The Paradox of Existence
by DragonLight


Chapter Sixteen:  I'm Talking, but You Aren't Listening

*The Future:  Toward the end of Harry's Seventh Year*

Severus stared at the door for minutes after it clanked shut behind Harry, but then he tore his eyes from the slab of oak and looked around the room, taking in everything.  The mussed sheets on the bed, the two glasses on the side table by the chairs, the pile of essays he hadn’t yet finished marking, a book that Harry had been in the middle of reading, the quill that Harry kept "forgetting" here as an excuse for him to come back.  So many little things that were out of place.

The bed should be made; it was only a little before midnight, and Severus never went to bed that early.  There should only be one glass on the side table; Harry shouldn’t be drinking during training sessions.  The pile of essays should have been graded hours ago.  Harry’s quill and book shouldn’t just be left lying around his chambers.

But Severus didn’t want to change any of those things.  He liked the way that Harry seemed to belong in his dungeons.  And that disturbed him.  A man in his late thirties shouldn’t like the idea that a seventeen-year-old boy fit into his life.  

Severus wasn’t fond of how Harry had wormed his way into his life.  Into his heart.  Yet the boy had done so.  And worse than that, Severus had allowed him to.

Severus had given into the need to be with someone who understood him; both the darkness that encased his soul, and the light he stood in.  Harry understood and, even better, never judged him for it.

He wondered if he should put this much emotion into a relationship with someone who was only seventeen.  The heart did odd things at that age; it tended to be fickle.

Standing, Severus walked over to his desk, and snatching a quill, he sat and started marking the essays that he had put off for better pursuits while Harry had been there.  After a time, though, he noticed that the quill he was using was not one of his straight, rigid crow feather quills.  It was flexible and colourful and the tip showed signed of being chewed.  Something that Severus would never do, but Harry would.

Severus snapped his eyes shut and slammed his fist against the top of the desk.  There was no escaping that boy.

Slowly, Severus stood and left the desk, the essays, and the broken remains of Harry's quill, and retreated to his workroom.

***

"Headmaster?"  Severus entered Albus's office, approaching the empty desk.

"The study, Severus."  Changing directions, Severus headed through Albus's sitting room and into the study beyond that.  Albus was seated at a massive desk covered with what looked like chessboards of various sizes and shapes.  Some were floating above others or were tilted at odd angles.  None of the pieces, pieces whinch in Severus's opinion looked nothing like chess pieces, were falling.   Sticking charms no doubt.  How the game was played, however, no one knew, and Albus never said.  At times, though, one might happen upon the Headmaster sitting at the table and moving one of the eighty odd pieces from board to board.

"Tea?"  A single cup of tea was floating toward him.  Knowing it was useless to deny the proffered cup, Severus snatched it out of the air.

"I haven't come for tea, Albus.  I've come to resign."

Albus looked up from his game.  "How is Mr Potter's training going, Severus?"

"Fine."  Severus snapped.  "Did you even hear me, Albus?"

"Had you said something?"

Pressing his lips together into a thin line, Severus glared.  Albus was being purposely difficult.  Again.  He looked on as Albus picked up one of the black pieces and moved it.  "I said that I have come to resign," Severus said enunciating each word as if he was talking to a person hard of hearing.  Which seemed to be the act that Albus was playing.

"Harry is showing the signs?"  Albus turned and stared at him with wide, deceptively innocent eyes.  "Signs of what, my dear boy?"

"Potter has absolutely nothing to do with this discussion."

"How can we talk about Harry's training if we don't discuss him?"

Severus opened his mouth to answer, but was forced to snap it closed when Albus started talking again.

"Sirius has been telling me how well Harry has been doing in his training.  Both Harry and young Mr Malfoy."  Albus paused long enough for a breath, but not long enough for Severus to cut him off this time either.  "Has his magical training with been going well, Severus?"

'Fine. I believe I already told you that, Albus.  It really shows that you don't listen."

"My hearing is perfect.  You came up here to talk with me about Harry's training."

Severus could feel his right cheek start twitching with a nervous tick.  An image of his hands happily strangling Albus popped into his mind.  "Actually, Albus-"

"There's a problem with Harry's training?"  Albus seemed crestfallen.  "I was going to send him out over the Easter holidays.  He would be invaluable when we attempt to take Voldemort's stronghold."

This comment successfully startled Severus out of his recurring daydreams of Albus's untimely demise.  "What?"  Albus couldn't send Harry into a situation like that.  He wasn't- "He's not ready, Albus!"

His gaze flickering toward Severus, Albus summoned a plate of biscuits.  "Care for one, Severus?  The house elves made these especially for me."

Severus jerked his head in a terse refusal.  "I mean it, Albus, Ha-Potter's not ready to be sent out into the field on such a mission."

"Sirius seems to think that Harry is ready."

Severus curled his lip in disgust.  "Good-for-nothing mangy mongrel."

"What was that?"  Albus's eyes were sparkling in amusement.  "I didn't quite catch what you said, Severus."

"Oh, you heard me.  You were the one who said your hearing was flawless," Severus said, his voice sharp.

Crumbs falling into his beard, Albus devoured a biscuit.  "I've decided that Harry shall be going on his first overt mission."

Severus sighed.  It never ceased to amaze Severus how Albus could talk about something so serious and yet look so ridiculous.  Some tea had dribbled down his chin to mix with the crumbs.  "I'm sure that Sirius and Remus can keep an eye on him."

"Those two canines?"  A bitter edge had entered Severus's voice.  "They're more likely to get him killed than anything else."

"Severus."  Albus's tone was reproachful.  "You know perfectly well that Remus and Sirius would do anything for that boy."  Brushing the crumbs out of his beard at last, Albus leaned forward, resting his elbows on the armrests of his chair and steepling his fingers.  "Harry has been progressing magnificently."  He waved his hand at the empty chair near him, motioning for Severus to sit.

Severus shook his head.

"Sit."

Severus did so.  That tone always managed to make Severus feel like a schoolboy, a feeling which he hated.

