By objective measures, James Potter’s date with Silvia Xi had actually gone pretty well. On an intellectual level, he realized she was really quite the catch. Silvia was beautiful, with thick cappuccino brown hair that fell down all the way to the small of her back and dark, intelligent eyes. She was an excellent Quidditch commentator whenever she took a spot behind the microphone in the announcer’s box, with keen eyes and a good understanding of game strategy. She genuinely thought he was funny, laughing at all of his jokes not just out of politeness. She had even reached for the check at the end of the evening — though of course James’s reflexes were faster, and so of course he paid the tab in full when he was the one to ask her out on this first date.
The problem was that they just hadn’t clicked like he always dreamed of.
No, that was a lie.
The problem was that she wasn’t Lily.
James knew that such a comparison was unfair to Silvia. More than that, he knew that such a comparison was unfair to himself too.
He’d been holding a candle for Lily Evans since he was fourteen years old, and he’d never done a thing about it. Not until he’d felt drunk on his own power because he breezed through a bloody O.W.L and decided to truss up her best friend by the ankle.
(James did not regret performing Levicorpus on Severus Snape that day. He knew full well how humiliating it must have been, to be strung up in the air with every student in their year — almost every student in the school — watching, but Snape deserved it, stalking the Marauders and trying to get Moony run out of school and being a Grade A bigoted creep all around. It wasn’t James’s fault Snivellus couldn’t make use of the free house elf laundry service to maintain some semblance of basic personal hygiene.)
Where dwell the brave at heart, they said about Gryffindors, but James could only ask her out while fuelled by false courage. And now she loathed him, and he would probably never get another shot.
Over the summer, after eating far more ice cream than was healthy for him — both as an athlete and as a man with low tolerance for lactose no matter how many potions his father brewed — after many days horsing around in the lake with Sirius that always ended with them skipping stones and baring their souls while pointedly not looking one another in the eye, after countless long flights on his broom where he did nothing but let the breeze run through his hair and the sun shine down on his face, James had decided enough was enough.
He needed to move on.
And the thing about James Potter was that he knew he was a catch too. He knew he was handsome, that he was noble. He knew that he was a rich pureblood, and while he didn’t want to be with anyone who put great stock in money or blood status, it was still undoubtedly a boon to his eligibility when the wizarding world was teetering on the brink of a war that would undoubtedly hit poor Muggle-borns hardest. He knew he was a good friend and he knew he would be a good boyfriend. And he knew he could have almost any girl he wanted.
Silvia Xi was pretty and popular and just about any boy in school would be over the moon to date her. Surely, that should have been enough for James?
So, James had asked her out, had hoped there would be some sort of spark that could distract him from the candle. But for all his head knew that he needed to get over Lily Evans, his heart had not yet gotten the memo.
His heart wanted Lily. His heart wanted the girl that God painted in technicolour, who didn’t give a fuck about Quidditch but showed up to every game her friends played with banners in hand, whose amusement was hard-earned but whose laughter was a prize well-worth the effort, so musical it could make the birds weep with envy.
And James Potter had been taught to always listen to his heart.
So, as they walked out of the Three Broomsticks, Silvia’s hand settled in the crook of his elbow and James stopped and turned around to face her.
“I had a really good time tonight,” he told her.
Silvia smiled shyly up at him. “I had a good time too.”
The October chill had brought a pretty pink flush to her cheeks, and Merlin, she really was beautiful. James wouldn’t mind kissing her. He wouldn’t mind sharing heated glances with her in the great hall or carrying her books and holding her hand as they walked to class. He wouldn’t mind it all.
But he didn’t want to do all that. And it would be cruel to string a girl along because he had a pipe dream that someday he would feel something more than benign indifference towards showing her that kind of affection — especially a girl like Silvia Xi, who would have boys lining up for the honour.
“But I don’t think we should do this again,” he rushed out quickly, like ripping off one of those bandaids he’d learned about in Muggle Studies.
Silvia’s smile froze and she blinked slowly, lashes brushing against her cheek.
“It’s not you, it’s me,” James said, and immediately winced at the words.
Silvia giggled at the face he made, giving him a light shove. “C’mon, Potter, you can give me something better than that.”
James sighed and ran a hand through his windswept hair. “There’s a girl I’ve had feelings for… since I’ve been old enough to even have romantic feelings. And I’ve only very recently come to terms with the fact that she’s never going to like me back. It would be wrong to carry on with you, or anyone else, until I’ve processed it fully.”
“Aww,” Silvia cooed at him like he was a very small Kneazle kitten who’d failed to leap for a mouse toy. She got up on her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, keeping a foot’s distance between their hips so that it couldn’t be misconstrued as anything other than a gesture of friendship. “Lily doesn’t know what she’s missing out on, James,” she whispered in his ear, giving him two light pats on the back before pulling away again.
James spluttered. “Who said I was talking about Lily?”
