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Birds and Arrows

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A perfect containment invites trespass,
          the wish to shave below the skin
     and write in seed ink, mine. 

                                      -Alice Fulton, "Echo Location"

 

Severus cracked an eye open just enough to look at the clock that sat on the bedside table he shared with Rosier. Barely 7 a.m. He squeezed his eyes shut again and snuggled more deeply into his blankets. Transfiguration didn't start until 8:30 but that wasn't why Severus was so reluctant to leave his bed (or, not the entire reason).

His left arm felt curiously heavy, although Severus knew it was only his imagination. The subtle magic, woven into his skin since birth and activated as he turned sixteen, had no more weight than darkness, no more mass than light. No, it was only Severus's dread that weighed his limb down.

Severus had known about the fortis animi spell since he was a child of seven, when he had asked his mother why her forearm was so heavily scarred as she showed him how to scrub and peel potatoes. She'd sighed and tucked her lank hair back behind her ear, and then set down her knife and taken him to the attic where she'd started to dig through the wooden crates of books. Instead of emerging with a spellbook or a book of potions and handing it to Severus to take to his room, as she'd done in the past when he'd asked questions, she pulled out a thick and heavy book so old that Severus was afraid to touch it lest it crumble into dust. She'd settled, cross-legged on the floor in the small beam of sunlight from the attic's tiny window, pulled Severus into the crook of her arm, and shown him The Marke Of Magicke.

It was not a spellbook at all, but a very old history covering dates back to the seventeenth century. It told of how wizards had faced increased persecution following advances in the muggle world, how wizards had begun to fear the extinction of their kind. Until a wizard named Selwyn had created a spell to reveal powerful magical connections between individuals, passed down through the bloodlines of families and meant to draw those with extraordinary magical power together for the purpose of propagating magical blood. The spell had been handed down with the old wizarding family names ever since.

Severus's mother had told him that when he was sixteen years old, the name of a witch or wizard with whom his magic would be most powerfully combined would appear on his arm. Severus had been quick to notice her choice of words and said in a huff that it hardly made sense for two witches or two wizards' magic to draw them together if the purpose of the spell was to create wizarding children. His mother had smiled tiredly and run a hand over his hair, and said that perhaps Selwyn had just been an old romantic who wanted those with the most compatible magic to be together independent of the use that The Marke Of Magicke had stated for the spell, and told Severus that, to the dismay of pureblood supremacists everywhere, sometimes the names that would appear would be muggleborns, half-bloods, squibs, or even muggles. Severus narrowed his eyes at the latter two, trying to wrap his mind around how the most compatible magic for somebody could be a lack of magic, before he glanced down at his mother's scarred arm.

"Did my father's name used to be there?"

His mother had sighed again and stood up. "No more questions, Severus. We should get back to those potatoes before it gets late."

Severus sighed himself, banishing the memory and trying to send with it the sick feeling in his stomach he always got these days when he thought about his mother. The same kind of sick feeling that would soon engulf him concerning his arm if he didn't get up and start preparing for the day soon. He would look at it after he was dressed and ready for class. He needed to be more awake to deal with it. Reluctantly, Severus lowered his feet to the cold stone floor.

At one time he might have found the idea of the mark romantic- he certainly had entertained ideas to that effect for weeks after his mother had told him about it. He'd never gotten a straight answer from her about what her's had said and had assumed, with all the naivete of a child raised on fairy tales, that her mark had indeed been his father's name and that her decision to pursue him had led to her fall from grace in the Prince family, with the scarring a result of some attempt by them to dissuade her.

But, as Severus had grown, so had his father's animosity towards magic and therefore, towards his mother. Severus was now inclined to think that Eileen Prince had made a grave error in choosing to follow the mark against the wishes of her family, and rather suspected that the abuse she now suffered at Tobias's hands must have been going on even before he'd learned about marks, and that she'd cut the name off herself.

It was not only this that made Severus wary of knowing who he was marked for. He'd seen a number of unfortunate events take place because of the spell in the past year, as his classmates reached the age of sixteen. Even before this crucial year it had caused trouble; he could remember Lucius Malfoy, a handsome sixth year, striding into the common room during only his second month at Hogwarts and asking if anybody had seen Bellatrix Black. They had left the common room together and there had been much gossip about whether he could have been marked with her name; only much later did news reach Severus that they had gone for a walk in the grounds, duelled, and that Lucius had been marked for Bellatrix's ten year old sister Narcissa. Bellatrix clearly had not been pleased.