"Now, Severus, why don't you tell me how far Harry got in his training last night.  I believe that you are working on shielding?"

"He was doing much better at mutating his shields than he has been.  They switched fluidly, and almost faultlessly."

"Good.  I'm glad that he's come so far."  Albus paused before taking another bite out of one of his biscuits.  "Training him hasn't been a problem?  He mentioned that you had been a little… short with him last week.  When he was having trouble mutating his spells."

Severus didn't answer immediately.  He didn't quite know what to say; he had lost control of the conversation the second Albus had opened his mouth.  Severus sipped his lukewarm tea while he tried to phrase his response.

"Severus?"

"No, Harry hasn't been too much trouble.  It had just been a trying day.  Whatever you had said to him before our last training session must have stuck.  He was able to learn much more quickly."

Albus's eyes widened.  "I only showed Harry a few tricks.  Harry, Severus?"

Severus smirked.  "Yes.  Harry is Mr Potter's first name, is it not?"

Albus munched on a biscuit as he regarded him.  "I hadn't realised that you were on such good terms with young Harry.  It's about time, I must say."

"Harry and I have come to understand each other."  Severus vanished his cup and the dregs of cold tea that were left. Successfully getting Albus off a topic was an achievement.  "Now, I came to discuss my resignation."

"Was the tea not to your liking, Severus?"

"Albus," Severus growled.

"Would you like another cup?"  Albus had already summoned a new cup and was pouring tea into it.

"No, Albus.  My resignation."  Severus reached into his robes.  "I have my letter here."  He pulled out an envelope, and attempted to hand it to Albus.  The Headmaster did not take it.

"Put it away, Severus."  Albus's sharp tone changed in the next second to his usual jovial one.  "Have some pudding with me?"

Severus shook his head.

"A lemon drop then?"

Again.

"Why?"

"My integrity will not allow me to remain here as a teacher."

"Why ever not?  Tell it to be quiet."

"Albus, be serious."

"I like being Albus Dumbledore, thank you.  I have no intention of ever turning into Sirius Black."  Albus grinned at him.

"That joke has been going on since I was a first year, Albus.  Don't you think that it is a little old?"

Albus scrunched his nose.  "I'm a little old.  The joke is fairly new.  Besides, I like it.  I find it humorous."

"My letter, Albus."  Severus once more extended the letter.  Albus ignored it.  "Why won't you take it?"

"You never did tell me why."

"I find that I cannot in good conscience stay and teach."

"Care to explain?"

"It's all in my letter."  Severus pushed the letter closer to Albus.

"I touch that letter, and you'll head straight out the door.  I know you, Severus.  There is a reason for this."  Severus watched as Albus warmed his tea and set a biscuit on the saucer before handing it to him.  "What's troubling you, my boy?"

"Nothing."  Severus took the tea and cradling it in his hands, turned his face away from Albus.

"Do you regret taking Harry on and mentoring him?"

"More than you will ever know."  Severus had said it out loud even though he hadn't meant to.

"How so?"

"He is an impertinent brat who doesn't know how to respect his betters."  Severus spit out each word through clenched teeth.

"Really?  I have always found Harry to be tremendously polite."

"Perhaps you have not spent enough time with him then."  Severus stood up and moved to the other side of the room.  He did not want to talk about this with Albus.  He didn't want to talk about this at all.

"I don't think that a few hours a week training him in advanced spell casting can impose on you too much."

"It imposes on me more than you understand!  Harry has this way-"  Severus snapped his mouth shut and crossed his arms.  Albus knew how to get to him.  Just like Harry.

"This way of what? Severus?"

"Nothing, Headmaster.  Take the letter."

"No.  I will not let you leave this school.  You leave and your life is forfeit."  Albus levelled Severus with a hard glare.  "The only reason that Voldmort hasn't killed you yet is because of the information you supply him about my 'little' force."  Severus looked away; Albus continued.  "Besides, I don't think that Harry would like seeing you dead.  I think that he has become a trifle fond of you, Severus."

"Too fond."

"I beg your pardon?"

Severus swallowed.  It was the only way out.  "He's become too fond, Albus.  I am not made out of stone."

Albus smirked.  "Of course not, Severus.  You couldn't move if you were made of stone.  Let alone teach."

"You are being purposely obtuse."

"Severus, I understand that the boy's affections must unsettle you.  Explain to him that you are not interested.  Push him away, harshly if you feel you must.  Harry is resilient.  He'll bounce back.  Like a Muggle rubber ducky."

Severus couldn't understand how a plastic duck would bounce.  "Too late for that, I'm afraid."  Severus's back was still turned so he couldn't see Albus's face.

"I see."  Severus couldn't hear a single shred of emotion in Albus's response.

"Then you understand why I must resign?"

"I understand that you are using me to escape your problems."

Severus turned around to face Albus.

"I will not have it."  Severus could read nothing in the Headmaster's expression as Albus spoke.  "You got yourself into this situation so you can get yourself out of it."  There was a slight pause.  "If you want to, of course."

"Albus-" Severus stopped at Albus's raised hand.

"I suggest you talk this over with Harry.  Make sure you do so soon.  He has been quite busy preparing to leave."

"Leave?"

"Yes, Harry is moving to Romania at the end of the year.  He wants to work with dragons for a time.  The two of us have been arranging everything with Charlie Weasley."  Albus paused for a moment to pick up another biscuit, and soon looked like his normal eccentric self.  "He hasn't mentioned it?"

"No."  There was an emptiness somewhere, in his head or chest.  A vagueness that hadn't been there a moment ago.

"Well, I'm sure that he was going to tell you."

"Of course."

"Why don't you get back to your work, Severus?  I'm sure that you have a rolls and rolls of parchment to grade."  With that, Albus dismissed him and turned back to his odd chess game.  Picking up a grey cross, he set it next to one of the white pieces, but Severus couldn't make out the shape.

Severus set down his cup, ignoring the rattle that his trembling hand made and turned to leave.

Half way to the dungeons, he realised that the entire visit had been horrible.  He was still in possession of what he didn't want - his resignation letter - and was now faced with losing what he did want - his Harry.

