It was the first day of April, and Remus shielded his eyes from the bright sun as he rested a moment against the low wall running down the steep slope of the hill. He was without his friends, an occurrence that had become more common recently. Sirius had been out of pocket for days, though Remus was sure he was in the dungeons with the cloak and the map, ready to try again, with a desperation sprung from the sense of future rushing closer with the force and inevitability of a speeding train, to reclaim his brother by blood. Judging from the dark scowl Sirius had worn all March, save for the day of the joint party he'd thrown for Remus and James to celebrate their eighteenth birthdays, Remus didn't expect him to have much luck.
But there had been no talk of mischief this final year on the day that had always seemed to have been made for them. Remus could hardly believe he regretted the lack after his dire imprecations year after year when they ended up in choice detentions gleefully doled out by Filch. Not that Remus would have much to offer if they were planning anything today.
The full was still a week away, but as the school year had waned the effects of his transformation had grown stronger, the period both before and after lengthening and filling him with a constant weary ache that he did his best to conceal. It hadn't been as difficult as usual to hide his state from his friends. Sirius was wrapped up in his crusade, Peter was a wreck himself, constantly revising for NEWTS and having nightmares that he'd gotten Ts in all his classes after showing up for his exams dressed in nothing but his Gryffindor tie. And James was finally surmounting the disdainful fortress walls of Lily Evans, though they hadn't quite tumbled yet.
Despite their respective distractions, they never missed a full. His protests and excuses for them were ignored or met with incredulous snorts. He could only be thankful they were all caught up enough by their concerns to miss his increasing discomfort, especially when Madame Pomfrey was at a loss to explain the cause, and he knew that Sirius and James would worry at the issue in a way that would only add to his anxiety. Pomfrey had ventured the idea that it was due to exam stress, but his body hadn't reacted this way during OWL year, so Remus wasn't so sure.
Deep down, he thought it might have something do with the looming fear of leaving school and having to navigate the world without the protective presence of Dumbledore, Hogwarts, and his friends. His worries about finding work, supporting himself, and not being a burden to his parents or his friends had certainly been weighing heavily on his mind, and his decision to take the fresh air was part of his efforts to forget all those worries for the moment.
It was unseasonably warm for April, and Remus couldn't bring himself to return to Gryffindor Tower. He'd spent too much time recently confined behind his curtains, trying to manage the increasingly painful lead ups to the full moon. His back might punish him later for going on a mid-afternoon stroll around the grounds, but then it punished him for sitting still too long as well. Perhaps the warm sun would soothe the ache in his joints and muscles and head, and allow him a momentary respite.
The potion Pomfrey had given him to take once he was back in the dorm rested in the deep pocket of his robe, protected by an unbreakable charm. He would wait until he couldn't bear the pain any longer before he took the grudgingly bestowed concoction. It wasn't that Madame Pomfrey didn't understand the amount of pain he was experiencing, but the addictive nature of the potion itself that made her reluctant to resort to it. The times he had been dosed with it were few and far between, and he looked back on each one with fondness and a deep and greedy longing.
The thick flask against his hip was a pleasant reminder of his future bliss, so he was able to ignore the incessant throbbing in his skull as he wandered toward the edge of the forest where it almost met the black lake. The narrow strip of land between the two meandered on for a few hundred yards before opening out into a small meadow of waving green grass and brave spring flowers.
Drawing the flask from his pocket he set it down in a small hollow, then spread his cloak on the ground. Gingerly, he lowered himself onto it, hissing as his back spasmed and freezing in place until he could force short deliberate breaths in and out of his nose. Finally, he lay back and stared up the clear sky, letting one hand fall across his eyes to block the glare of the sun.
The rays felt good on his face at least, and Remus wished it was warm enough to strip off entirely and simply bask in it. He settled for rolling up his sleeves and pulling the hem of his shirt out of his trousers. He could hear birds and insects and the sound of the lake lapping against the bank, and that was all. It was timeless and peaceful. Slowly, his jaw began to unclench, though his headache had settled in for the long haul. As long as he didn't move, it remained an almost bearable dull ache.
He wasn't sure how long he'd been there, an hour maybe, when he heard James calling from down the path. He didn't bother answering because James obviously knew he was there, and Remus thought he must have dozed off for a bit because he felt at that stage between sleep and waking where moving or speaking seems an impossibility.
"Moony!" James called again.
Remus could hear him coming closer, thudding through the sweet-smelling grass with exuberant strides and throwing himself onto the ground next to him. Remus opened his eyes to see James grinning over him.
"Prongs." He lifted one eyebrow, making James laugh and reach out to ruffle Remus' hair.
"What're you doing way out here, Moony?"
"I'll give you three guesses." Pointedly, Remus shut his eyes again.
"Hm. I don't see any books, so you're not revising. You're alone, so you're not off having a snog."
"I do spy an intriguing flask. Whatever could this be, my dear Moony? Illegal potion? Have you been holding out on us?"
"If I was, who could blame me? I still shudder to remember what happened the last time you and Sirius got your hands on that botched Euphoria potion."
James' uninhibited laughter made Remus open his eyes again and smile. "Should never have trusted a Hufflepuff to brew something that complicated. It was brilliant up until the side effects kicked in."
"You don't have to tell me." Remus wrinkled up his nose. "You really gave new meaning to the term projectile vomiting.
"At least it was rainbow-colored!"
