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The Way We Were

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James looks around the unfamiliar streets, attempting to get his bearings. He holds his breath against the stink of Muggle bin bags and unzips his coat, the extra layer over his thick jumper too warm for the balmy summer evening. He knows where he is with robes. Constantly changing Muggle fashion causes him no end of trouble, which is why nights out in London are a rare occurrence. James has always preferred being somewhere he can do magic without Aurors swooping in and arresting him for breaching The International Statute of Secrecy. He grew up around magic, using safe ingredients to learn how to mix and stir potions and listening to his dad’s famous top ten tips for successful duelling. When he left home for Hogwarts, his parents continued to dote on him, thrilled with his school reports, even the ones that suggested James could do better if he focused his energy on his studies rather than reckless troublemaking. They ruffled his hair, chuckled at his “Gryffindor courage” and praised him for his aptitude for Charms.

James has fond memories of the magical stories his parents read to him as a young boy and he often recalls the bubbling excitement of his young teenage years as he impatiently waited for the time he would be able to use magic unsupervised. The thrill of coming of age and being able to cast spells without restriction still hasn’t worn off. Magic is intricately part of James, and he hates having to exercise caution in the Muggle world, sacrificing the ability to heat up a cold mug of tea or chill a warm beer just to remain inconspicuous. James has never been cautious and even though he likes going out for a pint as much as the next person, it’s a lot less fun when he can’t finish the night with a few magical party tricks and sing Horace The Handsomest Hippogriff at the top of his lungs on the way home. Not that he’s had a night like that in a while.

“We never should have left Hogwarts,” James mutters, glumly. “Being an adult is stupid.”

James knew exactly who he was at Hogwarts, his confidence unshakable. After leaving school in a whirlwind of celebration and a riotous evening in Hogsmeade, James never expected for one minute that going into the big, wide world would leave him quite so adrift. At school he was a celebrated Seeker, bright, capable, and well-liked by the people that mattered. His friendships were so solid he fervently believed that nothing could ever come between himself, Sirius, Remus and Peter. He imagined them marauding long into old age, passing their maps and tricks down to their children, their grandchildren, their great grandchildren. Instead, James suffered the indignity of being dumped faster than a hot cauldron cake by Lily, Remus disappeared off the face of the earth, Peter became so engrossed in Ministry business he can hardly muster up the time for a quick Fire Call and James is left twatting around the arse end of London trying to find a Muggle pub just to see Sirius, who hasn’t been in contact with him for weeks.

“You’re lucky I bothered coming at all.” James addresses his comment at an overflowing bin bag and thinks, not for the first time, how shit the Muggle world is. “I’m only doing this for you, Padfoot.”

Sirius is the one person that can convince James to spend any time socialising in Muggle pubs and clubs. Although Sirius spent all his life immersed in the same magical world as James, growing up with Walburga and Orion gave Sirius a different perspective on his place in wizarding society. For Sirius, a fascination with Muggle things became the foundation of his teenage rebellion. He put up posters of Hollywood starlets in his bedroom, developed a fondness for Muggle music and fashion and always brought a crumpled packet of Muggle cigarettes to the spot on the outskirts of the Forbidden Forest where James, Remus, Peter and Sirius would meet late at night. James has never been one for smoking, but when he did fancy joining in, he always favoured dried mandrake leaves over Muggle tobacco. After Sirius was kicked out of home, he became even more stubborn about dressing like a Muggle and spent his weekends getting to know London’s markets, seeking out t-shirts, battered leather jackets, expensive jeans and rare vinyl from small, tucked-away record stores. James understands that for Sirius, Muggle things became a source of distraction and comfort as the gulf with his family widened. That’s why going out in Muggle London is a compromise James is always willing to make for him. It’s what friends do.

Nevertheless, James can’t help the unsettled feeling that gnaws at him. Everything is so peculiar lately and the whispers of unrest in the wizarding world don’t exactly help matters. He glances up in the hope of seeing a street sign that will confirm he’s in the right place and touches the wand in the pocket of his jeans for comfort. It’s not just the absence of magic that puts him on edge. Earl’s Court is completely different to the seedy parts of Soho that Sirius usually prefers. London’s West End with the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus and the distinctive buzz and delicious smells of Chinatown are familiar to James. He knows that part of town well enough by now that he almost feels at home in the squalid bar sandwiched between a sex shop and adult theatre. The dark cloud hovering over the wizarding world makes James nervous about being in a strange pub in a strange area, drinking with strange people. The risk is high with so many unknowns. James likes to know where the exit is, these days.

James wrinkles his nose and puts some distance between himself and whatever rubbish has been left out to rot, digging the owl from Sirius out of his pocket. He squints at the parchment and the scribbled address. 261 Old Brompton Road, London SW5. He nudges his glasses higher on his nose and watches the location finding spell turn from amber to green. A Muggle walking past gives James an odd look and he quickly crumples up the parchment before they catch sight of the light flickering over the text. If the spell has been cast correctly, James is within whistling distance of The Coleherne. His stomach flips, and he runs his tongue over his dry lips, hoping the weird feeling that’s gripped him ever since he received Sirius’s owl will disappear after a pint of ale or three.

“It’s Padfoot,” James murmurs under his breath. “Your best mate. You’ve done this before.”

Not like this, the voice in his head supplies gleefully. It’s different because now you know.

James gives an aggravated huff in response. He hopes the niggling voice in his head up will shut up once and for all as soon as he gets to the pub. Besides, it’s not as though James knows anything for certain, not really. He won’t be sure until he hears it from the Abraxan’s mouth. With a sigh, James pushes his messy hair back and steels himself for seeing Sirius. He turns the corner to find a swell of people—largely men—standing outside a typical English boozer. Despite the relatively early hour, the heaving pub is testament to its popularity, with people spilling out onto the streets and the music and conversation filtering through the air around them. Taking a breath, James makes his way through the crowds and into the bar, bumping into a solid heat. He panics as his glasses steam up and he realises he can’t just use magic to clear them.

“Steady,” Sirius says. His voice is warm and rich, his hand a comfort on James’s arm. “Now might be the time to show off that non-verbal, wandless stuff you’ve been practicing.”

“Might as well.” James laughs weakly. The peculiar nervous energy in his stomach increases and he’s not sure he’s capable of casting a simple Alohomora, let alone attempting wandless magic. He swallows and focuses on attempting to clear his glasses, relieved when a half-assed spell starts to garner results. “That should do the trick.”

“Glad to hear it.” Sirius sounds amused, the cloudiness of his features turning crisp and sharp as the condensation on James’s glasses fades away entirely.

James is so used to seeing Sirius almost daily, the space of just a couple of weeks between them seems like a lifetime. He knows it’s impossible for someone to grow and change within such a short space of time, but Sirius looks different somehow. A newfound confidence radiates from him, together with an air of stubborn rebellion that reminds James of the way Sirius shows off his new Muggle clothes and records as if he’s been taking to the streets to march against injustice, instead of shopping. Defiance lingers in the angular lines of his firmly set jaw, the clench of his cheek and the flicker of mulishness behind his stormy eyes.

“You look good,” James says, finally.

They don’t usually exchange those kinds of pleasantries, but it’s the first thing that springs into James’s mind. Sirius does look good, in a new leather jacket zipped closed at the base. The light blue t-shirt beneath it hugs his frame and his jeans are formfitting enough that James suspects magic must have been involved. Nobody finds jeans that fit that well by chance. You can take the wizard out of wizarding robes, but you can’t take away years of learning magical tailoring charms to try to look less stupid in formal attire. The outfit is finished off with the worn, black working boots Sirius always wears. James takes a breath. Those, at least, are familiar.

“You don’t look bad yourself.” Sirius grins and squeezes James’s arm, leaning in so he can be heard over the music and chatter. His breath is hot and tickles, sending a shiver of pleasure down the length of James’s spine “Welcome to The Coleherne.”

“Nice place.” James tears himself away and pushes through the throngs towards the bar, hoping that the way his body responded instantly to Sirius’s proximity was just an anomaly. Like casting a really good spell and getting a hard-on. “Fancy a drink?”

“Thought you’d never ask. I only had a half while I was waiting for you.” Sirius crowds against James at the bar, the scent of his leather jacket and familiar aftershave causing the flip and twist in James’s stomach to intensify. “I hope you got Muggle money. Sickles and Knuts won’t get you far in this place.”

“I’m not a total dickhead,” James replies. He tries to gather his spinning thoughts. “Give me room to breathe, will you? It’s hotter than Fiendfyre in here.”

“I’ll have a pint of lager.” Sirius’s tone is crisp and posher than usual, a sure sign he’s annoyed. “Wouldn’t want to give anyone the wrong idea by ordering anything more…flamboyant.”

James orders two lagers through gritted teeth, giving the Irish barmaid a tight smile when she makes a comment about the weather. He bites back the reply that he wouldn’t give a flying fuck if Sirius wanted a flaming pink Martini because the voice in his head returns again, louder and more persistent than ever.

Liar.

*

James would give anything to take back the stupid night at the Leaky. If he had a Time Turner, he’d go back to that evening and create enough of a distraction that his past self would never start gossiping with Peter about the pretty witch giving Sirius the eye. Isn’t she a Slytherin? I don’t fancy her chances, James had said. Peter leaned in close to James, his breath sweet from the sickly cocktails. I don’t think it’s the Slytherin part that’s a problem. Padfoot doesn’t fancy witches.

