The Paradox of Existence
Chapter Two: The Dragon Incident
*The Past *
Harry was going to have words with his godfather when he got back to his own time. He didn't know what he had expected, but this wasn't it. The essay that he had just read was copied verbatim from “Excessive Arguments on Ways to Classify Various Species of Dragons, Their Fire and Their Blood” by Hugh Newtit. Harry had become very familiar with the volume when he had worked with Charlie Weasley in Romania after he'd finished at Hogwarts. The book was old -- although thinking about it, it had probably been published within the last few years from this time -- but it did cover all the different systems one might come across when dealing with a colony of dragon experts. Harry regretfully marked a T on the paper and wrote a note under it. “If you need to ask why, look in the library under Hugh Newtit and his book on dragon classification. See me after class.”
“Bet you love having your old job back. I know how much you missed teaching Defence.” Harry looked up at the sound of the rough voice.
“Sirius, speak of the devil!” Harry set his mouth into a thin line and drummed his fingers against the top of his desk.
“I’m starting to think that you spend too much time with Snape.”
“Really? I’m much more curious about how you passed your Auror qualification exam.”
Sirius sauntered into the room and locked the door behind him. Perching himself on one of the desks, he cast a silencing spell over the room before turning to Harry. “Why would you be wondering that?”
Harry made a show of clearing his throat before reading aloud from the paper he had just graded. “'Dragon classification is one of the most fascinating topics that can be touched upon by an intelligent mind. There are many unknown facets that have yet to be discovered about dragon physiology and anatomy; however, such means are not the only way to classify these magical miracles…' Should I even bother continuing?”
Sirius had the graciousness to flush. “I remember getting that paper back. I--“ Sirius stopped when he saw the glare. “I forgot. You can’t know what’s going to happen in the past anymore than you can tell about the future. It could sway your reactions. So are you having trouble separating our older selves from our younger selves?”
“Not particularly. You’ve all changed so much. You, Remus, Severus, even Malfoy Sr., all of you seem so much more carefree. Especially the Marauders; it’s as if none of you have a care in the world. Well, except James. He's still trying to find a way to convince Lily to sneak out without alerting his deranged Defence professor to his plans. You know, I'm still trying to figure out how my parents got together.”
Sirius blanched. “You heard that?”
“Yes. I also heard that I’m a spy for Voldemort, I’m a spawn of the devil, I’m a day-walking vampire, that I’m ‘positively evil’, and that I’m a pissed off werewolf. I’ll excuse the last since you were arguing with Remus that week. You really didn’t like me in school, did you? It seems as far as you and your friends went, I was this year's Professor Snape.”
“It’s your own fault. You sat me next to that greasy Slytherin git.”
“That's right, how could I forget your disastrous tryst in fifth year? Though I have to admit, certain other incidents did cinch your contempt for each other.”
“How did you find out about fifth year? I know that neither I nor Remus told you about it.”
Sirius scrunched his face into a disgusted grimace. “Enough about greasy Slytherins and stupid students. Albus wanted me to check on how the translation was going.”
“As well as can be expected, since I've never seen written Parseltongue before. It’s a disturbing sight. I haven't made any real progress because I have only had access to the scroll a handful of times since I got here." Harry shook his head. "It's as if I'm on probation with the Order, like they're feeling me out. I know that they doubt my loyalties, they're supposed to, though this Albus did assure me that they would eventually stop and give me full access. If I had to estimate the amount I've finished, I'd say about two lines.”
“Just two lines? And why are they supposed to doubt you?”
“I have to teach myself a whole new written language, Sirius. Just because I can speak it doesn’t mean I can automatically read it. It's going to take some time. The knowledge is there, it's just locked away. At times...” Harry shifted the papers on his desk. "I don't trust myself, Sirius. Do you think that you'd be able to keep from changing things if you were faced with the choice every day? As long as the Order keeps me out, then I don't have to face that choice. I'm here for one reason, and that is to translate a scroll."
Harry could feel Sirius's eyes on him, but didn't look up. He didn't want to see pity or sadness or any other negative emotion at the moment. He'd known what he was getting into when he'd accepted the assignment and he would do what he had to do to complete it.
"Before I forget, Hermione sent this.” Stuffing his hand into one of his pockets, Sirius pulled out a small box. Casting a re-enlargement charm on it, he held it out to Harry. “She called it a care package. Said something about giving you a little piece of home.”
He smiled as he viewed the contents of the box. Biscuits and pastries and even a few of Molly's homemade meat pies. And, knowing Hermione, they'd all have a keep-fresh charm on them. “Tell her I love it. That it's just what I need after reading these horrid essays.”
Sirius flinched, but nodded and pulled a set of five vials out of another pocket. “Snape didn’t know how you’d be sleeping, said something about nightmares. Granted, I didn’t listen very closely since it involved thinking about you and Snape in bed together and I avoid all such thoughts. Anyway, he said to give you these and that you would know appropriate doses. Remus said to tell you that he thinks Snape misses you. Says he’s been an absolute grump the last couple of days. Personally, I don’t see a difference. Of course, Remus says it’s because I don’t want to, and that I’m as dense as ever.”
