The Paradox of Existence
by DragonLight


Chapter Nineteen:  Dreams, Hope, and Love

*The Past*

Harry rarely paid attention to the morning post.  He didn’t bother with the Daily Prophet – it’s articles rarely showed any journalistic integrity --  and the Quidditch magazines of this time were out of date to him.  And he never received any letters, for obvious reasons.  But this morning there was something that grabbed his attention.

Winging its way to the Slytherin table was a Peregrine Falcon, a scroll clutched in one of its claws.  This was an unusual sight.  Falcons were rarely used to deliver post since they were so unreliable.  This wasn’t due to their bad temperament; it was actually because they wouldn’t deliver a letter after just being told the person’s name.  The receiver had to give the falcon a signal.  Therefore both the sender and the receiver had to know the falcon.  

Harry waited.

Within moments a whistle sounded from the Slytherin table, and the falcon flew to the outstretched arm of Severus Snape.  Harry narrowed his eyes and tried to think of who would send a letter to Severus by falcon.  It took him a moment before he put the pieces together.  Severus's grandfather.

Harry watched as Severus unrolled the scroll and stared at the writing.  Lucius was attempting to lean over and see what was written, but Severus pushed him off.  The young man’s face paled; he quickly stood up and left the Great Hall, his robes flying out behind him.

***

Severus ran out and made his way toward the lake, the parchment he had received that morning clutched in his hand.  He settled under his favourite tree, a large beech located near the lake; it was tall enough to hide behind if anyone was looking to find him.  Severus didn’t want to talk to anyone.

His life was falling apart.

// Severus,

To say that I am disappointed in you is an understatement.  I am incensed.  I never thought that you would degrade yourself to partake in the baser pastimes that have so entertained your father over the past years.  When he informed me of your latest exploits, I began to wonder if I did well in raising you.  I know that I failed your father; have I similarly failed you?

I chose to align myself with Tom Riddle long before he became known as Lord Voldemort.  Because of this, I have a much more stable position than his lackeys, which he refers to as his Death Eaters.  For some reason, they find that title admirable.  I find it repulsive and far below any respectable wizard.  If I had known then what I know now about Voldemort, I would not have chosen to ally myself with him.

I tell you now that Voldemort is not sane.  He has become obsessed with the destruction of all muggles, and those witches and wizards who choose to associate with the lower echelons of our society.  Though I agree with his sentiments about muggles, half-bloods, and mudbloods, I do think that he is going about ridding the wizarding world of their nuisances the wrong way.

Murder is not a suitable pastime for any well-bred gentleman.  Yet he delights in it.  Why you have chosen to follow him is beyond my comprehension.

I will not have a murderer in my house.  That is the reason your father is not allowed to enter the manor.  The same can now be said of you.  I do not want to see you or hear from you until you find a way to fix the mess that you have gotten yourself into.

Your father has graciously agreed to keep you at his residence in London.  I know that you do not appreciate having to stay with him, but remember:  ‘you reap what you sow’.

Solvanius Snape//

Severus crushed the crisp parchment in his hands.

He wasn’t allowed to go home.  The refuge of the manor was denied to him; in fact, he was expected to stay with his father in the flat he kept in London.  He might as well have been sentenced to hell.

Severus remembered the last time he had to spend the holidays with his father.  He had barely escaped the majority of his father’s drunken rages, not to mention the times he had to wander Diagon Alley and later Piccadilly Circus waiting for whatever whore his father had brought home that night to leave.

Severus sighed.  He had other options; he didn’t have to spend the summer holidays with his father.  Perhaps he could convince his stepmother to allow him to stay with her in Italy.  He couldn’t suppress an ironic smile at the thought.  Who was he fooling?  That would never happen; she absolutely detested him and his whole family.  All because of his father.

There was always Lucius.  Severus was sure that he could manage to convince his friend to invite him over for some extended visits, which would almost add up to the whole summer.  Lucius spent a great deal of time alone; his parents were constantly travelling, and he rarely went with them.

But would that help matters?  He had lost his grandfather’s approval.  All because of a mistake that he already regretted.  Staying with Lucius or his father wouldn’t aid in getting himself out of the Death Eater circle.

Severus clenched his teeth.  A lackey.  Voldemort thought that they were all his minions.  No wonder his grandfather didn’t agree with it.  Severus had always been taught to be his own master, not anyone’s subordinate.  He should have thought more about what he was doing.  

There was no way out of this situation.  At least, no way that he could see.  The only person that he would even consider going to was Tyler, but he refused to subject himself to the humiliation of going to Tyler for help.  Not after the last conversation they had had.