James’s heart thrums and he tries to swallow around the thickness in his throat. The memory is as visceral as the moment itself. A sudden heat makes it difficult to breathe and a hot flush rises in his cheeks as if he’s done something intensely embarrassing. It’s exactly the same response that left James so edgy and unsettled at the Leaky, gulping down his drink and grumbling about the disgusting cocktails before he made his excuses and left without saying goodbye to anyone other than Peter. Now, with Sirius pressed close to him at the crowded bar, there’s no such easy exit.

James glances at Sirius, whose jaw is set as if he’s angry about something. James used to be able to read Sirius so well, but he hasn’t seen so much as a furry paw since the night at the Leaky. Every owl he attempted sounded stupid, with the heaviness of his newfound knowledge making it difficult to write anything at all. He refuses to accept that Peter’s revelation—which might not be true—left him as stunned as that Quaffle to the head in fourth year. James refuses to accept that his awkward silence has anything to do with prejudice or judgment. James Potter may be ill mannered (according to Professor McGonagall), annoying (according to Lily) and an arrogant arsehole (according to just about everybody else) but he isn’t a bloody homophobe. If what Peter said is true, it doesn’t change anything. James couldn’t care less if Sirius is gay, it’s none of his business.

But you do care, the voice in his head reminds him. You’ve been thinking about it for days.

With a grunt of annoyance, James tells his inner voice to shut the fuck up. He grabs his drink and takes a deep, long drink before following Sirius wordlessly through the packed bar. James isn’t a homophobe. He just isn’t.

“You’re quiet.” Sirius sits down and makes space for James. He drinks a third of his lager in one and swipes the back of his hand across his mouth, fixing James with a steady gaze. “Thought you’d done a Moony on me.”

“Don’t be soft.” James pulls a face, relieved that the crowd of the bar didn’t spill into the seating area. He’s got no idea why so many Muggles like to stand around when they’re drinking, but a seat is much better than being pressed close to Sirius and trying to ignore the beating of his heart and the strange sensation in his belly. “Take it you haven’t heard from him either?”

“Not for a while.” Sirius shrugs, ever the master of pretending to be unbothered by things that clearly gnaw away at him. “He’s at his parents place, Peter said. Who knows what he’s doing?”

“Not me.” James glances around the bar, his cheeks heating at the sight of a group of men in leathers at one end of the bar. “Bit of a different crowd to Soho.”

“Depends where you’re drinking,” Sirius replies. “There’s another boozer down the road if you prefer somewhere less—”

“It’s fine.” James cuts Sirius off. He’s pretty sure they’re in a gay bar, but James Potter never backs down from a challenge and he’s certainly not about to flounce off like a sanctimonious twat. “It’s just unexpected. The Earl’s Court bit I mean,” he adds hurriedly.

“I live here now.” Sirius looks pleased with himself and takes another long gulp of his pint. “Not here, obviously. Just around the corner. I finally got my own flat with that cash from Uncle Alphard.”

It’s not surprising that Sirius would want somewhere permanent after bouncing around friends’ sofas. He stopped living with James during their last year at Hogwarts, with a breezy wouldn’t want to disturb Fleamont and Euphemia after a night on the Ogden’s. James didn’t mind so much when he was distracted by Hogwarts and making a go of things with Lily, but now it feels as though they hardly see one another at all. Part of James expected Sirius to come back to him, in the end. It’s not like Sirius has to worry about disturbing Fleamont and Euphemia after a night out anymore. They’ve been quarantined in St Mungo’s with Dragon Pox for months. If the Healers are right, it’s only a matter of time.

“You just…bought a flat?” James tries not to sound put out about it. He’s never heard Sirius mention Earl’s Court before but if he’s buying property, he must know the area well. With all the secrets between them, James wonders if he ever really knew Sirius at all. “What’s so great about Earl’s Court?”

“I feel comfortable here.” Sirius shrugs but doesn’t elaborate. “At least I do when Hilda Handcuffs isn’t swaggering around arresting people just for existing.”

“Hilda who?” James raises his eyebrows at Sirius. He’s half a mind to ask if Padfoot was hit with a stray Confundus Charm on his way to the pub. “New mate of yours?” He tries not to sound bitter.

“Hardly.” Sirius barks with laughter. “That’s what people here call the Muggle police. They come to the pub sometimes, to cause trouble.” He swipes his tongue over his lips and leans in, lowering his voice. “They’re not very fond of homosexuals.”

“Oh.” James swallows, heat rising up his neck and into his cheeks. His heart pounds as he meets Sirius’s challenging gaze with one of his own. “That’s what you are, then?”

“That’s what I am.” There’s an edge to Sirius’s voice but the wary expression on his face tells James he’s not feeling as bold as his tone might suggest. Sirius has had a lifetime of being rejected by people who are meant to love him, and James doesn’t intend to add best mate to that list. “Wormy said he let something slip the other week. He didn’t mean to.”

“Has he known for long?” James can’t help the petulance in his tone. Realising Sirius trusted other people before him stings. Even though he knows it’s childish, the idea that Sirius might be closer to Peter than James sends a flash of jealousy through him. “I didn’t realise you two were thick as Knockturn thieves,” he mutters.

“That’s what you’re worried about?” Sirius rolls his eyes. “I didn’t think anyone knew. I thought I was doing a good job of keeping my love life private. Considering you ran out of the Leaky that night like you had a swarm of Gnashing Gnats after you, I just wish I’d done a better job of it.”

“I’m sorry,” James replies, honestly. He really is. He’s sorry that somewhere along the way he gave Sirius the idea that he would turn his back on him. It would take a hell of a lot more than this. He leans in, making sure there are no Muggles within earshot. “You really thought I’d spend all that time becoming an unregistered Animagi for Moony and then ditch you because you’re gay?”

“Who knows?” Sirius pushes his hand through his hair and sits back with a scowl. In the dimly lit part of the pub, his aristocratic features are sharpened by the shadows and the summer sunlight. “I didn’t even know how I felt about it at first, so I decided to keep it quiet. Peter told me what he said and it’s not like you’ve been desperate to hang out with me since. Am I supposed to think that’s just a coincidence?”

“I just needed time,” James mutters. He winces when Sirius’s frown deepens, and he tries to gather his racing thoughts. If Hogwarts offered a N.E.W.T in ‘How To Respond When Your Best Mate Comes Out’, James is fairly certain he would be on track for a Troll. “It’s got nothing to do with who you want to get off with, I couldn’t care less.”

“Whatever you say.” Sirius purses his lips and turns a beer mat over in his hand, not looking at James. “You cared enough to need time, whatever the fuck that means.”

“We tell each other everything.” James shrugs and stares at his half-drunk pint gloomily. “We used to, anyway. Now there’s this and a flat in Earl’s Court and Merlin knows what else. I told you about that Ravenclaw witch I tried to pull and the Hufflepuff I fancied in third year and you’ve all heard so much about my disaster with Evans, Moony said it’s a wonder his ears haven’t fallen off.”

“Bit difficult with big wolf ears like that.” Sirius sighs, a smile twitching at the corner of his lips. “It’s not the same. Don’t pretend it is. Your rubbish attempts at copping off with the Ravenclaw seeker in fifth year isn’t the same as just telling your best mate you spend Friday nights cruising in Brompton Cemetery.”

“Brompton Cemetery?” James stares at Sirius, trying to fight back another flush of heat that sears through him at the thought of cruising. He isn’t certain what that means but he can hazard a guess. “Isn’t that a bit…morbid?”

“Needs must.” Sirius laughs lightly under his breath. “It’s not as weird as you might think. I can’t go home with people, Muggle flat or not. I’m still a wizard. I even have a magical coffee pot. The last thing I need is a Muggle poking around asking why I’ve got a stick of wood in my pocket, pardon the pun.”

Another twist of jealousy catches James off-guard. Being cross at the thought Sirius would trust Remus or Peter over him isn’t that odd. It’s always been the others getting jealous over the particular closeness of Padfoot and Prongs and the idea of playing second fiddle has never suited James well. Being jealous of faceless Muggle men Sirius does whatever it is he does with is different and much more confusing.

“How are your mum and dad doing?” Sirius changes the subject quickly, settling back in his seat. “I wanted to visit, but the Healer at Mungo’s said it’s off limits.”

“It’s off limits to everyone. That’s the problem with highly contagious strains of Dragon Pox.” James pushes a hand through his hair and gives Sirius a wobbly smile. “Do you mind if we don’t? You know how this ends. We both do.”

“Yeah, okay.” Sirius reaches out and squeezes James’s arm, his hand warm and firm. “But if you’re rolling around that big house all on your own, you know where I am now. Come round whenever you want. I don’t care if it’s four in the morning.”

“You might.” James laughs, without humour. He shakes away the thought of his parents. There are some things he needs to put in a box, so his world doesn’t spin out of control. “Anyway, all I have is leather bar, a cemetery and Brompton Road. I don’t know where you are, not really.”

“Is this a leather bar?” Sirius feigns surprise and it makes James laugh, properly this time. He gives James a careful look, which is unlike him. Padfoot has always been one for throwing caution to the wind. “If you want to see the flat, I’ve got beers at mine. This place closes at three anyway, it won’t open again until the evening.”

“I could grab a bottle of something shit from a newsagent,” James offers. “Housewarming present.”

