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Hart and Hind

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Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light. ~Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Expecto Patronum,” a soft, low voice said firmly, and James adjusted the hood of his invisibility cloak to ensure it covered his wild black hair and medium brown skin completely, peering into the almost abandoned classroom. An amorphous silvery mist filled the room, and at its center stood a slender black robed figure. The patronus mist disguised the figure’s identity, obscuring the body shape in its softly glowing light.

It was another wizard, James was certain of that from the timbre of the rich baritone voice. And the voice had been familiar, although James couldn’t quite place it. He crouched through the doorway as close to silently as possible. It was said that a corporeal patronus automatically increased your NEWT score by one grade level. James had known he wasn’t the only one practicing the difficult charm, although the professor wouldn’t even be mentioning it in class for some weeks yet. The other wizard sighed softly.

“I’m never going to get this,” the shadowy figure sighed, almost too quiet for James to hear. Despite the defeat in the tone, the figure raised his wand again. “Expecto Patronum,” he again incanted firmly, and again the room was illuminated with silvery mist. It was rather beautiful, and James thought he could see the beginnings of a shape in the haze. A pointed muzzle, four slender legs. But nothing certain, nothing corporeal. The figure sighed again as the foggy light dissipated.

“Bloody NEWTs and bloody apprenticeship requirements,” the figure sighed. “Blessed ancestors, grant me your strength and faith. I need a way out. I need a refuge from this damn war.” James quietly sucked in a breath at that. Who was this? Not one of his housemates, he had determined that already. He wracked his mind, listing the other boys in his year. It was impossible to tell though. A Ravenclaw perhaps, they were more neutrally inclined.

“Bloody NEWTs,” the figure said again, and leaned down, shouldering a bag. “Bloody patronus. Bloody buggering war.” James bit back a snort at that, and held perfectly still, watching as the shadowed figure slipped from the room and headed one way. James waited a few minutes more, then slipped from the room and headed the other direction. Bloody NEWTs was right. He had studying of his own to do.

Three weeks later, not long after Halloween, they reached the section on the patronus charm in class. Lily Evans, the lovely pale brown skinned witch who James had been futilely chasing for years now, gave the answer when called upon; they were the only defense against Dementors, and could also be used to repel Lethifolds. The professor awarded Gryffindor five points for the befreckled red-head’s answer, and also told them the main secret to casting a successful patronus was focusing on a happy emotion or memory while incanting the spell, while dispelling the myth that ‘Dark’ witches and wizards were incapable of casting the patronus.

A riot of whispering and the scratching of quills was heard, and then they were instructed to stand one by one for the practical portion of the lesson. The professor warned them that she didn’t expect any of them to actually produce a corporeal patronus as it was an above NEWT level spell after all. At James’ shoulder, Sirius immediately began betting which of their classmates would come closest. Snape of course, was selected as least likely.

“It’s not like the miserable little runt is even capable of happiness,” Sirius teased under his breath, although his quiet tone did not disguise his disdain. “Slimy git.” James grit his teeth. He’d been trying to rein in Sirius’ antagonistic impulses toward the Slytherins in general and Snape in specific all year - hell, since the ‘willow incident’ at the beginning of the previous year. While Snape and Lily might not be friends any longer, James knew he wouldn’t have a shot with her if she thought he was still an immature bully. In that light, James sharply kicked Sirius under the desk as the instructor informed them they’d be attempting the charm in reverse alphabetical order.

“Mr. Snape,” the instructor called when it was the Slytherin’s turn, and Snape stood, tossing his lank black hair back from his thin, sallow, light brown face. He thrust out his chin defiantly and took a deep breath, dark wand rising to the ready position.

Expecto Patronum,” Snape incanted firmly in a deep baritone, and James’ insides liquified. The shadow in the mist rose in his mind. Silvery light flowed from Snape’s wand. For a moment, it was just luminous cloud, and then a slender legged doe stood before Snape, gleaming eyes peering about. The quicksilver hind took a trembling step forward, then flagged her tail and bounded gracefully around the room before disappearing back into Snape’s raised wand. Snape looked rather surprised, but very pleased. The professor looked poleaxed.

“Whoa,” Remus breathed at the desk behind James, admiration evident in his tone. James nodded mutely. He could see the other students staring incredulously at Snape as well. The Slytherin’s cheeks spotted with high color, and he sat hurriedly, his desk scraping awkwardly on the flagged stone floor.

“Very impressive Mr. Snape,” the professor said, gathering her wits although her surprise was still quite evident. “Ten points to Slytherin. Can you explain your process to your classmates? You don’t have to share the memory you used, just how you employed the emotion it contained.” Snape’s cheeks darkened further.

“I - uh - I just let the happiness I felt fill me up,” Snape said rather unhelpfully, stammering under the weight of the class’ attention. “And I - I used a - a wish, not a memory.” His cheeks flared even darker at that. The bit of colour, James thought, looked good on the smaller wizard. Snape needed more sun, his naturally golden brown complexion had gone a pallid yellowish shade with lack of exposure since the beginning of term.

“An interesting idea Mr. Snape, very well done. It’s a rather difficult concept to explain,” the professor admitted with a wry smile. “Very good. Next, Mr. Rosier,” she called, and another of the Slytherins stood. He could only produce an anemic mist though, and glared hatefully at Snape, sitting hurriedly. “That’s to be expected,” the professor said, and Rosier’s glare grew even more pronounced. “Mr. Potter?”

