The Paradox of Existence
Chapter One: Backwards and Forwards
Harry didn’t know how he had let Albus talk him into this. He didn't want to be here. Looking over at the assembled students in front of him, he watched as they shifted nervously in their seats and avoided his gaze. The effect he had on these students --ones that had no preconceived notions about what he was like -- cheered him. Severus would be proud.
He pushed away from the wall in the corner of the room, where he had been waiting for his class to enter and take their seats. Walking past the window, he noticed quite a few students glance away, or open their mouths in silent gasps as the light caught on the hilt of the dagger he kept strapped to his thigh. He leaned against his desk and took out his wand, casually rolling it between his fingers before facing the class.
He wondered if any of them saw some sort of similarity between their classmate, James Potter, and himself. It was doubtful; after all, he had grown his hair out long over the years and had acquired other scars -- besides the one on his forehead -- that distracted from his features. But probably the largest change in his appearance had been when he got rid of his glasses. He shouldn't worry about it too much; people saw what they wanted to see, and, if he was to believe his godfather, he was no longer a carbon copy of his father and instead was a blend between both of his parents.
Forcing himself to relax, he turned to pick up the class roster and begin.
“I am Octavian Tyler, your new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.” Harry paused and glanced around the room again. “You are the sixth year Gryffindors and Slytherins, correct?” The silence of the class indicated that no confirmation would be forthcoming, and he glanced at the roster. “Am I correct, Mr. Black, or is your conversation with Mr. Potter too important to answer me?” He had been curious about his father and godfather -- had, in fact, been looking forward to seeing them while they were still students -- but they had not been present the night before at the opening feast. He had overheard McGonagall talking to Flickwick about a flying motorcycle and arriving late and... Pushing the thought away, he focused his attention on young Sirius. The memory had hit too close to home, making him remember his own time at Hogwarts, and he was homesick enough without actively thinking about it.
“No, sir. I mean yes, sir. Wait, I mean no, sir.” All the Slytherins and a good portion of the Gryffindors snickered.
Harry signalled for quiet. “Well, which is it, yes or no?”
Sirius glanced over at Remus, who looked away. “What was the question again?”
A choked laugh from the other side of the room caught his attention. “Mr. Snape, pray tell, what is so amusing?”
“Nothing, sir.” Followed by a smirk directed at Sirius.
“Well, now that that’s settled. Let’s move on to the seating arrangements.”
A simultaneous groan from the class greeted that announcement.
“I’m glad to know that you all approve. All right, everyone grab your things and move to the side of the classroom. Mr Black, why don’t you take the centre seat in the front row? Mr. Snape, the seat to the right of him.” He continued placing Gryffindor and then Slytherin, until the entirety of the class was arranged into a Gryffindor-Slytherin checkerboard. Over the years, he had found this arrangement the easiest means with which to maintain control.
“I’ve heard stories about this class from the other professors. I warn you that I will not stand for any misbehaving. While in this class, you will listen. The things I teach you may very well one day save your lives. There will be no pranks.” Harry turned a glare on the four Marauders. “No snide comments.” His glare moved to Snape. “And I expect full class participation. Homework is assigned for a reason. There will be no pointless essays. I did too many of them during my school years, and I will not make you repeat those useless endeavours.” He gazed around the room. “The last thing that you should know is that I will in no way tolerate House prejudice. If I hear of it, a suitable punishment will follow. Follow these rules and we will get along just fine.
“The next order of business will be a short review.” Harry turned toward the blackboard and started to write some terms down. “Who can tell me about boggarts?” Without looking, he called on a student, “Mr. Lupin, will you please enlighten the class.”
“He’s positively evil. I mean, sitting me next to Snape." Sirius stabbed at his roast with his fork.
“Well perhaps if you weren’t talking during the first five minutes of his class, he wouldn’t have, Sirius.”
“Oh be quiet, Remus.”
“What I don’t get is why everyone is walking around on eggshells around him.” James directed the statement at Peter and Remus.
“You... you mean that you have… haven’t heard?”
“Heard what, Peter?”
A sharp, female voice from across the table answered. “Last night, at the welcoming feast, Lucius tripped a first year Hufflepuff on his way to sit after he had been sorted. When he finally got up and started to his seat, Lucius tripped him again. Next thing anyone knew, there was a dagger embedded in the table a centimetre from Lucius's hand, and Professor Tyler was standing over him. It was the angriest I'd ever seen a professor, which can't be a good sign for his temperament since it was a relatively minor discretion. He got detention every weekend for a month.” Lily narrowed her eyes. “Of course, if you hadn’t been joyriding you’d have known."
