The Paradox of Existence
by DragonLight


Chapter Twelve:  An Indelible Mark on Your Soul

*The Past*

Harry sucked in a sharp breath between his teeth and pillowed his head against his arms on top of his desk.  Being sick always made him feel like a child, completely out of control of everything around him.  His head throbbed and his chest was tight; he couldn't think, couldn't breathe, could only sit there and pretend it was all going to go away.  Which it wouldn't.

At the knock on the door Harry attempted to lift his head off the desk, but doing so caused bright colourful lights to flash in front of his eyes and a wave of dizziness to wash over him.  He swallowed heavily and let his head fall back to his arms with a groan.  "Enter."

Albus strode into the office, his features switching from his normal over jovial ones to a look of concern as he took in Harry's pale features.  "How are you feeling, Octavian?"

"Slightly under the weather.  I'm sure I'll be right as rain in a few days."  Harry paused to grimace.  "Nothing a little Pepper-Up won't cure."

"Hm."  Albus didn't believe him, and Harry couldn't find cause to blame him; after all, he did have a mirror in his room and was perfectly aware of how he looked.

"Didn't you say the same thing last week?"

Ignoring the question was the best course of action in his present state, Harry decided.  All he wanted to do was sleep, and the sooner Dumbledore got what he wanted and left, the sooner Harry could attempt to pick himself up from his desk and go to his rooms.

"What brings you here, Albus?"

"It seems I am the bearer of bad news.  The attack against Harold Potter that you translated did indeed happen just as you'd outlined.  Harold didn't make it."

Harry swallowed and forced himself to sit up.  "Poor James."  It was all he could say.  The information was so confusing to him on an emotional level that he had no idea what to do with it.

"The young Mr Potter has his friends around him.  I'm sure that he'll pull through right enough.  That, however, is not what I'm here to discuss, Mr Tyler."

Harry raised an eyebrow.

"I should have tried harder to convince him that we could trust your translation, Octavian.  I just…"  The Headmaster trailed off.

Harry was surprised that he recognised the look on Albus's face.  He'd only seen it a handful of times and never had it been directed toward him.  Usually it was Severus on the receiving end, when Albus had to go against his recommendation because the Order had decided that whatever Severus had reported wasn't trustworthy.  It was always the times that Severus's recommendations would have saved lives, and Albus always thought that he should have known.

Albus was feeling guilty.

Harry shook his head.  He couldn't deal with Albus when he was like this, especially when he felt like he was going to fall over.  "You couldn't have known.  My references weren't exactly exemplary."

But Albus didn't give up.  "The letter from Aberforth should have convinced me that you were trustworthy."  

A wave of guilt broke over Harry.  That letter wasn't actually from Aberforth.  It'd been a forgery, along with every other document that Harry had handed over to the Headmaster when he'd presented himself for the Defence Against the Dark Arts job at the beginning of the year.  Everyone involved with getting him to the past successfully had been counting on the fact that Albus's brother was fairly absent-minded and wouldn't remember such a letter if Albus decided to ask about it.  Wouldn't be able to definitely refute writing it either.

"He didn't remember me when you contacted him."

"My brother doesn't always remember to wear socks, either."  Albus waved his hand dismissively.  "Nor does he always remember names.  But that is neither here nor there, my boy.  I should have taken the translation seriously.  The majority of your others did occur, but I think that this was one I wanted you to be wrong about and let myself be convinced that you were potentially trying to lure us into a false sense of security.  I am sorry for that."

"Headmaster…"

"The Order has decided to grant you unrestricted access to the scroll.  We plan to take you seriously from now on.  Something we should have done from the start."  Albus rested his hand on Harry's shoulder and squeezed.  "Now drink up.  We're counting on you."  With a wave of his hand a goblet of Pepper-Up appeared in front of Harry.

Albus watched as Harry took the first swallow, and then, nodding in satisfaction, he took his leave.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut and groaned, but not in pain this time.  He hated it when Albus -- or anyone else for that matter -- said things like that.  It always made him feel as if the weight of the world were resting on his shoulders, and Severus never helped matters, by assuring him that it was, but that he could always toss it aside if he so chose.  Pushing the uncomfortable thoughts aside, Harry brought his mind back to focus on a more mundane topic.  His health.  He had no idea what was wrong.  He never stayed sick long, and usually a bit of Pepper-Up did cure him when he was well and truly sick.  Maybe he didn't have a touch of the flu as he thought.  Severus, no doubt, would be able to figure out what was wrong.

But Severus wasn't here, just his younger self who had started to avoid Harry as much as possible.

Then it dawned on him.  He'd have to keep a closer eye on the young Severus Snape for signs of an active Dark Mark.  A little touch of Pepper-Up wouldn't do anything, if Harry's guess was right.

***

"If you want, you can borrow my notes, James."

It figured that James Potter would get Lily where he wanted her when he didn't want her there, Sirius thought as the group walked down the hall toward the Defence classroom.  Lily had been quite nice to James since they got back to the school late Friday, but James wasn't really paying all that much attention.

Lily should just sod off and let James grieve.  Not that Sirius really understood the concept.  Any family members he'd lost he'd be much better without.

Sirius was forced out of his thoughts when he ploughed into Remus from behind who had stopped a few feet away from the Defence classroom and the group of students gathered around the door.

"Is Professor Tyler late?"

"Uh, no.  But he is sick, and we thought--"  The student that had been answering Remus's question was cut off by the door slamming open and hitting the wall.

"In.  Sit.  Be quiet." Tyler growled, and then muttering, "I thought students knew how to open a bloody door, for Christ's sake."  He stalked back into the room.

Sirius paled slightly.  "Sick or furious?"

"Doesn't matter, it's equalling out to the same thing.  Come on.  I bet we have a pop quiz."

Remus groaned, as did Peter, but Sirius brushed the news off.  He'd just walk up to Tyler and say that they had all been at a funeral and hadn't finished getting the notes and should be excused.  Whether or not they had the weekend to catch up.  Yeah, that was exactly what he was going to do.