James stood, closing his eyes against the inquisitive stares of his classmates. A happy memory. He took another deep breath, remembering his first time on a broom, the sensation of flying and the warm sun on his ruddy brown face. A wish. Lily, smiling broadly, green eyes bright with affection, pink mouth curved with joy in her freckled, pale brown face. Another deep breath, and he let the happiness of the wish wash over and through him. He could do this. If Snape could do this, so could he. The shadow in the mist rose in his mind, and the thrum of a low, soft voice.

Expecto Patronum,” James invoked firmly, pushing his swelling happiness into his wand. Silvery light swirled forth, and he could feel the warmth and joy of it at his fingertips. A quicksilver iteration of his animagus form, Prongs, bounded forward in gleaming evanescence. The hart tossed his magnificent rack of antlers and pawed a hoof, and James grinned. He flicked his wand, and the hart leapt agilely forward, head lowered in a charge.

“Very good!” the professor exclaimed. “Two corporeal patroni! Well, I’m very pleased. Ten points to Gryffindor!” James grinned, recalling the stag and sitting. Dark eyes caught his from across the aisle, shrewd and calculating. James dipped his head with silent respect to Snape, and those dark eyes widened. Slowly, Snape dipped his head in return, his high cheeks again spotting with colour, and an unexpected lance of joy filled James. In that moment, he was certain that he could conjure his patronus anytime he pleased with the image of Snape’s thin brown face, free of hate and disdain, his dark eyes peering up at James through sooty black lashes.

By supper time, news of James’ and Snape’s success with the patronus charm were was racing through the student body. Glancing across the width of the Great Hall, James easily saw that the Slytherins weren't best pleased by Snape’s accomplishment. It seemed odd to James, that Snape would be shunned for the same feat for which the Gryffindors so happily congratulated James. It was quite a complex spell after all, and Snape had won points with the performance.

It wasn't until the next day that James heard the disgruntled muttering of the Slytherins, and understood the origin of their displeasure. Shown up by a snivelling half-blood and a stupid blood traitor, one Slytherin grumbled, and James knew that the blood-traitor was himself, which made Snape the half-blood. It made sense he supposed, he’d never heard of a wizarding family called Snape. Can't believe the little swot managed it, sneered another. Knew he wasn’t really one of us, was another common refrain. Overachieving git, was the general consensus as far as James could tell.

Not that the other Slytherins had ever been terribly complimentary of Snape, at least not in James’ hearing. Mostly the other Slytherins seemed to ignore Snape, and when James had been more antagonistic in the past, they'd simply stepped aside and let James and his friends pick on Snape as they pleased, not wanting to draw the less than admiring attentions of the Gryffindors. The only exception had been Lucius Malfoy, but he'd graduated years before.

The disdain the other Slytherins held for Snape rankled James’ sense of honest, fair play when he thought on it much. While James had only recently come to see how correct Evans was when she called him an arrogant toerag and a bully, he was well aware that if anyone had picked on a Gryffindor in the way he and his friends targeted Snape, the whole House would have come down on the instigator like a load of bricks. And it couldn’t only be because Snape was a half-blood either. After all, Regulus Black got almost as much mistreatment as Snape, and it seemed Snape was the only person who ever stood up for Regulus, although the Gryffindors held back on Regulus for the most part out of respect for Sirius.

On his Head Boy rounds later that week, James found himself again contemplating Snape’s slight show of respect, and his patronus. He’d been thinking about both almost nonstop, in truth. The memory of the slim legged hind rose in his memory, and James flushed as he felt his heart trip over itself and his stomach twist itself into knots. The silver doe had been a beautiful creature though, shy and cautious and graceful.

A patronus, James remembered from his reading, was deeply representational of the caster and their desires. Snape’s then - James couldn’t imagine that someone bad - someone evil or Dark - could conjure a creation of such beauty. The professor had said a Dark witch or wizard could still conjure a patronus, but surely it wouldn’t be one so unquestionably lovely if the caster was truly beyond redemption. James knew his own patronus represented not only his animagus form, but his ingrained love of freedom and strength of will.

Deer were sacred to Diana the Huntress, fleet footed Artemis Far-shooter. They were also under the purview of the Horned God, who James knew his family had long held as their patron. The arms of the Peverell family, from whom they were descended, were of a white hart rampant on a field of dark green. He had been unsurprised by his own animagus form. He had been very surprised by the form of Snape’s patronus, and not only because he had assumed that wizards always had male patroni, and girls, female, although obviously it was often impossible to tell the difference.

As he walked and thought, James saw a slender, black robed form at the window, and James paused. The silhouette was familiar, and he knew who he had found immediately this time. He swallowed a snort of wry amusement. Name the daemon and he shall appear, indeed. The moonlight limned Snape’s slender form in silver light reminiscent of the patronus, and James slowly headed toward the Slytherin. The sound of James’ quiet footsteps alerted Snape of his approach, and dark eyes swung from the outside scenery to pin James.

