The Paradox of Existence
Chapter Nine: The Talk
Harry didn't return the kiss, even though one small part of him wanted to. Clutching Severus's shoulders, he tore his mouth away and pushed the younger man back. Severus stumbled and ended up sitting in one of the desk chairs.
His breathing fast and harsh, Harry glared at Snape. He wasn't angry with him, not at all. He was angry at himself, at the situation, at the complete lack of control that he was so familiar with. That he hated.
Severus Snape would be going back to his dormitory. And Harry would curse himself for even answering the first of young Snape's questions when he was safely locked in his rooms.
Harry looked at Severus, his face hidden in his hands. He was just a boy. A boy that fancied himself in love with a professor. This was a bad situation.
"I've ruined things. I've ruined everything." Severus's voice was quiet and torn at the edges.
"There was nothing to ruin."
"Any chance I had is gone."
"You had none."
Harry's whole body was strung taut with tension. In minutes he knew he'd start to feel the aches in his shoulders and calves. Even his fingers. He needed to get Severus out. But he'd proved to himself just how horrible he was at that. Why couldn't Severus Snape, any Severus Snape, be manageable?
Harry supposed that was part of his charm.
"How can you say that? How can you think that nothing exists between us?!"
"Because nothing does, and nothing ever will." He'd say penance for that lie later. "You are my student, I am your teacher. That is the only relationship that can, or will ever, exist between us."
This was sounding too familiar to Harry's ears. And while the outcome of the last time he'd been in such a conversation was to his liking, he wanted the opposite ending to this one. All he needed was a little luck. And lies.
"You can be with me if you want to. There aren't any rules against this."
"However, that hinges on the belief that I want to be with you, Mr Snape. For all you know, I could have a woman stashed somewhere." Fat chance that, but worth a shot.
Severus stared at him with no emotion. It was as if the concept that he could have been straight never occurred to him. "You're... no. You don't like women. I'm sure of that."
Severus nodded. "Had you had such proclivities you..." He paused, and for a moment Harry thought he had him.
"You left. After my detention, you left. You didn't laugh and say you liked women. You left. You're no more straight than I."
Clenching his hand into a fist, Harry cursed himself. It had never occurred to him to behave so, to hide his persuasion, and just as his Severus always had, this one guessed the motivation behind his actions.
"Point taken. Though you have not proven your main point. I have no interest in being with a child."
"I am not a child! You know nothing about me. Nothing about my life!" Severus glared. "I'm not a child."
Harry's lips turned up in a cold smile. "And you, Mr Snape, know nothing about me. To pursuing this relationship makes you foolhardy enough to be placed in Gryffindor."
Severus shrunk back in his chair, his eyes wide and unblinking as he stared at Harry.
"I am not nice. I am not understanding. I am not patient. On quite a few occasions I've been called a heartless bastard." Harry paused. He wasn't quite lying, but he was exaggerating the truth quite a bit. Not that it mattered. This Severus Snape needn't know what he was like. It didn't matter. It'd be better if he never knew.
"You're wrong. It's all an act." Harry could see Snape swallow hastily and swipe at his bottom lip with his tongue. The young man wasn't so sure of himself anymore. "You're just upset. The Octavian Tyler that I've seen is not those things." Severus stood up. "You say that I don’t know you and that if I did I wouldn’t want a relationship. So let me get to know you. The Octavian Tyler that I’ve seen is the most fair, unbiased individual I’ve ever met. If I’m wrong and you’re right then I wouldn’t want a relationship. What harm can there be?”
"No." One word, and with it the end to one of the worst conversations in his life.
But Severus didn't back down. "Why not? I'm not going anywhere until you agree." Severus shrugged. "It'd be awfully hard to explain why I was in here so late at night, maybe all night. It could ruin your reputation with the teachers and students."
Harry flexed his fingers, imagining what they'd feel like strangling the little bastard. Severus Snape at this age should not be blackmailing him. Whether or not it was something that his Severus would do.
"Once a week you can come to my office for an hour long tutoring session. As long as my attention is not required by any other student or teacher, you can sit and finish your homework." Harry bit out each word between clenched teeth. "Or, if you so insist, we can talk. Now, get out."
