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Crack my ribs open, teach me how to fly

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Crack my ribs open, teach me how to fly

 

Godric’s Hollow is about as rural a town as he’s ever seen, but the whole place simply buzzes with magic — how the muggles are blind to it, Regulus does not know, but he feels a comfort even just being there, despite the place being named after the Godric Gryffindor.

The cottages are all neat and quaint, lined up side by side with sweet-smelling flowers growing in the front yards, and when the light hits the church just right the mirrored glass throws gorgeous colours onto the sidewalk. Everyone knows one another and everyone is always smiling and in a good mood, greeting each other as they pass by, having chats besides the properly trimmed hedges, and sometimes the unbearable brightness of the whole place irks him.

He sits in the bathtub and lets the feeling gnaw at him — life here is comfortable and filled with light and laughter and it’s such a vast difference to before that he thinks he might drown in the unfamiliar sensation of it all.

It’s not as if he has much of a choice, really. He’s about to be a sixth-year, has turned sixteen just recently, and the binding spell he’d been using on his chest was slowly starting to feel more like a curse than anything else. When Madam Pomfrey offered a more permanent solution he was futile to resist — dysphoria cost him too much of his young life already, Sirius would say — and it is a suggestion he would be thanking the matron for, for as long as he lived, as he is quite sure it has literally saved his life.

He should have known his parents would notice.

He sinks down into the tub and lets the water surround him for a moment. Like this he cannot hear the insistent laughter that is coming from Potter’s bedroom, where three of the Marauders are now gathered. Like this he cannot see the scars the spell left; the bruises his mother left; the Dark Mark Severus left before his brother came in and pressed kisses to the top of his head and in this way, quite effectively, knocked some sense into him.

Things have been tense between the two of them, but Sirius has always recognised his struggle — when that struggle pushed him over the cliff and spinning down into the dark abyss, it had been Sirius that swooped in and saved him from the crashing waves and spiky rocks.

He’s not angry he didn’t get saved any sooner — the mark is a stark remnant of how a lot of his decisions up until this point have been influenced by the need to please his parents, and his fear of what would happen if he didn’t. The scars on his chest are necessary reminders that his parents aren’t even pleased by his decision to save his own life — taking other’s wouldn’t change much.

It eats at him, how he now owes all these people his life. He’s thankful though — this is a far easier burden to carry.

He comes back up for air and the sounds of the house return. He hears steps bouncing up the hallway and then knocking at the bathroom door, before his brother calls, “Reg, are you okay in there?”

It’s cute, because he’s trying to make it sound teasing, but Regulus can note the undertone of concern in Sirius’ voice. He allows himself to revel in it for a moment — it’s quite uncommon for him to be able to so freely sit with this feeling of adoration — before heaving himself into an upright position.

“I’m fine,” he calls back, then, almost as an afterthought, “shinpai suru na.”

He hears Sirius huff all the way through the door and hides his smirk in his knees. He loves how dedicated his brother is to his popular tough-guy image, when nothing could be further from the truth. His brother is as mellow as a Christmas pudding, a literal ball of worry when it comes to people he can actually stand.

For example, when they had come home from Hogwarts only to have their mother already enraged and their father glaring them down all the way from his study, Sirius had been willing to take most of the blow for him. And then when Walburga continued to rage, he hadn’t even hesitated before taking Regulus away from there — disregardless of their previously strained relationship.

And now he is searching for a flat for them to live in, studying up on Dark Marks so they can hopefully remove his, imploring Dumbledore to help him, and being an overall supportive little shit. He wants to be salty and say his brother is just doing it to win over the auburn-haired genius of their little gang of four, but then he’s always noticed the way those two look at each other and he’s pretty sure there is no longer any winning over needed.

He had even gone to the trouble of explaining everything to the Potters — he’s pretty sure James is in on all of it, because he’d been there after he’d been foolish enough to take the Dark Mark, had pulled at his hand and whispered, “don’t scratch, it’ll scar” — so that they’d welcomed him with open arms. They must be running some kind of charity, Regulus is sure of it. One disowned Black, sure, but two? And an ex-Death Eater at that? These people are literal Saints, there is no other logical explanation.

And he’s grateful for it, really. For Sirius being such a pushover and the most loyal being ever alive. For being saved from his parents’ clutches and for being kept in the safety of the small village where everyone knows one another and smiles. He knows his last two years at Hogwarts will not be a pumpkin pasty walk, but he is ready to brave them in this body he now recognises as his own, with people having his back without ulterior motives.

He has the whole summer to prepare for it too, to bask in the sun, read up on his potions books, brush up on his hexes, take walks in the Merlindamned muggle countryside, flourish away from the toxic doom and gloom of Grimmauld Twelve.

And what better place to do that in than Godric’s Hollow? It is perfect, really .

(Although Regulus does definitely consider the presence of James Potter — recipient of his now three-year-long abhorrently inappropriate crush — a definite downside.)

 

***

 

He tries not to be too much of an ungrateful sod in general, but he does spend a lot of time hiding underneath the blankets on the mattress he gets to sleep on, tucked in the corner of James’ bedroom. Everything is aggressively red-and-golden in the room, from the linen on his bed to the decorations on the wall — it’s mostly just an extension of the whole entire house, however, because the Potters are pretty much the proudest Gryffindors Regulus has ever met, and that’s saying a lot .

