maturity truly is—that awful secret that Albus is always twinkling about and lording over us lesser wizards and mortals . . . Maturity is nothing more than a gradual, inevitable, irreversible loss of control. Control over oneself, one's environment, one's world . . .
How depressing. The summation of my life is a brand on my arm, a stuffed vulture hat, and a pair of green eyes with an unhappy mouth that no longer laughs.
I slouch bonelessly in my chair, dignity completely abandoned. After the debacle that the last week has been, I seriously doubt I have any dignity left anyway. The boy sits across the table from me, calmly reading his transfiguration text in silence. Occasionally his quill scratches on the parchment to his right. I can hear him breathing. I prod restlessly at the now cold bowl of rice in front of me and attempt to pretend to be interested in the book in front of me.
Lupin will be back tomorrow, no doubt bearing gifts and hugs and that stupidly optimistic grin of his. I resent him more than I should. By all rights I should be happy.
Tomorrow I get to return to my holiday solitude where the only breathing, scratching, or page rustling is my own. I miss the cool and dark of my chambers, but somehow the idea of returning to them seems unbearably empty. It's not as though Potter and I have kept one another great company. In the four days since our late night tea, we've perhaps exchanged five whole sentences. The silence is uncomfortable and heavy, and though my exhaustion no longer plagues me, both myself and the boy seem to be growing more and more listless as the days pass. The circles beneath his eyes, I am ashamed to note, have not receded and he seems to be losing weight at an alarming rate.
Not that it's my concern.
Liarliarliarliarliarliarliar . . . I turn back to my book, mouth set in a firm, unyielding line.
I turn back to my book, mouth set in a firm, unyielding line.
A page rustles; it isn't me.
I can feel his eyes on me.
"I was thinking . . . perhaps I might give potions a go this term . . ."
The boy's voice cracks on the last word and I look up despite myself. He's watching me.
After a moment of silence I slowly raise a single inquisitive eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Ummm . . ." He blushes for reasons I don't care to speculate on and hunches over slightly. The light catches on his glasses, obscuring his eyes in twin pools of white. "Yes . . . I didn't do very badly on my OWLS . . . Did I . . .? I—"
I close my book and stand slowly, repressing a wince as a few of my bones crack in harsh accusation. To be honest, I really can't recall how anyone but Granger and Malfoy did on the OWLS. Both received Outstandings. Whatever the House of Gryffindor may think, I have never had the need to pad Draco Malfoy's grades. The boy is quite remarkable enough in his own right without my meddling. Of course, this does not alleviate the urge to snap his impertinent, pretty young neck.
The boy's eyes are still trained on me, large, innocent, and hopeful. The word 'ruin' flashes through my mind and I turn away, disgusted with myself. I stare into my still full bowl of rice.
"Advanced Potions is not for the fools, nor those who would fancy themselves the saviors of students with lesser abilities, Mr. Potter. Nor is it for those who seek to leach off their peers in a lukewarm attempt to disguise their own lack of talent." That was not what I meant to say.
From the corner of my eye I see the boy flinch slightly. "I've been studying, though."
He sounds so desperately crestfallen that I find my eyes wandering towards him again. I surrender to the impulse and turn to face him. His eyes widen a bit as I begin to approach. "You've been . . . studying?"
A slow blink. Boys should most certainly not blink like that. "Um . . . Yessir . . ."
I tilt my head slowly to the side and feel a small thrill at the hunted expression that flits over his face. "And that means what to me, Mr. Potter?"
He doesn't look away. "Don't call me that."
My eyes narrow and I suddenly feel as though I've just lost the advantage. Lost control.
The boy meanwhile frowns slightly and straightens in his chair. I can almost see his backbone firming. "I think I could do really well this term." He releases a slight, huffing little breath and flushes that inexplicable dusty rose color again. He drops his head, peering up at me through thick lashes. "If you'll let me."
I freeze, lost somewhere between that flush and those fluttering lashes. It takes a moment for his words to sink in. I shake my head slightly and the spell is broken. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Po—"
"Harry," he has the gall to correct me in a non-compromising voice.
"Harry," I bite out in aggravation. "Exactly what are you implying?"