***

Harry looked out of his office window.  He had heard from his fellow teachers that Severus had skipped all of his classes for the day.  No one had seen him -- at least no one who was telling.  Harry had the feeling that Hagrid might know, but he couldn’t just go up to him and demand to know where Severus was hiding.

He had finally succeeded in getting Severus to leave him alone; not in the best way, but the boy was staying far away from him.  And yet Harry knew that something wasn’t right.  He shouldn’t get involved.  But he couldn’t just let Severus stay hurt.

Harry turned away from the window, and decided that some exploration of the Hogwarts’ grounds was in order.

***

Severus didn’t notice the person that settled on the ground next to him until he heard his name.  At the sound he started, and turned to see the one person he didn’t want to.  “Professor Tyler.”

“Mr. Snape.”  Tyler propped his head against the tree and looked toward the sky.  “I’ve heard that you didn’t find your classes today exactly appealing.”

“I had more important things to do.”

“Such as?”

“Don’t pretend you care, Professor,” Severus sneered.  

“But I do.”

“Because I’m just another bloody student?”

A thoughtful looked crossed the professor’s face.  “Not exactly.  As much as I regret certain things, you can’t be just a student to me.”  Severus looked up, but Tyler didn’t stop speaking.  “That doesn’t mean I care for you as more than just a student.  At least not at this point.”  Tyler’s eyes had a far away look, like he was lost in a memory.

Severus didn’t respond; he didn’t know what to say or how to react.  He tried to hide the flush that he knew covered his cheeks by turning his head away.  He had a chance -- in the future -- but it was still a chance.  He opened his mouth to say something, but snapped it back shut.

He didn’t want to hear Tyler’s reasons why they couldn’t be together now.  He had heard them enough.  And he didn’t want to jinx his chances for the future; Tyler could always take back what he had just said.  The silence lengthened.  Severus felt an intense need to say something.  To stop Tyler from thinking.  To stop himself.  “It’s just a childish problem, Professor.  And you aren’t interested in children.”

“I teach them.  Or were you referring to something else?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“I don’t agree.”

A harsh sigh.  “Of course you don’t.”

“Care to explain that comment?”

“Not particularly.”

Severus heard some shifting next to him, but refused to turn his head to see if Tyler was getting up to leave.  He continued to stare at the lake.  “I think you had better.”

“Isn’t it what you expected?  A childish answer from a child?”

There was no response from the man next to him.  Perhaps one thing would go right and Tyler would leave him alone.

“I’m not a child, you know.”

“You honestly believe that?”

“I’m sixteen.”

He heard a soft laugh from the man next to him.  “That doesn’t mean you think like an adult.”

“That’s not true.  I do think like an adult.  I’ve made adult decisions, haven’t I?”

“What do you consider an adult decision?  Your choice of joining the Death Eaters?”

He nodded.  It was a decision that he had come to himself, albeit with some help from Lucius.

“It wasn’t an adult decision.  It was a stupid one.”  Severus could hear the scorn practically dripping off the words.

“I’m responsible for someone’s death.”

“Ah.  So being responsible for a death makes a person an adult?  I don’t think so.”

Severus's grip tightened on the letter in his hand.  His voice came out in a whisper.  “I do.  I could say it makes me a murderer, too.”

“Being ‘responsible’ for murder and actually committing it are two different things.  But it still doesn’t make you an adult.”

Severus glanced over to see his professor rub tiredly at his eyes.  He didn’t understand how Tyler could think that killing someone didn’t make him an adult.  Severus certainly felt like one after that meeting.  And the letter from his grandfather…

“If you want to count responsibility for death as a cornerstone of adulthood, then I became an adult when I was fifteen months old.  My parents were killed because of me.”

“That makes no sense.  You couldn’t even realize you were responsible.”

“All right, I’ll give you that one.  The first time I actually killed someone with my own hands I was eleven.  The next time I was responsible for a person’s death, I was fourteen.”

Severus finally turned to look at Tyler, shocked.  “Eleven?”

“I didn’t want to or mean to.  But he was trying to kill me.”  Tyler paused, and turned to look at the lake.  “Since you consider yourself an adult, and murder is how you gage that level, tell me.  When have you killed another person with your own hand, knowing the full extent of that action and all the consequences that go along with it?”

Severus looked at the ground.  “I haven’t.”

“I see.  The first time that I did so, I was sixteen.  I used the Killing Curse.”

Severus couldn’t think of anything to say to that.  To be able to use the Killing Curse successfully before becoming a full wizard was astonishing.