***

By the time that Severus reached his rooms in the dungeons, he had given out three detentions, removed a total of 175 house points from the other three houses, and even managed to make a group of Slytherins scatter out of his way.

Most pleasing, though, was the sound of the door slamming shut.

Harry was leaving.  Heading straight for the drinks cabinet, Severus ignored everything else in favour of pouring himself a snifter of brandy.  The thought that at the end of the school year he would be alone had Severus gulping down two glasses.  Pouring yet another, Severus went to sit and brood.

He had told himself that children that age were fickle.  Now the proof of it had been thrown into his face.

Harry hadn't mentioned that he was going anywhere.  He was, in all likelihood, going to leave without ever bringing it up.  Severus had asked, and Harry had always said he didn't know what he wanted to do after he left Hogwarts.  That he would probably stay and work with the Order if only because that was what everyone expected him to do.

Severus hated when Harry said such things.  Harry was young, he should be able to go out and experience life.  See that the world had more to offer than deranged murderers who obsessed over his death.  Severus had told him that.  Repeatedly.  But the thought that Harry hadn't talked to him before making the decision - perhaps wouldn't at all - tugged at Severus.  Hurt him.  Harry had maintained that they were in a "relationship".  Weren't people in "relationships" supposed to discuss things?

Severus hadn't dated much when he was younger; in fact, he hadn't at all during his final year at Hogwarts.  He'd been too busy trying to repent for his sins.  He still was, for that matter.

His seventh year had been spent learning how to spy on the Dark Lord.  Of course, he wouldn't have had to learn that if it hadn't been for what he had thought was love.

Did Harry think that he was in love with him>?  He had said as much, but Severus knew not to trust it.  He knew because he had once thought he was in love with his teacher.  He had been wrong.

The nervous way that his heart had clenched in his chest when Tyler was around hadn't been love, though Severus had thought so for many years.  All Tyler had been was a young man's foolish imaginings about poetic love.  It hadn't been real or even close to the what the reality of love was.  In fact, Severus still wasn't sure what that "grand" emotion was.  He did know that what he had had with Tyler was most certainly a pale imitation of what he currently had with Harry.

His relationship with Harry was far from perfect.  They sniped, yelled, and at times, honestly despised each other.  Severus even threatened to kill the brat on occasion.  Harry would only smirked.

But Severus would lay down his life for Harry, and knew that Harry would do the same for him.  Severus wasn't sure if that was love, but it was something, and whatever it was, it was certainly stronger than what he had had with Octavian Tyler.

It now was easier for Severus to understand Octavian Tyler.  Harry had pursued him just as he had pursued Tyler.  In the end, a relationship, of sorts, had developed.  One that had ended with harsh words and actions.  And a sharp dose of reality.

He didn't know how similar his relationship with Harry was to his with Tyler.  It was certainly different.  There were times when it seemed that Tyler had hated him, wanted him dead.  Then there were the times that he had seen… something, in the older man.

Perhaps it had been a misplaced sense of affection that Severus had taken to mean something more.  Perhaps it was all just wishful thinking on the part of his younger self.  But if anything had been there, it hadn't been for Severus.

Severus's eyes landed on the door.  In a way, he wished that it would just open and that someone, anyone, would come and save him from thinking.  Well, anyone other than Black.  Or Albus.  He didn't think he could tolerate the other teachers either.  He didn't want to deal with Remus constantly asking him what was the matter, or with Draco's pleasantries which Severus regarded as idle chatter.  Harry… he could deal with Harry.

Harry would sit in his chair -- Severus didn't know when the chair the boy always sat in had become his -- and not talk.  He would read, or work on assignments, but he wouldn't interfere.  He would just be there.  The only person Severus knew who could do that.

But soon Severus wouldn't have that reprieve.  Damn the brat.  And damn his inconsiderate nature.

Severus reached out to grasp the glass he had set on the side table, and his hand brushed a piece of paper he hadn't noticed before. Picking it up, he squinted at Harry's messy scrawl.  Wouldn't he ever learn proper penmanship?

*//Sev,

Came by to talk to you.  Wanted to tell you that I've finally decided what to do with myself after Hogwarts.  It's all set too.  Albus -- I mean the Headmaster -- and I have been working on it for weeks and just finished the final details yesterday.  I can't wait to tell you all about it.  You were right about my getting away from here.  I'll stop by later.

Harry

P.S. I saw my quill, by the way.  You owe me a new one.//*

Severus sniffed.  Perhaps he would have to re-evaluate his opinion on Harry's nature.  Then again, perhaps not.  Harry could have waited for him to return.

***

*The Past*

"Five points from Slytherin, Mr Snape.  This work is far below expectation."

Severus looked up from his essay.  Professor Tyler was standing over his desk looking down on his work.  His impeccably neat, detailed, well-thought-out work.  "But, sir-"

"Talking out of turn, Snape?  That'll be ten points from Slytherin."  Professor Tyler turned and walked over to lean against his desk.  Staring at him, Severus completely forgot about his essay.  "You aren't paying attention to your test, Mr Snape.  I think your inattention deserves another five points from Slytherin."

A wad of parchment hit the back of his head, but Severus didn't turn around.  Tyler would probably dock him points for cheating.  Or worse, rip up his test and send him to his Head of House.  Today wasn't going as well as he had planned.  When class was dismissed, he couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief.

Too soon.

"Your tie isn't tied properly, Snape.  And it's a little too loose.  School regulations demand that I dock you 15 points for improper uniform."  Tyler smiled pleasantly, and retreated to his desk.

"I don't know, Snape.  Your shirt doesn't seem to be totally tucked in.  What did Professor Tyler say about improper uniform, Remus?  Fifteen points, didn't he?  As prefect it's your duty to remove those points."  Black smirked at Severus.

"Shut the hell up, Black!  No one asked for your opinion!"