“Snape,” James greeted evenly, keeping his hands in his pockets, his stance unthreatening. Even before his attempts at pacification, James would have been loathe to take on Snape one on one. The Slytherin was well used to accounting for multiple opponents in a fight by now, and as a result was both a devilishly quick and fiendishly creative duellist. Now though, James had other considerations. He had wanted peace between them for some time now, although his motives for that peace had become rather murky and confusing even to him in the past week.

“Potter,” Snape said in return. His tone indicated wariness and wear, but also curiosity. James could work with that. The Gryffindor smiled wryly, nodding at the broad sill on which Snape sat.

“Budge up,” James half requested, half demanded, and Snape’s dark eyes narrowed, calculating and shrewd. James felt as if he had been cracked open and laid bare beneath that heavy, dark look. But then Snape shifted his slender legs and narrow feet, tucking his toes up under his bum and silently permitting James to sit. James nodded, coming to perch on the sill. He looked out over the grounds, sighing.

“It seems so far away, so remote,” James murmured. “It’s hard to believe, on a night like this, that he’s out there, torturing and raping and killing.” He shifted, his knee accidently brushing Snape’s.

“Ignoring the less desirable aspects of life don’t make them go away,” Snape scoffed, lifting his chin in a good attempt at haughtiness.

“I know that,” James bit out, his tone becoming slightly peevish. “I just - Hogwarts has always been so safe, so - dull.”

“Maybe for you,” Snape returned, his voice gone low and a bit hurt, and James turned. Snape had curled further into himself, head tilted down so his face was hidden in shadows beneath his limp hair. James reached out on instinct, then pulled his hand back before it made contact with Snape’s knee. He had been one of the things that made Hogwarts patently unsafe for Snape, and knew it well. Internally James grimaced; while he’d made the decision to try and breach the gulf with Snape, he hadn’t yet apologized for his past actions, or even informed Snape that they were under a truce.

“I know we’ve been right terrors to you,” James sighed, reaching up to tug irritably at his curly forelock, then push back his riotous dark hair, leaving his honest brown face open. “I’ve been a terror. And I haven’t any excuse. There is no excuse.”

“What’s this? An apology from the great James Potter?” Snape sneered, his thin lips pulling up unattractively. James felt his cheeks heat, and was glad his dark skin wouldn’t show too much of a blush as he peered at the Slytherin from the corner of his eye.

“Yes actually,” James acceded. “I know what we did - what I did to you is wrong. Dead wrong, and hypocritical to boot.”

“That was five syllables Potter, I didn’t know you could pronounce a word that long, other than expelliarmus,” Snape sneered, clearly thrown by the apology and unsure how else to respond. James huffed softly, laughing and turning back to the window.

“Yeah, I know,” James agreed, a slight smile turning up the corners of his full mouth. He turned, looking properly at Snape. The Slytherin was terribly thin and rather sickly looking, and quite a few inches shorter than James. He looked more a fifth year than a seventh. “You have options, you know. I know everyone says that the Slytherins are all destined to become Death Eaters, but you’re far too clever for that nonsense, and I don’t - forgive me, but it doesn’t seem like that would be terribly safe for you either.”

“Not really,” Snape acceded softly, his chin dropping back to his chest, his face once more falling into shadow behind his chin length locks. “I’m a penniless, friendless half-blood in Slytherin. I know what I’m worth Potter, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not much.”

James’ chest tightened at the quiet desperation, the helpless resignation, in the other boy’s voice. How must it feel, he wondered. To have no hope, no prospect of a better future? James already knew his path. He had applied to Auror Academy at the end of sixth year, and had a provisional acceptance already, pending his final scores and NEWTs. He hadn’t got straight Os, but his natural skill in Transfiguration and hard work in Charms and Defense had stood him in good stead.

“You’re worth as much as any other wizard,” James said softly, and Snape looked up, his almond shaped dark eyes wide.

“Are you sure you’re James Potter?” Snape asked somewhat incredulously, and James laughed softly.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” James said with a grin that showed all his teeth. “I just - like I said, knowing what’s out there - it seems so distant, but at the same time, like it’s looming right before us, this yawning chasm of war and pain and darkness.”

“Definitely Potter. So melodramatic,” Snape scoffed, but not unkindly. James grinned at the slight tease, beginning to see now that Snape’s prickliness was as much an emotional self-defense as anything, and that the Slytherin did have a sense of humor, although it was different enough from James’ that he’d never recognized it as such before.

“Well, you know us Gryffindors,” James said lightly, turning the jibe on himself with the ease of someone who has always been well loved, and known he was well loved. “Always blowing things out of proportion.”

“That was another above NEWT level word Potter, I’m beginning to be seriously concerned that you’re unwell. Had a brain transplant perhaps,” Snape needled almost cautiously, and James laughed softly, even as his brow wrinkled. He thought he understood that last bit, but-

“Transplant?” James asked, not sure what Herbology had to do with brains, and Snape sighed, shaking his head. A slight smile tugged at one corner of his thin-lipped mouth though.

“A muggle medical procedure. If someone is badly injured or ill, they can remove the diseased or injured organ, and put in a healthy one from a recently deceased donor. Usually it’s things like heart, lungs, liver, kidney,” Snape explained, and James felt his jaw drop as his eyes went round.

“They can really do that?” James asked in amazement.

