The Place That August Brings
There is a place between two houses, halfway to Spinner's End and halfway from Buckthorn Hollow. If you follow the streetlamps, counting each one as you pass along, and turn sharply at number twenty-eight—right or left, depending upon the direction from which you have traveled—you might happen across a way to find it.
Might, for such a place is not often merely discovered—stumbled upon accidentally by a curious or careless passerby. And even if you were to find a path to lead you there, there are no guarantees; you might wish to follow it with all of your will, but obstacles have a peculiar habit of appearing at the most undesirable of times.
There is a place that is found only by those who know of both its existence and its location. Regardless, of course, of the fact that it is hiding in plain sight, as so many secret things often are.
But if you do know, you will veer off, just there, into the trees, and then follow the sound of the water—be careful: you must always be able to hear it. After a short walk, you will come upon a thicket, and through the thicket, you will find a clearing—remember: not all is as it seems.
In the clearing is a dilapidated structure, modeled, perhaps, after a house, but constructed of sticks and mud and the broken pieces of a fence that once floated down the river. There is a chance that it was, at a time, magnificent, for beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and an attribute as relative as any; yet eyes change, and visions shift, and those who once beheld a sight can no longer remember its superficial allure.
This is the place.
Are you surprised?
Watch and wait, and maybe then, you will understand.
August is the cruelest month. Usually, it is too hot, and the moist air seems to seep into your skin, often rendering your body immobile and your mind sluggish. Even in bearable heat, tempers flare, but somehow a whole summer's worth of irritability and unhappiness cannot compare to that of this one solitary month.
Yet August is the cruelest month, wholly and truly, because it precedes September. Its greatest fault is that it reminds some that there are abnormalities in their bloodlines over which they cannot assert control.
Fathers and sisters, it seems, can be especially unforgiving.
There is a place, halfway between one world and another—or are they any different, after all?—that offers the escape and sanctuary that no other place can possibly provide. It is a refuge twenty-eight lampposts away from the epicenter of all problems—or at the very least, the problems that can fill two houses to the brim. Just slip out the window, sneak through the back door, and run away to it; but remember to send a note ahead, held in a beak or clutched in able talons, for solitude is not always the best asylum.
But tonight, though it is August, it is different in nearly all respects. The air is suddenly crisp and chill, beginning to bite, and minds are abruptly cleared, their rediscovered capacity bewildering. Loneliness, instead of being avoided, is sought; notes, the silent rustle of feathers—both purposefully forgotten.
Here is another thing: August is unpredictable.
Look—do you see?
Into the clearing comes a boy with lank hair and baggy clothes, sallow skin and the darkest eyes you will ever encounter. He does not look uncertain until he glances up to observe his surroundings, and he notices that there is dull light shining through the cracks of the makeshift house.
He stops in the quiet. There is contemplation in his expression as he decides: to go or to stay? Sometimes, after all, you may not do things even though—or especially because—you want to do them.
And sometimes, one desire outweighs another.
He fidgets uncomfortably with the hem of his frayed shirt, and then quietly disappears into the house. (Duck down and watch your step—this place was made by children.)
Inside, it smells overpoweringly of earth, and it is lit only enough to distinguish direction. There is something else, however—a feeling—and he senses it even before he can see.
He distinguishes the scent of her hair, and the shape and size of her frame, hunched over on the ground as an almost-silhouette. Her breathing is ragged—is she crying?
What he distinguishes is familiarity, but he freezes, as if the expected is inexpectable.
There is a girl with dark red hair and bright green eyes, both of which are dimmed by the feeble light. She glances up at the boy, startled by his entrance.
"Oh!" she sniffs. "Sev, I'm—I'm sorry. I was going to owl you as soon as—in a bit. I just—Tuney and I had a row again. She's been so completely awful lately, I needed… Well. I. I am very glad that you're here."
Names: Lily Evans and Severus Snape. An unlikely pair secured by two different definitions of together.