James doesn’t know why Sirius dragged him across London just to go for an average pint in a pub that’s closing shortly, or perhaps he knows exactly why. Sirius likes to make a statement. Here it is, Prongs. My new life. The one you know nothing about. Are you sitting comfortably? James stands and tugs on his coat without finishing his beer. Maybe it’s the unfamiliar, crowded Muggle bar, the casual references to cruising, the man in leather trousers giving Sirius the eye or the mention of his parents, but James is desperate to be anywhere but The Coleherne. His stomach has been in knots since he arrived, and every bark of laughter leaves him jumpy. James isn’t used to feeling so completely ill at ease in his surroundings and all he wants is to go somewhere with Sirius where they can talk about magic, the latest news from the Ministry and get their old, easy balance back without having to worry about Muggles overhearing their conversation.

“There’s an off license on the way back to the flat.” Sirius takes a final long drink of his beer, leaving the remainder. He stands and gestures to the door. “I’ll meet you outside. I need to go to the loo.”

“Fine.” James forces a smile. “I’ll just…see you outside.”

If the flat really is just around the corner, James can’t imagine Sirius really needs to use the bathroom before leaving the pub. His suspicions are confirmed when he turns to look back into the crowded bar as he reaches the exit. Sirius is chatting to the man James noticed earlier, his smile broad and easy. When the man says something, Sirius throws back his head and laughs. The sight sends a jolt of desire through James that is so intense and so unexpected, it leaves him breathless.

Shaking himself, James pushes the door open and makes his way outside to take in a much-needed breath of fresh air.

*

“Ready?” Sirius mercifully doesn’t take too long, although the ten minutes James waits outside seem like hours. “I bumped into someone I know at the bar.”

“It’s fine,” James replies. He falls into step beside Sirius and gives him a glance. “You don’t have to lie. I don’t care.”

“So you keep saying.” Sirius rolls his eyes. “I like to keep my options open. It’s not easy to meet people in our world with everything going on. I don’t know who to trust.”

“Tell me about it,” James mutters. He sighs, the odd knot in his stomach and the heaviness of his mood still weighing on him. “It sounds like you’ve got to be careful in the Muggle world too.”

“For different reasons.” Sirius shrugs. “Or maybe it all comes down to the same thing in the end. Prejudice, fear. I try not to overthink it.”

“Mmhmm.” It’s unlike James to bite his tongue but he’s not sure what to say. For someone trying not to overthink things, James can’t help but feel Sirius’s mood seems as odd and contemplative as his own.

A strange, thick air gathers around them as they walk down the busy street. Sirius is always restless and high energy, but today he holds himself with a tension that displays none of the casual ease which makes him so brilliant to be around. His choice of bar was flagrantly strategic, calculated and deliberate. The idea of being tested rankles with James and he can’t help but moodily dwell on whether he passed or failed. There was a time when James and Sirius couldn’t stop talking, getting through a whole night and a bottle of Ogden’s just to see in the sunrise. Now, it’s as though all the words have drained away leaving heavy, empty space between them.

“The offy.” Sirius points at a small shop advertising discounted Babycham. “For that housewarming present, if you like.”

“Of course.” James rubs his hands together with false cheer, attempting to lift the mood. “Wait here. Can’t have you seeing your gift early.”

“Make sure it’s really disgusting. No posh booze.” Sirius gives James a lopsided grin which is much more like the Padfoot of old. “The pop of a champagne cork reminders me of Orion and Walburga. They were never celebrating anything good,” he finishes, grimly.

James snorts, because he can well imagine the kinds of events that made Sirius’s parents crack open the champers. He makes his way inside the shop, looking around for something suitable. He finally settles on a bottle of Crème de Menthe because he knows the Slytherin green will offend Sirius. He fishes out some coins and pays for the drink, a gaudy bag to put it in and a bunch of carnations that have seen better days.

When he leaves the small shop, James takes a moment to watch Sirius. With his back to James, he leans against the wall and watches the traffic meandering past. The same thickness in his throat returns and James can’t for the life of him understand when everything became so tense, so electric. He notices things about Sirius he would never pay attention to before, like his lean, agile physique, the expressive movement of his hands, the enticing muskiness of his cologne. It’s as though his senses have been given their own dose of Pepper-Up and everything is suddenly sharper, brighter, more alive. It makes James scared as hell and he pushes a clammy hand through his hair, taking a breath and trying to find the casual, confident ease he’s always possessed.

You’re James Potter, he reminds himself. Stop being such a dickhead.

He’s not sure it helps.

*

They don’t have to walk much further to get to the flat, nestled in a large, redbrick cluster of properties with fresh white doors and window frames. The building looks as though it was once several sizeable, terraced houses that have been diced and sliced into smaller, compartmentalised spaces. It’s so different to the sort of place James is used to and the imposing Black properties that are hidden away from Muggle view.

“I still can’t get used to having a key.” Sirius seems proud as punch, extracting a set of Muggle keys from his pocket and turning one in the lock. Flat 6A, the keyring reads. “I’ve forgotten them so many times it’s a good job I always keep my wand on me, just in case.”

“You wouldn’t go out without your wand?” Even if Sirius is trying to remain inconspicuous, James doesn’t like the idea of him going to do whatever he does at night without that protection. James can’t imagine Sirius without his wand, without his magic. Whatever affinity he might have found with people in his Muggle pubs and cemeteries, James knows Sirius would never leave magic behind altogether. It runs through his veins.

“Of course not, Mother.” Sirius gives James a quick grin and pushes open the door, leading them up a narrow set of stairs until they get to the flat. He fishes around for another key, then opens the door, standing back to let James go first. “Home sweet home.”

“Is that yours?” James kicks off his trainers and stops in the hall, taking in a large, black and white photograph.

“It’s my flat, James.” Sirius gives James a slow smile. “Who else do you think it belongs to?”

James takes in the large poster of a man in lipstick. The man looks a bit like Sirius, with a rakish smile and a shock of dark, black hair. His lips curve in an insolent smile, his lipstick smeared and fake eyelashes casting thin shadows on his high cheekbones. The smoke from his cigarette has been caught in a permanent cloud, softening his features in places. His chin is dark with stubble, his eyes shining as he meets the camera lens head on, with an air of defiance. It’s beautiful, surreal and confusing enough that it leaves James momentarily speechless.

“I’m almost worried to show you the rest of the place now.” Sirius doesn’t sound worried in the slightest, flicking on the light and leading James through to a bright, airy room.

The furniture is modern, the high ceilings and large windows giving a sense of space to the living room. There’s another black and white photograph of a man with his head thrown back. Although only his neck and head are visible, his expression makes it clear to James that something good is happening out of frame. For a minute James thinks the man almost looks like him, with his dark, messy, rumpled hair. He dismisses the thought as quickly as it arises, mentally chastising himself for his arrogance at thinking he looks anything a model, with his naff glasses and stupid, knobbly knees.

With a huff at himself, James looks around for traces of Hogwarts. He half hopes to spot a scarf, the Potions Troll Sirius said he was going to frame, a magical photograph of the Marauders, anything. Instead, everything is Muggle and still, the photographs and artwork featuring handsome strangers or the Muggle musicians Sirius loves. A bookcase full of vinyl and an expensive looking record player occupy one corner of the room and James realises with a start that Sirius even has a telly.

“You think I’ve left it all behind, don’t you?” Sirius sits on the sofa and unlaces his boots, looking up at James. “Magic, I mean.”

“Haven’t you?” James glances around, unable to smooth away his frown successfully. “It’s nice, I just…”

James trails off, because he doesn’t know how to finish the sentence. I don’t have a place here sounds too childish, too entitled. It doesn’t feel like you seems presumptuous in the extreme, when it’s starting to look like he doesn’t know Sirius half as well as he thought he did.

“Bedroom.” Sirius waves his hand to the hall. “Upstairs, first room on the left.”

“What?” James stares at Sirius, his heat quickening.

“Have a look.” Sirius raises an eyebrow at James, kicking off his boots after loosening them sufficiently. “I’ll put some music on and make a drink. Beer, or some of that housewarming gift?”

“Beer,” James decides. “To start.”

“Beer it is.”

Sirius whistles something that sounds familiar and James makes his way upstairs.

He’s almost disappointed that Sirius doesn’t follow.

*

The suggestion James go upstairs seemed odd, but as soon as James locates Sirius’s bedroom, he understands.

The room hums with magic. The décor is distinctively Gryffindor, with the trusty broom Sirius used throughout his time at Hogwarts propped up next to the door. With a swell of affection for his friend, James picks up the multiple photographs that line a shelf, bookended by a couple of old textbooks and maps of Muggle London. There’s one of Sirius and Remus on their brooms and one of Peter laughing at something in the Great Hall. They’re magical, all of them, moving and waving, bright, bold and colourful.

“You didn’t forget,” James murmurs.

He picks up a photograph in prime position, his lips tugging into a smile as a giddy recklessness bubbles inside him. It’s a photograph of James. Walking ahead of Sirius on Hogwarts grounds during a particularly heavy snow, he looks like he’s hollering at Sirius to catch up. His cheeks are ruddy with the cold, his smile broad and easy and his eyes shining. His Gryffindor scarf billows on a gust of wind and photo-James rubs his hands together for warmth. James can hardly remember being so confident, so relaxed and so utterly content with every aspect of his life. It reminds him of the way being with Sirius has always felt, the easy camaraderie and the fierce fondness that always made them the tightest of friends.