Harry chuckled. “Did Ron come back from Austria yet? I know his mum and Hermione had been worrying about him.”
“No, the Ministry still has him there. Hermione says that he’s all right. Oh, and the teachers send their regards. Of course, most don’t know where you are, but they all miss you.” Sirius smirked and dropped a small bag onto Harry's desk. “Here’s your allowance, young man, don't spend it all in one place." He chuckled.
Harry raised an eyebrow in curiosity.
"Albus said that your pay packet here should be supplemented, in case you needed to cover any unexpected expenses. You've no access to Gringott's or any other wizarding financial institution, after all. No savings to draw on." Sirius shrugged. "I don't question the old man, just do as I'm told."
"When it suits you to do so."
Sirius grinned. "I think that’s it. I’m supposed to be getting back.”
Harry stood and moved around his desk so that he could say goodbye. “Are you sure you can’t stay for supper? It's not like Albus would know.”
“Sorry, this is the testing visit. Albus said to keep it short, and he will know. He always does. Don't ask me how, I don't know. Don’t worry. You’ll see me again in two months. I believe Severus has demanded the next visit, and I'm sure it's for some perverted reason."
Harry shook his head.
"Take care, Harry."
“I will.” Harry watched as Sirius withdrew the time turner from his robes, and with his wand tapped it while reciting the reversal spell -- the only way to go back to the time you left without having to live through all the time separating the two.
Harry stared for a minute at the space that his godfather had occupied, before grabbing a biscuit out of the box and returning to grading papers. Sighing, he read the first few lines of his father's essay. “Dragon classification is one of the most fascinating topics that can be touched upon by an intelligent mind. There are many unknown facets that have yet to be discovered about dragon physiology and anatomy; however, such means are not the only way to classify these magical miracles…”
And Harry had always thought that the Marauders had been creative.
“Quite a few of you disappointed me with your lack of essay writing skills.” Harry watched as the young Sirius Black’s eyes flicked over to James Potter. “Nott.” The boy in the last row jumped when his name was called. Harry walked over to him and set a parchment face down on his desk. “Evans.” Having finished returning all the essays, Harry leaned against his desk and surveyed the faces of his students; most were disappointed and only a handful looked content with their grades.
“I told you that there would not be any useless essay writing in this class. To prove this to you, the next class is going to be practical applications of what you've learned." He was met with blank stares from the majority of the class, but only a handful of actually interested ones, Remus among them. "Wednesday we will meet outside with the 7th year Care of Magical Creatures class by the groundskeeper’s hut. There have been arrangements made to have two dragons with handlers brought onto school property. I expect you to be able to classify the specimens, with back up explanations as to how they were classified. The class following that, I’ll explain how dragon fire fits into our study of the Dark Arts. For all of you who did not do as well as expected I suggest you revise. No notes - after all, parchment does tend to be highly flammable. Class dismissed.”
Most students had already had their books in their bags and they quickly left the room, essays in hand. As he watched the remaining students, Black attempted to stealthily shove his essay into his bag, but Snape noticed and made a grab for the parchment. Sensing an impending battle, Harry moved to stand over the two.
Black shook his head before going back to shoving his supplies into his bag.
Snape looked startled, but quietly replied, “No, sir.” He blushed, his cheeks just taking on the barest hint of pink, before picking up his books and hurrying out of the classroom, and knowing Severus as he did, Harry was almost sure the young man was cursing his pale complexion all the way. Not that he ever did anything to change it.
As soon as the door closed behind him, Harry turned to see Sirius Black and James Potter shuffling from foot to foot, waiting for their expected punishment.
Levelling a hard gaze at them both, Harry sighed and leaned against his desk. “I’m not so much angry as I am disappointed.” The two boys flinched at his choice of words. Harry knew from experience that it always felt worse when teachers were disappointed than if they were just angry. It was McGonagall's guilt trip of choice, after all. James looked down at the toes of his shoes and tried not to look at him, while Sirius had done the opposite and was looking at the ceiling. “I expected better from the two of you.”
James bit his bottom lip in an oddly reminiscent gesture. “Can we have another chance, Professor Tyler?”
“The grade will stand.” At this pronouncement the two boys seemed to deflate. Harry shook his head. “However, if you redo the essay by Friday afternoon so that I can have it graded in time for the practical lesson then I will see what can be done.” Immediately, the two boys grinned and looked toward each other. “This is your final warning. If I ever catch either of you doing something like this again, you will find yourselves expelled so fast that you won’t even have time to say 'Gryffindor.’”
“I will not inform your Head of House. This time. As long as I have your solemn promise you won't repeat this with any of the other teachers at this school.”
“I promise, Professor.” James looked him right in the eye.
“Good. And you, Mr. Black?”
Sirius jerked his head in a quick nod. “It was a stupid and foolish thing to do. I won’t do it again. I promise.”
“Very well, then. Off you go. I’m sure that Madam Pince will point you in the right direction.” The two boys hoisted their bags and started toward the door. “One last thing." They looked back at him. "Stay away from anything written by Hugh Newtit.”
