The Paradox of Existence
by DragonLight


Chapter Eight:  Raiding a Kitchen – Raiding a Heart

Lifting his head from his desk, Harry blearily looked at the watch he had taken off and set on the desk.  Two in the morning.  Severus was going to kill him.  One day he'd learn that he shouldn't grade essays late at night.

Rubbing at his eyes with one hand, he put the essays in the bottom drawer of his desk and set off to the kitchen.  Maybe the house-elves would have something that he could eat before crawling into bed.  All evidence gone might save Harry from a second lecture about--

Harry stopped and leaned against the wall.  There was no Severus waiting for him downstairs in the dungeons.  He didn't have to brace himself for the usual lecture about falling asleep over essays, missing dinner, and eating at two in the morning before going to bed.  He wasn't Professor Potter, he was Professor Tyler, and he was stuck in the past doing a job that he didn't want to do anymore.

He missed his home.  He missed his friends and family.  He missed Severus.  And the fact that he had woken up thinking he was back there just made the pain all the more acute.

Harry's hand was on the portrait, about to tickle the pear and gain entrance to the kitchen, when a shuffle of feet reached his ears and he paused.  Shifting slightly, he turned his head toward the sound.  Breathing.  Scared breathing, fast and shallow.  And the scrape of cloth.  It really was amazing what he could hear when he actually listened.  Severus was right.

Putting on his best Severus "you're out past curfew, what do you think you are doing?" expression, Harry reached out and feeling the slipperiness of an invisibility cloak, grabbed and pulled it off the surprised boys.

"Good evening, gentlemen, or should I be saying good morning?  A little late to be roaming around the castle, don't you think?"

Remus just squeezed his eyes shut and sighed, while Potter looked at him with his jaw set and defiance obvious in his stance.  Well, at least Harry knew where he picked that up from.  Black was doing a fairly good job of looking torn between being defiant and wishing he could hide. And Peter was glancing around trying to find a way to escape.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Harry looked at them.  "At least you remembered our appointment."

The boys stared at him blankly.

"For that talk we were going to have.  About unauthorized wandering around the school."

Harry grabbed an apple from the stash of food they had in their arms and banished the rest back to the kitchen with a wave of his wand.  The Marauders groaned, but said nothing else.

Taking a bite, Harry smirked at them and motioned for them to follow him.  "I should thank you for remembering that I missed dinner.  Come on then."

He hadn't gotten very far when he again felt the brush of material that wasn't there against his arm.  Pausing, Harry once again pulled another invisibility cloak off of more unsuspecting students.

"I didn't know that there were so many students with such cloaks.  Perhaps I should alert the Headmaster.  Someone should be going through students' trunks.  Maybe Mr Filch."

Snape blanched, and Malfoy didn't look much better at the thought of the school's caretaker going through his things.  Of course the same thing would have made Harry terribly uncomfortable as well.

"Well, it looks like we'll have some more company, boys.  How about the two of you joining us for our little talk?"

***

Pointing to the area in front of his desk, Harry ordered the boys to stand there and not talk.  "Your traipsing around the castle interrupted me in the middle of some very important work that I had to set aside in order to go and fetch the lot of you."  This wasn't at all the case, but it was a ploy that always worked.  Omniscience in professors was expected, as Harry had learned.

Now that he was in his office, Harry didn't know what he was going to do with them all.  He wanted to make it a real punishment, and not just an afternoon spent copying lines in Professor Tyler's office.  And he didn't want to pawn off his responsibilities as a teacher assigning detention onto another professor.

Looking up from his desk, he examined the boys in their groups.  The Gryffindors on one side, the Slytherins as far away as possible.  For all that they didn't get each other in trouble, the two groups were doing quite a bit of glaring.

Harry sighed.  He was never going to get away from House prejudices.

Coming to a decision, Harry pressed the tips of his fingers together and coughed slightly.  The boys, in turn, started to fidget, and Harry took a bit of tired joy from it.

"Mr Lupin and Mr Pettigrew, as neither of you have landed in my office over the last month, you are dismissed.  Ten points have been deducted from Gryffindor each and you are to meet Madam Pince in the library for your detention tomorrow.  Off with you."

They just nodded, and with apologetic backward glances to their two friends left the room.

"I am really quite tired of seeing you in my office.  Over the past month, I have stopped more scuffles and pranks then I have ever had to in all the years I've taught.  I do not find it amusing."

The four boys looked down at the ground, but didn't say anything.

"Now.  I will not confiscate the cloaks, though I'd be well within my rights to do so.  However, I will not be seeing them again, do I make myself clear?"

A cacophony of "yes, professor" reached his ears.

"The House system, while it does have its virtues, also has quite a bit of failings.  I think this might be a good time to show you all that just because you're in opposing Houses doesn't mean you can't… work together."