“Uh huh,” Snape said, warming to the subject. “Skin and blood too. Since they don’t have to worry about magical interference, but don’t have blood replenishing potions, they can take blood from one person and infuse it into another in cases of extensive bleeding, or graft live skin over an area where it’s been too badly injured to regrow, like a burn.”

“Whoa,” James said appreciatively. “That’s - huh. I’m pretty sure Remus would have told me about that sort of thing if they covered it in Muggle Studies. You know a lot about it.” Snape shrugged.

“My father was a field medic in the army, back before he got hurt,” Snape said by way of explanation. His voice was distant, and a bit uncertain. “I think he wanted to be a doctor - like a healer - but it didn’t work out for whatever reason. He still has a lot of books about it around,” he said with a shrug. James nodded, a bit surprised he had gotten an explanation at all, that Snape was bothering to speak with him.

“Is that what you want to do?” James asked after a lengthy silence. Snape turned to look at him, head cocked slightly. James couldn’t help but find the curious, confused expression on Snape’s thin face a bit endearing.

“I - I can’t afford it,” Snape stammered, flushing and dropping his gaze once more, shrinking into himself a bit. “I - I can’t really afford anything,” he said softly. “I - Malfoy, he - he says if I brew for him - his father, really, I think, he can speak to people on my behalf, give me a reference and pay my apprentice fees for a potions Mastery.” James’ generous heart positively lurched at that.

“Don’t do it,” James blurted out. Snape looked up sharply, obviously surprised. “You don’t want to be beholden to Malfoy, Snape, you just don’t. They ruin people for fun. Look at the Weasleys, and that was only over right of way on a country road in 13-something.” Snape turned back to the window, his narrow shoulders hunched in further.

“If you take him up Snape, he’ll own you the rest of your life. I may not be your friend, and I’m not asking you to trust me. But you know better than most perhaps that the Malfoys are trouble,” James quietly warned. Snape hesitated a moment, then nodded jerkily. It was the truth. While Lucius had protected Severus his first few years, that had been because Lucius was a Prefect, and likely been keeping an eye out for prospective talents even then.

The moonlight, James thought idly, did strange things to a person. It cast Snape in silver and shadow, and made him look strangely small and vulnerable. James reached out tentatively, resting his hand on Snape’s knee. Snape looked over sharply, his eyes dark but fiery.

“There are other ways to get ahead than that type of patronage,” James said.

“Not many, when you’ve a shite reputation and no money to spare,” Snape bit back, turning back to the window. Snape shook his head silently. “I don’t know why I’m telling you these things.”

“I don’t either,” James admitted. “But I’m glad you are. I - I don’t imagine you have many people you can talk to about these things.” Snape nodded tightly at that. It was the truth. The closest thing he had to a confidant any more was Regulus Black, but he was well aware he couldn’t fully trust the conflicted younger wizard. “Listen I - I can ask around. Potions and Healing huh? I know you’ll have the marks for it, would Sluggy write you a reference? You’re in his club, aren’t you?”

“He wouldn’t. I - I’m neither rich, connected, nor attractive enough to be one of his favourites. L- Lily used to bring me sometimes to the parties, but I’m not a member,” Snape said softly, his voice hitching on her name, and James’ heart lurched again.

“She-” James started, and Snape shook his head.

“She’ll never forgive me,” Snape cut in sharply, refusing to listen to James’ platitudes. “With her - if she doesn’t forgive you within a week, she never will. She digs in, it becomes a point of pride. Merlin I was stupid,” he sighed, turning back to the grounds.

“Maybe you were stupid, but you were pushed beyond all endurance,” James said tightly. His stomach churned with regret. “I - I honestly don’t know how you’re managing to be so civil with me, how you can bear to have me sitting here.” Snape turned back to James and gave him a sad, twisted smile at that, shifting to let his head loll back against the deep window casing.

“What point is there in fighting?” Snape said softly, his voice low and a bit choked. “What have I left, for which to fight?” His all but expurgated northern accent thickened as he spoke, blotting out the polite RP syllables he had learned down in the dungeons. “I dared dream once, of a castle, of magic, of a bright new life open before me,” he said wistfully, and then scoffed. “More the fool me.”

James couldn’t help it. He reached out, clasping Snape’s bony shoulder. The Slytherin turned slightly to look up at him, but there was no emotion there, nothing but apathy. Snape didn’t seem to have any hope left. James gasped softly, and awkwardly tugged Snape forward. Snape tumbled gracelessly into James’ arms, forehead falling to rest against James’ collarbone.

Snape’s breath hitched, then again, but he didn’t sob, didn’t even weep. He was silent in James’ arms, shuddering with the intensity of his despair. James clasped him tighter, amazed at the warmth, the solidity of the other boy. Snape was shorter than James, and narrower across the shoulders, but he was all muscle and bone and sinew, his back sleek under his clothing for all that he had appeared a creature of mist and moonlight to James.

“You have yourself Snape,” James said in a soft strained voice. “Maybe the future doesn’t look so great right now, but if you fight, you could make it better for yourself. Seven years you’ve been fighting just to survive this school, don’t give up now. You’ve just about got those claws of yours to a razor edge, and we’re going to need all the help we can get out there.”

“And you think I’ll be fighting on your side?” Snape asked uncertainly, his voice raspy and a bit wet sounding.

