The Paradox of Existence
Chapter Thirteen: Don't Push Me Away When I'm Trying to Care
The knock drew Severus out of his silent contemplation of the fire. For a moment longer, he just stayed where he was, gazing at the leaping flames and debating if he should answer the door. Only to slam it in the person's face. He was not in the mood for company. But Severus eventually stood and set his wine glass down, moving to the door and opening it a crack.
"Severus. Just the man I wanted to see. May I come in?"
Drawing the door further open, Severus spun on his heel and returned to his wine, chair and contemplation of the fire. "I don't see how I can stop you."
"Ah. I, for one, can see many ways you could have. A 'no', for example, would have worked. Or even shutting the door and not permitting me to enter." Remus came around the back of the chairs and made a motion with his hand, silently asking permission to sit in the chair opposite from Severus.
Shaking his head with a sharper movement than he intended, Severus stood and took over the chair that Remus was about to take and pointed to his own.
With a curious nod, Remus sat. "I'm sure you want to know why I'm here."
"Well, you seemed a trifle... off at dinner tonight," Remus continued. "I just thought that I would pay you a short visit to see what was bothering you."
With a grunt, Severus summoned a second glass and poured Remus some wine. "Since you've disturbed my solitude, you might as well have some wine as well. I'm sure you'll appreciate the vintage."
Remus swirled the wine around in the glass and stared down at the liquid, but didn't lift the glass to his lips.
"I assure you that it is not drugged or poisoned."
A quick nod and Remus took a sip. "A very good vintage. One that Harry bought to drink with me, in fact. I recognize it. You supposedly think it's inferior and refuse to drink it stating your preference for brandy over wine and Italian over French if you must imbibe any."
Severus shrugged. "No Harry." It really was a perfect explanation.
Remus said nothing, much to Severus's discomfiture. If the man had to invade his personal space he could at least chatter on endlessly about nothing as he usually did. If Severus had known that Remus was just going to sit there than he would have slammed the door in his face and been done with it. Maybe.
"I take it that you've no desire to think of Harry?"
"I've every desire to determine whether or not I'm a selfish bastard. Harry is only minimally involved in my thoughts." That was an outright lie. Severus swallowed back the wave of nausea. If Harry was only minimally involved in his thoughts then Severus would be drinking brandy and marking instead of drinking wine and fire gazing.
"All right. I can't follow that. How… why are you trying to figure out if you're a selfish bastard?"
"I went to see Harry three nights ago."
"Ah. Right." A pause and Severus watched Remus take another sip of wine to disguise his furrowed brow and the questioning glint in his eyes. "Wait. Wait. You weren't supposed to go and see Harry three nights ago. Sirius was supposed to go today."
"The time turner… fell into my hands and I saw no reason not to make use of it while it was in my possession."
"Of course." Remus bit his lip. "And how does that lead to the determination that you're a selfish bastard?"
Severus shrugged and stared at the fire waiting for Remus to say something else or to change the topic. But nothing was said and the topic wasn't changed.
"I could have changed things," Severus ground out. "Maybe for the better, maybe for the worse. I don't know. All I know is that I kept everything the way I remembered it because I didn't want to lose Harry."
Severus watched Remus's eyes dart about the room searching for something and finally coming to rest on the small vial Severus had set on the mantle earlier when he'd started his fool's quest into the motivations of his soul.
"What was in the vial, Severus?"
"A mild truth serum."
Shaking his head, Remus opened and closed his mouth a handful of times before settling on something to say. "Why would you take it?"
"A rather pathetic reason, actually. So I wouldn't lie to myself."
"You did not come up with that on your own. You just wouldn't."
"You're right, I didn't. Originally it was one of Harry's bright ideas. I don't know what possessed me to listen to him the first time, but I did. It seems to work. I do end up admitting the truth to myself, even if I don't want to."
"Be glad it's me sitting here and not Sirius."
"Black would never have made it through the door."
A nod. "No doubt." Remus took another sip of wine before setting his glass down. "What did Albus have to say when you returned the time turner?"
A bitter smile turned up the corners of Severus's lips. "He was sitting right here with his hand extended when I walked into my rooms. Just looked at me and asked how well my husband was holding up."
Remus thumped the heel of his hand against his chest as he started to cough. "Albus called Harry your husband?"
"He does it to both of us quite often. I'd happily strangle the man on occasion."
"And I wouldn't blame you." Remus chewed at his lip. "So… What did happen with Harry?"
