You're Standing On My Neck
Verse I of the J. Alfred Prufrock Arc
- Vain

Standard Disclaimer: I own nothing except the plot. Harry Potter and all the elements therein are the intellectual property / registered trademarks of JK Rowling, Scholastic Books, and Warner Brothers. I am not profiting from this.

Warnings: Light pre-slash overtones depending on one's perceptions.

Continuity: This takes place at the end of GoF and CONTAINS mild SPOILERS for Book 4.

Notes: the first quote (the one at the beginning) pertains to Harry and the second quote (the one at the end) pertains to Severus. Both are translated from their original French.
Kudos to the person who recognizes the title! I thought it was amusing.
This story was inspired by Telanu's fic A Most Disquieting Tea.

This story was originally launched under my secondary pen name, "Hanakai." For convenience's sake, I have decided to streamline my fics under my original pen name, Vain. SAME AUTHOR. SAME STORY. DIFFERENT NAME. As a fic is re-uploaded under my Vain pen name, I will delete it from my Hanakai profile. Eventually, Hanakai will be deleted entirely, so please update your faves and bookmarks to reflect this.

Thank you for all your previous reviews—I saved them all—and I hope you all review again. I'm greedy.

For progress notes on the pen name transition or if you have any questions, please see my Livejournal (linked both my profiles). I hope this doesn't inconvenience anyone & thank you for your patience.

Do not steal from me.

"I can be bound to no man except those to whom I give.
I understand no men except those to whom I am bound.
- Antione de Saint-Exupéry
Flight to Arras

He's watching himself again. Staring into his reflection. It must be an odd thing to see—even odder to contemplate; me watching him watching himself, and neither of us really seeing anything. He doesn't laugh anymore. Doesn't smile. Ever since . . . then.

Crouch. The Tournament. Voldemort.

The Mark on my arm flares briefly, but the pain is only an echo of what will happen when he calls me. And he will call me.

And question me.

Why didn't I go to him when the Mark first burned that night? Why haven't I contacted Lucius? Why did I say I was a spy for Dumbledore?

And I did say that I was a spy for Dumbledore. It's on record. 'I am a spy,' I had so arrogantly announced to the world after that Halloween all those years ago.

Not long enough ago.

Why did you say you're a spy, Severus? Severussssssssssss . . .?

And what do I say to that?

I find myself without answers more and more these days. The last time that happened the world was a dark place, everyone at war with himself or everyone else. The last time that happened I told myself that I was in love and had my arm branded with the Mark of evil itself. In love with knowledge. Knowledge is power. My mother was cross with me.

The sun is setting now, casting a long fiery orange shadow across the too placid lake. Shadows and flame. He's still sitting there, so very still, moonbeam perfection in his own gangly, adolescent way. I take a moment to appreciate him. It's an aesthetic appeal, not sexual (Merlin knows there's nothing sexual about a fourteen year old boy), but it's nice to step away from the heavy roles of the Professor and the Potions Master and the Sly One and the Spy and simply LOOK. Look and see the world without Slytherin tinted eyes. And I do look and I see a tentative kind of beauty in him.

It's . . . comforting somehow. He's slowly growing out of Potter's features, allowing the gentle glide of his mother's cheek—the slight arch of Lily Evan's brow, the easy grace of her movement—to emerge and vie for dominance. As was always the case when they were alive, the hot, raging flame that was James Potter recedes with the approach of Lily
Evans—even in the pale, brooding, enchantingly flawed features of their child.

For the first time since I've met the child I realize that he is truly his parents' legacy. The thought is not accompanied by the usual rancor that curls in my stomach at the mention of James Potter. It's more like a strange, weeping sort of envy intermingled with pity. Profound pity. Is this what has made him a legend?

I envy the Potters because I will never leave such a profound mark on the world. Never leave a child like this: this remarkable little miniature adult who holds our very world in his rough, unsteady hands. I pity him because this child, remarkable though he may be, is all that they will ever have in this world. This child.

Who will in all probability not even live to see twenty.

Who will never grow up. Never have children. Never leave any mark on the world greater than the facts that he Lived, was loved, and somewhere along the way saved the world. And most of the world will never even know it.