Remus snorted again, regretting it instantly as the lurking pain spiked sharply through his head then settled into a dull, though no less painful, throbbing. He pictured the lobes of his brain swelling like rising dough, pushing against the inner walls of his skull. How much pressure does it take to split one open from the inside, he wondered.
"Moony?" The concern in James' voice was as soothing as the fingers that gingerly slid through his fringe, pushing the hair away from his face to let the cool breeze hit his skin.
Remus forced his eyes open. "I'm all right."
"Bollocks. Why don't you take this now? Pomfrey wouldn't have given it to you if you weren't in bad shape."
"Was saving it for when I really needed it." It was a bit too much effort to act put out by the mild chiding, so only a tinge of weary grumpiness came through as he looked up at James.
"When would that be?" James scoffed. "When you're on your deathbed? Won't do much good then. Come on."
Ignoring Remus' protests, he shifted an arm beneath Remus and gently helped raise him, muttering an apology when Remus couldn't contain a choked groan. James braced him against his side with a steady hold and he handed him the flask. "Drink. You've gone absolutely white, you know."
"Yes, Mum." Ignoring James' smirk, Remus popped the cork and tipped the flask to his lips. He drank as quickly as he could. The potion wasn't as foul as some of the concoctions that had been forced upon him, but its sickly-sweet taste made his already weak stomach roll with nausea.
"That's a good boy." James took the flask and tossed it away, grinning at Remus' sour look.
"This stuff makes me sleepy, you know." Remus could already feel his limbs going boneless in the circle of James' arms. He tried to pull away, but James would have none of it.
"Never fear, Moony. I'll watch over you whilst you have a bit of a kip." He settled them back against the grass, pulling the now-pliant Remus against him. Remus found himself using James' arm as a pillow, but the pleasant heat from his solid presence seemed only natural as the deliciously relaxing effects of the potion coursed through his blood. He fell asleep almost instantly.
He came back to consciousness slowly, the hum of buzzing insects loud in his ears. He still felt liquid and mellow, hollowed out in a good way that made him feel momentarily cleansed of all ills. His thoughts were vague yet, but not foggy, and he gradually came to the realization that he was curled around James' body, his head on James' shoulder and his arm thrown across him. As his waking consciousness rose higher, Remus became aware of James' fingers, which were slid up under the hem of his shirt, making lazy circles at the small of his back.
"Prongs." He swallowed thickly, wetting his throat as he rolled onto his back. James' fingers trailed over his hip as he turned, ending up resting on Remus' belly where his untucked shirt had rucked up above his navel.
James' hazel eyes shone with warmth and amusement, as if he knew the glide of his fingertips on Remus' skin was making his blood race a little faster. "Welcome back, Moony, or should I say, Sleeping Beauty."
"You shouldn't, no," Remus croaked, swallowing again.
James laughed, his fingers fanning out then drawing back together again rhythmically, a fingertip dipping into Remus' navel on each repetition. It wasn't enough to be ticklish, but Remus felt his cheeks go warm and he hoped the flush was too faint to show.
"Excellent." James' fingers slid higher underneath Remus' shirt, following the thin path between his ribs up to his sternum where they spread out and pressed against his chest. "You look better. Got some color in your cheeks."
His eyes flew to James', and he felt his heart thud hard against the palm of James' hand. He wondered if James was taking the piss, or if he was just making an idle comment. They had all always been physically affectionate with each other, though James was definitely pushing the bounds of that dynamic now, and Remus just wished he knew if his actions were pointed or not. Knowing James, they most likely were. The question was, what were they pointing to?
"We've been neglecting you, Moony."
"You mean you haven't been unnecessarily hovering over me constantly like a mother hen," Remus corrected.
James' teeth flashed. "You know you don't take proper care of yourself unless we prod you into it."
"You'll make a lovely mum someday, Prongs." The rate of his heartbeat had steadied again, but it still thudded heavily against James hand. Remus smirked to distract himself from the embarrassing reaction to James' touch.
When he got no answer, Remus lifted his eyebrows. James was staring at him with rather disconcerting intensity.
"Do you hate it?" James asked suddenly and rather forcefully.
Taken aback, Remus stared across at him.
"When I--we--natter at you about eating and sleeping properly and taking your potions and all that."
"No." Remus shook his head. "Not really. I know I complain, but I...I know you're only trying to help. Don't tell Sirius I said this, but I rather like it. It's nice...only you shouldn't worry so much abou--"
"Shut it, Moony." James was grinning now, and his hand slid back down to Remus' belly, thumb catching on the waistband of Remus' trousers.
Remus focused on not squirming, though he was unable to stop the heated flush that crept across his cheeks. What was James playing at?
"I saw Pomfrey before I came out here. She asked me if you'd gone up to the dorm. Told me you had the potion to take."
"Oh." Remus sighed, feeling a slight surge of guilt. "I just couldn't take another minute up there."
"I figured." James rolled up onto his side, propped on one elbow as he studied Remus' face. "Fresh air did you good."
"Mm." Remus agreed, forgetting for the moment James' hand on his stomach, as he stretched his limbs freely for the first time in several days. When he opened his eyes again, James was watching him intently.
"She said the pain has been a lot worse lately."
Remus shrugged. "I'm--"
"All right. Yeah." James rolled his eyes. "Why didn't you say something?"
"Because there's nothing you can do, and I don't want to always be whinging about myself around you lot! I can deal with it, Prongs. Honestly."
