The Paradox of Existence
by DragonLight


Chapter Twenty-One:  “Confusion is Nothing New”

Harry walked alongside Severus down the deserted dungeon corridor.  Neither had said a word after they had left Remus's office.  Usually silence didn’t bother Harry, especially when he was with Severus.  But today it just seemed ominous.

Granted, Severus didn’t seem upset.  He acted as he always had.  But Harry couldn’t tell if it was just that: an act.  Severus had been mad at him before, and was perfectly capable of hiding the fact from him.  It was moments like this that made Harry wish that Severus couldn’t read his emotions.  

He hated the silence, but didn’t want to break it.  It was a buffer, a false sense of normalcy, security.

Harry didn’t know if anything was going to be normal again.  He had learned too much about the man standing next to him from a sixteen year old.  Learned things that he didn’t think Severus would ever tell him.  Just like Harry never talked about some of the tortures he had suffered at Voldemort’s hand, Severus never talked about his early days as a Death Eater.  And now Harry knew.

He knew about Severus's grandfather.  The words in that letter were embedded in Harry’s mind.  He knew that Severus still had that letter, not that Harry had ever seen it.  It had been the last thing his grandfather had sent to him before he died, when Severus was twenty.  When the estate had been settled, Severus had been surprised to discover that he had inherited everything, bypassing his father.  Severus never went back to the manor.  One night Severus had bitterly told Harry that he had most likely been the lesser of two evils.  Harry had always thought that Severus's grandfather had hated him.  That he was disappointed that his son’s only child had been a bastard.  

But Harry had been wrong on that account.  Severus had been happy living with his grandfather until he had joined the Death Eaters.

For which Harry fully blamed himself.  Even though he knew it was going to have to happen, the last thing that Harry had ever expected was that he was the one that had driven Severus to ultimately join.  

And Severus knew this, but he still wanted to be with him.  Or had he waited until Harry had gone back and caused the chain of events, so he could better explain to Harry why it couldn’t be?  

Harry wrapped his left hand around his right wrist, his fingers pressing against the bond mark.  He took a deep breath.

“Were you planning on making a potion, Potter?  The only thing that lies further down this corridor is my private potions lab.  But I thought you would have known that, after nine years.”

Harry stopped.  He turned to look at Severus.  He was standing in the open doorway to their chambers.  Their chambers.

Harry shrugged; he didn’t think he could say anything without sounding more foolish than usual.  He stepped past Severus into the living room.

***

Severus stared.  It wasn’t as though there were anyone down here that was going to see them.  See him staring at Harry.  The last time he had seen Harry was when he had accompanied Black into the past.  At that point he had decided against all conversation.  He hadn’t known then how he felt about what Harry had done.

But for the two weeks since then, he had done nothing but think about how he felt about it.  He still wanted to know Harry’s reasons for doing what he did, but they were no longer necessary.  He didn’t need to know what had caused Harry to have an affair with his younger self.  With him.

Through logic, he took the fact that ‘Octavian Tyler’ and Harry Potter was the same person and put it aside.  Severus had examined his relationship with ‘Tyler’ from every angle he could think of.  It hadn’t been happy.  But it had shaped him.

He had made choices based on what he had seen and heard about Tyler.  His choice to join the Death Eaters.  His choice to leave.  For many years after Tyler had left, Severus had been angry.  Angry at Tyler, angry at himself.  It had passed.  And he had learned to appreciate what he had learned.  Love had been one of those things.

Tyler had been right when he had said that Severus had fallen for what he thought he saw, not what was actually there.

This is where Severus had added Harry back into the picture.  Now, Severus could see everything that ‘Tyler’ had hidden from the students.  Had seen it when he went to visit Harry.  Had known it, because he knew Harry.

Harry dropped his bag, and kicked it against the wall.  It was a habit that Severus usually found beyond annoying.  But for once it was welcome.  Harry was home.

Severus had missed him.

He closed the few feet of distance between them in two strides.  Harry’s back was to him.  Severus didn’t touch him; instead he watched as the muscles tightened, and Harry stood a little straighter.  

