"You're such an idiot! What were you thinking? Were you even thinking? Someone could have died! Or worse, Moony could have bitten someone!" James glared angrily at his friend, whose relaxed face showed no sign of being offended.
"Oh, come off it James, it was just a joke!" Sirius said, his trademark grin sliding into place, infuriating James.
"Well it wasn't funny! And how in the hell do you think you're going to explain yourself to Moony when he comes back around? You know how he is about his condition! How could you do that to him?" James tried to make Sirius understand the severity of what he had done.
"He'd probably be laughing his arse off if he knew. Everything was under control, and it'd serve Snivellus right, what with the way he's snooping around all the time. He's a sneak and a Slytherin, always following us and trying to get us caught, like it's any of his damn business what we do! He's despicable James! I didn't think I'd have to explain myself to you!" Sirius's smile had fallen as his anger rose over James's words and expression.
"Why can't you see that if something went wrong, if Moony had gotten out of control--?"
"I told you--everything was under control!" Sirius cut him off, pissed at how little faith James placed in him, how little James thought him capable of.
"Yeah? How? You can't control Moony in your human form! What were you going to do? Transform in front of Snivellus? Then everything we've done, especially being animangi would have come out! We wouldn't all just be expelled, we'd go to Azkaban! It's not just your future you were gambling with tonight, Sirius, but the lives of your best friends! You risked everything, all of our trust, and for what? Some stupid prank? Over Snivellus? Why is it that it's always your interests that come first? Why can't you see beyond yourself? You're such an idiot!"
A long, stunned silence reigned. Sirius couldn't wipe the wide-eyed look of his face, and James could barely stop glaring. "You really believe that, don't you?" Sirius finally said. James whispered his name softly, but Sirius turned abruptly and left. James sighed. For as much as he wanted to go after Sirius, to tell him that that's not what he meant, that he just wanted things to be okay between them and for the whole night to have been a dream, he couldn't.
"James, I'd like to see you in my office now." Dumbledore's words drifted into his thoughts, and he turned to see the Headmaster, but had to look away from the piercing gaze that was hard with the severity of the situation. James wondered how much of the conversation Dumbledore had heard. He lowered his head, and followed.
He explained as much as he knew, as much as he could, without trying to give away too much or make it obvious there were holes in the story. Dumbledore didn't interrupt, which James was thankful for. He was still so angry with Sirius and Peter, angry with Snape, angry with himself, that his story came across much more critical than the actual events. It was hard for him to separate his thoughts on what had happened from what actually had happened. Once he was done, silence reigned for a long time in the room.
"Your story is, of course, a very middle ground of the stories given to me by both Sirius and Severus this evening. Both attempt to place blame upon one another, while you seem to do a little of both. It is easy to criticize someone we don't like, but it is much harder to be critical of our friends."
James didn't know how to respond. He didn't like Snape, but it had been hard to understand how Sirius could have done something without thinking about it for more than two seconds, which he obviously hadn't because if he had, then he would have realized the many flaws in his plan.
"I would like to impress upon you the severity of what happened this evening, but I have a feeling that nothing that I say is going to be deeper than what you are already feeling. It cannot have been easy to do what you have done tonight, and I am very proud of you for your actions. Courage is something that, unfortunately, can only really be measured in circumstances most would rather not endure. Tonight, I'm sure, was one of those circumstances. Your actions were very noble, though it may not feel much like it. Truly noble deeds usually don't. I am awarding you fifty house points."
James looked up surprised, his eyes meeting Dumbledore's for the first time that night evenly. He didn't know what he expected, but it hadn't been that. "Thank you, sir," he said. He did not feel as though he deserved the points, but unable to explain why, he kept silent. After a minute, Dumbledore excused him. James stood, his weary body begging for bed.
"One more thing," he heard Dumbledore say, and he turned, though he knew if he slumped back into the chair drawn for him, he would not be able to leave.
"You must be careful from now on, James. I feel that Severus will hate you more now than he has ever hated anything in his life."
"Why?" James whispered angrily, not understanding how Snape had any right after the events of tonight.
"Because the most considerate thing anyone has ever done for him," Dumbledore said, "was done so by his enemy. He will not understand your actions tonight for a very long time, if ever. You must understand that Severus did not grow up in the same world as you James, though you may have done so at the same point in time."