"You never whinge." Suddenly, James' face was close to his. "After all these years, why can't you just accept that we want to help."
"You can't always take care of everybody, James. You've got your own life."
"I don't want to take care of everybody, Moony. I want to take care of you."
James' hazel eyes glowered down at him, the sunlight reflecting off his glasses making Remus blink. The words startled him into stillness, hyper aware of the warmth of James' palm sinking into the skin of his stomach. The insects buzzed around them as they stared at each other dumbly.
"Oh, sod it," James bit out. Then his mouth covered Remus', and he was kissing him with a thoroughness that left Remus breathless. Without even consciously willing it, he responded with slow, dazed movements, his mouth shaping pliantly to James' kisses.
He stared wide-eyed through it all, until James rolled on top of him and deepened the kiss, coaxing his lips apart with teasing flicks of his tongue. His insides twisted with an almost uncomfortable surge of adrenaline, and he was dimly grateful that he was already lying down as the blood rushed through his veins, leaving him light-headed and suffused with a feeling of pleasurable weakness that made his eyes finally slide shut.
How long they kissed, Remus wasn't sure, it felt like a long time. Long enough for his lips to start feeling scraped and raw and swollen. Long enough for James to move his mouth to Remus' throat and lick and suck, making Remus free his trapped arms and clutch at James, marveling at the play of muscle beneath his fingers as James held himself over Remus. Long enough for the evidence of their enjoyment to make itself felt between them. He couldn't feel embarrassed, though, not even when James had claimed his mouth again and had actually moaned when Remus pressed his body up in helpless reaction. All he could hear was his breath and James' and the small sounds they were both making.
Eventually, though, James pulled back to stare at him, and the insect buzz and meadow sounds filtered back into Remus' awareness. James' mouth was as shiny and red as Remus' felt. He had a faint flush across his cheekbones, and the hazel of his irises made a barely there ring around his large, dark pupils. It wasn't a sight to which Remus had ever thought he would be privy.
"But...you knew I was?" He stared up at James, hating how vulnerable his voice sounded.
"Figured you might be. Wasn't like it was obvious. Just..." James shrugged.
His heart pumped out a heavy beat. "So they know, too--Sirius and Peter?"
"I don't know about Peter, but Sirius...yeah."
Remus exhaled slowly, bring his hands up to face and scrubbing over it as he tried to process everything that had just happened. James sat up and straddled his waist before pulling his hands away and pinning them on the ground beside Remus' shoulders. "It's all right, Moony. You could've told us."
James met his gaze steadily.
"Wasn't anything to tell." Remus' laugh was self-deprecating. "It's not like I ever..." He shook his head and gave James a significant look. "Even if...well, it wouldn't be fair to anyone, so it's not like I was planning to act on it."
"We reckoned you'd see it that way." James frowned down at him, shifting a little, his hands pushing Remus' wrists deeper into the soft ground. "Moony--"
Remus cut off his words with an impatient huff. "Is that what this is? You felt sorry for me? Thought you'd give the werewolf a pity snog?" He dropped his eyes to James' chin, unable to look at him anymore, humiliation and disappointment making his stomach churn unpleasantly. "I'd rather be a eunuch than--"
"It's not like that!" James sounded angry. "Moony, look at me!"
Reluctantly, but still defiant, Remus raised his eyes again. James was scowling, his glasses had slipped down his nose a little, and he bent down close enough that Remus could feel his breath against his face.
"That's not what this is." He put force behind each word, pulling Remus' chin back when he would've looked away again.
"So what is it then?" His own perplexed anger kept his voice from wavering, at least.
"It's..." For once, James looked uncertain, his eyes flickering to take in all of Remus' expression. "I just wanted to."
"You wanted to," Remus said flatly. "All of a sudden?"
"Yes. No." James made a sound like a growl. "It's something that's been there for a long time. But I ignored it...tried to. But we've only got a couple of months left here, and I..."
"Want to experiment," Remus finished for him, a look of dawning comprehension spreading over his face. "Before you finally get Lily." The sudden intake of this knowledge was almost too much for Remus, torn between a sinking feeling at that being all this was and a sense of giddiness that James had focused on him. "I'm surprised you didn't go to Sirius. Even though he's not bent like I am, he's always up for anything with you."
"Remus." The fingers around his jaw tightened, and for a moment Remus wondered if he might have angered James enough to hit him, though he'd never laid a finger on him in that way in all their years of Hogwarts. But then James carded his hand through Remus' hair and kissed him again, fiercely this time. "You're not an experiment, all right?" James muttered against his lips. "And I don't want to do this with Sirius."
His words were hard to resist, especially with the warmth of James' body seeping into his skin, but Remus forced himself to speak.
"But you do with Lily."
James froze for a moment, then carefully untangled his fingers from Remus' hair and sat back on his heels. This time it was him who couldn't look at Remus as a torn and guilty expression flickered in his eyes. "I...know this is selfish. I'm being selfish here, Moony, but I can't help it. There's something about you that I want...so much. You've always fascinated me in some way, even before...this. I just couldn't stand the thought of never...of never having it."
"James." Remus waited until James met his gaze, staring up his friend who moved through life blessed and golden, cock-sure and full of himself, but generous to a fault, loyal and beautiful and perfect.
"I'm sorry." James looked eaten up with guilt. "I shouldn't--"
"You can have me," Remus interrupted.