No, he does not need the accolades that I so scorn and that everyone else presses into his maladroit hands. He needs our apologies. Six billion apologies and one cry of impotent rage so loud that the very gods sit up and take notice. The cry is mine and the gods . . .

Most wizards have abandoned them. But I can say with pride that my gods abandoned me first.

And still he sits there.

I wonder briefly where the lovey-dovey duo of the Trio are. They rarely leave him alone now. I think they're afraid of what he may do if left to his own devices. Should they be afraid?

He has yet to move. I decide that they should.

My long strides devour the ground separating us as I make my way towards him. Everyone's at dinner now, so I know that there's no one to see me approach him—no one to wonder at the whys and the what fors. We are alone. He is alone. He should never be alone. Not now. Not after so very much has happened.

I purposely make enough noise to wake the dead so that I don't startle him. He's already been far too emotional. Scratch that. He hasn't been nearly emotional enough. And that, of course, is why I'm here now, right?

Of course it is.

I pause next to him and wonder how much it will destroy my image if I sit down next to him. Greasy Snape. Sitting in the grass. By the lake. With Harry Potter. At sunset.

Right. And a hippogriff will fly out of Minerva's arse at the farewell feast tomorrow night.

I decide to remain standing. Naturally, Snape Standing is more like Snape Looming Menacingly Over Poor Defenseless EnterNonSlytherinStudent'sNameHere. Not for the first time I feel a distant, almost indistinct pang of regret over the . . . presence I've spent the last fourteen years cultivating. But it's a very, very distant pang and the spectacular red and burnt golden yellows of the sunset are rather distracting, especially given the oddly flushed look they give Potter's skin. I stand over him in silence for several minutes, enjoying the quiet and the view and . . . strangely enough, not quite resenting the company. Yes, it must be a very odd thing to see indeed.

The headache I didn't even know I had has faded and I can feel the creases of age and worry fade from my brow.


He still hasn't moved.

"Potter." It's an acknowledgement, nothing more, nothing less.

He shivers and wraps his arms around himself slowly. I suddenly notice the chill in the air. It seems a bit late in the years for the air to be so cold, though. He continues looking on into the distance as the sun slowly slides down the sky towards the horizon. After a few more moments of silence I find myself quietly slipping off my heavy outer robe and dropping it down over those frail, too thin shoulders. He starts violently and looks up at me, large round eyes made even larger and rounder by the strangely endearing combination of bottle-lens glasses and surprise. I pointedly ignore him. After a moment of scrutinizing me with an oddly narrow expression, he wraps my robe around him tightly and then . . .

Leans . . . back . . . and . . . rests? . . . Against my legs.


And then . . . snuggles . . . down into my robes.


Of course.

Because this happens everyday.

I look down my nose at him and lift an eyebrow, but he's steadily looking at the sunset. The horizon is black and the sun itself is an angry autumn orange sphere flat against a bleeding sky.

He sighs almost inaudibly and some of the tension leaves me, melting into the cool twilight air.

". . . Sir?" Tentative. But flat.

"Potter?" Emotionless and calm. No sneer. No mockery. Just . . . me.

"Why are you here?"

Because you're here. "You weren't at dinner." You don't smile anymore. "The Headmaster volunteered my services in locating you." I'm worried about you.


Oh, indeed.

He looks away from the dying of the light, tilting his head back at an odd angle that can't possibly be comfortable, to regard me with disturbingly blank eyes. "And now?"

The question confuses me so I ignore him.

He presses the issue. "Now that you've found me . . . what happens?"

I scowl at the sun. Nothing. Everything. Anything. I don't understand what he's asking me. And I don't care to try. "What do you think happens, Potter?"

He looks away from me and back to the sky. For a long time he doesn't say anything, but then, just as the sun is halfway below the earth, he shifts against my legs. "He's going to kill me. Isn't he?"

A muscle in my cheek twitches and I can't seem to control it. There's no need to act like I don't understand. Anything but an honest reply would be an insult to us both. So I reply. "He certainly seems to be planning to have a good go at it, at least." Cold. Scathing. Cruel. Also just me.

He doesn't react beyond a long, slow blink that makes me curse myself.