Severus would almost have been relieved if the name on his arm had been a strangers'; he would have to endure neither seeing them nor the bullying that was sure to come up regardless of whom it was. It was too much to hope that he could hide who he had been marked with for any extended period of time, and once somebody knew, even if it was not somebody that his housemates turned their noses up at, word would inevitably make it's way back to Potter and his gang. And anyway, some of his fellow Slytherins knew every pureblood family in Europe and would surely antagonise him if his mark did not come from that pool. He could not envision a scenario in which he would not be ridiculed by somebody over this, and did not relish having yet another aspect of his life he must carefully conceal from the world. At least robes covered up his arms, he thought, grabbing a set from his wardrobe and heading for the showers.

Severus determinedly did not look at his arm as he scrubbed, nor as he dressed, nor as he brushed his teeth and charmed his hair dry. It was only when he was seated back in his room and had waved to Rosier to head to breakfast without him that he rolled up his sleeve. He felt quite sick and was extremely glad he was sitting down. He took a deep breath, willing his stomach to settle. It didn't really matter, anyway. He was hardly the kind of person who needed to be planning for a future that involved love or children so it was irrelevant. His future, as far as he could see, had only potions and spell invention and hopefully, someday soon, introduction to Lucius's organization. Fortis animi didn't apply to him, not really. With this slightly reassuring thought, Severus looked down.

And felt his stomach flip in revulsion and horror.

There, on his inner left forearm, was the name James Potter.

 

 

Mulciber waved him over when he entered the great hall for breakfast, brandishing a scroll of parchment that Severus recognized as the other boy's Transfiguration homework from the night before, and Severus mentally groaned. He wasn't really in the mood to go over work that he'd half written himself the night before, but perhaps focusing on school would take his mind off the mark. It didn't matter, Severus repeated to himself as he slid in beside his classmate and took a slice of toast and an egg from the platters before them. He forced himself to eat and willed down the churning of his stomach to focus on Mulciber's questions.

By the time Severus and Mulciber were leaving the great hall, the words on Severus's arm had been pushed to the back of his mind in favor of thoughts about the metaphysics of vanishing spells and the predicted weather for the weekend. It might have been a cold, dreary Friday in January but tomorrow was nonetheless a Hogsmeade weekend and Severus was weighing the inconvenience of walking to the village in the snow against the possibility that Dogweed And Deathcap might have finally restocked their supply of fresh sopophorous beans. If so, he fully intended to spend what little money he had at the moment on them so he could resume his experiments with the textbook's Draught of Living Death- he had been making it steadily more potent for the last month or so and had one or two new variations he wanted to try. He was mentally going through the list of ingredients to ensure there was nothing else he'd need to buy when Lily slid up beside him. She glared pointedly at Mulciber, who cast Severus a nasty look but strode on ahead.

"Why are you hanging around with him?" Lily asked, her tone one of deep disgust.

"We're classmates. He wanted to pick my brain before we hand in the Transfiguration homework." Severus said, raising his eyebrows. Lily must know most of the people who spoke to him only did so for homework help.

She huffed but didn't press further. "Anyway, I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday."

"Keep your voice down!" Severus hissed at her. She looked very annoyed. Severus felt very annoyed. He should not have to cast nonverbal muffliato just because his best friend wanted to talk to him.

"Why?"

"I do not wish anybody to know it is my birthday." He whispered to her. She smirked very slightly and rolled her eyes.

"I've got a present for you, if you want to meet me in Hogsmeade tomorrow. I'd give it to you here but, well... your friends have made it fairly clear how they feel about muggles and muggle items."

Snape's stomach gave another unpleasant flip. Anything Lily wanted to give him that she'd seen as muggle enough to plan to pass it along outside of school would definitely be conspicuously muggle enough that he'd have to hide it from his fellow Slytherins. He hoped it was something small.

"Certainly I will meet you. I need to go to the apothecary, we can meet up on the high street around noon?"

"Great, I'll see you then. If the weather's too bad I'll be waiting in the Three Broomsticks." She smiled at him as they entered McGonagall's classroom, and for a moment Severus felt like things might have started to go back to normal between them, but then she walked away to sit with Mary McDonald and Severus took the empty seat next to Avery.