Feeling instantly more at ease with Sirius and his new flat, James is about to leave when something draws his attention to the bedside cabinet. He looks at the door and can hear the sound of Sirius moving around downstairs, with the instantly recognisable sounds of Siouxsie and the Banshees filtering upstairs. His heart races as James approaches the cabinet. There’s a half-drunk glass of water next to the bed and a book still in a bag from a shop called Gay’s The Word.

Glancing over his shoulder to make sure he isn’t about to be caught snooping James carefully opens the drawer. He’s not sure what he hopes to find, but the half-open tube of lubricant, a few magazines with half-naked men on the covers and a couple of condoms nestling on tidily folded underwear and socks makes his whole body warm. He’s never really thought about his friends having sex. James spends his hornier moments thinking about himself having sex, not that he’s had much experience on that front. He thought Lily would be his first, but their relationship lacked the passion he expected. It was just one of several reasons everything went to downhill quicker than a Stupified Erumpent. The realisation that Sirius, with his Muggle men in leather, his cruising in cemeteries and his sexy, confusing photographs has probably done much more than James, hits him like a Bludger. A peculiar combination of jealousy, curiosity and something he can’t put his finger on—something that makes his chest tight and his skin hot—surges through him like a powerful spell.

The music from downstairs increases in volume and James nearly jumps out of his skin. James shuts the drawer with shaking hands and makes his way out of the room as quickly as he can manage.

*

“I can see why you don’t bring many Muggles back here,” James says. He takes the beer Sirius offers him and clinks their bottles together, settling in a seat facing Sirius. The sofas are comfortable and luxurious, the velvety opulence indicating Sirius didn’t just spend Uncle Alphard’s cash on bricks and mortar. “I like the bedroom.”

“Thanks.” Sirius gives James a grin. “I thought it might make you feel more at home. I know this must be weird for you. All of it.”

“Not that weird,” James lies. Weird isn’t the half of it. “The photos are good. I remember that walk on Hogwarts grounds. We got caught in a blizzard and Firenze had to make sure we got back to the castle.”

“I remember too. Obviously.” Sirius gives James another small smile, a question in his gaze. “Is there a reason you were going through my knicker drawer?”

“Excuse me?” Heat sears through James, making his cheeks burn. He takes a quick gulp of his lager. “How—what?”

“Magic.” Sirius puts his beer down and rests his ankle on his leg, looking a million times more comfortable than James feels. “I’m not stupid. I have wards, particularly these days. I do a check whenever I get home if anyone has been here, snooping around. I just never expected it to be you.”

“I wasn’t snooping.” James tries to defend himself, knowing he has precious little chance of doing so successfully. “You told me to go to your room.”

“To look at the photos, to see I hadn’t forgotten about being a wizard, about you, you daft twat. You looked so miserable walking in here, with all the Muggle things. I had to cheer you up somehow otherwise we’d have been a right sorry pair.”

“It wasn’t—” James stops, because he can’t even begin to explain what possessed him to rummage through Sirius’s cabinets.

“Don’t you trust me anymore?” Sirius still has the same, easy smile, but there’s a flicker of hurt behind it and a tightness to his voice that suggests he’s trying not to lose his temper. “I know there’s all sorts going on, with Imperius and people switching sides every minute. I’ve had my doubts about Moony to be honest, but I never thought you would think—”

“Bloody hell, I don’t!” James raises his voice to stop Sirius going off on one. The idea he could think Sirius would embrace everything he rejected at significant cost makes no sense whatsoever. James has no doubt in his mind that Sirius can be trusted. He would trust him with his life, if he needed to. “It wasn’t that. Do you think I came here to investigate you like Mad-Eye or someone?”

“I don’t know.” Sirius shrugs and his smile fades into a tight, thin line. His voice gets cold and crisp. “I can’t think of any other reason.”

“I was curious,” James mumbles. “I’m a dickhead.”

“Curious about my underpants?” Sirius laughs, sounding instantly more relaxed. “Circe, you must be bored.”

“Fuck off.” James takes a few gulps of his beer to steady his nerves. “Curious about sex. I haven’t done it before. I don’t know what I expected to find. Bloody stupid of me.”

“You’ve had sex.” Sirius stares at James. “What about Evans and that Ravenclaw witch you told us all you had a night of passion with?”

“It was all false bravado.” James winces at how pathetic it must seem. “Everything was such a mess with Lily, the last thing on our minds was sex. I made up the story about that Ravenclaw witch because even Peter seemed to be doing better than me and I didn’t want to be left out.”

“You’re not the only one that made up stories about shagging witches, so I can hardly blame you for that.” Sirius frowns, thinking. After a minute, he finishes his beer and sits back. “Go on, then. You can ask anything you like. If it gets awkward, we’ll open that green shit you bought me, get pissed and talk about something else.”

“I don’t want to ask anything I know how it works.” Mortification creeps through James and silence stretches between them before a niggling thought occurs to him. “Wait, I do have a question. Why do you have condoms?”

“The first Muggle I slept with was a hygiene nut.” Sirius cracks open two more beers with a flick of his wand, seemingly quite comfortable answering questions about his sex life. “He went on about it so much it put me off doing it without. It’s not common, but I can hardly use spells with a Muggle. It works for me.”

“It’s been more than just one Muggle?” Part of James hoped Sirius had one or two awkward experiences. He’s increasingly sure that’s not the case now and he’s surprised by how the idea burns through him in a white-hot flash of jealousy. “Lots?”

“Enough.” Sirius rubs his jaw and gives James a wry smile. “Mainly blow jobs and hand jobs, but other things too.”

“Do you—?” James stops because he can’t ask if Sirius gets fucked or does the fucking. It’s probably a stupid question. It occurs to James he really doesn’t have much idea how it works, apart from the basic mechanics. “Never mind.”

“Careful, if you start getting bashful on me, I’ll start thinking there’s something wrong. The Prongs I know wouldn’t play coy.”

“I’m not playing coy.” James rolls his eyes. He relaxes a little as the pleasant fizz of beer and the booziness eases his strange mood a little. “You know what I was going to ask.”

“Yes, I think so.” Sirius leans forward, a glint in his eye as he looks steadily at James. “I’ve tried everything. I’m still working out what I like best.”

“What does it feel like?” James’s mouth is dry. He wants to know. He wants to know so badly it zings through his body, leaving an anxious knot in his stomach. “Tell me,” he insists.

“I’ve never been with a witch,” Sirius says. His answer is careful, a strange heat behind his eyes as he contemplates James. “It’s probably very different.”

“I’m not asking what it feels like with a witch.” James meets Sirius’s gaze head on, his heart pounding like drums. “I’m asking what it feels like for you.”

“Good. Hot, hard, tight. Lots of sweat and forbidden pleasures in the shadows.” Sirius wets his lips as if his mouth is dry. “Odd, at first. I’d like to see how magic changes things.”

“No wizards?” The revelation pleases James, although he refuses to dwell on why it matters.

“No wizards.” Sirius shakes his head. “Not yet.”

“Do you think it would be different?” James holds his breath, meeting Sirius’s steady gaze boldly. His body warms, his jeans uncomfortably tight as his body starts to respond to the conversation. He can’t help but imagine it; Sirius stretched out, hard, eager, wanting James not some fucking Muggle stranger—

The gramophone skips and it jolts them both from their charged silence. Sirius gets abruptly to his feet and fiddles with the needle on the gramophone. It takes longer than it should before he settles back on the sofa, looking perfectly at ease again.

“That’s enough of my salacious encounters,” Sirius says. The mood lifts as if someone has opened the window and released all the tension from the room. “I want to hear how you’ve been.”

James begins to talk, not quite ready to touch upon how adrift he’s been feeling lately. He makes it sound like he’s had a great time wandering around Diagon, not under any pressure to find work anytime soon. The conversation settles into the usual, easy back and forth that reminds James of being back at Hogwarts. He can almost imagine sitting in Gryffindor Tower after hours, sharing chocolates and small, neat shots of brandy.

Night draws in, the records spin and for several, blissful hours, it’s exactly like old times.

*

The Crème de Menthe is so disgusting, they give up and open the rum two shots in. Sirius seems happy with the bedraggled bunch of carnations at least, shoving them into a mug with a splash of water and proudly displaying them on the hearth.

“If I’d have known you were going to put them up, I’d have chosen ones that weren’t dying.” James finishes rooting through Sirius’s vinyl collection and sits back down, holding up his glass in a cheers motion. Now the night has settled in, the light in the flat is moody and soft.

“I like the rustic look.” Sirius grins at James. After a moment his smile softens. “I missed you. Good to have you back, talking shit with me until the sun comes up.”

“Good to be back.” James hopes it’s clear to Sirius how sincerely he means it. Even though it hasn’t been that long without a decent night together, the days without speaking felt like months and just being around Sirius makes James feel more settled. “I’m sorry for making things stupid between us. I was hurt you didn’t tell me, that’s what stung.”

“It’s fine.” Sirius sounds as though he wants to say something else, but instead he takes another shot of rum. He looks down at his hands, twisting them together before speaking again in a slow, quiet tone. “I was scared to tell people. You, most of all.”