"Mr Snape, there is no yelling in the hallways.  That'll be detention and another five points."  Tyler had not stayed at his desk, but had gone to the doorway to watch the confrontation.  Or maybe the confrontation had brought him to the door.  "Wait for me in my classroom."

Potter and Black were looking at each other, worry in their eyes.  Tyler was usually fair and didn't tolerate House rivalry.

"You're looking well, boys."  Severus's heart dropped a few inches.

"Yes, we're doing quite well, Professor.  How are you doing?"  Potter, as always, was the spokesperson.

"I'm doing very well.  Thank you for asking.  My day has been looking up."  Tyler winked at Black and Potter, and Severus's stomach dropped along with his heart.  "Such good manners deserve five points.  Don't you think so, Mr Potter?"

Potter and Black beamed.  Even Lupin behind them smiled a bit.  "Thank you, Professor!"

Black chuckled, and then turned to smirk at Severus where he was standing right inside the classroom door.  Glaring, Severus kicked the doorjamb and hobbled into the classroom.  

"Ten points from Slytherin for damaging school property, Mr Snape."  Tyler whistled as he strode into the classroom.

Severus was seething.  His eyes were narrowed as Tyler sat down behind his desk.  The only spot of hope was that Professor Tyler had agreed with his note and decided to pursue a relationship.  That could explain the points he was losing.  It was a cover-up.  And detention-

"Your detention will be served tomorrow night at 9pm."  Severus's heart soared.  "You are to meet Mr Filch at his office, and he will be assigning you some work to do.  Without magic."  Then plummeted down through the ground.

"Filch?"

"Filch.  Good day, Mr Snape."

Severus flinched at the demonic smile curling Professor Tyler's lips.  Maybe the letter hadn't been such a smart idea.  It had always been a fault of his, that innate need to have the last word.  "Thank you, sir.  I hope that you have a good day too."

Tyler tormented him for days.

"This homework is late.  It was supposed to be in five minutes ago.  Ten points, Mr Snape."

"But. Professor. Class just ended, everyone's not even out of the room yet."  Severus sighed.

"Do not talk back."  Tyler picked up his quill.  "Report to Filch at the normal time for your detention."

And later that week as Severus and Lucius were sprinting down the hall, late for a House meeting, they ran into Tyler rounding the corner and skidded to a halt.

"No running in the halls.  That's five points off for each of you."  Tyler looked them up and down.  "Your shoes are scuffed, Snape.  Improper uniform again.  Another fifteen points."

Severus opened his mouth to answer, but Lucius pulled on his arm.  "Shut up," he hissed through clenched teeth, "or it'll be another detention.  Your fourth this week."  Letting go of Severus, Lucius turned to Professor Tyler.  "Have a nice day, Professor."

A nod was his only reply.  Tyler turned and headed the opposite way down the corridor.

"What did you do to royally irritate him?"

"I don't think you want to know.  Ask me again later."

But even trying to follow the rules to the letter never worked.

Severus tapped his fingers against the top of the table in the library.  He was working on his History of Magic essay.  Causes of the Goblin Revolution of 15-something-or-other.  There really were too many of the things to count.  Unfortunately Professor Binns was obsessed with them.

"Mr Snape, this is a library, not a concert hall.  Cease your drumming," Professor Tyler whispered from a few feet away.

Severus stopped at once, clenching his fist until his knuckles turned white.

"Oh, I almost forgot.  Five points for disturbing the peace."

***

Severus paused in the doorway.  A few feet down the corridor were Professors Tyler and McGonagall.

"Now, Octavian, don't take me wrong.  I want Gryffindor to win the House Cup, but aren't you being a little hard on Severus Snape?"

One eyebrow rose.  "Do you think so, Minerva?  I just don't know."

"The boy has lost close to a hundred points in the last five days.  And had detention four times!"

"Ah, yes."  Tyler sighed.  "Mr Filch was just telling me that the trophies and cases have never shined brighter."  He smiled.

"Octavian, I've never had a problem with Snape.  He's one of the brightest, most well behaved boys in his year."

"But he's conceited.  Everyone needs to be taken down a notch now and again."

"He might be a bit full of himself, but everyone has their faults."  McGonagall shook her head.  "I don't think that we should punish the students for just being."

"Don't worry, I'm not."  Tyler's voice was clipped.

"The reasons you use are downright petty, Octavian!"

"Are they really?  What about this one, then?"  Tyler turned and looked right at him, and Severus knew that he'd been caught.  "Snape, stop hiding in that doorway, you've heard enough of this conversation.  Or didn't your parents ever teach you that it was impolite to eavesdrop?"

McGonagall whipped around and spotted him.  Holding out a hand to stop Professor Tyler's rant, she sighed.  "Ten points from Slytherin, Mr Snape.  I'm afraid that Professor Tyler is right.  One shouldn't eavesdrop on teachers' conversations."  Shaking her head, she moved off.

Snape made to duck into the classroom and hide until Tyler disappeared, but Tyler was quick, and his hand wrapped around Severus's arm before he had a chance.  "You got off too lightly.  For listening in on my conversation, you get a detention.  Meet Filch at nine."

"Yes, Professor."  Severus hung his head after Tyler made it down the hall.  His life was hell, and Professor Tyler was making sure that it stayed that way.

***

Harry pushed the quill and parchment away from him.  Leaning back in his chair, he tilted his head up to look at the ceiling.  It wasn't enchanted like the ceiling in the Great Hall, but the cracks of the old castle gave his eyes something to focus on that wasn't parchment.

He was done.  After nine months of translating written Parseltongue, he was done.  The sad part was that over half the scroll had been self-aggrandizing crap.  Wading his way through it had been tedious, highly annoying, and for the most part useless.

Useless because working out the various details of each attack was like trying to find a specific wand in Ollivander's - it could be done, but unless you were Ollivander, it could take days, months or maybe years.  He had barely uncovered the plot against the Weasleys in time, but that had been when he had just started translating the scroll.  There had been attacks against the Aurors, other Ministry officials, Order members, and others.

He just wished that having learned about the attacks he had been able to stop them.