But the idea died a quick death as Sirius walked into the classroom, Peter ducking behind him so he wouldn't be seen, and caught his first good look at the professor.

Even with his messy hair and casual attire, Tyler always managed to look together when he taught classes.  But now he looked mercenary and dangerous and it was no wonder that no one wanted to go into the classroom.  His hair wasn't tied back and it cast deep shadows across his pale face.  The man had no colour.  His eyes were sunken in and heavy lidded, and he looked as if he hadn't eaten a proper meal for days.  Why he wasn't in the hospital wing was anyone's guess.

The students wouldn't mind another teacher for a few days.  But Sirius knew that Tyler wouldn't let something like a being really sick keep him from teaching classes.

"What is it, Black?"

Sirius swallowed and approached the desk, his prepared speech refusing to come to him.

"I think Professor Tyler expects an answer, Black," Snape whispered in his ear, and Sirius spun on his heel to confront the boy.  A few days gone and he and his friends had returned to find that Snape had miraculously gained popularity, both with the Slytherins and with a few other students as well.  He was more insufferable than ever.

At least, Sirius thought as Snape rubbed at his arm, the git had hurt himself.  Served him right having a bruised arm.  His head had probably had been so swelled, he couldn't see where he was going and ran right into a wall.  How Sirius would have loved to see that!  

"Take your seat, Mr Snape," Tyler barked.  The professor's eyes were narrowed at Snape, watching every move as if he didn't trust him.  How very interesting.

"As for you."

Sirius started.

"The four of you are to accompany Ms Evans to the library where she will go over the work you missed last week.  You will have to complete the same essay that I am assigning the class during class today, and I expect it day after tomorrow.  I do trust that my generosity in not making you sit the quiz will be thanked by my not hearing a single complaint from Madam Pince about your behaviour."

The all chorused their agreement in one way or another.

Nodding, Tyler turned away.  "A moment, if you will, James.  They rest of you can wait for him outside and then you will all be on your way."

Sirius looked over his shoulder at Tyler placing his hand on James's shoulder and quietly speaking to him.

***

"My sincerest condolences to you, James.  No one should ever lose a parent like you did.  I know it doesn't seem like much coming from a professor you barely know and who didn't know your father… But, I am sorry for your loss.  You must miss him terribly."

Harry dropped his hand from his father's shoulder and watched the boy look at him.  James nodded quickly, his lips pressed tightly together to keep from saying something, though Harry had no idea what, and then he turned and headed to the door.

He'd probably handled that badly, but couldn't think of another way to do so.  Not when his head felt as if it was full of cotton batting.

Turning back to the class, he sank down into his chair and stared out at them.  The whole school had heard by now that Tyler's classes were different from usual.

"Parchment, quill, and I'd better not see a single book."

The students stayed quiet as they did what they were told, and only a few students hesitated with either smug or worried expressions.  It didn't surprise him at all that Severus was looking at him, his features a mixed cloud of smugness and worry.

The worry faded as he reached over with his right hand to rub at his left forearm.  Harry sighed under his breath.  He'd been watching this Severus for the last few days and hadn't liked what he'd seen.  Severus was still reacting to the burn and pain of having magic drained from him, but he didn't have to deal with the effects of having that magic drained.

Harry did.

Growling, Harry snapped at his students to get to work, forgetting that he hadn't yet set the essay, and with a flick of his wand a piece of chalk levitated itself from his desk and wrote the assignment.  Every head bowed over paper as they set to work.

Harry wished that he could lower his head as well, just to rest for a moment, just to pretend that if he were to lift Severus Snape's sleeve he wouldn't see a Dark Mark disgracing the pale skin of his arm.  Damn it.

Rubbing the back of his neck, he looked down at a blank piece of parchment he'd arranged in front of him, and dipping a quill into some ink, started drawing random lines and squiggles.  His head was too clouded to do anything productive, let alone grade the batch of horrid essays his last class had set on his desk as they left.

A cough from the doorway drew Harry's attention, and he saw Minerva standing in the doorway, blocking someone who was anxiously trying to get around her.  Her eyes shone with concern, and Harry felt a pang of guilt clawing at him for making everyone worry over him.

"Hello, Professor.  What can I do for you?"

"I was hoping you could tell me whether or not I should believe this man's claims as to being an acquaintance of yours?"  Minerva stepped aside and a tall man with ruddy blond hair walked a few steps into the class.

Narrowing his eyes, Harry looked the man over.  Yes, there was indeed something familiar about him.  He was tall with a thick build, and had deep lines etched into his face from either frowning or laughing too much.  Feeling his students' gazes on the stranger as well, he snapped at them to return to their essays.

The glint of bravado and ego that appeared in the grey eyes finally tipped the scales.

"Yes.  We both taught at my former position."

"So Mr Hearst was telling me.  I shall leave him with you then, Tyler."

Harry bent his head as Minerva turned to leave.  "Be good while I bring Mr Hearst to my office or there will be hell to pay."  Harry jerked his head to the side and directed his visitor toward the office attached to the classroom.

"Trusting of the little buggers, aren't you?"

"I can't find it in me to care if they cheat at the moment."  Harry took a linen handkerchief from his pocked and coughed harshly into it, cursing at the metallic taste of blood in his mouth.

The door shut with a bang and Harry turned to his visitor who had crossed his arms over his chest and had his best glower plastered on.

"What the hell is going on with you, Harry?"

Harry grimaced.  "Nothing.  It's nothing, Sirius.  Just a touch sick."  He sighed, feeling the need to cough again, but he smothered the urge.  "I'll be back after class.  I'm not that trusting."

Sirius wrapped his hands around Harry's shoulders and pushed him down into his office chair.  "Even I can handle administering a test or whatever they're doing.  Don't forget who taught you everything you know."

Harry bit back the reply of "Severus" that was just dying to escape.