“Why?” One of the things James loves about his friendship with Sirius is how unfiltered it is. The shift from that to keeping enormous secrets is just another crappy change like the countless others this year. James doesn’t like it one bit. He tries to keep the grumble out of his voice. Patience has never been his strong suit. “I’m glad you think so highly of me.”

“It wasn’t about you,” Sirius replies. His voice is brittle, his jaw clenched. “Or maybe it’s always been about you. Everything changes, you see. There was the world before, now there’s the world after. It makes things look different. I couldn’t talk to you about that.”

“Thanks a lot.” James pushes a hand through his untidy hair, hoping Sirius doesn’t notice the unsteadiness in his movements. “Sounds like you think I’m a homophobe.”

“No.” Sirius’s voice is strangely choked, his cheeks lightly flushed. He shakes his head. “That wasn’t the problem.”

“You had a problem telling me though, didn’t you? You’ve said as much already.” James stands, stuffing his hands in his pockets. He can’t breathe properly, can’t look at Sirius. In a matter of seconds, the strange space of Sirius’s new home has become a tight, airless room, somewhere James can’t settle, can’t sit still. An edginess swells and crests inside him, every single second of feeling lost and alone fusing together in one hot, angry ball of fire that burns brightly deep in his gut. “I’m going.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, James.” Sirius stands, reaching his hand towards James then curling it into a fist and dropping it back to his side. The light from the traffic outside moves quickly across Sirius’s face, shadows accentuating every curve and structured line of his face, the downward tilt of displeasure at the corner of his mouth. It makes James inexplicably sad for the time when all they did together was smile. On nights like this, James would never ordinarily leave. They would always end up falling asleep in a reckless tumble, just two teenagers who don’t have to keep a careful distance. “Where are you planning to go at this time?”

“Back to that pub of yours, I don’t know.” James glares at Sirius, another impulsive flash of anger tearing through him. Everything that had once seemed so solid is precarious now, like a house of cards just one false move away from tumbling down. James moves closer to Sirius, his voice quiet with the rage that burns through him, heightened by his confusion and yearning for the old, simpler times he would give anything to go back to. “I would share everything with you. I’ve never once held anything back.”

Liar.” A quiet fury radiates from Sirius, a sneer marring his handsome features. “We spent the last few hours talking about fuck all. Reminiscing, going back to the glory days. It’s over, James. The House Cup, winding up Slytherins, Quidditch, Firenze, Dumbledore, all of it. None of it matters. It’s just memories you use like gloss to avoid difficult conversations.”

“It’s more than that.” Sirius’s words sting like a slap and James finds the heat of his anger replaced by a douse of icy cold. Nausea settles in the pit of his stomach, a strange, empty ache. Dizzily, he remembers being so happy just moments before, thinking back to the days when everything was easier, when his feelings weren’t so muddled and confused, when his parents were well and happy. “Fuck you for saying that. You can put up all the Muggle photographs you want and listen to every crappy vinyl you can get your hands on, but you’ll never stop being Sirius Black. Not in our world.”

“I know who I am,” Sirius snaps. “I know exactly who I am, which is more than can be said for you.”

“Getting sucked off by Muggles in a cemetery isn’t the path to enlightenment, you twat.” James shoves Sirius, pushing him back. “It’s like that flying motorbike of yours. Thrill-seeking, looking for something to take the pain away. Does it help you forget? Is that why you do it?”

“I can’t stand you at the minute,” Sirius growls. His voice is flat and cold. He shoves James back, hard in the chest. “Get out. Fuck off back home, before we both say things we’re going to regret.”

“All I wanted was things to go back to the way they were.” James tries to speak in a level voice, but his words fall from his lips in a frantic tumble. His eyes sting and he yanks off his glasses, wiping them furiously. He won’t cry, he won’t. “I just wanted a normal night with you, like old times. Is that so bad? I’m nearly twenty and everything is going to shit. I don’t know what I want or how to be an adult. The only person that makes things feel normal is you.”

“James, you can’t—I can’t—” Sirius stops, his expression twisted. He lifts a hand to James, as if he wants to reach for him before he catches himself. “Understand why I couldn’t share this with you, of all people. Don’t make me say it.”

The anger that rolled through James is replaced by another, different kind of heat. Sirius is so close. He smells so good, so familiar. It’s like coming home on a cold winter night, as if the world has righted itself and started spinning exactly as it should. They’re standing close enough that only a whisper of air is between them, the barest fraction of space, thick with the heavy weight of everything James can’t find the words to say.

“I understand,” James murmurs. He meets Sirius’s gaze and moves closer, until the last space between them closes. “I understand more of it than you probably realise—more than I realised, until now.”

The confession settles over James slowly, covering him like a blanket. There’s comfort in it, relief, but there’s also fear which spikes deep in the heart of him. Sirius is right. Everything’s different. The world before, the world after, the way they collide together and explode. The hot flush of embarrassment and the creep of jealousy that hissed and slithered inside him make more sense, but everything is still so strange, so confused. James has never been good with words. McGonagall told him once if he could write essays with the same confidence he exhibits when he flies, he would be the best student in the school. He’s never been able to make Wronski Feints of his sentences or articulate himself with the kind of finesse that comes so naturally to a bookworm like Lupin. James just says things. Hilarious, stupid, idiotic things. Cruel, careless things. Words he wants to take back, refine and start all over again in a way that lessens their clumsiness.

“Is this curiosity?” Sirius sounds strange, his words jagged. His mouth is so close, his breath hot on James’s skin. “Because I’m not going to be your experiment.”

“It’s like those worlds of yours.” James tries to explain, tries to find the words that keep slipping from his grasp. “The before and the after. Like I’ve been looking at everything upside down. I can’t imagine a world without you.”

“James.” Sirius groans, a wretched, urgent sound. James never knew his name could sound like that, rich with desire as the constants and vowels spill from another man’s lips. Sirius’s lips. “If you’re having me on, I’ll hex your bollocks off quicker than you can say—”

“Shut up.” James laughs, a bright, unexpected moment. “Shut up, Padfoot.”

James decides to use his mouth for something other than talking because he’s never been brilliant at it anyway. He knows how to kiss, though. He did pick something up when he was busy being the world’s worst boyfriend. He pulls his glasses off and sends them fuck knows where with a quick spell, before letting his wand clatter to the floor. He yanks Sirius in, mouthing an awkward kiss on the corner of his mouth before their lips finally meet properly.

Sirius grips onto James, needy and hungry. It turns out he knows how to kiss too and there’s nothing gentle or tentative in it. Instead, his mouth explores James’s, his tongue slick and hot. With a groan of pleasure, James sinks into it. There’s something so odd about doing something so unfamiliar with the person he knows best in the world. The first few seconds are as strange as anything James has ever done in his life. He’s acutely aware of the scratch of stubble, the familiar, tight hold of a hug from Sirius that is so very different when there’s kissing involved too. He can feel the hardness of Sirius against his own body and knows his body is all too eager to respond in kind. He hopes Sirius doesn’t judge James too much for being nineteen and horny as fuck.

With a low moan, James lets himself be manoeuvred back onto the sofa he admired before. The velvet plushness of it creates a soft bounce beneath his back as he tumbles onto it, dragging Sirius down over him so they don’t break the kiss for longer than a breathless my fucking ankle, Prongs and a deep, rumbling belly laugh. James shoves his hands into Sirius’s hair, deepening the kiss in between gasps of breath when he steadies himself by mouthing along Sirius’s throat then back up to his lips.

Kissing Sirius, it turns out, is as easy as breathing. It takes a bit of getting used to after the initial—fuck me, we’re snogging—but once that fades, it’s indescribably good. As the kisses get heavier, wetter, sloppier and their breathless grunts and groans fill the quiet room, James determines that this is what he’s been searching for. In the malaise of gloomily wandering around his home or walking around Diagon with an uncharacteristic listlessness, he’s been trying to get back the fire and passion of youth. He missed his unshakable friendships and the ease of knowing exactly who he was and his place in the small world they inhabited. It seems so futile now, with his parents in St Mungo’s, the magical world on the brink of war and the Muggle one seemingly full of its own complexities. James spent so long trying to cling on to his safe, cosseted space. Now he’s seen the way Sirius has carved out a place for himself in Muggle London, the idea that he could recreate life at Hogwarts seems childish, an impossible attempt to stop time in its tracks to keep everyone safe.

Maybe James isn’t as brave as he’d like to believe. Safe is stasis. There’s no moving forward, no hope for a bright, unexpected future. It’s just memories that are as malleable as magical putty. James grips onto Sirius and pulls him as close as he can, searching his mouth with wanton, brazen abandon.

“Where do you go?” Sirius pulls back, brushing his lips to the corner of James’s mouth. “Where do you go when you’re kissing me?”

“Thinking.” James can’t find the words and he isn’t sure he wants to. He instigates another wet, desperate kiss. He grinds against Sirius, seeking out friction against his cock and letting the kisses continue until they’re both breathless. When he manages to speak again, his voice is rough and hard. “I’ve been an idiot. Living in fairy tales like Beedle the Bard.”

“Don’t be daft.” Sirius snorts. “You just wanted things to be normal again. I understand that. Trust me.”

“Everything’s changing.” James swallows, clutching onto Sirius. He gives Sirius a half smile. “Not all bad though, is it? Change.”

“Not bad at all,” Sirius agrees. He pushes a hand through his hair, leaving it even more dishevelled than usual. “I wouldn’t go back, you know. Going back to Hogwarts is going back into the closet. I’d rather be a Slytherin.”