It struck James then just how true that statement was, perhaps for the first time. And, perhaps also for the first time, James did not look at the animosity between them as anything real. They were different, so different, but maybe, not so different after all.
He did not understand. He did not understand one bit. Severus shook his head. It didn't matter. Potter's stupidity would be the downfall of his friends, even if Dumbledore made him swear not to repeat the events of that night to anyone.
He saved your life, Dumbledore's soft words came back at him, mocking and haunting his anger. Indeed, even if that monster hadn't killed him, living with lycanthropy for the rest of his life would result in its quick ending if anyone found out. But he was fine, and it was all Potter's fault.
Severus knew that he would not have been able to stop the attack given the trap set for him and it was through his own stupidity that Potter had proven himself to be the one not only able to mentally and physically handle the situation, but to spare Severus any trouble as well. If Severus had looked at the situation rationally he never would have been in this mess. What were the odds that that note about the "Marauder meeting" and how to get past the Whomping Willow would have conveniently fallen into his hands when he knew that they were extremely cautious about their little excursions? Why would the stick by the tree be just out of reach of the braches, when someone using it to prod the knot would have dropped it closer to the entrance so they could use it upon their exit? He had missed the signs.
James Potter had saved his life. Severus would never forgive him.
They were enemies, but this single event showed that they were not equal. Whether or not Potter had done it to save his own hide and the skins of his little friends, it had also been pity. If only Severus knew that that was the reason Potter had done what he had, to rub it in his face that he was superior, but he knew that not only was that not the reason, but that Potter, for as idiotic and immature as he was, did not think like that.
"Snape." The sound, sharp, but lacking edge, made him turn his head. He was surprised to find Potter the owner of the voice. He had not given him the credit of possibly sounding so adult. A sneer came across Severus's face, laced with smugness and disgust.
"What do you want?" he drawled, hand closing over his wand in his robes, but the James he was used to sparring with was not the same James that stood before him. Eyes that were normally an amber warmth were frozen over with dispassion and reserve.
"You will not speak a word of this to anyone," James said clearly.
"Or what?" Severus scoffed. "You'll kill me?"
Lightning flitted across James's eyes, but his countenance did not display any reaction. "You and I both know there are fates worse than death."
"Don't tell me you'd be willing to try one of the Unforgivables, Potter, unless of course your goal is to put me in stitches from laughing so hard. You and I both know you don't have the power, much less the will, to do something so grand." James's eyes became slits of hellfire, blazing at Severus's soul, burning something within him, though Severus was not sure if it was because of the insult or because of the way he praised that which brought so many indescribable pain.
"If you so much as mutter a word to anyone about tonight, or about Remus," James threatened, the nonchalant ice in his voice not matching the demon in his eyes, "I'll feel no reserve in muttering a few words to Dumbledore about that mark on your left forearm."
Severus could not help the look of surprise on his face. Potter's words came back to him: You and I both know there are fates worse than death. Severus schooled his look into one of uncaring, though it was clear the comment had its intended reaction.
Severus realized that Potter must have seen it during their scuffle that evening when he had fired his hex. Internally, Snape glowered, realizing that was why the hex had hit its mark and it had taken Potter by surprise. It was not the hex that had surprised him so and had stopped him from blocking the blow, but the burned skull engraved in his skin and soul.
Severus glared daggers at Potter, though not for the reason Potter probably assumed. He was not glaring because he was being blackmailed (though he was by no means pleased by it), but because Potter thought of him as so weak an opponent as to not believe him worthy of his place at Lord Voldemort's side. Severus's thoughts then took on a new line.
His Dark Lord would not be pleased if James Potter knew about the mark on his arm, and much worse, if Dumbledore knew. It was essential that Dumbledore not be made aware of his involvement, and yet the underlying threat that Potter did not need to be able to perform the curses, nor any magic, when his own Lord would have more than the power and will to do so himself hung around Severus's mind.
Severus did not respond to James in any way, but then he did not really need to. After a moment, James nodded, and left. Severus stood there, watching the retreating back, and wishing for all of his might that he could kill James Potter, but though his grip on his wand tightened, it did not move so much as a hair's breath from his robes.
James headed back towards the common room, his mind far from thoughts of making it back safely without alerting Filch or any teachers of his presence, and much on what had transpired that night. Things had changed. So much had broken, and so much had died in his mind.