“I think that the other Slytherins call you a half-blood and worse, and that isn’t likely to change in this environment. I think that clever as you are, you know that they’d use you for that big brain of yours but never be worthy of your trust, nor would they trust you. I think that despite your falling out, you’d never harm a hair on Lily Evans’ head, and as a muggleborn Head Girl, she’ll be straight in their sights,” James countered without animosity, and Snape sagged against him, mentally cursing the Gryffindor for his observational skills and understanding.

“I could never - I love her - she’s - she’s all that’s right and good in the world,” Snape breathed, not bothering to address the issues of blood and House, not daring say aloud that until tonight, until James said Severus was worth more, no one save Lily had ever believed in Severus. James’ heart lurched again, because he knew his own emotions for the beautiful Lily Evans didn’t even come close to those Snape had voiced. He thought she was pretty and clever, and her refusals had become infuriating, an obstacle to be surmounted. But love? He doubted he knew her half well enough for that, and she was absolutely exasperating at times, could drive him into a temper like no other.

“You really do love her,” James said softly, and Snape shifted, peering up at him through his thick dark hair.

“Lily was my first and best friend, from the time we were nine,” Snape said softly, dark eyes darting appraisingly over James’ face. “I’ll always love her. She’s like my sister.” James’ heart remembered how to beat, and he exhaled heavily.

“Oh,” James breathed.

“Yes, oh,” Snape said with a slight smirk. He flushed then, and dropped his eyes. “No one else wanted to play with a Gyp, and I - girls don’t really,” he stammered, and James’ stomach flipped again. Snape was bent. His prick twitched at the thought of it, at the reality of Snape practically in his lap.

“Oh,” James breathed again. Snape peeked up at him from beneath lowered lashes, wary and tense in his arms. “Makes no matter to me Snape. Bit of a relief actually, because Evans, despite not speaking to you, seems to respect you a hell of a lot more than she does me most days. Still won’t give me the time of day.” Snape snickered at that, the tension bleeding from his slender frame. He practically melted in James’ arms as the wariness eased from him.

“Why so nervous about it? You know wizards don’t judge on preference,” James asked gently, chucking Snape under the chin. Snape flushed as his head was forced up, licking his lips nervously. He cocked his head slightly in James’ fingers, then leaned in and tentatively pressed their mouths together. James gasped sharply, tugging Snape fully into his lap and returning the kiss, taking control of it.

“Severus,” James gasped, cupping the slighter boy’s firm bottom and rocking his own hips. Severus mewled softly, nuzzling under James’ stubbled jaw and mouthing tentatively at his neck. “Merlin,” James breathed, one hand kneading Severus’ buttocks and urging him to rock closer. Severus whimpered softly, pressing tight. James’ other hand fisted in the dark hair at the nape of Severus’ neck, holding him in place.

“James - I - I’ve never,” Severus breathed, and James forced himself to ease up. He shifted his hands to Severus’ slender waist, panting softly.

“I’m not exactly experienced in this myself Severus,” James murmured, brushing their lips together. Severus kissed back eagerly, chasing James’ full mouth when James pulled back slightly. Severus blushed hotly, ducking behind his hair as his long fingers fiddled with James’ collar. “I’d like to get to know you though.”

Severus’ fingers stuttered and stilled, and James waited, breath caught in his chest, until Severus finally looked up again. James practically growled, his hands tightening on Severus’ narrow waist, and Severus mewled again. James grinned at that, a broad, happy expression of sheer delight. He’d never heard such a pretty sound, and it only emphasized how perfect it felt to hold Severus like this.

“Our magic,” James breathed, and Severus nodded breathlessly.

“I can feel you all around me, supporting me, protecting me,” Severus breathed.

“I want to be filling you,” James panted. Severus moaned, arms raising to encircle James’ shoulders.

“I’m chaste, and must remain so until I bond,” Severus breathed.

“You’re fertile,” James murmured, guessing, and Severus flushed prettily, dropping his head to look away.

“I - I’ve never reacted like this before,” Severus said simply. “I - I’ve known I was probably fertile since I was thirteen, when I didn’t start getting hard like other boys. But I’ve never reacted like this before.” James groaned softly, thrusting up against Severus’ firm bottom. Rumour said fertile males were mothers of the very best sort. Fierce and loving and capable of providing a great many children to their proud lovers. They were also rather rare, as a wizard’s body required a great deal of magical power to conceive and bear.

“I want you any way you’ll permit me, my beautiful shadow in the mist,” James argued. “For now, I - I would be glad just to get to know you better. And I promise, I’ll do better about hemming Sirius in so he doesn’t bother you. I’ll make sure any betrothal or bonding contract ensures you can complete your mastery, continue your education in any way you like, work outside the home. But I - I just - I know you’re meant to be mine Severus. Can’t you feel it?” Severus flushed, lowering his dark eyes, and James took that as agreement. Severus felt this impossible resonance between them as well.

“You’ve been haunting me all year. I saw you practicing your patronus before the form settled, and I was mesmerized by you, although I didn’t know it was you. And then - in class - Merlin Severus. I got hard watching you cast, seeing your hind,” James went on, his voice lowering and growing husky. He was certain if he paused, he’d lose his dredged together courage, and never say what seemed so very necessary in the moment. “In class was the first time I managed a corporeal patronus, and I’m pretty sure I only could because I wanted so badly to match you, to show you that I was yours.”