“Don’t tell me that being able to kill someone in cold-blood is a qualification for being an adult.  It isn’t.  And I didn’t feel like one after I did so.  I felt like a murderer, even if the action was taken while defending myself and those younger than me.”

Severus rubbed at his eyes.  

“If those are the only basis you have for being an adult, then I suggest you go back to the proverbial drawing board.”

“Excuse me?”

“Just a muggle expression.”

They once again lapsed into silence.   Tyler’s eyes still held that far away quality.

“What about having to take care of yourself?  Would that count?”

“What?”

“My grandfather has decided that he cannot harbour a murderer.  I’m to live with the other murderer in the family, my father.”

“And your father isn’t exactly interested in your welfare.”  

It hadn’t been a question, and Severus didn’t treat it as one.  Instead he turned so he could look at Tyler.  It looked like Tyler was thinking of something, but what?  Other than what had slipped out after the Death Eater meeting, Severus hadn’t told him anything about his family.  “My father cares for no one but himself.”

“Are you close to your grandfather?”

“He’s the only person I ever considered family.”  Severus shoved the letter at him; Tyler took it and looked it over.  He read it silently.  Severus tried not to look at him, but his eyes kept returning to the thoughtful and worried look on the older man’s face.

“You aren’t a murderer.”  Tyler’s voice was so harsh a shiver travelled down Severus's spine.

“I guess that depends on whom you’re talking to.”

Tyler didn’t answer.  Severus had hoped he would.

“Can I fix this?”

“Fix what?”

“Everything.  My life.”  Severus sighed.  “While I’m at it, do you think I could stop loving you?”

“Infatuation is not love.  You love what you think you see about me, not what is actually there.”  Tyler moved until he was crouching, his weight on the balls of his feet.  Tyler’s green eyes shone with a pain that Severus didn’t understand.  “As for the other, your life is yours.  No one, including me, can help you fix it.  I’m afraid you’re on your own.”  Tyler stood, and Severus watched him disappear into the castle.

***

That night Severus wandered up to the Astronomy Tower.  The Slytherin dungeons had seemed too oppressive, and he didn’t want to attempt to sneak out of the castle to sit by the lake; the view from the tower was just as good.

Pushing open the door, he looked around; he didn’t think that anyone would be up there.  He was wrong.  Sitting on the floor, with his back against the wall was Professor Tyler.

“Mr. Snape.”  Tyler’s eyes were closed.

“How did you know it was me?”

“You’re the one student I know that sneaks out after curfew on an almost regular basis.”  One green eye opened to look at him.  “What brings you here?”

Severus licked his lips.  He had come up to the tower to think, but he didn’t want to tell Tyler that.  “I don’t know.”

“I see.”  

It was quiet for a time.  Severus couldn’t think with Tyler leaning against the wall.  

“Do you have dreams?”  Tyler’s voice was quiet.

“Sometimes.  I never really remember them.”

The corner of Tyler’s mouth lifted.  “Not what I was referring to, but amusing, nonetheless.”

Severus tilted his head to the side.  “What were you referring to?”

“I gave up on dreams a long time ago.”  

“Why?”

Tyler jerked, it was as if he had been somewhere else and forgotten that Severus was in the room.  As if he had been talking to someone else.  “Only fools have dreams.”  His voice was much stronger than it had been.

“That’s not true.  If you don’t have dreams, then what do you have?”

There was no answer from Tyler, and Severus hadn’t expected one.

“I’ve always dreamed of becoming an expert in Potions, and working alongside my grandfather.  More recently I’ve dreamed of power and respect, things that I feel I don’t have.  I thought that if I had those, then you’d want to be with me.”  Severus sighed.  “I’ve spent so much time thinking about such things.”

Tyler opened his eyes; if Severus had expected an answer, the chill in his professor’s eyes let him know one was not forthcoming.

“I hoped that you would eventually notice me.  See me as more than a student.  See me as an equal.”  Severus never took his eyes off of him.  “I’ve hoped that you’d fall in love with me.  That hope is what keeps me going.  Because I’m in love with you.”

Tyler’s expression didn’t change; he just kept staring at Severus with cold, almost emotionless eyes.

“And it’s not an infatuation either.  It can’t be.  It hurts too much when you say it’s not love.”

Tyler’s eyes narrowed and appeared to grow brighter.  Severus had finally coaxed a reaction out of the man, but now he wasn’t sure he wanted one.  “You think that hurts?”  Tyler shook his head.  “You speak of dreams and hope and love.  You don’t even know what those really are.  You think everything is that simplistic?  It’s not.”  Tyler stood and faced the open window.  “Don’t make me your hope.”  