He gives me another of those lingering blinks. He has no idea what he's doing to me. He can't. If he did he'd be horrified.
By all rights, I should be horrified. The fact that I'm not is merely proof of the fact that I've discovered new levels of debauchery to which one can fall.
A muscle quirks at the corner of his mouth. "I think I could do better than I'm doing. Sir."
I lean in close to him, close enough to smell the soft bite of his soap. I remind myself that he's fifteen. "I do not, nor have I ever, tampered with Gryffindor's grades. You pass or fail on your own merit, Po—" He leans forward and I suddenly choke.
"I told you, sir." He smells like ginger, dust, and grass. "Don't call me that."
I pull away hastily and find myself gasping for air. For a moment he stares at me, his pale face an odd combination of confusion, irritation, relief, and disappointment. I look away and sway suddenly on my feet as I immediately understand what dark specter has haunted my thoughts of the boy as of late.
Oh, Merlin. I wanted to kiss him.
I wanted to kiss him.
I swallow hard and find myself leaning heavily on the table, small tremors moving through my arms as they brace my body. He's watching me. I would gouge his eyes out if I thought it would make this feeling go away.
". . . Sir . . .?"
I drag in a ragged breath.
"Are you alright, sir?"
Slowly my gaze swivels to him and the room dances drunkenly around us. He's close to me. Too close. I can feel the heat of his body through my robes.
I should leave. Now.
His hands suddenly arrest my attention, pale bits of carved porcelain clutching urgently at the edge of the table. So much safer than those eyes. They're small hands—not at all the kind I thought would suit a Seeker of his skill. His father had large hands. Perhaps he inherited them from Evans. He's only a boy. The nails are just the barest slivers of crescent, white and soft-looking with a thin layer of dirt crowded beneath them. Only fifteen years old. The knuckles are red and look slightly raw, as though he'd been worrying them for quite some time. Just a child. The fingers are slightly tapered, the pads blunt and sensitive looking. Well suited for gripping. Fifteen. Just fifteen. My God.
I'm shaking. His voice sounds hazy and far away.
One of those surprisingly small hands rises and cups my cheek and I flinch. His skin is cool. The hand tilts my face towards him, back to those green eyes. He looks sad. Confused. Determined. Tired.
"I'm sixteen, sir. The day before yesterday."
What have you done to me, boy?
His brow creases delicately, the skin bunching up in consternation and his little flower bud mouth pouting. "Sir? I've done nothing."
And I've been speaking out loud.
The child's thumb moves slightly, gently stroking the sensitive skin beneath my right eye. My mouth moves, but no sound emerges. The hand slides down a bit and his thumb lightly traces the shallow bow of my upper lip. Large green eyes follow the path of his thumb and he takes a step closer to me.
Ginger, dust, and grass. Moonlight, autumn, and the tang of raw power unexplored.
The thumb slides down to the jutting slope of my chin. I cannot move.
"What is this, sir?" His voice is a breathy, feather soft whisper that I have to strain to hear in the silence between us.
Me. "I don't know." Us. My hands grip the table so hard they ache. "We should stop." Everything.
His eyes flicker up to mine and he looks pained suddenly. I stand, pulling away from him; I never knew that a floor could be so fascinating.
Potter makes an odd little choked noise in his throat and for a moment I think he's laughing. I scowl and turn, prepared to tear into him for making a fool of me, but the words die on my lips.
A thin trickle of blood slips down his chin as a small eyetooth punctures his lower lip. His arms are wrapped tightly around him as though he were holding himself together and the look on his face is . . .
I want to kiss him. Instead I clench my fists and set my jaw. "Mr. Potter—"
He whirls and takes a step forward and I retreat instinctively, one hand raised to shield myself from a blow that isn't coming.
"I'm sixteen!" I open my mouth, but he overruns me. "Stop treating me like I'm made out of glass or something! Stop treating me like Ron and 'Mione and Dumbledore and Professor Lupin do! I haven't gone crazy. You don't need to mind your tongue or—or—"
He stops and looks around, appearing utterly bereft. Raw hands scrub his face abruptly, further mussing his hair and leaving disconcerting red and white streaks over his cheeks. He peers out at me and his glasses glitter between his fingers. After a moment of observation his hands drop to his sides and hang limp.
