The Paradox of Existence
by DragonLight


Chapter Twenty:  Leaving and Coming Home

*The Past*

Severus had never been so confused in his life.  His fingers trailed to his lips where Tyler had kissed him.  He immediately pulled his hand away, thinking how stupid the action was.

So Tyler had kissed him.  Big deal.  It wasn’t like they hadn’t done more than that.  But it was.

There had been something in that kiss.  Something that Severus didn’t fully understand.  Something that had felt like a promise.

It had been a chaste kiss – nothing like the ones they had shared before.  Just two sets of lips pressed against each other.  But there was something deeper, something that hadn’t been there in any of the others.  Was it possible to touch someone’s soul through such a kiss?

Severus had felt Tyler’s pain; had felt it during the entire conversation in the Tower, and it had carried over into the kiss.  Along with so many other conflicting emotions.  Pain, loneliness, contentment, love – to name a few.   But was the last for him?

Severus could hope.  Then again…  

Hope.  A chill went down Severus's spine just remembering the look on Tyler’s face.

Tyler was everything that Severus had ever wished for.  He was powerful, but controlled; an obvious man of conviction; knowledgeable in his field, and in life.  But at what price?

It was obvious that sometime in Tyler’s life he had given up hope, at least for a time.  Had he found hope when he found love?  Had Tyler been thinking of that person when he kissed him?

Severus sighed.  He had been asking himself the same questions since that night two weeks ago, and he hadn’t been able to come up with any answers yet.

Tomorrow was the leaving feast, and it was Severus's last chance to do something.  He had no idea what.  In order to take an action, he had to understand what was going on in Octavian’s head.  It was a basic strategy in chess: learn what your opponent was thinking.  It had been a lesson that Severus's grandfather had taught him.

His grandfather.  That was another problem.  One he couldn’t figure out how to solve.  One that he would set aside for the moment.

By the lake, Octavian had said that at some point he could care for Severus as more than a student.  Did that mean that there was a chance something could develop between them?  After he finished school?  Severus wanted to find out.

As much as Octavian said otherwise, Severus knew the man did care for him.  Could love him.  All Severus had to do was wait, and be patient.  That had never been one of his strong points, but he would do it.

Because no matter what Octavian said, Severus knew that he was in love.

But Octavian would want nothing to do with him as long as he was in Voldemort’s service.  Neither would his grandfather.  The only two people he really cared about in the world.

He had to get out.

***

Severus glanced around the Great Hall.  Octavian hadn’t been at the staff table at the start of the feast, and there was still no sign of him.  The feast was almost over, and tomorrow the train left for King’s Cross.  Tonight was his last chance to talk to Octavian.

Severus felt a tug at his sleeve.  He snapped around and fixed Lucius with a glare.

“You weren’t paying attention, Severus.”  Lucius sighed dramatically.  “Is that any way to look at the friend who kindly invited you to stay for over half the summer?”

“I’m sorry, Lucius.  You were saying?”  Severus cast another furtive glance at the teachers.  Tyler still wasn’t there.

“So you’ll spend the first two and a half weeks of the summer with me at Malfoy Manor.  My parents will prefer to have you there anyway, Severus; after all, Narcissa is supposed to visit.  I don’t know what they think is going to happen.  Just because they are telling me to marry her, doesn’t mean that I’m attracted to her.”  

“She’s not that bad to look at, for a female.”

“Of course not.  Do you think that my parents would tie me to someone that wasn’t physically appealing?”

“There’s more to life than appearances, Lucius.”

“Obviously.  There are bloodlines too.  Is there someone interesting at the staff table, Severus?”

Severus swung around in his seat.  “No.”

“Oh, I see.  Someone interesting is missing from the staff table.  Tell me, Severus, what did happen between you and Tyler?  I’ve been dying to know what happened those times you didn’t return to the dormitory until early morning.”

“I didn’t take you for a gossip.”