“Merlin forbid.” James laughs, the confession so utterly like Padfoot it sends a fierce rush of affection through him. It’s familiar, looking at Sirius like he hung the bloody moon. “Dunno why I’m getting all philosophical. It’s been a weird few months.”

“You can say that again.” Sirius sits back on his heels, watching James. “Is this too much, too strange?”

“Not for me.” James wants Sirius back over him again. He wants the anchoring pressure of lips against lips to dull the ache in his heart for his parents and the aimless wander of his brain back to schoolboy days. He palms himself through his trousers shamelessly. In for a Knut, in for a Galleon. “Your Muggle photos are peculiar, though. That bloke over there looks like he’s about to get off.”

“Really?” Sirius smirks, as if he knows very well what the man in the photograph is doing behind the scenes. His smile fades and he holds James’s gaze, his voice lowering. “To be frank, I only bought it because he reminded me of you.”

“He does?” James squints at the photograph which is blurry and imprecise without his glasses. The tendril of hope when he looked at the photograph for the first time takes hold, sending a giddy warmth through him. “He's handsome, whatever it is he's doing beneath that frame. I hope I live up to expectations.”

“Planning to come then, are you?” Sirius laughs under his breath, moving back over James and pressing his lips to the shell of his ear. “You should, you know. You should come. It's really the only way to see if I’m right.”

“It really is,” James agrees. The way Sirius says you should come is so decadent, so filthy, it makes James's body sing. He tugs Sirius close and kisses him, hard. “Shame I’m losing my hard on with all this talking.”

“Really?” Sirius moves his hand between them, rubbing the heel of his palm over James whose erection has hardly flagged at all. “You feel pretty hard to me.”

“Maybe you want to take a closer look,” James offers, boldly. “As long as you don’t make fun of my stupid knees.”

“Your knees?” Sirius stops whatever magic he’s working with his hand and grins at James, his jaw working as if he’s trying not to burst out laughing. “I’m not planning to give your knees a blow job, so we’re probably fine. Keep your trousers on if you’re going to be a princess about flashing me a bit of knee.”

Merlin.” James wants to laugh, but with Sirius working open his belt things don’t seem quite so funny anymore. Instead, he falls back on the cushions, his chest heaving as Sirius tugs open his trousers. His belly clenches when Sirius presses his hand against it, moving lower in a series of practiced kisses.

The sensation as Sirius tugs open James’s trousers and shoves them down is inexplicably good. If his erection was in any danger of flagging, it definitely isn’t now. Sirius hasn’t so much as touched James’s cock but the air in the room against his skin makes him jerk up, searching for the slick slide of Sirius’s lips against him. It’s a good job Sirius has his hand firmly pressed against James’s stomach, a tether, holding him down and steady. As Sirius’s hot breath ghosts over the tip of James’s cock, he sucks in another sharp breath.

“Please.” James’s voice is ragged, the tone of it barely recognisable. He fists his hand back in Sirius’s hair and cries out at the first slow, wet slide of Sirius’s mouth around him. “Holy fuck.”

Everything is so hot, so wet, so good. The pleasure is almost unbearable, the way warmth climbs across James’s skin and the steady pressure of Sirius’s lips around his dick. James wants it to be good. He wants to make Sirius forget about his Muggles and keeps fucking James for as long as they can both manage. However, the white-hot pleasure sears through James quicker than he would prefer. Having someone touch him like this—suck him like this—after the rough and tumble kissing from before and the way anticipation has been crawling through him for weeks tears a quick, forceful climax from James after just a few minutes. With a grunt, he bucks up into Sirius’s mouth unable even to warn him, his orgasm pulsing through him.

“Like that?” Sirius has a shit-eating grin on his face when he pulls back. He swipes the back of his hand across his mouth and sits back on his heels, as if waiting to see what James does next.

“Yes, obviously.” James catches his breath, determining they’re not nearly sweaty and shagged out enough yet. Boldly, he gets to his feet and tugs up his jeans. He glances at Sirius as he buckles his belt and doesn’t miss the look of resigned disappointment that crosses his features. “You think we’re done?”

“You tell me.” Sirius sounds lazy and unbothered, but James knows him well enough by now that he doesn’t believe it for a second. “I can take the rest from here if you want to go to sleep, or home, or wherever the fuck.”

“Yeah right.” James snorts, yanking Sirius up. He pulls him into a fierce, heart-stopping kiss. “I want to know,” he murmurs, mouthing a line down Sirius’s neck, “If you ever thought of me when those Muggles of yours were down on their knees.”

“Maybe.” Sirius’s voice is rough-edged, low and seductive. It sends a thrill of pleasure down James’s spine. “The world looked different, when I worked things out.”

“I get it.” James really does. He understands what Sirius means, the way a friendship can shift and twist into something different when you start to discover yourself. He’s learning how that can happen. Quickly and slowly, at the same time

James pushes Sirius towards the nearest wall that isn’t too full of posters and shelving. He’s tempted to drop straight to his knees, but he can’t resist another fierce, urgent kiss. Sirius’s mouth is right there after all and the way he pushes his hands into James’s hair and deepens the kiss is exquisite. With a groan of pleasure, James shoves his hand between them, palming at Sirius over his jeans. The fabric is thick and obstinate, the touch not nearly enough for James. He finds a hunger tearing through him with force, his whole body sensitised to every stroke of Sirius’s fingers, ever touch of his lips.

“You fucker,” James says. His voice is rough and breathless. He pulls back from Sirius and moves to his knees, unbuckling his belt with shaking hands. “You were testing me, weren’t you? I knew it, from the moment I got inside The Coleherne.”

James knows the men in leather, the gay bar and even the Muggle photographs were all part of Sirius throwing two fingers up in a I don’t care what you think of me kind of way. James also knows Sirius as well as he knows himself. He knows a bit about bravado too, about pretending all the aches don’t hurt. James suspects even now, Sirius thinks James will get scared and bugger off back to being straight. James doesn’t know what he is yet, but from the way his mouth waters as he tries to prise open Sirius’s trousers, he’s damn sure it isn’t straight. Besides, there’s not much that scares James Potter and even when he’s terrified, he’s always believed in facing his fears head on.

“I just wanted to see if you would stick around if you knew all of it. I never expected this,” Sirius says. He sounds amused and turned on in equal measure.

“Who wants to be predictable?” James murmurs. His hands don’t have the same dexterity as usual, the shakiness that’s part nerves, part adrenaline, making his movements clumsy.

He finally gets the trousers open and the hard line of Sirius beneath thin, cotton pants makes him suck in a breath. He rubs his hand over the material, the heat of Sirius beneath his palm sending a pulse of pleasure through his body. Sirius presses into his hand with a groan, his breathing unsteady.

“You don’t have to prove yourself to me.” Sirius moves his hand to cup James’s jaw, forcing him to look up. His expression is full of heat and impossibly fond. “Don’t be a twat.”

“I’m not trying to prove anything,” James replies, even though he is.

Part of his plan is to show Sirius that sucking another man’s cock doesn’t scare him, but it’s more than that. He wants to taste Sirius. He wants to feel the thick, hot weight of him sliding into his mouth. He wants the hard wood floor to sting against his knees after holding his position too long. He wants to know if Sirius tastes salty and to savour the musky scent of him in all of those private, intimate places. Even if James doesn’t have the first idea what he’s doing, it can’t be that difficult.

“I want to do this,” James says. His voice is firm and warm, with hardly a tremor. He grins up at Sirius. “Close your eyes, turn off the lights and pretend you’re in a cemetery if it makes you hornier.”

“You have absolutely no idea,” Sirius murmurs. The way he slides his fingers through James’s hair and makes no move to turn off the light suggests it’s not a rude comment about James having zero experience. It occurs to James that Sirius wants to watch, not close his eyes and fantasise about a Muggle stranger.

The thought sends a thrill through James and it gives him a boost of confidence, not that he needs much encouragement. Without further ado, James pushes Sirius’s trousers and pants down. He wets his lips, thinking about how Sirius sucked him. James has always been good at learning practical things, physical things. He’s also annoyingly competitive and the jealous flush he gets when he thinks of Sirius and his Muggles spurs him on. He holds Sirius steady, giving him a quick couple of strokes to bring him to full hardness. With a groan of pleasure, James slides his lips over Sirius and takes pleasure in the burn of the floor under his knees and the weight of Sirius between his lips.

James isn’t sure he’s doing it right, but it doesn’t seem to bother Sirius. The responding clutch of his fingers in James’s hair tells him that he must be doing okay. It occurs to James as Sirius helps guide his movements, that Sirius is using James’s mouth to get off. The thought sends an unexpected heat through his body and makes his skin tingle. He looks up and finds Sirius watching him. He looks so good when he’s seeking pleasure, with his dark eyes and flushed cheeks. James tries to let Sirius know it’s okay to push deeper. More than okay.

Somehow Sirius seems to get the message and it doesn’t take long for them to build into a rhythm, with Sirius twisting his hand tighter in James’s hair. He presses his other hand against James’s cheek, watching himself sliding in and out of James’s mouth with such unfiltered desire, it leaves James breathless. His mouth is wet with saliva, the stretch of his lips around Sirius and the nudge of him going deeper and quicker makes James harden in his jeans. When Sirius pulls away, James finds himself chasing Sirius’s cock with his lips. He didn’t know what to expect from it but he finds he wants more, whatever Sirius wants to give him.