"You sit.  I'll teach."  Whipping around, Sirius made for the door and bolted down the stairs.  As the door shut, Harry heard Sirius announce to the class that he was watching them for the remainder of the period, and if they thought Tyler was bad, they should wait to see what the raw side of his temper looked like.

Harry snickered behind his hand and coughed again in to the handkerchief.  Sirius was a puppy when it came to disciplining students.  All bark and growl; but compliment him, and he'd roll over and let you scratch his stomach.

Summoning a glass of water, Harry moved over to one of the wingbacks and collapsed into it.  He fell into a light doze as he waited for the class to end, and Sirius for come back and start the inquisition.

***

"Right," Sirius said as he sat down.  "I've got McGonagall covering this class, and she asked some other professor to cover your next.  She seemed relieved that someone was able to convince you that you aren't capable of teaching for a day or two while you get better."

"You didn't convince me, just went on and did what you bloody well thought best."

"Oi!  Don't get so snappy.  Knew you spending as much time as you do with that git would have a bad effect on you."  Sirius sighed and slumped into the chair by Harry.  "You're sick.  I'm your godfather and I know what's best for you."

"And I won't be getting better in a day or two.  This," Harry waved a hand in front of him, "isn't going to go away with a couple days bed rest.  I might as well keep teaching classes."

Sirius narrowed his eyes.  "Why not?  I've not seen you this sick before.  Is it one of those weird things where everyone is immunized for some bug, but since you're from, you know, you're not?"

Harry shook his head.  "No.  Did Sev send any potions with you?"

"Headache draught and Dreamless sleep and whatever else you pour down your throat.  I think I caught a stimulus potion or two in there.  We really need to have a word about that, and did you know that the stupid git tried to lecture me about how tiresome and rotten I was to you as a student.  I mean, really, if anyone was a right pain in the arse, it had to have been Sni- Snape!"

"Shut up, Sirius."  Harry shook his head and sunk lower into the chair.  "Don't insult Severus."  A smothered cough.  "And yes, I tell him not to insult you to me too.  So it's fair.  God, sometimes I think I'm the mature, responsible, older one."

"Hey, you don't get to be insulting either!"

Harry tried to grin, but broke off the attempt when a coughing fit hit.  Cough after cough, robbing him of air and making his lungs feel scratched and raw.  He hated this feeling. But he was stuck with it until someone could bring him some of the potions he needed.

Nausea rolled through Harry.  He didn't think he could last a full month in this condition.  Maybe he could find the books and brew the potions himself, but then Albus, the past Albus, would figure things out and the future Albus would know, and…

Harry groaned as the coughing finally subsided.

Sirius was looking at him.  "Why are you coughing up blood, Harry?"

"Bloody hell."  His handkerchief had dropped to the floor while he'd been coughing.  He hadn't wanted Sirius to know.  Why did he have to find this out when Harry's head felt like it was going to explode and he wouldn't be there to deal with the fallout?

Maybe not being there to deal with the fallout was a blessing of sorts.

Pulling another square of linen out of his pocket, Harry swiped at the blood covering his lower lip and part of his chin.  He swallowed, grimaced, and turned to look at Sirius, determined to wheedle his way out of the story.  But the look in Sirius's eyes let him know that there was no way to wheedle out of the telling.

"The bond is acting up.  It's not supposed to, but it is."

"No bond that I've ever seen acts like this.  Not even Snape's Mark."  Sirius shook his head.  "Soul joining bonds don't have this sort of effect, Harry."

Harry rubbed at his forehead and closed his eyes.  He was so tired.  "It wasn't a soul joining bond that Severus and I performed the rite for.  It was a life blood bond."

Horror, plain simple stark horror, covered every inch of Sirius's face, and then it fell into the clear sharp lines of furious anger.  Sirius shot out of his chair and loomed over Harry.  "That son-of-a-bitch turned you into a well!  I swear I'm going to kill him!  When I'm through with hi--"

"Sirius!  We turned each other into wells.  It was a mutual thing."

Sirius slumped, the anger and air knocked out of him.  "When you said you were bonded to each other I thought it was the wedding kind of bond.  Like I'd just got stuck with some new in-law I wasn't particularly fond of."

Harry lifted an eyebrow.  "Married?  Severus and I?  Eternal wedded bliss?"  A half-hearted laugh.  "Oh, that just sounds funny, Sirius."  Harry shook his head.  "No.  Our bond was to tie us together, intimately connect our lives through our magic.  It's not quite the 'well' concept, or rather, it is, but it works both ways.  I can pull his 'life magic', for lack of a better term, into me, and he can pull mine into him."

"But I've never seen you this sick before, and I know you've been bonded for almost five years, Harry.  I know I would have noticed if you'd been this sick.  I'm not that dense.  And how can you even be this sick when he isn't even here?"

"It did happen, just once, but Severus found and brewed a potion that would suppress the bond to a point."  Harry could see the questions in Sirius's eyes and when he opened his mouth to ask them, Harry just shook his head.  "I'll tell you the whole of it, Sirius, but you have to promise me to sit there and not say one bloody word.  Do you understand?"

Harry waited for Sirius's nod before he continued.  "Our bond connects our life blood.  It's a complex series of Dark rituals so when one of us has our life magic lowered it allows us to pull on the bond shifting the balance of magic so that it can strengthen our own.  That's the 'well' concept that you mentioned."  Harry narrowed his eyes in thought, not sure if he was doing a good job of explaining, but unsure how to do a better job.  Severus always made more sense explaining this type of thing.  Harry knew exactly how it worked, but could never quite explain it right.  "Anyway, there was an unforeseen complication because of Severus's Dark Mark.  In order to sustain himself, Voldemort can pull life magic from his followers, willing or not.  It drains Sev --though in a different way -- and Severus ends up pulling from me."  Harry sighed.  "When it gets bad like this, I take potions to suppress it to a point while Severus consciously controls it from his end, not allowing the bond to evenly shift the magic balance."