“I’m not.”  Lucius sounded affronted, but Severus was sure it was an act.  “But knowledge is power.”

“You have enough of that.  Why should I give you more?”

“Because I’m a dear friend?”

“I told you what happened with my grandfather.  That’s enough.”

“You didn’t have any choice but to tell me after you asked to spend as much time at the manor this summer as I could possibly arrange.”

“Exactly.  That’s an even exchange.”

Severus saw Lucius’ eyes narrow and his mouth begin to open, but whatever he had been about to say was cut off when Dumbledore stood and clinked a spoon against his goblet.

“May I have your attention.”  The hall quieted.  “I know that the feast is almost over, and some of you are anxious to get back to your common rooms and pack for the return trip tomorrow.”  

Severus looked around and saw many faces blanch; it was the same every year, Dumbledore made the procrastinators self-conscious for putting off their packing.

“It is my unfortunate duty to tell you that there will be no train leaving for King’s Cross tomorrow.”

The level of talking, which had been a steady background murmur, rose.  Dumbledore was forced to send sparks up with his wand to regain the attention of the students.

“No one can leave the castle or their common rooms until your Head of House instructs.  There will also be no use of Owl Post or Firecall to inform anyone outside of the castle.  It is a precaution that must be taken for your safety.  Prefects and Heads of House will now escort the students back to their common rooms.”

Severus had barely been able to make out the last of what Dumbledore was saying over the noise of students.  Some of the first years had actually begun to cry, and were now clinging to the robes of older students.

The Slytherins were all ushered out of the Great Hall by Professor Amygdalus.  

Severus had to talk to Octavian.  

As his head of House turned the corner, Severus grabbed Lucius’ sleeve and pulled him to a stop.  “I’ll be back,” was all he said before ducking down a side corridor and running to Professor Tyler’s rooms.

When he reached the door, Severus noticed that the plaque that had decorated the outside was gone.  He didn’t knock first, just tried the door.  It swung open.

To a deserted room.

Severus made his way through the living room as quickly as possible, past the furniture that was piled against one wall, and to the bedroom door.  

There was nothing in that room either.

Severus spared a moment to look at the room before he turned and made his way to Octavian’s office.  There was still a chance he hadn’t left the school yet.  Dumbledore said that no one could.  Maybe he had just packed everything up.

Severus made it to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and pushed the door open.  At least this room didn’t feel as empty.  Severus made his way past the desks and to the door that led to Octavian’s office.  He placed his hand on the handle, but didn’t turn it.

Severus's throat was dry.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to turn the handle and see another empty room.

But he did.  And it wasn’t empty.

Octavian’s back was to him.  He was slipping something around his neck, and a small overnight bag was at his feet.

“Octavian?”

His professor didn’t say anything; he just stood there, his back still turned.  The only sign that he had heard was the slight stiffening of his back.

“You’re leaving?”

Octavian nodded his head.

“But you can’t.  The Headmaster.  I-“  Severus stopped himself to take a breath.  He was sounding like an idiot.  “The Headmaster said that no one could leave.”

“By train.”

“But Hogwarts is in the middle of nowhere.  The only form of transportation is by train.  It’d take you days to get anywhere else.”  Severus's brow furrowed in concentration.  “Unless you aren’t going far.  Are you moving to Hogsmeade?  Or going somewhere nearby, a muggle town, perhaps?”

Octavian turned to face him.  “I’m not really going anywhere.”  His voice was neutral.  “Aren’t you supposed to be in the Great Hall for the feast?”

Severus shook his head.  “It’s over.  We’ve all been sent back to our common rooms.  Octavian-“  Severus stopped when Octavian touched his shoulder, directing him out of the office and into the classroom.

Octavian took his hand off Severus's shoulder and leaned against his desk.  “You came here to say something, I assume?”

Severus swallowed and took a breath.  “I… I came to tell you that I’m going to try to leave the Death Eaters.  I…”  Severus looked at the toes of his shoes.  “But I need your help to do it.  I can’t do it alone.”

