Peter is thirteen--fourteen--then fifteen and never been kissed. He doesn't think about it all the time. When James and Lily squirm closer and closer to each other on the couch in front of the fire, when they're supposed to be studying, Peter never even notices until Sirius starts snickering and clapping his hands over the eyes of passing first years. "Licentious behaviour," he says, deepening his voice to an authoritative bellow. "Absolutely shameful." Lily used to blush but now she just raises two fingers and they all end up laughing.
Sometimes when it's the four of them, just the boys, they'll sit outside--if the sun lets it--or station themselves in a busy hallway, and Sirius provides detailed evaluations of every girl that walks by. He murmurs them a half-second too late for the girl to hear which means that by the time Peter hears "oh, out to here" or "see, there's an arse you can grab a good hold of" she's gone. He can't help looking at their faces. The other parts, the parts that make Sirius whistle and swear, and James laugh and cover his eyes, and Remus grin and murmur "yeah she's all right"--Peter knows he's missing something.
"What do you think," Remus asks him, rolling his head back from where it nestles on Sirius's lap. "You're all quiet."
"Somebody's stolen his heart," James half-sings. Peter scowls.
"I don't think anything. I mean." He dips his face into his hands and smiles at the screeches of laughter. He likes it best like this, everybody laughing. "My heart's exactly where it's always been. Also."
Sirius pokes at his chest, hard enough to hurt a little. Peter slaps at his hand. "What? I'm just making sure."
"That hurts, you jerk."
"Prick," Peter says smartly. He's secretly proud of himself for learning to swear. Sirius and James taught Peter and Remus and Lily a careful list of vocabulary words, each one accompanied by an example sentence. They were twelve and Peter will never forget Lily's sweet girlish voice reciting, "First he fucked her cunt and then he fucked her arse." She'd taken to the lessons with a cheerful vengeance; she and Sirius still have occasional contests for who can cram the most filth into a sensible sentence. The win record stands about even.
Remus reaches a long skinny arm up and pinches Sirius's nose. "Shut up," he says sweetly. "Peter, come on then, show us a pretty girl."
"Oh, show us, show us," James croons breathlessly.
"I don't know. Um." Every five seconds a girl walks by, he just has to choose one. The first-year is out, that's just upsetting. Lenora Davis, she's a sixth year, she looks fine as far as Peter can tell, but by the time he decides she's a suitable candidate he's waited too long. "There," he says, and points. Andrea Longhall, he remembers staring at her hair when she sat in front of him in Transfiguration third year. It's black like wet dirt, sheer black without any blue, and puffy like candy floss. In third year she let it grow long enough to get caught between her back and the back of her chair, and she constantly reached back to tug it free. She's cut it since, though, and now it floats around her head like a storm cloud.
"Andrea?" Sirius says with disbelief. His voice is too loud. Andrea glances over at them as she walks by, crossing her arms tighter around herself and glaring. Peter's stomach twists like a wet rag being squeezed dry. "Why *her?*" Sirius says, quieter, once she's out of sight.
"She--her--" Peter understands that he shouldn't talk about her hair. You couldn't take that in your hand and squeeze it. You couldn't grab a good hold on it.
"Well, did you see her legs," Remus offers, sounding almost philosophical. "I mean--" He stretches his hand up above his head. "Up to here."
Sirius shrugs. "If you go for that, I suppose." Laughing, he elbows James. "Looks like Peter's a leg man, hmmm?"
"So it appears." James grins broadly at Peter and he smiles back, sending a silent but heartfelt wave of gratitude towards Remus. Remus always gets him out of the holes Sirius digs him into. Peter knows they're not malicious, not most of the time anyway, and everybody else understands how to play, but he just doesn't. Nobody ever taught him and he's fifteen now, far too old to be asking for lessons on how to look at girls and be inspired to acts of obscene poetry.