“And just like that, seven years of animosity, gone?” Severus asked, his voice a mixture of confusion and embarrassment and animosity, his light brown cheeks darkening with James’ brash declarations. James grimaced.

“I’ve been trying to do that all year,” James sighed, relaxing his possessive hold on Severus slightly and shifting so he was seated more comfortably in the wide window bay, Severus more easily ensconced in his lap. “Sirius doesn’t adjust to change well - that’s not an excuse mind, and I know I’m not his keeper, but, well. Anyway, Remus and I have been trying to distract him, but he deals with stress by looking for someone to torture. Again, not an excuse just - I stopped seeking you with intent to harm last year, after - you know,” he said with a shamefaced blush, the night of that terrifying full moon looming large in both their minds.

James thought, but didn’t say, that he had perhaps started on this path that night, when he had carried Severus bloodied and shivering up to the infirmary and stayed there all through the night, clinging to Severus’ slender fingers and praying to ancient gods he scarcely believed in for the Slytherin’s life, safety, and happiness. He’d grown incredibly protective of Severus in the aftermath, at least in his own thoughts, and Remus had helped him put the fear of the gods into Sirius for some time, although Sirius had been growing steadily more bold this year.

“Even without that rather sharp wake up call, hopefully I would have realized just what my disciplinary record must look like, and how that would look on my application to Auror Academy. I mean, I know the family legacy in the Aurory will help, but I can’t rely on that. Not with my future at stake,” James said quietly.

“And now you want me in this future of yours,” Severus said, looking up at James through his lashes. “Greasy little Snivellus.” James blushed hotly, clutching Severus close. He had a lot to make up for, and knew he’d have to prove himself to Severus, and also his own friends. He was certain though, that it would be worth it, more certain than he’d ever been in his life, and he was a wizard given to sureties.

“Our magic is compatible,” James insisted, letting his power flare out, nearly moaning as he felt Severus’ power intimately and instinctively entwine with his. Severus’ breath caught, and he shivered in James’ strong arms. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be more than friends Severus, but I want us to be,” he said huskily. “Maybe it’s because you haven’t fully come into your fertility, I don’t know why you haven’t reacted to other men like you do to me. But I can’t bear the thought of anyone but me with you. I’d take you tonight and force a marriage by abduction if I didn’t think you’d quite rightly hex my prick off.”

Severus flushed and smiled slightly at that. Marriage by abduction bonds were tricky things, protecting the virtue of virgins who were taken in uncertain circumstances. If a virgin was defiled, and his or her defiler took them for seven nights consecutively, magic viewed them as wed, protecting the submissive partner’s virtue and any children that resulted. But the bond also punished the aggressor if the submissive was truly unwilling, or the bond wasn't completed. Tales of vicious magical retribution by such bonds had long scared young Lords and Heirs into correct behavior.

“I know this is a lot,” James murmured. “But can’t we just - get to know one another, see where it takes us?” Severus hesitated, clearly cautious, and understandably so, but finally gave a brief nod. James grinned broadly, leaning down to steal a kiss from Severus’ soft mouth.

“You can’t just kiss me like that,” Severus complained, but his voice was thin and breathy, and James’ smile only stretched broader across his face.

“Not yet maybe,” James agreed, still smiling. “I will earn your trust though Severus. And your kisses.” Severus shook his head, but he was smiling too, a small smile, but a smile nonetheless, and one that reached his dark eyes. “So tell me about what you’d like to do as a Healer,” he asked after a little while, and Severus smiled again.

“You’ll think it’s - it’s cowardly,” Severus said, turning away, looking back out the window.

“Never,” James insisted, beginning to mentally gird himself, hoping to ensure he responded in whatever way Severus needed him to, to ensure that this barely thought of relationship took root to flourish.

“I - I want to see if there’s a way to make werewolves - safe. To stop the transformation,” Severus said with a pronounced shiver. James’ heart about crawled up his throat. He crushed Severus against his chest, arms banded tightly around the trembling Slytherin. Burying his face in Severus’ hair, he smelled the sandalwood and musk scent of him, breathing deeply to dispel his own instinctive fear of Severus being anywhere near a werewolf.

“I think that’s actually about the bravest and most selfless thing I’ve ever heard,” James argued when he could speak around the lump in his throat. “Maybe you had the idea because you were scared, but Severus, you’re so terribly brave,” he insisted.

“No,” Severus said, his voice trembling. “I’m a coward, Po - James. I’m scared, all the time.”

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear,” James said, with the air of a quotation. Severus shook his head against James’ muscular chest, but did not argue. James just held him until the trembling stopped, and Severus relaxed in his arms. “Would it help you to talk to Remus?” James asked gently. “While I definitely have an ulterior motive in you two being friends, I honestly think that you’d get on quite well.”

“I - I suppose it might help,” Severus said carefully. “Won’t Black and Pettigrew mind?”

“Sirius will be a pain in the arse, that’s a given,” James said fondly. “Pete won’t mind though, he’s a good chap, although I understand why you might not think so. I’d say you should chat with him too, but I rather think he’s afraid of you.” Severus let out a soft little laugh at that. “Leave them to me though. And I - I promise Severus, I won’t ever again raise my wand against you, but I can’t guarantee that I can contain Siri a hundred percent of the time either.”