“You’re stronger than you think you are, Severus.”

He shook his head.  “I’m not.  I don’t know what I’m going to do.  And even if I did, I wouldn’t know how.”

Octavian wrapped one hand around the back of his neck as he took a breath.  “I don’t know what you’re supposed to do.  I wish I did.”  He licked his lips.  “But I do know this.  You’re resourceful; you’ll think of something.”  Then Octavian’s voice dropped to a whisper, “You always do.”

Severus took a step toward his professor, but Octavian stood and moved back to the office door.  He looked at Severus.  “Learn to rely on yourself, not others.  That’s your best asset.”

“Octavian?”

He lifted one eyebrow.

“I’m not going to see you again, am I?”

“No.  In fact, it’d be best if you forgot all about Octavian Tyler.”

That was an odd turn of phrase.  “Forget all about you?”

“You heard me.”  Octavian went through the office door, and it closed behind him.

Severus stood there staring at the door, not moving for at least a minute.  Then he was moving toward the closed door as quickly as possible, needing to say something.  Anything.  His stomach was knotted, as if it was already too late.  But Tyler had only gone into his office.  There was no way out from there.

The door swung open, banging against the wall.  The room was empty.  No Octavian, no bag, no anything.

But it was impossible to apparate from inside of Hogwarts.  Everyone knew that.

“Severus?”

He was an idiot.

“Severus?”

Severus clenched his fist.  An idiot.  Sixteen and in love.  Merlin, it even sounded stupid.  That’s what he told himself, ignoring the suspicious pain in his chest.

What was love, anyway?

“Severus?”

Nothing worthwhile, if this is what happened.  Not even a ‘goodbye.’  Just a bloody vanishing act.

A hand landed on his shoulder, and Severus jumped.  “Severus?”  He looked up at the Headmaster.  Severus could see concern lining the old man’s face.  The Headmaster squeezed his shoulder gently.  “Why are you here?”

Severus looked down.  There was no excuse for his not being in the Slytherin dormitories.  He just shook his head.

“Professor Tyler told me this morning that he was planning on leaving today.  He had somewhere to be.”

The Headmaster’s hand slipped down to press against his upper back, pushing him away from the empty office and classroom.

“Come along, we’ll have some tea in my office, and I’ll tell Professor Amygdalus that you’ve been accounted for.”

Severus moved his feet without thinking.

“You seem troubled.  Is something the matter?  I know that you looked up to Professor Tyler, my boy…”

Severus looked up into the Headmaster’s blue eyes.  Yes, there was concern, but there was this look that reminded him of his grandfather.  A dash of Slytherin cunning.  This wasn’t the bumbling old fool that all the students thought him to be.    “Was he working for you?”

“He was a teacher here.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

Dumbledore just looked at him for a moment before starting to walk down the hall.  Severus moved to catch up.  He fell in step beside Dumbledore.

“Headmaster?”

“Yes?”

“If someone made a really bad mistake, and they regretted it, and they wanted to fix it, but didn’t know how to, what would they do?”

Dumbledore ran a wrinkled hand through his beard.  “A mistake, you say.  One that marks you, perhaps?”

Severus swallowed.  He shouldn’t have said anything, but he had.  “Yes.”

The Headmaster stopped and turned to face Severus.  “What do you know about chess, Mr. Snape?”

“I know how to play.”

“Would chess be easier to play if you knew your opponent’s move beforehand?”

“Of course.”

Dumbledore nodded and continued walking.

Severus stood there pondering over the exchange.  And he knew then what he had to do.  It wouldn’t get him back into his grandfather’s good graces anytime soon, but it would work to get rid of the stain that joining Voldemort had become on his soul.  He hurried to catch up to the Headmaster.

***

*The Future*

The sound of falling boxes caused Remus to look up from where he was working at his desk, and toward the small storage room attached to his office.  