 

 

Severus made it through the day without anybody confronting him about today's date, so that was something- either nobody had overheard his conversation with Lily or word had not gotten around. Just as well that it was a Friday- people were much too preoccupied with end-of-week plans to give him much thought.

 

 

Saturday was a windy sort of day, and Severus found himself pulling on an extra pair of gloves and wrapping a scarf firmly around his face before setting off for Hogsmeade. Blast it. There was little chance of Lily waiting for him on the street in this weather, and unless he met her beforehand and could convince her to go to Dogweed And Deathcap with him, he'd most likely be talked into holding their conversation in the Three Broomsticks. He stuck his head into the great hall before he left, hoping to catch her before she set off so they could go together, but she was not there.

The apothecary did in fact finally have a fresh supply of sopophorous beans, and Severus handed over two galleons readily if not happily. He stared down into the little paper bag full of what looked to the untrained eye like small figs before stowing it in an inside pocket of his coat and setting off for the high street to look for Lily. It was early enough yet that he might catch her before she went into the Three Broomsticks and lead her off to a quieter, less crowded bookstore instead.

All hopes of this instantly fled when he saw her coming out of Zonko's joke shop with Sirius Black. He made to duck inside Honeyduke's but Lily and Sirius were headed towards him and it was only once he was inside that he spotted Lupin and Pettigrew standing over a display of caramels. As Severus took a deep breath and began to prepare himself to fight, James Potter emerged from behind the case of unusual sweets and grinned. There was a nasty look in his eyes that made Severus sneer back at him.

"Hi, Snivellus. Fancy seeing you here." Potter took a step towards him, his grin growing wider as he glanced towards Lupin and Pettigrew. "I wouldn't have thought you'd want to waste your time on something so nice and normal as sweets. Don't you have something disgusting to be doing right now?

"I am talking to you, am I not?" Severus shot back, his hand clenching around his wand in his pocket. He could sense Lupin and Pettigrew moving towards him from the right and was on the point of turning when the bell on the shop door tinkled, letting in a cold wind and Lily and Black's voices. Severus watched Potter's gaze flicker to somewhere over his head. Lily's voice stopped abruptly, and then Black laughed. Severus whirled around, pulling out his wand, and nearly knocked over a tall tower of truffles as he tried to maneuver himself into a position where he didn't have his back to any of the four Gryffindor boys.

Before anybody could make another move, however, the matronly shop owner descended from the stairs behind the till and fixed the scene before her with a stern glare.

"I don't want any brawling in here, do you hear me?" She looked sharply from Severus, with his wand out, to Potter, who had assumed a dueling stance beside the Cockroach Clusters, to Black and Lily, who had moved forward into the room as one unit. The other people in Honeyduke's had gone silent. Before anyone could say or do anything else, Lily had strode forward, grabbed Severus's hand, and begun to drag him away.

"Not here, Severus, don't be so stupid." she chastised in a grumble. Severus let himself be led out the door. "I'll see you later, huh, Sirius?" she called back over her shoulder, and Black and Potter both beamed at her.

 

 

"What was all that about?" Lily demanded fifteen minutes later, once they had settled into a booth as far back in the Three Broomsticks as Severus could find.

"I suggest you ask you close dear friend Sirius." Severus sneered. "What was that about? Surely Potter cannot like his trained dog going after the object of his affections?"

Lily snorted. "You're so obnoxious sometimes, I don't know why I bother." She took a sip of her butterbeer. "If you must know, Sirius and I are kind of... friends. He's interested in the muggle world- honestly I think he's just trying to impress Marlene McKinnon, you know, she's muggleborn- and when he saw me with... well..." Lily lifted what looked like a small case onto the table. "I know it's kind of a frivolous gift." she said, pushing it towards him. "But I noticed how much you enjoyed the record player when you were round at my place last summer."

Severus lifted the case open and saw that it was a portable turntable. There were three records in sleeves inside, set against the lid of the case in a pocket. He pulled them out and ran his hand over the covers. Something seemed to stick in his throat.