It had been obvious the moment that Severus arrived in Remus's office that Harry was unsure of his reception.  Severus had been able to read Harry’s level of insecurity from the time he was a first-year.  And even though Harry hid it now behind bravado and determination, Severus could still see it.

Harry was still too nervous, he could tell, for the talk he had planned.  It was time for not words, but actions.

He wrapped his arms around Harry’s chest, and pulled the younger man back against him.  Harry didn’t relax at all.  Severus lowered his head so he could whisper in Harry’s ear.

“You’re mine.  Do you realize that?  I don’t share.”

Harry heaved a sigh.  “I know.  Sev-“

“Hush.”  He turned Harry in his arms.  He took Harry’s face in between his hands, and stared into the green orbs.  Pain, guilt, and love were hidden in the shadows of Harry’s eyes.  He brushed his thumb against Harry’s cheek.  Harry closed his eyes.

“Stop.”  Harry’s voice was soft.

Severus lifted an eyebrow, although Harry couldn’t see the expression.

“Just, don’t.  I-“

Severus slipped one of his thumbs down to brush against Harry’s bottom lip.  “Do be quiet, Potter.”

Harry pulled his bottom lip between his teeth, stopping Severus's touch.  Severus moved his hand slightly; he applied pressure at the corner of Harry’s mouth until Harry released his bottom lip.  Then Severus lowered his head, and drew Harry into a kiss.

As he pulled away from the kiss, Harry turned his face away.  Dropping his arms from around Harry, Severus stepped back.

“You’re impossible.  But then again, you always have been.”  Severus moved toward the couch.

“You’re angry.”

Severus grunted noncommittally.  “I don’t want to talk about it right now, Harry.”

“Of course not.”  Harry went to stand in front of Severus, glaring down at him.   “Let’s just torment Potter.  That’s your favorite game, after all.”

Severus raised an eyebrow.  “It is?  I don’t recall.  I have to admit it sounds like fun.”

Harry crumbled.  The indignation left his face and only confusion remained.  Severus reached out a hand and pulled on Harry’s arm until he was sitting next to him.

“I meant it.  I don’t want to talk right now.”

“Don’t we need to?”

Severus sighed.  “Sometimes things happen for a reason.”  He reached out a hand and traced the scar that crossed Harry’s cheek with his finger.  “It’s gotten lighter.  It’s not as bad as when you left.”

Harry brushed Severus's hand away.  “I hate it when you do that.  Can’t we get this conversation over and done with?”

“Words can get in the way at times.”  He leaned forward, bringing his and Harry’s face closer together.  “Don’t you agree?”

Harry licked his bottom lip.  He didn’t say anything.  Neither did Severus.

They didn’t move.

Harry narrowed his eyes, and looked at him.  Severus didn’t know what he saw, but some of the tension that had been visible in Harry’s body dissipated.  Severus stood and offered his hand.

“You need a hot bath.”

Harry didn’t move.

“To relax.”

Harry stood and made his way toward the bathroom.  Severus moved over to his desk and sat down.

He didn’t want to talk about what happened, not yet.  He just wanted to prove that nothing was going to change.  What had happened to him in sixth year had affected him, and he learned to deal with it and moved on with his life.  Harry would do the same.  He adapted to situations; he was half Slytherin, after all.

Severus picked up a pile of essays.  He quickly read through the top one before marking it and setting it aside.  He listened as he graded; he heard the water turn on and eventually turn off, he heard when the water started to drain.  At that point he set down his quill, and went to the bedroom.

He was standing in the doorway when Harry exited the bathroom, holding the towel around his hips.  Severus had always appreciated Harry’s body.  He let his gaze linger on the angles of Harry’s body; the protrusion of hipbone, the bend of his collarbone, the angles of his face.

Harry was looking around the room.  He supposed it must be a little strange after living alone for a year.  The two times that Harry had moved in it had taken him at least a week to figure out where everything was.  Severus supposed it was going to happen all over again.

“What are you looking for?”

Harry jumped.  “I’m trying to remember what’s in the different drawers.”

“Ah.”  Severus left the doorway and entered the room, closing the door behind him.  He started to loosen the buttons of his robes.  At Harry’s look he shrugged.  “It’s late.  I’ve had enough of marking for one night.”