It's not just the girls. Peter understands this, but he doesn't want to. Better to focus on what he can possibly fix. There's a heavy dark hole in the center of himself where all the missing clues sit and wait and weigh him down. If he could divert a river through that place, he might end up wet and cold and lucid. He can't and nobody else can, either. Better to think about the girls.
Peter and Remus are working on a way to make chocolates pop up little labels when a wand is waved over them. It's a very practical idea and Peter's surprised nobody's tried it before. He sort of thought of it, because he was the one who spat out the seawater-cream chocolate and said "they ought to write labels on these," wiping his tongue with the back of his hand. But really Remus thought of it because Peter would never have thought beyond scraping the smelly salt taste off his tongue, would never have thought to wrinkle his mouth thoughtfully around his lavender cordial and say, they should, we should.
A much, much easier project would have been to cook up from scratch a box of chocolates that identified themselves, but the whole point was to develop a spell that could label any chocolate somebody gave you, warn you off the dangerous ones. They've barely begun to research before Peter realizes this is much too difficult for him. Remus is smart, sort of brilliant about some things, but Peter watches him writing careful notes about divining the intrinsic properties of an object and chemical formulas for every flavor they can think up, and he thinks Remus doesn't know what he's doing either.
Still they keep going, pursuing this pointless goal with determination that seems misplaced. Remus forgets his homework one night when they stay up experimenting. He doesn't forget to do it, he just forgets that he has anything else to do. All night Peter waits for him to sigh and say, We'd better leave a little time for that DADA scroll, I haven't even started mine. He waits until they're shivering with exhaustion and give up and fall into bed, he waits until Remus draws his curtains shut without a word about anything except a few mumbled ideas of where the spell went wrong.
The spell will never go right and Peter is glad for it.
"Peter," Remus says carefully. A whole box of chocolates is strewn across the floor between them, and all but a handful have thumb-marks in the bottom. The spell will give results, now, but they haven't been correct once yet. Peter picks up an intact candy, points his wand at it. Mint chocolate cream, the label says in glowing blue letters. He wonders if there might be a pattern, like maybe the spell will only give out 'cream' answers if there's some sort of fruit involved. If they could figure out the crossed wires they could make it work. He's forgotten that he doesn't want it to work. Remus says his name again and it sounds strange.
"Would you--do something for me?"
Peter glances up because Remus's voice is stretched and uncertain and not like him at all. He's sitting like he always sits, with his legs tucked up underneath him and his back curled a little. His arms cross over each other, rest on his knees. He looks like a package quivering its wrappings. "Course," Peter says, "what is it?"
"I," and he stops, meets Peter's eyes for a second and looks away again. Then he leans forward, crushing a chocolate under his palm, and touches his mouth to Peter's. Kisses him. The word doesn't arrive at first because it's not native to Peter's lexicon. Kissing happens to other people. James and Lily kiss, short lip-pressing events when they know they're being watched and lengthy wet expeditions when they don't. Sirius kisses, though Peter's never seen him do it, but he talks about girl's tongues like lizards and how to breathe through your nose without getting distracted. Peter doesn't kiss. Remus is kissing him. He can't make it work.
Remus turns his head, so that his cheek brushes Peter's lips, and hangs there a moment. Then he sits back on his heels. "Sorry," he says, wiping the chocolate off on the hem of his shirt.
"I don't mind," Peter says. He doesn't mean to say it and hates the words the second they trip out of his mouth.
Remus shakes his head. "I meant to ask first."
"Well," Peter says, "you almost did." If Remus smiles, if he lets Peter off the hook, they can go back to coaxing forth the secrets of candies, back to being inept and cheerful. Peter is good at that. He doesn't know where to put the dry walnut warmth of Remus's face against his mouth.
Remus smiles--so Peter wins--but keeps talking--so he loses. "I just wanted to try," he says, "and I know you like boys so I thought maybe you'd let me--but I should have asked."