Reaching up to rub at his eyes, Severus breathed in heavily. "I dragged him halfway across the castle so I could give him a memorable goodbye kiss in front of someone."
"The truth, Severus."
"If I was lying to you right now, I'd have to swallow back a wave of nausea." Severus pointed to the vial. "Remember?"
"Why would you do that?"
"I had to kiss our Defence teacher where my sixteen year old self would be sure to see me do so, leading to my younger self running off to do something immensely stupid. So I, here in this time, could selfishly keep what I want."
Remus leaned back and pressed the tips of his fingers together. "Selfish? Perhaps. But no more than I or, I think, Harry."
"Meaning what, Lupin?"
"Meaning that Octavian Tyler affected your life like he affected mine and Sirius's and James's and I'm sure others' as well. I don't want any of that to change and if it had meant my sneaking off to visit Harry in the past and do something with dire consequences, I probably would have. If things changed, then so many things that I have worked for would be in vain." Remus licked his lips, his gaze locked on the fire similar to the way Severus's own had been earlier. "If things changed, I wouldn't have done everything that I have. Being alone, the only Marauder left, let me focus on my life. It sounds selfish, and maybe it is." Shaking his head, Remus paused. "I've thought about what would happen if James and Lily were still alive, if Sirius hadn't been incarcerated. After thinking about it, I realised that even having them around wouldn't have made my life any easier. It probably would have made it harder, in fact, because I never would have left England."
"What did you do all those years? Not a word was heard from you until your return to come teach all those years ago."
He shrugged. "I followed Professor Tyler's advice."
Severus swallowed a mouthful of wine. "His advice? Couldn't have been that good, this is Harry we're talking about."
"You don't believe that. Do not make yourself ill on account of my presence forcing you to be your irascible self, Severus. Harry's not a fool and he knew what to say when he caught me moping by the lake throwing rocks at the squid."
"I suppose it was something beyond 'nice aim'? Only Black would have found that a life changing conversation."
Remus snorted. "Quite a bit more. He told me to follow my passions, and if my passion was the field of Defence then I should go and master the field whether or not anyone thought it was proper. That I would find a way through life doing so. So I did."
"Doesn't explain how you followed his advice though."
"I travelled and learned everything I could about Defence Against the Dark Arts wherever my travels took me, and when I was done, I wrote books on it. A handful of them, in fact."
"Pity they weren't published. I'm sure they would have been very entertaining, Lupin."
Remus raised an eyebrow and stood walking over to the shelves that housed his books. Not Harry's, not his resource manuals, but Severus's private collection of books. Some of his most treasured possessions. Severus watched Remus's fingers glide over the spines until he reached one and pulled it out, bringing it back to where he was sitting and handing it over to Severus.
"Advanced Defence Techniques by Rupert Knight. You expect me to believe you're Rupert Knight?"
"One of the most mysterious writers currently published." A smile. "And yes, I do. I'm not fool enough to submit my writing under anything but a pseudonym. No one would publish a book by a werewolf. I know that."
Severus flipped through the well worn pages. It was a book he often referenced, one of the best Defence publications in recent times, one he'd used to teach Harry from. He lowered his head in acknowledgement. "I'm impressed, Lupin."
"We're all selfish, Severus, from time to time. Look at it this way. I don't know how Professor Tyler affected your life, and I wouldn't expect you to tell me. I'll just hazard a guess, if you don't mind. No confirmation needed." Remus narrowed his eyes to stare at Severus, and Severus fought the urge to flinch back from his gaze. "If you hadn't joined the Death Eaters, our side wouldn't have one of its best spies. Harry wouldn't have had the confidant he so terribly needed. And I wouldn't have a good friend."
"You're becoming maudlin, Remus."
He smiled and opened his mouth to respond, but a sharp banging on the door cut Remus off.
"I don't care how you do it, Draco. Tear down his goddamned wards if you have to! Just get me in there!" Sirius's voice burst through even the heavy wood of Severus's door.
Standing, Severus moved to the door quicker than he usually would have and flung it open. Draco toppled through the lack of barrier and Black barrelled in right after him, walking around him and rounding on Severus, forcing him back against the wall.
"Can I help you?" Severus ground out.
"How dare you?!"
"How dare I what?" Severus had his wand in his hand and levelled it at Black's chest, daring to give him a reason to hex him so hard he'd go flying across the room.
Sirius closed his hand around Severus's throat. "You turned my godson into a fucking well!"
"Fuck." Draco breathed and collapsed into the couch.