"You let that bastard do that to you?!"  Sirius had stood and was now pacing and glaring.

Harry set his jaw.  "Sirius."  He shook his head.  "I will not sit here and let you keep insulting my lover."  The choice of words was deliberate.  "I warned you once.  Just try me again.  If you want to know what is going on, then I suggest that you shut up."

Sirius's mouth snapped closed and he flung himself back into his chair, sulking and angry.  Harry didn't care.  Sirius should know better by now that no matter what, Harry would not let Sirius talk about Severus so callously whether or not Severus had been at fault.  And Severus certainly wasn't at fault this time around.

"All right.  I wasn't expecting the bond to become active here, for the simple reason that I'm not bonded to the Severus of this time.  My thinking, as well as Severus's, was flawed.  This Severus can unconsciously pull on the bond that he doesn't even realise exists.  It's a weaker pull, so the effects didn't start as quickly and it took over a week to get to this point, but this is as bad as it gets.  But I'm going to need those potions to function."

Sirius nodded, still looking unhappy and furious, but Harry couldn't fault him for either emotion right then.

"I'll go back and explain the situation to Albus--"

"You won't mention a word of this to Albus!"  Harry broke in.  "You're to go to Severus.  Not to Albus."

"Why the bloody hell not?  I'm sure that--"

Harry shook his head.  "He doesn't know, Sirius.  Nor will he EVER find out.  If he finds out that our bond isn't the soul joining that he thinks it is and that Severus and I initiated a life blood bond instead, he'd make us get rid of it.  Severus and I have no intention of doing such a thing."

"He likes the idea of you two, I don't.  So why would he want you to get rid of it?"

Harry let his eyes fall shut.  This was one reaction he didn't want to see.  "Because we could kill each other, unintentionally or intentionally."  He sighed.  "If Voldemort ever finds out about Severus spying or that we are connected in such a way and decides to kill Severus, then I go with him, painfully.  The reverse can be said too.  Severus has felt the effects when Voldemort has drained me, just as much as I have."

"All right, I won't mention this to Albus."

Harry opened his eyes at Sirius's calm tone, but quickly wished that he hadn't.  The rough gravel sound of Sirius's voice was calm, but everything else about the man spoke of icy anger.  He wouldn't want to be anywhere near Sirius when he did explode.

"I am not, however, going to guarantee that your lover," Sirius threw the word back at Harry with every bit of force that Harry had originally thrown it at him with, "will not come out of this without a bruised and bloodied face."

"Don't you lay a finger on Severus, Sirius."

They stared at each other, eyes locked, and as Harry watched a little of the anger melted away.  Sirius was still furious, but he didn't look to be in a murdering rage anymore.

"Why can't the two of you ever be normal?  You couldn't exchange rings and recite love poetry, you just had to go and make sure that you could always make the other's life a living hell instead."

***

A shadow fell over the page Severus was reading and he looked up.  Potter was standing over him glaring, practically snarling.  This had been going on since Potter's momentous return to Hogwarts earlier in the week.  It was getting tiresome. The Gryffindors really did not have refined manners, he decided.  Professor McGonagall must let them run wild for seven years.  No doubt this batch wouldn't accomplish much once out in the world.

Severus watched him for a moment, not speaking, before turning back to his book.

"I bet you're thrilled, Snape; after all, my father won't be bothering your family anymore," Potter ground out from behind clenched teeth.

Drawing in a deep breath Severus turned to all the lessons his grandfather had taught him about proper behaviour, about treating even those you loathe with respect, given the proper occasion.  "You have my condolences for your loss, Potter."

"You don't care!"  Potter was right, he didn't, but that wasn't really the point of offering his condolences, was it?  "You don't know what it's like to have a family!"

"Shut up, Potter."  Severus stared steadily at the pages of his book, never taking his eyes off of them even when the corners began turning red.

"Why should I?"  James hunkered down next to him, lowering his voice to a chilly whisper.  "It was probably your father that did it.  He would have done just about anything to get rid of mine."

"While your theory is probable, it does not involve me.  I didn't do it.  I'm not to answer for my father's actions."

"Let it go, Potter.  You've no call to harass him."  Lucius had come to stand over the two boys.  His eyes caught Severus's and with a silent reprimand told the younger boy to calm himself.

Potter shot up.  "How do you know that?  He could have done it!"

Malfoy shook his head.  "No, he wouldn't have."

Narrowing his eyes, Potter approached Malfoy.  "Then again, it could have been you."

"I assure you, it wasn't.  Neither am I sorry about it, so don't expect condolences from me."  Malfoy settled his hand on Potter's shoulder and pushed back lightly enough to just get Potter out of his face.  "Do stop trying to lay the blame."

"Someone killed him."

Severus snapped his book shut and stood.  "And the aurors will find out who it was.  Stop trying to do their job, Potter.  I assure you, you're bad at it."

"The perpetrator won't be found on school property," Malfoy added.

James clenched his fists by his sides.  "Everyone knows where your family loyalty lies, Malfoy.  I'd say the same for Snape, but we only know about half of his."

Clenching his teeth together until his jaw ached, Severus fumed.  He could feel the anger bubbling under his skin and his fingers ached to close around Potter's throat and squeeze until his superior attitude and smirk fell away with every breath he couldn't take.

"Stop, James."  Evans was running over to the small gathering.  "Leave Snape alone.  He hasn't done anything."  She grabbed Potter's elbow and tried to draw him away, but Potter shook off the touch.

"Just go away."

"Yes, mudblood, go away, and take your little puppy with you."  Malfoy smirked at both Potter and Evans.

Potter growled and his whole body tensed.  He was spoiling for a fight.  Severus could feel it.

"Stop it.  This argument is nothing but rubbish."

"Why am I not surprised to see greasy, slimy Snivellus harassing a guy that's just lost his dad?"

Figures that Black would find the most inopportune time to enter a conversation.  "Shut up, Black."