Severus just stared at him.  At that moment Tyler seemed so much older then before.

“Don’t you get it?  Life isn’t about dreams.  Life is pain, darkness, and futility.  And if you still have something to hope for once you realize that, then you understand hope.”

“But-“

“And love.  The only thing you got right there is that being in love is painful, but not for the reasons that you say.  Love is so much more.  No matter how much you might fight, when it comes down to it; you’d do anything for that person.  You’d die for him.”  Tyler turned to look at him.

And Severus realized then that his professor was in love with someone.  Or had been in love.  Even though Tyler was trying to hide it, Severus could see the pain in his eyes.  

“Love isn’t always a happy experience.  It’s something that you have to fight for, because there isn’t always a happy ending.  Those are for fairytales and morons.”

“Professor?”

Tyler shook his head.  “Don’t say anything.”

Severus nodded.  What else could he do?

“You are a brilliant young man, Severus Snape.  You’re proud and, if I’m not mistaken, fiercely loyal.  You just have to choose to whom or what you want to be loyal.”  

Tyler moved away from the window and approached him, and Severus squeezed his eyes shut, not knowing what to expect.

Severus felt a cool hand touch his cheek; he opened his eyes to see Tyler inches away from his face.

“I don’t love you, and I’m sorry for that.  But I’m sure that I could love the man that you’ll one day grow to be.”

And before Severus could do or say anything, Tyler pressed his lips against Severus's for a brief moment.  Tyler broke the kiss and left.

***

*The Future:  Harry Age 20*

Draco paused in the hallway and watched as a group of students scattered when they saw Severus coming around the corner.  It seemed that Severus was back to his old self -- his ‘old self’ being the way he acted before he got together with Harry.

It was actually a rather subtle change, only visible if you knew him well.  The lines around his eyes were deeper, as though he never stopped glaring.  He wasn’t as lenient with the students, but that wasn’t a big change; Severus was never lenient with his students.  More points were being taken, and Draco had even heard rumours about Severus taking points from his own House.

To most of the inhabitants of Hogwarts, nothing appeared all that unusual with the Potions Master.   Draco doubted he would have noticed if he didn’t know the man as well as he did.

Draco watched as Severus stalked down the hall approaching the place where he was standing.  “Severus?”

Severus paused and lifted one eyebrow.

“How are you?”

He blinked.

Draco cleared his throat.  “I see.  Seen Harry around?”

That comment got Draco what the students referred to as the ‘Death Glare’ and a growl.  Severus immediately turned on his heel and swept down the hall.

Draco shook his head.  That certainly could have gone better.  

He hadn’t seen Harry in a little over a week.  Severus hadn’t mentioned him in the same amount of time.  If something had happened between them Draco was sure he would have heard about it.  Not from Severus; the man never talked about his relationship with Harry to anyone but Harry.  But from Harry.  After all, who else could his former classmate complain to about the overgrown bat he had taken up with?

It could be that nothing had happened, and Harry was away on assignment.  But that was a long shot.  The Ministry had taken to working Harry even harder then they were before, and it usually involved copious amounts of useless paperwork, not actual work.  

There was one way to find out.  If anyone knew what Harry was up to, it would be the Weasel.

Draco moved quickly down the hall and entered Granger’s office.  If Weasel would know about Harry, then Granger would know about the Weasel.

At his entrance, Granger looked up from whatever she was writing at his entrance; her eyes narrowed as she watched him manoeuvre around the piles of parchment and filing cabinets.  Draco finally stopped in front of her desk, grabbed the stack of parchment on the chair, and without looking around he dropped it on the floor, not noticing as it scattered.  He sat down.

“What do you want, Malfoy?”

Draco plastered on his most flirtatious smile.  “You are looking absolutely ravishing today, Ms. Granger.”  He leaned forward, grasped one of her hands and began to lift it for a kiss.  She wrenched her hand away.

“Get your smarmy mitts off me!”  

Draco attempted to look apologetic, something that he had never quite mastered.  “So sorry.  Weren’t we supposed to research something for Albus today?”

Granger huffed in exasperation.  “We were supposed to do that two days ago.  I finished.  Don’t worry, I’ll tell Dumbledore the conclusions I came to when I meet with him this afternoon.”

Draco didn’t say anything.  Now that he didn’t have to worry about that research he could focus on the best way to phrase his request.

“You don’t have to stay,” she continued.  “Actually, Malfoy, I’d prefer it if you left.  Don’t you have someone else to annoy?”

Draco smirked.  “Not particularly.  Only you.”