Silvia snorted delicately.
“Yeah, all right,” he conceded. “No hard feelings though, right? You really could have anyone else you wanted.”
“I know,” Silvia answered with a grin. “I do own a mirror.”
James laughed and offered his arm. “Can I walk you back to the castle?”
“No,” Silvia declined. “I can walk alone, thanks.”
“Take care, Silvia.”
“You too, James. I still expect a copy of your Transfiguration notes.”
“You’ll have them.”
With a short little wave of her fingers, Silvia began walking the long path back to Hogwarts, the bronze pompom of her Ravenclaw blue beanie bobbing with every step she took. James leaned back against a shop window and watched her go.
He exhaled noisily and ruffled his hair before looking up to check where the sun sat in the sky. The day was still young, and James wasn’t ready to go back to the school — not least because he’d rather not have to make awkward conversation with Silvia the whole way up, or even worse, trail behind her like some skulking weirdo.
Wormtail was on his own date and James dearly wished his friend’s date had more fruitful results than his own. He’d been a shoulder to cry on for Mary Macdonald after her ordeal with Mulciber and his gang of junior Death Eaters, and an ongoing correspondence over the summer had all been building up to their first official date tonight. So obviously, James couldn’t hunt Peter down to entertain him for the rest of the afternoon.
Moony and Padfoot’s plans for the first Hogsmeade weekend had been nebulous at best, with Remus unsure whether he’d even be going into town. He was planning to revise, having just barely scraped together an Exceeds Expectations in Potions off the strength of the written portion of his exam, and already feeling the crunch in that class.
(Privately, James was strongly of the opinion that Remus ought to drop the class entirely. He was already taking more courses than almost any other student their year, and every alumnus they spoke to told them the N.E.W.T exam weighed the practical more heavily than the O.W.L had. However, James knew that Remus would never consider it until he was up against a wall, desperate as he was to have every credit possible to his name in preparation for entering the workforce of a world that wouldn’t want to hire a man who disappeared every moon. All James could do was try to help as best he could, but truth be told he just wasn’t a good teacher. He knew his friend would never accept charity, but if ever it came down to it, James would just buy some small shell company to keep Remus steadily employed.)
The question then was if Padfoot would bother venturing into Hogsmeade on his own.
There was of course, the outside chance that he would join some other friends, much as James would likely do if he couldn’t find his people, but that was always a pale facsimile of the companionship and brotherhood one felt when they were with a fellow Marauder.
Not for the first time, James wished they had made a Marauder’s Map for Hogsmeade. They had gotten as far as a rough draft, plotting rough rectangles of every building and separate, more in-detail blueprints of the shops on the High Street as well as being intimately familiar with the forest lands that formed the outskirts and, of course, the Shrieking Shack. Unfortunately, for all Peter’s talent of squeezing into small spaces, it just wasn’t feasible to map out so many privately owned, often warded, single family homes — and Remus was of the opinion that it was rather inappropriate for them all to try. Still, he and Sirius had plans: one day when the war was over, they would each buy cottages in Hogsmeade right next to one another; the village would of course be welcoming to its new residents, and they would charm each and every neighbour into welcoming them over and offering them a house tour; doing so, they could then finally gather enough intelligence to draw a proper map and perform the Homunculus charm upon it; such an artefact would be incredibly dangerous in the wrong hands, so naturally Moony would feel compelled to recreate his locking charms with all the flourishes that made the first incarnation of the map so special.
Alas, such a map would not be more than an inkling of an idea for several years, so Prongs had to get inside Padfoot’s head instead, and predict where he would go if, indeed, he came into Hogsmeade alone.
Padfoot would have no compunctions about dropping in on Wormtail’s date, pestering him until Peter got fed up and sent him away. (If James’s own love life weren’t in such dire straits that he was living vicariously through Peter’s romantic successes, he probably would have done the same, because flustered, irate Wormtail was such a laugh and so quick to deflate.) Peter hadn’t told them where he planned to take Mary, possibly to avoid the possibility of Padfoot, but James could make an educated guess. Hopefully he could intercept Sirius and the two could find some way to while the time that didn’t come at Peter’s expense.
His feet carried him to Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop.
It took James a minute to notice.
In his defence, there had been an absolutely beautiful pile of leaves off the side of the street. Prongs wasn’t the biggest fan of fallen leaves — they made a perfectly acceptable midnight snack on the full moon nights they ran with Moony, but he only ever ate them out of convenience. His preferred option was always fresh fruit and nuts, in both bodies — but the pile was such an alluring array of warm colours, all scarlet and ochre, that he was half-tempted to turn into Prongs right there in open view so he could have a munch. James just barely refrained.
Instead, he took three backwards steps. James then took a running start, and with a great vaulting leap jumped into the pile, sticking the landing with knees bent and hand held out in front of him. The leaves crackled beneath his feet with a deeply satisfying crunch. He stomped about a few times more for good measure before remembering the task at hand and looking up through the crystal-clear glass windows of Madam Puddifoot’s to see if he could catch a glimpse of Padfoot or Wormtail.