It’s adorable, maybe, how secure the younger Potter is in who he is as a person. He spends a lot of time fixing his hair in front of his mirror, spends even more time polishing his broom, and wears his Quidditch jersey out even on the hottest days. He kisses his mother and father in the morning, and says, “I love you,” without hesitating. Every evening Sirius and him bicker — they share his four poster — over blanket-thieves and cold feet but the affection in his voice as he hums, “goodnight Padfoot,” before switching off the lights is so thick it hurts .

James Potter is obnoxious and his curls bounce when he laughs and he is not nearly as good at charms as he pretends to be, but he loves so fully and unashamed, Regulus cannot help but feel drawn to him. Like a cold moth to the warm flame — he can only dig in his heel and hope he will not burn to ashes when they meet.

Regulus, for his part, spends a lot of time with the blankets tucked up to his chin and staring at the ceiling. The first couple of days he doesn’t even leave the bedroom but that’s only because he’s exhausted — a common side-effect to the potion Madame Pomfrey made him promise to drink daily for two months — and also maybe a little sad, because sure, he’s not at home, but now he’s here with a Dark Mark on his underarm in James Potter’s bedroom and he thinks that’s definitely some kind of karmic intervention right there. Even when things are going objectively good, they still manage to go catastrophically bad.

It’s embarrassing, too, because he remembers Sirius showing him pictures of his first year at Hogwarts and being in awe of how mature they all looked — only to realise later they were anything but — and then being sorted in Slytherin which okay now at least his parents will be proud — they weren’t — and then finding out the bespectacled youth he’d been ogling in his big brother’s pics was obsessed with a redheaded Gryffindor.

And now he’s here, and James Potter’s tan face is grinning and waving at him from every surface of the house, mocking his still pretty much full-on adolescent crush. He’s sixteen now, shouldn’t childish things such as feelings no longer apply to him?

After about a week of self-pity he starts smelling bad and decides he should at least still be taking care of his basic hygiene. And then after he has a bath and a good long think he figures he might as well be dark and gloomy outside, right? Where it smells nice and the sun can heat his skin.

It turns out to be a very wise choice or another bad decision to pile onto the stack of already existing bad decisions he’s made, depending on how much wine he’s had when he looks back at it. He dresses in a soft yellow yukata and brings a book with him, but then when he heads into the backyard, Sirius and James are already there and they’re not wearing shirts .

Regulus is not some kind of pervert, okay, but they’ve been training to be excellent Quidditch players for ages now and it’s done things to their bodies. Things it didn’t do to his own — because he’s a Seeker and part of his job is being as tiny as possible — and having those differences displayed so blatantly is very distracting .

They’re doing yardwork with their bare hands, because that’s the kind of thing people in this neighbourhood do. James is tan and sweating with the sun beating down his back and his friend pestering him about the weeds. He is very much in-shape and rather appealing to the eye, so Regulus sits down in the shade and continues to stare at him from afar, under the guise of reading his book.

He sits there and allows himself to indulge in the sweet smell of the flowers and the comforting sound of the two friends bickering from across the grassfield. He wonders if this is what life is like for ordinary people — endless days of summer, and only those — and then tries not to think about it any more.

Eventually Sirius disappears into the cottage in search of drinks, and James spends a moment just looking over to where he’s seated — he pretends not to have been spending the better part of an hour drooling over the older boy’s abs, averting his eyes quickly — before coming over.

James plops down besides him and he pretends to only just notice his presence — he looks up just as the raven takes off his glasses to wipe them on his dirtied jeans. There’s soil stuck to the knees and he smells musky of sweat and a little sweet too, like the rosebed they’d been working in. There’s droplets of sweat stuck to his curls and lining his brow, and he wipes it off with his forearm, letting out a huff.

They’re close, Regulus thinks he might be able to count all his lashes if he tried. He feels warm, oozing confidence and comfort from where he’s seated himself, and there’s an air of familiarity that kind of brushes off Regulus like the warmth of the sun.

Except then he ruins it all by speaking .

“You did the right thing Regulus,” he says, and then, disgusting , “I’m proud of you.”

Regulus promptly feels like crying. He’s done mostly bad things, if he’s being completely honest, and to have this perfectly perfect man sitting with him and telling him he’s proud — him, a Gryffindor, fully well aware of the true meaning of pride, how it feels and how it shows itself — feels like a bad joke.

So he doesn’t do anything, he doesn’t cry, he just kind of exists and waits for the punchline. But James doesn’t say anything, so they just kind of sit together and breathe and the silence is deafening .

“Why are you pulling out weeds by hand?” he asks eventually, when the silence becomes too much for him to bear.

James shrugs his shoulders and smiles, his pearly whites showing, “we’re shit at gardening spells.”

Of course you are , Regulus wants to say, but instead, the answer surprises him so much that he lets out a little giggle, promptly hiding his mouth behind his hands. James’ grin grows, and he thuds his shoulder into Regulus’ playfully, so that the younger boy laughs again, a blush rising to his cheeks.

When Sirius brings them chilled iced tea he’s still laughing behind his hand, and his big brother’s eyes sparkle with mirth at the sight of him — it kind of makes everything seem worth it, in return.