James stared. "What?"
"If you really want me, you can have me." The boldness of his words made Remus' pulse flutter madly. "For however long it is." It didn't matter that he would get hurt in the end, that it hurt even now understanding that James was coming to him with a termination date practically pre-set. What mattered is that he would get something he had barely ever let himself dream of having, that, for however long, it would be his. James would be his. "April. May." Remus shrugged. "Next week. Until you choose Lily."
"But I thought gebo meant gift." Peter hunched over his parchment, inking the rune carefully as Remus watched over his shoulder.
"It does, but when it's paired with naudiz like this it takes on a slightly different meaning. One that implies an obligation."
Peter still looked confused, so Remus cast about for a clarification. "Remember the broad context of the theme we're studying. Magical bonds."
"Well...naudiz is need. Need-gift. A gift that you're obliged to give..."
Remus nodded encouragingly. "You're on the right track."
"I suppose...it means a debt. A wizarding debt of some sort. Like a Life Debt?"
"Spot on, Peter."
Peter grinned up at him briefly before scratching out the next symbol.
"Good. So now, how would you complete the sigil if you wanted to lock in the binding force?"
His brow furrowed, Peter bent to the task, one fingertip tracing over his runic chart.
Remus sat back and sighed inaudibly. It was a over a week past the full moon, and he was at the best he ever got these days, though that was, admittedly, far below standard. He twisted his neck from side to side to work out the tension, catching a glimpse of James and Sirius talking in low tones together on James' bed.
Instead of looking at them directly, he watched them for a moment out of the corner of his eye. Ever since what had transpired between him and James that day at the lake, inwardly, Remus had been in a fairly constant state of fluttery anticipation and residual shock.
It hadn't been just a solitary aberration, and in the days following James hadn't pretended that what occurred had never happened. In fact, Remus had found himself with James' almost unrelenting attention whenever the two had any opportunity for privacy. Today that privacy was carved out of his History of Magic class--he was the only one of the four of them who had bothered to take it at NEWT level--and Remus hadn't been able to bring himself to care, not when James had pulled him into a hidden alcove and him pressed up against the wall for almost the entire hour, leaving him a disheveled mess at the end of it--shirt half undone, hair wild, and trail of red marks low enough on this throat that they would be reasonably hidden once he'd done up his tie properly again.
"You have no idea what it does to me, seeing you like this." James had said, brushing his thumb across Remus' swollen bottom lip. He smirked a little. "The good boy, all undone."
Remus had returned it, quirking an eyebrow. "Should've known you were in it to corrupt me."
James' grin had turned even more wicked. "You think I'm trying to corrupt you?"
"I hope so."
James had laughed and kissed him hard just as students started to spill out into the halls. His nimble fingers had made quick work of the buttons on Remus' shirt. He had done him up, fixed his tie, and even ran his fingers through Remus' hair, this time to tame it back to a semblance of respectability, all the while watching Remus with a strange expression on his face. Remus had stared back silently, his heart thudding as hard in his chest as it had when James was kissing him.
Peter's words pulled him out of his reverie abruptly.
"What? Oh, sorry, Peter."
His neck heated up a little, and he leaned forward to avoid any view of James' bed.
"Is this right?"
Forcing himself to focus on the work Peter had done, Remus' eyes flickered over the parchment. "This is good. Excellent basic sigil. Just remember that for the final project you have to create a unique signature, charge it with your own will and intent."
"Thanks, Moony." Peter sat back with a sigh of relief, rolling up the parchment with satisfaction. "Do you think you could help me with Defense now?" His hopeful eyes peered up at Remus.
"I'll help you." Remus started as Sirius appeared beside them, and he looked up at him in surprise. Sirius hated helping Peter revise, and Peter generally didn't enjoy the experience either because Sirius had no patience for it, though he was as strong in Defense as Remus. "Come on, Wormatil. Let's make a kitchen run first, then we can use the old classroom on the fourth floor to run through some spells."
Sirius met his eyes for a moment, his expression unreadable until his mouth quirked into a grin as if to say, what?. Then he clapped Peter on the shoulder and pulled him to his feet as Peter stuttered his agreement. In another few moments they were out the door.
When James' hands fell on his own shoulders, Remus couldn't help but sigh in pleasure as his thumbs dug deep into the muscle and circled slowly. "You should really learn to say no now and again."
Remus snorted. "You know I've never been able to say no to you lot, and don't pretend you haven't always taken complete advantage of that."
James' laugh tickled his ear, and a little shiver traveled down Remus' spine. Thoughts of Peter and his homework faded as James' teeth tugged at his earlobe. His hands had moved to Remus' chest, rubbing over the thin fabric of his school shirt to pluck at his buttons. One by one they separated, and James spread the shirt wide to smooth his palms over the exposed skin. James had propped himself against the headboard, settling Remus between his legs.
Now that he was pulled back against James' chest, Remus' neck was available to be sucked and bitten while James went back to his exploration of Remus' chest. His fingertips brushed over Remus' nipples, then traced the light trail of hair from his navel down to where it disappeared beneath his waistband.
Remus was quite obviously hard, and for the first time James slid his hand lower to cup the bulge filling out the front of his trousers. Remus sucked in a harsh breath.
"Can I take complete advantage now?" James was breathing in his ear again, and Remus thought he felt his mouth curve into what he knew must be a teasing smile.