“Get out.”

Perfect.  “As soon as you tell me how to get in touch with Weasel.”

Granger slammed down her quill.  “I don’t know any weasels.  In fact, the only rodent I know is the ferret sitting in front of me.”

“Funny.”

“I thought so.”

Draco wished, once again, that he had been successful in his attempts to get in touch with Harry on his own.  “How can I get in touch with Mr Weasley?”

Granger smiled at him evilly.  “Which one?  There are several around you know.  Quite a few of them work at the Ministry.  I’m sure that you can find whichever one you’re looking for at their office.”

Draco glared.

“For example, the Mr. Weasley can be found at the Misuse for Muggle Artifacts office.”

“Don’t make me say it.”

Hermione blinked innocently.  “Say what?”

“Fine.”  Draco took a deep breath.  “How can I get in touch with Ronald?”

“I assume that he’s been exactly where he was all week.”

“And where is that, exactly?”

“Harry’s office.”

Draco stared at her.  “What’s he doing there?”

“Paperwork, I imagine.”

“Isn’t that Harry’s job?”

Granger bit at her bottom lip.  “It would be, if anyone knew where Harry was.”

That didn’t sound good.  “What do you mean by that, Granger?”

Granger sighed and folded her hands primly on top of her desk.  “I mean that he’s disappeared.”

Draco felt like the air had been knocked out of him.  He took a few breaths.  “That doesn’t worry you?”

Granger’s eyes flashed.  “Of course it does!  He’s one of my best friends.  And if it wasn’t for a – for a jerk like you, we’d probably know where he was.”

Draco was sure that she had been about to call him something far worse than jerk.  “What did I do?”

Granger rolled her eyes.  “Let me think for a moment.  Perhaps cheated on him?”

Draco raked a hand through his hair.  If it wasn’t Sirius or Remus harping on him about breaking Harry’s heart, it was someone else.  When were these idiots going to put two and two together?  It wasn’t that impossible to see that Harry and him had never been together.  “It’s not what you think.  Harry and I haven’t seen each other as often as we used to.  He prefers not to spend all his free time around me.”

“Because you cheated on him.”

“Because he’s stressed about work.”  Draco stood up.  “Are you sure you haven’t heard from him.”

Granger picked up her quill.  “Positive.”

“I’ll be going then.”

“Good riddance.”

***

Draco stared at the office door that Weasley had just slammed in his face.  Their conversation had lasted less then five minutes.  It appeared that the Weasel really had to do all of Harry’s paperwork.  The bloodshot eyes and gaunt features of the man attested to it.  Not for the first time, Draco wondered just how much parchment went through that office.

But that was neither here nor there.  Weasley hadn’t helped him at all.  All he had said was “No one knows where Harry is, you bastard, and it’s your fault.”  Followed by, “Get out of my office.”

Draco hadn’t been able to resist replying that it wasn’t his office.  That’s when he had been rudely shoved out the door.  No one showed him any respect.

There was one more person that he had to try.  Moody.  Draco headed toward the man’s office, not without a little trepidation.  Moody didn’t exactly like Malfoys, after all.

“Get into my office, ferret.”  The man was as odd as Dumbledore, able to see through doors and invisibility cloaks.  At least Draco knew how Moody managed it.  That damned eye.

Draco stood in front of the desk.  This was the first office he had been in that didn’t have parchments scattered all over the place.  He could actually see the wood floor.

“What do you want?”

“I was wondering if you could tell me how to get in touch with Harry.”

“You never give up, do you?  No one else has been able to give you answers, so you end up here.  Dumbledore, Granger, and Weasley have all failed you?”

“Are you related to Dumbledore by any chance?”

“That crazy old fool?  Not bloody likely.”  Moody’s glass eye moved to look at the back of his head.  That had always disturbed Draco.  “I don’t know where Potter is.  If I did, I couldn’t tell you.  He’ll probably be back eventually.”

***

Two weeks later Draco still hadn’t heard from Harry, and Severus was even more unbearable than ever.  All Draco’s overtures to the Headmaster that the resident Potions Master was going to destroy Hogwarts and should really be sent on vacation were rebuffed.

It only got worse when the Daily Prophet found out.

Draco had been sitting between Severus and Poppy at breakfast, as he normally did, when the owls delivered the morning post.  Teachers and staff always received theirs first, so Draco wasn’t surprised when the first thing that fell was his copy of the Prophet.  The surprise came when he unfolded it to see the headline “BOY-WHO-LIVED VANISHED Along With Four Other Aurors”.