Harry nodded, but didn’t move.  Severus stood in front of the bureau, undressing.

Severus watched Harry shift his weight from one foot to the other.  “Is something the matter?”

“No.”  Harry said it too quickly.  He started to take a step forward, but stopped.

Severus dropped his outer robe and shirt over the back of a chair.  He turned to Harry.  “Would you stop fidgeting?”

Harry nodded.

Severus sighed.  This was becoming ridiculous.  He walked over to Harry, and grabbed Harry’s shoulder.  “Nothing is going to change.  Not tonight, at any rate.  I have no intention of talking about Octavian Tyler or anything else right now.”  Severus's anger dissipated as quickly as it appeared.  He dropped his hand from Harry’s shoulder.  “Relax, goddamnit.”

Harry lifted his hand and brushed Severus's hair from his face.  “I don’t know if I can.”

“I’m sure you can.”

Harry closed his eyes.  Severus placed his lips next to Harry’s ear and whispered, “Are you uncomfortable?”

Harry didn’t move, but Severus felt the tremor that traveled down his spine.  Placing a hand on Harry's back, Severus stroked his hand up and down over the bumps of Harry's spine.  They were slightly more protuberant then they had been in the past, yet another proof of how hard this past year must have been on Harry.  Severus brushed the pads of his fingers against Harry's tattoo, tracing the lines perfectly though he could not see them.

Severus knew that Harry had been through too much.  And he still didn’t know the effect he had had on many of those close to him.  After Remus had come clean about being Rupert Knight, Severus had heard other stories about the things Octavian Tyler had been responsible for, directly or indirectly.  He was sure that Harry would eventually learn all about them.  But for now, he just wanted Harry to have some peace.  

As Severus continued to stroke Harry’s back, he felt Harry shift under him, wrapping his arms around his waist and pressing his face into his shoulder.  The hot puffs of breath against his collarbone turned to light, open-mouthed kisses, and he exhaled and twisted a hand into Harry’s still wet hair.  Harry looked up, startled.

“Sorry.”  He loosened his grip, and Harry closed his eyes, leaning back into Severus's chest.  Severus smiled and leaned down, nipping at the lobe of Harry’s ear, his tongue darting out to lick at the small drops of water as it dripped from his still damp hair.

Harry shivered in his arms, and Severus smirked as he shifted so he could reach the pulse point behind Harry’s ear; he breathed in the scent of sandalwood from the soap that Harry used as he traced the vein down his neck, gently sucking on it, relishing the moans that escaped from Harry’s mouth and the way he moved and pressed against his body. He knew that Harry had no idea he was making those sounds, those movements, and that made it all the sweeter.

He tightened his grip on Harry’s hip, and Harry jumped slightly, the muscles tensing throughout his body, his mouth slightly open in a silent gasp, his body arching away from Severus, his head tilting to the side.  Severus took the opportunity to sink his teeth into the exposed throat, just enough to drag a groan from Harry as he released the grip he had on his towel.

Harry threaded one hand through Severus's hair, nails scraping against his scalp as a hand tightened on his waist, pulling him closer, chest to chest.  Severus took pleasure in the feel of tense muscles sliding under skin, hands massaging his scalp, his back, moving down his arms before a pair of lips covered his own in a harsh kiss.

Harry’s tongue swiped at his bottom lip, and he opened his mouth, their tongues sliding over each other.  It was more a battle for dominance than a kiss; they pushed at each other, each trying to get the upper hand, neither winning.  Severus took Harry’s bottom lip between his teeth and bit down, not quite hard enough to draw blood.   Harry’s nails dug into his back, sending shivers down his spine.  He arched his back as those nails scratched down his back, stopping when they came to the top of his trousers.

Harry wrenched his head away, and Severus, now deprived of his lips, moved to his neck, licking and nipping, leaving small, angry red marks in his wake.  Harry shifted restlessly against him, his fingers coming to rest on the fastening of his trousers.  He clumsily started undoing them.  