Harry reached into the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a bunch of cords before moving to the front of his desk to lean against it.  "I think… yes, Mr Black, why don't you switch places with Mr Snape?"  He waited until the two young men complied, dismay in every line of their faces.

Perhaps this was going to border on the cruel, but Harry didn't care at the moment.  These were students.  They were not the adult versions that he cared about so much.  Any guilt he was feeling really was misplaced.

First he approached Malfoy and Black.  "Give me your hands.  Your other one, Mr Malfoy.  Thank you."  Within moments their arms were bound from wrist to elbow with a thin grey cord.  Then he moved to his father and Snape, and soon their arms were bound together similarly.  All four of the boys had looks of horror on their faces.

"I've been thinking of what to do with the lot of you, and this is what came to mind.  You see, you will share each other's lives from five past eight every morning until dinner.  On Monday and Wednesday you will be attending the Slytherin classes that Mr Malfoy and Mr Snape attend.  On Tuesday and Thursday you will be attending the Gryffindor classes.  Friday," Harry paused, thinking.  "Oh, I suppose which ever class you can convince your counterpart to attend.  And on the weekend, well, I just suppose you'll have to spend time in each other's company."

Potter was staring at the cord binding his arm to Snape's with disgust.  "For how long?"

"For a week.  A full seven days.  Starting tomorrow morning."

Pulling his wand out, Harry muttered a Latin incantation and touched the tip to each of the cords.  It almost looked like it was melting into his students' skin, and, he supposed, in a way it was.

As soon as the cords disappeared, the boys jumped apart as quickly as possible.

"This is a joke.  It has to be!"

"No joke, Mr Malfoy.  I'm afraid you've been subjugated to my evil whims."

"When my father hears about this..."

"Yeah," James jumped in.  "I'll tell my da!"

Harry grinned.  "I assure you, I have the Headmaster's full support in this punishment."  And even if he didn't, it wouldn't be hard to get.  Albus, no matter the time, would see the humour in a punishment such as this.  "I have no fear of either of your fathers."

Malfoy and Potter growled but didn't offer further arguments.  It was rather shocking to see how similar the two could be.  Disturbing really.

"Now, before I forget, I'll offer a little advice.  Breakfast is not for sleeping in.  Enjoy the rest of your night, boys."

Turning away from the four grumbling boys, Harry looked down at his desk.  He knew they hated each other, and he knew that this punishment wouldn't work to keep them from hating each other, but hopefully, if his luck would hold out, it would teach them a lesson and they'd keep out of trouble around him for the rest of the year.

It didn't have a chance in hell of succeeding.

“How could you do that to me?!”  

"I believe I did it to the lot of you, Mr Snape."  Harry clenched his fists, his nails digging into the wood of the desk top.  He shouldn't be surprised.  He would have been furious as well.  He couldn't turn and face the young Severus even though he should.

"That's not what I meant.  Why me?"

"I don't see a difference.  You had no reason to be out of bounds after curfew.  You were caught.  You were punished.  That is the end of it."

"You didn't punish Lupin."

Sighing, Harry turned toward Severus.  "I took points for him being out, and assigned him detention with Pince."

"But he didn't get punished like the rest of us!"

Harry clenched his jaw.  He knew what this was all about, and he knew that this wasn't going to get him anywhere.  Severus's concept of fair obviously hadn't changed.

"You're right, I didn't."  He was so tired, and getting into an ideological conversation with an upset sixteen year old was making Harry snappy.  He knew that as well, but he didn't bite back the words that came next.  "Not that it is any of your business."

Severus glowered.  "It's not fair!  Teachers aren't supposed to have favourites.  But just like all the other teachers here, you do.  And of course it's the Gryffindors.  I thought you were different."

“You think all the teachers have favourites?  Well I’ll admit some do.  The Heads of the Houses do.  They favour their houses.  So with those exceptions you still think that ALL the rest of the teachers favour the Gryffindors.  Why?”

Harry should have expected the answer, and part of him did.  He wasn't as surprised as he felt he should have been when Snape muttered, "Potter."

No matter what, Severus would believe the things he thought he saw, and it would continue to the point where his blind hatred of one name would cross generations.  Harry didn't even pretend to hope that he could change that now.

"So the entire school gravitates around Potter and his friends?  Interesting.  But I don't agree."  Why was he doing this?  Why didn't he just snap at Snape to go back to his dorm before he landed himself another detention?

Because he was Severus, and Harry missed his Severus.  Young or old, at three in the morning it didn't matter.  Harry hated himself for that.

"It's true. Everyone favours him.  Even you!"

Harry only caught sight of Severus's cheeks turning pink before the young man turned away and looked at the ground.  