Out of all the attacks that he had translated, only a handful stuck him personally.  The first had been the attack against the Weasleys.  The thought that Voldemort had tried to kill them all had been a blow to the stomach that had left him gasping for breath.  The twins, Ron and Ginny - none of them had even been born yet.  Harry had almost lost his adopted family before ever getting the chance to know them.

The second had been his grandfather.  He had never met his grandfather, but a part of him had always thought that maybe his grandfather had known him, but that hadn't been the case.  His grandfather had died long before Harry had ever been born.  The irony of the situation had left Harry reeling for days.  His grandfather, his namesake, had been killed because he didn't trust the translation of his grandson.  Granted, Harold Potter hadn't known that the man who was translating the scroll was his grandson, but Harry couldn't help wondering if the knowledge that Harry was his grandson would have made any difference.  If it was simply that Harry was a Parselmouth, an ability associated with the Dark, then it probably wouldn't have made any difference at all.  To this day Harry couldn't speak Parseltongue in front of Ron and most of the Weasleys without them overreacting to it.  Even more irony was to be found in the fact that his father had named him after his grandfather, without ever knowing that his son would go back in time and end up being responsible for his namesake's death.

Harry shifted in his seat.  Thinking of these two attacks, one successful and one not, made him think of what he had just translated.   The end of the scroll had been the details of another attack, a large scale one.  Mass slaughter of a group of children, so that Voldemort could demoralize the Wizarding community.  His plan was clearly to demolish the idea that parents could send their children to school and know that nothing bad was going to happen to them.  Voldemort was going to destroy the Hogwarts Express while every child who attended the school was onboard.  Harry had no idea how it was going to be stopped, and he would likely never know, unless he asked Albus when he went back to the future.  He wasn't welcome in the strategy meetings of this Order.

What if he hadn't translated it all in time?  For all Harry knew, he could go back and find that everything was different.  If he didn't get the information to Albus, then Severus, his father, Sirius, Remus, all the other children that he had got to know would die on the train.  He himself would never be born.  Voldemort would still be in power.  The weight of this settled on his shoulders and he slouched down in his chair and sighed.

If he could, he'd rush up to talk to Albus immediately.  But that was pointless.  It was four in the morning, and Albus would surely be in bed.  At least Harry thought that it was four in the morning.  He looked around the windowless room.  There was nothing on the walls, and the furniture only consisted of his and one other chair, and the table.

There would be time in the morning.  It was only mid-May; the train didn't leave with its human cargo until mid June.  There was a month left to figure things out.

Which also meant that there was only a month left to figure out what was going on in his life.  A life which seemed to be falling apart around him.

The last time that his Severus had come to visit came to mind.  He had wanted to talk to Severus, explain that it had all been a mistake.  That he didn't mean to sleep with him.  Well, the younger him.  God, he was so confused.  It was almost as if they were two different people, but at the same time, Harry could see the qualities that assured him both Severuses were actually one and the same.

Harry knew that he was different from the way he had been at sixteen and seventeen.  He had grown up, and subconsciously, he knew that Severus must have done so also.  But to actually see Severus when he was young and vulnerable, when he was weak, had just thrown him.

Severus had strength of character that Harry had always noticed, even while Harry was being yelled at when he was thirteen years old.  As he got older, Harry began to admire that quality in his professor.  That admiration, along with being paired up with Severus, had led to respect and ultimately, love.

When faced with the young Severus Snape, Harry couldn't help but see someone young and foolish with childish ideals who would eventually grow up into someone older, and infinitely wiser.  But he also had qualities that attracted Harry to this young version of his lover.  His vulnerability was just one.

Severus Snape, at sixteen years of age, was someone that Harry could inherently relate to.  He had insecurities, he wasn't sure of everything he was doing, and at times, Harry thought he could see a little foolhardiness in him.  All things that he would never associate with Severus as an adult.

And that was something that Harry had to admit to himself that he wanted, even if it was only temporary.  In this relationship he was the strong one.  The partner who was sure of himself.  He was the adult.  It was a heady feeling to be the one who was looked up to.

His relationship with Severus had never been that way.  At first he had looked up to Severus.  Severus was older than him, had experienced more than he had.  That was one of the reasons that Harry had left after he finished Hogwarts.  He needed to experience life.  Life without an insane megalomaniac following him around and trying to kill him.

When he had come back, his relationship with Severus had changed.  After a year he was no longer dependent on his lover.  He had learned to stand on his own two feet.  That didn't mean their relationship was simple and easy to manage.  The fact that Harry had left both weakened and strengthened their relationship.

It had been weakened because Harry had left.  They didn't see each other for the entire year.  Severus had sent him letters, but they were, more often then not, emotionally detached.  Severus was letting him go so he could grow.  He had grown.  That year was also the year that his relationship with Draco had really developed into a friendship; after all, they couldn't kill each other in letters.  It had started out with Albus telling Draco that it would be his responsibility to inform Harry of what was going on in the Order.  It had grown from there.

Harry remembered one letter from Severus better than all the others.  It had been about Draco.  Harry had been living with Charlie, who noticed the amount of letters he received from Draco, and had wrote home about Draco and Harry thinking that they were romantically involved.  Somehow, Severus had found out about it -- probably from Sirius or Remus, who hadn't known about their relationship at the time -- and had written Harry a nice note telling him that he was to pursue any relationship that he wanted to.  That he wouldn't get in the way of Harry's happiness.  Harry had left Romania a month and a half early because of that.

It was that which had showed them how much their relationship had strengthened.  Harry came back, and the first thing he did was not running to tell Severus how wrong he was.  He invited Draco to dinner instead…

***

For the second time that night, Harry found himself banging on one of the Hogwarts doors.  This time there wasn't anyone around so Harry just pounded and pounded with his fist until the door swung open.

Without giving Severus a chance to say a single word, Harry swept inside and threw his coat on the couch.  "What were you thinking, sending me that tripe?"

The door closed with a grating clank and Severus stalked over to the desk he had been working at.

"Don't you dare start marking right now.  I came all the way back from Romania to talk to you."