The silence flows between us again, not uncomfortable, simply . . . ours. It's odd. I never thought that I could ever bring myself to share my silences with anyone, let alone Harry Potter, the Golden Gryffindor. Only he's not really golden, is he? No. He's tarnished. I empathize and briefly wonder if he's always been that way or if it's simply me. He offers me no solutions to my dilemma.

"Am I going to die, Professor? In the war?"

And that's what it is, isn't it? What it's always been . . . A war?

I look down at him for a long, cold moment. Does it matter what I say to him? He stares up at me, only the faintest light of expectation in his otherwise empty eyes. My brave Gryffindor. You endlessly foolish, foolish beautiful child.

Yes, Potter. "No, Potter." You will most likely die. "You will not die." Though it will be the end of me."As much as it pains me to say so."

He stares at me and purses his lips and I know that he doesn't believe me. But what more is there to say?

I remain silent.

A man could lose himself in eyes like that. And never care that he's gone.

He breaks eye contact first and stands, shivering again, although I know that he can't possibly be cold underneath that cloak. He shrugs off my robe and makes to hand it back to me, but some instinct that I've never identified or understood makes me push it back into his hands.

"Take it." The words taste like rust, or perhaps blood, in my mouth. The sun has long since vanished.

He looks at me oddly, that queer tentative look that's usually reserved for puzzles or mirrors or Chambers of Secrets that he knows he can unlock if he could just find that one little piece . . .

I look away first this time, eyes drawn back to the missing sun and the purple sky.

"Goodnight, Professor."

"Goodnight, Mr. Potter."

And then he's gone. Just . . . gone. Faded into the quiet night like the brief shadow I've always tried to convince myself he is. I wonder how much I truly hate that boy and how much I actually hate myself. And I find I have no answers.

Albus finds me an hour later, cloakless, shivering slightly, and staring glassy-eyed into the night. He stands next to me in the dark, looking frail and old. He's looked this way since the Hufflepuff boy's body was identified by his parents. I let my eyes flicker to him and offer him my arm to lean on. He doesn't need it and we both know it, but he takes it anyway. I'm strangely grateful.

"Did you find Harry Potter alright?" he asks. The subtle shift of tone tells me that he's asking far more than the actual question.

I stare at the dark ground in false fascination as we head back to the castle, not knowing how to answer, but knowing that he'll accept nothing but truth from me. And knowing as well that no answer at all isn't even an option.


"Yes, Albus?"

"I asked you if you'd found Harry Potter."

". . . Yes. I think I did, actually."

It isn't enough for him, though. The nosey old bastard.


I stop, forcing him to halt along side me and he looks over at me, blue eyes glittering strangely in the darkness. I feel the comfort of my familiar shuttered expression close over my face and a sneer forms on my lips, more from habit than anything else. "Albus, if you
please, I am cold and tired and I—"

I suddenly run out of steam, snapping my mouth closed abruptly to swallow things that I don't want revealed. Never ever want revealed. Even if Albus already knows. Saying something is much different from knowing something. Childish though it seems, I've never been able to shake the idea that saying something makes it real. As long as it's silent, unspoken, then it's . . . alright. It's your burden to suffer alone.

"I . . . am . . . tired," I finish, my voice almost unseemly breathless.

Albus looks at me and for a moment I see something like sorrow pass over his face. Sorrow and understanding. And I know that, as things stand, it's alright. And that he understands. I feel the need to apologize for all the things I've done wrong and all the things I can't change, but Albus isn't the one who needs to hear those words. And we both know that I'll never say them to the one who needs to hear them.

So we resume walking instead.

"Would you like some tea, child?" he asks after several moments.

I smile, but it's only a bitter twitch of my lips. "Yes, Albus. I would like that a good deal."

He twinkles at me faintly and I relax, savoring the memory of a warm, slender back pressed against my knees and the quiet of a single perfect sunset by the lake. It's a memory that I will treasure—there'll be none like it in the future, I know—but I hold it close to my heart nonetheless. Because I know that if I turn around right now the sky will be black and empty except for the cold, distant stars.

And the stars, I've been told, have never cared for anyone but themselves.

"The friend within the man is that part of him which belongs to you
and opens to you a door which never, perhaps, is opened to another.
Such a friend is true, and all he says is true; and he loves you,
even if he hates you in other mansions of his heart.
- Antione de Saint-Exupéry
The Wisdom of the Sands