Black shook his head.  "Don't think so.  Leave James alone.  He did nothing to have to deal with the likes of you."

"If your friend could keep his fat mouth shut, I wouldn't even be acknowledging his rather unspectacular presence, you moronic imbecile!"

"Bastard!"  Black stepped closer until he was a finger's width away from Severus.  "I heard what your friend said to Lily, and I'm sure you were busy insulting James, as usual.  I don't let people talk about my friends like that, Snape!"  Black reached out and slammed Severus back against the tree, his head hitting the rough bark with a sharp bang.

Groaning, Snape twisted and grabbed Black's fist which was heading straight for his nose.  "You should get your hearing checked.  As usual, you didn't hear a word and jumped to the wrong conclusions.  Why aren't I surprised that you went off half-cocked?"

Black knocked him to the ground, and using his bulkier build to pin him there, raised his fists to pummel Severus.  Cringing, Severus struggled under Black's weight, pushing against him with his arms, until Black moved up and settled his knees on Severus's upper arms.  Now Black was sitting high on his chest, and Snape could feel his lungs tightening, but he couldn't move and couldn't breathe.  He should have hexed the Neanderthal when he'd first showed up.

A large, strong hand covered Black's shoulder and pulled him off Snape.  Black was dangling a foot off the ground in Hagrid's grip.

"'Ere now.  Whas goin' on 'ere?"

Then the shrill voice of Professor McGonagall was heard.  She had her skirts in her hands as she hurried toward the large gathering of students.  "Black!  Snape!  What's the meaning of this?"

Someone must have run to get the teachers because Snape could see the profile of his Head of House hurrying over as well from his position still on the ground.  This was not good.

Simeon Amygdalus roughly pulled Snape up off the ground and held his arm in a strong grip.  A grip, Severus thought, that no one in their late eighties should have.

McGonagall was looking at them, shaking her head.  "I don't know what to do with you.  None of the punishments to date have seemed to have any effect.  While I could expel you both on the spot-"  Amygdalus was nodding his head in agreement, "I won't.  As much as I hate to do this since he's been feeling under the weather, I think I'll get Professor Tyler's opinion."

The boys groaned.  Sick Tyler was worse than a healthy Tyler and a healthy Tyler's punishments had been bad enough.

"What say you, Simeon?"

"Aye.  He's got a way with doling out punishments.  Would work even better if he added lashes with the strap."

Severus shuddered.

"Lupin, go get Professor Tyler.  I believe he's in his office."

***

Remus skidded to a stop in the doorway of Tyler's office, one hand wrapped tightly around the jamb.  "Professor Tyler."

Tyler turned from where he was leaning against the desk next to a brunet who had taken a seat on top of it.  "Yes, Mr Lupin?"

Dragging his attention away from Tyler's visitor, Remus looked at his professor and snapped his mouth shut.  Tyler looked normal.  Well, he didn't look sick, at least.  His eyes were still a bit shadowed, but he seemed better.  Licking his lips, Remus tried to start again.  "Professor McGonagall sent me to get you.  Sirius and Snape were trying to kill each other."

Tyler sighed.  "Were they?  Very well.  Tell Professor McGonagall that I will be there directly."

Nodding, Remus didn't move.  The other man's mouth was hanging open and he looked shocked.  Perhaps he should have found a better way of wording that.

"Off with you, Mr Lupin."

"Oh, yeah, right.  Sorry."  Remus took himself off, casting looks over his shoulder as Tyler leaned closer to say something quietly to his guest, who was shaking his head.

Remus didn't think that Tyler appreciated having his visit interrupted.  Sirius had better had better have a good reason for picking that fight.

***

Draco slid off the desk and brushed out his coat.  "If you think that I'm going to just leave while you get to have all the fun of tormenting our tormentors, then you'd better start rethinking things, Potter."

"Draco--"

"No.  I bet watching you rip into Sirius and Severus when they're kids and can't talk back is fifty times better than watching you rip into them as adults.  You're not robbing me of my entertainment."  Draco brushed past Harry and made his way out the door.  "Come on, Harry, don't keep those troublemakers waiting for their punishment."

Stifling a sigh, Harry grabbed his robe and pulled his arms through the sleeves as he followed Draco out the door and through the castle.

It wasn't hard to miss where he was supposed to go.  Lots of students were gathered around and staring, waiting to see what would happen to the two fighting students.  Being expelled wasn't unheard of for either party, but Harry had another idea.

One way or another, he'd teach the students that watching a fight wasn't really as fun as they thought.

Draco was pushing his way through the students and clearing Harry's way.  He was a little too excited with the idea of watching Harry play teacher.  Shaking his head, Harry stepped from behind Draco and took in the scene.

"Simeon, Hagrid, I think you can let them go.  Don't think they'll start anything right now.  Will you, boys?"

The two boys quickly shook their heads and muttered their agreement, and were then promptly dropped on the ground.

Harry heard Draco's quiet laugh next to him, but ignored it.

"So, who's going to tell me what this is about?"

The boys glared at each other, but didn't offer up any explanations.  Must be over something foolish and they didn't want to make matters worse.  They would never learn, Harry thought, shaking his head.  Of that he was well aware.

"All right then.  Minerva, gentlemen.  I know exactly how to handle these boys.  No reason for you to stick around.  I'm sure you've better things to do."

The group of teachers and the groundskeeper moved off, as did many of the students, but Harry stopped them.  "I didn't, however, dismiss you lot of gawkers.  You're all to stay right here.  In fact," Harry continued, his eyes never leaving the two boys who were trying to slink into the crowd, "I want you to all form a nice circle around these two.  Make sure everyone has a good view."

Harry settled one hand on Severus's shoulder and his other on Sirius's.  "Now, don't try to sneak off.  You're the main attraction."  The colour drained from the boys' faces and they struggled against Harry's grip which only made it tighten.

"All right, you lot, listen up!  If Mr Snape and Mr Black want to beat each other to bloody pulp, I say we go ahead and let them."

