Anywhere But Here
- Story Summary:
- Severus Snape runs into an old student in an unlikely place, and tells some uncomfortable truths to the Boy Who Ran Away.
- Author's Note:
- This was written as a sort of test run-up at a piece that Priscellie inspired me to write, gentle readers, which may or may not one day get written, as a sequel to this one. Just a little study on the characters of The Boy Who Lived and The Professor Who Snarked.
ANYWHERE BUT HERE
Seventh year; the time children become adults, the time that one faces decisions, the time responsibility for one's own life, the life of one's fellows, becomes distressingly clear...
He'd spent the summer in some seaside town, working as an errand boy for a hotel that catered strictly to the magical crowd -- his black hair was streaked with reddish bleaching from the sun, his skin browned and freckled. Potter, on the other hand, had gone to Cornwall with his family to do some touring, and spent the rest of the time at home, getting very little done. Each envied the other, in a way; they hated still, but outwardly they were...civil. In seventh year, all the little rivalries seem suddenly rather petty in the face of the Real World Outside. Not to mention NEWTs. People were willing to give up a lot of dignity to get some help prepping for the exams.
Years later, the streaks gone from his hair, his skin pale from too many hours in the dungeons, Severus Snape saw a boy who looked so much like James Potter had -- who else could it be but the Boy? James had sent him a birth announcement, hadn't he...somewhere in his school trunk, probably.
So for a million reasons -- because he owed James his life (though if it hadn't been for bloody Potter in the first place, it wouldn't have been risked), because he had a lot of paying-back to do for his time in the Darkness, because he did, in his own way, love Dumbledore and want to please him, Severus Snape protected the Boy. Watched over him. He wasn't nice to him, but then he wasn't nice to anyone, nice did not come easily to Sev Snape.
Ironic, after everything, that he should meet Harry Potter for the first time in -- years, gods' sake, at least five years -- in a seaside town. He was there doing research, digging in old archives long-neglected by a doddering old librarian who didn't know arse from elbow. Harry, it appeared, was passing through.
But then Harry was always passing through. Ever since seventh year -- well, since graduation. The boy had never really settled down, and finally even the Prophet gave up trying to locate him. When Harry wanted to be seen, he was seen; now in London, now in Toronto, now in Hong Kong. When he wanted to vanish, he vanished, often for months at a time, travelling in the world of Muggles, which few wizards dared venture into. The last time Severus had heard anything about Harry, it was to hear that he'd shown up at Hogwarts to play a pick-up Quidditch game, then vanished as quickly as he'd arrived.
Last December? Or a few months before that?
"Severus Snape?" a voice said. Severus looked up from the book he was studying -- looked up from writing an informatively sarcastic comment in one margin -- into those green eyes that marked Potter anywhere in the world.
"Professor Snape!" Harry said, with his father's grin. "I thought it was you. Of all the places..."
"Mister Potter," Severus drawled, hiding his surprise rather well. "Still interrupting your teachers, I see."
"Still treating the whole world as if they were troublesome first years," Harry replied easily, dropping into the chair across from Severus. A waitress approached, and Harry asked for a glass of water. Sev regarded him curiously.
"Do sit down," he said, finally. Harry grinned again.
"What're you doing in Southend-On-Sea? Don't tell me there's some kind of convention in town, I'll have to leave."
"Research," he said shortly. "Yourself?"
"Seeing the sights. I hadn't traveled the coast yet. Well, not this coast anyhow. I was just thinking it'd be good to see someone from Hogwarts, and you were there at the cafe table as I walked past. Jolly good of you," Harry added.
"My life is but to please," Severus drawled. Harry took the book out of his hands and examined it.
"Bo-ring," he pronounced, snapping it shut and laying it aside, just out of easy reach. Severus regarded him with a level gaze.
"If you must insist on invading my privacy, chattering idly away about nothing in particular, and interrupting my work, you might at least do me the courtesy of asking before you steal my personal belongings," he said, as Harry's water arrived, along with the meal Severus had ordered. Harry cheerfully took up fork and began making a dent in his mushy peas.
"I never ask anymore. Nobody ever says yes. It's quite peculiar," Harry said. Severus lifted an eyebrow. "Maybe I've gotten cynical. Too many nights in hostel beds. Anyhow, I find it's easier to just go where you please and damn the torpedoes."