He did indeed see Padfoot, but not with Wormtail.
No, Wormtail was nowhere in sight, and James was rather certain he would not have been a welcome presence at that cozy little booth by the window where Padfoot and Moony sat.
They were cuddled up together on one side of the booth, rucksacks piled haphazardly on the opposite seat. Sirius had his left arm wrapped tight around Remus’s waist, tucking the smaller boy neatly into his side and using his opposite hand to rub the shell of Moony’s ear between his thumb and forefinger. Remus looked incredibly snug and content in Sirius’s embrace, head pillowed on Padfoot’s chair and hugging him loosely — almost casually — around the middle but fingers clutched tight in the mohair wool jumper Sirius wore that James recognized as his own. Madam Puddifoot stopped at their table, and with a kindly smile dropped off two pale pink porcelain cups and a matching kettle. She poured them each steaming drinks and then placed before them a single plate of gooey chocolate cake with two small clamshell spoons. Remus said something — James lipread it as ‘thank you’ — and made a movement to sit up, but Sirius only clutched him tighter, keeping him in place. Madam Puddifoot laughed and parted. Sirius, letting go of the ear he’d been caressing, took one of the spoons in his right hand and broke off a piece he brought to his own mouth; he took another helpful with the same spoon and fed the second spoonful to Remus.
Remus blushed red as a beet but smiled. Sirius stared down at him adoringly.
James felt his hands clutch into fists at his side. He turned around and marched back to Hogwarts.
James Potter really had a flare for the dramatic.
That was all Peter could think when he returned from his date with Mary Macdonald. He’d cajoled the house elves into putting together a romantic picnic and dashed into the Three Broomsticks to buy two corked bottles of butterbeer; then he’d taken his date out to a clearing by the caves. She’d been a little spooked to be taken somewhere so far from civilization, so perhaps in hindsight it hadn’t been the smartest move, but Mary was a Gryffindor to her core. She’d kept her wand out the entirety of the hike, which left Peter feeling a little offended — not that he was stupid enough to say it aloud — but she’d followed him still. The clearing was serene, quiet but for birdsong and a distant unseen waterfall, and they’d laid under a shared throw blanket, pointing out shapes in the clouds strewn across a cerulean sky.
And then they’d snogged for like an hour and Mary even let him feel her boob — under the jumper, over the bra — before declaring them boyfriend and girlfriend. They’d walked back to Gryffindor tower hand in hand the entire time and Mary had placed another, much more chaste, kiss on his lips before ascending the girls’ staircase.
Peter climbed the steps to his own dorm in a haze of euphoria. He came upon an empty, pitch black room, and grinned. Quickly, he decided he would seize the opportunity to wank off in peace, with the same hand that had now received the honour of touching its very first boob.
Unfortunately, in the exact moment he had shoved his trousers down to his ankles, a single tall candle illuminated on the side table opposite the door, beside the high backed burgundy leather chair James and Sirius had brought to their room ‘for a dash of personality’ back in third year. James spun to reveal his presence, the candlelight setting his face in sinister angles and shadows. In his lap sat a fluffy white Persian cat with icy blue eyes. From whom James had commandeered it, Peter did not know.
“Have a nice time tonight?” James asked archly, petting the cat behind its ears.
“Uhm,” Peter squeaked, rushing to pull his trousers back up.
“Ah, fuck.” James’s shoulders slumped in disappointment. “Sorry, Wormy, wasn’t expecting it to be you.” He waved dismissively towards Peter’s bed. “Could you maybe stay out of sight? I have a thing planned.”
Without waiting for an answer, James extinguished the candle and spun back around.
“I’ll be quiet as a mouse,” Peter promised. Knowing the layout to their dorm like the back of his hand, he managed to crawl into his bed without stubbing a toe. Peter drew the curtains of his fourposter tight and cast Imperturbable Charms down around the length of his bed.
He got under his covers and shoved his trousers down once more. Peter laid back and tried to recall the exact curvature of Mary’s boob. He imagined the feel of her lips, sticky with gloss, and how they would feel on his skin.
Beyond his curtain, the cat began purring, and Peter heard James whispering words of praise to it.
Peter huffed in defeat and pulled his trousers back up. He turned over and buried his face in his pillow, arms sprawled out at his side. Maybe if he passed out he could have a nice dream to make up for the daydream he was denied.
“Have a nice time tonight?” James drawled, raising an eyebrow in a way he knew to be devastating.
Sirius stood in the middle of the room, stopped short by James revealing his presence. He tilted his head to the side, looking for all the world like a confused, innocent puppy.