"I got you that Pink Floyd song you liked. And our favorite Rolling Stones one. That third one was a actually a recommendation from Sirius, he loves Queen. We might be going to a concert together over the Easter break, me and Sirius and Marlene." Lily grinned at him and Severus forced himself not to flinch at this last statement. It really was a frivolous gift, one he'd have to hide from his house mates and then again from his father when he returned home for the summer. And it looked expensive; Severus could have bought hundreds of sopophorous beans with the money this must have cost. But it had also been sentimental and extravagant and so Lily, and Severus felt an ache in his chest that had nothing whatsoever to do with his birthday present.

"Thank you very much." he said, smiling softly across at her. Her tentative grin broke into a full on beam, and Severus felt his own smile spreading wider in response.

"You're quite welcome. I'm sorry about any trouble dragging you to Hogsmeade might have caused but, well, it's sixteen. It's an important birthday." She pushed his own untouched butterbeer towards him.

Severus's arm felt heavy again. "Yes," he said. "I suppose it is." He took a drink and grimaced.

"What's that look for?" Lily asked. "You like butterbeer."

Severus scanned their surroundings. Nobody seemed to be watching them but he cast another muffliato all the same. "Have you heard of the fortis animi spell?"

Lily shook her head, frowning.

"The spell is passed down through wizarding families and as you are muggleborn you would never have had any exposure to it, although I confess I would have guessed you had heard about it before now from precious pureblood Potter or one of his..."

Severus stopped speaking as the full force of that thought hit him. How could he have failed to recall that Potter was also from a wizarding family, and as such would most certainly have knowledge of the spell already? When was Potter's birthday? Would Potter wake on that morning with Severus's name on his arm because if so, all Severus's attempts to hide his mark would become futile. It was too much to hope that he was one of the people who was imperfectly matched, and that Potter would be marked for somebody else. The Gryffindor gang's attitude towards him would increase tenfold if Potter were to be marked for Severus and that was not a chance he was willing to take.

Lily clapped her hands in front of his face and Severus came back to attention with a start. "What?" he snapped.

"I said, what was that about Potter?" Lily said coldly

Snape stood up. "I must go to the library."

 

 

        I can testify
the tic of prayer persists in nonbelievers.
     Under my distressed surface, under duct tape,
the Hail Mary has a will of its own.

 

 

Lily groaned and banged her forehead dramatically against the table, earning her a sharp look from Madam Pince as she glided past. "Come on, Sev, this is useless. We've been looking through history books about fortis animi on and off for three weeks."

"This is important to me." Severus ground out from between clenched teeth. "I must do this. I have hardly been dragging you along."

"I don't see why. So somebody's name is on your arm. So what? So your name might appear on theirs. Why does that matter? Like you said, it doesn't have to mean anything at all, just another relic of old pureblood nonsense."

Severus sighed. He envied her ability to say it didn't matter with such conviction. Most people who had grown up knowing about the spell would have expectations attached to it, both political and personal ones, and if he was being honest with himself there was a part of him that was disappointed purely because this had seemed one last small bit of romance about the wizarding world that had been snatched from him. But how was he to explain all that to Lily? It was pointless.

"It matters," Severus said with forced calm, running a hand through his hair, "because the name on my arm is James Potter's."

Lily blinked. "Let me see."

"Absolutely not. We are in public."

"And it's nearly curfew on a Friday. Not exactly a busy time for the library."

She had a point and Severus told her so, but he still shook his head. "In the bathroom."

They made their way to the nearby girl's bathroom, Lily's whole body taught with impatience. Only after they had locked the door and Severus had cajoled Lily into helping him put up a large number of privacy spells, did Severus roll up his sleeve and show Lily his forearm.

She stared at it for a long time. When she finally spoke, her tone was one of trying to hold in a smile.

"Does this mean that you're soulmates, then?"

Severus rolled his sleeve back down and glared. "Just because the spell has the word soul in it does not mean it necessitates all the ridiculous romantic trappings we associate with the word." Or at least, it shouldn't have to. "I hate James Potter and James Potter hates me. This spell merely means that we would be magically compatible."

"You and all those books keep using that phrase but have you thought about what that actually means?" Lily countered. "Magic is a pretty deep and complex part of a witch or wizard.

"Thank you, I had no idea." Severus sneered. Lily ignored him and plowed on.

"Conventional wisdom is that witches and wizards have something within us that muggles don't, some innate ability that allows us to manipulate the external world where they can't. If some witches and wizards are marked for muggles and squibs, then either the power which this spell seeks out can't possibly be searching for that magic-making quality, or that magic-making quality isn't what we thought it was."