“Accio, Accio, Accio Daily Prophet!”  Severus could not see this.  He couldn’t know about this.  This was bad.  Stacks of papers flew at him; perhaps that hadn’t been a good idea.

From under the stack of Prophets, Draco was trying to remember the spell to set paper on fire.  He should remember it, it was so easy.  “Pyro…”

The Prophet that was sitting directly on top of his head was lifted off.  Obsidian eyes met his.  “Incendio.”  All the papers around him burst into flames.  

Definitely not one of his better ideas.

Draco brushed ashes off himself; he paused as he heard sizzling.

“Don’t worry, dear, I’ll get it.”  Draco felt Poppy’s hand in his hair.

“You set my hair on fire.”  He turned his head to see Severus looking at the front page of the Prophet.  Oh Shit.

Without warning, Severus stood and left the table, the Prophet resting on top of his still unfilled plate.  Draco grabbed it, and was about to turn it to into ash when Albus grabbed it from his hands.  

“Now, Draco, share the news.”  The twinkle in the Headmaster’s eyes quickly dimmed.  He was the one to cast the Incendio charm on it.

***

A few days later, on his way through the Great Hall, Draco passed the House point meters.  He normally only glanced at them to make sure that Slytherin was still in the lead, but this time stopped cold at what he saw.  Gryffindor actually had negative points.  He never thought it was actually possible for a House to have negative points, but there was the proof.  Hufflepuff wasn’t faring much better; they were in the high twenties.  Ravenclaw had seventy.  And Slytherin… Slytherin only had one hundred points!

Draco leaned forward and looked at the tally scroll.  Most of the points had been taken off by Snape.

That wasn’t a good sign.  Draco had heard Severus was taking off House points right and left, for the smallest infraction.  But to actually take points from his own House?  Something was definitely wrong.  Draco had the sinking sensation that it had something to do with the missing Potter.

He was supposed to be heading to the infirmary, but instead made his way down to the dungeons.  Someone had to stop this nonsense.  The teachers were trying to compensate for the rapid lost of points, but there was only so much they could do.  Most everyone had stayed clear of Severus for the last week -- Draco included.

Pushing open the Potions classroom door, Draco slipped inside.  Gryffindor and Hufflepuff fifth years.  Great.  The dimmest of the dim.  “Professor Snape?”

Severus whipped around and leveled his gaze at Draco.  It took a lot of will power to keep from unconsciously swallowing.  He was not going to let Severus intimidate him.  “Twenty points from Slytherin, Mr. Malfoy.  What do you want?”

“You can’t take points from Slytherin because of me, Professor.”  At least, Draco thought he couldn’t.  He almost smirked, but decided against it.  “I had to come down here.  Madam Pomfrey insisted that you were needed in the hospital wing.  She was adamant that I tell you immediately.”

“Utter nonsense.  Get out of my classroom, Malfoy.”

There had to be a way to get Severus out of the classroom and to the hospital wing.  Once there Draco was sure that Poppy would tranquilize Severus; after all, she had been threatening to do just that all week.  “But, sir, she said you had avoided your physical exam for the last five years, and that you needed to get up there.  The governors are going to check the staff medical records tomorrow.”

Severus growled at him, and moved until he was standing directly in front of Draco.  The younger man had to tilt his head all the way back to look at his face.

“So help you, Malfoy, if you’re lying about this, I’ll have you for potion ingredients.”  Severus stalked through the door, and Draco let out a breath.  It was the first time that he had ever believed that particular threat.

Regaining his composure, he turned to face the class.  They were all staring at him with wide eyes.  “What are you all looking at?  I’ve just saved both your Houses from permanently residing in negative numbers.”  Draco moved over to pick up the text book from someone’s desk.  Flipping through it he stopped at a random page.  “This looks good.  Don’t know what it’s on, but there are questions on page 190.  Answer them.”

Draco set the book down on the desk and moved over to Severus's seat.  Sitting down, he picked up a book and started to flip through the pages.  It was a book on Dark Rituals; not Severus's normal reading material.  Closing it, he looked at the cover.  “1001 potions that every Master should know.”

***

Draco spent the next day avoiding Severus at all costs.  He really disliked the whole idea of having his organs gracing several of Severus's potions.  He much preferred them to stay right where they were.

But he had to talk with Severus sooner or later.  This behaviour couldn’t go on.  True, the students always had to walk around on eggshells around him, but the majority of teachers didn’t, and they all were.  

Besides, if he continued this behaviour, someone would start wondering about why.  And that led to a lot of questions that Draco didn’t want anyone thinking about.  Especially Voldemort.