“Ah, yeah, tried to help Moony nail down the Draught of Living Death but got kicked out of the classroom for all my trouble. A usual day, I suppose.” He didn’t even look the slightest bit guilty, and James felt a sudden flare of rage. Who was this man in his brother’s body, who could lie to him through his teeth?
“I can’t believe you would hide this from me,” he said in a quiet, measured tone.
“Hide what?” Sirius asked, brow furrowed, an awkward smile on his face. He was a devastatingly good actor when the moment called for it.
“I saw you and Remus at Madam Puddifoot’s, Sirius.”
Sirius huffed out a loud breath. “Yes,” he admitted, voice grave. “It's true. Moony and I have been friends for many years. I'm sorry you had to find out this way.”
James jumped out of his seat — inadvertently dumping the cat from his lap in the process and startling it into running from the room — and let out a garbled scream of frustration.
Sirius barked out a disbelieving laugh. “What in Merlin’s name has got you all tied up in knots like this, Prongs? Remus was working himself too hard so I convinced him to take a break with me and pop out to Hogsmeade for a spot of tea! We would have invited you too but you had a hot date, remember? If I’d known Xi was gonna leave you blue balled like this I would have brought you back a slice of carrot cake to make you feel better.”
“Silvia didn’t blue ball me, you cagey bastard, you did!”
Padfoot’s entire face contorted in a cringe of disgust, which was perhaps fair, James considered, as the words echoed through their dormitory.
“Emotionally! You emotionally blue balled me!”
“What the fuck does that even mean?”
“I invited you into my home, into my family, spilled my heart out to you day after day for months , told you my every dream and fear and waking thought. And you couldn’t even tell me you were planning to ask Moony out on a date? How the fuck did I find out Pete was getting together with fucking Mary MacDonald before I found out my brother was getting together with our mutual best friend when we lived in the same damn house? Why would you try to hide this from me? Since when have you kept anything secret from me?”
“James, my man,” Sirius began cautiously. “You’ve got things all wrong.”
“Which part, then?”
“I took Remus out to Puddifoot’s as a friend. I didn’t ask him out and I have no plans ever to do so!”
James’s immediate response was a desire to call bullshit, because he knew what he had seen, and there was no misinterpreting it. Shockingly, however, Sirius looked and sounded very much like he meant what he was saying.
Perhaps it wasn’t James he was lying to.
They stood in awkward silence for a moment, and James had no idea how to continue forward in what was now unfolding into a rather uncomfortable conversation.
Suddenly, all the lights in the dormitory flared back to life. Remus stood in the doorway, haloed by the golden glow of firelight. “Not that I don’t appreciate a bit of spooky dark turret in the middle of a howling wind, but Halloween’s not for a fortnight,” he quipped.
“Moony!” Padfoot greeted. He took two long strides to grab Remus by the hand and drag him over to stand beside him in front of James. “Tell Prongs we’re not dating.”
The befuddled smile Remus had been wearing froze into something much more brittle. It was not the sort of smile that ever belonged on Moony’s face. James worried it would very easily shatter, and the shards would lodge themselves in his and everyone else’s gut. “Oh?” Remus asked airily, voice pitched just higher than where it normally sat in his throat.
“I know!” Padfoot exclaimed. “He’s got this crazy idea in his head that we’re dating! Obviously, we’re not interested in each other. Talk some sense into him, wouldn’t you, Moonbeam?”
Remus cleared his throat. “Sirius is correct, Prongs. While it would be… very easy, to misread our body language, we were not nor will we ever be on a date with one another.” He let out a dry chuckle. “You’d have to be pretty stupid to think the illustrious Sirius Black would ever be interested in me, right?”
“What?” Sirius swung his head around to face Remus, aghast. “I didn’t mean anything like that, Moony! I just—”
“I have to go,” Remus announced flatly. He yanked his hand out of Sirius’s grip as if it had been burned. “I left my favourite ink pot in the practice lab.”
Remus dropped his cauldron with a clatter, and turned to march out of the room. As he turned the corner out of their view, James heard Moony’s footsteps pick up the pace, until he was half-running down the staircase.
Though he knew full well it was a hastily crafted lie to escape, James still cast a glance at Remus’s desk. There, with a loosely rolled scroll was the stationery set he’d gifted many Christmases ago, Unbreakable Charmed crystal ink pot and ostrich feather quill included.
“I’m going after him!” Sirius announced, pivoting to the door.
A blast of orange light hit Padfoot in the back and his legs gave out under him. Peter stomped past his collapsed body to Sirius’s trunk, pulling out the Marauder’s Map from the secret compartment hidden beneath his Cleansweep broom.
“Honestly,” Wormtail spat as he parted. “An actual dog would do a better job of reading the room.”
“What did I do wrong?”
James sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
“Padfoot. Buddy. My dearest friend.” James walked over and offered a helping hand, pulling his brother back onto his feet. “I don’t think you’re being very honest with yourself. And I think that has led to you sending Moony some very mixed signals.”