Severus was lost in the feeling of smooth skin under his fingers and mouth; he stroked and kissed, touched anywhere he could reach with his lips and hands, not stopping when Harry twisted and tried to move away, tried to draw his attention to other things.  He stopped when the cold air of the dungeon caressed his body, causing shivers that were smoothed away by Harry’s hands and lips.  Severus kicked aside his pants, wrapping his body around Harry’s.

Severus returned to running his hands over his lover’s body, his fingers ghosting over the puckered, roughened skin of his scars, leading to gasps and moans.  He ran a thumb over Harry’s nipples and watched, enraptured, as his pink tongue darted out to lick at his lips, eyes hooded and dark.  His hand trailed down and stopped when it reached the springy thatch of hair that surrounded his erection; Harry arched back, trying to push himself into his hand, sucking in a breath through clenched teeth.

“How many times have I told you about the virtue of patience?”  Severus slid his hand around the thick shaft, thumbing the tip; he pressed his lips to the crook of Harry’s neck, breathing in and tasting the thin film of sweat that covered his body.

“Screw patience.”  Harry’s hands came up to grasp his face, and Severus was caught in yet another kiss, as harsh as the one before.  It was becoming increasingly hard to think with Harry’s lips and tongue and taste and smell surrounding him, but he never stopped stroking him and soon they fell to their knees, the shock of the hard, cold floor snapping him from whatever lust induced-haze he had been in.

Severus raked in a deep breath.  He pulled his hand away from Harry’s cock, but didn’t cease touching him; he pulled him closer, until their bodies were touching, their erections rubbing together drawing gasps and groans from each of them.  It wasn’t nearly enough, but it was too much; and then Harry thrust his hips forward, increasing the friction, sending more shocks of pleasure through him, and Severus couldn’t take it anymore.  He placed his hands against Harry’s chest and was about to push, but Harry fell willingly on to his back, his breath coming in harsh pants, his eyes almost shut, his cock hard and jutting away from his body.

Severus closed his eyes and swallowed before moving away from Harry and toward the small nightstand at the side of the bed.  He fumbled with a small bottle before managing to close his fingers around it and returning to Harry’s side.  His legs were drawn up against his chest, spread open, and Severus's breath caught in his throat, all thought fleeing from his mind for a moment as he looked at him.  He felt his own hand ghosting across his abdomen and down his stomach toward his erection; he squeezed once, twice, his eyes closed, his voice hoarse as he groaned Harry’s name.  

“Oh god.”  Severus opened his eyes at the sound of Harry’s breathless voice and fell to his knees next to him, pressing his lips to the corner of Harry’s mouth while he opened the small jar and dipped his fingers into it, coating them.  He moved until he was between Harry’s knees, tracing one slick finger up the inside of his thigh and then down the cleft of his arse.  He paused when he came to the ring of muscle at his opening, running his finger over it, using only the tiniest hint of pressure.  He heard Harry’s breath hitch in his throat, and he leaned down to cover his mouth with his own as he slid his finger in to the knuckle, swallowing Harry’s groan.  He brought his other hand to Harry’s hip, pressing down to keep him still, to keep him from pushing back against his fingers.

Severus slid in a second finger and then a third, and by the time he was finished preparing him, Harry was trying to move, but his hips remained still from the pressure of Severus's hand, and his upper body couldn’t move from under his persistent mouth, and when Severus removed his fingers, a long moan escaped from his lips and he could feel the tightening in Harry’s muscles as he tried to get them back.   He felt Harry’s hand running up his arms and over his back, drawing him closer, but he pulled back so that he could coat his erection; only after that did he let Harry draw him down, so that their bodies could press together.  

He shifted until he could feel the tip of his cock pressing against the puckered opening; with his hand, he guided himself in until he felt the ring of muscle give, and he slipped in partway.  He stilled for a moment, then pushed in the rest of the way with one thrust.  The grip Harry had on his shoulders tightened along with the muscles in his arse, and Severus had to close his eyes and breathe in deeply to regain a modicum of control.  

He pulled out as far as he could without completely leaving the tight, hot hole, before slamming back in.  “Se- Sev- Severus!”  Harry’s breath was coming in shallow gasps, blowing across his skin, sending shivers down his spine as he thrust, Harry pushing his hips up to meet him.  