Remus held himself rigidly in the circle of James' arms, and answered solemnly. "No, James."
James froze. "Remus, I..."
Pressing his lips together firmly, Remus struggled to maintain his control, but then he had to duck his head and a bubble of laughter escaped him.
"You..." Arms were suddenly squeezing him tightly, and Remus gasped for breath, still laughing. "Cheeky werewolf."
James pulled Remus' collar away to bite down hard on his exposed shoulder. "I oughtn't do this now, just for that." But his hands were already undoing the trousers and freeing Remus from his pants. "Christ, Moony," he breathed as he hefted Remus' cock in his hand, feeling him tense and shudder at his touch.
He couldn't tear his eyes away from the sight of James' large, strong hand stroking him to perfection. The heavy beat of James' heart was against his back and the proof of James' own need low against his hips. When James cupped his balls with his other hand, tugging and squeezing gently, Remus couldn't contain his moans any longer. His head lolled back on James' shoulder, and James mouthed wet kisses over his temple and cheek, hand flying faster over Remus' erection, coaxing Remus into an uninhibited display.
"You're so fucking brilliant," James groaned, rocking his hips up against Remus with frantic little thrusts. His thumb spread the fluid leaking from Remus' slit over the head, grazing every sensitive spot as his hand flew up and down.
Remus fisted his hands in the coverlet, his heels digging into the mattress and pressing him back hard against James as he came with a strangled cry. His come landed on his stomach, the last of it seeping out slowly to spill over James' knuckles, who was still grinding his hips against Remus and panting loudly in his ear.
James let go to wrap his arms around Remus' chest and hold him there tightly as he thrust upward with quickening effort. The embrace tightened suddenly, cutting off his air while James shuddered out his release before collapsing back against the headboard in a limp sprawl.
"Fuck, Remus. You made me come in my pants."
They both started laughing, giggling really, from the endorphins still making their nerves sing. Remus twisted around, trousers still halfway down his arse, to share a sloppy, sated kiss with James.
Remus hadn't really thought his friends could be any more solicitous of his 'furry little problem' or of his well-being in general, but James had proven him wrong. As the full moon got closer, James' attentions increased in subtle but significant ways. He didn't hover or nag or make Remus feel like an inconvenient burden, but he seemed somehow more there, a steady presence that filled Remus with a sense of security and contentment that he hadn't felt since he was a small child.
James was skillful at the art of disguising his all his little ministrations with lecherous overtones, playing it up as if James were only looking to benefit himself with his actions. Instead of Remus feeling pathetic or weak, James managed to make him feel sexy and well-cared for.
"Eat your peas, Moony." James' command came with a look of wide-eyed innocence. "You never know what you'll need your strength for later." His shoe nudged Remus under the table.
Remus shoved it away as subtly as he could. "I hate peas. And I'm not hungry." Both claims were true. And this close to the full his appetite was practically non-existent.
"I'll have them if you don't want them. Merlin knows I'll need all my strength scrubbing chamber pots without magic all evening." Peter poked disgruntledly at his own plate.
"You won't. Moony is going to eat them himself. And it's your fault for having gotten caught by Filch with those dungbombs."
"Talk of chamber pots and dungbombs has put me off food." Remus shoved his plate away, glad of the excuse.
"Drink your pumpkin juice, then," James coaxed. "There's a good lad."
Remus rolled his eyes, but lifted his goblet and took a healthy swallow. "Happy?"
A snort from Sirius drew both their gazes. He wasn't looking at either of them, but wore an expression of half disgust and half amusement.
"Is there a problem, Padfoot?" James inquired with a deceptively mild smile.
"Not at all, Prongs." Sirius finally looked at him, his own smile just as benign. He lifted an eyebrow as their stare down held on for several seconds.
Peter cleared his throat. "Er... I'm off, then. Don't want to be late." He sighed woefully as the dinner plates disappeared to be replaced with the night's pudding. Remus felt a bit sorry for him, knowing treacle tart was his favorite.
"We'll save you some, Peter."
James and Sirius finally broke their silent contest to bid Peter goodbye, tossing off a few friendly insults as he left. Everyone laughed as he threw two fingers over his shoulder at them and stalked out of the Great Hall.
They tucked into their dessert. James shoveling it in as if there weren't entire platterfuls still untouched on the table, and Sirius eating more precisely and elegantly, his upbringing always showing more through his table manners than anywhere else. Remus only shifted his serving around on his plate, taking one or two bites, and trying to make it appear as if he had eaten more.
It didn't fool them, of course. James frowned a bit but didn't say anything, for which Remus was grateful. His head was starting to ache a bit, and he wanted nothing more than to go back to the dorm and lie down in the dim seclusion without the constant susurration of the voices in the Great Hall.
He forced himself to remain and smile and make conversation. He couldn't let this affect him so much. It was too frustrating that his bloody curse was taking even more of what he considered his normal life away from him.
When he saw Sirius studying him with a speculative glint in his eye, he dared a question. "How are things with Regulus?"
James looked up, glancing between Remus and Sirius. He seemed surprised that Remus had asked, but just as curious. It didn't bode well that even James had been kept in the dark.
His expression flickering, Sirius looked down at his plate and shrugged. "I don't think I'll ever understand him." He said it lightly, but Remus noticed his knuckles turning white around his fork. "Bloody git. He doesn't realize what he's getting into."