 

***

 

Regulus, of course, is actually quite good with gardening spells. He excels at Herbology and Potions because, as he sees it, they go hand in hand. He’s spent his years at Hogwarts looking for potions to help with his dysphoria only to realise they are far too advanced for his level — and to then decide he would just advance his level until even the hardest potion seemed basic. A good deal of his free time was spent over a bubbling cauldron to make healing potions to add to his bath after Quidditch practice and anti-anxiety potions for Sirius to give to his boyfriend — they think he doesn’t notice how he needs them mostly around the full moon, but then he’s an excellent liar and will guard the secret with his life.

So the next day, instead of kicking at the linens and turning on his side and back and onto his side again, counting the patterns in the wallpaper until he tires himself out and falls asleep again, he gets up early.

By the time the house has properly awoken, he’s cleared most of the weeds away, and is swaying his wand to the rhythm of the watering can. The flowers are thriving under his attention, and it brings him a sense of purpose, to be in charge of this.

The Potters are ecstatic to see the work he’s done and all through breakfast James is smiling at him — his dark ochre lips permanently curved in approval. He tells himself he’s doing it mostly for the satisfaction of having something to do, but if he’s being one hundred percent honest with himself — something he tries to avoid at all times — that’s only half of it. It’s also just ridiculously pleasing to be on the end of the black boy’s praise, feeling like he’s earned it.

By the end of the week he’s taken care of all the weeds, sorted out the flowerbeds, and trimmed the trees. Sirius and James spend their time building a firepit and fixing the old and battered shed, and then they eat outside when the work’s all done.

He finds that spending the days outside is giving him a specific kind of joy that he’s not accustomed to — Grimmauld Place lets in little light, and there’s not much more than a small dark courtyard — soaking in the sun helping him to sleep better in the evenings. It helps that these days, he spends his evenings staying up with Sirius and James, chatting and eating chocolate frogs with sticky fingers and he gets why his older brother sleeps so well during school — it’s such a comforting feeling to fall asleep after a good talk and a handful of inappropriate jokes. It’s safe .

Remus comes back home from a trip with his parents to the French countryside, and the four of them decide to trek down to the beach a town over. They fill their rucksacks with sandwiches for lunch and water and a couple of butterbeers and then they head out.

Nature is unforgiving there, with plants growing up the sides of houses and the air briney. They sit on a gathering of stones to have their lunch and drink long sips of water. It’s companionable, and Regulus finds himself wondering if all their adventures are like this — remarkably demure, a comfortable quiet in the group as they sit and eat and smile.

Sirius, of course, is the loudest, and he will waste his breath on a ridiculous pun here and there, but, overall, the Marauders seem to take their expeditions quite seriously. He watches his older brother trip and almost fall face first into the tall grass only for the brunette to pull him back by his rucksack before he tumbles down. They don’t even mock him — James pats his arm and throws a smile back over his shoulder to Regulus — and carry on, determined.

The landscape changes to more grass and less rock, and the air is salty and humid here. They reach the cliffs a bit after lunch, and then continue to hike down the winding path of sand and rock, down to the beach. He almost slips on the way down — Blacks are supposed to be graceful, but him and his brother are sure proving that myth mute — and without even speaking a single word James takes his hand and helps him the rest of the way.

It’s almost obscene, how pale his skin looks against the richness of James’ — and then he kind of feels guilty for enjoying the look of it, too, because his mind kind of wanders to how their chests would look, pressed together too.

He clears his mind by walking to the surf on his own, bare feet on the warm ground, lingering to feel his toes sink into the sand and enjoy the sensation of gravity taking him — it’s grounding, the wind whistling and the sound of seagulls up above and the roaring and crashing of the waves.

The water is cool lapping at his ankles. He focuses on the sensation for a moment, wading into the water until it licks at the soft cotton of his jinbei trousers. It’s easy to imagine a world where life is just this — cool water, warm sun, fresh air and salt on his lips — but even with the waves crashing into him it feels further from his reach than ever.

“Hey,” he gets shaken from his revery when Remus comes up behind him — he’s tucked his jeans up to above his knees and is smiling, enjoying the feeling of the water on his skin.

He shrugs his shoulders in greeting, and though the older man is not looking at him, he seems to notice the move, his smile falling. A little awkwardly, he scrapes his throat, before focusing on his jeans. He tries rolling them up his thighs further and then stops, just as abruptly.

“Listen, I…” for the first time ever, he seems to be at a loss for words.

Regulus is not sure he wants to hear what the Gryffindor has to say, but he waits for it anyway.

“I love Sirius like you would not believe, but he… he does his fair share of pretty stupid stuff y’know,” Remus shrugs his shoulders, and when the raven finally looks back at him, he’s staring off at a point into the horizon somewhere, “I mean he is a mess ,” he says it so haughtily that Regulus cannot help but chuckle, “I…”

He falls short of any words. Their eyes finally meet, and there’s so much gentleness in Remus’ amber gaze, that it kind of manages to warm his aching heart, just a bit. His smile is kind of helpless, because they both know Sirius well enough to know exactly what he’s hinting at. His logic isn’t always sound and his heart isn’t always pure, but he does what he thinks is right, even if it’s weird and chaotic and follows no logic but the inexplicable logic that it makes sense to Sirius.

It’s not joining-the-Death-Eaters bad, Regulus can’t imagine, but he reckons that in their little group of four, Sirius might have done things that are equally, if not more, destructive to the heart of them. And yet they’re here — and they love him.

When Remus touches his elbow it doesn’t evoke much in him besides the gentle and reassuring touch it’s meant to be — it does not spark a fire in his soul like James’ does, but it’s kind , and he appreciates it.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is, you did a bad thing. You’re not a bad person,” Remus’ voice is tight, leaves no room for argument.