"And to go to the Three Broomsticks for a piss up with Draco."

The softness of Severus's voice stole some of the wind from Harry's anger, but it built up quickly again when he remembered just why he had gone to dinner with Draco at the pub.

"Your own fault for that.  I took him for dinner because I knew that if I came back here and said that you were full of shite you would have only replied with something along the lines of 'how can you be sure?' Well, I'm sure.  I'm very sure."

"Of what precisely?"  There was absolutely no expression on Severus's face, and that only made Harry angrier.

"That you're full of shite!"

Severus's eyes sunk closed and he reached up to squeeze the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger.  "Harry-"

"Good to know that you haven't reverted back to Potter!  At least I don't have to return to calling you sir.  Not sure that I could do that with a straight face." Harry spat.

"Would you be quiet?!"

Crossing his arms over his chest, Harry glared.  "Why?  So you can tell me what an utter idiot I was for leaving?  I needed to go, Severus!  I couldn't stay here and wait to die.  But I thought…"  Harry's voice lowered a bit and took on a sad tone.  I thought that you understood that.  I thought you'd still be here.  Even if you don't love me, I thought that you must have cared about me a little when you said…"  

Harry stopped.  Severus had looked away.

"I am an idiot.  For believing you, I guess.  For thinking that my loving you was enough."  The words were coming again, and Harry couldn't stop them.  "You probably think that I'm some stupid kid who doesn't know what he wants.  But I do know.  I don't want Draco.  I don't want to live with the dragons on the Reserve.  I want you."  Harry sighed.  "But it looks like you don't want me."

"Whatever gave you that idea?"

"Your letter, for one."  Harry looked at the ground and kicked at the floor with the toe of his trainer.

"Remus had told me how difficult it must be for you to be separated from your 'boyfriend' -- Merlin, I hate that term -- and for a moment, I had thought that you'd told him about us, and I had, in fact, started a scathing piece of correspondence to you in my head when he said that you and Draco must have been together for months before," Severus said.

"Remus knows shite.  I don't tell him anything.  God, he wrote to me twice twice the entire time that I was there.  Usually it was just a footnote at the end of one of Sirius's letters which went on about how lucky I was to be living out in the world, and that it was a good thing I wasn't stuck in some dank and mouldy dungeon with the likes of Severus Snape."  Harry took a deep breath.  "And no matter how much I wanted to tell him that I like spending my time in dank and mouldy dungeons with Severus, I couldn't because he'd lose his mind and kill you and then I'd have to hate him forever, and I don't want to!"

"Are you quite done?"

"No!"  Running his fingers through his hair, Harry started pacing.  "And then, just when I thought that things couldn't get worse between Charlie hitting on me that once -- I wrote you about that -- and Draco telling me how everything's gone to hell here, and Sirius making his letters attacks against you, you go and decide not to write me for three months even though I sent a letter back with Draco's every single damn week."

"Now?"

"No.  Then you had the gall to write me a note dismissing me in order to find happiness with that prat Malfoy!  What the hell, Severus?  Did doxies eat your brain while I was gone?"

"The young are--"

"If you dare call me fickle with my emotions, I'll hex you."

"--easily swayed."

Curling his hand into a fist, Harry bore down on Severus.  "Damn it.  Why do you insist on pushing me and pushing me?  Do you think that I'm just going to give up on you?"  One hand curled around Severus's bicep.  "Don't answer that."

"Then why ask?"

Squeezing his eyes shut, Harry rubbed at them with the heel of a hand and groaned, but he never let go of Severus's arm.  "Damn you.  Right now, I'm so angry with you that I'm tempted to do something awful, but I won't."

Harry opened his eyes to look at Severus who was staring at where Harry's fingers were digging into his arm.

"Don't play the self-sacrificing arse, Sev.  If you don't want me say so, and I will walk out that door and I won't look back.  You aren't responsible for me anymore; you aren't my mentor."

"I shall always be responsible for you."

"I don't want you to be."  Harry settled his hand on the back of Severus's neck.  "Don't you think that it's time I took care of myself?  Prove that all the lessons you and Albus and Sirius taught me didn't leak out my ears?"

"I would like to."

"Severus, it's not that hard, just--"

"Being responsible for you is not something that I mind."

Harry narrowed his eyes, his fingers loosening their grip on Severus's arm.  "Can't you say anything easily?  It'd be so much easier if you said, 'Harry, I don't want you to leave because I've become attached to you.' And that didn't even have any awful words along the lines of like or care or -- dare I say it -- love."

"You are an immature brat."

Smiling, Harry moved so he could press his face in the crook of Severus's neck.  Severus didn't want him gone.  Harry sighed when he felt Severus's hands come to rest along his back.  This was right.  This is what he'd been missing for the last year.

***

Harry let the memory slide away and sighed.

That had been the start.  In the end, though, Harry had changed.  He wasn't as easily swayed and had finally started to grow beyond the childish behaviour and Severus finally started treating him more like an adult.  They'd become more equals, and could build their relationship on that.  Neither stronger nor weaker than the other.

It was a relationship that Harry cherished.  No matter how hard he looked, he wouldn’t be able to find another like it.  It fulfilled him in a way that the rest of his life couldn’t.  With Severus, he wasn’t ‘The-Boy-Who-Lived’, or a commanding officer in the Auror Division of the Ministry, or a member of the Order of the Phoenix, or James’ son, or anything else that people could label him as.  He was just Harry.

And Severus was Severus, no matter what time Harry was in.  No matter how much Severus got on his nerves, Harry loved him.  And now, Harry missed him.  Missed him so much, in fact, that he was looking for his Severus in a sixteen year old.  And, to a point, finding his lover there.  Not the mature older, man that Harry always associated Severus with being but the essence of his Severus was there.

Harry had reached for that, along with all the other things that attracted him to the young Severus Snape, when offered.  Knowing it was wrong, but at the same time not caring.  

Thinking about it, Harry saw everything.  He knew what he was doing was, in a sense, wrong.  He knew why he was doing it.  But none of this meant that, when faced with his Severus, he would be off the hook.  When he went back to his own time, he would have a lot of explaining to do.  To someone who was hurt, and angry as hell at him.