"And you're trying to say that this is proof that there is a soul, and that fortis animi really does join two people based on the compatibility of their souls."

"Yes." Lily said simply.

Severus crossed his arms. "And what of the possibility that conventional wisdom about magic is wrong?"

Lily shrugged and began dismantling the privacy spells so they could leave the bathroom. "Honestly I like the first option better."

 

 

In early March Lily bumped into Severus after Arithmancy to tell him that she'd learned that Potter's birthday was the 27th of that month. Severus felt a twinge of panic. They were no closer to discovering any kind of spell that could reverse the fortis animi, and Severus knew why: there wasn't one. The longer they'd researched Severus had been forced to admit that Selwyn must have been a genius, to have worked out how magic functioned and how it was tied to a person. And the man had been such a Slytherin, to use that knowledge to make a spell without ever sharing it and running the risk of his work becoming undone. Severus knew it might take a lifetime to retrace the bastard's steps and create his own countercurse (for the fortis animi most certainly was a curse as far as Severus was concerned), but he threw himself into an attempt nonetheless. Anything was better than being marked for James Potter.


 

James flopped into one of the squashy armchairs by the fire with a dramatic sigh. "I'm beat."

Sirius snorted as he took the seat next to him. "C'mon, that quidditch practice wasn't that bad."

"It was. We're going to get absolutely creamed next week."

"Against Ravenclaw? Doubt it. Their best chaser's been sick on and off all spring and they're too stubborn to replace him." Sirius flung his long legs up over one arm of the chair and scooted into a more comfortable position. "Enough about that, though. What do you want do for your birthday tomorrow?"

James shrugged, yawning and stretching his feet out towards the fire. "I dunno. I'd like to go into Hogsmeade and get some more firewhisky, the stocks in my room are nearly out." He got out of the chair, levitated it closer to the fire, and resumed his spot.

"Prongs, Prongs. You're getting boring in your old age. We'll get plenty of alcohol for the party tomorrow afternoon, I was more asking what you wanted to do afterwards. Fancy a poke 'round the dungeons? That's the only section we haven't got done on the map yet."

A soft huff of breath came from the corner. Sirius craned his neck to look at the source, which turned out to be Remus, sitting at the desk by the window with a stack of books and his homework spread out in front of him.

Sirius frowned at him. "What's up with you, Moony?"

Remus glanced up towards the fire where the two boys sat. "Nothing particularly." He looked back down at his parchment and slowly dipped his quill into his ink. "I just think," he said in a measured voice, "that unless you're planning on doing your homework tonight, and it doesn't much look like you are, that maybe we should map out the dungeons another night. You'll be too tired and hungover to get anything done on Sunday if we spend all day drinking and then all night out and about."

"Are you suggesting we spend the night of James's sixteenth studying?" Sirius sounded scandalized.

"No, of course not. I just think we should stay in just this once. We'll have some firewhisky, shoot off some fireworks from the top of the astronomy tower, play some... Exploding Snap, or something. And you know," he added hastily, as Sirius and James sniggered to each other, "Evans might be a bit more persuadable on your birthday and after a good party."

James considered this. "That's probably true." he admitted. "Fine, I guess the plan is party in the common room tomorrow, then another crack at Evans, then Sunday rest and recuperation and group study sesh for Defense Against The Dark Arts, that's the quiz that's coming up, right?" Remus nodded.

"Great. I s'pose we'd better go and get some booze, then!" Sirius said, rubbing his hands together.

"Wormtail offered to go along on that. He's supposed to meet you by the one-eyed witch at curfew tonight." Remus said absently, having returned to his homework.

"Why can't he just meet us back here?" Sirius rolled his eyes. "What's Wormtail got going on that's so important he can't be in the common room after dinner?"

"I don't know, I'm just passing the message along." Remus sounded slightly weary. "You'd better get going soon, it's nearly nine."

James stood up, grumbling, and went to get his cloak from under his mattress. Sirius turned and studied Remus more closely.

"You okay, Moons? You seem tense. You coming down with something?"

Remus sighed. "It's just stress." He looked up and grinned slightly at Sirius. "You all seem to forget between quidditch and the map and everything else that for some of us, it's OWL year."