Black rounded on the young blond. "You knew?" His teeth were bared and in that moment he looked the part of a grim in human form. Draco pushed himself back into the cushions of the couch and held his hands out in front of him.
"You knew what they'd done and you didn't tell me!"
"Harry's your friend and you didn't say anything!"
Remus settled his hand on Black's arm and pulled him off to the side. Severus had moved away from the wall, but still had his wand clutched in one hand. He glanced over at Draco and quickly received a nod and a crooked eyebrow. Shaking his head, Severus turned away from Draco and looked at Sirius who was still seething with anger.
"I think someone needs to explain to me what's going on." Remus looked at both Draco and Severus in turn. It was Draco who answered.
"He's talking about their bond."
A sharp laugh, bitter and hoarse, escaped Black.
"There's more to it, isn't there?" Remus prodded.
Draco glanced at Severus and receiving a slight nod, started talking. "The bond Severus and Harry have… it's not what you think. They entered into a life blood bond."
Severus watched the two Gryffindors through narrowed eyes. Black looked like he was ready to lunge at Severus again and Remus was so shocked that it was plainly obvious for once. Glaring, Black tugged his arm away from Remus, but didn't attack. Severus wasn't foolish enough to lower his guard though.
"We don't have time to talk about this. Harry needs potions. He's sick and it's all that bastard's fault!"
Standing stock still in the middle of the room, Severus barely breathed. He saw Draco stand from the corner of his eye and do what Draco always did when Harry was sick from the bond and Severus was too ill from Voldemort's mercilessness that he couldn't help Harry. He went to gather up the potions Harry would need.
"You won't--" Severus coughed to clear his throat. "You won't find any out, Draco. They've all been put away." Raking his hand through his hair, Severus moved toward a closed cabinet. "Go be useful in my office and fetch a divided potions box," Severus snapped.
Draco didn't flinch at the order, just left, casting a last look over his shoulder at the still silent Remus and livid Black.
Once Draco left, it was as if a thick fog settled around Severus. He could hear the murmurings of Remus and Black across the room, but they were distant and incomprehensible. The only thing that could pierce the fog was the clink of the bottles Severus was pulling out of his locked cupboard methodically. He knew what vials he needed and where they were. His fingers rhythmically closed around bottles and vials, setting them down in a neat row. So many effects and no way to know which ones Harry was experiencing. Black wouldn't be able to tell and if Harry was indeed ill, it wasn't likely that Harry was up to giving Black a list of what he needed. If the mutt would have sat still enough to listen, which was doubtful.
Severus cursed himself under his breath. Selfish bastard he was indeed.
A slight touch to his elbow, and he turned. Draco had set the box down next to the row of bottles and vials and was silently placing them into the individual compartments. Severus met eyes the exact shade of Lucius's without the malice. He nodded and stepped away, allowing the younger Malfoy to finish.
"We need to tell Albus, Severus."
"No. You do so and I will poison your next batch of Wolfsbane potion regardless of the fact I count you a friend."
Black growled, but Remus settled a hand on his chest. "I don't agree."
"I don't care. It is not your business."
"Let it alone, Remus. Sirius, stop growling." Draco had the box under one arm and was pointing his wand to his temple. "You're not going either, Severus. I'm the closest thing to a full medi-wizard in the room, I'll go." A muttered spell and Draco's hair darkened and fell into his eyes. "Where's the time turner?"
Sliding through a door barely pushed open, Severus crept into the infirmary and cast his gaze about for Madam Pomfrey. He made his way slowly toward the matron's desk in the corner, hoping that she'd be there, but she wasn't. Not surprising for three in the morning; there were charms on the door that would inform Madam if someone was looking for her.
At least she wouldn't ask questions when she gave him the sleeping draught. Usually Severus didn't have a problem going to his Head of House, but recently he just couldn't bring himself to confide in the man about what had been bothering him. Rubbing his arm, Severus walked between the long line of beds. His thoughts weren't really focused on the room or its surroundings, instead he was immersed in thoughts of his Mark and his new master. The Mark burned all the time, a constant reminder of his choice yet Severus didn't know if he had made the right one.
Of course he had. There wasn't a better choice. Voldemort was strong and powerful. No one could argue that. He even had Dumbledore worried about the fate of the wizarding world. No one in recent times had managed that.
"Snape? What are you doing here at this time of night?"
Severus caught the gasp before it escaped and turned. "I could ask you the same, but we both already know the answer, don't we?"