“What happened?“  Sirius sat up from where he was dozing in one of the chairs.  

“Some boxes fell, that’s all.”  Remus walked over to the storage room.  “Aren’t you going to give up?”  

“He’s coming back today, and I want to be here to say hello.”  Sirius yawned.  “Besides I want to see him before that… you know.”

“I don’t think that Harry would like to hear you talk like that.”  Remus grabbed the handle of the door and twisted.  A few boxes toppled out and onto the floor.  “It took me forever to stack those.”

“You must have stacked those ages ago.  Don’t you ever dust in here?”

“Told you.”  Sirius went over to the small room, and peered over Remus’ shoulder.  “How have you been, Harry?”

“I’ve been better.”  Harry moved some more boxes to clear his way to the door.  “I forgot that you actually use this room, Remus.  I’ll help you restack everything.”  Harry smiled at the two men.  “It’s good to be home.”

“We’re glad to have you home.”  Sirius grabbed Harry into a massive hug.

Harry patted Sirius’ back.  “It hasn’t been that long, Sirius.”

“Let the man breathe.  You act as if you haven’t seen him in years.”  Remus shoved the last box back into the small room and closed the door.  “Welcome home, Harry.  And I will be taking you up on that offer.”

“Now you I haven’t seen in a while, Remus.  How are you?”

“Much better.  Now that you’re back, maybe this one,” he said, pointing at Sirius, “will finally leave me in peace.”  

Harry’s smile grew.  “He’s been that much trouble?”

“I’m here you know,” Sirius grumbled as he returned to his chair.  “Don’t you want to tell Remus everything that happened?”

“I’m sure that Harry would much rather go down to the dungeons and relax, Sirius.”

Harry sat down in the nearest chair, an old wooden one that Remus kept around for his detentions.  Supposedly it was cursed to be the most uncomfortable chair in all of Hogwarts.  Harry didn’t notice.

“Why would he want to go down there, it’s cold and wet and-“

“Don’t be daft, Sirius.  Of course Harry wants to go back to his rooms.”

“Actually, I think that I’d much rather stay right here.”  

Remus and Sirius turned to look at him.  Harry had pulled one leg up, and wrapped his arms around it, his cheek pressing into his knee.  

“Something wrong?”  Remus stepped toward the young man.

“I bet that Harry’s just realized that he has to go back to that wanker.  It’s all right, Harry, I’ll tell him that you want nothing to do with him.”  Sirius made to get up.

“He’s going to kill me,” Harry whimpered.

“Who is?”

Harry snapped his head up.  “Remus, can I stay here for a while?”

“Stay here?”

Sirius leaned back in his chair, and started to laugh.  “Don’t tell me it was true.”

Remus looked back and forth between the two men.  “What was?”

“Did you, Harry?  Did you really?”

Harry glared at his godfather before pressing his forehead against knee.

“Sirius, you aren’t making any sense.”  Remus walked over to Harry and placed a hand on his shoulder.  “Do you want to talk about what happened in the past?  It must have been difficult for you.  I remember that James’s father died that year.”

Harry looked up at Remus for a moment.  He closed his eyes and turned his face away.

Sirius was still quietly laughing to himself.  

“Would you shut up, Sirius!”  said Remus, glaring.

Harry shrugged his shoulder, and the older man’s hand fell away.

“If you aren’t ready to go down to the dungeons right now, you can stay here.  I’m just doing some work.”  Remus turned his head.  “You can have Sirius’ seat.  He was just leaving.”

“I was?”

“You were.”

“It’s not that bad, Harry,” said Sirius, still snickering.  “He looked a lot better when he was sixteen.”

“What’s the matter with him?  And who looked better at sixteen?”  

Harry looked up; Draco was standing in the doorway.

Sirius smiled.  “I’ll answer the first.  You should be able to figure out the second on your own, Draco.”

Draco raised an eyebrow.

“Harry cheated on Snape with Snape.”