"Nah, we haven't forgotten, we just know we've got you to keep us on the straight and narrow so we don't bother with it ourselves." Sirius grinned back and Remus shook his head, chuckling.

As James came back down the stairs with the cloak, Sirius sprang up and held out a hand for it. "I'll go. I wanna interrogate the little rat, see what he's been doing when he's not been with us. It seems like it's happening an awful lot lately."

"Maybe he finally started seeing that Slytherin he's been eyeballing in Herbology all year." James suggested, handing over the cloak.

Sirius laughed. "Don't be gross, Prongs. Who'd want to date a Slytherin?"

James waved him off as he stepped through the portrait hole and sunk back into his chair. He held up his arm and traced his fingers lightly over his forearm. "Just think, Remus." he murmured. "This time tomorrow I'll have a soulmate."

"Hmm." Remus said. James glanced up at him.

"You don't think it's romantic at all?" Of all the marauders, James would have guessed that Remus would have been the one he could count on to be soppy about the fortis animi spell.

"I think you have very specific ideas of what you want and don't cope well with getting something different." Remus said, looking up from his work and fixing James with a very serious look.

"What's that supposed to mean?" James said

"You're expecting it to be Lily, aren't you?"

James stared. He supposed he was pretty transparent when it came to Evans, but this wasn't really something he'd thought about extensively. It would be nice if his mark was Lily, but he didn't expect it, did he?

"Don't be stupid, I know that's not how it works. It's determined based on your magical skill or whatever, it could be anybody."

Remus sighed. "You say that, but I think deep down you've never really thought it would be anybody, you've always thought it would be her."

James rolled his eyes, starting to get irritated. "Could you get to your point?"

"My point is that I think you need to prepare for the possibility that it'll be someone other than the girl you've had a crush on for the last four years."

James got up and stalked towards Remus. "Is there something you're not telling me, Moony?" He leaned his crossed arms on the desk and flashed his cheekiest grin at his friend. "Wasn't your birthday just a couple weeks ago? Are we, perhaps, matched up and it slipped your mind to tell me?" He winked.

Remus narrowed his eyes and rolled up his sleeve. The name on his arm was Sirius Black.

James recoiled. "Doesn't Sirius have-"

"Marlene McKinnon? Yes." Remus's voice was completely flat. He rolled his sleeve back down, not looking at James. "Like I said, things don't always work out the way you expect. It's something you need to be prepared for."

For a moment he looked extremely vulnerable and James felt an uncomfortable mixture of pity and embarrassment for Remus. Torn between the desire to pull his friend up and into a hug and to walk away, James settled for patting his hand where it lay on the desk. Remus gave him another tired smile.

"Anyway, you might as well help me with some homework since it'll probably be at least an hour until Padfoot and Wormtail get back." James smiled in what he hoped was an uplifting way and grabbed his bag from where it lay next to the fire.

Remus chuckled. "Sure."

He made room at the table for James and James pulled a chair over to join him, then pulled out his Defense textbook and quill to get started. They worked in silence for a bit, punctured by the occasional sound of a page turning or a parchment rustling.

"Oh, and Prongs?" Remus said after a bit.

"Hmm?"

"The spell doesn't have to be romantic. Soulmates shouldn't be determined by some crusty old spell." He gazed at James intently, and James patted his hand again.

 

As soon as James woke up the next morning, Sirius was there holding a strip of black cloth and grinning hugely.

"Hope you slept well! Hold out your arm and don't look at it."

James frowned slightly as he rubbed his eyes. "Why not?"

"Because I want to tie this around it so we can have a big reveal at the party." Sirius said, taking a seat on the edge of James's bed. "C'mon, James! Don't be shy! Here, I won't look either." He closed his eyes.

James laughed and held out his pajama-clad arm. With a swish of his wand Sirius rolled up the sleeve and tied the fabric (silk, James realized now he could feel it) around his arm.

"Great! I'm headed down for breakfast soon with Moony, are you joining us?" Sirius said as he stood up.

"Yeah, just wanna shower first." James said. "Oi, Wormtail!" he shouted. Peter gave a yelp and shot out of the bed across the room. Sirius sniggered.

"You coming to breakfast?" James asked. Peter yawned and nodded, and clapped his hands together. "Good, see you both later."