Lupin nodded. For a moment his eyes narrowed in a silent question, but the look disappeared.
"Was it a hard transformation?" Severus wasn't sure what made him ask, other than the fact that part of him was curious. He'd never actually hated Lupin for all that Lupin had horrible taste in friends. The Shack Incident hadn't really changed anything except for the fact that he was now wary and scared of Lupin. It made sense that he'd keep his distance from Hogwarts' resident werewolf.
"Slightly worse than normal, but I've quite recovered. Thank you for asking. I'm still curious as to what brings you to the realm of torture otherwise known as Hogwarts' hospital wing?"
"Madam Pomfrey isn't that bad."
Remus nodded. "I suppose. She's nice enough to me, but then again my affliction isn't my fault." A pause, and Severus swallowed at the pointed reminder. "However, if you're hurt and could have avoided it, then you better beware. Explains why she's so tough on the Quidditch players, doesn't it? They could avoid getting hurt if they just stopped playing." Remus smiled.
"You're awfully talkative tonight, Lupin."
"I've been on bed rest for the last two days. I tend to get so bored all I can do is sleep. Most of it has to do with healing up though. Of course come the middle of the night, I'm wide awake. You just happen to be the unlucky sod who was walking through the infirmary when my book got dull."
"So why are you here, Snape?"
Part of him knew the quickest way to end the unwanted conversation would be to just answer the question, so pushing aside the desire to tell Lupin to sod off, Severus forced the answer past his lips. "Sleeping draught."
"A sleeping draught? I thought for sure you were here about your arm. You were rubbing it as you walked in and have been for days on end. Did you hurt it?"
"None of your business, Lupin."
Remus pulled back at the sharp tone. "I apologize for attempting to carry on a conversation, Snape. I was only trying to be polite." Picking his book up, Remus opened it and started skimming the pages, but Severus still caught the muttered, "It's no wonder Sirius ended your relationship so quickly."
"Let me guess." Severus' s voice was cold. "Because of my friendship with Lucius and other Slytherins that he'd rather forget existed. Like Regulus."
Peering over the edge of his book, Lupin shook his head. "No. He didn't like Lucius and he can't stand his brother for various reasons, but he thought you were fairly interesting. At least at first."
"At first? Of course, how could I forget that once Black tires -- which he does very quickly -- he turns into a complete sod bent on torturing others."
"Not really. He doesn't make a laughingstock of all his past relationships, just some. It's not one of his more favourable traits."
"Assuming he has any."
"He does. But he didn't end things because he tired of you."
"I doubt that, but for the sake of argument, I suppose I'll allow the possibility. His friends. The lot of you couldn't stand me."
"Not quite right, either. James can't stand you. In case you needed help figuring that out. I tolerated you, as did Peter. I chose to continue doing so. You aren't nearly as bad as you were when we were younger, although the tendency to be an utter jackass seems to be returning."
The only one of James's little group who resorted to words instead of violence. Lupin, though not on the same level as himself, Severus thought, was the only one of the group who knew how to spar and match wit. It was a shame, in a way, that he didn't have anyone of intelligence to practice with. "Well then, do tell me why the noble and honourable Mr Black wanted nothing to do with me after such a short time."
Remus shrugged. "You never talked to him."
"According to Sirius it was about totally inconsequential things. Nothing of significance ever passed between the two of you. So he got bored. You're the one who says he has a short attention span. Is it any wonder?"
"And why would I tell that ignoramus anything of import? If I wanted my personal business to be bandied about the school then perhaps I would have told him something."
"Sirius isn't like that. He never told us what you talked about, if you talked at all. Usually you were fighting. Sirius keeps his confidences."
"That was a one time thing."
"If you so insist." Severus shrugged. "In my opinion, there is only enough room in his miniscule mind for one secret, and that is yours, Lupin. Everything else just leaks out of his brain through his mouth."
Remus stared at him, his eyes filled with pity Severus didn't want or need, and just as Severus opened his mouth to tell Lupin that, Remus started talking. "You really need to learn to trust someone, Severus. If you don't, then who are you going to confide in when the pressure becomes too much?" Not waiting for an answer, Lupin turned in the bed and brought the covers up over his head. A muffled "nox" and the circle of light around the bed vanished.
Severus stood there staring at the lump in the bed for a moment before shaking himself and turning to leave. Forget the sleeping draught. The conversation with Lupin had given him enough to think about. Sleep was out of the question.
In the end, it had never occurred to Severus that Remus had used his given name. ♦