The crowd didn't seem to agree.  Looks of shock were plastered on most of the students' faces and they were backing away from him.

"What?  You mean you all weren't gathered around watching them do just that before the other professors showed up?"

A few students toed the ground with their shoes and others looked away.  At least they were ashamed.  They wouldn't make a move to stop a fight, but when a teacher caught them…

"Go on, both of you, have at it."

Draco sputtered and hurried over to him.  "Ha- Octavian, you can't be serious about this?  They'll kill each other!"

"I quite agree with Mr--"  McGonagall had returned and was looking at Draco who quickly averted his eyes.

"This is…"  Harry floundered.

"Jason.  Jason Devonshire.  I heard Octavian was sick and came by to see if I could sort him out as I've done in the past."

"Mr Devonshire."  McGonagall paused to look at Draco oddly again.  "I am grateful that you know Octavian well enough to have been of some help.  But as I was saying."  She turned her hard gaze on Harry.  "This is not what I expected when I sent for you."

Harry grinned his most self-effacing grin.  "Trust me.  I know what I'm doing, Minerva.  The boys won't come to any harm that they can't undo."

McGonagall was still looking wary of the whole situation.  "Well, if you're sure.  You do have Dumbledore's approval in general for your methods."  McGonagall inclined her head and stepped back.

Harry once again raised his voice.  "Any student that leaves this field of noble battle will be serving detention with me."

The students toward the back that were slinking away returned.  If they had wanted to watch two boys bloody each other up, they would.  And they'd feel awful about it the entire time.  A teacher's presence had that affect.

Severus and Sirius were just watching Harry and the others talk, but they weren't actually doing anything.  Just standing there.

"What are you waiting for, boys?  Go on.  Throw punches, tear hair, break fingers."

Draco was tugging at his shirt.  "Octavian."

Snapping, Harry turned.  "What?  I'm in the middle of assigning punishment.  Can't it wait?"

"Not.  A.  Good.  Idea."

But Harry didn't pay him any attention, just drew him off to the side and sent sparks up with his wand.

Severus and Sirius just stood there for another second and then as if all their energy left them in one go, collided with each other, fists flying and teeth bared.

Harry watched them with narrowed eyes.  A good fight with long-lasting bruises might keep both of them out of trouble due to sheer pain.  Nodding in satisfaction, he kept his eyes focused on the boys as they pounded each other.  "So, why is this a bad idea?"

Draco spluttered before finally getting control of his tongue. "You have to ask?  What if they pull their wands?"

Harry shrugged.  "They won't.  Too stupid to do it the first time, too stupid to pull them now.  If wands aren't the first things out it'll take a good knock down before either of them thinks to draw and aim.  At least when they're fighting each other."  Harry shook his head and pulled out two long polished sticks of wood from a behind a fold in his robe.  "Besides, I swiped them," he said, grinning.

"Sneaky bastard."

"I've learned from the best."

The boys had stopped rolling and were staring at their wands in Harry's hands.  A long stream of blood was running from Severus's nose and down his chin.  Sirius had obviously landed a hard punch, and Harry barely managed to hide his flinch.  Grimacing, Sirius bunched his fist and then stared at one finger that was bent at a rather odd angle.  He never would be able to get that healed properly, Harry knew.

Pushing Severus off him, Sirius scrambled to his feet and held out his hands.  "'Nough.  I…"  He panted and doubled over breathing heavy.  "'Nough."

"Good.  I'm glad one of you came to your senses."

Severus was picking himself up off the ground and brushing himself off.  He flinched as his hands passed over numerous scratches on his face and arms.  Shuddering, he limped over to where Sirius was standing.

Harry turned to where the group of students were still gathered.  "All right, now that you all feel properly ashamed you can go off to dinner.  Maybe next time you'll do something instead of sitting around like a bunch of useless logs, hm?"

The students shuffled off, some throwing looks over their shoulders at Harry and the boys that were still in front of him.

"I hope you learned your lesson."

Draco narrowed his eyes and looked at Harry, aghast.  "There was a point to your madness?"

"Must you undermine my authority, you graceless lump?"

"Every chance I get."  He smirked.  "I could have done better."

Crossing his arms, Harry stared at Draco, daring him to back down, which he didn't.  "Fine.  What would you have me do with them then?"

Draco's eyes flashed with a demented gleam.  "Make them heal each other up.  No medi-witch.  They're what," Draco paused for dramatic effect, looking the boys over, "sixteen.  Should know at least the standard set of healing charms."

Harry rubbed his thumb along his chin.  He should have expected that.  "All right then.  You heard him.  Heal each other to the best of your abilities.  Do a half-arsed job, and you'll be visiting me for a detention."

The boys flinched and glared at each other, but eventually set to work.  Amused, Harry watched the tight grip that Sirius had on his wand and the tell-tale twitch he'd make when, Harry suspected, Sirius was thinking of casting a hex instead of the healing charm that he was supposed to.  

When they were done, they stood silent and sulking, and waited while Harry circled them examining their arms and necks and the back of their heads.  Severus's nose was still crooked and Sirius's finger still looked injured, so he shrugged and dismissed them.  If they weren't so quick to beat each other up, it wouldn't have happened, but at least now Harry understood why Sirius could never completely bend his finger.

"Do you want to drop down to the pub, Devonshire?"  Harry fought back the urge to shake his head at the false last name.

Draco seemed to think about it for a moment before nodding.  "I have a new dagger to show you, filled with a lovely poison."  He sneered at the boys who were still standing behind Harry.  "Tell me, Octavian, do you threaten the little brats with knives and daggers?"

Harry rolled his eyes.  "Stop trying to terrify them.  You're as bad as… as one of our old professors."

Draco laughed.  "I think I should take that as a compliment.  Yes, I think I will."  Watching the boys blanch, Draco grinned.  "I've come across a couple lovely poisons lately, you know.  I'll tell you about them while we walk down to the pub."