Sirius looked across the table at Remus and tried on a grin. Heart squeezing in sympathy, Remus smiled back. "Don't give up, Padfoot. I bet he's been thinking about everything you've said."
For a moment, a look of wistfulness twisted his features then Sirius straightened, replacing it with a look of haughty indifference. "Right. Well, it's his look out now, yeah?"
"Too right!" Sirius lurched forward as James gave him a hearty clap on the shoulder. "Even so...if you were to want to use the cloak tonight to take a stroll in the dungeons...well, it's all yours, mate."
Sirius sat up and glared, rubbing at his shoulder, but Remus could see that he was grateful underneath it all, despite the grumbles that allowed him to save face. He did, in fact, excuse himself a few minutes later. In tacit agreement, James and Remus refrained from asking where he was off to.
Remus shot James a warm look after Sirius left, and they stood to make their way back to the dorm.
Remus laughed. "Nothing."
"So you've just gone round the bend, then? Grinning like a nutter over nothing?"
The passed through the doors and made their way up the stairwell, Remus silent for a moment. "You'll just say I'm wet if I tell you."
"I already think you are. Remus--gigantic girl's blouse--Lupin."
"Oi!" Remus shoved James playfully, laughing as James retaliated. They scuffled for a moment, until a sharp twinge in his back caused Remus to pull up sharply, clutching at the nearby banister and gritting his teeth against the pain.
James was there in an instant, contrite and concerned, a hand grasping his elbow and hovering ever so lightly at the small of his back. "Moony, I'm sorry."
"Not your fault." Remus spoke tightly, but already his back was beginning to loosen. He took a deep breath and then another, releasing the air slowly. "'M fine."
"Let's get back to the room, eh?" James released him slowly. His voice was light, but Remus could tell that James was put out with himself. Remus forced his limbs into a show of looseness, trying to wipe all traces of strain from his mouth and eyes. Though the fact that he was even momentarily incapacitated by such a minor thing made his eyes sting with the threat of angry tears.
"Come on, then." He smirked at James, striding off at a brisk pace and forcing his own frustration at his body's betrayal into submission.
Back in the room, James immediately pushed him onto his bed and made short work of divesting Remus of his shirt and trousers. If Remus was expecting anything amorous to come of it, he was mistaken. James merely ordered him to roll over, then gingerly straddled his hips.
Remus heard him mutter a spell and soon a delicious smell of crushed mint was filling the room. "What is that?"
"Got it from Pomfrey."
Remus moaned in sheer bliss as James began to spread a thick oil over his back, his strong fingers fanning out in broad strokes.
"You sound like a tart," James teased, digging in a little harder to make Remus gasp and wriggle.
"Shut it," Remus muttered half-heartedly. Truth be told, he'd be more than willing to trade sexual favors for one of James' back rubs. He almost, almost, thought he might miss them more than he would the kissing and touching they'd done when all this was over. But that was a thought he really didn't want to have now, so he forced himself to relax as James worked out the knots in his back, falling deeper into a languid sense of pleasure.
"You never told me why you were smiling," James eventually prompted.
"Oh." Remus shrugged lazily. "Just you, always looking out for your friends. Always knowing just what to do and say."
Instead of taking the piss, telling him he was wet after all, like Remus half expected, James was silent as he caressed the back of Remus' neck with the slick fingers. Remus sighed, pressing his face into the pillow.
Finally, James hand stilled. "Why don't you let me look out for you, then?"
Surprised, Remus turned his face outward. "What do you mean?"
"I mean you won't tell me why this has gotten so hard for you." James sounded agitated, his voice rising a little louder than a normal conversational tone. "The moons are killing you these days. You try and hide it, but all of us can see it, even Peter. You have barely a week where you're up to snuff. And Pomfrey doesn't give that pain potion out lightly. It's a restricted substance. And you won't even talk to me about why it's happening."
"What, Remus?" James snapped. "Going to say you're fine again?"
"But what? Why do you think we became animagi? Because we wanted to help you, and we still do. I still do, and it would be nice if I didn't have to fight you every step of the way."
"James, I'm sorry. I just...I don't know."
"Bollocks," James said flatly. "The only other time you were like this was last year before you and Sirius made up, so you tell me now. What has you so bothered your body is twisting you up like this? Sirius is worried too, you know. He thinks it might have something to do with him, with what happened."
"No! God, James, you have to tell him--"
"Then explain to me, Moony." James was practically begging, something he never did, and Remus' stomach did a slow flip. Guilt making him want to cringe away from James' touch. He didn't deserve it.
"You have a saving people thing, James," Remus muttered in a desperate last ditch to evade his probing.
"Remus." The hardness in his voice made Remus wince.
"I..." His voice wavered on the word, and Remus took in a deep breath and released it to steady himself. "I think I'm just...afraid."
James voice was much softer this time. "Afraid of what?"
"Leaving school." Remus closed his eyes. "Leaving everything here. Not being able to find a job no matter how many NEWTS I get. Being hated. Being a burden. Being...alone." Shame crawled through his belly, and Remus wished he could curl up and hide under his covers the way he had done when he was a child.
He could hear James breathing, a little unevenly, his fingers tightening almost imperceptibly around his neck. When James moved off his hips, Remus knew that this was the end. He'd exposed all of his weakness and fear and James was rightly disgusted. He finally realized just how much of a liability, a drain, Remus really was, which had to be much much worse in James' eyes than being a constant source of danger. At least that provided a temporary thrill.