"What charming Muggle expressions you have to share with me."
"Nothing wrong with a good Muggleism once in a while," said the Boy Who'd Vanished, as Severus began on his meal. "What's been keeping you busy the last few years?"
"Teaching," Severus answered shortly.
"Every hour of the day?"
"Any less and it wouldn't be proper teaching."
"Yes, you did rather hammer the stuff into our heads, didn't you? Not that I'm not grateful. If we'd had you in Divination I'd probably be able to do more with a pack of Tarot cards than use it as a prop for an uneven table."
"Why are you here?" Sev asked, in exasperation. So like his father. Never asking, always assuming, always chasing after something just out of reach...
"I ended up here," Harry replied.
"You have no business in Southend?"
"The world's my business."
"Is it now."
Harry nodded sagely. "Seeing the world and all that's in it."
"And how do you go along?"
"Middling well. Who knew it'd only take five years? Once I cover this coast and -- oh, well, there's a couple of Caribbean islands, I've been saving them for last -- I'll have pretty much seen everything."
"The world is a smaller place than we think."
"Did you travel, when you were out of Hogwarts?" Harry asked. Severus, surprised by the sudden lack of self-absorption in the young man, cocked his head.
"Yes," he said softly. "I did." A pause. "Voldemort was a great one for traveling."
"Oh." Harry looked down at the table. He set down the fork. "Of course. I'm sorry."
"For what? It was a long time ago. Before you were even born, Harry."
Harry glanced up, his eyes peering over the rims of his glasses. "Have you gone soft, Professor?"
Severus smiled. "You are no longer a student. These familiarities may be allowed now."
"I hated you all through school."
"I know." Severus folded his hands. "Many did. But they learned, did they not?"
"So did McGonagall's students, and they didn't have to hate her to do it."
"Yes, and tell me, did you work harder to get a good word from her, or from me?"
Harry seemed to consider it. "You."
"And why is that?"
"Because I hated you."
Severus smiled that same, thin smile. "Interesting, isn't it? I don't say all students should hate their teachers. On the other hand, I could not befriend as some teachers did, so I chose antagonism. If you must choose between indifference and hatred, Harry, always choose hatred. It's at least an emotion that may be worked with."
"So that was all an act?"
"No. I genuinely disliked you and Granger. I saw some promise in Weasley, but then I'd had Weasleys in my classes before."
"Why did I dislike the pair of you?"
And this time Sev laughed. "Miss Granger was a bossy know-all destined for a job as some supervisory civil servant, a woman with little power but great pleasure in exercising it. Brilliant, yes, but far too strictured by ideas of good and bad, of moral and immoral, to ever get very far with it."
Harry winced. "What's Hermione up to now?"
"Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic, I believe. She's married, did you know? Muggle lad. Great big ears."
"Well, if I doubted you were pretending..." Harry said, with a sigh.
"I told you I disliked her."
"Isn't it obvious?"
Harry shook his head. "I always thought it must be something more than my parents. I know you hated my father, but you seemed too smart to hate me just because I was my father's son."
"You look a great deal like him."
"You're not answering my question, Professor."
"You may call me Severus," said Sev, with the air of one conferring a great honour.
"All right, Severus, why didn't you like me? I wasn't a bossy know-all and I didn't have five brothers coming before me."
Severus held up a finger.
"You were your father's son. That predisposed me not to like you. I knew James Potter very well, I tutored him in seventh year. James was a good man, in the way of brainlessly good people. He had no conception of the world. He was destroyed because he believed that all you needed to defeat evil was a cheerful attitude. I knew better, even if I was a Death Eater. I thought him a fool, and I was right, and he died for it."
Harry's hands had clenched, and Severus shook his head. "You have seen the world, Harry. Try to deny what I've said is true."
"It shouldn't be true."
"What does 'should' matter? It /is/ true. We are both realists, man. I disliked your father because he was a romantic. You wouldn't like him either, if you knew him. So I disliked you because I assumed you were the same. And I was right. You were a romantic. Not so far gone as Granger or Weasley, but nonetheless. You irked me."
"And that's all?"
"Oh, where shall I begin? You were everything every bully is, and yet you never used that power. You had brains and talent, yet you hadn't the gumption to really put them to use, other than in the mediocre way every wizard does. You were young and handsome and charming, and yet you were still such a child. Such a stupid child."