Harry nodded, not finding the conversation all that odd, and he didn't even blink when Draco pulled out the glass dagger to show him as they walked, just took it out of his hands and tilted it, watching the blue liquid that filled it move sluggishly from one side to the other.

Draco was walking backwards in front of him, his eyes sparking and flashing in amusement.  Harry snapped out his hand and yanked Draco to the side when he looked like he was going to walk into a tree.

"It'd help if you were watching where you were going, you idiot."

"I'm not!"

"Yeah, I can tell."

Draco glared and pulled out a square piece of metal from under Harry's sleeve.  "Still tipping them?"  He stopped, and looking pointedly at the group of boys staring, grabbed Harry's hand and slit his palm open with the sharp metal.

Harry sucked in a breath and pushed Draco, hard.  "You little shit!  That hurt."

"I want to know what it's tipped in."

"Could've asked."

"Not as much fun."  Brushing himself off, Draco pulled his thumb across the wound, smearing it with blood that he held up to his lips and swiped at with his tongue.  "American Nightshade?"

"Don't think so.  I don't like those effects."  Harry paused, tasting the blood on his hand as well.  "No, it's not.  Black Nightshade."

"You always did have a thing for causing paralysis and near death."

"Could have been worse.  The ones in my boot are covered with an Oleander based poison."

"Haven't you been almost killed by that stuff enough times?"

Harry shrugged and took out a handkerchief to wrap around his hand.  "Thought I'd repay some favours."

"Aren't you nice?"  Smirking, Draco held out a hand and stopped Harry, pointing at him to turn around.  "Timber!"  And then he dissolved into laughter as little Peter Pettigrew slipped to the ground.  "Oh.  The poor babies.  No idea what their teacher is capable of."

"Ferret."  Harry grabbed Draco by the arm and started pulling him away from the group of white faced, trembling boys.

***

*Future:  Harry, age twenty*

Severus stared at the array of objects he had laid out on the table.  Nothing seemed to fit, and to someone who didn't know what was going on, it looked like a hodgepodge of things pulled from trunks and closets. With a single addition from Harry's collection of weapons.

When this was over he was telling that goddamned mutt that his godson did not need anymore weapons.  His wand should be enough.  But Severus knew that wasn't always the case.  There were times that he had had to rely on weapons other than his wand, weapons he had had to use to defend people, innocent people that didn't deserve what was happening to them.

A slit of bonds with a stiletto, or poison given gladly to end what would only be more pain.

He knew what he was defending.  He knew what, or rather who he wanted to protect.

And he knew the best way to do it.

He picked up the stiletto.  It wasn't Harry's favourite, he knew that much, but it was small and sharp and would do exactly what he needed it to.

If he could convince himself to do it.

Cutting into his skin wasn't high on his list of priorities.  Not ever, Especially not during sex.

"Severus, what are you doing?"

Severus cut the tip of his finger, watching the blood well just a bit before he stuck his finger into his mouth.  

He felt Harry's fingers opening his hand, pulling the knife out and setting it on the table.

"Sev.  I'm not going to ask again.  What are you doing?"

Pulling the finger from his mouth, and purposely not looking at it, he walked up behind Harry and looked over his shoulder at the arrangement that had grabbed the younger man's attention.

"What does it look like, Potter?"

He could feel Harry tense, could sense his unease.

"It looks like the preparations for a ritual that by all accounts you shouldn't be thinking about."

"I can attest that I was not thinking about the ritual as I set these things out."

"I've read that section forwards, backwards, and everything in between the lines.  I know what you were thinking about."  

Harry turned to look at him.  He hadn't looked nearly as bad as he had a few weeks ago, and Severus would like to think that had something to do with his going to Albus and complaining about what the Ministry was doing to him.  Slytherins took care of their own.

"It's a stupid idea.  We aren't doing it."

"You realize that you change your reasoning constantly."

Harry shrugged.  "At least that way you don't have a chance to come up with an argument in the small amount of time that we have."

Severus moved forward only enough to lay his hand on Harry's waist.  "And how do you know that I don't have an argument prepared for whatever excuse you have."

Harry narrowed his eyes.  "Severus, I would never, never ask you to cut yourself.  It makes you uncomfortable, and that's perfectly understandable.  The last place I want you to be uncomfortable is when you're with me."  Harry's hand slid up his arm, to his shoulder, and finally around the back of his neck.  "Tell me you understand, and that you'll give up this crazy idea."

"I take that as a personal affront.  I used logic and sound reasoning to come to this conclusion."

Harry sighed and leaned his head forward. "We've been talking about it for months, and neither of us has convinced the other of our opinion.  Can't we agree to disagree and be done with it?"

"Give me one solid reason why you don't want to."

"Give me one solid reason why you'd want to spend the rest of your life with someone who -- how do you say it -- 'will be spending the rest of his life skirting death, and when it does catch up with him, it will be in the most horrific and painful of ways'.  And we can't forget what you followed that statement with, Sev.  'Mark my words, Potter, one day you'll manage to get yourself killed, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if it was tomorrow.'"

Severus glared.  "I've given you my reason."

"And quite a good reason it was too.  Don't think I didn't hear you, and don't think I don't treasure that memory.  God, Severus, it meant the world to me, but I could lose you because of this, and I'd have no one but myself to blame.  And what about side effects?"

"There aren't any."

"You don't know that.  We both already have bonds, we may not want them, but they're there.  You don't think that would affect ours?"

Severus reached around Harry and grabbed the knife.  Running the flat of the blade against Harry's arm, he took in a deep breath.  "It's something I'm willing to risk.  Of course, I understand if you'd rather not.  It's awfully risky and dangerous..."

"That's not fair."

He lifted one shoulder.  "It's a wonder you live up to either House.  I think I finally see why you call yourself Houseless."

"You are a prat."

"That is a fact."  Twisting his hand not even a fraction of an inch, the blade cut into Harry's arm and a bright red line marred his skin.

"Stop."