And at that moment, Harry wanted nothing more than to go back to his Severus.  What the young Severus had was not what Harry needed.  What Harry needed was his Severus.  The equality, understanding, and love that Harry could only find with him.

Harry swore that he would leave Hogwarts the first opportunity he could get.  Now that his obligation to the Order was done, Harry wanted out.  And he knew just how to go about it.

***

Harry muttered the password and waited until the gargoyle moved aside.  As he approached the door he thought of everything he planned to say to the Headmaster.  Luckily, he could do it all with a clear conscience.  Well, an almost clear conscience.  Just as he was about to knock, Albus’ voice drifted through the door.  “Come in, Octavian.”

Pushing open the door, Harry made his way into the office.  It was surprisingly similar to the office that Dumbledore kept in the future.  Only a few things were different.  “Headmaster?”

“I’ll be right there, just have a seat, my boy.”  Harry sat down in one of the seats across from Dumbledore’s large desk.  Turning his head he noticed that Fawkes was preening his feathers.  He had always liked Dumbledore’s phoenix.  The Fawkes of this time period ignored him, however.  Albus had told him not to worry about it too much.

Albus entered his office from the back room and sat down at the desk.  He shuffled around a bunch of his papers before turning to Harry.  Picking up a small bowl, he held it out.  “Lemon drop?”

Harry almost laughed.  Albus hadn’t offered him a lemon drop since he had threatened to turn his skin purple for a week if he did.  That had been in the future though.  This Albus didn’t know the hazards of offering Harry lemon drops.  “No, thank you, Albus.  I’m not particularly fond of lemon drops.”

“Biscuits and tea then?”

“No, I’m all right.  I’m here to discuss the scroll.  I’ve finished translating it.”

“That’s nice, my boy.”  Harry watched as Albus signaled for Fawkes to come over to him.  The phoenix spread its wings and landed on the armrest of Albus’ chair.  

“I assume that you would like to know what it says.”

“All in good time.  I’m sure that there is no great rush.”  Albus slowly petted the phoenix and looked at him with twinkling eyes.  “How have you been?”

“Fine, Albus.  I think that you should hear this.”

“I’m sure.  You’ll tell me in a minute.”  Albus scratched lightly under Fawkes’ beak, and the phoenix seemed to purr in response.  “How have your classes been going so far?”

“Fine.  Albus, I think that you should hear this.”  Harry continued before he could be interrupted.  “Voldemort is plotting to blow up the train.”

“That’s nice, Octavian…” Albus trailed off.  “Blow up the train?  What train?”

“The Hogwarts Express.”

“And when was he planning on doing this?”

Harry wanted to scream.  When did he think that Voldemort would want to blow up the train?  His annoyance brought out his sarcastic streak.  “When all the students are on it, of course.”

“I don’t quite follow you, Octavian.”

“On the way back to King’s Cross on the last day of the term.”

“That isn’t very good news.  Why would he do that?  I know that he has been looking into recruiting students from the school.  He wouldn’t want to blow them up, now would he?”

“I don’t think that Voldemort particularly cares one way or the other, Albus.  In the scroll he says that the loss of a few potential followers would be worth the destruction of a generation.  This will have a horribly crippling effect on the Wizarding world.”

“Oh dear.  Did he say how he was going to go about it?”

“No, it was rather vague.  The only real details were that it would be destroyed somewhere between here and London, and that he was going to employ some sort of magical bomb.”

“Definitely not good.”  Dumbledore continued to stroke the feathers on Fawkes’ back, a contemplative look on his face.  “But I think that it might be possible to avoid the situation.”

Harry’s eyes widened briefly before returning to their semi-expressionless state.  “Only you, Albus.”  The Headmaster turned his questioning gaze on ‘Octavian’, and Harry elaborated.  “Only you could take the potential destruction of a train full of students calmly.”  Nothing was said for a minute; Albus neither agreed nor disagreed with Harry’s assumption.  “So, what are you going to do?”

Albus didn’t respond immediately, instead continuing to pet the phoenix.  “I think a complex series of illusion charms should be acceptable.  We’ll postpone the end of the term, I think.”  Albus moved his hand from the phoenix to his beard, his fingers tangling in its length.  “Of course the students won’t know.  The morning of departure we’ll have to come up with an acceptable excuse, and somehow make sure that none of the students owl their parents.”

“Keep them under house arrest.  Don’t let them leave their common rooms, shut down every fireplace, and lock all the windows.”

“A little harsh, don’t you think?”  Albus attempted to extract his fingers from the tangle he had gotten them in.  “I was thinking more along the lines of sending all the owls away.  After all, we wouldn’t want to raise suspicions.”

Harry rolled his eyes toward the ceiling.  “As if all the owls suddenly disappearing wouldn’t raise suspicions.”  He let out a harsh sigh.  “I stand by my suggestion.  Of course it is up to you and the Order to determine the course of action that shall be taken.”

Nodding his head, Albus ended the topic of conversation.  “If that is all, Octavian?”

Harry didn’t move; his hands tightly grasped the arms of his chair.  “There is one other thing I wanted to discuss with you, Headmaster.”

“You said you have finished the scroll, is there more?”

“No.  That was the last of it.  Now that I think about it, the writing ended rather abruptly.  That could be the reason for the sketchy details.”

His fingers finally released, Albus twirled the tip of his beard around his finger.  “A possibility.”  Picking his wand off the desk Albus waved it in a distracted manner.  A teapot appeared on the desk along with two teacups and saucers.  “I shall think about that later, however.  What did you want to discuss with me, Octavian?”  Before giving Octavian the chance to answer Albus held out a cup of steaming tea.  “Tea?”

“No thank you, Albus.”  Swallowing Harry pressed on.  “I need you to fire me.”

Albus blinked a few times before he started to stir his tea.  The silence stretched for a few minutes before Albus responded.  “I’m sorry, Octavian, but I just can’t gather up the desire to set you on fire.”