He wants to say he has no way of knowing that, but he’s seen the way the brunette looks at his brother and reads him like an open book and that’s a feat, by any measure. It makes him reluctant to disagree.

It’s also just a very nice thought, and he wants to bask in the genuineness with which it is uttered, just a little longer. So they stand together for a while, let the sea lap at their legs, the sound of the ocean deep and rumbling.

Eventually, Remus lets go of his elbow, and then does that thing James did before — thumping his shoulder into Regulus’ — smiling brightly as he suggests, “let’s go find some firewood.”

They end up building a fire so that they can stay on the beach and watch the sun set, warmed by the flickering flames as the air coolens. Sirius asks him to go pick pebbles, like they used to do when they were kids — they didn’t visit the beach, but they spent many a day playing in the woods, looking for stones and pebbles that reminded them of one another. They use the light of their lumos and sit on their hunches a bit away from the fire, closer to the water as they dig through the sand. It feels like it’s just the two of them, like this, shoulder to shoulder, ready to take on the world.

Regulus finds a pebble the size of his palm that is ink black and smooth — it reminds him of the depth in his brother’s eyes, of the black markings covering most of his pale skin.

The older Black takes a little longer — he seems to be very picky, Regulus notes, as he throws away several rocks that look amber in colour, reminiscent of his Hogwarts house — a frown set in his handsome brow.

Eventually, he speaks, “hey Reg, would you um…” there’s a slight hesitation, and Sirius looks up, meeting his gaze and holding it steady, “would you mind if I sleep over at Moony’s tonight?”

The question is so preposterous Regulus barks out half a laugh before realising that his brother is presenting all the signs of being worried .

“Do I mind you spending the night with your boyfriend ?” he repeats, voice teasing, “please, Sirius. Who am I to stand between you and your libido?”

He grins, baring all his teeth. Sirius looks taken aback for half a second, before shaking his head, “prick.”

He tries to push Regulus over but then ends up losing his own balance and then plops over onto his arse and then Regulus is laughing so hard he loses his balance and they both end up on their arses, laughing so hard he’s crying a little bit. Life is good .

It’s less good after they’ve gathered around the fire, drank a couple of butterbeers and the time comes for Remus and Sirius to say goodbye. They’ve been steadily growing more quiet and more handsy over the last half an hour but Regulus is still lowkey salty to see them go because now he’s stuck at the beach with James .

And there’s a lot of things Regulus can snarkily say about this place. Filled with muggles, smells too briney, chilly winds. But the night sky is inky black with dots of silver where the stars are, and the waves create a soothing backdrop to the cozy warm fire they’ve created and it’s kind of romantic.

That actually explains why his horndog of a brother is so eager to apparate out of there with his boyfriend.

Sirius presses a kiss to his best friend’s cheek playfully — much to Remus’ amusement — and then presses something into his brother’s hand. Their eyes meet as Sirius closes his fingers over it, smiling. Then, with a wave and a loud bang, the two teens disapparate.

James cracks another butterbeer open and passes it over to him — he takes it blindly, focusing on the pebble Sirius has placed in his palm. When he opens his fingers, it’s a deep red with rough edges and grey spots. Regulus is confused, but he pockets it anyway, vouching to keep it safe.

They talk in mostly murmurs now, because it’s just the two of them and the night seems so open and vast, they don’t want to disturb it. The butterbeer is warm all down his throat and for a moment it’s easy to forget that he’s Regulus Black talking to James Potter and he just is .

It’s really nice, too. They talk about Quidditch for a big part of the evening, but then as they down another butterbeer the talk gets a little bit more intimate and he gets to watch the older boy’s cheeks grow pink as he talks about his childhood and what growing up a spoiled brat was like. Regulus, in turn, gets to talk about what growing up an obedient — yet never good enough — Black was like, with an older brother who was too damn brave for his own good.

None of it is inherently sad, and it doesn’t feel it, with James by his side. They have a small pity party but it’s in good spirits, and he hasn’t felt this good about talking about the abnormal circumstances that were his upbringing, ever.

He likes it best when James tells him mundane things, however. Like how he likes making french toast on Sundays because it feels like a Sunday food, and how, when he gets overwhelmed, he likes to sit in the colourful patterns the mirrored glass of the church throws on the sidewalk, and trace them with his fingers.

“Hey,” James is halfway through a story about the kind of puppy he’d always wanted growing up, when he suddenly stops, startled, “you’re shivering.”

Regulus himself hasn’t even noticed, but his jinbei is mere cotton and his forearms are covered in goosebumps. Even though the summer nights are warm, the wind by the ocean is frigid and he’s paying the price for not using a heating spell on himself.

Before he can take his wand from his pocket, James has already taken off his Quidditch jersey, wrapping it around the younger boy’s shoulders.

“There ya go,” the raven hums, rubbing his hands up and down Regulus’ shoulders and arms to get some warmth back into them.

Regulus, for his part, forgets how to breathe. Potter’s body is turned to face him completely now, and they’re so close he can feel the heat radiating off the broader frame. His face is so close Regulus is sure now, that he could count the boy’s lashes, and he can feel his hot breath against his cheek and—

He’s smiling, too. His lips dark, the bottom one pinker, and looking soft in the light. He can’t help but wonder whether he tastes like butterbeer — and how easy it would be, to press just an inch closer to find out for himself.