My eyes flicker away from his nervously and I lick my lips. When did my mouth become so dry? "I shouldn't . . ."
"Shouldn't what?" he whispers. "Treat me like a human being?" He shakes his head in frustration and releases a short bark of laughter that makes my hair stand up on end.
I take another step back.
"Ever since . . . Ever since Sirius died . . . Everyone treats me like they think I'm going to crack or something. And I hate it."
"Let me finish!" He shakes his head again and I ache to hold him. "I hate it," he repeats in a fierce whisper. "But you . . ." the boy makes a helpless gesture, beseeching either me or some unknown god to aid him. I shiver slightly. "You're okay sometimes. But usually you're just such an ass!"
I can feel a scowl forming on my face and he chuckles for a moment, genuinely amused for the first time since he's arrived.
The smile fades a bit. "I want to hate you so much, Snape. So much." I suddenly note that his eyes are shimmering dangerously. "But I can't. It would be so easy to hate you. So easy to blame you for—for everything. And yet I just can't. And I don't know why. I don't know how it's possible to despise someone so much and know that there's something so much more there at the same time. I don't understand how you can be such an unmitigated bastard most of the time, but then be exactly what I need. I don't . . . I don't get it!"
Green eyes close and the boy drops his head. "I don't get it." He looks back up, the intensity of his gaze bordering on a physical attack. "But I think that you do. And I'm trying so hard and you . . . You just—"
I cross my arms in front of my chest, recognizing the body language as defensive and not really caring. "I'm trying to do the right thing, Mr. Potter." And run away. Far, far away. "I'm trying to protect—"
The snarl takes me off guard and I'm acutely aware of how woefully unprepared I am for this conversation.
"You're trying to protect yourself from me and you won't even tell me why!" The tears in his eyes shimmer but do not fall. "Everyone is always hiding things from me and I won't stand for it!" I can't win this argument. "Not again; not anymore!" And I simply can't answer his questions. Not if I ever want to look Albus in the eyes again. Control, Severus. "Not when—" Control is a choice.
So I grab him by the shoulders and press my lips against his.
Oh . . .
The boy freezes instantly and whatever else he was going to say gets lost somewhere. It's a chaste kiss; there's no heat or fire or passion there, simply an awareness of . . . . something more. His eyelids flutter closed and he makes a small noise deep in his throat. Perhaps I meant to scare him. Or perhaps I simply want him to be silent. The boy talks too much.
"I'm sixteen, sir. The day before yesterday." But instead of pulling away from me, instead of bursting into tears, or attacking me, or even simply going limp, a pair of small, delicate arms wrap around my thin waist and I can feel him rise ever so tentatively as though he were going up on his toes for leverage. I pull up and stiffen as his arms tighten around my waist.
But instead of pulling away from me, instead of bursting into tears, or attacking me, or even simply going limp, a pair of small, delicate arms wrap around my thin waist and I can feel him rise ever so tentatively as though he were going up on his toes for leverage. I pull up and stiffen as his arms tighten around my waist.
Green eyes stare, wide and clearer than anything I've ever seen. His cheeks are flushed and I have an overpowering urge to throw him down and run as far from this place as I can.
I seem to run a good deal.
He blinks at me. "Oh."
I grip him by the shoulders and attempt to push him away. He resists.
"Release me, Mr. Potter." The sound of my voice is old and used. I've made a fool of myself.
The boy's mouth firms into a hard line and he glares at me in deliberate challenge. "You started it."
"It would be so easy to hate you. So easy to blame you for—for everything. And yet I just can't. And I don't know why." Let me go, Harry Potter. "Please let me go." My voice cracks.
Let me go, Harry Potter. "Please let me go." My voice cracks.
For a moment the boy stares at me, his eyes screaming confusion and incredulity. But he relents and the tight band of his arms falls away. He frowns at me from beneath his lashes, looking disturbingly childish and put upon. "Why?"
I release a shuddering breath and take a careful, deliberate step back. My grip on his shoulders tightens to what can only be a painful extent, but he stares at me steadily. Demandingly. "Why what?" The amount of potential in that question is a dangerous thing.