“But we take each other out all the time! Why would this be any different?”
“You’re too damn smart to be this dumb, Sirius Orion Black. In all the times we’ve gone to lunch, you’ve never held my hand or had me almost on your lap or gone and hand-fed me my favourite aphrodisiac!”
“There are reasonable explanations for all of it!”
James sat back down in his leather chair. He made a swiping motion with his wand hand so the matching ottoman slid out from the desk it had been tucked under and came to a stop a foot in front of him. “Explain it to me then,” he offered, folding his long legs under him as best he could in the narrow space between armrests.
“Okay,” Sirius began. He sat on the ottoman with feet at shoulder width, stooped over so his forearms rested on his knees. “So Remus was in the practice lab, working himself to the bone as he always does. I went down with him to offer moral support and save him from himself if he did anything terribly wrong.”
“As one does,” James agreed.
“Yes. And he had just finished his third straight attempt at the Draught of Living Death — and this one was actually pretty good! It took on more of a periwinkle colour than lilac, but I thought it would earn a solid Exceeds Expectations.”
“Aw, good for Moony!”
“But then the tester frog didn’t wake up.”
“And I think he was just hungry and overtired more than anything, but Remus looked about ready to start sobbing right there in front of the little second years taking remedial lessons. So obviously, I pulled him out of the room before the dam broke. I let him cry it out on my shoulder, but then he started speaking some utter nonsense about how he was never going to amount to anything anyway, so he may as well just quit Potions. Merlin, can you believe our brilliant Moony thinks so little of himself?”
James bit down hard on the inside of his cheek.
“So of course I had to remind him that he’s Remus John Lupin and he’s destined to do great things with his life, even if the world is filled with closed-minded bigots. And I just kept hugging him and reminding him I loved him and rubbing his back until his breathing even out — but you can’t tell me you would have done any differently!”
James suspected he would have hugged Remus a bit differently than Sirius probably did, considering how, in hindsight, Padfoot did have a unique tendency to grab, hug, or otherwise hold Remus by the waist whereas for others he favoured the shoulders. Now wasn’t the proper junction to push the issue, however, so he simply gestured for him to go on.
“And then, Remus was ready to turn around and go right back in the lab to try brewing the damn potion again ! So that’s when I got him to take a jaunt out to Hogsmeade with me. It was a very spur-of-the-moment thing, Prongs. Dates are planned ahead of time!”
“Sirius, very little in your life is planned ahead of time, dates or otherwise. But continue.”
Sirius raised his pointer finger and opened his mouth to protest but soon after dropped the finger and closed his mouth again, shoulders drooping in defeat. “And Remus was very insistent that he would give the potion another go after we ate, so much so that he refused to go back up to the dorm to drop off his cauldron — he thought I was trying to trick him into calling the whole day a wash!”
“Well, yes. But because he wanted to go straight to Hogsmeade and back without any detours, we couldn’t grab our cloaks or anything else to keep warm! Poor Moony caught a chill on the walk, so we went to Madam Puddifoot’s to enjoy a nice cup of piping hot tea. And you see, that’s why I had him cuddled up!”
“Sirius,” James said slowly. “You had to, what, fondle his ears because he forgot a beanie?”
“It sounds so sordid when you put it like that.”
"There is nothing sordid about the physical expression of love,” James was quick to reassure.
“It’s not love!” Sirius protested. “Or, I mean, I do love Moony. Of course I love Moony, who wouldn’t love Moony! But I love him platonically. It was physical comfort offered out of platonic love. Because he was sad and cold and he needed to be held!”
“Sirius, it’s October. He wasn’t that cold!”
“Remus catches cold much more easily than us, Prongs, you know that! He’s practically a waif! I would do the same for any of us if it were needed.”
“Oh, really?” James asked lowly, a steely glint entering his eye.
“Of course I would,” Sirius confirmed.
James blasted himself with a freezing charm.
“What the fuck, Prongs?”
“I’m s-s-so cold, Padfoot!” James exclaimed, teeth chattering. He got out of his chair and planted himself in the sliver of space between Sirius’s hip and the edge of the ottoman. Immediately, Sirius drew his legs together to create more distance between them. James threw his arms around Padfoot’s shoulders. “And my love life’s an utter tragedy! Console me with your body heat,” he demanded.
“Ugh, no!” Sirius pushed at James’s arms, trying to dislodge them.
“Well, why not? When your beloved ‘friend’ Remus was sad and cold, you did it. Am I not also a beloved friend?”
“Fine,” Sirius barked. Gingerly, he placed his hand on the stretch of back between James’s shoulder blades, the rest of his arm draped loosely over the curve of his spine.
“Warm my ear up for me?” Prongs asked, chin tilted so he could stare beseechingly up at Padfoot.
“Your ears are fine,” Sirius said through gritted teeth.