But it’s a silly thought, because James is in love with a redhead, and Regulus’ hair is quite dark and he’s worked really hard to achieve his perfect flat-chest look. James likes girls and he is anything but — no matter how many times his mother calls him Regina.

So he turns his face to stare at the flames instead, tries not to linger on the gentleness of the touch, vouches himself he can savour it for now, but must forget about it in the morning.

 

***

 

As these things go, he doesn’t forget. But not for lack of trying.

(It’s just really hard with them living in the same house and all.)

They spend a lot of time together now. James makes him teach him some basic gardening spells and every other day they trek out to a nearby field hidden in between tall trees so they can play Quidditch. The older boy shows him some manoeuvres he’ll never use as a Seeker but they’re fun to try out nonetheless. Some days the four of them sit in the shadow of the church where the reflection of the mirrored glass touches and they play chess or just chat and rest.

Life is so easy here, Regulus forgets what it’s like to be constantly tiptoeing around. He gets to see what his brother looks like, unhibitioned and in-love.

One day when he’s gathering his clothes for the laundry, he finds the rock Sirius had given him that night on the beach, and the black pebble he’d forgotten to give to Sirius, too. When he asks his brother why he’d given him a red rock, of all things, he gives him an odd sort of look, “it’s for your heart,” he says matter-of-factly, a hidden exasperation there, as if Regulus is the King of Idiots, “you’re the bravest man I know, and you make me feel loved. That’s red.”

He, in turn, feels silly about giving Sirius the black pebble, but at that point they’re both so close to tears it doesn’t seem to matter. Sirius is perpetually annoyed at how Regulus doesn’t seem to get it, “I love you most,” he murmurs in his hair, and wraps him into a hug.

So then he teaches Remus how to use a kanzashi, and shows him how to gather his brother’s long, untamed manes together and keep them up in a bun. They stand in front of the bathroom mirror together, and he ties his obi, pausing every single step so that Remus can follow him. He tells him, “if you do this for Sirius, make sure to tie this type of bow, he loves these,” and then continues to tie and untie until Remus gets it.

One afternoon he’s finished his bath and is standing in front of the sink, towel around his waist, checking for pimples, when the door bursts open quite abruptly, and James comes barreling in.

The older boy has the decency to look embarrassed, slightly wobbling on one foot and then the other — it’s painfully obvious what the problem is.

“Sorry Reg I really need to go,” in James’ defence he does sound properly mortified — and as it is, they’re both used to the mayhem that goes on in the Quidditch locker rooms so really , this should be fine.

Keeping that in mind, Regulus just kind of waves his hand as if to say “go on” without actually saying it out of fear that he might croak it much like a toad would — there’s already a heat rising up his chest and there’s nothing he can do but hope the raven doesn’t notice.

He tries to keep his focus on his own mirror image — even as he hears James undo his zipper — and then, belatedly, realises his own state of undress.

“Do they hurt?” he kind of wants to sink through the floorboards now, because he can hear the telltale clattering of water and James is trying to make small talk about his scars, now, as if talking and peeing is just an everyday occurance.

It’s not. It’s terrible, and he hates it.

“Not really,” he replies nonetheless, because they don’t hurt, and he thinks even if they did, it’d be worth it, “I still have a week left on the potion, they should be gone by the time I’m finished.”

He hears the sound of the zipper going back up and releases a breath he hadn’t realised he’s been holding. James comes up beside him, smiling at him in the mirror as he opens the faucet.

“I’m happy for you,” he says, voice but a pleasant hum, “you look amazing.”

Regulus wants to scream. Their shoulders are touching and he thinks his skin is shooting sparks there, hyper-aware of the fact.

“Flattery?” he smirks, willing down his embarrassment in hopes of embarrassing James instead, “you must be forgetting about this.”

He stretches out his arm between them as James goes to dry his hands. There, on his left forearm, is the Dark Mark, pitch black against his milky skin. There is nothing remotely amazing about this.

Nevertheless, James has the audacity to simply shrug his shoulders .

“I’m sure your brother knows a place where you can get that covered.”

Their eyes meet in the mirror. Without breaking away, James’ fingers reach out to cup his wrist, thumb brushing over the slithering snake as it wrangles out of the skull’s mouth.

Maybe time stops for a moment. Maybe it gets ahead of itself. Maybe he dies and this is what muggles describe as heaven. Maybe it’s hell.

He thinks James must be aware of how quick his pulse is running now, thumb pressed ever so gently into the pulsepoint at his wrist. He thinks of what this means and what James is trying to tell him — if anything — and of how Remus had said, “ you’re not a bad man ,” and how right now it feels like maybe that’s the truth. Maybe he’s not a bad man, maybe he just makes a lot of very unsavory decisions and that’s that.

Is this another unsavory decision?

Before he can second guess himself and pull his arm from the older boy’s grasp, James has already let go again, as abruptly as he’d reached out. His smile in the mirror softens, and with a ridiculously nonecomental pat on Regulus’ shoulder, he leaves the bathroom.

 

***

 

The little seed James has planted in his brain grows and flourishes and so he asks Sirius about it. His older brother is all for it — “this way Dumbledore won’t be tempted to use you as one of his spies,” he says, tone snarky — and takes him to a parlour in Knockturn Alley.