James and Sirius looked up at the Head Table. Professor Tyler was sitting next to Dumbledore, laughing at some joke the old wizard must have told him.
“Are you sure, Evans?”
“Absolutely. Aren’t I right, Remus?”
They looked at Remus who nodded his head as he chewed, then at the Slytherin table where the seventh year Lucius was talking to Snape, and finally to the Head table, where Professor Tyler gave them a knowing look.
James quickly averted his eyes and turned back to his plate. “Bloody hell.”
“My thoughts exactly,” muttered Sirius.
Harry looked at the Gryffindor table. His father and Sirius must have heard about the Sorting feast, if the looks on their faces were anything to go by. He couldn't contain the small thread of pleasure that coursed through him at the thought. He knew all their tricks and wasn't about to let them get away with any of them. After all, he had to amuse himself somehow.
“So, Octavian, why don’t you tell me a little more about your home?”
Harry tore his gaze from the group at the Gryffindor table. “I've already told you everything that I can, Albus. I'm sure that the headmaster at my previous post told you everything else you needed to know in his letter." He smiled. "So stop being a nosy old headmaster.”
"What about that scar?"
Harry’s fingers immediately sought out the scar on his forehead.
“No not that one, the other one.” Albus pointed to a scar that started on his right cheek and disappeared under the collar of his shirt.
“A war injury. Not a particularly fond memory. I had to wrestle the knife out of my opponent’s hand. It wasn’t even that deep, and shouldn’t have left a scar, but it was just my luck that the knife had a rather nasty curse that kept the cut from being healed properly.”
“Well, I think it makes you look like quite the rogue." Albus leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Must be quite helpful with the ladies." He lifted one bushy eyebrow multiple times in quick succession.
Harry choked on his pumpkin juice, eyes wide. “Actually, it isn't. Nor would I want it to.”
For a moment, Albus just looked at him, and then a small smile found its way onto his face and his eyes glittered mischievously. “So I need not warn the female members of staff then. Just the men.” Albus paused. "Do try to control yourself around me, Octavian."
Harry dropped his goblet, its contents spilling across the table. Most of the staff looked at him curiously as he muttered under his breath about annoying headmasters and bad jokes. Albus laughed as he stood to leave the Great Hall.
Leaning back in his chair, Harry fidgeted with a loose string on the cuff of his shirt. Albus had left him alone in the office twenty minutes earlier to take care of a 'situation'. Belatedly, it occurred to him that Albus was probably watching him somehow, looking for signs that he wasn't what he said he was. Since that was exactly the case, Harry had no intention of giving the Headmaster more of a reason to look into things.
Harry pulled out his dagger and cut the string off from the cuff, wrapping it around his finger and watching as the circulation cut off, turning his finger red, before releasing it. He must have repeated that motion ten times before Albus opened the door and returned to their "meeting".
"Did I pass, Headmaster?"
Narrowed wary blue eyes met his. "I don't know what you mean, my boy."
"Of course. I believe we were talking about the real reason I'm here."
Albus nodded. "The scroll. My brother's letter said that you are a Parselmouth, a rare trait indeed."
"I find it useful on occasion."
"Can you read it?"
Harry shrugged. "Never tried. In fact, I've never seen the language written down."
Pulling a roll of parchment from within his sleeve, Albus held it out to Harry. "A random selection of what we assume to be paragraphs. Can you make anything out? Copied by hand instead of magic, if that makes a difference."
Harry unrolled it and stared at the snake-like symbols curving across the page.
"Can I have a quill?"
Albus nodded and passed one over, a thoughtful look etched on his face.
Turning the parchment over in his hands, Harry drew a snake in the top corner. Visual cues always helped him focus. "The grass is green, and life is short." It seemed serpentine enough. The sounds slipped off his tongue and while he was still thinking of them -- and his thoughts were still focused on snakes -- he started writing what he hoped was the same sentence.
Looking down, he saw shaky symbols that vaguely resembled those on the other side. He flipped the paper from one side to the other trying to identify anything that looked similar. After a minute he thought he recognized 'the', but he might have been mistaken. The many facets of language had never been one of his strong points. In the past he had always relied on Severus or the Headmaster for obscure translations; it was odd to find their positions reversed.