“I understand,” Severus said softly. “And frankly, the whole school would think that something strange had occurred if you did. They’ll think it strange enough when they realize you aren’t targeting me, haven’t been targeting me. But I can hold my own when it isn’t all of you against me.” James’ cheeks heated at that, but he nodded in agreement. Severus was an excellent duellist, and James was honestly unsure which of them would prevail in a fair fight.

“And could we study together?” James asked. “I do alright on my own, but like I said, I’ll take any excuse to spend time with you.” Severus flushed at that, but nodded.

“That would be nice,” Severus admitted quietly. “I know you’re rather gifted at Transfiguration, and I’m - well, not,” he admitted.

“I don’t know how good I’d be at explaining, I just - get Transfiguration,” James warned. “I’d be glad to help as I can though.” Severus smiled at that, and leaned up. Their breath brushed warmly against one another’s faces, two pair of brown eyes, one pair darker than the other, read each other’s intentions. Tentatively Severus leaned in, his long dark lashes fluttering over his dark eyes, and then their lips were brushing lightly together.

James let out a low groan of desire but clamped down on his lust, letting Severus set the unbearably slow pace. Their mouths met properly, and James couldn’t help but part his lips, sweeping his tongue over the seam of Severus’ mouth. Severus gasped softly, and James, ever the Gryffindor, pushed forward where another man might retreat. He swept his tongue into Severus’ mouth, twining their tongues together. Severus moaned softly, melting into the kiss, his slender fingers sliding into James’ soft, wild hair at the nape of his neck.

“Okay, that’s a bad idea,” James panted when they parted. “I won’t be able to stop if you do that baby. You’re too perfect.” Severus felt his face heat at that, and pulled away slightly, withdrawing his hands and tentatively touching his flushed cheeks and kiss-swollen lips. “Let’s know one another better first,” James said, the strain evident in his voice. “I want you very much Severus, but if you give me the barest inch, I’ll take a country mile.” Severus snorted at that, then dissolved into what James would have labelled giggles on anyone else. With a broad smile, James leaned back, happy to simply hold onto the smaller wizard.

It would be difficult, James was well aware. Severus had run into problems from both their Houses for maintaining a friendship with Lily. For him to be known as James’ friend would cause similar issues, and those issues would only become larger if their relationship progressed beyond friendship. Muggleborns in particular, James knew, were quite derogatory towards same-gender relationships. James didn’t really understand why, although he knew it had something to do with their Church. But the main issue would be their history of antagonism, and their Houses. Most, he was sure, would assume that there was some long term prank in the works, or that one of them had enchanted, bespelled, or potioned the other into compliance.

“It will be hard,” James said more seriously, although he knew that Severus would be well aware of that.

“As if that’s ever stopped either of us,” Severus scoffed, and James grinned.

“You’ll do it then?” James asked hopefully. “You’ll be my friend?” He paused, laughing softly. “Merlin, that makes me sound like a Hufflepuff, but you know what I mean. I would like us to be friends.”

“I won’t hex first,” Severus said, but his low voice was soft and warm, and James felt a corresponding warmth low in his belly.

“That’s a good start,” James said with false gravity, then nuzzled against Severus’ face before dropping light kisses over his forehead and cheeks and fluttering eyes. “I will earn your trust Severus,” he murmured. Severus didn’t respond, but that was alright. Grand declarations were more James’ thing after all.

“And you understand that I’m not - I’m not some damsel in distress?” Severus asked, looking up at James with those impossibly dark eyes. “I don’t want a self-proclaimed hero. I want a partner.” James grinned at that, his teeth flashing in the dim light.

“I know you’re no princess,” James said, grinning. “I’ve got the hexmarks to prove it.” At that, Severus smiled back. They parted after a little longer, although they sat mostly in silence during that time. It was a comfortable silence though, and for Severus, who was accustomed to silence, the idea of companionable silence was rather revelatory. Lily, who had been his only real friend, was not much given to silence, and would fill any lulls with happy chatter, and induce him to tell her about all sorts of things. He had a feeling that James was not a naturally quiet person either, there was a sense of innate restlessness to the Gryffindor, so he relished this quietude while it lasted.

But that night James permitted Severus’ silence, and joined in it, and Severus could only take that as a sign of respect, and begin to hope, just a little, that they maybe could come to some sort of peaceful agreement. Friendship seemed a stretch to Severus, but he’d never had a friend other than Lily, and few had ever made the attempt. In Cokeworth, he was seen as an odd boy from a bad home, a Gypsy child in ragged clothes. At Hogwarts, the other Slytherins had from the start disdained Severus for both his muggle surname and his obvious poverty. He’d earned a begrudging respect from them over the years with his academic skill, but that was all.

By the end of November, Severus had come to begrudgingly trust both James Potter and Remus Lupin, James more so than Remus, of whom he retained an ingrained and unreasoning fear. He still had running battles of both words and wands with Sirius Black, but both James and Remus readily intervened. The first time, Severus had been stunned to stillness when James countered Black’s spells and then loudly told his friend off.