"You've told me before it doesn't bother you, said it's rather interesting."

"But it does bother you."

Severus shrugged and lowered his head to the cut.  His tongue darting out, he licked the very edge of the cut.  He swallowed the blood down, the metallic taste making him feel a little sick.  Especially since it was someone else's blood.  Harry's blood.

"Severus, stop."  Harry tore his arm out of Severus's grasp and moved over to the table.  "We are not doing this.  I will not let you cut me again, and I sure as hell won't lift a knife to you.  We are not mingling blood.  No.  You hate everything about this ritual except the end result."

"The end result is what matters.  The rest will pass from memory soon enough."

"Stop being a fool."

Severus's eyes narrowed.  "I am not a fool."  Moving to loom over Harry, he lifted a hand and curled it around the back of Harry's neck.  "Blood to blood, to mix and tie-"

Jerking away, Harry shook his head.  "Stop."  Closing his eyes, Harry looked down at the floor.  "Severus, are you sure?"

He nodded.  "Are you?"

"As I can be."  Harry undid the clasps of his robe and tossed it over into the corner.  "We do this right.  Since there is obviously no convincing you otherwise."  Throwing his shirt as well, he headed over to Severus and started on the long row of buttons.  "You can help, you know."

Their fingers tangling and hindering more then aiding each other, they somehow managed to get Severus's long academic robes undone and flung over a chair.

"You look sombre."

Harry didn't look up; instead he set to work on the buttons on the cuffs of Severus's sleeves.  "It's not everyday I let someone slit my wrists."

Severus tangled one hand in Harry's hair.  "I don't ask for much from you--"

Harry scoffed, but Severus chose to ignore it.

"- but this, I want."

Harry nodded and lifted Severus's hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to his palm before entwining their fingers and leading him into the bedroom.  He paused, and looked over his shoulder at the table of various junk from both their lives laid out.  "I suppose we need all that."

"For it to work properly, yes.  It must be turned to ash."

Harry shut his eyes.  "I liked that quill.  Accio things to be burnt."  Harry waved his hand at the pile and started back toward the bedroom.

"You shouldn't waste energy like that.  This ritual will absorb most of it."

"If either one of us has the energy to waste, it'd be me.  I'm younger."

Severus growled as he watched the pile of things he'd carefully laid out fall to the ground in a heap.

"What?  There couldn't have been anything glass on there since we need ashes, and we have to use a silver basin to collect the blood.  Nothing breakable."

Severus just glared.

"I know, all that hard work, and I made a mess.  This surprises you?"

"It's a very important ritual, Harry, I thought--"

"That we could make a huge deal out of it.  I'd rather not.  Really.  The quicker it's over with, the quicker I can sleep through the night without wondering if you're still mad at me for being so wishy-washy about doing this."

"If you aren't sure--"

Harry closed his lips over Severus's and drew him into a kiss.  Severus could feel his fingers undoing the buttons of his shirt, his hands tracing over his skin and pushing the shirt off his shoulders before pulling away.

"When am I ever sure about anything?"

"That is not comforting."

"No, it isn't, but then, I still don't see how you can find me comforting."

"You aren't.  You are a brat--"

"I'm twenty!  Too old to be a brat."

"Nevertheless, you are.  You are also a constant annoyance, and you never fail to get into trouble that you shouldn't rightly be in."

"All the doubts I've ever had about our relationship have been swept away," Harry said dryly.

"Do be quiet."  Taking Harry's hand, he pulled him forward and ran his hands along Harry's arms.

"Sev, I know.  This is important to me because it's important to you.  I just don't like the way it looks in that book."

"Of course not.  That book was written in such a way to discourage people from attempting to perform these rites, similar to the way Defence books are written.  The advanced books describe--"  Severus twisted a lock of Harry's hair around his finger until Harry flinched.  "Do not mock me with a yawn, you insufferable--"

Harry broke away laughing.  "I know, it's not fair.  None of your students listen to your lectures the least I could do is pretend to pay attention."

"Can we get on with this?"

Swallowing, Harry sobered.  "Yeah.  But I'm not using that thing you found."

"What thing?"

"That knife."

"We will not use the dagger that your useless, flea-ridden godfather bestowed--"

"We won't.  I…"  Harry licked his lips.  "I found something.  For this.  It's not part of the outside fight.  Something used for fighting shouldn't… You know…"

Severus nodded.  "So you've just been being difficult."

"When aren't I?"

Harry was reaching up to the top of the wardrobe, pulling a thin black box down and clutching it tightly in his hands.  Releasing a deep breath, Harry held out the box to Severus.

"You start.  Do we?"  He glanced over at the bed.

Severus shook his head.  "No.  We--" He broke off, looking down at the blade set against the velvet.  "An athame?"

"Contrary to your beliefs, I'm not an idiot and I'm perfectly capable of reading up on proper ritualistic devices that are used in this sort of thing.  Without Hermione's help.  Without anyone's help."

"Then you know these should be made specifically to the ritual?"

Harry nodded, sinking to the floor by the heap of stuff he had summoned and began pulling off his boots.  "I had it made.  He won't ask any questions because he doesn't remember making it."

Severus said nothing, just picked up the knife and knelt facing Harry.

"Severus?"

"Hm?"

Harry's eyes were watching him reorganise everything into neat rows, the basin up righted and set in the middle.

"Nothing.  Just… When this is done…"

"When this is done, you'll be mine to guard and protect."

"And lov--?"  Harry nodded, seeming to have made up his mind about something.  "And you'll be mine."  He held out his right wrist over the basin his veins blue against white skin.

Severus traced his fingers lightly down Harry's arm.  "You've no idea what…"  Severus fumbled for words that for once refused to come.

"What my insane amount of trust in you means.  You're wrong, I do.  I wouldn't be doing this otherwise.  Now go on," Harry said in a deep gruff whisper.

Setting knife to skin Severus drew the athame down Harry's vein, drawing forth the blood that would mix and tie with his own. ♦

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