James loved Sirius, because Sirius was the one person who really truly understood him. The first day of Hogwarts was like a reunion with his other half, like they had been separated at birth and had only found each other again. Everything they did felt rehearsed and practiced--the way they thought and spoke and acted. Everything looked choreographed, they were so in-sync with one another, from their matching evil grins, to their blatant refusals of any wrong-doing in the face of authority.
And they had always been the same, where it mattered: they didn't believe in patience, or restrictions, and they thought boredom was a fate worse than death. The idea of getting caught was what they lived for. Sirius had once claimed it was because they were gluttons for punishment, but James protested that it was because only things worth the struggle were things he was interested in.
Those years spent defying rules and studying books were years spent finding themselves, discovering their limitations and their ability to go beyond them, what they could do for others and what they couldn't, and what it meant to trust a friend and to have them trust you, fully, completely, without restriction or measure.
That night, things changed. That test had almost destroyed them, and maybe would yet, because this time, the consequences were real. It was the biggest challenge of character that James had ever faced. In every other situation, he knew what he had to do: treating Moony like everyone else and helping to ease his burden, helping Wormtail with school and allowing him to join in their fun, and keeping Padfoot amused and always at his side.
Tonight had changed all of that. He had forced Peter to go back to the castle because he didn't want him to get hurt, and he couldn't trust him to not complicate matters too much. He had betrayed Remus and almost destroyed his future. He had broken his bond with Sirius the moment he stood between him and Snape. It had been the hardest choice he had ever had to make, and somehow making what he knew to be the right choice was somehow the worst he ever could have done.
"James?" Her voice broke through his thoughts and he looked up at her surprised face. Her books and notes were spread around the surface of the table before the fire.
"Yes, I'm out passed hours, and yes, a million points have been lost from the house, and yes, I realize you probably will never forgive me for being so immature as to do something this stupid, but I am too tired at this point to honestly care about your opinion on the matter, Evans, so could you please keep it to yourself, as I'm pretty sure I'm already aware of what it is." James droned out, his voice monotone. He wanted to sit in front of the fire and think still, but her presence made that impossible, her red hair catching the light of the fire and dancing as if it too were made of flames.
"I was going to ask if you were alright," she said shortly, and he sighed, letting his body fall unto the couch nearest the fire and his head roll back onto the top of the back cushion.
There was a time when they were civil to one another, when they were barely aware of each other's presence. He was a boy and she was a girl, and the opposite sex is not nearly as intriguing at the age of eleven as it is at sixteen. But James was beginning to understand that the spats between them and her blatant disregard for his person in general was not because she was too shy or too proud or too frustrated to show her actual underlying feelings of love towards him, but because she really did believe him to be a 'arrogant, bullying, toerag'.
"I know it's a lot to ask, and you'll probably tell me to sod off, but could you please leave?" He asked, not opening his eyes or changing his position.
"Fine," she said, but not only was that the opposite response of what he expected, her tone was not sharp in a manner that he predicted, and startled, he moved to watch as she packed up her things in her arms and made to leave.
"Why?" he asked. She looked back at him, eyebrow raised. "Why are you being so nice?" he elaborated.
She paused, as if thinking how to word her response. "I don't think I've ever seen you without a nasty grin on your face, and your hand reaching up to muss your hair. You look like you're having a bad day, but for the past five minutes, for as rude as your comments were, it was the most civil tongue you've ever used with me. I wouldn't go as far as to say I wish you had more bad days, but if it means you aren't acting like a total prat, then they mustn't be all that bad. For the first time, you look like a real person to me. Maybe that's why I don't mind treating you like one."
I will never understand girls, he thought, as he watched as she turned and began to climb the stairs to the girl's dormitory.
"Hey, Evans," he called. She paused to look back at him. "Thanks," he said, his eyes meaning it. He didn't have the energy to grin, but that only made her smile in response, before nodding, and leaving.
James turned his eyes back to the flames, now even more confused about even more than he had been before. Why did he have to only be interested in things worth the struggle? he wondered, not for the first time. Somewhere between trying to digest the fact that he had helped Snape, fought with Sirius, and made nice with Evans, all in one day, James passed into sleep.
AN: I love reviews.