“Everything alright?” James’s voice has a strange, thick quality to it. He sits back on his heels and Sirius nods, urging James close again.

“Yeah. Can I…?” Sirius strokes himself and James gets it. The thought is so deliciously filthy, his response catches in his throat and all he can do is nod.

With a few quick strokes, Sirius reaches his climax and the wet, sticky heat of it covers James’ throat, mouth and chin. James doesn’t know what to do next, but Sirius diffuses any potential awkwardness by dropping to his own knees and kissing James. Their mouths fuse together, salty, filthy and blissfully good. James gets dizzy with need, pushing his own hands into Sirius’ hair and deepening the kiss. Everything is desperately good, from the slick slide of their tongues to the open-mouthed pressure of Sirius’s lips and the endless searching kisses, punctuated only by gruff whispers and indecipherable grunts.

They stay wrapped in one another’s arms for a very long time as the night stretches ahead of them, constant and still.

*

“Thank fuck for magic.” James casts a spell to clean his teeth. He takes the t-shirt Sirius put on the bed and slips it on, transfiguring a pair of clean boxers into pyjama bottoms. “You wouldn’t want to kiss me in the morning without a trusty Minty Fresh Charm.”

“I probably would,” Sirius replies. He appears from the connecting bathroom, wiping his face with a towel and leaning against the doorframe, watching James. He doesn’t wear t-shirts to bed and seeing his bare chest and the thatch of dark hair on it is somehow more intimate than the things they were doing earlier.

“Better not take any chances.” James shrugs and gets into bed. The mood is strangely awkward. A thrill gathers in his belly, his nerves returning. It’s not even that late. They usually stay up all night when they have boozy evenings together. The hurried move upstairs either means Sirius needs to sleep after an orgasm, or he has other plans. James sincerely hopes it’s the latter. He’s far too pent up to sleep, full of complicated emotions that flutter and bounce inside him like a jar of excited Cornish Pixies.

“You might not want me to kiss you in the morning.” Sirius slides into bed and props himself up on his elbow, giving James a steady look. “Everything can look different when the sun comes up.”

“Do you think it’s going to look different for you?” James’s heart thuds in his chest, a creep of the same, desperate nausea from before returning. He wants to grab onto Sirius and never let go. Want me, his brain pleads. Not just for tonight.

“Nope.” Sirius punches his pillows lightly to make them more comfortable and returns to the same position on his side, with his head in his hand as he watches James. “But it’s different for me. I’ve had a lot of sunrises between then and now.”

James glances at the photograph he studied earlier, in pride of place on the shelf. Watching his own smiling face and the eager, confident bounce to his stride is like watching a stranger. There’s something ethereal about it, something not quite real. James shakes himself and returns to focus on Sirius, brushing his fingers along Sirius’s chest. This is real. The hair beneath his fingers is wiry and the heat of Sirius’s skin warms his cool fingertips. He’s like a kid in Honeydukes. Being this close to Sirius is as tempting as the finest Fizzing Whizbee and all James wants is to explore, to taste, feel, touch. A deep yearning grips at him together with the unshakable conviction that of all the things James has been doing wrong since he left Hogwarts, this isn’t one of them. Few things in his life have felt quite so right.

“How long have you known?” James murmurs. He shifts closer, wanting to kiss Sirius but not sure if he’s allowed in the quiet, contemplative aftermath of everything.

“About you?” Sirius shrugs, giving James a crooked smile. “I can’t remember not knowing. It’s always been there, from the Hogwarts Express probably. I just didn’t understand it until I understood myself.”

Part of James understands, because there's no doubt he could reflect back on moments with Sirius and see them in an entirely different light. At the same time, he's more confused than ever. His feelings for Lily were as real as his feelings are for Sirius now and that sends his brain into a spiral of uncertainty that he can't fully articulate. He doesn’t know how to say I don’t know who I am yet without scaring Sirius away. He knows he wants this. He knows he’s happier than he’s been in ages, that lost, untethered sense of drifting aimlessly into adulthood suddenly less acute. Nevertheless, the knowledge that this tangible, unexpected thing is good doesn't make it any easier to process. James simply doesn't have the words to capture how brilliant and terrifying everything is or to sort through the muddle in his brain that feels as though someone's been scribbling in his head. He's worried about making a right Hippogriff's ear of things, saying any old shit in that usual, carefree way of his. He just wants to get back into the kissing, to sink into blissful, exploratory heat and leave the world and its challenges behind for a few more hours.

“How are you really?” Sirius breaks the silence, his expression soft and open. “With everything going on.”

“Fine.” James, who isn’t fine, stretches out and blinks at the ceiling. His racing thoughts calm and he struggles for words, feeling he owes Sirius the truth. “Not fine. It’s been weird, without mum and dad in the house. I miss them. Peter hasn't been around, Remus has done a disappearing act and you, well. We've been through that. Everything’s so peculiar, now school’s over. It's like everyone has their own things going on and I'm still the same old James, except nothing's the same. It's like the world's moved on and now I'm out of sync with everything else.”

“You probably expected things to go better with Lily.” Sirius is clearly trying to be careful with his words, looking for answers without asking a question.

“I'm not going to run back to her if that's what you're asking,” James replies. “We're okay, but it never took off like I thought it would for either of us. We're friendly. I’ve been moping around going half mad thinking about why it didn’t work, but sometimes life’s like that I suppose. Best not to overthink it.”

“Mmhmm.” Sirius doesn’t sound so sure.

“It bothers you, doesn’t it?” James turns to face Sirius again, meeting his steady gaze. “That I’m interested in witches.”

“Are you?” Sirius doesn’t display any emotion, his expression neutral.

“Yeah.” James breathes out, nodding his head. The thought that he could be interested in witches and wizards didn't really occur to him, but as soon as he acknowledges that his feelings for Lily weren't some strange anomaly, it's like the pieces of a tricky jigsaw slotting into place. “Not just witches, though. Not anymore.”

“Oh.” Sirius considers that. “Witches and…me?”

“Not quite.” James laughs under his breath at Sirius, the arrogant fucker. “Witches and wizards in general. I think.”

“Okay.” Sirius contemplates that. “This bisexual chap had it off with a few of the regulars at The Coleherne. They used to call him Friday Frank, because he always went back to his wife on Saturday.”

James bristles and glares at Sirius. He might have only heard the word bisexual about three seconds ago, but that doesn't make him any less pissed off at the automatic suggestion that he's going to fuck Sirius over just because he thinks witches are pretty.

“I don't have a wife,” James points out. “Although if you're going to be a pillock, I should probably start looking for one.”

“Sorry.” Sirius has the decency to look apologetic. He sighs and rubs his hand against the stubble on his chin. “You liked her so much, James. I've always been a jealous so-and-so when it comes to you.”

“You're not the only one.” James thinks about the way he's reacted in the past to moments when Sirius seemed particularly close to Remus, or Peter. “I'm just trying to be honest,” he finishes, quietly.

“I know and I appreciate it.” The cloudiness in Sirius's expression lifts. “What matters is who you're with now.”

“I'll be with you for as long as you’ll have me.” James’s breath catches in his throat as Sirius moves nearer. “Unless we muck it all up.”

“Most likely, knowing us,” Sirius says, cheerfully. “Unless You-Know-Who gets to us first.”

“Don’t say that.” James pulls a face. “I haven’t even had a shag yet.”

“Priorities.” Sirius laughs, before his happy expression gives way to something more serious. He runs his tongue over his lips, the dark heat behind his eyes making James's breathing quicken. “I could give you a hand with that.”

“That’s generous of you, Padfoot.” Despite his teasing tone, James’s stomach flips with anticipation. “Always helping your friends out.”

“I'm really only interested in helping you out,” Sirius says. He brushes his lips against James’s mouth, his voice low and throaty. “If you like.”

Sirius doesn't wait for a response. Instead the light, flirty kisses become the kind of heated, full-on kiss James has been eagerly awaiting since they came upstairs. It’s different being in bed together, with fewer barriers between them. There’s no missing the hardness in Sirius’ thin boxers and James knows his own body must be giving him away, from the way Sirius grinds against him. The kisses stretch into minutes, the heavy weight of Sirius settling over James and keeping him pressed into the comfortable mattress. As they kiss, a whisper of magic flutters over James’s skin. It tastes like the hot chocolate and marshmallows they used to drink in the Gryffindor Tower common room and it's as warm as lazy summer sunbeams on Hogsmeade cobbles. It brings James back to Hogwarts with unstoppable force, the memories of lazing around with Sirius searing through him with perfect clarity. He can almost hear the laughter and the scratch of quill against parchment as they huddled together in a way that always made even the most boring Arithmancy homework interesting. With a desperate unf, James surges up, bucking into Sirius and kissing him harder. He dimly realises the magic has left them both naked. With a groan of pleasure, James breaks away from the kiss and slides his hands down Sirius’s back, taking in every knot of muscle, every curve and slope.

“Are you going to get out that lube of yours?” James has been thinking about the blasted lube ever since he found it. He hopes the edge of cockiness in his tone doesn’t let Sirius know how nerves skitter through him. “Or do you want to try magic?”