Severus grinned before turning and scrambling out of the office.
A small glass paperweight in the shape of a prism shattered against the door seconds later. Sliding down into his chair, Harry waved his hands at the shards before he summoned it back to his hands to look at.
Severus had given the prism to him when he had first started teaching. It was a practical gift. Most of Severus's gifts were practical. Setting it down, he looked at it, and cast a thin beam of pure light into it so he could watch the light break up into so many colours.
This Severus, in this time... Harry didn't know what to do.
*Future: Beginning of Harry’s 7th year*
The cool glass clutched tightly in his hands, Harry waited. The room was silent, except for the crackling of the fire. The perfect atmosphere for thinking, and Harry was attempting to think, but he was more nervous than anything.
Sneaking into Severus's room hadn't been the best idea that he ever had, especially since he could have been wrong and suffered some horrible demise at his attempt to breach Severus's wards with a bad password. But his luck had held, as well as the password that Severus had used at the end of the summer.
And now he was sitting and waiting for the explosion he was sure would happen as soon as he was discovered. Though he couldn't let things stand as they were. Severus couldn't continue to ignore him. Couldn't pretend that everything that had happened during the summer didn't occur. It had, and it was there, and Harry knew that he needed to know what it all meant.
He was sure what it all meant for him. It didn't matter if Severus thought he was young or foolish or anything else. He knew what he felt, and if he had to force Severus to believe it, then he would. He wasn't giving up without a fight.
The door slamming shut startled Harry out of his reverie, and he sat up a little straighter and clutched his pilfered brandy a little tighter. And he didn't look at the door.
Though he could feel the second that Severus caught sight of him sitting there in the chair across from his; a prickling sensation between his shoulder blades that made him want to fidget and reach behind him. He rubbed at his neck, and didn't dare turn around to make sure that Severus was indeed looking at him. Harry didn't know what to do if he was just being ignored.
“So this is where the Famous Harry Potter has hidden away from the world.”
Harry flinched at Severus's -- or maybe this was Snape -- lack of inflection. The cool monotone made him more uncomfortable than Snape's yelling ever did. Severus. Severus's yelling.
"I'm not hiding."
"Really? That filthy mutt that deigns to call himself a man just spent the last fifteen minutes threatening me for murdering you over the summer."
Severus was coming closer. Harry could hear the swish of his robes as he crossed the room, but still Harry didn't take his eyes away from the fire.
"He's searching the castle for your lifeless body even as we speak. Wouldn't take the word of your friends," Severus flung the word at Harry, "that you must be alive as they've spent the whole week with you."
Harry laughed, but the sound rang hollow to his own ears. Trying a smile instead, he finally turned to look at Severus, who had taken the seat across from him and was looking at him. Passively.
Harry swallowed. "We have... I think we should talk. So I came down here. No hiding. Just didn't tell anyone where I was going."
Severus gave him a clipped nod. "You shouldn't be drinking."
"You shouldn't have let me try any over the summer. I've discovered I like brandy."
Severus said nothing for a moment, and Harry wondered if he had misstepped. If the joke had been the wrong thing to say. He wondered if everything he'd been doing was wrong. Shaking his head, he turned back to the fire, trying to figure out what he was supposed to do, supposed to say now.
"Aren't you the least bit worried about your godfather wandering the castle looking for you? All sorts of evils could befall him. You should go."
Harry shrugged and sipped at the brandy. "He knows I'm fine. He's just trying to be difficult. I told him I found the summer 'tolerable'. I would have told him I didn't mind spending time with you at all except that I kinda like having a godfather and didn't want to kill him."
"Pity. The world would have been so much nicer."
Harry gave a half-hearted smile. Severus and Sirius would never like each other. The world would end first. But Harry didn't really want it any other way. They wouldn't be them, and Harry really liked them the way they were. Except for when he didn't.
"I meant it, you know. What I said."
Severus wasn't looking at him. "You've said many things, Mr Potter, and I'm sure that you haven't meant all of them."
Biting his lip at the sound of 'Mr Potter', Harry chewed on it while he tried to figure out where to go next. Severus was impossible.
There really weren't that many directions he could take this conversation.
"I meant it when I said I love you. I do."