The Albus in his time hadn't mentioned that this wouldn't be easy, but what else had he expected?
Staring at what he assumed was 'the', he tried to force the part of his brain that knew Parseltongue to the forefront.
"The we... I think this says 'the week'. I'd need more time." Sighing, Harry set the parchment down on his knees and looked up at Albus. His face was a polite mask. One that Harry had seen plenty of times directed at strangers.
Albus nodded. "I expected as much. It would have been nice if you could just look and start reading, but I suppose that would have been too much to ask. I will bring this up to my colleagues and see what they want to do. I'll get back to you over the next few days, Octavian."
Harry nodded. Standing, he made his way to the door. Hopefully he had given a decent performance of a neutral party out only for a profit, and, if he was lucky, the Order in this time would take him into their confidence and give him the access he needed. This was one mission that he definitely didn't want to fail.
“Remember, you can’t change anything. No warning your parents, or Sirius, or Severus. You are there to work with the past Order and to teach. I believe we already went over the parameters of what you can tell the past me. Do you understand, Harry?”
Harry watched as the headmaster walked over to where his phoenix, Fawkes, was perched. "Yes, Albus. We went over it quite a few times.”
“You’re going because the Order needs someone who can translate Parseltongue, and I remember a Mr. Tyler -- who looked just like you -- who could do exactly that.”
“I know, Albus.” His eyes followed the Headmaster to the window.
“Either Sirius or Severus will check up on you once a month. They will make sure that you have everything you need.”
“All right, Albus.”
Once again, Albus paced over to the phoenix’s perch. “Remember, you cannot directly oppose the Dark Lord. Stay away from him at all costs. And don’t forget to give the impression of neutrality to everyone except the Order. You will agree to keep their secrets. You have no side in the war of the past, at least to the outside world.”
Nine steps back to the window. “That means you can’t take sides, Harry. You can’t favour one House over another.”
“Like I do that now.”
Albus paused halfway from Fawkes to look at the 25 year-old man sitting calmly in one of the plush chairs by the fire watching him pace. “True, after your sixth year you didn’t tolerate House prejudices. Not even from members of your own House.” Albus paced the rest of the way to the perch.
“Severus said I had a paradigm shift when Draco blocked that curse from hitting me in the back. Personally, I like smaller words, and prefer saying ‘I saw the error of my ways.’” Harry sighed. “Albus, you don't need to worry. I know that things happen for a reason. And even though many horrible things are happening now, I know that it could most likely be worse if I change things. Besides, even with the loss and pain, I am happy with my life. I don’t want it to change.”
“Is that all?”
Albus started to nod, but then stopped and shook his head. Sighing, Harry sank back into the soft chair.
“Just one more thing.”
Harry raised his eyebrow, imitating Severus.
“No propositioning the students.”
Harry laughed. “What about the reverse? What about if a student propositions me?”
“All right, I got it. Students are off limits.”
Harry stood and made his way to the door. As he was reaching for the handle, the Headmaster once again called him. “Harry, relax and enjoy yourself. See the people you hold dear before the war changed them. It’s almost a vacation.”
“Yes, Albus.” Harry was out the door, down the stairs and on the other side of the gargoyle before the realization finally dawned on him: he would have to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts again. He had thought that he had finally got out of that position two years ago. With a sigh, Harry continued to move down the hallway to the Muggle Studies classroom where his students were waiting for their tardy professor.
That evening, Harry walked into the potions classroom, where Severus was privately tutoring two students. Harry's eyes followed the movements of the long, graceful fingers as they hovered over each ingredient, as Severus explained their purpose to the young lady that sat across from him. When Harry had been a student at Hogwarts, Severus wouldn't have even considered giving anyone private tuition in the subject. Things had changed. Harry had learned what these students were just beginning to understand; Professor Snape was really a better teacher one-on-one.
Harry waited for a pause in the lesson before quietly clearing his throat. The seventh year Ravenclaw that had been taken under Sev's wing, so to speak, and was receiving advanced tuition in Potions, looked up. “Hello, Professor Potter.”
“Good evening, Mr. Eytinge. I hope I wasn’t interrupting your experiment?”
“No, sir. I was just letting it cool before I bottle it.”
“Ah. Important step, that. I don’t recall how many vials and beakers I cracked because I didn’t let my potions cool properly.”