Severus Snape was jealous, to be sure, but as for why, Harry had no idea.

"So you think that I favour Potter and that… upsets you, Mr Snape?"  Harry shook his head.  "I honestly don't see how I do so."

Severus refused to look at him.  "After classes, you are always talking to him and the other idiot Gryffindors."

Severus Snape was sulking.  With his arms crossed across his chest and his glare spitting black fire, he slouched down in his chair and looked so much like the older Severus that Harry's stomach twisted.  Of course, his Severus didn't add the petulant whinging.  Harry was always left to figure out what the problem was on his own.  This, as annoying as it was, was much easier.

"They asked."

"What?"

"They ask for stories.  After class they ask me if there are any other interesting things that I've seen or done that pertain to the lesson.  And, since I see no reason not to humour them, sometimes I oblige."  Harry paused, watching the look of confusion on Severus's face.  "At times they ask for advice instead, and as their professor, I feel honour bound to give it.  I would do the same for anyone."

Some of the petulance drained away, but the sulking remained.  The sulking always remained.

"Mr Snape, I do not play favourites.  I have not played favourites for longer than I've taught.  Have not since I was your age, if you must know.  The fact that you have not been tossed out of my office is proof of this."

"Then why didn't you punish Lupin like you punished us?  Is it because of what he is?"

Harry should be used to having his every action questioned, but from this young man, it bothered him.  He knew that he could just refuse to answer.  Should just refuse to answer, but… part of him wanted to.  Wanted to prove to this Snape at least that there was some sort of fairness in his actions even if he couldn't see it.

“No.  I did not exempt Lupin because of his lycanthropy.  Which you aren’t supposed to mention anyway.”  

Severus didn’t even flinch at the reminder that he wasn’t to discuss Remus's ‘illness’ with anyone, teacher or student, regardless of whether or not they knew.

"Then how can you justify it?"

"Exactly what I've said already.  Over the last month the four of you have repeatedly landed in my office for one thing or another.  I've been handed more complaints about hexes, fights, and anything and everything the lot of you can think up than I desire to count.  You go after each other constantly, and I'm tired of it.  So I assigned a punishment that I hope might curb your behaviour."

"Why do you care?  It's not like you're Head of either House."

Harry shook his head.  "You're my students.  That's enough of a reason to care, to make sure that you don't get hurt, be it by another student or any outside danger.  One of you could cause grave harm to the others."  Harry narrowed his eyes and captured Severus's gaze with his.  "But you already know that, don't you?"

Snape snapped his head to the side.

"Besides, I got tired of my fellow professors bickering over what's to be done with you.  I told them that I would deal with the group of you.  And this is how I've chosen to do it."

"So you don't care?  It's all because you feel responsible for us?  You don't care about anyone at all!"

Harry was taken aback.  "I don't?  A little presumptuous of you, I'd say."

Severus shrugged, but after a minute his body relaxed and he almost seemed to collapse into himself.  "I care."

The words were so quiet that Harry thought he had imagined them for a moment.

"I care that you care.  I want you to care."  Severus's voice dropped in volume even more, but he didn't stop.  "About me."

Harry swallowed.  He could have ended the conversation so many times.  Severus could have been back in his dormitory sleeping and hating him for being an unfair prick.  But instead Harry had let the conversation continue until he was no longer in control.  He closed his eyes for a brief moment.  Now was certainly not the time to give any sort of concession to young Mr Snape.

"Of course I care.  You're my student and it does matter to me what happens to you."

"That's not what I mean!  I want you to care about me as a person.  The way I care about you!"

Steeling himself, Harry lied.  "I don't understand a word that is coming out of your mouth, Mr Snape."

Severus took a deep breath and stared at him, every line of his stance filled with determination.  "I love you, Pro- Octavian."

Shit.

He wasn't strong enough to deal with this now.  He was being offered something that he couldn't allow himself to have.  Ever.

Harry wanted to reach out and take everything that was offered.  He could feel the desire to touch Severus when he was young and vulnerable and open and there.  Right in front of him.  This wasn't his Severus, but one day he would be, and Harry wanted him.  But there wasn't any grand emotion behind it, he knew that.

It wasn't love.  Not for him, and not for this Severus Snape.

"You don't love me."

"I do!  I think about you constantly.  I'm jealous when I see you talking closely to anyone else.  I want to be that person, no matter who they are.  I want you to pay attention to me.  Only me."

"That's not love.  That's infatuation."  Harry couldn't run from this.  He had to deal with it.  If he had dealt with it after that detention, then maybe he wouldn't be in this position at some godforsaken hour of the morning.  "You don't know what love is."

Severus stepped up to him, and for a minute Harry thought of backing away, but foolishly he stood his ground.

"Then show me," Severus whispered, then settled his lips over Harry's. ♦

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