Harry knew that Albus’ hearing was flawless.  The old man just always chose to hear what he wanted to hear.  “No, Albus.  Fire me.”

“Neither do I think it appropriate to set a fire for you.  I’m sure that you covered pyro-mechanic charms during your studies.”  Albus calmly sipped his tea, watching the younger man across from him, blue eyes twinkling.

“Albus, you don’t understand.  You should fire me.  But since you don’t want to grasp the concept of that-“

“I can grasp the concept just fine.”  Albus seemed affronted.  “I did extensive studies of various pyro-mechanic charms when I was a student.”

Harry groaned.  He was doing this on purpose.  “Another way of putting it would be,” Harry paused to take a breath.  “I need you to ‘let me go,’ or terminate my employment.  Something along those lines.”

“Let you go where?”  Albus smiled at him benevolently.  “Do you need a few days off, I’m sure I can arrange for one of the other teachers to cover your classes for a couple of days.”

Harry was reaching the end of his patience.  “Let’s try the last one, Albus.  Terminate my employment with Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

“I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you.”

“What’s there to follow?”

“Well, Professor Augustin is building a maze for one of his Care of Magical Creatures classes.  The students have to train a puffskein to get through it for their final.  We could always follow one.”

Harry didn’t know if he felt like laughing or crying.  Dealing with Albus was always a surefire way to get a headache.  “Albus, I know that you understand what I’m asking you to do.  Is there a reason you choose to pretend you don’t?”

Albus didn’t answer him.  Just refilled his cup, and summoned a plate of biscuits from somewhere.  “Biscuit?”

Harry wanted to scream; he hated dealing with Albus.  The frustration that such encounters led to always seemed interminable.   “Fine.  I would like to tender my resignation, effective immediately.”  Albus just stared at him with wide eyes, a look of confusion on his face.  This was going to be a long conversation.  “Do you need a formal letter of resignation?”

“Nonsense, my boy.  There is no reason for you to resign.  You are a wonderful teacher, the students all love you.”  A grumble issued from the back of Harry’s throat.  He wasn’t quite sure about all the students.  Albus ignored him and continued.  “Besides which, it’s already mid-May.  Term ends in a little over a month.  I’m sure that you can hold out.”

“It’s not that, Albus.  I’ve done something unforgivable.”

“None of the students have complained of you trying to cast the Unforgivables on them during lessons.”

Harry closed his eyes briefly before opening them to look at Albus again.  “I’ve been ‘carrying on’ with a student.”

“Carrying a student?  I don’t see how that is unforgivable.  Hagrid told me about it.”

Harry shook his head in confusion.  He had lost track of the conversation again.  “Hagrid?”

“Yes, he said that you carried the first year Ravenclaw, Ms. Tavers I believe, to the hospital wing after she fell and skinned her knee.  Quite chivalrous of you.”  

Harry barely recalled the incident.  “Of course.”

“There, you see, no reason for you to resign.  Rather exemplary behavior, in my opinion.”

Harry dragged the conversation back on topic.  “That’s not what I meant by ‘carrying on.’”  Before Albus could once again veer off  into something completely off topic, he continued.  “I’ve engaged in a relationship with a student.”

“Of course you have, my boy.”  Albus folded his hands on the desk and smiled.

“That doesn’t bother you?”

“Why would it?  All good teachers form relationships with their students.”  Albus’ smile didn’t waver for a second.

It took Harry a moment to get back on track.  Some of the images that had popped into his head with that phrase had disturbed him.  “Not that kind of relationship.”

“What kind?”  

Knowing the quickest way out of this round-about conversation would be to state the blunt facts, he opened his mouth to do so but was interrupted before he even had the chance to speak.

“Another cup of tea?”

Harry shook his head.

“How about some sandwiches then, I’m starving.”

“No, Albus-“

“Pie?  I always liked the lemon sponge pie the house elves bake.  It’s delicious. Have you-“

“Do not play any more games with me, Albus.  I am sleeping with a student.  I think that I should be let go, but since you refuse to do so I am tendering my resignation.”  Harry got everything out as quickly as possible.  He sighed when he saw Albus wave the house elf he had summoned away.  Finally.

“I see.  Well, here is what I have to say on the situation.  It is not against school rules,” Albus paused to raise a hand in order to stop ‘Octavian’ from interrupting him.  “It is not against the rules, although it is not considered appropriate.  However, I do not have to fire you over such circumstances, and I choose not to.”  Albus paused for a breath before continuing.  “Now, as for your resignation, it is really quite simple.”  Harry felt much better at the sound of that.  All Albus had to do was tell him what to do.  “I will not accept it.”

“What?”

“I will not accept it.  It is too close to the end of term; I will never be able to find another teacher to fill in.  You are a remarkable teacher.  You understand your subject better than many of our previous professors.  It’s like you were raised in Defense Against the Dark Arts.”  Albus paused for a moment and set some papers in front of him.  “I see no problem with you continuing out the year as a professor.  If you are uncomfortable with your actions then I suggest that you not repeat them.”

Harry propped his elbow on the armrest of his chair and rested his head against his hand.  “I can’t convince you to change your mind?”

“No.  My suggestion is that you go downstairs, pour yourself a drink, and relax for the evening.  You’ve had a trying day.”

Harry knew he had been dismissed.  He stood to go.  There was no way in hell he was going to take Albus’ suggestion though, tempting as it sounded.  

***

Twenty-five minutes later Albus was startled out of his work by a series of loud thuds on his desk.  Looking up, he saw bottle after bottle appear and line up.  Albus was surprised at the variety of liquors.  Finally, a note appeared in front of him.

*//Albus,

To safeguard me against foolhardy behaviour, please accept my gift of every bottle of liquor I had in my rooms.

Octavian Tyler//*

Albus shook his head, bemused by the younger man.  Setting the note aside, he began puzzling over how Octavian Tyler had managed to get through all the wards that surrounded his office, in order to send the bottles to him.  

Twenty minutes later, he was still trying to figure it out. ♦

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