“139 beakers and 257 vials. And that encompasses all 7 years of your education.” The pronouncement was made by a warm baritone from the other workbench. The second year who was being tutored giggled at the look of righteous indignation that crossed Harry's face. “That will be all for today, Ms. Ackers. Clean out your cauldron and be on your way. I expect you to be able to brew today’s potion flawlessly for the practical next week.”
“Yes, Professor Snape. Thank you.” The girl set to work.
“I couldn’t have possibly destroyed that many. You’re making it up.”
A raised eyebrow was his only response.
“No, that is impossible, Professor Snape. I most likely only destroyed fifty, at most.”
“Would you like me to go and retrieve my records, Potter?”
“That's quite all right. You're probably correct. Funny, it doesn’t seem that many.”
“Of course I’m right, Potter.”
“Oh yes, I keep forgetting, you are always right.”
“Well it is about time that you acknowledged the fact.” The seventh year who had been biting his lip, started to laugh. “Is something the matter, Mr Eytinge?”
“No, Professor.” The young man started to bottle the still slightly steaming potion. He was on the third vial when the first one cracked.
“Like I said, a very important step.” Harry leaned against one of the workbenches while Eytinge turned crimson, Ackers giggled and Snape glared.
“Mr. Eytinge, I will finish bottling the potion. I’m sure that Professor Potter wouldn’t mind assisting. His tally can’t get much worse, after all. And, Ms. Ackers, I believe you have been dismissed.” The two students knew a command to get out when they heard one.
Harry moved over to where Severus was wiping away the remains of the spilled potion from the cracked vial. He took the cloth out of Severus's hands to rinse it out in one of the sinks.
“I hold you responsible.”
“For the cracked vials, I didn’t expect anything less. Is that two or three more to be added to my tally?”
“Ah. How were your classes today?”
“I’m getting too old for this.”
Harry lifted his eyebrow on his way back to the workbench to start bottling the now cool potion. “Old? Sev, you aren’t old. Albus is old.”
“Albus will outlive us all.”
“Of that I have no doubt, but he is old. You are a child compared to him.”
“And you are an infant.”
“Severus.” That one word held all the necessary disapproval that Harry needed to convey. There was no way that he wanted to get into another argument about the difference in their ages.
“So how was your day?”
“I had a meeting with Albus after lunch. It ran over. Again. When I returned to my classroom it was a disaster area. I promised the troublemakers detention with you; they calmed down quick enough. I can’t supervise their detentions, after all. I leave tomorrow.” Harry whispered the last three words, and he wasn't sure that Severus had heard them at all until a vial fell from his fingers and hit the workbench, shattering.
Harry immediately started to clean the broken glass and the spilled potion. “At this rate, Mr. Eytinge won’t have any potion left.” He noted that Severus's knuckles had gone white where he was gripping the edge of the table, his eyes fixed to a point on the far wall. "Shall I add another to my tally?" Harry paused. "Severus?” No answer. "Sev?" Harry went to stand behind him and wrapped his arms around his waist and laid his head against Severus’s shoulder. Feeling Severus's muscles tense, he backed away.
“Severus, you’ve known for a month. Well, almost a month. You were there for most of the prep meetings. You'll see me in three to four weeks. Not even that long. You’ll even be checking up on me, so we'll see each other before the end of a month. We have it all worked out. As far as you're concerned, I'll only be gone a month. I'm the one who has to travel to the past for a year. If anyone should have separation anxiety, it's me.”
“I see that your vocabulary is appropriately expanding. And I do not, in any way, have 'separation anxiety'. In fact, I'm quite pleased that I will not have to deal with your incessant infantile behaviour.”
“Well, I see that you’re in a better mood. Don’t worry; you’ll still have Sirius and Remus to talk to.” Severus glared at him. “I thought we could go to dinner at the Three Broomsticks tonight. Just the two of us. No ‘mangy canines’ keeping us company. You can tell me all about what I’m supposed to do in the past.”
“Harry, you know I can’t.” Severus's voice was clipped and exasperated. It occurred to him that Severus must be tired of having that same conversation with him.
“I know." Harry grabbed Severus's arm right above the elbow and started to pull him toward the door. "Come on, let’s go. Besides, this'll be the last time we'll spend any time together for a month.”
Severus snatched his arm away and fell into step next to Harry. ♦