Severus started to reach between their bodies to grasp Harry’s cock, when his head was brought down, and his lips claimed in a kiss.  Severus pressed their bodies together; he could feel the wet head of Harry’s cock against his stomach, and every time he moved, it rubbed against his abdomen, and Harry’s fingers pressed harder into his back, and his arse muscles would clench tighter around him, and it was almost too much to take.  He drove into Harry harder, and he pushed back harder, and soon he felt the hot spurts of come covering his chest, and then he was coming, and he didn’t know how long it lasted, just that it kept going, and Harry held onto him and pressed his forehead against his shoulder when he collapsed against him.  He buried his face in Harry’s hair and drew a deep breath in.  He was home.

“Harry, I-“

“Hush, Severus.”  And Harry’s hands rubbed down his back; he tried to pull away, but Harry just wrapped his arms around him, holding him there, and Severus gave in and closed his eyes.

***

Harry rolled onto his side and stared.  Severus was sleeping next to him, the lines on his face still hard.  Even in sleep the man never relaxed.  Harry reached out, about to touch Severus's cheek, but pulled his hand back.

Last night hadn’t been normal for them.  Not that it had been new either.  It was just that sex was usually never that possessive between them.  Comfort, not possession is what usually came to Harry’s mind.

It wasn’t that he and Severus weren’t possessive of each other.  They were.  It just happened to manifest itself in other ways.  Such as their bond.

Harry shifted until he was lying on his back.  He hadn’t been able to sleep more than an hour since climbing into bed.  

Tossing aside the covers, Harry swung his legs over the edge of the bed.  He certainly didn’t want to wake up Severus.  Harry was confused enough as it was, and listening to Severus would only further that.

The last thing that Harry had expected was to come home to a lover that didn’t want to talk about what had happened over the last year.  Well, it had been a year for him, if not for Severus.  

Harry looked over at the bed.  Severus had turned on his side, his back to Harry.  He could see the places where his fingers had slightly bruised Severus's back.  Shifting, Harry knew he had similar bruises on his hips - from where Severus had held him – as well as scratches on his shoulders, from the floor.

Harry wrapped his hand around his neck and looked around the room.  It didn’t seem like it was part his.  Intellectually he knew it was; after all, he could see his belongings lying in their normal places.  But the whole thing with Severus…  Both of them.

Harry couldn’t even figure out how to differentiate between the two.  They were both Severus, one older, one younger; but they were the same man.  One would eventually become the other.

It was too damned confusing.

Time away.  That would do it.  He couldn’t stay here.  There were other rooms in the castle.  There were the rooms that Albus had given him when he came to teach four years ago, even though the old man knew perfectly well that Harry never had any intention of using them.

Before Harry consciously knew what he was doing, he had summoned his trunk and begun throwing clothes and books and anything else into it.  He stopped as quickly as he had started.

He couldn’t do it.  He couldn’t just move into another set of rooms.  But he couldn’t sit here awake wondering what last night was all about.  And Harry absolutely refused to wake Severus up.

He didn’t have a death wish, after all.

And he certainly didn’t want a worse headache then the one he felt lurking behind his eyes.

Harry threw on some clothes and headed out of the bedroom, through the living room, and out the door into the dungeon corridors.

He needed to think.

***

Harry pressed his forehead against the glass of the window.  He had forgotten that it was the beginning of the rainy season when he had left.  It was pouring outside, the sky dark as if it was already the evening.  In actuality, it was barely noon.

Harry had just spent a good four hours talking to Remus, another conversation he didn’t know how he felt about.  And Harry had thought the only life he had had any effect on was Severus's.  Remus had certainly set him straight.  

Harry wondered if he was starting to have another paradigm shift.  His whole world seemed to be changing.  All he wanted was something stable.

Something that wasn’t affected by his mere existence.  In the past.

The shadows around him shifted, and Harry saw another reflection line up next to his.  One with red hair.  He straightened up, and looked at his best friend.

“Miss me?”

Harry grinned.  “Like the air I breathe.  It seems like forever, Ron.”

Ron patted him on the back.  “Not close, but close enough.”

The two of them started walking down the hall toward Hermione’s office.

“When did you get here?”