Draco stopped and knocked on the door.  He didn’t know whether or not Severus would actually answer; after all, the man wasn’t speaking to anyone.

The door opened, however, and Draco stepped into the dim room.  It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the lighting, but when they did he made out the back of a head of someone sitting on the couch.  He made his way around to look at the person.

And stopped dead in his tracks.

Harry was sitting on the couch.  He looked ragged, like he had just swam the length of the Great Lake through the muck and sludge at the bottom.

“When did you get home?”

One eye opened; Draco could barely tell it was green, Harry’s eyes were so dilated.  “A half hour ago.  I was trying to sleep.  What do you want?”  Harry’s voice was raw.  It sounded as if he had been subjected to the Cruciatus one too many times and didn’t have access to the proper potions after.

“Nothing.  I’m going to go.”

Harry’s other eye opened.  “Are you ok?”

“I am.  I hope you are, too.  Bye.”  Draco beat a hasty retreat.

***

Harry had sunk back into an exhausted sleep the second the door closed behind Draco.  His friend’s behaviour was odd, but was in no way odd enough for him to waste what little time he had to sleep thinking about it.

It seemed like a second later when he snapped awake at the sound of a slamming door.  Severus must have come back.  He shifted slowly on the couch, and turned to see his lover.

Severus was staring at him, his eyes cold, his arms crossed over his chest.  It reminded Harry too much of when he had been a student.

“What are you doing here?”

Harry lifted his eyebrows.  “I seem to remember living here.”  Harry sunk back into the cushions.

“Really?  I thought you vanished.”  There was a strange emphasis on the last word that Harry didn’t fully understand.  “Where were you?”

Harry let his eyes sink closed.  Severus was probably just upset that he hadn’t been able to get in touch with him.  It would pass.  “Rio.”

“Rio?  Did you enjoy watching the scantily clad boys on the beach, Harry?”

“I didn’t get a chance to go to the beach, so I’ll have to say no.”

“But you spent three weeks there?”

Harry opened his eyes.  Severus's tone of voice hadn’t changed; he looked irritated as well.  “I didn’t spend three weeks in Rio.  I spent a day in Rio, we met up with some representatives from the South American Ministry, and the next day a guide took us into the Amazon.  I spent the remainder of my time there, except for yesterday, when we returned to Rio to portkey back here.”  Harry moved, though not as carefully as before.  He groaned as pain shot through his chest.

“What happened?”

“Zabini.  The idiot thought it would be a good idea if I adopted a bloody anaconda.”  Harry imitated Zabini’s voice:  “Being a Parselmouth and all.”

Harry watched as Severus's hands fell to his sides.  “You were on assignment?”

“Where else would I be?”  And Harry realized that Severus thought he had just run away from everything.  He struggled to stand up.

“I don’t know.”  Severus's eyes looked him over; he knew what he looked like.  He had made the mistake of looking in the mirror before collapsing on the couch.  “What exactly was this assignment?”

Harry sighed.  It was like being debriefed all over again.  Maybe for once Severus would settle for a shorter version.  “Voldemort decided that he needed to flex his power as a Parselmouth more.  Forget Nagini -- why settle for just one huge snake when he could have more?  He tried to get control of juvenile anacondas.  Large enough for what he wanted, but not as physically dangerous as an adult.  Still didn’t listen all that well.”

“Continue.”

Harry sunk back into his place on the couch.  “Most of the information about anacondas is false.  There is a large mysticism behind what is known mostly due to the natives that live in the Amazon.  Voldemort took that information for fact.”  Harry smirked.  “In other words, he didn’t do his homework.”  

Severus responded with an answering smirk; the moment passed between them quickly.

“It seems that while dangerous – what large constrictor wouldn’t be – they aren’t the killing machines that they are made out to be, only needing to eat up to four times a year.”

“He tried to make them eat too much?”

“Basically.  They became unruly, and since proper care wasn’t taken with the ones they had caught, the snakes became frightened and started to attack whatever crossed their path.  Voldemort seemed content with that.”

“Why couldn’t one have just eaten him?”

Harry laughed.  “I wish.  No such luck.  By the time we got there, Voldemort had started to try the same with adults; the largest he had was about forty feet long.  I think it had gone insane.  If a snake can.”

“Is that the one that Zabini thought you should adopt?”

“How’d you guess?  It almost crushed me.  Therefore my sore ribs.”  Harry closed his eyes again.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m attempting to go to sleep.”

“Here?”

Harry opened his eyes again to look at Severus.  “It’ll take too much energy to get to the bed.  Is that a problem?”  His eyes drooped shut again.  He felt the couch sink next to him.