Surprisingly enough, the man is pleasantly chill about the whole ordeal. He explains that although he can cover up the mark, he cannot erase the magic that's been put into it — this means that Regulus will have to actively resist the call whenever he is summoned — but that he can use a special technique so that even as the mark fades from bright red to black, it will remain hidden underneath the added ink. Regulus doesn't really care, because it's honestly been burning ever since he got it, and there's not a single doubt in him left. If the call comes, he will resist.

Sirius distracts him from the insistent scratching at his arm with silly Marauders tales — which is pretty much all of them — and makes him hydrate at steady intervals — he has horror stories about going a session without water and how raw his throat had felt by the time the man had finished the intricate runes on his stomach — and when the needles get closer to his wrist and the pain intensifies, he squeezes into his other hand and pouts, cutely demanding attention.

He’s not entirely sure, but he kind of feels like his brother is trying to make up for not having been there when Madame Pomfrey performed her boob-removing-magic. To be honest, he doesn’t care why Sirius is being such an annoying prick, but he finds himself loving every moment of it. Even the part where his brother forcefeeds him Bertie Bott’s beans and then dares to look insulted when he spits the snot-flavoured one right back out.

When the man is finished with Regulus, they change places and they don’t talk about it, but Sirius gets the exact same pattern of aconite and mandrake flowers, fanged geraniums, shrivelfig leafs, leaping toadstools and deadly nightshade tattooed on his left underarm.

It’s funny, because Regulus thinks before this summer it had been ages since he’s cried, but now, everything makes him soft .

Afterwards they go to get ice cream from Florean Fortescue's parlour and then Sirius takes him to get his robes refitted for his now permanently flat chest. Life is arguably good .

Back in Godric’s Hollow the Marauders are adamant to teach him the Patronus charm — they’re all pretty much obsessed with their own silvery animals, and Regulus sees them running around the house with messages all the time because that’s just the kind of lazy, show-offs his brother and Potter are — and he’s nervous but also dead-set on nailing it.

He’d been amused when he saw James’ patronus the first time — he’d been sure it was his brother’s, but of course Sirius had a wolf, as if Remus’ little furry problem wasn’t painfully obvious enough already — as it was a sleek, translucent kitsune with all nine tails curving graciously behind it as it trotted through the hallway.

In Japan, kitsune are mythical creatures, and he remembers being a small child and seeing pictures in books and being awed — he’s always been fascinated with them, as they’re so determined and cunning, and seeing one trotting down the stairs is pretty much a dream come true.

It’s also really cute, because he knows his brother’s affinity to James, and he’s seen how close and comfortable they are — they love each other so intensely it’s almost sick — but this patronus in turn, is proof of James’ feelings for Sirius. Who else does he know with Japanese lineage to explain having a kitsune as his protector?

As he admires James’ corporeal patronus he can only hope to one day be as clever and resourceful as the creature — and, to one day, create as vivid a patronus.

It’s fun, all of the you-are-not-pure-enough-a-human-to-cast-a-patronus worries aside. Remus helps him in perfecting his pronunciation and offers him chocolate as a treat whenever he gets down with how horrid it’s going. Sirius offers him advice on happy memories, makes him laugh by reminding him of all the absolute dumb shit they’ve been through together, and it’s that sound — Sirius’ hoarse voice, calling for him, barking with laughter, whispering and singing him a lullaby — that creates some of his more substantial patronuses.

James, however, is a whole different patchwork.

He helps him perfect his wand work, holds his hands and weaves it in the air. It makes him itchy all over, tingles all down his spine and has flutterbees flying ramped in his stomach. These days, the older boy seems a smidge too close for comfort, wherever he goes. It’s a bit overwhelming but only just because he’s sure it’s just his emotions getting the better of him.

Because he’s finished the potion and he’s no longer drowsy with it during the day, but instead, practicing his patronus and being too inept to perfect it is asking a lot of his energy. It’s exhausting and he worries that he’s just becoming too exhausted to fight to hide his crush.

And that will not do.

There’s nothing else to do about it though, because he’s kind of really into it. It makes him nervous and he worries, but when James takes his hand and shows him the movement, or stands behind him to correct his body language for stability, he kind of files the moment away, and then uses it next time he conjures a patronus.

He thinks of talking to the older boy, of sitting on the bed with the four of them, drinking butterbeer and laughing, he thinks of James’ dark hands on his pale skin and he thinks he might explode with what he’s feeling, but instead silver strands of smoke erupt from his wand and Remus cheers him on.

And then, one day, it’s more than just that.

They’ve gathered in the backyard and are laughing — he’s not sure what they’re even laughing about anymore — and he kind of catches Sirius’ eye. His brother’s eyes are usually deep black and brooding, but today there’s happy flecks of silver, and the mandrake leafs tattooed on his arm flutter as Remus runs his fingers down them, almost as if by accident. The brunette is smiling, the kind of wow-you’re-an-idiot-but-I-love-you kind of smile and James has thrown his head back in laughter and there’s sunlight kissing his gorgeous throat, inches of delectable flesh bared and he has a hand on Regulus’ shoulder, fingers tight, and he feels adored .

Because they have all this love for each other and for him, too, and he feels it and it fills him and he feels so genuinely happy to be here with these people and he kind of just waves his wand and casts the Patronus charm — it’s a mere reflex now, with how much he’s been practicing — and it’s more than just silver smoke now.