"Don't you even think about taking that silk off, Prongs!" Sirius called after him as he descended the staircase.

 

   The spirit uses me. It holds me up
                    to the light like a slide.
It claims a little give, a quiver, 
     can prevent a quake.

 

 

Truthfully, the next time James thought about the mark underneath the fabric at all was late in the evening, after several butterbeers and perhaps one firewhisky too many, as he sat in an oversized armchair with a pretty sixth year friend of Sirius's who's name he couldn't remember chattering away in his ear. He was starting to get tired of her, really, (not least because he wasn't sure who she was) and was in the process of extricating himself when he stumbled and fell against Remus, who had been making a hasty retreat upstairs.

"Sorry, Moony." James said, straightening Remus's robes where he had pulled them.

"It's alright." Remus said. He glanced back into the room and then up the stairs.

"Trying to escape?" James said. He knew that, had it been Remus's choice, there would not be a party going on at all and they would have celebrated James's birthday in a quiet, more Marauders-oriented fashion, but that Remus put up with the festivities because he knew they were what Sirius and James wanted. James felt a sudden surge of affection for his friend.

"Quite." Remus said softly. James followed his gaze to where Sirius and Marlene McKinnon were kissing passionately by the window.

"Fancy going up the astronomy tower to set off the fireworks?"

"Yes, that sounds like a good idea." He darted upstairs and returned a few moments later with a large crate of Filibuster's.

As they made their way towards the portrait hole, James was on the point of tapping Kinsgley on the arm to ask him to send Sirius to the astronomy tower if he came asking after them, before Remus pointed out in quick mutter that Sirius still had the map and would be perfectly capable of finding them if he wanted. James nodded and they slid under the cloak as they entered the hallway. It was just after curfew and while James was sure nobody would reprimand him too harshly (it was his birthday, after all), McGonagall wouldn't be too happy if her prefect Remus Lupin was caught wandering around at night.

Half an hour later they were seated on the astronomy tower parapet, swinging their legs into the nothingness for hundreds of feet below and passing some muggle booze Remus was fond of back and forth. It wasn't half bad, actually, James thought as he took another sip, although not strong enough for his taste. The fireworks crate sat further back on the tower; Remus had decided it was more polite to wait for Sirius and Peter, but James privately thought that he'd be surprised to see either of them- Sirius had looked pretty close to getting laid when they'd left and Peter, well... Peter had been growing distant for weeks. Probably that Slytherin girl.

"I know that nobody really knows how the spell works and it isn't supposed to be a romantic matchmaking tool," Remus murmured, handing the bottle back to James, "but I really did think it was possible that he'd... you know. Because I've always loved him." James patted his hand again. When Remus laid his head on his shoulder he started, and Remus snorted and sat up straighter.

"C'mon then, let's see who you've got." He lifted James hand from where it lay atop his own and made to untie the silk.

James pulled his hand away and took another swig from the bottle. It wasn't as nice in large quantities, in fact was kind of cloying. "What is this, again?" he asked, making a face. Remus took the bottle back with a sigh.

"Creme de menthe. But take off the fabric and look at who you have."

James thought for a moment that this wasn't how he'd pictured this night happening at all, and hadn't he expected a lot more Lily? He was supposed to have unwrapped his arm at the height of the party to find her name, and then she'd kiss him to wish him happy birthday, and then he'd have to explain what the fortis animi mark meant because she was muggleborn and wouldn't know, and then they'd go somewhere private and she'd kiss him some more and let him feel her boobs and maybe more than that...

But that wasn't what was happening. With a little sigh of disappointment, James started working on the knot Sirius had tied that morning. There was still a chance he'd find Lily's name, whatever else might have happened. After a minute of struggling with the knot James gave up and pulled out his wand to sever the fabric. It fell away, and he set it on fire and watched it fall away down the tower, before lifting his forearm up to look at it in the faint sliver of moonlight.

He blinked at the name there.

"Remus." he said. "Please look at my arm and tell me I'm not seeing what I think I'm seeing." he said, his voice deliberately measured.

Remus leaned in, lighting his wand to see better.

"Severus Snape." Remus whispered, his tone slightly awed. James whipped his head around to look at him.

"You sound like you expected this to happen." James said. He could feel anger starting to churn his stomach.

"I..." Remus said in a hushed voice.