“Is that such a good idea?”

“I’m sure that a bed would be more comfortable, but-“

“No, being here, in the dungeons.”

He wasn’t hearing this.  Severus had not just taken the same tone of voice he had used when Harry was still a student, before he had convinced Severus that he loved him.  The nuances he was hearing were all a product of his extremely overtired mind.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I think you do.”

Harry gave up on trying to sleep; it wasn’t going to happen.  He opened his eyes and turned to face Severus, pulling one foot up underneath him while trying to hide a grimace of pain.  “Is this about me not being sure I want to bond with you?”

“No.”

“Then what is it about?”

Severus turned his face away.  Harry didn’t know what to make of what was going on.  Severus had never been this… If Harry didn’t know that it was impossible, he’d say that Severus was insecure about something.  

Harry reached out and put his hand on Severus's thigh.  He felt the muscles tighten under his fingers.  “Talk to me.”

“I don’t feel like talking to an idiotic Gryffindor right now.  I’d rather you left.”

“I know this arrangement isn’t working out.  I’m not getting enough sleep, and I keep disturbing you when I do get home.  I already talked to Ron about moving back into the flat.  Since I had a few days off, I thought I’d stay here, and we’d discuss it later.”

Severus pushed Harry’s hand off his thigh and stood.  So that hadn’t been what Severus meant, and Harry had probably just made the whole thing worse.  He lifted a hand to rub at his forehead.

“The sooner you leave the better.”

Harry’s nails scratched at his scar as his hand closed in a fist.  “What the fuck is going on, Severus.”

Severus had been in the process of pouring a drink; he set down the decanter at Harry’s words.  “You don’t curse.”  

“I do when I haven’t slept more than 20 hours in three weeks, and I come home to find you mad at me!  What did I do?”

Severus lifted the glass to his lips and took a sip.

Harry raked his hands through his hair.  “Tell me, please.”

Severus turned to face him, his arms crossed as he leaned against the table behind him.  “You’re a stupid, foolish, impudent Gryffindor.”

“I love you, too…”  Harry closed his eyes, the last part of their conversation from over three weeks ago ringing in his ears.  “I-“

“Just leave.  And for the record, Potter,” Harry flinched, “the only crazy old fool in this castle is Albus.”

“That’s not what I meant, Sev.”  Harry forced himself to stand and walk over to Severus.  He reached out and grabbed both of Severus's arms.  “I heard you.  And those three words kept me upright better than any PepperUp or any other stimulant that was forced down my throat.  Gods, Severus…”

Neither moved until Harry released Severus's arms, stepping back, around him.  He poured himself a portion of whiskey and downed it.  Harry set the glass down on the table before raking his hands through his hair again.  “A Well, Severus?  You don’t have to become a Well to prove that you love me.  You don’t have to keep me safe.  You trained me to do that well enough on my own.”

“And if I choose to?  If I choose to show my loyalty in such a way?”

Harry looked down.  “I can see it now:  Auror Harry Potter gets killed while on assignment.  Miles away, at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Professor Severus Snape slumps over his desk.  Dead.  And no one can figure out why.”  Harry turned his gaze to Severus.  “Why give me that kind of power?”

“You expect an answer to that?”

“No.”

“You need sleep.”  Severus moved until he was standing in front of Harry.  He placed one hand on Harry’s cheek.  “Your eyes are bloodshot, and you look like you can barely stand.  Why didn’t you just go to Weasley’s to sleep?”

“Because I wanted to see you.”  Harry closed his eyes and leaned into the hand that was softly caressing his cheek.  “I’ve started thinking about leaving the Auror Division.”

Harry felt Severus's other hand settle on his lower back, a gentle pressure urging him to move.  He took a step forward and felt the hand leave his cheek to grip his arm at his elbow.  “Where am I going?”

“To bed, Mr. Potter.”

Harry leaned into Severus, and didn’t open his eyes.  “So I finally get to sleep?”

“When was the last time that you really slept?”

“A week before I left to go on assignment.”

Harry felt himself being pushed onto the bed.  He opened his eyes and grabbed Severus's pillow, hugging it to his chest.  “I’ll think about it, Severus.  But if we do bond, it’ll go both ways, because I’m loyal to you too.”  He looked at Severus's face, and watched as the lines faded a bit.

“I’ll pack the book, when I help you get your stuff ready to go back to Ron’s.  While you’re working for the Ministry, you need a more convenient place to sleep.”

Harry nodded before he closed his eyes.  The last thing he felt before he fell asleep was a pair of lips pressed against his scar. ♦

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