Severus's fingers dug into the upholstery of his chair, and Harry watched as his knuckles turned from pale to red to white. He didn't know if that was a good sign or a bad sign.
"Don't say such things, Potter."
Bad sign, then. "It was 'Harry' this summer."
"It is no longer summer. You are back attending classes, and I am back to teaching them. Whatever nonsense occurred this past summer shall not continue."
There wasn't any argument that Harry could offer if Severus really didn't want to continue their relationship. Especially since there wasn't really a relationship, just a hope that Harry had been harbouring. But he wouldn't leave without knowing one thing at least.
"It's relatively simple. You are now my student once again."
"I've always been your student. Nothing is different."
"This summer, Potter, you were acting as an operative of the Order of the Phoenix, assigned to work with me by Albus Dumbledore."
"Harry. If you expect me to listen to your argument then you can call me Harry. Please, Severus."
"The dynamic this summer was different. I was your mentor, Harry, not your teacher. Now that we are back at school, I am once again your professor and you are now back to being Potter, the bane of my existence."
Harry leaned back and sighed. One victory coupled with a loss. He wasn't gaining any ground at all. "That's just an excuse. You're hiding behind your excuses. I wish you'd stop."
Severus's eyes narrowed. "I am doing no such thing, Potter. Now, I insist that you vacate my quarters immediately. And I wouldn't bother coming back. The password shall be changed as soon as the door closes behind you."
Harry closed his eyes for a minute. The glass he held was no longer cool. Instead it felt like it would slip out of his hands, his palms had gotten so sweaty. Setting it on the small table next to him, Harry slipped off the chair to his knees.
"Don't push me out."
"I do not plan to bother with you. You are to show yourself out. With magical help, if need be."
"Not your rooms. Not..." Harry pulled in a harsh breath between his teeth. "We shared a lot this summer, Severus."
"And what do you think we shared?"
"Secrets. Emotions. Our souls."
Severus snorted. "Our souls? You must be joking. Where do you find these concepts?"
Harry didn't say anything; he didn't need to. Instead he watched as Severus, most likely without thinking, lifted the brandy glass from the table and took a sip.
"We saved each other's lives. You suffered a breakdown and chose me to confide in. I'm sure had anyone else been there, you would have chosen them. Likewise, as far as I am concerned. You were convenient."
Harry's chest clenched at the complete dismissal. "Liar."
Harry watched as Severus stiffened in his chair and narrowed his eyes. He might have pushed too far, but Harry didn't care. It needed to be said. If he ended up on his arse outside that door, so be it.
He had a feeling he wouldn't, though.
"You don't confide in people just because they're convenient. You'd rather die first."
Taking the glass out of Severus's limp fingers, Harry drained it. He could see Severus restraining himself from snapping at him about how to properly drink brandy. It should be savoured.
"Just... like... you." Harry smiled when Severus raised an eyebrow. Good that he didn't know what Harry was muttering about. He'd dismiss it as sentimental cack, no doubt.
"I've spent the entire summer breaking through your walls in order to get to know you." Harry grabbed onto the armrests, making sure that he wasn't touching Severus in any way. He had no intention of making Severus more skittish. He liked where he was just fine. "You aren't going to just slam those walls back up again. I did not confide in you because you were there, no matter what you may think. I knew that you would understand, in a way that others couldn't. The same reason that you confided in me. We shared our souls."
Severus shifted so that he wasn't looking at Harry anymore, and was instead looking over Harry's shoulder at the fireplace. "Stubborn as always. I don't imagine it's occurred to you that there are school rules against such scandalous relationships?" Severus's gaze flickered to Harry's face and then away again. "Rules we must abide by?"
Harry shrugged. "I suppose that they'll just have to bend one more rule for the 'Boy-Who-Lived. You're always saying how I think the rules don't apply to me anyway."
Severus's fingers brushed against Harry's arm as he clenched his fist. "Insufferable brat. There are reasons-"
Harry took in a deep breath. "No doubt. But it's not like you'll change my grade or anything. I've always been horrid at potions and I always will be. I'd be put out if you started marking me well in that class. Or were nice to me. You wouldn't be Severus then."
Severus started to say something, but Harry didn't even give him a chance to finish the first word before covering Severus's lips with two of his fingers.