Black was clearly displeased, and soon, one of his most common complaints was that Severus was somehow corrupting James with Dark magic. It was rather laughable in truth, and Severus laughed at it appropriately every chance he got. Despite his protestations about not being in need of saving, Severus couldn’t help but be pleased every time James went toe to toe with Sirius; it was an unmistakeable sign that James was honest about his desire to be with Severus.

James’ interference kept the combatants apart as much as possible. It was rather difficult of course; Sirius was his best friend, and as a result they spent a great deal of time together. James though, wanted very much to spend more time with Severus, and he was rather used to having his way. Remus thankfully didn’t mind diverting Sirius’ attention, allowing James to hunt Severus down for alone time. It was during one of these times that the subject turned to their families.

James was quite rightly proud of his heritage. The Potters had been listed among the prominent wizarding families of Roman Britain. The first of their family documented in Britain had been native Silurian Celts employed in the construction of the Roman fortress of Isca Augustus in what was now the Welsh city of Caerleon. There were even mosaic portraits of those early, wealthy ancestors, James said, and even then they’d tended to name themselves after heroes and kings, or occasionally in those days, Roman Emperors; Augustus and Aurelius and Marcus and Caesarian as well as the more traditionally Welsh Llwyd and Bran.

The witches that married into the clan had been both Celts and Roman women in those days, dark eyed Italians skilled in weaving and other handicrafts. More than one woman of Saxon, Gaulish, or North African origin had been in the family in those days, their various magics passed down through the generations. There in Wales, the Lords Potter had married the last Heiress of the storied Gryffindor line, and another of the equally famous Peverell beauties, storied as much for their Celtic beauty as their ancient lineage.

James’ own mother was a Longbottom, their families allied since the ancient days of the Roman wizarding council. His paternal grandmother was a Shacklebolt, those two families also intermarrying with some frequency in more recent times, and giving James his warm brown complexion, wild dark hair, broad nose and full lips. Severus knew far less about his own magical family.

“I believe the current Lord Prince is my great-grandfather. My grandfather was a younger son, Aeolus Prince. He died in a lab explosion when my mother was quite young, and she was raised in her grandfather’s house,” Severus explained. His mother had instilled in him pride in the House Prince, and a firm belief that as a wizard he was a superior being. But she had spoken very little of her girlhood, other than a few stories of her time at Hogwarts. Severus had always been under the impression that she had not been a happy child.

“Stormholme, I’ve been there,” James said, and Severus’ eyes widened again. James could see the curiosity, the greed in the other boy’s expression. “It was built in Roman times too, when some of the Prince ancestors first came to Britain. They’re one of the older families, like the Potters. Roman wizards who married respected, powerful, native witches. Later, blood from the Otherlands married into the Prince line, when the northern part of Britain was held by the Raven King. It’s said that’s where the name Prince came from, even if the family was well established by then.

“Unlike many of the purebloods native to Britain, the Princes aren’t terribly inbred, at least not until this century,” James went on, calling up every bit of trivia he knew about the Princes and their estate. “They tended to import their brides and consorts from the Mediterranean and eastern Europe, sometimes as far as the Levant, and I believe there’s Asian and East Asian blood there too. Since the publication of The Sacred 28 though, they’ve succumbed at least partially to the pureblood mania. You said your grandfather was Aeolus?” James asked.

Severus nodded, drinking up the bits of family history his mother had never bothered to teach him. It made sense. As a boy, when he’d run wild in the woods and streets of Cokeworth, Severus had been a healthy golden brown, and he and his mother had been spit at and called gypo and piker and dago, despite that Eileen wasn’t appreciably too much darker skinned than the other women on Spinners’ End. But her style of dress, angular features, dark hair, and deep set eyes had been more than enough to set her apart, and Severus had been one of the darker skinned people in Cokeworth other than Lily’s light brown skinned mother.

It was only as Severus grew older and took to spending all his time inside with his books and cauldrons that his complexion paled to a sallow light tan, although his prominent nose and strongly featured face also hinted at a Near Eastern or North African ancestry. It didn’t help Severus’ already stunted self-esteem that he knew that the cruel slurs carried truth, that paternally he was Romanichal, despite that his father looked more or less like the average Englishman.

“That would make your mother Eileen? Her mother - Cosima? A Farnese maybe?” James asked.

“Her name is Eileen, but I don’t know who her mother’s people were,” Severus admitted. “She spoke only of House Prince, although not too much, and her mother not at all.”

“Officially, or at least so far as I know, she was shunned but not disowned for breaking an arranged betrothal and running off. It’s likely she got herself with child as soon as possible to ensure she couldn’t be dragged before the altar and forced into a bond. There's some talk even now that the family was more angered by the loss of her bride price than the circumstances of your birth. Her betrothed was Cenanthe Prince, a distant, and now deceased, cousin from the European branch who was older even than her father would have been,” James explained.

Severus shivered at the very thought of it. He’d never much understood contract marriages, but he was also well aware that he mostly thought as a working class person did, and such arrangements were the purview of the aristocracy. Then again, marriage in general had often seemed as if it was something that other people did. His love for Lily had been wholly familial, and he’d never been sexually attracted to anyone he thought he had a chance at before James. It was still a rather novel idea, being wanted, and while Severus didn’t wholly trust James or James’ desire, he deeply wanted both.