Draco’s eyes widened and it was obvious he was trying to keep from laughing.  “That’s classic.”

“That makes no sense.”  Remus said, returning to sit behind his desk.

“It makes perfect sense, if you think about it.”  Harry whispered.  His chin was resting on top of his knee, and his eyes were half closed.

“Didn’t you hear the rumour toward the end of the year?”  

Remus shook his head.  “I probably did, but that doesn’t mean I remember it now.  It’s been quite some time since sixth year.”

“Everyone thought that Snape was shagging Professor Tyler, but everyone was too scared of that bastard of a teacher to confront either of them.”  Sirius turned his head to look at Harry.  “Sorry.”

“I know what my students think of me.  And no matter what time period I’m teaching Defence in, as long as I’m teaching it, they think I’m a bastard.”

“You and Severus?  He was sixteen, Harry.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Harry shook his head, ruefully.  “It was very obvious he was sixteen.”  

“What I want to know is why?”  Sirius propped his feet up on the desk.  Remus pushed them off.

“That’s between Severus and me.”

“Speaking of Severus, he sent me up here to see if Harry had come back.  Said they needed to ‘talk’.”  Draco went over and sat on his haunches next to Harry.  “Good luck.  And remember when he kicks you out you can always move in with Sirius.  I’d invite you to stay with me, but you’d be in the way.  I do have a social life, after all.”

“That’s all right.  I’m staying right here.”  Harry shifted in his seat.  “The way I see it, I’d never be able to find a more comfortable chair in all of Hogwarts.  I’ll just transfigure my book into a blanket, and I’ll be set.  Maybe Severus will think that I never came back.”

“You do realize that’s the chair that Professor Amygdalus used for detentions?  Remus dug it out of storage when he came to teach.  Trust me, it’s uncomfortable.”

“And you would know that, considering how many detentions you had, Black.”

Harry snapped his head around at the sound of Severus's voice.

“Shut up, Snape.”  Sirius growled.

“I’ve never met someone more asinine than you.  Then again, what should I expect from a dog?  I don’t know why Harry - or anyone else, for that matter - bothers with you.”

“And Harry deserves better than you.”

Snape raised an eyebrow.  “Who are you suggesting?”

“Draco.”

“Don’t get me involved in this.  As an already unwilling participant in Harry’s love life, I demand that you leave me out of it.”

“Will you two stop it?  I feel like I’m sixteen again and watching Professor Tyler telling you to beat each other up.”

Draco laughed.  “I remember that.”

Grey and obsidian eyes glared at Draco simultaneously.  “Shut up.”

“But Harry’s back.  Even odds.  We can take you.”

Harry tilted his head to the side and whispered, Draco, “Do you realize how mad Severus probably is at me right now?”

“I take it back.  Living sounds much nicer.”  Draco stood up and patted Harry on the back.  “It was nice knowing you.  Maybe I can save your hide from going into Severus's cauldrons.”

Severus raised his eyebrows.

“Then again, maybe not.”  Draco took the ten steps to the door and walked out before anyone could stop him.

Severus went to stand in front of Harry’s chair.  He looked down.

“You hurt him and I’ll…”  Sirius paused.  “I don’t know, but I’ll think of something.”

Severus looked toward the desk.  “You’re a disgrace to wizards every time you open your mouth, Black.”  He turned back to Harry.  With one finger he turned Harry’s head until it was facing him.  “Come back to the dungeons.  These… people you choose to associate with are annoying me.”

Harry bit his lip.  Severus didn’t seem angry, but then it was always hard to tell what Severus was feeling; he had been a spy too long.  Going anywhere with Severus when he was of an uncertain mood wasn’t high on Harry’s priority list.  He loved the man, but there was only so much he could take.

“I like it here.”

Severus shifted his hand until it was cupping Harry’s cheek.  In a voice just loud enough for only Harry to hear, he said, “We need to talk.”

Harry sighed. ♦

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