“Hermione called me yesterday to tell me you were coming home.  I figured that you’d be busy with, well, you know.”  Ron grimaced.  “Anyway, I thought I’d drop in to say hello.  Oh, and whatever you do, don’t tell Moody that I’m here.  I told him I was sick.”

Harry couldn’t help but smile.  “I’m sure that I’m the first person that Moody will ask.”

“You never know.”  Ron opened the door to Hermione’s office and the two of them walked in.  “Told you I’d find him, Hermione.”

“About bloody time, too.  What took you so long, Weasel?”

“What are you doing here, Malfoy?”

“Dumbledore dumped him here shortly after you left to search the castle for Harry.  He thought it would be good for the four of us to ‘catch up’.”  Hermione laced the last of her words with a liberal amount of sarcasm.

“What happened to the truce the two of you had going?”  Harry sat down in one of the chairs while Ron perched himself on the corner of Hermione’s desk.

Draco and Hermione pointed at each other.  “It’s all her fault.”  “It’s all his fault.”

“That’s just scary.  I should have stayed home.  Don’t you agree, Harry?”

“I guess I’m just used to their squabbling.”

“I do not squabble.”  Draco leaned forward.  “So where were you hiding?  I don’t see copious amounts of flesh missing from your hide, so I assume that Severus chose not to use you for potion ingredients.”

“I wasn’t hiding.”

“Remus mentioned that you had stopped by to talk to him.  What happened?”  Hermione turned to Ron.  “Would you sit on a chair?  You’re messing up my papers.”

“We talked.  I learned a lot.”

“Like what?”  Only Hermione could put that much enthusiasm into her voice when talking about learning.

“Did you know he writes books?”

“Of course.”  At Harry’s sharp look, Draco continued.  “While you were gone, a group of us had decided to figure out how much of an effect ‘Octavian Tyler’ had on our lives.”

“Octavian Tyler?  Wasn’t he the one that wrestled dragons?”

“Where would you hear that story, Ron?”

“Bill started school a few years after Tyler left.  But the story never stopped circulating.  The older students used to tell it to first years in order to scare them.  ‘You never know, Professor Tyler might come back’.  When Bill told Charlie, Charlie started reading everything he could find on dragons.  Started his obsession.”

“No.”

“Yes.  But what’s the big deal about some professor that taught here while Harry’s parents were in school?”

Hermione looked at Ron, a smile creeping across her face.  “Harry was Octavian Tyler.”  

Ron looked from Hermione to Harry and back again, his mouth slightly opened in shock.

Harry put his head in his hands.  “Tell me the Charlie thing was a joke.”

“Wish I could, mate.”

Harry sighed.

“Professor Tyler and his,” Draco cleared his throat, “’sadistic idea of punishment’ is the reason that my father never let any wizard cut his or my hair.  The only time he would ever let a muggle near him.  Still trying to figure out that one.  Care to explain?”

“Do I have to?”

“Well anything that pokes fun at a Malfoy should be entertaining.  Especially if you can arrange it so that this Malfoy is humiliated.”

“Shut up, Weasley.”

“Make me, Malfoy.”

***

Harry looked around Dumbledore’s office.  It certainly looked different than the last time he had seen it.  Granted, the last time Harry had seen it he had been years in the past.

Harry moved around the desk to the sitting room.  The large table with its myriad ‘chess boards’ was set up against the wall.  But there was no sign of Albus.

He picked up one piece and put it in his pocket.  Then he started to randomly change the positions of many of the pieces.  One piece he knocked over and he conjured a little white flag waving above it.  He took a black piece and surrounded it with white pieces.  He conjured a white flag over this one, too.

Stepping away from the table he admired his handiwork, and decided that there wasn’t anything else he could possibly do to the set.  He made himself comfortable in one of the comfortable armchairs.

“Harry.  I’m surprised to see you here.  I thought that I would see neither hide nor hair of you all day.”

“I took the day off.”

Albus walked over to the table of chess boards and looked at the mixed-up pieces.  “Harry, what did you do with Voldemort?”

“Voldemort?”

Albus nodded.  Harry stood and made his way over to stand next to Albus.  He pointed to the piece he had surrounded by white pieces.