"You don't care about the rules any more than I do. It's just another excuse that you're using. I know you now. Don't play games like this. I'm not stupid enough to fall for them." Harry let his fingers fall away as he sat back on his heels.
"I never thought you stupid." Severus's voice was low, and he wasn't looking at him at all; his head was completely turned away. "However, I do think that you don't apply yourself nearly as much as you should."
It was enough of an admission that Harry had to keep himself still, and he dug the tips of his fingers into his thighs to keep from doing something foolish. Severus didn't hate him. Might not love him, probably only borderline liked him, but didn't hate him.
"You're right. But why should I bother? My life has been predetermined since I was an infant. Let it take its course; after all, I'm not in control."
Severus's head snapped back, and his eyes caught Harry's in their gaze. With one hand, Severus reached out to tilt Harry's head up. "You are in control of your life, Harry. You make your own choices, for better or for worse. If you choose to walk out of this castle upon completion of your studies and not look back, I would not blame you. Never say that you are not in control of your life. Don't give anyone else such power over you." Severus's face hardened and his voice turned bitter. "The wizarding world has asked too much of you and has not done well in its responsibility to you. Myself included."
"Your hearing is not impaired. I've failed in my responsibility to you. As a teacher. As a mentor. As an adult. I should stay away from you." His voice dropped. "Though it is hard to want to."
Lifting himself up from where he was resting on his heels, Harry shook his head. "No. I won't let that happen. I don't want that. It's not true."
Severus settled a hand on Harry's shoulder. "You can't stop me."
They stared at each other until Harry broke the contact by standing. Setting his shoulders, he turned and started to the door.
"Where are you going?"
Harry smiled. He had him. "I thought you had kicked me out."
"Running away? Giving up halfway? Very un-Potter like."
"Would you rather me stay, Severus?"
Harry counted his breaths between his question and Severus's answer. Almost too many. He almost took another step to the door.
"If you would like."
Biting his lip, Harry turned and approached Severus. "You aren't going to change the password to lock me out?"
Severus waved his hand, dismissing the question and Harry smiled. This was the closest he'd get to Severus admitting that he didn't mind his company.
Harry leaned over and captured Severus's lips with his own. He knew the moment that Severus surrendered to the kiss, could feel the stiffness melt away as his fingers pushed down on Harry's. He could feel it in the way Severus's other hand went up his arm, fingers curled around his neck. And even without those little physical signs, he just knew it, like he knew so much else. It was a feeling. And it was right.
He pressed closer, pushing one knee up on the chair between Severus's legs. His fingers clenched in the fabric of Severus's robe at his waist, and Harry moved to deepen the kiss, but Severus broke it.
Startled, Harry looked at Severus. He'd been so sure. He knew.
The lines around Severus's eyes deepened, and he frowned, making the lines in his forehead bunch. Harry might have known, but Severus still wasn't sure.
Unclenching his fingers from Severus's robe, Harry moved his hand to Severus's cheek and rested it there. He shifted a bit, just looking at him, trying to figure out what he should say. "I want this, Severus. I've thought about it and I'm sure. You should know that.
"I didn't figure this out when my head was clouded with other thoughts." Harry smirked. "Much more inappropriate thoughts. No matter what happens, no matter what decisions we make in the future, I want you to understand that I want this. Not just sex. Something more substantial. Right now I could give you everything I have to give and be happy if you took it."
Pausing, Harry pressed his lips lightly to Severus's for a moment, but pulled back before the kiss deepened. There was still more to say. "It's not free though. Because I want the same from you."
They stared at each other. Severus wasn't moving, or blinking, and it almost seemed like he wasn't breathing. Too much. Harry had gone too far. He couldn't accept the littlest victory; he just had to keep pushing until he got what he wanted.
Harry knew that would be his downfall someday, but why did it have to be that day?
One heartbeat, and then another and another. Harry's hand slipped from Severus's cheek to his shoulder, his fingers going lax as his chest tightened.
But then Severus wrapped his hand around Harry's neck again, pulling him forward for a kiss, and Harry knew that he might not have won that battle, but he hadn't lost it, either. Maybe it was a draw. ♦