The antlers come first, breaking through his wand and then the head and the body and then in just a mere couple of seconds a great stag bursts free. The animal shakes its body and then steadies itself, turning its head to look back at the teens. Then it trots around the backyard proudly and Regulus is in awe with it, but he kind of stumbles to get up and outstretches his hand and—

The animal comes up to him and allows him to pet into it, even though he feels nothing, shaking its head as if it enjoys the motion. Then, it sniffs importantly, stomps its hooves into the grass once, and then slowly dissolves again.

“Did you see that ?” he’s still mostly in disbelief, and when he turns to face the three older boys, they all look as shock-shelled as he feels, “a stag ! Did you see how it was prancing?! Must be a damn Gryffindor!”

He’s laughing, and not just because that was a really funny joke. Mostly because he is beyond himself with joy, and he laughs and laughs and it bubbles in his stomach and he feels all the tension he’s been holding up — all this worry he’s been keeping bottled up over perfecting this advanced piece of magic — coming out in waves of laughter.

When he’s calmed down a bit, he notices that the three others are still just kind of awkwardly exchanging looks. Eventually though, it’s like their reveries break, all at once.

“Regulus, congrats!” Remus grins at him, eyes flitting back to Sirius nervously.

“You did it lad!” his brother eventually cheers, smile forced, getting up and pulling his best friend with him as he goes, “I’m so proud of you mate, you did that!” he pats Regulus on his shoulder distractedly, “James can I have a word?”

He doesn’t exactly wait for an answer, and instead just pulls the raven with him. As they make their way to the house, Sirius’ grip on James’ wrist borderline painful from where he can see, he hears his brother hiss, “is this payback for Moony?!”

When he turns back to Remus, frowning, he just gets a tense little smile in return.

 

***

 

Things can’t possibly get much weirder than Sirius being such a twat after him perfecting such an advanced level of spellmaking, but they do, kind of. When the two friends return after whatever chat they had James’ cheeks have grown even darker with his blush, and he won’t stop running a hand through his hair.

Sirius, for his part, has the audacity to scrape his throat and exclaim very haughtily, “well, Remus and I should get going, I’m spending the night, aren’t I Moony?”

It’s pretty damn obvious they hadn’t planned any of it, either, because Remus looks very put upon and answers a second too late, “oh yeah, yeah! Yes .”

Everyone looks pretty disappointed in the brunette, which is only fair, because he is a horrible liar and that’s not a good thing when you spend your free time breaking every school rule known to Dumbledore.

I’m sorry ,” Regulus interjects icilly, “I finally master the Patronus charm after you hounding me about it for a week and now you’re not even going to take me out to celebrate?”

He feels childish admitting it but he’s pretty insulted, too. Because Sirius loves him, he’s supposed to be proud . He feels like tapping his foot angrilly, much like his stag had.

“You’re right,” Sirius looks rightly put-upon himself, awkwardly shrugging his shoulder, “I’m sorry Reg. You did amazing, let’s go to the Leaky Cauldron and I’ll buy us a round!”

To be honest he still kind of feels like pouting, but his brother throws an arm around his shoulder and hugs him close into his side and it’s really hard to feel anything but safe and protected like this.

It ends up being a really nice night out, too. He wears his emerald yukata and gets to help Sirius put up his hair with a silver kanzashi and James wears his Quidditch jacket, which makes his shoulders look even broader and perfectly accentuates his warm skin. They take the floo and get butterbeers and sit around the table together and Sirius keeps sending him these looks and showering him with praise and he feels absolutely happy and bubbly.

(Every single time he dares to glance over at James, the older man is already staring at him, blushing when he realises he’s caught.)

When he feels satisfied that he has properly been giving the attention he deserves, he kind of bumps into Sirius’ side and nods. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but if his brother wants to spend the night at his boyfriend’s then Regulus is not going to be in the way of that.

It helps that they are both complete idiots about it, Sirius’ pale cheeks reddening when he realises what the bumping means. He pays for their drinks, presses a kiss into Regulus’ temple and then just kind of stares at his best friend before the two lovebirds give awkward waves and disapparate.

“Idiot,” Regulus hums into his bottle — he means his own brother, because Remus is such a bright wizard he forgives him most offences — downing the last of his butterbeer.

Across from him, James is fiddling with his hair again, tugging at curls and then pushing them backwards. He hasn’t even touched his last drink, and seems distracted.

And so they sit in silence, until James seems to remember himself, and clears his own throat a little nervously.

“Regulus,” he smiles when he speaks, as if just saying his name soothes him, and it’s a funny thought to have, a thought that makes his stomach feel funny, too, “let me take you someplace?”

He thinks, logically, if this was anyone else, this would probably be a very odd request indeed. But this is James Potter , and that has to count for something. Because Regulus has been hearing stories about him for years and they are all about adventures and going places and sneaking around the castle and magic . And Regulus is a prefect who actually takes his duties seriously, so he doesn’t much imagine he would ever join in on that fun at Hogwarts but this is the real world and James is here and looking at him and—

If this is an unsavory decision than so be it.

And now Regulus is not usually the pragmatic type, he’s much more the gloomy overthinking kind, but it feels nice not to just idly stand by and let life happen, it feels nice to make decisions that he knows he won’t regret.

On top of that, they have to stand pretty damn close to be able to side-apparate — even if they happen to apparate themselves off a cliff or James turns out to be a mass murderer looking for his next prey, he knows he will not regret this, with the older boy’s arm wrapped tightly around his hip and his finger closed protectively over his wrist.