But James didn't leave. He stretched out next to Remus, pushing him onto his side until they were tangled up facing each other. "Since Sirius' flat has only one bedroom, I figured we could get our own in London. In a better neighborhood, of course, I don't have the same penchant for disreputable company that Padfoot does."
"Yes you do," Remus said unthinkingly, then, "James, you can't--"
"You'll have to handle the bathroom cleaning charms, of course." James' voice overrode his. "Remember the party last year when we won the Quidditch Cup and Wormtail sicked up so much he clogged the toilet? I tried to do the enhanced Scourgify and exploded the loo."
It was late when Remus returned to Gryffindor Tower, past curfew, but Remus hadn't been a prefect and a marauder for seven years for nothing. He knew the secret places to go for quiet when he needed to study, and the sneakiest ways to get from point A to point B even without the map they'd lost to Filch just last month. Lately, his revising had suffered enough that he'd sworn to buckle down for at least an evening, and he had sent James off with Sirius, who had finally begun to emerge from his blue funk and announce that he was devoting the last of his time at Hogwarts to nothing but mischief and/or pleasure in whatever combinations they presented themselves.
Although he was more than ready for a nice long kip in his comfortable bed, he reveled in the ease with which he navigated the halls, his body having finally settled down to more usual rhythms after the last full moon. He knew full well that it was the promise of James' words that had comforted him, even though he felt without a doubt that it wasn't right, that James was compromising his own happiness and long-held dreams for Remus. The guilt was getting harder and harder to live with, and Remus had been considering what to do about it for days.
He tried to push the thoughts aside for the moment, climbing through the portrait hole and glancing around the common room to see if anyone was still awake. Peter was curled up on one end of the sofa in front of the fireplace, fingers caught between the leaves of his Potion book. He almost woke him, but decided that he looked comfortable enough as he was, so Remus stole quietly past him and up the long flight of stairs to their dorm. As he neared the top landing, Sirius' voice floated down the stairwell.
"...can't keep this up, Prongs!"
James must have been further away from the door because Remus couldn't make out his reply. His sense of honor lost out to curiosity, and he crept silently up the last few steps, stopping on the landing to listen.
"It's going to end badly. You know it is!"
Again, James' reply was muffled, but a loud thud on the door made Remus take a startled step back. He quickly moved to an alcove in the far corner of the landing and pressed against the wall.
"I won't keep it down! No one can hear us all the way up here. You're just trying to avoid the subject."
Sirius must have hit the door. It wouldn't be the first time he'd taken his frustration out on inanimate objects.
"Do you really know what you're doing? Really?"
Remus cautiously took a step closer, wanting to hear James' side of the conversation.
"...better for it to happen now...going to tear him up when...never been happier..."
Sirius must have begun pacing because his voice was fading in and out. Remus took another step forward.
"...know she wants you...even spoken to me about it...don't give me that..."
Completely throwing his scruples to the wind, Remus pressed his ear to the door.
"You say it's only prefect rounds, but Prongs." Sirius' voice indicated what he thought of that claim.
"Think what you like!"
Remus' heart stuttered as he finally heard James speak.
"We were just talking!"
"Not what it looked like to me."
The blood drained from his face, and Remus went cold, his insides burning with an acidic surge.
"What did it look like, then?" It sounded as if James was speaking through gritted teeth. He sounded furious, and Remus hoped Sirius would tread carefully. It was a futile wish, of course.
"It looked like the two of you were very cozy. It looked like she was ready to have it off with you right there in the corridor, and you didn't look too unwilling!"
"I wouldn't do that to Moony! Fuck you, if you think I would!"
Sirius seemed to realize he'd gone too far because his voice changed, became placating. "Prongs..."
"No! Sod off, Black. Keep your fucking opinions to yourself because I don't want to hear them anymore!"
A door slammed and Remus heard the door resound in a loud thud again. He wasted no time making his way back down to the common room. In the end, he woke up Peter and they stayed up half the night cramming for a Potions quiz the next day.
After that night, Remus began paying closer to attention to Lily. He was ashamed to admit it, but he had been making an effort to avoid her, though he considered her a good friend, since he and James had begun whatever it was between them. Now that he was looking he couldn't help but see a difference in her.
It wouldn't be obvious to most people, on the surface she was mostly the same, but he could see that her spirits were low. From time to time, he'd catch her looking at James with something like confusion in her eyes. It was only when she saw Remus watching and offered him a small, somewhat hopeful smile, that he finally got up the nerve to go speak to her.
She'd skirted around the subject of James as they caught up, making small talk about exams, innocuous gossip, and even about the ominous headlines The Prophet had deigned to report lately. Eventually, though, she had slipped in a comment that obliquely referenced James' decreased attentions to her, though phrased as if she felt it a blessing. Remus knew better. He had made light of it, offering the explanation that the four of them were merely making the most of their last schooldays together.
She had tossed her hair over her shoulder and attempted a carefree laugh, saying, in that case, she was surprised they hadn't blown up the castle yet, or at least a greenhouse or two. Remus had laughed along and told her not to rest easy yet. The double meaning didn't escape her, and she smiled more genuinely, squeezing Remus' hand before taking her leave.
That night Remus waited until he knew Sirius and Peter would be away, and he went to James' bed to wait for him. The room was dark, lit only by the lamp on his bedside table, when James finally came in.