“No, they’re just as cold as Moony’s were,” James insisted. “It’s only less visible on me because my skin’s darker than his. Go on then, be a lad.”
Sirius huffed but acquiesced. Rather than the gentle caress he had bestowed on Remus, he pinched the top of James’s ear hard between his thumb and the side of his forefinger, rubbing roughly to produce painful, chafing friction that nonetheless did warm Prongs’s skin.
“Ow,” James whined, slapping at the hand.
Sirius retreated immediately, letting his hand fall limply at his side.
“That wasn’t very nice, Padfoot,” James scolded. He tightened the hold around Sirius’s shoulders and pouted. “You should feed me a little something sweet to make up for it,” James suggested, batting his eyelashes at Sirius.
“Augh!” Sirius let out a wordless cry of disgust. Finally, he snapped and shoved hard at James, pushing him off the ottoman and onto the floor. “ Enough! This is fucking gross!”
“You didn’t look grossed out when it was Moony,” James observed mildly.
“That was different!”
“Moony’s not an ugly git like you.”
“I have it on good authority that I’m very handsome, actually.”
“Your mum just said that to make you feel better about yourself.”
Refusing to let them digress any further, James dropped that argument. He stretched his legs out in front of him and crossed one ankle over the other, his weight rested on the palms pressed flat on the floor. “So you think Moony’s cute, huh.”
“Everyone thinks Moony’s cute, what of it?”
“Do you think everyone wants to hold Moony in their arms every minute of the day and buy him treats and tell him he’s lovely?”
“Is that not the normal reaction when you think someone’s cute?” Sirius challenged, arms crossed defensively over his chest.
“I think Silvia Xi’s cute, Padfoot, and I did a lot of that with her today, but I don’t feel particularly inclined to do any of it again.”
“Well, then, you must not find her as cute as you thought you did.”
“No, I genuinely do. I think she’s cute as a button, Padfoot, but I’m not in love with her.”
“And you really think I’m in love with Remus?”
“Yeah, I do. And I think Remus thought so too. Would that be the worst thing in the world, Padfoot?”
Sirius said nothing, but his arms fell limply at his sides.
“Do you reckon he loves me back?” Sirius pondered with a far-off gaze.
“Then no, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Might be the best, actually.”
“Well, then, I don’t think you need me to tell you what to do with this newfound knowledge.”
Sirius nodded in agreement. He stood up straight and took a deep breath to steel himself.
Even paced, Sirius stepped over to the four hooks on the wall by the door, where Remus’s cloak hung. He picked it up with both hands, clutching it to his nose and taking a deep whiff before melting into his canine form. Silently, Padfoot trotted out of the room, following Remus’s scent down the stairs.
Heaving a great sigh, James dropped back to lie down on the floor, then immediately regretted the decision as the cold of the stone stung against his already chilled muscles. With a few frantic flicks of his wand, he cast warming charms over himself and summoned a blanket to wrap round his shoulders. James got onto his feet, and decided to coax his new (borrowed) cat friend back for a cuddle by the fire in the common room.
Remus sat at the edge of the rooftop he’d found himself on — the top of one of Hogwarts’s seldom-used lesser towers that once housed castle guests and dignitaries. He’d spent a while pacing and ranting, Peter sitting in observation as a sympathetic ear, until the winds finally left his sails and he joined his friend at the inset bench. With an anchoring hand of solidarity on his shoulder, Remus tried to appreciate the beauty of the mountains in the distance, a rolling mass of warm colour that captured the dying light of ever shortening days, their snow-topped peaks shining like beacons for lost souls.
He couldn’t pretend he didn’t have days where the idea appealed to him. Surely, it would be freeing, to turn his back on a world that would hate him if they knew what he was, that would grind him down under its heel at every turn, and get lost in the wilderness. It might be nice, to lose himself to the wild hiding in his bones.
Remus huffed out a breath and rubbed the heels of his palm down hard over his face. He was being dramatic, he knew that. The world at large may hate him, but there were enough people in it that loved him — more people than he ever would have dared to wish for. He had every right to a place in society, and he would dig his heels in and keep it, for his mother and his father and James and Peter and Sirius.
Sirius loved him. Sirius did love him. Sirius was not in love with him, and that shredded his heart like a million little Sectumsempras to the chest, precisely cast for maximum damage. There wasn’t enough dittany in the world to stop the bleeding, and yet still Remus could not bring himself to anger, or any feeling hotter than self-pity.
It had been foolish of him to believe he would ever have a great romance in his life. And it was mollifying that Peter so vehemently disagreed — granted, whether because of a true meeting of the minds or because that was just the kind of friend Wormtail was, Remus could never be sure — but after hashing out all the signs of a burgeoning romance they’d observed, Remus had clearly deluded himself into seeing things he only wanted to be there.
Sirius was tactile, and generous; he was a loyal and endlessly devoted friend. That was all he was, all he would ever be, and that was enough. For Remus, that was enough.