Severus regards her hesitantly for a moment before taking another step closer. His fingers twitch—as if wishing, of their own accord, to reach out to her.
(But he clenches them discreetly before he can do anything rash.)
Lily wipes her eyes upon the back of her hand. "Is it your dad again?"
Severus nods; he cannot find his voice.
She tells him with articulate casualness, "It's always the worst this time of year," and it is obvious that this conversation has been held before.
Severus frowns. "Perhaps…" he says, "perhaps we should talk about something else."
Lily casts him a crooked smile—can you hear his heartbeat?—and shifts closer to the wall, clearing a space beside her. He deliberates slightly before sinking into it, filling this span of emptiness, and he is just far enough away that they do not quite touch. His movements are always calculated with precision, care and caution, now that the complexities of life have increased.
(There is a place where two people can come together and simply be, but sometimes Severus thinks that he has yet to find it.)
Remember: it was Beauty who killed the Beast.
"Potter sent me a letter," Lily blurts suddenly; her tone is scathing.
Severus's eyes grow darker. He wishes, almost, that he had not heard her. "Really."
It is not a question. Fifteen is an age old enough to know that it is not always satisfactory to receive an answer.
"I'm not sure what to do with it," she continues on; as she progresses, her voice grows less harsh.
"What have you considered?"
With some questions, you cannot disguise your hope. (Severus holds his breath.)
"A lot of things," she admits, slowly and slyly. She has quieted, and her eyes shine with irrepressible mischief.
Severus's shoulders relax; this is a game that he will play. "Such as?"
"Such as—but not limited to, of course—burning it, sending it back, ignoring it, burying it, feeding it to Mrs. Ebble's schnauzer—oh, that is a bit cruel, isn't it? To the dog, I mean—or using it to wipe up spills in the kitchen. I'm certain there must be something I've forgotten, but…"
His thin lips twitch.
Somehow, the warmth of conversation can never reach all the way into your bones. It can sink into your skin and bring color to your cheeks, but it will never change the fact that the air is cold and biting—more tangible than a euphoric state of mind.
Lily shivers, and Severus, though he attempts to disguise it, shakes ever so slightly. The hut, which has the appearance—but not the security of—a beaver dam, is riddled with gusts of wind that seep through its seemingly ever-growing cracks.
Severus grits his teeth and wishes that he had thought to bring a coat. There is something almost tragic about a boy who tries but fails to be the very thing that someone needs—you can give it your all, but it is not enough.
"It's s-summer," Lily groans, teeth chattering. "It shouldn't be this cold until October, at the very least."
Severus looks at her, uncertain of a reply. He feels pathetic and useless, and words have failed him—nearly as if opening his mouth would be a betrayal of this.
"It's p-peculiar, th-though, isn't it?" she continues. "I'd r-rather be here than b-b-back at home."
It almost sounds like: I'd rather be here with you than there with them.
Is it close enough?
Now he stares. Her body trembles in an uneven rhythm, as though she is about to shatter from the might of an earthquake.
What do you do when this is the direction in which life takes you?
There is a place… there is a place… there is a place…
Severus touches her shoulder; his fingers tremble, but not from the cold.
"I don't… Just…" Draw in a deep breath, let it out in a sigh, watch it cloud in the air. "It's cold."
Severus sits with his back against the wall, and Lily relaxes against his chest. She drums her fingers upon his knee to the cadence of a silent, unknown tune. Her hair trickles down his shoulder, contrasting with the faded green of his shirt.
Outside, the wind begins to howl, and it prowls around the hut in hopes of being welcomed inside.
(It goes unnoticed.)
There is a place, halfway between escape and comfort and hidden away so that even the world may pass it by. If you follow the streetlamps, counting each one as you pass along, and turn sharply at number twenty-eight—right or left, depending upon the direction from which you have traveled—you might happen across a way to find it.
Or you might not. Or perhaps you already know.
But, either way, remember: just slip out the window, sneak through the back door, and send a note ahead; you never know what may come of it.
August is unpredictable, after all.