"Moony? Are you here?" He pushed the half-closed curtains of his bed back and gasped when he saw Remus laid out and waiting for him completely naked on the crisp white sheets. Slowly, his mouth curved into a smile, and he began tugging at the knot of his tie, pulling it loose and kicking off his shoes before climbing on the bed. "Eager, are we?"
James had always been the one to initiate things before, but Remus could tell that James wasn't put off by his presumption at all. His eyes were already going heavy-lidded, which Remus now knew was a sign that James was incredibly turned on, and if that wasn't enough proof, the front of his trousers grew tight as he watched Remus shift beneath him.
The loose end of his tie dangled above Remus' chest, and he reached up to tug James closer, his other hand rubbing up against between James' legs. James gave a startled moan at the contact, and Remus lifted his to whisper in his ear. "I want you to fuck me, James."
His eyes flew wide, and he stared down at Remus mouth agape. But Remus could almost taste the lust that was barely held in check by whatever compunction that was causing him to hesitate. He tugged sharply at the tie, bringing their mouths together so forcefully their teeth clicked. James groaned, lips mashed against his. "Are you sure, Remus?"
"Fuck me, James," Remus insisted. "Or I'll go find someone else to do it." They both knew that was a lie, but it made James' eyes darken, and he pinned Remus to the bed with a possessive growl. The first time, he took Remus on his elbows and knees, both of them whimpering from the impossible tightness of Remus' arse. The pain was electrifying, though, and it soon faded into a burning pleasure that had Remus begging and James pounding into him for all he was worth.
They collapsed together, sticky and sore, but Remus didn't let them fall asleep. "Again," he whispered against James' sweaty skin when they had recovered enough to begin all over. James had charmed the curtains shut and cast spells to keep noise both out and in, and they had gone all through the night, until they were both raw and utterly spent. Even through the curtains, they could tell that the room had begun to brighten just a little, and they finally fell into a deep and exhausted sleep.
Remus woke first. It was hot, the sheets were in a tangled mess at the foot of the bed, and the stifling air of the space smelled of sex and sweat. He went to stretch and gasped softly as all the aches and pains of his abused body began to make themselves known. It was a discomfort he relished, though, and he deliberately shifted again to feel the sharp twinge in his arse, bringing back the night before.
James made a sound, scooting up behind him and molding around his body. "Morning, Moony," he said thickly.
Remus merely hummed in response, letting James' warmth seep into his skin despite how hot it already was. Eventually, James began to stir. "You as sore as I am?" His lips pressed gently against Remus' shoulder.
"Let's just say I'll be eating all my meals standing up this weekend at the very least, or preferably lying down on my stomach like the ancient Romans."
James laughed. "What got into you last night? Not that I'm complaining, mind you."
When Remus didn't say anything, James shifted back and pulled Remus toward him. "Moony?"
"I just wanted to know what it was like, to be with you that way." He bit his lip, not meeting James' eyes for a moment, then he raised them again. "I just couldn't stand the thought of never having it."
He knew James recognized his own words from what seemed like so long ago, but was, in reality, less than two months. He could see a flicker of hurt and uncertainty in James' eyes, maybe even a little fear. It made his stomach clench.
"What are you saying?" James asked hesitantly.
"You know what I'm saying, James."
"No." A hint of belligerence colored his voice. "No, I really don't, Remus."
"It was only supposed to be a bit fun. Until..." Remus forced himself to look serene, to sound calm and matter of fact and not as if his heart was tearing itself in two.
"Well, that's all changed, hasn't it?" James was scowling at him, but without his glasses he looked young and vulnerable and it made Remus feel even worse.
"You know bloody well it has!" James sat up, glaring down at him with an intensity that Remus couldn't look away from.
"It's you. I chose you, and--"
"She's good for you. She's what you've always wanted." She's what you deserve, Remus wanted to say, but he knew without a doubt that James would lose it completely if he did, if Remus even hinted that he wasn't deserving.
"You're what I want," James said with stubborn insistence.
"You love her."
"Don't, James." Remus had shot up, pressing his fingers against James' mouth. He let his voice go colder. "This was never meant to be anything but temporary. I knew that, and I thought you did, too."
James just stared at him in shock, eyes wide with hurt and disbelief. He shook his head, running his hand through his already wild hair. "I know what you're trying to do, and it won't work. I won't let you do this."
"It's already done. I've moved on, and so should you." Without even bothering to check if Sirius and Peter were still asleep in their beds, Remus jerked open the curtains and walked away.
James didn't give up that easily, of course. The following week, Remus spent either reiterating his position or avoiding James outright, but it wasn't until he enlisted Sirius' help that the matter was settled as much as it ever would be.
When James walked in on Sirius fucking Remus over his own school trunk, he finally conceded. Within two days, he and Lily were dating, Sirius invited Remus to share his flat, and to all intents and purposes the marauders fell back into their old dynamic with barely a perceptible difference.
When they met in the shack for their last full moon at Hogwarts, they shared a drink and a vow to stay true to each other until the end. He held James' intense gaze for a moment, steeling himself against the emotion he saw reflected there, throat tight as James finally turned away and shimmered into a beautiful stag.
And when Sirius' hand stroked down his back in an intimate gesture, his breath tickling Remus' ear as he whispered roughly, "I'll look out for you, Moony," Remus turned to him and smiled.