Potter looks at me hard, as though by staring alone he could see into my mind and expose me for the monster that I truly must be. For a moment, I'm almost afraid that he can.
"Why don't you want me?"
My grip tightens. "I . . ." I release a stuttered gasp, unable to breath around a non-existant obstruction in my throat, and the air seems to thin. "I . . ." He's watching me. "There is no time!" The words tumble out of my mouth, tripping meaninglessly over one another. They make no sense and I know it, yet they're exactly what I mean. I squeeze my eyes shut and take another step back, still holding onto his shoulders so that my body is forced to bend slightly, stretching uncomfortably across the space between us.
Harry tilts his head to the side and watches me with such sadness that I feel ill. His whisper his like cool silk against my fevered skin. "There'll be time. There'll be time. I promise."
I want to weep; I choke on nothing instead and drop my head so I don't have to look at his face anymore.
"I want . . . I want . . . I want TIME
For a moment we stand frozen like that, suspended in the time I claim we don't have. But he doesn't move or say another word, though I know I must be hurting him.
I have to be hurting him.
"There's more to me than that, and less."
"Perhaps there is, Mr.—"
"Don't call me that."
". . . Perhaps there is, Harry, but who will care? Your friends? The Headmaster? The lovely Miss Chang? The Dark Lord . . .?"
"I don't know . . . Someone."
Me. Gods curse me for it forever, but I will. I can. I do.
The boy shifts in my grip and his voice is gentle. "You never wished me a happy birthday, sir."
I look up at him, stupidly stunned. "What?"
"My birthday," he reminds me with exaggerated patience. "You never wished me a happy birthday."
For a moment I regard him, feeling both elated and empty, and not really understanding why I should be feeling either. "Happy birthday?"
He nods as though this was the most normal thing in the world and I wonder if any of this has happened at all. This is not what I wanted. Not what I meant at all. I feel as if I've gone mad.
Control is a choice.
Finally I force myself upright, gently pulling him towards me. He watches me with birdlike curiosity and his eyes flutter shut again as I place a gentle, chaste kiss directly on his scar. He permits me the intimacy. "Happy Birthday, Mr. Potter."
With a shiver, the child drops his head to my chest. It seems as though the weight of the world is pressed against me. "It's Harry," he mutters into the dark of my robes. "Just Harry."
I press my face into his hair and sigh. I'm too old for these games. "Harry," I mutter in defeated acknowledgement. "Happy Birthday, Harry."
He's still against me for an instant before he pulls away and leaves me alone without another word. I let him go. I force myself to let him go. Because I don't know what will happen if I don't. But I do stare after him.
What am I doing? What in the name of Merlin's blood and ashes have I unleashed?
"You started it."
If there were any mercy or truth in this world, the heavens would strike me down where I stand.
"Oh, Severus . . ."
I turn on my heel suddenly, my head snapping away from the door through which Harry retreated to the door to the sitting room. The sitting room with the floo. Whose door is practically hidden in the shadow of the enclave into the dining area. And I find myself staring into a pair of bright blue eyes that are no longer twinkling.
"A—Albus . . .?" I swallow around a lump that's somehow formed in my throat. "How long . . .?"
Too long. Too long by half.
He stares at me in silence and I want to simply curl up and die and never have to face him or Harry again. "I . . . I'm sorry . . ."
I turn away and bend over suddenly, one hand over my mouth. I don't know if I'm trying to hide my face or about to be ill, but either reaction seems appropriate right about now. "Albus . . . I . . ."
I look up, imploringly, begging for something I can't even identify anymore and . . .
. . . He's not there.
And I'm not sure if he ever was.
I'm going mad.
Somewhere in the depths of the Manor, Black's mother howls and begins to cackle over nothing. It takes several moments to realize that the voice that's joined hers is my own.
" Yeah, take my hand and come with me
Into this crystal village
And see the lights so fried in brightness.
'Cause you will never have the time;
I would love to change your mind;
You were there
And it was good in the beginning. Take my hand, come with me;
I see the lights so brightly
And we fall as if we never really mattered . . .
'Cause you will never have the time.
I would love to change your mind.
It was there
And it was good in the beginning.
We were there.
It was good in the beginning."