It stung, of course, that the very thought of considering Remus as anything more than a friend seemed to be so beyond anything Sirius could even fathom, to the point he clearly thought it patently ridiculous, but Remus could take the hit to his pride.
Sirius could, after all, have anyone he wanted. Remus, meanwhile, could probably have a fair few perfectly lovely boys, but Sirius was the only one he’d ever be brave enough to try to keep. Even though the skirmish with Snape had temporarily rattled his faith in Padfoot’s ability to keep Remus’s lycanthropy a secret, Remus still trusted Sirius with every cell of his body to protect him and love him and see him as a person rather than a beast. He sincerely doubted he’d ever trust any other being on the planet like he trusted his Marauders.
It was because of that deep trust that he knew, one day they’d be okay. One day, he’d be able to look Sirius in the eye again. One day he’d stop counting the times he’d managed to make Padfoot laugh. One day Sirius would throw his arm around Remus, and Remus wouldn’t trick himself into thinking it was anything more than what it was.
Remus prayed he hadn’t mucked things up so badly with his damned feelings that Sirius would be too scared to ever touch him again, in fear of reigniting a hopeless flame. He prayed the inevitable awkward distance wouldn’t drag on too long.
The hand at his shoulder tightened, and Remus heard a sibilant whisper that still he recognized as Sirius’s voice. Peter whispered something back, insistent words that got lost in the howl of the autumn winds.
He tried his best to tune out the argument, until Peter got to his feet. “Leave him alone, Padfoot!” He demanded in a harsh squeak.
“It’s all right, Peter,” Remus murmured, gaze focused unyieldingly on the scenery in front of him.
Peter leaned over and bent down to come into Remus’s field of vision. “Are you sure, Moony?” He checked, watery blue eyes wary and mouth pulled down at one side.
“Positive,” Remus answered, trying and failing to paste on a smile.
Peter looked vaguely alarmed — if there was one thing Remus Lupin could be counted on for, it was a smile — but accepted and stood straight. Remus heard him take perhaps a dozen steps before the sound disappeared all together, like he’d changed form mid-stride.
Remus was quite certain Peter wasn’t actually leaving the roof until Remus himself did.
The familiar weight of his cloak was draped upon his shoulders, and gentle hands tucked it closed at the chest. His prayers for physical closeness had been answered far too soon for his liking, the ache in his chest intensified, and Remus wondered if perhaps his life might have been a little easier on the whole if Sirius cared a little less.
Remus stiffened the set of his jaw and kept staring straight ahead. If he kept it up long enough, perhaps he’d turn into a gargoyle.
Sirius took a seat beside him, not nearly so close as usual, but knees still knocking together. “Remus?” He called softly.
If he became a gargoyle, maybe he could get a job guarding one of Hogwarts’s many private rooms or passages. He could even work his way up to standing sentry in front of Dumbledore’s office — what an honour that would be! It was probably the utter pinnacle of any Hogwarts gargoyle’s career.
“Moony, please look at me,” Sirius begged. His voice cracked just the slightest bit; it would have been barely audible and easily overlooked by anyone who hadn’t spent hours of their life analyzing his every pitch and cadence.
Remus breathed in deep, letting the scent of pumpkins drifting up from Hagrid’s garden and the sweet earthiness of a forest beginning to hunker down for winter ground him. He exhaled noisily through his nose and turned. Hopefully there would be shadows cast over his eyes to hide the redness of the few tears that had earlier escaped him.
A warm hand came up to cradle his cool cheek. Slowly, carefully, Sirius enunciated: “This is not because your lips look cold.”
And then he leaned forward and gave Remus the kiss to end all kisses.
Remus had participated in party games like truth or dare and spin the bottle, had experienced his fair share of first kisses, but none of them compared to this.
Padfoot kissed with an unhurried, smouldering passion. His soft, skilled lips were moist without being slobbery, dominant without being domineering. The simple motion of a thumb stroking over his cheekbone was enough to make Remus light-headed, and when he felt Sirius’s tongue seek entrance into his mouth, he thought he might fall faint.
It was everything Remus had dreamed of.
And it was being done out of pity.
Remus jerked away, sliding back until he felt the edge of the bench digging into his bum.
Sirius let out a wordless, canine whine and reached for him, but let his hands drop heavily when Remus batted them away.
“You don’t have to do this, Padfoot,” Remus said.
“Wha– What exactly is it that you think I’m doing?” Sirius asked, voice darkened, gravelly.
Remus ran a hand through his hair, giving it a light tug at the end before bringing his hand to his lap. He considered his words carefully. “… Humouring me,” Remus decided.
“I don’t understand,” Sirius stated blankly.
“You don’t really—” Remus choked on the words. He swallowed hard before continuing. “You don’t really like me, Sirius. I don’t want you to kiss me just because you think that’s what I want out of you.”