"Remus?!" James said, knowing he sounded slightly hysterical in the silent darkness but not really caring. Snivellus Snape. There couldn't have been a worse person to be marked with.

"I saw them in the library together last week. Snape and Evans. And I... well, truth be told, I went over to rile him up a little bit, but then I saw that they'd got about twenty books on the fortis animi spell pulled out, and I asked what they were doing."

Remus climbed backwards off the parapet and leaned against it, looking down at the grounds. "Lily knows I've got Sirius, she saw it by accident one day while we were working on Charms together. And I suppose she saw something we had in common because it sort of slipped out that Snape has you, and then they had an argument which I can't remember any of, there was suddenly an odd buzzing sound, and she took me a couple tables away and explained that they've been researching the spell since January, trying to figure out how to reverse it."

Remus shook his head slowly. "I'm sorry, James, she asked me not to tell you on the off chance that you were like me and got matched up with somebody else. She didn't want to embarrass him."

"Embarrass him?!" James shrieked, climbing down off the parapet himself so he could shake Remus by the robes. "How about me? What am I gonna do when Sirius asks who I got? When anybody else who was at that party? How am I supposed to deal with being magically compatible with Severus fucking Snape?"

"Snape?" Sirius's voice boomed from the entrance to the tower. James and Remus turned to watch as Sirius and Peter hurried towards them, Sirius taking full advantage of his long legs and Peter practically jogging behind. Sirius grabbed James's hand and pulled his arm towards him. He stared at it for a good ten seconds, then threw back his head and let out a bark of laughter.

"Just goes to show, doesn't it? The whole thing's a joke." Sirius shook James's hand dramatically and then dropped it and clutched at his sides as he continued to laugh. "Magically compatible soulmates. My mother did so love to harp on about how important it was for maintaining bloodlines but of the four of us, two have got blokes and one has got a muggleborn. Just wait, Peter'll get a squib in April and then we'll have all three kinds of people purebloods like to pretend this spell doesn't affect." Peter turned very red at this and babbled his protest. Sirius ignored him. "What a laugh." He wiped tears out of his eyes. "Now we really do need to finish the dungeon section on the map, Prongs. You'll need a way to go visit your boyfriend."

The rage simmering in James's stomach was heating to a full, rolling boil now. He gripped his wand tightly and was just about to open his mouth to challenge Sirius's statement when Remus stepped forward beside him.

"Stop it." he said, and James was slightly impressed to see that he'd stepped very close, stretching himself up to his full height and standing level with Sirius. He pushed him, hard, in the chest, and Sirius took several hasty steps back to avoid falling. "Nobody can help who they're marked with and I'm sure not everybody can be as delighted by the results of the fortis animi as you clearly are with yours."

"What are you implying?" Sirius snarled, narrowing his eyes.

"Just that you seem to have forgotten yourself the last several months. Not going around with any of the usual girls, are you Padfoot? You've been with Marlene a whole four months now, that's a record for you. When will we hear the happy announcement, surely you can't have gone this long without knocking her up-"

Sirius hit him. Peter yelled, Remus's head snapped back with a crunch and for a split second James was sure he was about to turn into the wolf although the moon was a waning crescent in the sky. Instead, he whipped out his wand so fast that he nearly stumbled, and it seemed Sirius must surely hit him again in that moment of imbalance but Sirius was busy drawing his wand, too, and then there were spells flying. Peter was dodging out of the way and James was rushing forward to pull them apart but there was no need. One of Sirius's spells hit the crate of fireworks and it exploded, covering the tower in sparks and streaks and stars and threatening to hit all four of them. James grabbed both Sirius and Remus by the arms and ran for the stairs, Peter tripping down ahead of him. By the time they'd collapsed in a heap at the bottom of the tower, they were laughing and breathless.

"Sorry, Moons." Sirius said quietly, a rare bit of tenderness in his voice.

"I'm sorry as well." Remus responded, and Sirius rolled his eyes and pulled him to his feet before giving a hand to James and Peter.

"It doesn't really matter, after all. It's just an old tradition." Sirius said bracingly as he wrapped an arm around James and Remus's shoulders. Remus nodded and they set off down the corridor back to Gryffindor tower, but James couldn't help thinking, as he slung an arm around Peter's shoulder on the other side, that it mattered very, very much, whether any of them wanted to admit it or not.