Blood manages to rush to his head and drain to his feet at the same time. Peter moves his mouth like a goldfish, and feels like one too--like a fish flopping in a net, gasping for water and finding only air. Wide broad scaled beast that would be smooth slick elegant cutting a ripple through the deep blue lake but here, with the hook in its mouth, is only ungainly and misdesigned.
"I'm sorry," Remus says again, "I'm sure you didn't want anybody to know and I haven't told anybody, I promise." Peter shakes his head and knows it isn't meaning what he wants it to mean. He isn't big enough to hold a secret inside his skin, not even a nice one. He always ends up telling people their Christmas presents. And it's not a nice secret, what Remus is saying. It's the sort of thing Peter thinks he's supposed to hit somebody for saying. He can't hit Remus, though, and he doesn't much want to.
"Why'd you do that?" he asks.
"I think I do too. And I wanted to see if I was, um." He looks down between his knees and when he looks back up the edges of his face are tinted: as close as Remus ever comes to blushing. "If I was good at it."
"Oh," Peter says. "Um. Are you?"
"I was going to ask you, actually." When he laughs it's an easy sound. A sudden whiff of mint reaches Peter's nose. He's still holding the chocolate, and most of the actual chocolate coating has rubbed off in his fingers. Frowning, Peter pops the candy into his mouth: unmistakeable mint.
"It was right," he says, then repeats himself, louder. "The spell. It said mint chocolate cream and it was right. It worked." He doesn't mean it as a distraction but when Remus's eyes widen and he says,
"What? No--let me see,"
Peter doesn't protest. They work all night conjuring little blue labels and when Remus crouches close by his side or leans over his shoulder, Peter thinks about seawater and how it rushes in.
The spell never works again. Remus frowns and sighs and uses the word "fluke." Peter would suspect himself of imagining things--though Remus is too kind to ever doubt his word--but he remembers the mint, smooth and formal the way mint tastes when it's blended with chocolate, and how the taste spread itself across the roof of his mouth. Peter has no imagination to speak of and he couldn't have made up a memory so vivid.
For a week they spend their pocket money on fancy gift boxes("Why does nobody sell chocolates in bulk?" Remus complains, and Peter can only shrug because it sounds like a good idea but nobody thinks of the good ideas), but no, nothing happens, and when one night, with a philosophical shrug, Remus says, "I guess that one didn't work, then," Peter nods and scoops up a handful of candy. He makes a quick wish for them all to taste good and eats them all at once.
Later, much much later, later enough that Peter can't taste the salt in his mouth anymore, he and James stumble on Remus and Sirius, in Sirius's bed. They have the curtains drawn and James whips the heavy red cloth back, coiling to spring on the hapless inhabitant. He bounces backwards instead, knocking Peter to the floor before he can see anything.
"Fuck," Sirius mutters, from inside the drapes.
Remus's voice is quieter. "It's okay," he says. Peter hears him and understands. He wouldn't have fallen down, he thinks. He'd do better than James at that.
"Are you, um. Dressed?" James asks. He sounds almost scared of the possibility otherwise. Peter has to laugh, even though it makes James look at him strangely.
"Go away," Sirius yells. A second later Remus pokes his head out, clutching the curtains closed at his chin.
"Get out for a bit, huh?" he says. "Oh--Peter, hi," and smiles at him, just the briefest secret curve of lips before the red velvet sweeps closed again. The dark division between the curtains trembles before settling still, as if it had never been disturbed.
James scowls at him. "What's that about," he asks.
"I don't know," Peter says. He is telling the truth. "Come on, let's get out of here."
Outside, James says, "I can't believe them." He shoves his hands deep in his pockets, forcing himself into a slouch. He's almost pouting.
"I don't know, it sort of makes sense," Peter says.
"What, you saw this coming?" James snorts. "Yeah, sure."
"I didn't mean. It makes sense, that's all." He gets a grunt from James, who doesn't know that Remus's skin smells like walnut oil. Peter shrugs and sits down in front of the fire, settling down to wait.