“Magic can wait,” Sirius decides. He rolls off James and roots around in his bedside cabinet, his voice muffled. “I'm used to doing things the Muggle way. It could get dangerous, waving my wand around your arse.”

“Condoms too, then?” James tries to sound casual, despite the adrenaline pulsing through him.

“Maybe not tonight.” Sirius turns back to James, giving him a half smile. “It's all cemeteries and one night stands when I'm with Muggles. I want to save some things for the next time and the time after that.”

James nods his agreement as he yanks Sirius into a fierce kiss. It’s not that he doesn’t want Sirius to fuck him, it’s just he’s not sure how he’s going to like having his bum played with yet. Contrary to his usual approach, James finds he's quite happy to leave some things for another time. It’s already been a night of firsts. The word bisexual swims around his head, the taste of Sirius's minty kisses lingering like the best peppermint creams. He needs a minute to breathe, to dampen the noise in his head. He knows he wants to do something, but he doesn't need to try everything in one go. There's a lot to process as it is. Still, that doesn't mean he wants to tuck himself primly into bed and go to sleep. He definitely wants a taste of something else, just to see what all the fuss is about.

“How do you want me?” James rolls obligingly onto his front. He doesn’t know if it’s right, but he can hazard a guess that it might make things easier. Besides, he wants to make it clear that he wants Sirius to take the lead. He could use some tips before he starts messing around with Sirius’s arse.

“Eager, aren’t you?” Sirius presses his lips to James's shoulder blade. “Not that I’m complaining.”

“I should think not,” James mutters. He wriggles when Sirius places a kiss on the small of his back, huffing out a ragged laugh. “That tickles.”

“Sorry.” Sirius doesn’t sound sorry at all. His kisses move lower and James curls his hand into a fist around the crisp sheets. He bites out an nngh as the familiar zing of Sirius’s magic glides over his skin, touching him in all the most intimate places.

“I thought you said no magic?”

“It wouldn’t be us without some magic,” Sirius replies. “It’s what we’re built on, Prongs.”

The thought that Sirius hasn’t forgotten about magic, Hogwarts, them sends warmth through James. He revels in the fact that Sirius can be completely at ease with his spells and let magic fill the quiet room without any concerns. Sirius might know what he's doing when it comes to sex, but the use of magic at the same time is a first for both of them. James likes that. It seems right, somehow, that it’s not just James in this eager, heady space of exploration.

He soon stops thinking anything at all, as Sirius's mouth travels lower and settles on its destination. With a loud curse, James squeezes his fingers around the sheets until his knuckles go white. He writhes into the mattress, pushing up closer to Sirius’s mouth. If the way his body responds to the thorough tonguing Sirius is giving him, James decides he doesn't need to worry too much about whether he's going to enjoy someone messing around with his arse. The slide of Sirius's tongue, the hard press of his fingers into the flesh of James's backside and the roughness of his stubble each cause different sensations which sear into one, hot ball of pleasure that pulses and expands within James. When Sirius breaches James’s body with the tip of his tongue, James sucks in a sharp breath and murmurs his encouragement. His cock is so hard, it’s a battle between trying to use the mattress for much needed friction and trying to get closer to Sirius’s mouth which continues doing wickedly good things.

Eventually, Sirius takes the decision away from James and hauls him up onto his knees by sliding a strong arm underneath him and urging him up. The warmth of Sirius’s mouth is replaced by cold, slick lube. Before James can tell Sirius to keep going, please, keep going, the slow push of a finger into his body chases all the words from his lips. The sensation is peculiar at first, but it’s not unpleasant. James wishes he could see Sirius and he closes his eyes so he doesn't have to stare at the pillow. He can imagine how good Sirius looks, how handsome, with his sharp, aristocratic features and his wild, thick shock of hair. James imagines the flex of Sirius's cheek and the furrow of his brow, the way he looks when he's concentrating. It occurs to James that he knows every inch—every millimetre—of Sirius's face. The thought that it's Sirius pulling these dizzying feelings from his body makes James's chest swell with yearning, affection, love. He wishes he'd understood his desires sooner, so he could have been getting a good arse fucking instead of pratting about getting lost in forests and trying to placate Firenze.

James doesn’t know when Sirius switches from one finger to two, only that his body aches for more. He welcomes the additional stretch and pushes back with a muffled cry, pushing his arse up and his face down into the pillow. His heart pounds and James is so hard, close enough to the brink of pleasure that it makes his head spin. The steady stroke of Sirius’s hand around his cock together with the thrust of Sirius’s long fingers, curling and stroking inside James send a sharp streak of heat through his body. His climax overwhelms him, catching him off-guard and spilling from him with an intensity he hasn't experienced before by himself. With a restless grunt, James bats away Sirius's hand, every part of his body sensitive to the lightest kiss, touch and ghost of a breath skimming over his skin. He arches his back when Sirius slides his tongue one last time over James's hole. He's not sore, not exactly, but he's more sensitive than before and even the light stroke of Sirius's tongue is just on the cusp of being good enough to hurt. With a groan, James flops onto his back and reaches for Sirius, pulling him down. He’s just learning how good it is to be covered by the weight of Sirius, how brilliant it is to have the hard length of Sirius pressed against his sweaty body.

James kisses Sirius hard, sinking into it and letting the previous intensity of his climax subside enough to work out what he’s doing. With a murmured spell—James knows enough about wanking to manage that at least—he reaches between their bodies to wrap a slick hand around Sirius's cock. It's a weird, uncomfortable angle and James doesn't have any of the prior knowledge he has about the quirks of his own body. Nevertheless, James is determined that he's going to make it as good as possible. He quickens his movements and swipes his thumb over the leaking tip of Sirius's cock. Despite the lack of experience and the less than ideal position, it doesn't seem to matter. Perhaps Sirius was already on the edge, or maybe James's use of wandless magic made him really horny. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t take long. Sirius fists a hand into James’s hair as he comes, tugging his head back and mouthing hot, urgent kisses down his throat and biting lightly on the top of his shoulder to muffle the cry the orgasm pulls from his lips.

“Fuck me,” James murmurs. He feels the thud of Sirius collapsing on the mattress next to him and he tips his head to press a light kiss against Sirius’s arm. He’s sweaty, musky and utterly delicious. “Can we do that again tomorrow?”

“If you like.” Sirius sounds pleased with himself. He trails a damp path of kisses across James’s throat and down to his collarbone, lazy and gentle. He moves his hand to James’s arse, digging his fingers in and pulling James close against his body. “We can do that for as long as you want,” Sirius murmurs.

“It might get a bit uncomfortable, hours and hours of your fingers in my arse.” James knows what Sirius means but he’s feeling light-hearted, cheeky and more like his old self. He blinks into the darkness, deciding to give Sirius something back. He did do most of the work, after all. “I plan to keep doing this with you for a very long time.”

“Good." The fondness in Sirius's voice almost masks the note of hesitation, but not quite. They gather their thoughts in silence as the darkness settles over them like a blanket. Eventually, Sirius speaks again. “It’s not easy, to be two men together. The Muggles don’t like it much and I haven't seen many wizards like us holding hands in Madam Puddifoots.”

“I don't care,” James replies, fiercely. “Just because something might be difficult, it’s not a good enough reason to give up before we’ve even begun.”

“No,” Sirius agrees. He curls close to James, moulding into a question mark around his back. “I haven’t been able to give you up yet and I've got no chance now.”

“Did you try?” James shifts and turns to face Sirius. The thought that Sirius tried to distance himself from James smarts, even if it was wholly unsuccessful.

“Not very hard. Never seriously.” Sirius leans in to give James a slow, deep kiss. If James wasn’t so completely knackered, he could almost sink into it and go another round. “The world isn’t half as interesting without you in it.”

“Let’s hope I decide to stick around then,” James replies. He gives Sirius a smile, relenting. He can't be bothered to argue about the way Sirius tried to handle things. James has made plenty of his own mistakes when it comes to his friends. “I will stick around,” he continues, softly. He means it, too. James is as loyal as a Pygmy Puff. “If you want.”

“I want.” Sirius brushes an unruly strand of James’s hair back from his face, his voice gruff. “Of course I do, you daft prick.”

It’s all James needs for now. It’s as much as his heart can take, his whole body loose, relaxed and ready to welcome a deep, undisturbed sleep. The transition from friendship to this tentative new intimacy should feel so strange in the aftermath, but it doesn't. It happened as naturally as day follows night and for the first time in ages, James is looking forward to tomorrow. He tries to tell Sirius as much, but his words are too thick with sleep and they slur into an unintelligible hmm.

The image of the photograph Sirius keeps in his bedroom flickers through his mind just as James is dropping off. If he tries hard enough, James can immerse himself back in the moment. He can still see and hear everything, the crispness of snow, the iciness of fingertips, the sound of Sirius’s laughter falling around them like rain.

As James edges closer towards a dreamless sleep, the scene shifts. They’re flying over the turrets of the school castle, Sirius straddling his motorbike and James on his new broom. He expects them to swoop and turn, to dip closer to the Forbidden Forest or the Great Lake as they have done so many times before. Instead, Sirius beckons to James.

“Come on, Prongs!” Sirius yells, his words swept away by a gust of wind. “This way.”

Swallowing back his trepidation, James leans into the gathering storm. He confronts the unpredictable air head on and pushes forwards.

He glances back only once and Hogwarts' dreaming spires disappear behind him, fading into the clouds.