“I do like you, Remus.” Sirius stared at him earnestly, quicksilver eyes wide and swollen red lips parted. He was outrageously, unfairly beautiful.
“You don’t like me like that,” Remus argued. “And you don’t have to force yourself to! You’ve…” Remus felt his eyes welling with tears, and blinked rapidly to push them back. “You’ve done so much for me, and you’ve given me everything. Please don’t pretend you want me out of some misplaced sense of obligation.”
“Remus,” Sirius barked, suddenly scolding. He swung a leg around to straddle the bench and face Remus directly. “When have I ever done anything out of obligation?”
“Well, you’ve never—”
“Exactly, I’ve never!” Sirius clasped a hand around Remus’s knee and tugged him back closer. “I kissed you because I damn well wanted to. And it was bloody amazing, so I’ll kiss you a hundred times more.”
Sirius leaned forward to do just that, but Remus turned so the kiss landed instead on his cheek. “You stressed quite strongly that you’re not interested in me not even an hour ago,” Remus maintained.
“I know,” Sirius groaned. “But I had a talk with James and it was… enlightening.”
“So you’re kissing me because James told you to? Merlin, that’s even worse!”
“Moony, no.” Sirius grabbed a hand and enclosed it between both of his own. “Did you know that when someone thinks you’re incredibly cute, and smart, and kind, and they want to spend all their time with you as physically close as possible, and they like buying you nice things, that it means they like you?”
The question startled a laugh out of Remus. “I was aware, yes. That’s why I thought you liked me back.”
“Well, I’ve felt that way about you for ages, Remus. Since first year, since before I even had the capacity to like someone on a romantic level.” Again a hand came up to his cheek, and this time Remus leaned into it. “And when James confronted me and put me on the spot, I said we weren’t interested in each other because it’s just not something I’d given consideration before. I’ve very little experience seeing love first-hand; I had no idea it could be the quiet, constant presence that you are in the back of my mind. I’ve loved you since before I had any idea what love really is, and that’s why it took me until now to recognize it. I’m sorry it took me being a thoughtless, insensitive bastard to piece it together.”
“You’re not any of those things,” Remus insisted ardently, turning to mirror Sirius’s position on the bench. “I only realized I liked you a few months ago. It’s a funny thing isn’t it, falling for your best friend? It creeps up on you, then hits you all at once.”
“Like a crisp autumn breeze that leaves you chilled before you really notice it,” Sirius said with a grin.
Sirius dipped his head down, and Remus met him with equal enthusiasm. They were smiling too widely for it to be a ‘proper’ lip lock, but Remus was sure he would cherish every second of it for the rest of his life.
Eventually, Sirius gave up on the kiss and pressed his nose to the underside of Remus’s jaw.
It was cold to the touch like Padfoot’s normally was.
“Ah!” Remus let out a short yelp. “Sirius, you’re freezing!”
“It’s that cool autumn breeze,” Sirius explained, pulling back to smile sheepishly.
“And the fact you’ve only a jumper on after nightfall, I’m sure.” Remus hopped off the bench and held out a hand. “Up,” he ordered.
Sirius took the hand and rose to his feet entirely without its help. Immediately, Remus got up on his tiptoes; he lifted the edges of his cloak and wrapped them around Sirius’s back, holding the cloak now encircling them both in place by keeping his arms wrapped round Sirius’s neck.
“Good?” Moony asked, biting his lip to keep from grinning like a loon at the feeling of being practically plastered against Padfoot’s chest.
“Great,” Sirius confirmed, two hands now at the small of Remus’s back and pushing like he wanted Moony pressed in even closer.
“Great,” Remus echoed, before going in for another kiss.
It was just as Sirius’s hand had drifted over to run up and down his side — a truly exhilarating turn of events — that they were interrupted by an awkward clearing of the throat. They both turned their heads to see Peter back in his human body. “It would probably be wise to head back inside. Maybe have a spot of tea,” Wormtail informed them, already inching backwards for the door.
Sirius hummed in agreement but didn’t move a muscle. “Too bad we’re not Ravenclaws then.”
“We’ll catch up with you, Peter,” Remus assured. Sirius began to drop a trail of leisurely kisses from Remus’s temple down the side of his face, completely heedless of their audience. Remus wasn’t sure who, between himself and Peter, was blushing harder. “Thanks for everything tonight,” he said, with a clumsy wave goodbye.
“’S what I’m here for. Glad everything worked out,” Peter responded. He shot a round of finger guns at them, then turned around and half-ran back into the tower.
“Now where were we,” Sirius murmured.
(It was a rhetorical question. They spent hours up on that rooftop exploring each other’s mouths, and Remus would have spent hours more had it not been for McGonagall catching them on her rounds.)
(Their first date was a shared detention raking leaves off the quidditch pitch together under Hagrid’s deliberately unwatchful eye.)
(It was nowhere near their last.)