Harry sat down in his chair as the door closed. He had a vague feeling that he had just made himself seem like a pushover to the two boys. Putting his head in his hands, he sighed. The beginnings of a headache were noticeable around his temples and his shoulders. Why couldn't he have taught Muggle Studies in this time, too?
Harry watched as Madam Pomfrey took care of the three students that had been burned during the practical lesson. Luckily, the burns hadn't been bad; after all, he'd seen much worse during his time in Romania, but he still had no idea what had happened. Salve and ointment applied, Poppy ordered that they all rest and she made her way over to him, waving her wand to remove the stasis spell that she had placed him under.
He breathed a sigh of relief as the tingling sensation from the spell vanished, but was soon flinching as she poked and prodded the gash on his chest. He smiled slightly as she tutted at him irritably.
“What deluded you into thinking that wrestling a dragon would be a good idea, Professor Tyler?”
“Would you believe that I used to do it for fun?”
She made a disapproving clucking sound with her tongue. "Take off your shirt.”
Harry leaned forward. “Why, Poppy, I didn’t realise—“
She cut him off quickly, a pink flush across her cheeks. “Nonsense. I need to get a good look at that wound.”
Grimacing, he lifted his arms to take off his shirt. Finally managing the task, though with some difficulty, he surrendered to Poppy's not-so-tender mercies until a gasp from behind him made him turn.
“Is something the matter, Mr. Snape? I already took care of those burns - is there another injury that I should be aware of?”
Harry was startled at the meek tone coming from Snape. His student's eyes were wide and his cheeks were red. Harry's attention was drawn away from the young man, however, as Poppy grabbed his shoulders and forced him to turn further around.
“Gentle, Poppy. I didn’t hurt my back. What’s so interesting?” Harry felt her fingers trace the large red and gold shield on his back and then the silver snake that wrapped around it, and could guess what she was thinking. “About four or five years ago, I went out with a friend of mine. The two of us drank a bit too much, and we ended up at a wizarding tattoo parlour. Somehow, I was convinced to have that put on my back. I’ve grown rather fond of it.” It wasn't commonplace for anyone to walk around with the symbols of two Houses entwined, especially those two houses, etched permanently into his skin. But it represented who he was and he wouldn't take it back for anything. The Gryffindor and the Slytherin.
Her curiosity satisfied, it still took Poppy some time to clean out the wound of all poison. The substance that coated the claws of juvenile dragons tended to be more deleterious than that of an adult dragon. Of course, this gave them the added protection they needed while going through multiple molting stages when they shed their skin -- and therefore their protective scales -- while growing, but made them much more dangerous to people of a mind to wrestle them. Once all the poison had been nullified, it only took a few moments for her to heal it.
Pulling on his shirt, Harry made his way over to where the three students were in bed recovering from their minor burns.
“Who can tell me what happened? Professor Augustin and I were otherwise engaged when the three of you got burned.”
It was James Potter that answered. He was the only one of the four students in the hospital wing that hadn't been hurt, and the only one that hadn't listened when Harry snapped at the class to return to the classroom until the end of the period. “Well, after the dragon escaped and you jumped in front of it, Snape backed up into one of the heat resistant posts that we were using to test the strength of dragon fire." Potter glanced at Snape, a smirk on his face. "Obviously, he's a coward. A real man would have--"
Lily broke him off and finished the story. “The post hit the adult dragons we were working with. We didn't realize that anything was wrong until a gush of scalding air touched us. But there wasn't any fire."
“So the dragon was just full of hot air?” Harry smirked. Laughter was the best medicine. At least there weren't any critics in this time to tell him how awful his jokes were.
“Professor, where did you learn to wrestle dragons like that?” Severus's voice broke into the quieting laughter. James and Lily looked expectantly at him while Sirius attempted to glare at the Slytherin for opening his mouth, but failed; it was obvious that all of the students were interested in his answer.
It took Harry a moment to decide on a course of action, finally opting for an abbreviated form of the truth. “I used to work with a dragon colony, though only for a short time. I would help out a few of the handlers when the smaller dragons would get out of hand. It didn't take long to learn that a quick way of getting one back under control was to make a slight cut between their claws on one of their hind legs. It doesn't hurt them, just gives them a bit of a shock, but they'll stop immediately. To do it, you have to get near to their hind legs, and to do that, you wrestle them. Takes a while to get the hang of.”
The four students looked at him with mixed degrees of awe on their faces, and Harry had to keep himself from fidgeting. Sirius finally broke the silence, but when he did, he didn't make Harry any more comfortable. “That must have taken bollo-- nerves of steel. Weren’t you scared?”
“No. I’ve had worse things happen to me.” Harry smiled at his students before standing up although his smile didn't reach his eyes. The last thing he needed was any sort of hero worship. “I'd better get going. Madam Pomfrey will have my head if I don’t let you rest. Mr. Potter, I believe your next class starts in fifteen minutes. I expect to hear that you attended.” Without waiting for a response he turned to leave.
Steps away from the door, he heard Sirius's voice. "I told you that he had to have been a Gryffindor, James. That's a galleon you owe me." ♦