"Am I? Now?"
Sev regarded him carefully. "You act like one. But that's all it is, isn't it? You're well into manhood. Further than many get, I'd say."
"Do you still dislike me?"
"I've known you all of five minutes."
Harry laughed, and held out his hand. "I'm Harry Potter, itinerant and hero."
"Severus Snape," Sev said, taking his hand. "Teacher and philosopher."
"Pleased to meet you."
"The pleasure is mine."
"And now what shall we discuss?" Harry asked. "You hated me because I was stupid and I hated you because you were cruel. You've stayed at Hogwarts?"
"More or less. I sometimes travel. I've written a book."
"The Lure of the Cauldron," Severus said. "Ancient potions and their uses. I'm here researching a second one, on water-magic. It's very tricky stuff, you know."
"Good place for it," Harry answered, looking across the cafe patio. On the other side of the nearby street, the beach was littered with people summering at the resort. "You've hardly changed. Your face and that, I mean."
Severus smiled and held up his drink. "One of the advantages of studying potions," he said. "It's not exactly the fountain of youth, but it's useful. And how have you occupied your time, during your travels?"
"History, I study a lot of history. I go to museums. I read on trains, I sleep on airplanes."
"No Apparating for the great Harry Potter? No broomsticks for the Quidditch hero?"
"I like muggle transportation. It suits me. I always come back, though," Harry said ruefully.
"To England. It calls me. It's my home, it's where I grew up. I often go to -- " he bit his lip.
"I've wondered," Severus said, into the silence that followed, "what you felt about the thing. I said they ought to let it lie, I said they ought to simply pave it over, build something there, plant a bloody tree, anything rather than a monument. That being said, it's a very nice monument."
"I never wanted anyone to die," Harry said softly. "What was I supposed to do? It was a fight. Not even a battle, it's not dignified enough to be a battle. It was just a clawing scrum in the street. They killed us, we killed them, I killed Voldemort. And that was an end of it."
"You killed Voldemort. And about five hundred wizards tied to him."
Harry hung his head, but Severus continued. "And they died in terrible pain, didn't they?"
"I would imagine," Harry said softly.
"So that's why you traveled." Severus nodded his head, and Harry gave him a sharp look.
"What's why I traveled?"
"You're a learner, Harry. You take on information. For five years you've been looking, is that it?"
"Looking?" Harry asked, his voice rising slightly.
"Looking. Studying history. History is wars, Harry, wars and uprisings and politics. You've been looking for the great tactitian who'll show you what you should have done."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"No, perhaps you don't. You have been looking for someone to tell you the better way to defeat your enemy, without the deaths but still with honour, so that you can finally feel justified in hating yourself for killing all those people. It's why you don't mind that I disliked you. You think everyone ought to. You're just looking for a reason for them."
Harry's eyes had grown wide. His mouth moved, as if he were whispering a prayer, but no words came out.
"Let me tell you this, Harry Potter," Severus said, and his eyes burned. "The only way you could have defeated that monster of a man in any other fashion would be to become just...like...him. And you couldn't do that because you were so good and pure that it was blinding. So in your goodness and purity you had to kill to protect everyone else and that meant that you had to fall and I am sorry, Harry, but that's life. Get over it."
Harry blinked. Severus sat back, slightly breathless.
"I guess I'm still a teacher," he muttered. "Lecture over. This will not be on the exam."
"How could you know?" Harry asked, hoarsely.
"Because I know you, Harry, like I knew your father. The difference is, in the end, he was never quite as unsullied. You were good enough -- vicious enough -- to do what you had to. You can't die for truths that big. You have to live and kill for them." Severus looked out over the broad expanse of water. "Because we all loved you, Harry. We still do, despite everything. Despite ourselves."
Harry reached out to touch his cheek, where a single scar from Voldemort's final stand was barely visible. Hundreds had died with Voldemort, tied to him by the Dark Mark; Severus had suffered, but survived. He brushed Harry's hand away.
"Have your dinner on me," he said, rising and retrieving his book. "They know me here, they'll put it to my account."
"But Prof -- "
"Ah," Severus said, waving a finger. "I told you to call me Severus. Eat up, Harry. Perhaps I'll see you the next time you're passing through on your way from nowhere to nowhere."
Harry did not call out to him as he walked away.