“Very funny, Mr. Potter.  Just because you understand my strategy board does not mean you can come in here and mess around with the pieces.”  The twinkle in Albus's eyes went against his sharp tone.

“It won’t happen again, I promise.”

Albus turned back to the board.  “Last time I checked, you had not defeated me, Harry.”

Harry sighed before picking up the piece that he had knocked over.

Albus held out his hand.

“What?”

“Hand it over.”

“Hand what over?”

“Severus.”

“How do you expect me to do that; I’m not sure where he is.”

“His piece, Harry.”

Harry dug into his pocket and pulled out the little gray cross that represented Severus.  “Do I have to?”

“Yes.”  

Harry opened his hand, and Albus took the piece and placed it back on the table.  With a swish of his wand the strategy board rearranged itself back to how it was set up before Harry had entered the office.

Harry returned to his chair, and Albus sat down in the one across from him.  Within minutes they both had a cup of tea in their hands.

“Why are you here?”

“I was hoping that you’d be able to reassure me.”  Harry set his cup aside and crossed his arms.

“About what, my boy?”

“That I didn’t have an effect on everything.  That I’m just Harry Potter.  That…”

“That your life wasn’t as necessary in the past as it is in the present?”

“Maybe.”

Albus took a deep breath and then released it.  “Harry, everything happens for a reason.”

“Severus said something like that last night.”

“He’s a very intelligent man.  And so are you.  You know that I can’t reassure you.”

“You could at least tell me that ‘Octavian Tyler’ didn’t change you.”

“Why would you think that a single person wouldn’t have an effect on me?”

Harry almost laughed.  “Nothing can affect you.”

“You seem to be forgetting that I’m only human, Harry.”

Harry sighed.  “So what did I do to you?  I’m collecting stories.”

Dumbledore chuckled.  “How many do you have?”

“Remus, Draco, and Charlie.  That’s not even bringing up the Weasleys in general, my family, Severus…”

“You’re getting there.”  Albus summoned a plate of biscuits.  He held it out to Harry and let him take one before picking his own.  “Remember when I first started to teach you about spell roots, Harry?”

“Of course, it helped me with my shield training.  Not to mention it was the basis for learning wandless magic.”

“And what did I make you do so that you would learn how spell roots are used?”

“You made me pull down the wards that surrounded your office and put them back up.  You said it was necessary to understand how complex spells are put together before I learned how to mutate them into another kind.”

“Exactly.  And now you can do it without a second thought, even though I’m constantly changing them.  Not many people could get past my wards, now or then.  And those that can must have known me for a very long time.”

“So?”  Harry picked up his tea cup and took a sip.

“I still have those bottles of alcohol you so graciously sent me.”

Harry bit his lip to keep from laughing.

“I wondered for a very long time how someone I barely knew could get through my shields.  I ended up remaking them stronger.  I did the same to the ones surrounding Hogwarts.  Tyler forced me to check for weak points.”

“Did you find any?”

“Not many, but a couple.  I have to admit I was rather complacent at the time.  We were winning the war; Voldemort spent much of his time in hiding.  It was a good thing.”

“It doesn’t do much to reassure me.”

“Then I won’t even mention my personal shields.”

Harry stared at him.

“Do you know how long it takes to re-transfigure over a hundred single strands of hair back from being twinkling lights, Harry?”

Harry smirked.  “Four days, I’d imagine.”

“Quite right,” said Albus, smiling.  Then he put down his cup and looked at Harry from across his half-moon glasses.  “There is only one other thing that springs to mind when I think of Octavian Tyler.”

Harry looked at Albus from over his tea cup.  He raised an eyebrow.

“The Defence Against the Dark Arts curse.”

Harry choked on his tea.

“Are you all right, my boy?”

Between gasps for air, Harry was able to get out a single word.  “What?”

“I asked if you were all right.”

Harry glowered.

“Oh, the Defence curse.  Well, ‘Tyler’ was the first teacher that only stayed a year, and after that I had a rather hard time keeping any instructor for more than that.  Until you took the job, that is.”

“So you blame me for both the curse and its end?”

Albus nodded his head happily as he chewed on a biscuit. ♦

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