Turns out the boy has nothing so morbid in mind — they appear on a grassland, near the side of a cliff but not off it, somewhere in the west country. The sky is really bright, with a sickle moon and flickering stars, far away from any civilization and there’s not a cloud in sight, a vastness so black he thinks he might drown in it.

It is, objectively speaking, very damn pretty.

The air is cool here, and it smells earthy and damp. He can smell James’ cologne, musky and sweet, and it’s calm and quiet, nothing but the distant sound of the waves breaking on the shore.

He expects James to let go of him so that maybe they can sit in the grass and watch the sky together, but even after the raven has unwrapped his arm from around his hips, he keeps a hold on Regulus’ wrist. So they stand together, a little too close for him to be able to relax, James’ dark eyes looking down at their hands.

It takes but a moment, and then the older boy lets go, opting instead to press his palm into the milky skin instead, fitting it over his tattoo. He seems to be admiring the lines of the aconite flowers, the greens of the shrivelfig leafs, brushing over them and then pushing, flat.

James’ hand is so big it almost covers the plants and flowers completely, and his thumb strokes over his wrist in a move so gentle it aches .

Regulus thinks maybe he stops breathing. Maybe this is what dying is like — and it’s not painful, not the searing pain of being branded, not the stinging in his face as his mother slaps him, not the hurt in his heart at the thought of Sirius leaving him — and it is sweet . It’s goosebumps all the way up his arm and his pulse knocking as if wanting to break out of his skin and it’s freedom , like his ribs cracking open and his heart flying free.

“You’re shivering,” James says, a familiar phrase in an unfamiliar situation, but this time, he doesn’t offer his jacket.

They move closer, because he really is shivering and his soft yukata is perhaps not perfect for late-night strolls on windy clifftops. The older boy’s body is so warm he kind of lets it seep into him, and James thumbs between his fingers, gentle, until he can slide their hands more comfortably together.

James’ gaze trails from their entwined hands up his chest and to his face and he realises with a start that they linger on his lips — he closes his own eyes on a sharp intake because he thinks he knows what it means but it can’t

And when he opens them again they meet the rich darkness of James’, the boy just a few feet taller but staring him down as if he is a giant, ruler of this land and of Regulus’ heart, too. He doesn’t doubt, not for another moment, because he makes decisions, bad ones, but he is not a bad person and he knows what he wants — more than air to breathe.

It’s embarrassing that he has to get up on his tiptoes, but then his chest is pressing into James’ and their noses bump together softly and the dark eyes go completely black and just like that, he knows .

His lips are warm, chapped and firm against his own. He tastes sweet, vaguely like the butterbeer they had, and safe. James’ other hand comes up to cup his chin and keep him in place, his mouth ravenous as it conquers his tongue. If he wasn’t already in love, the security of James’ capable grip and his determination to leave him breathless would surely make him fall for him, all over again.

When they part, he feels as if his cheeks are on fire, he’s blushing that hard. Thankfully, James is panting, proof he is not entirely unaffected himself.

The hand on his chin strokes gently up his temple and then finds the nape of his neck. He kind of wants to close his eyes and stay in this moment forever.

Instead, he smirks, and watches as James promptly blushes, suddenly mortified.

“So um,” he grins meekly, and Regulus can tell that he is physically repressing the urge to run a hand through his own unruly locks, “I really fancy you.”

He feels his eyebrows raise to meet his hair, leaning into the warm firm body of the older boy.

“Is that so?” he teases, biting his bottom lip purely for the satisfaction of watching James’ eyes flit down to his mouth again, “I never would have guessed.”

James has the audacity to kiss the smirk right off his face, and then, even worse , instead of letting him enjoy the moment, he steps away from him so he can instead drag him to a nearby gathering of stones. He suddenly appears a little frantic, his dark eyes twinkling with excitement as if a literal light has been lit inside of him.

“Okay, you just…” he manoeuvres Regulus to sit down, the grin on his face so broad he fears for his sanity for a moment, “just remember this is me okay?”

Which is probably the weirdest thing anyone has asked Regulus, ever , and he’s been asked a lot of weird things — he is Sirius Black’s brother, after all.

As if to prove that he is not in fact, completely nutters, he takes off his Quidditch jersey to drape it around the smaller Slytherin’s shivering frame. Then, with that borderline obsessive smile still on his face he gives Regulus two thumbs up — absolutely ridiculous too — and then

Then he’s a stag.

He stands proud and tall, as he does in his human form, too, and he’s tawny red and has the most gorgeous antlers and—

Oh ,” it’s like the puzzle pieces all fall together now, because this explains why the older boys had been so shocked to see his patronus and this explains why Sirius would have looked so surprised and outraged at the same time and this also explains the horrible stag-puns his brother makes.

Of course they’re fucking animagi. That’s the only thing that explains all of his now-boyfriend’s horrendous dog-puns, too.

(It also explains the kitsune, but Regulus thinks it’s better not to let his mind drift so far so fast. He is, after all, the overthinking type.)

When James changes back he looks almost unbearably proud of himself, a silly smile splitting his face. But Regulus has to admit, he’s kind of proud of him too, so he gets up and they kind of stumble into each other.

And then they kiss again. And again. And maybe Regulus thinks now, having James Potter ever present is going to prove to not be that much of a downside, after all.

 

***